Medicinal Cannabis: Economic Contribution

Debate between Ronnie Cowan and Will Quince
Thursday 20th April 2023

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Will Quince Portrait The Minister for Health and Secondary Care (Will Quince)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) on securing this important debate, which would be considerably better attended if it was held on any other day, because I know from my inbox and from speaking to Members from across the House that there is considerable interest in this issue.

Although this is the first debate on this important topic that I have responded to as a Health Minister, I know that the House has debated medicinal cannabis at great length in the past, in good, constructive debates. I appreciate the depth of passion that hon. and right hon. Members from across the House have on this issue. I recently met members of the all-party parliamentary group for access to medical cannabis under prescription and, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), I visited one of Jazz Pharmaceuticals’s sites to learn more about the industry, the applications of its products—the medicines—and the challenges that it faces. I also learned about the huge opportunities for not just UK life sciences and UK plc, but, importantly, our NHS and patients.

I note that the interest from my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale is largely a constituency one; he talked about Hilltop Leaf. He has long championed investment in Scotland, particularly in rural and remote areas, where it has sometimes been a challenge in the past to attract certain high-skilled jobs. This issue is an example of that—and here, the investment would be accompanied by research capability. My right hon. Friend has eloquently and articulately made his case. I am very much alive to the fact that this is a complex issue, and complex issues rarely have simple solutions. I will try to respond to as many of the points that he and other hon. Members have made in the available time, which is reasonably substantial—in a Westminster Hall debate, it is rare to have more than seven or eight minutes in which to respond.

As my right hon. Friend pointed out, this issue crosses multiple Departments—the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Business and Trade and, vitally, the Home Office, which has been alluded to, and NHS England. There was mention of the calls to grow the UK CBD industry, and hemp farmers’ harvests. I am straying somewhat out of my health remit for a moment to polish off some of these points, in so far as I have the bandwidth to do so. I understand that the Home Office has no plans to permit cannabis cultivation without a licence—my right hon. Friend pointed to the licensing programme and the challenges thereto—or to remove the distinction between the industrial hemp regime and the standard cannabis cultivation regime. I cannot say anything more specific on that. As I hope my right hon. Friend will agree, it is well outside my area of knowledge and expertise, and my brief. However, I do understand, having done some rudimentary research and obviously from my conversations with Jazz Pharmaceuticals, that this relates to plants being grown outside versus inside, and the use of leaves and flowers specifically.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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If the Minister is struggling to understand, I am more than happy to give him a copy of the report by the all-party parliamentary group on industrial hemp and CBD products called “A Plan for a Legal and Regulated UK Hemp and Cannabis Sector”.

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I thank the hon. Member for that; I will gladly take a copy on the way out. I hope he will excuse the fact that I am not an expert in this field, but I will happily take that report as my weekend reading and read up on the subject. I certainly agree to take this up with my counterpart in the Home Office, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale requested, and I am sure he will, too. I will especially take away my right hon. Friend’s important points on licensing, and on how the Government can support companies that want to invest in the UK, or that are here and want to diversify their agricultural business, and want to get the licences required to grow these products.

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his intervention. I think we are probably in violent agreement on this point. I cannot specifically speak to regulation or licensing from a Home Office perspective. We are talking about a controlled drug; that may come as a disappointment to the hon. Member for Inverclyde, but it is—and is likely to remain, I hasten to add—a controlled drug. I will turn later to regulation from the perspective of the Department of Health and Social Care, but it is really important that there be consistency and coherence, and that we treat these products as we would any other medicinal product. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale makes his point well, and I will raise it with Home Office colleagues.

More broadly on growing a UK CBD industry, I am of course aware of the growing consumer CBD wellness market. One only has to walk down any high street to see CBD products advertised in windows, and indeed in major supermarkets. DEFRA, which I did not mention, and the Food Standards Agency are taking action to regulate this side of the market. Importantly, that will protect consumers by ensuring that only safe, high-quality products are placed on the market. That is vital. Consumers will also be protected against misleading health claims. I was recently told about CBD products that come in aluminium cans, but in fact the CBD remains on the aluminium and is not contained in the product. That is just one example. This is a very complex area that I do not want to delve too much into, as it is very much a DEFRA and Food Standards Agency lead.

