House of Commons
Tuesday 13 July 2021
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Orders, 4 June and 30 December 2020).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Health and Social Care
The Secretary of State was asked—
Social Care Reform
I want people to be able to get the care they need when they need it and to have the choices they want. I want people to live their life in full and to live independently as part of a community for as long as possible without facing an astronomical care bill. We are committed to social care reform, and we will bring forward proposals this year.
I thank the Secretary of State for responding to my initial question. Eleven years into this Tory Government, 10 years on from Dilnot and almost 700 days since the Prime Minister promised
“to fix social care, once and for all”,
looking at it and studying the options is not enough for the four out of five people who say, “We need a solution now.” Is this just another of the Prime Minister’s promises that will not quite materialise?
We have already seen substantial increases in adult social care funding, but the Government have said that we want a long-term, sustainable solution, so we will bring forward proposals on that. The hon. Gentleman will know that later today we are debating the Health and Care Bill, which is also about structural reform, so I look forward to seeing him in the Aye Lobby.
May I just say to the Chancellor—the Secretary of State, rather—that when he brings forward the proposals, will he make sure that he addresses social care for working-age adults, which actually accounts for more than half of public spending? The debate is always focused on older people, and people of working age often get forgotten. The reason for my slip just now is that he will be aware, as a former Chancellor, that the tax burden was at a 50-year high before covid. When he brings forward the proposals, can we not just default to putting up taxes, however they are disguised, but look at overall Government spending, set some priorities and make some choices about what we think is important? Social care is important, but we need to make those choices about overall Government spending.
First, my right hon. Friend is right to bring to the House’s attention the way that the Government are also working on social care for working-age people. He is also right to point out—I was thinking about this the other day—that around 55% of total adult social care spending is for working-age adults, and it is important that we continue to provide that support. He will be pleased to know that I am working with the current Chancellor and other Cabinet colleagues on bringing forward a more sustainable long-term plan, and I hope he will support it when it comes forward.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said so far and the moves he is making to deal with the social care issue. One thing that elderly people particularly are worried about when they are in care or in hospital are the recent reports of “Do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation” orders. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that they will only be put in place with the authority of the patient or their next of kin? Is he making inquiries into recent reports of their widespread use?
My hon. Friend will be interested to know that the Department commissioned the Care Quality Commission to review the DNACPR decisions that were being made during the first wave of the pandemic. That review was published in March, and the Department then established a new ministerial oversight group that will be responsible for delivery and the required changes that were recommended in the review. We want to ensure adherence to the guidance throughout the system whenever DNACPR orders are used. The first meeting of this new group will take place on 8 June.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. I wondered whether he might be able to clarify something for me. Five days ago, he told the Local Government Association conference that for social care reform,
“we may not be able to announce the whole plan…with all the details there”,
but that he hoped to
“set out…the general sense of direction”.
The general sense of direction! It is two years since the Prime Minister made a clear promise to fix the crisis in social care “once and for all”. Since then, more than 40,000 care home residents have died from covid-19 and 2 million elderly and disabled people have applied for care but had their request turned down. Millions more families and staff have been pushed to breaking point, so may I ask the Secretary of State: what is the plan? When will we see the plan? Will it provide the full details that he and the Minister for Care, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) have promised, or does keeping your word mean nothing to anyone in government anymore?
I think the hon. Lady may well have misunderstood what I said at the conference; I am not sure she listened to the whole session. It is worth repeating that the Government are absolutely committed to coming forward with a sustainable plan for adult social care and to bringing forward that plan to make sure that every person when they reach old age in our country can have the dignity they deserve. We will bring forward full proposals—a full plan—this year.
Covid-19: Departmental Response
Since the start of the pandemic, we have acted swiftly to reduce the spread of the virus and to keep the public safe. As our vaccine programme progresses, links between cases and hospitalisations weaken, and that means that we are confident we can move forward with step 4, as I set out in the House yesterday.
I thank the Health Secretary for that answer. After the planned changes next week, the Health Secretary is predicting that covid cases will reach 100,000 a day. Research is suggesting that that could result in 3,000 hospital admissions and again put our health services under pressure. What is his response to Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation, who described the proposals to remove all covid measures and simply let people get infected as “epidemiological stupidity”?
The hon. Gentleman talks, understandably, about pressure on the NHS, and he will know that the restrictions we have necessarily had in place during the course of this pandemic so far have also led to considerable pressure on the NHS, especially when it comes to non-covid health problems. He may be aware, perhaps for his own constituents, that mental health problems are up, there are many undiagnosed cancer cases, domestic violence is up and child abuse is up. I hope he will agree with me that one of the things we can look forward to as we gradually start removing restrictions is helping people with their many non-covid health problems too.
I also welcome the Secretary of State to his new role. I hope he will soon see that the Department performs best when it follows the scientific advice. This morning, Professor Graham Medley, the chief modeller for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said of mask wearing that
“if it’s not mandated it probably won’t do any good.”
That advice would explain why, last year, the Government moved from just guidance on mask wearing in May 2020 to making it compulsory on public transport in June and in shops in July. So if the advice is clear and the Government took that advice last year, why on earth are they moving away from it now?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government’s decisions are rightly informed by the best possible scientific advice there is and, as well as that, looking at the data and then taking all of that into account when reaching decisions. The hon. Gentleman asks about masks, and I have answered that question a number of times at the Dispatch Box. I am very happy to repeat that we are moving away from a system of regulation to guidance, but in that guidance, which was published yesterday, we have made it very clear that in certain situations masks will still make sense, and we believe that people will use their common sense and follow that guidance.
In our manifesto, we committed to building 40 new hospitals by 2030 and to upgrading another 20 hospitals. We are delivering on this commitment, and we now have plans to build 48 new hospitals this decade. We are also delivering improvements across the country to hospital maintenance, eradicating mental health dormitories and improving A&E capacity. Finally, the Department has received a £9.4 billion capital settlement for 2021-22, including the first year of a £5.4 billion multi-year commitment until 2024-25 for new hospitals and hospital upgrades, and £4.2 billion for NHS trusts’ operational capital.
Some 83% of the Airedale hospital in my constituency is built from aerated concrete, with the building containing 50,000 aerated concrete panels in its construction, which is five times more than any other hospital in the UK. This building material is known for its structural deficiencies, so can my hon. Friend assure me that when his Department considers new infrastructure projects, schemes with the highest risk profile, such as the Airedale hospital, will be an absolute priority?
My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner in this House on behalf of his local hospital at Airedale, going the extra mile, I gather from the Keighley News, by committing to run 100k in 10 weeks to raise funds for, among other things, the Friends of Airedale Hospital—I hope, if he has not finished that yet, it is going well.
To my hon. Friend’s substantive point, he raises an important issue. Airedale has been allocated capital investment in the millions for the 2021-22 financial year from a funding budget that is ring-fenced for RAAC—reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete—plank remediation, but I can reassure him that, as we look to set the criteria for the next eight hospitals, safety considerations are highly likely to be one of the key considerations.
The Minister will be aware that, in March 2018, Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust was allocated over £300 million to undertake a radical transformation of its acute hospitals at Shrewsbury and Telford. Since then, the trust’s management have been engaged in finalising the strategic business case, but as a consequence of changes to the Green Book and clinical standards the cost will have increased. Will the Minister commit to meet with Shropshire and Telford MPs once the business case is complete to help to ensure that the project can still be delivered?
NHS E&I and the Department of Health and Social Care wrote to the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust on 19 November last year confirming we remain committed to supporting the scheme. This letter confirmed the allocation remains at £312 million at this time, and of course my right hon. Friend will recall that I committed to approving the request in principle for £6 million of early funding to continue to develop the scheme. It is an important scheme, we want to see it proceed and I am very happy to meet him and fellow Shropshire colleagues.
In my role as chair of the all-party group for axial spondyloarthritis I have heard from many about the importance of hydrotherapy pools in supporting those living with the condition, but there has been a concern that the reopening of these pools following the pandemic has been jeopardised by space within hospitals being allocated to other functions and a general low level of prioritisation. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that we have robust plans in place to reopen as many hydrotherapy pools as possible, and will he consider meeting me to discuss this matter in further detail?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and the all-party group for their work. He raises an important point: the challenges posed by infection control and the impact of the pandemic on the operation of hospitals. That has had an impact in this space, but I entirely recognise the value and importance of hydrotherapy as a treatment for particular conditions and I will be delighted to meet him.
Of course the number of general and acute beds open across the estate impacts on a trust’s ability to get on top of the elective backlog, which now stands at 5.3 million—a record high—with 336,000 waiting over a year and 7,000 waiting over two years for treatment. On appointment, the Secretary of State promised trusts that they would get everything they need to get through the backlog. So how much will trusts get and when will they get it?
It is an important question. The Secretary of State has made it clear that tackling the elective backlog is one of his key priorities in his new role. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have already committed £1 billion to helping to tackle the elective backlog. That, of course, comes on top of the record funding of £33.9 billion to ’23-24 for our NHS, but that commitment remains. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our NHS can tackle the elective backlog and get those waiting lists down.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answer, but if it is a priority of the new Secretary of State why on Friday were trusts told that the threshold for accessing that elective recovery funding was increasing, effectively making it harder for a trust to access funding at just the time when hospital admissions for covid are increasing and we have trusts, such as in Leeds and Birmingham, cancelling cancer surgery? Surely we should be giving trusts more resources now, not restricting access to the elective recovery fund.
In terms of the elective recovery fund, we have worked with the NHS to determine the right thresholds and the right premiums for payment for elective activity over and above what we would be expecting in the circumstances. The NHS is doing an amazing job in difficult circumstances, as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, with the impact that infection prevention control restrictions have had on the ability of trusts to see the number of people that they normally would. Trusts are taking huge strides to restore services and the ERF is there to help to ensure that they are funded for that activity level so that they can get provision up and above where it needs to be in order to get the waiting lists down.
NHS: Trade Deals
We have been clear that the NHS, the price it pays for medicines and the services it provides are off the table in our trade negotiations. No trade agreement has ever affected our ability to keep public services public, nor forced us to pay for more medicines. My Department works closely with the Department for International Trade to ensure that this is reflected in the negotiations of new trade deals.
Last week we proudly celebrated the wonderful creation of the NHS—the most cherished of all national institutions—yet grave fears remain about its ultimate privatisation under this Government. If the Government are determined to sign up to the provisions in the trans-Pacific partnership for investor-state dispute settlement, can the Minister at least do one thing today to limit that damage? Will he guarantee that the NHS will be totally exempt from the scope of those ISDS lawsuits and ensure that that exemption is written into the terms of the UK’s accession?
The Government have been clear in our published approach to negotiations, both on the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and any US trade deal, that protecting the NHS is a fundamental principle of our trade policy. The UK will ensure that the terms we sign up to in any trade negotiation uphold the Government’s manifesto commitment that the NHS, its services and the cost of medicines are not on the table, and that we hold true to our principles underpinning the NHS—of a service available to all at the point of need, free.
We are committed to halving childhood obesity in England by 2030, and the 2020 strategy takes decisive action to help everybody to achieve and maintain that healthier weight. We have five trailblazer sites working to create a healthy environment for our children. We have laid regulations for out-of-home calorie labelling. We have put £100 million into funding for adult and child weight management, and announced the introduction of some of the toughest advertising restrictions—both on TV and online—regarding children’s exposure to high fat, salt and sugar products. This is about the cumulative effect of several policies.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that wide range of measures. May I also encourage her to work closely with colleagues at the Department for Education and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on an expanded children’s sports and activity plan, both in and out of school, to try to make 60 minutes a day as much a norm as five-a-day fruit and vegetables by bringing in the power of sports clubs and the governing bodies, and finally getting more school facilities available for out-of-hours use?
