Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Mr Islam al-Beheiry is an Egyptian television presenter and researcher who hosted a religious talk show. In June 2015, he was convicted of contempt of religion under article 98 of the penal code and sentenced to five years in prison with hard labour. On 2 February 2016, a court upheld his sentence. The TV show that he hosted was a way to debate Islamic interpretations, and that comes under

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freedom of religion or belief. Egypt has signed the international covenant on civil and political rights, so by upholding al-Beheiry’s sentence the country has violated its legal obligations to protect the right to freedom of religion or belief. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on the diplomatic steps that the Government have taken to call for the release of Islam al-Beheiry?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I will make sure that his concerns are drawn to the Foreign Secretary’s attention. The Foreign Secretary will be before the House on Tuesday week, when the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to put that question to him.

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): Few things upset my constituents more than the potential impact of new housing development on their doctors’ surgeries, schools and local infrastructure. The Minister for Housing and Planning emphasised during proceedings on the Housing and Planning Bill the importance of local councils giving due consideration to impacts on infrastructure. Will the Leader of the House secure a written statement from the Housing and Planning Minister to give local councils proper guidance on how to apply that principle?

Chris Grayling: That is an important point. We need more housing in this country, but it is essential that the resources are made available through development schemes and smart local planning to establish the appropriate infrastructure. I will make sure that Ministers are aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): In the ’70s and ’80s, at least eight young boys in my constituency were sexually abused in homes in north Wales. Lady Macur’s report has been on Ministers’ desks for at least the last two months. We understand that some of it may be redacted. If the report is truly independent, why are the Government sitting on it?

Chris Grayling: I do not know the reasons for the timing of the report, which I was instrumental in setting up when I was Justice Secretary. I pay tribute to Lady Justice Macur, who is a distinguished judge and who will have done the job as effectively as possible. I will make sure that the right hon. Lady’s concern is passed to my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary. Clearly, we want to do right by the victims.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Mr Speaker, you will be delighted to know that, at 10.15 this morning, my petition to save the hedgehog went live. It can be found at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/121264. May I ask my right hon. Friend to urge fellow Members of the House to help gather signatures to ensure that we have a further debate on saving the hedgehog?

Chris Grayling: I am sure everyone in the House today will commend my hon. Friend for his determination to pursue the cause of ensuring the protection of a noble species. I congratulate him on what he is doing. The hedgehog is an integral part of our country’s wildlife. [Interruption.] Despite what the shadow Leader of the House says, it is a very noble species and a very important part of our national heritage. I commend my hon. Friend for the work he is doing. I have no doubt

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whatever that when he comes forward with a successful petition, as I am sure he will, the Petitions Committee will make time available for such a debate.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): My constituent Mr K has received two fixed penalty notices—one for exiting a car park from the wrong exit, and another for parking in a business permit bay—and, as a result, he was told that he had failed the good character requirement for British citizenship. May we have a debate on proportionate decision making in the Home Office?

Chris Grayling: It is difficult for me to comment on the individual case. Clearly, we want people who apply for citizenship to be of good character. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that if the system has gone badly wrong, somebody should do something about it. The Home Secretary will be in the Chamber for oral questions on Monday week and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman puts that question to Ministers, who I am sure will want to take it up on his behalf.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust on the opening of its new dialysis unit in Kettering? This state-of-the-art, first-class, ultra-modern, world-standard kidney dialysis unit is located in Trafalgar Road, Kettering, near the centre of the town. May we have a statement from the Department of Health listing all the new infrastructure investments in our NHS, which will make a world of difference to the patients who need them?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I am sure that this investment was a little bit helped on its way by the effective way in which he represents the town of Kettering. He highlights the very real new investments that are taking place in the national health service—new treatments, new equipment—all as a result of the extra funding we are putting into the national health service. The party now in opposition did not want to do that, and the Labour party in power in Wales is not doing it.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): My constituent Coreen McClusker is a single mother of a nine-year-old girl. She suffers from depression, and she has been diagnosed with dyslexia. She has had no benefits money since July, and she is at risk of eviction, having been sanctioned no fewer than five times. She has not been informed of her rights by the Department for Work and Pensions. Will the Leader of the Heath help me to ensure that she gets a full investigation of this issue by Work and Pensions Ministers?

Chris Grayling: It is very difficult for me to comment on the individual case, but if the hon. Lady writes to me with the details, I will make sure that it is passed on to Work and Pensions Ministers so that they can look into the situation.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): One of the challenges we will face in the coming years is the need to address our skills gap, not least in engineering. May we have a debate on the provision of high-quality careers advice in our schools and colleges?

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Chris Grayling: I know that this is a matter of great importance to the Education Secretary and that she is working on it at the moment. My hon. Friend makes an important point, because ensuring a smooth transition from school or college into work is an essential part of securing this country’s economic future. One thing we are trying to do to strengthen that is to increase the number of apprenticeships and to make it absolutely clear to young people that the apprenticeship route can be a very powerful and successful way into work.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): May we have Government time for a debate on the consultation by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on tips and gratuities? The consultation closed at the start of last November, but the Minister for Skills confirmed in a written answer this morning that no Government response is imminent. Just this week, Unite the union has exposed another scandalous practice in which the Melia Hotel International chain appears to take a 15% cut from tips and uses it to top up senior managers’ pay, which it describes as standard industry practice. Will the Leader of the House join me in saying that this is totally unacceptable, and urge his colleagues to move from consultation to action?

Chris Grayling: I have always taken the view that if someone is given a tip, either they should keep it or it should be pooled with their fellow members of staff. I know that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills takes this issue seriously and I will make sure that the specific concerns raised by the hon. Lady are passed to him.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Marsden football club in my constituency, which was established in 1900, is fighting for survival. Many matches have been postponed because of a flooded pitch and the clubhouse has been raided. That comes at the same time as a record TV deal for the premier league and discussions about ticket pricing in the premier league. May we have a debate on finances in football to ensure that not only fans but community football clubs get a good deal?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Local football clubs are an essential part of local communities. That is certainly the case in his constituency. I will certainly make sure that the point he makes is passed to the sports Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and those in the club who are working to raise charitable funds for the air ambulance service. That suggests to me that they are a really engaged group of people who are trying to do the right thing for the local community.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Today, the Ministry of Justice will publish a written statement that may close more than 80 courts in Wales and England, including the Crown, magistrates and family courts in Carmarthen. Surely a statement of that magnitude must be made on the Floor of the House so that Ministers are held to account. May we have an oral statement on this issue following the recess?

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Chris Grayling: This matter has been under consideration for some time. The Secretary of State for Justice has been here on several occasions and the matter has been discussed and debated in this House. It is right and proper that the Government bring forward their conclusions to end the uncertainty.

Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): The year of the monkey started this week and I hear that this brings out a mischievous streak in people. I am not sure if you are aware, Mr Speaker, but you are a rabbit. Some of your traits are being gentle, elegant, alert, quick and kind. The Leader of the House is a tiger, which is known for being over-indulged, but also for its bravery. Well, one has to be brave to go up against someone as diligent, dependable and full of strength and determination as our ox, the shadow Leader of the House. Members may or may not know that the Chancellor is a pig—quite literally, he is a pig! I will leave it there and simply ask the Leader of the House to join me in wishing my Chinese community, whose celebrations I will join this weekend, a happy Chinese new year.

Chris Grayling: All of us join the hon. Lady in wishing every member of the Chinese community in this country a very happy and successful Chinese new year. I hope that the celebrations over the next few days go well. I have to say that, on balance, I would rather be a tiger than an ox.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): Yesterday from the Vote Office I collected the central Government supply estimates, 2015-16 edition, which, despite running to 700 pages, describes itself as a “booklet”. Can the Leader of the House tell me what opportunities I will have, as a Member from Scotland, to debate and amend the specifics in this booklet if I feel that they may have Barnett consequentials through EVEL legislation, and what the deadline is for tabling those amendments?

Chris Grayling: As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter for the Liaison Committee. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who is sitting next to him, is on the Liaison Committee, so I am the wrong person to ask.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Every day, we see tragic pictures of people fleeing the horror of Aleppo. We see the anxiety building as they are refused entry into Turkey and there is the fear that they will make their way across the Mediterranean into Europe. May we have a whole day’s debate on the international crisis facing the world that is flooding out of Syria and on how we can take responsibility for that crisis, which has largely been created by the Assad regime and Russia?

Chris Grayling: We all view what is happening in Aleppo with enormous distress, and we desperately want peace in that country. As the hon. Lady knows, the International Development Secretary addressed that issue in the House at the start of the week, and we will continue to put substantial amounts of aid into Syria and the surrounding areas. She will know that the recent Syria conference in London raised more money in one day than any previous event of its kind, and I assure her that as far as is possible, this country will do everything

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it can to facilitate peace in Syria, the reconstruction of that country, and the opportunity of those people to return to their homes.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Leader of the House will recall that many of us were critical of the World Health Organisation for its slowness in getting to grips with the Ebola disaster in west Africa. Another crisis is emerging from Brazil, and the Zika virus is spreading throughout South America and beyond. May we have an urgent debate on that virus and the impact that it will have on the rest of the world, and can we urge the WHO, and the great charities that stepped into the breach on Ebola, to act quickly and act now?

Chris Grayling: As the hon. Gentleman says, this is a matter of great international concern. The tales of tragedy that are coming from South America, and the impact of the Zika virus on pregnant women and babies, are enormously distressing. The Government will do everything they can to play a role internationally in tackling the crisis, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the International Development Secretary will do everything they can to work with the WHO to ensure an appropriate international response.

Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): During last week’s successful debate on the role of men in preventing violence against women, and the urgent question on the Return of Kings, the Minister answered questions on the delay in ratifying the Istanbul convention on women’s rights, and indicated that the Government are keen to do so but need the primary legislation. Is the Leader of the House aware of any plans to bring legislation on that matter before the House before the summer recess? If not, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to make a statement on why that is?

Chris Grayling: The Government will certainly consider that issue. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot make any announcements at this stage about the contents of the upcoming Queen’s Speech, which will put forward a programme of legislation that is designed to address the issues faced by this country, but I will ensure that Ministers are aware of his concern.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): The British Retail Consortium’s crime report for 2014-15 found that there were 41 incidents of violence and abuse per 1,000 retail employees, which is up from 32 incidents per 1,000 employees in the previous year. Three million people work in our retail industry, and I do not need to say how important their work is to our local and national economies. May we have an urgent debate about that unacceptable level of violence against our retail workers?

Chris Grayling: Any violence against a retail worker is unacceptable, as are the levels of violence that the hon. Lady describes. The police have many powers to deal with that and to charge and prosecute people, and I hope they will always view that as an important area in which to take action. The Home Secretary will come before the House on Monday week, so perhaps the hon. Lady will raise the issue with her then.

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Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): The Leader of the House will probably be aware that within very short order, two separate debates in Westminster Hall have raised serious allegations of the deliberate undervaluing and downgrading of assets, forced bankruptcy and seizure of assets, and further allegations of collusion between banks, receivers and intermediaries. For my constituent, Alun Richards, that involved Alder King and Lloyds, but other banks and intermediaries were involved in cases considered by many other MPs. More than 10 cross-party MPs have written to the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee to ask him to investigate the matter urgently, and I have written to the director of the Serious Fraud Office to ask for a meeting. Is it time for a debate on the Floor of the House on that matter, and for the Serious Fraud Office to investigate those serious allegations?

