Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): The Prime Minister mentioned that Members of Parliament should be involved and I think the report mentioned it, too. When I first came to this place more than 20 years ago, I was stuck on a Committee called the parliamentary Select Committee for the ombudsman, who has the

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power of a High Court judge. We used to look at health service cases very regularly and bring the board members and chief executive in front of us. Why was the ombudsman not involved in this case?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about how things have changed, and perhaps we should look at that. As Members of Parliament take an interest in this, let me read what the report says on page 47. It is not good news, I am afraid:

“Local MPs received feedback and concerns about the Trust. However, these were largely just passed on to others without follow up or analysis of their cumulative implications. MPs are accountable to their electorate, but they are not necessarily experts in healthcare and are certainly not regulators. They might wish to consider how to increase their sensitivity with regard to the detection of local problems in healthcare.”

I join others in pleading guilty: sometimes we can be too defensive of our local institutions, and sometimes we need to dig deeper into particular issues and complaints. It is important, as I have said, that everyone considers the report, and that is one for all of us.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): As part of the Government’s response to the report, may I urge the Prime Minister to look at the use of compromise agreements and gagging clauses when NHS managers leave the organisation?

The Prime Minister: I certainly think Health Ministers should look at what my hon. Friend says. One of the outcomes should be a discussion about what sort of contracts are appropriate for board members, both for their service in the NHS and if anything goes wrong.

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): I would like to speak from my recent experience of being a chief exec of a children’s hospice. The CQC is a very good organisation, but in my own area, each officer is responsible for up to 40 organisations, so the attention they can give each one is not that much. I was pleased that the leaders of both parties have said that they would support more funding for the CQC and support strengthening it.

All nurses have to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which is a disciplinary body, but it can take up to 18 months for the disciplinary process to go through. The NMC is the investigator, the judge and the jury. I am supportive of the Royal College of Nursing, which genuinely seems to be trying to help and support its nursing staff to give better care. It is prioritising care but, again, it is under-resourced.

To try to end on a positive, I urge the Prime Minister to look at examples of good practice. Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust has an exemplary service of putting patients first. It has 12,000 members who select a governing body, and the board is responsible to that governing body. It seems that one of the problems with Mid Staffordshire was that the public were not right at the heart of the organisation.

The Prime Minister: I am sure the hon. Lady is right, and I agree that there are many examples of excellent practice, not only in health care and patient care but in responding to complaints and involving the local public; I see that across the country.

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I have just read out what the report says about MPs, and this is what it says about the Royal College of Nursing:

“At Stafford, the RCN was ineffective both as a professional representative organisation and as a trade union. Little was done to uphold professional standards among nursing staff or to address concerns and problems being faced by its members.”

That is uncomfortable for the RCN to read, just as it is uncomfortable for us to read what it says about MPs, but it must be acted on. Likewise, the Care Quality Commission is improving, but more work needs to be done. Francis is pretty excoriating, and says on page 931 of volume 2:

“The CQC has an unhealthy culture, in which senior managers are more concerned about public image than delivery, which is hostile to internal and external criticism, and in which staff feel under pressure and unsupported.”

There is real work to be done in all these organisations to get this right.

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): “Systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” That is T. S. Eliot, but it is a slightly pithier version of many recommendations in the Francis report. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is a tragedy that it has taken a tragedy to produce the report? My dad, as president of the British Orthopaedic Association in 2006, gave a lecture entitled “A New Professionalism” to reflect the alarm of clinicians at the changing culture in the 2000s, with a burgeoning management system and management priorities, tick boxes and targets taking precedence over clinical priorities. The Prime Minister has acknowledged that systems cannot replace professionalism, but will he listen to current professionals, who say that professionalism, which is what keeps the NHS afloat, is being eroded by things such as the working time directive?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend packed a lot into her question, but I agree that we need greater clinical leadership across the system. When we look at Francis carefully, what he is saying is that things such as targets and better financial management were important. We cannot have an organisation such as a hospital, which is a multi-million-pound organisation with thousands of staff, without proper management, proper finances and the rest of it. We have to make sure that there is proper clinical leadership, and that the focus is on care and quality, as her father said.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree that what happened at Mid Staffs was not just a failure of regulation but a failure of basic humanity? Apart from a few whistleblowers, ward sisters, nurses, doctors and consultants must have seen what was happening on those wards day after day, and did nothing, although their professional duty obliged them to speak up for their patients. Will he therefore look at any issues that need to be addressed in the regulatory bodies to enable such failures among staff to be tackled, because people who do that should not be working in the NHS?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady speaks for everyone in saying that, which is why all these organisations, including the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the Royal College of Nursing and the General Medical Council have to think about taking action when behaviour is not

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appropriate or professional codes are seriously breached. People should be struck off and should not be able to work again.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): Page 1312 of volume 2 of the report describes a meeting that took place on 14 May 2008 between the chair of the Healthcare Commission investigation, Sir Ian Kennedy, and Sir David Nicolson before the investigation reported. In that meeting, the report states that Sir David Nicholson said that a local campaign group against Mid Staffordshire had been in existence for some time. He added:

“Clearly patients needed to express their views but he hoped the Healthcare Commission would remain alive to something which was simply lobbying or a campaign as”


“to widespread concern.”

I find those comments from the head of the NHS at the time utterly unacceptable. Does my right hon. Friend agree, and will he investigate Sir David Nicholson’s comments?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. We should be clear, however, that David Nicholson has apologised publicly and repeatedly for the failure of the strategic health authority of which he was in charge for some important months during this whole approach.

The report makes it clear that we should not try to seek individual scapegoats, and I believe that Sir Robert Francis said this morning that too often that is what happens after a report is published: find someone to take responsibility, fire them out the barrel of the gun, then the job is done. That is not the case: in my view, David Nicholson has a deep affection for our national health service, does a good job on the NHS Commissioning Board, and he has thoroughly apologised and recognised his responsibilities for what went wrong in Stafford. The trust board was overwhelmingly responsible. Clearly all the other organisations, including the strategic health authority, need to learn the lessons, and I think that Sir David Nicholson has done so.

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Speaking as a former care worker and president of Unison, which is the biggest trade union representing people in health and social care, I am convinced that members of that union and other health workers will welcome the commitment today on developing a culture of zero harm and quality care as the priority, and they will not be frightened of a new inspections regime. However, unless we have a system alongside that which makes sure they have time to do the job and spend time with patients, as well as the resources, both physical and financial, to make that work properly, unfortunately we will have this debate again about another situation in a decade’s time?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Clearly, a health service facing growing demands requires growing resources. We are growing those resources, but they are limited, so at the same time we must meet the challenge of increasing productivity and cutting waste in our NHS, which we are doing. I do

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not believe that that should impact on patient care. Every public sector body has to look at how it can become more productive and efficient, but that must not be at the expense of patient care, and that is important for the future.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to all those NHS staff who go to work with great care, compassion and vocation, but will he look in particular at one staff group—health care assistants, who deliver much of the day-to-day personal care in the NHS, yet have relatively poor access to training and development? They have no regulatory body, so if individuals are not acting with care and compassion, they can move on to another institution, and perhaps work unprofessionally there too.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend speaks with great knowledge about the NHS, with her long years of experience as a GP. On health care assistants, the Government have said that Robert Francis’s idea of proper training standards needs to be looked at. I tend to agree with that. The issue of registration is more complicated and potentially more bureaucratic. We will certainly look at it, but I think that needs some close examination.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Hospitals do not exist in isolation. Will Professor Sir Bruce Keogh’s immediate investigation into the care in hospitals with the highest mortality rates look at the role of primary, adult and community care in relation to those mortality rates, and the relationship between them?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I am sure he will do that. These things do not exist in isolation, but I hope we can do such investigations in a more frank way, because we do not want to fall into the culture of complacency or, as Francis says, into seeing the responsibility for quality as lying somewhere else.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): With increasing local clinician influence and with the increasing influence of local councillors and local patients over the commissioning of health services, what is my right hon. Friend’s assessment of how we can increase that culture of care in our local NHS settings?

The Prime Minister: There is everything that Francis says in his report about the importance of quality and a culture change. Under the new dispensation in the NHS and with GPs having a more leading role, I hope they will be very inquiring about the standards of care that their patients get when they go to hospital. In the past there was too much division between primary and secondary care. I hope that we are bringing them closer together.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Reports received by trust directors, governors and others are packed full of data, but in order for people to make sense of that information so that aggregate data in big organisations do not serve to mask problems, rather than shed light on them, do not trusts also have a duty to help people analyse those data?

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The Prime Minister: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is entirely right. That is why the role of chief inspector of hospitals could be so important. There is no shortage of data, as the hon. Gentleman says. Francis says:

“There . . . are a plethora of agencies, scrutiny groups, commissioners, regulators and professional bodies, all of whom might have been expected by patients and the public to detect and do something effective”,

but it did not occur. We need to make sure that there is one single body that has the power, the ability and the judgment to say good practice/bad practice.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): Will the Prime Minister join me in praising the brave staff in the community and in the hospitals in Cornwall who have been speaking out about poor quality patient care, and reassure me and them that the Care Quality Commission will have the resources to make sure that quality care will be delivered in hospitals, in communities and in social care settings throughout the UK?

The Prime Minister: I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to health care professionals in Cornwall. I am particularly grateful to them, as they delivered my daughter two and a half years ago. I am ever grateful for the brilliant service that they performed for me, and it was a very caring environment too. The CQC has the resources it needs. It is a new organisation and has faced many challenges. A big reform of it is under way. Being asked to scrutinise everything from the dentist’s waiting room to the largest hospital in the land is challenging, and we need to work on the organisation and make sure that it can deliver what we need.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I commend the Prime Minister for his words and work on the issue. In the culture that he seeks, it is important that hospital chaplains and chaplaincy networks know what observer standing they might have and how and where they should channel any pastoral concerns or compliments that they have. On his important proposal for the chief inspector of hospitals, can the Prime Minister tell us whether that telling new faculty would be available to the devolved hospital services as well?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the role of chaplains. If those who are closely involved with hospitals see anything going wrong, they should feel a duty to speak out. That could be groups of hospital friends or chaplains. With reference to the devolved Administrations, I expect there are similar issues in terms of culture, which Francis examines, and in terms of complacency and putting patient care above targets, and I am sure that they, too, will want to learn the lessons from the report.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): To tackle the culture of complacency that my right hon. Friend spoke about, will he take this opportunity to give a clear and unequivocal message to the board members of foundation trusts throughout the country that they are accountable for the performance of their hospitals and that if there is persistent poor care, the buck stops with them?

The Prime Minister: I am very happy to do that and to clarify that they are responsible for standards of care, clinical safety and the cleanliness of hospitals, as well as for meeting financial and other targets, and the buck does stop with them.

