Monday 30 November 2020
[Graham Stringer in the Chair]
Deaths in Mental Health Care
Before we start, I remind hon. Members of the new rules in Westminster Hall. They should be getting used to them now, but some have not been in a Westminster Hall debate. I ask Members to sanitise their microphones using the cleaning materials provided before they use them, and dispose of the materials as they leave the Chamber. Members are also expected to honour the one-way system, which means going round clockwise, coming in by the left entrance and leaving by the other entrance. Members can intervene only if they are on the call list. If you are on the call list, you are expected to be here at the start of debate but, unlike the position prior to covid, it is quite permissible to leave after having spoken.
Before I call the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill), I need to advise hon. Members that I have been informed that there are active Health and Safety Executive criminal legal proceedings against Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust relating to deaths in mental health care facilities between October 2004 and April 2015. I have further been informed that the trust has pleaded guilty in those proceedings to failures of care relating to the deaths of 11 patients. Active proceedings are sub judice until sentencing or discontinuance under the House’s resolution. Therefore, Members should be mindful of matters still before the court—in particular, the judgment and sentencing in this case.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 255823, relating to deaths in Mental Health care.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I, too, received that advice not long ago, and sought advice on behalf of the petitioner in regard to anything that I have to say. I will navigate through my speech, bearing in mind that legal statement. I apologise in advance if I stray into such territory, simply because to do justice to this petition I have for the most part chosen to reflect the words of the petitioner. That is only right and just. More than 100,000 people have signed the petition. It is a very personal case, and it is personal for other families whose relatives have died in such horrendous circumstances.
The petition attracted 105,580 UK signatories in support, despite the fact that it was curtailed by the Government closure of Westminster Hall last November due to covid. I will read the text of the petition to put it on the record and inform hon. Members fully. I have spoken to the petitioner, Melanie Leahy, on a number of occasions, and I pay tribute to her for starting the petition. She wrote:
“I request a full public inquiry into death of my son, Matthew Leahy. (20 yrs.)
Matthew was taken to ‘a place of safety’, and died 7 days later. 24 others died by the same means, dating back to the year 2000. An indicator that little was done to address the growing problems. Something went terribly wrong with the NHS Mental Health Services provided to my son.
There really is no way that public concern can be allayed, short of an Inquiry. All investigations to date, including police and inquest proceedings, have been based on a Trust Serious Incident Investigation. A four and half year Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman Report has now concluded that this investigation was not adequate and lacks credibility.
There has been an inadequacy of investigation. A human rights violation. New evidence has been uncovered and I request a statutory inquiry, that compels witnesses to give evidence on oath.
Matthew is not alone. Many others have died”—
in the same institution—
“whilst ‘In The Care Of The State’.”
The petition ends with a link to a press report dated November 2018 detailing how a two-year police investigation sparked by Matthew’s death six years earlier, into the corporate manslaughter of 24 further patients, was dropped, leaving families without “accountability or recourse”, for their loved ones’ deaths.
In opening the debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee I want to begin with some background. On 15 November 2012, Melanie, Matthew’s mother, received the call that no parent wants to receive: “Matthew has been found hanging and it’s not looking good,” was the quote. It came to light that Matthew had already been dead for more than an hour when that call was made. Melanie described it to me as the first lie of many more that she would uncover after his death. I will share the background of Matthew’s short life, how he ended up in the care of the Essex mental health system, what went wrong, the journey that his mother has been on since his death to get to any form of truth or accountability, and her continued fight for truth, justice, accountability and change for others. I have received a letter from the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) in support of the case. He has had a case of someone dying in similar circumstances in the same place.
The account is quite long, but that is understandable as Melanie’s fight has taken eight years to date, and has encompassed many trials in getting to this point. I have a statement from Melanie that she would like to have been able to read herself. Obviously that is not allowed in this place, so I will read it for her:
“I write these words not just to represent my son, but to represent the multitude of lives that have been affected by the inadequate care offered by mental health services across our nation.”
Mr Stringer, almost within the last 10 minutes I received a statement from families, who asked for it to be read out. I do not have time to do that, but I ask the Minister to accept it if I forward it to her .
The Minister for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention (Ms Nadine Dorries) indicated assent.
The statement reads:
“I am mum to Matthew James Leahy, born December 1991. He was a beautiful soul. He understood compassion and he cared for others. He was generous, he was kind, he was smart. He was funny and in his younger years he wanted to be a comedian. He was quite shy in large groups, and was a loyal friend. He was never one to encourage a fight but he would stand up for himself and the ones he loved. And I’m proud to say my son was honest, not a liar, not like some I’ve come across on this journey.
He loved the outdoors, loved anything water sports related and was a fantastic skier. Having left Grammar school, where he excelled in mathematics and computer science, he set up his own computer business, travelling between clients on his motorbike and was doing really well. He had a natural talent for swimming. He actually saved two ladies from drowning and when 18 he became a qualified life guard.
Aged 19 Matthew was having trouble sleeping and complaining of pains in his stomach and having stomach cramps. He was also hallucinating. When Matthew became poorly we turned to so called professionals for help, to help us to understand what was happening with our son. He was sectioned for care and treatment. This sectioning and the failings in care at that time, although noted briefly in the inquest verdicts, have never been investigated.
After Matthew’s death medical records showed that the first psychiatrist involved in his care picked up a B12 and folate deficiency and possible coeliac disease, combined with a thyroid issue. However, these discoveries were never addressed, as a new psychiatrist took over Matthew’s care and put him straight on to anti-psychotic medication. Any further physical checks were minimal.
On 7 November 2012, Matthew was placed under section 3 of the Mental Health Act and admitted to the Linden Centre in Chelmsford, Essex. By 15 November, some seven days in the ‘care of the state’, my son was dead. The last days of his life in a place he called ‘Hell’. And I now believe it truly was a hell on earth.
Alone, malnourished, over-medicated, scared, bleeding, bruised, reportedly raped, injected multiple times, ignored, and frightened. No records of any staff in those last seven days of his life offering him any comfort. I had been advised not to visit and to give him time to settle on the ward. I will live with the guilt for the rest of my life that I listened to so-called professionals and I was not there when my son needed me the most.
An inquest into my son’s death was held in January 2015. An open narrative verdict was reached, which concluded that my son, ‘Matthew James Leahy was subject to a series of multiple failings and missed opportunities over a prolonged period of time by those entrusted with his care. The jury found that relevant policies and procedures were not adhered to, impacting on Matthew’s overall care and wellbeing leading up to his death.’
How the inquest concluded I will never know. Staff were not interviewed by police after Matthew’s death. An internal investigation was carried out, which the Parliamentary and Health Service ombudsman has deemed flawed and not fit for purpose. This flawed investigation formed the basis of every investigation actioned after Matthew’s death.
The ligature was destroyed, the defibrillator was destroyed. Door logs were not downloaded. CCTV was hidden for over seven-plus years, and parts of it either not retained or deleted. So, so many more issues exist.
I have not been able to determine or control any of this—investigations, reviews, reports etc—all processes that have happened around me, with me being entitled to some information and some explanation, but little voice, little influence and little power.
I did think that the system would be open and honest, would explain what went wrong, hold to account those responsible for any failings and afford justice for failing my most precious son. However, I have discovered a deeply troubling mismatch between what I expected and what I found. In any other walk of life, if there had been failings, heads would roll. This has never happened, despite criminal offences being proved.
If the tragedy of losing Matthew hasn’t been bad enough, to not know the full circumstance that led to his death ‘whilst in the care of the state’ is unforgiveable. I still do not have full disclosure and have never seen internal statements. ‘Duty of Candour’ went out of the window the moment Matthew died.
It came to light after Matthew died that paperwork had been falsified, backdated and slipped into his files. It took me four-plus years to finally persuade Essex Police to register this falsification of mental health documents as a crime. I thought, ‘At last, they are listening to me.’ Then the bomb dropped. ‘We won’t be prosecuting, as it’s not in the public interest.’
The Trust has failed to take steps to protect patients in their care. The question remains why no individual has been held to account and why some staff involved in failing my son and other patients have actually been promoted to high-ranking positions within the NHS.
The Coroner called for a Public Inquiry after the inquest in 2015. There have also been multiple calls from various MPs in the last five years. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman went on national television after ‘The Missed Opportunities Report’ was published to say that if he had the power to, he would call a Public Inquiry.
In October last year, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee held an evidence session on the Ombudsman’s Report into the failed care of Matthew and of Ben Morris. (Ben died in the Linden Centre in 2008 aged 20 years).
During the session, the Minister for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention explained, ‘that Public Inquiries do not happen for individual cases. In this case, a Public Inquiry is not an appropriate response because we are talking about two cases’.
I have now been joined in this fight calling for a Statutory Public Inquiry into Essex Mental Health Services by multiple bereaved and failed families. (55 families and growing). How multiple deaths can have gone on unchallenged for so many years and so many people in official positions, not involved with this scandal, have entrapped themselves by collaboration the moment they came across it has baffled me. How the system did not prevent these deaths or at the very least detect the failings/changes needed earlier I’m sure is a question in many failed families’ minds, not just mine.
Where is the Government’s anger? Its thirst for Truth and Justice? Its commitment to getting answers and ensuring it never happens again?
Many families are losing loved ones while under the care of state mental health system. Whether that be due to mental illness, additional vulnerabilities such as autistic and/or learning disabled individuals, those misdiagnosed, or dementia...it does not discriminate.”
The Government are now officially, in Melanie’s words,
“on notice of…Gross and systemic Neglect (resulting in multiple avoidable deaths)…Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and exploitation of the vulnerable—most of them young, historical and sadly, ongoing.
The right people in Government need to understand the full extent of the Essex Trust’s Failures and I have every faith that once the Government commits to a Full Statutory Public Inquiry into Essex Mental Health, the fundamental truth of what and still is going wrong will be revealed.
Through that knowledge I hope justice and accountability are afforded and that necessary change is made for others who, like I and many others did, look to services when they need safe, compassionate care for their loved ones.”
I have to echo that point in respect of some horrendous cases in the Tees Valley, my own patch.
I will conclude with the following words:
“I offered the Government Matthew’s sad death to be a catalyst of learning and change months ago. Please call a Public Inquiry into Essex Mental Health Services without further delay. Make the changes in Essex and send the learning across the country. I hope then that I can start to grieve the loss of my son and Matthew will be able to then rest in peace.”
I know I have kept my speech narrow, but I felt it appropriate to reflect the true voice of the petitioners. Thank you, Mr Stringer, for allowing me to do that.
Thank you, Mr Stringer; it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and to follow the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) who introduced the debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee. He spoke of the case of Matthew Leahy. It is a terrible tragedy, and I pay a huge tribute to his mother, who has campaigned for years through the pain, which is without limit.
We all sympathise, I am sure, but as the hon. Gentleman said the case of Leahy is not the only one at the Linden Centre, Chelmsford. There have been several others, all tragic, including my constituent Richard Wade. I held an Adjournment debate on the case of Richard Wade in October. At the start of that debate, because the HSE case was live, a much stricter sub judice ruling was given, which meant there were things I could not say in the Adjournment debate that I feel able to say today.
I have a very short period of time and I do not have time to give the full details of Richard Wade’s case. The key point is that, on the day he was found hanging in the Linden Centre in Chelmsford, there is strong evidence that his parents have seen—not just documentary evidence, but other evidence that has come to them, including from people who have worked at the Linden Centre—that when his body was first discovered hanging, still alive, the clinicians who found it either panicked, or for some other inexplicable reason left it hanging, locked the door and allowed some minutes to pass before he was discovered a second time, this time with his parents nearby. At that point he was given resuscitation and urgent medical treatment. We do not know the impact of those crucial minutes on his eventual fate several days later, when he passed away. Essentially, his is a life that I believe could have been saved and a death that could have been avoided.
I will not repeat all the points I made about Richard Wade’s case in my Adjournment debate, other than to say that although he died in May 2015—in fact, I met him going to vote in Great Cornard in May 2015, a few days before I had the great privilege of being elected for the first time, and he was dead several days later—in February 2015 another man, who I believe was called Beecroft, also died by ligature in the Linden Centre in Chelmsford, in the very same bathroom where Richard Wade hanged himself that May. The extraordinary thing is that, when the trust reported on Richard Wade’s death in December that year, it never mentioned that there had been a hanging in the same bathroom three months earlier—as if it were a common occurrence or something. It is quite extraordinary.
When the Care Quality Commission came to investigate, because of course, by April 2015, it had taken over from HSE, I am afraid it did not handle the case well. The CQC did not investigate it initially, because, in the words of the report it issued to the Wades in July, the inspectors effectively did not realise that they had taken over statutory responsibility from HSE. It is a catalogue of failures; the Wade case alone would merit an independent inquiry, but there are also Beecroft, Leahy, Morris and potentially other cases.