Chris Grayling: I am not aware of the individual cases that the hon. Gentleman raises, but this is a serious matter and I hope that he will successfully secure an investigation from the Committee, which should respond to substantial and widespread concerns raised by Members. I will ensure that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is aware of the matter.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): When can we debate the warning given by a senior Japanese industrialist to the Foreign Secretary that the continuing financial fiasco of Hinkley Point is damaging the reputation of Britain internationally, and threatening further investment? Can we not recognise that the problems at Hinkley Point are terminal, and change to the practical technology of tidal power which is clean, British, free and eternal?

Chris Grayling: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government’s policy is not to put all eggs in one basket. We have probably done more than any previous Government in pursuing renewable energy in this country, be it wind, solar or tidal, but we believe that we need a mix of generation for the future, and that will include nuclear.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): I wish to make a similar point to one made by the shadow Leader of the House. Do the Government intend to make a statement or hold a debate in Government time on the contradictory statements they are making on their anti-Trade Union Bill? I am of course referring to the aforementioned letter dated 26 January from the Minister for Skills, which is in stark contrast to the oral answer he provided to me on 2 February, when he said there would be no concessions on facility time and check-off. In the absence of any statement, will the Leader of the House tell us what his answer was to that letter of 26 January? Or is that also the exclusive property of the Socialist Worker newspaper?

Chris Grayling: These matters will be and are being debated in the other place, and they will be debated in this House again. Honourable Members will have to wait until those moments to discuss and debate them.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): If I can show I am related to the Prime Minister, will I get money for my libraries and Sure Start centres in Walsall? The shadow Leader of the House is right to say that we need

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a debate on good governance, because we need to know whether Ministers took into account relevant considerations and we need to know the reasons for the decisions for that settlement.

Chris Grayling: In a society that is free and able to express individual views, none of us seeks to gag our relatives, even when they disagree with us.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a debate about the operation of the child maintenance regulations? I have a constituent with a very difficult case, whose 17-year-old daughter has moved out of the family home into a third party adult property, against the will of the family. They have now received a claim for child maintenance from that third party. This does not seem to be within the spirit of the law, which is surely to ensure that children continue to be supported in the event of family breakdown.

Chris Grayling: This is an immensely complex area, and most of us who have been in this House for a long time will have had extensive experience of it, and frustrations and difficulties with it. Of course we all seek to bring individual cases to the Department and to the relevant authorities, and we will continue to do so. I am confident that Ministers will do their best to ensure that the regime in place will deal with the challenges and operational difficulties faced in the tragic situations around family breakdown.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): On 21 January, I enlisted the help of the Leader of the House to arrange the meeting that the Prime Minister had promised with my constituent Mike and Tina Trowhill in order to discuss the national baby ashes scandal. The Leader of the House said he would come back to me, but I have not heard anything. I also asked the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage)

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on 26 January whether she would help me, but I have not heard from her either. Politicians need to keep their promises and I hope I will get that meeting with the Prime Minister, which he promised to my constituents.

Chris Grayling: I checked on this and the hon. Lady has perhaps misinterpreted the wording of the Prime Minister’s response, but I have tried to ensure that she receives a ministerial meeting. If that has not come through yet, I will follow it up today.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): The floods in York were devastating for so many because so many could not afford any insurance. They need every bit of help they can get, yet the Government still have not applied for the EU solidarity fund. May we have an urgent statement on why that has not happened and on what progress is being made?

Chris Grayling: The Government’s approach has been to try get finance to those who need it quickly and not to worry about complicated bidding processes, so that we ensure we provide help immediately to those who need it. If people look at the amounts of money that have been provided to the areas affected, they will see that we have done the right thing.

Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab): Last Saturday marked the 126th anniversary of the Llanerch colliery disaster in my constituency, in which 176 men and boys lost their lives in an explosion that devastated the local community. May we have a debate on the sacrifices made by miners, their families and their communities over many generations?

Chris Grayling: There is no doubt that mining communities played a huge role in this country. They provided the energy that kept this country and its economy going for decades. I am glad that in today’s world we can provide energy sources from a variety of different routes, which means that we do not perhaps have to subject those who did such sterling work in the past to those conditions today.

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Junior Doctors Contracts

11.54 am

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt): Nearly three years ago to the day, the Government first sat down with the British Medical Association to negotiate a new contract for junior doctors. Both sides agreed that the current arrangements, drawn up in 1999, were not fit for purpose and that the system of paying for unsocial hours in particular was unfair. Under the existing contract, doctors can receive the same pay for working quite different amounts of unsocial hours; doctors not working nights can be paid the same as those who do; and if one doctor works just one hour over the maximum shift length, it can trigger a 66% pay rise for all doctors on that rota.

Despite the patent unfairness of the contract, progress in reforming it has been slow, with the BMA walking away from discussions without notice before the general election. Following the election, which the Government won with a clear manifesto commitment to a seven-day NHS, the BMA junior doctors committee refused point blank to discuss reforms, instead choosing to ballot for industrial action. Talks finally started—under the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service process—in November, but since then we have had two damaging strikes, which have resulted in about 6,000 operations being cancelled.

In January, I asked Sir David Dalton, chief executive of Salford Royal, to lead the negotiating team for the Government. Under his outstanding leadership, for which the whole House will be immensely grateful, progress has been made on almost 100 different points of discussion, with agreement secured with the BMA on approximately 90% of them. Sadly, despite this progress and willingness from the Government to be flexible on the crucial issue of Saturday pay, Sir David wrote to me yesterday advising that a negotiated solution was not realistically possible. Along with other senior NHS leaders and supported by NHS Employers, NHS England, NHS Improvement, the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers, Sir David has asked me to end the uncertainty for the service by proceeding with the introduction of a new contract that he and his colleagues consider both safer for patients and fair and reasonable for junior doctors. I have therefore today decided to do that.

Tired doctors risk patient safety, so in the new contract the maximum number of hours that can be worked in one week will be reduced from 91 to 72; the maximum number of consecutive nights doctors can be asked to work will be reduced from seven to four; the maximum number of consecutive long days will be reduced from seven to five; and no doctor will ever be rostered consecutive weekends. Sir David believes that these changes will bring substantial improvements to both patient safety and doctor wellbeing. We will also introduce a new guardian role within every trust. These guardians will have the authority to impose fines for breaches to agreed working hours based on excess hours worked. These fines will be invested in educational resources and facilities for trainees.

The new contract will give additional pay to those working Saturday evenings from 5 pm, nights from 9 pm to 7 am and all day on Sunday, and plain time hours will now be extended from 7 am to 5 pm on Saturdays. However, I said that the Government were willing to be flexible on Saturday premium pay, and we

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have been: those working one in four or more Saturdays will receive a pay premium of 30%. That is higher on average than that available to nurses, midwives, paramedics and most other clinical staff, and also higher than that available to fire officers, police officers and those in many other walks of life.

None the less, the changes represent a reduction compared with current rates, but that is necessary to ensure that hospitals can afford additional weekend rostering, and because we do not want take-home pay to go down for junior doctors, after updated modelling, I can tell the House that these changes will allow an increase in basic salary not of 11%, as previously thought, but of 13.5%. Three quarters of doctors will see a take-home pay rise, and no trainee working within contracted hours will have their pay cut.

Our strong preference was always for a negotiated solution. Our door remained open for three years, and we demonstrated time and again our willingness to negotiate with the BMA on the concerns it raised. However, the definition of negotiation is a discussion where both sides demonstrate flexibility and compromise on their original objectives. The BMA ultimately proved unwilling to do this.

In such a situation, any Government must do what is right for both patients and doctors. We have now had eight independent studies in the last five years identifying higher mortality rates at weekends as a key challenge to be addressed. Six of these say staffing levels are a factor that needs to be investigated. Professor Sir Bruce Keogh describes the status quo as

“an avoidable weekend effect which if addressed could save lives”,

and has set out the 10 clinical standards necessary to remedy this. Today, we are taking one important step necessary to make this possible.

While I understand that this process has generated considerable dismay amongst junior doctors, I believe that the new contract we are introducing, shaped by Sir David Dalton, and with over 90% of the measures agreed by the BMA through negotiation, is one that in time can command the confidence of both the workforce and their employers. I do believe, however, that the process of negotiation has uncovered some wider and more deep-seated issues relating to junior doctors’ morale, wellbeing and quality of life that need to be addressed.

These issues include inflexibility around leave; lack of notice about placements that can be a long way from home; separation from spouses and families; and sometimes inadequate support from employers, professional bodies and senior clinicians. I have therefore asked Professor Dame Sue Bailey, president of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, alongside other senior clinicians, to lead a review into measures outside the contract that can be taken to improve the morale of the junior doctor workforce. Further details of this review will be set out soon.

No Government or Health Secretary could responsibly ignore the evidence that hospital mortality rates are higher at the weekend or the overwhelming consensus that the standard of weekend services is too low, with insufficient senior clinical decision makers. The lessons of Mid Staffs, Morecambe Bay and Basildon in the last decade are that patients suffer when Governments drag their feet on high hospital mortality rates, and this Government are determined that our NHS should offer the safest, highest-quality care in the world.

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We have committed an extra £10 billion to the NHS this Parliament, but with that extra funding must come reform to deliver safer services across all seven days. This is not just about changing doctors contracts. We also need better weekend support services such as physiotherapy, pharmacy and diagnostic scans; better seven-day social care services to facilitate weekend discharging; and better primary care access to help tackle avoidable weekend admissions. Today, we are taking a decisive step forward to help deliver our manifesto commitment, and I commend this statement to the House.

12.2 pm

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. It would have been good to have previewed this exchange during the urgent question on Monday, but we all know that the Secretary of State could not be bothered to turn up. You might also think, Mr Speaker, that the Health Secretary would do me the courtesy of responding to the two letters I have sent to him in the last week, but you would be wrong. So much for a seven-day health service! A five-day-a-week Health Secretary would be nice.

This whole dispute could have been handled so differently. The Health Secretary’s failure to listen to junior doctors, his deeply dubious misrepresentation of research about care at weekends and his desire to make these contract negotiations into a symbolic fight for delivery of seven-day services has led to a situation that has been unprecedented in my lifetime. Everyone, including the BMA, agrees with the need to reform the current contract, but hardly anyone thinks the need to do that is so urgent that it justifies imposition, and all the chaos that will bring.

The Health Secretary said NHS leaders had asked him to “end the uncertainty”, but can he confirm that that means they support “imposing” a new contract? One hospital chief executive, who the Secretary of State claims is supporting him, tweeted this morning:

“I have supported the view that the offer made is reasonable…I have not supported contract imposition”.

For the purpose of clarity, can the Secretary of State say categorically that all the NHS leaders whom he mentioned fully support his actions? Can he not see that imposing a new contract that does not enjoy the confidence of junior doctors will destroy morale, which is already at rock bottom?Does he not realise that this decision could lead to a protracted period of industrial action that would be distressing for everyone—patients, doctors, and everyone else who works in or depends on the NHS? [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. Let me say this to Members on both sides of the House who are shouting: do it again, and you will not be called. It is as simple as that. If Members cannot exercise the self-restraint to be quiet while the Front Benchers are speaking, they have no business taking part in the exchanges.

Heidi Alexander: I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker.