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Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Thousands of people outside the Chamber will be worried about what is going on in their own local hospital: could the same things be going on there? Part of that problem would be the willingness of NHS staff to make the best of a bad job. Does my right hon. Friend agree that as part of the cultural change, it is important that staff say, “We will not put up with poor standards,” and that as part and parcel of that, board management specifically must enforce the highest standards of patient care?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is lots of fantastic practice in our NHS right across the country, but there are problems. That is why I am so passionate about the friends and family test. I saw this in the hospital in Salford, where people are so proud of the fact that they ask the staff, the patients, everybody, “Would you have your friends and family treated in this hospital?” They put it up on the front of the door of the hospital and it is on every single ward. Of course there is no one magic bullet answer to the whole problem, but if there is a problem in a hospital or on a specific ward, it would be picked up quite quickly if there was that sort of very open and publicly available test.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend assure me that in implementing the recommendations of the report, he will seek to break down the culture of some in the NHS who close ranks to close down complaints, rather than dealing with them in a proper, open and transparent fashion, so that they and the rest of the NHS can learn from any failure that has taken place?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There has been a sense sometimes that when problems occur, there can be a closing of ranks. This clearly happened at Stafford. It is not acceptable and I am sure all hospital trusts will want to learn the lessons from that.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): I welcome the greater focus on care as well as finance in assessing performance that the Prime Minister has outlined. Does he agree that this will be welcomed by clinicians throughout the country, who have fantastic ideas about improving care and getting more from their budgets, but currently cannot get the management to listen to them?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the aims of the reforms is to give greater clinical leadership. With greater clinical leadership, particularly in the commissioning groups, which are the ones tasking the hospitals, there is a much greater chance that what she talks about will happen.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): A legal duty of candour would have ensured that the serious and systemic failures at Mid Staffordshire hospital came to light far earlier and ultimately would have saved many lives. On that topic, what reassurance can my right hon. Friend give to my constituents, Frank and Janet Robinson, who tragically and needlessly lost their only son, John Moore-Robinson, at that hospital?

The Prime Minister: It is right for my hon. Friend to speak out for the victims and to raise a specific case. The Health Ministers here with me today will look

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carefully at the issue of a duty of candour to see whether that would make a difference in the way that we want for this hospital and for others as well.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): One of the clear causes of the tragedy, according to Francis, is a

“failure to appreciate…the…disruptive loss of corporate memory and focus resulting from repeated, multi-level reorganisation.”

What lessons does the Prime Minister draw from this about NHS reorganisations?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. What Francis says is:

“A failure to appreciate until recently the risk of disruptive loss of corporate memory and focus resulting from repeated, multi-level reorganisation.”

He also says, though, that he thinks the changes required

“can largely be implemented within the system that has now been created by the new reforms”,

so I hope we can allow the changes that Francis is talking about to be made within the proposed structure. Everyone—all parties, all Governments—should learn from this report. I hope we can then allow the structure to bed down and to deliver the changes that everybody wants.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): My right hon. Friend’s statement was hard listening for those of us who care about the NHS and respect and value the work of the vast majority of those within it. Changing a culture of targets and a focus on process is an enormous task. Does he agree that one of the ways to improve care is to unlock the innate compassion of those who work in our NHS and our caring professions?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I remember going to the Royal College of Nursing conference at Harrogate in his constituency. Ministers are not saying this to nurses; nurses are saying to Ministers that, as they told me, they want to have this sense of compassion and vocation at the heart of their training. Nurses themselves think that some of the training systems have got too far into the classroom and too far away from the hospital ward, and they are the ones asking us to get that right. It is good to see Health Ministers nodding in agreement as I say that.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I welcome the proposals for the CQC to make public judgments about the quality of care, but those judgments must be in a form that is accessible and understandable to the public. Will my right hon. Friend take care to ensure that they are not too general, so that if a specific problem in our wards is rightly identified, it does not cloud the otherwise excellent care that the hospital might be providing?

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The Prime Minister: Yes, my hon. Friend makes a very important point. If we are going to challenge complacency and have more frankness and openness about potential failure, we also need to have the more grown-up attitude that failure in one part of one hospital does not necessarily mean that the other parts are failing.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): Like the Prime Minister, I have a personal debt to the NHS: it saved my life when I had cancer as a child. As a constituency MP, I regularly deal with concerns about the quality of care at Croydon University hospital. With that in mind, I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, particularly his focus on the key measure of how well a hospital is serving its community—that is, the proportion of people working there who would be happy for a family member to be treated there.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says. I am not claiming that the friends and family test is the only change that needs to happen in the NHS, but if we are looking for something that will provide a pretty effective traffic light, then having that test, and having its results plastered over every ward in every hospital in the country, will be a pretty good start. The chilling statistic that only a quarter of staff members at Stafford would have been happy for their relatives to be treated in the hospital that they themselves worked in should have been the moment—publicised on every ward, in the local newspaper, and on the door of the hospital—when everyone said, “Hold on a minute: we’ve got to take some action here.”

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): My right hon. Friend compared the new inspection regime to that in schools. However, is not the challenge that whereas in schools service users—pupils and parents—are all too willing to speak up, in hospitals service users often feel that they are a burden to the service or are voiceless? Will he therefore ensure that any new inspection regime measures what protocols are in place specifically to monitor the care of patients who have nobody to speak for them?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend, who has great experience of being at the sharp end of inspections in schools, speaks with great knowledge and expertise. Because patients in hospitals often do not want to say anything bad about the hospital while they are in it, it is important for them that the friends and family test is carried out once they get home. I have listened carefully to his point about carers and others.

Mr Speaker: I am most grateful to the Prime Minister and to colleagues. I think that everything has now been said and, indeed, that it has been said by everybody.

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Financial Services

2.3 pm

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Clark): I would like, Mr Speaker, to update the House on the investigations of the Financial Services Authority, the US Department of Justice and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission into the attempted manipulation of the setting of the London interbank offered rate, or LIBOR, interest rates. As Members will be aware, LIBOR is a major benchmark reference rate that is fundamental to the workings of the UK and international financial markets. Barclays and UBS have previously been fined by the authorities for attempted rate manipulation. Other financial institutions are under investigation, but today’s reports relate specifically to RBS.

Findings published today by the FSA show that certain individuals in RBS sought to manipulate LIBOR submissions. This is an extremely serious matter, motivated by greed. The FSA found that RBS breached two of its principles for businesses. First, between October 2006 and November 2010 it repeatedly breached the proper standards of market conduct required by the FSA’s principle 5. It made LIBOR submissions that took into account its own derivatives trading positions or took into account the profit and loss of its money market trading books; and it sought to manipulate the submissions of others by colluding with panel banks and broker firms. The breaches of principle 5 relate to LIBOR rates in three currencies: Japanese yen, Swiss francs and US dollars.

Secondly, from 2006 to as recently as March 2012, RBS failed to have the necessary risk management systems and controls required by the FSA’s principle 3. There was a failure to identify and manage the risks of inappropriate submission, an absence of any submissions-related systems and controls until March 2011, and inadequate transaction monitoring systems throughout. Furthermore, in response to a specific request by the FSA as a result of its inquiries into LIBOR, RBS attested to the FSA in March 2011 that its LIBOR-related systems and controls were adequate. It transpires that RBS’s systems and controls were inadequate, and so RBS’s statement to the FSA was incorrect.

These findings are grave. At least 219 requests for inappropriate submissions were documented, and at least 21 individuals, including at least one manager, were involved in the inappropriate conduct. In the light of these findings, the FSA has rightly imposed a fine of £125 million on RBS, reduced to £87.5 million for early payment. This figure is less than the £160 million fine imposed on UBS but greater than the £59.5 million fine imposed on Barclays, in proportion to the scale of the offences committed.

Also today, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission has announced that it has found RBS guilty of similar offences in the US and has imposed a fine of $325 million. The US Department of Justice has announced a fine of a further $150 million and, in addition, has reached a deferred prosecution agreement with RBS plc; and RBS has accepted one criminal charge for wire fraud relating to its Japanese securities subsidiary.

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The Government are clear that any organisation or individuals found guilty of this sort of wrongdoing must take full responsibility and should be punished, if appropriate, by both the civil and the criminal law. The FSA’s report identifies that at least 21 individuals were actively involved in the misconduct, including derivatives traders, RBS’s primary LIBOR submitters and one manager. Of these, eight have resigned, six have been dismissed, and all the remainder are facing disciplinary proceedings.

In the light of the findings at Barclays last year, the Serious Fraud Office has launched a criminal investigation into attempted LIBOR manipulation across a number of financial institutions, to which it is rightly committing a large amount of resource, including a 40-strong team. As the Chancellor has previously said, where laws have been broken in this country, the Government and the relevant authorities will continue to make sure that the authorities have all the resources they need to make sure that those who are guilty are brought to justice.

But this action against the perpetrators is clearly not sufficient. It is right that in the face of misconduct of this scale, responsibility is taken at senior levels. That is why, although the report clears senior management of any involvement in, or knowledge of, the misconduct, it is right that John Hourican, the leader of the investment bank since 2008, will leave RBS after handing over his responsibilities. He will receive his minimal contractual entitlement of 12 months’ notice and other contractual entitlements. He will forfeit 100% of his unvested bonus and his long-term incentive plan awards that are subject to clawback, totalling some £5 million, as well as, of course, forfeiting any bonus that he would have received in 2012.

This still leaves the question of the very substantial fines that RBS will have to pay. While it is right that RBS faces the full force of regulatory action in the light of its misconduct, the Government believe that it would clearly be wrong for the taxpayer to foot the bill. In the case of the FSA fines, the Government have changed the system so that all revenue from fines will be used to the benefit of taxpayers. In the Financial Services Act 2012, which received Royal Assent just before Christmas, we have made provision for all such fines, net of enforcement costs, to go to the Exchequer. So when RBS pays the FSA £87.5 million in fines, everything after enforcement costs will flow directly back to the taxpayer. Thanks to this reform, the Government have been able to announce previously that £35 million of fines imposed during 2012 will be used to support Britain’s armed forces community, with an additional £5 million going to the Imperial War Museum.

Money raised by British authorities from banks for their misdemeanours and recklessness in financial markets will be used as a force for good and go to people and causes that demonstrate the best of British values. This will include military good causes, which provide lasting support to servicemen and women, who provide invaluable service to this country, as well as their families and veterans. We will announce specific details of further disbursements in due course.

In the case of the US authorities’ fines, I am insistent that the taxpayer should not foot the bill. That is why these fines must be met in full from past, present and future reductions in the bonuses and pay of RBS. The Government support the action that Stephen Hester

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and the RBS board have rightly taken in response to the very serious issues that have been identified. The House should know that this has been a complex, meticulous and co-ordinated investigation between the international regulatory authorities. I wish to thank all three parties for their diligence and co-operation in identifying and punishing those responsible.

The Government have made it clear that the Royal Bank of Scotland must take every step necessary to ensure that this scandal never happens again. The structure and culture that allowed these events to take place must be changed fundamentally. This also requires ensuring that RBS is focused on the right priorities. That is why the Government support RBS’s statement that it will continue to shrink its investment banking operations and focus on serving its core business customers. This smaller, more efficient markets business will be good for RBS customers, particularly UK businesses.

