All 11 Commons Chamber debates in the Commons on 7th Mar 2023

House of Commons

Tuesday 7th March 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Tuesday 7 March 2023
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Tuesday 7th March 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Prayers mark the daily opening of Parliament. The occassion is used by MPs to reserve seats in the Commons Chamber with 'prayer cards'. Prayers are not televised on the official feed.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Tuesday 7th March 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Secretary of State was asked—
Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins (Luton South) (Lab)
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1. What steps he is taking to improve access to mental health services.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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18. What steps he is taking to improve access to mental health services.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Steve Barclay)
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We are investing an additional £2.3 billion a year by 2023-24 so that 2 million more people can access NHS-funded mental health support.

Rachel Hopkins Portrait Rachel Hopkins
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Research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows that between July 2021 and July 2022, referrals to child and adolescent mental health services increased by 24%. Labour has set out a fully costed plan to recruit 8,500 new staff. Why have the Government failed to produce their own plan to recruit more mental health staff to reduce waiting times?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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We are recruiting more mental health workers, with 7,400 more full-time equivalents in September 2022 compared with September 2021. That reflects the significant additional funding we are providing—the extra £2.3 billion going in by 2023-24.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith
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Perinatal mental health problems affect one in four new or expectant mothers, and 40% of deaths in the first year after pregnancy are related to mental health. What steps are the Government taking to improve support for women with perinatal mental health needs, particularly in the light of the women’s health strategy?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important subject. As well as the additional investment and extra workforce we are putting into mental health, we are looking at this issue as part of our strategies in other areas—for example, our suicide strategy—and examining our capital investment. There is a range of measures to address this very important issue.

Crispin Blunt Portrait Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)
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My right hon. Friend is aware of the evidence on the use of psychedelic drugs for more effective mental health care. Last month Australia, having assessed the evidence on psilocybin, started the rescheduling process, and Australians suffering from depression will be able to access this medicine from July. In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration has recognised psilocybin as a breakthrough therapy for depression. In Canada, the special access programme allows physicians to request a licence for assisted therapy under certain conditions. Our drug laws remain based on a 50-year-old, unevidenced, prejudiced assessment and nothing else. The Home Office has never commissioned evidence on psilocybin. Does my right hon. Friend understand that this is a primary public health issue, on which he should lead?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I recognise the close interest my hon. Friend takes in this matter, and he is right to draw the House’s attention to international best practice. I agree that we should take an evidence-based approach in which we look at the data shared with regulators in other countries, such as Australia. I am happy to draw the point he makes to the attention of our regulators.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con)
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Anorexia affects many young people. One of my constituents had to give up work to look after her daughter, who was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and made a number of attempts to overdose—the latest just two weeks ago. The daughter is also suspected to be suffering from an obsessive compulsive disorder and an autism spectrum disorder, but has been told that the wait for diagnosis is over two years. Will my right hon. Friend outline what support we can give my constituent and her family? Have we thought about providing personal budgets, so that if the NHS is unable to treat an individual, they can seek treatment outside the NHS?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My right hon. Friend raises an important issue, and I am happy to look into the individual case she describes. Our wider objective in providing extra funding is to ensure that we treat more people, with 2 million more people accessing NHS-funded mental health support by 2023-24 and the number of patients in talking therapies last year up by a fifth from the year before.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Rosena Allin-Khan Portrait Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (Tooting) (Lab)
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There is a mental health staffing crisis of the Government’s own making. Figures out last week show that there are more than 28,000 mental health vacancies in our NHS, which is up on the year before and the year before that. Are we seeing a pattern here? The number of mental health nurses is down 5% since 2010, but do not worry, Mr Speaker: just so the Secretary of State is aware, Labour has a plan to recruit and retain more mental health staff and to get waiting times down. Can he put a word in with the Chancellor in case he wants to nick that too?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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It is always good to find a plan that the hon. Lady actually agrees with the shadow Health Secretary on. As we know from her questions, that is not always the case, not least on the use of the independent sector. What we do know is that she has a habit of writing her questions before she hears the previous answer. I just reminded the House of the 7,400 more staff in mental health in September 2022 compared with September 2021. Obviously she had written her question before that point.

Matt Warman Portrait Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con)
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2. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the report by the UK Commission on Bereavement entitled “Bereavement is everyone’s business”, published in October 2022.

Maria Caulfield Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Maria Caulfield)
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I thank the UK Commission on Bereavement and everyone who contributed their experience of bereavement for their input into the report. We are working across Government and with the bereavement sector to consider how the wide range of findings from the report can inform future policy and make a difference to those who are bereaved.

Matt Warman Portrait Matt Warman
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When my parents died just six weeks apart from each other, I know I would have benefited from practical and emotional support. The UK Commission on Bereavement has a number of excellent recommendations. Does the Minister agree that, among those, the idea of integrating support and information about bereavement into palliative care and end-of-life care is one that the Government should look at taking up?

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who has done so much work in this space campaigning for others to have a better experience than he had with the tragic loss of his parents. I can give him an absolute commitment that we are working with partners across health and palliative care to ensure that bereavement support is an integral part of palliative and end-of-life practice. The new Health and Care Act 2022 means that integrated care boards must commission those services, and NHS England has published new statutory guidance on palliative and end-of-life care to give ICBs the information they need, which includes giving bereavement support to those facing a loss.

John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con)
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3. What steps he is taking to increase the number of doctors.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Steve Barclay)
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We have opened five new medical schools in Sunderland, Lancashire, Chelmsford, Lincoln and Canterbury as part of our wider drive to increase the number of doctors.

John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson
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Does the Secretary of State agree, first, that we must train enough of our own doctors, rather than depend on overseas doctors? Secondly, does he agree that it is important that the less traditional educational institutions are allowed to open or expand medical schools, as they are often in areas where doctors are in short supply?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is why we had a 25% increase in the total number of medical school places. On the specific point he raises, we have developed the new apprenticeship route for medical doctors so that we can start to have more training through that route and not just through the undergraduate route.

Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab)
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As well as recruiting doctors, how do we retain doctors? A doctor in my constituency says that at the end of the day he takes home £100 a week. That is less than a decorator. What are the Government doing about retaining good doctors like my constituent?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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It is worth pointing out to the House that the vacancy rate for doctors has fallen compared with where it was before the pandemic. That is often not the narrative that is put out there, but the right hon. Lady is right to highlight the importance of retention. It is obviously better to retain a doctor, given the cost and time it takes to recruit, and that is about looking at a combination of pay issues, about which we are talking to trade union colleagues, and non-pay issues, which are often a real factor in the quality of work that doctors are doing and often shapes retention issues.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)
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I am afraid that talk is cheap. I was at Worcester University’s medical school yesterday, where I was told directly by the vice-chancellor that that university, which has great facilities, can only recruit international students because the Government will not fund places for domestic students. The NHS has asked for medical school places to be doubled. Labour has a plan to double medical school places, paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status. Why do the Government not swallow their pride and adopt Labour’s plan in next week’s Budget?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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First, as I said a moment ago, we are funding a 25% increase in medical undergraduate places, and we have given a commitment to a workforce plan, as the Chancellor set out in the autumn statement. The question that the shadow Secretary of State should address is his party’s opposition to international recruitment. We have more than 45,000 doctors who have been recruited internationally, yet the Leader of the Opposition says he wants to move away from international recruitment, which is an important source of additional doctors.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab)
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4. What steps his Department has taken to improve survival rates for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest cases.

Helen Whately Portrait The Minister for Social Care (Helen Whately)
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There are 60,000 suspected cardiac arrests every year, and I want more people to survive them. That is why we are increasing the number of defibrillators around the county. We now have over 46,000 defibrillators in England, and in December we announced a new £1 million community defibrillators fund to boost that number by at least 1,000.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon
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I am pleased that the Government have committed to a £1 million fund to increase the number of defibrillators in the community. However, 72% of sudden cardiac arrests take place in the home, less affluent areas have lower access to public defibrillators and access is difficult in rural areas. Will the Minister make it her policy to require all new buildings, including residential accommodation, to have a defibrillator in the same way that smoke alarms are required?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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A specific objective of the community defibrillators fund is to make sure that defibrillators are installed in places where they are most needed, particularly places where there is higher footfall, as well as places where people are at greater risk of cardiac arrest. That is appropriate to make sure that we have defibrillators where they are most needed, so that we can reduce the number of people dying from cardiac arrest.

Paul Bristow Portrait Paul Bristow (Peterborough) (Con)
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Two great organisations in Peterborough, Gemma’s Hearts and the Brotherhood Foundation, exist to try to place more defibrillators in the community, such as those at the Lime Tree pub in Walton and the Chestnuts community centre in Eastfield. How will the community defibrillators fund work with voluntary organisations such as the two that I have mentioned to ensure that we have equitable access across places like Peterborough?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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It is fantastic to hear about organisations in my hon. Friend’s community that, like many around the country, are acting at the grassroots to increase the number of defibrillators. Very soon, we will publish the criteria for the fund that I have just announced, opening it up for bids from organisations such as those, and I look forward to bids from them.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con)
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5. What progress his Department has made on building 40 new hospitals.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
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13. What his Department’s (a) budget and (b) timetable is for the delivery of 40 new hospitals.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
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15. What his Department’s (a) budget and (b) timetable is for the delivery of 40 new hospitals.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Steve Barclay)
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The Government are committed to building 40 new hospitals, which is why we have confirmed an initial £3.7 billion for the first four years of the new hospital programme.