What impact does the Secretary of State honestly think an imposed contract will have on recruitment and retention? Earlier this week, a poll found that nearly 90% of junior doctors would be prepared to leave the NHS if a contract were imposed. How does the Secretary

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of State propose to deliver seven-day services with one tenth of the current junior doctor workforce? How can it possibly be right for us to be training junior doctors and the consultants of tomorrow, only to export them en masse to the southern hemisphere? The Secretary of State needs to stop behaving like a recruiting agent for Australian hospitals, and start acting like the Secretary of State for our NHS.

What advice did the Secretary of State take before making this decision? He may not want to respond to my letters, but what does he say to the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, all of which have urged him not to impose a contract? What legal advice has he taken about how an imposed contract would work in practice? What employment rights do junior doctors have in this context, and what will happen if they simply refuse to sign?

The Secretary of State has been keen to present a new junior doctors contract as the key which will unlock the delivery of seven-day services, but that is a massive over-simplification, and he knows it. Although research shows that there is a higher mortality rate among patients who are admitted to hospital at weekends, there is absolutely no evidence to show that it is specifically caused by a lack of junior doctors. Will the right hon. Gentleman state, for the record, that he accepts that?

One of the real barriers to more consistent seven-day services is the consultants contract. Until now, at least, the BMA and the Government were making progress in those negotiations. Could not a decision to impose a new junior doctors contract put the consultant negotiations at risk, and make the delivery of seven-day services even harder? Will the Secretary of State also make clear how the definition of unsocial hours will need to change in other contracts in order for seven-day services to be delivered, and which groups of staff that will apply to?

What we heard from the Secretary of State today could amount to the biggest gamble with patient safety that the House has ever seen. He has failed to win the trust of the very people who keep our hospitals running, and he has failed to convince the public of his grounds for change. Imposing a contract is a sign of failure, and it is about time the Secretary of State realised that.

Mr Hunt: The hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) has made a number of incorrect statements with which I shall deal with later, but what the country will notice about her response is more straightforward. When we have a seven-day NHS, in a few years’ time, people will say that it was obviously necessary and the right thing to do. They will remember that it was not easy to get there, and they will also remember—sadly—the big call that she made today for short-term political advantage to be placed ahead of the long-term interests of patients.

Previous reforming Labour Governments might have done what we are doing today. Let me say to the hon. Lady that she has vulnerable constituents—we all have vulnerable constituents—who need a true seven-day NHS, and those are precisely the people that the NHS should be there for. Sorting this out should not be a party issue; it should be something that unites the whole House, and she will come to regret the line that she has taken today.

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Let me address some of the hon. Lady’s particular points. She has said today and on other occasions that this has been badly handled. If she wants to know who has handled contract negotiations badly, it was the party that gave consultants the right to opt out from weekend work in 2003 and that gave GPs the right to opt out of out-of-hours care in 2004. Is it difficult to sort out those problems? Yes. Are we going to be lectured by the people who caused them? No, we are not.

The hon. Lady also questioned whether there was support for imposition. Let me just read her exactly what the letter that I got from Sir David Dalton says. He states that, on the basis of the stalemate,

“I therefore advise the government to do whatever it deems necessary to end uncertainty for the service and to make sure that a new contract is in place which is as close as possible to the final position put forward to the BMA yesterday.”

And what does Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, say?

“Under these highly regrettable and entirely avoidable circumstances, hospitals are rightly calling for an end to the uncertainty, and the implementation of the compromise package the Dalton team are recommending.”

The hon. Lady talked about the impact on morale. Perhaps she would like to look at the hospitals that have implemented seven-day care, including Salford Royal, Northumbria and one or two others. They have some of the highest morale in the NHS, because morale for doctors is higher when they are giving better care for patients. She also says that we should not impose the contract, but what she is actually saying is that if the BMA refuses point blank to negotiate on seven-day care, we should give up looking after and doing the right thing for vulnerable patients. What an extraordinary thing for a Labour shadow Health Secretary to say. She also said that we were conflating the junior doctors contract with seven-day working. Well, let us look at what the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said in 2012. It said:

“The weekend effect is very likely attributable to deficiencies in care processes linked to the absence of skilled and empowered senior staff”.

Most medical royal colleges say that junior doctors with experience qualify as senior staff.

The NHS has made great strides in improving the quality of care. Since I have been Health Secretary, avoidable harm in hospitals has nearly halved, nearly 20% of acute hospitals have been put into a new special measures regime—and we are turning them round—and record numbers of members of the public say that their care is safe and that they are treated with dignity and respect. The seven-day NHS is not just a manifesto commitment; we are doing this because we are willing to fight to make the NHS the safest, highest quality healthcare system in the world. Today we have seen that the Labour party is not prepared to have that fight. Does not this prove to the country that it is the Conservatives who are now the true party of the NHS?

Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking this clear and correct decision, because it is quite obvious that after three years, the BMA was prepared to let the whole thing drag on with talks and days of action until he either abandoned the seven-day service or gave the junior doctors an enormous pay settlement in order to buy their agreement to do it. In future discussions, will he keep concentrating, as he has, on the essential public interest, which is to meet the rising and remorseless demand

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on the service resulting from an ageing population and clinical advance? Will he also use the extra resources that the NHS is getting at the moment to deliver a better service to patients and not allow it to be taken away, as so often happened in the past—including a little more than 10 years ago in 2003—by very large pay claims by the various staff unions, as that would lessen his ability to give us the modern NHS that he is talking about?

Mr Hunt: My right hon. and learned Friend speaks with great wisdom and also great experience. Many Members will remember how, when he was Health Secretary, the BMA put posters of him up all over the country saying “What do you call a man who ignores medical advice?”, and there he was, smoking his cigar. I am sure that there have been Labour Health Secretaries who have had similar treatment. He makes an important point, however. Under the new Labour Administration of Tony Blair, huge amounts of extra resources were put into the NHS but, unfortunately, because of the impact of contract changes in 1999, 2003 and 2004, weekend care actually became less effective, not more effective. Now, thanks to the tough decisions we have taken on public spending and turning the economy around, we have been able to give the NHS a funding settlement next year that is the sixth biggest in its entire nearly 70-year history. We are absolutely determined that, if we are putting that extra money into the NHS, it should come with reform that leads to better care for patients. That is the Conservative way, and we will not be deflected from it.

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): I should like to pick the Secretary of State up on some aspects of his statement. On Monday, I challenged the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) to step away from the term “weekend deaths”. The Freemantle paper does not show that; it shows increased 30-day mortality in people admitted at the weekend, and there is actually a lower mortality rate at weekends. The junior Minister said that the Secretary of State was really careful, but he has made that suggestion twice in his statement today, and I think that that is very misleading.

What should have come from the Freemantle paper and others is an attempt to understand why these things happen. The only study that gives a clear answer and backs up the Francis report is the Bray paper on 103 stroke units, which showed that the single most important factor was the ratio of registered nurses. We should know what the problem is before we try to fix it. The one group of staff that is there, along with the nurses, is the junior doctors. They are not the barrier to achieving the 10 standards.

I welcome the progress that has been made since last November. In a debate in this Chamber in October, the Secretary of State seemed relatively unwilling to go to ACAS, but progress has been made since the negotiations started, and particularly since Sir David Dalton became involved in the past month. I therefore found it incredible to see on the BBC this morning that, having achieved 90% agreement and following a tweet at 4 minutes past 8 saying that we should now get both sides back to the table, the Secretary of State was going to impose the contract.

The problem with the recognition of unsocial hours might increase the difficulty that we already have in recruiting people to the acute specialties: A&E, maternity and acute medicine. They are already struggling, and this

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might well make things worse. I also still have concerns about the role of the guardian. The problem is that a junior doctor at the bottom of a hierarchy will have to go and complain, and we can imagine how difficult that might be in a hierarchical system and how easily that doctor could be labelled a troublemaker. So there are still things to be dealt with. I welcome the progress that has been made in the last month, but this is absolutely not the time to pour petrol on the fire and then throw in the towel.

Mr Hunt: I welcome the tone of the hon. Lady’s comments. I do not agree with everything that she has said, and I shall explain why, but they were immensely more constructive than the comments that we have heard from other Opposition spokesmen. She is right to say that the studies talk about mortality rates for people admitted at weekends. There have been eight studies in the past five years, or 15 since 2010 if we include international studies. She is right to say that we need to look at why we have these problems.

The clinical standards state that when someone is admitted, they should be seen by a senior decision-maker within 14 hours of admission. They will be seen by a doctor before then, but they should be seen by someone senior within 14 hours. The standards also state that vulnerable people should be checked twice a day by a senior doctor. Now, across the seven days of the week, the first of those standards is being met in only one in eight of our hospitals and the second in only one in 20. That is why it is important that junior doctors should be part of the group of people who constitute those senior decision-makers—consultants are also part of it—and that is why contract reform is essential.

The hon. Lady is right to say that this is also about nurse presence, and the terms that we are offering today for junior doctors are better on average than those for the nurses working in the very same hospitals, and better than those for the midwives and the paramedics. That is why Sir David Dalton and many others say that this is a fair and reasonable offer.

With respect to A&E recruitment, the impact of the contract change we are proposing is that people who regularly work nights and weekends will actually see their pay go up, relatively, compared to the current contract. These are the people who are delivering a seven-day NHS and we must support them every step of the way.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I know colleagues across the House will want to join me in thanking junior doctors for the valuable work they do for patients across the NHS. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I hope that they will look very carefully at the improvements in the offer, with a 13.5% increase in the basic rate and the very important safeguard that will discourage over-rostering at weekends by giving them premium rates if they have to work more than, or including, one in four weekends. I hope the BMA will also recognise and welcome the very important appointment of Professor Dame Sue Bailey to lead an inquiry into all the other aspects that lead to discontent with junior doctors. I wonder if the Secretary of State agrees that what we now need is to move forward in a positive spirit that brings this dispute to an end, takes the temperature down and recognises that we all want the same thing: safety for patients.

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Mr Hunt: I thank my hon. Friend for her very constructive comments. She is right. A 13.5% increase in basic pay is very significant, because, unlike overtime and premium pay, it is pensionable. It will help when applying for a mortgage and will mean more money on maternity leave. I think it will be much better for junior doctors.

The review that Dame Sue Bailey is doing, which was much-derided by the Opposition when I mentioned it in my statement, is actually very significant. One of the things that has gone wrong in training is that since the implementation of the European working time directive, we have moved away from the old “firm” system, which would mean that junior doctors were assigned to a consultant, who they would see on a regular basis and who was able to coach them on a continuous basis over weeks and months. That has been lost and many people think that that has led to much lower morale. We want to see what we can do to sort that out.

Finally, I want to echo what my hon. Friend said about going forward in a positive and constructive spirit. When, as a Government, we took the decision to proceed with implementing new contracts, we had the choice of many different routes, because, essentially, we can decide exactly what to choose. We have chosen to implement the contract recommended by NHS chief executives as being fair and reasonable. That is different from our original position. We have moved a considerable distance on most of the major issues, but it is what the NHS thinks is a fair and reasonable contract and we need to move forward.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Secretary of State, I am sure, has the grace to acknowledge that the application rate for specialty training has fallen since the Government put forward their proposals last year, but does he have the logic to accept that if he gets fewer junior doctors the problem he is trying to solve will only get worse?

