Tuesday 13 December 2016
[Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]
Accelerated Access Review
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the implications of the Accelerated Access Review for cystic fibrosis and other conditions.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I start by thanking three Dudley residents—Carly Jeavons, Samantha Carrier, and Samantha’s fiancé Rob Evans—for contacting me about accessing new treatments, and for what they have taught me about cystic fibrosis. I also thank Ed Owen, the brilliant former chief executive of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, Darren O’Keefe and all of the staff at the trust for all their help and advice in organising the debate. Finally, I thank all of the right hon. and hon. Members who have taken the trouble to come here today to speak up on behalf of their constituents who have cystic fibrosis and other long-term conditions.
Just over a year ago, I was contacted by Carly about her work with the Cystic Fibrosis Trust to push for new treatments, such as Orkambi, to be offered on the NHS. She has continued to campaign, and I had the pleasure of joining her, her father Robert and her son Corey to deliver a 15,000-name petition to Downing Street earlier this year. Carly said to me:
“Before, I was always exhausted, I couldn’t work the hours I was contracted to and I had a little boy, Corey, to look after. I couldn’t do everything I needed to do and keep on top of my health, but this drug has given me some control back. I can now do everyday things and walk to the park with my five-year-old, which I could never do before. I personally feel like I have got better and better the longer I have been on it. I have a new way of living.”
Thanks to a clinical trial of Orkambi, Carly now needs to visit a cystic fibrosis clinic less than half as frequently as she used to. That allows her to carry on working, to go on holiday with her family and to do the things that the rest of us take for granted. She continues to benefit from Orkambi, but only thanks to a compassionate use scheme offered by the drugs manufacturer, Vertex. She and other users of Orkambi need the certainty that they will be able to benefit from the drug well into the future with NHS support, which is why we are here today.
I also thank Samantha Carrier, another Dudley resident, who is campaigning to raise awareness and raise funding after her young daughter, Daisy, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Samantha has seen the difference that drugs such as Orkambi can make, and she wants her own daughter to have access to them as soon as possible, so that she can live as full a life as possible. She has told me about the hours of care and support that her daughter needs every day—which makes work so much more difficult for many parents of children with cystic fibrosis.
Samantha said to me:
“I am not ashamed to say I didn’t know how to cope with it all. But one day you wake up and you realise ‘This is it now’. All we can do as a family is try to do our best by her and give her the best life we can.”
I have been very moved by Carly, Samantha and Rob’s determination for something positive to come out of these diagnoses. I think their fundraising and campaigning for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust is nothing short of inspirational.
Personalised medicines can transform life for people with cystic fibrosis and a range of diseases, including muscular dystrophy and Alzheimer’s, but without a process for appraising these medicines that is fit for purpose, patients are unable to access these innovative medicines. That is why we called for today’s debate.
Cystic fibrosis is a life-shortening inherited disease that affects more than 10,000 people in the UK. It causes the lungs and digestive system to become clogged with mucus, making it hard to breathe and digest food. The damage that cystic fibrosis causes to the lungs means that many people eventually need a lung transplant. There is no cure for cystic fibrosis but many treatments are available to manage it, including physiotherapy, exercise and nutrition. The median survival age is just 28. What people like Carly, Sam and countless other families across the country need to hear today is the hope that a way forward can be found that will bring an end to an agonising and unnecessary wait that has gone on for well over a year now.
Orkambi was licensed in November 2015. It is a first-of-a-kind personalised medicine that treats the cause, not just the symptoms, of those with a particular mutation of the genetic defect that causes cystic fibrosis. Around half of the people with cystic fibrosis in England stand to benefit. Personalised medicines offer a revolution in cystic fibrosis care. People in countries such as France, Germany and America who have been on the drug for some time are beginning to report total transformations in their health, with some improving enough to come off the lung transplant waiting list—on which one in three people with cystic fibrosis die. Clinicians in England are desperate to prescribe Orkambi. Those who are prescribing it, on compassionate grounds, report that the drug, which halves hospital admissions—that lasts for months—for people with cystic fibrosis, could help ease the severe and worsening shortage of beds on cystic fibrosis wards.
I stood in this Chamber a year ago to raise concerns that the appraisal process for Orkambi was not suited to an innovation of this kind. The existing National Institute for Health and Care Excellence appraisal system makes decisions on the efficacy of a drug based on 24 weeks of clinical trials data, but fails to take into account the long-term benefit to sufferers’ quality and length of life. The focus on measuring the benefits of a treatment in terms of quality-adjusted life years does not work for genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, because it massively underestimates the impact that the drugs have on quality of life over the long term. It also fails to take account of the wider benefits for society of these medicines, such as the way that they can help sufferers or their carers get into work. In short, the existing system cannot provide an accurate assessment of new treatments that offer long-term, preventive stabilisation of cystic fibrosis.
I highlighted that, due to those concerns, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust was proposing an innovative solution under which real-world, long-term data could be gathered using the UK cystic fibrosis registry. The registry already provides real-world data to health commissioners and pharmaceutical companies, so that they can monitor the efficacy of treatments.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly important point. I congratulate him on securing this debate, which will give hope to the many people out there who suffer with cystic fibrosis. Is he aware of new 96-week data that have recently been published that show that Orkambi slows decline in lung function by around 42%? Those data were not available to NICE when it made its appraisal. Do those data alone not make the case for a further accelerated review process on this absolutely compelling?
My right hon. Friend is completely right; he raises a point I will make shortly. It is good that he is here to support people with cystic fibrosis in his constituency, and to bring his knowledge and experience of the national health service to bear in the debate.
The Cystic Fibrosis Trust’s proposal would provide foundations for a managed access scheme for the drug. That was in line with the interim findings of the accelerated access review, which recommended the merits of such an approach and referred to the UK cystic fibrosis registry as an exemplar. I will say more about the accelerated access review in a few moments.
As expected, seven months later NICE referred to a lack of long-term data in rejecting Orkambi for use in the NHS. That was despite Orkambi’s being proven to halve hospitalisations and NICE’s recognising it as a
“valuable new therapy for managing cystic fibrosis”
with significant clinical benefits, as well as
“wider benefits to society for people with cystic fibrosis and carers of people with cystic fibrosis.”
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He correctly points out that this is not just about the way in which Orkambi improves quality of life, which I know is extremely important, but about cutting hospital admissions. That has to be taken into account when we look at the wider cost implications of the drug. What we need is time for the drug to be given the chance to prove its worth.
The hon. Gentleman is completely right to say that Orkambi could reduce hospital admissions, and could shorten the amount of time people spend in hospital when they have been admitted.
In its statement, NICE referred directly to the trust’s proposal as a potential solution to the shortage of long-term data. With the NICE process exhausted and seven months wasted, we hoped that the way would be clear for direct negotiations between the drug manufacturer Vertex and NHS England, which would allow for a speedy resolution to the situation. However, Department of Health officials then demanded that the drug be put through a rapid review process, which, at 16 weeks, is anything but.That process is based on exactly the same criteria that had just seen Orkambi denied to those who need it. Vertex has declined to enter the process, because of the certainty that it will come to nothing.
New data published in October at the North American cystic fibrosis conference, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) mentioned, are based on 96 weeks of trials and show that Orkambi slows the decline in lung health by up to 42%. That is comparable with the 47% slow in decline caused by the transformational treatment Kalydeco, which is widely available in the UK for a less common mutation of cystic fibrosis. Those data were unavailable to NICE but clearly illustrate that drugs such as Orkambi need the chance to prove their worth in the long term. That also underlines the fact that we now have a situation where people with cystic fibrosis face discrimination by genotype, because they are being denied the same level of treatment that people with a different genetic mutation of cystic fibrosis receive.
Twelve months after licensing, negotiations are at a standstill. I understand that Vertex is keen to offer a substantial discount, but for commercial reasons would need to do so confidentially. It would like to take up the trust’s offer of monitoring the effectiveness of Orkambi for a trial period. That could build on the American data and allow NHS England to conduct final negotiations based on an accurate reflection of the drug’s effectiveness.
I would like to thank the hon. Gentleman for securing such an important debate. One of the beauties of cystic fibrosis data is that they capture 99% of all people with the disease, so could truly be used as an exemplar. The accelerated access review calls for accurate monitoring via data, and this offers an ideal chance to do that.
The hon. Lady is completely correct. It is good that she is here in the Chamber, making these important points.
Vertex is also keen to explore flexible reimbursement schemes, which would allow the NHS to manage the overall budget impact of the treatment. However, the inflexible current system insists that any offer has to be made public, rejects the trust’s solutions and offers no scope for flexible reimbursement schemes. That brings me to the accelerated access review, which was commissioned to speed up access to innovative new drugs and treatments such as Orkambi. The review was finally published in October, after a long delay, and recommends that NICE reviews its processes. It calls directly for the current system to change, to include more emphasis on the confidential commercial arrangements, flexible reimbursement arrangements and collection of real-world data that I and other Members have referred to. Those recommendations could be the key to reaching a deal that delivers Orkambi to those desperate to receive it.
When the review was commissioned last year by the Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), he spoke of how accelerating the uptake of transformational technologies in the 21st century would attract investment in research and innovation to help us earn the prosperity we need as an advanced economy. When the review was published in October, NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, said that creating headroom for faster and wider uptake of important new patient treatments would create opportunities for the UK’s globally successful life sciences sector. The failure to deliver Orkambi undermines that vision.
We have a rigid and inflexible system, and warnings that it is not fit for purpose have been ignored throughout the process. Instead of embracing the opportunity for an innovative solution, we have been offered further negotiations based on criteria that have already failed once. That is a waste of time and taxpayers’ money and sends completely the wrong signal to a global life sciences industry currently questioning future investments here in the UK. Hugh Taylor, the review’s chair, set out the need for commitment and collaboration across Government, the NHS and the life sciences industry to make the review’s proposals a reality.
The review sets out criteria for transformational treatments that should be fast-tracked for access. Orkambi meets those criteria. It presents the perfect opportunity to put many of the review’s proposals to the test, to illustrate the commitment and collaboration needed and to demonstrate how we can come together and adapt in the light of new information. It is predicted that 95% of people with cystic fibrosis could benefit from a personalised medicine within five years. Coming up with a solution for Orkambi—one that makes sense to the NHS as well as reflecting the investment that goes into these treatments—will give us a genuine opportunity to beat this condition.
I am sure people will benefit from the review’s proposals in the years to come, but that must not be at the cost of Orkambi, which is available now. Many people with cystic fibrosis, as well as their families and carers, such as my constituents Carly Jeavons and Samantha Carrier, are watching this debate. Many of them are forced to spend weeks and months of each year in hospital, and most of all they want a chance to be able to do the everyday things we all take for granted, such as raising a family, planning a holiday or breathing without struggling. They have already endured needless delays, and as time goes on those delays present an obstacle to investment in future treatments to beat cystic fibrosis. That is not the vision set out by the accelerated access review.
Muscular Dystrophy UK is calling, among other things, for ring-fenced, protected funding for rare diseases. That was not included in the review to which my hon. Friend refers. Does he feel that that possibility should at least be considered as a way forward at some point?
That is a really good point, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend raised it. I am sure the Minister will want to respond to that.
Tragically, we have to face the fact that many people are dying now. They do not have time to wait for the Government to respond to the review or for NICE to enter a lengthy consultation on its processes. They want to see the Government get on with exploring how Orkambi can reach those who need it without delay. If the Government create the conditions for constructive negotiations, the manufacturers will play their part, just as the Government themselves need to be flexible in order to deliver transformational treatments such as Orkambi.
I would like to ask the Minister the following questions. Does he think it is right that people in this country are considering moving to France or Germany in order to save their children’s lives by giving them Orkambi, which is now proven to halt the progression of their children’s decline? What does that say about a Britain trying to project its place as being at the cutting edge of the life sciences sector? Will the Minister provide assurances to people watching today that the Government are listening, and that everything possible will be done to explore progressing the negotiations on Orkambi in 2017? Will he reassure them that we are capable of finding a solution next year that will bring an end to this cruel and unnecessary wait?
Will the Minister seek guidance from Government, NICE and NHS England on how the recommendations in the accelerated access review can be used to break the deadlock in negotiations? Will he meet Vertex and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust to discuss that? Samantha Carrier points out that in the 1970s, the life expectancy of cystic fibrosis sufferers was only five years old. Thankfully, that has increased greatly, but the rules for free prescriptions have not moved. When people become 18, they have to pay for their medication, despite the fact that they need these drugs to stay alive. Will the Minister look at that issue?
This is exactly how Parliament and politics in our country should work. It is our job to listen to our constituents and come here to stand up and speak out on their behalf. People like Carly Jeavons struggle to work or spend time with their family and do other things that the rest of us take for granted because they have to undergo hours and hours of treatment. New treatments have helped Carly, but others are missing out on these new drugs at the moment. People like Sam and Rob are having to come to terms with what this condition means for their newborn child, at the same time as having to care for her. All three of them—Sam, Rob and Carly—are devoting hours to raising funds or campaigning for better treatments for people with cystic fibrosis. They are an inspiration to us all; will the Minister meet Carly Jeavons, Samantha Carrier and Rob Evans and listen to them directly?
Six Members have made written requests to speak. Our plan, under the guidelines, is to bring in the Front-Bench spokespeople at 10.30 am, so we have little time left. If speakers and anyone making interventions are very succinct, we will get in as many Members as possible in this important debate.
The accelerated access review is important because it is designed
“to speed up and simplify the process for getting the most promising new treatments and diagnostics safely…to patients.”
That is good news for all Members of Parliament who have in their constituencies people who need access to innovative treatments. Sir John Bell states that the review
“addresses one of the most important issues the National Health Service is confronting; how best to access innovation for the benefit of patients and to improve health care efficiency.”
It should therefore be welcomed and receive support from both the Government and the NHS.
The report has the dual intentions of improving NHS productivity through better use of technology and of promoting the UK as a destination for life sciences. It is clear about the areas that need to be addressed: horizon scanning, data collection, regulatory decision making, clinical and cost-effectiveness assessment and commercial decision and uptake support.
I shall focus briefly on the data collection element of the report because that is what will enable treatments to come forward and help patients. The accelerated access review sets out a mechanism for collecting data on “strategically important medical technologies”. There is a clear need to collect data on technologies and their impact on the healthcare system. The review suggests that one approach should be a “commissioning through evaluation” system, whereby
“complex medical technologies or diagnostic products that significantly change clinical pathways are rolled out in a number of specialist providers who are well-placed to collect impact data and build expertise around pathway change. Following this period, should the technology prove its value after assessment by NICE, it should enter routine commissioning and benefit from supported uptake”.
In a recent debate that I secured on diabetes, I referred to commissioning through evaluation because I fully support the intent of that objective and believe that collecting data in that manner is an effective means of developing real-world data to support the uptake and use of modern treatments across the NHS. That type of evidence development is currently under way in the NHS, and I would like to look at one current commissioning through evaluation programme, which has been in operation since 2013. The programme launched for several technologies, covering a range of conditions. It included procedures to prevent strokes, improve the mobility of children with cerebral palsy, help patients with heart failure and improve radiotherapy for lung and liver cancer. I recognise that this debate is about cystic fibrosis in particular, but I am trying to make the point that as we collect data and bring forward the treatments, we need to ensure that they get to the people who most need them, including those whom we are talking about today.
The programme to which I have referred was structured in two phases. First was the evidence development phase, in which patients would receive the treatments and data would be collected. Second was the evidence assessment phase, in which data would be analysed and a routine commissioning policy developed. We have now reached the point in the process at which the number of procedures originally commissioned has been reached and patients will no longer be given the procedures until a formal commissioning decision has been made.
However, in answer to a parliamentary question in July, the Department of Health said it would take between one and two years to carry out the analysis. Recently, NHS England has stated that formal commissioning policies will not be in place until 2019. Those patients who would benefit from the procedures face the prospect of a two-year wait.
If we focus on just one procedure, we can see the impact that that will have on patients. Selective dorsal rhizotomy is a procedure that supports children with cerebral palsy to have increased mobility in later life. There is a narrow window in a child’s development in which they can receive the treatment. A two-year gap in commissioning will mean that some children never benefit from the procedure.
This debate was initiated by the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), whom I thank for giving me the opportunity to speak. Its title on the Order Paper is “Implications of the Accelerated Access Review for cystic fibrosis and other conditions”. I have referred to other conditions, but I want to finish my speech by reading out a letter from a constituent, Christine Edwards, relating to cystic fibrosis. I need add nothing to what she writes:
“Dear Mr Thomas…My niece’s boyfriend, Taylor, has cystic fibrosis. He is a lovely young man and I think it is tragic that his life expectancy is so short. At the moment he is doing pretty well and his health is strong enough to support him going off to University…he did so this year.
The reality is though he can expect his health to decline and with it, his quality of life. Drugs like Orkambi offer such tremendous hope as slowing lung health decline not only offers him the potential to increase his life span directly but also allow him more opportunity to benefit from future treatment development.”
Christine Edwards also writes:
“The 2,700 people with cystic fibrosis in England desperate to access Orkambi do not have the time to wait for the development of a Strategic Commercial Unit to consider a wide range of commercial arrangements. Nor do they have the time to wait for NICE and NHS England to consult on their processes.”
That letter sums up why the Government must intervene and accelerate access to these transforming medical treatments. As Mrs Edwards states, patients cannot wait.
I therefore call on my hon. Friend the Minister to intervene and ask NHS England to give patients access to these innovations by ensuring a rapid and transparent decision-making process for all the innovative treatments currently undergoing commissioning through evaluation. That process should be supported by examining all available evidence and delaying while a small sample of data is analysed. I also call on the Minister to ensure patient access throughout the assessment phase by continuing to fund the procedures until a routine commissioning policy is in place, and to look at the operation of the system in the future and ensure that the design of any programme delivers continued patient access from the start of the programme through to a routine commissioning policy being in place. Finally, I call on the Minister—this is extremely important and will help large numbers of patients with cystic fibrosis and other conditions—to support wider stakeholder input into the system from those who have experience. That would include working with patient groups and industry representatives and would ensure that the NHS had the most accurate information.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for securing this very important debate.
The recommendations in the accelerated access review have been a cause of hope for many families throughout the UK. I welcome those recommendations and hope that the Minister today will reiterate the Government’s commitment to their implementation. I hope that he will also give consideration to a number of possible areas of clarification that I and, I am sure, other hon. Members will raise. However, the priority is to secure the most advanced and best medicine and technology for patients much more quickly than at present. Early access to new drugs can enhance and extend lives. It is vital not only that the UK keeps pace with other countries in approving new treatments, but that there is a consistent standard within the UK. I recognise that today’s debate focuses on NHS England, but I hope that a strong precedent is set for patients in Northern Ireland.
A few days ago, I received a letter from a constituent who feels that there is now hope. She has a four-year-old child with cystic fibrosis, which affects many of the organs in his body. She says that his life expectancy is 37, but it would be much better if there were access to Orkambi, that necessary drug. There was sadness on her part that NICE did not see fit to license the drug because of cost and a lack of necessary data. I hope that a change can take place to enable the drug to be made available.
Time limits mean that I cannot touch on every condition relevant to the accelerated access review, so I echo the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North and will focus on another condition to which the review relates and which has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd)—muscular dystrophy. The effects of that condition are also progressive and can range from mild to severe disability. There is a serious impact on the lives of those with the condition and their families. Sadly, it can also result in premature death, typically in childhood or early adulthood. Accelerating access to new and effective medicines and treatments is clearly vital for those affected by muscle-wasting conditions.
The recommendations around faster assessments by NICE, the flexible approval arrangement and enabling NHS England to negotiate price and flexible commercial deals at the early stages have been welcomed by Muscular Dystrophy UK. The charity has also pressed for funding to be attached to the early access to medicines scheme, so I was pleased to see its inclusion in the recommendations. However, I would draw the Minister’s attention to one recommendation in particular that I ask him to consider carefully. The accelerated access review has recommended a transformation designation and an accelerated pathway for some drugs. For some conditions that is wholly the right approach; however, in the case of muscular dystrophy the aim is to slow down muscle wastage as opposed to transforming or stopping the progression of the disease, and the medicines for muscular dystrophy are therefore incremental. I am sure that the disadvantage of incremental drugs is by no means the aim here, so I ask the Minister to take account of that and to ensure that treatments and medicines for muscular dystrophy are not overlooked.
Finally, Sir Alan, we are talking about treatments that can prolong a child’s ability to walk and to live, having profound effects on their quality of life and that of their family and carers. I look forward to the Minister’s clarification on this issue, and to an acceleration by NICE of the licensing of the drug Orkambi for cystic fibrosis sufferers.
I am pleased to speak in today’s debate and join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on securing it. I join him in congratulating the Cystic Fibrosis Trust on its work, as well as other cystic fibrosis organisations and charities across the rest of the UK on theirs. As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on rare, genetic and undiagnosed conditions, I take a particular interest in this subject and in particular how the approach taken by NICE when deciding on funding for drugs is unsuitable for drugs aimed at rare or genetic conditions.
As other Members have said, Orkambi is a particularly interesting development and is part of a new wave of gene-specific precision medicine. It tackles the underlying causes of cystic fibrosis—in this case, the defective CFTR gene—rather than simply treating the symptoms. We should be embracing this new technology and creating appropriate ways for these drugs to be approved and funded, so as not to discriminate against those with a rare or genetic disease. There may be fewer people who suffer from a rare or genetic condition, but I urge the Minister to do all he can to improve their chances. I know that he is a passionate advocate for that particular case.
The NICE process of recommendation understandably relies on data to commission the use of drugs on the NHS. However, the process is currently very rigid, which works against new, often life-changing drugs that only have trial data as evidence. That is exactly what happened with Orkambi, which only had data from a 24-week clinical trial when making its application—similar to a range of other drugs available on the market at the moment—yet evidence shows that it brings significant clinical benefits, as well as wider benefits to society, for people with cystic fibrosis and their carers.