The Food Standards Agency is working closely with the Home Office on how CBD products are regulated, considering their composition and the possible presence of a controlled substance. This is very much a live issue, and I am told that the Home Office has sought the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. I understand that the Government intend to respond to the ACMD recommendations on this matter shortly.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright) both raised a point about regulatory barriers. Not that this reminder is needed, but it is perhaps helpful if I remind the House that cannabis- based medicines are controlled drugs and are therefore regulated by the Home Office, which is responsible for all controlled drug regulation legislation. Then there is the controlled drugs licensing regime, which supports cultivation, research and, where the issue crosses over into the health sphere, clinical trials in the UK. This licensing regime enables the possession, supply, production and import and export of those controlled drugs to support industry, pharmaceutical research and healthcare. However, more and more these products are being grown in the UK, including Jazz Pharmaceuticals, for use in research.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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This time, when the ACMD makes recommendations to the Government, will the Government acknowledge and accept them? They have knocked back its recommendations a couple of times in the past, most recently over nitrous oxide.

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Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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The hon. Member tempts me—it is always tempting—to respond on behalf of another Government Department and Minister. I mentioned that because it is my understanding that the Government intend to respond to the report and the recommendations. I am not the responsible Minister, so it would not be appropriate to comment, but I will gladly point the hon. Member in the direction of the Home Office Minister who will have responsibility for responding, and will ensure that he has the opportunity to have a conversation with them.

The point I was making is that the overall legislative framework on illicit drugs seeks to control harmful substances while enabling appropriate access to those drugs for legitimate medicinal research and, in exceptional cases, for industrial purposes. The example I touched on is Jazz Pharmaceuticals, which—I do not believe this is a secret—is providing a product for clinical trials here in the United Kingdom. That is something that I think we all welcome. I know that the legislation has recently been reviewed by the independent ACMD, which concluded that no legislative amendments are currently required, as there is not yet sufficient evidence that the law needs amending.

Turning to a key point of the debate—cannabis for medicinal use, which falls firmly within my sphere of influence—I am hugely moved by so many of the cases that I have heard about, and I will come back to the specific cases that right hon. and hon. Members have raised today. These are really difficult, because my overriding priority as a Health Minister must always be to ensure that patients have access to medicines that are proven to be safe and effective. That is the biggest challenge, and it is why I am committed—the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) rightly challenged me on this—to galvanising research in this area; that is key to unlocking so much of this debate.

The prospect of a future in which more licensed— I put the emphasis on “licensed”—cannabis-based products that are proven to be safe and effective can be prescribed on our NHS to help relieve suffering is genuinely exciting. That is where I desperately want us to get to as quickly as possible, but herein lies the problem. There are clinical concerns, which, having spoken to clinicians, I share, about the limited evidence on the safety and efficacy of unlicensed cannabis-based products. Only in a few cases have enough clinical trials been done to prove scientifically that the drug is safe and effective. However—I want to labour this point—progress is being made.

Let me turn to the cases of Sophia and Alfie, which were raised by the hon. Member for Strangford and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam. I have two young children and am deeply moved by these stories. The debate around medicinal cannabis often centres on children with difficult-to-treat epilepsy, for whom I think the law was changed under my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), when prescribing was made legal in November 2018. Of course, as right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out, that was to enable those children to access a product that their families believed would ease the symptoms of their desperately difficult-to-treat conditions, if a prescriber deemed it clinically appropriate.