My right hon. Friend’s question is music to my ears. He will be pleased to hear that, last week, along with Ministers from DCMS and the DFE, I was in front of the Lords National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee talking about doing just that—about how we can build on the DFE’s £10.1 million contribution, so that we can unlock the 40% of facilities that lie on school estates and help to get children active for 60 minutes a day. We will be publishing our cross-departmental update to the school sport and activity action plan later this year.
Ultra-processed food is basically high in fat, high in salt and high in sugar, and it is highly addictive. I believe that it plays a significant part in the growing crisis that is obesity. I genuinely believe that it is not food in itself, when one considers all the flavourings and artificial colourings that have to go into it to make it taste like food in the first instance. Does my hon. Friend agree that the food industry needs to play its part in tackling the obesity crisis, and not contribute to it?
I do. This is about helping people and caring for people. We know the detrimental effect obesity has on all stages of our lives. It costs personally, in productivity terms, as well as the NHS, being the precursor to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, musculoskeletal conditions and so on. We cannot afford for the country not to tackle this issue. I am encouraged, but want to see business go faster in the reformulation ambition to reduce the salt, sugar and fat in these products.
General Practice Data for Planning and Research
We are committed to being transparent about the collection and use of data. We paused the implementation of GP data for planning and research services, and we have had productive discussions with the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Medical Association, health charities and others. We have listened to the concerns and we will respond to them. We will continue to listen and we will take our time. We will show patients and clinicians why they can have full trust and confidence in the programme, where data will only be accessed through a secure environment with the oversight of the Information Commissioner’s Office and the National Data Guardian.
The Government’s plan to give pharmaceutical firms access to pseudo-anonymised data from GP practices in England is creating public concern and distrust, just like the failed care.data project of 2013. Most patients would be happy to see better communication and information sharing within the NHS, as well as for public health and academic research, but are concerned about commercial access to their data. Will the Minister halt the process to allow time for genuine debate and public consultation?
The hon. Member and I are both passionate about the use of data to enhance patient care, as she outlined. That is the prize here. We are listening. We are taking our time. The data will only be used for health and care planning and research purposes by organisations that have a legal basis and a legitimate need to use the data. NHS Digital will publish all the details of the data we have shared on our data release register. We want to build confidence. We want to build trust. We are listening, but this is an important agenda that we need to get right to deliver better care for patients.
The problem is that the plan to allow commercial access is going to undermine the public trust in improving digitisation within the NHS, and the Minister will be aware of that. The current plans apply only to the NHS in England, but can she guarantee that the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 will not be used to force commercial access to patient data from Scotland’s NHS? If so, can she explain why the Department for International Trade is advertising access to the health data of 65 million people, which is the population of the whole UK?
I go back to the answer I gave: we do not allow data to be used for commercial purposes. NHS Digital will not approve requests for data where the purpose is for marketing and so on and so forth. The hon. Member would not expect me to respond on behalf of another Department, but I reiterate that we are communicating and building trust. There will be a public information campaign. We will be working across the professions and across research to make sure that access is appropriate and proportionate. In the Health and Care Bill, we will be redoubling our efforts to make sure people have that confidence.
At the previous health questions, we secured a commitment from the Minister to delay the implementation date for this data grab in order to properly communicate with the public. However, rather than a significant delay so there could be the public information campaign the Minister says she is so keen to have, on the basis set out by the BMA and the Royal College of GPs, what we have instead is a short pause. The Minister says she wants to listen and to build trust, so why on earth is this being snuck out during the summer recess? The reality is that the Government simply have not passed the test for informed consent. Will the Minister take this moment today to stop this process and commit to a proper engagement campaign, rather than running off during recess?
I really respect the hon. Gentleman, but nothing is being snuck out. We are not doing a data grab. I refer him to the answer I gave a few moments ago. It is important that we get this right. We have heard the concerns and will respond to them. We will take the appropriate amount of time—even if that means going beyond 1 September—to ensure that we have engaged properly.
The Government have committed to taking a cautious approach to easing restrictions, guided by the data and not by dates. As I set out in my statement to Parliament yesterday, the decision to lift the remaining measures on 19 July and proceed to step 4 is based on an assessment of the four tests that were set out in the road map.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer and welcome him to his new post.
For me and most of my constituents, 19 July cannot come early enough. It is refreshing to see the Secretary of State’s new approach to the wider issues of health provision, and the huge success of our vaccine roll-out has surely ensured that there should and will not be any more lockdowns or restrictions on our civil liberties. Will he assure me that no matter what vested interests have held sway in his Department and across Government in the past 18 months, he is clear that lockdowns and state intervention in the lives of our constituents have gone far enough and need to be curbed?
First, I am pleased that my hon. Friend agrees with the decision we have made to proceed with step 4. It sounds like he agrees with the central decision to move from a system of regulation to one of guidance. As he knows, the pandemic is not over, so we are rightly moving forward in a measured way. I am pleased that he agrees with the approach.
I also welcome yesterday’s step 4 announcement. Does the Secretary of State agree that his Department should embrace a bit more risk by working with the Department for Transport to open up the international travel sector fully? Will he also ensure that GPs return to fully physical appointments and that we open up the full range of dental services?
I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that, now that we have begun the process of opening up, more work is being done between my Department and the Department for Transport on international travel. The announcements made by my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary last week will certainly help and be welcomed by the sector and travellers. On GP access, now that we have started to open up, working together with GPs we can see better direct access, and especially face-to-face access.
Pharmacies: Primary Care
We are committed to the five-year community pharmacy contract and to enabling community pharmacy to deliver more clinical services as well as being the first port of call for minor illnesses. Pharmacists are highly skilled members of the primary care team. We are making good progress with referrals from NHS 111 and general practice, with discharge medicines services from hospitals, and with 96% of pharmacies providing lateral flow tests as well as delivering vaccines. We know that community pharmacies are keen to deliver more, and we should be thinking pharmacy first.
I am sure the Minister agrees that pharmacies have gone above and beyond to deliver vital medicines and health advice to patients in their communities during the covid-19 pandemic and that their response underlines the huge potential to grow their already massive contribution to our nation’s health. Pharmacies have proven themselves to be a valuable member of the NHS family, so will she prioritise looking at the potential for pharmacies to provide even better primary care? Will she bring forward a plan to unleash their potential post pandemic?
I know that the hon. Lady speaks from experience, having been a clinical pharmacist before she came to this place. That potential needs unleashing. We are working across the profession to make sure that pharmacies are enabled to play a fuller part in the primary care family. We should think pharmacy first when we have minor ailments, and pharmacies should be enabled to do everything they can.
Health and Social Care: Collaboration
We can no longer just think of a health system; we have to think about the health and social care system. We want people’s experiences of care to be seamless, which is why we have introduced the Health and Care Bill and will debate its Second Reading today.
In order to better integrate and support local services in Nottinghamshire, we would benefit greatly from working with a single integrated care footprint for a simpler and fairer service. A boundary congruous with our county boundary would allow us to offer more equitable care across the whole area. I understand that the decision on the integrated care system boundaries is imminent, so will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss the potential benefits?
I am aware that several factors are helpful in fostering stronger partnerships between the NHS and local authorities, including alignment of boundaries. My hon. Friend will know that the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), asked NHS England to conduct a boundary review for integrated care systems. That review, which is just being completed, will certainly look at and give advice on the best ICS footprint for alignment. No final decision has yet been made, but it is a priority for me. I would be happy to arrange a meeting for my hon. Friend with Ministers to discuss the matter further.
Covid-19: Child Health Services
My apologies, Mr Speaker; I have lost my voice slightly. I was at Wembley on Sunday night and I have to say that those young lions outperformed. We are so proud of them, and I am certain that in 15 months’ time the nation will get behind them in Qatar and they will outperform again.
I thank the hon. Member for raising this really important question. We are committed to protecting vulnerable children and ensuring that every child receives the best start in life.
Children’s and young people’s health has been severely impacted by the pandemic, but it is the mental health impact of lockdown and school closures that is perhaps most concerning. Some 12% of in-patient paediatric beds are now occupied by those admitted because of severe mental health problems. That is double what it was in 2019. Does the Minister agree that children and young people have suffered greatly as a result of lockdown and that their health should now be prioritised in our recovery? If so, what steps will he take to put children at the heart of all policies and implement an overarching child health strategy?
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question. Our mental health recovery action plan will allow us to deliver additional support for 22,500 more children to have access to community health services—I know that the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health would say that community access is incredibly effective—and for 2,000 more children to access eating disorder services. It will also help to increase the coverage of mental health support teams in schools and colleges from 29 to 400 by April 2023. That makes it all the more important, as the Secretary of State has outlined, that we get to step 4: it is critical to delivering the recovery action plan.
Patient Transport: VAT
While the Department of Health and Social Care takes a keen interest in any tax situation that may affect patients, any discussions surrounding the VAT treatment of patient transport services would need to be conducted with relevant officials in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Services for the transportation of the sick and injured are exempt from VAT.
Non-emergency patient transport services provide vital support to those who have no other way of reaching hospital and medical appointments, in addition to those who require specialist transport. An inconsistency in the VAT treatment of providers currently means that some can claim VAT relief while others cannot, despite providing the same services in the same type of vehicles. Would the Minister consider meeting representatives of the sector to better understand the impact and, hopefully, find a way forward?
I am very happy for myself and the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), to meet with others about that. Of course, I cannot comment on specific cases, and I would recommend that the services in question take up their concerns with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs as well.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We are working with the United States authorities, with the EU and with other international partners to ensure a safe return to international travel while managing public health risks. We support a global consistent minimum technical standard for covid status notification. Of course, the NHS app with the NHS covid pass is now accepted in 33 countries around the world.
The continued lack of recognition of vaccination status between the UK and the EU is putting the UK at a competitive disadvantage, according to the Association of British Travel Agents, especially when compared with the steps taken by the EU and the US. Both the US and the EU now have standardised digital ways to prove vaccination status, so will the Minister clarify why there is an ongoing delay in resolving this matter?
The European Medicines Agency and our regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, work incredibly closely together, and the EMA has authorised the vaccines that are approved by the MHRA. All vaccines that are authorised and deployed in the UK have been subjected to rigorous checks, including individual batch testing and site inspection. Our two regulators work incredibly closely together and I am confident that we will continue to do so and ensure that any issues are resolved as quickly as possible, working with the manufacturers as well.
New Hospitals: Funding Bids
On 2 October last year, we announced 40 new hospitals to be built by 2030 and committed to an open process to confirm a further eight new schemes. Taken together, those 48 schemes should represent the biggest hospital building programme in a generation. As my hon. Friend would expect, my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State is taking a close interest in the detail of this process, and I hope to be able to offer a further update on the selection process for the next eight hospitals very soon.
Spending hundreds of millions of pounds patching up buildings long past their planned lifespan—such as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, which currently has 200 safety props holding up the concrete roof—does not represent value for money. What reassurance can my hon. Friend give to the thousands of my constituents who in recent days have signed a petition for a new hospital to replace the QEH that the Government are looking seriously at the urgent and compelling case for a new fit-for-purpose hospital for staff, patients and visitors?
My hon. Friend’s constituents will know that, in him, they have a doughty champion of their cause and a strong advocate for his hospital. He and I have spoken on many occasions, and I recognise the challenges facing the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which he has been very clear about. The spending review 2020 included £4.2 billion this financial year for NHS operational capital investment to allow hospitals to maintain and refurbish their infrastructure, including a ring-fenced £110 million allocation for the most serious and immediate risk posed by reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete. My hon. Friend’s hospital has received just over £20 million of that funding to help to mitigate the most urgent RAAC risk, but he will also have heard me say, without prejudging any announcement my right hon. Friend will make about the criteria for the future eight, that safety will be one of the considerations.