It is not just the lack of available data that discriminates against drugs aimed at genetic and rare conditions. The NICE single technology appraisal process does not adequately reflect the potential benefits of the medicine in protecting future health deterioration or the wider holistic and societal benefits. Its thresholds for cost-effectiveness also work against those with a rare disease. Fundamentally, the diseases are rare by nature and therefore there are only a small number of eligible patients. That should not be a barrier, and we all agree that we need a system that can help those patients.
In short, the accelerated access review, which was brought about after the hard work of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), potentially holds the answers to the problems that currently beset the NICE system. It recognises that the innovative nature of new medicines means that they are unlikely to be approved through the current methods and proposes new guidelines. The new approach will help to ensure that the UK sets itself up as the best possible place to develop new drugs and, I hope, for Orkambi. The Minister might not be able to give me the answer now, but I would like him to write to me on the predicted result of the reduction of the drug spend through NHS England—as we recently heard in a series of evidence sessions held by the APPG for rare diseases—from 7% to about 3.5%, and on how the accelerated access review budget will be increased to compensate.
The Government are set to respond to the recommendations shortly. I hope that their proposal will benefit drugs such as Orkambi that are at the forefront of life science innovation because they treat the underlying causes of the disease, not just the symptoms, thus resulting in a lifetime of health and wellbeing benefits and savings.
The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on the development of these drugs. My concern is not just that patients are denied access to life-changing drugs, but that our pharmaceutical industry finds this a frustrating country in which to develop new drugs and to ensure that they are available to people such as the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin).
The right hon. Lady is quite right that pharmaceutical companies, in the rare diseases space in particular, find this country a very frustrating place to come to. The message that we are going to support the industry to bring drugs to market here is not loud and clear, and there have been a range of delays and process errors. I know that the Minister and previous Ministers have tried to address this issue, but it has been a very slow, difficult and arduous process, because the message has not been heard loudly and clearly enough.
The difficulty that Orkambi is currently facing in getting funded perfectly displays the problems faced by many other innovative drugs that aim to treat rare or genetic diseases. As chair of the APPG, I get contacted by many people across the country who are desperate to see potentially life-changing drugs approved by NICE. There is a clear deficiency in the process for this type of drug, so I hope that the Minister can today announce a pilot process to show that the UK is committed to leading in this field and providing hope for all those sufferers of rare and genetic diseases.
Before we proceed, I say to Members that we are running very close to the line now. A number of Members have taken the trouble to write in and I need to try to call them all, so I ask each Member to restrict whatever they bring up to a maximum of five minutes, or hopefully less.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on bringing it forward. One of the major issues that I seek to raise with Government, as the Democratic Unionist party’s health spokesperson, is the treatment of rare diseases and cancers.
Cystic fibrosis is a most debilitating life-limiting disease. It is believed that one in every 2,500 babies in the UK is born with cystic fibrosis. It is a disease that affects too many households in our nation and as such one that we must address to the fullest degree and in the best way possible. As a member of the all-party parliamentary group on cystic fibrosis, I have a great interest in this work and noted, with a small amount of hope, what was being labelled as a wonder drug—Orkambi, which was touted as having significantly reduced hospital admissions and slowing the decline in lung function in people with the genetic mutations that it targets. However, we all know that this year NICE was unable to recommend Orkambi, despite acknowledging the drug as an effective treatment for the management of cystic fibrosis. Since then, negotiations between the manufacturer Vertex, the Government and NHS England have reached a deadlock. Orkambi is a precision medicine that treats the underlying genetic cause of cystic fibrosis rather than just the symptoms, and is therefore very important.
Like the hon. Member for Dudley North and others, I would like to quote people from my constituency and from Northern Ireland—one is from my constituency and one is not. I was emailed by a man from Castlederg, the hometown of my mother’s family, regarding the failure of the NHS and NICE to recommend this drug for the prescription list. Although I had read much about the drug, the human aspect was made so clear in his letter:
“With the power to lift so many of the limits cystic fibrosis can place on people with the condition, it’s vital that access is granted without delay.”
I believe that many of us in this Chamber are here to highlight and draw attention to the plight of our constituents who are crying out for the hope that this drug could bring—the difference of quality years of life for someone suffering from cystic fibrosis. My friend from Castlederg also wrote about this example of a young lady who quite clearly needs help:
“I have first hand knowledge of this drug Orkambi because my daughter Rachel who suffers from cystic fibrosis has been on it for over three years now. Rachel took part in clinical trials for two and a half years and it has transformed her life. Her lung functions have risen by 19%”.
These are more than stats—this is about her life and how Orkambi has changed it.
A constituent of mine, Charlene Barr, passed away at the age of 20, just days before she was due to visit this House to campaign for cystic fibrosis drugs. I ask the House to pay tribute to her and her family for the fantastic work they do in Northern Ireland to raise awareness of this issue and of cystic fibrosis.
My hon. Friend has put his constituent’s name in Hansard as part of this debate, and I believe that is a fitting tribute to her.
My friend from Castlederg also wrote of Rachel:
“Her lung functions have risen by 19%, she has gained a stone in weight and has had very little coughs or colds in this period of time. In CF terms this is massive.”
He said that Rachel was 25 years of age last January and that she
“is currently doing a PhD at University and Orkambi has really given her so much energy and strength to be able to carry out such a big undertaking. Rachel has been very fortunate as Vertex have kept her on Orkambi after the trials because I suppose it would be bad looking on their part if they took her off it...I think that its only right that people that are eligible for this drug should be given the chance to receive it and to prolong their lives for many, many years and maybe even save their lives. The problem is that NICE have told the NHS that it’s too expensive at around £104,000 per year. What price do you put on a person’s life?”
I understand the way things work and I understand well the arguments regarding the likes of pancreatic cancer drugs that could add an extra year to someone’s life versus more money for the research to find a cure, but this drug could make a life such as Rachel’s much better and could help her. The new 96-week data published recently show that Orkambi slows decline in lung function, which is the main cause of death among people with cystic fibrosis, by 42%. The data were unavailable to the NHS, as others have said, but they are available now. We look to the Minister to ensure that the opportunity is available for people to have Orkambi. People who are on Orkambi through the compassionate use programme are beginning to report total transformations in their health, including enough improvement to come off the lung transplant list.
I understand the time restrictions, but I will give one more example. So many people have contacted me, including Martin Keefe, whose beautiful granddaughter, Evie-May, was diagnosed with CF at three weeks old. She is now seven years old. Surely this is the time to begin this treatment, so that she has less irreversible lung damage and can look forward to a longer, healthier life. To be clear, I am not a scientist, a doctor or a researcher, but as an elected representative, I can listen to the difference that these drugs have made and could make to people’s lives—to Rachel’s life, Evie-May’s life and the lives of many others. The research that was not available at the time of the NICE guidelines is now available and it is compelling. With great respect, we are all conveying compelling evidence and information directly to the Minister.
The review is an opportunity to do the right thing by those suffering from this disease, particularly those such as Evie-May and Rachel, who has noticed such a change. It is for those people that I ask the Department of Health to end the stalemate and make a new decision. We look forward to the Minister’s giving them the Christmas present that they want and that we in this House all wish for. I understand the budgetary constraints, but the benefit of the drug appears to outweigh the financial cost. Rachel, Evie-May and others like them, UK-wide, deserve the chance to have the drug.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to see you in the Chair, Sir Alan. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting us this debate. I also thank the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, which has not just been instrumental in getting MPs here today, but does great work, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) said, in supporting people with cystic fibrosis and their families. I think that Ed Owen is now moving on to other things and I particularly pay tribute to him for his work.
As I have mentioned before in this place, I have a 12-year-old niece, Maisie, who was diagnosed at Christmas in 2004 as one of the 10,500 people in the UK with cystic fibrosis. Thankfully, she is doing very well. In recent weeks, the number of constituents who have contacted me whose children, grandchildren or friends’ children have cystic fibrosis has been revealing to me. Sadly, I also have constituents whose children have died from the condition. The youngest cystic fibrosis patient I have been contacted about was born in April this year. I have also been contacted by a couple of people who have 19-year-olds who are both at university, and the issue of prescription charges mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North has particularly hit home. One constituent said that, although she was very proud that her son had now gone to university hundreds of miles away, he was now responsible for managing his condition, which created some anxieties for her. She said that he was very angry that, despite being classed as a disabled student, he had to pay for his prescription. I hope that the Minister takes that on board because we have been promised a review of exemptions for many years.
As we have heard, Kalydeco, the drug that treats one particular mutation of cystic fibrosis, helps about 4% of patients in the UK. It was approved back in 2013 and the results have been dramatic, increasing lung function and reducing the time people have to spend in hospital on intravenous antibiotics. It has made a huge difference to patients’ quality of life and all the signs indicate that it could significantly improve life expectancy. Now we have Orkambi, which is a combination of the drug that is marketed as Kalydeco and another drug. Orkambi targets a different mutation that affects more than 4,000 people, so it could help almost half the CF population in the country.
The clinical studies that became available last year indicated a significant reduction of 30% to 39% in lung infections and inflammations that lead to irreversible lung scarring and the need for a lung transplant. One in three patients who need a double lung transplant because of cystic fibrosis die while they are still on the waiting list. I hope that organ donation is also on the Minister’s radar. Orkambi could be absolutely life-transforming. Despite that, NICE rejected it back in June because of doubts about its cost-effectiveness. It recognised that the drug is potentially a “valuable new therapy” with “significant clinical benefits”, but it concluded that the cost per “quality-adjusted life year” is too high.
I acknowledge that NICE has a difficult job in assessing all the potential treatments for a range of conditions, and that it operates on a tight budget, but, as the Cystic Fibrosis Trust has argued and as we have heard this morning, the processes that NICE uses can be flawed because they rely on short-term data for a lifelong condition. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) that new data show that after 96 weeks of treatment—NICE only looked at the 24-week clinical trials—the decline in lung function, which is the main cause of death for people with cystic fibrosis, slows by 42%. If NICE had had that data, it would have rated Orkambi’s cost-effectiveness much higher.
I am partly speaking from personal experience, but I also know from my constituents’ very sad stories that people are desperate for something to address these problems. The accelerated access review was commissioned because the Government recognised the weaknesses in the NICE process. For patients whose life depends on the outcome of the report and its implementation, it has been a long wait. I urge the Minister not to delay any longer and to consider the Cystic Fibrosis Trust’s request to apply the AAR recommendations to the deadlocked Orkambi negotiations. Confidential commercial agreements would free Vertex to make the NHS its best offer, and commercial agreements under the Cancer Drugs Fund are confidential. Flexible pricing arrangements would allow the consideration of alternative models to manage costs, such as a price cap that is not exceeded even if patient numbers rise, and the collection of real-world data would allow a more accurate assessment of the drug’s effectiveness. The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who has now left the Chamber, mentioned the fact that 99% of cystic fibrosis patients are on the database and that there is a lot of available information about them, which makes them ideal to pilot the scheme. I hope that the Minister considers that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on leading this important debate. We have long needed to address the fact that the UK is trailing behind on patient access to new medicine. A.A. Gill who, just three days ago, sadly died of cancer, wrote:
“The NHS represents everything we think is best about us.”
But in his final column, he revealed that he was denied immunotherapy that might have helped him to live longer. He said that NICE,
“the quango that acts as the quartermaster for the health service, won’t pay.”
His experiences are striking, but they are a symptom that is all too common of a system that is struggling to cope. When Labour established NICE it soon became a world leader in approaching the profound and challenging question of how to allocate scarce resources fairly. Although the question remains the same, the times have changed and the pace of innovation has increased, as has the cost.
We were all pleased when the Government’s long-awaited and much-delayed accelerated access review was finally published. Simply put, we need innovative new drugs to reach patients quickly at a price that the NHS can afford, but it is not clear that the accelerated access review has solved the conundrum. There are already signs, since publication, that yet more problems are emerging. NHS England’s sudden and unexpected consultation on the QALY—quality-adjusted life years—threshold for highly specialised technologies risks running counter to the spirit of the AAR and introducing yet another gatekeeper.
The AAR recommends a fully funded early access to medicines scheme, but we need a positive response from both the Government and NHS England because the danger is that, with other countries having funded early access companies, we risk seeing clinical development work moving away from the UK.
As we have heard, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust has suggested that the AAR made several recommendations that could enable access to drugs such as Orkambi through flexible pricing arrangements and the gathering of real-world data to prove the drug’s effectiveness. Does the Minister agree that those recommendations will make a difference to people affected by cystic fibrosis? If so, will he commit to implementing the recommendations?
Other hon. Members have told us of real-world examples, and I will quote my constituent Julian Wheel:
“My youngest daughter, a local Cambridge primary school teacher for over 15 years, recently had a new daughter, diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. It imposes major changes on her and her partner’s lives in caring for her—time, difficult nutritional choices and the fear of recurrent infection, not to mention the additional and regular workloads imposed on the NHS staff at Addenbrooke’s, the local GP practice in Harston and healthcare visitors.”
He says that their family receive terrific support from the cystic fibrosis clinic and local surgery practice, but this new drug could relieve the suffering and improve their quality of life. He says it could offer “real hope.”
New drugs are expensive, but incentivising innovation should be a priority. The Government must ensure there are effective mechanisms that can help to address the affordability challenges that new treatments are likely to present. A balance will need to be struck between setting a price that rewards and incentivises innovative research and setting a price that is also affordable to the NHS. Will the Minister establish a strategic commercial unit in NHS England to consider flexible pricing models?
Recommendations such as a fully funded early access to medicines scheme could make real inroads, but of course that depends on the Government supporting their implementation. The BioIndustry Association points out that innovation is impaired because the current early access to medicines scheme is not funded, and the lack of funding poses a barrier to many small biotech companies engaging with the scheme.
Across the board, organisations have called for a strong response from the Government to the accelerated access review. I am not sure we yet have that. Will we have one today?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on the spirit in which he introduced the debate and on his consensual tone. I also commend him for the quality of the case he outlined in his excellent speech. He could not have done a better job of representing his constituents and all those represented by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) is right to pay tribute to Ed Owen, the departing chief executive of the CF Trust, who made an enormous difference to so many people during his tenure.
I sympathise with the Minister, because I have been there when such difficult issues have arisen. I assure him that there is no party politics in this room today. We have heard excellent speeches from both sides of Westminster Hall on issues of great importance to our constituents, and Members have made their points in that spirit.
I was involved in the establishment of NICE, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) mentioned, and it did become a world leader. I am the first to say that it can never be right for politicians to sit in judgment on treatments—judging that those who shout the loudest should therefore get the treatment. NICE was established for an important reason and, as a Minister, I always sought as best I could to stick to NICE’s judgments and not to undermine them. On occasion, however, treatments would come along that were, quite simply, exceptional and that could not be considered within the narrow confines of the NICE appraisal process. Those treatments were often innovative and related to chronic conditions where the drug, if used, might have a long-term beneficial social impact, rather than an impact that would necessarily return money to the NHS budget.
To be open about the shortcomings of the NICE process that we established, NICE was not able to consider the wider public budget, the Department for Work and Pensions budget and other budgets. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North spoke about people being able to work and care for their kids, and often the failure to fund a drug has a much wider social cost, yet the narrow process applied by NICE often did not take that into account. Orkambi is one such treatment where we need exceptional consideration of its potential wider impact. The accelerated access review has given the keys to the Minister. There are things that can be done, and we all urge him to use those flexibilities today.
I could say a lot more, but the best way to use the time remaining to me is to refer to some of my constituents, many of whom have been in touch to encourage me to speak today. My office manager, Karen Aspinall, has a son in his 20s who has CF. Through her, I know how it is to live day to day with the challenges presented by CF.
I close with the direct words of my constituent, Leigh resident Philip Grimshaw. He is 28 years old and his words say far more than I could. He and his sister Melissa were diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when they were very young, and this is what he wrote to me:
“Melissa was diagnosed with CF as a baby after being very unwell since birth, and I was diagnosed as a result of this, at 7 years old. All our lives we have had to take a cocktail of medications and have had frequent stays in hospital.
In my opinion Orkambi would, amongst other things, reduce the number of hospital stays and also reduce the need for occasional extra antibiotics due to CF related illness (because we would be in better health as a result of Orkambi). Both of these mentioned would save the NHS money. I understand that it’s not a cheap medication but neither is a two week hospital stay, on a specialised ward, on extra antibiotics, six times or more a year.
I do think that the stress of losing our mum had an impact on Melissa’s health.”
Sadly, Melissa died in 2013. The letter continues:
“The problem with CF is that once your health starts to slide, it’s very difficult to bring back to where it should be. If Melissa was on Orkambi then it could have kept her in a better state of health and prevented her becoming as ill as she was and would have prevented the worst.
As for me; I’m looking to settle down and have children in the near future. Orkambi would help me to watch my children grow up rather than live to the predicted age of being in my 50s. I have had the dilemma of whether or not to pay into a pension because I won’t live to see retirement age and maybe even not long enough to be able to take a lump sum out at 55!
Orkambi can change that. It would be nice to have the confidence to know that I could see my children graduate university, start jobs and even have children of their own.”
I am sure that Philip’s words would be shared by many other people in their 20s, or younger, with cystic fibrosis if they had the opportunity to vent them in this place. They are the appropriate words on which to finish.
I recognise the difficulties, but we were here before with Kalydeco and we managed to find a way through. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East said, nobody now doubts that that drug has made a huge difference to so many lives. We are in exactly the same position again, so let us learn from that experience. Let us not test people’s patience. Let us get the appraisal process moving towards a positive resolution. I realise that that is a challenge, but Ministers sometimes need to cut through the bureaucracy. The Minister is a good man, and I urge him to do that today.
Access to new drugs seems to be almost the commonest theme of debates in Westminster Hall. Having spent years as a breast cancer specialist involved in trials, I can say that it is really frustrating to have access to drugs within a trial and then lose that access when the drug is passed. The United Kingdom can be up to five years behind Europe or America in accessing such drugs. We talk all the time about having more research on brain tumours and other diseases, but that does not help us if, at the end of the research, our patients cannot get the drugs.
Cystic fibrosis is one of the commonest of what we call the rare diseases. It involves a problem with transmission of salts through membranes, which results in incredibly thick mucus that clogs various organs, most commonly the lungs. As the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) mentioned, if it is diagnosed late, damage will already have been done. The earlier patients with cystic fibrosis are treated, the less damage is done and the healthier they are. The life expectancy has changed from childhood to middle age, due to a combination of approaches.
I am shocked to hear that people in England with cystic fibrosis have to pay for their prescriptions, because that would amount to quite a lot of money; they are on a lot of medication. We do not have prescription charges at all in Scotland, because you get an increased rate of people not collecting their prescription, or going to the chemist and saying, “Excuse me, dear, which are the two most important drugs for me to take?” and that ends up not being cost-effective. I would have thought that people with a chronic condition should at least have their names on a list as being exempt. I would have thought that that was the least the Government could do.
The right hon. Member for Leigh said that we have been through this with Kalydeco and many other drugs. Orkambi is a synergistic combination of Kalydeco, or ivacaftor, with lumacaftor, which makes it work much better. They are the first drugs that are not just antibiotics or mucolytics; they are trying to attack the disease itself. In that sense, they are transformative. The problem in the access review is that the definition of “transformative” going forward will not necessarily help those drugs. We do not suddenly find a drug that is a cure for any of these conditions; we move step by step, often adding drugs together or making new discoveries.
There is a real concern among those who develop drugs that in the consultation between NICE and NHS England, the levels considered acceptable for such highly specialised treatments are being changed. The problem is that if we send out the message to people with rare conditions, “I’m sorry; you’re just outside the pale,” we will be letting them down. We need a different approach. I think we need a different conversation for all drugs. The NHS in the United Kingdom brings a cohesive system that allows for follow-up data and allows a lot more information to be sent back to companies over time, which is not easily available in other countries. That should be on the table as part of the negotiations.
I have a real concern, going forward after Brexit, that in this country we will be further down the list for people to even apply for licences here. It may well be that the application to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency for 60-odd million people in the United Kingdom may well cost an amount very similar to an application to the European Medicines Agency for a market of 450 million. That means we could end up in the same position as Canada, where it often takes about a year before a company decides to apply for a licence. The problem is that if, going forward, companies see that they must pay to apply to NICE, which will turn them down so they will have to pay to apply again, they may just decide that it is not worth the candle. That must be taken into consideration.
Obviously, England has the Cancer Drugs Fund, the idea of which is to allow a little bit of flexibility on access to new drugs, which are often expensive, but it does not help you if you do not have cancer. In Scotland, ours is a new medicines and rare diseases fund, which as a proportion of the population is three times the size of CDF, so it is more flexible. It cannot be a long-term solution for such drugs, or the funds would get sucked up, but it is important that when we are going through a phase of considering the real-life use of expensive drugs we have some flexibility for patients, and not just cancer patients.
We had a debate in the main Chamber last week about the Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill, and one discussion involved funding. In Scotland, the pharmaceutical rebate goes to fund the new medicines and rare diseases fund. In England, it goes back into core funding, which means that along the line, the beneficiary is the Treasury. If the NHS is managing attribution and access to new drugs in such a way that it gets a rebate, it should be able to use that to access more innovative medicines. That is why the pharmaceutical industry agreed to it. It also creates a better relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. We cannot have a situation where the industry just pulls a price out of the air and we must rise to it—of course we must get value for money—but it is really important that we do not leave people with certain conditions knowing that there is utterly no chance that they or their children will access treatment.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) for securing this important debate. I note that as he said, it is just over a year since he first brought to the House a debate on cystic fibrosis.
I appreciate all hon. Members who have attended and spoken in this debate to show their support for the cause; it is one that we must urgently get right. Members have shared many moving cases involving their constituents whose lives Orkambi could save and would certainly transform. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North mentioned Carly Jeavons and Sam and Rob, the parents of Daisy. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about Evie-May, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) mentioned her niece Maisie. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) spoke about his office manager Karen Aspinall and her son, as well as Philip and his sister Melissa, who sadly died. Philip believes that Orkambi would have helped his sister and would certainly help him, as he also suffers from cystic fibrosis. Those people believe that their lives would be transformed by Orkambi. I believe that too, and the evidence supports it, as we have heard in detail.
