Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 622: debated on Monday 27 February 2017

House of Commons

Monday 27 February 2017

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

Death of a Member (Father of the House)

It is with great sadness that I have to report to the House the death of the right hon. Sir Gerald Kaufman, Labour Member of Parliament for Manchester Gorton. He will be sorely missed by his relatives, by his friends, by his constituents and by his parliamentary colleagues, not to mention very large numbers of people across this country and around the world.

Colleagues, before Gerald entered Parliament, and after leaving Leeds Grammar School and Oxford University, Gerald worked as assistant general secretary of the Fabian Society and subsequently as a journalist on the Daily Mirror and for the New Statesman. Thereafter, he was parliamentary press liaison officer for the Labour party, working closely with Harold Wilson.

He entered this House, as colleagues will know, in June 1970, as the Member of Parliament for Manchester, Ardwick, which constituency he represented until 1983. Thereafter, and following boundary changes, he represented Manchester Gorton from 1983 without interruption. He was, as we know, the Father of the House. He served in this place diligently, with principle and utter dedication, for well over 46 years.

Under Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, Gerald served as a Minister with responsibility for the environment and subsequently with responsibility for industry. In opposition, he was a long-serving and distinguished member of Labour’s shadow Cabinet, serving as shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, as shadow Home Secretary and, indeed, as shadow Foreign Secretary. Many people will know that he was a prolific writer and the author of several books, not least, and perhaps most memorably, a book entitled “How to be a Minister”.

After he ceased to serve on the Front Bench, Gerald chaired, initially, the Select Committee on National Heritage for, if memory serves, a full Parliament, and then, when the Committee took its new form—the Culture, Media and Sport Committee—Gerald chaired that Committee for two whole Parliaments.

Since 2010, Gerald has been the longest serving Labour Member of Parliament, and since 2015 he has, of course, been Father of the House. In more recent years, I have been privileged to be supported by Gerald on the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, of which he was, if I can put it this way, a highly distinguished ornament.

Gerald was, of course, a passionate, eloquent, relentless, indefatigable campaigner for social justice at home and abroad. I will not pretend that he was always the easiest of colleagues. If you were lauded or praised by Gerald, you doubtless took delight in the experience; if you were attacked or denounced by Sir Gerald, you could be in no doubt on the matter. But there was that fidelity to principle, that commitment to causes and that insistence on doing his duty by his constituents, by his party and by his country.

Gerald will be mourned very widely indeed, and in expressing, I hope on behalf of the House, our condolences to his relatives and friends, I should perhaps just take this opportunity to say to the House that colleagues will have a chance to pay tribute to Sir Gerald later this week.

Oral Answers to Questions

Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Rough Sleeping

If I may, I would like to join you, Mr Speaker, in paying tribute to the late Member for Manchester Gorton. I was always grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for showing us that it is possible for the children of immigrants to treasure their roots while still embracing their Britishness and the active role they can play in public life. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say he will be deeply missed, and my sympathies go to his family and friends.

One person sleeping on the streets is one too many. All too often, support is provided at crisis point. That is why we are supporting 84 projects through our £50 million homelessness prevention programme—an end-to-end approach to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.

May I, too, Mr Speaker, associate myself with your comments regarding the late Father of the House? It is a sad day and a sad loss, and we shall all miss him dearly.

Official figures confirm that rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010, after falling by more than three quarters under Labour. Why does the Secretary of State think that homelessness fell under Labour but has risen so dramatically under the Tories?

The hon. Lady touches on the record of the previous Labour Government. It would be fair to point out that the level of statutory homelessness acceptances was higher in every year of the previous Labour Government, bar one, than it is today. That shows that homelessness, whether rough sleeping or other forms, is a chronic long-term issue that has been challenging for successive Governments. If we can all work together on this and take a more cross-party approach, that can help. The support from Members across this House for the Homeless Reduction Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is a great example of how we can all work together.

Despite the great efforts of voluntary groups such as the King’s Arms project and the Salvation Army in Bedford, Bedford borough is a hotspot for people sleeping rough. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that the measures that are coming forward in the areas where people are particularly at risk of rough sleeping are having the impact intended?

I know that my hon. Friend cares deeply about this issue, which he has raised with me in the past. I reassure him that the Government do take the issue of rough sleeping very seriously. I can point to the recent announcement of the £20 million rough sleeping fund, and also the work we are doing on social impact bonds to find new, creative methods that can also help.

Will the Secretary of State take the short trip up the M5 from Bromsgrove to the Black country, where he can visit the YMCA’s brilliant Open Door project, which finds stable family homes for homeless young people in the area, and achieves phenomenal results, getting the majority into college, into work, and even into university? Will he come and look at that and consider whether he can fund a similar scheme nationwide, because it really does achieve remarkable results?

I join the hon. Gentleman in commending the work of the YMCA in this field, particularly its Open Door project—I would like to learn more about that. It is just these kinds of projects that we want to see more of and provide support for. Our £50 million homelessness prevention fund, which is already supporting over 80 projects, can help in that.

Would not the good efforts of my right hon. Friend’s Department be assisted by a cross-Government strategy on homelessness that would deal with some of the underlying issues such as addictions, in encouraging the Department of Health to support more addiction services, and encouraging the Chancellor to increase the price of super-strength ciders in the forthcoming Budget?

I am pleased that my hon. Friend talks again about a cross-party approach to this very important issue. He highlights the need to look at the causes of homelessness. I think that when any Member of the House comes across anyone who is homeless, they will see that their needs are often complex—it can be to do with addiction, for example, or mental health issues. We would all do well to take those issues more seriously.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the reasons that people end up homeless and sleeping on the streets is the action taken by private landlords, very often in houses in multiple occupation? Will he look at what more could be done to regulate the private rented sector to prevent conditions arising that drive people on to the streets?

The right hon. Lady makes a good point. I do not think that that is the primary cause of homelessness, and nor is she suggesting that, but it is worth looking at it. I hope she will welcome our decision to extend licensing to smaller HMOs, because that can help with the situation.

While there remains much to do, the Scottish Government have pushed ahead with measures to help those who need it most, including the Scottish welfare fund, which has issued grants totalling £116 million since the scheme was established, groundbreaking homelessness legislation and regulation of private landlords and rents. What similar measures have the UK Government taken?

Some similar measures have been taken in England. For example, on the issue of providing enough funding, the last spending review set aside £550 million to tackle homelessness, and I have mentioned the homelessness prevention programme. There is also £100 million for a new programme to deliver at least 2,000 low-cost accommodation places, which I think will also help.

House Building

The Government are committed to building the homes that our country needs. Measures in the recent White Paper will ensure that more homes are planned for where they are needed most and that homes are built more quickly once they have planning permission, and they will diversify the housing market to make sure that it works for everyone.

What actions is the Department taking to ensure that unused public sector land in London is released more quickly for housing development?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of the broken housing market in London. I know that he takes the issue seriously and has done much to help in his own area. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, who co-chairs the London Land Commission, is working on identifying new opportunities to release public land for housing. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) may also be interested to know that the last autumn statement allocated £3.15 billion to affordable homes in London. The Government have done their very important bit; I now expect the Mayor of London to step up and do his.

Gloucester City Council and Gloucester City Homes have put together a strong bid, with my support, to the estates regeneration programme, which will transform the old estates and wards of Matson and Podsmead in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet us briefly to hear our case, and when does he think decisions will be made on the bids?