Mr Hunt: We now have 10,600 more doctors working in the NHS than we did five years ago and we are investing record amounts going forward. There has been a lot of smoke and mirrors about what is actually in our contract proposals. I hope all trainees and medical students will look at the proposals and see that independent people have looked over them and believe they are fair and reasonable—actually better—for junior doctors, and that we will continue to be able to recruit more doctors into the NHS.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): As one, like myself, gets a bit older—some might say clapped out—one relies on the NHS more and more. People like me—I have just had an operation and might have another coming up—get worried about strikes. I hope the Secretary of State will try, from now on, to build the morale of junior doctors. Surely the NHS is not for the Conservative party, the Labour party, doctors or nurses, but for the people? Why should people like me, who are admitted to hospital on a Saturday, have a greater chance of dying? He has to take on the vested interests and stand up for the people.

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, if we look at the change happening in global healthcare, the big movement is towards putting patients in the driving seat of their own healthcare. If we want the NHS to be

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the best in the world, we have to be confident that we are giving patients the best care in the world. That is why I completely agree with him and why I said in my statement that there is no reason why this could not be something the whole House can unite behind. What we cannot do, however, is look at eight studies in five years and say that we will act on this just as soon as we can get a consensus in the medical profession. We have been trying to get that consensus now for over three years. There comes a time when you have to say, “Enough is enough” and do the right thing for patients.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I know the Secretary of State does not usually listen to people with a bit of experience, but, as somebody who has spent 40 years dealing with trade disputes and their aftermath, may I ask him how he expects industrial relations to improve when he has imposed a contract, accused the negotiators of lying, and effectively said that the members were fooled by their own negotiators? He has now told us today that he will build into the contract a differential between the antisocial payments paid to these professionals and those paid to other professionals working next to them. That is a recipe for disaster. Will he put in the Library a full list of what he believes are the so-called lies that were told by the leaders of the BMA? Will he explain how he expects to get things back on an even keel, something that was asked for by the Chair of the Health Committee?

Mr Hunt: As someone who I fully concede may have more experience of industrial relation disputes than me, let me just say this: it is very clear that we are able to progress when there is give and take from both sides; when both sides are prepared to negotiate and come to a deal that is in the interests of the service and in the interests of the people working in the service. That was not possible. It is not me who is saying that; that is was what Sir David Dalton, a highly respected independent chief executive, said in the letter he wrote to me last night.

Some of the things that the BMA put out about the offer—for example, it put up on its website a pay calculator saying that junior doctors were going to have their pay cut by 30% to 50%—caused a huge amount of upset, anger and dismay, and were completely wrong. I do not think it would be very constructive for me to put in the House of Commons Library a list of all those things, when what I want to try to do is build trust and confidence. The differential between doctors and other workers in hospitals is what the BMA was seeking to protect. It still exists, but we have reduced it from what it was before because we think it is fairer that way and better for junior doctors.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): May I add to what my long-time comrade, my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) said by delving into a bit of history? In 1977, I was knocked off a motorcycle by a careless driver on a Sunday. Because staff were not in the hospital, the wound could not be cleaned until it was x-rayed and because the wound could not be cleaned, I got an infection. This is not just about increased mortality rates; it is about the prolongation and exacerbation of small or routine episodes and injuries. Will the Secretary of State, in his calm and measured way, say again to the House that when we look back on this episode people will be very surprised that it took nearly 40 years—from my accident—to bring about this long-overdue reform?

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Mr Hunt: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He talks about x-rays, which illustrates the point that this is not just about doctor presence but the presence of those who are able to do x-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, get results back from laboratories and so on. A whole suite of things are necessary for seven-day care. He is also right to point out that there are huge savings if we get this right. For example, if someone gets an avoidable pressure ulcer because they have not had the care that they should have received over a weekend, they are likely to have to stay in hospital for over 10 days longer. That will cost the NHS several thousand pounds more and that is why, in the end, this is the right thing to do economically as well as ethically.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): There are huge pressures everywhere in the NHS. For instance, GP out-of-hours services are under an incredible strain and cover is very limited in some parts of the country. What is the Secretary of State doing about those pressures and the additional strain that could be triggered by an exodus of doctors, following the imposition of the doctors’ contract? Will he entertain the idea of a commission, as advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and by others on both sides of the House, to find a long-term consensual solution to the growing health and care challenges that we face?

Mr Hunt: The trouble with commissions is that they tend to take rather a long time to come up with their conclusions, and we need to sort out these problems now. That is why the Chancellor promised an extra £3.8 billion for the NHS next year, and why we said that we want 5,000 more GPs working in general practice, which will help out-of-hours services. We have a five-year plan that the NHS has the funding to implement, and that will transform out-of-hospital services. I hope that those developments will address the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his patience and resolution in bringing this matter to a conclusion. Does he share the real sadness that so many of us feel that these wonderful young people who come into the health service to be doctors with such high ideals are caught up in this terribly debilitating and damaging dispute? I ask him to reinforce his efforts to engage and speak directly with junior doctors and the medical profession as a whole and not allow the disruptive behaviour of the British Medical Association to destroy the relationship that we need to have with our doctors.

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend is right. There was absolutely no reason to have this dispute, because the things that we are trying to sort out—seven-day care and safer care for patients—are what every doctor wants to happen. Indeed, they choose medicine as a profession from the highest of ethical motives, and we want to support them. I share his sadness that it has come to this, but given that the counter-party in the situation is not willing to budge, we have to take action to remove uncertainty and to do the right for patients and for doctors. I will certainly continue to engage. The new commission headed up by Professor Dame Sue Bailey will also look at wider issues of morale, which will make a big difference.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Speaker: Order. I must advise the House that, so far, we have got through eight questioners in 14 minutes, which, by the standards of the House operating at its best, is poor, so we need to do better. That means shorter questions and, frankly, rather pithier answers.

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): I had a further email on this subject from a doctor in my constituency this morning. He thanked me for forwarding replies from the Department, although he did say that they were disappointing. He said that the BMA had proposed a contract that met the Government’s cost-neutral requirements, but that it had been rejected. Is that true?

Mr Hunt: I will be pithy, Mr Speaker. This is not just about cost-neutrality, but about dealing with weekend care, which is why that proposal was not accepted.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on always having at the forefront patient care and the wellbeing of young doctors? Did it not give the game away when the BMA said that this was a blow against austerity? Will he remind the House how much extra money has gone into the NHS, by contrast to what happened under the Labour party?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am afraid that, regrettably, there are some political elements inside the BMA. The great irony is that, without the austerity measures that those same people opposed in the previous Parliament, we would not have been able to give the NHS its sixth biggest funding increase ever.

Dawn Butler (Brent Central) (Lab): When I watched the Secretary of State on the TV on Sunday, two things struck me: first, he got paler as the letters from junior doctors were read out; and secondly, he made it clear that it was the senior doctors not being present that was the barrier to a full seven-day NHS. Why is it then that he is picking a fight with junior doctors?

Mr Hunt: We need senior decision-makers to be present. They are the most important people when it comes to delivering seven-day care. Most of the medical royal colleges accept that a junior doctor who has had a substantial amount of training does qualify as a senior decision-maker, which is why we need them more.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): The BMA has taken the oversubscribed political sub-speciality of spin doctoring to a whole new level. May I express my admiration for the Secretary of State for his ability to keep his cool under the sort of provocation that he has had, and ask how a 13.5% increase in pensionable pay could possibly lead to problems with recruitment and retention?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend speaks with personal knowledge. One of the things that has been wrong with junior doctors’ contracts for many years is that basic pay is too low. They therefore feel under huge pressure to boost basic pay by premium working, and that has led to some of the distortions that we see. So, yes, it is a significant increase in basic pay, which will be a very big step forward.

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Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): I have spent 30 years in the world of work, representing employees, conducting negotiations and solving disputes. I have seldom seen a sense of grievance so grotesquely mishandled, insulting the intelligence of junior doctors by telling them that they do not understand what is on offer. Does the Secretary of State not feel a sense of shame that his handling of this dispute should have so poisoned relationships with junior doctors, who are the backbone of the national health service?

Mr Hunt: The hon. Gentleman can do a lot better than that. We have been willing to negotiate since June. It was not me who refused to sit round the table and talk until December; it was the BMA, which, before even talking to the Government, balloted for industrial action. What totally irresponsible behaviour that is. If Labour were responsible, it would be condemning it as well.

Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement today and for all the work that he is doing to deliver a truly seven-day-a-week NHS, which we all really want for our constituents. Will he confirm that the BMA, the royal colleges, the Government and the wider NHS are all now agreed on the need to improve weekend care, which, as Professor Sir Bruce Keogh has said, is both a clinical and a moral cause?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a huge amount of support for doing the right thing for patients, which is why it is so extraordinary that the BMA has chosen to defend the indefensible, not to sit round and talk about how we can do this, as any reasonable doctor would have done and—to go back to the earlier question—to put out deeply misleading comments to its own members that have inflamed the situation and made it far worse than it needed to be.

Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): The Royal College of General Practitioners has reacted to the decision to impose the contract by saying that it is shocked and dismayed. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has said that the decision will exacerbate the recruitment and retention issues that the NHS currently faces. Why does the Health Secretary ignore the concerns of those two royal colleges?

Mr Hunt: When those colleges have had a chance to look carefully at our proposal, they will find much that they can commend. For both psychiatrists and GPs, we are putting in a premium to attract more people into those specialities, which will be immensely important both for them and for the NHS.

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): Will the Secretary of State draw to the shadow Secretary of State’s attention the research in the Netherlands that has shown that seven-day working has dramatically cut stillbirth rates—by 6.8% in the Netherlands—and has the potential to have a real impact on survival rates for young babies?

Mr Hunt: I commend my hon. Friend for her campaigning on that issue. She could not be more right. Just before Christmas, a report by Professor Paul Aylin

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said that the mortality rates for neonatal children were 7% higher at weekends, which underlines just how important it is to get this right.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): On 5 December 2011, the Government tried to cut unsocial hours for “Agenda for Change” staff. At a time when morale right across the NHS is so low, will the Secretary of State guarantee that he will not bring forward cuts, because the reason behind the unsocial hours cut that I mentioned was to introduce seven-day working?

Mr Hunt: We have no plans to do so, but I cannot be drawn any further, except to say that we do have to deliver our manifesto commitments. The specific issues that we have identified with respect to seven-day working relate to consultant and junior doctor presence, and that is what we are focused on putting right.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for the very clear way in which he has kept the House up to date on the progress of all this. It is very important not only that we free up beds in hospitals, most certainly at weekends, but that we should be making much greater use of our pharmacies to deliver better healthcare within the community. Will he explain how that might happen?

Mr Hunt: I believe my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is with the pharmacists now discussing that precise issue. My hon. Friend raises this issue regularly and rightly: pharmacists have a very important part in the future of the NHS.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): On Sunday, I witnessed the seven-day working at a Welsh hospital, where a clinic was held in Nevill Hall for the convenience of patients and to get maximum use of an expensive gamma camera. The Secretary of State constantly denigrates the work of the Welsh health service, but will he pause to congratulate the Welsh and Scottish Governments, who avoided the misery of the strike and will also avoid the poisonous legacy of resentment that he will face from junior doctors?