We recognise how much carers do and the huge demands that caring places on them. We have made carers a priority group for covid-19 testing and vaccination, funded carers’ organisations and asked local authorities to meet their duties to identify and support carers. We have also provided guidance and funding through the £1.5 billion infection control fund to support the reopening of day services.
I have been contacted by a Megan, a young carer in my constituency, and I have been in correspondence with the Minister about the lack of guidance for young carers on the gov.uk website. We got the Government to remove an outdated linked to a Barnardo’s service that had closed at the end of March, but they have not replaced it with anything, which has left a vacuum in where young carers can look for advice and support. Can the Minister ensure that there is adequate, up-to-date information on the gov.uk website and that young carers have somewhere to turn to when they need help and support?
When the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government went to Germany about four years ago to look at its social care system, we saw that people entitled to public funding for social care could either pay the public authorities or care agencies to deliver it. Alternatively, for a slightly reduced amount of money, they could pay their family members, which meant that the person receiving care got the care they wanted, family members got paid for their efforts and the public purse actually saved some money. In reforming the social care system, would the Minister look at introducing elements of the German system into our system in this country?
It is an honour to be here for my first oral questions as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and I thank the Prime Minister for bringing me back from furlough. I accepted this role because I love my country and the NHS. I know that I join this Department at a pivotal time, and I have three pressing priorities for these critical few months. The first is getting us on the path out of this pandemic. The second is busting the backlog of non-covid services. The third is putting social care on a sustainable footing for the future. I want to draw on what I have learnt during this time of adversity and what we have all learnt together. I want to make this great nation a healthier and fairer place, and I am looking forward to working with all hon. Members in this House.
East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust has the potential to get hundreds of millions in investment as part of the Government’s NHS estate infrastructure improvement plan. Will funding be allocated on a two to three-year basis, so that the NHS can better plan its funding and estates plans? Where funding has been indicated for a longer term, what plans are there to ensure that providers have sufficient resource in the shorter term to address immediate issues, or to support covid or recovery?
We have put more and more capital into the NHS. There are always representations from hon. Members, including you, Mr Speaker, for even more capital. My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of the importance of local healthcare systems, which will need more capital funding as we progress. She will know that we set out our capital plans for this financial year, 2021-22, but she is right to say that multi-year funding will mean that trusts can plan better, and that is a priority; we want the spending review to have more sight and better planning for capital.
Let us consider these words about mental health services:
“prior to 2017, no government invested in or prioritised MH services.”
Those are not my words but the words of the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries). Indeed, the new Secretary of State was the architect of these cuts, during his time as a Treasury Minister. The unparalleled devastation he left behind has been simply staggering, so does he agree with his Minister? Can he explain to us why 140,000 children were turned away from mental health services last year? Can he explain why a quarter of mental health beds have been cut since 2010? Is he ashamed of his track record?
The hon. Lady will know that the NHS long-term plan that has been set out by this Government is committed to a transformation in mental health services and mental health spending; some £2.3 billion extra is being invested by 2023-24. In addition, she will be aware of the mental healthcare White Paper and the mental health recovery action plan. I hope these are all initiatives she will support.
May I welcome the Secretary of State to his place? I am sure he will do an excellent job. As he thinks about a 24-hour A&E for Chorley, I hope he will also think about the urgent need for a cancer institute at the Royal Surrey County Hospital as only second on his list.
The Secretary of State will know that this morning the Health and Social Care Committee published a worrying report about the inhumane treatment given to 2,000 people with learning disabilities and autism in in-patient units, often because no community provision was available. When he brings forward his plans for social care, will he make sure that there is adequate funding for local authorities to give care to such people? Will he also make sure that care workers are always paid the minimum wage, including for the time taken to travel between appointments?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments and the work that he and other Members do through the Select Committee to scrutinise the work of the Department. He just referred to some of that work, especially in his comments about learning disability and autism, which will remain a huge priority for the Government and certainly for my Department.
My right hon. Friend also rightly raised the issue of care workers and the minimum wage; it is worth pointing out that the Care Act 2014 requires local authorities, when they provide funding, not just to support the minimum wage but to take account of the costs that care workers might incur, such as travelling costs. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend and the members of his Select Committee.
As the Government have said, we want to make sure that every person in this country has the dignity that they deserve in old age. We have recognised that the current system needs substantial reform. The process of reform has already begun in, for example, the Health and Care Bill that will have its Second Reading tomorrow, but we do need a new, sustainable way to fund care and we will come forward with the plans later this year.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is good news that we can move away from restrictions and towards guidance. On the rationale for the decision he referred to, it is about vaccine effectiveness: we know that for those with both doses, vaccination is estimated to be 78% to 80% effective against symptomatic covid-19. The introduction on 16 August of the changes to which my hon. Friend referred will mean that more people will have been vaccinated and will help to reduce severe illness.
I want to reassure the hon. Lady—because this is such an important question for so many people across the country—that cancer remains a huge priority for this Government. She is right to refer to the work that Macmillan has done on this issue because, sadly, during the restrictions thousands of people have not come forward in the usual way and their cancer sadly remains undiagnosed. We urge anyone who feels that this is an issue for them: please, go to your GP—please come forward. That is one reason why we have launched the “Help Us, Help You” campaign. We have also provided additional funding for rapid diagnostic centres.
I think we would all agree in this House that GP practices have done a magnificent job in responding to the pandemic, and I want to take this opportunity to thank all GPs and their staff for the work that they have done and that they continue to do. My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of face-to-face access. We can all understand why it changed during the pandemic, but as we open up, we can start to provide more of this, particularly for older people. Over the coming weeks and months, that will be a priority for my Department.
As I said in response to an earlier question, this is a huge priority for the Government and, again, I am pleased that the hon. Lady has raised the issue. It is an issue for her constituents and for constituents throughout the country. She referred to the research by Cancer Research UK. I am afraid that it is right: there are thousands of people who did not come forward. We can understand why, so let me say this again as it is so important: for anyone concerned, please do come forward. We have provided additional funding—more than £1 billion—for more diagnostics and we will continue to provide additional support.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this question and the situation of her constituent. What I can say is that we expect clinical commissioning groups to commission fertility services in line with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines, so that there is equitable access across England. We are aware of some variations in access, and we are looking at how we can address that. Very specifically, CCGs should not be using criteria outside that NICE fertility guidance.
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. As she has rightly explained, there will be a number of people who, understandably, will be concerned about the move away from regulations to guidance. None the less, there must come a point when we start to remove the restrictions slowly, in a measured way, as we are doing—not least because we want to be able to start dealing much more with all the non-covid health problems that have been created as well. We have provided very clear guidance on masks and it was published yesterday. I hope that the hon. Lady can share that with people who are concerned.
Yes, I can confirm that. Removing restrictions is not without risk—I accept that—but keeping restrictions is not without cost. As my hon. Friend points out, the restrictions have led to increased domestic violence, child abuse, mental health issues and undiagnosed cancer, which we have heard about today, to name but a few. As we start lifting restrictions, that means that we can better deal with all these major non-covid health problems.
My hon. Friend rightly raises an issue that I know will be a concern for constituents of all Members of this House. The backlog of treatment—the waiting list—is over 5 million. However, we are making rapid progress with that, and so is the NHS. We are looking at a variety of ways to do that—not just providing the funding needed to do it, but through innovation, accelerator hubs and diagnostic hubs, all designed to get the waiting list down and to get people the treatment they need when they need it. I would be very happy to discuss the specifics of my hon. Friend’s local situation with him outside this place.
Throughout the pandemic, my predecessor and other Ministers have rightly been working with the devolved Administrations, and of course that work continues; it will remain a priority. I myself have already started weekly meetings with all my counterparts in the devolved Administrations. We discuss a number of issues and keep each other informed, but we also respect that in certain areas, in dealing with this pandemic, we may take a different course.
The hon. Lady understandably talks about the link between case numbers and hospitalisation. She will know that the last time we saw cases at 30,000 and above on a daily basis, we saw a lot more hospitalisations. The reason for the difference now is the vaccine wall of defence. Masks do have an important role to play, but we think that that role can be played by moving from regulation to guidance.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Select Committee on Home Affairs had been seeking to visit Napier barracks and Tug Haven reception centre for asylum seekers. We approached the Home Office four weeks ago. We had planned to visit today, but we have not received any response from the Home Office, and as a result we are here, not there. Given the importance of this, given the court judgments there have been about Napier barracks, and given our Committee’s ongoing inquiry into this matter, the whole Committee is very concerned about the lack of response and our inability to facilitate this visit. Please can you advise me and the Committee on the responsibilities of the Home Office to work with the Committee to facilitate scrutiny and visits such as these, and on what more we should do to try to get such a visit before the summer recess?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful, because I think the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee slightly underplays the urgency of this matter. For the past month, we have been asking to visit Napier. We have been fobbed off numerous times, and I have to say that this is not an isolated incident: increasingly, it is becoming difficult to get responses from Home Office officials and Ministers, never mind to get them in front of us here in a timely fashion.
This particular visit is directly related to some evidence that was given to us by Ministers, which has now turned out to be highly questionable, and which impacts on reviews and reports that we are currently preparing. We wanted very urgently to visit Napier barracks, but that probably cannot now happen before the summer recess. How on earth can we get responses from the Home Office in a timely fashion without Committee members and officials wasting time in constantly chasing them, or having to raise it on the Floor of the House, as the Chair of the Select Committee and others have done on countless occasions?
I have repeatedly stressed the importance of Select Committees and the essential scrutiny work that they undertake. I am very happy to do so again. For the Committees’ work to be effective, Departments need to be constructive and helpful when Committees make responsible and reasonable requests, whether they are about finding time for Ministers and officials to give evidence or, in this case, facilitating visits. It is simply unacceptable that the Committee has not had a response to the request made four weeks ago about a visit. That is discourteous to the Committee and, therefore, the House. Ministers on the Treasury Bench will have heard this exchange. I hope the matter can now be resolved speedily. This is coming not from one side, but from both sides of the House. Select Committees are important for scrutinising the Government’s business. It is important for the Government to recognise that. The sooner this can be fixed, the better; the happier I will be, and so will the House.
Electric Vehicle Charging Points (New Buildings)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
Order. In fairness to hon. Members who are speaking, I point out that the cameras pick up Members who are going to their seats and who block the view of the Member speaking. I know that it is important to get people into the Chamber, but this is a ten-minute rule Bill, and there is plenty of time for people to come in. Think of others, please.
The UK is one of the leaders in combating climate change and I am rightly proud of that record. Since 1990, the UK has decarbonised at the fastest rate of any G20 country and of course, we were the first to legislate for net zero by 2050. Last December, we went one step further and said that we would have an interim target of a 68% reduction by 2030. That is rightly an ambitious target and I am glad about that. However, if we are to achieve it, we need to focus on our transport sector.
Transport is the biggest emitter of carbon in the entire country. Last year, it accounted for 29.8% of total emissions. If we look forward to 2035, that is likely to increase as a percentage share. Cars account for 55% of those emissions. If we add in light vans, that increases to almost two thirds. Hence we can see how vital it is that we transition to electric vehicles.
I am glad that the Government have brought forward to 2030 the date when we ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars. That is a huge achievement. However, it is important that we not only set targets but put in place concrete steps to achieve them. That is why I am introducing this ten-minute rule Bill today. It will mandate that all new homes and office buildings should have electric vehicle charging points.
I am delighted that the Bill has the support of two Opposition Members—one from the Scottish National party and one from the Democratic Unionist party—and the support of other colleagues on the Government Benches whom I could not list in the list of sponsors.
The Government did undertake a consultation in 2019 on mandating electric vehicle charging points in new buildings, but we have not yet seen legislation as a result. However, I hope that this Bill is very timely because we should imminently have both the transport decarbonisation plan and the infrastructure strategy plan. I do not want to be too forward, but it would be good to see the Government adopting the thread of the Bill.