I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate, including the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), for their excellent contributions, as well as the many others who have made valuable interventions. I also thank the Cystic Fibrosis Trust for its dedicated campaigning on the issue, and the 20,000 people who have been involved in its survey, in the digital debate here in Parliament, and in petitions and e-action. The concerns and the need for action are clear, and it is up to the Minister to give all those people beyond this place the answers that they need.
In my contribution, I will set out why the Opposition want to see the Government do more on innovative drugs, through case studies involving Orkambi. I will touch on issues of access to Orkambi and other drugs for those living with cystic fibrosis and expand into the recommendations of the accelerated access review, which can do much to address many of the issues involving access to new drugs.
Although it is welcome that the prescription drug Kalydeco was given the go-ahead by NHS England last week for two to five-year-olds as part of re-prioritisation, Orkambi remains an issue. There is currently a deadlock in negotiations between the pharmaceutical company Vertex, the Government and NHS England for the drug to be accessible to the 2,700 people who stand to benefit from it. As we have heard in detail today, that is all down to rejection of the drug under NICE’s appraisal system because there is a lack of long-term data. Although it is welcome that NICE recognises the treatment as effective in managing cystic fibrosis, it is clear that we desperately need a new system under which drugs can be better accessed, especially those that show that they can benefit patients. We have also heard about new data that NICE did not take into account and that would have showed 42% effectiveness.
Orkambi has been shown to halve the amount of hospitalisation of cystic fibrosis sufferers, and 96-week data published recently showed that it can help to slow lung function decline by 42%. The data are also backed up by anecdotal evidence from people who have accessed Orkambi through the compassionate use programme and are beginning to report transformations in their health—some are reporting enough improvement to come off the lung transplant list. That information is all positive. It should be made better available for consideration as part of the appraisal process; it should also form part of the negotiations between Vertex, the Government and NHS England. However, when we see a deadlock, all of that information is for naught. Thousands of people are suffering irreversible lung damage that could be stopped if the current impasse between those around the negotiating table was broken. Those who will suffer the most are stuck in the middle.
It is up to the Government to facilitate the end of the deadlock so that people can access Orkambi and see their lives transformed. One way to do that is to begin the job of implementing the recommendations set out in the accelerated access review, which the Opposition welcome. The goal of speeding up access to drugs by cutting four years off the time needed to bring new medicines to patients is something that we should all welcome; we need to see whether it can be achieved. The review has the potential to change the philosophy of the NHS in line with the five-year forward view, but also to help to maintain our global lead in life sciences. The recommendations set out in its final report have the potential to transform how we provide drugs and treatments, ensuring that we see innovation in drugs, diagnostic tools and healthcare developments. However, there still remain issues around thresholds for new drugs, which NICE and NHS England are currently consulting on. I understand that some associations and charities have raised concerns about that, and I hope that the Minister will update us on some of those discussions.
My hon. Friend is right to be so positive about many aspects of the accelerated access review. However, as she has mentioned, there are concerns that new definitional ruts could be created by some of the terms of the review, which could lead to some patients and some promising drugs being trapped in exactly the sort of deadlock that she has described.
My hon. Friend is right to raise those concerns. We do not want to move into a new system that will create new unintended consequences. Perhaps the Minister will touch on that in his speech.
Although some are calling for interim solutions to help people who are stuck waiting for the accelerated access review’s recommendations to be implemented, it is also important that the Government get on with implementing those changes. The review was announced more than a year ago and was published two months ago now. It is important to remember that the transformation that we all want to see will not happen straight away, but it is still right that we keep up the pressure for the recommendations to be implemented. There are many such recommendations, and I hope that the Minister will be able to update us today on the progress on each of them. There are two in particular that illustrate what can be done to resolve the deadlock around Orkambi—the immediate establishment of an accelerated access partnership and the setting up of a new flexible strategic commercial unit.
The accelerated access partnership is one way in which, through co-ordination and collaboration across the system, we could see drugs brought on to the market more quickly to benefit patients who need access to them. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what progress has been made on its creation, especially in conjunction with the issues surrounding the deadlock on Orkambi.
It is clear that the strategic commercial unit could help to benefit those who wish to see Orkambi offered on the NHS. The unit could work with those involved in this dispute to end the current deadlock through facilitation of the flexibility and transformational change promised by the accelerated access review. That would go some way towards helping to access data on drugs such as Orkambi and getting them out to patients. There is a willingness out there for that flexibility to be brought into the system; for example, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust has offered to use the UK cystic fibrosis registry to help to provide essential data that can help to prove how effective drugs can be and what more needs to be done. We have already heard how substantial that registry is; it includes 99% of sufferers. I understand that the trust’s offer has been welcomed by all sides in the negotiations but is blocked due to the lack of progress in implementing the changes set out in the review. I hope that the Minister will give us some clarity on when the unit will be created and when we can see a culture shift within the system that will allow for flexibility to accept data and information that show how much effect these drugs have on people’s lives.
Does the hon. Lady share my concern about drugs for other conditions, such as sofosbuvir for hepatitis C? Even after they get NICE approval, those more expensive drugs are now being rationed at the NHS England stage. At the moment we are fighting to get through NICE, but it needs to be a smooth path all the way through.
The cost of drugs sometimes leads the NHS into the terrible and unfortunate situation in which rationing seems to become the norm. There can also be a postcode lottery, which is another element that we need to look at. The price of drugs really is the crux of the issue.
In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will offer some insight into the progress being made on the recommendations of the accelerated access review. The case of Orkambi can help to drive through these changes and to end this deadlock, which, as we have heard, is causing unnecessary suffering for those living with cystic fibrosis. The review has established a space for change and for patients to access new and innovative drugs and treatments. It is important that there is no stalling or delay in transforming the system, because people’s lives depend on the changes called for by the review. I am sure that the Minister will keep that in mind when he goes back to his officials.
It is good to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Alan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on leading the charge in this debate. The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) rightly said in his very good speech that this is not really a political issue. Every Member in this Chamber has constituents who would benefit from these drugs. There are 10,500 people in the country with cystic fibrosis and it is massively important that we do everything we can to make progress on the issue. I also congratulate the Cystic Fibrosis Trust on its work and on its “Stopping the Clock” campaign. Debates such as this give prominence to these issues and to the need to make progress.
The debate is really about two drugs, a drugs company and an evaluation process. I shall speak about all of those and about where we are going with the accelerated access review. The two drugs are Kalydeco, which applies to something like 4% of cystic fibrosis sufferers, and Orkambi, which would apply to a further 40% of sufferers. Both are relatively small populations: for Kalydeco it is something like 400 people in England, and for Orkambi it is something like 2,700 or 3,000. Kalydeco has been routinely available on the NHS since 2013. As mentioned today, it was extended on 4 December to children aged two to five. It makes a big difference and we are pleased to have made that progress. Both Kalydeco and Orkambi are produced and owned by a Boston-based drugs company called Vertex, which I shall talk about later.
Orkambi could be used by around 3,000 patients. It has a price of something like £100,000 per annum—the implication being that the cost of its approval in England would be in the order of £300 million or £400 million a year. As several Members have said, it is obviously right that there is a process that weighs that cost of £300 million to £400 million a year against other NHS priorities and other drugs. That process is the NICE process. A number of comments have been made about the efficacy of that process, and it has been suggested that it may have deficiencies in respect of providing precision drugs to small numbers of users. I will try to address those concerns. I think everybody agrees that we need a consistent method of evaluating these matters, and there needs to be a way forward based on that.
When NICE evaluated Orkambi in July, it found that it had clinically significant and important benefits, which several Members have spoken about. There is no dispute about that, but the evaluation process—which is based on quality-adjusted life years, as has been said—also found that it was not cost-effective. I spent some time last night reading the NICE evaluation, and make the point to colleagues and other Members that it was not a near miss. It looks like there is a factor of 10 in NICE’s evaluation of its cost-effectiveness. I guess that is largely driven by the price of £100,000 per annum and what that would mean.
It is obviously reassuring to everybody that the Minister has taken such a close interest in the issue before coming to the debate. He says it was not a near miss. That may have been the case on the data that NICE had, but does he accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) and other Opposition Members that those data were very limited indeed? The 96-week trial data that are now available would probably have produced a very different overall calculation.
To be honest, I am not qualified to have an opinion on that. The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that decisions of this sort should not be made by politicians and that there has to be a process around them. It is clear that if NICE is presented by Vertex with new clinical data, or indeed new price data—this is perhaps equally relevant, but we have not really discussed it—a review could be carried out quickly without any need for us to go through the whole process again. There is a precedent for that, and if those data exist and Vertex presents them, they would be looked at. I give my commitment, and certainly that of the Minister responsible for this policy area, that that would be the case and there is no impediment to that. I do not want to raise false hopes by saying that, and I do not think I have done so. The fact that it is not a near miss—it is possibly out by a factor of eight or 10—implies that there is quite a lot of work to do on pricing.
It is worth recapping what other countries have done. Orkambi is available in Germany, although it appears from the data available that its use there is quite mixed, with perhaps no more than one in five eligible people having access to it. In France, the other country in Europe that has authorised it, Vertex has booked no sales yet this year. The picture seems quite mixed in those countries. The countries that have not authorised Orkambi include Scotland.
In my speech I mentioned a young girl from my constituency, Rachel, who has been on the Orkambi trials and shown exemplary improvements in her health. That is an example we can all point to of where goodness has come out of the drug for those who have had the opportunity to have it, and that is true not only in my constituency but throughout the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
There is no dispute that the drug works, and there is no dispute at all that it is life-changing. The issue before us is the extent to which it justifies a price tag of £300 million to £400 million versus other NHS priorities. All I can say on that is that it is right that the decision is not made by politicians, for the reasons given earlier by the right hon. Member for Leigh.
I was discussing the countries that have so far not authorised Orkambi. Neither Scotland nor the Republic of Ireland accepted that it was cost-effective, and it is not used in Scandinavia or Canada either.
The Minister mentioned Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, where there are clearly challenges—we only have to look at the pictures in The Irish Times yesterday to see the graffiti about Orkambi in Dublin. Will he commit to working with colleagues from across these islands to use the underdeveloped and underused machinery of the British-Irish Council to literally get our act together when it comes to rare diseases? We should combine our purchasing power when negotiating with the drugs companies and ensure that there are much better networks for referral and treatment. We should improve that collaboration and literally get our act together on these islands.
I, too, saw the press. I think the Republic of Ireland drugs Minister has talked about writing around to that effect, and it would be a great idea were we to use our combined procurement muscle in that regard. He is certainly pressing at an open door.
I wish to spend a little time talking about Vertex. The company owns the drugs we are discussing and is worth $18 billion. As well as looking at the NICE review last night, I spent quite a lot of time looking at Vertex’s financial position. The company needs to sell these products; indeed, its continued functioning as a major pharmaceuticals company depends on that. Its share price has fallen by a third during the course of this year—I estimate that is a loss of value of something like $7 billion—because its sales are not adequate. There needs to be a meeting of minds here. I am sure that people from Vertex are listening to this debate, as will people from other places, too. We all want a solution whereby the drug becomes available at a cost-effective price, but the negotiation is not a one-way street; Vertex is part of it as well. Were the company to come forward with different pricing data, those would be looked at very quickly. At some point in the future—I know it will be a long time—the drug will be available generically, although I accept that that will not give hope to some of the people we have heard about today.
In the couple of minutes I have remaining, I wish to discuss the accelerated access review, which was a manifesto commitment we made at the election. We set up the review panel. The basic intent was to enable transformative drugs to come forward more quickly and for there to be, as Members have mentioned, a commercial unit in the NHS that is empowered to do deals and bring treatments forward more rapidly. In October the review team and panel published the final report, to which something like 600 stakeholders contributed. It is a valuable piece of work and we know its direction of travel: bringing drugs into the system more quickly, allowing the NHS to set priorities for the drugs its wants, and giving drugs companies some notice and knowledge that if they develop drugs, they will be used. That will mean that a lot of the commercial discussions can happen earlier and progress can be made more quickly.
The Government are reviewing the results of the accelerated access review. There is much in it, if not all of it, that will be accepted, although I am not in the position to accept it today—that is not my role here. We do, though, want to make progress, which should give some hope for the potential of another review of the matters we have been discussing. Nevertheless, I must say again to Government and Opposition Members that the NICE process and the people carrying it out—they are rigorous scientists and serious doctors—need to be treated and understood with respect. We can all agree that the current situation is heartbreaking for many people. The world has a drug that would change people’s lives, but the world has not rolled that drug out to them because of real and reasonable financial issues. I accept that that is a very difficult thing to explain to people and it is very difficult to accept.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
I beg to move,
That this House has considered education in Knowsley.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan; I am sure we will be treated impartially and fairly. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) had hoped to be here, but she is currently recovering from an accident; she wanted me to make it clear that she would be here if she was fit.
Secondary education in Knowsley has received attention in this House and in the media recently, particularly as a result of the report by the ResPublica think-tank. Unless urgent action is taken, at the end of this academic year not a single education institution in Knowsley will offer A-level provision.
Let me say first a word about the ResPublica report, which was commissioned by Knowsley Council. The Prime Minister is known for weighing up matters before pronouncing on them, but I doubt that she had actually read the report before quoting from the press release about it at Prime Minister’s questions on 16 November; if she had, she would have noticed that the report that the council received in May did not mention grammar schools at all. In Knowsley, 39% of the secondary school population attends schools in neighbouring boroughs, which amounts to 3,164 school students and takes more than £17 million a year out of Knowsley’s education system. Unchecked, that is in danger of escalating to the point at which secondary education in the borough becomes unviable.
Let me be clear: parents rightly decide what is the best education for their children and my comments should in no way be taken as a criticism of people who choose to send their children to schools outside Knowsley—that is their right. However, the fact that they do so does challenge us to improve attainment levels, and education in Knowsley needs some radical changes. Frankly, the problems we face would not be resolved by the creation of a grammar school. Indeed, it would make matters worse for the overwhelming majority of school students. For example, the Education Policy Institute yesterday concluded that, overall, its analysis
“supported the conclusions reached by the OECD for school systems across the world – that there is no evidence that an increase in selection would have any positive impact on social mobility.”
Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, said:
“The notion that the poor stand to benefit from the return of grammar schools strikes me as palpable tosh and nonsense”.
I think he put that firmly enough.
Together with my hon. Friends the Members for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) and for St Helens South and Whiston, I have been exploring possibilities for ensuring that A-level provision in the borough continues beyond 2017. We had a meeting with the schools Minister in June. There are potential solutions. At a recent meeting with the principal of Knowsley Community College about the proposed merger with St Helens College, I was pleased to hear that, if the merger goes ahead, they have some serious ideas about how to restore viable A-level provision in the borough.
Does my hon. Friend agree that for a borough such as Knowsley, which has a substantial population, the idea of having no academic A-level provision is embarrassing for all the schools and education institutes? It does not bode well for the future of the borough if our young people cannot get the education they need—of whatever variety—in the place that they live.
My hon. Friend puts that very well. I agree with her entirely and was just going on to add a word about the impact of the negative publicity and comment.
Before setting out some ideas that I believe will help improve secondary education, I want to note some positive things that are already happening. Hard-working heads and teachers are understandably demoralised at the continual denigration that they experience in the media and from the Government; parents and school students are understandably upset that their hard work and achievements are continually rubbished. Yet there is so much good work going on that never gets a mention.
Ten days ago, for example, I visited the Lord Derby Academy, part of the Dean Trust, and met head of school Vicky Gowan and assistant headteacher, Josette Arnold. On a tour of the school, it was obvious that they were doing a lot right. The sense of discipline and the rigorous approach to teaching were obvious and commendable, and promise to bring about big improvements. Much the same could be said for the other secondary schools in Knowsley. Similarly, I recently had the privilege of opening the new Northern Logistics Academy in Kirkby, a joint undertaking between St Helens College and Knowsley Community College. It provides logistics training for those seeking to work in that industry, which is a real growth industry in our city region.
Knowsley Council, having disowned the ResPublica report, has now established an education commission, chaired by Christine Gilbert, previously chief inspector of schools in England and head of Ofsted, and supported by other distinguished commissioners, which is charged with producing an improvement plan. That approach should be supported and I would ask the Minister to commit the Government to that. It is worth noting that the commission has the potential to signpost ways in which other deprived areas such as Knowsley can also make appropriate improvements.
Two developments which could lift achievement are the Shakespeare North and Bio-Inspire projects. Both implicitly offer opportunities to raise aspiration for school students in Knowsley, and I hope that the Government will continue to support both initiatives.
If we are to improve social mobility in areas such as Knowsley, the single most powerful engine for doing so is education. That being so, and given Knowsley’s high level of deprivation, it came as a surprise that Knowsley was not one of the six opportunity areas recently announced by the Government. I feel that the methodology used to identify those areas was flawed. Will the Minister undertake to review the methodology? Will she undertake to look at how Knowsley could be included in any further strategies to improve social mobility?
I want to make a suggestion about how educational attainment could be improved. Before doing so, I should say a word about how attainment is measured. Attainment 8 measures a student’s average grade across eight subjects, which are the same subjects that count for progress 8. Those new metrics are a significant change to education reporting; performance measurement is spread across a wider range of subjects and is no longer based solely on attainment, and there is an emphasis on progress.
Knowsley ranks bottom in the north-west, with an overall attainment 8 score of 39, compared with Liverpool on 47 and Trafford, which is top, on 57. It also has the worst progress 8 score in the north-west, with a score of minus 0.88 compared with Liverpool on minus 0.35. Those figures illustrate the scale of the challenge in Knowsley.
I expect that the commission established by Knowsley Council will look at how post-14 education could be radically reorganised. There is, in my view, a case to be made for creating a choice post-14, but not through a grammar school. Many students in their later years do not regard the sort of education on offer as suited to their future aspirations. Sir Michael Wilshaw has, on a number of occasions, called for a skills revolution in the UK, arguing that every multi-academy trust should run a vocational university technology college for youngsters aged 14 to 19. He said:
“We need to say to youngsters, ‘there are other paths than university’. If you’re going to make a success of Brexit, this should be the number one priority of government. Not grammar schools ... Otherwise we won’t have the skills. And the prospects for growth in the economy and productivity in the economy will suffer.”
Does my right hon. Friend accept that Halewood Academy closed its sixth form not because it no longer wished to teach A-levels but because, and I do not blame the head and the governors for their decision, financially it is obliged to balance its budget and it simply no longer had enough pupils wanting to go into the sixth form—for various reasons—to enable it financially to continue? As a consequence, there is now no academic A-level provision in the entire borough. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is commendable that Knowsley, which has no longer has any levers to provide education in its own borough and gets blamed when it goes wrong, has done what it can in establishing the commission? We hope that the Government will do what they can, in supporting that process, for all the young people and families in Knowsley.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. She is right to point out the limited scope of Knowsley Council, which is the local authority that has suffered the greatest cuts in the country while also being among those with the highest need. As I said earlier—it is an extension of my hon. Friend’s point—it is no longer viable to offer sixth-form provision in Knowsley, and if we do not do something urgently it will become unviable to offer any kind of secondary education at all. I agree with my hon. Friend, and I also agree with Sir Michael Wilshaw.
In many cases it would be more effective if the opportunity for vocational education were available post-14, offering pupils a programme of GCSEs, technical and professional qualifications and work experience. That is not to say that those who aspire to a more academic education should not have that choice but, rather, that it should be a choice and not the only option.
Time does not allow me to give a detailed account of how such a reorganisation would need to be carried out. Who would offer the more vocational post-14 option and could the existing secondary system be adapted to provide the more academic option? Those are examples of tough questions that need to be worked through. It is also essential that the vocational and technical education courses on offer are of a high quality and of equal status to the conventional curriculum.
I should perhaps declare an interest at this point. I was one of the generation who left secondary school at 15 but went to technical college. I studied engineering and then went on to do an engineering apprenticeship. Later, in my 20s, I did a degree. Those were options I had, and options I could take, and my worry is that such options are no longer available for young people, other than through the apprenticeship system. The problem with some apprenticeships is that they are too narrowly focused on the needs of the employer and, therefore, the young people who go through them do not acquire the transferable skills that might be needed when they are ready to move on to another employer. Post-14 opportunities in vocational education offer the prospect of their gaining those skills.
I am clear, as is Knowsley Council and my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood, that improvement is essential, and that a great deal of responsibility sits on the shoulders of the commissioners to come up with a way forward. Again, I ask the Minister to endorse that approach. Finally, it is important to point out that I have first-hand knowledge that young people in Knowsley are no less capable and no less ambitious than young people from better-off families. They deserve the same opportunities as young people from other parts of the country and from more prosperous areas. I hope that the Government will work with Knowsley Council, the commission, my hon. Friends the Members for Garston and Halewood and for St Helens South and Whiston, and me to ensure that that is exactly what happens.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) on securing this really important debate and on the obvious passion and understanding with which he speaks about the challenges in his constituency. I also thank the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) for her support today, and I add my voice to those wishing the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) a speedy recovery.
I know that we all share the Government’s ambition to build a country that works for everyone, and that means providing a good school place for every child, one that caters to their individual talents and abilities and, indeed, their needs. Thanks to the incredible hard work of teachers and the action we have taken over the past six years, there are now more pupils in “good” or “outstanding” schools than in 2010. But if just one child in England is not able to access a good school, that is, of course, one too many, and that is a particular issue in Knowsley, where none of the six secondary schools is “good” or “outstanding”.
Provisional 2016 results for secondary schools in the borough show that pupils, on average, make half a grade less progress than other pupils nationally with the same prior attainment. Knowsley has been the lowest-performing local authority at secondary level for a number of years. I absolutely understand, therefore, why the right hon. Gentleman has raised this really important issue. We are working in partnership with Knowsley Council and other key stakeholders in the region to improve and extend the reach of high-performing schools and leaders, to provide the best possible outcomes for Knowsley’s young people, which is, of course, absolutely nothing less than they deserve.