David Simmonds Portrait David Simmonds
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One of those 40 new hospitals is Hillingdon Hospital. At the start of this year, Hillingdon Council granted planning consent for the proposed new hospital, which is much awaited by my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend tell me when we might expect building work to commence?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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As my hon. Friend knows, I have been to Hillingdon to look at the scheme. I am aware of how essential it is to his local area. He will know that on 22 February, the Prime Minister spoke at Prime Minister’s questions of the Government’s commitment to building 40 new hospitals, and I hope to announce something on that very shortly.

Afzal Khan Portrait Afzal Khan
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The conditions at North Manchester General Hospital continue to worsen. Last month, theatres were forced to close for six weeks following a ceiling collapse. It is four years since the Government announced the rebuild under the new hospital programme, but little progress has been made. In January, the leader of Manchester City Council wrote to the Secretary of State offering to host a meeting to discuss the project. Will he commit to accepting the invitation?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I or another member of the ministerial team will, of course, meet the leader of Manchester council to discuss this. We are making progress. The hon. Gentleman will have seen progress, for example, at the Royal Liverpool and the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, but I confirm our commitment to the 40 hospitals programme and hope to say more on that shortly.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
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I heard the responses from the Secretary of State, and it must be really hard for him to keep up the pretence about these mythical hospitals. Here is the reality of what is happening in hospitals around the country. South Tyneside District Hospital was award winning. Despite widespread opposition from all of us at the Save South Tyneside Hospital campaign, we have seen a loss of key services and a downgrading of other services. Despite the work of the amazing staff, the hospital now requires improvement. Why is his Government forcing that decline?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The Government have committed an initial £3.7 billion, which indicates our commitment to the new hospital programme. As I said, I will have more to say on that shortly.

Peter Bone Portrait Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con)
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Kettering General Hospital serves my constituency, and work has already started on building a new hospital—one of the Boris hospitals—so I do not know what all the fuss is about. The Government are getting on and doing the job. Is that correct?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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It is. As my hon. Friend will know from another of my visits, which was with him to Kettering, the enabling works are progressing. That is in no small part a tribute to the work that he and neighbouring MPs have done to strongly make the case for Kettering. I know that he will continue to do so, and I look forward to working with him on that.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
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6. What steps he is taking to help tackle health inequalities.

Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Neil O’Brien)
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We announced in January that we will publish a major conditions strategy, which will apply a geographical lens to each condition to address disparities in health outcomes. We have doubled the duty on cigarettes since 2010 and now have the lowest smoking rate on record. We are investing an extra £900 million through the drugs strategy, increasing funding by 40%, and to fight obesity we have introduced the sugar tax and measures such as the extra £330 million for school sport.

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Huq
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The daily dump of WhatsApp messages in the papers reminds us of covid and the disproportionate deaths suffered by black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. What with that and the figures showing a 20-year gap between life expectancies in our nation’s most affluent and poorest wards, why is it that the Government scrapped a proposed White Paper on health inequalities?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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As I just said, we are driving forward all that work through the major conditions paper. In addition, we have the Start for Life programme, with another £300 million to improve young people’s start in life. We are absolutely committed to tackling health disparities and driving forward work on all fronts.

Caroline Johnson Portrait Dr Caroline Johnson (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
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Vaping was designed as a stop-smoking device for adult smokers, but the flavours, colours and disposable vapes have become a fad for children, encouraging those who have never smoked to take up vaping. What are the Government doing to prevent that?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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My hon. Friend is quite right. It is something that we are looking at very closely, as she knows from previous conversations. While vaping can be an aid in quitting smoking—it helped about 800,000 people to do so last year—we must stop its use being driven up among children.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
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We are just 24 days away from a new financial year. Last week, more than 30 public health leaders said that the delay to releasing the public health allocation for 2023-24 was

“putting public health services at risk”.

Early years support, addiction treatment and stop-smoking services should not have to pay the price of this Minister’s incompetence. He must apologise for treating councils and the health of our communities with such contempt. When will the public health grant be announced?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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The public health grant will be announced within days, not weeks. When it is announced, the Opposition will see that, as well as generously funding public health, we will be funding an extra £900 million on drugs spending to transform treatment and an extra £300 million through the Start for Life programme. We will continue to ramp up support for public health.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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7. What steps he is taking to help reduce childhood obesity.

Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards (West Bromwich East) (Con)
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8. What steps he is taking to help reduce childhood obesity.

Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Neil O’Brien)
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The Government are committed to addressing childhood obesity. We have introduced calorie labelling for on-the-go food and brought in the sugar tax. To drive up activity, we are spending £330 million a year on school sport through the PE premium and investing £300 million in new facilities through the youth investment fund. We are also spending £150 million a year on healthy food schemes such as school fruit and vegetables, nursery milk and the Healthy Start scheme.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson
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A top local chef in Ashfield agrees with me that cooking meals from scratch is far cheaper and more nutritious than having processed foods and ready meals. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea to start teaching children basic cooking skills in school so that they can enjoy a healthier diet as part of our fight against obesity?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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My hon. Friend is totally right. As well as the funding that I mentioned for healthy eating in schools, cooking and nutrition are part of the national curriculum from key stages 1 to 3, which aims to teach children how to cook and apply those principles of healthy eating, but I am sure there is more that we can do together.

Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards
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The announcement of the Government-backed trial in Wolverhampton to introduce a Better Health: Rewards app is welcome, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson), who has campaigned hard for it. My constituency also suffers from poor health outcomes, including excessive levels of childhood obesity, with one in three year 6 children being overweight or obese. How will the Minister monitor the success of the trial? Will he consider extending it to areas such as West Bromwich East?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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The Better Health: Rewards pilot that we are funding in Wolverhampton is very exciting, and more than 10,000 residents have already registered with the app. We will be monitoring the lessons of the pilot closely and looking at how we can apply them more broadly.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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For such families it is about not necessarily the right food, but the cheapest food, which means that, in many cases, young children become obese through no fault of their own. What can be done to help families to buy healthier foods on a budget that is often minimal?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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The hon. Gentleman is completely correct. As well as the actions that we are taking on healthy eating and obesity, that is exactly why we are spending £55 billion to help households and businesses with their energy bills this winter—one of the biggest packages in Europe. It is also why we have the £900 cost of living payment for 8 million poorer households, we are increasing the national living wage to its highest ever level, and we are spending £26 billion on the cost of living support this year. He is completely right and I commend his work on it.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)
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The Scottish Government aim to halve childhood obesity by 2030, but dealing with the consequences of a poor diet alone is not enough. It is essential to address the underlying causes, such as child poverty. What representations has the Minister made to his Cabinet colleagues about the Department for Work and Pensions and the damaging effects of some of its policies on public health outcomes?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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I met the SNP’s public health lead last week and had an excellent conversation with her. As well as the sugar tax, we have introduced calorie labelling; volume and location restrictions on high fat, salt and sugar products, which come in from October; the advertising watershed from 2025; and all those other measures, such as school sport and the youth investment fund. We have done all that because we share exactly those concerns about obesity and we are driving forward work to tackle it.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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9. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of waiting times for cancer referrals, diagnosis and treatment.

Helen Whately Portrait The Minister for Social Care (Helen Whately)
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More people are coming forward to get checked for cancer. Last year, more than 10,000 urgent GP referrals were made per working day and more than 100,000 patients were diagnosed with cancer at an earlier stage, when it is easier to treat.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron
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I thank the Minister for her answer. In south Cumbria, 27% of people diagnosed with cancer wait more than two months for their first treatment, and in north Cumbria that figure is 44%. Let us imagine how terrifying it is for someone to be told that they have a dangerous disease, but that they may need to wait two months for the first intervention—people are dying needlessly. I draw her attention to the campaign run jointly by the all-party parliamentary group for radiotherapy and the Express, which seeks a £1 billion boost to increase capacity and update technology in radiotherapy. Will she meet me to specifically consider the bid for a radiotherapy satellite unit at the Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal, so that we can cut waiting times and save lives?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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As the hon. Gentleman said, if someone suspects that they have cancer, it is extremely worrying for them to have to wait for a diagnosis—or for the all-clear, as happens for the majority of people—or, if they have had their diagnosis, for treatment. That is why we are working hard to speed up access to cancer diagnosis and treatment, and we are looking at all the options to do that. To give him some examples: NHS England is driving ahead to open new community diagnostic centres, 92 of which are already operational; rolling out faecal immunochemical testing for people with possible lower gastrointestinal tract cancer; and rolling out teledermatology to speed up the diagnosis of skin cancer. We are also seeing backlogs coming down.

Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham (Burnley) (Con)
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10. What steps he is taking to improve ambulance response times.

Sarah Atherton Portrait Sarah Atherton (Wrexham) (Con)
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17. What steps he is taking to improve ambulance response times.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Steve Barclay)
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We published the urgent and emergency care recovery plan, which set out a number of measures to improve patient flow within hospitals, which has an impact on ambulance performance. In addition, we are purchasing 800 new ambulances, which will be on the road this year.

Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham
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The Secretary of State will be aware that, in 2007, the last Labour Government closed the accident and emergency at Burnley General Teaching Hospital. When I speak to my constituents about ambulance wait times, the one thing that they always return to is bringing back the A&E at Burnley, which the Labour Government took away. I have raised this issue with Health Ministers since the day I was elected, so will he set out whether it will ever be possible to bring back the A&E that Labour closed? Will he meet me to discuss it?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend is right to highlight the consequences of closures such as that, PFI or other issues that are still felt in communities such as Burnley. He will also know that it is for the integrated care board to look at commissioning decisions and I know that he will make his case powerfully to that board.