Today’s findings are a further demonstration of the importance of the tough and swift action that this Government took in response to the first findings of attempted LIBOR manipulation concerning Barclays in June 2012. LIBOR manipulation happened in many countries, but no country has responded as quickly or as decisively as Britain has now done. The Chancellor commissioned Martin Wheatley, the chief executive-designate of the Financial Conduct Authority, to review LIBOR and the corresponding criminal sanctions regime. His review was published 13 weeks later and the Government accepted his recommendations in full last October.

The Government and the House proceeded immediately to implement those reforms through the Financial Services Act, which received Royal Assent in December. As colleagues will know, secondary legislation has been published in draft and will be debated in this House in the coming weeks, introducing the new regulatory and criminal sanctions regime underlying LIBOR and other benchmarks.

LIBOR activities will be within the scope of statutory regulation, including the submission and administration of LIBOR. Where people have broken the law, the Government will ensure that the authorities have all the resources they need to make sure that they are pursued and punished. The British Bankers Association is being replaced as the operational LIBOR administrator. Baroness Hogg is chairing an expert panel that will identify an appropriate successor.

The Government strongly support the various international initiatives taking place on wider benchmark reform. To restore trust, it is essential that any reform proposals are co-ordinated at a global level to ensure consistency in how benchmarks are governed and regulated. More broadly, this case reinforces the need for the changes already put in train by the Government to rebuild confidence in our banking system overall, and to ensure that such events cannot be repeated.

The previous regulatory regime failed. No institution was clearly enough focused on financial stability or conduct issues. The Financial Services Act establishes a new system of focused financial service regulation, including the Financial Policy Committee to oversee macro-prudential regulation, the Prudential Regulatory Authority to ensure the stability of individual banks, and the Financial

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Conduct Authority, a new, independent and specialist conduct regulator capable of focusing on exactly the types of issues that we will be discussing today.

There are also broader issues to be tackled in relation to the culture and professional standards of the banking system. The commission on banking standards, comprised of expert representatives from this House and the House of Lords, has been established to do precisely that—to identify ways not only of raising professional standards, but of protecting the consumer from the inherently more risky world of investment banking. I thank members of the commission for the important work that they are carrying out.

In conclusion, this is another day of shame for Britain’s banks and it is vital that we recognise it as such, not because Britain stands alone in this and similar scandals—which, as we know, is very far from being the case—but because Britain must stand out in the way that we put things right.

Let there be no excuses. Instead, let us have enduring, fundamental reform—and yes, let us have justice, too. Any organisation or individuals found guilty of a crime must take full responsibility and should be punished by the law, while the ordinary taxpayer must not and will not pay the price of their misdeeds. If, in the process, we hold our financial sector to higher standards than elsewhere in the world, that is nothing to shrink away from. Indeed, it is something that we must not only welcome, but actively pursue. That is why we have put in place a vastly stronger system of regulation so that misconduct can be prevented, not just punished. It is also why we look forward to the further recommendations of the parliamentary commission.

“My word is my bond” is the motto on which the City was built, and we must rebuild that bastion of confidence here in Britain—the best place in the world to do business, but the worst place in which to abuse the trust on which free enterprise depends.

2.15 pm

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): This is a very serious setback for RBS on its road to recovery, and another stain on the reputation of UK banking. It is not just a case of excessive risk-taking by investment bankers; it is about the corrupt manipulation, until quite recently, of what should have been a trustworthy and independent index determining the inter-bank interest rate.

How much more evidence does the Chancellor need before he can agree to truly radical reforms for our banking system? Yet again, we have seen an appalling saga of interest rate fixing—not confined to one bank, but across the whole industry—but the Government still refuse to take a back-stop power for full separation in case ring-fencing does not work. Just what will it take for the penny to drop? Why will the Financial Secretary not accept fully what we have been saying since last year, namely that the Government must implement both the letter and the spirit of the Vickers recommendations and that we must see fundamental culture change? If that does not happen, the banks will need to be fully split up.

Those doing business with the banks will be astonished by these revelations. Will the Financial Secretary explain in simple terms how ordinary companies and customers

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with mortgages or savings linked to LIBOR will ever find out if they have been fleeced as a result of this fraudulent activity? If those customers have lost out because of LIBOR rate rigging, how and when will they get their money back?

Despite the Financial Secretary’s claim that the Government reacted swiftly, does he regret not getting ahead of the scandal as it emerged last year? On LIBOR, I asked his predecessor, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), during a Financial Services Bill Committee sitting last March whether the Government had a view about whether there was manipulation and whether changes needed to be made to the regulatory arrangements. He stood up and answered with the single word: no. The Treasury has, of course, come to regret that stance and, several months later, this tremendous scandal began to leak out.

Will the Financial Secretary update the House on the process for extricating the LIBOR setting process from the British Bankers Association and when an independent and more transparent arrangement will be secured? Was not the 2012 Act a missed opportunity, not just because it failed to widen the regulatory perimeter to cover LIBOR, but because it left doubt over whether regulators can prevent benchmark rigging in other trades, such as the gas and electricity markets, commodities, metals and oil? Rather than wait for Europe to legislate, the UK Government need to wake up and take preventive steps now. We will table amendments to the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill in the coming weeks.

Does the Financial Secretary agree that we also need new rules to protect whistleblowers who highlight failures inside the banks, and that we must ensure that offences created to punish misleading statements also properly cover the foreign operations of our UK banks? The Financial Secretary has said that the large fines for RBS will be clawed back in part from the bank’s bonus pots, but is it not now clear that fundamental changes are needed to the pay and bonus culture across the banking sector, including a repeat of the banker bonus tax to pay for opportunities for young people across the country? The Business Secretary said this morning that he has a plan for the RBS shares owned by the taxpayer. Does the Financial Secretary agree or disagree with that? What exactly is the Government’s policy on the future plans for the RBS shareholding?

Taxpayers and bank customers are growing sick and tired of being let down by the banks day after day. Does this not all boil down to a question of trust—a question not only of whether British customers can trust their banks, but of whether investors across the world continue to trust their money with the City of London more than with other financial centres? Britain’s financial services reputation is on the line. Our economy needs a healthy and sustainable banking sector, so we must rapidly clean up the system and put UK financial services on the path towards respectability, integrity and professionalism.

Greg Clark: It is, of course, right that we do that. I have been very clear that we are taking the steps that we are taking to restore the international reputation of the City and to make it pre-eminent in the world as a place in which people have confidence.

I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have taken this opportunity to reflect on the contribution

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that the previous Government made to the decline in the reputation of the City. It is not as if the chaotic regulatory regime was not foreseen. In November 1997, during the passage of the legislation that set up the flawed Financial Services Authority, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) said:

“The coverage of the FSA will be huge; its objectives will be many, and potentially in conflict with one another. The range of its activities will be so diverse that no one person in it will understand them all.”

He went on to say that the Government of the day

“may, almost casually, have bitten off more than they can chew. The process of setting up the FSA may cause regulators to take their eye off the ball, while spivs and crooks have a field day.”—[Official Report, 11 November 1997; Vol. 300, c. 732.]

That was the warning that the Conservative party gave the Government at that time, but it was ignored comprehensively for their 13 years in office.

We have moved quickly, as most reasonable people would concede. We already have a Financial Services Act on the statute book and we have set up an eminent commission chaired by Sir John Vickers to recommend far-reaching changes to the financial services system. The previous Government’s contribution to the eminence of the City was to knight Fred Goodwin, for heaven’s sake. The Opposition spokesman brags about the reforms to the regulatory system that he recommended in a Public Bill Committee, but it was the shadow Chancellor, when he had my job, who said that

“nothing should be done to put at risk a light touch, risk-based regulatory regime.”

We are making the reforms that it falls to us to make.

I will answer some of the specific points that the hon. Gentleman made. We will have discussions about the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill. Most reasonable people would conclude that the reforms that we are making, with the advice of the Vickers commission and the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, lead the world in this area. The Liikanen report, which is being recommended at a European level, explicitly refers to the reforms that we are contemplating. It is right that we should be ahead on this.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the Financial Services Authority must investigate whether any individuals or firms lost out as a result of the attempted manipulation. I call it attempted manipulation because we are talking about the rates that were submitted and it is not necessarily the case that the LIBOR reference rate changed in response. However, it is right that the FSA should make that assessment.

The process that Martin Wheatley recommended to replace the BBA is under way. It will become a regulated activity as soon as the statutory instruments are passed. Baroness Hogg and her committee are setting up a process to invite tenders, which will not include the BBA, to administer that process. As Martin Wheatley said, it is necessary that that is done in a way that does not undermine confidence in the rate-setting process during the transition, because it is fundamental to many contracts, as the hon. Gentleman implied, including people’s mortgages.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned other benchmarks. The powers that we took in the amendments that we made to the Financial Services Act 2012 before Christmas

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allow us quickly to specify any other benchmarks that might be subject to such abuse. Our response has been co-ordinated with the international authorities and nobody regards the powers that we have as inadequate to the task of dealing with other abuses.

On whistleblowers, the hon. Gentleman is right that it is important that people within banks and financial services should have the confidence to report abuse. A very small number of people are responsible for something that is besmirching the reputation of many millions of people up and down the country who work hard, day and night, for banks. Those people have had reason, over the years, to be proud of their career. It is important, not least for those people, that the institutions for which they work recover their reputations.

On the shareholding in RBS, it is of course the Government’s intention to return it, at the appropriate time, to private ownership. It is not right that we should own such a significant stake of a high street bank. It was necessary for us to do so because of the crisis that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues know all about. As soon as it can be returned to independence, the better.

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): I am sure that the whole House welcomes the fact that the US fines will be clawed back from bonuses. LIBOR, serious though it is, is just the tip of a large iceberg of banking malpractice that is now being exposed to view. The Minister ended his statement by pointing out that we should not shrink from imposing higher standards than other countries. Does he agree that if we impose high-quality regulation, it will not only be morally right, but may attract good business to the UK and be in the UK’s economic interests overall?

Greg Clark: I do agree with that. The work that my hon. Friend’s commission is continuing to do on the culture of banking is important and will inform the further reforms that we need to make. I do not think that we should be shy of setting high standards in this country; in fact, it is necessary to do so. At a time when trust is in flight across the world, there is an opportunity for the City of London to establish itself as a haven of probity and safety in a volatile world. High standards, far from being a threat or a danger to our financial institutions, are necessary for their continued prosperity, which I and the whole House want to see flourish.

Mr George Mudie (Leeds East) (Lab): The Minister has referred to a need for cultural change. One culture that it is necessary to change is the banks’ unwillingness to lend to small businesses. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has spoken today about RBS and the lack of lending to small businesses, even with the recent initiatives. Have the Government given any thought to using the 350 RBS branches that they have to dispose of for the business bank, thereby giving it a regional and local presence so that small businesses can go to it, discuss loans and hopefully agree them?