My hon. Friend is a strong advocate of regeneration for Matson and Podsmead; he has talked to me about the issue a number of times and I am pleased that he has raised it again. My Department has received a number of bids for regeneration funding across England. We will make funding announcements shortly, but I would be more than happy to meet him and a delegation to discuss the issue further.

Will the Secretary of State come to Huddersfield to see how many private sector new homes have been built? Unfortunately they are nearly all for students. Is it not about time that elderly people up and down our country had the right kinds of buildings and homes? Why can more councils not be liberated to build those homes?

One thing that might have helped is if Labour-run Kirklees Council had thought about all the different types of people from different backgrounds who live in the local area when it put together its local plan. The hon. Gentleman may be happy to learn that our White Paper sets out further requirements for all local authorities to make sure that they look carefully at the needs of their area, including those of older people.

May I extend the condolences of the Scottish National party to the family, friends and colleagues of Gerald Kaufman? He made a considerable impact—more than many others ever get to do—during his career, and we will miss his dignity and experience and his contributions to the House.

The right to buy is not just the right to buy, but the right to buy at a discount of up to £100,000. Anne Baxendale of Shelter has said that the

“extension of Right to Buy would jeopardise any potential profit needed for future housebuilding”.

Will the Secretary of State explain why he wants to make it more difficult for people to access truly affordable housing, as built by local government housing companies?

The Government believe that the right-to-buy policy, including in relation to council housing and its extension to housing association homes, is very important. We will continue to back it, and where a tenant does exercise that right we expect that home to be replaced.

Neighbourhood plans have incentivised parish and town councils to build and deliver more houses by giving them 25% of the community infrastructure levy. Given that the levy is subject to review, is there a plan to continue providing that proportion for local parishes and towns?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of neighbourhood plans in getting more ownership of local plans at the local or parish level. That is why the measures we are taking in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to do just that are very welcome. When it comes to the share of the levy, it is very important to maintain that principle.

Will the Secretary of State consider bringing forward legislation in this House to end the practice of land banking? My constituents are fed up with seeing developers sitting on properties or places without any sign of their building the new homes that we so badly need.

In the year to September 2016, 277,000 planning permissions were granted in England, which is a record high since 2007. I share some of the hon. Lady’s frustration. We want those planning permissions to be turned into homes—people cannot live in a planning permission—and that is why our housing White Paper has a number of measures to deal with just this issue.

Prefabricated dwellings are now built to extremely high standards of both quality and durability. Will the Secretary of State be kind enough to accept an invitation to visit Prestige Park & Leisure Homes in Kettering, which is a pre-eminent manufacturer of high-quality park homes, to see how this sort of dwelling might help him to address the housing problems in this country?

I very much agree with the point made by my hon. Friend. We want to see more innovation and creativity in house building in this country, and factory-built, modular, custom-built or prefabricated homes—call them what you will—have an important role to play. I have seen examples of factories in England, such as those in Bedford and Leeds, and I would be very happy to visit one in Kettering too.

Mr Speaker, from the Labour Front Bench, may I fully endorse the full tribute that you have paid to our dear friend and colleague Gerald Kaufman? Certainly those of us who knew him best will miss him most.

After seven years of Conservative failure on housing, we were told by the Secretary of State that his White Paper would be “a bold, radical plan”, yet when he launched it, he said that his top priority was

“a proper conversation about housing need”.—[Official Report, 7 February 2017; Vol. 621, c. 230.]

After new figures showed that new house building actually fell last year, the White Paper was meant to be a plan to fix the housing crisis, so let me ask the Secretary of State a simple question: how many more new homes will be built by the end of this Parliament as a result of the White Paper?

Time and again, the right hon. Gentleman gets up at the Dispatch Box and talks about the failure to build homes when the evidence is very different. He never refers to his own track record: we saw housing starts fall to their lowest peacetime level since the 1920s. The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the White Paper and its reception, so let me share with him some responses to the White Paper. The National Housing Federation called it a

“positive step in the right direction”.

The Royal Town Planning Institute said that it welcomed the measures, which it had “long campaigned for”. Another one—perhaps he can guess where this came from—is that

“yesterday’s housing white paper points us in a better direction… the proposals…show some promising signs for Londoners.”

Where did that come from? The Mayor of London.

All those organisations will be interested in the question that the Secretary of State cannot and will not answer, which is how many extra new homes will be built as a result of what he calls his new measures in the White Paper? In truth, the White Paper was a white flag on housing, especially on help for first-time homebuyers. Home ownership rose by 1 million under Labour; it has fallen under Tory Ministers since 2010, and it is in freefall for young first-time buyers. Given this, why is Help to Buy helping 20,000 people who are not even first-time buyers, and why is Help to Buy helping over 3,000 people who earn more than £100,000 a year? Will he use the Budget next week to target this taxpayers’ help better and do more for first-time buyers on ordinary incomes?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have taken a number of actions since July to boost home building in this country—not just the action outlined in the White Paper, but the £1.7 billion accelerated construction programme, the £3 billion home building fund, the £2.3 billion for the housing infrastructure fund and £1.4 billion extra for affordable homes. The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of home ownership. As a former housing Minister, he should know that home ownership rates under Labour fell from a peak of 71% to 64%. I have another quote—from him—about the decline in home ownership which, word for word, is that

“I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing”.

Midlands Engine

In the past few weeks, the Government have reaffirmed our commitment to the midlands engine, announcing two new midlands enterprise zones—one in Brierley Hill in Dudley, and the other in Leicester and Loughborough. The first ever midlands engine trade summit will take place in Birmingham on 9 March.

As a midlands MP, I am pleased to see a strong and successful midlands engine, as well as the economic benefits it will bring throughout the region. In Northampton, small businesses will be eligible for the £250 million midlands engine investment fund, which will open shortly. In addition, Northampton will benefit from more than £5 billion of investment in midlands transport infrastructure.

London gets shedloads of money for public transport and Manchester has far more miles of tram network than the urban west midlands. As a west midlands MP, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Secretary of State for Transport on extending the tram network massively in the urban west midlands?

As a local MP, the hon. Gentleman will know about some of the work that is going on, especially around Birmingham, to extend the tram network, which could make a big difference. He will also know about our recent announcement of £392 million of local growth funding for the region. There will be more detail shortly, but a large part of that will go to transport projects.

Green Belt: Bury

Our recent housing White Paper underlines the Government’s continuing commitment to the green belt. Local councils should remove land only in exceptional circumstances, and the White Paper clarifies what that means: when they can demonstrate that they have fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting housing need.

When a plan proposes large-scale development on the green belt, as in the case of the Greater Manchester spatial framework, will my hon. Friend assure me that he will carefully assess how realistic the various projections and assumptions are for things such as population growth and household size?

I assure my hon. Friend that the approach that is taken will be robustly tested by a planning inspector in public, and that he will be able to give evidence. My hon. Friend is right that before councils think about releasing green-belt land, they should consider brownfield land, surplus Government land, density and how their neighbours can help to meet housing need.

Plans to build on the green belt in Bury are part of the Greater Manchester spatial strategy, which also affects Flixton in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that Greater Manchester councils should look at using brownfield and other sites in preference to green belt, as he says, and perhaps at increasing density when possible?

I very much agree with hon. Lady. The White Paper sets out clearly what “exceptional circumstances” means. It is a phrase in the national planning policy framework that has not been defined previously. This is about looking at brownfield land, surplus public sector land, density and what neighbouring areas can do before precious green-belt land is released.