Sarah Atherton Portrait Sarah Atherton
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The Welsh Labour Government have a service level agreement with the Welsh ambulance service to hand over patients to hospital within 15 minutes. At the Wrexham Maelor Hospital, this target is consistently missed, and a recent handover took eight hours 36 minutes. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Welsh Government need to stop playing the blame game and start working in partnership for the betterment of patients?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend raises an extremely powerful point. It is not only those targets in Wales that are being missed. She will know that people are almost twice as likely to be waiting for treatment in the Labour-run Welsh NHS than they are in England: 21.3% in Wales compared with 12.8% in England. She will also know that the number of two-year waits for operations in Wales, at over 50,000, is considerably higher than that in England, which is below 2,000.

Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan (North Shropshire) (LD)
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On 30 January, the Secretary of State agreed to meet me and my colleagues who represent the other parts of Shropshire to discuss the particularly acute issues that we have been seeing at our hospitals. That meeting is not in the diary. Will he commit to arranging that as soon as possible, so that we can get these issues addressed?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I apologise to the hon. Lady because she raises a perfectly fair point. I will do all I can to expedite that meeting.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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11. What assessment his Department has made of the impact of NHS backlogs on eye healthcare.

Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Neil O’Brien)
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The elective recovery plan sets out how we are tackling backlogs, including in eye care. As well as having over 4,900 more doctors and 11,000 more nurses than last year, we also have 92 community diagnostic centres operational and 89 surgical hubs, and we are boosting capacity in 180 trusts with expanded wards and modular theatres. Two-year waits have been virtually eliminated, and we now aim to eliminate 18-month waits by April.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova
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The backlogs have meant that the number of patients waiting for ophthalmology treatment has increased by 41% in the last three years, and that is over 630,000 people in England. Average waiting times have increased substantially, and the number of patients starting treatment within 18 weeks of referral has dropped to 62%. We know that delays to treatment can and will lead to avoidable sight loss, and we need a plan to tackle the eye care crisis in the NHS. I recently visited the fantastic eye department at St Thomas’s Hospital, which is doing an incredible job in managing this. Will the Minister back my plan for a Bill and visit the brilliant service that it is delivering?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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This is exactly why we are investing the extra £8 billion in elective recovery. Ophthalmology 52-week waits are coming down from 42,000 to just under 27,000. But can I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her passion for this subject? We had a Westminster Hall debate the other day and she had to run to be there—such is her passion—but she made it. I thank her for all her work on this matter.

James Wild Portrait James Wild (North West Norfolk) (Con)
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When my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary joined me at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, he saw the new West Norfolk eye centre, which is enabling an extra 2,000 appointments and 2,000 more injections every year to help to deal with the backlogs. Does that not just demonstrate the difference that new buildings can make to better patient care, but underline the importance of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital being added to the Government’s new hospitals building programme, which I know he is working hard to achieve?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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The Secretary of State will have taken note of my hon. Friend’s representations.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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12. What steps he is taking to help reduce the cost of hormone replacement therapy for people with menopause symptoms.

Maria Caulfield Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Maria Caulfield)
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This is a great opportunity to remind the House that, from 1 April, women will be able to apply for an HRT prepayment prescription for less than £20 a year to pay for all their HRT, whether they are on patches, gels or dual hormones.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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Although these cost reductions are welcome, England is still the only UK nation not to offer free prescriptions. Instead, the UK Government are penalising those who are experiencing menopause who need these medications to improve their symptoms. Will the Minister not consider following Scotland’s lead and scrap prescription charges to better provide accessible menopause support?

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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I remind the hon. Lady that about 60% of women in England who are on hormone replacement therapy are already exempt from prescription charges, but we are reducing the cost by hundreds of pounds a year for the remaining women who do pay. We respect the Scottish Government’s decision to provide free prescriptions, but it would cost us in England £651 million a year to provide free paracetamol to millionaires and we do not think that is the best use of taxpayer money.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Liz Kendall Portrait Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab)
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With International Women’s Day tomorrow, I want to pay tribute to the menopause warriors—all the amazing individual women and organisations who have forced this issue up the agenda, including my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). It was her private Member’s Bill that made Ministers finally agree to cut the cost of HRT prescriptions, but questions remain. Will all products that help with menopause symptoms be eligible for the prescription prepayment scheme? What are Ministers doing to end the ongoing and unacceptable shortages in HRT that are causing women such anxiety, and if this issue is such a priority for the Government, why has not the menopause taskforce met since June last year—let me warn the Minister, the warriors do not want to wait?

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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It is a shame that, on International Women’s Day, the shadow Minister cannot welcome the progress we are making on the menopause. Labour could have done this. We are the first Government to reduce the cost of HRT for women. [Interruption.] The shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), wants to listen because this is important for women. All licensed HRT products will be available on the prepayment certificate. On the issue of shortages, over 70 products are available to women. Last year, 19 of them were facing a shortage. Thanks to the work of this Government, that is down to five products, and Utrogestan, a product widely used by women, is now back in stock and is being distributed to pharmacies. We are passionate about making HRT more available. There has been a 50% increase in the number of women getting HRT prescriptions. That is a tremendous success for women and we are reducing the cost.

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey (Tatton) (Con)
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14. When he plans to reply to the letter of 24 January from the right hon. Member for Tatton on non-covid excess deaths.

Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Neil O’Brien)
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In my letter to my right hon. Friend, I noted that it is likely that a combination of factors has contributed to potential excess deaths, including high flu prevalence, ongoing covid-19, and the disruption to the treatment and detection of conditions such as heart disease. But I know she is very thoughtful about this and follows it closely, and I will endeavour to get her more details.

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey
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I am pleased my question has now resulted in a response, for which I am grateful. However, from that response, I was none the wiser as to how the Government have explained the non-covid excess deaths we have seen. So can the Minister give us an insight into the reasons for the non-covid excess deaths since the pandemic?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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Even if we just take one disease such as cardiovascular disease, there was disruption to screening, to referrals and to treatment from the covid pandemic. It was noted at the time that that would happen and there would be consequences from it, but let me set out in more detail to my right hon. Friend all the exact facts and figures on this, because I know she has been following it closely.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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When the Minister dug out the letter from the right hon. Member for Tatton (Esther McVey), I wonder whether he also stumbled upon my letter of 8 February to the Secretary of State about the desperate need for new intensive care investment at Northwick Park Hospital in my constituency, and whether he might expedite a reply on that issue.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s question will indeed expedite it.

Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Kieran Mullan (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)
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16. What progress his Department has made on increasing the number of primary care staff.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
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19. What steps is he taking to increase the number of GPs.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)
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20. What progress his Department has made on increasing the number of primary care staff.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Steve Barclay)
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Since March 2019, GPs have recruited over 25,000 staff such as pharmacists, physiotherapists and mental health practitioners, and we are on track to hit our 26,000 additional staff commitment.

Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Mullan
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As a doctor myself, I will be very happy to see one of those many fantastic professionals the Secretary of State mentioned, including pharmacists and physios, in the primary care setting, but I understand from local GPs that patients do not always have the confidence to do that and 111 is not necessarily directing people to see the wider team. Can we ensure 111 is set up to direct people to different professionals, and can we do something to promote and educate the public on how fantastic that wider healthcare team is in primary care?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why I commissioned through NHS England a review of 111. It was initially designed for a different purpose. That allows the GP service to be the front door it has become in the NHS. Through the chief executive of Milton Keynes University Hospital, we have done significant work on the NHS app, so it can better enable patients to get to the right place for the care they need.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran
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In January, over 45,000 people in Oxfordshire waited more than two weeks to see their GP and 12,000 waited over a month. The top reason given when I visited surgeries was that they simply cannot recruit the doctors they need. For example, Kennington health centre has been forced to close part time because it cannot find a replacement for a retiring partner. That is clearly unsustainable. Will the Secretary of State consider introducing a weighting for GPs in areas of high cost of living outside London? Will he meet me to discuss the specific issues in Oxfordshire?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Member is right to highlight the pressure on primary care, which is why, in the answer I gave a moment ago, I said it is also about looking at the wider skills mix within primary care. She mentions doctors specifically. We have 2,200 more doctors in general practice than before the pandemic. It is about having the right skills mix alongside the doctors to meet the significant increased demand since the pandemic.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts
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Demand for GP appointments in Oxfordshire is indeed acute. It is driven in part by the need to continue to treat people with long-term medical conditions. Will my right hon. Friend consider what can be done to rebalance the system, so that instead of dealing with people when they present with acute symptoms, more is done to ensure people can be treated at the primary and community level?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend highlights an absolutely brilliant point, one I am extremely seized of, which is: how do we get detection much sooner, looking at genomics, screening and identifying issues before the patient is even necessarily aware that they have a condition. Early care delivers far better patient outcomes but it is also far cheaper to deliver. That prevention, as he highlights, is extremely important.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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The primary care crisis in Plymouth is getting worse, but there is a cross-party solution in Plymouth, which is to build a new super health hub, the Cavell centre, in the city centre. The Government have withdrawn the £41 million funding for that, but the Minister’s predecessor offered to put pressure on Devon’s integrated care board to see what could be funded locally and whether there is a national-local partnership that could deliver this pioneering pilot project, which could really improve healthcare in Plymouth that would be a model for the rest of the country. Will the Secretary of State look at Devon’s ICB and whether he could put pressure on that ICB to fund that pioneering project?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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The hon. Gentleman reasonably highlights that the commissioning is a decision for the ICB, but also rightly draws attention to the opportunity to look at different models, for example, how we look across communities at economies of scale, and how we combine that with modern methods of construction to deliver projects far more quickly. I am happy to look, with Devon ICB, at the issue he raises.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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I really welcome the increase in patient care staff in GP practices in my constituency, but can I appeal to the Secretary of State to fix the problem with the taxation of GPs’ pensions, which is forcing many into early retirement just when we need their services the most?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My right hon. Friend is a very experienced parliamentarian and will know that issues of tax are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, but I draw her attention to “Our plan for patients”, which sets out a package of NHS pension scheme measures.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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NHS dentists form a really important part of the primary care workforce. However, in places such as York, we have a complete desert, where my constituents just cannot receive NHS dentistry. What is the Secretary of State going to do for my constituents, so that their oral health needs are addressed?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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We will set out to the House in due course a recovery plan to deal in particular with primary care but also dentistry. We recognise that, notwithstanding the fiscal support that was offered to protect dentistry through the pandemic, it is an area of acute interest across the House. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), will be saying more on that very shortly.

