Wednesday 10 January 2018
[Mr George Howarth in the Chair]
Mental Health in Prisons
I beg to move,
That this House has considered mental health in prisons.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this intolerable crisis. Suicide and self-harm in prison have reached record highs. In 2016, 119 prison suicides were recorded—the highest number since records began—and there were 41,103 incidents of self-harm in the year to June 2017. Again, that is the highest figure on record. With staff numbers dropping off and some parts of the prison estate unfit for human habitation, it is clear that the Government need to take decisive action to fulfil their statutory duty of care. Some prisoners may have had a mental health problem on entering the criminal justice system, but most prisoners’ mental health deteriorates in prison, because of the conditions imposed on them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. Before getting into the detail of what happens in prison, my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that many people have mental health problems before entering prison. Does she agree that when the police identify at interview, as they are required to do, that someone is under the care of mental health services, they should be required then to make contact with that individual’s mental health practitioner to get full information on their suitability for custody?
I do, and I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. What she describes is one major component that is missing and would help to resolve the situation. People are locked up in a small cell for the vast majority of the day, subject to a poor diet and living in inhuman and dirty conditions. Those who were previously healthy often develop depression, anxiety and violent tendencies because they are in effect caged, with little food and no stimulation.
Since March 2017, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, formerly NOMS—the National Offender Management Service—has been responsible for the management and operation of prisons in England and Wales and for ensuring that the prison environment is safe and decent. The Ministry of Justice is now responsible for prison policy and commissioning of services in prisons. NHS England is responsible for healthcare in prisons, in terms of both physical and mental health. In 2016-17, NHS England spent an estimated £400 million providing healthcare in adult prisons in England. It is estimated that £150 million of that was spent on mental health and substance misuse services, although the exact figure is unknown. All those bodies have a fundamental duty of care, yet as the Public Accounts Committee damningly concluded, they do not even know where they are starting from, how well they are doing or whether their current plans will be enough to succeed in caring for prisoners with mental health needs.
Does my hon. Friend accept that another problem is that those bodies do not know where people are going post-prison? I have in my constituency the excellent and nationally reputed Nelson Trust; it has a women’s centre in Gloucester. Its big bone of contention is that it gets very little access to the women before release. With all the mental health problems, drug abuse and victim support issues, it needs access in prison before release. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is crucial?
I absolutely agree and will come to that point later in relation to communication.
The Government’s efforts to improve the mental health of people in prison have been poorly co-ordinated. Information is not shared across the organisations involved and not even between community and prison GPs. For example, NOMS advised NHS England to commission mental health services for a male prison at HMP Downview and then decided to open it as a female prison. Six months later, healthcare was still catching up with those changes. What a shocking failure of government! Clearly, quality systems of working and communication are urgently required between prison management, HMPPS, policy makers and commissioners at the Ministry of Justice and the commissioned contractors for health services and NHS England.
It is clear that not enough has been done to prevent increases in deaths in custody. That was the subject of last year’s Joint Committee on Human Rights interim report entitled “Mental Health and Deaths in Prison”. The report homed in on why progress has not been made on preventing deaths in prison, despite the numerous insightful and comprehensive analyses produced on the issue following the Woolf report in 1991. Those include reports by Lord Harris of Haringey, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Public Accounts Committee, the National Audit Office, the Howard League and the Select Committee on Justice. Those are just some of them. I hope the Minister would agree that there is no lack of knowledge of or information on the problem, as it has been well reported.
While the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry was in progress in March 2017, the Government introduced the Prisons and Courts Bill. Following its Second Reading, the Joint Committee wrote to the Government, proposing key amendments, but unfortunately the Dissolution of Parliament got in the way. The Committee instead published an interim report in May 2017. In November, the Chair of the Joint Committee, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice, expressing her disappointment at the non-inclusion in the Queen’s Speech of the prisons Bill promised before the general election and noting that he had said he would take some administrative steps. The Chair stated in her letter to the Government that the Committee’s findings showed that concrete legislation was needed, and outlined clear steps forward, to ensure that prisoners’ humanity is protected and their welfare safeguarded. The Joint Committee’s proposals included a statutory minimum ratio of prison officers to prisoners, a prescribed legal maximum amount of time for prisoners to be kept in a cell and the provision of a key worker for each mentally ill prisoner.
The hon. Lady has a long-standing and serious interest in these issues. Does she agree that one thing that would help in this area would be training prisoners in work in which they could get jobs on release, to fill shortages out in the community, and that that is part of giving people hope and a purpose, which can help to improve mental health?
I absolutely agree. Undoubtedly, having work would keep people safer outside. It would give them a purpose and be a way of keeping them sane outside, so that they did not go through the revolving door back to prison.
The Chair of the Joint Committee requested, in her letter of 30 November 2017, a response to both the interim report and the letter by 8 January. That has not happened. The Government are refusing to act and therefore showing contempt for the lives of their detained citizens. The Justice Committee’s report of May 2016 stated that the Government had been reluctant to acknowledge the serious nature of the operational and safety challenges facing prisons and the role of their own policy decisions in creating them. Little appears to have changed.
We know that just 10% of the prison population in England are in treatment for mental illness, but recent inspections show that 37% report having emotional wellbeing and mental health problems.
I absolutely do. The institute of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience at King’s College London estimates that more than half of prisoners may have common mental disorders, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, and believes that 15% of prisoners have more specialist needs. Those are significant figures, but guesstimates are not good enough. The most commonly used estimate, which is that 90% of prisoners have mental health issues, dates from 1998— 20 years ago. The Government have no idea of the scale of the problem. The Ministry of Justice must address that to plan services and meet needs.
The National Audit Office has recently stated:
“Government does not collect enough, or good enough, data about mental health in prisons, which makes it hard to plan services and monitor outcomes.”
It particularly criticised NHS England for the data collected, which
“do not measure outcomes for prisoners, continuity of care or service quality.”
How damning! This failure to monitor poor mental health levels and the mental health services provided in prison simply would not happen in the outside world. It is costing our citizens their wellbeing and sometimes their lives. Let us remember, it is also costing the taxpayer.
The lack of knowledge about prisoners’ mental health exists at all stages of the cycle: on entry to prison, a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green); during their stay in prison; and after they leave. This means that future prison needs, present prison needs and community needs, and consequently budget requirements, cannot possibly be accurately planned for. For instance, what consideration was given, and finance afforded, to the detained historical sexual abusers? These are elderly people with age-related health needs, such as heart conditions, dementia, diabetes and cancer. The money came from the prison health budget and the issue occurred at the same time as spice arrived. Consequently, there was less money for mental health drug treatment at the most crucial time.
NHS England does not even know what it spends on mental health in prisons. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us—although I know he is a new Minister.
No, I am not. I am the last man standing.
The Government’s own prisons and probation information states:
“Prisoners get the same healthcare and treatment as anyone outside of prison.”
That is demonstrably not the case in our prisons at present. In reality it is clear that our prisoners are struggling with ever-increasing levels of poor mental health and are actively let down by the system. It is impossible to reach any conclusion other than that the Government’s failure to act adequately is exacerbating what is approaching a mental health emergency in our prisons.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry last year noted that the body of research in the last three decades has overwhelmingly found that the common feature of deaths in custody is a prisoner’s mental health. Figures published by the Ministry of Justice in November of last year confirm that it will have received a “real-terms cumulative decrease”—in other words, a savage cut—of 40% in funding. That is £3.7 billion in a decade by the end of 2019-20. Who is suffering most as budgets are cut to the bare bones? It is prison staff on the ground, working in unsafe conditions and at increased risk of attack; the prisoners in their care; and society as a whole. The cuts have led to dangerous situations in our prisons and have cost lives.
The Howard League report of 2016, “Preventing prison suicide,” damningly concluded that
“Staff shortages have increased the risk of suicide”
in our prisons. There was a cut of almost 7,000 frontline officers—austerity measures. Was there a risk assessment prior to the prison officer reduction of 7,000? I very much doubt it. I would like to see it, if there was one.
I welcome the Government’s pledge to recruit an additional 2,500 staff by the end of 2018. Unfortunately, only half of these have been recruited so far. I believe this promise will not be sufficient to tackle the issue at hand—the facts speak for themselves. There is a serious retention problem: loss of prison staff is outstripping recruitment at a quarter of prisons, often the most dangerous ones. It has been found that prisoners now miss an average of 15% of medical appointments, due to a lack of staff to escort them. The sheer lack of prison staff at present means that prisoners’ physical activity is greatly restricted as their safety outside cells cannot be guaranteed. Some 31% of prisoners at local prisons report spending at least 22 hours a day cooped up in their cells as a result of inadequate staffing and this surely must affect their mental health.
The Howard League reported last year that two children and young people a week call its advice line stating that they have problems accessing prison healthcare. I am advised of two shocking cases. One example was a child who was kept in isolation at a children’s prison for months awaiting transfer, despite prolific self-harm. He was kept in a bare cell with a transparent door for observation. He was judged by a psychiatrist as not medically fit to be segregated, but was kept in almost total isolation for several months before finally being transferred to hospital. Another child, a 15-year-old with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was not consistently given his medication. He was isolated and self-harming, even attempting suicide. It was only after the Howard League raised concerns on multiple occasions about his self-harm and severe needs that his pills were consistently given to him, and it was only when he made a suicide attempt that any action was taken to move him to a more suitable placement. I consider that an inhuman and barbaric way to treat two of our children. Suffer not little children: surely the fifth richest country in the developed world could and must care for such children better and work to rehabilitate them.
Prison psychiatrists overwhelmingly feel that service cuts have adversely affected their ability to provide care for prisoners, which is particularly concerning when there are such inadequacies in transferring acutely unwell prisoners out of these establishments. There are cases where the contractors employed by NHS England failed to carry out the services they were obliged to. In two cases, their costs were not recouped—how damning. These are people denied their care, and public funds gifted. The Government target of 14 days for eligible prisoners to be admitted to a secure hospital from prison was met only 34% of the time in 2016-17, 7% waited for more than 140 days, and one person waited for more than a year in misery. This is cruelty.
The staff are inadequately trained and only 40% receive refresher training. The importance of the screening process has not been sufficiently emphasised to staff. Staff do not always enter data on the “risk of suicide” and “risk of self-harm” of prisoners in their records of these screenings. How can needs be spotted if they are not identified and recorded? As my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston mentioned earlier, this should take place at the police station. Even when the details are recorded, there simply are not enough prison officers to monitor this adequately.
Evidence received by the Public Accounts Committee bears testimony to the fact that the increase in suicide and self-harm in our prisons is in part due to the use of drugs. I acknowledge the work of Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service—the number of drug seizures has increased rapidly with nearly 3,500 services in our prisons in 2016, following the legislation making spice illegal, and a new test has been introduced to detect psychoactive drugs with trained dogs to sniff out these substances.
The prison estate itself is also in a deplorable condition. Over a quarter of it was built before 1900 and the majority was not built with healthcare in mind. We have all seen the case of HMP Liverpool in recent weeks. Some of the estate there was in such bad condition—dirty, rat-infested and hazardous—that it could not be cleaned at all. The state of that prison was described as one of squalor, in 21st-century Britain. It is not right that we house prisoners in such horrendous conditions. Surely the mental health of anyone living in such unsanitary circumstances would suffer.
With the Government’s brutal cuts showing no sign of slowing down, and the need for staff still outstripping supply in many places, what will this mean for prisoners with mental ill health in the future? I fear there will be no substantial improvement for prisoners facing this plight any time soon. It is in everyone’s interest to improve this situation, not least because effectively treating prisoners with poor mental health is essential to reducing reoffending and ensuring that those who live with mental health problems can do so more cohesively in our society and communities.
We have a fine example of where decency works, and works well: HMP Askham Grange operates on this principle. It refers to prisoners as residents, and has built an atmosphere of respectful relationships. Its reoffending rate is 6%, while latest Ministry of Justice figures show a national average of a 29.6% reoffending rate within a year. There are six prisons with executive governors. Is there any improvement in mental health outcomes in these prisons? But a bigger question remains: should people with mental health conditions be in our prisons at all? Is it as simple as a psychiatrist making a judgment that someone is, as it is sometimes said, “bad, not mad,” and should therefore be incarcerated?
Is it not also true that prisons have sometimes become dumping grounds for NHS failure, that sometimes in the NHS it is cheaper to let the person go to prison than to take responsibility for their treatment and that that is part of the problem we face?
Sadly, I accept my hon. Friend’s point.
It is clear that when people who are already prisoners are acutely mentally unwell, they are being kept in situations that are doubtless of further detriment to them and brutalise them. Evidence obtained by the Joint Committee on Human Rights made clear that acutely mentally unwell people are too often
“inappropriately being sent to prison as a ‘place of safety’”,
and stated that there is an
“urgent need to resource and make better use of community alternatives to prison for offenders with mental health conditions, particularly those who are currently given short sentences”.
I hope that the Minister heeds the points I have made and I am sure that hon. Members will add to them, as the interventions have done. I ask him to commit to looking into the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Public Accounts Committee. We are at a crisis point in our prisoners’ mental health, and Government should not neglect their duty of care for those who are incarcerated in our prisons.
I welcome the steps taken by the Government to address the issue of spice in prisons, but that is just one component of the mental health emergency and does not tackle the root problems. The Ministry of Justice needs to review policy and commissioning, HMPPS to review the management and operation and NHS England to review the whole system of collating data on health, including mental health needs, and the provision of support. These citizens are owed parity of esteem, quality healthcare and the opportunity for the greatest possible mental health wellbeing both in and out of prison. I call on the Minister to address this as a matter of urgency. The Government have a legal obligation, a moral responsibility and a financial duty to treat these mentally ill people with respect, dignity and humanity.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.
This is such a crucial issue that it has been of great interest to the Select Committee on Justice throughout our sittings. I remember well that when the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) was a member of that Committee, she and I attended a number of prisons and examined this issue together while looking around them.
There is a high likelihood that prisoners will have some form of mental illness. The 1998 study to which the hon. Lady referred, which showed that 90% of prisoners had some sort of mental health issue, had so many people in it because alcohol misuse and drugs misuse were included within that definition, and that is quite broad.
I want to mention the drugs scene in prisons. We have to accept that two groups of people suffer from drug problems in prison: those who had drug problems before they went into prison, which should have been picked up in the assessment process—I will say something about that in a minute—and those who are switched on to drugs while in prison. The hon. Lady and I both know that a lot of effort is being put in to try to prevent the smuggling of drugs into prisons, particularly as people use more and more sophisticated means, such as drones, to do so. We have to stop these things coming into prisons.
The point made about the need for information sharing and about the assessment process when prisoners arrive is absolutely crucial. From the experience that the hon. Lady and I have had looking around prisons, it is absolutely the case that the assessment process is de minimis: it does not go into the depth that one would expect. That is partly for the historical reason that mental health has been a second service, and I hope that it is now changing.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman about that initial assessment. Does he agree that it is important that, when someone is already under the care of mental health services in the community, evidence is gathered from their own practitioner, and that it is not enough just to gather the evidence, but that conclusions need to be drawn and appropriate routes taken and that may mean not remanding or incarcerating someone as a result of a conviction?
I agree with the hon. Lady. This problem goes back to the whole way in which the justice system is set up in anticipating the mental health issues suffered by many of the people who are brought before the courts. If a problem can be identified there, a better treatment can perhaps be undertaken to solve it. A greater emphasis needs to be put on the assessment process, which needs to include a very good assessment of patients’ mental health conditions.
There are two aspects that I want to mention in connection with that. One is the power that we are giving prison governors. I am all in favour of giving prison governors back powers over their own prisons, but as a component of that we have to ensure that prison governors and their staff are fully aware of the mental health issues that they will face. From my visits to the prison in my constituency, I would not want to put a huge amount of greater stress on the prison governor, who is doing a very good job in difficult circumstances, but I would like to ensure a minimum level of mental health awareness at that level so that it can be taken into account. After all, as we are trying to put mental health care workers, or somebody with responsibility for mental health, into schools, it seems only appropriate that we should do the same in our prison estate, where larger numbers of people suffer from those issues.
My second point is the importance of purposeful imprisonment. It is absolutely crucial that we do not allow prisoners to stay in their cells for up to 22 hours a day. We need to find things for them to do. I will mention an example, because I think it predates the time when the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston was a member of the Select Committee. We went on a trip to Denmark, where we visited a prison. There is nothing unusual in that, but there was a great deal of unusualness in the way in which the prisoners were allowed to operate. Instead of the “Porridge”-style large prison benches for food, the prisoners were allowed to cook their own food. There was an issue over knives, which had to be chained to the wall, and things like that, but the prisoners could earn their own money, buy food from the shops and cook their own food.
I cannot resist asking a question now, although I will be talking about this in my speech. Does my hon. Friend agree that gardening projects—for example, prisoners growing their produce at the prison and then cooking it—can also be highly beneficial?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important to recognise the extent of purposeful intent in the prison system; if gardening can fulfil that purpose, it is a very good one. I would like to see more done on prisoners’ ability to cook for themselves. I asked this of a former Lord Chancellor, who assured me that it was being developed within the prison system, so I hope that it is.
That is all I want to add to the debate. It is important and the issues that the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston raised are very germane to the topic.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth.
I thank the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) for calling this important debate, and I concur with what the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) just said about purposeful imprisonment. Before I begin, I must declare my interest as a co-chair of the justice unions and family courts parliamentary group, and I apologise that I have an unavoidable commitment that means I will have to leave before the close of the debate.
A civilised society with a functioning criminal justice system cannot tolerate the present level of self-harm and suicide among inmates. That, and the doubling of the prison population over the past 30 years, is symptomatic: the prison regime of England and Wales is fundamentally unfit for purpose. There is no doubt that our penal system needs reform. The outdated principles of reprimand and revenge must now be tempered by the 21st-century ethics of rehabilitation and repair. I will focus on that second principle of repair in terms of mental health, and I will also touch on the importance of Welsh- language provision in that process of repair.
The prison environment provides an opportunity to control most aspects of inmates’ day-to-day lives. The state should grasp the chance to reduce long-term social costs and improve public safety by addressing such issues as skills deficits and physical and mental health, yet we see unprecedented levels of self-harm and suicide in prisons. It recently emerged that in the past four years four inmates took their own lives within a week of arriving at HMP Swansea.
Extreme overcrowding, harsh budget cuts and severe staff shortages mean that it is increasingly common for inmates to be locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day. I have seen the cells myself at HMP Liverpool. They were described by the chief inspector of prisons as “squalid, dirty and disgraceful”, with water running down the walls, broken Victorian windows and electricity wires pulled out. I understand that they were pulled out so that people could then use them for attempts at suicide. We can all agree that subjecting anyone, regardless of their offence, to inhumane conditions clearly obstructs any attempt at rehabilitation and can only exacerbate the mental health problems from which so many prisoners suffer.
The Public and Commercial Services Union has considerable experience in this area, representing 2,500 staff working in the HM Prison and Probation Service. In its alternative vision for prisons, it calls for them to be
“a place of genuine reform where people are treated in a way as to generate mutual respect and genuine rehabilitation”.
The PCS, with its substantial expertise, proposes a number of important recommendations; most notably, it suggests that the Prison Service’s policy statement should be revised so that its main aim is that
“rehabilitation and the avoidance of recidivism is the focus of…the prison service”.
To improve the system, the Government must first recognise that they cannot do this alone. They must engage with those who work tirelessly in the sector, and seriously consider their recommendations for improvements. I approached the previous Minister about this matter and I ask the Minister present in the Chamber whether he will agree to meet the PCS and representatives of the justice unions parliamentary group to discuss that new initiative. I am sure we agree that there is real value in working together.
In addition to providing adequate mental healthcare, it is important to create environments in which inmates feel comfortable in which to facilitate repair. One important example is the provision of services in Welsh for Welsh speakers. The Welsh Language Commissioner found the provision of Welsh language services in prisons to be “very, very patchy”. I am aware of that problem from HMP Berwyn, which is the nearest prison to my constituency. When it was set up, we were promised that there would be specific Welsh-language services, but it is very difficult to get information about exactly what those services are. I have constituents who are first- language Welsh speakers who are still being sent to prisons in England when there is space in HMP Berwyn. I ask for that to be addressed as soon as possible. The Welsh Language Commissioner also describes efforts to meet Welsh-language demands as “not very effective” and “not consistent”. I remind the Minister that the Welsh Language Act 1993 is applicable to offender management.
I do. It is evident to me that means of communication and respect are fundamental to how we address mental health and issues of self-esteem. All methods of communication that are more effective for prisoners should be addressed.
I hope the Minister agrees that denying an offender language rights only heightens feelings of isolation and segregation. I ask him to commit to ensuring that Welsh-language provision is strengthened in the prison sector across England and Wales.
Many other Members wish to speak in this important debate, so I will conclude. To truly make prisons a place of rehabilitation and repair, the Minister faces a challenge. I beg of him to approach this challenge innovatively and in the spirit of co-operation. The reality is that by failing to act on the horrifying number of cases of self-harm and suicide in prisons, we are to all effects and purposes condoning haphazard and extrajudicial capital punishment.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I pay credit to the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) for securing this important debate. If we can make progress, it will make such a difference to people’s lives.
I make no apology for devoting my short speech to the benefits of the environment and gardening in the justice system and how that can have a positive effect on people’s mental health. We know that imprisoning somebody does not in itself reduce reoffending rates. To do that we must try, where possible, to give prisoners skills to increase their employability chances once they leave and help them to reintegrate in the community. Environmental and gardening schemes can help to do that and to improve mental health outcomes at the same time.
As I have said in a previous debate, many prisons feel very industrialised. They are covered with tarmac and concrete and have little green space. Evidence shows that when people are not in contact with green space and nature, there is a negative impact on their mental health. I recently contributed to an article in Gardeners’ World magazine—lots of people were surprised that I could get an article into that magazine as a Conservative MP. In that article, I mentioned the benefits of gardening schemes in prisons. It seemed to strike a chord and I got some responses, one of which was an interesting email from Paul Evans, the DART—drugs and alcohol recovery team—strategy manager at HMP Rye Hill.
Paul explained that a gardening scheme had been developed at Rye Hill through a partnership between Garden Organic and the Natural Beekeeping Trust. It is funded by the NHS via the local authority. He was keen to stress that he has seen extremely positive outcomes in his experience of using gardening as a therapeutic intervention. He explained that within a few weeks of working on the garden project, men who had been in the depths of despair, using illegal substances and confining themselves to their cells—we have heard about that from other hon. Members—with no motivation to seek employment were the first to line up at their wing gate in the morning. They were happy to attend and get outside to work.