Mr Hunt: The Welsh and Scottish Governments may have avoided the difficult decision that we are taking in the NHS in England, but the longer they go on avoiding the issue, the longer they will have higher mortality rates at weekends, which we are determined to do something about.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. If we do not have enough junior doctors, patient safety cannot be guaranteed. In his statement, he referred to reducing the number of hours, nights, days and rostered weekends for doctors. Does he believe that that will ensure that there will be no strike? What safeguards are in place for patients, nurses and senior doctors if an agreement cannot be reached?

Mr Hunt: It is because an agreement cannot be reached that we have to take the measures that we are taking today. The bits of the new contract to which the hon. Gentleman draws attention are the bits that will have the biggest impact on the morale of junior doctors, because we are saying that we do not think it is right for hospitals to ask them to work five nights in a row or to

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work six or seven long days in a row. We are putting that right in the new contract. That will lead to less tired doctors and better care for patients.

Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab): I met a large group of junior doctors in my constituency to discuss the new contract. They were highly professional and totally committed to the NHS, but for the first time some of them were considering working abroad. One of them told me that, although she loved her job, she would never let her daughter train as a junior doctor now. Does that not demonstrate that the low morale—the despair, frankly—and the likely flight of junior doctors as a consequence of imposition is a huge threat to the future of our NHS?

Mr Hunt: The biggest threat to morale for doctors is not being able to deliver the care that they came into the profession to deliver. That is why we are sorting out a proper seven-day NHS, particularly for junior doctors who work in A&E departments at weekends, where they often do not have the support they would get during the week and do not have as many consultants around as there would normally be. That is what we are trying to put right. I appreciate that it is very difficult when the counter-party in the dispute does not want to negotiate, but in the end Governments have to decide what is right for patients and what is right for the service, as well as what is right for doctors.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Hull has traditionally struggled to recruit doctors in specialties such as A&E, general practice and psychiatry. I am concerned about the royal colleges’ warning that the imposition of the contract will have detrimental effect on staff morale and staff retention in the NHS. Will this not make things even more difficult for areas such as Hull, which struggle to recruit in the first place?

Mr Hunt: We want more doctors and more nurses in the NHS, but in the end, if we are putting extra money in to recruit these extra doctors and nurses, it is fair to the public who are paying for their salaries to have reforms that mean their care gets better. That will apply to the hon. Lady’s constituents in Hull, who want a seven-day NHS, just as my constituents in Surrey do.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): The Health Secretary repeatedly accuses the BMA of misleading junior doctors, yet 98% of them voted for industrial action. Without exception, every doctor I have spoken to said that the last thing they wanted to do was to go out on strike. Doctors are some of the brightest and most intelligent people we have in our country. Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that they cannot make up their minds for themselves?

Mr Hunt: It is interesting that when that vote was held, the BMA had not sat down and talked to the Government, despite repeated invitations. I personally met Johann Malawana, the leader of the junior doctors committee, and invited him to talks. Despite those repeated invitations, they refused to talk; they decided to ballot for industrial action. How serious are people about reaching a negotiated settlement if that is what they do?

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Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): Can the Secretary of State clarify something in his statement for me? He says that “those working one in four Saturdays or more will receive a pay premium of 30%. That is higher on average than that available to nurses, midwives, paramedics and most other clinical staff”. The staff he cites will be employed on bands 4 to 9 under “Agenda for Change” terms and conditions. If they work Saturdays, they receive plain time plus 30% for working then, so can the Secretary of State tell me how he has calculated an average? I do not understand his mathematics.

Mr Hunt: I am happy to do that. The contract that we are going to implement gives junior doctors who work more than one in four Saturdays—so one in three Saturdays —a higher premium of 50%, so when taken on average, it is a higher premium for working on a Saturday.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): As has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), there were no strikes in Wales yesterday. However, on the point made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), there was an increase of 10% in the budget, equivalent 135 places for nurse training, which is so critical for cover. That may be what led to a communication that I received from a junior doctor in England who said, “Could we have your Minister for Wales, please?” What does it say about morale in the NHS in England when, in football and rugby parlance, the Minister has lost the confidence of the changing room?

Mr Hunt: I think that is the first time in living memory in this House that a Welsh MP has got up and said that they think things are better in the Welsh NHS. Just look at the waiting times that people face for basic operations on the NHS in Wales—far, far longer than in England. We will take no lectures about how to run the NHS from Labour in Wales.

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): I represent three fine hospitals and one great medical school, and I spend a lot of time listening to junior doctors and medical students. The Secretary of State talks about the crisis in morale in the NHS among junior doctors. Does he not recognise that his handling of the dispute has done so much to enhance that crisis, and that today’s announcement will make it so much worse?

Mr Hunt: Not at all. The choice I had was to do something about mortality rates at weekends or to duck the issue. Under the Conservatives, we do not duck issues about mortality rates. We do the right thing for patients. After Labour’s record, I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would be a little more circumspect.

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Points of Order

12.47 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In an earlier exchange in Energy and Climate Change questions, the Secretary of State said, in response to a question that I posed to her, that large-scale solar is already subsidy-free. I think she may have inadvertently misled the House. As I understand it, under the Government’s banding review, they are proposing a subsidy of £34 per megawatt-hour. How can I get the Secretary of State to correct her statement?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): I was not here during DECC questions but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, Ministers take responsibility for their own statements. He has put the matter on the record.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Earlier in business questions, I raised the case of my constituents, Mike and Tina Trowhill. I had raised the matter in Prime Minister’s questions on 4 November and the Prime Minister had promised a meeting with my constituents. I raised it with the Leader of the House because it is now the middle of February and it has proved very difficult to arrange that meeting. The Leader of the House said that I had misinterpreted the response from the Prime Minister. I have checked Hansard for 4 November. I said:

“Will the Prime Minister agree to meet Mike and Tina to discuss why we need national and local inquiries into what happened to baby ashes in such cases?”

His response was:

“I am happy to arrange that meeting.”—[Official Report, 4 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 964.]

I do not understand how I have misinterpreted that and, more to the point, how my constituents, who have now been waiting three months for a meeting with the Prime Minister, could have misinterpreted it? Can you assist me in how I should take the matter forward?

Madam Deputy Speaker: The hon. Lady has already taken the matter forward by putting it on the record. No doubt, the Minister on the Treasury Bench will take it further. Perhaps the hon. Lady will be written to, at least.

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Housing Associations and the Right to Buy

Select Committee on Communities and Local Government

Select Committee statement

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): We come now to two Select Committee statements. Mr Clive Betts will speak on his subject for up to 10 minutes, during which no interventions may be taken. At the conclusion of his statement, I will call Members to put questions on the subject of the statement, and I will call Mr Clive Betts to respond to those in turn. Members can expect to be called only once. Interventions should be questions and should be brief. Front-Bench Members may take part in questioning. The same procedure will be followed for the second Select Committee statement. I call the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts.

12.49 pm

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): I would like to thank the Backbench Business Committee for the opportunity to present our report on housing associations and the right to buy. I would also like to thank Craig Bowdery, our Committee specialist; Professor Christine Whitehead, our specialist adviser; and Professor Ian Cole and his research colleagues at Sheffield Hallam University for their help in producing the report.

There is clearly a housing crisis in this country, so the Committee wanted to look in greater detail at one of the Government’s key policies: extending the right to buy to tenants of housing associations. That was a Conservative manifesto commitment, so the Committee did not question whether it should be implemented. As is appropriate for Select Committees, however, we scrutinised how it was being implemented. We also looked at other Government policies, such as the 1% reduction in social rents, pay to stay and starter homes, which will all have an impact on the provision of social housing and on housing associations.

We had a large response to our request for evidence, with more than 175 written submissions, and we heard from a range of witnesses, including housing association chiefs from across England, Scotland and Wales, council leaders and representatives of tenants and mortgage lenders.

Throughout our investigations, we found a great deal of uncertainty—that was a key point—and a lack of detail. The robustness of the funding model for the right to buy is extremely questionable, and we call on the Government to cost the programmes fully as a matter of urgency.

Shortly after our investigations began, a deal to implement the extended right to buy voluntarily was reached between the Government and the National Housing Federation. We recognise that a voluntary deal is a way of delivering a key policy from the Government’s manifesto while maintaining the independence of housing associations, and that, in the circumstances, it is the best way forward for both. However, there remains much uncertainty in the wording of the agreement. A minority of associations voted against it, and some abstained, and we do not yet know how the right to buy will be imposed on them and how binding the terms of a voluntary agreement can be.

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Another issue is exactly how much discretion each association will have to decline sales. Can they, for example, choose not sell any of their homes in a certain area, or will they sell them on a case-by-case basis? Similarly, what is the appeal process for tenants who are refused the right to buy?

The extended right to buy is designed to increase home ownership and housing supply. We support those aspirations and the principle of giving people the opportunity to own their own home, provided that the homes sold under the right to buy are replaced on a one-for-one basis and that housing continues to be delivered across all tenures to meet the country’s housing needs. We feel there are unresolved issues, and we remain concerned that the Government’s policies could have a detrimental effect on the provision of accessible and affordable housing across all tenures, particularly on affordable rented homes.

We looked particularly at houses in rural areas, where there is often high demand. Limited land availability means that it can be challenging to build new homes to replace those sold through the right to buy. For our rural communities to thrive, it is important that young people and those on lower incomes can afford to live in them. The terms of the voluntary agreement included the ability of housing associations to offer a portable discount in place of selling a home. Given that rural areas such as national parks can be large, it remains to be seen how that will work in practice.

We are concerned that the extended right to buy could hinder the provision of specialist and supported housing schemes. Homes in such schemes are expensive to build and can be harder to replace, but they provide essential services to those living in them. We also believe that to avoid confusion or possible legal challenges, restrictive covenants on specific sites and properties built using charitable funds should be explicitly exempt from the extended right to buy.

We found that large numbers of homes sold through the statutory right to buy to council tenants had become rental properties in the private sector in a relatively short time. That is a concern because the private rented sector is often more expensive than social housing, and the quality of homes can, in some cases, be lower. Selling much needed social assets at a discount, only for them to become more expensive in the private rented sector, is therefore a significant concern for the Committee.

Measures to restrict homes sold through the right to buy from ending up in the private rented sector need to be explored. We suggest that those might include a provision that any right-to-buy homes resold within 10 years should first be offered to local housing associations or the local council, which could choose to buy them at market price. They might also include a restrictive covenant requiring a minimum period of owner-occupation. Those are matters for exploration.

The Government propose to fund the extended right to buy with the proceeds from the sale of high-value council homes. The definition of “high value” has not yet been announced, and it is long overdue. The precise mechanism by which this policy will be funded contains too many unknowns and unclear definitions. However, we observe that public policies should usually be funded by the Government, rather than through a levy on local authorities. If only those councils that have retained some housing stock are required to make the payment to fund

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the right-to-buy discounts, the effect on communities, and the financial risk for local authorities, will be greater in some areas than in others. That is another reason for our belief that a national policy should be funded nationally.

We received much evidence on the proposed funding, and we are concerned that the sums do not add up. We cannot be sure that the proceeds from selling council homes will cover the costs of providing right-to-buy discounts, the costs of building replacement council homes and the brownfield regeneration fund. We urge the Government to publish their figures and to clarify the funding mechanism as soon as possible.