At the end of my Adjournment debate my hon. Friend the Minister, who was being covered for at the time because she was isolating, announced an independent review into the deaths at the Linden Centre. I was very grateful for that, because I know she has taken huge interest in the matter and very sincerely so. I hope that that can be a full, robust, independent inquiry, like the one we had last week into the Dixon case, which can uncover the truth and can go into places that other mechanisms cannot.
These are terribly tragic cases; sometimes they cannot be avoided, of course, but at times they are due to the performance of the trust and perhaps of the management of that trust. Where that is the case, does my hon. Friend agree that the leadership of those organisations must be held to account for their performance?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, echoing the concluding remark from the hon. Member for Hartlepool, and he is absolutely right that there must be accountability. However, when we go into an independent inquiry, there is a danger of saying, “Well, it must be a statutory public inquiry,” and getting into the semantics of the mechanism we use.
I think what my constituents the Wades want is the truth. They simply want to know the truth about what happened to their son. We now have a tangible offer from the Department of Health of a mechanism that all the families can use to get involved, to shape the terms of reference and to help us to deliver something in the public interest—as, again, the petitioners seek—to the benefit of the whole country in terms of wider mental health. Above all, that will bring some sense of accountability to all the families who have suffered so tragically at the Linden Centre in Chelmsford, including the Wades and the Leahys. I believe that the Minister will now act and I give her all my support in doing so.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate with you in the Chair, Mr Stringer. I thank the Petitions Committee for granting this important debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) for opening it, and I congratulate Melanie Leahy on the strength of her campaigning to get us to this debate.
As we have heard, Matthew’s case is a tragic one, with a catalogue of failures that culminated in his death. I know that nobody here can fail to be moved by what Matthew and his family went through—the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), who has just spoken, certainly was. Melanie has been fighting for answers and justice for her son for eight years now; I pay tribute to the work she has done, but I also say it should not have been necessary.
Matthew was in the Linden Centre for only a few days. In that time, he reported a sexual assault to the police, but they took no follow-up action on his report. Staff claimed that he lacked mental capacity, despite no assessment being carried out. He was heavily medicated with anti-psychotics and tranquillisers, despite him telling staff that he would attempt to kill himself if he was given injections. As we have heard, only a week after being admitted, he was found hanging in his room and he died.
That catalogue of failures would be shocking in itself, but it ended with a young man dying. In cases such as Matthew’s, we have a duty to learn the lessons and ensure that others in mental health care do not end up dying preventable deaths.
I sympathise greatly with the hon. Lady and the story that she is telling and that other hon. Members have told. Does she agree that when it comes to helping people who have mental and psychiatric issues, who need help more than anyone, it is important that facilities are modern? They need in-patient care and they need the staff to be trained and able to respond. If those things were improved, does she think that would be a step in the right direction to try to help people and prevent such tragedies from happening?
There is much that needs to change, but the hon. Member is right that that is one aspect of it. The mental health estate is known for being run down and out of date.
The learning of lessons has not happened in the Linden Centre or in mental health services in Essex. The charity INQUEST has worked on more than 28 cases involving deaths in mental health settings in Essex since 2013, yet despite the many investigations, reports and inquests that have highlighted failures, preventable deaths have continued. At the Linden Centre, INQUEST is aware of six in-patients found hanging between 2004 and 2019. Despite repeated inspections and visits by the Care Quality Commission, people have continued to die in those services.
The ombudsman’s report found clear signs of a cover-up at the Linden Centre. As Melanie told me:
“Matthew had no key worker. Records of observation levels and when he had been observed were changed. His care plan was falsified after he died. His claims of rape were ignored. Lots of documents were missing and a whole catalogue of policy failings were uncovered.”
That speaks of a culture that is less interested in learning from failings than in avoiding the blame for Matthew’s death.
The only way to restore trust in our mental health services is to publicly demonstrate that all those issues, including the one that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, are considered and addressed. Melanie Leahy has suggested that the only way to do that is through a full public inquiry. At the inquest into Matthew’s death, the coroner asked the NHS trust to consider commissioning an independent inquiry.
The ombudsman, in his recommendation, said that the review due to be held by NHS Improvement,
“should consider whether the broader evidence it sees suggests that a public inquiry is necessary.”
In an interview on ITV, the ombudsman went further on the failings, including about Matthew’s care plan being altered after he died and his claim of rape not being investigated. He described them as
“a catalogue of failings which are entirely unacceptable.”
He also said that he would fully support a public inquiry if one was recommended, and that he would like to have investigated further if he had had the powers.
Both public officials who have investigated Matthew’s death, the coroner and the ombudsman, have said that they would support a public inquiry. I ask the Minister, on behalf of Melanie Leahy, to set up a public inquiry. Only a public inquiry will have the transparency and broad participation needed to rebuild trust in the services. The Minister will know that that is the only way that witnesses can be compelled to give evidence without seeking to apportion blame, and evidence must be given on oath.
As Melanie has said,
“Since Matthew’s death I have been on a mission to get to the truth of what happened to Matthew and to get justice for him. On my journey I have not only found that many other families are in the same position as me, but also individuals who have the survived the quotes ‘care’ that they received.”
In this most tragic case, inadequate and neglectful care led to the death of a young man like Matthew. His mother has had to take on a fight over many years to get to the truth. I thank all the families and parents such as Melanie Leahy who have put so much of themselves into their campaign. I return to what she said to me:
“To say the current situation is not good enough is a massive understatement. We know what has to change and we have known for decades. What will make the Government take real action? How many times do we need to hear the same information and recommendations? How many more Matthews have to die?”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hartlepool on the wonderful way in which he opened the debate and the two preceding speakers on their powerful contributions. I rise to speak on behalf of my constituent, Mrs Marian Coles, who was alerted to the debate and contacted me. I want my speech simply to be what she has written to me, to place her concerns on the record. Mrs Coles said:
“I am writing regarding the Westminster Hall debate concerning deaths in mental health care which calls for independent investigations into deaths in mental health settings. As a family that has been personally affected by this after our son took his own life whilst a mental health inpatient in Kettering in May 2017, we would ask if you would represent us at this debate. This was the second suicide at this facility 7 months apart. Staff failings were admitted at the inquest and 3 nurses were disciplined but they refused to give us the details. It has taken us 3 years for the NHS to settle this case.
We were involved with the serious incident report that took place but strongly support an independent inquiry being held after such deaths as is allowed in other organisations. Why should an organisation investigate itself over a death that may have been caused or contributed to by failures of its own staff or systems? The lack of an independent inquiry hampers the ability to root out issues of system neglect or misconduct and also jeopardises the welfare of future patients by failing to address such concerns. There is overwhelming evidence that the current system for investigating deaths in mental health settings is not fit for purpose.
“We very much hope that you will be able to take part in the debate and offer your support”—
“for an independent inquiry for families that may be affected by these tragedies. I am deeply traumatised by the death of my son, as is all of my family and we have to live with this every day of our lives”.
It is a privilege for me, as the local MP, to place Mrs Marian Coles’s concerns on the record.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. The circumstances of the debate are truly heartbreaking. I begin by extending my condolences to the family of the late Matthew Leahy and all families who have lost loved ones with mental illness at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them and care for them.
For many decades, mental health has not received enough attention or funding in comparison with physical illness. I draw attention to the mental health unit in Lewisham, which has already been viewed as not being fit for purpose—it was not built for people who have mental health problems—yet funding has never materialised for the changes needed to make it suitable for people with mental health problems. With the pressures of the pandemic, medical professionals are reporting more and more that people are suffering with mental illness due to economic hardship or loneliness, so it is clear there will be greater demand for mental health services over the next few years. It is imperative that we have well-functioning and well-funded mental health services to prevent needless deaths of the most vulnerable who are in need of those services. Medical professionals, the police and everybody around them also need support to be able to care for people with mental health illnesses. They need training, supervision and, most of all, not to be overworked. They also need to be able to debrief when they find things difficult.
I would like to raise the case of the late Kevin Clarke, from my constituency of Lewisham East, who sadly died following a mental health relapse. My condolences go out to his family, who are still bereft from the loss of Kevin, who, despite not posing an immediate threat to anyone, was handcuffed and placed in a leg restraint while telling the police that he could not breathe. In October, an inquest concluded that the officer’s restraint and supervision towards Kevin were excessive and sadly contributed to his death. However, the police were not the only professionals involved in his care. Other professionals were also in contact with him prior to this tragic incident.
A strategy of care needs to be in place for all mental health patients, one in which patients are listened to and family members are involved, so that loved ones can talk about preventative measures and their concerns, as well as contribute to the care plans that are needed. Mental health doctors, mental health nurses, social workers and care staff all need to work collaboratively with all professionals involved in keeping the most vulnerable people safe and secure, and to prevent these fatal, awful incidents of suicide or types of restraints leading to death. Change needs to happen.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and to have the extra few minutes, which allows me to speak about a constituency case. I want to put on record how moving the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) was, and how many wonderful speeches there have been today, to give this desperate situation the attention it deserves.
I declare my interest as a patron of Mind in Haringey. I want to put on record my thanks to Deborah Coles, the chief executive of INQUEST, who wrote this important briefing paper and represents, sadly, hundreds of families who face a similar case to Melanie Leahy. They are desperate. They want to know the reasons and what happened prior to losing their child. I hope that at the end we will have a positive statement from the Minister about a proper inquiry and recommendations to be followed as a result of it.
The Minister may well remember Seni’s law, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed), as a result of his campaign with Seni’s family. Seni died as a result of police restraint due to his having a very serious mental health problem but not getting the correct care under the mental health services. This Friday I have a constituency meeting with a constituent who has tragically lost her son in similar circumstances. This is not an isolated incident and it is wonderful to have this debate.
I want to focus on the findings from INQUEST and some of the other experts who have looked carefully at the similarities in these cases. We know that between 2013 and 2016 there were 71 deaths similar to the one that we are talking about today. Despite several recommendations made by the coroner following each one of these to prevent further deaths in similar circumstances, as the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) said, the lessons simply are not being learned. Are we doing a read across from similar conditions in the prison service, where, I think, the deaths have come down and the lessons have been learned to some degree? I wonder if there can be shared learning across different services.
We know that in November 2020, INQUEST, the voluntary sector organisation that helps families, looked into 20 recent cases of deaths in adult in-patient mental health settings and found the same issues repeated: lack of staff training, poor record keeping, a failure to involve the family in the care of the patient, a lack of local specialist units and staff shortages.
We know that as a result of covid-19, as other hon. Members mentioned, we have an opportunity to do things differently. We know that we can do much better in terms of accessible data on the number of deaths and how people have died. We know that we can do much better in training our mental health professionals. At Care Quality Commission level, we could do much better in terms of inspections, so that this appalling area is cleaned up once and for all.
We also know that there is failure of communication at crucial times, so that for months and months the family are left not knowing what is the next step and what will happen as a result. That is why it is crucial, as we have all said today, that we have the correct oversight at the national level to monitor the learning and implementation, but also that we have a statutory public inquiry. It can be into Essex mental health services, but what matters is that whatever it is, it is generalised across every single mental health setting.
In the context of covid, where we know there will be at least 20% more people suffering from mental health conditions—including more young people, who are disproportionately affected by covid—there is a real urgency to this work. I hope that we as Members can put more pressure on the Department of Health and Social Care to tackle the problem once and for all.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.
Matthew Leahy had his whole life ahead of him. He was just 20 years old when he was detained in November 2012 under the Mental Health Act and transported to the Linden Centre, a secure mental health unit in Chelmsford. Three days after his admission to what his mother, Melanie, believed was a place of safety, Matthew reported that he had been drugged and raped. Four days later, he was found hanged in his room.
Over the ensuing years, multiple inquests and inquiries into the conditions surrounding Matthew’s death have uncovered evidence of serious care failings, including the fact that Matthew’s paperwork was incomplete or missing and that no key worker had been assigned to him. It was revealed that Matthew had no care plan and that staff had falsified one after his death and backdated it.
I welcome the petition and this debate, and I want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to Matthew’s parents and all those who have campaigned so hard to get the truth, justice and accountability. I also welcome last month’s announcement by the Minister for Health, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), that the Government will launch
“an independent review into the serious questions raised by a series of tragic deaths of patients at the Linden Centre between 2008 and 2015.”—[Official Report, 16 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 733.]
It is absolutely right that we commit to uncover the truth about the significant failings in the care and treatment of vulnerable patients, and that the mantra of “learning lessons” is not merely a soundbite accompanied by endless toothless reviews but results in substantive and tangible change.
No mother should ever have to go through the dreadful loss and devastation faced by Melanie Leahy and so many other people, who made difficult decisions in impossible circumstances to hand over their children to the care of others, where they believed their children would be safe. No family should have to campaign for years to forcibly expose the negligence and incompetence of a system that contributed to the death of their loved one.