Greg Clark: I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should have more local, business-focused banks in this country. I hope that we can recover the personal

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knowledge, service and understanding of the needs of business that branches used to have in abundance. RBS is not nationalised, so we cannot direct it in the way that he suggests. However, the reforms that we are making, particularly in the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, emphasise the importance of increasing competition and of having new entrants. As he knows, some of the divestments that have been required recently have brought entrants into the market that have concentrated on lending to small and medium-sized businesses. That is a force for good, but we need—and I want to see—much more of it.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): May I, too, welcome the Minister’s statement? I also associate myself with the words of the Treasury Committee Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie).

The City of London should have nothing to fear from arbitrage, although it is sometimes said that it should. If we have a regulatory system that is robust and fair, it will pass the test of time and, in the medium to long term, will become a great attraction of the City of London.

Whether we like it or not, we need our banks more than ever, whether we are small businesses or individuals. There is a danger that with 20:20 hindsight, we are finding ever more scandals and examples of mis-selling, whether with LIBOR, interest rate swaps or payment protection insurance. Will the Minister make it clear to the banks that we need to draw a line under these scandals? There is a danger that we are falling further and further down a slope and that it will be extremely difficult for banks to regain the trust of the public at large. Without that trust, the broader economy will suffer

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend speaks with great expertise. He has worked in and represented with distinction the City of London over the years, and more than anyone he recognises the importance of it re-establishing its prestige. Part of doing that and of sending a signal to the current generation working in financial services is to say clearly that the misdeeds of the past need to be put right. Where people or small businesses up and down the country have suffered detriment, we should not turn a blind eye. We should be rigorous in holding people to account, and acknowledging the harm done to businesses that have suffered from past mis-selling, and when we do that we should look—as in this case—to recover the costs of such mis-selling from the perpetrators. The Chancellor has set out that principle and I expect the banks to follow it in the months and years ahead.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): I welcome the statement and particularly the fact that the fines will be paid by the banks and not the taxpayer. I also welcome the fact that the British Bankers Association will no longer have anything to do with LIBOR. However, this is not just about who calculates the LIBOR rate, but how it is calculated. Will the Minister update the House and say how we will have transparency and the confidence to know that rates submitted by the banks are those at which they can borrow money, rather than the acts of fiction, fixes and fiddles that we saw over many years with many banks?

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Greg Clark: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. One recommendation of the Wheatley review was that the setting of LIBOR benchmarks should include objectivity. That will require a reduction in the number of benchmarks because some do not have the volume of transactions to establish that, but the new regulated conduct of LIBOR setting will include a requirement to route the reporting of rates through transactions that are visible to the Financial Services Authority. The opportunity to parlay the commercial interest of particular banks into what is supposed to be an objective rate will therefore no longer be there.

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): My right hon. Friend has delivered his statement in his usual calm and moderate way, but his constituents in Tonbridge and mine in Bristol West will be absolutely disgusted and furious when they discover that a lot of these abuses took place after the £45.5 billion taxpayer-funded bail-out of the Royal Bank of Scotland that saved those jobs. The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards is clearly still working, but surely one outcome of such abuses should be that any individual involved is struck off—whatever criminal and civil sanctions could be taken against them—and never allowed to work anywhere else in British financial services. If they were a doctor, lawyer or accountant, that is precisely what should happen. That is the real culture change that we need in banking.

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend is right. The constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) might be concerned if I sought to represent them, but my constituents in Tunbridge Wells do, I think, share the fury that has been described. For a bank that has caused the taxpayer to bail it out to such an extent to then engage in practices that could—had we not taken action to require clawback—have resulted in further cost to the taxpayer, is outrageous. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) that the individuals implicated in such practices should leave the financial services and find a better living, rather than working in an industry in which trust and confidence is required.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I hear what the Minister says about the highest standards of regulation for the City of London, but how does he explain the fact that once again, American regulators have imposed fines that are three times higher than those from the FSA, thereby appearing much more robust in their investigation of LIBOR and other issues? Now that we are having a “twin peaks” model, what discussions is the Minister having with the regulator to ensure that it imposes appropriate fines and undertakes proper investigations to ensure that we root out the difficulties of the past?

Greg Clark: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. He will know that there is a long-established culture of very high fines in the US. Fines in this country have increased markedly in recent years, although none of the institutions subject to FSA fines in recent months would regard them as anything other than exacting. It is right for us to follow the practice of other jurisdictions, including the US, in having a more explicit criminal code. Our amendments to the Financial Services

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Act 2012 mean that criminal sanctions explicitly for the manipulation of benchmarks are available that were not there in the past. It is right to take what the hon. Gentleman says seriously and strengthen our enforcement powers, and we are doing that through the legislation that has been passed.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for the tough and swift action that he has taken on this matter, but I have a more general question about the culture change that will be required. The extent of the culture change seems to be enormous. Why does he have confidence that it is achievable?

Greg Clark: There are a number of reasons why I think it is achievable. The first is the contribution that regulation can make. As Members have said, it is important to have a more exacting set of regulatory standards that are intolerant of the kinds of abuses that have taken place. Secondly, it is in the commercial and strategic interests of banks to restore the reputation that they used to have for trust. Financial services depend on trust. If people do not trust the banks, they will not do business with them. I think the penny has dropped across the City, and most of the new generation of chief executives understand the connection between their future profitability and performance, and the need to provide decent services to their customers.

The third reason is a matter being investigated by the Treasury Committee and concerns a failure or subversion of the culture of banking. Banking was always associated with high standards of probity; it was a vocation for people who were thought to be of a rather conservative disposition and inclined not to take excessive risks. That was subverted by exposure to some of the practices of recent years, and because that was inadequately regulated it distorted what should be the right culture in the industry. We need to make changes to all three of those areas, and that is precisely what we have done and what we have embarked on for the rest of the Parliament.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): Following the point made by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), let me urge the Minister that there can be no drawing a line in the sand and no amnesty given until corruption is rooted out. My constituents now look on the City of London as a fetid swamp of corruption. They see only people forgoing bonuses but no one being imprisoned for the swindles that have taken place. There can be no amnesties at all. Will there be any investigation into allegations—I have raised this point previously—of attempts to manipulate the auctions associated with the quantitative easing exercise undertaken by the previous and current Governments?

Greg Clark: I am not aware of those allegations but I will look into them. Any criminal activity in any part of the financial services industry ought to be prosecuted and pursued with the same degree of vigour as in any other walk of life. The hon. Gentleman overstates the case in his reflection of the City. Hundreds of thousands of people work in the City and do a decent job working hard for their clients and businesses up and down the country. They are as outraged as any of us in this House about the damage done to the City’s reputation. The future for us and for our interests is to see that reputation

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restored and root out the corrupt individuals—corrupt is the word in this case—who have done disproportionate damage to the reputation of a set of institutions that should be one of the prides of this country.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): In the light of the report, I urge the Minister, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) and his commission, to look carefully at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s highly successful whistleblower incentive scheme, which gives whistleblowers a cut of fines, and at how we begin to replicate that model.

Greg Clark: The discount in fines given for co-operation is one reason for organisations to co-operate, but I will look at my hon. Friend’s point on individuals.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The report indicates that, so arrogant were some bank workers, they treated themselves as masters of the universe to whom normal rules of fair play did not apply, which has impacted on banks and their reputations. The banks rather than the taxpayers will pay the fines, as they are required to do, but how will the Minister ensure they do not simply pass on additional charges to customers to recoup the costs?

Greg Clark: It is essential that the banks do not do that. They need to be transparent as to the source of the payment to meet the fines—that is essential. Far from those people being masters of the universe, they are culpable of doing a great disservice in falling way short of the standards of behaviour by which most decent people up and down the country would expect to live their lives.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I welcome the statement and its robust and vigorous tone, which sets the scene for the appropriate direction of travel, but does the Minister agree that we need an influx of professionalism to the banking sector? That would be enhanced and made more likely by strong accountability mechanisms

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and more transparency. That is what I hear from small and medium-sized businesses who struggle to contact banks at all.

Greg Clark: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The commission led by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) is looking at how such professionalism, which can be found in financial services, can be bolstered and further recognised.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): The public, who after all own more than four fifths of that bank, will be appalled at the duration and extent of the greed and corruption that has been exposed by the FSA today. Does the Financial Secretary agree that that strengthens the argument made by the Financial Services Consumer Panel that the banks ought to be subject to a fiduciary duty to their customers, as lawyers and company directors are, so that savers and investors have maximum protection?

Greg Clark: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point that will be considered by the commission, which is looking into the culture. It is important that banks recognise that they exist to serve their customers—that is their purpose and the reason why they operate. My recent experience of speaking to some bank boards leads me to believe that they recognise the commercial imperative for that, but he makes a suggestion that I am sure our colleagues will consider.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the Minister firmly for his statement. In particular, I thank him for the £35 million of fines imposed on the banks that will go directly to the armed forces community; £5 million will go to the Imperial War Museum. Will he confirm the criteria by which charity groups such as the Royal British Legion, the Army Benevolent Fund, SSAFA and Help the Heroes can qualify for financial assistance through the fines on the banks?

Greg Clark: As I said in my statement, we will make further announcements on the disbursement of the funds, but they have been earmarked and reserved for the military community.

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Point of Order

2.43 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. There is a lack of recent Government statements on the deployment of British forces in Mali and other parts of north Africa. Last weekend, the Prime Minister undertook an arduous visit to the area, which included serious discussions with the Algerian Government and others. When the initial statements on Mali were made, we were promised that the House would be regularly updated. Nearly 400 British service personnel are now involved in the operation and we have not had a statement in the House for almost a week. I believe we deserve one.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I thank you for the point of order, Mr Corbyn. I have received no notification that any statement will be made on that issue today. Should that alter, the House will be notified in the usual manner, but I am sure those on the Treasury Bench have heard your request.

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United Kingdom Membership of the European Union (Referendum)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

2.44 pm

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a referendum in the next Parliament on the question of whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union; and for connected purposes.

We, the promoter and sponsors of the Bill, and all those who have expressed support very much welcome David Cameron’s commitment to hold a referendum in the next Parliament and his initiative. I have been overwhelmed by support for the Bill—indeed, there were so many potential sponsors that we had to draw the names out of a hat—and I thank the many people who have contacted their MPs. It is much appreciated.

David Cameron is now in step with the British public—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot refer to the Prime Minister by his name.

Mr Baron: I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The Prime Minister is in step with the British public. A referendum is only right. The EU has fundamentally changed since we first joined in the early ’70s and it continues to change because of the eurozone crisis. The answer to the crisis from the eurozone capitals is more Europe—more political and economic integration. They have realised somewhat belatedly that they cannot have monetary union and save the euro without fiscal union, but that is not why we joined the EU. We joined for trade, not for politics.

No one can deny that the EU’s role in our daily lives, which some would describe as meddling, has grown over the decades and continues to grow, and yet we have not stopped to ask the fundamental question of whether that is in our best interests. The timing of the referendum is sensible in that it allows for a renegotiation so we can know what the “in” part of the referendum question is. I wish the Prime Minister well—it will be a hard road because the direction of travel is in the other direction—but I hope he can renegotiate a looser agreement or arrangement with the EU that focuses on trade and not on politics. He might well be able to do so, which would appeal to a great number of people in this country. I hope he does more than Prime Minister Harold Wilson did in 1975. He claimed he had renegotiated and repatriated a lot of powers, but under close scrutiny, it appeared to be a thin claim—it did not amount to a tin of beans.

