All 27 Parliamentary debates in the Commons on 7th Feb 2024

Wed 7th Feb 2024
Wed 7th Feb 2024
Wed 7th Feb 2024

House of Commons

Wednesday 7th February 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Wednesday 7 February 2024
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

Wednesday 7th February 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks 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

Wednesday 7th February 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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The Minister for Women and Equalities was asked—
Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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1. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help tackle violence against women and girls.

Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards (West Bromwich East) (Con)
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6. What recent steps she has taken with Cabinet colleagues to help tackle violence against women and girls.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Minister for Women and Equalities (Kemi Badenoch)
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Tackling violence against women and girls is one of the Government’s key priorities. We are making progress in delivering various cross-Government workstreams, including the tackling violence against women and girls strategy and the rape review action plan.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith
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Three quarters of police-recorded domestic abuse cases are closed due to evidential difficulties or because the victim does not support further action. Does the Minister agree that Labour’s proposal to put rape and domestic abuse specialists in every police force in England and Wales will give women the confidence to come forward and secure more convictions?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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We will have 2,000 rape specialists across all police forces by April. In the autumn statement, the Prime Minister announced that the Government would provide £2 million of additional funding for a flexible fund that trials one-off payments to victims of domestic abuse. That fund was made available to victims on 31 January.

Nicola Richards Portrait Nicola Richards
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Last week, I co-hosted an event here in Parliament with a delegation from Israel who have first-hand experience of the aftermath of 7 October. They described innocent women, dead or alive, who had been raped by terrorists. Hamas desecrated their bodies and even booby-trapped them. Those acts of sexual violence must be condemned by every institution and individual who cares about women’s rights.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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I thank my hon. Friend and her co-chair for organising what was for attendees an extremely difficult meeting. We heard the harrowing accounts of witnesses and family members of young girls who were kidnapped on 7 October, and we heard from the first responders who found the bodies of women and girls of all ages with obvious signs of sexual violence. Female soldiers were found naked with nails and sharp objects shoved into their vaginas. One told of a mother he found with her hands tied behind her back, naked and bleeding from the waist down, shot in the back of the head, and with a live grenade left in her hand for whoever found her body.

We must support the courage of those witnesses in giving that harrowing testimony about Hamas’s mass-scale perpetration of sexual violence on 7 October. We cannot be silent about these atrocities. We must ensure that the world does not forget that sexual violence shatters lives and devastates communities. The UK stands in solidarity with survivors and continues to call for the release of the remaining hostages.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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I appreciate that the Government have been trying to tackle violence against women and girls, specifically with the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Unfortunately, amendments that would have gone further to protect migrant women, who too often still feel unable to come forward and report abuse for fear of their data being shared and their being detained or deported, were not accepted. Will the Minister commit to reassessing the merits of preventing survivors’ personal data from being shared with the Home Office for immigration purposes?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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That is a matter for the Home Office. I support all the work that Home Office Ministers are doing to tackle domestic abuse, and I know there would have been good reasons for not accepting those amendments to the Act. We will continue to do all we can. I have just heard from the Minister for safeguarding—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris)—that concessions are being made. We will continue to work with her and others to tackle domestic violence in all its forms.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
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In some instances, there are good reasons why immigration control should be able to work with forces of law enforcement when it comes to domestic abuse. My constituent Emma has been serially abused, harassed and stalked by a US national, who crosses the border with no visa—he does not need one—to continue his campaign of harassment. Will my right hon. Friend please work closely with the Home Office to ensure that British women are protected from foreign abusers who have found ways around our immigration system?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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My right hon. Friend is right to raise that. I ask her to let her constituent know that the Government are doing all they can. The safeguarding Minister has said that she will write to my right hon. Friend so that this specific case can be further investigated.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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2. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the time taken to process claims to the Windrush compensation scheme.

Mohammad Yasin Portrait Mohammad Yasin (Bedford) (Lab)
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5. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the time taken to process claims to the Windrush compensation scheme.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
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14. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the time taken to process claims to the Windrush compensation scheme.

Laura Farris Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Laura Farris)
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As of December 2023, 91% of all claims either had received a final decision or were less than six months old. The Windrush scheme has reduced the time taken to allocate a substantive casework decision from 18 months to less than four months. That includes making all essential eligibility checks together with a preliminary assessment to make an initial interim payment of £10,000 wherever possible.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft
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In response to a parliamentary question, the former Immigration Minister, the right hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), confirmed that by April last year, 41 of the 6,122 Windrush compensation claimants had sadly died before their claims were settled—an increase of more than 100% since 2021. Will the Minister update us on how many applicants have now died while waiting for the Government to right the wrongs done to thousands of innocent survivors and their families?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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I can confirm that we have been made aware of 53 claimants who have unfortunately passed away. I want to provide the hon. Lady with two reassurances: first, if we are notified an individual is suffering from a critical or life-limiting illness, their claim is prioritised; secondly, if they do pass away, their family are still able to pursue their claim.

Mohammad Yasin Portrait Mohammad Yasin
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Only 14% of 150,000 eligible applicants to the compensation scheme have received redress. Will the Government learn lessons from the Horizon scandal and listen to victims and campaign groups who are calling on them to lower the burden of proof for claims, and ensure that legal aid is guaranteed to all eligible claimants?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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So far, £75 million has been paid out on more than 2,000 claims. I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that it is not appropriate to draw precise equivalence with things like the Horizon scheme, because that involved a judicial process, with different facts, different losses and different harms. However, we have been making consistent improvements to the compensation scheme, including making it easier for applicants to use, and we have rapidly accelerated the speed at which we make our payments.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby
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Victims of the Windrush scandal have experienced huge injustices of destitution, humiliation and varied health issues, as well as delays in receiving compensation. To make matters worse, they do not currently receive compensation for the loss of private pensions. Will the Minister look into reducing the delays and compensating Windrush victims for private pension losses?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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We consider each claim on its facts, and no two claims are the same. I would be happy to write to the hon. Lady about specific issues, but I reassure her that we do not take a blanket approach to each individual and we assess claims individually.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities.

Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds (Oxford East) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Conservatives have failed the Windrush generation twice now: first by denying their rights as British citizens, and secondly by delaying their compensation, as we have just heard again. Labour would sort out the compensation scheme, re-establish the major change programme and Windrush unit scrapped by the Conservatives and appoint a Windrush commissioner to ensure that this kind of scandal never happens again. What is the Government’s plan here?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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I find it difficult to accept that a scheme is failing when more than 80% of claims have now received a final decision, and more than 90% have either received a final decision or are less than six months old. So I disagree with that. I think it was suggested that we should take the scheme out of the Home Office—perhaps that is Labour’s proposal. I remind the hon. Lady that Martin Levermore, the independent adviser to the Windrush scheme, supported the scheme remaining in the Home Office in his most recent report, published in March 2022.

Anneliese Dodds Portrait Anneliese Dodds
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There is no accountability for the failures being felt so acutely by so many people who, frankly, do not have much time left to see justice. The Windrush generation and their families helped to build our NHS, but today we see big inequalities in health outcomes. Labour’s race equality Act would include a target to close the appalling maternal mortality gap for black and Asian women. It seems another nine months have passed since the maternity disparities taskforce last met—is that because the Minister for Women and Equalities thinks this is another of her alleged fake problems?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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I say to the hon. Lady that that is not accepted. In fact, the Health Secretary made an announcement on maternal services this week; I think it would be appropriate to refer to my colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care, and then I will write to the hon. Lady on this point.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)
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3. Whether she has had recent discussions with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner on taking steps to help tackle so-called honour-based abuse.

Laura Farris Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Laura Farris)
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I meet the Domestic Abuse Commissioner regularly, and our last joint visit was to a refuge for minoritised women for whom honour-based abuse was a specific issue. It is important work of the Home Office to look at the specific harms connected with this issue. One of the things we are most proud of is our forced marriage unit, which has provided support services to more than 300 cases in the past year. We also fund a national honour-based abuse helpline, which has helped more than 2,500 people in the past 12 months.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson
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Savera UK, which is based in my constituency, and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner are concerned by this Government’s failure to provide a statutory definition of so-called honour-based abuse. Does the Minister agree that that will lead to under-reporting and a lack of detail on the scale of the problem?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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I am afraid that the Government take the opposite view. We use the expression honour-based abuse, which has been controversial in itself, because often victims understand it the best. Victims of honour-based abuse are often the hardest to reach, and sometimes are the least able to articulate their claims and to escape their circumstance. We keep the definition wide to capture successfully all the various insidious forms that it takes. Let me reassure the hon. Lady that both the Crown Prosecution Service and the Home Office use a working definition to guide investigations and, so far, it is proving effective.

Michael Fabricant Portrait Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)
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One of the most insidious forms of domestic abuse is conversion therapy. It is cruel and it does not work. Could my hon. Friend give me some indication of when legislation will come forward to ban it?

Laura Farris Portrait Laura Farris
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I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Government will publish a draft Bill on that in due course.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) (Con)
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4. What steps she is taking to help support women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs.

Maria Caulfield Portrait The Minister for Women (Maria Caulfield)
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We are helping to get young girls and women into STEM sectors in three key ways: first, by increasing the number of young girls taking up courses. We have seen a 50% increase in the number of undergraduate STEM courses taken up by young women. Secondly, this week is National Apprenticeship Week, and 70% of jobs are now accessed through an apprenticeship, which is helping young women get into STEM careers. Thirdly, we are helping women with experience of working in STEM who have left the profession to return to the workplace with our STEM returners project.

Flick Drummond Portrait Mrs Drummond
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University technical colleges are a good place for young women to start in STEM. I welcome the new UTC in Southampton, which will provide the extra places that Portsmouth UTC is unable to offer. Some 6,000 girls attend UTCs around the country, of whom 82% go on to apprenticeships, university or straight into employment—mostly into STEM careers. Does my hon. Friend agree that UTCs provide a great start to a career in STEM, and that the proposal for UTC sleeves in secondary schools will help more girls into STEM careers?

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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I absolutely agree. University technical colleges provide an excellent experience for young people, not just academically but in providing technical skills. They have excellent links with industry, which provides great work experience for those pupils. I am pleased that the young people in my hon. Friend’s constituency have such great options for UTC provision.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I am always encouraged by the number of young ladies and girls who wish to be involved in science, technology and mathematics in Northern Ireland. They can do the job every bit as well men. Is it not important to ensure that companies that wish to employ people do more to encourage young ladies to take up jobs?

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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The hon. Member is absolutely right. The Government cannot do it all; we need industry, and there are some great examples. We have a £17 million scholarship programme for artificial intelligence and data science conversion courses. We also have the UK Space Agency investing £15 million into diverse workforce streams, particularly to help young women get into the sector. He is right that we need to work hand in glove with industry.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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7. What steps the Government are taking to help support women with caring responsibilities to continue working.