Will the Minister put on the record today the fact that she and her Government will work with the local authority and local MPs to ensure that academic A-level provision is available from next September when Halewood Academy’s sixth form unfortunately ceases? We must not send a signal to all young people of an academic bent in Knowsley that they have to leave the borough to continue their education.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that issue. I understand that the regional schools commissioner is meeting Lord Nash and local MPs in early January to discuss options for A-level provision in the area. Those options are being explored by the Department for Education as we speak. I also know that the educational issue across the board in Knowsley is one on which people are working very collaboratively. We have a number of strong multi-academy trusts in the north-west that are now supporting schools within Knowsley; and the regional schools commissioner, in conjunction with the education commission, is bringing them together for a roundtable discussion next week to consider some of the challenges around school performance in the borough and other issues.
The leader of Knowsley Council, Andy Moorhead, has acknowledged that educational performance in the local authority needs to improve. He recognises that although over the years a number of actions have been put in place to address the issue, a different approach is now needed. That is why we very much welcome the launch of the Education Commission for Knowsley, which I hope will provide that new approach. The commission will work closely with the Department for Education and national and local leaders in education, as well as with business partners, to address the underlying causes of educational under-performance in the area. The commission will draw on the expertise and knowledge of its members who are key leaders in education at a local, regional and national level, including Christine Gilbert, the former chief inspector of schools, Vicky Beer, the regional schools commissioner for Lancashire and West Yorkshire, and Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation.
I know that the commission will want to work closely with those who work in local schools; they are the real experts, who have clear views on how to get the much-needed improvement. The right hon. Member for Knowsley is right that we should be championing the dedication and commitment of the hard-working teaching professionals in our local schools, seeking to support, not denigrate, and seeking to encourage, not undermine. The commission will want to focus not only on immediate interventions to make visible improvements, but on long-term measures to ensure that all pupils achieve their full potential and leave school with confidence and ambition.
On A-level provision, we are working in partnership with Knowsley Council and other key stakeholders in the region, such as Learn and Lead and the Liverpool city region combined authority, to improve and extend the reach of high-performing schools and leaders to look for that solution and provide high-quality A-levels. I have already spoken about the meeting in January with the regional schools commissioner and Lord Nash.
To clear up the confusion that the right hon. Gentleman rightly raised about the ResPublica report, the version that was seen in May was a very early draft. The final report, “Achieving Educational Excellence in Knowsley”, did not come out until October. That is the one that acknowledges the transformative impact that grammar schools can have on the life chances of less well-off pupils. The Prime Minister has been clear that every child should be allowed to rise as far as their talents will take them, and that their background should not be a barrier. We want all pupils to have access to a good local school, which is why we are consulting on reforms to a number of different schools, including not only grammar schools, but independent and faith schools.
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I will make a tiny bit of progress first; he has asked me a number of questions and I do not want to leave anything out.
We want to tap into the expertise of all these types of schools and spread the knowledge across the system, so that every child has access to a good space. That is what the consultation is all about, and it is still open. We are considering how new grammar schools can open where parents want them, but with strict conditions to make sure that they improve the education of pupils in other parts of the system. We believe that all “good” and “outstanding” schools that have the capacity to expand should be able to do so to meet the demands of parents in their local area. Our proposals will also result in more universities and independent schools sponsoring academies and establishing free schools. There are positive examples of that happening in Merseyside, where, for example, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts has set up a free school.
The Government’s reforms have increased autonomy in the education system, placing a relentless focus on improving standards and tackling underperformance and encouraging innovative partnerships to improve existing schools and create new ones. The right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to raise the issue of post-14 technical education—he is one of the great alumni of that sort of system. Fourteen to sixteen-year-olds are able to take up high-quality, technical applied qualifications alongside their GCSEs, enabling students to gain valuable experience in a range of subjects not normally covered by GCSEs and develop practical and technical skills. Up to three technical awards can count in headline performance measures.
I will in a moment, when I get to the end of this bit; the right hon. Gentleman was very keen to talk about technical education and I do not want to miss anything out. As he will be aware, 48 university technical colleges are currently open. A further seven are in development and plan to open in 2017 and beyond, and along with the 48 open UTCs, they will create opportunities for more than 35,000 young people to train as the engineers and scientists of the future.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I do not want to make a big issue of the Prime Minister’s comments at Prime Minister’s questions; I just want to set the record straight. Knowsley Council received the report that it commissioned from ResPublica in May, and that did not include any reference, in any shape or form, to the need for a grammar school in the borough. As I understand it—I spoke to the local authority at some length yesterday—the only reference to a grammar school was in a press release, which I assume the Prime Minister was quoting from. It was not in the body of the report that the council received.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point, which we will look into. My understanding is that the very early draft in May did not refer to grammar schools, but that the final report, which came out in October, did. However, I will pass his comments back to the Department.
No, what I am saying is that it is all about choice, flexibility, keeping our options open and listening to people’s views. That is what the consultation is all about. It is not about writing anything off, because we do not want to write off our children’s future. We want to consider any changes that will bring about the best possible social mobility for all those in our schools. We want every child to be able to fulfil their potential.
I will briefly talk about the opportunity areas for social mobility, as the right hon. Member for Knowsley was concerned about that issue. I understand his frustration that Knowsley was not included in that, because it is the lowest-performing authority at secondary level. However, it is not the weakest in the social mobility index, so it is not currently considered an opportunity area. Opportunity areas have been selected as social mobility “cold spots”, where we will trial new ways of addressing entrenched problems. However, we will use the learning from those areas to spread excellence to other areas, which will, of course, include areas such as Knowsley, where we want outcomes in schools to improve. We also want to go beyond schools and make sure that all programmes, from early years to accessing employment, help to break the link between a person’s background and what they achieve as adults. That is fundamentally very important.
I am very pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has raised these issues today. He is absolutely right that we must ensure that this country works for everyone, not just the privileged few. It is so essential to create a socially just and socially mobile society, in partnership with fantastic teachers, strong schools and college leaders. We must all work together to ensure that the Government’s education reforms will be successful in raising educational standards for all.
Question put and agreed to.
Operation Midland: Henriques Report
[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Operation Midland and the Henriques report.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Streeter, for chairing this debate today, and to hon. Members from all parties in the House who have come to take part in this important debate.
One of the founding purposes of our Parliament, which was established 751 years ago, was for the redress of grievances. So let me say from the outset that where people—particularly the young and the vulnerable—have been abused by others, however high the alleged perpetrator is, they are not above the law. That was an assertion of the late and great Lord Denning, which is not in dispute. What is in dispute, and the subject of this debate, is the manner in which a number of police forces have chosen to operate and the rules under which they have operated.
Today I make no apologies for seeking to highlight what I and many others consider to be a major miscarriage of justice by the Metropolitan police and indeed by other police forces across the land. I intend to concentrate my remarks on Operation Midland, which involved the pursuit of unfounded claims that sexual offences were committed by the former Home Secretary, the late Lord Brittan; the former Chief of the Defence Staff and distinguished Normandy veteran, Field Marshal The Lord Bramall; and my long-standing friend, Harvey Proctor. Mr Proctor was also accused of murdering three children. I served in this House with both Leon Brittan and Harvey Proctor, and I have met the Field Marshal and his late wife, Lady Bramall, a number of times.
Other well-known people, such as Sir Cliff Richard, Paul Gambaccini and even the late Prime Minister, our former colleague Sir Edward Heath, have also been caught up in this scandal of police failure and mismanagement. However, such is the weight of evidence against—
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Would he just care to reflect on precisely what he means when he refers to the former Prime Minister, because from my perspective—as Salisbury’s Member of Parliament—I see that Wiltshire police have conducted their inquiries perfectly within the guidance set out by the College of Policing and are going where the evidence takes them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was about to say that, such is the weight of evidence against the police operations, that time will not permit me to make more than a passing reference to them. I am afraid that I disagree with his view of Chief Constable Veale of Wiltshire. The chief constable’s recent assertion—his bravado—was quite unwarranted. Sir Edward has been dead for 10 years, but I wish to leave that point there, because I think others may well deal with it, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able in due course to make his case in defence of Chief Constable Veale.
These people have lost income. Paul Gambaccini told the Home Affairs Committee that he had lost £200,000 in income and payment of legal fees following his suspension from the BBC and other broadcasters. Harvey Proctor lost his income following his sacking by the Duke and Duchess of Rutland, to whom he had acted as secretary. That sacking was largely at the behest of Leicestershire’s constabulary and social services. Loss of the job meant he also lost his home on the duke’s estate and he is now living in an outhouse with no running water and no lavatory facilities. That is the hard effect of this travesty.
In addition, the distress caused is difficult to imagine. During the investigation conducted under Operation Midland and Operation Vincente, Lord Brittan died and Lord Bramall’s wife died, neither of them knowing that the investigations had both been wound up. In the case of Lord Brittan, who died in January 2015, it was well over a year before the Metropolitan police told Lady Brittan that the Operation Midland case had been dropped, and only when they were asked by her lawyers to verify a report in The Independent on Sunday did the Metropolitan police say that they would not have proceeded.
However, the distress was not confined to that aspect of the case. Lady Brittan endured the indignity of the search of her property. As she told me, 10 to 20 officers invaded the house. She said it was like witnessing a robbery of one’s treasured possessions, including letters of condolence and photographs, without ever being told why. The police were insensitive to her circumstances and never told her that she had certain rights during a search. In her Yorkshire house, the police asked if there was any newly turned earth in the garden, again without saying why.
As Lady Brittan says, while it was ordinary police officers who were instructed to undertake the searches, responsibility for the control of this operation rests with senior police officers, whose insensitivity and incompetence has been revealed.
Does my hon. Friend agree that what appears to be at work here is the most extraordinary want of any form of judgment and balance? And would he care to comment on why there is a pattern running through all this activity of an absolute inability of the police to think for themselves?
My right hon. Friend makes an important intervention, and in looking at all of this I have tried to work out precisely what motivated the police. As I will say in a moment, they seem completely bereft of any common sense. However, if he will forgive me, I will try to address that point later on.
In respect of the searches of Lady Brittan’s home, one sergeant told her, “Thank goodness we are only lowly cogs in this investigation”.
Let me turn to my long-standing friend, Harvey Proctor. It took him 28 years to rebuild his life following conviction in 1987 for a sexual offence, which is no longer an offence and which of course cost him his place in this House. He shunned the public spotlight and became a very private citizen until, out of the blue, his home was raided by police, who spent 15 hours searching, removed papers and possessions, and told him that he was accused of being involved in historical child sex abuse. It took the police a further two months to accuse him of being a child serial murderer, a child rapist and an abuser of children. Those were the wild allegations of one fantasist known only to the public as Nick.
I think my hon. Friend is coming to a very important area. Does he agree that we must be very careful about talking about victims, because surely what we are talking about are complainants? There are no victims until allegations have been proven.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and it is one that I intend to address in some detail in a moment.
Not content with making these serious charges against Harvey, Nick suggested that there was a paedophile ring operating in Westminster, accusations that the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), who is the deputy leader of the Labour party, was keen to exploit as a Tory scandal and for which he should now offer a full and unreserved apology.
Harvey had staying with him in his house a couple and their newborn child. He was told two weeks before the search of his house by the Metropolitan police that that child should be removed for their own safety, and secret sessions between the Leicestershire police, Leicestershire social services and the duke’s representatives were convened when pressure was placed on the duke and duchess to sack Harvey from his employment after the search of his house. Leicestershire constabulary and the Met passed responsibility for this issue to each other, backwards and forwards, but it happened.
What are the charges against the Metropolitan police and the other forces involved? First, it is that they adopted a policy that the accusations were, in the words of Superintendent Kenny McDonald, “credible and true”. Gone was any pretence of old-fashioned policing—looking dispassionately at the evidence and seeing where it leads.
This is where we are assisted by the excellent report produced by Sir Richard Henriques, a former High Court judge; admittedly, that report was at the specific request of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police. What Sir Richard found was that the chief constable of Norfolk, Simon Bailey, who I understand leads for the Association of Chief Police Officers on child protection and abuse investigation, produced guidance in November 2015 that insisted that complainants should be described as victims. He wrote:
“If we don’t acknowledge a victim as such, it reinforces a system based on distrust and disbelief.”
“The police service”—
please note the reference to the police service, not the police force—
“is the conduit that links the victim to the rest of the criminal justice system; there is a need to develop a relationship and rapport with a victim…in order to achieve the best evidence possible.”
That is the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham).
My hon. Friends are intervening in such a way that they keep anticipating the next paragraph of my speech. I will be coming precisely to that point, because it goes to the heart of this case.
Sir Richard, in describing the approach as “flawed”, said that use of the word “victim” to describe a complainant
“gives the impression of pre-judging a complaint.”
So confident is Mr Bailey, he countered that by
“asserting that only 0.1% of all complaints were false”—
so, according to the chief constable of Norfolk, 0.1% of complaints were false—
“any inaccuracy in the use of the word ‘victim’ is so minimal that it can be disregarded.”
What an astonishing claim to be made by a senior police officer in this country! Not one complainant with whom Sir Richard discussed the issue felt that the word “victim” should be applied instead. On the issue of searches, Sir Richard concluded that they were simply illegal.
Sir Richard turns next to the question of belief, noting that a 2002 police special notice dealing with rape investigations read that
“it is the policy of the MPS to accept allegations made by the victim in the first instance as being truthful.”
A 2014 report on police crime reporting by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recommended:
“The presumption that the victim should always be believed should be institutionalised.”
As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) said, that approach represents a fundamental reversal of a cardinal principle of English law, namely that a man is innocent unless and until proved otherwise.
As Rupert Butler, counsel of 3 Hare Court, put it to Sir Richard:
“The assumption is one of guilt until the police have evidence to the contrary. This involves an artificial and imposed suspension of forensic analysis which creates three incremental and unacceptable consequences. Firstly, there is no investigation that challenges the Complainant; secondly, therefore, the suspect is disbelieved; and, thirdly, and consequently, the burden of proof is shifted onto the suspect.”
The second charge against the police relates to the evidence of witnesses. Sir Richard observed that
“prominent people…are more vulnerable to false complaints than others…They are vulnerable to compensation seekers, attention seekers, and those with mental health problems. The internet provides the information and detail to support a false allegation. Entertainers are particularly vulnerable to false allegations meeting, as they do, literally thousands of attention seeking fans who provoke a degree of familiarity which may be exaggerated or misconstrued in their recollection many years later. Deceased persons are particularly vulnerable as allegations cannot be answered.”
I emphasise that point to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen)—the allegations against Sir Edward are allegations that cannot be answered by him.
My hon. Friend says “if they exist”; I am not saying they do not. I do not know, but what I do know—it is a fact—is that Sir Edward Heath is dead and cannot answer back.
Paul Gambaccini, whom I met yesterday, referred to the “bandwagoner”—a person who hears about a complaint against a well-known personality and adds their own false complaint, possibly to make money. That motive should not be discounted in the consideration of these matters.
The third charge relates to the reliability of witnesses. Nick, the man upon whose evidence much of this monstrous submission was based, was dismissed by his mother, his stepmother, his ex-wife and his siblings as a fantasist. In their investigation, Northumbria constabulary must be ruthless in their analysis of why that man should have been free to make such deeply serious accusations against prominent figures when it would appear that little research was undertaken into his background. If his own mother denounced him, why did the police attach such credence to his claims? Of course, this is a man whose evidence was said to be “credible and true” by that chief superintendent. Did they not even think it was worth asking his relatives?
Fourthly, “victims” were constantly kept informed of progress on the case, but the alleged suspects remained in the dark throughout. That cannot be allowed to happen again.
Finally, why did the police abandon all notion of common sense? My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) made that point. At the time of the alleged offences committed by Lord Bramall, he would have had any number of senior officers around him. What attempt was made by the police to ask for their opinion? Or did the police prefer to believe an unknown witness over one with close knowledge of the suspect? The idea that he was cavorting in some orgy on that most solemn of days, Remembrance Day, is not only absurd but an insult to a decorated war hero.
At my surgery on Saturday, I met Lieutenant Colonel Ben Herman. He is an ex-Royal Marine and a former equerry to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. He lives in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), who cannot be here because he is attending a Committee. Lieutenant Colonel Herman was charged after being kept on bail for more than two years, but was acquitted after 15 minutes’ consideration by the jury. It was his contention that the attraction of his case was the opportunity to land a big fish. Lowly police officers carrying out dull work—except, I suppose, when they were infiltrating subversive groups and fathering children by the women they were supposed to be investigating—were salivating at the prospect of nailing a servant of the royal household. How far did such sentiments permeate the minds of those engaged on Operations Midland, Vincente and Yewtree?
These investigations constituted a grotesque and inexcusable failure by the Metropolitan police. Sir Bernard has accepted that there was failure, but who has been reprimanded or even sacked for the damage done to the individuals concerned and to the reputation of the Metropolitan police? We await the investigation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission with interest. I hope it will be expedited. On the other hand, the behaviour of those facing these dreadful accusations has been extraordinarily dignified. My noble Friend Lord Dear, a former chief constable of West Midlands police, said that in contrast to the dignity shown by Lord Bramall,
“the police investigation lurched from over-reaction to torpidity.”
I will outline what is needed. First, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe should ensure that those responsible for authorising payments to the real victims of this witch hunt—the people whose reputations his force has shredded and to whom immense distress has been caused—are provided with that authority before he leaves office early in the new year. I spoke briefly to him last night to let him know I was initiating this debate. He must sign the cheques before he leaves. Forcing these people to go to court to seek compensation would simply add insult to injury. However, in the absence of an agreed arrangement, that is what they may be obliged to do. As Paul Gambaccini said to me yesterday, no man should acquiesce in his own annihilation.
Secondly, the Henriques recommendations must be implemented urgently. In particular, the requirement that those making claims of historical child abuse be regarded as victims and not complainants must be reversed forthwith, as it overturns the centuries-old principle of the burden of proof. In an article in The Guardian on 10 February this year, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said—he kindly sent it over to me this morning:
“The public should be clear that officers do not believe unconditionally what anyone tells them.”
But that flatly contradicts Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s ruling, which I mentioned earlier, that the presumption should be that the victim is always believed.
Thirdly, the recommendation of anonymity before charge should also be implemented without delay. The Home Affairs Committee’s report on police bail, published on 17 March last year, was clear about that. It concluded:
“Newspapers and the media are prohibited from revealing the name of a person who is the victim of an alleged sexual offence. We recommend that the same right to anonymity should also apply to the person accused of the crime, unless and until they are charged with an offence.”
In support of that recommendation, the Committee referred to its predecessor Committee’s inquiry into the Sexual Offences Bill 2003, which
“called for anonymity for the defendant in such cases, because it felt sexual offences were ‘within an entirely different order’ to most other crimes, carrying a particular and very damaging stigma.”
I agree and, I am pleased to say, so does Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. At least we have found common ground there.
Fourthly, I am disappointed that the Home Secretary feels unable to intervene in any aspect of this saga. In response to my call for the full Henriques report to be published and for compensation to be paid, she wrote to me last month to say that:
“The police are operationally independent of Government, and so any arrangements in connection with the publication of Sir Richard’s report are a matter for the Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis to consider and address.”
I do not agree. These are not operational matters. I regard them as matters pertaining to public policy, which cannot simply be passed back to the commissioner. Indeed, I would argue that it is unfair on him to leave him with the sole responsibility. I gather that, as far as compensation is concerned, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has to seek authority from other unspecified people, but I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm to me that that will be forthcoming shortly.
I have not been able to contact the Mayor of London, although his office phoned me about five minutes before this debate started. Again, I understand that he does not feel that this is a matter for him because it is an operational matter. I fundamentally disagree. This is a matter of public policy. There has been a serious miscarriage of justice, and Ministers cannot simply stand by and wash their hands of it. They may not agree with my view, but they should at least have a view. I think that the full Henriques report should be published. There is, for example, an entire chapter on Paul Gambaccini, which has not seen the light of day; it has been redacted in its entirety.
For all those people, this has been a harrowing experience exacerbated by insensitivity combined with incompetence on the part of the police. Lord Brittan went to his grave not knowing that the allegations in Operation Vincente had been dismissed. Lady Bramall went to hers not knowing that her husband had also been exonerated. Harvey Proctor said at his press conference on 25 August 2015:
“This whole catalogue of events has wrecked my life, lost me my job and demolished 28 years of my rehabilitation since 1987.”
Not a single police officer has been reprimanded, let alone sacked. Responsibility for this scandalous failure must lie with Sir Bernard and his senior officers. Either they knew what was being done in their name, which clearly renders them culpable, or they did not, which begs the question why they were not closely updated on cases involving multiple child murders and child sexual abuse, allegedly perpetrated by a Westminster ring involving a former Prime Minister and other public figures. In the case of Sir Cliff Richard, we know that the South Yorkshire police disgracefully conspired with the BBC to film the raid on his home.
However, there is one police officer who deserves praise. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Settle is the senior officer responsible for Operation Vincente into the allegation of rape made against Lord Brittan by a woman known only as Jane. In September 2013, he decided that the investigation should not proceed any further, and concluded that any action against Lord Brittan would be grossly disproportionate and would not have a legal basis. As he told the Home Affairs Select Committee, as a result of the hon. Member for West Bromwich East piling pressure on the Met, a hurried review of DCI Settle’s decision was carried out by another officer, who failed to look at all the documents and, in particular, did not look at DCI Settle’s decision log, a document he described as
“an intrinsic and fundamental part of all major investigations.”
That provides further evidence that culpability for this matter resides at the top of the Met.
For acting with probity, DCI Settle was ordered by his line manager, Detective Superintendent Gray, to have nothing more to do with the case. Not only was he brushed aside and not only was his hitherto distinguished career blighted but he was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission for allegedly leaking information to the media. As one police source is reported to have told the Daily Telegraph:
“He was the only detective who spoke out against the witch hunt of VIPs and he is being punished for his honesty.”