I know acutely, because I have spoken to campaigners and members of the all-party parliamentary group, that there is disappointment that the law change did not relate to routinely being able to get these products, funded, on the NHS; that is rightly governed by a range of processes and procedures, to ensure the equitable distribution of funding. The NHS prioritises medicines that have proven their safety, quality, efficacy and cost effectiveness. Coming back to the heart of the issue—the hon. Member for Bristol South is right to push me on this—that is why research is absolutely essential, and I will talk about that a bit more in a moment. The Government have done all we can to remove legislative barriers, but it is now largely up to the cannabis industry to prove that its products are safe and effective for children.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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What you are saying is that if I can afford to pay for a private prescription, I can access medicine that you are saying is not proven to be effective, because you are not going to allow its use on the NHS; it has to pass other tests. What about bedrocan? That is manufactured in the United Kingdom, so we do not have to import cannabis from the Netherlands anymore. Hilltop Leaf wants to grow and help to produce the product. The supply chain is already there for us, but you will not allow it to be prescribed. You will not train GPs, and you will not give them the legal framework to work in so that they can actually prescribe that for children on the NHS, but if I can afford to buy it privately, I can buy it privately.

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point, but he raises it as if this is something new or novel; it is not. All medicines in this country are either unlicensed or licensed. For use and prescription in the NHS, they need to be licensed. That means that they have gone through both the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency process and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence process, which proves that they are safe, effective and—through the NICE element—cost effective. That is the difference here.

The “cost effective” factor relates to NICE. That is the reason I talk about why it is important that the cannabis industry steps up and proves that its products are safe and effective. I did not talk about cost effective; I am talking about safe and effective, because that element is through the MHRA. Let us not forget that many of these cannabis-based companies are multinational; they are not telling me that they cannot afford to go through the same process that any other pharmaceutical company can go through and has done to get their products prescribed through the NHS. Part of it is research and part of it is those companies stepping up and proving that their products are safe and effective for these children, more generally, through the MHRA process.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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I am curious. What we have done is—

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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The Minister is saying that he is allowing a licence for a product to be manufactured in the United Kingdom, in East Kilbride, so that is okay. We are allowing it to be manufactured here in the United Kingdom—that is all right. We are saying that people cannot get it on the NHS, but it is okay for other people to have it. Surely it has passed all the tests that we need it to.

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I do not want to labour the point, but the point is that it has not passed those tests. It is either a licensed product or an unlicensed product. To be licensed, a product must go through the MHRA process. That is something that these products have not done to date. Yes, they can be manufactured here and prescribed privately, at the risk of the doctor—the private general practitioner—but for a product to be prescribed on the NHS, it needs MHRA and NICE approval.

There are some exceptions to that, because the law was changed in 2018, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam referred to, for a specialist doctor or for some very specific conditions. He asked why there have been only three prescriptions. I did not know that that was the exact figure, but I will check; regardless, it sounds very low. I suspect that the reason is that the decisions are taken at the doctor’s own risk, and among general practitioners there is reticence to prescribe an unlicensed product that has not gone through the MHRA and NICE process.

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Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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Thank you, Mr Stringer. My right hon. and learned Friend makes a good point. When we meet the members of the APPG, it is very hard not to be moved and to want to do all in our power to bring about the change that people want to see. I have considered the calls to change NICE guidelines, which have recently reviewed the basis of these products, but I am afraid the guidelines are unlikely to change until the evidence base develops, and that will happen through clinical trials and evidence. That is why I say all roads lead back to building an evidence base and a clinical trials base. That is the crux of this debate.

In January, the National Institute for Health and Care Research issued guidance recommending that the NHS prescribe cannabidiol to patients with a rare, seizure-causing genetic disorder, which is, I think, the fifth condition for which a cannabis-based treatment has been approved by regulators and offered to NHS patients in England. I understand that the treatment is also available and approved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The NHS now funds thousands of these medicines each year.