Smaller Builders

Small builders tell us that the two key constraints that they face are access to land and finance. Our home building fund includes £1 billion of short-term loan funding for small builders, and our recent White Paper will ensure that councils make small sites available.

I thank the Minister for that answer, because the time it takes to get a site through the planning process is often a challenge for small builders, who are less able to bear the risk involved and the funding required. Will he continue with the reforms he is making to the planning system to ensure that local planning authorities can deal speedily with small sites?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the challenges that small builders face. We plan to boost the capacity of planning authorities by allowing them to increase planning fees. With regard to the designation regime, the Government will take action when councils are not taking sufficient decisions within a certain timescale. I also draw the House’s attention to the new permission in principle regime, which is a way for small builders to find out the planning certainty for a site without their having to do the full preparation work.

My local authority of Flintshire, which is just over the border from England, is building 500 new council homes, which are being constructed by small builders. Is not this approach, which is putting people into housing and creating jobs in the private building sector, a good way forward?

The White Paper is very clear on this point—we absolutely want councils to get back into the business of building homes. There is a huge need for more housing and the more people who are involved in the building of homes the happier the Government will be.

Construction Industry

Our recent housing White Paper sets out measures to increase the use of modern methods of construction in housebuilding. The key is to provide a pipeline of work to encourage suppliers to invest in new plant. We will do that through our accelerated construction and home building fund, and through the growing build-to-rent and custom build markets.

Does the Minister not agree that custom built homes, which can often be built more quickly and cheaply, and often to a higher standard than other types of housing, have a real part to play in solving housing supply issues?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only can homes be built more quickly and with a better environmental performance, which means that they are cheaper for people to live in when they move there but, in terms of the real skills challenge we face if we are going to build many more homes, that is a way of getting new people involved in the building of homes.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting one of the partners of Waugh Thistleton, the architects behind a new housing development at Dalston Lane in Hackney, which uses more timber than any other project in the world. Is cross-laminated timber on the Department’s radar, and what are the Government doing to help to support architects who are exploring this very sustainable material?

It is absolutely on our agenda. The term “modern methods of construction” covers a wide range of different techniques. The key policy area is our home building fund, which provides £1 billion of loan funding for people who are innovating. Too many homes are still built in exactly the same way as they were 100 years ago. We are determined to change that, and I am very happy to hear about the example provided by the hon. Lady.

13. A number of constituents have recently contacted me to express their concern about the quality of new-build homes that are under construction. What encouragement can the Department give to builders to ensure that these homes are robust for many years in the future? (908932)

My hon. Friend is right to say that it is not good enough just to get new homes built. They need to be built well and to stand the test of time. Building inspectors check to ensure that building regulation requirements are met, but we are also considering the recommendations in the report of the all-party group on excellence in the built environment.

At the weekend, we learned that Bovis Homes is to pay £7 million in compensation for poorly built new homes. Will the Minister tell the House what he will do to improve the quality of new homes, including those built by new methods of construction, and to ensure they are built in well-planned communities with appropriate infrastructure? Unfortunately, while the housing White Paper had warm words, it lacked any substance whatsoever on quality and place-making issues.

Despite what the hon. Lady says, there has been a very warm reaction to the housing White Paper from right across the housing sector. I have spent the past week travelling around the country and holding meetings with housing professionals, including, interestingly, Labour councillors, who are very keen to get behind the Government’s agenda to build the homes that Governments of both colours, over 30 or 40 years, have failed to build.

For reasons best known to themselves, about two years ago Reading Borough Council and West Berkshire Council challenged the Government’s policy of assisting brownfield development via vacant building credit. Will the Minister update us on whether the Government are still committed to vacant building credit to release more residential homes on brownfield land?

We are certainly absolutely committed to trying to get a greater proportion of the homes we need built on brownfield land. The White Paper sets out a huge range of different things that we will do to achieve that, but I will happily write to my hon. Friend about the details of the issue he raises.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to new construction methods, but will he confirm to the House that the Government’s commitment to starter homes, which are designed to encourage home ownership, remains undiminished?

Absolutely. Starter homes are an important part of the way in which the Government are going to try to help people to get into home ownership. There are a number of different schemes—[Interruption.] We are not proceeding with a statutory obligation because that reflects the view expressed to us by large numbers of people. Starter homes go alongside shared ownership and the Help to Buy scheme. None of these schemes existed when the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) was housing Minister and did nothing to reverse to the decline in home ownership.

Devolution: England

8. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the effects of devolution deals are felt across England. (908924)

Our devolution deals will support economic growth across the country by devolving powers and, more importantly, funding from this place so that they can be determined by local people. By May this year, 33% of England’s population will have gone to the polls to elect their directly elected Mayors.

As the Minister no doubt knows, two years ago West Yorkshire council agreed a devolution deal for the Leeds city region. Why has there been no progress? What plans does he have to give West Yorkshire the devolution deal it wants, and why the delay?

We have made good on the city deals we negotiated with the Leeds city region. The problem on broader Yorkshire devolution, given that this is a bottom-up approach, is that there has not been agreement across Yorkshire about what form it should take. Some of the hon. Lady’s colleagues have not helped in recent weeks by proposing solutions on a boundary of a nature not within the legal framework.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that—to paraphrase President Kennedy —it is not so much what the Government can do to assist devolution deals, but what devolution deals can do for themselves through strong leadership following the election of effective Mayors?

Absolutely. For an example of the sort of leadership we will require in these mayoralties, my hon. Friend need look no further than the west midlands, where Andy Street is a fantastic candidate who I am sure will be a strong mayor and champion for the west midlands.

I thank the Minister for his continued efforts to keep the Sheffield city region devolution deal moving forward. I understand that the mayoral election will be postponed until next year but that it might be possible in the meantime for local authorities to access the £30 million on offer if they agree to appoint an interim mayor. Will he confirm that that is the case? If so, what criteria will he want to see in place for it to happen?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his unwavering support for the South Yorkshire and Sheffield city region deal. It is a good deal that will deliver funding and powers to South Yorkshire to help to drive forward its economy. We can look at interim mayors if necessary. I assure him that the Government are absolutely committed to the deal and will try to bring it forward as quickly as possible, but with the agreement of the four local authorities in the Sheffield city region.

Northern Powerhouse

In recent weeks and months, we have of course introduced the first northern powerhouse strategy and, more importantly, put £556 million behind it through the local growth funding allocations, with the north receiving the largest proportion from the broader £1.8 billion fund.

I thank the Minister for his recent visit to Pendle and the Government for the £4 million investment that will create more than 1,100 new full-time jobs on the Lomeshaye industrial estate. We have seen strong growth in small and medium-sized enterprises across the north of England in recent years, but what more can we do to help them to grow?

It was a delight to visit the Lomeshaye industrial estate on a wet Lancashire day—is there any other kind?—only the other week, and I thank my hon. Friend for his support for that. On his specific interest in small and medium-sized businesses, just last week I joined other funding partners in launching a £400 million investment fund for northern powerhouse businesses. This will provide loans to businesses of between £25,000 and £2 million, and support our wonderful small and medium-sized businesses across the north.

Small businesses form an important part of York’s economy as part of the northern powerhouse, but businesses are struggling with the new deal on business rates. Overseas landlords are pushing up rents, and that is then pushing up rateable values. What discussions has the Minister had with the Treasury so that in next week’s Budget we will see a fair deal on business rates?