Gardening caused a positive change in behaviour. The most common feedback that Paul hears from individuals is: “I slept the whole night through last night, and that is the first time I have done that in years”.
One of my first visits as a new MP was to HMP Shotts. Like HMP Rye Hill, it has a garden centre that the prisoners thoroughly enjoyed. It also has woodwork and other activities. The biggest problem was that there were no staff available for supervision, so the time for those activities, which would go a long way to help their mental health, was very limited.
The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) mentioned the PCS. Let us listen to the staff, who are there full time. I am interested to hear more about the PCS report, and for there to be a lot more official staff.
When I was a news reporter, I went to HMP Leyhill, near Bristol, which had a fantastic gardening project that gave much benefit to the prisoners. They used to do a Royal Horticultural Society garden at Chelsea flower show for which they regularly won gold medals. It is about funding. The project I have mentioned is a well-funded combination of partnerships. We should learn from that.
Coventry University’s independent evaluation of the project showed that the garden often acted as a safe haven for many offenders with mental health issues, helping to relieve symptoms of depression and self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. Even more interestingly, it discovered that the long-term effects often go beyond that. The project has a long-term impact: one prisoner said in a diary entry that it saved his life, having offered him a sense of normality. Gardening projects are quite simple—this is not complicated stuff.
I will give one other example. HMP and YOI Parc, a category B men’s prison and young offenders institution in Bridgend, south Wales, has an extensive garden in which up to 15 prisoners work at a time. It recently won the Windlesham trophy for the best-kept prison garden, judged by the Royal Horticultural Society. I do not know whether you receive the RHS magazine The Garden, Mr Howarth, but it is a really good read. The November issue quotes Parc’s director, Janet Wallsgrove:
“The role of any prison is to keep secure individuals who have been given a custodial sentence, yet also to provide opportunity to bring about change. The importance of the environment within prisons is greatly underestimated—prison gardens reduce violence, improve mental health and teach horticultural skills.”
The article further notes:
“The gardens enable prisoners to work towards NVQ horticultural qualifications, giving the option of a career in horticulture on their release.”
I have met many members of the horticultural industry, and there is a need for skilled workers and employees in the sector. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) said, we need to find gainful employment and skills for prisoners. This is another opportunity that could be built on.
I recently met the head of sustainability at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He stressed the mental health benefits of contact with nature and gardening. I hope to work with him on increasing the opportunities for that, which can make such a difference. In my constituency, Taunton Deane, remand clients often go and work outdoors in the grounds of an equestrian centre. Those I have spoken to have said how beneficial it has been. There are also wildlife trust mental health projects—a lot more that can be done in this area.
We know that there is a lot to tackle if we are to deal with sustainability in prisons. Gardening is not a panacea, but it can definitely help. After a debate on prisons, to which many hon. Members present contributed, I received a letter from a prisoner at Littlehey Prison in Cambridge asking for my help to set up a conservation and wildlife unit in the prison. He was inspired by listening to the speeches in the debate and asked me to give him some advice, which I will absolutely endeavour to do. He has been tasked with setting up the unit, which he believes could have a particular benefit for OAP prisoners, of whom there is a rising number in our prisons. Anything I can do to help, I will. I know gardening is only a small area, but I think it should be part of the model for tackling mental health issues in our prisons.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) on securing this important debate. A lot has been said about the prevalence of mental health issues within our prisons, which is even higher among women than among men. Shockingly, we imprison a large number of people essentially because of their mental ill health—people whose offending is linked in some way to mental ill health or distress. It seems to me an enormous failure of public policy over many years, for which no single Government are responsible, that so many people with significant mental ill health, learning disabilities or autism end up in our prisons inappropriately. I want to address what we should be doing instead.
First, we incarcerate far too many people in our country. We put far more people in prison than most other civilised European countries. Compare this country with Finland or Germany: Finland incarcerates people at about half the rate we do, but no one suggests that it is an uncivilised country in which lawlessness prevails. It manages its issues in a different way from us—I would suggest a much more civilised way.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions incarceration rate. I visited Pentonville jail at the weekend, where the cells are 13 feet by 7 feet. Victorians were not known for their generosity, but their cells were built for one prisoner each. Cells of exactly the same size now regularly hold two or four prisoners.
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point. The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston mentioned that prisoners are often put in cells for 22 hours a day. Just imagine what that does to their mental distress, particularly if they are sharing a cell. It is intolerable and uncivilised.
Some good things have happened. The liaison and diversion service that is being rolled out nationally, which began under the coalition Government and was based on Lord Bradley’s recommendations, is a very good thing. The idea is that, as soon as someone with mental ill health appears in the criminal justice system, either in court or in a police station, they can be identified and referred for diagnosis and treatment. The problem is that if we do not have sufficient mental health services to deal with those referrals, we will not achieve nearly as much as we could with a properly functioning mental health system.
Mental health treatment requirements can be used as an alternative to prison. Addressing the underlying cause of offending behaviour seems to me so much more sensible, yet the Royal College of Psychiatrists notes a 48% reduction over the past 10 years in the use of such mental health treatment requirements—only 1.2% of offenders with mental health issues receive them. Much more use could be made of that option. I met the Minister a few months ago to discuss it in relation to the west midlands, where I chaired a commission on mental health. A couple of local magistrates courts are seeking to make much greater use of mental health treatment requirements—a really interesting initiative that is worth watching.
Our commission also focused on what happens when people leave prison. Too often, there is no link between the support or lack of it that people receive in prison, and what happens when they leave. They are abandoned in the community, often at enormous risk to themselves and sometimes to others. Professor Richard Byng leads the Engager project to enhance the through-the-gate approach and ensure that it is informed by mental health, so that people who work in the through-the-gate system and help the transition from prison back into the community are supported in their mental health needs and linked up to the services they need.
I will end by mentioning a case that is enormously shocking and that I do not think has yet been properly addressed. In March 2013, Phillip Simelane brutally murdered a young girl on a bus in Birmingham. He had not long been released from prison. He was known to have psychosis and a long history of serious mental health problems. His mother, a nurse, had been trying for years to get the authorities to engage with her and provide proper support for her son. She was massively let down by the system, as were Phillip Simelane and the victim who lost her life. Four years on, an independent review considered the lessons to be learned from the case. Its findings, and particularly the comments of its chair Kiran Bhogal, are really shocking:
“it is disheartening and worrying that our review, as with many reviews and investigations before ours, has found that many of the underlying challenges and problems remain despite the commendable effort made by all organisations involved to change practice and procedure…The fact that there remains a risk that these vulnerable prisoners continue to be released from prison without adequate support and supervision leaving them and the general public at risk is of extreme concern.”
I raised this issue in Prime Minister’s questions last year and I raise it again now with the Minister. I would very much like the Minister to meet me and key people from the west midlands to discuss it, because it is vital that we learn lessons to stop similar tragedies from happening in future.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind them that there are two other people left to speak, and 10 minutes left for them all to speak in, before the Front Benchers. It would be good if the remaining speakers could share that time.
Thank you, Mr Howarth. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and to take part in this excellent debate, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer).
We know what the problem is—people are coming into prison with mental health problems or, because of the circumstances they encounter in prison, they develop mental health problems, but we are still not being honest in how we tackle those problems. We put society at risk, including the prison officers within the prison system who have to deal with those people. They are behaving in an aggressive, difficult or dysfunctional way not because they are difficult individuals, but because their mental health problems are driving them to express their frustration, anger and psychosis in ways that are difficult to manage. Those same individuals then return to society posing a greater risk than they did when they entered prison. We know the problem—we have known it for a long time and yet we are still not dealing with it.
Recent Ministry of Justice statistics on self-harm among prisoners showed a record high of 41,103 incidents in the 12 months leading up to June 2017, which was a 12% increase on the previous year. This year, self-harm incidents have risen by 10,850, which is up a further 10%. We know that self-harm, which is often a manifestation of fear and frustration, is a major problem. It is also often a precursor to suicide.
We know what the problems are and we know who the experts are in this field. Professor Keith Hawton, the director of the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford, has done a lot of work in this field. He has shown that both males and females often enter prison with psychiatric disorders, sometimes with multiple disorders, especially depression, anxiety, personality disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. We know the problems but are not looking at the answers.
May I again draw the Minister’s attention to the excellent work being carried out at Parc Prison under the directorship of Janet Wallsgrove and by Corin Morgan-Armstrong in the Parc Supporting Families scheme? The scheme works very closely with prisoners to maintain their family links, which is such an important thing to do. It also deals with dysfunctionality within the family and relationships with children, so that we do not have the multigenerational problems of people carrying on almost as if there is a family history of prison.
We all know that there is a problem for people in accessing mental health support in prison, and accessing it when they leave. A young girl in my constituency has been in prison almost 30 times and she is not yet 30 years old. Her problems are mental health problems, but each time she has accessed mental health services, the people involved have given up and thought, “Let the prison establishment deal with her problems”. That is an absolutely criminal indictment of the support we give to vulnerable young people.
I will conclude, Mr Howarth, because I am very aware of the time constraints, by commending the work of the Samaritans and its listening scheme, which is such an important source of support for prisoners, allowing them to talk to someone in total confidentiality and to express their frustrations and distress, knowing that someone is listening. It is an important point of access for the person who is suffering from a mental health problem, but learning to listen is also an important skill for the prisoners who take part in the scheme.
We know we have a problem and we know how to deal with it. I appreciate that there are problems in wider society, such that we do not have enough people with the skills to deal with mental health issues, but if we do not tackle this problem in our prison system, it will get worse.
Finally, it is important to train prison officers, to have the right numbers of prison officers who have the right skills, and to recognise that prison officers are no longer just the containers of prisoners. Instead, they are part of the therapeutic environment that prisons must become if we are to tackle these problems.
Thank you, Mr Howarth, for calling me to speak in this very important debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) on her succinct but very informative speech.
I also congratulate the Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee)—on surviving the reshuffle. He is the sole survivor. However, the reshuffle raises a very important issue. For me, the situation is unacceptable. This is the second time in living memory that the Ministry of Justice has been cleaned out in a reshuffle. It is unacceptable that we have had six Justice Secretaries in seven years. Only one of them has lasted for even two years. That has led to inconsistent policy and inconsistent reform, and a lot of things have been kicked into the long grass.
While all that has gone on and while the Government have reshuffled the Ministry of Justice, a National Audit Office report to the Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, said that £400 million was spent on healthcare in prisons in England in 2016-17, treating 7,917 mental health patients. However, the inspector of prisons found that 31,328 prisoners, who make up 37% of the prison population, reported having mental health or wellbeing issues. Incidents of self-harm and suicides increased—there were 120 suicides in prisons in 2016, the highest number on record.
Prisons and the probation service estimate that 70% of the prisoners who ended their own life between 2012 and 2014 had mental health needs. Identification of those who need mental health services is not consistent. It is all very well our standing here and saying, “Well, they’re in prison. They’re locked away.” For those of us who have stood in our constituencies and somehow had to find some sort of comfort for grieving families who have been victims of those with mental health problems, that is simply not good enough.
I will cite an example from my own constituency. In November 2014, Matthew Williams went out one night and met Cerys Yemm. They went back together to the Sirhowy Arms hotel in Argoed, where he violently killed her. The Argoed hotel murder case was launched by the Ministry of Justice and found a series of failures. In 2004, Mr Williams had been diagnosed with schizophrenia after spending five weeks in a mental health in-patient unit. However, Mr Williams had been a highly frequent user of drugs since adolescence. Schizophrenia should not be diagnosed during states of drug intoxication or withdrawal. Drug-induced psychotic episodes have very similar symptoms to schizophrenia. After Mr Williams left the in-patient unit, his diagnosis was never re-evaluated.
The Argoed homicide report found that, during his diagnosis, Mr Williams was experiencing a drug-induced psychotic episode, and that there was insufficient evidence to support a true diagnosis of schizophrenia. Mr Williams was on and off medication throughout his life, and not enough support was given to him when he was leaving prison. In fact, he had 26 convictions for 78 offences.
It could be argued that the key affliction affecting Mr Williams was drug addiction. He had been using drugs on the night that Cerys was murdered. Those people who had been in contact with him described him as being
“low in mood and pessimistic, but not psychotic”.
The report’s authors believe that his drug use on the night of the murder could have triggered a psychotic episode. Drug addiction was overlooked in favour of a schizophrenia diagnosis—the substance abuse was never truly addressed.
There were inconsistent mental health records: there was a schizophrenia diagnosis, an unofficial undiagnosis and an unofficial personality disorder diagnosis. Medication was prescribed and then unprescribed. Most damningly, Mr Williams was released from prison without medication and continued with consistent drug use in the two weeks after his release. The lack of consistency in the mental health diagnoses, both inside prison and outside, led to a terrible, terrible incident, the effects of which are still being felt in Argoed and the local community at the moment.
Even though Mr Williams was ultimately responsible for murdering Cerys in a terrible way—I pay tribute to the quiet dignity of Cerys’s family—the escalation of mental health issues such as drug addiction could have been prevented throughout the different diagnoses and follow-up. Consistent care and consistent support could have been provided to Mr Williams, but both in prison and outside he received neither.
We need more structured interventions for people with mental health issues, including personality disorders and substance misuse. There also needs to be better sharing of healthcare information prior to someone’s discharge from prison, between community mental health teams and mental health in-reach teams. That would provide consistency and would be a protective measure against possible relapse in any mental health condition. There should also be follow-up appointments with individuals. The PAC reported on these issues and we call on the Government to act on that report now.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Howarth. I pay tribute to and congratulate the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) on securing this timely and necessary debate. I commend the effort she has put into such an important debate.
I declare an interest, having worked in a forensic community mental health team for many years prior to entering Parliament, and also at the local state hospital in Carstairs in Scotland. The debate has been excellent and has raised many of the issues that I hoped to cover. I will speak shortly about the issues that have not been raised. I commend everyone who has spoken. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), who sits on the Justice Committee, spoke with great expertise and has undertaken extremely valuable work in this area. The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), who has left her seat—I hope I pronounced her constituency correctly—spoke about the importance of learning in prison and language and culture. Learning and having access to education is extremely important in reducing recidivism, in giving people purpose and improving mental health.
The hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) is an absolute advocate for Taunton Deane and now also for gardening projects. The importance of recreation in prisons cannot be underestimated. It gives people a holistic approach to their mental health, which is so important alongside other activities such as health and exercise and the other types of industry that we have heard about from the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney). That is so important because we must see the prisoner as an individual and build upon their skills and resilience.
I thank the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who has absolute expertise in this area. He spoke eloquently about the importance of diversion services and alternatives to prison. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) made an extremely valuable point regarding supporting and maintaining family lives. The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) spoke about failures between liaison links among community services and how picking up mental health problems at an early stage in those who present the greatest risk can prevent crime, which is a valuable and important point. We must learn lessons from the past.
Suicide and self-harm are obviously significant issues in prison because prisoners are adjusting to a situation that they may never have been placed in before. There is a potential feeling of loss of hope. There is also a culture in prison that people have to acclimatise to, which can be extremely difficult. Also, there are significant issues of bullying in prisons that should be addressed. Will the Minister think about how we can address those issues going forward? All of those issues make it difficult for people going into prison. Aside from people who develop mental health problems when they are incarcerated, there are also people who have had mental health issues prior to going into prison.
On pre-morbid conditions, it is crucial that assessment is done at the earliest possible stage, because someone who is already unwell may require transfer to a secure hospital. It might not be appropriate for them to be in a prison. If assessment can be done earlier in the criminal justice system there might be diversion services that would be more appropriate, depending on the offence.
With the average cost of a new prisoner being £119,000 a year and the ongoing cost in excess of £40,000 a year, does the hon. Lady agree that it is exceptionally important to invest in mental health provision before people end up in prison? Making sure we assess the numbers who are in prison and having accurate records means we are able to do that beforehand.
That is a well-made point. Prevention and looking at early diversion and picking up mental health issues where they are the significant issue at play in someone’s offending is crucial. Assessment is more difficult for prison staff and mental health staff in a short-stay prison. I hope the Minister will look at that. There is a high volume of prisoners in short-stay prisons. They come and go in a very short time and it is difficult to get all of the services properly in place, so that will need resourcing. It would help to address those issues.
Co-morbidity has been raised, which is extremely important. We have already heard that many people develop drug problems in prison. That is in fact true and much more must be done to prevent drugs coming into prison, but we also need substance misuse programmes in prison and we need to be mindful of liaison with drug and alcohol services on release, because one of the greatest risks of overdose is when someone has come off drugs in prison and then starts again as soon as they leave. So that is another area of vulnerability.
We must look at particularly vulnerable offenders and services for women and young offenders. We also need an increased awareness of autism in prison. There is a high risk of suicide within that community, particularly if they are incarcerated.
In my experience, far too many of our veterans go into prison. We are failing them, frankly. They have experienced conflict and high levels of trauma, so we really need services and programmes that support them when they come back from active duty. We must prevent them from feeling they are no longer able to cope and committing offences.
Will the Minister also address the availability of programmes in prison for mental health coping skills, cognitive behaviour therapy and managing mental illness programmes? What progress has there been on that? Staff in secure hospitals who work with evidence-based programmes already have substantial experience and their expertise could be utilised in training.
In conclusion, I want to ask about co-ordination of response. In working in this area, I find that access to psychiatry is likely to be access to a liaison psychiatrist who comes in and out of the prison and does not know the prisoners very well. To what extent can we address having full-time psychiatric staff in prisons who are able to assess people repeatedly, know their case history and can prevent people relapsing or pick up issues extremely early?
I want to reiterate the importance of family connections and ensure we build a system whereby we rehabilitate as well as punish people, because that is crucial to protection of the public and to reducing recidivism. Building family connections and giving people hope, aspirations, skills and education, and seeing them holistically as an individual will go some way towards helping their mental health. It is crucial that mental health services are available in prison and as a follow-up.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) for securing this important debate on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). I thank hon. Members from all parties for their informative and well-thought-out contributions.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston articulated the real crisis of mental health in our prisons. Other hon. Members also made some very important points about assessment and recording issues, information-sharing issues, pressures on prison officers, isolation and overcrowding issues, and individual tragic cases that perhaps could have been prevented had the system worked better. Government Members also spoke about some of the much-needed recreational activities that are very important to wellbeing, including cooking and gardening, although they will agree with me that some of the underlying and more pressing issues have to be addressed before we move on to those areas.
One of the most stressful and important issues regarding mental health is women who give birth in prison or have young children. I found, to my shock, that Eastwood Park prison, which has a mother and baby unit, was shut for over a year because of an argument about a flood and who was going to pay for the damage. That meant that all women in the whole of the south west and south Wales had nowhere to go to in the vicinity. That is not acceptable, is it?
That is a shocking account. Again, that highlights some of the underlying issues in our prison services that could perhaps be dealt with a lot better.
Hon. Members will forgive me if I am unable to cover all the contributions that have been made today, but I know that the Minister, to be fair to him, does listen and will respond. My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) rightly pointed out that the Minister is the last man standing, and perhaps the oldest hand now in the Ministry of Justice. I am sure that he will use his skills to persuade the new Secretary of State that we do have a crisis in our prison service, but I will leave that to him.
I will be quick. Liverpool prison is perhaps in some of the most dire straits of all prisons in this country, as has been mentioned by my colleagues. The Secretary of State for Justice said on 18 December that an action plan would be forthcoming in January. Can I plead with the Minister that that is not forgotten in the midst of the reshuffle, and ask him perhaps to write to me or let me know in today’s debate when that action plan will be forthcoming?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Obviously, it is an issue that is very close to him, as it relates to his constituency, but it is also of concern to us all, and I hope that the Minister will listen and respond.
As recognition of mental illness in society increases, with a greater understanding of just how damaging it can be, so it does in prison. However, prisoners have a much greater likelihood of suffering from mental illness than the general populace, with one in three prisoners estimated to be suffering from mental illness.
I will also be very brief. One of the causes of concern is the impact on black and Muslim prisoners. Reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and from Dame Anne Owers say that negative outcomes, stereotyping and discriminatory treatment are consistently experienced by Muslim and black prisoners. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister could take a number of steps to help address that? First, religion and ethnicity should be recorded on all clinical records. Secondly, the uptake and outcomes of mental health services in prison should be examined by religion and ethnicity. Thirdly, mental health literacy and religious literacy training should be provided to all prison officers.
My hon. Friend is right to point out some of the particular issues regarding black, minority ethnic and Muslim prisoners. I will come on to the broader recording issues, but he makes some very important and sensible suggestions.
Unfortunately, most evidence suggests that the estimate that one in three prisoners suffers from mental illness is wildly conservative, demonstrating that it is a real problem, which manifests itself in the self-harm that has risen dramatically in recent years. Many of those self-harming and taking their own life are suffering from a mental illness, representing yet another crisis in our prison system that is spiralling out of control. The Government cannot get to grips with the crisis and are not doing enough to address it. I mentioned one of the reasons for that earlier, when I stated that the number of prisoners suffering from mental illness is just an estimate. There is no accurate record, clear marker, or identifiable way to determine who is suffering from a mental illness in prison; there is just an estimation of the scale of the problem—close to sheer guesswork on the part of the MOJ.
Even when prisoners are screened for mental illness, it is done poorly. Rather than a thorough assessment from a qualified mental health professional, most prisoners are briefly assessed, and given 120 questions to complete in often as little as 10 to 20 minutes. When thrown in with the increasingly toxic nature of prisons, the answers that come back are less than truthful. When the MOJ does not even centrally collect the basic number of prisoners in the prison estate who are suffering from mental illness, and when prisoners are not properly assessed, prisons simply do not know who is vulnerable and who is not, so how can they possibly be expected to provide care for them? The MOJ is failing at the first hurdle—being able to treat mental illness—even before we get on to the treatment itself. That is simply not good enough.
Unfortunately, the conditions after a prisoner has entered are little better, which means that even if they are identified as having a mental illness, they are not always properly treated. The commissioning of healthcare means that mental health provision is disjointed and varied across prison estates, with HM Inspectorate of Prisons finding gaps in primary care, professional counselling and therapies across estates, as well as failings in access to services, gaps in those services, and a failure to follow up on mental health concerns. That is bad, and is certainly not improved by the fact that the partnership agreement between the Prison Service and NHS England, setting out the objectives in providing healthcare to prisoners actually expired in April. There has been a transfer of responsibilities from the National Offender Management Service to the new Prison Service during that time, but I do not buy that as an excuse.