We know that black people are overrepresented in mental health services and are disproportionately subject to the use of Taser on wards, and it needs to stop. I congratulate Mary Seacole House, a mental health charity in my constituency, on the work that it has done over many years to support patients with mental health problems, and on shining a light on injustices.
My question to the Minister is: how can we challenge and improve the process and culture of attaining inquiries, so that families bereaved by state neglect and wrongdoing are placed at the very heart of conversations about accountability and change, and are not blocked, bullied, stigmatised or cast aside with accusations of being a nuisance or a problem in their quest for truth and justice?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stinger, and I congratulate my Tees valley colleague, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill), on opening the debate. I join all hon. Members in everything they have said so far, and I echo their expression of sympathies and prayers for the family of Matthew Leahy. I pay tribute to Mrs Leahy for her efforts.
Sadly, we are all too aware that Matthew’s case is not alone. The death of a child is something that no parent should have to experience. From my family circumstances, I know that the impact for the parent lasts a lifetime. Through several close family connections, I know that the anguish of a parent whose child is lost to suicide is even more painful.
In 2019, 195 people died in mental health care across the UK. One of those deaths occurred in my constituency at West Park Hospital in May 2019. That sad death, and indeed all those tragic deaths, serve to tell us that we need to do more. As politicians, we must always be looking to do more to support the mental health care sector, improve outcomes and avoid deaths. We must do all we can to support the staff in our mental health care sector. Every one of those tragic deaths will have had a profound impact on the staff in those facilities.
In 2018-19, the Government increased spending on mental health to a record £12.5 billion, and the NHS long-term plan for mental health increases spending each year by a further £2.3 billion, but we all know that it is not just about the cash; it is about the leadership, the management, the culture and the care. I welcome the recent CQC report, “Out of sight”, which acknowledges the shortcomings of some of our mental health facilities, the challenges they face with patients—particularly those who suffer with autism—and the sense that those places, which are designed for care, are not therapeutic. I hope that its recommendations are followed through. That will address some of the shortcomings, and hopefully we will see fewer deaths.
I listened to the hon. Member for Hartlepool, and I firmly believe that it is vital to embed a culture of learning, safety and improvement across the mental health care sector. I look forward to hearing about the steps that the Minister and her Department are taking to tackle this issue and embed a better culture throughout the sector so that it can do all it can to prevent all deaths in mental health care. The Minister will have heard the calls for independent investigations and inquiries, and I add my voice to them.
I thank all those who set the scene and the Petitions Committee for what it did.
Our hearts go out to our constituents. Hon. Members have spoken on behalf of them, and I thank them for that. I admire the determination that each and every one of them has shown. A breakdown in care took place, and we must not see another family in that situation.
I want to take a slightly different approach to the issue of mental health and talk about how we can help within the system. Ultimately, that is what the Minister will set out in her response. I have seen too many of my constituents broken, in need of support and let down by the system. I remember one young man, Michael, who came to my office when he was on the edge. He was a young fellow and was homeless and distraught, and the girls in my office were able to reach out and tell him in a helpful, compassionate way, “Your life is important and we will help you.” He broke down in tears.
We were able to help that young fellow get accommodation through the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. We also got him some help from the local food bank, which is always there to help, and were able to sort out his benefits. What happened was that that young fellow had just disappeared off the grid. He clearly had mental health issues and was not able to cope. He got the psychological help that he needed and he got his benefits renewed, so the pressure on him became less of a difficulty because of those who helped—the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the local benefits office, the food bank, the local churches. All those people came together.
It is my sincere belief—I believe this in my heart—that if Michael had not come to my office, he may not have survived. We all believe that, including the girls in the office and those we spoke to. Every Government body was exceptionally helpful, and we thank them for that.
That is the foundation for mental health. Ours is not to question how or why people have got to the stage that they find themselves it; we must only see how we can help them where they are. The overhaul of the facilities that I spoke about when I intervened on the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) is about updating them, so that the in-patient help gives people hope to reach out. We are desperate to see an upgrade of facilities that are sometimes not fit for purpose.
Sometimes there is no privacy. Sometimes people need a wee bit of privacy where they are, but they also need to be able to reach out and have someone help them at the times when they need that. Some of the wards that I am aware of are mixed-gender wards, where a lack of privacy is obviously even more of a problem. When it comes to people being allowed to visit, they get one hour each, once a week. I do not feel that that is enough; more time should be allocated for visitors.
I am always very aware of the great work that occupational therapists do. They have a brilliant team, with fantastic ideas. They have allocated some rooms for activities. I think that it is important to have some sort of organised activities, so that those who are under pressure psychologically, mentally and socially have somewhere where they can look outwards. The OTs in the area that I represent have come up with a therapy garden. These things can be done in-house and in a way that can really help. There are gardening classes. Again, it is a question of designating an area for people and ensuring that they have it.
To conclude, it is little wonder that patients and those who are in homes remain uninspired and unhopeful if that is how they view a place designed to provide the help and support that they are crying out for. It is clear that we must make massive changes, and if the first step to doing that is an inquiry, that is where we must begin. My heart goes out to all the families who grieve and feel let down. I believe that we can do better, but not only that—we should do better and must do better.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this important debate under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. May I start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill)? I thought that he opened the debate incredibly well. I also pay tribute to Matthew Leahy’s mother for her campaigning to raise this issue here in Parliament. I am incredibly grateful to the 185 people in Warrington South who signed this petition. Many of them have also been in touch with my office over the last few days to raise their concerns about deaths in mental health care.
There is an unsatisfactory gap in the ability of regulators to enforce sanctions in serious cases and, in particular, those that involve death or serious harm to individuals where catastrophic deficiencies in standards of care were involved. Aware of this debate, I heard over the weekend from Richard Evans, who lives in Appleton in my constituency and whose daughter Hannah tragically took her own life five years ago.
At the time of her death, Hannah was a detained patient on Sheridan ward at Hollins Park Hospital in Warrington. Hannah, a 22-year-old young lady, had spent a short amount of time in a number of different settings as a detained patient and had also been cared for in the community by her family. Despite there being awareness of the fact that Hannah was a complex patient with an extensive history of tying life-threatening ligatures and an intense fear of change, she was given just two and a half hours’ notice of her transfer that day to a different hospital by those who were caring for her. When the decision was discussed with her parents, they did not object. Critically, though, they did not know that Hannah had been involved in nine ligature attempts while in an intensive care unit. They are in no doubt that, had they been aware of the history, they would have attempted to block that movement in order to protect and care for their daughter. A fundamental lack of communication between ward staff, management and the family—the next of kin—led to a decision that ultimately resulted in Hannah’s tragic loss of life.
The inquest on Hannah’s case highlights a series of failings on that ward, but also a national problem regarding the lack of provision in place to properly support vulnerable young adults diagnosed with personality disorders and, more widely, the significant number of people in this country who suffer from mental health conditions.
I welcome plans to establish a new Health Service Safety Investigations Body, a new executive non-departmental public body, but it must have the powers to conduct investigations into incidents that occur during the provision of services and have strong implications for the safety of patients. Critically, that body must also improve the quality and effectiveness of local investigations by developing standards and providing advice, guidance and training to organisations.
I am keen to see stronger steps taken with prosecutions, holding those who lead care settings to account. The Care Quality Commission currently has relatively limited powers to prosecute, in part because of reservations about the value of criminal enforcements in healthcare. Legalities aside, speaking to Richard Evans, Hannah’s father, the key issue with many of these sad cases seems to be a basic lack of communication: firstly between local NHS trusts and services, and then a dialogue with families when deaths sadly occur. That is something that can, and must, be addressed.
It is important that we take a zero-suicide policy to prevent unnecessary harm on individuals and their families in the future, and lessons need to be learned from the past. It is time to review the legislation to improve care, in what should be a place of safety for those who are at their most vulnerable.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I pay tribute to all the speakers today; they have spoken very movingly, particularly the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) and even more particularly Ms Leahy, who sounds like an incredible person. All that she is dedicating her life to now is trying to make sure that lessons are learned and changes are made, and that individuals responsible for mismanagement or maladministration are held to account.
The case I allude to is one with which the Minister is familiar. One of my constituents, Andrew Bellerby, was under the care of the Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, so these issues do not just pertain to places like the Linden Centre, which sounds horrendous. He presented himself there one evening, having been referred there by his GP. He had a history of suicide attempts. He was seen by untrained nurses who used a triage assessment tool that was designed by the Sheffield trust. These nurses were not trained to use it. Through that tool, they rated him as presenting no risk of suicide. He was then released back into the community, and sadly that evening took his own life.
Mr and Mrs Bellerby, his parents, have championed the cause of trying to find truth and justice, and have been prevented at every turn by Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust. The communications have been terrible. It has been denial after denial, lie after lie. Eventually, an inquest proved that the Bellerbys were right and that Andrew Bellerby’s suicide was preventable.
All that Mr and Mrs Bellerby wanted was an apology and an admission of the trust’s failure and mismanagement. Instead, there was denial and obfuscation. It cost in the order of £100,000 in legal costs, much of which fell to the taxpayer, although the actual compensation bill at the end was only £9,000. Incredibly, even after all that time and it having been demonstrated that Mr and Mrs Bellerby were right that their son had been poorly treated by the trust, there was no compassion, remorse or proper apology. It is simply unthinkable.
That was back in 2015. The CQC gave the trust a damning rating in 2016, and did another assessment in 2019. The most recent assessment showed that there were 47 breaches of the trust’s legal requirements. It was rated inadequate, and it is now in special measures. One of the things that runs through the report is constant reference to a lack of training. What had been learned in that four year period? Instead of the trust holding up its hands and saying, “Yes, we got this wrong. Yes, we are going to put it right,” which is what the Bellerbys wanted in the first place—I am sure that is what Ms Leahy wants too—the trust was in total denial.
Mr and Mrs Bellerby want to make sure that the assessment tools are prohibited and not used by the health service. They have stopped being used in the Sheffield trust, I am pleased to say, but there are 32 other trusts that may still be using them. The Minister has been great with this family and has met them personally, with me, and he is championing the cause of trying to improve best practice in this area. Questions remain about whether those lessons have been learned in other trusts around the country. Key to the matter, as hon. Members have alluded to in speeches today, is whether the leadership of the trust in question, and other trusts, has been held to account for the maladministration. Kevan Taylor was the CEO at the time, and the accountable officer. He has now left and a new chief executive has taken over. I would really like to know whether he left with a payment, and without any blemish on his track record, or whether he has been held to account or sacked for his underperformance. Demonstrably, for years there has been underperformance by the leadership of the trust. Unless we start to make sure that the individuals who run trusts are held to account if they get things wrong—many do a fine job, of course—such tragic cases will continue to happen.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and an honour to respond on behalf of the Opposition in this profoundly moving and powerful debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) for securing the debate, but it goes without saying that every contribution today has been extremely powerful. Everyone who has spoken has stood up for their constituents and represented the issues very well. The points have been made clearly and concisely, and hon. Members have done Melanie Leahy and the other families very proud.
We are here today because of a mother’s love for her son and her desire to receive some answers about his tragic and untimely death. It is fitting, then, that the debate should take place ahead of National Grief Awareness Week. Matthew Leahy was just 20 years old when he was admitted to the Linden Centre in November 2012 after being detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. While in the care of North Essex Partnership University Trust at the Linden Centre, Matthew phoned his parents on numerous occasions to express his unhappiness at being detained there. I know that I am speaking again of things that have already been mentioned, but it is important to give the details as many times as possible, to get what happened across as powerfully as is necessary to see the change we want.
Two days after being admitted, Matthew phoned his father to tell him that he had been drugged and raped on the ward. Following a 999 call made by Matthew, the Linden Centre staff gave assurances to the family that he was indeed safe in their care. Just days later, Matthew was found unresponsive and hanged, in his room. He was transferred to Broomfield Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Matthew was in the Linden Centre for just seven days.
As a mother myself, I cannot comprehend what Melanie has had to contend with over the last eight years. Sadly for Melanie and the family, the struggle is not over. An inquest concluded with an open narrative verdict that Matthew was subject to multiple failings and missed opportunities over a prolonged period of time, by those entrusted with his care. Multiple investigations and reviews were carried out into the North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, and into Matthew’s care, and they raised even more questions about the care that he received and the nature of his death. I want to raise some of the concerns that were found in the various reviews so that everyone here can get further understanding of the scale of the challenge that Melanie and her family have faced for the past eight years.
At post-mortem, traces of the drug GHB were found in Matthew’s system. He had bruises just above both ankles and four to five unexplained needle wounds in his groin. Matthew’s paperwork was incomplete and a key worker was not assigned to him. Staff at the Linden Centre had not issued Matthew with a care plan, but after his death they falsified one and backdated it. A number of ligature points in the Linden Centre previously identified for removal were still there. Essex police dropped a corporate manslaughter investigation into the deaths of 25 patients who were in the care of the North Essex partnership trust at nine separate establishments since 2000. The ombudsman investigated, and agreed that Matthew had not been responded to appropriately after reporting a rape, as well as that the Essex partnership’s investigation of Matthew’s death was inadequate. All this in eight years—the toll it has taken on this family. That is before we consider the prosecution of the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust by the Health and Safety Executive following the deaths of 11 patients in its care between 2004 and 2015.