I was in York just last Friday to speak to Make It York and celebrate our funding for the York Central enterprise zones. As the hon. Lady will be aware, business rates bills across the north will be falling, but as the Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have made absolutely clear, we are committed to supporting further those businesses that are hardest impacted by rises. Across the north more generally, however, we will see falls in business rates.

As the Minister knows, the Humber local enterprise partnership was recently allocated £27 million under the growth fund. The two local authorities that serve the Cleethorpes constituency are also members of the Lincolnshire LEP. Will he enlighten us on when their settlement is due?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we recently allocated £27 million to the Humber in the growth deal. It is important to remember that, on a per-head basis, that is more than has been received in large parts of the south of England. We will announce in the coming weeks the Greater Lincolnshire LEP allocations that also cover North and North East Lincolnshire as part of the £392 million package for the midlands.

Business Rates Revaluation: Dover

11. If he will assess the accuracy of the business rates revaluation for Dover district; and if he will make a statement. (908928)

Business rates are based on valuations carried out independently of Ministers by the Valuation Office Agency. My hon. Friend may be reassured to know that the change in average business rates in Dover is largely a consequence of the significant increase in the rateable value of the English side of the channel tunnel.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that very helpful answer. Can he confirm that leaving aside the channel tunnel, which has done very well in recent years and has gone up an awful lot in value, business rates across the Dover district as a whole are down 8%? Will he also look at the case of small businesses and transitional relief as they leave business rate relief?

I can tell my hon. Friend that as a result of the recent revaluation, the English side of the channel tunnel has seen its rateable value more than double to £35 million, which accounts for roughly a third of the local ratings list. If this were excluded, average rateable values in my hon. Friend’s local authority would fall in line with those in the rest of Kent.

It is not just the Dover district that is having these problems but businesses up and down the country, particularly in London and the south-east. I met small businesses in Hackney—not that far from Dover—on Friday. The reality surely is that the system is bust and that small businesses with a small turnover are being hit with huge and unsustainable bills, so what is the Secretary of State going to do to make life better for businesses in Dover, Hackney and around the country?

I think the hon. Lady deserves an answer to that, Mr Speaker. First, transitional relief is in place—it is worth some £3.6 billion—to help businesses across the board, including smaller businesses. Secondly, the extension of small business rate relief will mean that 600,000 companies will pay zero in business rates from April this year. I am sure that the hon. Lady would join me in welcoming that.

Local Housing Provision

12. What plans he has to introduce an alternative method of estimating the number of homes a local area may need. (908930)

As we set out in the recent housing White Paper, we will consult on options for introducing a standardised approach to assessing housing requirements. We will do this at the earliest opportunity, and the outcome will be reflected in changes to the national planning policy framework.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that now that the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk has an excellent local plan in place, it will not be overruled on appeal, so long as that plan is followed? Can he also confirm that the White Paper means that inspectors will now apply uniform criteria when calculating five-year land supply?

It would be inappropriate for me to comment on any particular plan that is in front of the inspectors, but we do want local authorities to put in place up-to-date robust plans, and we want to incentivise them to do so. Once adopted, we want plans to be respected and adhered to. My hon. Friend will know that having that five-year supply in place enables local authorities to protect their areas against unwanted development.

The North East Lincolnshire local plan includes an estimated 13,340 additional homes that need to be built up to 2032—an average of 702 homes a year. The number of homes classified as affordable that are being built in England has fallen to its lowest level for 24 years. Last year in North East Lincolnshire only 150 of those homes were completed, compared with 220 back in 2010—a fall of a third. Can the Secretary of State please explain why after seven years under this Government, affordable housebuilding is at its lowest—

We have put record amounts of investment into affordable homes, and we have listened to housing associations and asked them to clarify what will help them to deliver across the country, including in Lincolnshire. One thing they have asked for is more flexibility in the types of affordable homes that can be delivered, and we have provided just that.

Is it not vital that key decisions on housing targets in a local area are made by councils elected by local people?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. When it comes to planning in this country, it is a very important principle that the key decisions around allocating land for development and making decisions on planning permissions should be led by local areas.

Every area needs housing that is affordable to those on low incomes, but the building of social housing for rent is at a record low. In 2009-10, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) was housing Minister, there were 40,000 new starts, but last year there were fewer than 1,000. Why is there next to nothing in the White Paper that will increase the amount of social rented housing, and why will the Minister not let councils borrow in order to build an adequate amount?

The Labour Government has form in this regard. The number of units available for social rent declined by 410,000 during their 13 years in office. Under this Government we have seen record levels of investment, including the £3.15 billion that was allocated to London alone in the last autumn statement.

Business Rates Revaluation: Pubs

14. What assessment his Department has made of the potential effect of the recent business rate revaluation on the viability of pubs. (908933)

Rateable values are, of course, set independently of Ministers. The approach to the valuation of pubs has been agreed with all five bodies representing the pub sector, including the British Beer & Pub Association and the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers.

Twenty-nine pubs are closing every week, and the industry estimates that it will need to increase prices by 30p per pint to deal with the £421 million rates increase after the revaluation. All small businesses—many of them in my constituency—are in the firing line. Given the public outcry from local businesses, local authorities and even his own Back Benchers, does the Minister agree with Labour that there should be a full review of the operation of business rates?

Pubs and pub-restaurants in Yorkshire and the Humber will see a 4% cut in their rates overall, and many will also benefit from the doubling of small business rate relief. However, as I said in response to an earlier question, the Secretary of State and the Chancellor are continuing to look closely at what further support can be made available to those most affected by rises.

Pubs appear to be the net losers from the revaluation in my constituency. The Government have done an awful lot to protect pubs in recent years. Is this not another example of the need to get a grip on the Valuation Office Agency? It seems to be defying what the Government are trying to do by carrying out rate revaluations which are driving important companies that we value out of business.

As I said a moment ago, the guide for agreeing valuations—I have it in my hand—was agreed with all five groups representing pubs. The picture will vary across the country, with many pubs seeing a reduction in their rates. As I have said, however, we remain committed to trying to help further those on whom the impact has been heaviest.

Needs-based Funding Formula

As it is nearly a decade since the current needs assessment formula was looked at thoroughly, we are currently undertaking a fair funding review to consider how to introduce a more up-to-date, more transparent and fairer formula.

I warmly welcome the review that the Secretary of State has announced. I share his enthusiasm for it, and that of councils in Somerset. What will be its likely structure, and what is the minimum time that it may take to complete?

As my hon. Friend will know, I was in Somerset only last week, helping to launch the excellent election manifesto for that great county, and fair funding was one of the issues that came up. Our plan is that the new formula will determine the baseline funding allocations as we implement the 100% business rates retention programme planned for 2019-20.

My right hon. Friend will know that one of the local authorities in my constituency, Oadby and Wigston Borough Council, is in dire financial straits. It has run itself incompetently, with the result that, with a revenue budget of £7 million or £8 million a year, it now plans to have an annual deficit of about £1.5 million. That is small in the great scheme of things, but in local terms it is hugely important. I know that my right hon. Friend and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), have been looking into the matter, but will my right hon. Friend take a special interest in the council’s management to ensure that council taxpayers are not being mistreated?

I share the concerns of my right hon. and learned Friend. He has written to me and talked to me and my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for local government about this, and I can assure him that we are both taking a special interest in this.