Prisoners with serious mental illnesses are treated even worse as they face extended waits for transfer to secure hospitals. NHS England set a target of 14 days from identification to transfer, but the reality is that prisoners awaiting transfer were reviewed in October 2016, with findings showing that prisoners waited an average of 47 days for their first assessment, a further 36 days for their second assessment, and a further 13 days for the Secretary of State to sign a warrant. That is clearly unacceptable.
All of that demonstrates that the Government are just not getting to grips with the crisis and are not moving to address it. To add to that, Government policy is making it worse. Substantial budget cuts to the Ministry of Justice have been passed on to the Prison Service, with the funding that NOMS received significantly falling. That translates to a reduction of around 30% in operational staff, meaning fewer staff on the wings and on the balconies, and crucially fewer staff who are able to understand individual prisoners and recognise when they are vulnerable. Furthermore, staff shortages and safety concerns have resulted in prisoners being forced to spend longer periods of time locked up in cells. Isolation and confinement are bad enough for those without mental health issues, but they can be devastating for those with mental health issues.
Fewer staff also leads to a rise in the number of drugs getting into prisons, as fewer prison officers results in fewer searches and reduced intelligence gathering and awareness. Drugs, both those of which we have an understanding, such as cannabis and cocaine, and those classed as new psychoactive substances, such as spice, are having a major impact on our prison estates and on the mental health of prisoners. Although the Government are introducing powers to stop the use of mobile phones and are training more dogs to combat smuggling, that is simply not enough without more prison officers.
I will conclude there, as I know the Minister has a number of points to come back on. In summing up, I would say that we have seen mental health care in prisons degrade on the Government’s watch. They must prove that they are serious about addressing it, because right now we see no such evidence. They need to record just how big a problem mental health in prisons is, screen prisoners properly and conduct an immediate review, for without that knowledge, they cannot begin to get to grips with the issue. They need to properly invest in getting prison officers back on the wings and the balconies—but not at the expense of support staff.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. Although I am the most experienced Justice Minister standing, it is going to be a bit of a challenge for me to answer all the questions in nine minutes, but I will do my very best.
I congratulate the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) on securing this debate on such an important issue. I also thank right hon. and hon. Members for their passionate and knowledgeable contributions to the debate. As well as the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston, we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow). I recognise the value of gardening —in all the prison visits I have made, the pride taken in the prison gardens and the therapeutic benefits garnered as a result are striking.
I will of course meet the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) to discuss the distressing case he mentioned. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) mentioned Parc. I recently visited the young offenders institution at Parc and was impressed with the environment for young people. The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) was very generous in his comments, as ever. I thank him. Yes, I am the continuity man—I am on my third Secretary of State. I also thank the shadow Front-Bench spokespeople for their contributions—the hon. Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) and for Bradford East (Imran Hussain).
The Government committed to reforming our prisons and prison culture in the “Prison Safety and Reform” White Paper of November 2016. Since then, we have delivered changes that will help prisoners to receive the mental health support they need to engage positively with society, but I am clear that more can be done to improve access to services and support for prisoners, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
First, I am clear that appropriate interventions and treatments at the right time and in the right place are vital to improving outcomes for those with mental health issues and other vulnerabilities. We are working across Government to help people access the services they need from their first contact with the criminal justice system. In England, liaison and diversion services have been rolled out in police stations and courts, covering more than 70% of the country. Those services, commissioned by NHS England, will be rolled out to cover 90% of England by the end of April 2019 and will be nationwide by April 2021. In Wales, where health is devolved, there is a separate but similar criminal justice liaison service.
We are building on services that divert those with mental health problems away from custody by increasing access to treatment for offenders in the community. Courts are already able to include mental health and substance misuse treatment as part of a community sentence, but often do not do so because of the barriers that offenders can face in getting the help that they need.
In 2016, only 669 mental health treatment requirements were given, which is approximately 0.5% of all community sentences. To tackle that, along with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England, we have been working to develop a protocol for community sentence treatment requirements. It will set out what action is required by health and justice staff to ensure that pathways into timely and appropriate treatment are in place, and that greater use is made of mental health and substance misuse treatment requirements as part of community sentences. The protocol, which includes a new maximum waiting time from date of sentence, will provide quicker access to mental health treatment, giving offenders the right support to keep them out of prison where appropriate, and breaking the cycle of reoffending.
In Wales, a project team is working on mental health treatment requirements, and the goal to improve MHTR is captured in the Welsh Government’s “Together for Mental Health” delivery plan. A similar protocol is being considered to cover devolved health services in Wales.
We have made good progress in diverting those with mental health needs away from prison, but many offenders with poor mental health are still being placed in a custodial setting, which brings me to my second point: we need to do more to make sure that these men and women receive the help they need. We know that we need the right staffing levels to provide a safe and secure regime that engages with prisoners with poor mental health in a supportive and rehabilitative way. That is why we committed to an increase of 2,500 prison officers by the end of 2018. Since we published the White Paper, we have recruited a net extra 1,255 prison officers over the last year, which puts us on track to meet the target, and means that officer numbers are now at their highest since August 2013.
We also know that the relationship between staff and prisoners is fundamental in supporting their wellbeing and reducing their risk of self-harm. Our offender management in custody model will see every person in closed conditions being assigned a key worker to motivate support and signpost them to the most appropriate services to help them to reform. Prisoners will be supported to attend scheduled health and mental health appointments. Their dedicated officer will be in a better position to respond to changes in their behaviour or mental wellbeing. The offender management in custody model has been rolled out in eight pathfinder prisons, and our aim is to introduce it into all other establishments by March 2019.
Last but not least, we need to ensure that our staff have the right skills to identify prisoners’ needs and risks, and provide them with the appropriate support. All staff in prisons, whether they are prison officers or staff in any other organisation working in a prison, receive mental health awareness training as part of the introduction to suicide and self-harm prevention course. It is also included in entry-level training for our new prison officers. Since April, 11,000 members of staff have started that training. The mental health awareness module informs staff of the most prevalent mental health issues in prison, including how poor mental health might affect behaviour and how officers can interact positively with prisoners presenting with mental health needs.
I acknowledge the concerns raised about how the age and condition of some parts of the estate might impact on the mental health and wellbeing of prisoners. I assure hon. Members that the Government are committed to transforming the prison estate in England and Wales and will be investing in the estate to deliver up to 10,000 new places. That includes pushing ahead with plans to close older prisons and open new accommodation during this Parliament.
I am aware of concerns about the amount of time that prisoners spend in cell rather than in activities that would support their mental health and reduce reoffending. We are committed to providing a supportive and rehabilitative regime with which prisoners can engage positively. In 2016-17, offenders completed 16 million hours of work and there were on average 11,200 offenders working in prison workshops.
For those prisoners who are seriously ill and require transfer to secure hospital to meet their care needs, we are considering ways in which we can best support them while they are awaiting transfer—we are working closely with NHS colleagues on how we can improve the transfer process. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service has issued a learning bulletin aimed at senior management and staff that provides guidance on the transfer process, managing risk and supporting individuals prior to and following transfer.
To support those in crisis we have worked with the Samaritans to produce a new digital suicide prevention learning tool, which is designed to give staff more confidence to engage with prisoners who may be at risk of suicide. We continue to support the Samaritans’ Listener scheme and are funding a new initiative designed to build emotional resilience in prisoners in their early days in custody.
We are exploring with probation colleagues how to ensure better continuity of the work being done to improve mental health in prisons through to the community to provide ongoing support and help reduce reoffending on release. Since 1 July 2017, prisoners can now register with a GP prior to their release. That will facilitate a quicker transfer of patient and treatment information from prison to GP, supporting prisoners to access community healthcare services on release.
Hon. Members raised a number of questions, including on the level of self-inflicted deaths. I am responsible for women’s prisons. When I took over in July 2016, I inherited a situation in which there was a suicide every month on the women’s estate. We have had only one suicide since January 2017. Every self-inflicted death is a tragedy and I want to be cautious in publicising those figures, but I am hoping that there is a trend in place and we are improving the situation in the women’s estate. There has also been a similar decline in the number of self-inflicted deaths in male prisons, although there were still 77 up to September 2017, which is obviously too many.
Spice is a particular problem, and increasingly so in broader society. We have introduced dogs to detect spice coming into prisons. I am under no illusions about how difficult this is, nor about the challenges of spice and the impact it might have on people’s psychiatric health. This is a work in progress and it will remain challenging, but we are determined to do better.
We recognise the value of employment on release. I recall going to HMP Drake Hall, where I met a young lady who was working for Halfords and was already placed into the job on release. I want to see more of that.
Transfer times for secure hospital placement is a particular concern to me. I get regular updates and have done ever since I started in the post. We have made some progress but we need to make more.
The report for the Joint Committee is currently with the new Secretary of State. Once he has read it, signed off and gone through the process, it will be published as promised.
I apologise for not being able to answer all the other questions. Finally, I thank all colleagues. This is an important issue and we need to continue to work hard to make things better for prisoners.
I thank all Members from right across the House and all parties, and the Minister for his obvious commitment and desire to do things. We wish him well and look forward to the vast improvements in our prisons and in safeguarding for our prisoners, and to the fruitful lives they live in society when they leave prison healthy.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered mental health in prisons.
Warwick District Council: New Offices
I beg to move,
That this House has considered new offices for Warwick District Council.
Thank you, Mr Howarth, for giving me the opportunity to debate this issue, which is of immediate concern to residents in Warwick district, which includes my constituency of Warwick and Leamington, part of the neighbouring constituency of Kenilworth and Southam and part of the Stratford constituency.
At first glance, this debate will seem parochial, but it has much wider implications for local authorities across the country. It is fundamentally about the use of public money, and how local authorities use planning legislation for their own ends—using public money to build, in this example, a new council office, at a time of austerity. There are huge pressures on local authorities to restructure, to consider merging and to close certain services. We have seen our children’s centres and women’s refuges close. My question therefore is: are these the right priorities?
The issue at hand is the proposal for Warwick District Council to relocate from its current site near the centre of Leamington town centre to another site it owns in the town centre. It is a joint planning application that includes the development of a site for housing, which will contain 214 new homes in total, and of offices at the Covent Garden site, which will incorporate a new multi-storey car park, replacing the existing car park that occupies that site.
At last night’s planning meeting, both applications were approved. I do not agree with those approvals, and nor do the public. Why is the council building a new office in the first place? That has to be the first question.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. At a time when local authorities are restructuring under the pressure of budgetary restraint, that could be an option, but there are other options, such as moving into vacant buildings that the authority owns. He is right to highlight that point, and I will come on to develop it.
How can a council that is likely to impose a 3% council tax increase in April, alongside other council tax increases that will mean a total rise of perhaps 7% to 8% for council tax payers, justify using scarce resources to build itself a shiny new office? Its sister county council has the necessary vacant space and is closing much-valued children’s centres, claiming that that is not what councils should be doing and that they should simply contract out delivery services. The council’s justifications include the fact that the offices are just 500 metres closer to the town centre and that they might be more economical to run. It claims that the move will be cost-neutral and could save £300,000 a year, but given my recent experience of its projects, including leisure centres, that will be wide of the mark.
There are three main issues: the development lacks provision for affordable housing, which is so desperately needed in the area; it is the wrong priority at a time of austerity; and it will disrupt car parking in Leamington town centre, and ultimately the viability of town centre businesses. In essence, it is the wrong development at the wrong time in the wrong place.
I want to touch on the issue of affordable homes. Some people may believe that the new office is critical at a time of economic austerity, and that the arguments of better heating and efficiency justify the £10 million spent, but then we discover that the council office project is being funded by the disposal of its current site for the exclusive development of private housing. In fact, the planning applications for the Riverside House and Covent Garden sites total more than 200 dwellings, but none of them will be council, social or affordable—zero council, zero social and zero affordable housing.
Remember that the two applications were made by the council for the council. What about the council’s own policy—the policy it wrote itself and specified in its own local plan—that 40% of properties on large new housing developments should be affordable housing? To be clear, large is anything greater than 10, so given that there will be 170 and 44 on the two sites, they comfortably qualify. It is clear that with these applications —approval has been outlined—the council is failing to meet its own standards for affordable housing, which it seeks to place on other developers. What sort of precedent is that setting?
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. The offices are a local issue, but the use of land for housing is a national issue—the use of land at premium prices that prevents the development of affordable housing has to be a national issue. Will the Minister have a serious look at that to see whether the local plan, which requires 40% affordable homes, can be enforced by central Government? We need to think of that as national public policy.
I thank my hon. Friend, who makes the point so well, as ever. Currently, in Warwick district—I am sure there are other examples around the country—only 27% of housing plans that have been approved are for affordable housing. The council itself is approving 0% affordable housing, so there is a much wider implication for the principle and for necessary housing, as he said.
If the council applied its own policy to those developments, Leamington would gain 86 affordable homes, which would make a huge difference to families in dire need of homes below market prices. Those who heard my maiden speech will be aware that there are about 2,400 people on the housing waiting list in Warwick district, that there are 700 statutory homeless people, and that there has been a 50% increase in rough sleeping in recent years. For young people, the situation is particularly dire. In 2015, Shelter found that 31% of working young adults in the area live with their parents, compared with a 25% average in England.
Some might simply excuse the council for ignoring social and affordable housing and accept the argument that it is not viable to include them, but that is missing the point. The new office development is not necessary, and it is only that that is disguising the council’s claim about why it is not building the much-needed affordable housing on the two sites. In its outline planning application, the council managed to wriggle out of the 40% requirement for affordable housing by securing viability—that great “v” word—appraisals that say that the developments would not be viable if they provided any affordable housing. Furthermore, the council is refusing to release the details of those viability assessments on the grounds that they contain commercially sensitive information, partly because the developments are a joint venture with a private company, which ignores the public interest in the investment in new buildings.
The council claims in the viability assessments that the capital receipts gained from the housing developments are required to fund the building of the new offices, but if it did not have the capacity to provide any affordable housing, it should never have proposed its new office plan in the first place. There is also the broader issue that the viability assessments allow developers to avoid requirements for affordable housing across the board. That policy was introduced in 2012 as part of the national planning policy framework, which has been disastrous for the supply of affordable housing, contributing to the housing crisis, and which should be dropped. When housebuilders such as Persimmon claim that developments are not viable, but the chief executive is pocketing a £130 million bonus, something is not right.
There is clearly a fundamental issue with a local authority being both applicant and jury. The planning committee is supposed to be quasi-judicial, but it is evident, as in this case, that planning officers lean on it to ensure that an application gets passed. How can the planning department “recommend approval” to its own committee on its own project? Let us be honest: that is not quasi-judicial.
The third report of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life—the committee advises the Prime Minister on the standards to be expected of those in public office—stated:
“We have particular concerns about…local authorities granting themselves planning permission…and we believe that there should be greater openness in the planning process.”
Warwick District Council has done exactly what the Nolan committee advised that local authorities should not do. In a case of commercial confidentiality, the failure to deliver affordable housing should preclude such exemption from public scrutiny. The council’s proposals, which fail residents in the area who are in desperate need of more affordable housing, should be dropped.
The people of Warwick district, in common with all communities, have been battered by a programme of Government austerity these past seven years, and local services are being cut. Communities are losing children’s centres, social care is at a crisis point and all services are suffering from the cuts. It is no wonder that, in such a challenging environment, many people tell me how surprised they are that the district council is proposing to build a new office.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about a challenging fiscal environment. The proposal, to which he has referred to fairly, is intended to save £300,000 per year, but surely that is precisely why it should be pursued—it will enable more money to be spent on the services that people want.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point but his conclusion is wrong. There is a huge opportunity for all local authorities. His Government previously proposed One Public Estate, which was a genuine and sincere ambition to get authorities around the table to review all public assets and decide how they can best be used for the future delivery of services. The Warwick proposal is an example of where that has not happened. I proposed a “one Warwickshire estate” a couple of years ago. Had it happened, the district council could have been using its existing assets or those of its sister councils such as the county council.
The council should be using any capital budgets to build much-needed council housing to address the 2,400-long housing waiting list. Moving the council headquarters is not a priority for the people in my constituency or in Kenilworth, and it should not be a priority for the council at this time.
The effect of the development on the Covent Garden car park will also have an impact on our community. It will lead to the closure of a much-needed car park, one of the four main ones in our town centre. The closure for redevelopment will result in a lack of car parking space in our town centre and therefore a huge amount of pressure on the economic viability of the town centre and the businesses therein. In any event, while building a car park, there should be some sort of workable displacement plan for parking during the construction period, but none has been put forward.
Indeed, no other options have been put forward to the public, but they should be explored. The council should consider the use of existing space in the public asset register that I mentioned a moment ago, such as empty and underutilised office space owned by the county council, or even Leamington town hall, which is owned by Warwick District Council. That would reduce the cost and allow for the development of affordable housing on the Riverside House site, as well as avoiding the demolition of one of our main car parks in Leamington. If the council must push ahead with the plans, it should at least find some way of meeting its own affordable housing policy for both developments and on those two sites.
From what my hon. Friend is saying, it springs to my mind that the council knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Councils are not meeting the affordable housing tariffs they set for themselves. In my constituency, for the past two years Peterborough City Council has approved proposals that have not met its 30% social and affordable housing tariff. His council has not met its 40% target, but is still ploughing ahead with proposals to build and develop, showing it knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Does he agree?
I thank my hon. Friend for a valuable intervention. She is so right. The precedent is dangerous not only for Warwick district but across the country. It could almost become case law, in that people will cite examples from elsewhere and use them for their own ends. That is one of the fundamental flaws in the existing policy. Furthermore, there are question marks over the transparency of the planning process as it stands, and my example demonstrates clearly how the viability assessment can be withheld on grounds of commercial sensitivity, despite the clear and obvious public interest involved.
This is the wrong development at the wrong time in the wrong place, as I have said. The lack of provision for affordable housing shows appalling double standards. The council is pushing ahead with a development that is not necessary at a time of austerity, and that is an insult to our residents. The demolition of the Covent Garden car park will bring chaos and uncertainty to our town centre, and lead to closures of retailers and businesses there during the two to three-year development phase. I therefore urge Warwick District Council to rethink, and I urge the Minister to ask it to do the same. I also ask the Minister to consider the broader issues raised by this case, which have significance throughout the country and will be replicated elsewhere. I am grateful for having the time to speak today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) on securing an important debate not just for his constituents but for various areas of the country—Members from across the House have made contributions, so he is obviously raising issues from their constituencies that they want to discuss.
To focus on Warwick initially, Mr Howarth, you, like me, are a proud northerner. I am also Minister for the northern powerhouse and it is appropriate for me to respond to this debate given that Warwick Castle was founded in 1068 by William the Conqueror, who was dealing with a rebellious set of northerners. I think we are both rebellious northerners and so it is appropriate for us to discuss Warwick under your chairmanship.
We heard an intervention by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) and I would like to frame the debate in terms of what his local authority has achieved by active management of its estate. The council has been inventive about how it has used its civic buildings in the centre of Rochdale, which adjoins my constituency—I know it extremely well—and it took a decision to move out of its iconic grade I listed town hall, which is a fantastic building and is now used largely for civic and private events. That shows how with active planning good local authorities may move offices to the betterment of the people they represent.
The iconic Rochdale town hall was, unfortunately, one of Adolf Hitler’s favourite buildings, but he told the Luftwaffe not to bomb it during the second world war, because he wanted to take it down brick by brick and to move it to Germany. A better use of it at the moment would be to replace the chimes from the Elizabeth Tower, the bong of Big Ben in particular, which we are all missing after it came back into use for a time over Christmas and new year. I hope that, with me, the hon. Member for Rochdale will continue to press the BBC on an issue that is important to the north of England.
We are as one on that—“bong” is all I can say.
We also heard from the hon. Member for Peterborough (Fiona Onasanya), who raised important issues in her constituency, and from my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), who has great experience as a former deputy leader of West Oxfordshire District Council. In his time there he was always involved in saving the local authority money, not for the sake of it or from any ideologically driven point of view, but so that he and his colleagues in the local government family of West Oxfordshire could invest in public services and public service delivery.
Before I move on to the main part of my speech, I will take the opportunity, on behalf of all hon. Members present, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in particular and me, to put on record our thanks to all councillors in our local government family who, regardless of political persuasion, work so hard to serve the communities that they represent.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington is aware that the Secretary of State has a quasi-judicial role in any planning applications in the United Kingdom. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the merits of Warwick’s local plan or to discuss in detail the application that he mentioned specifically. Equally, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on what is essentially a local decision by Warwick council to relocate its offices. However, I am aware that that is part of a wider efficiency plan that includes a review of council assets. Local authorities are right to manage their own assets and expenditure responsibly in a democratically accountable way. Warwick District Council is a stable, well-managed, fiscally prudent, Conservative-controlled council that has achieved a surplus on its general fund revenue budget in each of the past six years and is projected to do so again in this financial year, which shows that it has a history of taking difficult decisions to better serve the people in Warwick, as a prudent local authority.
The hon. Gentleman raised concerns about affordable housing provision. I will set out our national policy on this issue and what our national planning policy framework does to encourage the delivery of affordable housing. I will touch on parking facilities and how the framework promotes sustainable transport solutions. I will also say a bit about how we require local authorities to make sure that the money they expend is spent well and that they take prudent investment decisions.
The Government’s priority is to boost housing supply and to build more affordable homes, supporting the different needs of a wide range of people. That is why the Prime Minister recently announced an additional £2 billion of funding for affordable housing, increasing the affordable homes programme in the 2016 to 2021 budget to more than £9 billion, to deliver a wide range of affordable housing, including social rent homes, by March 2021. The new funding will support councils and housing associations to build more genuinely affordable homes in areas of acute affordability pressure, where families are struggling with the cost of rent and some families may be at risk of homelessness.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of homelessness and families waiting on the list during his maiden speech; it is absolutely right and appropriate that in this House we focus on what is a hugely important issue for us all as constituency MPs and for the Government. Our expanding programme will provide a wide range of homes to meet the housing needs of a range of people in different circumstances and different housing markets. Further details on how social rent will be prioritised in the areas of greatest need will be published shortly. The Government have also confirmed plans to create a stable environment by setting long-term rent deals for councils and housing associations in England from 2020. Increases will be limited to the consumer prices index plus 1% for the next five years until 2020.
