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House of Commons

Tuesday 11 March 2014

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—

Young People (Employment Support)

1. Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): What fiscal measures he plans to introduce to support young people into work. [902928]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): The Chancellor of the Exchequer is at ECOFIN and I have been asked to reply.

Youth unemployment is falling and the number of young people on jobseeker’s allowance is 120,000 lower than in May 2010. No young person should be left behind in the recovery. That is why we have delivered 1.6 million apprenticeship starts so far this Parliament. We will abolish national insurance contributions for under-21s, which will help to support jobs for almost 1.5 million young people, and we are supporting up to half a million young people into education and employment through the Youth Contract.

Dr Coffey: I welcome the announcement in the autumn statement on the employers’ national insurance holiday for under-21s, which will be a big boost for many businesses in coastal towns such as those in Suffolk Coastal, and for pubs across the country, which regularly employ young people. Has my right hon. Friend estimated what impact the measure will have on youth unemployment?

Danny Alexander: We think the policy will have a significant impact. That is also the view of business organisations, which have warmly welcomed it. With the abolition of employer NICs for under-21s, it will become more than £500 cheaper to employ an under 21-year-old earning £12,000 a year, and more than £1,000 cheaper to employ an under 21-year-old earning £16,000 a year. Of course, employment is driven by a range of factors, but the wide welcome the measure has had suggests it will have a significant impact on employment.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): But surely the Minister recognises that, in areas such as mine—a rural part of Scotland like the one he represents—it is sometimes much more difficult, so the Government should make more effort to ensure that absolutely no one is left without a job opportunity.

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Danny Alexander: I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point on rural areas, and I think that both he and I wish the Scottish Government recognised that more. Scottish National party Members are conspicuous by their absence from Treasury questions once again, but perhaps we will address that under Question 2. A combination of extra funding for apprenticeships, national insurance support for employers and the Youth Contract gives as much help in rural areas as it does in urban areas.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Warburtons bakery, which is making a £20 million investment in east Lancashire, creating more than 60 jobs? It is supporting the Rossendale and Darwen jobs fair in May. Youth unemployment in my constituency has been brought down by 28% in the past year.

Danny Alexander: I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Warburtons bakery on that investment and on the jobs it is creating. It is of a piece with businesses creating more than 1.6 million private sector jobs since the Government came to office, because we have created the right conditions for businesses to grow. The reduction in employers’ NICs for young people will give that business an incentive to take young people on in those new jobs.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): How many more young people have been claiming jobseeker’s allowance for more than 12 months compared with when the Chief Secretary took office four years ago?

Danny Alexander: As I said in my answer to the first question, the number of young people on jobseeker’s allowance is 120,000 lower than it was in May 2010. The Labour party told us that it would not be possible to create enough jobs even to take up the jobs lost in the public sector but, in fact, more than 1.6 million jobs have been created in the private sector since the Government took office. The hon. Gentleman should congratulate us on that record.

Chris Leslie: Perhaps the Chief Secretary did not hear me properly—I asked about the long-term youth claimant count. The number of young people who have been out of work for 12 months or more has doubled under this Government from 28,300 to 56,100. Frankly, 56,000 young people will be staggered by the complacency of his answer. Surely we should be offering a guaranteed starter job for all young people who have been out of work for a year or more, paid for with a repeat of the bankers’ bonus tax. Does he still believe that those bankers need their millions more than those young people need their opportunities?

Danny Alexander: Long-term youth unemployment was down 25,000 on the quarter. Youth unemployment is down 15% in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and he ought to welcome that. The fact is that the bonus tax, which the former Chancellor says would not raise any money, is being spent on, I believe, 10 different measures by Labour, showing how fiscally incredible its plans are.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Youth unemployment has shown a welcome national fall, but the situation is even better in my constituency, where youth unemployment

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has more than halved from 7.6% to 3.1%. Does the Chief Secretary agree that that shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan is working for my young constituents?

Danny Alexander: I am delighted to hear about the success in reducing youth unemployment in Rugby, which is a consequence of the coalition Government’s decisions to make sure that we have the right climate for businesses to invest, grow and create jobs, which is in stark contrast to what the Opposition did in office.

Currency Union

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Governor of the Bank of England on a currency union with an independent Scotland. [902929]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): Both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have regular discussions with the Governor of the Bank of England on a wide range of issues on the UK economy. As I said last week in Edinburgh, there will not be a currency union between Scotland and the rest of the UK. The shadow Chancellor has also made that clear. A currency union would not work for the rest of the UK or for an independent Scotland.

Anas Sarwar: Not keeping the pound could mean higher mortgages, more expensive car loans, higher credit card bills and uncertainty about how pensions and benefits are paid, yet we have no credible answers from the nationalists. Standard Life, RBS, Lloyds, Aggreko, Allianz, BP, Shell, Citigroup, the CBI, the Institute of Directors and many others say that the currency plans are bad news for Scotland. Can the Chief Secretary tell us: are they scaremongering? Is it bullying? Is it bluff and bluster? Are they part of some Unionist conspiracy, or are they reflecting the concerns of people across Scotland?

Danny Alexander: There is no bluff, bluster or bullying on this issue. Businesses, the Treasury and the political parties are making it clear that, on the basis of the evidence, a currency union would be bad for Scotland and bad for the rest of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman rightly lists a range of businesses that have looked at their business models and recognised the damaging effect that independence would have on them. It is important that those businesses feel able to speak out to explain to their shareholders and workers how they see it, because people in Scotland should have every bit of information we need when we cast our votes in the referendum in September.

Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I commend my right hon. Friend’s answer. Does he agree that anybody who thinks that a currency union between sovereign states is a good idea should make an early visit to southern Europe?

Danny Alexander: It is striking how little the Scottish National party appears to have learned from what has happened in the eurozone. The truth is that when setting up a new country, the last thing anyone wants to do is to abandon all the levers that control the economy. The

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first few decades of independence would be a risky, dangerous and uncertain phase, and embarking on it without the ability to control interest rates or an exchange rate that can, for example, adjust to oil price fluctuations, and with your hands bound on tax and spending—one of the lessons of the eurozone crisis—is an utterly ridiculous proposition.


Mr Speaker: Question 3, Andrew Selous.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): Employment in the United Kingdom is increasing—

Mr Speaker: Order. I know that the Chief Secretary is an important man with many important matters on his mind, but none is more important than the grouping of questions 3 and 11. Am I right?

Danny Alexander: You are right, Mr Speaker, and I beg your pardon.

3. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the rate of employment. [902930]

11. Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the rate of employment. [902939]

Danny Alexander: Employment in the UK is increasing and, under this Government, has exceeded 30 million for the first time in our country’s history. Over the last year, the employment rate has risen 0.6 percentage points to 72.1%, higher than that in the US, Italy and France, and the EU28 and the G7 averages. In the last year, employment has grown faster in the UK than it has in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the EU28 and the G7.

Andrew Selous: Given that some Members of this House were predicting that the Government’s long-term economic plan would lead to the disappearance of 1 million jobs, can the Chief Secretary remind the House how many new jobs have been created in the last three years?

Danny Alexander: My hon. Friend is right and he draws attention to one Member who told the CBI annual conference that our plan would lead to the disappearance of 1 million jobs—[Hon. Members: “Who was it?”] It was the Leader of the Opposition. In fact, employment has increased by 1.3 million, with more than 1.6 million jobs created in the private sector—proof, if anyone should need it, that our economic plan is working for the United Kingdom.

Richard Harrington: I know that the House will be delighted to hear that long-term unemployment in my constituency of Watford is down by 22%. Youth unemployment is down by 33% in the last 12 months alone, and the number of JSA claimants is also down by 27%. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will stick to their long-term plan and continue to back Watford business with better infrastructure and lower taxes on jobs?

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Danny Alexander: It will please my hon. Friend to know that I can confirm that, yes: we will stick to the plan that is getting the recovery going. There is, of course, a vast amount still to do to get our economy back on the right track and to ensure we get more people into work. Nothing would threaten that more than abandoning the economic plan that has got us this far.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): Will the Chief Secretary confirm that the number of people on jobseeker’s allowance for more than two years has quadrupled since the Government came into office? Will he accept that we have a serious long-term unemployment problem that requires Government action, beyond what is happening at the moment, to tackle it?

Danny Alexander: The most recent set of figures for the quarter show that long-term unemployment has come down, including in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I note, too, that the shadow housing Minister’s flagship programme to build more houses has been cut away by the shadow Chancellor, or is that yet another way they plan to spend their mythical bonus tax?

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Will the Chief Secretary confirm that the employment rate is actually below pre-recession levels?

Danny Alexander: The employment rate, the number of people in employment, is higher than it has ever been. The employment rate is getting near to its record high again.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): That is good news, but what proportion of new jobs are in London and the south-east? Do we not need to do even more to rebalance the economy?

Danny Alexander: Employment levels are rising in every part of the United Kingdom, but my hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the fact that there is a great deal more work to be done to invest in infrastructure and expand our investment in apprenticeships. The growth deals and city deals benefit every part of this country, and the industrial strategies taken forward by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills are helping to grow manufacturing and exports in a way that was lamentably absent from the previous Government’s plans.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Small and medium-sized enterprises have a crucial role in providing employment. Why are my constituents and the businesses in my constituency telling me that they are still having problems borrowing from banks?

Danny Alexander: We are taking a lot of action to get banks lending more to small businesses. If the hon. Gentleman has any specific cases, I am sure he could take them up with the bank, or draw them to my attention—I would gladly look at them. Measures such as the employment allowance, a tax rate for small businesses to employ more people, and national insurance cuts for under-21s, have been widely welcomed by small business organisations precisely because they will support small businesses to create more jobs and employment.

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Welfare Spending

4. Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): What fiscal steps he is taking to limit welfare spending. [902931]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Nicky Morgan): The Government have announced their intention to bring social security spending within firm spending controls through the introduction of a welfare cap. The level of the cap will be announced at Budget 2014. The Government have taken significant action to bring welfare costs under control since 2010. The welfare cap will ensure that welfare spending remains on a sustainable footing and that significant deteriorations in the forecast do not go uncorrected.

Chris Heaton-Harris: I welcome that answer. Does my hon. Friend believe that the tough decisions the Government have taken to control public spending on welfare have enabled them to protect public spending on schools and the national health service, and that this policy is a vital part of the Government’s long-term economic plan to reduce the deficit and safeguard the British economy?

Nicky Morgan: My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Government have taken difficult decisions to place the public finances on a sustainable footing, while protecting important areas of expenditure such as the NHS. The Government’s long-term economic plan to return the public finances to a sustainable path has restored fiscal credibility. It is notable that the Labour party has no plan, long-term or otherwise, other than to borrow more, spend more and tax more.

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister accept that the cuts to the welfare budget will lead to an increase in poverty, particularly child poverty? Does she believe that that is a price worth paying?

Nicky Morgan: The number of children in poverty has fallen and the number of children in workless households has gone down by 100,000.

Youth Unemployment

5. Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): What steps he plans to take to reduce youth unemployment. [902932]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): Youth unemployment is falling, and the rate for the number of young people not in education, employment or training is at its lowest since 2008. However, we are not complacent. We are helping up to 500,000 young people into education and employment through the Youth Contract, funding jobcentres to help young adults who are not at school to find work through training, and piloting a new mandatory skills scheme for young jobseekers without basic maths or English.

Nick de Bois: When the Chancellor came to my constituency—where youth unemployment has fallen 32% since the general election—to launch his employment allowance, he met representatives of the excellent Ridgeway Garages, who told him that they would be employing more people and hoped to employ more young people.

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They also came to last week’s job fair and recruited five people, including young people. However, many businesses were unaware of the existence of the employment allowance. What steps will the Chancellor take to promote that excellent scheme?

Sajid Javid: Let me begin by praising my hon. Friend for holding another successful job fair in his constituency. It is a concept that he pioneered, helping many young people to find jobs. HMRC has already held discussions with businesses, charities and payroll software providers about the employment allowance, and will use its key publications and communications to advertise it further. It will also work with key stakeholders to ensure that the abolition of employer national insurance contributions for under-21s, which will come into effect in April 2015, is delivered effectively.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): The Government clearly oppose the implementation of a national youth jobs guarantee, but given that long-term youth unemployment is twice as high in the black country as it is elsewhere, surely the Minister must accept the case for a specific, targeted plan to guarantee young people in the area the chance of a job or training so that they can start their careers.

Sajid Javid: When the last Government were in office, unemployment among young people rose by 45%, so we are not going to listen to any ideas that Labour Members may have about it. The best way of cutting unemployment, whether long-term or otherwise, is to establish a growing economy that creates jobs. In the last four years, our economy has seen 1.3 million jobs created, and more people employed than at any other time in history.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Youth unemployment in Dover and Deal has fallen by 25% in the last year, having increased by 50% in the last Parliament. Does that not show that it is important for us not just to have a long-term economic plan that is working but to do more to repair the damage done by the last Labour Government?

Sajid Javid: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to stick to our long-term plan to ensure that we have a growing economy that creates jobs and gives people the financial stability that they need, and the biggest risk to that plan would be our adoption of Labour’s policies of more borrowing, more spending and more debt.