I mentioned Jazz Pharmaceuticals earlier. I am not sponsored by it; it just happens to be the manufacturer and provider that I visited. It is a good example of the trailblazers in this space that not only create, but undertake the research, manufacturing and—the key part—licensing of cannabis-based medicines. It has shown what can be done. The key is very much in the research.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale mentioned consistency and coherence in policy, which is why it is key that we treat cannabis-based products as we would any other medicinal product that we wanted to prescribe on our NHS. There is an economic case as well, although that is not what drives the Government. My whole focus in this is what is right for our NHS and patients. I am aware that there is huge hope and patient demand for access to medicinal cannabis, and that it is claimed that it can help with an array of medical conditions from chronic pain to anxiety; I believe there is also research under way at the moment on how cannabis-based products might be able to help with psychosis. I very much hope that those trials are successful. That is the right approach.

To date, much of the evidence suggesting cannabis could be an effective medical treatment is anecdotal or observational. As I mentioned earlier, only for a handful of conditions have enough clinical trials been done to prove scientifically that the drug is safe and effective. However, I am acutely aware that there are thousands of patients who now pay to access those unlicensed products on private prescriptions. Having spoken with campaigners and members of the APPG, I also know that some patients believe that funding cannabis on the NHS will reduce overall healthcare costs by alleviating symptoms and reducing the extent of hospital visits and other treatments. I understand and hear that case, but—I apologise for labouring the point; I have to keep coming back to it—before any new medicine can be proven to be cost effective, it must be proven to be safe and clinically effective. That is why research is so essential.

The Labour Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Bristol South, asked what steps we are taking. That is a challenging question, because it is a pioneering area of research. Following collaborative work with clinicians and patient representatives, the NIHR and NHS England have confirmed support for two clinical trials into early onset and genetic generalised epilepsy. If you will permit me, Mr Stringer, I would love to use this debate to highlight a tender opportunity that will be launched by University College London in the next few weeks. UCL is seeking a supplier to assist in a world-first randomised control trial comparing cannabis-based medicines containing CBD and THC in the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsies in adults and children. I hope that that tender process is successful and that UCL finds a commercial partner to supply products for the trials so that they can commence as soon as possible.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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I have three kids and two grandkids. If one of them was suffering from intractable epilepsy and I had them on bedrocan, and they were either seizure-free or had the condition under control, I would not want to hand them over to a random control test where they might be fed a placebo and therefore incur more damage. Would the Minister?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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That is a difficult question to answer. We need people to take part in clinical trials, which are the answer to so many of the challenges that we face in the health sphere. That is how we build the evidence base. I do not know what the study will involve in terms of the detail and the potential for a placebo, but I will put the hon. Gentleman in touch with UCL and those who are looking to run the trial so that they can give him a measure of comfort and reassurance. On his point more generally, the biggest risk is that the industry does not engage with the tender process. Notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman’s point, I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members here today will help me by amplifying my call for the cannabis industry to come forward and engage with this pioneering and world-first research. I have also committed to a roundtable with the all-party parliamentary group, and I invite all right hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber today to attend that, too, because it is very important that we hear all of the issues.

Once again, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale for securing this really important debate. I look forward to engaging with him and Members from all parties. To the point made by the hon. Member for Bristol South, I am absolutely committed to better determine why the cannabis industry is not, in the way that so many other pharmaceutical companies do, investing in the routine research required to prove that its products are safe and effective. I will of course explore how best to engage with industry on the issue. Until then, I implore companies to explore supplying their products to the UCL clinical trials. As I have said, they will be a world first and will give us the evidence that we need to determine whether the products should be funded in the NHS. I wish them every success. I genuinely hope that they provide that evidence base.

On the matters concerning the cultivation and licensing of cannabis and cannabis-based products, I will, as I promised my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, raise that with my counterpart, the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, who I know will champion this cause, too. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions to this afternoon’s debate.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Ronnie Cowan and Will Quince
Monday 28th June 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP) [V]
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Always a pleasure, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister exempt the £500 Scottish Government covid-19 payment to health and social care employees resident in Scotland from the Department’s calculation for the payment of universal credit?

Will Quince Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Will Quince)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I believe that I have written to him—if I have not written to him, I know that I have written to a number of his colleagues on this matter. We do owe a huge debt of gratitude to health and social care workers for the work that they have done over the course of the pandemic. This is not as simple as he suggests. We follow exactly the same treatment of moneys coming into universal credit as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs does and, as a result, that is very difficult to do, which is why we will not be doing it.