On our national planning policy, our housing White Paper shows that the Government are strongly committed to a plan-led system, where new homes are provided through up-to-date local plans prepared in consultation with local people. The giveaway about local plans is in their title: they should be local, widely consulted on and driven by local authorities, not by Government. The White Paper also includes proposals for local authorities to have clear policies for addressing the housing needs of particular groups. As part of that, we expect local authorities to identify their affordable housing need. As always, we expect them to make a planning judgment—as they do now—to understand how many affordable homes should be built in their local planning area.
As I started out by saying, it is up to local authorities to determine how their own affordable housing policy is applied, and to determine their own planning applications in line with their own view. Planning law requires that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Viability is a material consideration. Different sites have different costs, and it might be appropriate for local authorities to seek different levels of local planning applications, including affordable housing, in certain circumstances.
I am interested to hear the Minister’s specific comments on One Public Estate and the fact that this authority has chosen to ignore the possibilities offered by the Government’s own policy on that. Also, will he concentrate on the 40% figure, where the authority is failing against it at a 0% level?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me down a path. I am tempted, but I will not venture down it, because, as I am sure he is aware as a county councillor and as a Member of this House, the Secretary of State in my Department has a judicial role in local plans, local planning policy, and all planning applications in England. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to comment in the way that he has asked.
Viability assessments play an important role in making sure that both plans and individual proposals are deliverable. However, we recognise that viability assessments can add complexity and uncertainty to the planning process, which have led to delays and diminished contributions towards infrastructure and affordable housing. That is why in our recent planning consultation we included proposals that seek to simplify the process, creating more certainty about the contributions that developers are expected to make. That will also increase transparency —I think that the hon. Gentleman will like that—so that local people can better understand what contributions may be expected to be secured from developers. Of course, that will not be the whole solution, and we will continue to consider further reform of developer contributions.
I note that the hon. Gentleman has concerns about parking provision in his local area. Planning policy on transport provision set out in our national planning policy framework promotes sustainable solutions to give people a real choice about how they travel. The framework expects councils to support developments that facilitate the use of public transport, walking and cycling where it is reasonable for them to do so, and to focus significant developments in locations that can be made sustainable in terms of transport. Local authorities are expected to improve the quality of parking in town centres so that it is convenient, safe and secure.
All local authorities have a duty to deliver the best value for the people they represent. I hope that Warwick District Council and all local authorities will have in their mind when they look at plans anywhere in the country how they can save money for the council tax payer and refocus that on the priorities that we have discussed, such as affordable housing, which, as we all know, is hugely important. Our Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that tackling the housing crisis is the top priority for her Government and I am absolutely proud to play my part in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in ensuring that we deliver on that promise.
Question put and agreed to.
Disability Confident Scheme
[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Disability Confident scheme.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I thank the Members who have made the effort to attend the debate, which I secured because I am a passionate believer in the ideals represented by the Disability Confident scheme, the support it offers and the progress it has made.
As recently as the 20th century, disability often prevented individuals from contributing to their communities and to society as a whole. At the turn of the 20th century, “defective” individuals were identified and separated from their communities through legislation such as the Mental Deficiency Act 1913. Meanwhile, adults who suffered an injury that caused a disability were often forced out of work and left reliant on rudimentary health and benefit schemes. Fortunately, in recent decades, Britain has made significant progress in guaranteeing rights and opportunities for disabled people. From the appointment of Britain’s first Minister for disabled people in 1972, to the discrimination and equality legislation of the 1990s and the early 21st century, our country has begun to catch up with the contribution, intellect and determination of so many disabled people across the United Kingdom.
I wish to cover three key components of the scheme in depth: the intent to provide equal opportunities for disabled people to be active participants in society; how the scheme contributes to reducing the disability employment gap; and how to encourage and engage employers to become more confident in employing and retaining disabled people.
First, let me expand on what I mean by intent. The Government should work to ensure that disabled people are not underrepresented in the workplace. Over the past seven years, it has been a common refrain of the Government not only that work should pay but that it is the most effective way of contributing to society. The logic of that belief is sound and has led to the Government overseeing the lowest unemployment in 43 years and, since 2010, the fastest rate of job creation. More than 600,000 more disabled people are in work now than were seven years ago. The employment rate among people with disabilities was 1.3 percentage points higher between April and June 2017 than in the same period in 2016, which means that the number of people with disabilities in employment rose by about 104,000.
Such opportunities help to provide work to formerly workless households and to provide disabled and non-disabled individuals with purpose, colleagues and community—factors that are widely recognised as helping to contribute to good physical and mental health. The Disability Confident scheme is consistent with that belief and complements other Government initiatives in work, welfare and health.
My second point is about the disability employment gap, which is defined as the difference between the employment rates among disabled and non-disabled people. There are currently 3.4 million disabled people in employment, which is approximately 49% of all disabled people. On its own, that sounds reasonable, but 80% of non-disabled people are currently in employment. The overall unemployment rate is 9% among people with disabilities but only 3.8% among people without disabilities. We should be determined to close that gap.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that we should aggressively pursue the UK Government’s target to halve the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people, and that Disability Confident will help to reduce that gap?
I could not agree more. That is a laudable target, but we should always try to go a little further. In my view, the target is there to be exceeded, and I am sure that the Minister will do everything she can to achieve that.
Let me dig a bit deeper and draw some gender and regional comparisons. Between April and June 2017, about 2 million women and 1.5 million men with disabilities were in work. That means that the employment rate among people with disabilities is about 50% for men and 48.6% for women. It is worth noting that more working-age women than working-age men have disabilities, which explains the discrepancy between the totals and the percentages of men and women with disabilities who are in work. However, the gap between the employment rates among women with and without disabilities is smaller than the equivalent gap for men. Although there is some reasonable news, it is tempered by the fact that the disability employment gap is still 27 percentage points for women and 35 percentage points for men.
It is also worth looking at the regional breakdown across the UK. Annual population survey data show that between July 2016 and June 2017 employment among disabled people was highest in the south-west of England, at 58.5%, and lowest in Northern Ireland, at just 36.7%. Scotland ranks third lowest in the UK, ahead of only Northern Ireland and the north-east, with a rate of 43.4% compared with the UK average of 49.7%. It is worth noting that those regional discrepancies by and large reflect the overall employment rates of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.
The data highlight the issue at hand. I secured the debate so that we could continue to raise awareness in the Government and in the public and private sectors of the contributions and under-appreciated talent of disabled people in the UK and, in so doing, help to bridge the disability employment gap.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that the fact that Disability Confident is a UK-wide scheme is excellent because it allows companies across our country to take part? Small companies such as Jaycees, a computer shop in Forres just two doors down from my constituency office, groups such as ENABLE Elgin, which does great work across Moray, and even globally renowned firms such as Maclean’s Highland Bakery, Walkers Shortbread and Baxters Food Group are all signed up to the scheme.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The scheme is commendable, and being UK-wide allows it to provide consistency and a standard for employers, both large and small, across the United Kingdom.
My third point is about employer engagement and retention. The Disability Confident campaign was set up by the Government in July 2013 and aims to help employers improve how they attract, recruit and retain disabled workers. The scheme also aims to educate employers about the benefits of employing disabled people. Some 5,000 employers have signed up to the scheme since 2016, including my own parliamentary offices, Clackmannanshire Council and Perth and Kinross Council, which both cross through my constituency, and several other businesses in my constituency. I encourage everyone in this place to sign their offices up for it. It is quick and easy—it takes only a few minutes. If hon. Members need any help, they should pop by my office. I am also pleased to say that the main Departments have achieved Disability Confident leader status, a standard to which many organisations should aspire.
In researching for this debate, I came across a number of exciting case studies, including a company in my constituency that has signed up for the Disability Confident scheme. The Glenalmond Timber Company in Methven has been signed up for two years and has taken on a number of employees through the scheme. Most recently, it hired Colin, who is deaf. Colin started only a few weeks ago, but in that time he has been made to feel part of the team. Jed, his team manager, helped him to settle in by learning sign language. Jed commented that he “saw the man, not the disability”. In return for that commitment, the company gets an enthusiastic, hard-working and happy employee. Indeed, Colin’s wife commented that she had never seen her husband so happy.
Glenalmond Timber Company has also worked closely with the local jobcentre and disability centre to maximise the benefits of the Disability Confident scheme and what the company can offer through it. Staff have nothing but positive comments, and Jed has been invited to speak to students in local schools about his experience and about how they can be involved in skills development schemes and apprenticeships to ensure that their talent is not wasted.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. Although I very much support the scheme—that is why we are all here—many small and medium-sized business in Northern Ireland do not have the resources to participate in it. Companies that want to be part of the scheme but have upstairs offices or would have to widen doorways for people who use wheelchairs or take measures to allow visually disabled people to fully participate cannot take part because of the cost of renovating their buildings. Does he agree that that is a shortfall of the scheme? Perhaps the Minister will address that in her response.
I realise that the scheme is a start, and later in my speech I will come to a number of areas that I hope the Minister and the Government will seek to develop further.
I was talking about the Glenalmond Timber Company. For people who do not know, Methven is a village in my constituency—it is not a bustling metropolis. There is not a huge amount of infrastructure, nor is there a particularly strong disability lobby that has worked hard on local or national Government. However, a company there is committed to seeing the person and not the disability, and it has reaped the positive results of that. I commend the Glenalmond Timber Company for the work it has done through Disability Confident. I hope the Minister will join me in visiting its site in the near future.
Of course, it is not just local businesses that are involved; national and international businesses have also signed up to the scheme. I thank Sainsbury’s, which has provided information on cases across the United Kingdom. It is a large corporation that has been highly involved in the Disability Confident campaign. One of its employees in the north of England experienced some mental health issues and has only just felt confident enough to talk about his condition at work. Although he requested to remain anonymous, he commented:
“There is still a stigma about mental health, so I was nervous about talking about it. But receiving a firm diagnosis recently made it easier for me to speak up. Everyone I’ve had contact with here has been really supportive and keen to help. I worked with my line manager and HR to come up with adjustments, which have made a massive difference. Flexible rotas, extra preparation time at the start of shifts and the addition of a click and collect shift to my working week have made things less stressful.
I’m now really enjoying my job. There’s great camaraderie and team spirit, and with regular reviews as we go along, there’s no reason I won’t be able to stay in the role long-term…I’d advise colleagues dealing with mental health conditions to take that first step and talk to their managers. Once you’ve said the words, it gets much easier.”
Those words are great to hear and show that the scheme is making a great start, but there is still a lot of work to do.
The 2017 Conservative manifesto committed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) mentioned, to getting 1 million more disabled people into employment in the next 10 years. The Government therefore released a White Paper entitled “Improving Lives: the future of work, health and disability” in November last year. The strategy is based partly on supporting disabled people to find work but also on providing investment to support them to stay in work, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). The White Paper states that the Government will
“increase the reach and effectiveness of Disability Confident”,
while the Disability Confident business group has been established to provide leadership, peer-to-peer support and the sharing of best practice. Furthermore, the White Paper included the following policies and proposals. First, the roll-out of the personal support package, which includes the recruitment of 200 community partners, 300 disability employment advisers and about 100 small employer advisers. It will also provide support for individuals to help find and keep a job. Secondly, the Government have committed—I am sure that the Minister will elaborate on this—to explore the best options to provide support to those with more complex needs, and those who are furthest from the labour market across the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is being generous, and it is a huge pleasure to see another member of clan Graham representing Ochil and South Perthshire in the House. Does he agree that there may be a good case for the Government to consider doing what they did so successfully with apprenticeships: to provide small employers with an incentive to hire people with disabilities? If that were in the form of a national insurance break, that might be the catalyst that enables us to move at the pace we want in taking people with disabilities into employment.
Indeed. I will come to that point towards the end of my speech.
The Government’s proposals are all laudable and aspirational, and I am sure they will receive cross-party support in their implementation. I also ask the Minister to ensure that any new provisions are UK-wide and not limited by devolution settlements anywhere in the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman is most kind in giving way. The other reason I wanted to come to the debate and make a comment was that over the years I have heard from a number of civil servants employed by Government who have lost their jobs due to their ill health—irritable bowel syndrome is one such example. It is a colossal experience for the person concerned, but even though they were employed by Government, the Government paid those people off. This debate is an opportunity to raise awareness in all Government Departments to ensure that people are not penalised because of their ill health in jobs they wish to stay in.
I could not agree more. I hope that, through further speeches, we will hear more case studies and examples to try to raise the profile of the issue further. I know that the debate will not be left in this Chamber but that it will be continued by Members across the House in their constituencies and hopefully in the main Chamber. As I said, I urge cross-party support, because everyone has a role to play in helping to achieve the Government’s commitments as well as getting behind some of the Government’s policies and practical applications to try to ensure we achieve the targets set.
The Disability Confident scheme is about creating a movement for change, getting employers to think differently about disability and to act to improve recruitment and retention of disabled workers. The scheme has three levels that have been designed to support employers on their Disability Confident journey. An employer will complete each level before moving on to the next.
At the start of an employer’s Disability Confident journey, it can sign up via gov.uk with its Disability Confident commitments and identify at least one thing it can do that will make a difference for disabled employees. The second step is to become a Disability Confident employer. Such an employer will need to undertake a self-assessment, testing its business against a set of statements grouped into two themes: getting the right people for the business; and keeping and developing those people. For both themes, the employer will need to agree to take all of the actions set out in the core actions list and at least one from the activity list to make good on its commitment.
The final level, achieved by some Government Departments, is level 3, a Disability Confident leader. For that, an employer needs to meet two additional elements. First, it must challenge itself through self-assessment and open up to external challenge to ensure it really is pushing itself and delivering the best for its people. The second element is leadership within industry and among peers as well as with its own communities and supply chains.
By working through the scheme, employers also get access to a wide range of information, good practice and other resources, including links to Department for Work and Pensions programmes that can provide practical assistance. For example, Access to Work provision rose by 8% last year, and for some groups it rose at an even faster rate. For example, the number of deaf people who had support approved increased by 13%. There was also a significant increase in the number of people with provision approved who have mental health conditions, which was up 37%, and those with learning disabilities, which was up 25%. For young people aged 16 to 24, the increase was 26%.
Those metrics are all encouraging, and the scheme has the right intent and policies to progress. However, no scheme is perfect, as alluded to by other Members, so I ask the Minister and the Government team to look at continuously improving the scheme over the next few years and ensure that it is regularly reviewed so that we can check progress and see if anything can be done to provide UK employer incentives, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises, where cash is more constrained and it is more difficult to make the changes that would allow extra people to enter our workforce and increase our productivity.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking a second intervention. He described well the different levels of the scheme and employers who have signed up. Is there also a need to ensure that employers who have signed up do not rest on their laurels on the first level but are encouraged to move on, develop the programme and progress through the levels of the scheme?
Absolutely—my hon. Friend makes a valid point. Even at level one, employers are making a commitment to take action within the next 12 months, and the mechanism must be used to ensure that those commitments are followed through. Commitments are easy to make online, but there needs to be the follow-through to make a real difference.
Quite simply, we cannot afford to allow any of our citizens’ talents to go to waste. For our United Kingdom to reach its full potential, every one of its citizens must reach theirs. Harnessing the skills and talents of everyone is at the heart of a successful economic plan, but good employment delivers much more than just a strong economy. Having a good job is good for our health: it keeps people healthy, both mentally and physically. I want disabled people to have every opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them. That is the sort of aspirational country I want to see, and that is what this scheme is starting to deliver.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) on, and thank him for, securing this extremely important debate. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on disability, I am pleased that we are having this debate. I share the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment that we should be having these debates in the main Chamber as well. This week, I applied to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on the potential that disabled people bring to our economy. We must harness their skills and potential, and I would hope that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members here today would support that application.
The Disability Confident scheme is extremely symbolic. I have held a Disability Confident event in my constituency and would advocate other hon. Members doing so. It was important because only when we go through the process of helping employers to look at the scheme and what it would mean can we understand the hurdles that they feel they face—we can see not only the positives, but some of the limitations within the scheme as it stands.
A number of employers came along to the event on the day. We had great support from the Department for Work and Pensions and from various other organisations, and it was a successful event. I was pleased to publicise it and to tell people, “This is a really positive scheme and a positive event.” However, I would say that, in the follow-up, almost a year later, I re-contacted many of the employers who came to the day. They said, “Yes, it’s a good scheme, and we feel a bit more confident,” but confidence in itself does not always lead on to employment. While it is a good scheme, there is much more we can do.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) on bringing forward this important subject. My constituent, Atif Aslam, is a maths graduate but suffers from multiple sclerosis. Although he can access interviews, often employers do not put in place what he needs. For example, he needs a scribe in an interview if he is to fill in particular applications. He has been to interviews where he has told them in advance and the employer has not provided it. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that it is one thing for employers to say that they will sign up to this, but another thing for them to act on it?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Providing adaptations is one of the challenges that employers, particularly small businesses, have come to me about following the event. They have said that they need further support from the Government. As a psychologist, I know that feeling confident is great. I feel confident that I will probably do lots of exercise this year, but whether that turns into my doing exercise might be a different story, particularly when it comes to February or March, rather than January when I am full of inspiration. We are starting off with a good scheme, but we need to build on it and my hon. Friend’s point is extremely important.
Small businesses find dealing with legislative requirements a challenge and a concern. They need help to navigate them, and support in overcoming what are mainly perceived barriers—perceived barriers can still mean businesses taking a step back from giving employment opportunities to people who have disabilities. I understand from disability organisations that the scheme itself has received mixed reviews—I am referring to Disability Rights UK research. I believe it is possible to get to level 3 of the scheme without actually employing anyone who has a disability. We want to see much more of the additional practical support that employers need.
The disability employment gap has remained pretty static at 32 percentage points for many years, which shows that we are making some progress, but certainly not the progress we need to make. That reinforces the point that we need to do much more. The APPG, which hon. Members are welcome to join, recently compiled an inquiry report looking at the disability employment gap. The report estimated that, with the current policies, as of 2016-17, it would take 50 years to meet the Government’s pledge to halve the disability employment gap. That is not where we want to be and is further evidence that much more needs to be done.
My hon. Friend has obviously read my speech. Yes, the manifesto pledge has changed. Given some of the responses from disability organisations, the Government were obviously struggling to halve the gap, which was their initial manifesto pledge, but we must harness the potential of people with disabilities for this economy. We cannot have a good economy while people are sidelined and not part of it. Across the United Kingdom, we must do all we can to rise to the challenge and ensure we get as many people with disabilities into employment as possible, recognise their skills and abilities, and give them opportunity, hope and support exactly where it is needed.
The APPG report, by Nick Bacon and Kim Hoque from the University of Warwick, made a number of important recommendations that I would like the Minister to consider in addition to the disability employment scheme. These are things that we believe would make a difference. It is important to look at apprenticeships, which have been mentioned. When people leave school, there is often nothing to go to. That is when people can start to feel hopeless and that they are not part of society. That can accumulate into not just disability, but mental health issues, depression and feeling very isolated. It is important to act at an early stage. Apprenticeships should be made available in realms of the economy where there is growth, such as science, technology, engineering and maths, and areas where there are employment gaps and we can harness people’s potential, where that is the role they want to fulfil.
Looking at support for disabled entrepreneurs, I often find that in these debates we automatically think of people with disabilities as employees. They should also be thought of as extremely skilled and as having the potential to run businesses and employ others. Overcoming some of the challenges that are currently in the way, such as discrimination in obtaining finance and capital to start businesses, which can be particularly difficult, would make a difference.
Research shows that peer-to-peer support for disabled entrepreneurship is helpful. It helps people to speak about what is working, what the challenges have been, how they have overcome those challenges and how to move forward, with support from someone who has been through the process, which is always good. Another recommendation was to look at leveraging public procurement, particularly for big contracts, and thinking about whether we could leverage some of those public sector contracts towards inclusive companies. It would make a fundamental, significant change to the numbers of people employed.
We in Parliament have to be role models. I am very pleased that the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire has signed up to the scheme. In parliamentary work, other things are also happening that I think are very positive. I have taken up quite a bit of time, but before I finish I will briefly mention the Speaker’s internship scheme, which has now been widened. I am very pleased, because we put forward a proposal just last year, before the snap election, to increase participation in the internship scheme, ring-fencing money for disabled interns. That will start in September. Parliament should be walking the walk as well as talking the talk, so that is a positive thing and I commend Mr Speaker for showing his support and taking it forward.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) on securing this very important debate.
This Government have a breath-taking record when it comes to getting people into employment—a record for which they get insufficient credit. It is easy to see joblessness simply as an economic challenge, but for the individual concerned, securing a job can have a major impact on their sense of self-worth and confidence, allowing them to lead a full, independent and rich life. I can only imagine the intense frustration many disabled people feel in knowing that they have ideas and energy to share in the workplace but facing practical barriers in securing work.
It is stating the obvious to suggest that people with disabilities have huge wells of talent to tap if we can collectively find a way of addressing some of those barriers. Other Members have referred to the disability employment gap, which has remained persistently high for decades. Were such a gap present in other parts of the working population, there would rightly be uproar. This problem is every bit as urgent as other workforce diversity challenges.
I commend the Government for the Disability Confident scheme, which marks an important step in helping to change perceptions among employers about taking someone on with a disability. I recently met representatives from Leonard Cheshire and learned about Change100, its graduate placement programme that secures talented disabled graduates paid placements at some of the UK’s best known companies. Leonard Cheshire highlighted to me some of the simple steps that help to build a disabled person’s confidence in making a job application, such as a prospective employer displaying Disability Confident accreditation, offering flexible hours and home working and having an awareness of the Access to Work scheme, which can fund building adaptations and specialist equipment. Leonard Cheshire recommends that the Government endorse an independent evaluator to monitor the success of employers in recruiting and retaining disabled staff, beginning with Disability Confident employers. Results could then be published to see how employers compare and to encourage improvement, increasing the speed of change.
What I most want to raise is the needs of people who are unemployed and have less visible disabilities, whether mental or developmental. In the six months that I have been the MP for Hornchurch and Upminster, I have had two cases brought to my attention by the parents of young men with autism who have been desperate to secure long-term, meaningful work suited to their specific skills. Both gentlemen are very skilled and anxious not to spend the rest of their lives isolated at home.
The first, Richard, has Asperger’s and has engaged with the jobcentre but considers that disability advisers do not adequately understand and consider his employment needs. He has been seeking paid work since 2005, and the jobcentre has frequently encouraged and assisted him by facilitating work placements and courses, rewriting his CV to reflect that additional experience. However, much of that has just been box-ticking, without meaningfully improving his job prospects. Richard has still not secured any suitable long-term paid opportunities and has twice been referred to employment support services, which subsequently told him they would not be suitable for someone of his needs, which knocks his confidence again and makes it even harder for him to make the next approach in the workplace.