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): Unemployment among young people in my constituency remains stubbornly high, at just under 500, but under-employment is also a big issue. Many people are in insecure employment, on zero-hours contracts, and barely managing to struggle on the minimum wage. Will the Minister make an assessment of under-employment and develop a strategy to address it?

Sajid Javid: Unemployment in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency rose in all categories under the last Government, and youth unemployment has fallen by 33% so far under the present Government. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming that. He is right to point out that we must do much more to

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deal with the problem, but I am sure he supports the efforts that the Government have made in regard to apprenticeships. There have been 1.5 million apprenticeship starts over the last four years.

Monetary Policy Committee

6. Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): What consideration he has given to reforming the membership of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. [902933]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): The Government are protecting the incomes of low-income households by freezing fuel duty and taking 2.7 million people out of tax by increasing their personal allowance. The best way to raise—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. I think that the Minister is a tad confused. We are on Question 6, which is about membership of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England.

Sajid Javid: I beg your pardon, Mr Speaker.

The Monetary Policy Committee consists of the individuals who are best qualified to make the decisions necessary to achieve the Government’s monetary policy objectives: the Governor of the Bank of England, the two deputy governors, two members of the Bank with responsibility for monetary policy and market operations, and four external members who are appointed by the Chancellor. All appointments are made on merit.

Jonathan Edwards: Diolch, Mr Speaker.

Regardless of the result of the referendum in Scotland, it seems inevitable that the devolved Governments will have more fiscal responsibility over the coming years. Fiscal empowerment needs to be matched with monetary policy-setting reform. Does the Minister agree that one option would be to appoint representatives of the devolved nations—and, arguably, representatives of territories outside the United Kingdom that use sterling, such as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man—to the MPC, to ensure that monetary policy is formulated on the basis of the economic requirements of every part of the sterling zone? Would that not truly represent a partnership of equals?

Sajid Javid: No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think the MPC is constituted in the right way. He knows that monetary policy is not a devolved responsibility, and there are no plans to change that.

Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (Con): As well as ensuring more diversity in terms of gender, will my hon. Friend ensure more diversity of opinion and outlook in the membership of the MPC? Specifically, may we have a few free market economists who recognise that cheap credit is a consequence of economic success, not necessarily a cause of it?

Sajid Javid: I like the contribution my hon. Friend makes to Parliament so I hope that he is not applying to join the MPC. I agree, however, that when appointments are made on merit, diversity is important.

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Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): I wonder if the Minister can tell us why there have been no women on the MPC since June 2010. Why has the Chancellor not appointed a single woman to the MPC over those last four years, and does the Minister agree with Labour that it is time to put that right?

Sajid Javid: Appointments to the MPC should always be made on merit and—[Interruption.] Diversity is, of course, always an important consideration. Factors in decisions on appointing external members to the MPC include looking at career training and background as well as ethnicity and gender. [Interruption.] The Government would like to see more women on the MPC and will encourage them to apply. [Interruption.] It is also worth noting that four women have already been part of the MPC.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Following on from the previous question, how will the Government be encouraging more women to apply for jobs on the MPC?

Sajid Javid: Whenever there is a vacancy on the MPC, the Government look at encouraging women to apply and will often invite women to apply to ensure that we can make our best efforts to increase diversity.

Office for Budget Responsibility

7. Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): What plans he has to enhance the role of the Office for Budget Responsibility. [902934]

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): The OBR has a broad remit, set out in the charter for budget responsibility, to examine and report on the sustainability of the public finances. Autumn statement 2013 announced that over the course of 2014 the OBR will be initiating an external review of its core publications. Following the outcome of the review, the Government will hold their own review of the OBR at the start of the next Parliament.

Tom Greatrex: I thank the Minister for his reply, but as the Chief Secretary’s own leadership manoeuvres now require him to suggest a different policy from his Conservative colleagues in government, and after more spurious and out-of-touch attacks by the self-styled Bromsgrove bully boy, please will he explain precisely why he objects to the OBR undertaking an audit of all party manifestos prior to the election?

Mr Gauke: I might refer the hon. Gentleman to what his colleague the noble Lord Eatwell said when this matter was debated in the House of Lords on 8 November 2010. [Hon. Members: “Who?”] Labour Members are saying, “Who?” He is actually the Labour spokesman in the House of Lords. Lord Eatwell said:

“we on this side agree…to confine the activities of the OBR to consideration of the impact of government policies alone. I am sure it is right that the OBR should not become embroiled in political controversy.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 November 2010; Vol. 722, c. 16-17.]

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Cost of Living (Low Earners)

8. Mr Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): What steps he has taken to reduce the cost of living for people on low incomes. [902936]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): The Government are protecting the incomes of low-income households by freezing fuel duty and council tax and taking 2.7 million people out of tax by freezing the personal allowance. The best way to raise living standards is to stick to the Government’s long-term economic plan, which delivers for all. Britain is back on the path of prosperity: the economy is growing, the deficit is falling and jobs are being created.

Mr Hepburn: Now that’s nonsense. How on earth can this Government—the lot of them—justify this, let alone lie straight in bed at night, when they have given the top 1% richest people in this country a £100,000 pay rise and at the same time they are impoverishing the real workers of the country—the postmen, the nurses, the teachers—by making them up to £2,000 a year worse off?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Gentleman should put an end to the petty party politics and focus on the facts. He talks about the richest 1%, but the richest 1% are paying almost 30% of total income tax, which is the highest share ever. The richest 5% are paying almost 50% of total income tax. The only way this country will recover from Labour’s great recession is if we stick to our long-term economic plan, which is delivering for all.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Is not creating more jobs the best way to help the lowest paid? Of the 200 businesses I have polled in my constituency, 83% say that they are optimistic about the future and want to expand to create more jobs. Would not the best way to help them be to lower their taxation so that they can create those job opportunities?

Sajid Javid: Of course my hon. Friend is right; the best way for anyone to raise their living standards is through having an economy that creates more paid employment. That is why we should welcome the fact that more than 1.3 million jobs have been added to our economy over the past four years.

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): The Minister is not having the best of days today, and I wonder whether I could help him by inviting him and the Chancellor to come to Coventry, where I could introduce him to many families in my constituency who are on very low wages and, despite both parents working, finding it very hard to make ends meet. Is he aware that the singular achievement of this Government, and this Treasury, has been to create a new social class—namely, the working poor?

Sajid Javid: The hon. Gentleman talks about people not having the best of days, but he should reflect on the policies of the Government he supported and on how many lives were destroyed by the great recession, which was the deepest in 100 years. The best way to raise living standards is to stick to our long-term economic plan. If we abandoned it, many more people would suffer.