Angela Crawley Portrait Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP)
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21. What recent assessment he has made of the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on long-term trends in levels of mental ill health.

Maria Caulfield Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Maria Caulfield)
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Last year, £50 million was invested through the promotion of the better mental health fund in 40 local authorities that have the most deprived parts of the country. That is to boost prevention and early intervention and to support those hardest hit by the pandemic and the cost of living.

Angela Crawley Portrait Angela Crawley
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The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland found that 52% of Scots are concerned about the impact that rising prices are having on their mental health. Poverty is a key driver of poor mental health, and those already struggling with poor mental health and money worries are likely to be the hardest hit. What discussions has the Minister had with her Cabinet colleagues on the consequences of policies, such as the punitive sanctions regime, that are shown to increase anxiety and harm to people’s mental health?

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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This Government have been supporting people with the cost of living through the £37 billion package, and £15 billion of targeted support for those most in need. That includes £150 of help with council tax, £400 for electricity, the 8 million people supported by the £1,200 payment and paying towards half of people’s energy costs. This Government are serious about helping people with the cost of living at this time.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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I welcome the Government’s commitment to tackling mental ill health, in particular the recent funding that we have received in Stafford for a new crisis assessment centre at St George’s Hospital. What further steps are the Government taking to improve access to mental health support, especially in our schools?

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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I thank my hon. Friend for her hard work securing that funding for the crisis centre in her constituency. These centres make such a difference, because they are based in the community and can intervene at an earlier stage when someone is facing difficulty. They are on top of measures such as our mental health ambulances, which will also respond to people in crisis, and supporting our local communities to deal with mental health as well as those with a mental illness.

Paulette Hamilton Portrait Mrs Paulette Hamilton (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)
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22. What steps he is taking to improve patient access to primary care.

Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Neil O’Brien)
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We have increased real-terms spending on general practice by more than a fifth since 2015. We are growing the workforce, with 2,200 more doctors and 25,000 extra primary care clinicians compared with 2019. We have the most GPs in training ever, up from 2,600 to 4,000. In January there were 11% more appointments in general practice than in the same month before the pandemic. I pay tribute to the work that general practitioners are doing.

Paulette Hamilton Portrait Mrs Hamilton
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Under the Tories, the number of qualified GPs has fallen to a record low, which is hitting local communities across the UK very hard. In January, in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale, more than 2,000 people had to wait more than a month for a GP appointment. Is it not the case that the longer the Tories are in power, the longer patients will have to wait?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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As well as the 2,200 extra doctors in primary care, I mentioned the 25,000 extra other clinicians. That means that in the hon. Lady’s constituency there are 55% more staff working directly with patients than before.

Chloe Smith Portrait Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con)
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At a time when GP and A&E services are under pressure, I am pleased to see the ministerial team’s focus on helping people to see a doctor when they need to. Does the Minister agree that walk-in centres, such as ours in Norwich city centre, are helpful, popular and necessary?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; walk-in centres are a key part of primary care. We are looking at how they can do more, and I pay tribute to all the work they are already doing.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi (Gower) (Lab)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Steve Barclay Portrait The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Steve Barclay)
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On Friday I was proud to announce the winners of the third round of the artificial intelligence in health and care award. Winners included projects within the NHS that identify women at risk of stillbirth, help with neurological conditions, find lung blockages and assess the quality of transplant organs, as well as a number of projects focused on cancer, identifying people’s predisposition and its presence. Since its inception in 2019, the AI in health and care award has invested more than £123 million in 86 promising projects, supporting more than 300,000 patients. AI will come to save countless lives in the NHS in the years to come, and that begins with the investment today.

Tonia Antoniazzi Portrait Tonia Antoniazzi
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The Secretary of State should know that I am the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for access to medical cannabis under prescription, for children with intractable epilepsy. The situation is as intolerable as ever. Both product supply and cost are causing families great pain, and their children are desperate. I urge the Secretary of State to meet me to discuss convening a roundtable to help identify solutions to the crisis of lack of access. I am still awaiting a response from his Minister from 18 January 2023.

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I am very aware of the hon. Lady’s work as chair of the APPG, so I am not surprised that she asks about that important issue, which she has been assiduous in raising. I will flag up the follow-up with my ministerial colleague. I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the fact that the National Institute for Health and Care Research remains open to research proposals in this area. I encourage her to ensure through her work on the APPG that bids are made to generate the evidence that the clinicians who make decisions on prescribing need.

Sarah Atherton Portrait Sarah Atherton (Wrexham)  (Con)
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T6.   Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was taken out of special measures in 2020 without any tangible improvements. Last week, the board walked out en masse because it no longer had faith in the Welsh Labour Government. The health service is now back in special measures. The Welsh Government run the NHS in Wales, so if the First Minister of Wales were to ask, would the UK Government step in to support them?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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We are always happy to assist colleagues across the United Kingdom as part of our commitment to the Union. My hon. Friend is right to highlight current performance in Wales. As I have said, patients are waiting twice as long for hospital treatment in Wales as in England, and more than 50,000 people in Wales are waiting for more than two years for their operation.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)
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When nurses and paramedics voted to take strike action, the Secretary of State refused to negotiate and said that the pay review body’s decision was final. He has now U-turned, but not before 144,000 operations and appointments were cancelled through his incompetence. Will he now apologise to patients for this avoidable disruption?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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What the hon. Gentleman omits to remind the House is that at the time the demand from trade unions was for a 19% consolidated pay rise, which is very different from the basis on which talks have been entered into. The point is that we are in discussions with trade union colleagues. Trade unions and the Government have a shared purpose—to address the very real challenges that we recognise the NHS workforce have faced, particularly in the context of the pandemic—and a shared desire, which is to focus on patients and ensure that they get the right care to support them.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting
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I think patients know who to trust, and it is nurses, not the Secretary of State. The Government have still learned nothing: despite a 98% vote in favour of strikes, the Secretary of State was sent to meet junior doctors without a mandate from the Prime Minister to negotiate. What is the point of this Health Secretary if he is in office but not in charge?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I have come to the House literally from a meeting with the trade unions: I met the NHS Staff Council this morning. Once again, hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench are writing their questions before they see what is actually happening.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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T8. Sean Lynk, aged 30, in Ashfield, took his own life just before Christmas. No one saw it coming. Male suicide takes the lives of 12 young men every day in this country. It is the biggest killer of young males under the age of 40. Sean’s father Graham is coming next week to watch me speak in a Westminster Hall debate on male suicide, so could somebody from the Health team please meet Graham and me next Monday?

Maria Caulfield Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Maria Caulfield)
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. We are launching a prevention of suicide strategy, and male suicide will be a particular focus, as it is a high-risk group. The debate next week will be answered by a Minister in the Department for Education, because it relates specifically to the national curriculum, but I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend and his constituent.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)
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Unprotected sun exposure causes skin cancer, and some 16,000 cases are diagnosed each year. Affordable sunscreen is therefore essential for protection. Will the Secretary of State help to tackle the issue by supporting the Sun Protection Products (Value Added Tax) Bill, a ten-minute rule Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) that would remove VAT on sun protection products?

Helen Whately Portrait The Minister for Social Care (Helen Whately)
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Sun exposure is one of the most significant causes of cancer. That is one reason why we are working so hard with the NHS to reduce backlogs for people who are waiting for cancer diagnosis and treatment, including by rolling out teledermatology across the NHS to reduce diagnosis times. However, the hon. Gentleman’s question about VAT and skin cancer is a matter for the Treasury.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
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T9. Finding and fixing the underlying causes of health inequalities has defeated Governments of all types for decades. Less well-off British families still live significantly shorter, sicker lives than richer families, cramping their life chances and making it harder to avoid or escape poverty. The long-expected health inequalities White Paper is essential to changing that. Does the Secretary of State expect it to be published this month? If not, will he meet me to discuss it?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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As we heard earlier from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), the major conditions strategy report will deal with those issues. However, it is also important to consider the variation in performance between integrated care boards and how we can raise the bottom quartile to the level of the top quartile—there is far too much variation within the NHS—and to be data-driven, so that when it comes to genomics and screening we can target the outliers more precisely. That is what is behind the issue to which my hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention.

Gregory Campbell Portrait Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)
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T2. Will the 10-year cancer plan feature the distinctive approach that is required in relation to the early diagnosis of brain tumours?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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Cancer will be a substantial part of the major conditions strategy. We will be looking at the major causes of ill health in the country, of which cancer is, of course, one. Part of that will involve ensuring that we are good at diagnosing cancer, because the earlier it is diagnosed, the more treatable it is, and hence the better the outcomes for people with cancer will be.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Health and Care Committee.

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)
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I welcome today’s announcement of the appointment of Professor Deanfield as the Government’s prevention champion with a focus on cardiovascular disease, one of the main causes of which is, of course, smoking. May I ask where we are with an updated tobacco control plan, and whether the Minister will look again at the introduction of a “smoke-free fund” paid for by the tobacco industry to boost those new public health budgets?

Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Neil O’Brien)
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We will be setting out our next steps on smoking shortly, but we already have the lowest smoking level on record: it has fallen to 13%, partly as a result of the doubling of duty on cigarettes and partly owing to the introduction of a minimum excise tax. We will be investing £35 million in the NHS this year to ensure that all smokers who are admitted to hospital are given NHS-funded tobacco treatment.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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T3. Recent analysis from Macmillan Cancer Support shows that 2022 was the worst year on record for cancer waiting times. Will the Minister consider the introduction of an urgent support package for UK cancer services in the upcoming Budget to support our hard-working staff and to ensure that there is additional capacity to deal with the current pressures on the system?

Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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It is indeed a worrying experience for people to be waiting to know whether they have cancer or, having received a diagnosis, to be waiting for treatment. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that more people are currently coming forward for cancer checks, more people are being treated for cancer, and the NHS is reducing some of the backlogs following the pandemic.

David Evennett Portrait Sir David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con)
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I welcome the Government’s actions to deal with obesity, but it remains an increasing health issue for our nation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that educating children and parents about healthy eating should be a top priority—

David Evennett Portrait Sir David Evennett
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—and may I urge his Department to increase its campaigns on the consequences of obesity?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My right hon. Friend’s question was so good that I was eager to answer it early. He is right to highlight this issue, which is being dealt with as part of a wider thrust within Government work on prevention, which is how we can empower the patient. That means getting more data to patients and using genomics and screening to ensure that they are better informed and can therefore opt to take decisions on healthy eating, rather than the state trying to impose those decisions on them in a top-down manner.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab)
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T4. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on osteoporosis and bone health. Our recent report, supported by the Royal Osteoporosis Society, showed that an investment of just £27 million pounds a year in fracture liaison services would deliver more than £600 million pounds of savings for the NHS over five years. Will the Minister meet me and the ROS to discuss our report, and will he commit himself to ending the postcode lottery by providing 100% coverage for FLS for over-50s in England?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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I am happy for a member of the ministerial team to meet the hon. Lady, who has made a compelling case about the return on investment. We will obviously need to scrutinise it in more detail, and I am sure that my colleagues will look forward to doing so.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)
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The Secretary of State is aware of Medway’s case for being part of the Government’s hospital building programme. It was the hardest-hit area during covid-19, and it has some of the greatest health inequalities in the country, and one of the busiest accident and emergency units in Kent. Will the Secretary of State visit Medway with me to witness our urgent need, so that we can be part of that hospital building programme for the future?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend is right to highlight the issues in Medway and those in Kent as a whole. When I met the chief executive of Maidstone Hospital yesterday, we discussed some of the innovation that it has introduced and the benefits of that innovation across the board. As for the new hospitals programme, I remind my hon. Friend of the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 22 February, when he confirmed the Government’s commitment to that programme.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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T5. Every day, the families of women who took the drug Primodos in the 1960s and ’70s continue to suffer the consequences of a lifetime of disability. Baroness Cumberlege’s review made it clear that Primodos caused avoidable harm and that the families should be given redress, so why have the Government recently refused three mediation requests on behalf of those families?

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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The hon. Gentleman will know that we have huge sympathy for those affected by Primodos. He will also know that there is a legal case at the moment so I am unable comment at this time, but I am happy to discuss it with him further.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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Over the past year or so, Bedfordshire’s fire service and ambulance service have taken innovative steps to co-operate to bring response times down. They are now working on a plan to deepen that co-operation. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate a meeting with the leaders of the fire service and ambulance service in due course when that plan is ready?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend is right to highlight the community services that we are doing as part of our urgent and emergency recovery plan, looking at how we deliver care quicker through innovative models. One of those involves better co-operation with the fire service.

Samantha Dixon Portrait Samantha Dixon (City of Chester) (Lab)
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T7. York and Chester have many similarities, and it would appear that a complete absence of any access to dental services is another one. Can I impress on the Minister the urgency of improving access to NHS dentistry, because it is essential that my constituents do not have to travel for miles and worry for months?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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We will be setting out further steps shortly, but there are 6.5% more dentists doing work for the NHS than in 2010 and we have started the reforms with more units of dental activity bands and a minimum UDA.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend accept that about one third of the activity that takes place in GP surgeries could be transferred to pharmacies? What is he doing to promote that policy and deal with the British Medical Association’s reluctance to co-operate?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that a number of services that GPs currently offer could be performed by pharmacists, and we are looking at that in the context of the primary care recovery plan. This is also about looking at how we can relieve some of the workload pressure within primary care, and that is why we have recruited 25,000 additional staff to support GPs. It is also why we have over 2,000 more doctors in primary care.

Ian Byrne Portrait Ian Byrne (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)
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T10. Some 30% of disabled people, including many of my constituents, are having to cut back on using essential medical equipment at home due to rising energy bills. Some 70,000 people have signed the charity Sense’s petition calling for long-term ongoing support for disabled people and their families. Will the Secretary of State deliver that support as a matter of urgency?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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That is exactly why we are spending £55 billion this winter to help households and businesses with their energy bills. That is one of the largest support packages in Europe.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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Does my right hon. Friend agree that community-based drop-in mental health services such as the Link centres in North Devon are vital to remote rural communities? Will he urge Devon County Council not only to continue those services but to improve and extend the model?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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It is for schemes such as those that my hon. Friend highlights that we are investing a further £2.3 billion a year in mental health services, and that in turn is facilitating an extra 2 million patients accessing NHS-funded mental health support.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD)
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More than £300 million of the NHS dentistry budget is set to be clawed back by NHS England at the end of this month. That is not because of a lack of demand; it is because the Government’s NHS dental contract is broken and dentists are walking away from NHS work. Will the Government ringfence these funds, rolled over to next year, so that people who desperately need dental treatment can get those appointments?

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien
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That is exactly why we will continue to reform the contract as the hon. Lady suggests, and it is why we have started allowing dentists to do 110% of their UDAs, but she is right and we will go further.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, including my co-chairing of the all-party parliamentary group for hospice and end of life care. Now that integrated care boards have a duty to commission palliative care, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to assess delivery? Will he join me in calling for the North East and North Cumbria ICB to listen to the hospices in the Tees Valley, which would save our hospices and save the NHS money?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to the extremely important work of hospices and to the fact that commissioning decisions are devolved to the integrated care boards so that they can target funding in the way that best serves local communities. He is quite right to lobby on their behalf and I am sure that his relevant ICB will take note of that.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Before we come to the statement on the Illegal Migration Bill, I wish to make a brief statement.

I am aware that there are a number of cases before the courts that relate to the subject matter of the Bill. Given the national importance of the issues to be discussed, I am prepared to exercise a waiver and allow brief references to those cases. However, I would ask Members to exercise caution and not to refer in detail to issues that are being considered by the courts.

Illegal Migration Bill

Tuesday 7th March 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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12:35
Suella Braverman Portrait The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Suella Braverman)
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With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill.

Two months ago, the Prime Minister made a promise to the British people that anyone entering this country illegally will be detained and swiftly removed—no half measures. The Illegal Migration Bill will fulfil that promise. It will allow us to stop the boats that are bringing tens of thousands to our shores in flagrant breach of both our laws and the will of the British people.

The United Kingdom must always support the world’s most vulnerable. Since 2015 we have given sanctuary to nearly half a million people, including 150,000 people from Hong Kong, 160,000 people from Ukraine and 25,000 Afghans fleeing the Taliban. Indeed, decades ago, my parents found security and opportunity in this country, for which my family are eternally grateful.

Crucially, these decisions are supported by the British people precisely because they are decisions made by the British people and their elected representatives, not by the people smugglers and other criminals who break into Britain on a daily basis. For a Government not to respond to the waves of illegal migrants breaching our borders would be to betray the will of the people we were elected to serve.

The small boats problem is part of a larger global migration crisis. In the coming years, developed countries will face unprecedented pressure from ever greater numbers of people leaving the developing world for places such as the United Kingdom. Unless we act today, the problem will be worse tomorrow, and the problem is already unsustainable.

People are dying in the channel. The volume of illegal arrivals has overwhelmed our asylum system. The backlog has ballooned to over 160,000. The asylum system now costs the British taxpayer £3 billion a year. Since 2018, some 85,000 people have illegally entered the United Kingdom by small boat—45,000 of them in 2022 alone. All travelled through multiple safe countries in which they could and should have claimed asylum. Many came from safe countries, such as Albania, and almost all passed through France. The vast majority—74% in 2021—were adult males under the age of 40, rich enough to pay criminal gangs thousands of pounds for passage.

Upon arrival, most are accommodated in hotels across the country, costing the British taxpayer around £6 million a day. The risk remains that these individuals just disappear. And when we try to remove them, they turn our generous asylum laws against us to prevent removal. The need for reform is obvious and urgent.

This Government have not sat on their hands. Since this Prime Minister took office, recognising the necessity of joint solutions with France, we have signed a new deal that provides more technology and embeds British officers with French patrols. I hope Friday’s Anglo-French summit will further deepen that co-operation.

We have created a new small boats operational command, with more than 700 new staff; doubled National Crime Agency funding to tackle smuggling gangs; increased enforcement raids by 50%; signed a deal with Albania, which has already enabled the return of hundreds of illegal arrivals; and are procuring accommodation, including on military land, to end the farce of accommodating migrants in hotels.