It seems that he is being sacrificed by his superiors.
Finally, I say to those who might be tempted to think that I am concerned with those in high places suffering injustice only because they are people I know in one way or another that I am not. If that is how the police treat those in high places, what confidence can the ordinary man in the street have that he will receive fair and impartial treatment from the police?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I thank the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) for securing this debate, which gives us the opportunity to examine policing in relation to one of the most serious crimes of our age. At the outset, I should say that I have spent a good number of years campaigning on child sexual abuse, and I have met many survivors of sexual abuse. Furthermore, my second wife was sexually abused as a child, as is publicly known, so I know that it destroys lives.
I have an additional perspective on this matter: I have been the subject of accusations of sexual abuse, which were investigated by the police. I knew the allegations were nonsense, and it was a very distressing time as I had to wait many months before the Crown Prosecution Service put me out of my misery and dropped the case because there was no evidence. It also cost me a considerable amount of money—the hon. Gentleman talked about that issue. I think I can therefore contribute an understanding not just of the seriousness of this type of crime but of the trauma that innocent people are put through when malicious allegations are made against them.
I have also been critical of the police for the mistakes they have made in investigating sexual abuse. I have had good reason to do so on behalf of my constituents, especially in relation to the Rochdale grooming scandal. Greater Manchester police eventually apologised for that.
I have also read the Henriques report on Operation Midland. It is clear that that investigation also suffered from chronic failures, albeit of a different kind. The pendulum swung from a situation in which the police showed little interest in investigating the crime to one in which, haunted by failures of the past, they became over-zealous and they over-reached. Neither approach is acceptable, and it is right that scrutiny and criticism have followed.
I am pleased that the Home Secretary has announced that the police should have a licence to investigate child abuse to ensure consistent standards and to prevent officers from being forced to take on roles for which they are not prepared. However, I also believe that the Home Secretary should introduce mandatory reporting of abuse, although that is perhaps a debate for another day. As important as it is to scrutinise Operation Midland, we cannot give the public the impression that we are here to protect our own or to make the police think twice before investigating any current or former Members of this House. The police must act without fear or favour. They should not be intimidated or discouraged from carrying out investigations into MPs. It is just as important that justice is applied to a Home Secretary as it is that it is applied to a homeless person.
We must remember that we have had Government Whips such as Tim Fortescue boasting that they could cover up scandals involving MPs and small boys; we have had papers from the head of MI5 sent to the Cabinet Secretary under Margaret Thatcher warning that Peter Morrison MP had a penchant for small boys; and we have had significant allegations of child abuse by Lord Janner. There are currently 29 cases before the Independent Police Complaints Commission involving allegations of the police covering up child sexual offences from the ’70s to 2005. The IPCC has admitted that some of those allegations concern Members of Parliament —people who have been Members of Parliament. I could go on with other examples. It is clear that Sir Ian Horobin, the MP who was jailed for child sexual abuse in 1962, was certainly not the only person in this House guilty of that type of crime.
But that is the wider context. I would like now to focus on my personal understanding of the failings in relation to Operation Midland. After I wrote a book on Cyril Smith and the abuse that he meted out, I was inundated with correspondence making all sorts of allegations about other politicians, including Leon Brittan. I looked into those allegations, but I could find no evidence to suggest that he had done anything criminal. Furthermore, my office spoke to the person known as Nick, who was a key source of evidence during Operation Midland. The feedback that I received was that he had been instructed by the now defunct news website Exaro not to provide details to me about VIP abusers. Nick was clearly a very damaged individual who was struggling to cope, and I do believe that he had been abused. I just did not know by who.
I found all that a depressing tale and decided not to do anything with Nick’s testimony. However, I assumed that the Metropolitan police would not rely on one victim and that there were surely others. It now appears that that was not the case, and it was obviously a mistake to rely on so much from just one person. That said, I will not join in the calls to have Nick prosecuted for perverting the course of justice. I do not think that would be wise. There is some irony, in that we do not have to go too far back in modern history to find a Director of Public Prosecutions stating that it was not in the public interest to prosecute Cyril Smith MP for child abuse, or Victor Montagu MP, who admitted abusing a boy for nearly two years, and yet there are now calls for a survivor of abuse to be prosecuted. I certainly do not think it is in the public interest to prosecute Nick.
The law is messy and imperfect. Child abuse is a difficult crime to investigate, and a combination of disinterest and inadequate police skills over recent decades has resulted in far too many people getting away with a very serious crime. On occasion, that has also resulted in the wrong people being accused, with a lot of unnecessary hurt caused as a result. Finally, the ongoing football scandal shows that we have been far too slow to act. We must be more vigilant about powerful people abusing children.
I am grateful to be called to speak, Mr Streeter, and I am very pleased to be able to make a short contribution to this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth). Everyone knows him to be a very good man, but it takes courage and determination to raise this sort of matter. I warmly support everything that he said.
The cases in question have created widespread concern about how the Metropolitan police and other forces have handled high-profile cases involving serious accusations of criminal offences allegedly committed by some of the leaders of our country. There is the apparently ongoing, astonishing case of our former colleague and Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath. So far, £700,000 has been spent on Operation Conifer, which is investigating the allegations against him. Some of the original allegations apparently included those of satanic rituals. Those complaints have since been dismissed, but they are illustrative of the bizarre extent of the allegations. The chief constable for Wiltshire has responded to the inevitable questions about why the police are wasting so much money on claims against a man who died more than 10 years ago and cannot answer back by defiantly affirming that he would not be
“buckling under pressure to not investigate or to conclude the investigation prematurely.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot mentioned the raid on the home of Lord and Lady Brittan. I should declare an interest: both Lord and Lady Brittan are very old friends of mine. My hon. Friend also mentioned the horrific indifference of the police officers involved. Furthermore, I remind the House of what happened to Lord Bramall. His house was raided by a 20-strong search team in a blaze of publicity, with police cars parked in the pub car park, advertising to the world what they were about. What an unspeakable way in which to treat a second world war veteran, let alone a former Chief of the Defence Staff of utmost probity. That calls the police’s whole sense of proportion and loss of judgment into question.
I knew Harvey Proctor slightly. He had been in the House for four years when I was first elected in 1983. We were not political soulmates, but I was one of those Members of Parliament proud to rally around to help him to set up his shop in Richmond following his conviction in 1987, which resulted in his leaving the House. I was heartened to see that, once again, people such as Matthew Parris and Michael Portillo were rallying around to support the public-spirited initiative of Iain Dale to raise money for Mr Proctor, who in my judgment has been unspeakably treated. The effort raised some £11,140, including many small contributions from ordinary people disgusted by what they had read about the handling of the case by the Metropolitan police.
Another case concerns a former fire officer in Dorset, David Bryant, who is 66 years old and has received commendations for gallantry. He spent almost three years behind bars for a crime that he did not commit, solely on the evidence of a man with a history of mental illness. Danny Day, now aged 53, had gone to the police in 2012 claiming that he had been raped by Mr Bryant and another firefighter, who is now dead, at the fire station in Christchurch on a single unspecified date at some time between 1976 and 1978. Mr Day said he was aged about 14 at the time of the alleged attack.
Mr Bryant, who the court heard was of “impeccable character” and had no previous criminal record, was convicted in 2013. Initially, he was sentenced to six years in jail, later increased to eight. Mr Day, who waived his right to anonymity in a series of newspaper interviews after the conviction, was finally exposed as a liar after detective work by a brave Mrs Bryant and a team of lawyers and private investigators who had been so horrified by the conviction that they had agreed to work on the case for free. Mr Justice Singly, hearing the case with Lord Justice Leveson and one other senior judge, said that other fresh material before the court included information that
“over a period from 2000 to 2010 the complainant in this case had to seek medical attention from his GP in relation to what can only be described as his being a chronic liar”.
David Bryant said:
“What happened to me must never be allowed to happen again. Being wrongly imprisoned as an innocent man is a living hell and something I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy.”
To conclude, there are terrible cases that must be dealt with—I agree with the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk)—but what comes through in the case of Harvey Proctor and others is the monstrous treatment of an innocent man, who lost his livelihood, his way of life and everything else that he had strenuously worked for to re-establish his good name. The Metropolitan police must put him back and recompense him for that terrible evil. A monstrous injustice has been done and is too regularly done. I beg the Home Secretary and others in some way to ensure that the police exercise a proper sense of proportion, common sense and good judgment when dealing with such difficult cases.
I extend my thanks to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) for securing the debate.
As more and more allegations of historical child sex abuse come to light, more focus is inevitably placed on how our police forces handle such important matters. We have had Operation Yewtree into the Jimmy Savile cases; the umbrella inquiry, Operation Fairbank, which investigated politicians and other high-profile public figures; and Operation Midland, which is our particular focus today. Operation Midland was closed without any charges being brought.
As is now agreed, the allegations of historical child sex abuse that gave rise to Operation Midland were mishandled at best and shambolic at worst. In the event, worryingly, 40 areas of concern were identified in Sir Richard Henriques’s report, including the “automatic believing” of the allegations of the person known as Nick, whom we have heard about. Nick, the principal complainant, was treated as being “credible and true”, to use Henriques’s words.
Although there can be no further doubt that Operation Midland is an example of investigation at its worst of most serious allegations, and that lessons must be learned so that such allegations in the future are properly and fully investigated, it is also essential that those who allege they have suffered sexual abuse always remain at the heart of police investigations and feel able, supported and confident about coming forward to report crimes in future.
Although the Henriques report spoke of police failings in automatically believing the complainant Nick, whose account and allegations contained inconsistencies that ought to have made investigators more sceptical and more questioning, he is only one person, and all future complainants should not be tarred with the same brush. False allegations of historical sexual abuse, or any sexual abuse, are not seriously believed by many people to be widespread, and we must remember that.
However, concerns about this entire unfortunate episode persist. There has been much criticism of the fact that only around 10% of the Henriques report will be published. What does that mean for full transparency in such a serious matter? The fact that its publication coincided with the day of the presidential election in America has also raised concerns about attempts to bury bad news, but bad news such as this is like Banquo’s ghost; it will appear at the most inopportune moments to haunt those concerned. This attempt to bury bad news does not reassure the public or gratify those who feel they were unfairly targeted as part of Operation Midland.
Scotland Yard has been accused of attempting to limit the damage to its reputation by heavily redacting the report. The main complainant who gave rise to Operation Midland has now been dismissed, as we have heard, as a fantasist who faces potential charges. We must also remember that, by their very nature, allegations of historical sex abuse can be extremely challenging to investigate and very difficult to prove in court. Amid all the criticism, we need to remember that the police have an extremely difficult task. If they were not to be seen to investigate such allegations, they could be accused of being conflicted over investigating establishment figures. Clearly, that would lead to a loss of public confidence.
Investigating in a heavy-handed and gung-ho all-guns-blazing procedure is not appropriate, either. A balance must be struck that most people would agree was not struck in Operation Midland. That should be a cause of great concern to us all. It is a concern that there should not be and must not be any negative implications for how such allegations are treated in future. It is a concern that the police learn the lessons and investigate all such allegations in future without fear or favour and go wherever their investigations take them. It is a concern that victims of such abuse are not dismissed out of hand and have confidence that allegations will be fully and properly investigated. It is a concern that the public must feel that establishment figures will be fully investigated properly and transparently when such allegations are made against them in future, in the same way as such allegations should be investigated against any ordinary person. Those are important points, as more allegations of historical sex abuse emerge from the world of football as we speak.
Child sex abuse is the dirty little secret that is slowly exposing itself more and more as more people find the courage to come forward. We need to treat such allegations with proper care and attention and investigate them correctly. We owe that to every single person who has lived through such horrific abuse. It is important that no one is seen to be above the law, and no matter how historical the allegations are, they must be subject to full analysis. When there is sufficient evidence, those who are found to be guilty must be punished.
Mistakes in Operation Midland should serve warning of the importance of getting this right for both alleged victims and alleged abusers. It should not and must not be used as a barrier or a reason to automatically disbelieve future allegations. We need to get this right. I hope that today the Minister will reassure us that the Government are placing a strong emphasis on making sure they get this right in future.
We all bring prejudices into this place. The greatest prejudice that perhaps we all share is one of revulsion at the idea of child sexual exploitation, but when it affects an individual we know or revere, our prejudice is to immediately assume they are innocent. That was the case, in my circumstances, with Field Marshal Lord Bramall. He is an individual who, in my regiment, is revered, with a semi-godlike status. The whole family of the regiment were horrified that he should have been accused in such a way, and we rejoice that all the effects of the accusation have been removed from his character. However, we remain demanding of answers in this case.
Of course the great and the powerful should be investigated when allegations are made, just as allegations against anyone should be investigated, but it is how we investigate that matters. The Henriques report has outlined an appalling catalogue of errors in all the cases that hon. Members have mentioned in this debate. In the case of Lord Bramall, the report says that it was wrong to raid his home based on the testimony of a single complainant since dismissed, as hon. Members have said, as a fantasist. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) about the number of officers, where they parked and the other factors involved in the case. The Henriques report says that it was entirely wrong to wait 10 months for the investigation to be dropped. In addition, Henriques questions the police tactics in obtaining search warrants for Lord Brittan’s and Harvey Proctor’s homes.
We have to ask who in the team conducting the search on Lord Bramall’s home questioned the ethics of entering the house of someone in their 90s in the way that they did. This was someone nursing his terminally ill wife. The police spent 10 hours in that house, many of them dressed in forensic suits, causing great distress to the ailing Lady Bramall. They took personal items out of the house and did not return them for a very long time. What kind of appalling groupthink existed in that team? I understand the medical term for it is cognitive dissonance. We have seen this in hospitals that have declined to see terrible figures on mortality. We have seen it in other organisations. I suggest it was prevalent in the Operation Midland team. Was there—is there—an adequate whistleblowing system that would have allowed someone properly to raise this?
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), who secured this debate. He made an excellent speech. In many of our public services, including our most secret intelligence services, there is a system for people to raise concerns, but the system clearly failed in the case of Operation Midland.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) rightly talked about the pendulum swinging. The police were appalled at the attacks that had been made on them for their failure in the Savile case and they swung the other way. But did anyone lose their job over the treatment of people like Lord Bramall, Lord Brittan and Harvey Proctor? Such high-profile people who are still alive are articulate and able to make a powerful case on their own behalf, whatever the privations they have suffered as a result.
On that point, I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent speech. Someone was in charge of this. Someone was providing the leadership for the teams and exerting the judgment, issuing instructions and orders, and yet no one has been held accountable for the dreadful way in which it was being done.
As my right hon. Friend’s grandfather might have said, who was in charge of the clattering train? But it is not just about famous and well-known people. What about the teacher, the carer, the social worker, the fireman who are treated in this way? Blame lies not just with the misguided officers behind so many of the failures in Operation Midland. The climate was perpetrated by—I will name him—the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) and others, who fostered a conspiracy theory culture around many of the investigations into the individuals.
The hon. Member for Rochdale was right to mention the loathsome people behind Exaro, the news website that put innocent people’s names in the public domain. It is hard to credit that the initial failures of the search and the delay in announcing that the inquiry had been dropped were compounded by the official letter Lord Bramall received, which was very churlish in its conclusions. It just said there was insufficient evidence to merit continuing the inquiry, and that further investigation could take place if more information came out. That was sent to a 90-year-old war veteran, with his dying wife in the house. What kind of mindset prevailed in the organisation?
I want never again to be ashamed of any action taken by the police force in any part of the country. I revere the police and firmly agree that they have a most difficult job; but the way things were done in the case I have outlined is deeply worrying to all of us who believe that fairness before the law is this country’s greatest virtue. I hope that the Minister will understand the strength of feeling that means he needs to hold the police force to account.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on his powerful speech. I entirely agree with everything that was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames). He was absolutely right when he focused on the issue of common sense. I should not want to be a police officer, and no doubt a police officer would not want to be a politician; but Operation Midland is not the police’s finest hour.
I think that there are five colleagues present in the Chamber who have been in this place since the time when those who were accused were parliamentarians; so most of us knew those individuals. Of course, it is not for us to judge the rights and wrongs of whatever they were accused of. Lord Bramall, about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) spoke, is someone for whom I have the highest regard. It is unforgivable that his wife died without knowing that the accusations against her husband were false. The way the raid on his home was conducted was a disgrace. The late Lord Brittan was a fine Home Secretary and a great European Commissioner. When I heard of the allegations against him I just could not believe them. It is, again, unforgivable that he died without knowing he had been cleared of the allegations.
However, I want to focus in my speech mainly on Harvey Proctor. He was the Member of Parliament for Basildon first, and then Billericay, from 1979 to 1987. I was elected for Basildon in 1983 and Harvey Proctor then became the MP for Billericay. As a newly elected Member of Parliament, elected under extraordinary circumstances to a House that was very different from the way it is today, I was grateful for all the help and support that he gave me. I speak as I find; he was perhaps the least materialistic Conservative colleague I have ever known. His reputation as an assiduous constituency Member still holds good today. It was a shock when, in May 1987, in the first week of the general election campaign, there was a trial and Harvey was convicted of an act of gross indecency; he was fined £1,450. Suddenly, in the first week of the campaign, there was a new Conservative candidate, the late Teresa Gorman.
I think that Harvey paid a heavy price for what he was found guilty of in 1987. I have been in correspondence with the Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, to see what could be done about the charges. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex for what he and others did to try to rescue Harvey’s career, which had been destroyed. So it was a shock when, in March 2015, Harvey’s home at Belvoir was raided. Between 1987 and 2015 I had rather lost contact with him and it was after some years, at a caravan rally at the Duke of Rutland’s estate, where he was the manager, that we met. I was reminded—we are all busy people and we forget about things—how his life had been destroyed; he was haunted by what had happened in 1987. Harvey was, of course, accused of rape and murder, and has been acquitted.
Sir Richard’s report, which is excellent, makes 40 recommendations. I want to end by saying that I am tiring of Ministers responding to debates with what amounts to saying they cannot do anything. In 1983 they could do something, so how is it that 33 years later Ministers seem to be so powerless? Surely a word could be said, or a message could be sent. As far as Harvey Proctor is concerned, his life has been destroyed; he is more than entitled to compensation, as indeed the other victims should be.
Early one morning in March 2015, one of my constituents opened the front door of her home in Wensleydale to find a group of police officers standing there, with a warrant to search her house. Having lost her husband of 35 years just weeks before, she watched while the officers upturned every inch of the home they had shared. She told me it was
“like seeing your house burgled in front of your eyes”.
My constituent is Lady Diana Brittan, and her husband Leon was once my constituency’s representative in this House.
By any measure, Leon Brittan was a great man. Our nation’s youngest Home Secretary since Churchill, he helped to guide the country through the long night of the miners’ strikes. As Secretary of State for Trade, he played an instrumental role in creating the World Trade Organisation and, as Britain’s EU Commissioner, he won the nickname “Bulldozer” for his immovable commitment to UK interests. In pursuing what he knew to be right, regardless of who told him otherwise, Leon soon proved that he had, in spirit at least, been a son of Yorkshire all along.
However, in the last year of his life, when he was dying from cancer, he received a phone call from the Metropolitan police. He was told that he was to be investigated for an allegation of rape some 48 years old. The phone call was made despite the fact that the officer in charge of the case described the investigation as “grossly disproportionate”, and despite the fact that, as the Director of Public Prosecutions would later confirm, the case “at no time” met the necessary threshold for a realistic prospect of conviction. No one is above the law. It is of course right that the police should vigorously pursue allegations of criminality. However, in the case of my constituent it is clear that the Metropolitan police committed grave errors. As the Select Committee on Home Affairs said, the police acted in fear of
“media criticism and public cynicism”.
That is not a proper basis for police operations. The pursuit of justice is not an exercise in public relations.
Commissioner Hogan-Howe is to be commended for initiating the excellent independent Henriques review of the Met’s performance. However, the report is damning and lists more than 40 different failings, of which I will touch on three. First, current police guidance dictates that officers must “believe” a complainant’s allegations and that complainants should be referred to as “victims”. That is a dangerous principle. It flies in the face of the most fundamental principle of our justice system: that an accused is innocent until proven guilty. It goes beyond the reasonable requirement that officers should treat any allegations seriously and respectfully, and it creates a mindset where investigators may be tempted to fit facts to an accusation rather than approach their investigation with an open mind. It was precisely such thinking that led officers allegedly to mislead a judge about the credibility of a witness, thereby obtaining an unjustified search warrant and causing my constituent Lady Brittan so much distress.
Secondly, there were serious shortcomings in the way that the Metropolitan police interacted with the media. Our laws rightly preserve the anonymity of the accuser for sexual offences. Yet for the accused, our protections have repeatedly proved inadequate. Current police practice of confirming to the media the age and location of suspects is clearly incompatible with the police policy that suspects should maintain their anonymity until charged. For Leon, whose long years of public service made him easily identifiable, anonymity was lost well before it should have been, with devastating consequences. Lady Brittan, who was a dedicated magistrate, described to me how she and Leon, who was then in the late stages of cancer, were chased down narrow Yorkshire lanes by photographers and how their daughters fended off journalists outside their home. I appreciate the delicate arguments involved in considering statutory pre-charge protection of anonymity, but the failings of Operation Midland provide a compelling case for review.
Lastly, and most unforgivably of all, the police failed to inform the Brittan family that they were no longer pursuing their investigations. They found the time to inform the complainant, but it was not until nine months later that Lady Brittan read in a newspaper what she had known all along: that her husband had done nothing wrong. That delay meant that Leon died without ever seeing his innocence confirmed. It is shameful that the man who led our police force through one of its most challenging periods found himself so poorly repaid at its hands.
In conclusion, I have no doubt that if Leon, with his fierce intellect, had been standing in my place today, he would have made a far better case than I ever could. However, foremost in his mind would have been that the lessons must be learned, and learned properly. No one should ever suffer the injustice that he and his family have had to endure.