Those sentiments are shared by Drew, a politics graduate with autism who has struggled to find employment since 2004. Drew similarly laments the lack of personalised support in various Access to Work schemes for those with disabilities, noting that those on the autistic spectrum need not only a chance but an integrated way of ensuring that that chance pays off for them. In Drew’s case, an employment opportunity was found, but it soon became unsuitable due to difficulties in getting transport at the required shift times. When the opportunity collapsed, Drew had to reapply for unemployment benefits, forcing an individual with organisational difficulties to navigate a complex system and knocking his delicate confidence levels.
Drew’s parents recently came to my surgery and described how he gets very costly support that is not properly designed. That money would be much better spent if the jobcentre or his support workers had a focused approach at the beginning of the journey into work, helping him to establish relationships with his employer and in future with his colleagues, and helping him with his journey. If that support is focused right at the beginning, it might pay off with a much more viable job opportunity, rather than just putting a person on course after course, without any real structure to the process.
I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us whether she has looked at the specific skills that some people with autism have—for instance, IT and tech skills, which both Drew and Richard display—and whether any approaches have been made to bodies such as the National Cyber Security Centre or techUK, where those kinds of talents are really needed in the workplace but have not yet been found in sufficient numbers. I would also appreciate her thoughts on refocusing support away from courses and work placements and on to the initial stages of employment opportunities, as I have described.
The hon. Lady is making a very thorough speech. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on disability, I have had a lot of positive feedback about the Access to Work programme. Does she agree that it is really important for that programme to be made more visible, so that there is greater awareness of it and the people who need it, just like the constituent she spoke of, are able to access it?
One of the important things about this debate is that we need to raise awareness across the board. MPs can help to do that by continuing to have debates, whether here or in the main Chamber—that is an important part of the process. A lot of employers simply do not know about these schemes and therefore do not have the confidence to access them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) on his fantastic speech. I have known him for many years, and I am not surprised that he has a full grasp, and a very proactive and constructive way, of promoting this very important issue. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), who clearly demonstrates a desire to push this.
There will be contributions from Members right across the House because we all recognise the importance of the subject, and we all have a commitment, whichever political party we represent, to see more people with disabilities having an opportunity to work. During my time as the Minister for Disabled People, that was always brought home. Whenever I went on visits, my favourite thing to say was, “If you were the Minister, what would you do?” There were some great ideas that I would happily take forward and some suggestions that we could not, but universally, people—and particularly young people—wanted the opportunity to work. That opportunity is often taken for granted, but for some, there are challenges that prevent them from enjoying it. For some, it will be full-time work. For others, it might just be an hour. I spoke to the parents of young adults whose desperate hope was that their children would get one hour a week, which would make all the difference to their quality of life. We are all determined to make a difference, and this cuts across political divides.
I saw many good examples and did lots of tours. Big employers were pretty good. GlaxoSmithKline, National Grid and Marks & Spencer had big HR teams that were skilled at ensuring there were ways of navigating the challenges that those employees might face. However, 45% of jobs are within small and medium-sized enterprises, which are not big enough to have HR departments. They would often shy away from employing someone with a disability and did not realise that there was a huge amount of talent out there.
I know that there is, because before I became an MP I ran my own business and employed people with disabilities. I did not do that because I was ticking a box or seeking a halo. I did it because it made good business sense. We as businesses were competing for the very best people, and often by making very small changes we can tap some fantastic talent and benefit. Before I did my Disability Confident event, one of my friends who runs a business said to me, “Do you know what, Justin? I’ll do you a favour. I’ll come along,” and I told him off. I said, “It’s nothing to do with favours. This has to work for you. There are reasons why it hasn’t worked for you in the past, and this is why we need to do a Disability Confident event.” Through the Disability Confident campaign, we can give employers the confidence to employ people with disabilities. I pay tribute to the DWP Disability Confident team, who were fantastic in providing manpower and very patient when I decided to do things completely differently.
I did a reverse jobs fair. Rather than a typical jobs fair, where people seeking a job turn up and hand out their CVs to employers, we gave stalls to 25 local organisations in my constituency in Swindon who help disabled people get into work. We had Pluss and the Shaw Trust, and lots of local organisations. I then wrote to all the employers that I could find addresses for and said, “You probably have recruitment problems, because we are close to structural full employment. I want you to come along and tell all these organisations where your skills gaps are, and they might be able to match someone to you.” There were 25 organisations, and 80 employers turned up—that was 180 people.
On the day, at STEAM Museum, we had 30 employer pledges. McDonald’s alone took three young adults with a disability to start immediate employment at a newly refurbished restaurant. There were two internships. Three organisations—Swindon Borough Council, Network Rail and the Research Councils, all major employers in my constituency—signed up to the Disability Confident campaign. Swindon College launched an internship programme for those with a disability. The local enterprise partnership wrote to all the businesses to provide the information; we had three donations from businesses to some of the charities there to support their work further; and 17 businesses agreed to meet different organisations after the event to specifically talk about how they could provide people to match the skills.
A lot of the businesses were worried. Would they be able to provide a safe environment for somebody with a disability? The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has just left, made the point about the cost. That is why things such as Access to Work can help—it had a stand. Organisations understood that they could go to the employer’s business and say over a cup of tea, “This is what you will need to do to make a change. We will help to do that. We will not just drop somebody off on day one and then hope it all goes well. We will work with you because, when this is a success, which it will be because these people have great skills, you will keep coming back to us.”
Crucially, we all want more disabled people to have an opportunity. Everybody gains because the employers have skills gaps. People are determined to contribute and want to work. They are enthusiastic and talented. Through the Disability Confident campaign, we have an opportunity to share best practice and promote it. I fully support what the Government are doing. The issue has total cross-party support and I pay tribute to every individual MP who has taken the time to do a Disability Confident event. They are making a difference. I have spoken to the young adults and they are very grateful.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who has given such a passionate account of his own personal experience. I have taken a lot from that and have been inspired to consider doing something similar in my constituency in Redditch. We have heard excellent contributions from all parties. The debate is very important and I am pleased we are having it today.
My personal experience as an employer before I entered the House taught me how valuable it is to build diverse teams, not for any altruistic reason but because it makes such a difference to the performance of the business. Like the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), I have a background in psychology and I studied workplace psychology. Diverse teams—diversity of ability as well as all the other things that we think about—have been shown time and again to perform better. They make better decisions and achieve better results, so it makes an enormous amount of sense for us all to promote the Disability Confident scheme for employers.
I agree that work is not just an economic proposition. It is about achieving human potential. It is about individuals and whatever ability they have been born with being able to achieve their potential, contribute and make a difference in their lives. It is so inspiring to hear some of the stories that we have heard today.
I am a relatively new Member. I am pleased that 23 employers in Redditch have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme. I want that number to grow and I shall take practical tips from Members to try to push that number up. I have already visited six of those employers, so I have seen what a difference the scheme makes and how transformational it is for individuals’ lives when they contribute and have a purpose. It is not just about a manufactured scheme. It is about a real contribution on the same basis as any other employee. They are valued for the contribution that they make to the business or organisation. That is what is important. People who are disabled, like people who are not disabled, deserve to be valued for what they put into the workplace and into the organisation. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham), I have signed up to the scheme.
I was interested to watch the programme on TV, “Employable Me”, a few months ago, which I thought was a fantastic example of what a difference employment makes. It was inspiring and heart-warming to hear from people who had faced challenges to get into the workplace. Very often simple and practical changes can be made in a workplace. I agree with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has left, that sometimes employers can be put off. I recognise that. Working in a small business and starting up a small business without a dedicated HR function can mean that there is a fear—people visualise a lot of different equipment or modifications being needed, when sometimes that is not the case. It is very much about educating colleagues in the workplace to understand and appreciate how they can make small changes to enable people to fulfil their potential. I have personal experience of working with disabled individuals in many different walks of life. It has always been overwhelmingly positive and has made such a difference when one takes the time to understand what the challenges can be.
I welcome and commend the Government’s ambitious scheme. Like colleagues, I have a couple of suggestions for the Minister. The Shaw Trust has just won the contract in Redditch to deliver the programme there. I recommend the Minister looks at the recommendation that the trust has put forward. There is a one-stop shop, a portal, for employers to go to, where they can receive all the information and resources that are there for them to improve Access to Work. A former Minister for Disabled People referred to the Access to Work programme as one of the Government’s best-kept secrets. We should not let that be a secret. It should be a primetime headline, because it is excellent news.
The Minister might like to consider whether we should publish more figures. Should we require large companies to publish figures of their success on employing disabled people? We have seen what is happening in the gender pay gap, where there is definitely a lot more to do, but we are starting to achieve positive change. Perhaps we could do that with disability as well.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) on securing this debate. Before I go any further, I wish to declare an interest. My wife is disabled and I think I should put that on the record. Unfortunately, it is a sad fact that the incidence of multiple sclerosis—MS—becomes more prevalent the further north we travel within the UK. My remote constituency therefore has one of the highest levels and so the issue is of enormous interest.
I have listened to the debate thus far with the greatest of interest. The experiences of the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) are instructive. The issue is about getting the disabled back to work. It is about giving the disabled dignity, quality of life and self-esteem. Whatever side right hon. and hon. Members were on in the Brexit debate, the fact is that as the UK goes into new waters we will have to maximise and utilise our workforce like never before. We will have to use every bit of brainpower and every bit of skill we have, and that links into this debate.
The tone of the debate is right because it is not about the disabled, but about employers. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, there is an issue with getting small employers to take up the use of the disabled. The scheme is a laudable UK-wide initiative, but there is a Scottish dimension. I do not want to denigrate the Scottish Government, but co-ordinating with the Scottish Government, which I am sure happens at the moment, can only be a good thing. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of possibilities. Is the enterprise network in Scotland fully engaged? Perhaps it is, but there is a useful way forward there.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) hinted at the idea of big business mentoring small businesses. That sort of expertise and knowledge can be passed on. The Government may have to enable that via enterprise agencies or whatever, but it would be useful. We need to publicise the benefits of the scheme. We need stuff in the media and on the television about how good it is. Mention was made about whether firms will stay engaged and move up the levels, and that is one way of ensuring that that happens.
What is great about today’s debate is the fact that no one can take anything away from the fundamental decency of the scheme. All parties recognise that; it is a good scheme and is well intentioned. It helps those who most need help, and I appreciate that. That is why we are singing from the same hymn sheet today, and why it is a pleasure to take part in the debate. Progressing the scheme can only be good for everyone in the UK, particularly in the slightly uncertain times ahead, as I have said. We have to maximise our potential.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) on securing the debate. It is important that it should take place now, following the publication of “Improving Lives” on 30 November. The Christmas period gave us an opportunity to read it and to consider its findings and recommendations.
The disability employment gap has been with us a long time. It is a bit like the “Mind the gap” announcement on the underground, where in some stations the same message has been broadcast for more than 40 years. We need to change the record. A good start has been made, and 530,000 more disabled people are in work than four years ago, but the gap has been stuck at around 30% for over a decade. The challenge that we now face is to remove the barriers that prevent disabled people from getting into work, realising their full potential and having the fulfilling lives that are so important to them and their families.
The barriers, which have been well discussed today, include inaccessible recruitment processes, securing reasonable adjustments in the workplace and overcoming employer uncertainty about taking on disabled people, first for work experience and then for full-time employment. I welcome the Government’s plans to test out ways of improving people’s experiences of the work capability assessment and then to deliver long-term reforms. I am grateful to the Minister for a personal assurance that she will do that.
I sense that for Disability Confident to be a success, the Government should provide a national framework, within which local people and organisations would be the champions, and understand the needs, of their local communities, and could set about delivering the scheme on the ground. The measures and support that the previous Secretary of State announced on 30 November help to provide that framework. There is a need for regular reporting and evaluation of how the campaign is going. “Improving Lives” must be a living document, not something that gathers dust on the shelf. If it is, a good databank of good practice will be built up, and can then be cascaded down to local communities. With Government in the background providing the framework and support and acting as a critical friend, delivery must ultimately be down to local people.
A possible criticism of “Improving Lives” is that it does not provide guidance on how local initiatives can be nurtured and go on to flourish. The feedback from the roundtable discussion that took place in Lowestoft as part of the consultation, and from the Disability Confident event that was put on by Jobcentre Plus, Mencap, local charities and employers in October 2016 at Lowestoft Sixth Form College, is that it is local people who want, and are best placed, to drive forward the campaign. That is an approach that we will build on locally at a chamber of commerce event in March.
The Government have made a good start in promoting Disability Confident, but more work is required to put flesh on the bones. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire will put in for a debate on this matter each year, so that annually there will be report-back sittings at which the Minister can make a statement and Back-Bench MPs can provide feedback from the communities that we represent. It is important that Disability Confident should succeed. If it does, Britain will be a much better place. Not only will disabled people and their families acquire a real sense of fulfilment and wellbeing, but so will their work colleagues.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my colleague, the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham), on securing this important debate. [Interruption.] It is an Ayrshire pronunciation.
Since the inception of the Disability Confident scheme in 2013, as has been said, some 600,000 more disabled people have secured employment. While that is welcome, we must strive to improve that figure. The scheme aims to change attitudes, behaviours and cultures to ensure that the skills and talents that many disabled persons possess are not overlooked, but utilised to benefit businesses, communities and, most importantly, the individuals concerned. It is to be hoped—and I am sure that it will happen—that more employers will attract, recruit and retain disabled workers. The process includes promotion of the Access to Work scheme, which was mentioned earlier and is emerging as important in securing changes to workplaces, to allow disabled people to be employed. That has inspired more than 5,000 employers to sign up to the scheme.
Within my wider constituency area there are examples of committed employers who have signed up to and are actively participating in the Disability Confident scheme. They include South Ayrshire Council, Tartans & Tweeds in Girvan, and Ayrshire Hospice. Many others have also signed up, and I welcome their participation. I encourage businesses to consider signing up to become Disability Confident employers. Online Government guidance and resources are readily available to assist businesses large and small that want to join the scheme.
I applaud local DWP staff who are hosting employer events. Two seminars are being planned to encourage employers to become members of the scheme. MPs can all be ambassadors in our constituencies to promote this wonderful scheme. I employ someone in my own office who is regarded as disabled under the Equality Act 2010, for whom I am required actively to consider whether any reasonable adjustments are required, and that individual is an effective and valued member of my team. It is important that disabled persons have equality of opportunity and that we ensure that their skills and talents will not be overlooked.
We have come a long way since the scheme was introduced in 2013. The “Improving Lives: Work, health and disability” Green Paper of 30 November, which has been mentioned by other hon. Members, creates further opportunities for more disabled people to take up employment, with an ambitious target to secure employment for 1 million more individuals over the next 10 years. The Green Paper also explores opportunities for apprenticeships and for self-employment, as was mentioned. A disabled person need not necessarily be an employee, but could become an employer. Such opportunities are supported by 300 disability employment advisors and about 100 small employer advisers.
The Government can be proud of their endeavours and, to a degree, their success in creating an environment to enable disabled individuals to secure and retain employment, and develop their full potential.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) on obtaining the debate and on his persuasive email to colleagues encouraging us to join up, which I did. It was very easy, and I know that he will be checking how progressive we are in my office. The scheme is much needed, not least because of the statistics that we have heard, showing that about 50% of disabled people are employed, compared with 80% of non-disabled people. It will of course improve the recruitment and retention of a more diverse and talented workforce. I am pleased that I have signed up.
In my time as an MP I have the pleasure of visiting a number of businesses, many of which have signed up for the scheme already. One that stood out was Carillion, a supplier to the nuclear industry, which is working with National Autistic Society, recognising a skills gap and the fact that there could be opportunities from adapting its recruitment and retention procedures. That brought home to me the benefits to us all of improving those procedures.
Having visited businesses in my community, and organisations such as the Egremont Youth Partnership, which works with young people with disabilities, and Mayfield special school—I have also met self-sustaining groups that support parents of people with autism, such as Autism Around the Combe—I know that there is something lacking in provision during the passage from being a young person to an adult. I should like the Minister to work with other Departments, and particularly with the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to ensure that ways are sought to improve disabled people’s access during the passage between being a young person and adult. That applies particularly to apprenticeships.
I am looking forward to the National College for Nuclear opening on 9 February. That will provide even more opportunities for my constituents and many others to work in the nuclear industry. However, when I asked what provisions it has put in place for the recruitment of disabled people, there was a gap in knowledge—I certainly noted an area for improvement.
Today’s debate has been positive, and Members’ contributions have been quite something. As always, the most inspirational point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who spoke of the role that we as MPs can play in inspiring our constituents through skills fairs and so on. I thank him once again for that suggestion, which I will work on.
I am grateful to be called to speak, Mr Rosindell, not least because I was unable to attend the beginning of the debate because of other commitments.
I want to say how much I support the Disability Confident scheme. It has been running since 2013 and now has 5,000 participants. In March, I will attend a breakfast in my constituency, organised by the DWP and by Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, to speak to business people about the importance of the scheme. The three-level system is a good way of running the scheme, and to go from Disability Confident committed to Disability Confident employer, and then to Disability Confident leader, is an excellent idea.
It is also a good idea to link with other Departments, and there are other opportunities to use the scheme as a building block. As this Conservative Government are refreshed with dynamic new Ministers, we have a huge opportunity to take things forward. There is a long history of helping disabled people, particularly in Conservative Administrations—we had a Motability scheme running in the ’92 Parliament in my constituency —so the Minister has a great heritage to build on.
I shall do my best to summarise what we have heard this afternoon, and many confident and concerted voices from different political parties have described where we have been getting things wrong, and where we get them right. I thank you, Mr Rosindell, for the opportunity to speak, and the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) for securing this debate.
The hon. Gentleman identified progress that has been made since the 1970s. Attitudes have changed dramatically. He said that the Government must provide opportunities to get people back into work. He highlighted that 80% of adults without a disability are in work, but that only 49% of those with a disability who are able to work are in work. That figure drops dramatically to 36% in Northern Ireland and 42% in Scotland. He also talked about encouraging employers to sign up to the Disability Confident scheme. We would all echo that sentiment.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) reiterated the need to have debates such as this in the main Chamber. Like her, I have hosted disability conferences and events in my constituency, and I urge all Members to follow suit. She highlighted the fact that to close the current employment gap would take 50 years at its current rate, which is simply not acceptable. She also raised the importance of apprenticeships and helping people with disabilities to start their own businesses, and mentioned the facility for disabled internships here in Westminster.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) zeroed in on the practicalities of employing people with disabilities, including autism, and said that the lack of personalisation in the process only compounds the difficulties and knocks the applicant’s confidence. The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) identified some big employers as being engaged, but believes that most small and medium-sized enterprises are not as capable, or perhaps less well informed, when it comes to taking up such opportunities. He highlighted how to run a reverse jobs fair—an event I have also organised in my constituency. Such events are precious because they allow employers and employees to network with each other over the course of one working day, which can prove invaluable.
The hon. Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean) spoke about the benefit to the workplace of a diverse team and the value that that can bring. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) emphasised that this issue is perhaps more about employers than employees, and the benefits and fundamental decency of the Disability Confident scheme. The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) spoke about removing barriers, including employer uncertainty. That links back to my earlier point about networking events and introducing employers that have successfully employed people with a disability with those that are hesitant and need help to bridge the gap. That confidence gap can be bridged by such events.
The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) spoke about how changing attitudes and cultures is crucial. The importance of the Access to Work scheme was re-emphasised, and that should be echoed by us all. The hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) said that she has visited a number of local employers that have signed up to the scheme and are already reaping its benefits. She asked the Minister to work across Departments to improve all aspects of the recruitment and retention process.
Only about 49% of working-age disabled adults are in employment compared with 80% of those with no disability. Although many disabled adults make important contributions to the economy, others face barriers to employment. Breaking down those barriers and creating inclusive workplaces is good not only for individuals who are able to get into work, but for the whole country. Disabled people have the same ambitions, aspirations and work ethic as others, but they are under represented across a broad range of industries. We should maximise the skills and talent of everyone who can contribute to our economy.
Employers should be aware that support is available to them to help to remove the barriers that prevent disabled people from utilising their talents. I strongly encourage all employers to seek out such support. Hiring disabled people is not just a moral issue; it makes good business sense. Research highlighted by a previous Minister for Disabled People, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), showed that 92% of consumers think more favourably of businesses that hire people with disabilities, and that 87% of people would prefer to give their custom to companies that recruit disabled people.
In the past, we have seen how misconceptions have prevented disabled people from taking up employment opportunities. We must challenge those misconceptions. The Scottish Government have a number of programmes to help disabled people as they seek employment, including the targeted employment recruitment incentive, which is helping young people who are disabled or who have additional support needs. The Disability Confident campaign will complement that work, but we should be clear that, although much has already been done, there is still much more to do.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) on securing this important debate. He made some valuable points, particularly about engaging and encouraging employers to recruit more disabled people, and about the importance of reducing the disability employment gap. I share his pleasure in the fact that so many Departments are signed up at business leader level for the Disability Confident scheme, and I hope the Minister will ensure that all Departments do that. I am currently completing an application for my office to become a Disability Confident employer. The hon. Gentleman also recognised the importance of work and the positive impact that that can have on one’s health and wellbeing.
Good contributions were made by several hon. Members, and we all recognise the importance of the scheme. The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) spoke passionately about the scheme that ran in his constituency. He was once Minister for Disabled People, so he is very knowledgeable about the scheme, including some of its shortcomings.
All hon. Members will be in favour of improving employment opportunities for those with disabilities and long-term conditions, but figures for the disability employment gap show that there remains a clear and continuing problem regarding access to sustainable and supportive employment. For far too long, many disabled people have not been in work. That is unacceptable, especially when we compare the numbers of those in work who are not disabled with those who are. Currently, 49.2% of disabled people are in work.
The Disability Confident scheme was designed to address the clear failures of our employment support system. However, we have so far seen very little evidence of its success at tackling the problem. That is demonstrated by the employment gap. In fact, what we have seen from the Government is a shift in direction. At the 2015 general election, the Conservatives promised to halve the disability employment gap by 2020. They have since dropped that commitment and are now looking at a slightly lesser target. It is slightly less ambitious—they now seem to say that they will not halve the disability employment gap by 2027.
That is also true of the Disability Confident scheme. The Government were supposed to
“assess specific, measurable, action taken by employers”
as a result of the scheme. That has shifted. The Government now claim that they are
“not able to measure the number of disabled people moving into employment as a direct result of it”.