Rough Sleeping

We are investing nearly £250,000 in Colchester and Tendring to identify those at risk of rough sleeping and support them into accommodation. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) for the role he played in the Homelessness Reduction Bill and join in his tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman).

I thank the Minister for that response. May I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), whose Homelessness Reduction Bill will play such a large part in tackling homelessness? As the Minister said, from having sat on that Bill Committee and seen cross-party working in action, does he agree with me that it is by taking party politics out of this issue and working on a cross-party basis that we will tackle homelessness?

My hon. Friend is right, and the Secretary of State said exactly that earlier in our questions. There is a real need not just to invest more money in this crucial area, but also to change the law, to ensure both that we have a full safety net and that we intervene earlier to prevent people from becoming homeless, rather than just at the point of crisis.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the work that Chelmsford City Council is doing to tackle the totally unacceptable problem of rough sleeping in Chelmsford is both innovative and positive?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. I thank him for his personal commitment to this issue and say to him that the work that Chelmsford is doing is being supported by nearly £1 million from the £50 million that the Secretary of State referred to.

If the Department for Work and Pensions cuts housing support, that immediately adds to homelessness pressures for the Department for Communities and Local Government. Does the Minister think that the DWP should go ahead with cuts to housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds in a month’s time, and if not, is he making representations to his colleagues in other Departments to stop it?

This Government have increased discretionary housing payment to £870 million across this Parliament; that is a 55% increase, and thus far 60% of—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady says it is nowhere near enough; 60% of local councils have not taken up their full allocation.

Local Growth

We are supporting local growth through the £1.8 billion local growth fund, £31 million of which was recently announced for my hon. Friend’s local enterprise partnership in the Solent.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Solent LEP has played a key role in delivering the Havant business support fund and the Dunsbury Park business park. Will the Minister continue to support LEPs so that Members of this House, councils and businesses continue to reform to work together to drive economic growth?

Absolutely, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work in securing the funding for the Havant business support fund. LEPs are playing an important role across the country; they are helping to drive economic growth, and they continue to have our support.

Topical Questions

In the past month the Local Government Finance Bill has passed its Report stage and the Neighbourhood Planning Bill has almost completed its passage through the Lords. Our housing White Paper has been published and my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning has been touring the country sharing its bold vision, and I am continuing to meet councillors and council leaders from across the political spectrum to see how we can work together to shape the future of local government.

Councils are rightly using their powers more broadly and competitively. May I ask the Secretary of State and his Department to keep looking at the issues in my constituency, where Eastleigh Borough Council is using commercial sensitivity, public works loans and exempt business to hide behind a deficit, or debt, of £240 million by 2020 and buying unneeded former banks to become libraries? Can the Minister confirm that these details will not be kept from those who voted the council into office?

I am glad that my hon. Friend is shining a light on these issues, which are of concern. She will know that transparency is the foundation of local accountability. We have made councils publish data—for example, on spending, procurement and contracts—online and any councillor who hides information from the electorate should be wary of the power of the ballot box.

With 1 million-plus adults in England with unmet care needs and the head of the NHS warning of the impact the social care crisis is having, does the Secretary of State now agree with, among others, the Chair of the Health Committee today that the Government can no longer ignore the funding crisis in adult social care?

What I agree with is that we must constantly look at what more we can do to support the most vulnerable and those who rely on adult social care. That is why I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the £3.5 billion that was allocated at the last spending review and the announcement that I made a few months ago of an additional almost £900 million for the adult care sector across England.

No one will be surprised by the lack of urgency in the Secretary of State’s response, not least No. 10, so let me ask him another question. The Local Government Association estimates that, taking into account social care, there will be a funding gap of almost £6 billion for critical local services for the people of England by 2020. What is the Secretary of State going to do about that funding gap?

The £3.5 billion that was allocated in the last spending review was more than the Local Government Association set out at that time. Despite that, we have acted, as demand has grown, with the announcement of the additional £900 million. As I have made clear a number of times at the Dispatch Box, this is not all about money; it is also about reform and especially about promoting more integration between the work done by local authorities and the health sector.

T3. With significant housing growth taking place, what steps are Ministers taking to ensure that, when developers run into financial difficulties, the necessary infrastructure is provided and the developments are completed? (908940)

The White Paper sets out a number of measures that we are taking to deal with that situation. First, we have the £2.3 billion infrastructure fund that the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement. Secondly, as I mentioned to the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), we are giving local authorities real power to intervene to ensure that schemes get built out. We cannot just plan for the right number of homes; we need to ensure that they also get built.

Waste collection and processing is currently regulated and underpinned by the EU waste framework directive and the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Local government takes on a great deal of responsibility for waste management and has invested significant sums in bins, fleets, staffing and processing centres to meet those obligations. What certainty can the Secretary of State give to local government on this and on future waste investment plans?

I should like to assure the hon. Lady that we take this issue very seriously. It is a national issue. I have discussed it a number of times with my colleagues, and we want to see how we can take further action. I would be more than happy to write to her about this.

T6. Some local authorities have tendering processes so complex that they appear to have been designed to deter small companies from bidding. For instance, I know of local authorities in Kent that require bidders to complete a wide-ranging pre-qualification form not just once but before every tender is submitted. That is okay for large companies that have dedicated contracts departments, but it is burdensome and onerous for small and medium-sized enterprises. What is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage local authorities to make it easier for small companies to bid for work from them? (908943)

I can share with my hon. Friend the fact that this issue was identified back in 2010 when there was a change of Government. The Cabinet Office has already done a significant amount of work to make it easier for small firms to win procurement competitions, but there is more that could be done. I hope that it will encourage my hon. Friend to learn that, as we go through the process of leaving the EU, we will be taking a clear look at many of the EU rules that can cause those challenges.

T4. The Secretary of State will know the importance to Scotland of EU structural funds, in the form of £1.3 billion of investment that is vital for many of our local communities. The ability to administer those funds is a key component of city deals. Does he agree that the uncertainty about the future of those funds after leaving the EU will have a negative impact on the vital long-term planning that is needed, and that it risks damaging those deals? (908941)

No, I do not agree with that. We have been absolutely clear in our commitment to maintain EU structural funds up until 2020. That commitment could not have been clearer. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is British taxpayers’ money anyway, at the end of the day.

Councils in my area require a definition of housing supply. They do not really worry about the methodology; they just want to know what it is. Could we have some clarification on that? Also, could the Secretary of State tell me whether he thinks the Liberal Democrats are wholly supporting the Government, because no Liberal Democrat has been in the Chamber until three minutes ago?

Ministers have no responsibility for the whereabouts of Liberal Democrat Members—or those of any other party, for that matter. However, the hon. Gentleman has made his point in his own way, with force and alacrity.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. All I can say is, “Thank goodness for that!”

On housing supply, we are measuring the total size of the housing stock, and local authorities are being asked to plan for not only the necessary number of homes but, as was clear in the discussion we had earlier, the right mix of homes for the changing demography of their area.

Why is the Minister abolishing the requirement for Parliament to approve the local government finance settlement through the Local Government Finance Bill? Is it because the Government have inflicted so much damage to local government services through cuts that they want to hide that and not be accountable to Parliament?

The hon. Gentleman is referring to some of the measures in the Local Government Finance Bill. When we move to 100% business rates retention, all local councils will be fully funded, so there will be no legal requirement for an annual settlement because no money will be forthcoming directly from central Government.