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Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): A good way to help those on low incomes is to take less money from them in tax. Next month, the Liberal Democrat manifesto target of a £10,000 income tax threshold will be achieved. Will the Minister help the low paid further by increasing that threshold to £10,500?

Sajid Javid: This Government are proud that we have been able to cut taxes for the lowest paid in society. In fact, people working full time on the national minimum wage will have seen their income tax bill more than halved because of this Government, and I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for that policy.

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): Now we know that the Minister thinks there are no women in Britain good enough to be on the Monetary Policy Committee, let me ask him another question. The Chancellor’s Budgets and spending reviews have hit women, particularly those on low incomes, a staggering four times harder than they have hit men. Millions are struggling with the cost of living crisis, and people are on average £26 a week worse off since 2010, so why are the Chancellor’s top-rate tax cut and marriage tax break giving 80% of the benefit to men? Just take a look at the Government Benches. Are this Government completely out of touch with the women in this country?

Sajid Javid: Because of this Government’s economic plan to deal with the record budget deficit that the previous Government left behind, more women are employed in our economy than at any other time in history, and 1.4 million women have been taken out of income tax altogether because of our personal income tax allowance increases.

Petrol Prices

9. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effect of freezing fuel duty on the price of petrol. [902937]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Nicky Morgan): The autumn statement confirmed that fuel duty would be frozen for the remainder of this Parliament. As a result of this Government’s actions, average pump prices are now 13p a litre lower than they would have been if we had implemented the previous Government’s fuel duty escalator, and they will be 20p a litre lower by the end of this Parliament.

Stephen Metcalfe: Does my hon. Friend agree that this Government’s changes to fuel duty and the scrapping of next months’ increase proposed by the previous Government provide more proof that it is this Government who are helping hard-working families to tackle the cost of living and supporting our long-term economic plan?

Nicky Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is entirely right. In total, the Government will have eased the burden on motorists by £22.5 billion over this Parliament, to 2015-16. By the end of this Parliament, it will cost the typical motorist £11 less to fill their car.

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Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Will the Minister explain to my constituents in rural west Durham why, of the 10 areas that the Treasury wants to have a special rural fuel duty discount, eight are in Liberal Democrat constituencies, with two in the constituency of the Chief Secretary?

Nicky Morgan: There are strict criteria that towns have to meet in order to be included in the list. If other towns want to be considered, they need to supply the relevant evidence. The criteria include the pump price threshold, the cost of transporting fuel and the population density. If the hon. Lady’s constituents would like to submit evidence to the European Commission, they are welcome to do so.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Motorists in my constituency are relieved to have had fuel duty frozen, but they want the Government to go further. Now that pump prices have fallen from their peak levels, how does what the Government have achieved with fuel duty rates compare with a policy of a fair fuel stabiliser?

Nicky Morgan: The point made by the hon. Gentleman, which his constituents will appreciate, is that freezing fuel duty has enabled people to spend more money on themselves and their families in other ways. He needs to understand that fuel duty cuts and freezes since Budget 2011 have had to be fully funded through tax rises or spending cuts elsewhere. Any further action needs to be considered in the context of the wider public finances.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Tomorrow, the FairFuelUK campaign will be handing in a petition calling for a reduction in fuel duty. Given that the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has indicated that a 3p reduction would increase jobs by 70,000 and GDP by 0.2%, does the Minister agree that such a measure should be given priority in the forthcoming Budget in order to help the economy on its way and to promote growth?

Nicky Morgan: That is a matter for the Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Government regularly receive a range of representations on fuel duty. We hear what he and many other campaigners, not only on fuel duty but on many other issues, have been asking for.

20. [902949] Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I want to address the point about the rural fuel duty cut. We have been beneficiaries in Northumberland, as one of the two constituencies not necessarily in Scotland. I can state the reason simply: merely look at a map and identify the fact that the least amount of people are there.

Nicky Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am delighted that his constituents will benefit from the rural fuel rebate scheme, which means that, as I said, his constituents will have more money to spend on themselves and their families in other ways.

Income Tax Thresholds: Assistance

10. Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to assist people who earn below the income tax threshold. [902938]

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The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): The question was about help for those who earn below the income tax threshold. It is worth pointing out that 2.7 million people who earn below the current income tax threshold would be above the threshold but for the actions of this Government to raise the personal allowance. Those in work who do not pay income tax have benefited from, for example, frozen fuel duty and council tax, and reduced energy bills. The Government are also introducing universal credit to ensure that work always pays.

Sheila Gilmore: I thank the Minister for his reply, but I am not sure that the 17% of employees—4.6 million people—who are already under the income tax threshold will be impressed by the main policy being to increase the threshold yet again. The problem for these people is that the tax cuts that have taken place already have been more than wiped out by reductions in working tax credits and child tax credits. What targeted help will the Government give to such people, such as extended free child care or serious work on earnings thresholds being increased?

Mr Gauke: I have to remind the hon. Lady of the state of the public finances when we came to office and the very difficult circumstances that we face. The fact that 2.7 million people have been taken out of income tax as a consequence of our policies shows the emphasis by the coalition Government on supporting those in low-paid work.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): The Minister is absolutely right about the commitment of our Liberal Democrat and Conservative colleagues in increasing the tax threshold. What consideration has my hon. Friend given to looking similarly to national insurance contributions?

Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have to look across the board, and what we see is a Government who, in difficult circumstances, while taking difficult decisions to reduce the deficit, have made every effort to ensure that work pays. I am sure that we will continue to do so.

Average Earnings

12. Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): What comparative assessment he has made of trends in the annual rates of inflation and growth in average earnings since May 2010. [902940]

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): The fall in living standards is a consequence of the economic crisis. In its latest forecast, the Office for Budget Responsibility expects real earnings to rise in 2014 and growth to strengthen in every year of the forecast. The only way to raise living standards is to stick to our long-term economic plan and to deliver a recovery that works for all.

Mr Cunningham: Despite this Government’s policies making the economic situation worse, the hard work of the skilled labour force and small businesses has started to lift the economy. Is the Minister aware that in the west midlands GDP per capita is 18% below the UK average and wages are well below the national average?

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Real wages fell by 5% from 2010 to 2013; wages are not rising and people in the west midlands are struggling to make ends meet. What are the Government doing about that? They should stop blaming the previous Government because it is their policies that caused this in the first place.

Mr Gauke: The reality is that the west midlands, as with other parts of the country, is growing strongly. Today’s figures show that manufacturing has grown by 3.3% over the past year, and that is particularly important for the west midlands. The reality is that we are moving into a period of growth, and that is encouraging. Further work needs to be done, but the truth is that this Government have succeeded in turning around the mess that we inherited.