Universal Basic Income

Debate between Ronnie Cowan and Will Quince
Tuesday 13th October 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Will Quince Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Will Quince)
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I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for this important debate, and all Members who contributed. I will try to address as many of the points that they raised in the time that I have.

This issue ignites passionate debate in many quarters, and I am grateful to be able to come to the House and make the Government’s position crystal clear. Throughout the pandemic, people have faced significant challenges. Many have sadly lost their job or have seen their income reduce. During these challenging times, my priority as Minister with responsibility for welfare delivery remains ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society receive the support and financial assistance that is available to them.

Thankfully, universal credit and the Government’s £9.3 billion investment in the welfare safety net has been there to catch those most affected. It has been vital to the 3 million people who have made a benefit claim since March. We have paid more than 90% of claims in full and on time, and we have got support to millions of families at an incredibly difficult period. We have targeted support, which gets to the people who need it most while maintaining responsible economic policies.

Despite the success of universal credit, some still attempt to deride the system and instead demand what they call a universal basic income, or UBI. The concept, as has been explained today, is that a standard monthly allowance is paid to all working-age adults, regardless of their circumstances. At first glance, it may appear appealingly simple, but in reality it would be a costly mess that would leave the vulnerable in society far worse off. It would disincentivise work in key industries and leave the country’s finances in ruins.

On the flip side, the universal credit system has proven that it is up to the challenge. Replacing universal credit, at potentially astronomical cost, would be of little benefit to anyone, not least those who rely on our welfare safety net the most.

I hope that my clear arguments against UBI, which I will set out today, will make it clear that the Government have no plans to adopt this policy, and for good reasons. It is not in the interests of the taxpayer or of those who rely on our welfare safety net. Rather than continuing to push the unrealistic and damaging idea of a UBI, its supporters would do well to look at the welfare safety net that we already have.

In the short time that I have left, I intend to cover three areas, if possible: cost, delivery and impact. First, I turn to cost. A 2018 report by the CSJ found that giving everyone over the age of 16 in the UK £10,000 a year would cost £500 billion. Despite those staggering sums being paid out, a UBI would be likely to leave the most vulnerable in society worse off. As soon as we think about the people who need more support from the state, the supposedly simple idea of UBI quickly starts to unravel.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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Is that £500 billion gross or net?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman about the CSJ report, because I do not have it to hand.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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That is the gross figure.

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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The point I am making is that when we even begin to think about introducing a UBI, we see that not only would the cost be astronomical, but the Government would have to increase taxation mercilessly; that is borne out in the feasibility report by the Scottish Parliament’s own commission. Indeed, there would be increased taxation far beyond anything seen in the United Kingdom before. We would be taking thousands of pounds in taxation from hard-working people, often simply to shuffle money around in what could be a costly farce of bureaucracy, before paying it back to people in monthly UBI payments. That would be a decadence of expenditure and a blow to productivity that we can little afford in the throes of one of the most severe economic situations that we have faced.

I turn now to delivery. UBI is indeed a fantasy, in which the practicalities are rarely thought through, and if we interrogate the idea even slightly, it very quickly unravels. Delivering infrastructure schemes of this size is not easy. For all its detractors, who have been proven badly wrong in the face of the pandemic, universal credit is one of the most advanced welfare systems in the world. As with any complex IT system that delivers sweeping reform, it has taken time to implement and it has not been without challenge.

In 2017, the Work and Pensions Committee found that any UBI that attempted to support people’s additional needs would not reduce complexity, and that ultimately it was difficult to see how a UBI would substantially alleviate poverty or provide income security.

As the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) rightly pointed out, other countries have already tested UBI and quickly found that the practice is as bad as the theory. As the hon. Gentleman also pointed out, a UBI test in Finland was abandoned as a flop after two years, with the Finnish Finance Minister saying that the case was closed for UBI. Importantly—

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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rose—

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I have given way once already; if I can give way again at the end, I will.