Maria Caulfield Portrait The Minister for Women (Maria Caulfield)
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We all know that women take on the bulk of caring responsibilities. The Carer’s Leave Regulations 2024 will come into force on 6 April across England, Wales and Scotland, allowing carers to take a week of unpaid leave from the workplace knowing that their jobs are protected.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman
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The ministerial team knows that it is an absolute scandal that in all these years of so-called popular Conservative Government we have seen such a bad deal for early years, carers and talented women. Legions of them want to use their talent at work but are stopped by the highest childcare costs in the world.

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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I would respectfully say to the hon. Gentleman that God gave us two ears and a mouth for a reason, and I would encourage him to put his listening ears on to hear about the track record of this Government. We have, for instance, improved payments for carers, introduced groundbreaking legislation to allow flexible working from day one, and legislated for parental leave including shared parental leave and paternity leave. The kinship care strategy was launched in December to provide a funding model for kinship carers. We have gone further than any Government with our plan to improve the lives of carers and value the work that they do.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Scottish National party spokesperson.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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That right to flexible working would particularly benefit workers with caring responsibilities, most of whom are women, but unfortunately the UK Government’s response to the results of their consultation on flexible working simply does not go far enough to provide some of the real practical support needed by many people with such responsibilities. Last week Nikki Pound of the TUC told the Women and Equalities Committee that one in three requests for flexible working were denied by employers. What steps are the UK Government taking to give real support to workers with caring responsibilities and ensure that flexible working is a day-one right by default?

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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I am a carer myself, holding down a full-time job, so I am aware of the difficulties involved. As I have said, the Government have passed legislation allowing flexible working from day one, and we have also introduced 18 weeks of leave entitlement for parents. That is on top of the Carer’s Leave Regulations 2024, which will come into force on 6 April. We have gone further than any other Government in introducing those rights for carers.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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8. If she will make an assessment with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of Government support for energy bills on disabled people.

Amanda Solloway Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero (Amanda Solloway)
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The Government understand the importance of this issue. I have recently met key stakeholders representing disabled people, including members of Disability UK and cross-Whitehall colleagues.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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My constituent Mr Peter Bodek has a severe lung condition which necessitates the use of oxygen. There is mould in his house, and it is getting on to his clothes. He can only afford two small electric heaters. I should be grateful if a Minister could meet me, very briefly, to discuss this rather difficult situation.

Amanda Solloway Portrait Amanda Solloway
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue, and I speak both for myself and on behalf of the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work in saying that of course we will have a meeting.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Kemi Badenoch Portrait The Minister for Women and Equalities (Kemi Badenoch)
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In the light of some of the commentary about the employment tribunal’s judgment in the case of Professor Miller and Bristol University, I want to clarify the fact that antisemitism must continue to be challenged wherever it arises. We have seen people in this country use their views on Israel as an excuse to display antisemitism. We have seen that in protests on our streets, and also in our universities. It is therefore important to stress that this ruling does not change the fact that while academics have the right to express views, they cannot behave in a way that amounts to harassment of Jewish students. Disguising that as discourse about Israel would be no more lawful than any other form of antisemitism. The Government will consider the ruling carefully, and we will continue to do all in our power to protect Jewish people throughout our country.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald
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On Monday, my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) hosted a very positive event marking the start of the Football v. Homophobia month of action. Will Ministers join me in thanking all those involved in the campaign—which includes LEAP sports and the TIE campaign in Scotland—and offer their wholehearted support for making football a safe and welcoming sport for LGBT people?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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Of course we join the hon. Gentleman in that. I pay tribute to the work of the Minister for Equalities, who has been very supportive of the campaign—as are all of us in the ministerial team.

Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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T3. I hear more frequent use of the word “microaggression”. As an engineer, I know that “micro” means something extremely small. It is tiny. In fact, it is one millionth of whatever a standard aggression might be. Has the Minister a view on this, and does she recognise it as a new phenomenon? How big a priority might it be?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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As my hon. Friend will know, I too am an engineer by training, and we engineers have to stick together. We are very sceptical when people introduce to the lexicon terms that are not helpful to the real work of tackling serious criminal behaviour. I am not a fan of that term, and my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that microaggressions training was removed from the Government Campus prospectus in November 2022.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Ashley Dalton Portrait Ashley Dalton (West Lancashire) (Lab)
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Under the Conservatives, police-recorded rapes have soared to record highs while convictions have fallen to record lows. It emerged last week that the Conservative police and crime commissioner in Cheshire victim-blamed girls wearing short skirts for this epidemic. Why are these attitudes still tolerated in the Conservative party?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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Those attitudes are not tolerated in the Conservative party. I have not seen the remarks the hon. Lady refers to, but I am sure that we can investigate. However, I will push back on what she said about rape statistics. The fact is that, for the year ending March 2023, the crime survey for England and Wales shows a 5.1% reduction in the number of adults experienced domestic abuse—a statistically significant decrease—compared with the year ending March 2020.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West)  (Con)
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T5. Last month I received a letter from my local NHS trust regarding children’s services at Southend Hospital. It referred to women and “birthing people” going into labour. Can my right hon. Friend clarify whether the term “birthing people” is required language under the Equality Act 2010? If not, does she agree that it should not be used, because it is dehumanising, confusing and insulting to many women?

Maria Caulfield Portrait The Minister for Women (Maria Caulfield)
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This Conservative Government and this Conservative Prime Minister have been clear that biological sex matters, and language is important too. We have issued guidance to trusts because there is evidence that clinical damage and harm can come with the removal of the use of the term “woman” from literature. I would be happy to write to my hon. Friend’s local trust to point that out.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
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T2. Scope has noted that potential changes to the work capability assessment might force disabled people into ill-suited employment, and it is worried that huge numbers of people will end up being forced into doing exactly that. What steps is the Minister taking, with her Cabinet colleagues, to ensure that disabled people are not forced into jobs that are not suited to them?

Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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The hon. Lady joined me yesterday at the disability action plan event, where many stakeholders welcomed the changes and opportunities in disabled people’s lives. Many disabled people want to work, and we at the Department for Work and Pensions will always ensure that we listen to their wants and needs and that they will never be forced into anything that is not suitable for them.

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Dame Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con)
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At 5 pm today, women’s groups and other community groups in Gosport will be staging a peaceful protest about the Lib Dem council’s decision to completely end all live CCTV monitoring. They are worried about the impact on people’s safety. Does the Minister agree with them?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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It is important that people understand that CCTV and street lighting are important in helping women to feel safe on the streets. I fully understand the campaign and I am glad that my hon. Friend is supporting it. We are doing everything we can in Government to reduce violence against women and girls.

Mohammad Yasin Portrait Mohammad Yasin (Bedford) (Lab)
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T4. Will the UK Government redouble their efforts to ensure that the humanitarian needs of women and girls in Gaza are being addressed, in line with the UK’s commitments under the international women and girls strategy, the women, peace and security national action plan, and the international development White Paper?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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I am working closely with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on this issue. We are very concerned about the events taking place in both Israel and Gaza and we want to see the violence end. The hon. Gentleman will know about all the work we have been doing on preventing sexual violence in conflict, for example, and we will continue to do everything we can to minimise any impact on women and girls.

David Evennett Portrait Sir David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con)
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What steps is my right hon. Friend taking with Cabinet colleagues to help increase the number of female-led businesses?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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Female-led businesses often face particular challenges, and in the Department for Business and Trade we work with the British Business Bank to ensure that those businesses continue to have access to finance. We have the Investing in Women code and a taskforce for women-led entrepreneurs. We hope that all these actions together will help improve the lives of women in business.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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T6. Will the Minister make a statement about today’s report by the Patient Safety Commissioner addressing redress for victims of sodium valproate and mesh?

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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The hon. Lady will know that the Government commissioned that report from the Patient Safety Commissioner to look at options for redress, specifically for those affected by sodium valproate, but also for those affected by mesh. The report has been published only today, so we will look at the details closely before reporting back to the House.

The Prime Minister was asked—
Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney)  (Lab)
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Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 7 February.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister (Rishi Sunak)
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I know the thoughts of the House and the country are with the King and his family. We wish His Majesty a speedy recovery and look forward to him resuming his public-facing duties in due course.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, and I shall have further such meetings later today.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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I, too, send my best wishes to the King.

Last week, the Foreign Secretary said that, with allies, we will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, so that the Palestinian people

“can see that there is going to be irreversible progress to a two-state solution.”

Afterwards, it was briefed that these words had not been signed off by No. 10. Does the Prime Minister agree with his Foreign Secretary?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Our long-standing position has been that we will recognise a Palestinian state at a time that is most conducive to the peace process. The most important thing is that we are committed to that two-state solution and are working with our allies to bring it about.

Andrew Lewer Portrait Andrew Lewer (Northampton South) (Con)
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Q2. People in Northampton South are desperately short of NHS dental provision—indeed, in Duston there are now none at all. So today’s dentistry recovery plan announcement is hugely welcome, but can the Prime Minister guarantee to my residents that there will be improvements within months, not years?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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We are publishing the dentistry recovery plan today, and my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will be making a statement shortly. Over 1 million more people saw an NHS dentist last year than the year before, but we know that there is more to do. That is why the recovery plan will make sure that NHS dental care is faster, simpler and fairer for patients and staff.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Leader of the Opposition.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab)
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I join the Prime Minister in sending His Majesty the King our very best wishes for his treatment. Across the House, we all look forward to seeing him back to full health as quickly as possible.

This week, the unwavering bravery of Brianna Ghey’s mother, Esther, has touched us all. As a father, I cannot even imagine the pain that she is going through. I am glad that she is with us in the Gallery today.

A year ago, the Prime Minister promised to bring down NHS waiting lists. Isn’t he glad that he did not bet a grand on it?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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At least I stand by my commitments. He is so indecisive that the only bet he would make is an each-way bet.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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He says he stands by his commitments. He once insisted that if he missed his promises,

“I’m the Prime Minister…it’s on me personally”.