Energy-intensive Industries

13. Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): What discussions he has had with energy-intensive industries on measures to be included in the 2014 Budget. [902941]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Nicky Morgan): I meet a range of companies and industry bodies to discuss energy issues and their impact on business. The Government take the competitiveness of energy-intensive industries very seriously. We have made a package of £400 million available until 2015-16, and we continue to explore ways to ensure that our energy-intensive industries remain competitive.

Jessica Morden: Last week, job losses were announced at Orb steelworks—a subsidiary of Tata—in my constituency. The combination of high energy prices, the carbon floor price and the renewables obligation has hit the UK steel industry much harder than its competitors. Will the Minister acknowledge that there needs to be a package of measures in the forthcoming Budget, because unfortunately what the Government have done so far has just not been enough?

Nicky Morgan: First, may I express my sympathy for anybody whose job has been either lost or put at risk? I know that Wales Office Ministers have been in close contact with energy-intensive industries in Wales and have had discussions with both the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and me about these issues. The Government recognise that the rise in energy costs is a key issue for many businesses, especially given the lower than expected European carbon price, and we will of course listen to all concerns expressed in relation to these issues.

Beer Duty

14. Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): How much beer duty was paid by people in each income quintile in each year from 2008 to 2013. [902942]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Nicky Morgan): Budget 2013 ended the beer duty escalator and reduced the tax on beer by 1p a pint to help support pubs. The Office for National Statistics publication “The effects of taxes and benefits on household income” provides estimates of the amount of beer and cider duties paid by households

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in each quintile, and in 2011-12 households in the bottom quintile paid £87 while households in the top income quintile paid £208.

Andrew Griffiths: Given that we have seen revenue to the Treasury increase, £400 million-worth of investment by the industry in jobs and growth, and brewers and businesses benefiting from the cut in beer duty, does the Minister agree that the Chancellor was right to scrap Labour’s hated beer duty escalator? Given that a trip to the pub is one of our few pleasures in life, does she accept that it would be folly to increase beer duty in the Budget?

Nicky Morgan: Of course I agree with the actions that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer took at the last Budget, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the campaign he ran on behalf of pubs, both in his constituency and across the country. I have seen the confidence that the reduction in beer duty has given to Britain’s pubs. The public finances already assume that beer duty will rise by less than other alcohol duties this year, after we ended that beer duty escalator. As my hon. Friend will know, we keep all taxes and duties under review.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): In the interests of balance, will the Minister acknowledge that although a penny off a pint through beer duty is welcome, the Chancellor’s VAT changes added 5p to the price of a pint? Will she simply acknowledge that fact, as VAT does not get mentioned by Ministers at all?

Nicky Morgan: I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making, but the fact is that, given the changes introduced in last year’s Budget, the cost of a typical pint has come down. We should all be very grateful for that.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I warmly welcome the Treasury decision to scrap the beer duty escalator, give a cut in beer duty and support a freeze this year, but although that has been hugely helpful to brewing, it has not helped many pubco pubs, which face a pubco price escalator. The price of an 11 gallon keg of Fosters for a pubco pub has gone up four and a half times more than it has for a free-of-tie pub, with the same inflation and the same duty. Will the Government stop this scandal with a fair deal for our local?

Nicky Morgan: The hon. Gentleman knows well that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been reviewing that whole matter. It has had many thousands of responses to its consultation, and we await the response, which will be published in due course.

Banking Reform

15. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What recent steps he has taken to reform the banking sector. [902943]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): Through the Financial Services (Banking Reform ) Act 2013, the Government have brought forward the most significant reform to the banking sector in a generation. We have ring-fenced vital everyday banking, including

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investment banking, and introduced depositor preference and bail-in to ensure that taxpayers are not on the hook when a bank fails.

John Howell: Does my hon. Friend agree that under the previous Government’s system of financial regulation, there were no clear channels of accountability, and that by putting the Bank of England back in charge, it will be better placed to take full responsibility for financial stability?

Sajid Javid: I agree with my hon. Friend. Under the previous Government’s system of financial regulation, there was a lack of clarity over who was responsible for financial stability, so when the alarm bells were ringing, no one was listening. We have reformed the system of financial regulation to address those failures by placing responsibility for financial stability firmly with the Bank of England and creating two newly focused financial regulators, the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): If the Royal Bank of Scotland asks for permission to pay bonuses of more than 100% of salary—while, incidentally, its subsidiary NatWest closes branches in my constituency—will the Chancellor just say no, or is he as out of touch as the bank appears to be?

Sajid Javid: The failed regulation by the previous Government that led to Government ownership of RBS also produced a system of governance that is done on an arm’s length basis. Those are commercial decisions for RBS. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make representations to it, he can do so through me if he wishes.

Topical Questions

T1. [902953] Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Danny Alexander): The core purpose of the Treasury is to ensure the stability and prosperity of the UK economy. I can tell the House today that I am publishing the first review of compliance with the rules on tax arrangements for public sector workers. Compliance with those rules has been high, but details have been passed to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in 125 cases where appropriate assurances have not been received, and I have imposed financial sanctions on two Departments that have breached the rules. The intention is to send a clear message that everyone should pay their taxes.

Richard Fuller: Since 2010, unemployment in Bedford has come down and average weekly earnings have gone from below the national average to above the national average thanks to the commitment of local people to making difficult decisions in tough economic times and the Government’s commitment to their long-term economic plan. Does the Minister agree that the biggest risk, given that the British Chamber of Commerce is forecasting higher growth next year, is for us to abandon that plan and adopt the policies of the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has never had a proper job in his life?

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Danny Alexander: I welcome the success in the Bedford economy. I am sure that it was just an omission by the hon. Gentleman that he did not mention the Liberal Democrat mayor of Bedford in his list of those responsible. He is right that it is the long-term economic plan of this Government that is ensuring that the economy is on the right track, and the worst thing we can possibly do is to step away from that plan.

Ed Balls (Morley and Outwood) (Lab/Co-op): May I ask the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about a proposal I made last autumn to allow the Office for Budget Responsibility independently to audit the spending and tax commitments in the manifestos of the main political parties? That proposal, which will require legislation, already has the support of the Chair of the Treasury Committee. Will the Chief Secretary and his party join a cross-party consensus to make that happen ahead of the next general election?

Danny Alexander: The idea is well worth further consideration. What I am worried about is the pressure that it would place on the OBR, which is a new organisation that has only recently taken on responsibility for forecasting the public finances. I worry that in the first election, when it has those responsibilities, the OBR might find it difficult to carry through that function. None the less, the idea is well worthy of debate, because the British people need to know that what every party says is what it means. I respectfully suggest to the shadow Chancellor that spending a bank bonus tax 10 times over does not meet that test.