Delaying the referendum a touch allows the eurozone crisis to play out and for a proper debate on the merit of membership. All in all, it is a sensible policy. It is right for the country. The British people will finally have their say, having been barred from having a genuine choice by the political establishment for probably more than 30 years, because all the main parties have looked in one direction.

That is good news, and we welcome it, and yet the policy is dependent on a Conservative victory in the 2015 general election. The Prime Minister made his

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promise as leader of the Conservative party. Legislation will be introduced immediately after a Conservative victory, so this has become a party political issue. As such, many are concerned that there is deep public mistrust of politicians who make promises about EU referendums, because too many have been broken in the past. We question whether the promise will be believed.

Many people remember Tony Blair’s promise on the EU constitution on the Lisbon treaty. We were promised a referendum and he failed to deliver. Instead, the EU constitution was copied and pasted into the Lisbon treaty and rammed through the House using the Labour Government’s majority. Even Gordon Brown knew—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order.

Mr Baron: Even the then Labour Prime Minister knew the sham of the situation. He refused to join the photo call and signed the treaty in the privacy of a darkened room—[Interruption.] An hon. Friend suggests a darkened room was the right place for it, and I do not disagree.

The Liberal Democrats have consistently offered a referendum, but have failed to deliver, even in coalition. [Interruption.] I see the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), nodding in agreement from the Front Bench. [Interruption.] He turned around then. Scepticism about promises made on EU referendums is such that many are critical of the Prime Minister for not delivering on his promise of a referendum in relation to the Lisbon treaty, despite the fact that the ink on the treaty had dried before he came to power. Legislation in this Parliament would therefore address the deficit of trust. A Bill is far more believable than an election manifesto promise, and a referendum would not be dependent on any one party. Any incoming Prime Minister would find it difficult—not impossible, but certainly difficult—to repeal popular legislation.

Perhaps there is another reason to bring the Bill forward. Legislation now would oblige all parliamentarians to declare their hand and the electorate would then know where they stood. In the past, there has been far too much obfuscation on this issue—no wonder the public have become cynical.

I am delighted that the Conservative party has adopted this policy, and I suggest that it is now more united on Europe than it has been for a very long time. Apart from a number of principled hon. Members across the

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House, the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front Benches seem confused. The Labour leader says one thing and the shadow Foreign Secretary says another. The Liberal Democrat election manifesto says one thing, and in coalition the party does another. I suggest to both parties that their positions are untenable. Let us bring forward this Bill and force them to declare their hand.

To my own Front Bench, I say that the argument that we cannot bring forward legislation—I am delighted to see the Minister on the Front Bench and I thank him for that—in this Parliament because it would contravene the coalition agreement does not hold water. Same-sex marriage was not in the coalition agreement, yet we voted on it yesterday. I am afraid that that is a very thin argument indeed.

Let us not forget that I and my colleagues can see no downside to this. It would be a simple piece of legislation. There is no need even to detail the question, as the 2014 Scottish referendum has proved and which is being drafted in this Parliament. There is, therefore, no downside to introducing the legislation in this Parliament.

In short, a referendum will give the British public an opportunity to have their say, something they have been denied for too long. It is about time we had a more positive relationship with our European neighbours. For too long, it has been a strained relationship. In part, I think that is because the British people have not been happy with the EU’s direction of travel, and in part because they have been frustrated that they have not been able to express their view through the political system, because the three main political parties have all faced in one direction on this issue. That must now come to an end.

A referendum would lance the boil and, whatever the result, I hope would allow a more positive relationship with the EU based on either trade and co-operation or political and economic union, yet this matter of singular importance to the UK is dependent on one party winning the general election. This issue is far too important for party politics. As such, I urge the House to support the Bill and bring in legislation in this Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr John Baron, Mr James Clappison, Mr Nigel Dodds, Richard Drax, Mr Frank Field, Mrs Cheryl Gillan, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Dr Julian Lewis, Jim Shannon, Bob Stewart and Mr John Whittingdale present the Bill.

Mr John Baron accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 1 March, and to be printed (Bill 133).

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Opposition Day

[16th Allotted Day: First Part]

Suicide Prevention

2.55 pm

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I beg to move,

That this House recognises that the number of suicides in the UK, particularly amongst young people, represents a major challenge for government and society; acknowledges the work that is taking place to address the issue; calls for even more urgency to be shown in seeking to reduce the rate of suicides; notes the danger posed in particular by websites which promote or give information about harmful behaviours such as suicide; and calls upon the Government to adequately resource and promote child and adolescent digital safety.

For years this subject has been swept under the carpet. I believe it deserves a mature and thoughtful debate. Suicide is a significant problem in our society. Its impact is often sudden and shocking. While we can to some degree prepare ourselves for the death, through ageing, of elderly parents or the loss of loved ones through chronic illness, suicide catches us by surprise. Often there is no warning and we are left with a feeling of utter bewilderment. We ask: was it preventable? Were there warning signs that we failed to recognise? Was it simply a cry for help that went wrong? All of those are questions to which we will, regrettably, never receive an answer.

It can be seen that suicide touches the lives of many people and is, in every case, a tragedy both for the life that has ended and for the family, friends and community left behind. We must always remember that each person who has been lost to suicide has been someone’s child, someone’s parent, brother, sister or friend. Their passing leaves a wound that does not easily heal, even with the passing of time. In addition, those bereaved by suicide have special needs and require special support, for bereavement by suicide is itself a risk factor for suicide.

We cannot afford to ignore or be complacent about the prevalence of suicide and self-harm in the United Kingdom. Preventing suicide presents a serious socio-economic issue, as well as a political challenge. It is a problem that we all have a duty to address. There is a great need to change public attitudes and to increase awareness and understanding about suicide as a major public health problem that is largely preventable. Globally, almost 1 million people die from suicide every year. In the past 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. Suicide is one of the three leading causes of death among those aged 15 to 44 years in many countries. Although suicide rates have traditionally been highest among the male elderly, rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at highest risk in a third of countries worldwide.

In 2011, 289 deaths by suicide were recorded in Northern Ireland, with the male suicide rate approximately three times greater than that of females.

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his party on securing this important debate on the Floor of the

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House. He references male suicide. Does he not agree that one of the more worrying statistics is that people who have just come out of prison are at a very high risk of committing suicide in the first two weeks of their release? Does he not agree that we should make better use of community and health care pathways to ensure that we can prevent and protect people who are very vulnerable, such as those coming out of prison?

Dr McCrea: I agree wholeheartedly about the importance of those pathways. It is vital that every effort be made to ensure that persons at a vulnerable moment in their lives—this is what the hon. Lady was talking about—receive the best possible support. I will develop that point later.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as prison leavers being vulnerable to suicidal tendencies, one of the groups at most risk are young males involved in the drug culture, and is it not odd, therefore, that some people are still campaigning to legalise drug use?

Dr McCrea: That is very true, and I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend’s comments. Again, I will seek to develop that point later.

The figures I gave a moment ago represent a welcome reduction on the highest-ever recorded figure of 313 suicides in Northern Ireland in 2010. Nevertheless, Northern Ireland continues to experience higher rates of suicide among adolescents and young adults, particularly young men, than any other part of the UK.

Deliberate self-harm is also a significant problem, with a growing number of cases being seen in hospital accident and emergency departments. Statistics from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety suggest that almost 500 patients presented at the hospital emergency department in Belfast with deliberate self-harm between April and June 2012. Many more incidents never come to the attention of health services at all. In 2011, the highest rate of registered suicides was recorded in the parliamentary constituencies of Belfast West and Belfast North. In my constituency, 18 lives were lost to suicide, 16 of them males.

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): Is my hon. Friend aware of an international study highlighting the fact that Northern Ireland has the highest incidence of post-conflict trauma of any post-conflict region across the globe, and that this contributes to the high level of suicide? That is evidenced by the fact that much of it is concentrated in the parts of Northern Ireland where the conflict was fiercest, and it is added to by the fact that many of the people suffering trauma served in the armed forces. What we need in Northern Ireland, under the military covenant, is a specialist centre for the treatment of trauma for those who have served our country.

Dr McCrea: I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I trust that the Minister will take those points very seriously.

Between January and September last year, 223 deaths by suicide were recorded in Northern Ireland, again with socially deprived areas in Belfast North and Belfast West worst affected. However, although we must concentrate particularly on Belfast North and Belfast West, where

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the rate is highest, suicide has, worryingly, been spreading not only in urban communities, but into rural Northern Ireland—into those areas where people feel isolated and vulnerable to thoughts of suicide.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman have any idea whether there is a link between suicide and past membership of illegal organisations, and whether those who were inclined to carry out such violence have become so depressed that they take their own lives?

Dr McCrea: Once again, I hope to touch on that point. I believe that that link needs to be considered. Certainly, for many people who were involved in such activities—perhaps they were drawn into them and now, unfortunately, must live with the consequences for the rest of their lives—guilt can be a leading factor pushing them towards suicide.

The Bamford review on mental health promotion, published in Northern Ireland in May 2006, reinforced the need to prevent suicide. It found that in the 25 years from 1969 to 1994, more people died by suicide than as a result of the troubles in our Province.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his party on bringing this important debate to the Floor of the House. He talks about the factors linked to suicide. Will he accept that mental health issues are another key factor linked to suicide and that MPs and others need to remove the stigma attached to mental illness so that people feel able to ask for the help they badly need?

Dr McCrea: I agree wholeheartedly with those remarks. The Bamford report highlighted the link with mental health. I agree that we must remove the stigma attached to mental health, as well as the stigma attached to suicide, because many families are deeply hurt by it.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware of research carried out by Louis Appleby, the suicide tsar, showing that 75% of those who commit suicide have had no connection with mental health services, and that it is dangerous to focus suicide help and support only on mental health teams? If we do that, we risk failing to protect many of those who need our help.

Dr McCrea: I thank the hon. Lady for her interest in this matter and for commendably seeking to highlight it in one of the Committee Rooms. There is no one reason for a person coming to that place where they feel that suicide is the only way out.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I hope the hon. Gentleman realises how much appreciated his colleagues’ choice of subject is today. I declare two interests: I am joint president of a Samaritan branch, through past family links, and I am involved with the organisational charity, Papyrus, which campaigns to prevent suicide among young people in the UK. May I accentuate what he has said? People can feel as depressed in rural areas as they do in urban areas, and there can be no presumption about the reason. Teenagers can be

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very depressed because of medication—I have had family experience of that—and university students because of the pressure of their studies and relationships. It can be for anybody at any time, and organisations such as the Samaritans and Papyrus ought to be known abroad, so that anybody can reach them on the phone.

Dr McCrea: I agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. I have found a lack of knowledge in the community about the help available through such agencies.