Today we learn from his own officials that he is the blocker to any deal to end the doctors’ strikes. Every time he is asked, he blames everyone else. What exactly did he mean when he said “it’s on me personally” if he does not meet his promise?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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We are bringing down waiting lists for the longest waiters and making progress. It is a bit rich to hear about promises from someone who has broken every single promise he was elected on. I have counted almost 30 in the last year: pensions, planning, peerages, public sector pay, tuition fees, childcare, second referendums, defining a woman—although, in fairness, that was only 99% of a U-turn. The list goes on, but the theme is the same: empty words, broken promises and absolutely no plan.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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Of all the weeks to say that, when Brianna’s mother is in this Chamber—shame! Parading as a man of integrity when he has got absolutely no responsibility, it is absolute—[Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I think Members are getting carried away. Our constituents want to hear the questions and they certainly want to hear the answers. They do not want to hear organised barracking, so please, I want no more of it.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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I think the role of the Prime Minister is to ensure that every single citizen in this country feels safe and respected, and it is a shame that the Prime Minister does not share that view. I welcome the fact that he has finally admitted that he has failed on NHS waiting lists. I also welcome the fact that he has finally acknowledged the crisis in NHS dentistry. He is calling it a “recovery plan”, after 14 years of Tory Government. What exactly does he think NHS dentistry is recovering from?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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As ever—[Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I am certainly not having that from the Opposition Front Bench either. Please, I want to hear this. I am hoping that election fever is not coming tomorrow, so let us not behave as though it is.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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As ever, the right hon. and learned Gentleman conveniently forgets the impact of a pandemic on NHS dentistry; it was specifically because of the close proximity nature of dental provision that it was unable to operate as normal throughout the pandemic—that was a recommendation of the medical and clinical experts. That is why, inevitably, there is a backlog in dental care, with the impact that this has. But that is why, as my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will outline later today for the House, we are putting in more funding to provide more NHS provision across the country, on top of plans that will see the number of dental training places increase by 40%. Our plans mean that there will be 2.5 million more NHS appointments, which is, in fact, three times more than the Labour party is proposing.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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There are some areas in the country where people literally cannot have an NHS dentist, and the Prime Minister says that that is down to covid. People are literally pulling out their own teeth—[Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Let me just say that I do not need any more from those on the Government Front Bench either. Do we understand each other?

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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People are literally pulling out their teeth using pliers—an experience that can be compared with extracting an answer from the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box. The truth is that after 14 years of neglect, this “recovery plan” is just a desperate attempt to recover back to square one. If he wanted to move forward, he should follow Labour: scrap the non-dom tax status and use the money to fund 2 million more hospital appointments every year. But the Prime Minister is oddly reluctant to follow us on this. What exactly is so special about this tax avoidance scheme that means he prioritises it above the NHS?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Let us look at that record. In the NHS, we have record funding; record numbers of doctors and nurses; a record number of appointments; and higher cancer survival rates. But what is happening on Labour’s watch in Wales? Let us have a look at that. A fifth of people in Wales are currently on a waiting list; the number of waits of 18 months or more is 10 times higher than in England; and people are waiting twice as long for an operation. Labour’s failure has sent the Welsh NHS back to square one, and we will never let them do that here.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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When the Prime Minister admitted that he had failed on waiting lists, I actually thought that we might be entering a new era of “integrity, professionalism and accountability”—remember that one? But just like all the other relaunches, it has proved to be a false dawn. He is still blaming everyone else and is still removed from reality. It is very simple: you can either back more NHS appointments or more tax avoidance. We know what side we are on; why doesn’t he?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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The best way to ensure that we continue to fund the NHS, as we have, is not to make £28 billion of unfunded spending commitments. Just this morning, independent Treasury officials have published a formal costing of just one part of Labour’s eco promise, its insulation scheme, and it turns out that it will cost double what Labour had previously claimed—it is not the £6 billion that Labour accounted for, but £13 billion every single year. It is now crystal clear that Labour has absolutely no plan, but we all know it is going to fund that gap: more taxes on hard-working people.

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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The Prime Minister is Mr 25 Tax Rises. He is literally the country’s expert on putting taxes up, and he thinks he can lecture everyone else on the economy. Last week, he and his MPs were laughing at someone whose mortgage had gone up £1,000 a month. This week, he casually made a £1,000 bet in the middle of an interview. Last week, he thought even raising questions about the cost of living was resorting to “the politics of envy”. This week, he has finally found the cause he wants to rally around: the non-dom status. When he finds himself backing tax avoidance over NHS appointments, does he start to understand why his own MPs are saying that he simply does not get what Britain needs?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I will take no lectures about getting Britain from a man who thought it was right to defend terrorists. What we are doing is building a brighter future for our country: just last week, we expanded healthcare in pharmacies; today, we are expanding dental care; and this week, we are helping millions with the cost of living and, most importantly, cutting national insurance. That is all while the Labour party argues over 28 billion different ways to raise people’s taxes. That is the difference between us: we are delivering a plan, but they cannot even agree on one.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron  (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
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Q4. My constituents and I send our best wishes to the King and the royal family.Despite the popular narrative, our economy is doing well, with an unemployment rate well below the EU average, strong inward investment and record employment. Taxes are higher than Conservatives would like, but does my right hon. Friend agree that a key reason for this is that we rightly spent £400 billion on covid support, including one of most generous furlough schemes, in order to ensure that no one was left behind, and that it is our intention and instinct to lower taxes, unlike the Opposition parties?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend is right to highlight our record of providing support to the country when it needed it, whether it is the NHS, vaccines, furlough during covid or, most recently, help with people’s energy bills. We are only able to afford that because of the strong management of our economy. That is why we must stick with the plan and not risk going back to square one with the Labour party, which, as we know, has absolutely no plan and will cost everyone in this country with its £28 billion of tax rises.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the leader of the Scottish National party.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
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I begin by expressing my heartfelt sympathies to Brianna’s mother, who is in the Public Gallery. I also send my best wishes to King Charles for what will hopefully be a quick and full recovery.

The public are used to the Tories gambling on the lives of others: Boris Johnson did it with public health during the pandemic, and his immediate successor did it with household finances. Not to be outdone, on Monday this week the Prime Minister accepted a crude bet regarding the lives of asylum seekers. In doing so, he demeaned them as individuals and he degraded the office that he currently holds. Will he apologise?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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We may have a principled disagreement on this: I believe, and we believe, that if someone comes to this country illegally, they should not be able to stay and they should be removed. That is why we are committed to our Rwanda scheme.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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As ever, the Prime Minister does himself no favours, because the bet to which I refer was worth £1,000, and it came just hours before he ended cost of living support worth just £900. His justification for doing so was that the cost of living crisis is easing. What does he believe leaves him looking most out of touch with the public: gambling £1,000, or believing that the cost of living crisis is getting better?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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The hon. Gentleman talks about the cost of living, but perhaps he can explain to the Scottish people why it is that, while the UK Conservative Government are cutting their taxes, the Scottish Government are raising them?

Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
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Q9. The thoughts of the people of East Worthing and Shoreham are with His Majesty, too. The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted that, since taking office, attendance at the Church of England has dropped by 15%. In the 10 years to covid, the number of baptisms in the Church of England has fallen from 140,000 a year to 87,000, so Christianity in the UK seems to be on the wane, unless, apparently, you are from a Muslim country in the middle of an asylum claim. We are now told that one in seven occupants of the Bibby Stockholm has suddenly become a practising Christian. Given that the Church of England has now issued secret guidance to clergy supporting asylum applications for these Damascene conversions, to whom is the Church accountable? Are taxpayers being scammed by the Archbishop?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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When it comes to illegal migrants, we need to have a system whereby, if someone comes here illegally, they should not be able to stay. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has asked for more information about the extent to which migrants converting to Christianity is playing a role in our asylum system. More generally, under our Illegal Migration Act 2023, anybody entering the UK illegally will not be granted asylum here. That is why we need to have somewhere to send them and why our Rwanda scheme is so important. The Labour party has blocked these measures every single step of the way, because it does not have a plan and it will not keep Britain safe.

Jeffrey M Donaldson Portrait Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP)
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May I, on behalf of my party, extend our best wishes to His Majesty the King for a full recovery?

I thank the Prime Minister for his dedication and leadership in helping us to restore our place in the United Kingdom and its internal market and to revive our political institutions at Stormont. The Union is more secure as a result of our combined endeavours and, together, we have greatly enhanced the potential to build a strong and prosperous economy that will help to cement our peace in Northern Ireland.

Securing peace in an unstable world is vital for all of us, so will the Prime Minister examine the findings of a recent report by Policy Exchange that calls for Northern Ireland to play an even greater role in the defence of our nation?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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May I start by thanking and paying tribute to my right hon. Friend for his own leadership over the past few months? He and I agree that the Union is stronger for the return of devolution and the work that we have done. I would be delighted to examine the findings of the report, and I have seen, with my own visits, the vital role that Northern Ireland is playing through the location of firms such as Thales and Harland & Wolff. However, as he will know, I was delighted that, in last week’s Command Paper, we specifically committed to examining how we can further bolster Northern Ireland’s share of the UK defence sector, because it is another essential pillar of our precious economic Union.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie  (Ynys Môn)  (Con)
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Q10.   Mr Speaker, does the Prime Minister know where the best site for large-scale, new nuclear in the UK is? [Hon. Members: “Wylfa!”] Will he commit to buying the Wylfa site—now the only gigawatt site in Wales—this year and ensure that it is progressed as soon as possible to meet our net zero and energy security needs, and give an enormous boost to the Ynys Môn and north Wales economy?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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As ever, my hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for Wylfa and the nuclear industry. I can confirm to her that Wylfa is a candidate for the new nuclear site and one of a number of potential sites that could host civil nuclear projects. No decisions have been taken at present, but Great British Nuclear is working with the Government to support access. We are also developing a new national policy statement, providing the planning framework for new nuclear power, and we very much welcome her, and other, contributions to that consultation.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald Portrait Stewart Malcolm McDonald  (Glasgow South) (SNP)
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Q3.   Last year, the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers were given the conclusions of a Government audit of research programmes at UK universities with links to the Chinese state. The audit flagged up hundreds of programmes as being at high risk of potentially being used by the Chinese Communist party for military use, and other applications in strategic and sensitive areas as being of high interest to an authoritarian regime such as China. A smaller proportion was judged to be extremely high risk. Despite that, the Government have elected to do nothing about it. Will the Prime Minister confirm his personal knowledge of that report and explain to the House why no action is to be taken and why these programmes must be continued unimpeded?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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We will continue to take a robust and proactive approach towards our relationship with China, rooted in the UK’s national interest and values. The National Security Act 2023 brings together vital new measures to protect our national security. That includes creating a foreign influence registration scheme through the Act specifically to tackle covert influence in the UK. We will continue to take all possible powers to keep the country safe.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering)  (Con)
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Q12. Two remarkably talented and enthusiastic individuals from Kettering, Beccy Hurrell and Lindsey Atkins, have put together a really ambitious £2 million bid to repurpose the redundant Gala Bingo hall in Kettering high street into a community arts, music, business and family hub, which would be simply transformative for Kettering town centre. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister please be kind enough to facilitate a meeting for us with the relevant culture and levelling-up Ministers so that we can explore how a combined community ownership fund and cultural development fund bid might get us across the line?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this exciting initiative, and commend Beccy and Lindsey for their campaigning. He will know that our £150 million community ownership fund is there specifically to help to safeguard small but much-loved local assets. Our cultural development fund, which he mentions, is there to support further cultural projects as well. I will ensure that he gets a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss the plans further, and wish him and his constituents all the best with this redevelopment project.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
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Q5. Data revealed by the Centre for Cities showed that, after 14 years of Tory rule, towns and cities in every corner of our country have been levelled down, left behind, and left out of pocket. On average, people are over £10,000 a year worse off because the Prime Minister’s party has failed on growth. When will he take responsibility for breaking Britain?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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In fact, what we are seeing is record investment in our towns across the UK, many of which were neglected by the Labour party for decades. If we really care about levelling up, we need to avoid saddling hard-working Britons with higher taxes, which is exactly what Labour’s £28 billion green spending spree would do.