The success of the extended right to buy largely depends on the homes that are sold being replaced and on the housing supply being maintained. We appreciate the size of the challenge of building more homes to meet demand, but we seek more details from the Government on how they will meet their objective of achieving at least one-for-one replacement of the homes sold. They must take steps to ensure that the homes built to offset right-to-buy and council home sales meet the needs of local communities and have a tenure mix that reflects local circumstances.

Another policy that could impact on housing associations and the provision of rented housing is the new legal duty on councils to ensure the provision of 200,000 new starter homes across all reasonably sized sites. It is important that homes for affordable rent are also built where the need exists, particularly because starter homes now count towards satisfying the affordable housing allocation in section 106 agreements. Starter homes should not be built at the expense of other forms of tenure; it is vital that homes for affordable rent are built to reflect local needs. To put that in context, about 250,000 housing association rented homes have been built in the last 10 years through section 106 agreements.

Another policy change is that housing associations have been required to adapt to the fact that the Government are reducing social rents by 1% a year for four years. That reduction in housing association’s income is significant and could impact on the pastoral services provided. It could also impact on associations’ development capacity and the viability of supported housing schemes. It will affect different housing associations in different ways. We welcome the recent announcement that supported housing rents will be exempt from the 1% reduction for a year while the Government review the situation.

Before autumn statement 2016, the Government should provide some certainty over rent levels post-2020, to assist long-term business planning and increase investor confidence. We support their efforts to deregulate housing associations, and we argue that giving them the freedom to set their own rent levels is the next logical step.

It is clear that the housing association sector is undergoing a substantial change. We encourage the regulator to adopt a framework that is based on risk, rather than factors such as size, and that recognises the sector’s diversity. Regardless of how housing associations might change in future, it is vital that they remain mindful of their social mission and philanthropic purpose.

The Government have ambitious plans to address the severe housing shortage, and they are seeking to do so by prioritising affordable home ownership. None the

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less, rented housing at full market rents and sub-market rents will continue to be essential to meet the needs of many in our society and should exist alongside other forms of housing.

Finally, I thank all members of the Committee for working assiduously and collectively to produce this unanimously agreed report.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his statement, and him and his Committee on its report? I was interested in conclusion 96, which says:

“It is important that housing associations which generate surpluses apply them to delivering new housing.”

In his report, the hon. Gentleman highlights the fact that the department has identified

“that the housing association sector had a surplus of £2.4 billion”,

which it could make use of. Does he share my concern that there is tremendous scope for more efficiencies in housing associations? Is he as concerned as I am that some chief executives of housing associations receive very large salaries indeed?

Mr Betts: That was an issue the Committee was mindful of. That wording in the report is very clear. Where there are large surpluses, and there are housing shortages to be met, housing associations should look to make sure those surpluses are spent in a way that delivers more homes.

It is also important that housing association boards look at how their resources can be managed to the maximum efficiency. The public sector as a whole has had to have an eye on efficiency in the last few years. The housing associations are deliberately not in the public sector, and the Government have taken steps to deal with that issue. Nevertheless, they receive public funding, and they should make sure they spend that public money as efficiently as possible.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): I welcome this unanimous cross-party report, which reinforces criticism and opposition already voiced by Conservative Members and by the Conservative-led Local Government Association about the huge loss of affordable homes in rural and urban areas alike as a result of the Housing and Planning Bill. The other place is set to examine the Bill’s provisions on housing associations’ right to buy and the forced sale of council homes on 3 March, so what steps will my hon. Friend take to make sure that peers know all about this important report before then?

Mr Betts: I would have thought that making this statement today was a start to that process and give the report some publicity. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be sending messages to his colleagues in the other place where he wants to draw particular aspects to their attention. A key issue is how the right-to-buy scheme should be funded. I think it would be very helpful for their lordships if the Government were to produce the calculations on how the sale of high-value council assets in relation to right-to-buy discounts, the replacement of the sold-off council homes, and the brownfield regeneration fund—which I think we can all support as a very good principle—can all be funded. We need to see the Government’s figures given that we had evidence from the Chartered Institute of Housing that

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the maximum amount raised from the levy would be about £2.2 billion a year, which would not cover the three costs that need to be covered to meet the Government’s intentions.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I welcome the statement from the Chair of the Select Committee, on which I am pleased to serve. I can confirm that this report was, helpfully, agreed on a cross-party basis. I commend him for his diligent work in ensuring that we did come to such an agreement even though it was quite difficult at times. Does he agree that it is important to increase not only the supply but the mixture of tenure? One of the key concerns that the Government have addressed, thanks to an amendment to the Bill, is that social rented homes sold will be replaced on a two-for-one basis. I think that is warmly welcomed. We also need to make sure that the homes that are sold are for owner-occupation and do not end up in the private rented sector market, because that denies people the right to own their own home.

Mr Betts: When a home is bought under the right to buy and the Government then continue with their policy of selling a council home to pay for it, if both those homes could be replaced with properties that meet the needs of those communities, I think everyone would feel a lot more comfortable about the direction of travel. As I understand it, the two-for-one replacement is a London-only commitment at this stage, and it is not precisely clear what the tenure of the two-homes replacement would be. That is one of the unanswered questions. Another is that we do not yet know how the levy raised on councils would be distributed around the country. Presumably the specific requirement for London means that some sort of regional ring-fencing will be in place, but we do not know precisely what that will be until the Government say so.

Yes, there is a concern about homes being bought under the right to buy and then becoming homes in the private rented sector. We can all see why that is. When people have bought their council homes, we see the front doors and front windows appearing in those newly bought homes, and a few years later we go back and probably see the roofs that have not been repaired, indicating that those homes have been passed on to the private rented sector. That is a challenge the Committee identified, and I hope that the Government will work with the National Housing Federation to explore how it might be dealt with.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I, too, thank the Chair of the Select Committee for bringing forward this report. I have always supported the right to buy. This is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, but I still want to ask a question. In Northern Ireland, we have changed the tenancy arrangements such that a tenant has to stay for an extra five years before they can have a right to purchase. Another change is that tenants have no right to buy a bungalow or adapted disabled accommodation

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because of constituents’ insatiable demand for such housing. Has the Chair given any consideration to those two conditions in Northern Ireland? Did any discussions take place with the Northern Ireland Assembly or with other devolved regional Administrations to gauge their opinion on what they do? That would perhaps allow us to have a uniform set of rules or criteria across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr Betts: We had witnesses from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, so we did look across the board. We did not look specifically at extending the qualifying period for the right to buy, but we did look in some detail at supported housing. We thought that the discount should not be eligible in relation to the right to buy. The problem is that in some cases where a property cannot be sold, a portable discount can be given to another property, but if a person needs supported housing, then saying to them, “You can’t buy that house but you can have a portable discount to another supported housing unit somewhere else” does not really add up. We need clarification on that because we were very concerned about the prospect of losing supported housing in this way.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Brandon Lewis): First, I apologise to the Chairman and members of the Select Committee for not being here earlier; I have been serving on a Bill Committee. I hope they will appreciate that I whizzed down as soon as we finished the sitting.

I thank the Chairman and the entire team who worked on this report, and everybody who gave evidence, for their time and effort. It is a deep report that we will look at with interest. I am sure that members of the Committee and the Chairman himself will appreciate that there may be things that we do not entirely agree with; we have that debate from time to time. Through the voluntary agreement, our policies in the Housing and Planning Bill and our housing policies in general, we have been very clear that we support, and will continue to do all we can to support, the aspiration of home ownership, and the right to buy plays an important part in that. I welcome the time and effort that the Committee put into the report, and look forward to the debates on these issues in the period ahead.

Mr Betts: I would probably be disappointed if the Minister did agree with everything in the report. The Committee members were absolutely at one on this. We support the aspiration of home ownership—how could we not when we are homeowners ourselves? People would look at us askance if we came to a different view. We did not say that we were against the right to buy; rather, we raised a number of fundamental questions about how it could be funded. We would like the Minister to provide in response the information, the evidence and the facts and figures to back up the Government’s policy so that we can have a better view as to how it will work in practice.

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Future of the Union: English Votes for English Laws


Select Committee statement

1.7 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for the opportunity to introduce PACAC’s latest report to the House. Our main conclusion is that while there is evidence that the principle behind EVEL commands popular support, we have significant doubts that the current Standing Orders are the right answer or that they represent a sustainable solution to the English question. They may be unlikely to survive the election of a Government who cannot command a double majority of English and UK MPs. The Government should use the remainder of the 12-month period in the run-up to their promised review of the Standing Orders to rethink the issue and to develop proposals that are more comprehensible, more likely to command the confidence of all political parties represented in the House of Commons, and therefore likely to be constitutionally durable.

On complexity, we note with concern the comments of a former Clerk of the House, Sir William McKay, who described the new Standing Orders as

“a forest in which I lose myself”.

That former Clerks of the House of Commons—individuals steeped in decades of learning about the law of Parliament and parliamentary procedure—should have difficulty in discerning what these Standing Orders mean should raise serious doubts about them.

It is regrettable that the new Standing Orders have been drafted, like legislation, by Government parliamentary draftsmen. Never again should Standing Orders be drafted by the Government, rather than by our own Clerks. Revisions made to Standing Orders to make them more coherent and transparent should be made by the House, for the House, as a matter of principle.

On sustainability, our report notes the stridency of the opposition to the new Standing Orders from those on the Opposition Benches—all those on the Opposition Benches—which underlines their vulnerability. Only the Conservative party voted in favour of the new arrangements. The Standing Orders therefore face a high risk of being overridden as soon as there is a non-Conservative majority in the House of Commons.

The shadow Leader of the House noted in his evidence to the Committee:

“It is certainly feasible, if not probable”

that a future Labour Administration would revoke the new Standing Orders. That the Standing Orders have attracted such hostility and can be removed on the basis of a simple majority must raise doubts about whether they can ever be regarded as anything more than a temporary expedient. Currently, they cannot be considered to be part of a stable constitutional settlement that will endure.

It is too soon to say what the constitutional implications of the new Standing Orders might be, but we note the difficulties raised by trying to reconcile EVEL with the

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continued operation of the Barnett formula. It is increasingly perverse that decisions made about spending in England determine what is spent in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Alternative schemes of territorial funding will have to be examined.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has described the devolution test used for the certification of English only, or English and Welsh-only, issues as “a very simple test.” It is difficult to see how a neat, one-size-fits-all test can be applied to a highly complex, political and asymmetrical set of devolution dispensations. We note that it is highly likely that interested parties from inside and outside the House will want to make representations to the Speaker on how he adjudicates this test. We agree with the Procedure Committee that there is a case for the Speaker to establish and publish a procedure for how he would handle such representations.

Above all—this is of most importance—our report points out that the ad hoc approach to change in the constitution of the Union, which dates back only to the devolution reforms initiated by the Labour Government in 1997, and which has treated Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and, indeed, England in different ways at different times, has been characteristic of constitutional reform since the 1990s. The Government must abandon this ad hoc approach and explore a comprehensive approach for the future of relationships between the Westminster Parliament and the component parts of the United Kingdom. That will be the subject of our continuing inquiry into the future of the Union, and of our subsequent reports on the subject. We are pursuing this by developing conversations, in private and in public, with an open mind to build up trust and understanding between all the Parliaments and Assemblies of the United Kingdom and among all political parties. We have had a successful visit to the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff, and we will visit Holyrood in March. We will issue further reports to the House in due course on the progress of those conversations.