But let us be honest: it is still not enough. In the face of today’s global migration crisis, yesterday’s laws are simply not fit for purpose. So to anyone proposing de facto open borders through unlimited safe and legal routes as the alternative, let us be honest: there are 100 million people around the world who could qualify for protection under our current laws. Let us be clear: they are coming here. We have seen a 500% increase in small boat crossings in two years. This is the crucial point of this Bill. They will not stop coming here until the world knows that if you enter Britain illegally, you will be detained and swiftly removed—back to your country if it is safe, or to a safe third country, such as Rwanda.

That is precisely what this Bill will do. That is how we will stop the boats. This Bill enables the detention of illegal arrivals, without bail or judicial review within the first 28 days of detention, until they can be removed. It puts a duty on the Home Secretary to remove illegal entrants and will radically narrow the number of challenges and appeals that can suspend removal. Only those under 18, medically unfit to fly or at real risk of serious and irreversible harm in the country we are removing them to—that is an exceedingly high bar—will be able to delay their removal. Any other claims will be heard remotely, after removal.

When our Modern Slavery Act 2015 passed, the impact assessment envisaged 3,500 referrals a year. Last year, 17,000 referrals took on average 543 days to consider. Modern slavery laws are being abused to block removals. That is why we granted more than 50% of asylum requests from citizens of a safe European country and NATO ally, Albania. That is why this Bill disqualifies illegal entrants from using modern slavery rules to prevent removal.

I will not address the Bill’s full legal complexities today. [Interruption.] Some of the nation’s finest legal minds have been and continue to be involved in its development. But I must say this: rule 39 and the process that enabled the Strasbourg Court to block, at the last minute, flights to Rwanda, after our courts had refused injunctions, was deeply flawed. Our ability to control our borders cannot be held back by an opaque process, conducted late at night, with no chance to make our case or even appeal decisions. That is why we have initiated discussions in Strasbourg to ensure that its blocking orders meet a basic natural justice standard, one that prevents abuse of rule 39 to thwart removal; and it is why the Bill will set out the conditions for the UK’s future compliance with such orders.

Other countries share our dilemma and will understand the justice of our position. Our approach is robust and novel, which is why we cannot make a definitive statement of compatibility under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998. Of course, the UK will always seek to uphold international law, and I am confident that this Bill is compatible with international law. When we have stopped the boats, the Bill will introduce an annual cap, to be determined by Parliament, on the number of refugees the UK will resettle via safe and legal routes. This will ensure an orderly system, considering local authority capacity for housing, public services and support.

The British people are famously a fair and patient people. But their sense of fair play has been tested beyond its limits as they have seen the country taken for a ride. Their patience has run out. The law-abiding patriotic majority have said, “Enough is enough.” This cannot and will not continue. Their Government—this Government—must act decisively, must act with determination, must act with compassion, and must act with proportion. Make no mistake: this Conservative Government—this Conservative Prime Minister—will act now to stop the boats. I commend the statement to the House.

12:45
Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)
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A record 45,000 people crossed the channel on dangerous small boats last year, up from just 280 four years ago. In that short time, the Government have allowed criminal gangs to take hold along the channel and along our border. At the same time, convictions of people smugglers have halved; Home Office asylum decisions have collapsed, down 40%; the backlog and costly, inappropriate hotel use have soared; removals of unsuccessful asylum seekers are down 80% on the last Labour Government; and legal family reunion visas for refugees are down 40%. That is deeply damaging chaos, and there is no point in Ministers trying to blame anyone else for it. They have been in power for 13 years. The asylum system is broken, and they broke it.

We need serious action to stop dangerous boat crossings, which are putting lives at risk and undermining border security. That is why Labour has put forward plans for a cross-border police unit, for fast-track decisions and returns to clear the backlog and end hotel use, and for a new agreement with France and other countries. Instead, today’s statement is groundhog day. The Home Secretary has said:

“Anyone who arrives illegally will be deemed inadmissible and either returned to the country they arrived from or a safe third country.”

[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Only that was not this Home Secretary: it was the last one. And that was not about this Bill: it was about the last one, passed only a year ago and which did not work. As part of last year’s Bill, the Home Office considered 18,000 people as inadmissible for the asylum system because they had travelled through safe third countries, but because it had no return agreements in place, just 21 of them were returned. That is 0.1%. The other 99.9% just carried on, often in hotels, at an extra cost of £500 million, and it did not deter anyone. Even more boats arrived.

What is different this time? The Government still do not have any return agreements in place. The Home Secretary has admitted that Rwanda is “failing”, and even if it gets going it will take only a few hundred people. What will happen to the other 99% under the Bill? She says that she will detain them all, perhaps for 28 days. Can she tell us how many detention centres the Government will need in total and how much they will cost? Even if she does that, what will happen when people leave 28-day detention? Will she make people destitute, so that they just wander the streets in total chaos? They will include torture victims, Afghan interpreters and families with children. Or will she put them into indefinite taxpayer-funded accommodation? Never returned anywhere because the Government do not have agreements with Europe in place, never given sanctuary, never having their case resolved—just forever in asylum accommodation and hotels. She may not call it the asylum system, but thousands of people are still going to be in it.

What will the Bill mean for the promises we made to the Afghan interpreters who served our country but who were too late to make the last flight out of Kabul as the tyranny was closing in upon them? The Government told them to flee and find another way here, and they told us to tell people that as well. But the resettlement scheme is not helping them and, if they finally arrive in this country this afternoon, perhaps by travelling through Ireland to get here, they will only ever be illegal in the eyes of a Government who relied on the sacrifices they made for us.

If the Government were serious, they would be working internationally to get a proper new agreement in place with France and Europe, including return agreements, properly controlled and managed legal routes such as family reunion, and reform of resettlement. Instead, this Bill makes that harder, unilaterally choosing to decide no asylum cases at all, but expecting every other country to carry on.

If the Government were serious, they would be working with Labour on our plan for a major new cross-border policing unit to go after the criminal gangs. Instead, the deputy chairman of the Conservative party, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) said yesterday that we should not go after the gangs because they have existed for “thousands of years”. That is the disgraceful Tory attitude that has let the gangs off of the hook and let them take hold. One smuggler told Sky News yesterday that three quarters of the smugglers live in Britain, but barely any of them are being prosecuted and the Government still have not found the hundreds of children missing from asylum hotels who have been picked up by criminal gangs.

The Government could be setting out a serious plan today. We would work with them on it, and so would everyone across the country. Instead, it is just more chaos. The Government say “no ifs, no buts”, but we all know that they will spend the next year if-ing and but-ing and looking for someone else to blame when it all goes wrong. Enough is enough. We cannot afford any more of this—slogans and not solutions, government by gimmick, ramping up the rhetoric on refugees and picking fights simply to have someone else to blame when things go wrong. This Bill is not a solution. It is a con that risks making the chaos worse. Britain deserves better than this chaos. Britain is better than this.

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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I thank the right hon. Lady for her remarks, but—forgive me—after five minutes of hysteria, histrionics and criticism, I am still not clear: I have no idea what Labour’s plan is. I will assume that the shadow Home Secretary is still committed to scrapping our Rwanda partnership, as she said last year, and I will assume that the Leader of the Opposition still wants to close immigration removal centres, as he promised during his leadership campaign. The shadow Home Secretary talks about safe and legal routes; I wonder what number Labour would cap that at. Would it be 500,000? A million? Five million? She should be honest with the House and with the British people: what she really means is unlimited safe and legal routes—open borders by the back door.

The right hon. Lady says get serious, so let us look at the facts. The British people want to stop the boats. It is one of the five promises the Prime Minister made to the British people, but stopping the boats did not even feature in the Leader of the Opposition’s five big missions. Is it because he does not care or because he does not know what to do? We all know why, and I think the British people know why: it is because, deep down, the Leader of the Opposition does not want to stop the boats and he thinks it is bigoted to say we have got too much illegal migration abusing our system. It is because Labour MPs would prefer to write letters stopping the removal of foreign national offenders. It is because the Labour party would prefer to vote against our measures to penalise foreign national offenders and to streamline our asylum system.

Those are the facts. Labour is against deterring people who would come here illegally, against detaining people who come here illegally and against deporting people who are here illegally. That means that Labour is for this situation getting worse and worse. Perhaps that is fine for the Leader of the Opposition and most of those on the Labour Front Bench, but it is not their schools, their GPs or their public services, housing and hotels filling up with illegal migrants.

Perhaps that is why, even before seeing the Bill and engaging on the substance, Labour has already said it will not support its passage through Parliament. Is the Leader of the Opposition committing that the Labour Lords will block it? The British people want to stop the boats. The Conservative Government have a plan to stop the boats. This Prime Minister will stop the boats. If the people want closed minds and open borders, they can rely on Labour.

Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
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Never have I heard such fabricated rage against genuine attempts to come up with practical solutions for this problem, from a Labour party that has consistently been a policy vacuum on any practical solutions at all. I support this Bill, particularly the provisions for sustainable safe and legal routes for genuine asylum seekers.

My specific question for the Home Secretary is this. When the Home Affairs Committee visited Calais recently we were told that, when the Rwanda scheme was announced, there was a big upsurge in migrants in France approaching authorities asking about staying in France, because there was a deterrent factor. That has not happened because the Rwanda scheme has not got off the ground. When she sees her counterparts in France on Friday, can we suggest that the French might like to join us in a joint Rwanda-type scheme, since they face the same problems? Can they do more? We have safe and legal routes to stop people getting in the boats: to arrest them and stop this illegal trade at source on their side of the channel.