Alun Cairns Portrait Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)
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Q13. For 27 years, constituents across the Vale of Glamorgan and the whole of Wales sadly have had to wait longer to see a doctor, longer for an ambulance, longer at A&E, and longer for an operation than patients in England. There are 24,785 patients in Wales waiting longer than two years for an operation. The number in England is 227. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Aneurin Bevan will be turning in his grave over the fact that we cannot trust Labour with the NHS?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Here in England we have a plan when it comes to education, where we are marching up the league tables, and we have virtually eliminated the longest waiting times, but in Labour-run Wales, as he said, education rates are falling and waiting lists over 18 months are more than 10 times higher than in England. It is crystal clear that we should stick to our plan for a brighter future and not go back to square one with Labour.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
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Q6. According to openDemocracy this week, since 1999 at least 391 people have died at our borders. That is a rate of more than one man or woman per month for 25 years. On top of that, there is the financial cost. The deadly and failed border regime as well as the Prime Minister’s plan for Rwanda are estimated to have cost at least £800 million since 2014. Will he now show that he understands that the people whose lives he is making sick bets on are human beings, and provide them with safe routes to the UK in order to seek asylum, instead of more failed and extreme forms of deterrence?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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It is in fact criminal gangs that are exploiting vulnerable people and leading many of them to lose their lives as they make these dangerous crossings. Conservative Members think that that is wrong, and we want to do something about it, which is why we need to get a deterrent up and running, and be able to send people to Rwanda. It is the hon. Gentleman’s party that opposes that, so the question for Labour Members is why they remain on the side of the criminal people smugglers.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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February marks Emotional Health, Boost Your Self Esteem and Children’s Mental Health Month. In recent years, about 6,500 people have died in the UK each year due to suicide. In 2021, I was nearly one of them. Luckily my attempt failed, I was found by family members quickly, I received amazing care at St Helier and Springfield Hospitals, I did not do any permanent damage and I was well looked after by the NHS in the months that followed. I want to say thank you to everyone who saved me and sorry to my family and loved ones, whom I put through such an awful ordeal. In that moment, I felt alone and scared, like there was no way out, and that the world would be better off without me in it. But I do not recognise that man any more. I know that nothing is ever really worth that, that help really is out there—and I am pretty awesome. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Does the Prime Minister agree that one death by suicide is one too many, and will he send a message from the Dispatch Box today that, whatever you are going through, you are not alone, help is out there and better days lie ahead?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I know the whole House will join me in commending my hon. Friend for his bravery in sharing his story and I can absolutely assure him that we take this issue incredibly seriously. The new suicide prevention strategy ensures that we will have the actions in place to reduce suicide over the next years, because we absolutely recognise the impact that it has on people and their families, and we should do everything we can to prevent that from happening.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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Q7. May I take this opportunity to ask the Prime Minister if he will consider apologising to Brianna Ghey’s mother for his insensitive comment? Turning to my question, the independent report into Teesworks released last Monday throws up more questions than it answers. It is vital that we now have a National Audit Office investigation. The report was scathing and said that there is insufficient transparency to offer evidence of value for money. Should the Government not lead by example, and will the Prime Minister finally release details of his conversations surrounding Teesworks, as he was asked to do twice last year?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I think the hon. Lady was talking about the report on Teesworks, as far as I can see. What that report noted was that the pace and scope of the regeneration had had a wide-reaching positive impact on the local economy—and of course it was an independent external report. It makes it clear that there is no evidence of corruption or illegality and the Government will of course respond to the recommendations in the report as soon as possible.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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I give my heartfelt thanks to the Prime Minster for his support for our Melton, Harborough and Stamford villages following the recent devastating flooding. Tens of homes, farms and businesses in Rutland were also devastated, but our county is in effect excluded from ever receiving support in the future due to the arbitrary floor currently in place. Flood support should be based on the most affected or a percentage of population, but Rutland must have 1,000 times more flooding than next-door Lincolnshire for us ever to access support. Will my right hon. Friend please give a meeting to me and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) to discuss this important issue?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I extend my sympathies to all those impacted by the recent storms and flooding. We are investing record sums in flood defence across England and a recovery support framework is in place for families and businesses in every area that has experienced exceptional flooding. I know that my hon. Friend is in touch with Ministers in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about how those schemes affect her constituency, but I will ensure that she gets the correspondence and meetings that she needs to deliver for her local communities.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD)
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Q8. Two weeks ago, I challenged the Prime Minister on his Government’s broken promise on building new hospitals by 2030, including in my own area. Now it seems the Government are downgrading existing hospitals too. Children and parents in Eastbourne will be forced to travel for miles if the proposed downgrade of the hospital’s paediatric services goes ahead. Campaigners have asked the Government to call in this disastrous plan, so will the Prime Minister agree?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Actually, we are investing record sums in improving hospital infrastructure across the country. In Eastbourne in particular, spades are already in the ground to deliver an elective surgical hub. I know that there is local Liberal Democrat scaremongering about the future of services, but the local Conservative MP is doing a fantastic job, engaging with her community and working with local health officials.

Jane Stevenson Portrait Jane Stevenson (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)
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It was my huge pleasure to host the aerospace defence and security industry apprenticeships event in Parliament yesterday, welcoming two apprentices from Collins Aerospace in Wolverhampton. Will the Prime Minister join me, in National Apprenticeship Week, in celebrating the opportunities that apprenticeships can provide in the defence industry, as well as in our armed forces, which are all in the top 10 apprenticeship providers?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of our apprenticeship provision, which is providing young people with opportunities across the country, particularly in the defence and aerospace sectors, as she said. Those plans are in stark contrast to those of the Labour party, which has caved in to big business and is now proposing to halve the amount of apprenticeship funding and the number of apprenticeships.

Kenny MacAskill Portrait Kenny MacAskill (East Lothian) (Alba)
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Q11. If Grangemouth refinery closes, Scotland will be the only major oil-producing nation without a refinery capacity. At a time of energy insecurity, is it not economic madness to allow a profitable plant to close, and is it not environmental madness to tranship oil for refining and distribution across the increasingly dangerous high seas? Given the billions that the Prime Minister has received and will continue to receive from North sea oil, will he ensure that Scotland retains a refinery capacity for Scotland’s oil?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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The future of Grangemouth refinery is obviously a commercial decision for its owners, but I am told that the site will remain operating as a refinery until at least May 2025. In the meantime, the UK and Scottish Governments are working together to seek assurances from Grangemouth about how it is supporting employees. We remain confident in our fuel supply. On energy security, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, this Government are unambiguously backing the North sea oil and gas sector because that is how we support energy security in this country, attract investment and create jobs, particularly in Scotland.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
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I was very proud that it was a Conservative Government who appointed the Patient Safety Commissioner, and that we commissioned the Hughes report on medical devices and medicines, which was published this morning. Will my right hon. Friend also make me proud by addressing the points that the commissioner has raised and bringing forward a redress scheme in a timely manner?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I am grateful to the Patient Safety Commissioner and her team for their work on this important issue—one that I know my right hon. Friend has spoken about in the past. Of course, first and foremost, our sympathies remain with those affected by sodium valproate. We are focused on improving the system and how it listens to patients, and it is right that the Government carefully consider the report’s recommendations. The Department of Health and Social Care will respond to the report in due course, and the Health Secretary will keep the House updated on a regular basis.

Sarah Edwards Portrait Sarah Edwards (Tamworth) (Lab)
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Q14. Many of my constituents, such as local mum Jessica, have contacted me about special educational needs and disability support. Jessica’s son has waited years for an autism diagnosis, and he is not expected to have an education, health and care plan in place by the time he goes to secondary school. Will the Prime Minister confirm that students who need an EHCP will get one so that they can thrive in school?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Of course, we want to see every child thrive at school, which is why we have tripled the amount going into special educational needs for capital places and put more money into support ECHPs. I am sorry to hear about the case that the hon. Lady mentions. I will ensure that we continue to look at this matter in particular, because, as she said, we want every child to thrive at school.

Alec Shelbrooke Portrait Sir Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con)
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I put on the record my best wishes to His Majesty the King and to Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales.

Building on the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is exceptionally pleased about the Hughes report, which has been published today. A huge amount of work has been done by Members from across the Chamber, including the hon. Members for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) and for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North.

May I press my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the fact that tens of thousands of women and children have suffered immensely since the 1970s, with Government after Government doing nothing about it? I am proud that this Government have done something about it, but I urge him, in the strongest terms, to talk to the Chancellor to ensure that we can address the issues raised in the Hughes report at the Budget.

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I thank my right hon. Friend and colleagues from all parts of the House for their campaigning over many years on this issue. As I said, it is right not only that we extend our sympathies to those affected, but that we carefully consider the recommendations from the Patient Safety Commissioner’s report. I can assure my right hon. Friend that we will do that with all due haste, and I know that the Health Secretary will keep the House updated.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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Why did the Prime Minister downgrade the role of Minister for Disabled People? What message does he think that sends to disabled people, and will he commit to reconsider that move and ensure that the role is held by a Minister of State? If not, will he agree to meet with me and disabled people’s organisations to explain his reasoning?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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Actually, the Minister for Disabled People, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), is going to do a fantastic job, because she cares passionately about this issue. This Government have a record to be proud of, whether that is supporting many more of those with disabilities into work and ensuring they can live independently, or making sure that children with complex disabilities have access to more changing places across the country. Those are the values of this Conservative Government.

I would also like to say to Brianna Ghey’s mum, who is here, that as I said earlier this week, what happened was an unspeakable and shocking tragedy. In the face of that, for her mother to demonstrate the compassion and empathy that she did last weekend demonstrated the very best of humanity in the face of seeing the very worst of humanity. She deserves all our admiration and praise for that.

NHS Dentistry: Recovery and Reform

Wednesday 7th February 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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12:35
Victoria Atkins Portrait The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Victoria Atkins)
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With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our plan to recover and reform NHS dentistry. First, though, on behalf of the entire House and my Department, I send our very best wishes to His Majesty the King. His decision to share his diagnosis will be welcomed by anyone whose life has been touched by cancer, and I know that we are all very much looking forward to seeing him make a speedy recovery and resume his public duties.

Thanks to a once-in-a-generation pandemic, 7 million patients across England did not come forward for appointments with NHS dentists between 2020 and 2022. Since then, we have taken decisive action to recover services: we have made reforms to the dental contract, so that practices are paid more fairly for caring for NHS patients with more complex needs; and we have made sure that dentists update the NHS website regularly so that the public know that they are taking on new patients. That has delivered results, with more than 1 million more people seeing an NHS dentist last year than in the year before. However, we know that too many, particularly those living in rural or coastal communities, are still struggling to find appointments. This recovery plan will put that right by making NHS dental care faster, simpler, and fairer for patients and staff. It is built on three key pillars, which I will address in turn.