Ed Balls: The Chief Secretary will know that that statement about the bank bonus tax is entirely out of date, which is why the Chancellor does not want the OBR to audit our policies. I understand his reluctance. After all, the party that pledged in its manifesto not to raise tuition fees and to stop the Tory VAT bombshell has something to fear from an OBR audit. On the other hand, there was some encouragement. I urge him this time, on this one issue, to try to persuade the Chancellor to take a different view, to change his mind and do the right thing by voting in the Finance Bill for this important change. It can and should be done. Let not the Liberal Democrats be a roadblock to this important reform.

Danny Alexander: If the right hon. Gentleman wants to see the influence of the Liberal Democrats in this Government, he can look at the £10,000 income tax personal allowance, which will be reached this April. He can look at the decisions we have taken to rein in higher rate tax relief on pension contributions. He can look at the increase in capital gains tax. He can look at the record number of apprenticeships in our economy. He can look at the work we are doing together, as a coalition Government, to clean up the mess that his party made and ensure that this country is back on the right track economically.

T2. [902954] Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): Does the Chief Secretary agree that the Welsh Government’s refusal to take on tax- varying powers damages their economic credibility?

Danny Alexander: I have not heard a definitive refusal directly from the Welsh Government, although I have heard some very disappointing comments from members of the Labour party in this House. The changes we are

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proposing to make following the Silk commission, including the devolution of income tax powers to the Welsh Assembly, subject to a referendum, constitute an important package of reforms that will strengthen the accountability of the Welsh Government as well as the economic levers available to them.

T4. [902957] Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): I hope that the Chief Secretary thinks that I am a woman who merits an answer. Given that he has recently found his mojo, can he tell us whether he supports any changes to the way in which levels of child poverty are calculated?

Danny Alexander: I think that the hon. Lady merits answers to all her questions. There is a good case for retaining the existing measures, but it is also important that we have an understanding, through the measures we use, of the wider factors that influence child poverty—the barriers to life chances and so on. I do not propose getting rid of the existing measures, which I think are important, but supplementing them with further measures to ensure that we have policies which are properly targeted to deal with the long-term causes of child poverty would help us all.

T3. [902955] Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): Next month many thousands of my constituents will benefit from the £10,000 income tax personal allowance, something that I am proud has been introduced by a Conservative-led Government. I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that in the upcoming Budget we continue to press down on personal tax and try, wherever possible, to freeze or reduce fuel duty, which is extremely important for my rural constituents.

Danny Alexander: I share the hon. Gentleman’s pride in the fact that the coalition Government have delivered that important measure, which is supporting 26 million working people in this country with an income tax cut worth about £700 a year. My pride is enhanced by being a member of the party that proposed it at the 2010 election.

T6. [902959] Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): In 2011 the Chief Secretary said that anyone who wanted to cut the top rate of tax was living in cloud cuckoo land. Is it not clear that that is exactly where he and his friend, the out-of-touch Chancellor, now live?

Danny Alexander: In the Budget in which we reduced the 50p rate to 45p, we introduced measures that raised five times more from the wealthiest people, including, for example, the annual tax on enveloped dwellings, which is a mansion tax for tax dodgers in respect of people from overseas who own properties in this country. It raised five times more than we expected at the time.

T5. [902958] Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the slow but steady progress on improving the economy. Does he agree that the most important thing now is to ensure that people have more money in their pockets to spend as they wish and that therefore the threshold for the 40% rate of tax needs to be increased so that middle earners can see the benefit of this Government?

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Danny Alexander: It is of course important that we make sure that people have more money in their pockets, and it is particularly important that that help is focused on those on lower earnings. That is why we have focused our attention on raising the income tax personal allowance. We have also, for example, frozen fuel duty and taken steps on energy bills. It is worth pointing out that increasing the personal allowance benefits 40p rate taxpayers by the same cash amount as basic rate taxpayers.

T9. [902962] Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Eight hundred and twenty-five young people are desperately seeking work in Blaenau Gwent. This month, I will be asking local employers to sign up to offer work experience. Why does not the Chief Secretary listen and introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee to give these young people a chance?

Danny Alexander: I warmly welcome what the hon. Gentleman is doing to encourage employers in his constituency to offer work experience. The evidence of this Government’s work experience programme is that work experience is more effective than the future jobs fund and a great deal cheaper to deliver, so it is more cost-effective. He is on the right track in what he is doing in his constituency; his Front Benchers are on the wrong track.

T7. [902960] Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): A few weeks ago, I joined my hon. Friends the Members for Harlow (Robert Halfon), for Northampton South (Mr Binley) and for Waveney (Peter Aldous) in presenting to the Chancellor a Boost Bingo petition with over 300,000 signatures, calling for a cut in bingo duty. [Hon. Members: “House!”] Will the Minister give to those who, day in, day out, enjoy bingo—including those who like to shout “House!”—comfort from this House that their concerns are being addressed in the forthcoming Budget?

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): At this point in the year, all I can say to my hon. Friend is, “Let me take that as a further Budget submission.”

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Chief Secretary agree that to have a successful financial services sector we must have bankers, lawyers and accountants whom everyone trusts, and that we need a new value system of trust in these institutions? If so, will he have a careful look at the behaviour of Grant Thornton and the way in which it treats clients and businesses in this country?

Danny Alexander: I certainly think that a new culture is needed in the banking sector. That was the basic reason why the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards was established. It produced a very wide-ranging report, and many of its recommendations were taken forward by this House in the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013. I think that that will lead to a better culture. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raises his specific concerns with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

T8. [902961] Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): The maritime taskforce will report shortly, setting out the opportunities and actions to make Portsmouth and the Solent area the heart of the maritime industry

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in the UK. Will the Economic Secretary work with me to ensure that we can capitalise on the report’s findings to make that vision a reality?

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Nicky Morgan): I know that my hon. Friend has worked extremely hard on this. I congratulate her and Admiral Stephens on the excellent work that the taskforce has been doing. It is producing more than a vision for Portsmouth; it is producing a set of clear actions that will enable the Solent area to achieve its ambitions in maritime, marine and manufacturing. Considerable sums will be invested in those sectors. Portsmouth has a Minister and a cross-Government team to help it to secure what it needs, and the Treasury will do all it can to enable the taskforce’s remit to be realised.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The Government’s own figures show that net lending to small and medium-sized enterprises has fallen since the funding for lending scheme was introduced, as confirmed by businesses in my constituency. Does the Minister accept that the scheme has totally failed Britain’s small businesses?