How are we supposed to assess whether the Disability Confident scheme is actually improving people’s access to employment? There is a clear need for a meaningful method of evaluating the scheme and its effects in terms of getting disabled people into work.
Many disability organisations have sent us briefings, and Disability Rights UK has highlighted the concerns. When the Department for Work and Pensions launched the scheme, it did not refer to how it would look at job outcomes. What is more important is evidence—we do not see the attitudes of employers and their understanding of disability employment. For one thing, many of the employers that have signed up to the scheme are large employers that transferred from the old legacy scheme—the two ticks system. Obviously, what we need to do, looking at the numbers going forward, is see how we can continue to encourage other employers. As has been made clear, the scheme has about 5,000 members, which is great, but we have to consider that in context: there are more than 4 million small and medium-sized enterprises in this country. I would be keen to hear the Minister say a bit more today about what we are doing to encourage more businesses to become part of the scheme.
This matters because the attitudes of many employers remain the central barrier to recruiting disabled people. The charity Leonard Cheshire Disability found that 60% of line managers surveyed stated that concerns about the costs of workplace adjustments prevented them from employing a disabled person, so it is clear that employer attitudes are not shifting. Work needs to be done on improving the attitudes of employers. If we look at the details, we see that often there is a lack of knowledge about reasonable adjustments, which is obviously another barrier.
Not many employers are familiar with the Access to Work scheme. We all know that that is probably one of the most popular schemes. It is effective in its results in supporting people in work, and it supports people to stay in work. However, I always say, as I heard another hon. Member say, that it is one of the best kept secrets, because so many people are not aware of it and what it can do. How can the Disability Confident scheme grow and expand if employers are not aware of the Access to Work scheme and the important role that it plays in supporting disabled people into work? I have been a beneficiary of the scheme throughout my career.
I am conscious of the time, but will say a bit about awareness raising. Between 2014-15 and 2016-17, the Government spent about £13,500 on promoting the Access to Work scheme. I think we would all agree that a little more needs to be done on improving and raising awareness of the scheme. It would be very welcome if the Minister outlined what plans we have to raise awareness and for ensuring that Access to Work will be adequately funded. Obviously, we all want demand for the scheme to increase, because we all want more disabled people to get into work. I therefore want to hear more about ensuring that the scheme is adequately funded.
Disability Confident is a voluntary scheme. There is a question about how we can further encourage and incentivise employers to become part of it. The scheme is good in part and well intentioned. As I have said, it is sometimes difficult to measure the good impact. Not evaluating the impact is how we end up with a scheme under which, as has been pointed out, it is possible to achieve level 3 accreditation without actually employing a single disabled person. More needs to be done to ensure evaluation. I therefore ask the Minister again whether she agrees that the Disability Confident scheme should measure the number of disabled people moving into work. To build on the current scheme, there should be some sort of independent evaluator to monitor and evaluate progress under the scheme and how well employers are doing in recruiting disabled people and retaining them in work.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I add my warm congratulations on securing the debate to all those expressed by other hon. Members towards my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham). This is one of those rare occasions in Parliament when we have much agreement. My hon. Friend did a splendid job of outlining the Government’s achievements and had obviously done a huge amount of homework to understand and describe all the data, so I am not even going to bother. He can consider himself as knowledgeable as the Minister on all the statistics and data.
I do not have much time and will not be able to respond to everyone’s suggestions in as much detail as I would like, so I will write to everyone who took part in the debate to respond in more detail. However, as there have been really good suggestions and some concerns raised, I will, in the few minutes available to me, talk about those.
First, on the scale of our ambition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister could not have made it clearer that she believes in a country that must work for everyone, not just the privileged few. For our nation to be successful, we need to build on all the talents of all our citizens, which includes people with disabilities and health conditions. We are very ambitious to ensure that people who are disabled or have health conditions can play their full part in society, which of course includes employment, to the extent that they can, so we are determined to do everything that we can to build on the progress that we have seen. We have heard today about the hundreds of thousands of people now in employment who were not previously. Just in the past few years, we have made a significant improvement, but we are ambitious to do more. We have set ourselves a target of 1 million, which is a really good starting point, but like my hon. Friend, I believe that targets are there to be busted—to be exceeded. We will all be celebrating when we get past that point.
“Improving Lives: the future of work, health and disability” sets out a very comprehensive strategy for delivering on our ambitions. We have firm plans, which are detailed in that document. We are taking action across three settings: in welfare, with the work that the DWP does; in the workplace, in partnership with employers; and, very importantly, in the health system. For the first time, we have a joint unit between the DWP and the Department of Health and Social Care. Colleagues have rightly made much today of the importance of different parts of Government working together. That joint unit is a step in the right direction. In addition, I will be chairing a meeting of Ministers across Government to ensure that we are doing everything we can in each Department. We have heard about the work that we need to do with the Department of Health and Social Care and with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. I see the industrial strategy, clearly setting out that we want to see growth right across our country, as a key part of enabling me to deliver on my targets. We will be setting out very clearly how we can work with employers to create healthy, inclusive workplaces where people can thrive. Part of the problem is not just getting people into work—most people will acquire their disability during their life—but enabling adaptations to be made in the workplace, so that people can stay in work. That is probably more important with mental health than anything else. “Improving Lives” was our response to the Stevenson-Farmer review, where we adopted all of the recommendations that were made. We are encouraging employers to look carefully at what more they can do to support people with mental health issues.
The key part of our plan is to improve access to occupational health. For too long, occupational health services have been the Cinderella services of the NHS. Our joint unit with the Department of Health and Social Care will bring real focus to that. The plans that we have set out will require a lot of innovation. We are building a very robust evidence-making framework, so that we are sure we are capturing information about what works.
Some questions were raised around the House about the possible negative impacts of devolution. I want to reassure hon. Members that this is a UK-wide ambition and a UK-wide scheme. We work very constructively in Scotland. I want to give some examples. We have recruited 24 community partners with lived experience of disability to work in our job centres. We have appointed 12 new small employer advisers. We have implemented more than 11 peer support job clubs. That is just in the first few months. I hope that is reassuring that our ambition is for this to be a UK-wide scheme.
Of course, this is about establishing strong partnerships with employers and listening to their concerns. We have heard about some of those concerns today. I want to point out that we now have 5,357 companies signed up to Disability Confident. The vast majority—67%—are SMEs, with 46% being microbusinesses where people employ just one or two employees. We are getting to those small employers, but we accept that there is more work to be done. Those barriers, which have been articulated so well today, exist in a lot of employers’ minds. What are we doing about that? We are very actively promoting Access to Work. We are doing that through working with networks of organisations, such as the chambers of commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and the local enterprise partnerships—businesses themselves.
It has always occurred to me that Access to Work is a great tool when someone has their job, but a bit like a journey, they need petrol to put in the car to get to the journey. There should be access to work experience and job interviews. What does the Minister think about expanding the scheme to cover those as well?
I appreciate that intervention because I can clarify that that already exists. Access to Work can be used in all of those circumstances. Perhaps in the past not all of the job coaches in all of the jobcentres knew about that. We have made a massive investment in training our job coaches so that they are fully aware of all of these opportunities, and we have trained additional specialist disability advisors in the jobcentres, as well as our community partners, with their lived experience.
The amount of training and information from the job coaches goes to the heart of some of the points that were extremely well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), who spoke about her constituent Drew. His journey is one that I am sure we all recognise from our constituency casework with young people and their parents. The parents are really worried about what happens to their child, particularly if they have learning difficulties—autism was the case quoted with Drew. When they leave education, they want to work, they have a passion to work, but they can find it very challenging to navigate the system. That should not be the case now. His job coach in the jobcentre will have access to all these different support services. Our innovation and our vision is about putting the person at the centre of their journey to work and fitting the support and the services around them. Access to Work is the key part of that, but other things are available as well, such as tailor-made support packages depending on the level of support that people need.
I want to reassure everyone that Access to Work is a demand-led funding pot. As the demand grows, so does the funding. Year after year we put more money into that pot. The amount of money one can have every year goes well over £40,000, so it is a considerable amount of money to enable people into work and to stay in work. Under the Equalities Act 2010 employers have responsibilities to make reasonable adjustments. A key part of the role of the Access to Work team in the Department is to have those conversations. It is a three-way conversation between the person seeking work or wanting to stay in work, the employer and ensuring those services are funded through Access to Work. We have people from the DWP present today, from Disability Confident and Access to Work. I am sure they will be really pleased to hear hon. Members compliment their work. Certainly in my time as a Minister I have seen what an extraordinarily dedicated team of people we have, not only on the frontline in our jobcentres, but in the Department. I hope they have received those comments and will take them back to their colleagues.
What more can we do for SMEs? In our plans we recognise the valuable contributions that have been made by, for example, the Shaw Trust, which has advocated for a portal. We are now actively looking at designing a portal so that employers have a one-stop shop to see all of the benefits and supports that are available. That will be live this year. We are also looking at what more we can do for incentives. This has come up a bit today. There were suggestions about using some of the lessons from apprenticeships. Again, we have committed to look at what incentives would work for employers. I am very engaged with large, small and medium-sized businesses. I am fortunate to have a great leadership group of people from businesses of all sizes and all different sectors working with me, to really help get this right for employers. For example, we have committed to looking at whether a national insurance holiday would be an incentive to help businesses employ more people with disabilities.
A couple of other questions were raised about the quality assurance of the programme. Just to reassure hon. Members, if an organisation reaches level 3, it has to be independently audited. Somebody goes into those organisations to make sure they are actually delivering on what they say they are doing. It gives me great pride to say that every Government Department has now reached level 3. Just before Christmas I attended quite a scary meeting of all the permanent secretaries—these are truly the people that run our country—to give them their level 3 certificates. I have set them a very clear challenge for this year: to use their leverage with supply chains—Government are a huge purchaser of services—and to have a discussion when they are commissioning or purchasing services about whether they are working with Disability Confident employers. All of those permanent secretaries work with a lot of arm’s length bodies. They have committed to me to work with those organisations. People expect us to lead from the front in Government and they expect public services to be a leading example. I am working to ensure we will do that.
It remains for me to touch on one final issue, going back to young people, which various hon. Members raised: why do we not do more about supported work experience and apprenticeships? I can reassure hon. Members that the Government have put a lot of money— a lot more than in the past—into enabling more apprenticeships for disabled people, to ensure they are properly supported, and have put a considerable amount of extra money into supported internships. I recently visited companies that were taking on many more young people as a result.
I want to praise everybody who has taken up this opportunity, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), whose work is inspirational. We have set up a meeting, which all hon. Members have been invited to, to learn how to become Disability Confident and how to set up the inspirational sort of meeting that we have heard about today. I thank everyone for what they have done and ask that they please come to this meeting, so that they can all be part of the change that we all want to see.
I have 20 seconds, and I just want to thank all hon. Members for contributing so much. To pick up the point my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) articulated so clearly, this scheme is not a favour, it is not charity, it is about realising true talent. Disabled individuals have been the President of the United States, and have unlocked the secret of the universe in the case of Stephen Hawking—and that was before the scheme! I look forward to seeing what they can achieve after the scheme has been in place for a few more years.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Cancer Treatment: Patient Travel Times
[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered patient travel times for cancer treatment.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I should also like to consider satellite radiotherapies at Westmorland General Hospital.
Almost every story that I have heard or read in recent times about the national health service has been negative. I understand why, given the debate in the main Chamber at this moment, but I sometimes wonder how much this further damages the morale of the thousands of professionals who work in the national health service. So I want to start by paying tribute and saying a massive thank you to those NHS professionals who work tirelessly up and down the country, day in and day out, to look after us and our loved ones when we need it most. I especially want to put on record my appreciation for those who work in cancer care. We have some of the best cancer care in the world. We should all take a moment to recognise the fantastically high standard of treatment that we have in this country, delivered by professionals whose competence and compassion are the hallmark of our NHS.
But here is the problem: yes, we have world-leading treatment, but it is not truly available equally. The availability of care depends hugely on people’s ability to access it. I welcome, and have done so on the record, the £130 million announced by NHS England that is to be invested in improving radiotherapy treatment, and the new service specification, which aims to improve standards across the country. Working in clinical networks and developing specialised services has a strong evidence base, but what is not addressed is the inequality in access to services that already exist. That inequality will only get worse if it is not addressed now by NHS England. I am grateful to the Government that the consultation on allocating that investment has been extended to 24 January, not least because it gives the Minister the chance to amend the criteria and the priorities for allocating services.
I passionately believe that one of the criteria in allocating improved radiotherapy services must be the shortening of the distances that people have to travel, especially for those with more common cancers. My position is backed up by evidence, including a publication in The BMJ in 2016 indicating that outcomes are worse for people who need to travel further. Let me be clear what “worse outcomes” actually means. Worse outcomes can mean patients actively deciding to forgo potentially life-saving or life-lengthening treatment because getting to hospital is just too much of a trauma for them owing to the length and difficulty of the journey that is required. Worse outcomes means choosing forms of treatment that may be less effective than radiotherapy because the nearest unit is too far away. Worse outcomes includes patients failing to complete a vital course of radiotherapy treatment because they simply cannot cope with the gruelling, wearying travelling every single day.
Action Radiotherapy estimates that one in six of us will need radiotherapy to treat cancer at some point in our lives, but easy access to this treatment can depend entirely on a postcode lottery. It is the sad reality that in rural areas of England travel times to cancer treatments can be unbearably long for too many people, and patients are often forced to cover these long distances on public transport. Not everyone has the option of travelling in the relative comfort of a personal car, and even if a person does, driving themselves or being driven, day in and day out for four to six weeks, is a massive challenge. I believe that it is frankly cruel, if we could do otherwise, to force people who are already very poorly to make a two or three-hour round trip every day, for weeks, in order to receive life-saving care.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. I am a cancer survivor. I survived stage 4 cancer and I had a month of radiotherapy; I had to get the bus most days to get there, and caught a nasty infection because of the travel time, so I fully appreciate where he is coming from. I would like to highlight the cases of families with children with cancer. According to CLIC Sargent there are fewer than 20 treatment centres nationally, and that makes life extremely difficult for families who are having to travel for treatment. Will he pay tribute to CLIC Sargent for the respite care, finance and accommodation that it provides to families going through this terrible process and journey?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising those issues and his own personal experiences. As I will come to in a moment, the issues affecting children and young people are even greater. I am very happy to pay tribute to the work and provision of CLIC Sargent and, in particular, to recognise the impact on people with cancer who have young children themselves. Maintaining an income and maintaining family life is an immense challenge, and the distances involved can make it yet harder, so I thank him for that intervention.
In its 2007 report, the national radiotherapy advisory group recommended that cancer patients should have to travel no more than 45 minutes one way—an hour and a half both ways—to receive radiotherapy treatment. This was adopted in the service specification by NHS England, but has since disappeared. Experts in the field maintain that travelling any longer could have a hugely negative impact on treatment outcomes and patient wellbeing. If preventing unacceptable travelling times became a part of NHS England’s criteria for delivering radiotherapy, it would hugely increase our chances of bringing a radiotherapy satellite unit to Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way during his important and passionate contribution to this debate. I know that he is focused on England, but may I share with him that in Scotland the issue is the same, if not worse, because of the rurality of Scotland and the distances travelled? I find some of his points very interesting when we have the Ayrshire and Arran health board not closing, but reviewing, a chemotherapy unit, Station 15, at University Hospital Ayr. The closure of that unit would impose a 32-mile round trip on patients who, to exacerbate that, may have travelled a 40 or 50-mile round trip. The issue is UK-wide, so I thank him for securing this debate.
I very much acknowledge the hon. Gentleman’s powerful point. In general, it is important that none of us are misunderstood here: centres of excellence are incredibly important; nevertheless access to treatment is also important. Where we are at the moment means that we are looking at the former to the exclusion of the latter, when both could be considered.
If I may, I would like to declare that my wife is a therapeutic radiographer in an NHS cancer trust, and put that on record. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant). From a Welsh perspective, we are seeing some people travelling 60, 70 or more miles to get radiotherapy treatment. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that satellite centres from specialist centres are the way forward? My wife works in the Hereford cancer unit, a satellite centre from the specialist centre in Cheltenham, which knocks 40 miles off people’s journeys.
I would like to thank the hon. Gentleman’s wife for her work, but also to say that he is absolutely right. There are great models, including from the Christie in Manchester, where they already operate satellite services. Arguing for rural or any form of standalone cancer services is foolish and is not what I am asking for. I am asking for satellites of existing, established, high-quality cancer units such as the Rosemere in Preston, the Christie or others of that nature. Making sure that we meet those needs by having a satellite unit at the Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal would have a positive impact on the lives of thousands of people in south Cumbria who are living with cancer. That is what I ask the Minister to do.
Radiotherapy treatment at Westmorland General Hospital is long overdue and would mean the world to local people, who now have to make the long journey to Preston for treatment. Let us be clear: the Rosemere unit in Preston is excellent—my own mother received wonderful treatment there, and the quality of the service and care provided by NHS professionals still moves me when I look back today—but for most people in south Cumbria, it is ludicrously distant.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Will he also note the importance of local charities? In my constituency, we have a charity called York Against Cancer, which has raised £15 million over the past three years. That money goes towards running a local minibus from York to Leeds for patients who have to be treated at Leeds in the radiology department.
I am very happy to acknowledge the work of local charities in my area. The Rosemere Cancer Foundation and South Lakes CancerCare do immensely good work, just like the charities in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
For some people living in the remotest areas of my part of the world—in south Cumbria—who are eligible for hospital-provided pick-ups, a round trip to access treatment in Preston, including waiting times, could easily surpass six hours. That is on a good day, when all standards are being met.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing a debate on this very important matter. The area of Cornwall that I represent has similar issues to those in Cumbria, and NHS England is consulting on closing our only treatment centre for radiography in Truro. That would mean people from the far west of Cornwall having to travel all the way to Plymouth for treatment. At the height of summer, when the roads are busy, that could easily be a five or six-hour round trip. Does he agree that that is far too long to expect patients to have to travel to receive this essential treatment?
Yes, I fully agree. That is why the NHS England consultation is the right time to set criteria. If we all say, “We’d rather like it if these issues are addressed,” nothing will happen, but if they are set as firm criteria and priorities as a consequence of the consultation, something should happen. The hon. Gentleman was right to raise that point.
Requiring NHS trusts to make it a priority for investment to ensure that radiotherapy is available more locally—such as by bringing a satellite unit to our local hospital in Kendal—would significantly improve outcomes for patients. That has been the focus of our long-running community campaign. I want to say a massive thank you to the many thousands of people who have been involved in that campaign so far. Just before Christmas, on behalf of our community, I presented a private Member’s Bill that would specify 45 minutes as the maximum time that patients have to travel to access radiotherapy treatment. I urge the Minister to support that Bill and ensure that the Government accept it.
I was asked on the radio this morning why, after nine years of fighting this campaign, I had not just accepted defeat and walked away. The answer is that every week in Westmorland, more families learn that they must fight cancer, and we have no right to turn our backs on them. Sadly, the challenge of cancer renews itself week after week, and so our zeal in fighting for those families must also be renewed week after week.
Some 840,000 people live in West Sussex and yet we are the only county in the whole of England that has no radiotherapy facilities within its boundary. I can also confirm the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti). I recently visited the Sussex Snowdrop Trust, which looks after desperately ill children. The stories of them traveling up to London or Southampton and having to stop several times along the way were heartbreaking; it is the worst thing to happen when they are facing that kind of trauma. I agree with the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) completely that patient travel times need to be taken into account during the consultation. I hope that they are, and that St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester is considered as a worthwhile investment for LINAC—linear accelerator—machines to help local people in West Sussex.
All the points that the hon. Lady makes are absolutely right and relevant to those of us who are here today—especially so, given the nature of her county.
Our community in south Cumbria remains proud that we won part one of our fight for a cancer centre. When we launched our campaign in 2009, it was for chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In 2011, we cut the ribbon on the Grizedale ward—the chemotherapy unit—and we are determined to win our fight for radiotherapy too. We have had an overwhelming response to the petition we launched again last September, adding to the 10,000 people who signed the original petition. Thousands more have written in and shared their stories with me locally and nationally. They include stories of the pain they went through in travelling hours every day to get the treatment that they desperately needed; stories of families who suffered watching relatives deteriorate as the long days of arduous travel visibly took their toll; and stories of choosing not to proceed with treatment because of the unbearable rigours of travelling huge distances. All those people have told me how a centre at Kendal could have helped them and their loved ones.
Most of us know, and all can imagine, the shock of being diagnosed with cancer. It is a life-shattering blow. Imagine then being faced with weeks of daily, grindingly long and tiring journeys to receive care. The travel can become the biggest part of the problem. One of my constituents, Philip from Grange-over-Sands, gave me this story, and his words speak more powerfully than any I could use. He said:
“At the age of 81 I had to attend 37 visits for treatment between the May and July 2013. The round trip from Grange to Preston Hospital was in excess of 100 miles per day whether by road or by train and then bus to the hospital. The times of my treatment varied day by day from 8am to 6pm. The treatment machine was not always available at the specified time which meant further time added on to the days travelling. All the above resulted in a very stressful time for myself and my wife on top of suffering from prostate cancer.”
Thankfully, Philip has now been discharged following three years of follow-up visits. He added:
“I trust that future patients may get their treatment at Kendal so good luck with your efforts.”
I was also contacted by the parents of Josie from Oxenholme. They told me:
“After a truly horrific chemo-therapy regime, which nearly killed her, Josie was left shattered and we faced the prospect of having to make daily trips for 4 weeks to Preston for Radiotherapy. The round trip typically takes 4-5 hours. She is left tired and with little time in the day to do much else. A unit in Kendal would have transformed this experience and left her with more energy and time to take more care of herself.”
Lastly, the words of Magda from Windermere sum up the problem perfectly:
“The whole idea of ever having to do any of this again would make me think twice about undergoing the treatments I was offered”.
Thousands of residents joined me back in 2009 when we launched a similar campaign to bring chemotherapy treatment to the south Lakes. Back then, patients had to travel many miles for any kind of cancer treatment. Thanks to local support, the chemotherapy ward at Westmorland General Hospital opened in 2011, and since then hundreds of local people have benefited from treatment there. We showed that when a community gets behind a campaign and the Government recognises that there is a real issue, changes can be made, funding can be allocated and problems can be solved.