We community leaders must be willing to say, “This is not a taboo subject. We can talk about this.” The country must be willing to open up. We tell young people to open up when they have a problem or feel isolated, but we legislators must be willing to do the same, and not run away from the issue, treating it as something to be hidden or pushed aside.

I am delighted that my right hon. and hon. Friends have brought this debate before the House today—I know that I have support on this issue from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland—but I really feel that this is a problem right across the United Kingdom. As I pointed out at the beginning, in one year, 1 million people across the world reached the point where they took their own lives. That is very serious and we are not immune to it—not one part or region of the United Kingdom is immune and I can assure hon. Members that not one family is immune either. This issue can touch every family, no matter how rich or how poor. Every family can experience the very same pain and hurt that has been expressed to me. That is why we have secured this debate.

The report also found that, on average, deaths due to suicide since 2000 have exceeded deaths on the roads and concluded that suicidal behaviour places a heavy human and financial burden on society in Northern Ireland, with an annual cost to the economy of £170 million owing to work days lost and hospital admissions for attempted suicides and suicidal behaviour. Research undertaken by Mike Tomlinson of Queen’s university in 2007 found that the Northern Ireland suicide rate had grown since the mid-1990s, which was attributed to younger people, particularly men, taking their own lives.

Rehman Chishti: The hon. Gentleman talks about young people. Does he know whether there have been any discussions between the devolved nations about preventing young people from accessing suicide websites? Such prevention work is crucial.

Dr McCrea: Once again, I am deeply appreciative of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention and I wholeheartedly agree with him. We will endeavour to take up that point as the debate continues.

Tomlinson found that about 150 suicides were recorded annually between 2000 and 2004, but by 2006 that figure rose to 291. He argued that the end of the conflict in Northern Ireland might have brought its own problems. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that in 2011 there were 6,045 suicides among people aged 15 and over in the United Kingdom—an increase of 437 compared with 2010. The UK suicide rate increased significantly between 2010 and 2011, from 11.1 to 11.8 deaths per 100,000 of the population.

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That trend was further reflected in Wales, which recorded 341 suicides—its highest rate since 2004. Scotland also saw an increase, from 781 deaths by suicide in 2010 to 889 in 2011.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank my hon. Friend for setting the scene so clearly for everyone in the Chamber. The suicide rates over the last few years, which he has outlined, cover the period of the economic downturn. Does he feel that, at this time especially and for that very reason—the economy and the downturn in jobs—there should be a greater focus on suicide across the whole of the United Kingdom?

Dr McCrea: I thank my colleague for his intervention.

Although I have given a lot of statistics—I will come to some of the causes in a moment—they can be very cold things. I want to draw the House’s attention, very earnestly and gently, to the fact that behind every statistic is a personal tragedy—a personal tragedy that a person reached the point where they felt that there was no other way to go; a personal tragedy because no one can fully understand the loneliness or desperation that a person feels trapped by whenever they reach the point at which they think that the only way out is suicide.

There is no one reason why people take their own lives. It is often a result of problems building up to the point where that person can see no way out to cope with what they are experiencing. Factors that have been linked with suicide include unemployment; economic decline; personal debt; painful and disabling illness; heavy use of, or dependency on, alcohol or other drugs; children and adults dealing with the impact of family breakdown; the loss or break-up of a close relationship; depression; social isolation; bullying; and poor educational attainment. Those experiences have been shown to make people more susceptible to suicide. It may be that a seemingly minor event becomes the trigger for them attempting to take their own lives—on many occasions not to die, but simply to get relief from their unbearable pain. Low self-esteem, being close to tears and not being able to cope with small, everyday events are all signs that someone is struggling to cope with overwhelming feelings. Yet it is often difficult to tell whether someone is suicidal or depressed, as people in crises react in different ways. Uncharacteristic behaviour can often be a sign that something is very wrong.

One of the main problems that I want to address in this debate is: where do people turn to for support and help? Let me first acknowledge the work done by our front-line health and social care professionals, and the effort that has gone into the development and delivery of suicide prevention strategies, which aim to identify regional risk factors, establish key objectives via a cross-section of organisations, and seek ultimately to reduce rates of suicide and self-harm throughout the United Kingdom. For example, in Northern Ireland, I appreciate our ministerial co-ordination group in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was established in 2006 to ensure that suicide prevention is a priority across relevant Departments and to enhance cross-departmental co-operation on the issue. I was delighted by the changes made by Minister Poots, so that instead of the group meeting on a needs basis, it meets regularly to provide the sustained effort and leadership needed to reduce the high rate of suicide in Northern Ireland. I commend him for taking a long-term, upstream intervention approach to the problem.

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However, in addition to Government-led initiatives in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, credit must be given to the agencies and voluntary organisations working at the heart of our communities to provide a vital lifeline when one is needed most. I acknowledge the excellent work done by many Church organisations, which give spiritual counselling to many who feel that life is so burdensome that it is not worth the struggle. These organisations—whether Government agencies, voluntary agencies or Church agencies—have a vital role to play in complementing local mental and public health services. This work at the coal face is truly inspirational. I pay tribute to the men and women who dedicate so much of their lives to helping others.

I said earlier that people needed to know about the availability of those who are willing to help. I say that because about three weeks ago a conference was held in my constituency in Antrim after two suicides had taken place—it was not called by politicians, but by the community, because of a desire in the community to do something. I was delighted and honoured to be part of that occasion, but what I found out that day was that although a multitude of organisations deal with the problem, many in the community do not know about them. Many do not know where help can be got at the moment it is needed.

Over the past year I have had the pleasure of working closely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) with PIPS—the Public Initiative for Prevention of Suicide and Self-Harm—a not-for-profit organisation in Belfast North that has been delivering suicide prevention and awareness training since 2008. Through my association with PIPS, I have come to understand how it believes that, through training local people to be more aware of the risk of suicide and of the sources of help available, our communities will be safer and more people will be saved from taking their own lives. Surely this must be all about prevention, because, unfortunately, there is no cure when suicide takes place.

Bob Stewart: I am listening intently to the hon. Gentleman. Does he think that there is anything the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Government could do to provide publicly funded advertisements on this matter on television in Northern Ireland, for example? Does he also believe that priests could raise the matter when they are preaching, to alert their congregations to the problem? Perhaps he will come to those points in his speech.

Dr McCrea: Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; I will come to those points. I certainly have endeavoured, when speaking in congregations, to remind them of the loneliness that people experience when they are in that vulnerable situation. No one knows the depths of that valley; no one knows how dark is the night that they are walking through. There must be greater understanding, and we can gain that understanding if people talk to each other and express their own experiences, as is happening in Antrim. That is helpful not only for them but for our understanding and for that of the community.

Members will also be aware that I have spoken recently in the House about child and adolescent internet safety, following horrific reports in the media of young people taking their own lives as a result of cyber-bullying.

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Mr Donaldson: My hon. Friend referred to support groups. I have recently met members of Horizons, a local support group in Lisburn. It is doing excellent work on a voluntary basis, but it is struggling to get the funding that it needs. Many of its members have had family experience of losing a loved one in these circumstances, and they are well placed to provide the support that our communities need, because they have walked through that dark valley. Greater priority for the funding of such groups is essential.

Dr McCrea: I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. In fact, the motion

“calls upon the Government to adequately resource and promote child and adolescent digital safety.”

The motion goes wider than that, but resources are certainly a problem that such organisations need help with.

The internet and new media are prominent features in youth culture nowadays. Young people see the use of technology as a vital part of their social lives, and the online environment has created unique opportunities for learning, connection and communication. Almost 99% of children aged between eight and 17 access the internet, and 90% of children aged five to 16 have a computer at home. Although the risks created by the internet and new media have yet to be properly assessed, there is growing concern over the use of the internet for cyber-bullying and for normalising and encouraging suicide and suicidal behaviour.

The Byron review, conducted in 2008, entitled “Safer Children in a Digital World”, found that

“there is a range of material on the Internet that may present particular issues for specific groups of children and young people. This includes content or sites that promote or give information about harmful behaviour such as suicide and self harm”.

The report found that, although some children might be deterred from harmful behaviours by witnessing such content, or might find emotional and social support from others experiencing the same feelings, it was clear that for some children there were major risks. Sites providing information about suicide techniques, for example, could increase the chance of a suicide attempt being successful and decrease the chances of a young person receiving help.

Mrs Moon: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the hosting of such sites is illegal in the United Kingdom, thanks to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The problem is that many of those sites are hosted outside the UK, where they are not illegal. Internet providers need to block access to the sites. They move them down the access chain when people google them, but they do not block access to them altogether. How can we ensure that access to those sites is blocked?

Dr McCrea: I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I intend to touch on that point in a moment.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is covering lots of bases. One of the issues that we face as a society is that young people can become isolated from contact with other young people, other than through the internet or texting. That is a real danger zone. They retire to their bedrooms and they are not seen from one night to the next. Their communication with others is limited.

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The exercise of parental and family responsibility, to ensure that youngsters are out and being monitored so that people can pick up signs that they might be led to suicide sites, is as important as dealing with the sites themselves.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. May I point out to Members, in relation to those last two interventions, that such interventions should come through the Chair? Instead, they have been focused on the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea), whom we all wish to hear.

Dr McCrea: I agree with the point that the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) makes. I was talking to folks at the weekend about how young people isolate and withdraw themselves. If we set our minds back to just a few years ago, we remember that we used to see children playing football on the streets, and little girls out with their prams. If we look at our streets today, we see very few children out there. So where are they? They are in their rooms. They are not with their families. In many cases, the internet has taken over their lives, and that leads to the isolation that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.

When online discussions or communities emerge around harmful behaviours, there is a risk of what the Samaritans describe as an “echo chamber”, in which users reinforce each others’ behaviour and negative feelings about themselves. In a communication to me, the Samaritans stated that

“there are some aspects of the ways that individuals interact with one another online, through social networking sites or online chat rooms, that can place vulnerable people at risk by exposing them to detail about suicide methods or conversations that encourage suicide ideation. Indeed in recent years there have been several widely reported cases of individuals taking their own lives having used websites that have provided explicit information on suicide methods or have been used to facilitate suicide pacts. Restriction of access to information about suicide methods is an established component of suicide prevention. However, this is particularly difficult to achieve online not least because suicide related websites hosted abroad are legal in most other countries”.

The Samaritans have worked in partnership with major companies to develop practical initiatives to support people at risk from suicide online. In November 2010, an initiative was launched in partnership with Google to display the Samaritans helpline number and a highly visited telephone icon above the normal Google search results when people in the UK use a number of search terms related to suicide. The Samaritans also worked closely with Facebook to allow users to get help for a friend they believe is struggling to cope or feeling suicidal. We must express our appreciation to the Samaritans for doing this excellent work.

These pioneering initiatives are to be commended, but more must be done. The Department of Health suicide prevention strategy in England recognises the need to continue to support the internet industry to remove content that encourages suicide and to provide ready access to suicide prevention services. In Northern Ireland, the refreshed “Protect Life” strategy includes a new objective to develop and implement internet guidelines that seek both to restrict the promotion of suicide and self-harm and to encourage the circulation of positive mental health messages.