As I was saying, the Finnish Finance Minister concluded that there must be conditionality—that is the important point—in the social security system.

This Government have done brilliant work through the pandemic to stand up and bolster services, and to get money to those who need it in all four nations of our United Kingdom. We have supported more than 9 million people through the coronavirus job retention scheme and we have accepted more than 3 million new claims for universal credit. The universal credit system has proven that it is up to the challenge, and replacing it at potentially astronomical cost would provide little benefit to anyone, not least those who rely most on our welfare safety net.

Finally, I want to discuss impact, which is the fundamental case against UBI. The welfare system is a safety net and should be there for those who need it. Unlike universal credit, UBI does not target support at those in greater need or take into account additional costs faced by many individuals, such as those with disabilities or those with childcare responsibilities. To put things into some kind of perspective, UBI would be paid, as the hon. Member for Inverclyde pointed out, to me and all the other Members in the Chamber today and across Parliament. I would much rather that it be spent on supporting those who need it. To claim, as the hon. Gentleman did, that that would simply be taken back in tax is not a valid argument, as I have set out, because that is simply shuffling money around.

The OECD has also been clear about the broader consequences. For most high-income countries, a UBI could increase poverty and negatively affect the poorest, with middle-income households most likely to gain. That is all before we start discussing real outcomes. Evidence suggests that UBI provides a disincentive to employment, and in the Finnish trial the Government have acknowledged—I repeat this, because it is important—the need for conditionality.

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I hear the call that he and other Members across the Chamber make for a UBI pilot, but in rebuttal I say, “Show me the international evidence.” The hon. Member for Inverclyde made reference to numerous pilots that have taken place all over the world, so why does he not demonstrate what he argues for by showing what impact they had, and then showing the evidence of how those countries have gone on to implement UBI?

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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rose—

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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I will gladly meet the hon. Gentleman at some point in the future and look at that in further detail—but why have those countries not progressed? On the issue of the pilot, not only do we think that the concept is deeply flawed, but it is certainly not currently operable.

The Government remain wholly unconvinced of the case for UBI. We have taken steps to address the financial implications of the pandemic, and that has been possible only against the backdrop of a welfare system that has been technically capable of meeting the challenge of hugely increased demand, and that targets appropriate support for those who need it most. More than 1 million people who needed to access UC quickly have been able to receive funds within 72 hours and more than 90% of all claims have been paid in full and on time. That is a record of which I am proud. The pandemic has shown that universal credit is the right approach for the United Kingdom. It simplifies the benefits system, promotes and incentivises work, and provides targeted support to those who are most in need, in a way that is affordable to the taxpayer—challenges that UBI simply does not and cannot meet.

Universal Credit: Court of Appeal Judgment

Debate between Ronnie Cowan and Will Quince
Thursday 25th June 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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It is something I am exploring as I look at our different options. My hon. Friend is an experienced member of the Select Committee, and I am happy to work with him and to hear his ideas. It is important to stress that for the majority of the circa 5 million claimants, the date of their assessment period works well. Changing assessment periods to align with pay dates is problematic. Nevertheless, everything is on the table, and I am looking at all options. The court judgment was very recent—only on Monday—so I hope that the House will give me the time and space to look at this in the granularity of detail that it requires.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP) [V]
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This is, in truth, just the latest failing in a pernicious and punitive welfare system. When Beveridge wrote his famous report in 1943, he said:

“A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching.”

As we attempt to enter a post covid-19 world, will the UK Government give their support to the Scottish Government and ensure collaboration from HMRC and DWP as we seek to run basic income pilots in Scotland?

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
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At the heart of this problem is an interaction between employers and HMRC. If more employers followed the very clear and beefed-up guidance from HMRC, there would be far fewer people affected. That is why we are beefing up our work with HMRC colleagues and counterparts, to ensure that the guidance is absolutely clear. If employers follow it and report the correct dates, this issue simply will not occur.