Thank you, Mr Streeter. I will not attempt to take up any more time than I have been allocated; I am keen to hear what the other Front Benchers have to say. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on bringing this sensitive and difficult topic to the Chamber. It is not easy to take the position that he has taken on this matter, and I recognise his bravery for doing so.
I will start by bucking the trend and praising the police—although obviously not in the context of Operation Midland. In my experience, the police in all four nations of these islands do a terrific job, and we should not forget that. This seems to be an isolated incident, and it is right that we express concern about it and try to tackle it.
Like most Members in the Chamber, I believe two things in this respect. First, I believe in the presumption of innocence. I am a lawyer, so for me that is a cornerstone of a civil society and the rule of law and it ought never to be discarded. Secondly, I believe that child sexual abuse is the most heinous crime that human beings have ever committed against other human beings. It is a heinous crime not only to be committed, but for someone to be accused of if they have not committed it. We should remember both those things. It is the only crime for which I could possibly justify reinstatement of the death penalty—clearly not in cases where people are innocent, but it is the most appallingly disgusting crime.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I have just said that I appreciate that child sexual abuse is the most heinous crime not only to commit but to be accused of, and I have certain personal sympathies with Mr Richard’s position that there should be anonymity before charge. That debate is ongoing, and it is right that we have it. I do not disagree at all that child sexual abuse is the most heinous and appalling crime to be convicted of, and I have sympathy with anyone who has ever found themselves in that position.
I suppose the public will watch debates such as this and think to themselves, “What on earth was going on 20, 30 or 40 years ago?” The allegations made in the context of Operation Midland could not be proven—rightly so, it seems—but we have had other high-profile cases such as Savile, and we now have allegations involving football players and clubs. It seems that when two or three victims, or complainants, have the courage to come forward, that unlocks a Pandora’s box that no one thought was there. Although the points that the hon. Member for Aldershot made are steeped in sense, the danger of this debate is that we somehow appear to be protecting our friends and pals. If we do that, it will completely put off more victims from coming forward, and if they do not come forward, we will never understand the scale of what seems to have happened in a time about which I quite frankly cannot understand what I have seen and heard over the past few years.
The hon. Gentleman made a fantastic and powerful speech, and I was struck by the recommendations that he made. I was interested in his points about 3 Hare Court chambers—which I used to work with, incidentally, so I trust its advice. I was quite perturbed and distressed by the words “if they exist”. Clearly, in Operation Midland, it was difficult to prove that Nick was telling the truth, but if we in this place start taking that attitude—“Do victims exist? Should these allegations be believed? Are they spurious?”—we will put a lid on people being brave enough to come forward and describe such allegations, so that we in society can face up to what people did years ago, which none of us would suggest we have any part in.
That is the main point that I wanted to make. I was going to comment on some other speeches—I have been impressed by all the speeches—but I am keen to hear what the other Front Benchers have to say. I conclude with a note of caution: although it is right that we have this debate, we should be very clear and careful about the message that we send out. Presumption of innocence is one thing, but I would rather have a debate about the thousands of people all over these islands who have been sexually abused—not by the gentlemen investigated by Operation Midland, granted—and who never had the courage to come forward. I would like those people to come forward so they can finally get justice. That is what I would prefer to be talking about.
May I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) and all other Members on their passionate and interesting speeches? May I also say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter?
The report’s findings are extremely serious. They relate to the poor conduct of the police investigation and the breach of the police’s own guidelines on the anonymity of suspects, which have caused the Met to be in crisis. However, people’s focus is changing, and there now appears to be more attention on the credibility of rape and sexual assault victims. There is no evidence in the report to support a blanket change in policy for the treatment of all victims, which would run counter to all the evidence and the positions of all stakeholders.
Rape Crisis England and Wales says:
“The vast majority of survivors choose not to report to the police. One significant reason…is the fear of not being believed.”
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children carried out a series of focus groups with victims of Jimmy Savile to identify common themes that prevented those victims from reporting their abuse to the police at the time and to explore how the police could improve their management of the reporting process and subsequent interviews and contacts. In all those groups, a key reason victims gave for not disclosing abuse was their overwhelming belief that if they had done so, they would not have been believed. Those who did not report abuse cited feelings of shame, guilt and a fear of not being believed, as well as feeling intimidated by Jimmy Savile’s profile, as their reasons for not telling anyone. Status and position must not be a shield against investigation. We have heard a lot about loss of income and livelihoods. If just one case is proven, that is one child’s childhood that has been taken.
The Met has made very serious errors. The detail of the Henriques report should be used to strengthen police procedures for both investigation and the treatment of suspects. It cannot and must not be used to downgrade the seriousness of allegations of rape or sexual assault—crimes that are already woefully under-reported and have low conviction rates. Victims fearing that they will be doubted only serves to prevent reporting and to degrade those victims. There must be no move backwards by the police to make matters even worse. There must be no return to the abysmal treatment of victims or lack of seriousness in investigations, or to the police denigrating victims or denying them their rights.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, especially as you have effectively encouraged colleagues to intervene on me. Thank you for that.
As others have done, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) on securing this debate, and I thank him and others for the points that they have raised about this serious matter. I am grateful to all hon. Members for the quality of the debate, which shows Parliament at its very best. This subject is difficult and can be sensitive, but they have made their points clearly. I was going to say that if there is anything I do not touch on due to pressure of time, I will write to hon. Members, but I think we should have time to cover everything thanks to the tight speeches from the Opposition Front-Bench Members.
One of the difficulties with a debate such as this, as a couple of Members rightly mentioned, is getting the balance in the system, and understanding that there is a balance, that finds the correct line between making sure that people can come forward as complainants or victims—there is an issue about the definition of victims, which was raised by hon. Friends and is in the Henriques report—and judging that against the rights of the individual, ensuring that we have a system in which people have the freedom and confidence to come forward to make complaints in the first place.
One of the things the police force should be proud of—we should all be proud of this—is that we are seeing a rise in recorded crime, with the two main causes of that being the improvement in the quality of recording crimes and the number of people who have had the confidence to come forward that was not there before. We need to ensure that we retain that while we ensure that the police and criminal justice system have the credibility we all want them to have so that when an allegation is brought forward that has no substance and no finding, the police deal with it effectively and efficiently as well. I will now come to that issue, which is at the core of the debate.
I want to be clear at the outset that I am not going to defend—nor could I—the actions of the Metropolitan Police Service in this case. We in Government share the deep concerns that hon. Members have articulated so clearly during the debate and those about the Metropolitan police’s handling of non-recent sexual abuse allegations, including Operation Midland. The Metropolitan police’s credibility in dealing with child sexual exploitation generally was highlighted and clearly shown to be well below the standard it should be in the recent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which, to quote Sir Tom Winsor, is about the worst report that it has ever written about any police force in the country.
We recognise the anguish felt by those who had their reputations traduced by allegations that were subsequently discovered to be unfounded, and I empathise with them. To be unjustly accused of any crime, and, as the hon. Members for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) and for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) outlined, especially of a crime such as this, is a terrible experience for any individual. For that trauma to be exacerbated by police failures and behaviour is an affront to our criminal justice process and it should not happen.
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, to his credit, was right to ask Sir Richard Henriques to carry out the independent review, but now he must stand up to the findings of that review. It sheds a light on the errors made by his force in carrying out the investigations. He has been frank in acknowledging the failings of the Metropolitan Police Service, and he, and I would say also his successor—I hope that he will deal with this so that it is not an issue for his successor to pick up next year—must not shy away from a proper consideration and response to Sir Richard’s recommendations or from taking all action necessary to ensure that that litany of errors never occurs again. I do mean all action necessary, and I will come to the detail of that in a moment. It is imperative that that is done without shying away from it at the earliest opportunity.
The Metropolitan police are now consulting on the recommendations with the National Police Chiefs Council, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the College of Policing and statutory and voluntary partners in the criminal justice system. I urge all parties involved in that work to consider the recommendations swiftly and decisively. They must learn the lessons from the failures. Investigations into allegations around sexual offences must be carried out professionally and appropriately for both parties.
Having benefited hugely from particular kindness from both Field Marshal Lord Bramall and Lord Brittan, may I suggest, as colleagues have, that it is not just about learning lessons? Those who were responsible for the disgraceful behaviour on the day and the failure to follow up afterwards must be identified.
My hon. Friend makes a good point that the review deals with. I will come specifically to that in a moment.
This problem will not go away. Reports of child sexual abuse are increasing year on year and our public must have confidence in the system and that their police force—whoever and wherever that is—will handle those cases appropriately. However, again, that works both ways. Members have noted the case of South Yorkshire police and Sir Cliff Richard and how that was dealt with. That is a great example of how to do it badly and in a way that brings the entire police force into disrepute.
In order to wield the power, the police have to take investigations forward properly and appropriately; they have to understand the adage that with great power comes responsibility. At what point could anyone take the view that it is appropriate to carry out a raid with the BBC or any media outlet in tow?
My hon. Friend may be aware that there have been changes in the leadership at South Yorkshire police, and work is being done there to look at how they act. One of the other things we are doing to ensure that action is taken more widely nationally is to look at some issues that the Home Secretary has raised. I will come to that in just a few moments.
Today I have spoken to the national policing lead, Simon Bailey, who will be coming to see me before Christmas to discuss the recommendations of the review and the work that the police are doing more generally in response to these serious issues. There is also the issue of compensation for those who feel that they have been poorly treated and who have seen their reputations tarnished by the Metropolitan police force. As Members have said, that is important.
Of course, as we have taken power from the centre and moved it into police forces, it is for the Metropolitan police to address any claims for compensation that arise from the report’s findings and the general issues around such cases, particularly the Harvey Proctor case. I am sure that the House will agree that money cannot give someone back their previously unsullied reputation; nor can it give back the months, if not years, of anguish and turmoil they will have suffered. It does however at least provide some recognition of failure and responsibility, and recompense for the cost that people have suffered. That is something on which the police must focus. I am seeing Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe next week, when I will raise that issue and what the Metropolitan police are doing in that case. I assure the House that I will treat these matters with the utmost seriousness in raising them with him, and indeed in the conversations that I will have with the national police lead.
The Minister has rightly talked about maintaining the right balance, and he is making a powerful speech. However, if a member of a team going to search an individual’s house knows that what they are being asked to do is intrinsically wrong, what mechanisms exist in the police? I am mindful that the police have to maintain good order and discipline and cannot have people questioning them and going to the press, but there must be a hierarchical system in which an individual can say, “This is wrong. Something has to change.”
I will come in a second to how the police should be dealing with those issues and going about their investigations, but, in terms of something happening whereby a member of the force sees something is wrong, in the first instance we should have a police service in which any member within it has the ability and confidence to come forward to the hierarchy of that service with a complaint and an outline of where things are going wrong. However, going beyond that and realising that we live in the real world and that in some hierarchical organisations, no matter how much we want it to be different, people feel that they cannot do that, in the Policing and Crime Bill that is going through Parliament we are giving more power to the Independent Police Complaints Commission so that it can take things up directly to give better protection to whistleblowers.
Detective Chief Inspector Settle did precisely that. He said that he thought the inquiry should go no further. What happened to him? Basically, he was destroyed. I do not think any legislation that my right hon. Friend can put on the statute book will remedy what has happened, which is a failure of leadership in the Metropolitan police.
The Minister is helping the debate, but may I pursue the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon)? Rather than having to go to the extreme of whistleblowing and making a formal complaint, why cannot someone say to their leading officer, “What on earth are we doing? Who told you to do this? Why are we doing it? Explain it.” I can do that with my Whips. Why cannot they do that with their inspectors?
I am sure that the members of the Government Whips Office will be delighted to hear that my hon. Friend feels rightly confident in having that conversation with them. He is right; that is exactly what should happen. However, through the Policing and Crime Bill we are trying to recognise that from time to time, as much as I wish it were not the case, there may be an officer who feels for whatever reason that they cannot go down that route and effectively act as a whistleblower. I will come on to how that should be handled going forward in more detail in just a few moments.
I will turn to some of the specific issues raised during the debate, but hon. Members will be aware that I cannot comment in detail on some of the specifics of Operation Midland, or indeed on individual cases associated with it. It is inappropriate for the Government to comment on operational matters such as those. Additionally, I am sure hon. Members are aware that action is being taken by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which I will outline, as a result of some of the failings identified in the review.
Five Metropolitan Police Service officers, ranging from a detective sergeant through to a deputy assistant commissioner, have been referred to the IPCC. Indeed, the individual who originally made the allegations that Operation Midland focused on is also being investigated by an outside force for attempting to pervert the course of justice. To that end, I hope the House appreciates that I am constrained by various ongoing proceedings, but I am happy to continue and to outline some further wide-ranging points.
On the publication of the report, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot referred in his opening remarks, I believe that there should be a presumption in favour of transparency in a situation like this. It is to the commissioner’s credit that he commissioned this report, and I will discuss his plans for publishing it when I see him next week. There is a balance to be found between considering any legal implications of sensitive and confidential material in the report and publishing that material, which is an issue I know the commissioner has to look at. I will discuss that with him next week. In the first instance, we and the Metropolitan police should look to be as transparent as possible.
I understand the views of Sir Richard Henriques and Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe on whether the police should “believe” all victims. I cannot be clearer on the matter than by reiterating the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who was then the Home Secretary. She said that the police should focus on the credibility of the allegation, rather than on the credibility of the witness or victim. That has to be right, but as was said earlier, it works both ways in terms of how the police deal with these issues.
The position of the National Police Chiefs Council—I spoke to Simon Bailey about this earlier today—is that officers and staff must approach any investigation without fear or favour, and must go where the evidence takes them. I understand that Simon Bailey clearly made the point to Sir Richard Henriques, as he was putting together his report that outlined how many claimants’ allegations tend to be baseless, that once the victim has come forward, that case and its investigation must be undertaken without fear or favour to get to the bottom of whether that allegation is correct. If it is, it should quite rightly be followed through to its finality, which the police are required to do by the code of practice of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996.
The evidence of the victim is just one part of an investigation; “believing” victims, or even referring to them as such at the point of disclosure when recording the crime, as opposed to complainants, should not and must not interfere with that. However, we need a system under which people who believe they are a victim feel confident and free enough to come forward in the first place. I am sure we all wish to see that continue. As with the rest of Sir Richard’s recommendations, I know that the Metropolitan police, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs Council are looking closely and carefully at that, as they must, in order to respond fully.
Lord Dear made an important interjection on this issue in the other place. He said that the loss of the Police Staff College has had an impact on decision making and leadership. Does the Minister agree, and are there plans to put something like it in its place?
I understand why Lord Dear made that point; I met him recently and he outlined his thoughts. However, we now have the College of Policing, which is working to make sure that we have the standards and the sharing of best practice in place. That is exactly what the college is there for.
The Home Secretary recently announced the development of a licence to practise for child sexual abuse investigators, as hon. Members outlined earlier. That will ensure that only qualified officers are carrying out those complex investigations and in the correct and appropriate way, and are hopefully dealing with some of the issues raised earlier. As a Government, we have done more than any other to lift the lid on what are heinous crimes. We have acknowledged the painful treatment endured by victims and by those wrongly accused. We have to make sure that we get that balance right. Similarly, we have to acknowledge the pain endured by those who have suffered sexual abuse and whose voices went unheard for such a long time. We saw that with the revelations relating to Jimmy Savile several years ago, and we are sadly seeing it again now with the appalling scale of allegations of abuse within football, as was noted earlier.
Child sexual abuse is a despicable crime. We have to do everything in our power not only to prevent it from happening but, where it happens, to root it out, deal with it and bring people to justice. We have been consistently clear that, where abuse has taken place, victims must be encouraged to come forward and have their allegations reviewed thoroughly and properly investigated so that people can be brought to justice. Again, that has to work both ways. To have confidence in the system, both the victims and the accused must have confidence that they will be treated with respect and will be brought to justice where appropriate.
In the case of Operation Midland, the Metropolitan police is clearly guilty of serious errors, as we heard earlier. Those failures must not be allowed to undo so much of the good work that we and they have done in recent years in giving that confidence to victims, survivors and the wider public to ensure that the police take these crimes seriously. Victims should—and increasingly do, as we have seen with the football scandal—feel able to come forward, to report abuse and to get the support that they need. In ensuring that that continues, we must not turn a blind eye to when the police get it wrong. In this instance they got it wrong, and they must stand up to that.
I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot for raising these important issues in such a powerful way, along with other right hon. and hon. Members. I hope that I have been able to assure hon. Members on the Government’s position; I will update them further following my meetings over the next week.
I am most grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. It has been a seminal debate and has been very powerful and useful indeed.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Richard Arkless) that child abuse is the most heinous crime. That is why it is so serious for those who have been falsely accused; it is the most heinous crime. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) was also absolutely right that accusations must be investigated, and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) said that the police must not be intimidated.
That is common ground among us all, but I think the hon. Member for Rochdale was right when he said that the pendulum had swung too far the other way. We know of the ghastly things that happened in his town; blind eyes were turned to the most heinous of crimes there, which must never be allowed to happen again. The issue is getting the balance right, which we have to do. I think that the guidance has to change. I cannot believe that we can carry on, as is required at the moment, having to believe people making these sometimes very wild accusations.
It is important that the point made by Sir Richard Henriques is taken on board—that some people in public life, particularly entertainers, are especially vulnerable to fantasists’ made-up accusations. In winnowing out all of these cases, it is important to recognise that some people may themselves be the target of fantasists who are interested simply in making money. I readily understand, as Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said in his February article in The Guardian, that investigating these cases is exceptionally difficult. However, this debate has illustrated that the pendulum has gone too far, and that the police have to adopt a different standard. They must call people “complainants” and not “victims”, because otherwise they have prejudged the case at the outset.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for his comments. I am delighted that he is meeting Chief Constable Bailey next week, because the issue is the nomenclature and the police’s approach to these claims. I particularly welcome his meeting next week with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and his belief that compensation, particularly in the case of Harvey Proctor, must be resolved before Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe retires. That is a precondition, and I hope that my hon. Friend will reinforce that message and secure that result. I end by thanking all hon. Members for taking part in the debate, and by reminding them that this inquiry has cost the British taxpayer between £2.5 million and £3 million.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10 (6)).
Legacy Issues: Northern Ireland
[Nadine Dorries in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered legacy issues arising from cases in Northern Ireland.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I think all of us agree that the Northern Ireland peace process has surpassed all expectations. Who could ever have dreamt 20 years ago that we would see in the Northern Ireland Administration both Democratic Unionist party Ministers and Sinn Féin Ministers? It is in everyone’s interest that the peace process continues and endures.
I will say something about the legacy. I remind colleagues that 3,500 people were killed. Of those, 2,000 were killed by republican terrorists, 1,000 were killed by loyalist paramilitaries and 368 were killed by security forces. In total, 722 members of the security services were killed, which includes 477 serving British soldiers. The overwhelming majority of those deaths were fully investigated. The vast majority of wrongdoers were brought to justice. A very small number remain unsolved, and I understand the desire of some of those victims’ relatives for closure. However, we have to be cautious. We simply cannot get away from the obvious fact that these events took place many, many years ago, and much of the evidence has disappeared.
In 2010, the Police Service of Northern Ireland set up the historical inquiries team to look at various cases. I understand that it completed investigations into 1,615 cases. It then set up the legacy investigation branch in January 2015 to look at the remaining 923 cases. Of those, 379 were republican cases, including 228 so-called on-the-runs, 230 were loyalists, and 283 were security forces. The active caseload is eight republican cases, one loyalist and five security forces. That means there are 911 cases outstanding. This could go on for many years. So far, the cost has been £33.2 million.
The cases are split pretty evenly between republicans, loyalists and security forces. However, I believe strongly that there cannot be any parity or moral equivalence between paramilitaries and terrorists and members of the armed forces. Those brave members of the armed forces were doing their duty, wearing the uniform of the Crown and working to keep the peace. We should not forget that the Army was originally called into Northern Ireland to restore order and to protect Catholics. The vast majority of those soldiers were young people, conducting themselves invariably to the highest possible professional standards and following the Yellow Book. The terrorists and paramilitaries, on the other hand, had one simple plan and aim in life: to kill and injure.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He clearly outlined the case for British soldiers who courageously, energetically and within the law did their job to an exemplary standard. Does he share my concern, as many people in Northern Ireland do, that at 60 or 70 years old, these men are thrown to the wolves? Does he think that should happen?
In that context, may I mention Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings? He served in the same squadron as a very dear friend of mine—an extremely brave soldier. A terrorist was killed in an incident in which three soldiers were involved. He is the only one who is still alive. How can he ever have a fair trial?
My hon. Friend anticipates what I am coming on to.
In the Province, 1974 was an incredibly difficult year. A large number of people—just under 300—were killed. It was a very tough and challenging year indeed, with a number of serious incidents. Colleagues will remember the M62 coach bombing, when 12 people were killed by the IRA. They will remember the Provisional IRA bomb that exploded outside the Houses of Parliament, injuring 11 people and causing extensive damage. They will remember the Guildford bombings, carried out by the IRA, and the Birmingham bombings. During that summer in the troubled Province, the Life Guards—one of the most senior regiments of the British Army—were deployed to Armagh, Dungannon and Cookstown. They had a very tough tour, with predominantly young soldiers on the frontline who were under a great deal of pressure but at all times behaved with the utmost professionalism.
I want to look at the Army report of some incidents that took place around that time. The report states that the threat level against the Life Guards in the areas around Dungannon and Armagh was particularly high. All patrols had been warned to take special care. A number of shooting incidents involving the Life Guards had occurred close to Eglish, and it was generally believed that the unrelated non-fatal shooting of a soldier from the Life Guards on 4 June was in direct retaliation to an arms find in that area. The same day, a Life Guard foot patrol surprised a group of young men who were in the process of transferring weapons into a car in the village of Eglish. The patrol was fired upon, and an exchange of fire took place. Three men were arrested, and a quantity of arms and explosives were recovered. At least three gunmen escaped.