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Online risks must be managed more effectively, and advertisements with hyperlinks to support services must be displayed whenever users discuss or search for information about harmful behaviour if we are to ensure that people in distress can access useful resources quickly.

I acknowledge that the Byron review calls for a shared culture of resilience with families, industry, Government and others in the public and third sector all playing their part to reduce the availability of potential harmful material, to restrict access to it by children and to increase children’s resilience. There needs to be a greater understanding of how young people use modern technologies and communications if they are to be engaged in respect of suicide awareness and prevention, and mental health and well-being.

In conclusion, the causes of suicide are multiple and complex, and they cannot be addressed by any one Government Department working in isolation. Recent years have seen a commitment by Government to deliver suicide prevention strategies throughout the UK, but these must be adequately resourced on a sustainable basis if the progress already made is to be maintained. While we must acknowledge the good work already taking place, there is, of course, always room for improvement, and I believe that efforts must be concentrated on making the internet a safer place for our young people.

I recognise that this is a particularly complex matter and that the challenges it presents are indeed multiple. None the less, they are challenges that must be overcome, for children have the right to be protected from all forms of abuse, violence and harm. Enhanced internet safety is only part of the solution to the growing problem of suicide and self-harm. Through a co-ordinated approach, we must effectively address the issues impacting on emotional health so that we reach a point where so-called “suicide” sites will no longer be attractive to vulnerable individuals and will be made naturally obsolete or unattractive to view. We need to think innovatively about what more can be done across government and the community to reduce the rate of suicide in the UK.

I trust that my right hon. and hon. Friends will deal not only with the issues I have touched on, but with the families of those who have experienced suicide, because they also need help.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the speech he is making in leading this debate and on the tremendous work he is doing to highlight the issue in this place. He has mentioned the refreshed “Protect Life” strategy, and it is good to know that that strategy is developing under devolution. He may just about remember that I was the Minister with responsibility for health at the time when that was launched in 2006. On the hon. Gentleman’s point, I emphasise and ask him to emphasise how important it is for the families of those with direct experience to be at the core of that strategy because they better understand the issues at stake and can inform us all about the best way forward.

Dr McCrea rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I wish to be helpful to the Chamber, and point out that Members are meant to speak through the Chair rather than to the individual Members concerned. I know that

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some Members have not been on the Back Benches for a while, but I hope that they are back into the swing of being in opposition and will remember to speak through the Chair.

Dr McCrea: I concur with the remarks of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins). I can honestly say that there was no better person than himself to introduce and bring in this sort of measure from the beginning. He certainly did sterling work on it, and we in Northern Ireland appreciate what he did, and want to carry it forward to the next step. Thus families in their grief, bewilderment and loss need help and should be at the very heart of whatever next step is taken. The emphasis on suicide prevention must remain, for as the Stamp Out Suicide! website plainly notes:

“once a suicide is completed, very sadly, there is no cure.”

3.34 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Norman Lamb): I shall try to behave, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to address the Chair, as you rightly instructed us to do.

We in the House of Commons frequently find ourselves at loggerheads, and common ground is often hard to come by, but we unite—as a Parliament and as a country—in lamenting the number of people who die by suicide every year. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) and his colleagues for selecting this issue for debate, because it is so easy to go for other less difficult issues. The hon. Gentleman has done the House a service by choosing this subject and giving it a proper airing so that we can debate it and demonstrate to the country that we are focusing on things that matter a great deal. I thank him genuinely for that.

I noted what the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) said about the importance of families and their role. As he said, it is important to listen to them, to understand their perspective, and to recognise what they go through. Once someone has taken his or her own life, the impact of that lost life lasts with the family for the rest of their lives. We owe it to families to listen to them, and to do better in preventing suicide.

The hon. Member for South Antrim produced the shocking statistic that 1 million lives are lost globally, and told us that in many countries young people are now the highest-risk group. He also told us that males are more susceptible to suicide—both middle-aged and young men—and that suicide is the biggest single killer of men under the age of 35. That in itself is deeply concerning. We need to stop and think about the turmoil that is often associated with individuals in the lead-up to the moment when they make their decision. We have a responsibility to do all we can to address that.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the importance of recognising the prevalence of self-harm and the disturbing trends that we are seeing. That is of real concern, and, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is a serious problem in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) wondered whether it was sometimes a post-conflict issue. I know that a lot of work has been done in relation to post-traumatic stress following conflict, wherever it takes place in the world, and the risk that young men and young women may

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take their own lives as a result. I join others in paying tribute to organisations such as the Samaritans and Papyrus for their work in helping people at moments of real risk.

Simon Hughes: I think it is important to provide signposting, so that young people, from secondary school onwards, know where they can go for help. It should not necessarily lead to teachers, family or pastoral care workers, because young people may not want to share their problems with them, especially when the first signs of self-harm appear. We should also do much more to ensure that university health services provide cognitive behavioural therapies and similar services much more quickly than many are able to at present, because the lack of such services has been a real cause of crisis, tension and, indeed, increased suicide risk.

Norman Lamb: One of the things that I am determined to do while I am in this job is give mental health services, and access to them, the real priority that they deserve. Our first mandate to the NHS Commissioning Board gives mental health a much higher priority than it has ever had before. In establishing the principle of parity of esteem, we have asked the board to pay particular attention to access to mental health services in order to ensure that people with those problems have the rights of access that people with physical health problems have had for some time. Every life taken by suicide is one too many.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): I am grateful to the Minister for taking a second intervention so soon after the first. He has rightly paid tribute to the work of the Samaritans, who undoubtedly prevent a huge number of people from taking their own lives and who do tremendous work in Northern Ireland. What public funding do groups such as the Samaritans, who do such tremendous work, receive from the Government?

Norman Lamb: I cannot give the hon. Lady precise figures here and now, but I will write to her and make sure she gets a full response to that legitimate point.

This debate serves as a timely reminder that suicide continues to be a major public health issue, particularly at a time of economic and employment uncertainty. The suicide rate in England is relatively low on international comparisons, and good progress has been made in reducing the rate in England over the past 10 years. That is something to be proud of, but it must not be the end of the struggle. We must be vigilant. About 4,500 people took their own lives in England alone in 2011, an increase on the previous year of about 6%. Although the three-year average suicide rate has remained steady since 2005-07, the rise in the number of people dying by suicide in 2011 is deeply worrying.

We know that suicide rates vary across the UK, and the hon. Member for South Antrim made the point that the suicide rate in Northern Ireland is higher than in England. In fact, it is the highest in the United Kingdom, and Scotland and Wales also have their own very real challenges. The coalition Government are working with the devolved Administrations to share evidence on suicide prevention and effective interventions. Suicide is still a major taboo. The hon. Gentleman highlighted the importance of our collectively speaking up about the

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subject. The way to reduce the number of suicides is not to comply with that taboo and keep it under wraps; on the contrary, we must tackle the problem and the surrounding issues head on.

We published a new suicide prevention strategy for England in September last year. It was written to help to reduce the suicide rate and it prioritises the importance of supporting families, so that those who are worried about a loved one know where to go for help, and supporting those who are bereaved as a result of suicide. They must receive help. There are excellent organisations such as Cruse Bereavement Care—I should declare an interest as my wife works for it—that provide support for people who are bereaved.

The strategy is backed up by up to £1.5 million for research, and it highlights the importance of helping the groups at highest risk of suicide by targeting interventions in the right way and at the right time. In-patient services are getting better at that. The most recent national confidential inquiry into suicide and homicide shows that the long-term downward trend in patient suicides continues.

Giving greater priority to mental health services is also critical. We are championing parity of esteem for physical and mental health, and through our improving access to psychological therapies—IAPT—schemes we are treating more people than ever before for mental health problems. Through the Government’s NHS mandate, we have gone much further than ever before in emphasising the priority the NHS must give to mental health. The mandate also makes specific reference to the need for mental health services to seek to reduce the suicide rate among users of their services, although I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon): we must also be acutely aware that many people—I think she gave the figure of 75%—who take their own lives are not known to the statutory services. It is very important that the statutory services do everything they can, but that is not the whole problem; there is a very significant issue beyond that.

We also need to make sure there is enough information about treatment and support, and that it is freely available to those who need it, including those who are suffering bereavement following a suicide. A lot of that planning and work will happen locally, with local agencies deciding on how best to reduce the suicide rate and support families. Our recent strategy is not an instruction manual; it is more a tool to support local agencies in working out what is needed.

Suicide prevention will also be a priority for the new public health system. The public health outcomes framework has the suicide rate as an indicator. That is a horrible piece of jargon, but this project addresses what outcomes and results the whole system is trying to achieve, and one of them is the need to reduce the suicide rate. A shared indicator with the NHS outcomes framework also focuses on reducing the number of premature deaths of people with serious mental illness—such deaths also, of course, include suicides.

We are tackling stigma in relation to mental health, which the hon. Member for South Antrim rightly mentioned, with the brilliant Time to Change programme led by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, which is designed to reduce stigma and break isolation. A few months ago, we had a brilliant debate in this House when Members talked about their own experiences

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of mental health. That, in itself, was very important in bringing the issue out into the open and recognising that successful people, as well as many others, suffer from mental health problems and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Children and young people have an important place in the new suicide prevention strategy. The suicide rate among teenagers is below that in the overall population, but that does not mean it is not a problem. For example, suicide is still the most common cause of death in young men, as I mentioned earlier. In addition, about half of mental health problems begin to emerge by the age of 14.

Bob Stewart: I apologise for intervening, as the Minister was perhaps going on to deal with this matter. We have now heard four or five times that the level of suicide among young men is much higher than that among young women, but nobody has said why that might be. Is there an answer to that question?

Norman Lamb: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I would not want to indulge in cheap speculation about that. The statistics are clear on the prevalence of suicide among young men and clear that it is significantly higher than among young women. It is important that we carry out the research, which is why the Government have also committed to that as well; it is so that we gain a better understanding.

Mrs Moon: The Minister will be aware that research suggests that women and young girls are less vulnerable to suicide because they are help seekers, whereas young men are not and they will not articulate the problems they are facing. That is the major difference. Women and girls will go to their friends and talk about their problems, whereas men bottle things up so that they grow and grow and they can no longer manage them.

Norman Lamb: I thank the hon. Lady for that helpful intervention. What she says makes sense and I am most grateful to her for coming to my rescue on that—

Several hon. Members rose

Norman Lamb: More people are coming to my rescue.

Simon Hughes: I am always ready to try to rescue, but on this occasion that was not necessary. If sufficient research does not exist on the extent to which people know where to access services, it would be really helpful if the Minister worked with local government and the health and wellbeing boards to try to ensure that such research was carried out. I have a strong feeling that lots of young people, including young men, do not yet know where to go. If they did know, there would be a much better chance that they would do something about their problems and not keep them all inside, with the worst consequences.