The loss of multiple lives and the tearing apart of families were devastating and, most tragically, utterly preventable. We have to learn from those tragic losses so that no other families are affected. I ask the Minister if she will please work with Melanie Leahy on this matter directly, as her predecessor promised to do. I had the honour of speaking to Melanie ahead of the debate. This is her day, Matthew’s day and a day for all who are still seeking answers about their loved ones’ deaths.
The strength it takes to continue this fight after eight long years is commendable. My heart goes out to Melanie’s family and to all who have lost loved ones in similar circumstances, not just at the Linden Centre but in care settings across the country where they were meant to be safe. Many of those people have been mentioned in today’s debate, and I thank Members again for their contributions.
A system is not working properly if it takes so long to investigate such a tragedy, and yet answers are still not forthcoming. A grieving mother should not have to plead with people to sign a petition to get answers surrounding her son’s death. There should be no barriers to the truth. Inquiries and investigations should not be reserved for the most privileged and those who are most familiar with the system.
On the point about time, I highlight that it has taken over a year to have this debate following Melanie’s successful petition. We all understand the mitigating factors that this year has brought, but I would like everyone to consider how every step of the process has been slow. Barriers have been put in place for the family at every single turn.
Yes, of course it would be in everyone’s best interests for the inquiry to take place as soon as possible. After all this time, Melanie deserves some answers. I support her call for a statutory public inquiry into Essex mental health services and for the appointment of an independent chair. It is crucial that lessons are learned from Matthew’s case.
I will take this moment to read a few words from Melanie about why a statutory public inquiry is so important to her:
“To come this far and then get fobbed off with a review or general inquiry…would simply take…us all back to square one.”
She goes on to ask that the Minister do something real and meaningful that paves the way for truth, justice, accountability and change. There is an opportunity here for the Minister to commit to providing a grieving mother with answers about her son’s death, and to learning lessons so that other families do not suffer in this way. We cannot, and must not, delay any further.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) on securing such an important debate on the e-petition calling for a full public inquiry into the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Matthew Leahy, and the wider issue of deaths in mental health in-patient settings.
I thank all hon. Members present for making such valuable and powerful speeches on such an important issue. I am going to make quite an important announcement. Therefore, if anybody feels the need to intervene, could they wait until I have finished so that there is no ambiguity on the part of the relatives who may be listening, and so that they fully understand what I am saying and the reasons why I am saying it? In this case, that is quite important, particularly for Mrs Leahy and the relatives.
Matthew Leahy took his own life while he was in the care of the NHS.[Official Report, 3 December 2020, Vol. 685, c. 3MC.] His death was avoidable, as were the deaths of a number of other people in the same facility. While nothing that I or any of us can say today can ease the pain of their families and friends, I am determined that we learn the lessons of these tragic events.
I should like to raise a question with the Minister. She said that Matthew took his own life. Melanie Leahy does not accept that, and I think it would be easier if we used the words “he was found hanging”. The inquest recorded an open verdict, so I do not think it is appropriate in this debate to say that he took his own life.
Until we have proceeded a bit further, there is a form of words that I have to use at the moment, and that is the form of words. There is absolutely no contention about how Matthew died or the appalling circumstances in which he was found, but I have to use a particular form of words at this point.
As I said, nothing can ease Melanie’s pain, or that of the relatives of others who were found in similar circumstances in the Linden Centre. Matthew died in November 2012 while he was in the Linden Centre, a mental health facility in the former North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. I understand the devastating impact that that has had on Matthew’s family, especially Melanie, whom I have spoken to twice. My heartfelt condolences go out to them now, as was the case when I spoke to them and will continue to be so.
The petition we are debating today calls for a public inquiry into the death of Matthew Leahy on the grounds that past investigations have been inadequate. I first met Melanie last year and I was deeply moved by her story. I took that story away and have continued to work since I first spoke to her. I have since met her again and I have met some of the other families whose loved ones have died at the Linden Centre, and my thoughts are equally with them.
As a result of what I have heard from both Melanie and other relatives, I can confirm today that there will be an independent inquiry into the events at the Linden Centre, covering the period from 2000 to the present day, as requested in Mrs Leahy’s petition. This will mean that all the tragic events are given the attention they deserve to ensure that lessons are learned. The scope will not go earlier than 2000 or later than 2020, in order to keep the inquiry focused and to have it report in a timely manner. I consider that 20 years is a more than adequate timeframe to enable us to understand what happened at the Linden Centre and to learn from it.
I am in the process of appointing an independent chair, and I am considering half a dozen leading candidates at present. They will need to be robustly independent and command the confidence of the families. I have chosen to go down the route of an independent inquiry rather than a public statutory inquiry so that we can move quickly. To inform its findings, the inquiry will be able to call witnesses and undertake a close examination of what actually happened to patients who died at the trust. I will also appoint a barrister—a QC—to assist the chair in their investigations, along with a full secretariat. The inquiry will be independent and will consult families on the specific terms of reference. As an independent inquiry, it can determine how it wishes to work with the families so that they are able to give their accounts.
I will not pull any punches. Hon. Members will be aware of the report of the inquiry into the life and death of baby Elizabeth Dixon, published last week, which set out the details behind what it described as a “20-year cover-up”. I can cite two more inquiries: the Morecambe Bay investigation and the Paterson inquiry, both of which were independent inquiries commissioned by my Department. They left no stone unturned and were frank in their criticisms.
I expect witnesses to come forward irrespective of the type of inquiry. While public inquiries can compel witnesses to appear and give evidence under oath, importantly, they do not have to give evidence that would incriminate them. However, it is incumbent on all holders of public office, and on health professionals, to demonstrate their fitness by voluntarily co-operating with independent inquiries that seek to protect future patients and offer closure to families.
I will when I have finished this point.
The independent Paterson inquiry—this is an important point—referred to the General Medical Council two doctors who had refused to give evidence to the inquiry, and they are being investigated. It is not the case that if someone in a professional capacity refuses to give evidence to an independent inquiry, they are not held accountable. That is patently demonstrated by the case of the doctors who are being investigated by the GMC.
With the timeframes that we originally set, I had hoped that the inquiry might report within 18 months. As I have today extended its scope to cover a 20-year span from 2000 to 2020, it will take longer, but I hope that it will report its findings within two years. I hope to announce the chair and outline the terms of reference in a written ministerial statement—
I think it would be easier if the Minister just let me ask the question. It was clear from what my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) said that Melanie Leahy is not necessarily happy with an independent inquiry. We should be clear about that. There is the question of compelling witnesses to attend.
The Minister is talking about appointing the chair. It is important that, for complete independence, any inquiry has the support of families such as Matthew’s. Can she tell us whether she will consider having the position of chair approved by an independent body or, for instance, the Health and Social Care Committee? I do not think people will be comfortable with her appointing the chair. As other hon. Members have said, there has been too much of people appointing other people, and saying, “You review me and I review you.” That is an important point.
I would like to get the inquiry going. As in all other inquiries, I believe it is the case—I will come back to the hon. Lady with the reasons why—that ministerial responsibility has to be taken.
As I was about to say, I want to get the inquiry under way before Christmas. I would like to make a written ministerial statement to the House before the Christmas recess to set out the terms of reference of the inquiry and to name the chair, with the provision that the inquiry will commence in the second week of February.
The point has been made that Melanie Leahy has campaigned on this for eight years and has done a wonderful job. I understand the reasons for trying to do this quickly, but it is too hasty for the Minister to move ahead and appoint a chair unless she is clear that the families, and particularly Melanie Leahy, are happy with that. The chair has to be seen to be independent. I am not sure that I am particularly happy with what the Minister is outlining.
We will go through the processes that we have been through within the Department of Health and Social Care. They are set in law and abided by during every inquiry; that has included all the past inquiries such as the Dixon inquiry, the Paterson inquiry and the Morecambe Bay inquiry. The same protocols and the same process will be adhered to.[Official Report, 3 December 2020, Vol. 685, c. 4MC.]
I am grateful for what the Minister has said. I know that she has battled to get this through because she sincerely believes in the cause and in bringing justice. In my view, it is important that it happens quickly, as I said earlier. My worry is that a statutory inquiry would take months and months to set up. For my constituents the Wades, the key thing is time. The semantics do not matter, as long as what we do finds the truth and probes further. That is exactly what happened with the Dixon inquiry.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that no stone was left unturned in the Dixon inquiry. It took 20 years to conclude, and the summary was devastating in terms of what happened. A nurse can no longer practise in this country, and it was revealed that the trust, doctors and medical staff had engaged in a cover-up for 20 years. It took 20 years of probing, but the inquiry happened. It might be thought that a public inquiry would find out more, but one of the advantages of an independent inquiry is that it can work much more closely with families and take their considerations into account by talking to them and involving them, whereas that would not happen with a public inquiry. As has been demonstrated by each one that has been conducted, an independent inquiry benefits from the relationship built with families and the information that families have been able to input. It is important that families’ stories are heard, because some of them are complex, painful and detailed.
Extending the inquiry from 2000 to 2020, as I have done this morning, incorporates both the former trust and the existing trust. A situation occurred recently within the new trust, and we are able to incorporate both trusts and even more families.
The Minister is being generous in giving way. The people running the inquest certainly say that they think a statutory inquiry would be best. Over a 20-year period, many of us have received emails from constituents whose children are now in social care—for example, a young woman who spent time in 11 different hospitals first went in when she was 14. She is still there at the age of 22, at a cost of £700,000 per annum. What learning is there at an interim level? Will the inquiry allow for learning as we go, rather than our waiting five years for the report? In those five years, we could lose another 10 or 15 patients each year, so what are the interim milestones that could give us support?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and we would hope for an interim report, but it would depend on the chair. Once we have appointed a chair and secretariat and have the ability to appoint a QC, as required for interviewing witnesses, we will have as a Department, as Ministers and as MPs—independent means independent. Nobody can have any influence on the inquiry, but we would ask for an interim report, particularly if there were findings. However, we have to be aware that findings could prejudice something that might come as a result of the inquiry. Learning is absolutely the key, which is why we have established the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch.
This is an important point at which to mention medical examiners. In April 2019, we introduced medical examiners into hospitals. If there is a death of a patient today, a medical examiner will examine the death certificate—the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) will know this, as she is a practising doctor—look into the circumstances of the death and liaise with the bereaved family. We would hope that the circumstances surrounding a death are already improved by the medical examiner system, which incorporates learning too.
It has been some considerable time since there has been any kind of inquiry into a mental health setting, so it is important that we have an inquiry in order to have a 20-year window. We can take those examples, look at the report and take away the learning. If that can be introduced in an interim report that we can take away, that would be excellent. I cannot guarantee that, however, because we do not know what the chair or secretariat will find once the inquiry begins.
I did not finish replying to an earlier intervention. I hope the inquiry will commence in the second week of February, but the chair and secretariat will be appointed before the December recess.
As a Minister, it is not my role to issue sanctions, but if the chair discovered anything even remotely untoward during the inquiry, it would be referred to the police. The inquiry does not cover up criminal activity—that is the case for any inquiry, not just this one. There would be accountability.
I cannot comment because, as the hon. Member knows, inquests and coroners are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. Coroners are almost in the vein of judges, so that is a legal question for the MOJ to answer; it is not within the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Social Care. Our job is to launch an inquiry, ensure that it has a robust, independent chair, that it is fully funded and staffed, that it establishes terms of reference in consultation with as many families as possible as soon as possible, and that it commences as soon as possible.
As hon. Members will be aware, the Health and Safety Executive has investigated how the trust managed environmental risks from fixed potential ligature points in in-patient wards between 25 October 2004 and 31 March 2015. As a result of the investigation, the Health and Safety Executive has brought a prosecution against the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, which was formed following the merger of the North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust with the South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. I am sure hon. Members will understand that I cannot go into the details of those proceedings as they are before the courts.
I could say quite a bit about the petition and the cases, but I will conclude to let the hon. Member for Hartlepool have the final say. I thank Melanie Leahy for her years of campaigning. I hope she will understand that a robustly independent inquiry that is unafraid to turn over stones and work with the families, calling those it sees fit to give evidence, is a way to discover what has happened at the Linden Centre over the past 20 years, including what culture developed, what practices were in place and what happened to those young boys who died there. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) said, what is important is that we get to the truth. It does not matter what the framework or structure is; what matters is the truth, knowing how those young boys died, what happened and what we can learn from those dreadful mistakes.