Some London authorities have an average of 40% more spending power than somewhere like North Yorkshire despite often having younger, wealthier populations. As part of the fair funding review, does the Minister agree that future allocations should be based on the cost drivers of need and the cost of delivering services?

I agree with my hon. Friend, who spoke eloquently on this issue in the local government financial settlement debate last week. He highlights the need to look again at the outdated formulae, which are not transparent, and to ensure that funding is allocated on a needs basis.

The chief executive of Centrepoint recently said that the Government’s plan to axe housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds

“could cost the taxpayer more money than it saves”.

In the light of cross-party support for the Homelessness Reduction Bill, will the Minister scrap that damaging policy and focus instead on delivering the genuinely affordable homes that our young people need?

I can certainly commit to the last part of what the hon. Lady asked for. In London, the Government are providing £3.15 billion of funding to the Mayor, who has been generous enough to say that that is the best ever settlement for affordable housing in London. On the other matter, we need to ensure that private landlords still have the confidence to let to younger people and we are considering that issue.

As important as the funding formula debate is, does my right hon. Friend agree that the way in which councils organise themselves is also important to ensure the maximum bang for the taxpayers’ buck? Against that backdrop, I hope that my right hon. Friend will give Dorset’s innovative proposals the thumbs-up, because they are the best way—indeed the only way—of securing services for local people.

My hon. Friend highlights that we have rightly encouraged councils to be creative and innovative as they deal with challenges, and some have come forward with proposals to reorganise. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on any particular one at this stage, but we will consider those proposals carefully and seriously.

The Leasehold Advisory Service should play an important role in providing advice to leaseholders. However, the current chair Roger Southam has extensive previous business interests with freeholders and has even boasted of maximising ground rent opportunities for them. Can Ministers not see how that looks? In order to regain leaseholders’ confidence, will Ministers agree to an urgent review into the suitability of Mr Southam to continue as chair?

I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman’s passion for this issue; he spoke powerfully in a debate on this matter a few weeks ago. I recently announced that funding for LEASE will continue to come purely from the Government so that no one can be in any doubt that its job is to stand up for the interests of leaseholders.

Local authorities come in for a bit of stick in this Chamber from time to time, but the Secretary of State will be fully aware of the tremendous work that North Yorkshire County Council did in Tadcaster over the past year. Will he take this opportunity to thank North Yorkshire and David Bowe in particular, who did so much great work in ensuring the restoration of the bridge? Will he also thank the local enterprise partnership for its help?

I was pleased to join my hon. Friend and many of his great constituents at the reopening of Tadcaster bridge. It was lovely to see so many young people celebrating that moment. I am more than happy to join him in congratulating the county council and the local enterprise partnership on their work. I also congratulate my hon. Friend on all his work to help bring that bridge back to life.

T9. What assessment has been made of the effect of cuts to the early intervention grant on the ability of local authorities to fund Sure Start children’s centres? (908946)

We always want to make sure—we saw this in the debate on the local government finance settlement—that local authorities are funded adequately to deal with the challenges they face. If Labour Members are so concerned about local government finance, it is interesting that only four Back-Bench Labour Members bothered to turn up and speak in last week’s debate.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, by virtue of their closeness to residents, district councils continue to be the most effective tier of local government and have a strong future?

I agree with my hon. Friend that district councils are hugely important to local democracy. Alongside other councillors, district councillors are the bedrock of local government, and they have the full support of this Government.

Last week I met Lakeside Energy from Waste, a company that is enabling local authorities in my area to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. As the Secretary of State knows, the plant is due to be knocked down as a result of the creation of the third runway at Heathrow, yet Lakeside Energy from Waste is anxious because there is no reference to the plant’s future in the national policy statement. Will he or one of his colleagues meet me and Lakeside Energy from Waste to discuss how we can ensure that this important plant is re-provided?

This may well be an issue for the Department for Transport, but I would be more than happy if the right hon. Lady wrote to ask me to take a look.

I said in response to an earlier question that the Government are currently looking at the report from the all-party parliamentary group for excellence in the built environment. The Government are determined to build the homes that this country needs, but the homes must be built to a sufficient quality, too.

I will be brief. I have elicited three positive responses about the possibility of a Belfast city deal. Instead of a fourth positive response, can we have a meeting?

I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, and I will make sure that a meeting is arranged. I am keen to see what my Department can do to work across and help all regions of the United Kingdom including, of course, Northern Ireland.

New Member

The following Member made and subscribed the Affirmation required by law:

Gareth Craig Snell, for Stoke-on-Trent Central.

NHS Shared Business Services

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement on the loss of confidential NHS correspondence by NHS Shared Business Services.

On 24 March 2016, I was informed of a serious incident involving a large backlog of unprocessed NHS patient correspondence by the company contracted to deliver it to general practitioners’ surgeries, NHS Shared Business Services—SBS. The backlog arose from the primary care services GP mail redirection service that SBS was contracted to run between 2011 and 2016. However, in three areas of England—the east midlands, north-east London and the south-west of England—this did not happen, affecting 708,000 items of correspondence. None of the documents was lost and all were kept in secure storage, but my immediate concern was that patient safety might have been compromised by the delay in forwarding correspondence, so a rapid process was started to identify whether anyone had been put at risk. The Department of Health and NHS England immediately established an incident team led by Jill Matthews, who heads the NHS England primary care support services team.

All the documentation has now been sent on to the relevant GP surgery, where it is possible to do so, following an initial clinical assessment of where any patient risk might lie. Some 200,000 pieces were temporary residence forms, and a further 500,000 pieces were assessed as low risk. A first triage identified a further 2,500 items that had potential risk of harm and needed further investigation, but follow-up by local GPs has already identified nearly 2,000 of those as having “no patient harm”. The remainder are still being assessed, but so far no patient harm has been identified.

As well as patient safety, transparency for both the public and this House has been my priority. I was advised by officials not to make the issue public last March until an assessment of the risks to patient safety had been completed and all relevant GP surgeries informed. I accepted that advice, for the very simple reason that publicising the issue could have meant GP surgeries being inundated with inquiries from worried patients, which would have prevented them from doing the most important work—namely, investigating the named patients who were potentially at risk.

For the same reasons, and in good faith, a proactive statement about what had happened was again not recommended by my Department in July. However, on balance I decided it was important for the House to know what had happened before we broke for recess, so I did not follow that advice and placed a written statement before the House on 21 July. Since then, the Public Accounts Committee has been kept regularly informed, most recently being updated by my permanent secretary only last Friday. The Information Commissioner was updated in August, and the National Audit Office is currently reviewing the response. I committed in July 2016 to keeping the House updated once the investigations were complete and more was known, and will continue to do so.

Let us be under no illusions: this is a catastrophic breach of data protection. More than half a million pieces of patient data—including blood test results, cancer screening results, biopsy results, and even correspondence relating to cases of child protection—were all undelivered, languishing in a warehouse, on the Secretary of State’s watch. It is an absolute scandal.

Time and again this Health Secretary promises us transparency; today, he stands accused of a cover-up. The Department of Health knew about this in March 2016, so why did it take this self-proclaimed champion of transparency until the last day before the House rose last summer to issue a 138-word statement to Parliament? That statement said that just “some correspondence” had not reached the intended recipients. When the Secretary of State made that statement, was he aware that it amounted to more than 700,000 letters? If so, why did he not inform Parliament? If he did not know, does that not call into question his competence?