Norman Lamb: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and he is right to say that ensuring that youngsters know exactly where to go to find help is really important. Gaining a better understanding of that must be a priority.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I wish to support the point made by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) a moment ago about the reasons why

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suicide is more prevalent among men. It was backed up for me by a recent piece of work carried out in my constituency that showed it is much more difficult to get young and middle-aged men to visit a GP or confide in someone about their health problems than to get women to do the same. The work showed exactly the same problem: a lack of willingness to seek out help early enough. That is a major problem and it needs to be dealt with by more education and information, particularly for young men.

Norman Lamb: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that constructive intervention, and he is absolutely right.

The suicide prevention strategy also recognises that the media have a significant influence on what children do and think. As well as promoting responsible reporting in the media, the strategy emphasises the importance of working with the industry to tackle websites that encourage suicide. That is, in a sense, at the heart of the motion and of the points raised by the hon. Member for South Antrim.

Misuse of the internet to encourage vulnerable people to take their own lives is utterly wrong. It is deeply worrying that young people can easily be exposed to such pernicious material, but we should not dismiss the internet as a source only of harmful material. It also provides an opportunity to reach out to vulnerable people who might otherwise refuse support or information, including those young men who might not come forward. It is worth remembering that when used well the internet can be an incredibly valuable way of helping vulnerable people.

Only last week, I convened a meeting bringing together internet security companies, charities and Departments to explore how to protect children and young people from harmful suicide-related internet content. The industry representatives at the meeting told me about some of the good work they are already doing. For instance, McAfee informed me that it has valuable learning to share from its work with the Australian Government on an online safety campaign in schools. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) will be interested to hear about that. McAfee has campaigned to get the message out to schools in Australia so that youngsters have information about how to seek help. There is a lot we can learn from that.

At that meeting—

Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; it was terribly rude of me to interrupt and I apologise. Will he reassure us that when he convened that critical meeting with those who provide internet services, representatives from the devolved Administrations and from the Health Departments in Northern Ireland and Scotland were invited to attend? When we debate the United Kingdom, even though we have a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland I like to know, as someone who feels passionately about remaining in the United Kingdom, that we have joined-up government.

Norman Lamb: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. Those representatives were not invited to the meeting, but let me make a clear commitment that we will work with the devolved Administrations. I mentioned that earlier and it is in all our interests that we tackle the problem together.

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At that meeting, I urged the security companies, such as McAfee and Symantec, to work collaboratively with interest groups who were present, such as Samaritans and BeatBullying, and internet service providers to sign up to a concordat that would help to speed up the process for reporting harmful content and the blocking of harmful websites. They gave me positive assurances that they would explore such a concordat, and in turn we as a Government would be willing to facilitate and support such an initiative however we can.

The UK Council for Child Internet Safety is already making parental controls more accessible so that children can access less harmful content. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), who is the Minister responsible for children and families, will explain more about the work his Department has been doing when he sums up.

As I said at the outset, this is one of the issues that unite us all.

Tracey Crouch: I thank the Minister for giving way, as he has been very generous in doing so. We have heard that there are a host of reasons why people are driven to suicide, one of which is alcohol dependency. Is the suicide prevention strategy working alongside the alcohol strategy so that there is a holistic, joined-up approach to dealing with some of these complex issues?

Norman Lamb: Yes, very much so. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. In each area in England, the health and wellbeing boards will be able to co-ordinate all that work. In considering their strategic needs assessments, they will be able to identify issues relating to suicide and alcohol and drug dependency.

I hope that I have satisfied the House that the Government take suicide extremely seriously indeed and that we are taking real action to help. I am grateful to the hon. Member for South Antrim for bringing the matter to the House’s attention.

3.54 pm

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): I add my congratulations to those given to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) on calling for this debate, along with his colleagues.

This is one of the few opportunities to address this important issue in the Chamber. There have been Adjournment debates and Westminster Hall debates, but a full Chamber debate is not a natural occurrence for this subject, so I very much welcome it. I begin with a quote from a recent inquiry undertaken by the all-party group on suicide and self-harm prevention. Someone working on suicide prevention in England said:

“So when you are having a discussion”—

as we are today—

“about what does suicide mean, and the numbers are very small compared to smoking or obesity, what is this about, well our deaths by suicide show…the ultimate loss of hope, the ultimate loss of meaning of purpose, yet they are an indicator. They may be small numbers, but they have a very big ripple impact and they are an indicator of what is happening further down that pyramid.”

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This debate, as has been said, is timely, because of the publication of statistics by the Office for National Statistics which show that there has been an increase in suicides in the United Kingdom. In 2011, there were 6,045 suicides—an increase of 7.8% on the previous year. Across the United Kingdom, suicides have increased at different levels. In Wales last year, there was an 18.4% increase, and in Scotland, a 13.8% increase. However, Scotland has changed the data on which it bases its statistics, and it argues that if it had not changed statistical gathering information and the classification of deaths by alcohol, there would have been a small decrease.

In Northern Ireland, the figure is down slightly by 7.7%, from 313 to 289 deaths from suicide, but in 2009, it was as low as 260, so over that period there was an increase. In England, however, there is a 7.4% increase, but the figure varies across the country. In the south-east, it is 6%, but in the north-west, it is 9.3%, which will be of particular interest to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The highest risk group—and there has been a lot of talk about young people, particularly young men—is men aged 30 to 44, with 23.5 deaths per 100,000. The 45 to 59 age group has the highest rate of suicides among women, and there is also an increase in deaths for men in that group.

When the ONS says there has been a significant increase, it means that we can be 95% confident that the increase has occurred because of an underlying reason, and not just by chance. Our job is to look at that underlying reason. What is driving these increases?

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Does the hon. Lady agree that when Members and others deal with families who are trying to come to terms with a suicide, very often there is a lack of help when those families try to identify within the family circle a behavioural change and problem that led up to the suicide? Sometimes they are racked with guilt because they cannot identify the problems that ultimately led to the suicide. Perhaps that is where attention and resource can be deployed.

Mrs Moon: I apologise to the House. I have lost a contact lens, and I have to wear spectacles. I cannot read my papers when I am wearing them, and I cannot see all hon. Members in the Chamber when I take them off. If I am not wearing them, hon. Members must alert me if they wish to intervene.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Families tear themselves apart over the question of why. They try to analyse behaviour, particularly in the weeks leading up to the death, to seek an understanding of it. Only if there is a suicide autopsy can one begin to look at the reasons behind a death. That is a complicated procedure that cannot be carried out for every death, but it can give some understanding of the wider reasons behind such deaths. I totally agree that the distress for families as to why the suicide has happened is horrific.

That is why the research to which we have access is important. Haw, Hawton, Gunnell and Platt found that the economic recession had a clear impact on suicide. However, the increase in the suicide rate may be offset by adequate welfare benefits; their finding was very clear on that. Other measures likely to reduce the impact of recession included targeted intervention for the

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unemployed and membership of social organisations. They found that responsible media reporting was also important. Research at the university of Liverpool found that more than 1,000 people took their own lives during the 2008-10 economic recession in the United Kingdom.

There are ways in which we can begin to look at some of the problems that are staring us in the face and that may be causing some of the increase that is becoming apparent. Suicides began to rise in the UK in 2008, following 20 years of decline. Figures rose almost 8% among men and 9% among women in 2008, compared with 2007. The figures reflect the increased effect of the recession. I want to reiterate that research has found that there are risks associated with failure to provide adequate welfare benefits. There are currently high levels of distress and hopelessness caused by the changes in benefit that are about to come into force.

Jim Shannon: I am sure the hon. Lady is aware that the Prince’s Trust recently released figures which show that one in four of those who are in work are almost always or very often depressed. Among those who are unemployed the rate rises as high as 50%. Does she feel there should be a focus on young people, who are suffering more than most? Her colleague—I cannot remember his constituency—had an Adjournment debate in the Chamber on that very topic and he highlighted the issue as well.

Mrs Moon: The figures show that the increased number of deaths are among an older group of men, largely those who have not experienced unemployment before, who find unemployment very difficult to deal with and who despair about being able to maintain their family lifestyle, pay their bills and see a future where they can again be economically successful. We must be careful that those who are unemployed and who need to survive on benefits for however short a period are not made to feel failures, a burden on the state or pariahs in our society.

I know that Ministers will probably argue that the Government are doing wonderful things in relation to benefits but the Office for National Statistic figures highlight a very worrying trend. I hope there will be discussions between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health to highlight the importance of Jobcentre Plus staff in particular being aware of claimants coming in who may well be suffering from depression and exhibiting signs of hopelessness and despair, and being able to take suitable preventive action.

Although the numbers are small compared with cancer, heart disease and dementia, suicide is a reflection of the overall health of a country and a community, and the ripple effects on the health of those impacted by it are very great. Other Members have spoken about the impact on families, but communities, schools and workplaces are also affected. There is an impact on people who have known the individual and people who identify themselves with that individual, which is where the risk is most dangerous.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): May I return to my hon. Friend’s point about the age profile of recent suicide victims? In going through the research, has she found that, in particular, men of a certain age, perhaps in their late 40s or early 50s, who have young

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children and who suddenly and unexpectedly lose their job, lose their self-esteem and cannot reposition themselves in what has traditionally been the caring-for-children role in the family setting? Does she think that there is a role for providing support to such people in regaining their self-esteem and repositioning themselves in order to get across to them that they have value in their new position, even if they do not get back their previous one, and to get them back on to a positive track rather than a downward spiral towards possible suicide?

Mrs Moon: My hon. Friend asks a complicated question. The research that I have looked at has considered the impact of suicide figures in recessions, not only in the UK but across the world, and it goes back in time to look at the great depression and recession that we had in the 1930s. As far as I am aware, no work has been done, certainly by that research group, on the impact on men’s self-esteem in assuming a caring role and responsibility within the family. Should I come across it, I will certainly pass it his way.

Last year, the all-party group on suicide and self-harm prevention, which I chair, considered a number of issues that we have to address in relation to suicide. Every meeting brings the best authorities that we can find into the corridors of Westminster to explain and talk about the work that they are doing.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on the excellent work that she does in her all-party group. Has it looked into the specific issue of suicide in Her Majesty’s prisons and young offender institutions? Coming from a legal background, as I do, I am aware of that issue and wonder whether she has any observations to make about it.

Mrs Moon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We have not yet looked at that issue, but I pay close attention to it because I have Parc prison in my constituency. I hope at some point to secure an Adjournment debate on work that people are doing there on the Invisible Walls project, which builds and re-establishes links between prisoners and their families—their partners and children—because the best sense of rehabilitation that can be given to someone serving a sentence is the feeling that there is hope for a family life once they leave prison. That extremely important work is one of the ways we could focus on improving outcomes for people once they leave prison.

Bob Stewart: I suspect that the most vulnerable people are those who leave prison without a place to go to, in much the same way as, in my experience, soldiers who leave the armed forces go back to nothing if they have no family. Does the hon. Lady agree that we must take a great deal of interest in the people who have nothing, when they have a break from routine, such as leaving prison or the armed forces?