During that particular incident, Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) referred, was mentioned in dispatches for his exemplary bravery and leadership. Two days later, Dennis Hutchings led a patrol of four men in a follow-up operation aimed at locating further arms caches near the village of Benburb. They chanced on John Pat Cunningham, who was challenged to give himself up—he was behaving in a suspicious manner. The patrol believed they were threatened. They opened fire and, as we know, John Pat Cunningham was tragically killed. It transpires that he was not a terrorist but an innocent civilian. It was a tragic case of mistaken identity.
That incident was investigated fully by the Life Guards. It was investigated by the military police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Director of Public Prosecutions. The four patrol members were completely exonerated and cleared, and the regiment believed that was the end of the matter. If we fast-forward to 2011, Dennis Hutchings was staggered and flabbergasted when he was investigated by the PSNI historical inquiries team. A comprehensive investigation took place at the time. He co-operated fully and was told, after a short period, that no further investigations would take place because there was no case to answer and the whole matter could be closed. He specifically asked whether that was the end of it and was told that it was, so he went back to his retirement, to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and got on with his life.
We now fast-forward to April 2015, when there was a dawn raid on the corporal major’s house in Cornwall. By then he was in very poor health. He was arrested, taken to Northern Ireland for four days of questioning and then charged with attempted murder—of course, a charge he vehemently denies. After 42 years, there are no witnesses left. The three other members of the patrol have died. There is no forensic evidence. There are no weapons left.
I was certainly taught at law school that one of the key tenets of criminal justice is the need for credible, current and corroborated evidence. It is beyond belief that he has been charged. There is no conceivable way he could ever receive a fair trial without proper evidence. These charges fly in the face of all the basic rules of criminal justice. We are seeing an outbreak of revisionism. We cannot simply revisit cases from 42 years ago and try to reinterpret them through the prism of the 21st century, with its emphasis on human rights.
The hon. Gentleman might take comfort from the Secretary of State’s words last week at Northern Ireland questions, when he said that
“the system is heavily focused on the 10% rather than the 90%, and the balanced, proportionate measures that I put forward will assist in changing that.”—[Official Report, 7 December 2016; Vol. 618, c. 199.]
That gives me a certain amount of comfort.
What has changed? There is no new evidence, but what has changed is that the DPP in Northern Ireland is now Barra McGrory, QC—the same person who represented Martin McGuinness in the Saville inquiry. This is the person who is prepared to move away from credible evidence to political decision making, which I find very worrying. It has to be stopped. There are potentially 278 more cases involving the security forces. I do not want any more veterans to be dragged out of their retirement homes any more than I want Sinn Féin councillors to be dragged out of council chambers.
Has the hon. Gentleman not hit the nail on the head? This is not about opening cases to find out who is guilty or not guilty. It is about political revisionism, rewriting history, and trying to move the blame from the terrorists to those who served their country faithfully. The Government ought to get a grip on this now and say, “No more.”
I agree entirely. I will quote what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said back in October. She said that
“we will never again in any future conflict let those activist, left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave, the men and women of our Armed Forces.”
Furthermore, in a letter from my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, dated 15 November, to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), he said that we
“‘will always salute the remarkable dedication and courage of the RUC and our Armed Forces in defending the rule of law and in ensuring that Northern Ireland’s future would only ever be determined by democracy and consent. We will never forget the debt we owe them…we will also never accept ‘equivalence’ between the security forces and those who carried out acts of terrorism’.”
I submit in conclusion that we have to find a way forward. We have to draw a line under this. We have to see the scrapping of the legacy investigation branch. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that he look at what happened in South Africa. If he does not want to scrap the legacy investigation branch and put a line under this, could he look at something along the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and amnesty committee that South Africa set up so successfully? The alternative does not bear thinking about. It would represent a betrayal of our armed forces and a tearing up of the military covenant, and could imperil the entire peace process.
I represent the home of the British Army and have constituents in their 70s and 80s who still await a potential knock at the door. My hon. Friend has made a powerful speech. Does he agree that what is being done will seriously damage the morale of British troops? If they feel that their Government are not prepared to stand by them, they will think, “What is the point in putting my life on the line for my fellow citizens?”
Thank you, Ms Dorries. I am very pleased to be speaking in the debate, and that the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) initiated it and put the argument so eloquently. I must declare that I was a Household Cavalry officer a long time ago and therefore I have a great deal of interest in this case. When I heard about it, I wrote to every Lord and every MP, to the Secretary of State for Defence and to the Minister for the Armed Forces, and I have spoken with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on two occasions and to the Minister, who I am glad is here today—but all to no avail. All I have really had, all the way through, is the straight bat: “This is an ongoing investigation. Sorry, we can’t speak about it,” or “It’s all part of a future legacy deal.”
I sometimes think that society has gone mad. On 11 November every year, we remember those who died in conflict as their fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen march along, thinking of the horrors and the great heroic moments that they shared, past cenotaphs throughout the United Kingdom. That is what we mark on that day, yet cynically I look at that now and think, are they all walking past and wondering when their day is coming—when will there be that knock on the door, when will they be called to answer for something they did when they were doing their duty?
I would like to remind everyone that the British Army went to Northern Ireland to keep the peace and, in time, found itself fighting the most vile and horrendous conflict with terrorists. We are thankful to all who served—I said that in my maiden speech—and we must remember them, and all the work that they have done, all the time.
We have heard that more than 3,000 people died between 1969 and the Belfast agreement in 1998, but many people out there still want closure and, at the same time as all this, we must find a way of getting closure for them. Our sympathy must go to all those who have lost loved ones and especially to the Cunningham family, whom we are talking about today.
The Secretary of State said in September that the approach to legacy should be fair, balanced, impartial and, crucially, proportionate. It is vital that no one is above the law, whether they are security force personnel or paramilitary, and many people feel that there can never be an amnesty of any kind.
What we are concerned with is that the approach to the past is disproportionately focused on state actions. The basic facts that we have heard are that 90% of the deaths during the troubles were a direct consequence of terrorist groups and only 10% were the responsibility of the state. I have heard in a response from the Assistant Chief Constable that out of the 2,538 cases being investigated, 88% are republican or loyalist and 315 are security force cases. We asked about the detail, and we have already heard the numbers. Going through at the moment are 14 cases: eight republican, one loyalist and five security force cases. That is 36%, not 10%, so it is not proportionate. Of those referred by the DPP—four of them—all, 100%, are security force cases, and one of those is that of Corporal Major Hutchings. Do we really think that that is proportionate?
The Hutchings case is one example of where scrutiny has been applied to the security forces in a way that has not been allowed for others. John Downey was able to blow up the Household Cavalry in 1982. He was given a comfort letter and let off. That is completely wrong. We seem to have lost our sense. Lady Justice Hallett said that this was a clear distortion of our justice system, so the justice system knows about it. We must do things better and find a better way of going forward.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) on securing the debate and on a passionate speech. I also congratulate the hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) on his contribution.
It is evident that for many people, the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past continues to cast a dark shadow over the present. I am conscious that in approaching this issue we need to recognise the terrible loss suffered by so many people during the troubles, in Northern Ireland and in other parts of the United Kingdom. As has been pointed out, over the period of the troubles— broadly, from 1968 to 1998—more than 3,500 people were killed, mostly, though by no means all, in Northern Ireland. Many of those were members of the armed forces, killed in the line of duty protecting the public and maintaining the rule of law. Thousands were also maimed or injured during the terrorist campaigns.
This Government have always been clear that we wholly reject the suggestion that there is some equivalence between the security forces and those who carried out acts of terrorism. Terrorism was and is wholly wrong. It was never and could never be justified, from whichever side it came, republican or loyalist. No injustice, perceived or otherwise, warranted the violent actions of the paramilitary groups. The terrorist campaigns caused untold misery and suffering, and the terrorists left lasting scars, physical and psychological, in the wake of every atrocity that they carried out. We will never agree—I repeat that we will never agree—with a version of history that seeks to legitimise that.
The Government have also shown that where the state has got things wrong, we are prepared to face up to and account for what we have done. I say this as someone who has served in Northern Ireland. As a proud member of the British Army, I witnessed at first hand the remarkable dedication, professionalism and courage of the armed forces and the officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Does the Minister not see that with the hounding of individual members, whether in cases in Northern Ireland or what we see with soldiers who face enemy fire in Afghanistan and Iraq, that is exactly how soldiers perceive it—that they are not stood up for by their own Government?
I will come to the issue around proportionality, but I went to Northern Ireland to maintain law and order. I said I saw people acting bravely and professionally, but if I saw somebody doing something wrong, I would expect the state to challenge those individuals and bring them to account. We cannot have one set of rules and have another set of rules for another set of people. Proportionality, which the hon. Member for South Antrim raised, is really important. I will come to that in a second.
More than 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives over the period of Operation Banner, which was the longest continuous deployment in our country’s history. Over 7,000 awards for bravery were made and, quite simply, without the dedication and self-sacrifice of the security forces in keeping people in Northern Ireland safe, the circumstances that enabled the peace process to take root would never have happened.
I will briefly talk about the case of Dennis Hutchings. First, I recognise that Dennis Hutchings was a senior NCO in Her Majesty’s forces. I met the proposer of today’s debate last month after he raised the case of Mr Hutchings in Northern Ireland Question Time in October. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk on that day:
“Criminal investigations and prosecutions are a matter for the police and the prosecuting authorities, who act independently of Government and politicians.”—[Official Report, 26 October 2016; Vol. 616, c. 270.]
I cannot, therefore, comment on this individual case.
Forgive me, but that is simply an unacceptable answer from a Minister of the Crown. I am sorry, but this is what we hear. We heard in the previous debate that it was an operational police matter. We are now told that this is a matter for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. This is a matter of public policy. We have heard that Corporal Major Hutchings was told that the matter was closed. Now, in his dotage, it is being reopened. Ministers cannot pass this responsibility to the police force. This is a matter of public policy and the people of Britain—particularly those with whom the Minister formerly served in the armed forces—will expect Ministers to stand by it and not simply pass the buck to the police.
May I respectfully say that I am not going to get into the debate over Mr Hutchings? Actually, the process of law in this country is that politicians and Government do not get involved. There is a department for prosecutions, a criminal process to go through and a police service that must be allowed to pursue its inquiries. We cannot create one set of rules for one part of society and another for another part of society. I will briefly address the issue of proportionality, which is the most important.
Does the Minister understand that many people in Northern Ireland and elsewhere are perplexed and confused about the fact that the PSNI is pursuing people, such as the gentleman who was mentioned, in a disgraceful way, yet senior members come on the radio and cast aspersions about all sorts of people, saying they are involved in criminal activity, and yet do nothing about it? They are talking about active people. Is that not the dichotomy? Is it not disgraceful that people who served their country are being pursued, while police say they know all about the activities of others and are doing nothing about it?
I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s point. This issue of proportionality is really important and that is why the Secretary of State and others have sought to find a mechanism, because the present situation creates the challenges that people are talking about at this time. We need to find another way that brings proportionality to the system and enables people to feel justice on both sides of society.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been generous in taking interventions. I welcome his last statement about looking for a new way forward, but does he accept that although the decision to prosecute is independent, the manner in which it is carried out—raiding the house of a great-grandfather with police cars, thus giving away his address and all the rest of it—can be commented on? Indeed, we just had comments on the Met from our right hon. Friend, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, a few minutes ago in another context.
I expect the police to always maintain a high standard when they go to arrest somebody, and I am sure that every Member here would as well.
I want to talk about proportionality. As has been pointed out, 90% of victims were as a consequence of terrorist interventions. The proposals that are out there, which the Secretary of State would like to consult people on, are around how we ensure that those accused, from both the state side and the republican side, are brought before the courts and examined in a proportionate way. The proposals are that each case would be examined chronologically. There will be a conclusion within a period of five years, to give people some closure and some idea of timescale.
From what the Minister said, I assume he accepts that there is not proportionality within the legacy investigation branch at the moment, given that for places like Enniskillen—the explosion in the poppy day bombing—there is not one police officer investigating that case.
The next line that I was going to read states that the almost exclusive focus on the actions of the state is disproportionate and must be challenged and redressed if we are to deal with the past in a way that is fair and balanced and allows victims and survivors to see better outcomes than the current piecemeal approach. That is why the Government continue to believe that the Stormont House agreement institutions remain the best way forward in dealing with Northern Ireland’s past.
I believe that these proposals will make the situation better for victims and survivors, and will be the only chance we have of prosecuting terrorists who murdered soldiers and police officers along with other innocent victims. I believe that the historical investigations unit, a body proposed under the Stormont House agreement, has a number of important advantages over the current system. I reiterate that it will investigate deaths in a chronological order. The HIU will not focus on the deaths caused by soldiers, as the investigations systems in Northern Ireland do today. Instead, it will take each case in turn and will investigate the many hundreds of murders caused by terrorists, including the murders of soldiers. Honourable Friends, it is estimated that without reform of the current mechanisms, around 185 murders of soldiers, not to mention the many murders of RUC members, will not be investigated. There will be a statutory duty for the HIU to act in a balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable way. The HIU will be time-limited, as I said, with an objective to bring to an end all investigations into the past in five years.
I have outlined the reasons why the Secretary of State announced his intention to move forward into a public phase on legacy bodies, and why he and I have been engaging extensively with political parties and victims groups to find a way forward in these outstanding cases. I believe that this approach has the potential to build greater confidence in the new bodies and to resolve the remaining issues. It is clear that the status quo is not working well enough for victims and families, and it is time that progress is made. This should create a more proportionate approach in dealing with the past and ensure that the balance of investigations is rightly on the terrorists who caused so much pain and suffering, rather than disproportionately on the brave soldiers and police officers who sacrificed so much to protect us.
Question put and agreed to.
Local Government Funding: Birmingham
I beg to move,
That this House has considered local government funding for Birmingham.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Ms Dorries. I asked for this debate because social care services in Birmingham are on the brink of collapse. Public libraries and parks are likely to become a thing of the past and children’s services, which we are supposed to be improving, are braced for swingeing cuts. This is no less than political vandalism; some people in our city are set to experience the most severe and catastrophic consequences of deliberate Government policy.
The core spending power of Birmingham is set to reduce by 5% at a time when some Tory-led authorities have received funding increases of almost 8%. Last February, the Secretary of State announced a hardship fund of transitional money worth £300 million for councils facing the sharpest reductions in grant, but not one penny went to Birmingham. It went to places such as Conservative-led Bromley, Conservative-led Kingston upon Thames, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. How exactly does the Minister justify that state of affairs?
This is not the first year that Birmingham has experienced such a situation. There is a pattern and, on top of that, the councils that get a higher percentage increase also have a lower dependency on core funding. Birmingham is therefore being hit disproportionately year after year.
My right hon. Friend has anticipated a point that I will make later about council tax, but she is absolutely right: this situation is not new and there is a pattern.
The simple truth is that we are suffering from a legacy of unfairness in our city. Part of that dates back to the 2014-15 and 2015-16 settlements, and as a result the chickens are now coming home to roost on the Minister’s watch. Birmingham, the second city in the country and home to more than 1 million people, is also the second-hardest-hit by Government cuts in the whole country. How is that fair?
Most people would expect a Government Minister to acknowledge the special factors in Birmingham that ought to be taken into account: most of our properties, as I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) indicated, are in council tax bands A, B and C, which means that we have a lower council tax base than many other places. We are therefore more heavily affected by the withdrawal of Government grant and raise proportionately less from council tax or precept rises. We suffer from classic big-city issues. Infant mortality is almost 8%—almost double the national average—and life expectancy for men and women is eight and five years shorter respectively when we compare the most affluent and poorest areas. Birmingham is ranked No. 1 in the country when it comes to the total number of fuel-poor households. We should consider Birmingham’s predicament in that context.
This year we expect a £30 million shortfall in the social care budget; that is after the council has followed the Minister’s advice and slapped an extra 2% social care council tax precept on our long-suffering residents. Because extra funding from the social care precept is skewed towards more affluent areas until resources from the improved better care fund become available, we estimate that Birmingham will be disadvantaged to the tune of £98 million in terms of social care come 2017-18. An obvious crumb of comfort that the Minister could offer today would be to say that he will meet us to consider how resources from the better care fund could be used now to recognise the fact that social care spending pressures are being experienced now.
It is not just council services that are teetering on the edge of disaster as a result of deliberate decisions by the Government. Our police have suffered successive cuts to personnel and resources. Just the other day, the chief constable admitted that more than 170,000 calls to 101 went unanswered because of staff shortages. Our NHS is crippled by bed-blocking, rising waiting lists and the spectre of deficits, as well as a sustainability and transformation plan designed to further reduce access to some services.
I have no doubt that, at some point, the Minister will quote his estimate of the city council’s spending figure, as his officials did when they briefed the press earlier today. It is all very well to quote big-sounding numbers from spreadsheets, but what experience does he have of taking an enterprise that is responsible for over 1 million people and slashing its budget by more than £750 million? That is what the Government have done to Birmingham. Health visitors warn that the budget cuts are putting safeguarding at risk. Children’s centres are to be cut so severely that only those who can pass through the super-deprived gateway can expect any help or support. Nurseries, despite the Government’s care offer, are bracing themselves for closures and a massive reduction in services.
The council has almost halved its workforce. More than 12,000 jobs have been lost—those are real people and real jobs. Homelessness prevention services have had to be cut by so much that rough sleeping in Birmingham has quadrupled. On 29 November, a homeless man froze to death on the streets of our city on one of the coldest nights of the year. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), who is not exactly unfamiliar with the city, said at the time:
“I think one person homeless is one person too many so you have always got to do more.”
As the Minister knows, the relentless period of cuts means that we have now reached the stage at which the council has to reconsider the Supporting People budget. I am sure he knows that the sole purpose of that budget was to fund accommodation-related support, particularly supported housing. In 2009, it was his Government who removed the ring fence on the Supporting People budget. We are talking here about homeless young people aged 16 to 25—about care leavers. Elsewhere in this building today, the Minister for Vulnerable Children and Families is telling Members about his seven principles for childcare, which he describes as the heartbeat of his plans. How will that work if there is no supported accommodation for those young people?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and I have every sympathy for what he says, because Coventry has experienced the same thing. Importantly, it was only some weeks ago that a private Member’s Bill was approved in this House and we were being assured that homeless people would be found accommodation. However, we never got a price tag put on that.
My hon. Friend makes a good point and he is exactly right. It is difficult to see how the Government can say they are doing a great job with the homelessness reduction legislation if its effect will be to impose more duties on local authorities that are unable to fund their existing proposals for Supporting People.
I am concerned about young people, older people with support needs, those with learning disabilities or mental health needs, and the victims of domestic violence. If there is a cut in budgets for Supporting People, all that help is at risk. It will lead to a reduction of provision and a further reliance on the costly unregistered and unregulated sector. Is that what the Minister wants? I commend the Birmingham pathway model for under-25s to the Minister. I understand that it is seen as a national exemplar and has been used to inform the work of his Department in establishing a framework for all other services for single homeless people. Why would he want to stand by and see it close down?
The Minister might want to remind me of the council’s failings and suggest that its members should put their own house in order, rather than complain to the Government. I acknowledge that Birmingham is under scrutiny. We have had: an independent review of education and the appointment of a Government commissioner for education; an independent review of children’s services and the appointment of a children’s services commissioner; and the Kerslake report into the structure and functioning of the council itself, and the appointment of a Government improvement panel to oversee the implementation of the recommended changes. How many meetings has the Minister had with those commissioners and members of the improvement panel since being appointed to his post? Does he consult them weekly or fortnightly? What is the frequency of the contact? Surely he cannot be defending this dire approach to our city’s future without reference to his own appointed experts. Would that not be tantamount to a dereliction of duty on his part?
We want a fundamental re-evaluation of spending needs to determine the funding levels of different local authorities, and we want a fair system, not a skewed or fixed one. We want recognition of some of the unique problems that confront Birmingham and an offer of some transitional support while that re-evaluation takes place. I can try to be helpful to the Minister, if he is in any kind of listening mode. I am not simply calling on him to give the city council more money. I am open to discussions, as are a number of my colleagues—any place, any time—to see what kind of partnerships, innovative approaches and pilot schemes might be available to help to ease the plight of our city and its people. As I have indicated, the Minister might like to consider bringing forward resources from the better care fund to recognise that pressures are being experienced now. I am open to suggestions about how that extra funding might be distributed. My concern is that those in desperate need get help. If the Minister has set his face against giving any extra money to the city council, I will accept an alternative approach to boosting the overall social care resource if he is ready to make that offer.
The Birmingham Social Housing Partnership has made a proposal to Government to pilot a locally administered co-investment model for supported housing, which would make possible the squeezing out of transactional costs. If agreed, it could be part of a national pilot for the delivery of supported housing. Can the Minister offer any comfort on that front today?
If we do not see some improvement in the financial situation facing our city, I predict dire consequences: the abandonment of the elderly, vulnerable and homeless; the full-scale closure of libraries, public parks and play areas; the second city reduced to a wasteland; and a breakdown of the social consensus on which the very basis of our community exists. Our city has had an extremely raw deal. I beg the Minister to treat these warnings seriously.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairwomanship, Ms Dorries.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) on securing the debate, not least because, as he said in his powerful speech, but two weeks ago a young man froze to death on the streets of Birmingham. Who are the young homeless? One in 10 young people in Birmingham over the past five years have suffered from homelessness. Half of those in homeless accommodation are young people. I, for one, object sometimes to the caricature of those young homeless people as somehow being druggies, drunks and dropouts. I remember when we organised, here in the House of Commons, the first ever Youth Homeless Parliament, and there were Brummies here from the YMCA and St Basils. We saw quintessentially middle-England young people whose lives had spiralled downwards and who had ended up homeless on the streets.