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): The report is most welcome, and I thank the Committee for its efforts. The report makes it clear that EVEL, in its current guise, is not coherent, transparent or sustainable. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we now need the wider constitutional convention that Labour has called for since before the election? Does he agree that the Government should support expert views such as that of the McKay commission, which set out an effective system to replace the current bureaucratic mess? We are willing to work with the Government to find a better system to strengthen English voices in Parliament, but it cannot be right that some Members in this place have a veto when others do not. Does he agree that the Government should heed the report and, during their review of EVEL proceedings, return to the drawing board to find a fairer solution that we can all support?

Mr Jenkin: I agree in part with the hon. Lady, and I am grateful for her remarks.. The McKay commission was as unsatisfactory, in many ways, as the present proposals. It is in the nature of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly that English MPs have no say over the laws that they make, so the veto to which she refers is merely a quid pro quo. Interestingly—and I stress this point—the principle behind English votes for English laws seemed to have quite a lot of popular support, even in Scotland,

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although that view is controversial and not entirely shared by the Scottish National party member of the Committee. As for the constitutional convention, we have not taken evidence on the matter. I do not think that there is an appetite for reopening the entire British constitutional to an interminable process that would take years. We need a quicker solution.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Committee on the report. It is plain from the report and what he has just told the House that EVEL is yet another step in the endless and unbalanced process of devolution in the UK that has gone on for some time. Does he really believe that we are now within reach of a settlement that has some chance of holding in the next Parliament? Will it be possible to introduce proposals that command universal consent and put this endless constitutional debate finally to bed?

Mr Jenkin: I do not think that we are within reach of such a settlement. I think we are a very long way from such a settlement, such is the chaos inflicted by these piecemeal and bitty reforms. Many of them, such as the Scottish Parliament, we now accept as permanent parts of the constitution, but we are a long way from a common understanding of how everything should be knitted together again to preserve something like the United Kingdom. We are even a long way from agreeing, with an open mind, on the kind of relationship that the four parts of the United Kingdom should have with each other. We are just starting those conversations. We are talking in terms, and with openness, to people of whom we have been implacable opponents. That fresh approach will lead to renewed trust and understanding, on which we might eventually frame a new settlement of some kind, but I think we are a long way from that.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): In the SNP, we have never objected in principle to the concept of English votes for English laws, not least because it is a logical consequence of independence for Scotland. However, the Committee’s report confirms, as we have said all along, that the current Standing Order procedure is a guddle, a bùrach and, in short, a complete mess. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the system is further complicated by the complete lack of transparency in the estimates process, as confirmed today by the Leader of the House, which effectively means that Scottish MPs will have no real say on how Barnett consequentials play out in Scotland, and therefore the entire system of EVEL must be urgently reviewed?

Mr Jenkin: Our report does not use the kind of language that the hon. Gentleman adopted, and I think that we are in danger of getting trapped in conversations that will not get us anywhere. That is why we are trying to have a different sort of conversation with Members of the SNP, north of the border as well as down here. That is the future direction in which we would go. One problem that he and I will have to wrestle with is the nonsense that the spending of the Holyrood Parliament and the Scottish Executive is determined by what we decide for ourselves in England. The Barnett formula was designed for a different United Kingdom, and it is not fit for purpose for the United Kingdom that we have or for the hon. Gentleman who, if he gets the full fiscal autonomy that he wants, will be deeply out of pocket as we will not be paying anything.

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Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his chairmanship of the Committee. Its consideration of the future of the Union is an extremely useful piece of work. The report sets out some useful background to where we are now, and explains what has led to the imposition of EVEL through Standing Orders. The problem dates back to the West Lothian question, which was well rehearsed but which, the Committee concluded—albeit on a divided vote—was given insufficient attention in 1997 when the legislation was considered. Does my hon. Friend agree that if there is one further lesson we can learn from the report, it is that in all matters constitutional, we should hurry slowly?

Mr Jenkin: In my speech in the Chamber on Second Reading of the Scotland Bill, I said that we might rue the day we passed the legislation. Even the then Prime Minister has rued the day that he passed it. Now is not the time for regrets, however; now is the time to learn from experience. There is some urgency to resolve the very serious anomalies that now exist in our constitutional arrangements—for example, they exploded during the general election, as we remark in our report, and perhaps even determined its outcome—in order to provide stability. We should tread carefully, but with some urgency.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): This is a worthwhile report. It identifies EVEL as a foolish piece of legislation that will, perversely, live up to its acronym and accelerate the process of the break-up of the United Kingdom by putting up barriers between the four countries. It has already created great resentment by creating four classes of MPs.

Does the hon. Gentleman rather regret following the addiction, which has become an incurable one in his party, of blaming Labour Governments for everything that has ever gone wrong? The suggestion is that the Labour Government of 1997 was remiss in not taking account of the West Lothian question—the expression was coined in 1977 by Enoch Powell, after a speech by Tam Dalyell—but no party has tried to come to grips with it. It really is an imaginative rewriting of history, trying to get some kind of retrospective justification, to suggest that it was a live issue in 1997, when it was not. Have we not followed a large number of ad hoc, piecemeal decisions by this House by making another, even more piecemeal, decision?

Mr Jenkin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, to all members of the Committee who have contributed to the report. It is a pleasure to work with them. I do not entirely share his view that this is a “foolish piece of legislation”, because we do not use the word “foolish” in the report and it is not legislation. We do not blame the Labour Government for everything, but I did just point out that the former Labour Prime Minister has expressed such a regret.

The fundamental point is that we must end this ad hoc approach to constitutional reform. We must take a much more comprehensive approach. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I sit on the Procedure Committee, which has done an exhaustive study on this matter, but I am speaking for myself. I must say that my problem with all this—both my hon. Friend and I are romantic Unionists, who think the Union is more important than anything else—is that we

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are inflaming opinion in Scotland and Wales, but our current arrangements will not change the result of a single part of a single Bill throughout this Parliament, because we have an overall majority. If we do not have an overall majority next time, the other political parties, given that every other political party in the House is dead set against it, will simply cancel the Standing Orders on a wet, rainy afternoon, and no one will care because it would have been on page 20 of the manifesto.

Is not the solution to all this still to try to work towards some form of consensus? Surely it should be possible for those on the two Front Benches to work out something that actually solves this problem, and if it is not possible, we should at least try. Otherwise, what are we doing, apart from inflaming opinion against the Union in Scotland?

Mr Jenkin: I am acutely aware of that. We have argued about this, and I agree with my hon. Friend much more than I used to about the danger of inflaming opinion in Scotland. It has to be said, however, that having produced this report today—I did one interview on “Good Morning Scotland”—there has not been a huge reaction to it. It is a very Westminster village, techie subject, but the problem is that it has the potential to create deep political grievances.

It was a fatal error for the 1997 Parliament to consider this issue too boring for words and to ignore it. We will rue that day. To base a constitutional reform on the complete absence of consensus is extremely dangerous, but that is what we have done with these Standing Orders. That is why I agree with my hon. Friend that we should be working towards some form of consensus. That may be impossible: in putting in place these structures, we may have created a constitutional Gordian knot that cannot now be undone or resolved. In that case, I hope that the conversations we are beginning to open up with all parts of the United Kingdom will lead us towards an altogether different kind of debate about how to settle the future of the four countries that compose the United Kingdom.

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): I would contradict the hon. Gentleman because this issue is headline news in Scotland. It is a really big deal and it is newsworthy. Where I agree with him, however, is that he is quite correct to point to the asymmetric nature of devolution. Devolution took decades, and we are not finished forming it yet—I hope there is only one destination that devolution can reach—but these proposals were rushed through extremely quickly and I quite agree that they need to be binned. We must think again about how to make this work, and we must achieve consensus with the Scottish National party. I hope he agrees that if there is an opportunity to sit down and thrash out the proposals, we can do so.

Mr Jenkin: The proposals only become an issue in Scotland if they are misrepresented—but they are capable of being misrepresented, and that is why they are unsatisfactory.

I cannot vote on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency,

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and all this is trying to do is to make sure that there is a measure of restraint on how he votes on the same matters in relation to my constituency. That is perfectly logical. The problem is that what is resolved for Scotland in the form of the Scottish Parliament is resolved for England in a completely different and almost incomprehensible way. The lack of consensus on that leaves us in a very difficult situation.

However, I urge the hon. Gentleman not to go around stirring up a false grievance in his constituency, which would be quite difficult, on the basis that he should somehow be able to vote about schools, hospitals or even tax rates in Harwich, when he cannot vote on those matters in respect of his own constituents. The Scottish Parliament will vary the rate of Scottish income tax; that is not something on which he can vote in this House. These matters are very complicated.

This is my advice to the House. Let us approach this in a different way. Let us have a more frank and open conversation. Perhaps we should have more conversations in private so that we can befriend and learn to trust each other and make progress on that basis.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend for his statement, and he and his Committee for their excellent report. Pages 25 to 27 are packed with juicy soundbites. One is:

“It is highly regrettable that the 1997 Parliament voted to proceed with devolution…without proper consideration being given to the well-rehearsed West Lothian Question.”

I say, “Hear, hear” to that. The report goes on to say that

“we have significant doubts that the current Standing Orders are the right answer or that they represent a sustainable solution.”

It also states that it is up to the Government to be

“working towards a new and durable constitutional settlement for the United Kingdom”.

He has entitled his report “part one” and I understand that further parts are to follow. How many volumes does he think his Committee will produce? In which volume will he come up with the answer to this thorny question?

Mr Jenkin: I cannot answer either of the last two questions, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks and for reading out to the House some of the report. This may be a long journey, but I think we must approach it with an open mind. We must be prepared to think what we thought we would never think. We must be prepared to sit down with people we have implacably opposed in the past. I hope, in that spirit, that the House will accept the report and that it will support the Committee’s work on future inquiries and reports.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it right that the Government should slip out just before the recess a written parliamentary statement about the closure of 86 family courts in England, which will restrict access to justice? Given that there has been so much interest in the House about that, it would have been so much better if the Minister had come to the House and talked to us directly.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): The hon. Gentleman has put that point on the record, and I thank him for doing so.

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Backbench Business

Equitable Life

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel):

Before I call Bob Blackman to move the motion, I must tell the House that we have two very heavily subscribed Back-Bench debates. In the first debate, we will start with a time limit of five minutes, and in the second one, the limit will be four minutes. With that in mind, I call Bob Blackman.

1.29 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House congratulates the Government on providing a scheme to compensate victims of the Equitable Life scandal; welcomes the Government’s acceptance of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s findings in full; notes that the Parliamentary Ombudsman recommended that policyholders should be put back in the position they would have been in had maladministration not occurred; further notes that most victims have only received partial compensation compared to the confirmed losses and that the compensation scheme is now closed to new applicants; and calls on the Government to ensure that the entire existing budget allocated for compensation to date is paid to eligible policyholders and to make a further commitment to provide full compensation for relative losses to all victims of this scandal.

I draw Members’ attention to the fact that I am the co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for justice for Equitable Life policyholders. I share that honour with the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), who regrettably has to be in another debate, otherwise he would have been here. I hope that he will be able to get here and put his point of view before we conclude. The all-party parliamentary group is one of the largest groups in Parliament, if not the largest group, with 195 members drawn from all political parties.