Let me set out why I think this is so critically important. Constituents say that their one reservation about buying electric vehicles is concern about the reliability of the infrastructure and the charging network. Because of their concerns about that reliability, they become concerned about range—so-called range anxiety. By mandating that all new-build offices and homes have these charging points, we will be able to address a lot of these concerns. Residential users will know that they can charge their cars overnight, and people, like many in my constituency, who only have on-street parking will have confidence that they can charge their cars at their offices. It will also, importantly, relieve some of the pressure on on-street parking and on the general grid of the charging network.
The Bill is very important from a safety perspective. It is clearly better that people charge their cars at home with proper chargers rather than some of the ad hoc charging methods that we see at the moment, such as extension leads dangling through windows going towards on-street parking. I am glad to say that the Bill has the support of Electrical Safety First. It is way cheaper to install electric charging points at the point of construction rather than retrofitting. The latest data shows that to retrofit an electric vehicle charging point costs £2,040 but to install it from new costs only £976. It is also very important for the uptake of electric vehicles in rural communities. At the moment, inner cities, like my own City of London, do have good uptake, but all new-builds having these charging points will definitely help in rural communities, where 68% of journeys are done by car.
The Bill is also important because it forces developers to buy into net zero. That means that this is in everyone’s mind, because whenever people are in their house or in their office and see an electric vehicle charging point, they realise that the new norm is electric vehicles—because we do need to make it the new norm.
While this Bill does not seek to address all the issues with electric vehicles, we clearly do need a comprehensive and strategic national grid of charging points. We also need to focus on the consumer experience in terms of interoperability. This Bill will go a small way to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles, which is critical to meeting our target for net zero and making the world a better place.
Question put and agreed to.
That Felicity Buchan, Alan Brown, Tracey Crouch, Philip Dunne, Simon Fell, Damian Green, Mrs Pauline Latham, Tim Loughton, Cherilyn Mackrory, Selaine Saxby, Andrew Selous and Jim Shannon present the Bill.
Felicity Buchan accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 October and to be printed (Bill 146).
Business of the House (Today)
That, at this day’s sitting, the Speaker shall put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to Treasury Update on International Aid not later than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order; proceedings relating to the motion on Treasury Update on International Aid may continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Jacob Rees-Mogg.)
International Aid: Treasury Update
Before we come to the next item of business, I wish to remind the House that, on 7 June, I said:
“the House has not…had an opportunity for a decisive vote on maintaining the UK’s commitment to the statutory target of 0.7%. I expect the Government to find a way to have this important matter debated and to allow the House formally to take an effective decision.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 667.]
The Government have now come forward with today’s motion and the written ministerial statements to which it relates.
The motion before us may not be the preferred way of dealing with the issue for some hon. and right hon. Members, in that the formal procedural consequences of voting against the motion are limited and the motion itself is not amendable. However, it facilitates a dedicated debate on the subject, and the written ministerial statement commits the Government very clearly to a certain course of action in the event of today’s motion being negatived. The Government have assured me that they will not resile from such a commitment, which represents a very significant step forward in the House’s ability to scrutinise the Government’s policy on this important matter.
I personally would like to thank the Government Front Bench for enabling this debate to take place, and I thank them for respecting this House.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Written Ministerial Statement relating to Treasury Update on International Aid, which was made to the House on Monday 12 July.
I believe that, on this vital subject, there is common ground between the Government and hon. Members on both sides of the House, in the sense that we believe in the power of aid to transform millions of lives. That is why we continue to agree that the UK should dedicate 0.7% of our gross national income to official development assistance.
This is not an argument about principle. The only question is when we return to 0.7%. My purpose today is to describe how we propose to achieve this shared goal in an affordable way.
Here we must face the harsh fact that the world is now enduring a catastrophe of a kind that happens only once a century. This pandemic has cast our country into its deepest recession on record, paralysing our national life, threatening the survival of entire sectors of the economy and causing my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to find over £407 billion to safeguard jobs and livelihoods and to support businesses and public services across the United Kingdom. He has managed that task with consummate skill and ingenuity, but everyone will accept that, when we are suddenly compelled to spend £407 billion on sheltering our people from an economic hurricane never experienced in living memory, there must inevitably be consequences for other areas of public spending.
Last year, under the pressure of the emergency, our borrowing increased fivefold to almost £300 billion—more than 14% of GDP, the highest since the second world war. This year, our national debt is climbing towards 100% of GDP, the highest for nearly six decades. The House knows that the Government have been compelled to take wrenching decisions, and the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 expressly provides that fiscal circumstances can allow departure from the 0.7% target.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor for their constructive engagement with those of us who have been profoundly concerned about our departure from the aid target. Will he reconfirm to me and to the House that this is not a fiscal trap, and that the mechanism set out in a written ministerial statement is a genuine and full-hearted attempt to return to our commitment of 0.7% at the very earliest economically sustainable opportunity?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work on and expertise in this matter. I know how deeply he cares about this, in common with many other Members across the House, and I can indeed give him that confirmation. The decision that we made was temporary, to reduce our aid budget to 0.5% of national income.
With great respect, if the House will allow me, I will make as much progress as I can in this speech, and then allow the, I think, 77 others who wish to contribute to have their say, so I will not take any more interventions.
In the teeth of this crisis, amid all the other calls on our resources, we can take pride in the fact that the UK will still invest at least £10 billion in aid this year—more, as a share of our GDP, than Canada, Japan, Italy and the United States. It would be a travesty if hon. Members were to give the impression that the UK is somehow retreating from the field of international development or lacking in global solidarity. As I speak, this country is playing a vital role in the biggest and fastest global vaccination programme in history. We helped to create COVAX, the coalition to vaccinate the developing world, and we have invested over half a billion pounds in this crucial effort, which has so far distributed more than 100 million doses to 135 countries.
The Government’s agreement with Oxford University and AstraZeneca succeeded in producing the world’s most popular vaccine, with over 500 million doses released to the world, mainly to low and middle-income countries, saving lives every hour of every day. The UK’s expertise and resources have been central to the global response to the emergency, discovering both the vaccine and the first life-saving treatment for covid. We have secured agreement from our friends in the G7 to provide a billion vaccines to protect the world by the end of next year, and 100 million will come from the UK. We are the third biggest sovereign donor to the World Health Organisation, and the top donor to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which vaccinates children against killer diseases.
We are devoting £11.6 billion, double our previous commitment, to helping developing countries to deal with climate change, including by protecting their forests and introducing green energy. I can tell the House that this vital investment will be protected.
When it comes to addressing one of the world’s gravest injustices—the tragedy that millions of girls are denied the chance to go to school—the UK has pledged more than any other country, £430 million, to the Global Partnership for Education, in addition to the £400 million that we will spend on girls’ education this year.
Later this month, I will co-host a summit of the partnership in London with President Kenyatta of Kenya. Wherever civil wars are displacing millions or threatening to inflict famine in Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia or elsewhere, the UK is responding with over £900 million of help this year, making our country the third-largest bilateral humanitarian donor in the world. It bears repeating that we are doing this in the midst of a terrible crisis, when our public finances are under greater strain than ever before in peacetime history and every pound we spend in aid has to be borrowed. It represents not our money, but money we are taking from future generations.
Last year, we dissolved the old divide between aid and diplomacy that once ran through the entire Whitehall machine, by creating the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. In doing so, my objective was to ensure that every diplomat in our service was actuated by the mission and vision of our finest development officials, and that our aid was better in tune with our national values and our desire to be a force for good in the world. So I can assure any hon. Member who wishes to make the case for aid that they are, when it comes to me or to anyone in the Government, preaching to the converted. We shall act on that conviction by returning to 0.7% as soon as two vital tests have been satisfied. The first is that the UK is no longer borrowing to cover current or day-to-day expenditure. The second is that public debt, excluding the Bank of England, is falling as a share of GDP.
Will the Prime Minister give way?
Plenty of people want to speak in this debate. The Government will of course review the situation every year and place a statement before this House in accordance with the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. But as we conduct that annual review, we will fervently wish to find that our conditions have been satisfied. This is one debate where the Government and hon. Members from across the House share the same objective—
I am sure the right hon. Lady will have plenty of time later on.
As I was saying, we share the same objective and the same fundamental convictions. We all believe in the principle that aid can transform lives, and by voting for this motion, hon. Members will provide certainty for our aid budget and an affordable path back to 0.7%, while also allowing for investment in other priorities, including the NHS, schools and the police. As soon as circumstances allow and the tests are met, we will return to the target that unites us, and I commend this motion to the House.
I start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, and hon. Members from across the House for ensuring that this debate took place today. In particular, I thank the right hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I think they are the “lefty” propagandists that the Prime Minister was talking about a couple of weeks ago. I have to say that if the Prime Minister had confidence in the arguments he is making to this House, he would have given way to them a moment ago so that his arguments could be tested. He does not have confidence in them, otherwise he would have done so—that is obvious already. However, we do welcome the chance to debate this motion.
The motion is broad and, if I may say so, from this Prime Minister it is typically slippery. The House should have had the opportunity for a straight up/down vote on whether to approve or reject the Government’s cut to overseas aid to 0.5%. This motion does not do that. But the Chancellor’s written ministerial statement is clear: if the motion is carried, the cut in overseas aid to 0.5% will effectively carry on indefinitely. I will expand on that point in just a moment—[Interruption.] I will expand on that point and take interventions on it.
I am going to develop that argument. When I get to it, I will give way so that that argument can be tested, in the usual way. But if the motion is rejected,
“the Government would consequently return to spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid in the next calendar year”.—[Official Report, 12 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 4WS.]
Let me be clear: Labour will vote to reject this motion tonight and to return overseas aid to 0.7% of GNI.
I am going to summarise my argument—[Interruption.] I am going make my argument, and when I get to the relevant part, I will take interventions.
The case that we make is this: first, that the cut is wrong, because investing 0.7% on international aid is in Britain’s national interest; secondly, because the economic criteria set out by the Chancellor would lead to an indefinite cut that is likely to last beyond this Parliament; and, thirdly, because it matters that this House keeps its word to the voters who elected us. Every Member here—every Member here—was elected on a manifesto to retain the 0.7% target, and it matters that we keep our promises to the world’s poorest, particularly at such a time of global uncertainty.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I agree with him about keeping promises, and Conservative Members were also elected to keep fiscal promises to reduce our debt and not to borrow for day-to-day spending. I hope in his remarks he will set out, given that he is not going to support this motion, which areas of spending he is going to cut to pay for it or which taxes he is going to raise. If he does not do either of those things, then I am afraid his promises and his vote today are hollow, and no one will believe him.
I have to say that it is a bit rich from someone who may break the manifesto commitment to say that the vote today and the words today are hollow, but just to take that straight on, it is a false economy, I am afraid. Cutting aid will increase costs and have a big impact on our economy. Development aid—we all know this—reduces conflict, disease and people fleeing from their homes. It is a false economy to pretend that this is some sort of cut that does not have consequences.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a House of Commons speech, not a partisan speech. Can I ask him what I would have asked the Prime Minister if the Prime Minister had given way? First, will he confirm that the cut we are discussing today is 1% of the borrowing the Prime Minister described that he quite rightly sanctioned last year? Secondly, will he underline the fact that this was an all-party promise made at the general election by every single one of us, and we really should not break our promises to the poorest in this terrible way?
Yes and yes. It was not ambivalent in the manifestos and it was not conditional; it was clear.