The Secretary of State said, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak mentioned, that one young homeless person dying on the streets was “one too many”. He went on to say that we always have to do more. That is why, only yesterday, co-ordinated by St Basils, the charity for homeless people in Birmingham, 14 organisations supporting the homeless in Birmingham wrote to the Government calling for a fair settlement for Birmingham. They praised Birmingham City Council for having protected, thus far, the most vulnerable from the biggest cuts in local government history, and said that, thus far, Birmingham City Council had managed to protect the Supporting People budget, unlike many other local authorities. However, they went on to say that it was now becoming increasingly difficult, concluding that there was a social and financial line that should never be crossed. But that is exactly what is happening.
Only today, Alan Fraser, the chief executive of the YMCA in Birmingham, has warned that further cuts to the city council’s budget, with particular reference to Supporting People, will
“massively increase the risks of these deaths happening again.”
He is right.
The chief executive of Birmingham City Council, Mark Rogers, in a powerful interview, today said something similar, saying that the risks of more people dying were “massively increased” because of the cuts. He is right. That is why it is wrong that the great city of Birmingham—Britain’s second city—has been hit by a combination of the biggest cuts in local government history on one hand, and grotesquely unfair treatment on the other. Mark Rogers, a man who is normally cautious in the way he expresses himself, said in the interview:
“We are fast reaching the point where there could be catastrophic consequences for some people.”
That is little wonder, in circumstances where the council’s employee headcount has halved since 2008 from 24,000 to just over 12,000. The council will, by the end of this financial year, have made £800 million of cuts since the era of austerity, which, I stress again, was the biggest in local government history; the council lost 50% of its grant from central Government. Eligibility for social care has been restricted so that only those with substantial or critical needs now receive help.
What we are seeing increasingly in Birmingham—this is heartbreaking—are those 15-minute flying visits to people in need of care, who previously were able to count on something very different and much better. Another £28 million has just gone from the adult care budget. The combination of what is happening in the health service and in the council has led to a £150 million black hole in the city’s finances this year. This is a tough year but, on the current trajectory, things will get even worse in the next financial year, with a further £113 million reduction to the city council’s budget on top of the previous £800 million.
Mark Rogers talks about cuts to youth services. Birmingham used to pride itself on being an exemplar city with its programmes for young people. There were dozens of youth services, but there are now just two left. Birmingham had 40 advice centres in 2010; now there are just four. There is also an increasing impact on children’s centres. Half have gone and, as my hon. Friend said, only those in what are sometimes described as super-deprived communities get the support that people were previously able to count on through the excellent Sure Start children’s centres.
On the very survival of some nursery schools, I took the heads of our four nursery schools in Erdington—Castle Vale, Osborne, Marsh Hill and Featherstone—to meet the Minister with responsibility for nurseries, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), and they waxed lyrical, as do the people who use those nursery schools, about how they have made a difference to children’s lives. The best way of achieving social mobility is addressing what happens at the ages of two, three and four. I heard powerful stories, including from the grandad who said, “He never used to open his mouth. He was only in the nursery school for nine months, and now he never stops talking.” I heard how the kids have come on and about the support being given to the parents. The idea that some of those nursery schools, which are in a deprived community, now face closure as a result of the continuing budget cuts is absolutely unthinkable.
On the one hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak is right that in the past we said that the council had to up its performance, but on the other hand, the argument that this is all due to the council is completely false because of the sheer scale of what has happened. Indeed, in a stark warning today, the chief executive said that the imposition of large cuts is not simply a response to the 2008 banking crisis:
“Deficit reduction enabled first the coalition and then the straight Tory government to pursue a straight Tory objective of a smaller state.”
He is right, and it is not just that; it is the grotesque unfairness of approach.
After we went to see the Minister and had a good hearing, the nursery school heads were utterly dismayed to see that the outcome of the funding formula review was that Birmingham got less but—surprise, surprise—Maidenhead got more. Overall, Buckinghamshire is being treated twice as fairly as high-need Birmingham. The scale and unfairness is simply wrong.
The previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), a man with whom we had good discussions, admitted to the Members of Parliament for Birmingham earlier this year that there had been an unfairness of approach. We were led to believe that it might be put right but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak said, the £300 million fund overwhelmingly went to leafy, Tory shires. Not a single penny went to Birmingham, despite the sheer scale of the cuts that have been taking place.
As Members of Parliament for the city, we wrote to the Chancellor in advance of the autumn statement to make a series of proposals—I will not repeat what my hon. Friend has already said—including bringing forward the better care fund, greater investment in health and, crucially, a fair local government settlement. As Members of Parliament, we stand ready to engage with the Government on the next stages, but it cannot go on like this, with the Government seemingly oblivious to the sheer scale of what is happening and the sheer scale of the consequences for our city. That is why this debate is so important in asking that the Government hear the city’s case before the local government settlement.
I am proud to represent my Erdington constituency, and I always say that it may be rich in talent but it is one of the poorest in the country. It is a stark statistic that a person who gets on the train at New Street and gets off at Gravelly Hill or Erdington is likely to live seven years less than a person who continues on to Four Oaks in the leafy shires of Sutton Coldfield. That cannot be right. When such appalling statistics and discrepancies show the sheer scale of what is happening in the city, it cannot be right that our nursery schools and children’s centres are at risk—I stress again that they are vital to giving kids the best start in life.
Home-Start supports struggling families locally, and its services are desperately needed. I have seen its outstanding work first hand, but it is now living from hand to mouth. As a consequence of what has happened to the Supporting People programme, the financial security of New Oscott retirement village and the Ralph Barlow house, which look after those in the twilight of their years and those who are vulnerable for one reason or another, is being fundamentally undermined. The Members of Parliament for Birmingham appeal to the Government to hear the case of Birmingham and to recognise that the sheer scale cannot continue because of the serious implications. The time has come for fair treatment of a great city.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Dorries—everyone has said something different. I have just come out of the debate on Aleppo, and a Government Member who served in the armed forces stressed that perhaps we would not be so ready with some of our suggestions had we seen some of the things that he had seen. I express exactly the same sentiment here. If some of those in the Department for Communities and Local Government, including the Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), had seen some of the things that I have seen in my work with the homelessness services in the city of Birmingham, they would not have made the decisions that they have made in the past six years and are continuing to make.
The people who use those services rely on them for their lives. Compare that with the money we spend on other things. I have seen people’s lives saved. These people are not just about managing; they are surviving. Without the refuges, without the St Basils youth homelessness service and without Sifa Fireside—I invite the Minister to sit and eat breakfast with me every morning at Sifa Fireside—we are condemning these people to death with a cut of £5 million to £10 million in Birmingham City Council’s budget for those services.
I am not shroud-waving. I am an expert—I know we do not like experts any more—and I know what even half the proposed budget cut to our current Supporting People services will mean. It will basically mean that the services cannot function any more. There are 4,000 victims of domestic violence in the city of Birmingham. Already, every single day, hundreds of people in our city are turned away from specialist services. We are about to start turning away many more.
On average, there are 97 homelessness applications in our city every single day. We used to have services all across the city where people could go to get help and advice, which reduced the number of homelessness applications. I set up some of those services. Birmingham & Solihull Women’s Aid used to provide specialist support in each of our neighbourhood offices so that there was a specialist, not a checkbox, there when a victim of domestic violence came in needing support for their housing. Those specialists have been gone for about two years; the centres they were housed in no longer exist.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) began his powerful comments on the subject of social care. I put in a freedom of information request to every single council in the UK, asking how much they spent weekly on adult social care in care homes. In Birmingham, the spend is £436 per week. That is £100 less than it costs the care homes in my constituency to care for the people who need adult social care, so the poorest people in our country are paying a top-up fee. In Buckinghamshire, the weekly cost provided by the council is £615; in Richmond, it is £805.
Yesterday, I asked the Care Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), do the nans and grandads, the aunts and uncles, the mums and dads in Buckinghamshire and Richmond matter more than my nan and grandad, than my mum and dad? Because that is what those figures tell me—and that is post-precept. Those figures show an already widening gap, where some people matter and some people don’t. That is what is being created all around the country.
How does my hon. Friend think the situation will now unfold, given that the funding gap in social care in our city grows to something like a quarter of a billion pounds by 2020-21? Never has a social care system had to withstand this kind of pressure. The situation that she describes is only the beginning.
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. There is a huge gap, and it is widening. Care homes in my constituency often get a bad name when we see “Panorama” documentaries about how awful care homes are, but the ones in my constituency are largely not for profit. Yardley Great Trust and Grey Gables have both told me that given the situation with the social care budget, the simple fact is that they will have to close their doors. Where do the people go who live there?
The social care budget problems will not be solved in Birmingham by a further increase in the precept. It is a sticking-plaster on an enormous wound and it will simply put a burden on those who are just about managing, when the percentage of their income that goes on council tax is far higher than for those at the highest end of society. I am not sure why I should be asking those who are just about managing, to pay that price. Perhaps we could ask Andy Street.
What my FOI request revealed about the social care budget is its clear and stark unfairness. Since I came to this House, I have heard an awful lot of Government Members talking about the stark unfairness in schools and education funding—“They are getting loads more money,” and so on. Those calls have been answered by the Government; incidentally, it has meant staff reductions in my constituency, and in my own children’s school. My son’s class will now have 33 children, exceeding the legal limit. I have watched Ministers stand at the Dispatch Box and say, “It isn’t fair that children in Knowsley get this much.” Well, I am here to speak up for the old people of Birmingham. My children are paying the price because this Government are righting a perceived unfairness in education funding. I am asking for my unfairness to be righted, and for social care disparities to be addressed today. The problem is not going away; it is a problem now, and it must stop.
What I would say about all the different people sent into Birmingham City Council—rightly so; I am sure that all of us, as Members of Parliament across the country, have seen our councils do good and bad things and got annoyed at them—is that it seems like moving the deckchairs while Rome burns. Nothing has changed for the end users, the citizens. I ask the Minister to look at the figures—Richmond with its £805 a week, Birmingham with its £400, Coventry with even less and Wolverhampton with £350—and tell me that he thinks that is okay.
Thank you, Madam Chairperson. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) on securing this debate and making such an excellent case on behalf of the people of Birmingham. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on adding to it with their comments.
I apologise, Ms Dorries. I feel frantic that my city faces a shortfall in its budget next year of £150 million. That could well lead to the closure of children’s centres, leisure centres and libraries and, as has been said, cuts to care services. I feel doubly affronted that the Government have a transition fund of £300 million, yet not one penny has gone to Birmingham. Furthermore, 83p in every pound of that £300 million has gone to Tory shire counties. That is not fairness; that is great injustice.
Reference has been made to what the chief executive of Birmingham City Council said in his front-page interview with The Guardian today. He said that Birmingham faces a “catastrophic” situation if nothing is done, and that youth services in Birmingham are virtually non-existent. Birmingham is the youngest city in the country. It has a huge population of young people, many of whom are Muslim. What does the Minister think the effects will be if youth services in Birmingham cease to exist? Where will those young people go? The Government are rightly concerned about radicalisation among young people, but if they do not have centres to go to where they have the opportunity to mix with young people from other communities, play with them and enjoy life with them, they will be more and more vulnerable to the small percentage of people within their communities who seek to radicalise them.
Birmingham has had more arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 than any city in the country. Only this week, two people in Birmingham were given long sentences for funding the Brussels bombing attacks. If the Minister wants to prevent young people from becoming radicalised, he must give them not only hope but facilities. If a city such as Birmingham has virtually no youth services, as the chief executive said, I fear the consequences.
I am sure that the Minister is an honourable man, but I remember that the Tory Secretary of State Nicholas Ridley said in the 1980s that local councils needed only two meetings a year—one to hand out the contracts, and the second to review them—and that local government did not really need to exist. I very much hope that the Minister will give some assurance that he does believe in local government and that he does believe that Birmingham City Council has the problems that have been outlined today; because if he does not, there will be consequences, and the people of Birmingham will know exactly who is to blame.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) on securing it, on making such a detailed, determined and effective speech on behalf of his constituents and on defending his city as he did. I also acknowledge the contributions of my right hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), and for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr Godsiff), who supported my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak today and who each sought to defend and make the case for the people of Britain’s second city.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak set out the scale of the cuts that have hit Birmingham —some £90 million in 2016-17 in total. After Liverpool, Birmingham is the local government area hit hardest by the Government’s funding cuts: some £750 million has been cut from its budget since 2010. He went on to point out very powerfully the failure of the Conservatives to ensure any transitional funding at all for Birmingham in last year’s settlement. Conservative-led Surrey got £12 million and Hampshire got £19 million; those are just two examples, alongside the others he mentioned, of areas that benefited from the transitional funding package, while his city—one of the biggest and most significant local authority areas in the UK—got nothing at all.
I will come back to some of my hon. Friend’s opening remarks, but let me first dwell on the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington. He referenced the impact of local authority cuts on homelessness in Birmingham, and particularly on young people suffering homelessness. He noted the work of 14 charities in Birmingham that support their Members of Parliament today in demanding a better settlement for Birmingham and in praising the efforts of the council to protect the most vulnerable in challenging times.
I do not want to detract from the bigger issue of Birmingham, but I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that other local authorities in the west midlands are experiencing exactly the same cuts to public services—youth services, libraries, teachers, education budgets, social services, you name it.
My hon. Friend widens the debate to the impact of cuts in funding on local authority areas throughout the west midlands. He could also have widened it to underline the cuts in funding that all English local authorities have suffered since 2010. In that context, Thursday’s local government finance settlement will be particularly important, not only for Birmingham and for local authorities in the west midlands but for the whole of England.
If he will forgive me for saying so, my hon. Friend interrupted my praise for the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington, who underlined a number of points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak about the need for further improvements in areas for which the council is responsible. He said quite rightly that that is absolutely no justification for the scale of cuts that various local government Ministers have demanded of Birmingham’s public services.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley made particularly powerful points about the impact of local authority funding cuts on the many victims of domestic abuse in Birmingham. She backed up the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak, and for Birmingham, Erdington on the impact of homelessness in Birmingham and the lack of available support. She underlined the significance of Birmingham’s social care funding crisis, which we will particularly need to focus on when the local government finance settlement is debated on Thursday. She went on to widen the debate from services directly funded by local authorities to other public services. She spoke about the impact on children in our schools of the real-terms cuts in schools funding. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak referenced the impact of other aspects of the funding cuts on the national health service and the police.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green made a series of important points about the impact on youth services, which, when they exist, can offer alternatives to crime and radicalisation. He underlined the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak about the scale of the cuts in youth services that Birmingham City Council has had to push through because of the loss of funding.
Before the debate, we had the chance to read some of the comments made to the media by the chief executive of Birmingham City Council, Mark Rogers. It is impossible for anybody who has read his comments to doubt the veracity of my hon. Friends’ contributions today. He spoke about the
“catastrophic consequences for some people”
in the city of Birmingham of years of cuts that have forced it to slash funding for key services for vulnerable people. He said that the council had
“just two youth centres”
left and that the
“youth service has all but gone.”
The article also states that, according to Mr Rogers,
“homelessness prevention services had been cut by so much that rough sleeping had quadrupled”.
Understandably, he is worried about the impact of cuts in funding on social care and about how fewer elderly people are now eligible for care at home. He is expecting to have to implement £113 million of cuts in 2017-18, on top of the cuts that have been made since 2010. In the context of the much-debated social care crisis, which many Members on both sides of the House have underlined to the Government, the fact that Birmingham is having to look at taking almost £30 million out of its adult care budget will be profoundly worrying to anyone who knows people who are elderly, in need of care or vulnerable in other ways.
We already know from the letter that Ministers sent to councils last year with the details of their funding settlement that the Government increasingly expect councils such as Birmingham to increase council tax by as much as 20% by 2020. Across the country, that is equivalent to an increase in average band E of about £300 a year by 2020. Effectively, the people of Birmingham are being expected to pay 20% more in council tax while getting dramatically lower levels of service. Will they get better street cleaning? Will their bins be emptied more regularly? Will they have a better chance of seeing the elderly people they love get better care? Sadly, the brutal truth is that the quality of services is going down as the Government seek to continue to cut funding.
We are told that Ministers are no longer talking about austerity, but the brutal reality of the cuts in funding that Ministers are still making is that public services will continue to decline. We hope for something different when the local government finance settlement is announced on Thursday.
I begin with an apology on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), who is unable to be here to respond to the debate because of a personal issue. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, and to respond to a Westminster Hall debate for the first time as a Minister. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) on securing this debate and for the passionate way he presented the issues facing Birmingham, as did, indeed, other Members who took part in the debate.
We should remind ourselves of the context in which local government operates. Many of the decisions that have been taken by Birmingham City Council have been taken locally and independently of central Government, although that is not to pretend that the Government have not had a role to play through challenging funding settlements, about which we have been quite honest over the years. We have been absolutely clear that, as councils account for a quarter of public spending, they, too, need to play their part in deficit reduction. No Member present went into the most recent general election offering more money for local government—that was accepted across the various parties.
We have tried to provide local authorities with a fair and sustainable financial settlement. Fundamentally, we have provided councils with a financial settlement that is broadly flat in cash terms, moving from £44.5 billion in 2015-16 to £44.3 billion in 2019-20. Over the course of this Parliament, council core spending will see a decrease of just 0.4% in cash terms. As a result, councils will have almost £200 billion to spend on local services. Birmingham’s average core spending power per dwelling will remain significantly higher than that for many other metropolitan authorities. We must remember that £1,983 per dwelling compares with £1,767 for other local authorities, and is higher than in Manchester and Leeds, which have had to manage similar issues.
Like many other Members, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak raised the issue of social care, which is undoubtedly a massive challenge for the country given the changing demographics. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr Godsiff) asked whether I personally care about local government. I spent 10 years as a local councillor when some of the difficult decisions we are now facing started to be made. Over that period, which was not when we were in government but under a different Government, we saw councils start to change their intervention criteria substantially due to rising pressures. This is not an issue that has developed overnight. We have to be honest that it is a massive challenge for the country to deal with.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, along with others, mentioned NHS funding. It is at a record level, although I do not for a moment pretend that that will necessarily deal with all the issues relating to the demographic shift—the increasing pressures, the increasing number of people going through the system, the cost of treatment, the number of people living with long-term conditions, and all the rest of it—that is putting huge pressure on the social care and health system. I do not for a moment want to pretend that the issues we are discussing are solely related to local government funding, or that they have developed overnight.
The Government are providing Birmingham with £77 million of new support for social care by 2019-20. Over the four-year period, assuming the social care precept is taken up, the figure will be £149 million, but of course I must put that in the context of changing demography and increasing demand. Many other countries in the west are trying to deal with the same issues. We have also delivered to Birmingham, and local government generally, guaranteed budgets to councils for 2016-17 and for every year of the Parliament. Birmingham is among the 97% of councils to have signed up to that. We are looking to have 100% retention of business rates by the end of the Parliament.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak mentioned the independent improvement panel. We have to put many of the decisions that are currently being taken in Birmingham in the context of a failure to deliver on the budgets that we passed and outlined. I welcomed the contribution of colleagues who said that they understood some of the challenges to have resulted from budgetary issues and management in Birmingham. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government had met the independent improvement panel. As it happens, I met one of its members yesterday, as Councillor Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle City Council, was taking part in the independent financial review. As this is not my policy area, I have not met the other members of the panel, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that DCLG officials are meeting them regularly, and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton, has done so on several occasions as well.
I do not want to interrupt the Minister, and I appreciate that this is not his specific policy area, but when Ministers or departmental officials have met the improvement panel, have they heard the panel tell them that it is worried about the level of resources available in Birmingham?
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I have not been in the meetings so I cannot comment on their content. Needless to say, because I was meeting Councillor Forbes yesterday to discuss another matter, I had a brief conversation with him about the issues in Birmingham, but I cannot comment beyond that.
I could list lots of the other investment the Government are putting into Birmingham through local growth deals, which are having a significant impact and transforming people’s lives, but I want to respond to as much of the debate as possible rather than discuss overall investment in the region. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) made a powerful case about transition funding, which was also mentioned by other Members. Birmingham did not get transition funding for the simple reason that it had benefited from the 2015-16 change. The shire counties were the authorities hardest-hit by that change, so the transition funding was naturally focused on them.
The hon. Lady also mentioned school funding. I represent the third-worst—sometimes worst—funded education authority. If she wants to come to Goole in my community, she will also see very high levels of deprivation and huge challenges, but ones that we have to address with many hundreds—
Yes, some of them do. We have funding differences of many hundreds of pounds below the national average, let alone our neighbouring authorities. Nobody owns one particular community. I grew up in one of the poorest cities in the country and attended one of the worst comprehensive schools, and for many years I taught in some of the toughest schools in the country, let alone in the city. I understand the challenges as well as the hon. Lady, as do others on the Government Benches. Some of her comments were a little divisive, trying to set Tory-run shires against Labour-run metropolitan areas. There are huge challenges in many areas. Deprivation and poverty do not necessarily respect local government boundaries.
A couple of points were made about homelessness, which is of course a massive challenge. I cannot comment on the specifics of the funding decisions that have been made in Birmingham, but the Government do take the issue seriously, which is why we have supported the Homelessness Reduction Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). Homelessness is at half its 2003 peak. Birmingham has received nearly £1.1 million in homelessness prevention funding for 2016-17, and we are investing £500 million in seeking to tackle homelessness.
In the short time remaining, I say to Members who represent Birmingham that the Government see solving the issues there as a partnership. It is important that the decisions that need to be taken on financial management in Birmingham are taken. As I have said, other local authorities and metropolitan boroughs have, with less spending power per dwelling, dealt with the very challenging settlements for local government. We want to assist Birmingham in doing the same. We have to wait for the independent financial review, which should conclude in the middle of January, to report so that we can consider matters further.
We are determined to try to get Birmingham, like many of the metropolitan councils, into a position where the budgets that are set are realistic, so that people know what services are being delivered. Plenty of other local authorities, many with much lower funding per dwelling, are not reducing services in the way described today. Key to that is having a budget that is viable and realistic, which is what we hope will come out of this process.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered local government funding for Birmingham.