I thank the Petitions Committee and its staff for their hard work in the background for all Members in the Chamber, who in representing the interests of their constituents have conducted themselves in dignity and with passion. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) and the Minister for their contributions. I cannot say whether Melanie will be happy with that, but she clearly called for a statutory inquiry.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 255823, relating to deaths in mental health care.
Transport for London: Funding
[Sir David Amess in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 331453, relating to funding for Transport for London.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for taking part in the debate. There are quite a lot of Members on the call list, so I will speak as quickly as I can to fit everyone in. I hope hon. Members will forgive me for not taking any interventions, so everyone can get in.
On behalf of the Petitions Committee, I thank the over 170,000 people who have signed this petition, including 1,272 people from Carshalton and Wallington. I appreciate that there might be questions as to why we are having this discussion, given that the second Transport for London bail-out protected free transport for under-18s, but I think this is a live issue that will return, so it is right that we take the time to discuss it this afternoon.
I might be showing my age, but I can remember the introduction of the Oyster card scheme and free travel for under-18s. From the days of keeping loose change by the front door to get the bus to school, we changed to the Oyster card system when I was in high school. I have some personal experience of the impact that removing free transport for under-18s could have, having been on both sides of the introduction.
I pay tribute to the team at the Petitions Committee, which has conducted a survey among those who signed the petition to find out a bit more about their views. We have had over 3,000 responses to that survey. I would like to run through the key findings of the survey. Participants were asked how important zip cards, or other forms of concessionary travel, were for young people, and the impact that their removal might have. A zip card, or other form of concessionary travel, was reported to be “very important” to access school or college by 93% of respondents. It was also considered to be “very important” by 80% of people for accessing services, including medical appointments, 79% for work, 72% for training placements, 60% for accessing leisure and extra-curricular activities, 65% for socialising and 62% for meeting family and friends. If the 16-plus zip card scheme were suspended, 71% of respondents said they would find it “extremely difficult” to access school or college, 57% said it would make it “extremely difficult” to access work and 61% said it would make it “extremely difficult” to access services, including medical appointments.
The survey went on to ask the respondents what impact the removal would have on their travel habits. Almost five times as many young people said they would use taxis “very frequently”, with the number of people who would use private car “frequently” or “very frequently” more than doubling. The number of respondents who indicated they would cycle increased by 82%, but there was no significant change indicated by those who said they would walk. The survey also found that 60% said they would use the tube, DLR, London Overground or TfL Rail less, and 56% said they would use a bus or a tram less.
It is clear that petitioners feel that the change would have a great impact on their lives. Therefore, it is only right that we look at the heart of TfL’s financial situation. It would be easy to say that coronavirus and the subsequent drop in passenger numbers is responsible for TfL’s financial woes. Indeed, the onset of covid-19 has resulted in significant reductions in passenger demand, not just in London but across the country. For most of March and April, daily tube usage was around 5% of normal levels and daily bus usage was only 18% of normal levels. While we have seen a rise in passenger numbers over the past few months, they have remained stubbornly far below normal pre-pandemic levels, and the recent re-imposition of an England-wide lockdown has also had an effect on TfL’s finances.
However, I want to talk about the state that TfL’s finances were in before the pandemic hit. It is clear to me that Londoners were, and are, being let down by a Mayor whose mismanagement of the capital’s transport network has cost TfL billions of pounds in lost revenue, waste and bail-outs, as well as the pursuit of transport policies that he knew TfL could not afford. There are countless of examples of this, and I will run through a few.
At least £640 million in revenue was lost by freezing pay-as-you-go fares that essentially benefit tourists, but not Londoners, who saw the cost of their travel cards rise. Crossrail has been delayed by nearly four years, despite being on time and on budget when this Mayor took office. It was due to open in December 2018, but after multiple delays it is now not expected to open until mid-2022. The delay has cost TfL £3.9 billion in bailouts and £1.35 billion in lost fares revenue.
TfL’s debt has rocketed to a record £11.7 billion. Some 21 major transport projects have been delayed or cancelled. The bill for TfL staff on trade union duties has almost doubled. TfL’s nominee passes, which essentially let the housemate or lodger of anyone working for TfL ride for free on the tube network, cost an estimated £44 million in lost fares. The amount TfL spends on executive pay has ballooned. The number of staff on over £100,000 a year has risen by nearly 100 in the last four years.
TfL’s performance-related pay bonus has gone up by nearly a third, from £8.3 million in 2017 to £11.8 million in 2019. Fare dodging is estimated to cost £400 million. £12.3 million has been wasted on the Rotherhithe crossing and £20 million on Woolwich ferries, and the list goes on.
As pointed out by our excellent candidate for Croydon and Sutton on the London Assembly, Neil Garratt, that has had an effect on boroughs like mine, in Sutton. In a London Assembly report released last year, it was shown that Sutton was dead last for investment from City Hall out of all the London Boroughs, and that was pre-pandemic. That means that the future of transport projects, such as the Tramlink extension to Sutton, which our London Assembly member Steve O’Connell has been championing for a long time, is in jeopardy.
It is fair to say that we are going to be living with the effects of the pandemic for some time, and that includes transport in London. The Government expect TfL to prepare proposals for achieving financial sustainability by 11 January 2021, in advance of a long-term solution for TfL’s finances being announced before the second bailout expires in March 2021.
That long-term package must address the huge wastage that I have outlined and not punish Londoners for the cost of the pre-pandemic mismanagement of TfL’s finances. However, ultimately this comes down to the political choices of the Mayor, and in May next year the petitioners will have a choice to make: four more years of waste and higher costs with the current Mayor, or getting TfL’s finances under control and delivering a better deal for Londoners with Shaun Bailey.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. Five minutes is quite a generous allocation compared with many other occasions, so I thank you very much for that, and I thank the Petitions Committee for facilitating this debate.
I also thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for opening the debate, but I must say that his speech was disappointing. It crudely politicised the issue, and we know why—because there is a mayoral election next year and the Conservative party has a pretty duff candidate. I know as much because he ran against me in Hammersmith in 2010. He is 20% behind in the polls, so there we have it. And now I am making a political speech, but that is what happens. These issues, whether they affect our individual constituencies or London as a whole, are ones on which we should be able to reach agreement. TfL’s revenue fell by 90% as a consequence of covid, so to go around pretending that it is something to do with this or that decision by the Mayor is, frankly, ridiculous, and makes the public think we are ridiculous. When such points are made in a debate in this place, we have to rebut them, meaning that we then go around in ever-decreasing circles and end up where we are. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman chose to take that position.
Again, this is where we are going: I hope the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington is now shamefacedly regretting making his opening speech in that way.
If I may be indulged, I will speak for a couple of minutes on the general issue and then a couple of minutes on something very dear to my heart and to those of many other hon. Members in south-west London—namely, Hammersmith bridge.
The figures show that the current Mayor managed TfL’s finances immeasurably better than his predecessor, and indeed in a very efficient way. The operating deficit was reduced by more than 70%, the cash balance increased by 30%, and the fares freeze was wonderful for London, as opposed to the 42% rise in fares overseen by the previous Mayor. If we had not had the fares freeze, there would be a bigger gap to fill now, so even basic maths seems to escape Government Members when they talk about these issues.
A bail-out was necessary—does any hon. Member present deny that a bail-out was necessary or appropriate? —but we have to have six-month bail-outs. We cannot have a longer-term one to allow better planning, because of course the Government want to keep this story running and have another artificial row, with a 17 minutes to midnight, last-minute piece of blackmail just when the election is coming up. It really is that transparent, and the way in which the Government are dealing with this issue is, frankly, not worthy. I wish they would stop politicking in this obvious way, because the only people who suffer are our constituents.
The Government have targeted TfL’s progressive policies, such as the under-18s travel card, the over-60s travelcard—perhaps I should declare an interest as of about a month ago—and the congestion charge. I remember the huge fuss about the congestion charge extension and the calls to withdraw it, but suddenly the Government want it to be extended to the north and south circular roads— which, by the way, would virtually bring London to a halt.
Please can we just have a little bit of common sense? Nowhere is that needed more than on the issue of Hammersmith bridge—a major strategic river crossing. It is a concern not just to me as the Member for Hammersmith, but to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson)—we will hear from her later—and my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), who will be here, if possible. It affects a whole swathe of London and the south-east. I had a debate on that subject in March and I thought that we were making some progress, but it is always groundhog day.
TfL and Hammersmith and Fulham Council were making progress in drawing up a full schedule of repairs for the bridge, but the taskforce set up by the Government has brought everything shuddering to a halt, as taskforces so often do. It is a national, if not international, embarrassment that we cannot repair a major river crossing. It will cost a lot of money—more than £150 million—but every day I look at the bridges Minister’s Twitter feed, she announces another £100 million here and there for road and bridge schemes around the country. On average, about 85% to 90% of that is paid by central Government, but apparently that does not go for Hammersmith bridge. I hope all London Members will support me in saying that it is about time that the Government set an example on a major piece of London infrastructure, which can be funded only through central Government. TfL, Hammersmith and Fulham Council, and Richmond Council do not have the means to do it. It needs to be funded now.
Last week, the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council announced a proposal by Sir John Ritblat and Norman Foster for a very innovative scheme to put a temporary crossing in place that would, in a relatively short period, allow traffic to go over and under the river at that point. That work was done by the local authority, working with the private sector. It still needs funding, and unless we have that funding quickly, my constituents and many others across London will continue to suffer not for weeks or months but years without the basic facility that that provides.
This is an extraordinary dereliction of duty by the Government, for patently party political reasons. The Secretary of State and the Conservative mayoral candidate announce every five minutes, “Don’t worry. Just vote for us and you can have the money.” I am afraid that does not cut any ice. My constituents and others want the bridge repaired. They do not want silly party political squabbles and game-playing. Let us have a response to that. If we can get it from the Minister today, that would be most helpful.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. At the outset, it is important to say that Transport for London is critical to the functioning of the city. It is vital for the economic and social wellbeing of London. These days, although it is unfashionable to say so, London is the economic motor of the UK economy. If TfL does not function, London does not function, and the knock-on effect on the country is inestimable, so it is right that the Government have stepped in.
It is worth pointing out that neither Transport for London nor the Government are responsible for the health crisis that we are in. It is true that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) pointed out, the pandemic has devastated Transport for London’s finances. That is a fact and is not open for debate. It is right that the Government have stepped in twice over a six-month period, to the tune of £3.3 billion, and that cost is borne by the UK taxpayer collectively.
There has been much comment that certain benefits enjoyed by Londoners before the pandemic are not covered by the bail-out agreements. It is important to note that at pre-pandemic levels, there was more than £1 billion within Transport for London’s transport provision. More than £700 million of that went into buses, and there were £330 million of other concessions. The Government’s position in both bail-out agreements is that it would be inequitable to taxpayers across the country to pay for subsidised travel that is not enjoyed elsewhere. Why should taxpayers in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham pay for a benefit that Londoners enjoy but they do not?
London’s deputy Mayor for transport, speaking on behalf of the Mayor, has pushed back on that. She said that that amounts to levelling down, and that Londoners are more dependent on public transport. I think there is something in that argument, but the financial management at City Hall over the past four years leaves a lot to be desired.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington when he said that he had crudely politicised this issue. Has he ever met Sadiq Khan? I cannot imagine a politician in this country alive today who misses an opportunity to crudely politicise any issue at all.
There are other facts, which were laid out at some length by my hon. Friend. There is the fares freeze—or partial fares freeze, as it should be called, because it is not a complete fares freeze. I am sure that much will be made by Labour Members, when they come to speak, of the withdrawal of the revenue grant from Transport for London’s budget. They will not acknowledge that much of that is replaced by business rates, but they will harp on about the £700 million. They are right to draw attention to that withdrawal, because it has harmed Transport for London’s finances, but it did not happen in one year or overnight; it was phased in over a three-year period. The first year of it was under the previous Mayor, so candidate Khan, before he became Mayor Khan, knew about it. He knew that that money was going to disappear and he still, recklessly, pledged a fares freeze, a partial fares freeze, for the next four years in order to help garner votes to get himself elected. Transport for London’s costing of that at that time was £1.9 billion. Then, a few weeks later, it watered that down, because the commissioner was desperate to keep his job, to £640 million, and that is the figure that it is sticking at for the moment.
On top of that, we have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington said, the massive delay to Crossrail. It is nearly £4 billion over budget and is four years late, and that will cost more than £1.6 billion in unachieved fares revenue. These things do not help, and they have happened.
Labour Members will say, and the Mayor has been saying ad nauseam, “Well, of course, this is a co-sponsored project between the Department for Transport and Transport for London.” That is true, but Transport for London is, and always was, the delivery arm for the project, because Crossrail Ltd, which the Mayor likes to blame, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London. And who chairs Transport for London? The Mayor of London. Crossrail’s delay can be laid squarely at the feet of Sadiq Khan.