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Deterrence is the key theme running through these measures. We want to send the message loudly and clearly to people smugglers and people thinking about crossing the channel: do not do it. Do not hand over your life savings, do not get in to that flimsy dinghy and do not risk your life, because you will not be entitled to a life in the UK.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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The SNP stands proudly behind the refugee convention and the European convention on human rights. We believe that all who seek asylum and refugee status deserve a fair hearing and we are 100% behind the clear statement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that there is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker.

Despite the dreary dog-whistle rhetoric, the Home Secretary’s Bill will not lay a solitary finger on people smugglers or people traffickers, but it will cause serious and devastating harm to those who have already endured incredible suffering. Afghans let down by the Government’s utterly failed relocation schemes will be locked up and offshored. People who have fled persecution in Syria, Eritrea or Iran will remain blocked from the asylum system. The policies that have seen hundreds of children go missing from hotels will be enshrined in her Bill. The world-leading modern slavery legislation piloted through by one of her predecessors is about to be ripped to pieces without a single shred of justification. That is what this appalling Bill looks set to deliver, and that is why we will oppose it every step of the way.

If every country followed the Home Secretary’s example, the whole system of refugee protection around the world would fall to pieces. It is not just that system that will be trashed by this Bill, however, but the UK’s reputation as a place of sanctuary. She spoke about an overwhelmed asylum system, but the only thing that has overwhelmed the asylum system is the Conservative party’s incompetence and mismanagement. One of her own ministerial colleagues described the Rwanda plan as

“ugly, likely to be counterproductive and of dubious legality”,

and that beautifully encapsulates what is in this Bill.

I have two questions for the Home Secretary. First, what happens if an Afghan arrival cannot be removed to Afghanistan, France, Rwanda or anywhere else? Will he or she eventually be admitted to the asylum system? If so, after how long? Secondly, when the Prime Minister meets President Macron, will he be telling him that the UK is prepared to leave the European convention on human rights?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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A lot of passion and fury and fire—I only wish the Scottish Government would bring so much passion to their approach to accommodating asylum seekers, when Scotland currently takes one of the lowest numbers of asylum seekers in our United Kingdom. Our measures set out a comprehensive and coherent plan, combining fairness and compassion.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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Now then. When asked by a reporter if foreign rapists and murderers should be deported to the country they came from, the lawyer of the Opposition replied that it depends. Well, I say get rid. Can the Home Secretary confirm that the Bill will indeed get rid of foreign rapists and murderers?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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My hon. Friend is right to point out the shameless position that the Labour party has adopted. We have passed measures to make it easier to remove foreign national rapists, drug dealers and murderers. What does the Labour party do? It writes letters to stop us.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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In the Home Affairs Committee report on channel crossings, which was published last summer, we found that small boats have not overwhelmed the asylum system as the Home Secretary is claiming. The backlog has been allowed to grow since 2013, and is now at over 160,000. We said in that report:

“Poor resourcing, by successive governments, of staff and technology in the Asylum Operations function in the Home Office, has been a significant factor in this collapse.”

Our report also found that the Government should deal with the backlog, expand safe and legal routes and negotiate a returns policy with the EU. Can the Home Secretary tell the House what progress has been made on expanding safe and legal routes and on a returns policy with the EU?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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I think it is clear for everyone to see that our asylum system has been overwhelmed by unprecedented numbers of people arriving here and by the very high numbers being processed currently. We have made good progress, both with the EU and with our counterparts in France, and that is why I am very much looking forward to the Anglo-French summit this Friday, which our Prime Minister will be leading with the French President, to discuss this issue in more detail.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
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The balance of creating a strong enough deterrent to cripple the gangs and render the routes unviable, and being fair, is absolutely key, so I appreciate the needle that the Home Secretary is trying to thread and the effort that she has put into this solution. Could she confirm that, under this plan, as the deterrent measures kick in and the asylum backlog is worn down, safe and legal routes will reopen from countries outside Syria, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Ukraine, and could she give an estimate of when they will reopen?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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We have several schemes open to people from all nationalities to come here via safe and legal routes. We will, thanks to the Bill, have a more comprehensive discussion and a decision endorsed by Parliament—one that has more legitimacy in how we go forward on allowing safe and legal routes into this country.

Diane Abbott Portrait Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)
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As a child of migrants, can I tell the Home Secretary how much I deplore her seeking to smear migrants as a whole as criminals and rapists? Can I also assure the House that I will never vote for legislation that would have led to my parents being detained and dumped in Rwanda?

The Home Secretary talks about detention and deportation. Where is she going to detain these people? There is not the capacity to detain these numbers of people. In terms of deportation, the only arrangement we have is with Rwanda, which has told us that it can take only 200 people. Her tone, her legislation and her proposed actions are deplorable and unworkable. Even at this late stage, will she reconsider?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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With respect to the right hon. Lady, it is wrong, naive and inflammatory to conflate people who come here legitimately, abide by our laws and come here on a legal basis with those who come here illegally, break our laws and put themselves and others at risk. I urge her to choose her words carefully.

Amanda Milling Portrait Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase) (Con)
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I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the measures that she has set out. What would be her key message to my constituents, who are angry about the use of hotels to house asylum seekers in and around Cannock Chase?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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The message I would send to my right hon. Friend’s constituents is that we need to stop the boats coming here in the first place. Once we succeed with that objective, through the measures in the Bill, we will be able to stop them being accommodated in hotels.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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The Rwandan Government have said that they are able to take only 200 people. Can the Home Secretary tell the House what will happen to the 44,800 others who are waiting in the system? Does she believe that the £120 million that has gone to Rwanda is value for money? Will she confirm that an additional £12,000 per refugee will be added to the Rwanda bill for processing costs?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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I am incredibly proud of what the Conservative Government achieved in securing the agreement—the ground-breaking, world-beating agreement—with our friends and allies in Rwanda. I put on record my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) for leading that work. Our scheme with Rwanda was upheld by the High Court at the end of last year. That is a big step forward in our litigation, and we look forward to working with our friends in Rwanda to deliver the agreement.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
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Although it has been all over the press this morning, West Lindsey District Council has still not been officially informed that the Home Office is planning to place migrants at former Royal Air Force Scampton. We announced just yesterday, after two years of work, a £300 million scheme to have the best ever handover of a Ministry of Defence base—the Home of the Dambusters: business, tourism and heritage. Will the Home Secretary assure me that if she overrides our objections and places migrants there, she will work closely with me and the council to ensure that that is strictly temporary and in no way upsets the best deal that has ever come to north Lincolnshire?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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My right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration is working intensively to secure bespoke, appropriate and—importantly—sustainable asylum accommodation around a range of locations within the United Kingdom. We are working with local authorities and Members of Parliament. We want to make the right decision for communities, and that is why all dialogue is welcome.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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Torpiki Amrakhil, an Afghan journalist and former announcer on Radio Afghanistan and on the radio station of the United Nations assistance mission in Afghanistan, drowned in Italian waters on the way to Europe. Given the brutality of the Taliban regime and precarious security situation in neighbouring third countries, it is shocking that there is no specific safe route for at-risk Afghan women and girls. We have failed the people of Afghanistan at every stage, and the UK is an outlier in that regard. What steps is the Home Secretary taking to create a specific safe route or to at least ensure that existing promises are kept?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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Unspeakable tragedy is occurring in the channel and through all maritime routes around the world because of the global migration crisis. That is why it is absolutely essential that the UK takes a robust but compassionate approach. That is at core a humanitarian package of measures that sends the message to people: “Do not come here illegally.”

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s statement. Once we strip away the rhetoric, of course, the key to all this is how we save the lives of the people who are dying while trying to get across the channel and are abused by the traffickers. I listened very carefully to her statement, and I understand all the other features—although we may have a debate about the numbers that she quotes on modern-day slavery problems—but could she expand a little on the issue that stopped the migrants being taken to Rwanda last time, which was the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights? I did not really hear anything in the statement to suggest that anything has changed on that matter.

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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My right hon. Friend is right to identify the difficulties that we had in effecting flights to Rwanda in the summer of last year. As I mentioned, the Strasbourg court issued a rule 39 order pursuant to an opaque process at the last minute without UK representation or right of challenge. We will introduce some detail in the Bill to address that scenario and inject some conditions upon which we will deliver the measures in rule 39.

Lyn Brown Portrait Ms Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab)
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Empty slogans, chaos and broken promises are all we have heard from the Home Secretary today. Return of failed asylum seekers has collapsed by 80% since Labour left office in 2010. Is that not an extraordinary level of incompetence by this Government?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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What I find to be irresponsible and, frankly, incompetent is the Labour party voting against our measures to remove foreign national offenders, to streamline our asylum system and to take a firm line on illegal migration.