On the first part of the argument—the national interest—British aid saves lives, it builds a more secure world, and it promotes democracy and British soft power. For the last 20 years, that has been the political consensus across this House. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown first set the goal of the UK reaching the 0.7% target—[Interruption.] I am making a speech to the House and for the House. David Cameron and the right hon. Member for Maidenhead made it a reality, and we acknowledge that in the right way. It has been supported—[Interruption.] The chuntering is all very well, but this has been a cross-party position for 20 years, and successive Prime Ministers have kept to the commitment. Every other living Prime Minister thinks this is wrong; there is only one Prime Minister who is prepared to do this, and he is sitting there, on the Front Bench. I acknowledge what those on the Benches opposite did in relation to this—the previous Prime Minister is sitting opposite. I am openly acknowledging that, and it has been supported by all parties, and rightly so. As the sixth richest country in the world, Britain has a moral obligation to help the world’s poorest, and our aid budget has done that with fantastic results.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
I will in a moment.
This has been providing education for women and girls; fighting poverty; providing sanitation, healthcare and vaccines; building resilience and infrastructure; and doing incredible post-conflict and reconstruction work, where I think Britain does a better job than anyone else, so it has real results. Let us be clear what these cuts would mean: 1 million girls losing out on schooling; nearly 3 million women and children going without life-saving nutrition; 5.6 million children left unvaccinated; an estimated 100,000 deaths worldwide. [Interruption] The Prime Minister says “Rubbish”; that is the human toll of the choices the Government are making, and it is not rubbish.
The case being made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that the Prime Minister is making a promise he will not keep, but what did Tony Blair and Gordon Brown do? They made a promise but they never, ever spent 0.7% of GDP on aid, and therefore the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s speech lacks all moral force.
They more than doubled it; they set the goal, and then successive Prime Ministers implemented that goal. That is such a weak argument—11 years into this Government that is such a weak argument. When I was Director of Public Prosecutions, which has a five-year term, the very idea that I could turn around four or five years into the role and say it was somebody else’s fault five, 10, 15, 20 years ago—I have always found such an argument particularly weak. This is such a bad argument but it is used all the time. They have been in power for 11 years; either take responsibility for what you are doing or give up.
Our overseas aid budget goes beyond that moral obligation: it also helps build a more stable world and keeps us safer in the UK. In Afghanistan aid has supported improvements in security, in governance, in economic development and in rights for women and girls, yet, despite all the challenges that that country now faces and the security and terrorist threats that that poses to the UK—we know about those, and the previous Prime Minister the right hon. Member for Maidenhead knows about them—UK aid to Afghanistan is being cut from £192.3 million to £38.2 million. That is Afghanistan. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister chunters, but they are actually the Government figures. In Yemen, where there is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world, UK aid has been cut by nearly 60%; in Syria, the Government are slashing aid by around 50%; and for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh there is a cut of 42%. All of those decisions will create more refugees, more instability and more people having to flee their homes.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the words of General James Mattis, the former United States Defence Secretary? When President Trump proposed cutting overseas aid, General Mattis said, “Fine, cut it, but you will have to give me, the Defence Secretary, more money to buy more bullets.”
I am aware of that, and it exposes the false economy argument in the Prime Minister’s case.
This cut will also reduce UK influence just when it is needed most, and of course it risks leaving a vacuum that other countries—China and Russia, for example—will fill. At a time when Britain will host COP26 and has hosted the G7 we should be using every means at our disposal to create a fairer and safer world, but we are the only G7 country that is cutting our aid budget—the only G7 country. That is not the vision of global Britain that those of us on the Labour Benches want to see, and I do not think it is the vision of global Britain that many on the Benches opposite want to see either.
All of us in this House long to see our aid commitments re-established at 0.7% of national income, but the Leader of the Opposition will nevertheless appreciate that we continue to be one of the most generous foreign aid donors. He is making a good point about the 0.7%, but can he explain why, in all the Labour years of Labour Government, they averaged 0.36% of national income on overseas aid?
They doubled it, actually.
Let me turn to my second point, which has already been debated: the economic argument behind the Government’s position. The Prime Minister and Chancellor say that these cuts are unavoidable because of the pandemic and the economic consequences we now find ourselves in, but the whole point of the 0.7% target is that it is relative to the UK’s economic success or challenges: it rises when we grow and falls when we experience economic shock like the pandemic. Nobody in this House is arguing for overseas aid to be maintained at the pre-pandemic level during the downturn in strict terms. We all recognise that a contracting economy means a relative contraction in our aid budget, but the Chancellor and Prime Minister are asking the House to agree to go beyond that, to impose a new target of 0.5% and to create entirely new criteria for ever returning to 0.7%. In effect, the Chancellor is proposing a double lock against reverting to 0.7%. The written ministerial statement makes it clear that Britain will go back to 0.7% only when public debt is falling as a percentage of GDP and there is a “current budget surplus”.
Will the right hon. and learned Member give way?
Let me make this point, and the Prime Minister can intervene if he wants. On the former point, the Office for Budget Responsibility does not predict public debt falling as a percentage of GDP until 2024 or 2025 at the earliest. If the Prime Minister wants to intervene, I am ready. That would mean returning to 0.7% will not happen in any year in this Parliament. I am clear about that. Does anyone want to intervene? That is the OBR’s prediction.
Well, that is a very good point. I think it is once in 20 years. However, there are two points here and, if there is a contrary argument, the Prime Minister can make it. On the first point, the OBR does not predict a fall in debt as a percentage of GDP until 2024 to 2025. Therefore, anybody voting tonight who is pretending to themselves that the cut is temporary and will be changed in a year or two is not looking at the facts. If anybody wants to say they have better statistics and the OBR has got it completely wrong, please do so—that includes the Prime Minister.
On the second point, the OBR does not forecast a current surplus for its entire forecast period. In fact, there is no expected timeline for that criterion to be met at all. What the Chancellor is setting out is not a temporary cut in overseas aid; it is an indefinite cut. Let me remind the House that only, I think, five times in the past 30 years has a current budget surplus been run—four of them, I might add, were under a Labour Government and one under the Conservatives—so the chances of those criteria being met under a Conservative Chancellor are remote at best. All the more so, because the statement creates an artificial £4.3 billion fiscal penalty for any Chancellor who seeks to rebalance the Budget. So this is an indefinite cut—it is not going to be reversed next year or the year after—and, however much the Prime Minister shakes his head, there is no contrary argument.
This is not just about economic necessity; a political choice is being made. Not only is it against our national interest but it further erodes trust in our politics. That brings me to my third point: trust. There is now a central divide in British politics and across the world between those who value truth, integrity and honesty and those who bask in breaking them. We were all elected on manifestos that committed to the 0.7% target. I am proud to have stood on that commitment and I know that many hon. Members across the House are as well.
I will in just a moment. Let me quote page 53 of the Conservative manifesto, which says:
“We will proudly maintain our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on development”.
Do not shake your head, Prime Minister—it is there in black and white. As Conservative Members have said, that is not equivocal or conditional. It was a clear promise to voters and it should be honoured. If it is not, where does that leave us? There are already countless examples of the Prime Minister breaking his promises, such as: no hard border in the Irish Sea; no cuts to our armed forces; and an already-prepared plan for social care—the list is endless. That matters. It matters to the British people that they can trust a Prime Minister to honour a clear commitment. It matters to our reputation around the globe that the word of the British Government will hold in good times and bad.
Today, the House has the chance to stand up for a better kind of politics for the national interest, to do what we know is right and to honour our commitments to the world’s poorest. When the Division is called, Labour MPs will do so, and I am sure that others on the Conservative Benches will do so. I urge all Members to do so.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the Government for enabling this debate today.
I stood on a manifesto commitment to maintain international aid funding at 0.7% of gross national income—and not just that, because we said:
“We will proudly maintain our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on development”.
Early last year, the pandemic hit. It had an immediate negative effect on the economy, yet in September 2020, when that effect on the economy had been seen, when public spending was increasing and when the Government were already borrowing hundreds of billions of pounds, they confirmed in their response to the fourth report of the International Development Committee that they would honour that manifesto commitment, saying:
“a commitment enshrined in law and one to which the new Department”—
the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—
“will honour its responsibilities.”
The Government went on to say that investing that 0.7% was at the heart of the vision of the Government’s integrated review for the UK
“as an active, internationalist, problem-solving and burden-sharing nation.”
Where is that vision now, as the Government turn their back on some of the poorest in the world?
With GNI falling, our funding for aid was falling in any case. To reduce it from 0.7% to 0.5% is a double blow. This is not about palaces for dictators and vanity projects; it is about what cuts to funding mean: fewer girls will be educated, more girls and boys will become slaves, more children will go hungry and more of the poorest people in the world will die.
The Government have promised what they see as a compromise, and I am grateful to the Chancellor for speaking to me last night. I asked how long it would take before the tests are met and we return to 0.7%. I was told, “Four to five years, but it could be sooner, because the economy is recovering so well.” If the motion is defeated tonight, it will be 0.7% from January next year. The Government appear to be saying to us, “We cannot afford 0.7% next year because the economy is doing so badly, but actually the economy is doing so well that we could very well be able to restore 0.7% very soon”. The Government cannot have it both ways.
I certainly doubt whether the tests will ever be met in five years’ time. Meeting them depends not only on a significant recovery in the economy—the Office for Budget Responsibility is forecasting trend growth of less than 2%—but on the Government reining in their inclination to continue to increase public spending. We are told that there will be dire consequences for tax and public spending if this motion is defeated. We have borrowed £400 billion—where are the dire warnings about that? It seems that £4 billion is really bad news; £400 billion—who cares?
Finally, as has been pointed out, the two tests have only been met in one calendar year in the past 20 years. I have been in this House for nearly a quarter of a century. During that time, I have never voted against a three-line Whip from my party. As Prime Minister, I suffered at the hands of rebels. I know what it is like to see party colleagues voting against their Government. We made a promise to the poorest people in the world. The Government have broken that promise. This motion means that promise may be broken for years to come. With deep regret, I will vote against the motion today.
There is not a single nation on the planet that has escaped the devastation of this global pandemic, and there is not a single person who is pretending that the challenge of recovery from covid is easy. We also know that it has been the poorest of our own society who have been hit the hardest over the past 18 months. Tragically, that has been replicated across the globe. Inequality has widened. Millions have been pushed into poverty. Development gains have been reversed, and it is the poorest and most vulnerable in our societies who are dying.
We therefore need a global recovery that builds forward better, creates a fairer, more inclusive and more sustainable world and ultimately honours the millions who have lost or are losing their lives to this terrible pandemic. In order to do that, the wealthiest countries in the world, of which the UK is one, must step up to tackle the great challenges facing humanity, not step away. However, it is with the deepest regret that this UK Government’s callous cut to the aid budget is not only jeopardising those efforts, but will mean that the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world will pay the ultimate price. Make no mistake: these cuts will cost lives.
The UK Government are making a desperate effort to stress the economic necessity of cutting aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI. They are desperate to talk about fiscal tests, borrowing levels and tax receipts, but they do not want to address the questions that put them to shame. How many children will go without an education? How many girls will be forced into unwanted marriages and teenage pregnancies? Ultimately, how many individuals will die needlessly because of this Government’s decision? Those are questions that the Government have run away from, just as they have run away from this debate and this vote for the past six months.
It should simply never have come to this. This Parliament should have had a vote on the aid cut before it was implemented, but instead the Government pressed ahead with international austerity on the backs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Without consultation with those most in need, without any impact assessment and without any debate in this Parliament, the Government made their decision based on a Treasury spreadsheet. With a stroke of a pen, they signed the death sentence—a policy that will lead to 1 million children’s excess deaths.
Those who are considering voting in favour of the motion should reflect on these questions. Are they building forward and leaving no one behind in a global strategy against covid? Are they honouring the millions who are losing their lives and the many more millions who will lose their livelihoods as a result of the pandemic? Are they happy to sign that death sentence?
Let us look at a few examples of the life-saving aid programmes that have been curtailed or cancelled, with horrifying consequences right now. Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, where 20 million people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Many of them face famine after years of war. Despite that, the UK Government have slashed their humanitarian funding to the country by more than 60%. The UN Secretary-General put it bluntly:
“Millions of Yemeni children, women and men desperately need aid to live. Cutting aid is a death sentence.”