We have heard about the 21 capital projects that have been delayed. We have heard about some of the fringe benefits—the TFL nominee pass scheme. We have heard—well, we had not heard about this—that trade union facility time at Transport for London has more than doubled under Sadiq Khan. There are now 81 people. The number of people who spend more than half of their time working solely on trade union facility activities has more than doubled. That is more than for the whole of the civil service put together.
We have seen other examples of Sadiq Khan’s wasteful approach to management. Staff costs at City Hall have gone up by 82% in four years. Does anybody believe that London is 82% better governed now than it was in 2016? Anyone at all? Of course not. The Mayor’s press office costs have increased by 33% since Sadiq Khan took office. There have been other really good headline-grabbing things, such as £800,000 spent on beach parties in 2018. And in 2019, £10 million was spent by the Metropolitan police to put every police officer over the rank of sergeant through a personality test to assign a colour to their personality. Apparently, that was critical. Ten million pounds was spent on that by this Mayor of London.
We are living in extraordinary times. The Government are dealing with an unprecedented health crisis. There is no manual for how to do this. The Government interventions, if they go to the full extent announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week, will amount to £280 billion, and they are very, very extensive.
In London, the Government have demonstrated their commitment to maintaining the core functions of Transport for London by injecting £3.3 billion of UK taxpayers’ money to keep Transport for London afloat. I do not think that anybody in this Chamber will argue with that, but in the circumstances, given the fact that the benefits in question are not enjoyed outside London and that City Hall under Sadiq Khan has been so wasteful with public money, it is hardly surprising that the Government should expect City Hall to fund the retention of such benefits.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, but not an honour and not pleasant to hear that my time has been cut back by a minute. However, I am very happy to speak in the debate and to hear hon. Members. It is quite fun to have a little bit of old-fashioned political banter after what has been a pretty heavy six months on coronavirus and everything else—it is quite fun to be talking about bridges and things. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
Many transport authorities across the world are trying to shift us all out of our cars and on to trains and buses and into cycling and walking. That is having a bit of a hiccup at the moment because of coronavirus, but I know that we all agree about the importance of clean air. Many hon. Members will have read the tragic story of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, who tragically died of asthma. Her family have been given an opportunity to take further legal action, to make us learn more about how we can make an impact on clean air in London.
I am really pleased that we are no longer at loggerheads about how transport will be paid for. I was panicking a couple of weeks back about the congestion charge and under-18s travel. The Child Poverty Action Group made the point that the zip card is incredibly important for young Londoners. As we know, young people have been so badly affected by coronavirus; it would be awful if they were doubly affected through the removal of zip cards.
In areas such as mine, the London Borough of Haringey, there has been a 182% increase in unemployment, including a huge whack of youth unemployment. Anything we can do to help young people use transport to get to job interviews, an apprenticeship, college or sixth form, would help enormously. London MPs do not get that many opportunities to gather together in this Chamber—it is quite fun—but when we talk about levelling up, we need to recognise that many people in our city live on extremely low incomes.
While we have an enormous amount of sympathy for people in Liverpool and Manchester, there massive deprivation in London. More people live in deprivation in London than outside it. I completely agree with the levelling up agenda, but I also think it should apply to London boroughs. Our boroughs, TfL and all our London government arrangements do a fantastic job, given that they often run off the smell of an oily rag.
In the coming six months, all our residents will have to pay more tax. The Chancellor’s announcement last week will mean every London borough will have to put up tax and the Mayor of London will probably have to put up the precept. That is a terrible pity. The International Monetary Fund and other groups have said that we should not be levying more money from citizens, because it is such a tough time for people with businesses and those struggling with their jobs. And now we know there will be a public sector pay freeze. This is not the time to put council tax up. It is very regressive. It is a typical wheeze from central Government to make local governments impose more tax. That is a real pity.
The housing market is quite buoyant at the moment, so I would like to see us work together as London MPs on how we can make developers share a bit more of the transport burden. I know there is a big change with the community infrastructure levy going into other arrangements and so on, but, given the buoyancy of our housing market, it would be useful to look at the transport element and how much more can be done. There is much more we could do, given that a lot of the developers go home with huge bonuses at the end of the annual financial year, while so many of our residents struggle on tiny incomes. There must be a way of getting them to pay for more of the transport improvements required for the clean air and standard of living we desperately need, as well as the cohesive communities we all seek.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I welcome this debate, brought by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn). Before I start, I have an interest to declare: I have two teenagers who enjoy the free travel for under-18s.
I recognise the detrimental effect covid-19 has had on TfL’s finances. Anyone using the tube or bus will know of the dramatic fall in passenger numbers. I travelled here on the tube. The stations and carriages are empty. But we must accept that the rot in TfL’s finances had set in way before covid-19. Much of the blame for TfL being in such an awful mess can be laid at Mayor Khan’s door. Yes, the Government’s decision to phase out the operating revenue element of the TfL grant had some effect—losing £700 million a year would have been difficult to absorb—but the Mayor knew that before he stood for election and introduced his fare freeze. There was no strategic thinking about what could happen in City Hall once he was elected.
The Mayor introduced a major fare freeze across the network despite advice from his transport commissioner not to do so, which he ignored. That led to an extra loss of £640 million on top of the £700 million, which meant the Mayor had a loss of more than £1 billion before he had even finished his first year. This issue has also led to a fall in passenger numbers at the same time—a triple whammy, even before covid struck. In my constituency, people are now feeling the effects of the Mayor’s inability to invest in infrastructure. I might add that people in Pimlico desperately need the tube to be upgraded, because of the terrible noise that they have to deal with. The Mayor and his deputy have made personal promises to the people of Pimlico that now cannot be kept.
One of the big issues that has really affected my constituency is the extension of the congestion charge. A number of constituents and businesses have come to me because they are concerned about the extension to 10 pm from Monday to Friday, and about the extension to Saturdays and Sundays. Many people now describe it as a two-tier system, because at the same time as extending the congestion charge, the Mayor stopped the resident discount from 1 August. That applies no matter how long someone has been living within the congestion charge zone. Their circumstances might change: they will get older and might become frail, or they might have infirm children who need to be transported in a car. Such people can no longer benefit from the 90% reduction, which is a massive issue.
I have had doctors, pharmacists, foster carers, charity workers and market traders all say to me that the extension of the congestion charge and the ending of the discount is having a detrimental effect on their lives. One doctor who lives in Westminster has now been posted to the Surrey border. He wanted to use his car because of the times of his shifts, so he now drives, which adds £15 extra to his daily commute. A market trader in Covent Garden told me that she works at her small business two days a week, on Saturday and Sunday. The congestion charge on Saturdays and Sundays has now added £1,500 to her bottom line. At a time when we are trying to have an economic recovery, the charge is another blow to small businesses.
Why can the Mayor not consider the gross over-expenditure that he has introduced? TfL employees now have a 31% pension contribution from their employer, compared with 13% for doctors, nurses, police officers, firemen and teachers. Why should TfL employees benefit from that? Why has there been an increase of nearly 100 people who earn £100,000 a year working for TfL? All this fat could be cut, so that TfL can keep free travel for under-18s and the over-60s. It has to change, and the Mayor has to be held to account on this issue.
It is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on securing the debate. It pains me to agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), which I do rarely, although this is the second time in a London debate that I have done so. He is right that we would look ridiculous if we tried to say in this debate that there has not been a fall in passenger numbers and that there has not been a financial consequence for TFL. We are clearly saying that is the case, and nobody is saying anything different.
As so many hon. Members have already pointed out, the Government have put in funding packages twice, with £1.7 billion earlier this month and a previous package of £1.6 billion, making £3.3 billion. Ridership has dropped across whole networks, but that is not what we are discussing. We are discussing whether the Mayor’s decisions had an impact on TfL’s finances prior to covid, and the answer to that question, whether one likes it or not, is a resounding yes.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith spoke about how the Mayor has improved various positions, but none of that was a surprise to the Mayor, because back in 2014 TfL’s debt position was set out, along with how sustainable funding would need to be put in place. It was also recognised prior to the 2016 mayoral election that, rather than receiving other financial resources, £16 billion of savings would have to be made by 2022. Of that, £12 billion had been found prior to the Mayor taking office, so the idea that he has been hugely successful in finding any of those savings is complete nonsense.
The agreement that the Mayor has signed alongside this funding package recognises explicitly that he has not done enough during his term of office to find any more of those savings or benefits. I will not reiterate the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) and for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) about the numerous failings of Crossrail and the fact that the pay-as-you-go freeze has not benefited Londoners—something on travelcards might have done more—and £640 million has been lost in revenue.
The fact of the matter is that the agreement the Mayor signed with the Government for the funding package explicitly recognises that his financial management has not been good enough. That is why a major section of the agreement points out that he has failed to find a further range of operating efficiencies and that an assessment of capital efficiencies and a review of the long-term capital plan needs to be put in place. That is being done only because it is a condition of the package.
Finally, it is extraordinary that the Mayor has not proceeded with the plans produced under the previous Mayor and commissioner at TfL and gone through non-operational assets not generating any revenue that could be either used or sold off. That has a direct impact on the free travel for under-18s and over-60s that we are talking about—it is good that the Government’s package recognises its importance and ensures that it will continue—but there are also direct consequences for my constituents. The previous Mayor knew the value of infrastructure and invested in new trains for the District line. As a result of the delay or, indeed, cancellation of 21 infra- structure projects, part of the upgrade to the District line, which is key to the livelihoods of so many of my constituents, has not happened. That is a direct consequence of the Mayor’s financial mismanagement.
If the conditions that the agreement imposes on the Mayor were not in place, free travel for under-18s and over-60s, which is now protected, would be at risk. That is what we are talking about this evening—not what covid has caused but what was happening prior to that.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and the Petitions Committee for the debate. I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and declare that I was proudly a trade union officer dealing with Transport for London at the time of the previous Conservative Mayor, seeing at first hand the insane obsession with £400,000 buses and failing schemes such as the garden bridge that cost an eye-watering amount of money and did not even build a bridge over the Thames. To take lectures from Conservative Members about that poppycock —to use one of the Prime Minister’s terms—is simply unbelievable. They are right, however, that the root cause of the problem goes back beyond covid-19 to the cutting of the operating grant.
For a long time, London’s transport system has been the jewel in the crown of this country’s transport infrastructure; every major railway line stops here to serve the rest of our nation as the economic engine. Yet we are the only country in western Europe to have pulled nearly £1 billion of the main subsidy from that transport system, which moves millions of people in and out of London every single day. That is the root cause of the problem. I have seen at first hand how the previous Mayor and the current Mayor have had to suffer the consequences of that decision.
In all honesty, there needs to be a settlement—a real one that is actually sustainable for Londoners. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, London is an economic driver. Although many people are having to work at home at the moment, which may be a fundamental change, the reality is that TfL will not be able to wash its face when 70% of its fares have gone completely.
Let us give the Mayor of London credit where credit is due. He successfully forced the Government to give up their plans to scrap free travel for older and younger Londoners, alongside their ill-conceived attempt, which almost caused a riot, to extend the congestion charge to my constituency of Ilford South on the border of the A406. That was a nakedly political move to hit the Mayor of London, and I believe it would be as deeply unpopular in east London as in many west London constituencies. Clearly, it was thrown straight out the window when constituents made their voices heard.
Again, those negotiations went down to the wire. The funding deal was agreed by the Government only 17 minutes before the deadline. That is not the way to run a system that supports millions of people travelling to work, even during the covid-19 crisis. The deal also came with huge strings, including £160 million of additional savings this financial year. On the facility time for trade unions, under Sadiq, relationships have been far better than they were under the Prime Minister, who would not even pick up the phone to me or any of my colleagues for four years. Megaphone diplomacy through the pages of the Evening Standard is not the way to run our capital city’s transport system.
Despite what was written in black and white in a letter from the Transport Secretary to the Mayor, the Government and, of course, Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate, are pretending that Sadiq chose to impose those conditions on Londoners. Londoners will not be taken for fools; they know that the Prime Minister wrongly said on the Floor of the House that the Mayor had bankrupted TfL before the pandemic. To use another of his phrases, that is simply balderdash. There is no possible way that radical change would not have been needed when 90% of footfall disappeared almost overnight.
The knock-on impact of the financial crisis is that young people in my constituency, which is one of the most diverse in London, now face having their zip card taken away from them. That is what allows them to travel across London and, when we are out of covid-19, to visit museums and the local library to study. As the Child Poverty Action Group has said, those are the children whose parents will have to decide whether to put food on the table because they suddenly have to pay for their child to travel to school. Let us not have a north-south divide. Why not level up the north, rather than level down London?
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for bringing forward this debate, which is an important one for us to have across the political parties.
Many of my constituents signed the petitions to scrap the removal of free transport for under-18s. I received so many emails from constituents who were concerned about the issue. I also met so many young people. The impact on them would be devastating were this to continue. I know that this decision will have an impact on so many of their lives, and their families’ lives, as it has during the summer.