First, we will help anyone who needs to see an NHS dentist to do so, wherever they live and whatever their background. To do this, we must incentivise dentists across the country to care for more NHS patients. That is why I am delighted to tell the House that for the coming year, we are offering dentists two new payments on top of their usual payments for care—£15 for every check-up they perform on NHS patients who have not been seen over the past two years, and £50 for every new NHS patient they treat who has not been seen over the same period—because we know that patients who do not have a relationship with a dentist find it harder to get care. That is not a long-term ambition: our new patient premium will be available from next month.

We are also increasing the minimum payment that dentists receive for delivering NHS treatments, which will support practices with the lowest unit of dental activity rates to provide more NHS care. However, we know that in many of our rural, remote and isolated communities, dentists themselves are in short supply. That is why starting this year, up to 240 dentists will receive golden hello payments worth up to £20,000 when they commit themselves to working in one of those areas for at least three years. These dentists will give patients the care they need faster, make dental provision fairer and tackle health inequalities.

We are also delivering dentistry to our most remote regions without delay. This year, we will deploy dental vans to more isolated, rural and coastal areas. Staffed by NHS dentists, they will offer check-ups and simple treatments such as fillings. This model has been a tried and tested success across many regions. For example, last year in Cornwall, a mobile van visited five harbours, treating more than 100 fishermen and their families. We will be rolling out up to 15 vans across Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Dorset, Cornwall, North Yorkshire and Northamptonshire. This move has been welcomed by Healthwatch, the Nuffield Trust and the College of General Dentistry. We will let patients know when vans will be in their area, so they can get the care they need faster.

These reforms will empower NHS dentists to treat more than 1 million people and deliver 2.5 million more appointments. As the chief executive of National Voices, a group of major health and care charities, said:

“This extra money…should help thousands of people who have been unable to see a dentist in the last two years to get the care they need.”

These reforms are just the beginning. This recovery plan will also drive forward reforms to make NHS dentistry sustainable for our children and our grandchildren.

That brings me to the second pillar: growing and upskilling our workforce for the long term. Our long-term workforce plan, the first in NHS history, gives us strong foundations on which to build. By 2031, training places for dentists will increase by 40%—forty per cent—and places for dental hygienists and therapists, who can perform simple tasks such as fillings, will also rise by 40%. More dentists and more dental therapists will mean more care for NHS patients.

I am delighted to tell the House today that we are going further in three key ways. First, we will consult on a tie-in to NHS work for dentistry graduates, because right now too many are choosing to deliver private work over valuable NHS care. More than 35,000 dentists in England are registered with the General Dental Council, but last year almost a third worked exclusively in the private sector. Training these dentists is a significant investment for taxpayers, and they rightly expect it to result in the strongest possible NHS care. That is why, this spring, we will launch a consultation on a tie-in for graduate dentists and how this could deliver more NHS care and better value for taxpayers.

Secondly, we will take full advantage of our dental professionals’ skills. Today, even though they have the right training, without written direction from a dentist dental therapists cannot do things such as administer antibiotics. This year, we will change this, making life simpler for dentists and making care faster for patients. As the president of the College of General Dentistry has said, the

“use of the full range of skills of all team members will enable the delivery of more care and make NHS dentistry more attractive to dental professionals.”

Thirdly, we will recruit more international dentists to the NHS. We have a plan to do this by working with the General Dental Council to get more international dentists taking exams and to get them on to the register sooner, and to explore the creation of a new provisional registration status so that, under the supervision of a dentist who is already on the register, highly skilled international dentists can start treating patients sooner, rather than working as hygienists while they are waiting to join the register.

I turn now to our plan’s third pillar, which is prioritising prevention and giving children a healthy smile for life. This begins by supporting parents to give their children the best possible start. That is why family hubs up and down the country will offer parents-to-be expert advice on looking after their baby’s teeth and gums. As those babies grow up, we will support parents and nurseries in making sure that before every child starts primary school, brushing their teeth is part of their routine.

The evidence is clear: the earlier good habits are built, the longer they will last. Seeing a dentist regularly is vital for children’s health, but since the pandemic, too many have been unable to do that. That is why this year we are taking care directly to children. We will deploy mobile dental teams to schools in areas with a shortage of NHS dentists. They will apply a preventive fluoride varnish to more than 165,000 reception-age children’s teeth, strengthening them early and preventing decay. Our Smile for Life programme has already been endorsed by the College of General Dentistry.

Six million people in England already benefit from water fluoridation. In order to go further in protecting children’s teeth, we will consult on strengthening more of our country’s water with fluoride. Again, the evidence is clear: in some of the most deprived parts of England, enhancing fluoride levels could reduce by up to 56% the number of teeth that are extracted because of decay. That is why, through the Health and Care Act 2022, we have made it simpler to add fluoride to more of our water supply. As a first step, this year we will launch a consultation on expanding water fluoridation across the north-east—an expansion that would give 1.6 million more people access to water that strengthens their teeth, preventing tooth decay and tackling inequality.

This is our Government’s plan to recover and reform dental care: dental training places up by 40%; 2.5 million more appointments; dental vans treating more patients; more dentists in remote areas; more dentists taking on NHS patients; better support for families and better care for children; patient access up and inequity coming down. It will make life simpler for staff, and treatment faster and fairer for patients and staff. We have taken the difficult decisions, and we have now delivered a long-term plan to make dental care faster, simpler, and fairer for people across the country. We are going to get on with the job and put our plan into action, and I commend this statement to the House.

12:46
Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab)
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I wholeheartedly associate myself and my party with the Secretary of State’s remarks on sending our best wishes to His Majesty the King. Having gone through a cancer diagnosis myself, I particularly send best wishes to his family, for whom a diagnosis is often more difficult than for the person receiving it.

Also in the generous spirit in which we have begun, may I thank the Health and Social Care Secretary for accidentally e-mailing me her entire plan yesterday? That goes above and beyond the courtesy that we normally expect. I look forward to receiving her party’s election manifesto any day now—but of course we will have to write ours first to give her party some inspiration.

After 14 years of Conservative Government, NHS dentistry is in decay. Eight in 10 dentists are not taking on new patients, and in the south-west of England the figure is 99%. One in 10 people has been forced to attempt DIY dentistry—Dickensian conditions!—because they cannot see an NHS dentist, and they cannot afford to go private. [Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Mr Baker, I am sorry, but I don’t want any more heckling from you; you did a little bit earlier. I wanted everybody to listen to the Secretary of State, and I expect them to do the same for the shadow Secretary of State.

Wes Streeting Portrait Wes Streeting
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Don’t worry, Mr Speaker: I will come back to the Parliamentary Private Secretary shortly. Tooth decay is the No.1 reason for children aged six to 10 being admitted to hospital. Unbelievably, there have been reports of Ukrainian refugees booking dentist appointments back home and returning for treatment, because it is easier to fly to a war-torn country than it is to see an NHS dentist in England. Well, at least one Government policy is getting flights off the ground—and it is certainly not the Government’s Rwanda scheme failure.

Let us look at the human consequences of this Conservative tragedy. Labour’s candidate in Great Yarmouth, Keir Cozens, told me about Jeanette, a young woman in her 30s who has struggled with gum and mouth problems all her life. She used to be able to get treatment; now she cannot find an NHS dentist in all of Norfolk to take her. She cannot afford to go private. It hurts to smile, it hurts to laugh, and the pain is so great that Jeanette does not go out anymore. Just this week, she resorted to trying to remove her tooth herself. That is not right for anyone of any age, but Jeanette should be in the prime of her life. Will the Secretary of State apologise to Jeanette and the millions like her for what the Conservatives have done to NHS dentistry?

After 14 years of neglect, cuts and incompetence, the Government have today announced a policy of more appointments, recruiting dentists to the areas most in need and toothbrushing for children. It sounds awfully familiar. They are adopting much of Labour’s rescue plan for dentistry. Does that not show that the Conservatives are out of ideas of their own, and are looking to Labour to fix the mess they have made? I say: next time Conservative Ministers say that Labour does not have a plan, or that Labour’s plan is not credible, don’t believe a word of it.

There are some differences between our two parties’ approaches. Labour is pledging an extra 700,000 urgent and emergency appointments, which are additional to the appointments announced today. Can the Health Secretary confirm that the Government’s plan does not provide any additional emergency support? Labour proposed supervised early-years toothbrushing, and Conservative MPs accused it of being “nanny state”. Does the Health Secretary stand by that label, or does she now support children under five being supported in brushing their teeth?

The key difference is that we recognise that our plan is a rescue plan, and that to put NHS dentistry back on its feet, immediate reform of the dental contract is needed. Without that, the Government’s plan is doomed to fail. Do not just take my word for it; the British Dental Association has said that the plan will not stop the exodus of dentists from the NHS, will not provide a dentist for every patient who needs one, and will not put an end to this crisis.

I come to the Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), and the miserable script that the Whips are spreading out on the Table. If Labour’s contract is to blame, why have the Government not reformed it in 14 years, and why are they not reforming it now? In 2010, the Conservatives promised in their election manifesto to reform the dental contract. They are bringing back not just Lord Cameron, but his broken promises. People have been desperately trying to get dental care for years, but there was nothing from the Conservative party. Now that we are in an election year, the Conservatives are trying to kick the can down the road, and are scrambling for a plan. They only discover their heart when they fear in their heart for their political futures, and the consequences have been seen: queues around the block in Bristol.

Finally, the Secretary of State is promising reform after 2025 and after the next general election. Who is she trying to kid? After 2025, the Conservatives will be gone, and if they are not, NHS dentistry will be. How many more chances do they expect? How many more broken promises will there be? We had 2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019. Their time is up, and it is time for Labour to deliver the change that this country needs.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I tried to help the hon. Gentleman by giving him an advance copy of my speech yesterday, yet that was his speech. This Government are focused on delivering for patients. Perhaps I can help him understand the difference between the Opposition’s proposals and the Government’s fully funded dental recovery plan. The Opposition’s ambitions reach only as far as 700,000 more appointments. Our plan will provide more than three times that number of appointments across the country—that is 2.5 million, to help him with his maths. We are offering golden hellos to 240 dentists who will work in hard-to-reach and under-served areas; their proposals cover only 200. They have no plan for training more dentists; we set out in the long-term workforce plan last year, and again in the dental recovery plan, that we will increase training places for dentists by 40% by 2031.

Then we have the centrepiece of the Opposition’s proposals: making teachers swap their textbooks for toothbrushes—an idea that is hated by teachers and that patronises parents. We believe that most parents do a great job of looking after their children. I know that the Labour party does not agree with that; the hon. Gentleman called our children short and fat on a media round. We believe that most parents do a great job, and that is why we support pregnant mums-to-be, and support parents in family hubs and nurseries. We will not wait until reception class, by which time children have already got their teeth.