What guarantees can the Secretary of State give us that no more warehouses of letters are yet to be discovered? Was the private contractor involved paid for the delivery of the letters? If so, what steps are being taken to recover the money? How many patients were harmed because their GP did not receive information about their ongoing treatment? Do patients remain at risk? The Secretary of State talks about NHS England’s ongoing investigation into 2,500 items; when are we likely to know the outcome?

We understand that Capita now has the contract to deliver these services. What scrutiny is the Secretary of State putting Capita under so that it does not happen again? Is it not better that, rather than this relentless pursuit of privatisation, we bring services back in-house?

Two months into 2017 and the Health Secretary lurches from one crisis to another: hospitals overcrowded and waiting lists out of control. He cannot deliver the investment that our NHS needs; he cannot deliver a social care solution; he cannot deliver patient safety; and now he cannot even deliver the post. He has overseen a shambles that puts patient safety at risk. Patients deserve answers and they deserve an apology.

The hon. Gentleman is reasonable and sensible, but sadly those commendable sides to his character have not been on display this afternoon, not least because I answered a number of his questions before he read out his pre-prepared script. He said that there had been a catastrophic breach of data protection. Let me remind him that no patient data were lost and all patient data were kept in secure settings. I know that it is a great temptation to go on about the privatisation agenda, but may I gently tell him that, since SBS lost this account, this particular work has been taken in-house? It is being done not by Capita, but by the NHS—so much for the Government’s “relentless pursuit” of the private sector.

More seriously, the hon. Gentleman is quoted in this morning’s edition of The Guardian as saying:

“Patient safety will have been put seriously at risk.”

As he knows, patient safety is always our primary concern, but if he had listened to my response he would have heard that, as things stand, there is no evidence so far that patients’ safety has been put at risk. [Interruption.] Well, we have been through more than 700,000 documents, and so far, we can find no such evidence. We are now doing a second check, with GPs, on 2,500 documents—so a second clinical opinion is being sought—nearly 2,000 of which we believe will not show any evidence, and we are now going through the remaining ones.

Let me say that it was indeed totally incompetent of SBS to allow this incident to happen, and we take full responsibility as a Government, because we were responsible at the time. None the less, the measure of the competence of a Government is not when suppliers make mistakes—I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that that did happen a few times when Labour was running the NHS—but what we do to sort out the problem. We immediately set up a national incident team. Every single piece of correspondence has been assessed, and around 80% of the higher risk cases have been assessed by a second clinician.

The hon. Gentleman then went on to suggest that the Government have been trying to hide the matter. If he had listened to what I said, he would have heard that I did not follow the advice that I got from my officials, which was not to publicise the matter. I actually decided that the House needed to know about it. It was only a week after I was reappointed to this job last summer that I not only laid a written ministerial statement, but referred to the matter in my Department’s annual report and accounts. He said this morning that I played down the severity of what happened, but what did that annual report say? It said that a “serious incident was identified”, and it talked about

“a large backlog of unprocessed correspondence relating to patients.”

It could not have been clearer.

This Government have always cared about patient safety. We have listened to the advice of people—as the hon. Gentleman would have done had he been in office—who said that if we had gone public right away, GP surgeries could have been prevented from doing what we needed them to do, which is making detailed assessments of a small number of at-risk cases. That was why we paused, but as soon as we judged that it was possible to do so, we informed this House and the public and we stayed absolutely true to our commitment both to patient safety and to transparency.

This is undoubtedly a very serious incident, but I welcome the detailed and thorough steps that the Secretary of State has taken to protect patient safety. However, he will know that there are ongoing problems with the transfer of patient records. GPs and hospitals spend endless hours chasing up results, investigations and letters on a daily basis. Is it not time that patients were given direct control of their own records, and will the Secretary of State provide an update on that to the House?

I thank my hon. Friend for her sensible contribution. She is right that, although the process of sending on these particular documents has been taken in-house, other parts of the contract were taken on by a company called Capita—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) cannot stop, can he? Let me repeat that the work in question has been taken in-house. The other work, which is being done by Capita, has had some teething problems, of which we are very aware. We know it has been causing problems for GPs. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) has been meeting Capita and people relating to that contract on a fortnightly basis to try to identify the problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) is right that the aim in the long run is to give people control of their records. I am proud that, under this Government, we have become the first country in the world to give every patient access to their own records online. From September, people will be able to do that without having to go to their GP’s surgery.

I am sure that everyone across the House is glad that these 750,000 incidents have not, so far, resulted in patients suffering. Frankly, that is luck, rather than plan, for which we should all be grateful. This is yet another situation similar to that of Concentrix and others we have seen. When we are outsourcing and taking on these companies, what is the basis of the contract and what is the governance? The Secretary of State mentioned the other incidents of transferring data when a patient moves to another GP’s surgery, and that has also been an issue. When will data in England become more digital so that things are not sent by post? We have not used that method for several years in Scotland, and it is holding back the entire primary care and hospital system here. When will the Secretary of State’s vision for that come about?

The hon. Lady is always very good at telling the House things that Scotland does better than the NHS in England; there are, indeed, some. She is a little bit coyer about things that Scotland does less well than the NHS in England. If we put aside those issues, I think we can both agree that the sooner the NHS across the whole UK goes electronic, the better. That has been a big priority for this Government, and we have made big progress. More than two thirds of hospital A&E departments can now access a summary of people’s GP records, and we are going further every month.

As the affected patients could have moved anywhere in the country, will my right hon. Friend assure me or let me know, either today or by writing to me, whether any of my constituents in Bury North have been affected?

I do not have the information about Bury North patients immediately to hand, but I am happy to write to my hon. Friend to tell him whether we think any of his constituents have been affected.

I raised my concerns about the contracting out of the patient record service to SBS back in 2011, and I was told by the Secretary of State’s predecessor that this was about saving money. Will he tell us how much money has been saved, given all the problems, and how many of the 708,000 patients affected are in the south-west?

The south-west was one of the regions affected, as I mentioned in my statement. I am happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman to tell him exactly how many patients I think were affected in the south-west. I gently say to him that the use of the private sector was championed when his Government were in office and when he was a Health Minister. I know that this is not very fashionable in his party at the moment, but on this side of the House, we think that if we want the NHS to be the safest and best in the world, we should be open—

Order. The right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) is shouting noisily from a sedentary position. I cannot imagine that that is an offence that I would have committed when I sat on the Opposition Benches. I just do not think it would have happened. I do not know what has happened to standards.

Objection to the manner and content of a ministerial response is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons.

There have been cries of privatisation from the Opposition. Is not the truth that in 2007, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs lost the entire collection of child benefit records, affecting 25 million people? Is not the point that all data holders, whether in the private or public sector, must hold our private information securely?

That is absolutely the point. What people will be wondering is, when we were faced with this issue, which was indeed serious, did we react as quickly as we could to keep patients safe? I believe the answer is yes. Did that happen under the last Labour Government? I will leave the House to draw its own conclusions.

The Secretary of State just stated with great authority that no patient data were lost. I would be interested to know how he can be so certain, given that all these data were missing for a long time without anybody noticing. What controls are in place now that were not in place then that mean he can make that statement with such confidence?

I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. I do not know whether she has done a Health question with me before, but let me say to her that we are assured that the data were not lost: they were kept in a secure setting, which means they were safe, they were not breached and they were not accessed by anyone else. What should have happened, but did not, was passing on the data to the right GP surgery, and that is why we have taken all the steps we have to try to make sure patients are kept safe.