When I was elected in May 2010, I signed only a limited number of pledges. One that I was very happy to sign, having investigated the matter fully, was a pledge to seek justice for Equitable Life policyholders. There is no doubt that this has been an outrageous scandal in respect of the length of time it has lasted and the repeated failure of Governments of all persuasions adequately to compensate people who were the victims of a scam. These were hard-working people who invested their life savings in a pension scheme that they believed was secure.

We all know that when one invests on the stock market or in such schemes, the market can go up or down. The difference between this scam and other such schemes is that Equitable Life went round inducing people to put their life savings into it, promising huge bonuses and payouts. It swept up enormous amounts of money and numbers of people who thought that it was a great scheme. In reality, the scheme could not finance itself. It could never meet the commitments that it had made. That was very dangerous, but the regulator knew that it was going on, as did the Government and the Treasury. They conspired to prevent it becoming public knowledge so that people carried on investing their money and losing money.

To make matters worse, it took not only court action, but the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to bring to the attention of the public that this was maladministration of the worst kind. The last parliamentary

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ombudsman made it clear in her excellent report that Equitable Life policyholders who had suffered a relative loss should be put back in the position they would have been in had they not suffered as a result of this scam. I seek to ensure in this Parliament, as we did in the last, that all Equitable Life policyholders are given the compensation they are due.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): After all the debates, the truth is that 95% of Equitable Life with-profits policyholders have received just 22% of their relative losses. That is the bottom line, is it not? The Government have a responsibility, given the maladministration that clearly happened, to help the many elderly people who have faced such appalling losses.

Bob Blackman: I thank my hon. Friend for that clear statement.

There are three sets of policyholders: the pre-1992 trapped annuitants, who were to get not a single penny under the compensation scheme; the with-profits annuitants, who were to get 100% compensation; and the pension holders, who got 22.4% of their relative losses, as my hon. Friend said. The coalition Government set up a compensation scheme, which I was pleased to support. However, it is a scandal that if someone purchased their policy on 31 August 1992, they got nothing, but if they purchased it on 1 September 1992, they got 100%. The rationale was that if the pre-1992 trapped annuitants had looked at the regulated accounts, they could have seen that there was a problem and that it was a scam. The reality is that when people sign up to such schemes, they do not expect to have to do that. I applaud the Government for taking steps, following the legislation, to partly compensate the pre-1992 trapped annuitants.

Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): My hon. Friend has done great work with the other members of the all-party parliamentary group. I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the fact that, as you know, for a number of reasons I will not be able to stay for the whole debate. Many of my constituents were victims of this scam. Does he agree that when there has been a failure of regulation, as there was in this case, the Government essentially stand behind the regulator, so the moral responsibility ultimately falls on the Government, regardless of party? Although the coalition did something, the financial constraints that enabled it to argue that it was not able to do as much as we would have wished at that time are beginning to ease. Do not decency, honesty and equity demand that we revisit the amount of compensation that is due to these people, who saved and did the right thing, and who, frankly, have been let down by Government agencies as much as by Equitable Life?

Bob Blackman: I thank my hon. Friend for that clear conclusion.

The Government allocated £1.5 billion of compensation to policyholders who had lost money. Some £45 million was then promised and delivered to the pre-1992 trapped annuitants. The Chancellor accepted at the Dispatch Box in November 2010 that the total loss was some £4.1 billion, so the shortfall in compensation is £2.6 billion.

Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this issue forward for debate in the Chamber. I am sure that,

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like me, he has received representations from elderly decent people who have done the right thing throughout their life and who invested in Equitable Life in order, they thought, that they had a secure pension in the long term. The Government need to foster a savings culture and promote pensions. Does he not think that the failure to compensate people in full for what they did responsibly and in good faith risks undermining the culture that we need to develop for the future of this country?

Bob Blackman: When people make an investment decision, they understand that the market can go up or down. What made this scheme different from other investment choices was that it was a scam, and we should recognise it as such. It was a scandal. There is a moral duty, as hon. Members have said, on the Government to provide full compensation.

What has changed is that the Government set a time limit for the submission of new applications for compensation and said that they had to be in by 31 December 2015. Therefore, we now know the total number of people who are due compensation and can look at how the compensation scheme is operating. I have no doubt that the Minister will outline the progress that has been made in compensating individual policyholders.

I want to draw attention to two elements. A contingency fund of £100 million was deliberately set aside because, at that time, it was not known how many policyholders would need to be compensated. Also, because it has not been possible to trace a large number of policyholders—I think it is about 110,000—there has been an underspend of some £39 million. My first ask of the Minister is that that £139 million goes to the people who have suffered loss. That would not cost the Treasury anything because it has already allocated that money.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. This is an important matter for my constituents, particularly those who worked at the carriage works in York, which has closed, many of whom have suffered from mesothelioma. For some of them, it is too late. Is not expediency an important criterion for the Government to consider so that the survivors have the opportunity to receive compensation?

Bob Blackman: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention.

Because of the different categories of policyholder, the pre-1992 trapped annuitants—of which 9,000 are still alive—have a minimum age of 88, and most are in their late 80s or early 90s. They are coming to the end of their lives, and it is right that they should seek and receive compensation. It is wrong and reprehensible that some of those individuals who invested their money have had to exist on pension credit, when they expected to have a proper pension scheme. Those 9,000 people should receive the £100 million contingency fund, which would lead roughly—I will leave the Minister to consider the detail—to an average of about £12,000 compensation each. That would be a dramatic change for those individuals who are coming to the end of their lives.

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Julie Cooper (Burnley) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this important debate on a matter that affects a number of my constituents. The Government have cited affordability constraints as a reason for not bridging the gap and providing full compensation. Given that we are now in 2016, and the Chancellor constantly tells us that the economy is in a far stronger position, should we urge him to look again at the issue, so that those who have been so badly affected and who have worked all their lives and invested in a prudent fashion, should be compensated?

Bob Blackman: I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Lady. We now know how many victims there are, and what the payouts have been. For with-profit annuitants, 38,135 victims have received £336 million, and those payments will continue over the next few years. However, 890,472 victims have received only 22.4%, and it has been difficult for members of the scheme to understand the basis on which that has been delivered. As has been mentioned, the Government said that they could not afford all that money to pay people out, but people who are in that position will need compensation over several years. They do not need all the money to be put into the scheme upfront; they need it to be spread over a number of years while they are pensioners. As the economy recovers, the Government should supply additional funds, as the Treasury can afford it, to top up the scheme and ensure that those who suffered relative loss receive the full compensation package due.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): My hon. Friend mentions the hundreds of thousands of people who are waiting for full compensation. How much additional money does he feel that the Government will have to come up with over that compensation period?

Bob Blackman: We must find a further £2.6 billion to meet the commitment that all of us signed up to. Those of us who made that pledge said that we wanted full and fair compensation, and the Chancellor made it clear at the Dispatch Box that that was the figure, although he was only able to come up with £1.5 billion at the time. The shortfall is now £2.6 billion. I could go through a whole list of other things that the Chancellor has found money for but that have perhaps less merit than the plight of those elderly people who invested their money.

I do not expect the Minister suddenly to say, “Don’t worry, we’re going to provide all the money. Here it is”—it would be good if he did—but the Chancellor will be at the Dispatch Box on 16 March to deliver the Budget, and I hope that he will announce further compensation for the pre-1992 trapped annuitants so that they receive full compensation. I also hope he will confirm that none of the money that has already been pledged will be clawed back at the end of the scheme, and that further moneys will be made available as and when that is allowed in the Treasury forecast.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all his work on behalf of the victims of the Equitable Life saga. It surprises me that the Treasury has not yet conceded that it will have to spend the £139 million that it has in its coffers on this compensation, as it expected to, rather than take it as a windfall. Surely that is the starting point.

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Bob Blackman: I completely agree with my hon. Friend—that is the starting point, but to be fair to the Treasury, we expected and hoped that the agency would be able to trace more victims of the scandal so that they could receive the compensation due. Tracing has taken place over an extended period, and I applaud the Government for using many different means to try to trace those individuals. Some people will have died, some have moved multiple times, and some were in all sorts of pension schemes that then moved on. Some people had small pension policies and may not have seen any point in requesting compensation. However, we now know exactly how many victims there are, and there is no excuse for retaining the contingency or the underspend.

I know that a number of Members wish to speak, so in conclusion, this is all about justice for people who have suffered loss. Indeed, not only did they suffer that loss, but it was avoidable. The Government, the company and the regulator knew that the scam was going on, but it was too big to fail because had it done so, the Government would have had to come up with all the compensation straightaway. This is a matter of justice, and on behalf of the all-party group for justice for equitable life policyholders, I pay tribute to the Equitable Members Action Group for its wonderful work over the years in bringing the plight of those people to light in both the public eye and in Parliament. The fight will go on until every single policyholder who suffered relative loss is receiving full compensation. I invite the Minister to receive comments from across the House, and to do the right thing by people who have suffered injustice.

1.47 pm

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I have been contacted by a number of constituents who were affected by the collapse of Equitable Life. One woman wrote to me to say:

“I myself have lost over £40,000, and have only received £12,000 in compensation. Does this sound fair to you?”

Successive Governments have failed to appreciate the anger that this issue has caused people. A couple who contacted me asked why the Treasury had provided 100% compensation to Icelandic bank depositors, when they had received only a fifth of the sum that they were due and had planned their retirement around. They said:

“In the years prior to our retirement we actually took money from our own savings to top up our pension payments and feel that we have lost twice over. We would have been better off being irresponsible and spent every penny we had and then relied on the State. It seems the government departments are hoping that we will die and the problem will go away.”

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab): The Library briefing points out that there is a ticking time bomb because the beneficiaries of the scheme are elderly. Like my hon. Friend, I have received representations from many constituents. Has she heard the same sentiment that I heard expressed by Brian Watkins, who faces losing up to £40,000 and thinks that the Government are waiting until policyholders die, so that they do not have to deal with them? Surely, we should reassure those people, and the Chancellor should find that money down the back of the sofa.

Melanie Onn: I agree, and our constituents in London and the north of the country clearly share the view that this is a significant issue. People feel seriously let down by the Government’s failure to act on this matter in a

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timely fashion. I wonder whether the Minister is confident that the current regulations are strong enough to prevent any repeat of what happened. Future investors will be particularly keen to know that they are not going to fall into a similar trap and that if a similar situation were to come to light in the future, the Government would engage with the victims and allow their voices to be heard when trying to devise a solution.

Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an important point about victims feeling that their voices are not being heard; that is the message that has come across loud and clear from my constituents, who have also been affected and have found themselves re-mortgaging their homes in their old age just to make ends meet. Does she share my concerns on that?

Melanie Onn: It must be a significant concern to people to find themselves at retirement age without the money they were expecting, having prudently invested. The example I gave was of people taking money out of their savings to top up their pensions, and they would have expected to have some security in their older years.

It is welcome that the Government do step in where regulation has failed; but unfortunately, the delivery is too often lacking. We know about this in Grimsby, because there has also been appalling maladministration of the fishermen’s pensions and the fishermen’s compensation scheme. Despite it being 30 years since those were due to pay out, a constituent of mine is still waiting and has not received the £3,000 that he is due, simply because of poor record keeping. The Government must understand that when compensation packages are devised, the mechanism to deliver them must be properly put in place and all the calculations must be done appropriately, and where money is promised, it must be delivered. The Government need to ensure that the regulation of these industries is robust and they need to be quicker to compensate those who lose out in the future.