Darren Henry Portrait Darren Henry (Broxtowe) (Con)
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I broadly welcome the announcement today and measures being put in place to prevent dangerous crossings of the channel, but how precisely will they affect the migrants who are living in hotels near my inland midlands constituency and move them to more appropriate accommodation, perhaps on military land, as the Home Secretary mentioned?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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Our 10-point plan announced in December deals with the issue of asylum accommodation. It is unacceptable that over 40,000 people are being accommodated in hotels all over the country, at a cost of £6 million a day. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration is therefore working intensively with other Departments and local authorities throughout the country to identify and procure sustainable and appropriate asylum accommodation.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
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The Home Secretary has often said that she would be quite happy if the United Kingdom left the European convention on human rights, and when the Justice Secretary gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights last year, he said that the Government were not ruling out leaving the convention. The Home Secretary said in her statement that she cannot make a definitive statement of compatibility with the ECHR under section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which comes as no surprise to most of us. Is the plan behind the Bill simply this: the legislation will go through in the certain knowledge that the domestic courts of the United Kingdom will find that it is incompatible with international law and the ECHR; and then the Tories will fight the next general election on a promise to take the United Kingdom out of the European convention on human rights? That is the whole point of this, is it not?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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I refer the hon. and learned Lady to her comments on the Rwanda partnership about a year ago. Many people here denounced it as unlawful, cruel and illegitimate, yet not very long go we had an exhaustive and authoritative judgment from the High Court saying the exact opposite—that it is compliant with human rights, compliant with the refugee convention, and lawful.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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The House will remember that in October 2019, 39 illegal migrants were found to have perished in the back of a lorry in my constituency. Following that incident, Essex police and their counterparts in Belgium tracked down and prosecuted a number of people in connection with those crimes. Will the Home Secretary confirm that in the dialogue with France this week, lessons will be learned from that case, and that tracking down the traffickers is very much a part of how we tackle this problem?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to alight on the issue of the criminal gangs and people smugglers, and the importance of the pan-European criminal work that is ongoing to break their business model. We have had about 500 arrests and closed down 50 or so gangs, and work continues intensively with our French counterparts to stop this criminal and evil activity.

Hilary Benn Portrait Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
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The Home Secretary told the House earlier that she is confident that these proposals are compatible with the UK’s international obligations. Does that extend to articles 31, 32 and 33 of the 1951 refugee convention?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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The Bill introduces measures that we consider to be compliant with all our international obligations—in fact, we are certain.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)
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The Bill is very much in the right direction. As my right hon. and learned Friend has just indicated, she needs to consider disapplication of parts of the Human Rights Act that would otherwise enable judges to water down the legislation and the Government’s proper objectives. If we do not deal with Strasbourg judgments and orders, these new proposals cannot work. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will expect amendments to be tabled in Committee. Will she discuss these with us, including aspects of the European convention on human rights and the refugee convention?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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As we embark on the process of parliamentary scrutiny, my right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister and I will engage fully with all Members of Parliament to hear their concerns and ideas about the Bill. I refer my hon. Friend to clause 1 and the specific disapplication of section 3 of the Human Rights Act, which is an interpretive clause; that will help in this regard.

John McDonnell Portrait John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)
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I have nearly 2,000 people, I think, who have exercised their legal right to claim asylum living in hotels in my constituency—probably more than any other Member of Parliament. I welcome them into my constituency. I have toured the hotels, met many of them and held advice sessions. They come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Kurdistan-Iraq, Iran and Eritrea, and many come from Syria. Some of have shown me their wounds from torture; many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They have been in the hotels for 12 to 18 months.

I am amazed by the range of skills and qualifications these people have. They just want employment. They want to be able to contribute. They want a job and to contribute to our society and our economy, but they are trapped in this system because of the lack of processing. I take up their cases and get sheets of the same three or four-sentence responses, and the cases move no further. Could the Home Secretary at least provide the House with a monthly report on how the processing of their cases is proceeding?

May I say one final thing, Mr Speaker? Will the Home Secretary please tone down her inflammatory language? It is putting these people and those who represent them at risk.

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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We are making good progress in bearing down on the legacy backlog in our asylum system. We have increased the number of decision makers and streamlined the decision-making process, and we are increasing productivity. We will continue to bear down on that because it is a big factor in the hotel accommodation issue.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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This is always one of the toughest issues in government, but we are not the only country facing it. Look at the transformation Greece has effected of the situation in the Aegean over the past six or seven years. Although the Bill will change many of the legal aspects, ultimately it is about how we make the system work in practice. What reassurance does my right hon. and learned Friend have that we will be able to create the relevant amount of detention capacity and the necessary amount of removal capacity without affecting other vital immigration and removal work, such as the removal of foreign national offenders?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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May I put on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend? As an excellent Home Office Minister, he shepherded through many of the measures in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 that are now being implemented to combat this challenge. We are building on the achievements of that legislation.

We will roll out a programme of increasing immigration detention capacity, and we are working intensively on that now.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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Safaa, a Syrian refugee, escaped from Daesh to save her life. She thinks the Government’s plans will make others in her situation feel suicidal. She told me:

“With the UK Government policy, when you arrive, the dream is broken, it is gone. Still, my family have settled in Wales and contribute to society.”

I want to say to Safaa that she is welcome and that we want to her to stay as long as is necessary. What does the Home Secretary have to say to Safaa?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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I am proud of our track record of welcoming people through humanitarian routes who are fleeing war, persecution and other conflict, whether from Afghanistan, Syria or Hong Kong. That is a record of which I am proud.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)
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I very much welcome the Government’s renewed commitment to dealing with illegal migration. I am a Kent Member of Parliament, and we are at the frontline of illegal immigration. We are repeatedly told by Government that tough measures will be taken, yet the numbers have gone up. My constituents want tough, decisive action. The Home Secretary says we will be having discussions with our French counterparts. In 2010, we signed the Lancaster House agreement with France on defence and security. How will these new measures address the challenges to ensure that we have tough, decisive action to deal with illegal migration?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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We struck a new deal with France at the end of last year. That saw an increase in the number of French personnel patrolling the French beaches. It saw a new development, with British Border Force officers being located in France, working side-by-side with French police officers. It has led to greater collaboration and intelligence-sharing, so that we can clamp down on the people-smuggling gangs.

Khalid Mahmood Portrait Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
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My grandfather, his brothers and his cousins came to this country in boats, but they came through the British merchant navy and were proud British mariners. They came in, set up in Newcastle and helped the war effort. I am a descendant of them, and this Home Secretary is bringing forward legislation that she knows is not workable. She will not be able to achieve any of this. If we look at the record, she does not have any return agreements. If we look at the policies for what she is going to do with people who are here, she cannot do anything. Is it not the truth that the Bill is purely to do with her political agenda to get votes in red wall seats, but that the expense of doing so is xenophobia and racism, which is not conducive to the interests of our constituents or the country?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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It is irresponsible to suggest that someone who wants to control our borders and who says that the numbers are out of control and that we need a firm but compassionate line on migration is racist. That is irresponsible, it is wrong, and it should not be put forward.

Mark Francois Portrait Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) (Con)
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I warmly welcome the principle of the Bill, not least because the whole House knows that the people traffickers are immoral and utterly heartless, but the elephant in the room, as has already been alluded to, is the ECHR. Unless we can somehow face it down, we will remain tied up in legal knots in our own domestic courts and ultimately in Strasbourg. Can the Home Secretary assure the House that when we see the Bill, it will contain specific measures to do that, so that the Bill will achieve its purpose?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the legal complexity of this issue. There will be measures relating to rule 39 orders, and I refer him to the disapplication of section 3 of the Human Rights Act. That sends a message to the judiciary about how Parliament intends the Bill, when it becomes an Act of Parliament, to be interpreted in the courts.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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My constituent risked his life working for the British forces in Afghanistan. He and his family were invited to the Baron hotel, but because of an explosion, they could not make it, and his family now live in fear in the region. We have been told that because he is a British citizen, his children are not eligible for the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme. When it comes to splitting up families in that way, Russian war protesters, Iranian democracy protesters or the Afghan judges we have heard about, this Government are failing to provide any safe or legal routes. Is that not what is pushing people into boats and into the arms of the smugglers?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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The hon. Lady is wrong. We have welcomed almost 500,000 people to the UK who are fleeing persecution, fleeing conflict and fleeing war, from Afghanistan, Syria, Hong Kong and Ukraine. She should acknowledge that great achievement that this country has secured.

Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con)
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I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who proved that deterrence works—of course deterrence works. I commend the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister for tackling this difficult issue. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, particularly when it comes to economic migrants, there is plenty of room for the wealthy west to do more in their countries to prevent them from coming here in the first place?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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My hon. Friend is right, as usual. This is where those on the left just go wrong. They naively believe that everyone on a boat is always fleeing persecution, war and conflict. The reality is that many of these people are young, fit and healthy men. Many have paid thousands of pounds to come here and many of them are economic migrants, abusing our asylum laws and our generosity.

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP)
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This is a most foul and shameful policy, which depends on dehumanising and criminalising some of the most vulnerable people on this earth, and it is most certainly going to be in contravention of the European convention on human rights. The European Court of Human Rights is overseen by the Council of Europe, and if this Government are determined to break the European convention on human rights, I am certain it will lead to a challenge of the credentials of the delegation from this Parliament to the Council of Europe. Will the Government confirm that their policy is to face suspension or exclusion from the Council of Europe in pursuit of this plan?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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The package of measures I have brought forward represents a humanitarian set of measures that will, above all, deter people from making a dangerous and sometimes fatal journey in the wild hope that it will lead to a better life in the UK. People must not take the journey, they must not risk their lives and they must not come here illegally.

Jane Stevenson Portrait Jane Stevenson (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)
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I welcome the Home Secretary’s strong statement today, which many of my constituents will fully support. It is a perverse system that while the small boat crossings continue, someone’s ability to claim asylum is reliant on their physical fitness or ability to pay. I thank her for being absolutely clear that many tens of millions more people would want to and are entitled to claim asylum than we could ever hope to welcome. In contrast to the calls for open borders from those on the Opposition Benches, we have to be pragmatic and fair. Does she also agree, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) said, that the western world has to unite and deal with poverty in developing nations? Until developing nations are assisted to develop with education, business and trade links, we will see an acceleration of this problem.

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Braverman
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My hon. Friend talks about pragmatism and fairness, and ultimately we are seeing a global migration crisis in which more than 100 million people will be displaced throughout the world. Many of them will want to come to the United Kingdom. The simple truth is that we will not be able to take in everyone who wants to come here, and we therefore need to develop a system that is fair, compassionate and pragmatic.