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sajid Javid): The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. Lending to small businesses has been a matter of concern to this Government. There are potentially some issues of competition in the market, and that is why we welcome today’s update by the Office of Fair Trading on its SME market study. The funding for lending scheme has helped. It has increased net lending by the participating banks by more than £10 billion during its first phase, and I think we are right, in its second phase, to focus it on SMEs only.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I am sure that Members of this House will welcome the overwhelming support in the European Parliament this morning in voting in favour of open public registers of company beneficial ownership and voting against exempting trusts from public disclosure. Will the Minister apply pressure to his colleagues to ensure that the Council adopts the same rigorous position as Members of the European Parliament?

Mr Gauke: We will look at that proposal. There is a need to ensure that systems that apply across the European Union have a proper understanding of how trusts work in the UK and some of the challenges that exist. Trusts are not companies, and there are more difficulties in dealing with them than there are in dealing with a public register for companies.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): The banks keep telling us that they are lending more to small business, but the reality on the ground seems to be very different. In particular, what are this Government doing about the excessive level of charges, which means that even when loans are available they are often not taken up?

Sajid Javid: I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports the funding for lending scheme, which has not only led to more money in the banking system going to companies and households, but reduced the cost of lending. He may also be aware of today’s update from the OFT. I suggest he takes a good look at it, because it is worth reading.

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Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Part of the long-term economic plan is the drive to improve skills, which is relevant to my constituency, where manufacturing is important and growing. Does the Chief Secretary agree that it makes a big contribution to driving up productivity?

Danny Alexander: I totally agree with my hon. Friend and I congratulate him on the work he has done in his constituency to promote the take-up of apprenticeships. The fact that there have already been 1.6 million apprenticeship starts during this Parliament compared with about 1 million during the previous Parliament shows the additional emphasis, even in these tough financial times, that this Government are putting on making sure that young people have the right skills for today’s economy.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Britain has a growing and enormous trade deficit with the rest of the European Union, which is overwhelming evidence, if it were needed, that we have an inappropriate exchange rate, which means that we are in effect exporting more than 1 million jobs. When will the Government develop a sensible exchange rate policy?

Danny Alexander: Monetary policy is, rightly, the preserve of the independent Bank of England. I would also point the hon. Gentleman to the fact that 3.5 million jobs in this country are linked to British membership of the European Union. That is why I believe so strongly that Britain should stay a full member of the European Union.

Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): In my constituency, homes worth £1 million or £2 million are not mansions, but family homes. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that we will not tax homes bought by hard-working families by introducing something called a mansion tax?

Danny Alexander: Although it is unlikely that such a tax will be introduced in this Parliament, I remain a strong advocate of an additional levy on high-value properties. I think that is an appropriate way to ensure that the further deficit reduction that this country still has to go through over the next few years is handled fairly and that everybody makes a contribution.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): Many people on low incomes rely on public transport, yet the cost of bus fares continues to rise. What measures is the Treasury looking at to help those people who desperately need effective public transport?

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Danny Alexander: The principal step we are taking is ensuring that people have more money of their own in their pockets when they go out to work. Cutting income tax for working people is putting £700 back in the pockets of 26 million workers in this country. That helps people with many of those financial pressures, as does freezing council tax, reducing fuel duty and the help we are giving on energy bills. I am sure that if the hon. Lady raises the subject at Transport questions, Ministers might have more to say about it.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): Last year a record half a million new businesses were created—the highest annual rate since records began. In the face of the anti-business rhetoric of Labour, does my right hon. Friend agree that, by reducing red tape, boosting access to entrepreneurs’ relief and making it easier to take on an apprentice, this Government are making high-growth SMEs the engine of our long-term economic plan?

Danny Alexander: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The Labour party does not seem to understand that Governments do not create jobs and growth; it is hard-working businesses and hard-working people in this country who do that. That is why so much of our policy on tax, regulation, infrastructure investment and skills is devoted to ensuring that this country has the best environment for businesses to invest and create jobs. That is the only way our economy will recover sustainably.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The Chief Secretary’s tax threshold boasts would carry more weight if he had not broken his VAT promises at the last general election. Does he agree with the Treasury’s own figures which show that an average family now pay more than £1,350 extra in VAT since he put it up?

Danny Alexander: I agree with the figures that show that the mess the hon. Gentleman’s party made of the economy cost every household in this country £3,000. That is something he should be ashamed of and for which he should apologise.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues. There are some appetites that remain unsatisfied, but such is the nature, I fear, of Treasury questions in particular.

We come now to the 10-minute rule motion and when Members have filed out of the Chamber in a seemly way, the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin) can enjoy the rapt attention of the House.

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Co-operative and Social Enterprise (Development)

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

12.34 pm

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to ensure that each Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has at least one board member who is a co-operative or social enterprise business specialist, and that LEP plans make specific reference to development of co-operatives and social enterprises; and for connected purposes.

As both a Labour and a Co-operative Member of Parliament who represents Heywood and Middleton in the borough of Rochdale, where the co-operative movement was first formed, I am especially pleased to introduce the Co-operative and Social Enterprise (Development) Bill. In my borough, we are proud of our links to the co-operative movement, and as a co-operator, I am proud of my role with the Co-operative party.

The Co-operative party has added much to the labour movement and to public policy for many years, and I hope that that will always remain the case. I know that such a feeling is shared by many on the Opposition Benches, and perhaps even by some Government Members. As we have seen, the co-operative movement has been through an extremely tough time, and we are still plotting our course to calmer waters. I hope that the measures in the Bill will go a little way towards ensuring a bright future for co-operation and social enterprise in this country. As co-operators, we passionately believe that the values and principles underpinning co-operatives and mutuals offer an alternative business model—a more ethical and democratic way for businesses to operate—and that more must be done to ensure a level playing field for their establishment and development.

My Bill would place new duties on the Secretary of State to ensure that local enterprise partnership boards benefit from at least one co-operative and social enterprise business expert or practitioner. That is important, as the needs of co-operatives and social enterprise can be particular to their unique business models. We need new co-operative and social enterprises to flourish across the country. Ensuring that LEP boards have this type of business experience would enhance the quality of the LEP and the chances of kick-starting new co-operative and social enterprise organisations, which would in turn provide valuable training and job opportunities to constituents such as mine. I hope that it will be enacted ahead of the next round of plans.

The Bill’s second measure would ensure that LEPs’ published plans report specifically on relative successes in the development of co-operatives and social enterprises

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throughout the life of the LEP. That should ensure that boards do not lose sight of an important and valuable sector. It would provide an important opportunity for co-operatives and social enterprises to engage with the process and for their aspirations and the particular hurdles they must scale to be listened to properly. It would then be possible accurately to measure the success of the LEP.