It is true that the problem of outrageous travel times thankfully affects a relatively small proportion of the population throughout the UK—evidenced by the fact that although this is a massively important issue, only a few of us are here today—but in the places where access is a problem, it is a dreadful problem. NHS England must address it directly and explicitly in its current consultation on radiotherapy. I ask the Minister to ensure that NHS England does just that.
Solving the problem for south Cumbria would not create an expensive precedent—there are relatively few sizeable communities in this position—but for the people who are affected, living in rural areas makes accessing treatment unbearably difficult and arduous. That was highlighted recently by Age UK’s Painful Journeys campaign. It would cost the Government a relatively small amount to fund a satellite radiotherapy unit in Kendal: a capital cost of about £12 million—a sum that had been earmarked during the coalition Government in early 2015. That investment would lead to important changes. Above all, it would stop local people opting not to take up lifesaving treatment because of the need to travel those distances. In south Lakeland, the number of people aged over 60 is 10% above the national average, so older people and people with disabilities in our area are disproportionately negatively affected by distant access to radiotherapy treatment. That makes it all the more important for us to take advantage of this consultation to tackle the problem.
The Equality Act 2010 was passed by the House to ensure that services are offered to people in such a way as not to discriminate against older and disabled people, among other characteristics. Through those unbearably long travel times, those groups are disproportionately disadvantaged and indirectly discriminated against in breach of that Act.
My request is simple. I want travel times and equality of access, particularly for people who are older or who have disabilities, to be key criteria when allocating cancer services. This NHS England consultation on radiotherapy is the opportunity to ensure that those criteria are set so that access is prioritised. I want the Minister to agree to do that today. An expectation should then be placed on hospital trusts to ensure that satellite units of existing established centres are provided in rural communities such as the south Lakes to meet those criteria. Only then will our community be able to access cancer treatment fairly, equally and safely.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. It is also a pleasure to respond to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). I wish to associate myself with his opening comments in praise of the NHS. Demand for NHS services is constantly increasing. We always want the best we can possible get, but by making that case, we often sound as if we are talking the NHS down. Nothing could be further from the truth—we have the best national health service in the world. I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman is nodding his head, and I am grateful for the persuasive way in which he made his case. He can consider that a very good representation in response to the consultation to which he referred. The points he has made will be reflected on keenly.
Improving cancer outcomes remains a priority for the Government. The work under way is making a difference: cancer survival rates in England have never been higher and have increased year-on-year since 2010. The decrease in cancer deaths means that around 7,000 people are alive today who would not have been had things stayed the same.
We are committed to implementing every one of the 96 recommendations in the cancer strategy for England and to making a difference to the millions of people living with the disease and the thousands more diagnosed each year. We are providing the funding to match our commitment. NHS England has confirmed £607 million in funding to support the delivery of the strategy between 2017-18 and 2020-21.
We want our cancer services to be the best in the world, and we want patients to have access to the treatment and services that will give them the best chance of a successful clinical outcome. That includes the time they spend travelling for treatment. We know that cancer treatments can be arduous. Patients often undergo treatment daily and treatments can last several weeks at a time. Ideally, we want patients to have treatments at their local hospital.
However, specialised cancer treatments are not always best delivered locally. We want patients to have the best possible care available, but for certain cancers that sometimes means seeing a specialist multidisciplinary team with a full range of clinical expertise and capability. Although local is good, we clearly cannot always have specialist care provided as locally as we would like.
A perfect example of that is proton beam therapy treatment. Patients with high-priority cancer types requiring that treatment are sent to Florida and Switzerland at great cost to the NHS, because we have been unable to provide it here. In April 2012, the Government announced a £250 million investment to build proton beam therapy treatment facilities at the Christie in Manchester and University College London Hospitals. The Christie’s facilities will become operational later this year and will offer patients access to world-class treatment on the NHS.
Over the last few years, we have seen astounding technological advances. The UK is leading from the front in using cutting-edge technology in the form of whole genome sequencing to transform healthcare and health research. Wherever possible, it is right that patients have easy access to those life-saving treatments.
The same principle applies to radiotherapy. Around four in 10 of all NHS cancer patients are treated using radiotherapy. Recent advances have helped to target radiation doses at cancer cells more precisely, which means far fewer doses, better outcomes and improved quality of life for patients. That is a crucial part of why survival rates have continuously risen in England.
One of the cancer strategy’s key objectives is to deliver a modern, high-quality cancer service. In October 2016, NHS England announced a £130 million fund to modernise radiotherapy across England that will upgrade or replace older treatment devices over two years.
The hon. Lady mentioned proton beam therapy, which is a wonderful treatment. We are grateful for the investment of more than one Government, which has ensured that it is coming to Manchester and London. She also talked about upgrading existing equipment, which is a reminder that 80% of commonly occurring cancers will still be treated by linear accelerators, albeit regularly upgraded. Therefore the delivery of proton beam therapy and other specialist and precise treatments, and the investment in more locally delivered treatment from linear accelerators in places such as Westmorland, are not mutually exclusive. We need to do both.
I absolutely agree—the two are complementary and need to be key ingredients in a successful strategy to combat cancer.
NHS England is not only modernising existing radiotherapy services; it is currently consulting on a new model for them, as the hon. Gentleman said. The aim is to encourage radiotherapy providers to work together in networks to concentrate expertise and improve pathways for patients requiring radical radiotherapy for less common cancers. That will help to improve access to more innovative radiotherapy treatments, increase clinical trial recruitment and ensure that radiotherapy equipment is fully utilised. There is no intention to reduce the number of radiotherapy providers, nor is that considered to be a likely outcome of the proposals being consulted on.
We will continue to ensure that travel times are taken into consideration when looking at cancer treatment in this country. The National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service is evaluating the impact on cancer outcomes of patients living different distances from a cancer centre. Public Health England is also testing travel times from several available datasets, so a programme of work can be established that incorporates data on travel times.
One of the first outputs of that work will be a report on whether there is any demonstrable difference in radiotherapy treatments associated with the time taken to travel to a specialist cancer centre. We expect the first results of that work to be published in the spring. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have a considerable interest in the outcome.
In the current NHS England consultation, there are proposals that would allow local commissioners and providers to plan, review and redesign services through a joint radiotherapy board. Any case for change would determine the optimum location to achieve the best impact for patients, so it would be possible for patients requiring radiotherapy for common cancers to be treated at a satellite centre. Specialised commissioners will always want to balance patient travel with issues such as the sustainability of the service, whether the service is accessible enough to patients to be financially viable, and ensuring that patients who have to travel are supported in other ways, including through transport and accommodation.
I hope that meets with a positive reaction from the hon. Gentleman. We are consulting on making services more accessible and looking at travel times. I dare say that we will continue to have this debate over the coming months, not least because of his private Member’s Bill.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman recently met his local clinical commissioning group at Morecambe Bay to discuss the accessibility of services. I am encouraged that that dialogue is taking place at a local level.
I hope that what I have set out gives the hon. Gentleman some reassurance. I emphasise that cancer remains a priority for the Government. We remain committed to ensuring the best possible treatment and to achieving easy access in terms of travelling time for all cancer patients, regardless of where they live. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate.
Question put and agreed to.
Gatwick Airport: Growth and Noise Mitigation
I beg to move,
That this House has considered growth and noise reduction in Gatwick Airport.
Thank you, Sir Christopher, for allowing me to address this Chamber. I am delighted to have the privilege of congratulating you on your well-deserved honour, which recognises your lifetime of service.
The issue of aircraft noise is incredibly important to me, and I am afraid that many in the Chamber will have heard me speak about it many times. It is also important to all the residents of Tonbridge, Edenbridge and surrounding villages—indeed, I have received more correspondence on this issue than on any other since I was elected. That is unsurprising for those of us who live under the flightpath in the beautiful villages of west Kent, which are the most beautiful in England, as we all know—I declare an interest because our home is there. The impact of aviation noise on the economic prosperity and environmental sustainability of our communities has been severe.
Why am I raising the matter now, when many villages in Kent, Sussex and Surrey have been experiencing noise from flights for half a decade or more? In 2013, the introduction of the aviation policy framework meant a dramatic change to the flightpaths of the Gatwick airport approach. Many of the villages around Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling are now overflown as they have never been before. I therefore wish to focus on what Gatwick and the wider industry are doing or not doing to reduce noise from approaching aircraft as the airport continues to grow.
It is great that there are busy airports in this country, proving the case that you have made many times, Sir Christopher: that we are a global country open for business with the whole world. It is wonderful that communities from across the world are using the airport, but the impact on communities who live under the flightpaths are also of great concern to us all, and we should take into account the impact of each aircraft that arrives or leaves.
I am well aware of the London airspace management programme and of the importance of getting it to properly reflect the views of communities. The global implementation of P-RNAV—precision area navigation—will require more to be done to reduce noise, but it will not be implemented until the early 2020s. Communities such as ours need action to address the problem now.
This may surprise you, Sir Christopher, but extraordinarily enough, I would like to acknowledge the change in attitude from Gatwick airport. Not only does it say that it is helping with the work of the London airspace management programme, which I welcome, but it has listened more in recent days and its attitude has improved dramatically since I first met its representatives in 2014.
The arrivals review was much needed and proposed some good ideas. I am grateful for the work done on it by Bo Redeborn and Graham Lake, whom I am glad to see in the Gallery today, and for the community representation, but it needs to go further. For example, modifications have been made to the whine of the Airbus A320 that many of us will have heard. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who worked so hard to achieve those modifications, is not present, but I know that he is on Government business abroad—he is in our thoughts, and I know we are in his. The modifications are welcomed by all communities, but they are not enough and they were even agreed before the arrivals review was completed.
Recommendation 11 of the review would have provided a fair solution, utilising both sides of the airport equally on days with no wind, but it was rejected. It should have happened as part of the commitment to implement the review in full. It has also been admitted by almost all those involved that recommendation 10—widening the swathe—will not alone cure the problem, so we clearly do not have the solution to the noise issue.
Growth comes at a price to the communities affected. The impact of both arrivals and departures is heard for many miles around on all sides. Complaints continue to increase and new protest groups have sprung up all over Kent, Surrey and Sussex. These folk are protesting not because they want to, because they have nothing better to do or because they have a history of direct action, but because aircraft approaching Gatwick are having a serious impact on their lives, their health, their children’s development and their right to enjoy their properties in peace.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I know that he has done a great deal of work on the matter and that it has caused grave difficulties in his constituency. Does he agree that one of the problems of dealing with Gatwick—indeed, with any airport—is that people must be able to trust the information that they get from it? In East Grinstead in my constituency, there are constant complaints about erring off the straight and narrow. It is clear that trust has broken down between residents and the airport. What suggestions does my hon. Friend have for a remedy? Does he agree that it is a very serious problem?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for expressing that essential point. The noise management board, which is part of the solution, has begun that work, but of course it cannot solve the problem alone. As he would expect, I will come on to the Department for Transport and its role in restoring trust. I welcome his points.
I remember David Wetz, who lives in Chiddingstone, telling me last summer that he was unable to enjoy his daughter’s birthday celebration properly outside because normal conversation simply was not possible in the garden. That is a disgrace. It is not a matter of nimbyism. It is about people wanting to live a normal life without having a motorway built over their heads.
As representatives in Parliament of communities such as Chiddingstone, we are responsible for representing their interests to the Government—I pay tribute not only to the right hon. and hon. Members present, but to the many others who have joined groups with us. It is clear that we need to enforce a better balance between the interests of the aviation industry and of local people affected by noise. Successive Governments have designed policies that seek to achieve that balance, but we must consider whether Gatwick is complying with them and whether the Department for Transport is enforcing them in its role as noise regulator.
The key policy—it is a welcome policy—on noise is the 2013 aviation policy framework, which clearly stated Government policy on aviation noise as
“to limit and where possible reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise”.
I know that the debate is about Gatwick, but the same issue affects other airports. Belfast City airport has a cut-off time of 9.30 pm for aeroplanes to land. Obviously there are cases in which aeroplanes land later, but a system of fines is in place and the money goes into the community. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what happens at Belfast City—a smaller airport, but one that is surrounded by houses—could well be helpful for his investigations, and indeed for the Minister and his Department?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has come up with some suggestions, and I would be happy to look into them later. In fact, some interesting work has been done on the approaches to Schiphol airport with respect to the effect of laying out the ground on how sound travels. There are interesting ideas out there, and I certainly welcome looking at Belfast’s example.
The policy set out by the Government is clear: they do not endorse any increase in the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise. That approach is a welcome change, but Civil Aviation Authority data demonstrate that it is not being followed. Since the policy was introduced and the flightpaths were altered radically in 2013, Gatwick has increased its flight numbers by 12% and its passenger numbers by 22%, but the number of people significantly affected has not reduced. In fact, it has risen every year.
The Minister will know about the 57-decibel average noise contour—after all, it is the Government’s preferred noise impact measure. Using that calculation, the number of people affected by aircraft noise has increased by 27% since 2013. Looking at it geographically, the affected area has increased by 8% across Kent, Surrey and Sussex over the same period. Using the Government’s preferred data method, we can show that noise is continuing to get worse in the communities affected, despite the policy. My question for the Minister is clear: why have the Government failed to implement the aviation policy framework in full? Their own figures clearly show that the number of people being significantly affected by aircraft noise has increased.
The aviation policy framework rightly looks at sharing the benefits of growth between the aviation industry and local communities. Indeed, to quote it directly:
“The industry must continue to reduce and mitigate noise as airport capacity grows”.
I hope everyone includes in their definition of “the industry” airlines, airports, National Air Traffic Services, the Civil Aviation Authority and all those industry representatives who sit on Gatwick airport’s noise management board. Have the benefits of growth been shared? Certainly, many people are benefiting from the airport—Gatwick and the air industry have grown—but both collectively and within their individual areas of responsibility, they have not done enough to reduce noise.
I am afraid that it remains unclear what the industry has done so far, particularly away from the confines of the noise management board. At the Gatwick airspace seminar and noise management board public meeting only last month, we heard that the airport requires airlines to contribute to the reduction of noise. We also heard very clearly from the chair of the noise management board, Bo Redeborn, that this issue would not be considered because it is outside the terms of reference of the board. However, in a letter to me and six other colleagues on 6 December, the day before the airspace seminar, the Secretary of State for Transport mentioned that Gatwick’s noise management board was the place to discuss these matters. We obviously need a little clarity. Which one is it? Should the noise management board be looking at these matters at the expense of the industry doing anything to reduce and mitigate noise as airport capacity grows? If so, that is in contrast to the policy. However, it is clear from Bo Redeborn’s comments last month that the noise management board is not the place to discuss these matters, contrary to the Secretary of State for Transport’s letter.
I am disappointed that repeatedly the Department for Transport seems unwilling to take a view on whether its aviation policy framework is being properly implemented or not. My view, however, is clear: I agree with Bo. It cannot be left solely to the noise management board, although it definitely has a role. The line from the policy is clear and it is the whole industry that needs to do more, individually and collectively, to reduce and mitigate noise. Passing the issue to the noise management board for its consideration is being used as a reason not to enforce policy, which is a great shame. My second question to the Minister is this: what steps will he or his Department take to ensure that the industry will reduce and mitigate noise on its own, outside of the agreed work programme of the noise management board?
Finally, I will again quote from the aviation policy framework—everybody’s favourite bedtime reading. The framework says it is clear that the Government want
“to incentivise noise reduction and mitigation”.
Sadly, in the considerable correspondence that I have had with the Department for Transport over the past few years, I cannot find many examples to highlight what incentives have been offered for noise reduction and mitigation. It seems that Gatwick airport’s compliance with the aviation policy framework is largely optional. As Gatwick, along with Heathrow and Stansted, is a noise-designated airport, the Secretary of State has direct responsibility for regulating noise at the airport. It is for the Department for Transport to ensure compliance—that cannot be delegated down to the airport’s noise management board.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. I will just say how important the south-east airports are to the regional airports and how important economically the south-east airports are to Aberdeen. I know that he will visit the north-east soon, so today I will highlight the heliport at Aberdeen. During his campaigning on noise, I would also like him to emphasise the issue of helicopters, because, as he is well aware, helicopters dwell, as opposed to just flying in on a flight-line. The residents of Dyce, near Aberdeen International airport, are blighted by the noise from helicopters. I would be very grateful if he could remember helicopters as well as fixed-wing aircraft.
I will be absolutely delighted to remember that. Helicopters are not an enormous issue around the area that I represent, but the issue does arise, and when I am up in the north-east of Scotland I will look out keenly for helicopters.
Community groups, including those who are not affected by helicopters, are represented on Gatwick’s noise management board and wrote to the Secretary of State on 11 October last year—I urge community groups in my hon. Friend’s local area to do likewise. That was followed up on 2 November with a letter from myself and my right hon. Friends the Members for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), and my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), for Crawley (Henry Smith), for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), and for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), whose support I very much welcome. We specifically asked what the Government were doing currently to address noise, given that it has been evident for the past half a decade. I am afraid that I was deeply disappointed, as was every resident and community group representative who I have spoken to, that responses from both the Secretary of State and the new Aviation Minister—Baroness Sugg—failed even to mention any action that the Department for Transport was taking. Instead, we heard that the existing channels of communication were satisfactory, when sadly they evidently are not.
As Gatwick is a noise-designated airport, the Department for Transport is responsible for regulating noise at Gatwick and it must take its role as a regulator far more seriously, so my third question to the Minister is this: what measures will he or his Department take to deliver a reduction in noise that meets the aims of the Government’s policy regarding the significant growth of Gatwick airport in recent years? I am sure that that question will be familiar to the Secretary of State because it is exactly the same one that we put in writing in November last year and that was not answered properly in his response on 6 December.
To be clear, three issues clearly arise from the motion. The first is that more needs to be done to ensure that the aviation policy framework is enforced in full; the second is that the industry needs to do much more to reduce noise; and the third and final one is that the Department for Transport needs to take its role as a noise regulator more seriously.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. I welcome the fact that he is here—I appreciate that the Aviation Minister sits in the other place and that my hon. Friend is, as it were, taking one for the team. It is very welcome that he is responding on her behalf.
Before I wrap up, I should emphasise that the only reason I called for this debate is that it is evident that the Department for Transport can do more, should do more and must do more to deliver peace to west Kent. As Gatwick is a noise-designated airport, the Department’s role in this regard is to fulfil its statutory responsibility. A Government should be able and willing to implement the policies that they have introduced. That is all we ask the Department for Transport to do. It should not be the job of local communities to hold Gatwick airport to account with regard to its growth and consequent noise reduction measures.
I urge the Minister to meet me and representatives of local community groups, including the excellent Gatwick Obviously Not! group, which is based in Penshurst—some of its members are represented in the Gallery today. They can express to the Minister in words that are even clearer than mine exactly what the impact is. I look forward to hearing hon. Members’ comments.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) on securing this debate on an issue that affects not only Gatwick but other airports, like the one in my own constituency of Edinburgh West. Residents living around Edinburgh airport are constantly bothered by the number of planes and the noise they make. Nevertheless, Edinburgh airport is a vital and growing hub for tourism and industry, not only for my city but—
Indeed; I understand completely. I was simply going to relate how similar the issue is in Gatwick and in Edinburgh, and how—perhaps—Gatwick airport is an example of what we should be pursuing across the country. Unlike Gatwick, Edinburgh airport is not an airport that is particularly restricted at night by legislation. Like at Gatwick, however, as the hon. Member for Gordon (Colin Clark) mentioned, the problem is endured at a number of airports around the country, and Gatwick provides us with an example that we could perhaps follow.
The general volume of air traffic in this country has grown significantly over the past 10 or 20 years. At Edinburgh airport, we now have 12.4 million passengers annually. I imagine that that number of passengers is not as large as the number at Gatwick, which I understand is owned by the same company that owns Edinburgh airport. There is a direct connection between the two. What we have to do with both is find a way to balance the needs of the communities around the flight path and the needs of the airport.
It should not be a burden to live near an airport. An airport should be an asset, and communities such as those in my constituency—Cramond, South Queensferry and Ratho— that are constantly disrupted in their night- time routines should not be expected to suffer that without some support, including legislative support if necessary, from the Government. Indeed, those residents brought me some evidence—I am sure it is relevant to Gatwick as well—of how there is a link—
Order. I well understand that the hon. Lady has a deep constituency interest in Edinburgh airport, but this debate is about Gatwick airport. Frankly, I think it is very unfair of her to use examples from her constituency to try to produce a nebulous connection between Edinburgh airport and Gatwick airport. If the hon. Lady wishes to speak about Gatwick airport and the subject matter of this debate, which is growth and noise reduction at Gatwick, she can continue to do so. If not, I will call the next speaker.
Apologies. I was simply wishing to illustrate that residents around Gatwick will be suffering from the same sort of inconvenience. The evidence that has been brought to me appears to show a link between the sleep disruption caused by aircraft noise, particularly at night, and conditions such as high blood pressure, stress and coronary problems. Noise between 10 pm and midnight—the evening period, rather than the overnight period—is a particular problem at all airports, but specifically at Gatwick, given the number of flights involved.
Gatwick is an illustration of the problem, and it shows exactly why we need some legislation to control noise. The aircraft and airlines have improved the engines in recent years. Although easyJet is about to buy a fleet of jets that are much quieter than those it has currently, I doubt that one airline alone would be sufficient for residents around Gatwick. They would like to see more control and legislation that insists that more airlines use similar aircraft and includes restrictions on numbers and times. Gatwick is an example that we should take to the rest of the country. We should use it to show us where we should be going in having a balance between our communities and our airports.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and I congratulate you on your elevation. I welcome the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) in calling this debate. As he explained, the background to it is a significant increase in the number of flights to and from Gatwick airport. Since 2013, the number of flights has increased by 12% and the number of passengers has increased by 22%. That has resulted in an increase in noise not just in the immediate vicinity of the airport, but in rural areas, such as the one I represent in Arundel and South Downs, in the approach to the airport for both take-off and arrival.
As my hon. Friend explained, the Government’s policy is that future aviation growth should share benefits between the industry and local communities. Therefore the question is: how is growth that has already taken place and future growth to be shared with the communities that many of us represent? So far as we can see, there has been no such sharing. There is no doubt that the increase in growth has been good for elements of the local economy, for those who are using the airport, including me, and for the country as a whole, but it is difficult to see a benefit for local communities, which calls into question whether the Government’s key objective is being fulfilled.
The Government’s second objective is to limit and where possible reduce noise. The second question is, therefore: to what extent has noise even been limited, let alone reduced? What precisely is their policy to ensure that the objective is met? That policy can be expressed only through the operation of Gatwick airport, and it is not at all clear that its noise management board is doing anything other than providing a talking shop where community groups are encouraged to make their representations known. Adjustments can be made to flight paths, approach lanes and so on, but there is no strategy to reduce noise. There are no metrics by which the airport can be held to account for that noise reduction. That is the key point: there is no plan.