I want to dwell on the experience of anybody living under Labour in Labour-run Wales. Health services in Wales are devolved, and the Leader of the Opposition has called Wales “the blueprint” for how the Opposition will run our health system. Welsh Labour has the highest proportion of NHS dental practices not accepting new adult patients, and the joint highest proportion of those not accepting new child patients. In Wales, 93% of NHS dental practices are not accepting new adult patients. That is a higher figure than for any other nation in the UK. Some 86% of practices there are not accepting new child patients, which is the joint highest figure with Northern Ireland. Our plan is fully funded, but how will Labour pay for its plan? By using the magical money tree. The list of policies funded by the non-dom policy is as long as my arm. In 2022, it promised to fund a workforce plan. Last September, it became breakfast club meals. By October, it morphed into 2 million appointments and scanning equipment. By Christmas, it was funding a dentistry plan. It is the same old Labour: it has no plan.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Father of the House.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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The House enjoyed the words of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), although I am not sure how many he wrote himself; some may have seemed rather familiar to anyone who read Matthew Parris this morning on going to Ukraine to have a filling fixed.

In West Sussex, in Worthing and Arun, we want the same situation found in parts of London, where dentists have a sign saying, “New NHS patients welcome”. Has the Secretary of State been working with the British Dental Association and the General Dental Council to bring forward registrations, to get incentives right, and to make sure that dentists are no longer told, “You can’t serve any more patients because you will go above your limits”? Can she confirm that we are taking limits off, so that dentists, especially the young ones, can do as much work as they can, and can help as many patients as possible, so that we can get back to the situation that we were in before Labour changed the rules about 20 years ago?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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We have focused this plan on introducing the new patient premium—a bonus for new patients. Having discussed this carefully with professionals, we think that is one way that we can incentivise people into NHS practice. Dentists can already work up to 104% of the contract. Many do that, but some sadly do not, so we are trying to encourage those dentists who already have NHS contracts to go the extra mile and use the full slot available to them.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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The Health and Social Care Committee took months gathering evidence and putting together a recovery plan, which the Government should have adopted. Dentists wanted that plan put in place. Central to it was reform of the NHS dental contract. However, the Secretary of State has completely failed to even mention reform of that contract. As a result, dentistry in my constituency in York, where constituents are waiting seven years to see a dentist, will not have the recovery that she talks about. Why did she not adopt our plan?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I hope the hon. Lady will, as usual, be the help that I expect her to be to her constituents in publicising this plan. We are getting graphics and information out to all Members of Parliament, so that they can help their constituents understand what will be available in their area, because each and every one of us wants the very best for our constituents. She will be interested in the new patient premium, which is encouraging dentists back into NHS practice, or into NHS practice for the first time, and in the increased price for units of dental activity. Reform of the dental contract is part of our agenda, but we realised that we needed to give immediate help to communities such as hers.

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

Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)
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I welcome the plan. Recovery and reform is right, and the Select Committee will study the plan carefully. The dental Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), has already been invited to come before us, so that we can talk it through with her to see whether it reflects our aforementioned report on the subject. The golden hellos, the toothbrushing for pre-schoolers—as long as the workforce can handle it—and the mobile vans are good, but even a day longer of a contract focused on units of dental activity is a problem. Can the Secretary of State say how she plans to entice professionals into returning to NHS dentistry? So many have left, and that is key.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Very much so, and that will be primarily through the patient premium, which will mean that from next month dentists will be able to turn their signs from “closed” to “open” for NHS patients. We wanted to use levers that could be deployed immediately in order to help our constituents.

Daisy Cooper Portrait Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD)
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It is estimated that more than 12 million people are waiting for dental treatment, but the Government’s announcement says that it will help just 1 million. The Government’s underspend last year was £400 million, and it is expected to be the same this year, but only £200 million has been announced. This plan is a drop in the ocean. In St Albans, my dentists are desperate to provide NHS care, and my constituents are desperate to see a dentist. At the heart of the problem is the broken contract. Will the Government take up the Liberal Democrats’ plan to reform the contract and provide guaranteed access to an NHS dentist for everybody needing urgent and emergency care?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I heartily recommend the recovery plan to the hon. Lady, because it offers 2.5 million more appointments and has a long-term ambition for the prevention of tooth decay in children. In addition, it has that long-turn vision about increasing training places for our dental professionals by 40% by 2031.

Paul Beresford Portrait Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con)
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As you are aware, Mr Speaker, I have a declared interest in this particular topic.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is aware, dentistry in England is a seller’s market. It is estimated that there are 5,000 dentist vacancies in England. When I came here in the early ’70s with my dental degree, like very many colleagues from Australia, New Zealand and so on, I presented at the General Dental Council, who said “welcome” and stamped my hand, and I went off and worked on the national health service the next day.

Now, and for decades, the General Dental Council has required graduates from world-class dental schools—every bit as good as the ones we have here—to wait, to pay and to sit what is called an overseas registration exam. Currently, the waiting list for the exam is 2,000 overseas dental graduates, many of whom are every bit as good as those we produce in this country. The GDC could change that overnight by accepting graduates automatically from known and trusted international schools. Will my right hon. Friend please have a small chat with the chairman of the General Dental Council?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I thank my hon. Friend and recognise the enormous expertise he brings to the Chamber on this matter. He knows—he has genuinely talked to me about this on many occasions—the important role that the General Dental Council plays to ensure that we get international dentists registered as quickly as possible. I very much look forward to discussing that with the GDC so that we can get more international dentists on to our register and working in our practices.

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab)
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I welcome much in the plan, which mirrors many of my ideas over the years, and indeed much in Labour’s plan. However, on access, the Government claim that the recovery plan will deliver care for up to 2.5 million people, but Government data shows that 12 million people in England have unmet dentistry needs, which leaves about 9.5 million people without an NHS dentist. That includes my constituent Beverley Kitson, who has osteoporosis and takes alendronic acid as treatment. The drug has damaged her teeth, and she now requires a check-up every three months after four of her teeth have decayed to such an extent that they need to be extracted. Beverley has been with the same dental practice for 50 years, but she has just been told that it is going fully private, leaving her without an NHS dentist. Will the Secretary of State guarantee Beverley that she will be able to access an NHS dentist under these plans?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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We have very much tried to ensure that dentists who already hold NHS contracts will keep them and keep working them. That is why we have fallen upon the new patient premium to make it more in their financial interests to take on new patients. I appreciate the hon. Lady’s point about retention, which, again, we are looking to address through the increase in the UDA. But we all acknowledge that dentists are independent contractors, so we must ask them—and particularly those who are new dental graduates—to do their bit and help our NHS out.

Maggie Throup Portrait Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con)
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A number of NHS dentists across Erewash have recently retired, leaving a cohort of my constituents without access to NHS dentistry. Unfortunately, practices are finding it really difficult to recruit replacements for the retirees. How will the plan help speed up that recruitment so that my constituents are not without NHS dentistry for much longer?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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May I thank my hon. Friend for all the work she did in the Department and has done on this subject? We are taking a long-term view with training dentists. As I said, last year, through the long-term workforce plan, we set out an ambition to train up to 40% more dentists by 2031. As we also begin the consultation on a tie-in with those graduates, we are confident that we will see a greater supply of dentists to our NHS services.

Paulette Hamilton Portrait Mrs Paulette Hamilton (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)
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The £200 million pledged today is less than half last year’s record-breaking underspend. The plan says that any underspends will be ringfenced for dentistry. That was promised by a Minister last year, but it did not happen because integrated care boards were using that underspend. Why should the 73% of dentists in the west midlands who cannot and are not accepting any new patients believe it will be any different this year?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The hon. Lady alights on an important fact that is sometimes lost in this debate: although an NHS dentist may have an NHS contract, they may not work the whole of that contract. Some NHS dentists very much do so; others work a fraction of it. We are trying to encourage dentists who do not use their full contract to do so, because that in itself will bring in more patients. We are confident that alongside the new patient premium, that will help constituents such as hers to get the treatment they need.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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Wokingham has a fast-growing population based on building a lot of new homes. So as the Secretary of State rolls out her new plans, will she also ensure that there are incentives to provide dental services on the NHS in areas where a population is moving in and needs them?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Indeed, that is exactly the sort of discussion I am having with my right hon. Friend the Levelling Up Secretary, because I am really interested in having that connected and joined-up approach between planning and health. I think it could bring dividends for us all.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
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I do not believe that what the Secretary of State has described will deal with the complexity of dental problems out there. I have a constituent who was referred to the Manchester Dental Hospital for a possible abscess and was told that even an urgent referral would take a month. In fact, the dental hospital did not get back to her for five months after the referral; it offered her a telephone consultation. The amount of pain and infection meant that she had to seek private treatment at a cost of £4,000, but many cannot afford that, including the young man wheeled into Royal Bolton Hospital in great pain, leaking blood on the floor after trying to remove a painful tooth with pliers. What does the Health Secretary say to patients who have long-standing and complex dental problems and are paying the price by waiting in pain, paying for private treatment or trying to remove their own teeth?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I take that constituency case very seriously. I am really keen to urge the hon. Lady that if a constituent contacts her in future with that level of discomfort and pain, she should advise that constituent to contact 111 and, if necessary, go to accident and emergency—[Interruption.] Labour Members are shaking their heads, but what she has just described is a serious situation. That constituent needs medical attention, and the NHS is there, ready and willing to help. That is the advice that she should be giving her constituents, and I hope that she takes it as seriously as I do. [Interruption.]

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. The Secretary of State was giving an answer to a question. We do not need all this shouting. People might not agree with the answer, but you have to listen to the answer.

John Hayes Portrait Sir John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
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In congratulating my right hon. Friend—my personal friend—on this welcome, excellent statement, may I ask her to forgive the ferocity with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and I made the case for NHS dentistry when we met her recently? In that spirit, will she ensure that some of these new dentists come to rural Lincolnshire, where we desperately need good dental care? She has today irrigated the dental desert.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I give my very sincere thanks to my right hon. Friend. The House can imagine the advocacy I have received from both him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). On reaching rural and coastal areas, as a proud Lincolnshire MP myself I wanted to bring about a set of plans that will address those underserved areas. I am delighted that the plan meets with my right hon. Friend’s approval.