I will share with Members the issues impacting my constituents shortly, but I must begin by setting the record straight on why we are in this situation right now. Despite the appalling circumstances that TfL was under when forced to suspend free travel for under-18s, the Government are pretending that the Mayor of London chose to implement those decisions. In fact, the Mayor was forced to accept the devastating bail-out at the last minute, which really punishes Londoners for doing the right thing by following the covid-19 restrictions.
The Prime Minister has oh so wrongly said on the Floor of the House that the Mayor bankrupted TfL before the pandemic. In the four years Sadiq Khan has been Mayor, he has fixed the financial mess that he inherited on TfL from the previous Mayor. He has reduced the operational deficit of TfL by 71% and increased cash reserves by 13%. With the delay of Crossrail in Abbey Wood, the Government have said that London should cover the projected funding gaps that the Crossrail project faces, despite its being a jointly sponsored project with the Government that brings economic benefits across Erith and Thamesmead and beyond.
During the covid-19 lockdown, TfL funding from fares dropped by 90%. Due to the dodgy deal struck between the current Prime Minister and George Osborne in 2015, removing TfL’s Government grant, London has been the only major city in western Europe that has not received direct Government funding to run day-to-day transport services in the last few years, meaning that it relies heavily on funding from passengers’ fares.
Instead of working with the Mayor to ensure that transport in London could continue to operate for people as we come out of lockdown, the Government have forced the Mayor to accept a bad deal that has since been used as a political campaigning tool. We cannot afford to play politics with people’s lives, which is why the Government must accept that the suspension of free travel for under-18s will have devastating consequences for my constituents, and ensure that the Mayor is not forced into that position again next year.
As I mentioned, this summer I spoke to young people about how covid-19 has impacted them. One of the main issues that was raised was the fear of not being able to afford to go to school following that decision. A young person in my constituency said: “As a young person from a family whose income has been affected by the covid-19 pandemic, this will change and hurt my family’s finances by paying for travel when we were barely able to afford it before. I, like many under-18s, rely on public transport every day to get to and from school. By doing this, many children from low-income families will not be able to afford to go back to school or go back home. Please stop this.”
The Government are supposed to work to protect people and ensure that everyone can have equal opportunities and life chances, yet they continue to put the economic burden of covid-19 on the most disadvantaged in society. Thousands of households in Erith and Thamesmead have seen their incomes slashed during covid-19. I am pleased that the Mayor has been able to reverse this appalling decision and secure free travel for under-18s until March 2021, but the uncertainty beyond that, combined with the added uncertainty of job losses and business closures, is causing so much stress for families across London. Young people should not have to pay for covid-19. They have the right to education, culture and safety, and I sincerely hope that the Government will take the time to ensure that cuts to free travel for under-18s will not be forced on the Mayor in 2021.
We have heard many sensible contributions from Members across the issues tonight. I would like to focus in particular on those that we experience in my constituency and many other parts of London towards the outer edge of the suburbs, in zone 6.
For those who have not had the pleasure of visiting Harefield, in my constituency, I should say that it is well known as the largest village in London to the north-west. Getting there means travelling through proper English countryside surrounded by fields, with grazing livestock and woods. It certainly does not feel like a part of our capital, and although it is served by a small number of bus routes laid on by TfL, we must recognise that for the residents there, and in many other parts of the outer suburbs, the subsidy provided for travel only helps if they can access the transport network reliably. For many places that simply do not have access to trains and tubes, that means a restriction on the benefit that they see. For many of my constituents, in a place that is much more dependent on the car than most of London and also home to many cabbies and minicab drivers, the services that TfL operates to keep our traffic moving are also enormously significant, although afforded rather less attention under what feels very much like a zone 1 Mayor than we have seen historically.
We need to recognise that all Londoners need to benefit from the services provided by TfL. Although my children and I are particularly huge fans of it—there is no greater pleasure than standing on the bridge and watching the tube trains come in and out, and working out which of the bus routes go where—we need to ensure that we provide value for money for all Londoners in how TfL carries out its operations.
At the heart of tonight’s debate is the impact on children and young people of the changes that are taking place and that will take place in the future. London’s local authorities have for a long time had programmes such as the safer routes to school scheme to encourage children to walk or cycle to their local school. There is the home-to-school transport legislation, which sets out a framework of distance around those routes. Of course, in planning the new schools that have been required to meet the rising numbers of children in London, local authorities have always been cognisant of distance to ensure that as far as possible, every mum and dad and every child has access to a good local school.
It is therefore a reasonable challenge to TfL to recognise that a very significant proportion of the journeys undertaken by children are those going to school and are well under the statutory distances. It is a reasonable challenge that transport commissioners need to look at, and they need to ask how, given the difficult times we face and the need to ensure proper social distancing on public transport, we manage that challenge as effectively as possible.
Ultimately, the debate is not about the niceties of the bail-out package. A Mayor of whichever political party needs to show that the fate of London is genuinely in his hands, and that he is willing to take ownership of the challenges that present—whether that is covid, as it is today, or one of the many other challenges our city has faced in the past. The response that comes out of City Hall must command the confidence of all Londoners. The challenge we face at present is that Sadiq Khan comes across as a nice, quite affable chap—he is clearly very good at PR—but he is just not very competent at managing the services and finances in our capital city: not just in respect of TfL, but in so many other regards, such as with the police.
We need to ensure that we bring about a change that ensures that my constituents have a sense that they have a leader in City Hall who can command their confidence, and who understands and is interested in the issues that concern them in the suburbs. That is why we need a change from the mayoral elections when they come up next year.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. For the purposes of the debate, I shall focus on the e-petition, which was about the removal of free travel for under-18s.
The threatened removal of free travel for under-18s caused deep anger and concern not just among young people but across the wider community. It is testament to their campaigning and determination that the Government have backtracked on the demand. When the Government made the demand, I do not think they understood what free travel meant to under-18s. I asked Enfield’s Youth Parliament what free travel meant to them. Tara Larkin, a member of the Youth Parliament, told me that it gives young people a social life and a chance of independence, which is really important for young people’s mental health, especially during the pandemic.
Other members of the Youth Parliament told me that they need free travel to get to and from school and college, to provide care and support to family members, to get to work, to travel for cultural, community and religious activities, and to socialise with friends. One thing that was very clear from their responses was how much they valued this one small benefit that they have. The Child Poverty Action Group found that 37% of London’s children live in relative poverty, and free travel for under-18s is a lifeline for many teenagers.
How did we get to a situation where the Government are ordering the removal of free travel for under-18s in London? Back in March, during the first lockdown, the instruction from the Government was, “Work at home if you can,” and the overwhelming majority of people did just that. In the early months of the pandemic, underground and rail passenger usage plummeted; according to the DFT’s own statistics, that drop was more than 90%. For bus travel, the drop was more than 80%.
During those early days, there was worrying news of committed transport workers who had contracted covid-19 during their ordinary daily work routine, and the sad reality was that for some of them the illness ended in death. People were rightly frightened to use public transport. As bus and train usage plummeted, so did the income from passenger numbers everywhere. Both Transport for London and the national train operators sought help from the Government. We do not know what, if any, conditions were attached to the £5 billion bail-out for the national train operators, because the Government have not released the details of that even to the Transport Committee, but I am pretty sure that those conditions did not remove any perks or benefits from their passengers.
What we do know is that conditions were attached to TfL’s bail-out and we know that, in his letter to the Mayor of London on 14 May 2020, the Secretary of State made a number of demands as conditions of the bail-out. One of those demands was to bring forward proposals “as soon as practicable” for the suspension of free travel for under-18s,
“subject to discussions…about how it is to be operationalised”.
The rationale for that decision was to optimise the use of the available safe transport capacity, but we know from the Government’s own statistics that on the day the letter was written, underground usage was only 6% and bus usage in London was only 13%, so the demands in the letter seem to make little logical sense.
It seems to me that the conditions contained in the letter were ill conceived and poorly thought out. Some people might say that those demands were set out in order to score political points against Sadiq Khan in the forthcoming mayoral elections—I am happy to have that row another time, and there are plenty of months ahead for us to have that contest. But either way, the Department for Transport has failed to understand the reasons why young people use the under-18s travel card.
What would happen? We would end up punishing young people who have already had to endure the Government’s exams and free school meals fiascos, and whose mental health is already suffering due to all the uncertainty surrounding their futures. With negotiations due in the months ahead for a further extension of the Government bail-out of TfL, I say to the Minister, “The kids have suffered enough. Don’t mess around with their free travel. Let the kids have their freedom.”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. It has been quite amusing to listen to my fellow MPs talking about whether the current or the previous Mayor is more to blame for the current state of TfL’s finances, but there is no doubt at all that whatever decisions have been made by either Mayor in the past, they were made in a pre-pandemic phase. The situation we are in now could not have been anticipated by anybody.
TfL’s income is almost unique in the world for a capital city, in that 80% of it comes from fare income. That is quite unprecedented among capital cities, most of which enjoy a far greater level of Government subsidy. There is no doubt, therefore, that when something such as the pandemic comes along and the instruction is given to Londoners to stay home and not to use public transport, there will be a big impact on finances. Londoners did exactly what they were supposed to do. They stopped using the tube and the buses: the subsequent impact on income has nothing to do with the mayoral policies of either the current Mayor or any previous one. The situation could not have been predicted.
The situation that we are in now is that TfL, not surprisingly, has required a bail-out in order to maintain its services. We need to look forward, not back at which Mayor was responsible for previous finances. What is the plan now for keeping our public transport going in London? In the comprehensive spending review last week, I was disturbed to see that the Government have not budgeted anything in the next financial year for any further bail-outs for TfL.
As I said last week, I am encouraged by the implication that the vaccine roll-out means that we will be back to full capacity on our tubes and buses in May next year, but I am little sceptical about it. I think it is a mistake for the Government not to plan further investment into London’s transport network, because we know that the drivers of the London economy are our cultural industries, our financial services and our retail sector. They have all seen a big hit from coronavirus and, potentially, a big hit from Brexit. They need investment from central Government to get them back up and running, and to get London running again at full speed, as it was before. That investment needs to go into our public transport network.
The point was made by an earlier speaker that the issue is not just about Londoners, but about travellers from abroad. If London is to get back up and running again, it needs to welcome travellers from abroad and it needs the public transport network. I am disappointed to hear from the Government that they plan to finance TfL through tax rises and charges on Londoners. That is what we were told: council tax increases and an increase in the congestion charge.
There was talk of scrapping travel for under-18s to pay for the bail-out. Much has been said about that and there were some excellent contributions from fellow Members. I want to pick up on the point that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) made in his opening remarks about a potential doubling in car usage. In my constituency of Richmond Park, we do not want to see a doubling in car usage. Car usage is already a major scourge on our roads. The congestion and the impact on air pollution is terrible, as is the way it cuts people off from their local town centres.
My particular concern for young people is the impact on their safety. If there is an increase in the number of cars because they are being driven to school instead of catching the bus, then there is a knock-on impact on road safety. I worry for the safety of those who cannot afford to be driven to school and have to walk long distances, potentially in the dark, as well as the knock-on impact that might have on our policing budget. There are many budget implications for local authorities if we take away free travel for under-18s, which need to be considered alongside any potential savings for TfL.
It would be remiss of me not to use this opportunity to talk about Hammersmith bridge. I am talking to the Department for Transport about its long-term plans for travel in London, but please can we get some movement on this? It is imperative, and it has been obvious from the start, that there needs to be a substantial contribution from the Department for Transport. The sooner it can commit to that, the earlier stabilisation works can be undertaken. The sooner we can get pedestrians and cyclists back over the bridge, to connect my Barnes residents to all the services, shops and transport links on the other side of the Thames, the better.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and the Petitions Committee for bringing this important debate before us, as London MPs.
I thank the 170,000 people who signed the petition against the scrapping of free travel for under-18s and the 1,156 people from Putney who signed it, showing their support for the issue and for young people. It is rare for the voices of young people to be heard, but that is the focus of the debate today. I also thank all the TfL workers who have worked throughout the pandemic to keep us safe as we travel in London.
The plans to remove free transport for under-18s as part of the Transport for London bail-out package should never have been on the table in the first place, and must now be scrapped forever. We never want to see those coming back. Free travel is essential for enabling young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to travel to school; they cannot just change schools midway because of this policy change. They are already locked into having to travel across London. I declare an interest as the mother of a 14-year-old who uses the free travel to go across London to school every day.
Free travel can be essential for travelling to work or apprenticeships, or to get to places for sport and leisure. To cut off the best of London for the most disadvantaged but not for others is very unfair.