Given that 400,000 children under five might starve to death in Yemen alone this year, how on earth can this Government defend themselves?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about Yemen, although it should be acknowledged that the UK gave aid to Yemen well in excess of what we had budgeted for, and that we have a very generous record. Does he agree that it is not only a question of emergency aid? If we are to find peace in that country, we will need to give aid for its reconstruction to keep it out of civil war and famine again, so it is entirely the wrong time not to step up with the money necessary for a lasting peace.
I agree with every point that the hon. Member makes. It is important for our national security and in our national interest to be stepping up at this point, not stepping away.
The UK Government’s funding to the United Nations Population Fund, which provides contraceptives and reproductive health supplies globally, is being cut by a staggering 85%. Yes, Mr Speaker, you heard that correctly: 85%. The UNFPA has stated:
“These cuts will be devastating for women and girls and their families across the world.”
The money being withheld by this Government would have helped to prevent a quarter of a million child and maternal deaths, nearly 15 million unintended pregnancies and more than 4 million unsafe abortions.
A third example, which just shows how ridiculous the cuts are, is that tens of thousands of people are likely to die needlessly because nearly 300 million doses of medicine for the treatment of neglected diseases in Africa are at risk of expiring following the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s announcement that it is almost entirely withdrawing its allocated funding. So far, the UK Government have not confirmed that the expiring medicines will be distributed urgently rather than destroyed. What an utter folly—an absence of simple human decency. Hon. Members voting on the motion must tell their constituents that, because these are the simple facts.
Those are just three examples that cover women’s reproductive rights, disease prevention and urgent humanitarian assistance, but cuts are happening across the board. Programmes to eradicate poverty, to prevent conflict or even to combat climate change—in the year that we will host COP26 in Glasgow—are all suffering a similar fate. Each budget reduced, each project scaled back and each programme cancelled results in a loss of hard-fought progress, a loss of expertise and, fundamentally, a loss of trust. This so-called temporary measure will inflict long-term damage and long-term pain and suffering, which is why the cut must be urgently reversed. The Government are pretending that there is no other option than to cut from 0.7% to 0.5%, but we know that that is not the case. In fact, it is blatantly not the case.
It must have been a complete humiliation for the UK Government when they hosted the G7 summit in Cornwall last month, which should have been a moment of pride in demonstrating our shared collective values. This House may ask why. It is because every other G7 country has recognised the necessity of helping those in urgent need at this time of unprecedented volatility and increased aid spending.
I thank the hon. Member for his comments. This is not a question of pride that we are still giving very generously—that we will be the third most generous. We are the sixth wealthiest nation. We keep talking about global Britain, but we are actually a shrinking Britain with these cuts. We are actually losing our soft power. You are going against national security. You are going against our collective national interest right across this House, with every party that is here today.
Sadly, because of these brutal cuts by the UK Government, the massive increase in spending—to come back to the hon. Gentleman’s point— by Germany was effectively cancelled out. Within these islands, I should also add, the Scottish Government have increased their international aid budget by 50%. That puts this House, frankly, at shame with this motion.
It is simply a matter of political priorities, and this Chancellor and this Prime Minister have shown where their priorities lie. Let us not kid ourselves that this is being spent on health, welfare and education at home because it clearly is not. The Chancellor chose to take money away from preventing famine and malnutrition, conflict prevention, and protecting our planet and marginalised communities from the devastating effects of climate change. Instead—I am glad to see the Chancellor in his place—he chose to spend the money on enhanced cyberweapons, AI-enabled drones and, the biggest folly of all, increased stockpiles of nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction, after he delivered a windfall for the defence budget—in the very same month the cut from 0.7% to 0.5% was announced.
If that is not an act of national shame, let us look at the icing on the cake. The Prime Minister, who is no longer in his place—he should be embarrassed when I read this—believes that spending upwards of £200 million on a shiny brand new royal yacht, Britannia 2.0, is more important than using lifesaving aid to deliver a more just, peaceful and secure world. That is despite the fact of the royal family’s complete displeasure. Mr Speaker, how un-British could that be?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I raised it only because it is on the record elsewhere.
Even every former living Prime Minister has opposed this cut and continues to do so. The simple fact is that aid spending has always been in the Prime Minister’s sights, ever since he described it as
“spending huge sums of British taxpayers’ money as though we were some independent Scandinavian NGO”
“shovelling money out the door”.
He has now chosen to go against a decades-long cross-party consensus, breaking his own manifesto promise and that of all his Conservative colleagues as he is dragged far right by the UK Independence party and the Brexit party, and implementing their promises to cut aid instead.
This will likely herald a new decade of austerity. Let us call it austerity 2.0. We all know what the first decade was like. There is nothing temporary about this motion. This is not global Britain; this is a nasty, short, poor, brutish and, most of all, very little Britain. Across this House, we all stood on a manifesto commitment to protect the 0.7% spend on international development. That is, for those who are not very good at maths, 7p in every £10. When I describe that to children in primary schools I visit and to young people in my constituency, they are surprised at how little we spend as the sixth wealthiest nation in the world and they are right to be so.
Today, we have an opportunity to reaffirm our values, rather than be led into voting to balance the imaginary books on the backs of the world’s poorest. We must all keep to our word to deliver on our promises to our fellow global citizens who are the most marginalised and vulnerable people on earth. If covid has taught us anything, it is that we all share in the same struggles and challenges, but also the hopes and dreams of a better future, working together as one planet and one community. Now more than ever before we must step up to support our global community, not step away. There is no honour for those who have suffered as a result of this pandemic in stepping away. There is no meaning in the phrase “building back better” if we turn our backs. For those who decide to vote for this immoral motion today, there is no place for you to hide. When asked the question, “Why did you vote for this?” by your own children, friends and family and, equally importantly, constituents, it will be an indelible mark against your opportunity to do the right thing here today and you will have to live with it for the rest of your time in this House.
I draw the House’s attention to my interests, as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The Government have done the right thing today in ensuring that this House has a vote on this matter, and thank you, Mr Speaker, for standing up for Parliament in that respect. There is a straight choice here, as was outlined by the Leader of the House yesterday in his statement. It is between rejecting this motion, in which case the Government will restore the 0.7% from next year—that was the olive branch that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I suggested—and accepting this so-called “Treasury compromise”. I tell the House that it is no compromise at all; it is a fiscal trap for the unwary.
First, it is quite possible that these conditions will never be met. We do not need to look in the crystal ball—we can read the book. It is indisputably the case that there has been only one occasion in the past two decades—in 2001—when these conditions would have been met. If we look at what the OBR has said, we see that it is incredibly clear that the debt to GDP measure will not fall until 2024-25 and day-to-day debt will not fall until 2025-26. Given that the 0.7% goes up and down with our economic performance, a very important point is that the 0.7% policy protects us in that respect.
Does my right hon. Friend not accept that the OBR has exaggerated the gloom on the debt and deficit, particularly in the last two years? It exaggerated it by £50 billion for last year between November and March, so why on earth does he believe the OBR’s gloomy figures now? I am sure we are going to get the deficit down.
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but does it say something when every economic and political commentator has said that this new mechanism will not see the 0.7% return in the way that it should and that this is a cop-out of the highest order?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said, this is a trap for the unwary and a tribute to the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s silver tongue. So I shall certainly be voting against this motion and against the Government today. I shall do so with absolute conviction and profound disappointment. This is only the third time since I was elected in 1987 that I have voted against the Government, and on one of those occasions I was in the company of the Prime Minister in the Lobby. It is never easy to rebel and I thank those who have stood with us to support our manifesto. We should not be breaking our promise in this way. We should certainly not be seeking to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world. I am incredibly proud to have been a member of a Conservative Administration who declined to do that even with the austerity that we faced.
For goodness sake, this is 1% of the borrowing that the Chancellor rightly made last year to shore up our country from covid. It is a tiny figure and it is the only cut that he has announced. That will have an enormous impact on our role in the world and, above all, on the huge number of people who will be severely damaged, maimed, blinded, as often happens, or indeed who will die as a result of the cuts. I remind the House that the cuts include a 25% cut to girls’ education, which is a top priority of our Prime Minister and this Administration. For neglected tropical diseases—thank goodness, the philanthropists have stepped in for one year only to protect the British taxpayers’ investment—we have cut aid by 90%. In Yemen, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, we have cut it by 60%, which is literally the equivalent of taking food away from starving people. This is what we are doing to the world’s poorest. This is how we are trashing our international reputation. We are the only country in the G7 that is cutting in the middle of a pandemic. Everyone else is increasing. This is a decision that we do not need to make. Since we started this campaign, there has been a 9% increase in support across our country for the Government’s policies. It is, to coin a phrase, worse than a crime; it is a mistake.
May I say, finally, in humble respect to my own party, that some of us have seen this movie before? It took us 23 years—until 2015—to achieve an overall majority by wiping out the Liberal Democrat seats, and to achieve it we secured the support of decent, internationalist, pro-development spending people, who saw from our time of austerity that we would stand by this promise. The former Brexit Secretary—my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis)—and I visited Chesham and Amersham. May I say that our much-loved former colleague, Cheryl Gillan, would have been voting with us on this issue tonight? Anyone who thinks that this issue is not affecting our party’s reputation is living in cloud cuckoo land. Chesham and Amersham has the biggest Christian Aid group in the country.
There is an unpleasant odour wafting out from under my party’s front door. This is not who we are. This is not what global Britain is. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against this motion.
It does not show respect for the House to ask us to take such a significant decision with little notice, little explanation and no clarity about the consequences of today’s vote. It does not show respect for communities in the poorest parts of the world when this Government are willing to play games with their lives and livelihoods in this way. The Government present the motion as giving Parliament an opportunity to have a say on when and how the UK will return to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid. But today is not really about the 0.7% target, the cuts or the livelihoods that are already being affected by our reduced spending. It is about exerting pressure on Government Back Benchers who have been brave enough to call out what the Government are doing. Basically the Government are saying, “Back this or you will be blamed when taxes rise or spending falls”—things that will likely happen because of the pandemic anyway.
Today is yet another example of this Government’s complete lack of regard for parliamentary scrutiny, and they have form. There is a pattern of this Government withholding information until the last minute and then only making the most basic details available. Let us be clear: the Government have not brought forward a substantive motion for this debate. The motion that they have tabled is made in neutral terms—a device that was intended to allow the House to debate an issue without coming to a view. They claim that this debate is binding. It is not our procedures that make it binding; it is their political choice. This is a knee-jerk reaction dreamt up between last Thursday and yesterday in the face of growing criticism of this Government.
Yesterday’s written ministerial statement talks of returning to 0.7 % only when we are not borrowing for day-to-day spending and underlying debt is falling. On their own, each of those tests is a high hurdle. When combined, these conditions become incredibly strict. Since the 0.7% target was introduced in 2013, these tests have been met only once. They explicitly link ODA spending to policy decisions made by other Government Departments on tax and spending. This double lock could lead to an indefinite cut in aid spending, and, of course, the tests do nothing to prevent the Government from dropping lower than the 0.5%.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the UK’s economy is forecast to return to pre-pandemic levels in the second quarter of 2020—faster than originally thought. If a return to economic normality is getting closer, why the need to introduce these extra tests before returning to 0.7%? They are just added roadblocks artfully placed by the Treasury on the track back to the legally mandated level of 0.7%. Fundamentally, the statement paints aid spending as an either/or choice; we are spending either on domestic public services or on international aid. It is an artificial choice that MPs are being forced to make. This is a breathtakingly cynical manoeuvre and the House must not fall for it.
I consider myself an economic Thatcherite, yet when I come to choose between money and lives, I always choose lives. This House should remember—this should be at the forefront of every Member’s mind today—that this is a vote where we are choosing whether or not to intervene to save lives. That is the key issue, not the monetary issue, which I will return to in a second.