My right hon. Friend may recall times when we found ourselves in opposition and hoped we had a huge success on our hands, and the image that springs to mind at present is of foxes and shooting them. Does he agree that the Department he so expertly guides now needs to focus its attention on using electronic data for all our citizens and patients, rather than dealing with spurious Opposition problems?

As ever, my right hon. Friend is thinking extremely intelligently about the problems we really face. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) asked about the security of the data files, but the security of electronic files is the issue we are going to have to think about much more seriously as we give everyone access to their electronic records, and because of the known issues around hacking. This is an issue we are taking very seriously and doing more work on.

I wrote to the Secretary of State on this subject on behalf of the Jubilee medical centre in Croxteth, in my constituency, on 13 January. I have not yet had a reply from him, but perhaps he could respond today to the point I raised about staff safety. We have had the issue of patient safety, but what about the potential danger to staff from these records not being available about patients?

I would like to reflect on the hon. Gentleman’s question in a bit more detail rather than giving an instant answer, because, to date, no one has brought to my notice particular issues about staff safety, but that is always something we take extremely seriously. We are aware of the extra administrative pressure on staff caused by needing to go through records where there is a higher risk of harm to patients—indeed, we have given GP surgeries extra resources to cover that additional time—but I will look into the issue the hon. Gentleman raises.

Since at least 2015, it has been a statutory requirement to use a unique and consistent identifier on health and social care records. Given that that would, as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) said, help with putting data electronically on health and social care systems, will the Secretary of State update the House on the issue?

I am very happy to do so. Clearly, when we are all able to access our health records electronically, there are potentially huge benefits for patients. In particular, people with long-term conditions who use the NHS a lot would be able to take more control of what happens and also to spot mistakes, which sometimes happen in medical records—that is one of the big findings from the US, where people have had more widespread access to electronic records for longer. The issue is the security with which people access those records online, and we are looking very closely at the systems used by banks, for example. Those are pretty robust, but we are looking at whether we can have systems that are even more robust, because it is very important that patients have confidence that only they and those they give permission to can access those records.

Can the Secretary of State tell us a little more about which areas in the east midlands have been particularly affected? Given the opaque and byzantine structures of the NHS, can he specifically tell the House which member of his ministerial team had the job of keeping watch on NHS Shared Business Services?

The Minister responsible is the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon. This case happened before she was in post, so I took personal responsibility given it was such an important issue. I will write to the hon. Gentleman with more details about how the east midlands has been affected.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that we move towards a fully paperless national health service, but that it will be very difficult to do so as long as national health service trusts cannot talk to each other electronically? Radiological images, for example, are often not available when consultants see patients, who therefore have to have the test again, which is contrary to all the precepts of good practice in the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a very big part of our transformation plans for the NHS. Where the NHS does well internationally is in out-of-hospital records; our GP records are among the best of any country’s. GPs have done a fantastic job over the past 15 years in keeping all their records electronically, and they provide a lifetime snapshot of a patient’s history. Where we are less good is in our hospital records, where one can still find paper records in widespread use. That is not just very, very expensive but—he is quite right—unsafe at times.

I used to work in a pathology lab, and it absolutely pains me to think of those results generated by the hard work of pathology staff languishing in a warehouse somewhere, unseen by anybody. If GPs do not get lab results, they will ring the laboratory and ask for them, so has the Secretary of State made any estimate of the time wasted in phone calls from GP surgeries to pathology labs?

I am sure that, regrettably, because of what happened extra work was created for GPs. However, because of GPs’ commitment to their patients, it appears that in the vast majority of cases patient harm was avoided. When results do not come through that a GP is expecting, the GP chases them to make sure that the right thing is done for patients—but of course, as the hon. Lady rightly says, at the cost of extra work.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that had the then Labour Government not made such a catastrophe of implementing the NHS computer system, such records would have been digitised many years ago and problems with storage of paper records would not have impacted on the patients who are currently suffering?

My hon. Friend speaks wisely. Many members of the public will be faintly amused to hear Labour Members say how important it is that we move to electronic health records. The NHS IT project was an absolute catastrophe, costing billions of pounds. The intention was right but the delivery was wrong, and that is what we are trying to sort out.

I understand that large numbers of patients in north-east London were affected by this failure of the service. How many of my constituents were affected, how many of them were cancer patients, and how many would have been subjected therefore to an inordinate delay in receiving referrals for treatment? Can the Secretary of State give that itemised breakdown to all Members of Parliament who will have constituents affected by this?

I am very happy to write to hon. Members in the areas affected with any extra information that we are able to provide. However, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that to date we have not been able to identify any patient in any part of the country who has come to harm as a result of what happened.

It is a shame that the synthetic outrage from Labour Members was not apparent when they were calling for a public inquiry into deaths in Mid Staffordshire, or, officially, the worst ever IT white elephant disaster, with £12 billion of costs uncovered by the Public Accounts Committee in 2013. Has not my right hon. Friend observed the appropriate parliamentary accountability protocols? He not only employed clinical expertise but came to the House in July, his officials updated the PAC in September, and he came here again today? There is no cover-up.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he rightly points out, this was a judgment call, because going public at a very early stage about what happened risked overwhelming GP surgeries, with GPs being unable to investigate the most serious cases as quickly as possible. That is why I received very sensible advice to hold back, but I did decide that the House needed to know before the summer break, which is why I made the effort.

A number of GP practices in Wirral West have made clear to me their concerns about Capita’s handling of confidential patient records. There have been cases of patient records being delayed when they move to another practice, and in some instances confidential records have not arrived at all. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) has said, there is also concern that, if a patient is a risk to a doctor because of a mental health issue, that has not been flagged up to medical staff. That is a very serious risk to put staff under. Does the Secretary of State share the view of the chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, who said that this is

“an example of what happens when the NHS tries to cut costs by inviting private companies to do work which they don’t do properly”?

The hon. Lady makes very important points about the need for the rapid transfer of records when people move GP surgeries. I gently point out to her—I am sure she was asked to ask her question—that the reality is that, because of the failures of this contract, we have taken this work in-house. It is not about the Government pressing on with privatisation irresponsibly, or whatever it is that she is trying to say. This work is now being done in-house.

We have an excellent Secretary of State and the Government seem to have taken the appropriate action. My only concern is what he said about his Department’s officials recommending that this House not be informed. Under Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, I remember that we would get 80-odd written statements on the last day of term. May I gently suggest to the Secretary of State that it would have been better if the written statement had been made earlier in the week so that Members could have considered whether an urgent question was appropriate?

In ordinary circumstances, my hon. Friend’s point would be completely fair and reasonable. He may remember that certain other things were happening at that time last year and, as I have said, it had been only a week since I had been reappointed to my post, so there were a number of other issues. However, my priority was to make sure that we did not go away for the summer without the House being informed of the situation.

The Secretary of State says that he has paid people—I assume that they are GPs—to clear the backlog. How much have you paid the GPs, and do you intend to recoup that money to the NHS?

I have made no such payment and I have no plans to recoup anything, but the Secretary of State might have.

I regret to say that the £2.2 million has not gone to you, Mr Speaker, but it has been paid to GPs for the extra administrative work that needs to be done. That is fair payment for the extra time that they are taking. It is, indeed, a cost to the taxpayer, but it was the right thing to do.

Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that appropriate staffing resources have been made available throughout to deal with the backlogs, not just nationally but in the east midlands?