George Howarth Portrait Sir George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab)
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The Secretary of State will be aware that the NHS dentistry crisis has been 14 years in the making. She will also be aware that it is impossible for anybody in Knowsley today to sign up with an NHS dentist. The measures the Secretary of State has described may, over time, help to meet the problem, but what advice would she give today to my constituents who cannot get an NHS dentist?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The advice and guidance to dentists will be going out today, while the new patient premium that I have told the House about will come in from March—it is weeks away.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for an excellent statement and an excellent plan. It is exactly what patients in Suffolk have been waiting to hear—the rural payment, the bonus there and the mobile service. I am conscious that many dentists have chosen not to have more patients, and they might blame the contract—this, that or the other. That is why I welcome her plan about potentially tying in graduates to the NHS. My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) has already referred to the General Dental Council, which, in my view, has not taken full advantage of the regulations that came into force last March. Will the Secretary of State also look at the NHS’s own rules that further restrict the rapid supply of dentists into the NHS for our constituents?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I thank my right hon. Friend for all the work she did on dentistry in the Department. I am conscious that many people have contributed to this plan; I am grateful to her and others. Again, I hear the observations on the General Dental Council, and will ensure that the GDC hears them as well. That is a fair challenge to the NHS. Colleagues will see that the plan is co-signed by NHS England, which shares our ambition to deliver those 2.5 million more appointments and set up the future of NHS dentistry for our country.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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Today’s statement by the Health Secretary will have been listened to with great interest by my constituents in Edinburgh West, who share a lot of the same concerns, face the same difficulty getting NHS dental treatment and will be looking for the same sort of solution as constituents in England. Could the Secretary of State clarify for me, and for all those who come to me, whether there will be Barnett consequentials? If there are, will she impress upon the Scottish Government the need to ringfence the money and actually invest it in dental services? If not, would she be willing to share with the Scottish Government how she is approaching the problem in the hope that they might actually respond and do something?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I hear the frustration in the hon. Lady’s question. This is a devolved area—as it is in Wales—and is therefore a matter for the Scottish National party. I assume the hon. Lady will continue her usual advocacy on behalf of her constituents to ensure that the SNP looks at what is happening in England and tries to do better for Scotland.

Neil O'Brien Portrait Neil O’Brien (Harborough) (Con)
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I really welcome this plan; I welcome the extra £200 million, the new patient bonus, the measures to get dentists into areas that do not have them and the minimum UDA. These are all good things that will help people in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston to get a dentist. Can I ask the Secretary of State to press on with two things? The first is the move to a proper national funding formula. Dentistry is the only part of the NHS without a funding formula, which disadvantages shire and coastal areas with older populations. The second is the next round of contract reform—the move to band 2b is working, and dentists are using it, but there are patients with complex cases for whom a capitation-like payment would be much better, as the British Dental Association pointed out. I encourage the Secretary of State to start working on that difficult group so that we can get extra help for them too.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I must thank my hon. Friend for all his work. I know how much how much effort and commitment he has put into these plans, and it shows the genuine—[Interruption.] Sorry; the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) is being a little ungracious. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien) has been part of the united work across Government to deliver these plans. I very much take on board his recommendations and encouragement. As I say, we see this plan as delivering 2.5 million more appointments for our constituents, but of course we want to look to the long term as well.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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Is the Secretary of State aware that Rip Van Winkle fell asleep for 20 years? This Conservative Government have been asleep for even longer than that, as far as dentistry is concerned. Will the Secretary of State now wake up and talk to real working dentists, such as Phil Lucitt—one of my excellent NHS dentists in Huddersfield, who is in the Gallery with his wife today—and get something done about this crisis? It is a crisis in Huddersfield, as in every town in this country, such as Bristol, as we heard yesterday. People are in pain, people are suffering, and for 14 years her Government have done little about it.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I must admit that I did not know quite where that question was going, but I think the hon. Gentleman is urging me to speak to dentists. I am delighted to reassure him that my ministerial officials and I do of course speak to dentists. In fact, only today I was at a practice in the heart of Westminster, speaking to a dental manager who welcomes this plan. I will veer away and resist the temptation to comment on Rip Van Winkle.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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I welcome this dental recovery plan, which will help to deliver dentistry in Darlington. Can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State provide me with advice on what more I can do to get my integrated care board to get on with the commissioning at Firthmoor community centre, which lost its dentistry practice 10 months ago? In looking to expand the number of dental training places, I urge the Secretary of State to look at Teesside University, which has ambitions to build on its existing dental technology provision and train the Tees Valley dentists of tomorrow.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Thanks to the work of my hon. Friend and others, Tees Valley is a powerhouse of growth industries, as exemplified by the Chancellor in his Budget and autumn statements recently. I will take away my hon. Friend’s words of advice about his university. On the point about encouraging ICBs to take part in this work, as this plan is a joint document with NHS England, the expectation will be on ICBs to deliver the plan, because they exist to look after our constituents. This plan is one of the ways we will be able to secure that help.

Mohammad Yasin Portrait Mohammad Yasin (Bedford) (Lab)
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In Bedford and Kempston, like many areas in the country, we have a dental crisis. I have raised the matter of dentistry previously, including in a Westminster Hall debate. There can be no question but that under this Conservative Government there is a dentistry crisis and the people of this country have been failed. Why does the Health Secretary refuse to admit that 14 years of neglect and underspending have led us to this?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Says the script. I assume the hon. Gentleman will welcome the 2.5 million more appointments that this dental recovery plan will deliver for all our country.

Heather Wheeler Portrait Mrs Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for this brilliant statement, and thank all the team for their huge amount of hard work. Today is dentist day—yesterday was dentist day for me, as I had an appointment with the Minister and an appointment with a real dentist from South Derbyshire. This news is absolutely superb. Will the Secretary of State get dentists to move to South Derbyshire, and ensure more free NHS dentistry there?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I have no doubt that with my hon. Friend’s characteristic joy and as an irresistible force of nature, she herself will be an advert for dentists to come to work in her constituency.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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A constituent recently told me that when she tried to register members of her family with an NHS dentist, she was told that there was an eight-year wait. We know that workforce is a really big issue. On that basis, will the Secretary of State meet me and a cross-party group of Members of Parliament to talk about how we could develop a dental school at the site of the excellent Hull York Medical School to grow our own dentists for the future?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The right hon. Lady will know that part of the focus of the long-term workforce plan is to train people where they are most needed. I will happily arrange for her to meet the relevant Minister. On registration, the current system is not like a GP practice where, once a family is registered, they can only go to that GP. The whole reason that we have been encouraging dentists to update their details on the NHS website is so that people can move around to visit different dentists to get the treatment they need. Today’s plan will help turbocharge those efforts.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
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I welcome this recovery plan, which provides the foundation for putting NHS dentistry on a sustainable long-term footing. I urge my right hon. Friend to continue her negotiations to replace the existing NHS dentistry contract as soon as possible, and to provide funding to the Norfolk and Waveney integrated care board so that the University of Suffolk can open a new treatment and training facility in our area, to replicate the innovative service that is about to open in Ipswich.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I understand my hon. Friend’s point, and I commend him for his work to ensure that his constituents receive the care and help that they deserve. On training, I hope he has drawn out from the plan the emphasis that we are putting on long-term ambitions. We understand that we need to train more dentists and get internationally trained dentists registered in our system. We recognise the critical role that dental hygienists and therapists can play as well.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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If the Tories cared about the NHS, we would not have 7.6 million people on the NHS waiting list and dentistry in crisis. The answer that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) demonstrates why we are in this situation. It is not about people turning up at A&E; the inability to access NHS dentistry services leads to people being in a crisis situation and needing emergency care. After 14 years of the Tory Government, why do we need a recovery plan for dentistry?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The hon. Gentleman was obviously asleep at the beginning of my statement, because I set out what I hope is a fact agreed across the House about the pandemic—the real problem. People who had a relationship with a dentist before the pandemic do not face quite the same pressures as people who may have moved home or whose dentist may have moved practice. That is the cohort of people who we are trying to help. It really would help if Labour Members focused their arguments a little more on the facts, rather than on the scripts that their Whips have given out.

Andrew Lewer Portrait Andrew Lewer (Northampton South) (Con)
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I very much welcome this statement and the meetings I have had with my neighbour, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom). The Secretary of State said that Northamptonshire will be included in a dental van roll-out, which is welcome, but the rest of the statement had a very rural focus. She will recall that my Prime Minister’s question focused on shortage in Duston. Is it at least a possibility that vans will go to suburban areas as well as rural ones?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The criteria that will apply to the areas covered by vans are clearly set on dental need and other factors such as distance from an NHS dental practice. We have been able to identify areas of particular need, where we want to get that help as quickly as we can through the dental van initiative and the other ways detailed in the plan.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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Last year, about half of my constituents were able to access dental services—well below pre-pandemic levels. Under the plans, what proportion of my constituents can now hope to access NHS dental services within the next six months?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The dental recovery plan sets out immediate-term, medium-term and long-term plans. In the immediate term, we have the new patient premium that will be live from next month, the increase in UDA value to £28 and the golden hellos that I have described to under-served parts of the country. There is a batch of measures throughout the plan to address the concerns from colleagues across the House.

Paul Bristow Portrait Paul Bristow (Peterborough) (Con)
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I have a plan to open a brand-new NHS dentistry practice in Peterborough. New financial incentives, increased UDA rates and recruitment of overseas dentists to Peterborough are all part of that plan. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and those who want to open new NHS dental clinics in Peterborough, so that we can take advantage of every part of her excellent plan?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I commend my hon. Friend for his excellent work as a constituency MP. It is exactly that sort of drive and ambition that will deliver results for his constituents. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss his plans, and I am pleased that our national dental recovery plan will fit well with his own local delivery plan.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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I regret to inform the House that the situation in west Wales is quite catastrophic, and recent reforms by the Welsh Government have probably made matters far worse. However, my constituents and I would like to know how much of what the Secretary of State has announced today is new money, resulting in Barnett consequentials for the Welsh Government.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The hon. Gentleman articulates the case against Labour-run Wales with great power. There is £200 million on top of the £3 billion that we already spend on NHS dentistry in England

Siobhan Baillie Portrait Siobhan Baillie (Stroud) (Con)
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I have raised dentistry a lot, because Stroud constituents and dentists have been really worried, so I welcome the Government’s plans with NHS England. I give credit to Gloucestershire ICB, which recognised the complexity of this issue. Post pandemic, it set about raising provision and we have decent take-up so far. My plea to the Secretary of State and to the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my right hon. Friend Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) is to continue their relentless focus on prioritising children’s appointments, and not to let parents off the hook, because we can all do better even if it is hard to get a toothbrush in a three-year-old’s gob every night. Will the Secretary of State say more about how ICBs will be supported to deliver the plans and integrate the work that they are already doing? The local areas that are prioritising this are making a difference.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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My hon. Friend was probably summing up this morning’s toothbrushing ahead of the school run for many mums and dads up and down the country. That is the point—we want to work with parents. We do not want to patronise them. The overwhelming majority of parents do a great job looking after their kids’ teeth. Our plans are to support those who are struggling. The expectation on ICBs is clear. The plan is a document between NHSE and us. We want to deliver this plan at local level. Expectations will be set on ICBs to make sure that they fulfil the potential of this great plan.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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I welcome this long overdue focus on dental access. I am particularly interested in the 240 golden hellos that will be available. Clearly, they will be inadequate to deal with the scale of the challenge. I am also concerned that the focus of the statement seems to be on putting those golden hellos in rural areas. Visibility and transparency are needed about where they are allocated, because places such as Ellesmere Port have exactly the same issues as other areas in the country. We get phone calls every week from constituents asking where they can see an NHS dentist. We are not able to send them anywhere at the moment. Is the Secretary of State able to guarantee that in future we will be able to send them somewhere?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I hope the hon. Gentleman will publicise the new patient premium, because that is one of the levers through which we will unlock places for new patients. I remember that he has taken an interest in this issue. I very much understand the point about location. We have set strict criteria for how dental vans will be deployed, but the new patient premium is across the country. We want as many people as possible to see NHS dentists and fill those 2.5 million more appointments.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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I particularly welcome the initiative to improve services in coastal and rural areas. The Health Secretary and I are constituency neighbours, and she will know the complexities of delivering local services in what we know as greater Lincolnshire, because her constituency is in the east midlands and mine is in Yorkshire and the Humber. Can she guarantee that the whole of greater Lincolnshire, from the south of the county up to Barton-upon-Humber, will receive the benefits of the new proposals?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I am delighted to inform my hon. Friend and neighbour that the new patient premium applies across England, and of course people can move to the dental practice that can offer them the services they need, so I trust that his constituents will be as happy as mine.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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Is the £200 million additional, in the sense of being diverted from other parts of the NHS in England, or is it new money from the Treasury that would attract the Barnett consequentials for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Which is it?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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We have finite resources. As I have said, this is additional money. I have prioritised dentistry across the board, but this is £200 million of additional money—in addition to the £3 billion that we spend in England.