The Government have effectively conceded that point, because their response to the concerns raised on our community’s behalf by various community groups and by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling on behalf of a number of us was to say, “There will be an aviation strategy that will look at how noise can be reduced.” It is wonderful to know that there will be an aviation strategy; it would be good to know when that aviation strategy is coming. My hon. Friend the Minister has been hard at work today—first thing this morning he was doing a debate on a different matter, which I also attended—but it would be good to know when the strategy is coming. Will he say a little more about how that might affect the reduction in noise that the Government are committed to? For all we know, that aviation strategy might be months or years down the line. We do not know what it will say on noise. At the moment, there is meant to be a policy to reduce noise. I return to the key question: why is there not a plan that Gatwick airport, which is making a great deal of money from this expansion in aviation—I am not criticising the expansion at all—must subscribe to that sets out how it will reduce noise?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), because they have both made powerful points. I first took part in a debate on aviation noise 34 years ago, when Gatwick was in my constituency. We had to deal with the BAC 111, which made a noise like a screaming banshee. It is true to say that aircraft noise is much mitigated now. The point that my right hon. Friend makes is terribly important, because it requires only a tweak, not major change, and the absolute enforcement of discipline in terms of the pilots.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Only he could introduce phrases such as “screaming banshee” into a debate. He draws my attention to another point. Part of the increase in flights from Gatwick has been in long-haul flights, which are a relatively new development and mean much bigger planes. Even if the newer planes are less noisy, residents and groups such as Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions and the Association of Parish Councils Aviation Group—one of its representatives is a constituent—are saying that there has been an increase in noise as a consequence of the new flights. Will the Minister tell us more about the aviation strategy and when that is coming? Specifically, why is there not a plan ahead of that strategy that Gatwick is required to adhere to, setting out metrics for how the increase in passengers and flights over the last few years will be mitigated through noise reduction and how future growth will ensure a reduction in noise? It is no good just saying that there will be a strategy in the future; our communities want action now.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) on securing this important debate. In my constituency, it is estimated that 4,000 people are directly affected by aircraft noise from the planes at Gatwick airport. That figure relates to homes within a 20-mile radius of Gatwick, however many people further afield are also adversely affected. Since being elected in June last year, I have met community leaders from groups such as Pulborough Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions and Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions, representing residents in the villages of Ifold, Plaistow and Loxwood, all of whom are heavily impacted by the airport.
As my hon. Friend said, concerns were escalated in 2013 when the airport moved the minimum instrument landing system join point back from seven nautical miles to 10 nautical miles, which led to an increased concentration of arrival traffic over areas in my constituency. Since then, the arrivals review has led to the minimum join moving back to eight nautical miles, which has only partially addressed some of the residents’ concerns.
As we have all said, the benefits of Gatwick should not be overlooked in today’s debate. Gatwick airport adds £5.3 billion to the UK economy, and that figure is set to grow with the increase in passenger numbers and flights since 2013 that has been discussed already. The increase in aircraft using the airport has of course led to a higher usage of flight paths in and out of the area. Route 1, for example, flies over Plaistow and Durfold Wood, and has seen an increase of 6% in one year alone—2015-2016.
Part of Gatwick’s success has been realised through the growth in long-haul traffic, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said. That growing market, although good economically, brings with it a greater noise burden for communities such as those in my constituency. Larger and louder aircraft have been flying in to land at low altitudes, some at less than 4,000 feet and as far out as 18 miles from the runway. Those same communities suffer arrivals too, turning at 3,000 feet above their homes. There is constant traffic in those areas.
The issue is one of balance. We must ensure that we meet the demand for international and regional connectivity, as that does benefit local businesses, travellers, holidaymakers, employees and the local economy. However, noise mitigation must be a priority to protect the communities that surround our airports. I welcome the work of the Gatwick noise management board, which brings together the community and the airport to share ideas and air concerns. I hope that all parties maintain that working relationship and ensure that it is not just a talking shop, but seeks the best outcomes for communities and businesses.
Continued community involvement is key, so I am pleased that the Government have decided to form an independent commission on civil aviation noise, with the aim of ensuring that all aerospace changes are properly considered, with the needs and concerns of local communities heard. The move to a more transparent air-management strategy can only benefit the airport and the people who live nearby. The introduction of options analysis in airspace will further that, allowing those who will be affected to engage with any changes that airports propose—at least, that is what I understand it will do. I am also pleased that the metrics and appraisal guidance to assess noise impacts are being updated to include a wider radius around the airport, which will better represent the impacts of air traffic on the wider community. I particularly welcome that, having been woken up myself by a plane at 6 am last Saturday, despite living more than 30 miles away.
Tackling the challenge of aircraft noise pollution will be helped by developments in technology. Many advances have been made already, such as better air traffic control, which led to a reduction in stacking over airports. There is also a drive to produce quieter aircraft, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) just mentioned. I am optimistic that the market will rise to that challenge, but Gatwick also needs to ensure that it is using the latest in the quietest technology.
Having worked in the travel technology sector for more than 10 years, I am more than aware of the growing demands that the industry faces. There is a need for more capacity, and the UK must maintain its position as a global leader by being accessible internationally, particularly as we leave the European Union. However, the skies over the south-east of England are some of the busiest in the world, and as our airports grow to support our economic growth we must put the communities that live in their shadow at the heart of any changes that we make. We seek the support of the Department for Transport to lessen the burden of excessive airplane noise on those local communities.
I came to today’s debate very conscious of the noise problems experienced in Sussex, Surrey and Kent, but I am a broad-minded fellow, Sir Christopher, and I also recognise the difficulties faced by constituents in Edinburgh, particularly when there are flights taking off no doubt to go to Gatwick. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) for introducing the debate. For a debate that is focused on noise-deadening, my hon. Friend is clearly today soft of voice, but as ever loud in impact. I share his frustration and much of his prescription.
I am very conscious that my constituency of Horsham has seen the largest concentration of flight paths since the change to departures originated by Gatwick in 2014. My constituency, notably the village of Copthorne, to the east of Gatwick, is affected, as is a very large swathe of my constituency to the west, which gets no respite, with multiple departure routes and arrivals day and night. I understand the yield management rationale for Gatwick to increase the number of long-haul flights, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) mentioned, that has, in the view of many of our constituents, made a bad noise problem worse. While I am on the subject, I also agree with his comments regarding the noise management board.
There are joint interests right across the swathe of counties affected by Gatwick, but I must emphasise how deeply affected those rural communities that lie close to the airport are. Those communities suffer most from constant noise. Night noise, as has been mentioned, is a major issue. The impacts need to be shared to give communities periods of respite. May I particularly say, at the outset, that it is simply not acceptable for people in communities that already suffer greatly to have their lives made even more miserable through increases in night-time noise caused by a decrease in the joining point for arrivals—a point on which I respectfully, and most unusually, differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan).
Germane to the issue of noise is the overall increase in pressure on our communities from all aspects of pollution arising from Gatwick’s expansion. An increase in passenger numbers of 8%, with an aspiration to 50 million, has an inevitable impact on local road and rail congestion to constituencies immediately around Gatwick, with air and noise pollution adding to the inevitable difficulties that my constituents face daily on our road networks and on Southern Railway, through extra congestion produced by increased utilisation of the airport. For any hon. Member who doubts the ongoing difficulties on Southern Railway, may I recommend the debate on rail franchising that is currently taking place in the main Chamber—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is speaking at the moment. I daresay that many of us will head there next.
My constituents suffer particularly from congestion and noise pollution, but I recognise that they are far from unique, with the number of air traffic movements growing every year since 2013, by 12% in total. I do not object to Gatwick seeking to maximise the utilisation of its current footprint, but what we have every right to expect and insist upon is that it adheres to the spirit and the letter of the aviation policy framework published in 2013, as set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling. It states that
“future growth in aviation should ensure that benefits are shared between the aviation industry and local communities.”
My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs drew the House’s attention to the fact that there has been a significant improvement in Gatwick’s bottom line. I have seen estimates of £350 million to £450 million. Even at the bottom end of that scale, on the basis of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and an amortisation multiple of seven for such a cash-flow generative business, an increase in value of some £2.5 billion would be expected. Those benefits must be shared with the community in the form of aggressive attempts by Gatwick to cut down and mitigate noise pollution. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling referred to Bo Redeborn and Graham Lake, who are in the Gallery today.
Many hon. Members mentioned the arrivals review. There was also promise of a departures review, which we are yet to see. There is so much more that can be done with Gatwick; it is not unreasonable for our constituents to expect to see it, nor is it unreasonable to expect the Department to be rigorous in ensuring that Gatwick observes the Department’s declared policy. I await with interest the Minister’s concluding remarks.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) on securing this important debate.
The aviation sector is one of Britain’s success stories and, as the UK’s second biggest airport, Gatwick is an important factor in that. Gatwick contributes £5.3 billion to UK GDP, as well as generating 85,000 jobs nationally, with around 24,000 on the wider airport campus alone. However, we all recognise that aviation noise can be a source of constant annoyance to those who live under airport flightpaths, and causes tension between airport authorities, airlines and local communities. As well as the annoyance and disruption, there are genuine public health concerns about exposure to aviation noise. In January 2016, the Aviation Environment Federation published a report stating that, in the UK, more than 1 million people are exposed to aircraft noise above levels recommended for the protection of health.
I am aware that Gatwick is trying its best to address the issue through a series of initiatives. In January 2016, it set up an independent noise management board, which includes community groups, industry experts and other stakeholders. Some of the actions it has taken include incentivising airlines through its charging regime to modify aircraft to reduce aircraft noise and increasing continuous descent operations, for which it is the No. 1 performing airport, with a CDO performance level of about 90%. Extending the boundary of their noise insulation scheme by 15 km to the east and west has also been helpful. There is more that could be done, but it needs to be addressed as an industry, with the support of the Government.
In April 2013, Sustainable Aviation produced a noise road map showing how aviation can manage noise from aircraft operations between now and 2050. Improved technology means that aircraft designs today are 75% quieter than they were 50 years ago. As a result, the population affected by aircraft noise around airports has fallen substantially, despite a significant growth in air traffic. The road map shows that continued investment in research and development has the potential to build on that success and reduce noise from aircraft by a further 65% by 2050.
In order to achieve that, the Government need to be doing more to assist the industry and to encourage further research into new technologies. The UK has the potential to be a world leader in the sector. What are the Government doing to support research into new aircraft and engine technologies?
I would also like to ask the Minister about airspace design. There is scope to further reduce noise output through improvements in the way airports, airlines and air traffic management operate. The aviation sector is already investing in new technology and new airspace design to ensure a lower noise impact. However, it has told me it could do more. Improvements such as steeper approaches require additional changes to airspace and operational controls. What are the Government doing to help bring those changes about?
Finally, will the Minister provide an update on the independent commission on civil aviation noise? The Government’s response to the consultation on UK airspace policy states that they intend to set up the commission by spring 2018. We welcome that decision. However, the commission will not have any enforcement powers or an ombudsman role or any other statutory role, which gives rise to the question as to what it will actually do. Given that the issue of an independent aviation authority or noise ombudsman, as it is sometimes referred to, was put forward by the Airports Commission in 2015, will the Minister give us an idea of when the commission will get the statutory powers that it requires?
May I say what a delight it is to have you in the Chair, Sir Christopher, especially in your recently dignified form? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) on securing this debate about growth and noise reduction at Gatwick, and all those Members who have spoken. My hon. Friend has proved himself on this issue as on every other to be an indefatigable campaigner—a tribune of his people—and still more strikingly so with a voice that is obviously failing under him. We can only congratulate him on his courage and resolution.
As my hon. Friend acknowledged, this matter falls briefly but unhappily into what might be referred to as a ministerial limbo, and therefore I am responding on behalf of the Government—I should say that I am very far from an expert on these matters, as I fear will become strikingly clear with the passage of time. I also pay tribute and offer my pity, if I may, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for having to put up with me twice in a single day, once on transport for the north and once on noise in the south. Those issues are not necessarily as different as one might think.
As hon. Members will be aware, the Government recognise that noise disturbance from aircraft is a serious concern to local communities. The concern can be still more pronounced when an airport is experiencing growth of the kind that has been seen at Gatwick. The Government’s role is to ensure that the right balance is struck locally and nationally between the environmental impacts and the economic and consumer benefits that aviation growth can deliver. Those environmental impacts of course include noise.
I need hardly say that the value of aviation does not need to be debated in this Chamber. It connects us with the world and allows us to visit our friends and family, to conduct our business and to see foreign countries and further parts of this country. The sector is also, as has been recognised, a very important part of the economy, directly supporting more than 230,000 jobs with many more employed indirectly. It contributes around £20 billion annually to the UK economy. The inbound tourism industry alone across the country is worth a further £19 billion.
Although there has been an aerodrome at Gatwick since the 1930s, the commercial airport as we know it today was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1958. In its first year of operation, just 186,000 passengers passed through the airport. Today, it is the UK’s second largest airport and helps take more than 44 million passengers to 228 destinations in 74 countries around the world every year.
As has been recognised by several hon. Members, Gatwick is a very important local employer—it is important to put that on public record again from the Government perspective. Almost 24,000 people work on the Gatwick campus across 252 different companies, with 2,800 directly employed by the airport. Nationally, the airport supports a further 61,000 jobs and contributes more than £5 billion towards our GDP. As such, it is a key part of our national infrastructure. Its local economic impact and the local economic value of its recent growth are significant drivers of growth and prosperity in the south-east. That means better pay, more jobs, stronger local businesses and growing asset values.
The Government recognise and have made clear that the benefits of airport growth must not come without due consideration and mitigation of the environmental impacts of aviation, in particular those impacts caused by the noise generated by aircraft. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling mentioned, the Government’s policy, as set out in the aviation policy framework, is
“to limit and where possible reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise.”
My colleagues have recently brought forward new policies and measures in line with that aim. It has been suggested that nothing has happened, but I understand that that is not true and I want to put some of the measures on the public record. They can then be discussed and debated and used as a framework for further discussion.
As hon. Members are aware, the Government set noise controls at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports using powers in the Civil Aviation Act 1982. My Department has the power to direct those airports, including Gatwick, to fine for noise infringements. I have no doubt that Gatwick’s management is, or shortly will be, following this debate closely. The responsibility—as matters presently stand, pending a further aviation strategy—lies with Gatwick, as advised, with potential enforcement from the Department.
One of the main controls the Government set is restrictions on operations at night time, because we recognise that noise from aircraft at night is, among many unacceptable aspects of aircraft noise, widely regarded as the least acceptable. In October last year, the Government introduced changes to improve the night flight regime. By introducing a new quota count category for the quietest aircraft, the Government are seeking to improve transparency for communities and to ensure that all aircraft movements will count towards an airport’s movement limit, whereas before such aircraft were exempt.
I reassure hon. Members that the Government have maintained the previous movement limit for night flights at Gatwick, which has been fixed for many years. It will guarantee until 2022 no increase in flights beyond what was already permitted. Furthermore, among other measures, from later this year there will be a reduction in Gatwick’s quota count limit, which should incentivise airlines to purchase quieter aircraft to make use of the airport’s permitted noise and movement allowances.
Separately, last October the Government published our decision on how we aim to support airspace modernisation, which includes new policies to ensure noise is more thoroughly considered in these important decisions. As hon. Members may know, the way our airspace is managed is based on arrangements that are in many cases almost 50 years old. In today’s world, that approach is increasingly inefficient, and can lead to unnecessary delays for passengers and an excessive impact on the environment around airports. We therefore need to modernise our airspace to enable the UK to keep pace with the rest of the world in exploiting the newest technologies. Advances in technologies have provided great improvements in the environmental performance of aircraft airframe design and engines, in terms of both noise and carbon emissions, and that has had a substantial effect on the noise experienced on the ground. For example, new-generation aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 737 MAX have a noise footprint that is typically 50% smaller on departure and 30% smaller on arrival than the aircraft they are replacing.
We expect aircraft noise to continue to fall in the future, compared with today’s levels, and we believe that that trend has the potential to outweigh the noise generated from increases in air traffic. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who is no longer in his place, discussed the screaming banshee of the BAC 111. There is no doubt that, as it and the A320 indicate, tweaks to aircraft design can greatly improve noise performance. As he said, the noise experienced over the past few years may have actually decreased by some measurements. I respectfully suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling that it may not be correct to measure from just 2013. Possibly the correct measurement for noise is to look at before the recession of 2007-08—the Gordon Brown recession, as I like to refer to it—when noise levels were not quite at the level they are now in terms of the number of people affected, but were certainly significantly higher than in the intervening period.
I am loth to be pedantic with the Minister, but he understands better than anybody, having represented his community in Herefordshire so assiduously for so long, that, although an incremental change downwards is to be welcomed, should an uptick come, it is hard to remember where we were 10 years ago—it is very easy to remember where we were before the uptick.
I am exceedingly aware of that. It is generally a feature of human consciousness that we ignore the things we benefit from but are extremely angry if things we enjoy are taken away from us. This is an example of that. I would not derogate for a second from what my hon. Friend said.
To say that we believe that the trend has the potential to outweigh the noise generated from increases in air traffic is, of course, not to say that as aircraft get quieter there are not difficult issues that need to be addressed with the implementation of the new technology. One major component of airspace modernisation—some hon. Members touched on this—is performance-based navigation, which allows aircraft to fly their flightpaths far more accurately than they could with previous navigation techniques. That has obvious benefits in terms of noise, because populated areas can be better avoided, but it also poses challenges—I do not need to remind hon. Members that with great power comes great responsibility —particularly in its effect on those directly underneath flight paths that experience a greater concentration of aircraft. That requires proper administration and control, and a sensible and considered approach. That is why the Government have brought about a new requirement for options analysis to be used when developing proposals to change the use of airspace. That will enable communities to take part in a more transparent airspace change process, and it ensure that options such as concentrated routes versus multiple routes and the degree of respite that can be offered, which has been discussed today, can be given proper consideration.
The Government recognise through the 2014 “Survey of Noise Attitudes” that attitudes towards aviation noise are changing. That goes to my hon. Friend’s point. The work carried out during the SONA study shows that sensitivity to aircraft noise has increased. The same percentage of people are registered as “highly annoyed” at lower levels of noise than in a past study. That is what we should see in an increasingly prosperous society. The threshold for interruptions and loss of amenity should go up. That is not a bad thing by any means, although it might be highly distressing for those involved. That is why the Government have introduced new metrics and appraisal guidance to assess the impact of noise on health and quality of life. In particular, it will ensure that for future airspace changes, noise impacts much further away from airports are considered much more than they are at present.
As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) mentioned, the Government have also committed to creating an independent commission on civil aviation noise later in the spring. ICCAN, as it is known, is designed to help rebuild some of the communities’ trust in the industry that we recognise has been lost, and will ensure that the noise impacts of airspace changes are properly considered. Communities will be given a greater understanding of and stake in noise management.
Alongside the Government’s work, Gatwick, which in this case is the responsible entity, is seeking to address the concerns of the communities surrounding the airport. I welcome the tone of the constructive remarks in relation to how Gatwick is engaging with those around it. In response to the significant concerns raised in 2014 and 2015 about Gatwick-related aircraft noise, the airport has launched several programmes of community engagement, most notably the noise management board, which is independently chaired and attended by representatives from several local community groups. Its role is to develop, agree, and maintain a co-ordinated strategy for noise management for Gatwick on behalf of stakeholder organisations. My officials are actively involved in that work, and all evidence raised at the NMB is considered in the development of Government policy. If it is for Gatwick, as the responsible entity, to take action, it can do so under advisement from the NMB.
Furthermore, and in accordance with its obligations under the environmental noise directive, Gatwick will later this year publish its draft noise action plan for 2019-23, which will provide an opportunity for the public to have their say on what it is doing to mitigate noise. The final approval of the noise action plan falls to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but my officials will work closely with the airport and officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as the plan is developed.
Finally, I want to return to aviation in the national context and the aviation strategy, which has been discussed. It is subject to a process that is already under way. We seek for it to be comprehensive in its scope. It will seek to address many important issues, such as security, connectivity and skills, and the development of innovation and new technology, which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East raised—I have some experience of our great investment from when I was at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, through the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation programme, and our relationship with some of the big aircraft manufacturers. Hon. Members may be pleased to know that one of its objectives is to consider how we support growth while tackling the environmental impact of aviation. As the Secretary of State said in his recent letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling, one of the issues that the Department wants to consider is whether there should be new framework to allow airports to grow sustainably. That means looking at trends in aviation noise over the long term and how they relate to growth in aircraft movements.
I want to give my hon. Friend a moment to finish, so I will speak for just a second longer. This issue is relevant not just to Gatwick, but to all airports across the UK, and it demands a national approach. We cannot prejudge the process, but one of its outcomes may be that we will want to clarify our existing aviation policy and how it should be monitored and enforced. My colleagues and I recognise the importance of accountability, and that may well be something that needs to be considered as part of a more developed overall aviation strategy framework.
As I have described, that work is going to start this year. It is quite substantial, and there will be several levels of consultation. I cannot tell my right hon. Friend when it is going to end. It is the nature of these things that they are open-ended, but it is very much at the forefront of my colleagues’ minds.
The Government recognise that colleagues from across the House and the communities they serve want faster progress, both at Gatwick and at other airports, but we believe that the new aviation strategy is the best vehicle by which to co-ordinate and implement any potential change in a properly informed and considered way. As I said, there will be a series of consultations. I will relay the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling for a further meeting with my colleague the Aviation Minister, and I am sure she will take it with great seriousness. I thank him for securing this constructive debate, and I thank hon. Members from across the House for their valuable contributions.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who has arrived in the nick of time. His presence and support is always gratefully received.
I want to reinforce three very brief points. The Minister responsible should take time out of her schedule to meet the community groups and the noise management board. Gatwick Obviously Not! and other groups have done an awful lot to ensure that their requests are not only appropriate and reasonable, but well argued and practical to implement. I also suggest that, as the London airspace management programme phase 2 is developed, it should take into account the full review of airspace policy that the Government have promised. The policy must not weaken the relationship between growth and noise. Indeed, it should be tightened.
I thank my right hon. Friends the Members for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) and for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Gordon (Colin Clark), for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) and for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), and for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), for their contributions. I thank the Minister for responding for the Government.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).