The Government argue that this is a policy the United Kingdom cannot afford, but while we have heard about this being a small fraction of our borrowing, we should remember that it is an even smaller fraction of our spending. We spend, in a non-covid year, at least £800 billion; the £3.5 billion saving we are talking about is less than 0.5% of that. That is what the Treasury tells us is the critical, overwhelming measure that forces us to do something that has such dramatic consequences.
The Chancellor might say, as his press spokesman did in the course of last week, “Well, you find the money from somewhere else”—saying that to a past Public Accounts Committee Chairman is very dangerous for a Chancellor. We were in Chesham and Amersham a week or two ago, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) said, and Cheryl Gillan would have said to the Chancellor, “Well why don’t you just cancel HS2?” That is between £100 billion and £200 billion; it would pay for 25 to 50 years of this shortfall. It is really that simple.
So I do not really accept what the Chancellor is saying—that the only place, indeed the best place, for savings to be found is cutting aid, which will cost lives. Such a choice is morally reprehensible. Let us be clear about that—morally reprehensible.
My right hon. Friend is making an incredibly good point, but has he also noticed that, in the Chancellor’s outstanding policy on spending announced last November, the cut that he is referring to—this cut of 1% of the borrowing on covid last year—is the only cut that has been announced?
My right hon. Friend is right. The prioritising of this cut makes it even more morally reprehensible. Indeed, at the same time, as I think the spokesman for the SNP, the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), said, we are increasing spending on defence. I happen to agree with increasing spending on defence, but I do not agree with cutting spending on things that will lead to the need for more defence because of migration, civil wars and the rest of it.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and the Leader of the Opposition have pointed out, the Government’s proposed double lock on returning to 0.7% is deceptive. It is designed to look reasonable. However, in fact, none of the people who have spoken so far has actually stated the full case. Although we say that the condition has been met only once since 1990, under a Conservative Government, and has never been met, really—well, it was once, just about—since the 0.7% policy was put in place, it has actually never been met since 1970, because the wording is not “a current budget surplus” but
“a sustainable current budget surplus”.
All the current budget surpluses we have been talking about so far have been for one year—and frankly, the one under us in 2018 lasted about 10 nanoseconds; it was a very tiny surplus. In practice, we have not had a sustainable current surplus since the 1970s, so I am afraid that, under the actual wording in the statement, we are not looking at 0.7% for a very long time indeed. We heard the Leader of the Opposition say it would be years, possibly decades, possibly never, and I think he is right about that.
Even if the conditions were to be met, the proposal will do nothing to deal with the crises that are caused by the policy already, right now. The Government argue that the cuts are temporary, but death is never temporary—and this will cause deaths.
Since Ministers announced that the UK was going to be the only G7 country to cut its aid this year, despite all the other countries facing the same fiscal pressures, there is not one Member of this House who is not now aware of the consequences of the decision that Ministers have taken—a cut of 85% in the support that we give to the United Nations Population Fund to prevent maternal and child death and unwanted pregnancy; a cut of 95% to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, at the very moment when the world is closer than it has ever been to eradicating that dreadful disease; and a cut of 50% in the support we give to the humanitarian mine action programme, which stops people losing their arms, their legs and their lives to unexploded ordnance. It is a very long list, and every one of those things harms our reputation and does not help us to persuade others, because other countries judge us not by what we say, but by what we do.
The choice before the House today is a very stark one: do we act to put this right, or do we accept the double lock that has been proposed? I urge the House to reject it, because there is a principle here. What is it about the level of Government spending on helping the world’s poorest people that means that it alone is going to be subject to these tests? No other area of Government expenditure is: just this one. If this is about protecting the public finances, why is this area of Government expenditure—the money we spend on getting children into school, or on vaccinating children so they do not die of diseases that our children do not die of—being singled out? I have great admiration for the OBR, but determining the level of our international aid spending is not part of its responsibility. It is the Government’s responsibility, it is a political responsibility, and Ministers should not try to pass the buck on to someone else, especially since the latest OBR forecast makes clear that it is exceedingly unlikely that the two tests would be met in the next five years.
Can I just pick the right hon. Gentleman up on that point about other areas of expenditure? The Treasury and the Chancellor have set out these tests—promises that are in our manifesto, and which we mean to keep. The comprehensive spending review is taking place this year, and it seems to me that we will be judging all other areas of Government expenditure by these same measures. I see the Chancellor nodding, so it seems to me that we are being very consistent here, and it is important that we keep our promises about our fiscal responsibilities as well as getting back on track to meet our aid responsibilities.
I am afraid that I take a different view of the Government’s consistency from the right hon. Gentleman’s, because they have chosen quite specifically, knowingly and deliberately to break a cast-iron promise to the world’s poorest people that was also contained in that manifesto. As I said in my last contribution on this subject, most of those people probably have no idea that this House made that commitment together, but the Government have chosen to break it, and the choice we are making today is whether we think that is right or wrong.
The Chancellor might think that the double lock is a way out of this political problem, but I do not think it is, because the issue before us has not gone away. It is just the same as it was on the day when the original cut was announced, and the question before us is whether it is right—morally, practically or politically—to break our word to the world’s poorest people. I would argue that it is not: it is wrong in principle and it is harmful in practice, as we have heard from excellent speeches made by Conservative Members. It is not who we are; it is not the country that we should aspire to be; and I ask the House to reject this motion so that we can restore aid to 0.7% and keep the promise that we made to the people of this country and the people of the world.
I rise really very sadly today, because like everybody else I stood on a manifesto that said that we would honour that 0.7% commitment, and I was there when we voted on it originally. The people we are trying to protect have already been hit, because our economy declined at the beginning of the covid pandemic. They will continue to be hit by this reduction to 0.5%, because 0.7% of a figure is a lot more than 0.5%. The amount has gone down hugely already, and people are suffering.
If we take a random family with two parents and maybe six children, four of whom are boys and two of whom are girls, the girls will be the ones who have less food and who would benefit from the nutritional programmes that we provide, but we will not be providing those programmes. The girls would normally get less food, because boys are prioritised in many families, and the boys would probably go to school, whereas the girls would not be able to go to school because they would not have the funding to enable them to afford it. The Prime Minister has stood so often on the promise that he will educate all girls with 12 years of quality education. Well, no matter how he protests, that is not going to happen now.
I feel that we are letting down the poorest people in the world. We are devastating their futures for £4 billion, which, as we have heard, is 1% of what has already been borrowed. It is not a lot of money. We have borrowed that money and, as has been said by many, the people who we should be benefiting will not benefit. They will not have malaria treatments, they will not have the neglected tropical disease treatments and they will not have all the help they need. Especially, they will have earlier marriages and younger pregnancies because we are cutting the devastating figure of 85% of the family planning budget and the abortion budget. That is going to devastate many girls. Many girls will die in early childbirth because of this decision by the Government.
I find it shocking that this Government are doing this. We are a Conservative Government, and we decided to spend the 0.7%. We legislated for it, and now we are letting the very poorest people down. I do not see how anybody who has heard the speeches today could in all conscience vote to support what the Government want to do with the double lock, because we will never get back to 0.7%.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank Members from across the House for their perseverance on this issue. When the Government announced last summer that the Department for International Development would merge with the then Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I and my fellow Liberal Democrats warned of the risk to overseas development assistance and funding. I asked an urgent question to the Foreign Secretary I wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development on those very issues. The Secretary of State said at the time:
“We are committed to the 0.7% of GNI commitment…We want the aid budget and the development know-how and expertise that we have in DFID—it has done a fantastic job…at the beating heart of our international decision-making processes.”—[Official Report, 18 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 947.]
But here we are, just one year later. With the Government having claimed just last week that the opportunity to vote on this cut to ODA spending had been lost by a Division not being called in the recent estimates day debate, I wonder what has caused them to change their mind and bring forward today’s debate at such short notice.
Economic circumstances caused by covid are not the fault of the world’s poorest, and we and the many charities and NGOs that contacted me in advance of today’s debate know that the poorest will be hardest hit by these cuts. The reality of the covid pandemic is that no one is safe until everyone is safe. At the heart of this is the sharing of urgently needed vaccines around the world, but it is not only that. We know that global inequalities and poverty mean that people around the world cannot take precautions to protect themselves. We cannot expect those without access to clean water—785 million at the last count in 2017—to be able to wash their hands for 20 seconds.
Slashing development spending is deeply harmful to the notion of global Britain and to us at home. The cuts to this funding also mean cuts to spending within the UK, a fact that I think is sometimes lost. ODA funding goes to many places, including our universities that are doing research into how best to tackle the entrenched causes of global inequality and how to support developing countries to be self-sufficient. St Andrews University in my constituency is looking at up to 50% cuts to some of its active projects, which will impact on the poorest today. These cuts harm not only those in need around the world but our own research and innovation industries, which are vital to our response to Brexit and to facing the climate crisis.
Turning to the Government’s update, the fiscal tests for development spending presented today are the height of cynicism. They are designed never to be met. As others have said, we have met these tests only once in this century. Conservative MPs must know that supporting today’s motion means not returning to 0.7% in this Parliament, and that means that every one of them who supports the Government today will be breaking their manifesto promise for five years in a row. It is a straight choice: do we return to 0.7%, as we were all elected to this place to do, or do we fail to be the global leader on this issue that the UK has been to this point?
I am delighted to be called, and I pay enormous tribute to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is sitting on the Front Bench today. The Chancellor demonstrated during his career before reaching this place that we can do well by doing good. In working for the Children’s Investment Fund Management, he proved that finance and capitalism can support the world’s poorest and change lives, but he will also recognise that even an impressive fund such as that is built on a stable platform created by Governments and guaranteed by organisations, international bodies and others. I am very sorry but for that reason I will not be able to support him today, because that platform is so important. That confidence and ability to rely on a stable platform for the future is essential. Instead of that continuity and that guarantee of an enduring future, we are sadly going back towards the yo-yo policy. That is not just bad because of the variability; it is bad because it costs more and delivers less. Frankly, it is inefficient, it is an error and it undermines our capability.
Nobody in this House is more passionate about global Britain or Britain’s place in the world than me. Nobody believes more that we should have a place at every table and a voice in every room. But we need to know that we are no longer buying that with gunboats; we are buying it with the aid and the effectiveness that we bring.
My hon. and gallant Friend is making an impressive speech. He talks about global Britain; the point of global Britain is diplomacy, trade, aid and defence. Those four things are interconnected with one another: if we reduce one, that has an impact on all. That will be detrimental to everything from the integrated review to our outside approach.
My hon. Friend is completely correct. Of course, the reality is that we are not living in a vacuum—we are not taking these decisions with nobody watching. Our friends are watching and our rivals are watching. As we make this decision, as we change our policy on Afghanistan, and as we buy different seats at various UN tables through our diplomacy in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and South America, we know that we are changing the rules by which we live. We are literally changing the standards of our modern world through how we buy support, develop allies and partner around the world.
As Members have said, this debate is of course about the world’s poorest, but it is not just about the world’s poorest. Fundamentally, it is about Britain and how we protect ourselves. How do we shape this world? How do we get the standards that make sure that British businesses succeed, British finance shapes the world and British rules are those that the world lives by? We do that by making sure that we win the votes at the UN by making sure that we have the voices around the table—the voices of the Foreign Ministers of countries around the world. We can do it; I know that because we have done it. For 20 years we have won debates, shaped arguments and defended our position. We have done it by doing well and by doing good—exactly as the Chancellor demonstrated in his pre-political career.
I can understand why the Government might say that these targets—these ambitions—are too high and that they wish to set a different spending limit, but that is not the argument they are making. The argument that the Government are making is the Augustinian argument: “Lord, make me chaste—but not just yet.” If you wish to be holy, choose sanctity; if you wish not to be, be frank with what you are choosing.