Just before half term, when we were not sure whether free travel would be scrapped, one mother came to me and said that she did now know whether she would be able to keep sending her son to school. Her income had gone down as a result of covid, and she had very tight bills. Like so many other families, she had to choose between food, rent and sending her children to school. For children who are disinclined to go to school—those we most want to get back to school—free travel is absolutely essential. There is no point spending money on a catch-up fund for education on the one hand and then cutting the money for getting to school on the other.
I found the Government’s response to the petition very disappointing. I do not know whether other Members saw it, but it was:
“The suspension of free travel for 11-17 year olds will help reduce demand for public transport at peak times”.
Well, children have to travel on public transport at peak times; that is when school starts and finishes. They cannot stay at home and choose when to travel during the day. That cannot be part of Government policy.
I absolutely support Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, who is right to champion the continuation of free travel for under-18s. He successfully forced the Government to give up their plans to scrap free travel for older and younger Londoners, and their absolutely unworkable plans to extend the congestion charge to the south circular, which I hope never come back to the table. All rail services have been hit by the pandemic. The Government immediately bailed out private rail companies with few strings attached, and the same should have happened for Transport for London. All MPs must work together to understand the needs of young Londoners and ensure that free travel remains.
The very extended closure of Hammersmith suspension bridge—a fantastic heritage structure—is also affecting young people travelling in London. Young people travelling to schools in my constituency and out to neighbouring constituencies across the river and across London are affected by the misery caused by the closure of Hammersmith bridge. TfL was poised to fund it just before the pandemic and there were discussions. Transport for London funding is very important, but now that TfL clearly cannot fund it, the Government must step up and do so urgently. The news that Putney boat race will not be happening in Putney, which was announced just a few days ago, was very disappointing and a huge blow for local businesses.
The closure of the bridge also compounds pollution across Putney. It clogs up our roads and makes trips to school, work and hospitals so much longer. The taskforce has been meeting for 10 weeks without very much task or force. I would really like the Minister to announce a change on that. Hammersmith and Fulham Council has done its best. It has put together a plan, started the restoration and looked into the danger that the bridge is causing, but the issue is becoming a political football. It is very disappointing to see the candidate for the mayoral election announcing funding for the bridge left, right and centre, but it does not appear; it is clearly just hot air. Will the Minister make a lot of people across south-west London very happy and bring an end to the misery of the Hammersmith bridge closure by announcing the funding of the restoration?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for opening the debate and all Members who have taken part in this evening’s discussions.
A number of excellent points have been made about the unfair way in which the Government are treating London. I want to draw the debate back to one particular aspect of that unfairness: the central issue of the risk to young people’s travel. The issue of funding for free transport for under-18s is incredibly important, demonstrated not least by the number of signatories to the petition that led to the debate—more than 170,000 people, the last time it was checked. That is a truly incredible outpouring of support for the “Don’t Zap the Zip” campaign, which has taken social media by storm over the past few months. Londoners past and present have shared their experiences of the scheme, and it is clear that thousands of young people rely on affordable travel in a way that is hard to imagine in some other parts of the country.
Although the scheme demonstrably helps all young Londoners, the reality is that the proposal to suspend free travel for under-18s will hit the poorest hardest. That is especially true in the context of the coronavirus crisis, as many family finances are very stretched. We should all think deeply about that.
Londoners have far less access to a car than most people living elsewhere in the country. Indeed, the most deprived households in London are almost five times less likely to own a car than the least deprived, meaning that affordable public transport plays an especially important part in levelling the playing field and helping all Londoners to get around. A YouGov survey bears that out: 74% of children with a zip card use it to get to school or college, while a further 26% of those surveyed, and more than 36% from low-income families, were concerned that ending the scheme would restrict their access to school, apprenticeship and training options. I am sure we all agree that access to those important services for young people’s development should not be restricted in any way; indeed, it should be encouraged. Furthermore, the same survey found that 33% of children would feel less safe if they were priced out of bus travel, while 38% worried about being late, which is also important.
Free travel is not only about ensuring that children can get to school or training on time and safely; more than half of young people who use the scheme would have relied on it to visit cultural and other activities in central London, and to visit friends and family—all important parts of our shared life in the capital city and around the country. Indeed, if we want families and friends to see one another and reduce social isolation, which is obviously increasingly important during the pandemic and our recovery from it, we should encourage young people to be able to get around in the coming months, as the restrictions are eased. We should also not forget the truly important objective of promoting the use of public transport to reduce air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, as several Members quite rightly said with reference to their constituencies. Surely, in that context alone, this is a very important scheme.
I have major concerns that Government decisions around TfL funding, including regarding the scheme and for London more generally, are being politicised in a rather sad and unfortunate way, as we have heard. I urge the Minister—she is a thoughtful Minister—to have a word with some of her colleagues about reconsidering their approach, particularly as we recover from the pandemic, when we should be paying tribute to transport workers and their contribution, and about trying to take this whole issue a little bit more seriously.
We should also reconsider—I hope that the Minister will take this back to her colleagues—the effect of the spending review on Londoners. So far as I can see, the review did very little for London at a time when the capital city is under huge pressure. It reconfirmed the Government’s thin commitment to funding Crossrail. I should declare something of an interest, to put it mildly, as a Member for one of those seats that will be a terminus for Crossrail. There is huge potential for Crossrail to be an engine not only for the London economy, but across southern England and out as far away as Oxford, which could benefit the western side, and Kent and Essex as well. I am sure that your constituency would benefit from it, Sir David. I hope that the Minister will look at this again.
Sadly, the Government have been taking the Crossrail project down to the wire, with the investment authority dangerously close to running out of resources. The Mayor has put forward London’s case, but the Treasury does not appear to have listened. Indeed, the Mayor had to fight tooth and nail for weeks against Government Ministers who wished to impose punishing, damaging conditions, as we have heard. I hope that the Government will stop playing politics with London during the pandemic and its aftermath, and that Ministers will think again about their overall approach.
I make three requests to the Minister—I hope that she will take them on board and bring them to the attention of her colleagues. First, the Government should recognise the importance of free travel to under-18s, particularly in supporting education and training, but also on a whole range of fronts—the social and family benefits are significant as well. Secondly, I hope that she will concede that promoting the use of public transport in major cities can play a huge part in tackling environmental problems, as we heard earlier. Finally, as we have all said before, I hope that she will urge her colleagues to rethink their over-political approach to some of these issues and work together for the benefit of London.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to respond to the debate. Before I get into the substance of the debate, I want to echo the tributes that have been paid to Transport for London workers who have kept services running throughout the pandemic. I travel on the tube regularly, so I have seen the great way in which they provide those services.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for introducing the debate and all Members who have contributed. We have heard contributions from the hon. Members for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), for Ilford South (Sam Tarry), for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and for Putney (Fleur Anderson), and from my hon. Friends the Members for Orpington (Gareth Bacon), for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds). It sounds like a tube map, but everyone made excellent points, and it is a pleasure to respond to them all.
First, it must be recognised that free travel for under-18s is unique to London compared with the rest of England. This should not be a debate about the merits of free travel. The Government recognise the merits of free travel for the most disadvantaged under-18s, which is why it is enshrined in the Education Act 1996 and children will continue to receive it.
Today, we are talking about those benefits that are different in London, and are not available to people in the rest of the country, no matter how disadvantaged they may be. It is important to get that point on record at the outset. Taxpayers all over the rest of the country—in Birmingham, Manchester, my Redditch constituency and other places where the need is just as great—do not enjoy this special benefit. They will rightly ask, “Why does London receive this?”
So much for levelling up.
It is dispiriting to hear a Government Minister, particularly when addressing a group of London MPs, once again using divide-and-rule tactics, trying to set other parts of the country against London. Will the Minister address the issues that have come up in this debate and Members’ serious concerns about our constituents?
With respect, I do not think I can give way. I want to address the substantive points, but I will be happy to talk to hon. Members on another occasion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington highlighted in his opening speech the shocking extent of the Mayor of London’s financial mismanagement of Transport for London. We all know that coronavirus has cost £1.6 billion in lost fare revenue, but Mayor Sadiq Khan’s mismanagement of Transport for London’s finances has cost £9.56 billion in the round, and we heard many examples from hon. Members during the debate.
We can all agree that the transport network is key in supporting a safe and sustainable recovery for London. That was why, on 31 October, the Government agreed a second extraordinary funding and financing package with TfL for up to £1.7 billion, on top of the £1.6 billion funding package agreed with TfL in May. That is proof of the Government’s commitment to supporting transport services in London while remaining fair to national taxpayers.
The May funding agreement with TfL contained a series of measures to manage demand and to facilitate safe travel, including a temporary suspension of free travel for under-18s. I stress that that was agreed by the Government, the Mayor of London and the deputy mayor for transport. However, the suspension was not operationalised at the time. No one doubts the importance of free travel. It was always the case that children eligible for free home-to-school travel would continue to receive it, with families on low incomes—those most disadvantaged children—continuing to receive that free travel. It is right to say that the rationale was demand management, as before the covid-19 crisis, around a third of journeys were made by young people travelling to school.
I pointed out in my speech that in normal, pre-pandemic times, TfL raised about 80% of its own revenue. It was not primarily subsidised by taxpayers, so it is not by and large taxpayers who pay for free travel for young Londoners—or, indeed, for elderly Londoners.
I remind the hon. Lady that central Government have agreed billions of pounds of support for Transport for London.
The initial reason for bringing in the suspension, or discussing it, was because it was seen as necessary to ensure that capacity was available on buses for those who needed to use it, including some schoolchildren, given social distancing requirements. At this point, I would like to refer to the Government’s commitment to support cycling and walking, or active travel. People should walk and cycle wherever possible, and that is why the Government have made £2 billion available to support it. According to TfL’s own statistics, the average journey to school in London is less than 1 km, so it is not unreasonable to suggest that some of those journeys could be made by active travel.
As part of the latest £1.7 billion of extraordinary funding agreed by the Government and TfL on 31 October, national taxpayers will continue to fund free travel concessions to standard English levels, and free travel to school for children who qualify under legislation. If the Mayor wishes to maintain concessions for Londoners above the English level, he will raise the money to pay for that. That represents a fair position for the whole country and brings London in line with the rest of England.
In agreeing the recent extraordinary funding and financing package, the Mayor proposed that he could pay for those concessions by retaining the central London congestion charge at its current level and increasing the existing TfL element of the Greater London Authority’s council tax precept. He must make his final choice by January 2021. It is the Mayor who has decided what the increase to the congestion charge should be and what the coverage is.
Several hon. Members raised the question of Hammersmith bridge. They will know that my noble Friend Baroness Vere of Norbiton is working on that and leading a taskforce. TfL has been given £4 million and a further £2.3 million for immediate mitigation, and a lot of detailed work is ongoing to sort the problem out.
Turning to TfL’s financial situation, the Government did agree a second package that will provide financial support until March 2021. The Government will make up the fare revenue that TfL has lost due to covid-19. The deal runs until 31 March, and the Government will continue to monitor TfL’s financial health and work closely with it to ensure that it continues to operate essential services and supports our recovery from the pandemic.
I would also like to put on record the fact that the Government are not forcing the Mayor of London to raise council tax. If he does so, it will be his decision and his alone. The Department works closely with him and constructive discussions are ongoing. Of course, I remind the Opposition that the Mayor of London is a politician, but nevertheless there are constructive discussions going on, as we have seen from the deals that have been agreed, which benefit Londoners and the transport network on which they rely.
As hon. Members have pointed out, the financial package agreed itself recognises that the Mayor of London has not done enough to find savings. His financial management has not been good enough, and further efficiencies must be found. Opposition Members have highlighted the impact on young people, so I must be clear: it is for the Mayor of London to explain to those young people why he has made the choices that will have those devastating consequences that Members are setting out. The Government have stood behind Transport for London to the tune of £2.3 billion. I suggest it is now time for the Mayor of London to take responsibility and show genuine leadership, instead of seeking to lay all his problems at the door of central Government.
Thank you, Sir David, for giving me quite a lot of time to sum up the debate. Hon. Members will be happy to know that I do not intend to drag this out.
I will begin by thanking all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in this Petitions Committee debate. Petitions are proving to be a very effective way for people to get in touch with and involved in the issues that matter most to them. I have led a couple of Petitions Committee debates, and they are an excellent opportunity for us to put our constituents’ concerns on record. I thank everyone for turning out to support the petitioners today.
I also thank the petitioners for giving us the opportunity, as the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) said, to discuss something about London. It does not seem that we get an opportunity to do so very often. This has been a rare chance for London MPs to get together to discuss issues relating to the capital, and I am grateful to the petitioners for giving that to us.
We have heard about the impact that scrapping under-18 concessions would have on people in our capital city and its effect on some of the most vulnerable in our various communities. We hope that the Mayor can show the leadership that we need from him, put aside his game-playing—the Minister and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) described that well—and come forward to the Government with sensible suggestions by 11 January so that, when further discussions take place in March, we will not be back here with the same complaints.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 331453, relating to funding for Transport for London.