Jeremy Wright Portrait Sir Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth and Southam) (Con)
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I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said, and I understand why some of the new resources that she has announced are directed at particular types of intervention and particular groups of patients, but does she agree that one of the downsides of such an approach, at least potentially, is the extra administration that will obstruct dentists in the effective delivery of that resource? Will she therefore ensure that the funds are easily accessible, and that there is no such extra administration that would make that more difficult? Does she accept that longevity and consistency of funding matters, because it enables dentists to plan properly for their patients?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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My ethos is to make our NHS and social care system faster, simpler and fairer, and not just for patients but for practitioners. We do not want bureaucracy to get in the way of the delivery of these services, and I am impatiently keen to get them up and running in Members’ constituencies, so we will ensure that we make it is easy as possible for dental practices to use them.

Alistair Strathern Portrait Alistair Strathern (Mid Bedfordshire) (Lab)
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I am sure that fellow former teachers who are here today will have memories of the disappointment they felt when, after repeated delays and excuses, a student finally handed in some work, only for it to turn out to be not just a copy of someone else’s work, but a pretty poor one at that. After so much delay and uncertainty, dentistry is at breaking point, so any progress, however late, has to be welcomed. But every local professional network I have met has stressed the need for fundamental reform of the dental contract so that things can get done. Given that this Tory Government have been in place for 14 years, why will the Minister not commit herself to finally reforming the contract and providing the boost to dentistry that my constituents so desperately want to see?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I think it is very courageous of any Labour Member of Parliament to talk about education, because we know just how dire the education results are in Labour-run Wales. Yes, I have committed to reform of the dental contract, and we will deliver these services immediately because we want to deliver results for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents as well as ours.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for securing this vital plan, and I also thank her team for their ongoing engagement in what has been a difficult issue in my constituency since long before the pandemic. I cannot wait to see a dental van in South Molton and Ilfracombe, and to welcome new dentists to Barnstaple, Braunton and beyond. However, I recognise that this will take time. We have recruitment challenges despite our staggeringly beautiful surf beaches, which extend far beyond my right hon. Friend’s Department. Given her success in securing today’s announcement, might she be able to help me to promote these new dentistry opportunities to attract those who may not have previously considered spectacular, if remote, North Devon to be their future?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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My hon. Friend is exactly right. She is a wonderful constituency Member who speaks up for her constituents, and I can assure them that she has been talking to me since the moment I was appointed. As for advertising the new services, this is an opportunity for Members across the House—and I do hope that Opposition Members will be gracious—to ensure that their constituents are aware of them. We all want the best for our constituents, and the more we encourage local dentists to take up the new patient premiums and units of dental activity as well as the golden hellos, the sooner we will all see benefits in our constituencies.

Imran Hussain Portrait Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
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For nearly a decade, I have stood in this Chamber and told numerous Ministers that there is more chance of finding gold bricks on the streets of Bradford than there is of getting an NHS dentist when you need one. For 14 years, Ministers have made a political choice to ignore our calls, but now, in a general election year, the Government suddenly want to take part of Labour’s plan and present it as their own—frankly, it is shameless. Will the Minister at least accept that unless there is proper reform, our NHS dentistry will remain rotten to the core?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Again, we have heard a very loud performance from the hon. Gentleman—a typically loud performance. If only it had been as factual as it was loud. I have already set out, in response to the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), the difference between Labour’s plan and our fully funded plan to secure immediate and long-term changes. After 14 years of opposition, is this it?

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)
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As the Health Secretary will recall, we met recently to discuss dentistry in Bracknell, so I really welcome the plan that she has announced today. Will she please confirm, for the sake of absolute clarity, that a cornerstone of the recovery plan will be quicker and easier access to NHS dentists, and also that they will be properly incentivised to absorb all the patients who need support?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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Indeed, and it was a pleasure to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the issues facing his constituents. I hope he recognises that we will have those aims very much in mind in the delivery of the recovery plan. We will begin to see the roll-out of those 2.5 million more appointments in the coming weeks as the new patient premium takes hold.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
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Last month, Healthwatch Leeds submitted evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee—testimonies from people at the sharp end of the NHS crisis. One said:

“I am really struggling to find an NHS dentist that is accepting new patients at the moment. I am an apprentice and get paid minimum wage and cannot afford a private dentist.”

Others spoke of the way in which, according to Healthwatch Leeds,

“having no access to treatment is impacting on their general well-being and mental health.”

One of them said:

“ I just don’t know what to do, who to turn to, how to get help. I just want to be able to smile again”.

Is it not the case that this Government’s plan is too little too late, and that the queues snaking around dentists’ surgeries are testimony to the failure of 14 years of Conservative government and a deliberate undermining of our valuable public services?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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The hon. Gentleman has quoted Healthwatch. I presume that he will also be gracious enough to acknowledge that the move to introduce 15 dental vans has, in fact, been welcomed by Healthwatch.

Bob Seely Portrait Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) (Con)
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We need more NHS dentistry on the Isle of Wight. I welcome this recovery plan, but can the Secretary of State tell me by when my constituents will see its benefits?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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By 1 March, because that is when the new patient premium comes into force. Other aspects will take a little longer, but we are clear about the immediate benefits, and we want to get those out to people as quickly as possible.

Richard Foord Portrait Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) (LD)
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In Devon and Cornwall last year, 57% of dental surgeries had at least one vacancy. Before 2016, more than 500 dentists registered in the UK had trained in European countries, and they made up a quarter of the workforce. Will the Secretary of State heed the call from the Association of Dental Groups for it to be made easier for qualified European dentists to practise here in the UK?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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That is exactly what we are doing, and not just in relation to other European nations but in relation to other countries around the world. We want the General Dental Council to ensure that qualified dentists from overseas are recognised and supported, and get on to our registers as quickly as possible.

Julian Sturdy Portrait Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con)
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Like many others, I very much welcome the recovery plan, and I thank the Secretary of State for meeting me earlier to discuss the issues that we face in York. However, may I press her on the subject of integrated care boards? Will she ensure that they are held to account? Will they face increased monitoring to ensure that they spend the allocated money on dentistry and on the target areas in the recovery plan, and will that money remain ringfenced?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I well understand why my hon. Friend has asked that question, about a matter that other Members have also raised. We are exploring ways in which we can make the expenditure of the dentistry budget more transparent, because it is right for ICBs to reflect the needs of local residents and deliver the services that should be available under this dental recovery plan.

Tom Hunt Portrait Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)
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I very much welcome these interventions, particularly as I raised a question just a few weeks ago in Prime Minister’s questions about the time period. I am particularly pleased about that. On international dentists, I completely agree with what many colleagues have said. I have a close friend whose husband is Mexican and fully qualified as a dentist. The period between him getting the right to be in the UK and becoming a dentist in the UK is two or three years—it is far too long and there is far too much bureaucracy. I appreciate the announcement on therapists. We have 24 new ones on the new course in Suffolk, but 400 applied so I think there is room for even more therapists to play a key role. Can we also make sure that the consultation period is rapid? This is a common-sense policy and I think we should just get on with it. Finally, will the Secretary of State visit Ipswich to see the new dental centre and hear the case we are making for a dental school? We are the obvious place in the east of England, now that we have a dental centre.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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My hon. Friend will appreciate that I get a lot of invitations, but I will do everything I can to meet him. His passion and ambition for his local area shine through, and not just in the question he asks today but in the question he asked the Prime Minister a few weeks ago. He is absolutely right: we need the General Dental Council to work with us—I think it will—to ensure that we can get more international dentists registered as quickly as possible, for the benefit of our constituents.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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I welcome what the Secretary of State has said today. I also pay tribute to the ICB in Cheshire for the work that it has done to make additional appointments available in Warrington, where it has been incredibly difficult to access NHS dentistry despite there being many dentists on the high street, because so many have decided to move away from the NHS. Can she explain how the changes announced today will incentivise dentists to return to providing NHS services, so that constituents in Warrington South can get the NHS appointments they want?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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As I have said, dentists are independent contractors but we want to encourage them back into the NHS if they have left it, and we believe that the new patient premium and the work on the UDA are just two of the levers that we can deploy to achieve that. We also have a longer-term vision for our NHS, and through the long-term workforce plan we will be training 40% more dentists by 2031. That is real ambition and a plan for the long-term future of our country.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth (Southend West) (Con)
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I completely welcome this plan, and particularly my right hon. Friend’s focus on underserved areas and coastal communities. This is something I have raised before in the Chamber. Southend is a coastal city with over 180,000 residents but only three dentists currently accepting NHS patients, so we qualify on both counts. Please could she confirm for Southend and Leigh residents that we will also get either a van or better dental care, preferably within months, not years?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that those dental surgeries already operating under NHS contracts will have the benefit of new patient premiums and the increased rate of UDA. On the dental van, she will appreciate that we are having to apply strict criteria to this, but I am delighted to see how enthusiastic she is about this recovery plan.

Holly Mumby-Croft Portrait Holly Mumby-Croft (Scunthorpe) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for this really welcome plan. Can she give any advice to patients who are registered with an NHS dentist but have not been seen in the last two years? Should they contact the dentist if they want an appointment or should they wait to be contacted? For those who are not registered, where will they find a list of dentists that they can contact to register their interest in becoming a patient?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I thank my hon. Friend and fellow greater Lincolnshire MP for her question. In terms of the mechanics of this being delivered, the new patient premiums will come into force and patients can already look at the NHS website to see which practices have places available in their area. They can go there; they do not need to have had an existing relationship with that dental practice. We will also be setting out for constituents and Members of Parliament how, once the new premium comes in, people can get in contact and get the appointments we all want them to get.