That was a great speech and it is a pleasure to follow it.
The House does not need a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury to lay out how today’s motion is a con job, but I shall explain it anyway. The Red Book published at the most recent Budget shows that public sector net debt will not fall until 2024 at the earliest, but there is no way that a Chancellor or Chief Secretary would ever make a judgment about whether it was falling sustainably on one year alone, which means that this cut is now forecast to stretch way into the next Parliament. Yet the sums we are talking about are just 0.14% of the national debt stock. This comes at a time when we are putting up defence spending by £24 billion yet cutting aid spending by £4 billion. We are boasting about our soft power superpower status and then slashing into the budget that delivers that soft power. A country’s values are judged by its budget, and this aid cut tells us everything we need to know about this Government’s priorities.
The second point is that this aid cut will cost lives and it will cost livelihoods. The Prime Minister sailed into the G7 very proud of his declaration that he wanted to jab the world and make sure that, by the end of next year, the world would be safe from covid. However, by the end of the G7, the IMF said that we were about $23 billion short of what we needed for a global vaccination programme. This aid cut will not help that; it will hurt that effort to jab the world.
Moreover, we have a significant problem now getting the world back on its feet after this pandemic. The IMF thinks that we need about $200 billion extra in spending to protect the world against covid and $250 billion of extra investment—climate-friendly investment—to help safeguard the recovery. How will this aid cut help with that great global project that we must attend to in the years ahead? It will not; it will damage the world’s efforts to get there and it will damage our efforts to help persuade others to get to that big target.
It is 36 years to the day since we celebrated Live Aid, an example of how we in this country set out to lead the world to help the world’s poorest. On this day of all days the Government are set to surrender that leadership. We cannot have a rules-based order if we have a Prime Minister who continues to shred the rules. This is a renegade act by a renegade Government and I will be voting against the motion tonight.
There are, I think, two primary arguments for opposing the Government this afternoon. The first is that the 0.7% overseas aid target was a manifesto commitment. That is a serious point, though the electorate will appreciate that the expectations on which those manifestos were based have changed substantially since covid-19.
The second is that the target is in statute in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. That is true, but the Act also envisages and allows for circumstances in which the Government might not meet the target in any given year, including the impact on public borrowing, and Parliament cannot stop the Government doing so. The Act, at section 3(1), is very clear about that. We have the right only to be informed of how and why the target is to be missed. As far as I can tell, nobody is proposing to amend the 2015 Act, so it will remain unchanged whatever the vote this afternoon.
I welcome the Government’s clarification that they are not seeking unilaterally to change the statutory target, but rather to miss it. Those are different things, and the former would, in my view, be both wrong and unlawful, but we either trust the Government or we do not. If we do not trust the Government—and we are here because a large number of Members do not—why would we trust them to keep the 0.7% commitment beyond next year when the Act so clearly allows them to decide not to? Transparent, externally judged criteria, arguably at least, would leave those of us who want to see the preservation of aid spending in a stronger position than under the 2015 Act alone, which applies what are in truth fairly loose shackles to Government on aid spending and leaves it entirely to Government to decide when to escape them, and that cannot help provide the certainty that the aid sector rightly seeks.
I believe in the merits of overseas aid spending and I have used many of the arguments made so eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who deserves huge credit for extracting the compromises that the Government have already made. Those arguments, though, must in the end persuade the public whose money we are spending. As Conservatives, we also argue that high public debt is bad for our long-term capacity to support the vulnerable everywhere. Enduring public support for aid spending may well depend on the public recognising that we have apportioned the financial burden of the covid crisis fairly, and not protected aid spending to the detriment of other areas of spending that they may find at least as deserving. I think the Government are now trying to strike that balance. Recognising though I do the strength of the arguments made by many on both sides of this House in the course of this debate, it is important and necessary to give the Government credit for that effort.
The Government’s decision to renege on their international obligations rides roughshod over those ring-fenced commitments and puts at risk the lives of millions across the globe. That is not in our national interest, and it is certainly not in our national security interest, and that is before taking into consideration our moral duty as a nation to alleviate global poverty.
Damningly, several former Prime Ministers, who proudly upheld our country’s aid commitments, have voiced their concerns about this Government’s handling of their international aid obligations. Indeed, we heard earlier that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) has committed to voting against a three-line Conservative Whip for the first time ever, so powerfully does she feel about this issue.
When the right hon. Lady spoke in this debate, she was crystal clear on what the aid cuts would mean, “fewer girls will be educated, more girls and boys will become slaves, more children will go hungry and more of the poorest people in the world will die.” A damning indictment from a former Conservative Prime Minister.
The UK has a long and proud track record of stepping up to support those in need. We cannot abandon our responsibilities to those around the world who are most poverty-stricken, least of all in a global pandemic. The UK is currently the only G7 country to commit in legislation to spending 0.7% of gross national income on international development, a target set by the United Nations, and it is the second largest international development donor behind only the US. That is right and proper, and it is a fact.
The extended families of many of my Ilford South constituents directly benefit from UK aid, lifting millions out of illiteracy and poverty and providing so much support to some of the poorest communities around the globe, including in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.
However, instead of leading by example, this Government are now, shamefully, the only G7 Government to cut their aid budget this year. There can be no clearer argument against cutting aid than the devastating impact on the covid response. In April this year, when the delta variant was ravaging India, vital coronavirus research centres—including a project tracking variants in India—had their funding reduced by up to 70%, prompting the project lead to say that the cut would not only make vital projects unviable but would, in effect, kill them dead.
In May, the Tropical Health and Education Trust criticised the UK Government for slashing £48 million in global healthcare funding as part of their wider cuts. Indeed, the NHS’s plans to donate 6 million items of personal protective equipment to healthcare workers fighting new variants across the world were held up, yet again preventing the containment of the virus.
We have a duty to act, and we must do so now before it is too late for millions who rely on direct aid. This is not about giving a man a fish to feed himself but about giving him a net to provide for himself. It is about our historic obligation to lift up the global south using our nation’s far greater resources.
I welcome the actions of Conservative Members who will join us today in voting against this callous and awful manoeuvre by the Government.
This is a very difficult debate, because all of us, on both sides of the House, know what good UK aid spending does. We are all proud of what we have been able to achieve with our aid spending. It does not just help in and of itself; it also helps the British taxpayer and British people because, by investing in areas like education, vaccination and supporting local economies, we stop some of those problems washing up on British shores.
We understand that but, when we get underneath all this, it is really about competing political necessities and competing political choices. On the one hand, as we come out of the covid pandemic—we know how many hundreds of billions of pounds have been spent—we have a real need, as a responsible Government in fiscal terms, to get our day-to-day spending back in balance and to ensure that our debt ends up falling as a percentage of GDP. That will enable the public spending to support all the vulnerable people in this country—all British taxpayers everywhere—as well as the poorest people in the world through aid spending. At the same time, there is a need to help the poorest people in the world. That is the balance that we are trying to strike, and I believe that the Government have struck the right one.
Some hon. Members have talked about the fiscal tests the Government have set, and they somehow suggest that the tests have been met only once in the past 20 years. I have looked at it, and both tests were met in 2000-01, 2001-02 and 2018-19. If I am right, although the Chancellor may correct me if I am wrong, underlying debt fell for four years in a row before the pandemic, so it is not true that, somehow, these are impossible tests.
Even if hon. Members do not believe me, the key thing, and this is why I respect and accept this compromise position, is that these are transparent and clear criteria. Everybody knows what they are. We can judge them independently, and the OBR, which we all know and trust, is perfectly capable of doing so. Finally, what is important is not just how much money is spent but how we spend it. What I would like to see in our aid budget is more of that money, not just with multinationals, which do a lot of good work, but for smaller charities working on the ground such as Harpenden Spotlight on Africa, which is based in my constituency and does fantastic work in rural Uganda. Having seen the work that it does on the ground, working with bigger multinationals and the Ugandan Government, I know that such charities can do fantastic things, and I would like to see the spend that we have, at 0.5% temporarily, go more towards some of those grassroots organisations so that we can spend our money even more effectively and get more for what we are doing.
I would like to say that it is a pleasure to speak in this debate, but that would not be true. I am appalled that we are having to vote on this proposal at all. This cut to our international aid budget reflects badly on all of us, not just the Government, and portrays the UK as inward-looking and self-serving.
This is a Tory manifesto promise that will be broken, and broken very publicly, as the whole world is watching. I wonder how the Prime Minister can have the bottle to attend COP26 and call on other countries to raise finances for climate action, given that he is in charge of a Government who are cutting their own contribution—surely the ultimate act of hypocrisy.
If overseas aid funding was going to finance vanity projects, trips to the moon or high-flying, cutting-edge dodgy ventures, I could begin to understand the reasoning behind the decision, but none of the projects fall into those categories. They are basic health and social care projects that benefit millions of people across poorer countries on our planet. It funds basic projects such as polio eradication, sexual health advice, the clearing of landmines, education programmes, the provision of clean water and sanitation, and the prevention of sexual exploitation of women and girls. The money funds training programmes such as the NHS overseas training scheme, which trains 78,000 healthcare workers in Nepal, Uganda, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Many projects will now come to an end, affecting lives in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Somaliland, Nigeria and many more. By cutting funding to those numerous projects the Government will cause many unnecessary deaths, which is a scandal. We must highlight that callous approach today. Before Government Members say, “Oh, it is just Labour Members whingeing again”, let us have a look at the people who are calling for a reversal of the cuts: Tory Ministers such as Ruth Davidson; Baroness Sugg, who resigned from the Government in November over the cuts; and the right hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma).
World leaders have condemned the cuts, including Samantha Power, head of the United States Agency for International Development, and Malala, who calls on the Prime Minister to keep his promise of helping 40 million girls go to school, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who describes the Chancellor’s decision as “shameful and wrong”. Interestingly, every living former Prime Minister is opposed to the plan. These are big hitters, and their condemnation is clear. I therefore urge the current Prime Minister and the Chancellor to think again, go back to the drawing board, and plan a different route that does not disadvantage millions of people in countries less affluent than our own. This is not fair and it is not right. I want to be very clear: I will vote against the Government’s plan to cut the overseas aid budget by £4 billion this year, and I urge Government Members to do the same, because the world is watching.
I am pleased that the House has an opportunity both to debate and to determine this question. I have always defended our aid budget, and I do not think that we should search for economies at the expense of the most vulnerable globally and at the expense of our own reputation and influence globally.
I do not need to rehearse the case for ODA spending, which funds the vaccination of 55 million people; saves an incredible 10 million children from hunger; and helps to provide 50 million people with the means to climb out of poverty. I do not need to describe its soft-power benefits: the influence for Britain culturally, diplomatically, and politically; its symbolic significance; and its demonstration of leadership. I could not, therefore, support the reduction of that spending when the return to 0.7% is effectively at the whim or under the control of the Government. No matter how strong the intention to raise it again, events are always likely to overtake and overcome good intentions.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the conversations that we have had in recent days. Given the uncertainty in the economy, I entirely understand his reluctance to offer a date for the restoration of the 0.7%. However, a set of conditions would provide a pathway, governed by objective circumstances, to a solution. Ceding control of the mechanism to the OBR and basing it on conditions that were met as recently as 2018-19—and forecasted by the OBR in 2018-19 and in 2020 to be met in the following financial year—would provide that pathway back to our manifesto commitment and our duty to the world.
The Treasury is effectively outsourcing its spending decisions to the OBR and the state of the public finances. I do not believe that that has happened before and it provides us with the certainty we need that the cut is temporary and that our commitment to 0.7% will be upheld. It also ensures that our public finances are protected. That not only gives us a route back, but ensures that the current position is transitory, so I will support the motion. The worth of a commitment is whether it is upheld in the face of challenges, and the motion allows us to meet our challenges and our commitments.