The economic recovery will be sustainable only if it benefits each and every region of the UK and spans all sectors of our economic life. Opposition Members believe that that is not made easier by the coalition Government’s decision to scrap regional development agencies, which were replaced by LEPs. We are still relatively early in the development and implementation of LEPs, but they and their plans have come under significant scrutiny recently. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), writing for the Smith Institute, stated that, despite the lofty ambitions of the Deputy Prime Minister,

“Three years on…LEPs lack both resources and capabilities, with negligible budgets and no real powers to lead economic development in their areas.”

In its excellent report on local enterprise in 2013, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee highlighted the concern that LEPs were failing to achieve the right balance and diversity of membership on their boards. It called on the Government to give more guidance to ensure that the right information was provided. I hope that the measures in my Bill will go a little way towards ensuring that those recommendations are met.

During the development of my Bill, I contacted co-operatives of all sizes around the country. I thank them for the time that they took to respond. I also thank organisations such as Social Enterprise UK for the helpful material that they provided. The responses have been overwhelmingly supportive of my aims. Many co-operatives have told me that they are struggling to engage with or be understood by LEPs. I hope to continue this work in the coming months.

Michael Heseltine’s report, “No Stone Unturned”, set out a bold—some would say rhetoric-heavy—vision of economic localism. I hope that the measures I have set out will start to make a real difference in the development of co-operatives and social enterprise within that vision.

Question put and agreed to.


That Jim Dobbin, John Pugh, Mr David Crausby, Fiona Bruce, Mrs Mary Glindon, Mr Joe Benton, Mr Gareth Thomas, Meg Munn and Mrs Linda Riordan present the Bill.

Jim Dobbin accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed (Bill 179).

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Care Bill [Lords]

[2nd Allocated Day]

Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 34

The Health and Social Care Information Centre: restrictions on dissemination of information

‘(1) Chapter 2 of Part 9 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (the Health and Social Care Information Centre) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 253(1) (general duties), after paragraph (c) (but before the “and” after it) insert—

“(ca) the need to respect and promote the privacy of recipients of health services and of adult social care in England,”.

(3) In section 261 (other dissemination of information), after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) But the Information Centre may do so only if it considers that disseminating the information would be for the purposes of—

(a) the provision of health care or adult social care;

(b) the promotion of health.”.

(4) After section 262 insert—

“262A Publication and other dissemination: supplementary

In exercising any function under this Act of publishing or otherwise disseminating information, the Information Centre must have regard to any advice given to it by the committee appointed by the Health Research Authority under paragraph 8(1) of Schedule 7 to the Care Act 2014 (committee to advise in connection with information dissemination etc).”’.—(Dr Poulter.)

Brought up, read the First time, and Question proposed (10 March), That the clause be read a Second time.

12.43 pm

Question again proposed.

Mr Speaker: I remind the House that with this we are discussing the following:

Amendment (a) to Government new clause 34, in subsection (3), after ‘of’, insert ‘improving’.

Amendment (b) to Government new clause 34, in subsection (3), after ‘adult social care’, insert

‘; and if it has satisfied itself that the recipient is competent to handle the data in compliance with all statutory duties and to respect and promote the privacy of recipients of health services and adult social care.”.’.

New clause 25—Misuse of data provided by the Health and Social Care Information Centre: offence—

‘(1) A person or entity commits an offence if they misuse, or negligently allow the misuse of information they have requested and received from the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

(2) “Misuse” means—

(a) using information in a way that violates the agreement with the Health and Social Care Information Centre;

(b) using information in a way that does not violate the agreement with the Health and Social Care Information Centre, but that gives rise to use that is outside the agreed limits of use; or

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(c) using information supplied by the Health and Social Care Information Centre in such a way as to allow or enable individual patients to be identified by a third party.

(3) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to an unlimited fine;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for not more than two years or a fine, or both.

(4) An entity who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1)—

(a) is liable to an unlimited fine; and

(b) must disclose the conviction on all future applications to access data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre.’.

Government amendment 8.

Amendment 29, in clause 116, page 100, line 29, after ‘Authority’, insert

‘and the Secretary of State’.

Government amendments 17, 18, 15 and 16.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I love medical data. They have undoubtedly saved my life and the lives of almost everybody in the House. Medical data, particularly big data, allow us to identify which drugs and procedures work and which do not work. They enable us to pick up the rare side effects of medications that have recently been released on to the market before they can wreak the kind of havoc that we have seen in the past. They enable us to identify which are the good hospitals and which are the failing hospitals. They allow us to identify which clinicians need serious retraining and from which clinicians the public need protection.

I would argue that evidence-based medicine is one of the greatest advances of our age. Evidence-based medicine works a lot better if we have access to big data. I state for the record that I do not intend to opt out. I hope that the Government will use the six months that we have to mount a clear campaign to the public that sets out just what the possibilities are.

I also feel that some of the concerns about releasing big data to pharmaceutical companies are misplaced. We need our pharmaceutical companies to be able to access those data, and there is a virtuous circle. We know that if we attract more research to the UK, not only will that benefit our universities, it will create more employment.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): My honourable colleague from the Health Committee mentions pharmaceutical companies. Does she feel it is appropriate—we touched on this in the first part of the debate—that insurance companies have access to hospital data? As I said yesterday, BT now has access to our hospital patient data on the cloud systems in the United States. Does she think that those uses are concerning, and what should we do about them?

Dr Wollaston: That is absolutely correct and I will come to those points later in my remarks. The public did not expect to see their records uploaded to insurance companies, specifically where that resulted in higher premiums for many people.

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We have a virtuous circle of improving access to data for our universities and creating high-quality jobs within the industry. If we can attract research to this country, and it is carried out among the UK population, the results from that research will be more relevant to the British population. Also, less research will be carried out in circumstances that are ethically questionable or with oversight that may not be up to the standards we expect in this country, or that sometimes exploits people in developing countries and where we cannot be sure of the accuracy and reporting of that research.

This is a virtuous circle, but I am afraid it has unfortunately been broken by the oversight and some of the arrangements that have taken place in NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre. It is frankly beyond me that nobody has assumed responsibility for destroying the trust in what should have been the most exciting advance that would have benefited countless hundreds of thousands of people, not only now but in the future.

On the six-month delay, I call on the Minister to set out clearly how we will campaign to inform the public of the benefits of the proposal, but also of the risks. We have seen a rather patronising approach that has assumed the public will not notice or care about those small risks, but they are there and we must set out clearly what they are and how they will be addressed and minimised. There is much more we can do to minimise those small risks.

Of course we need transparency about past errors; the performance of NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre in the Health Committee was disappointing. I am glad that on its website, NHS England has now clarified that Sir Nick Partridge, former chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, will conduct an audit of all previous data releases by the NHS information centre—the predecessor body. We are also expecting the release on 2 April of all the data released by the current body. I understand that that will set out the legal basis for those releases, but also their purpose, and that goes to the heart of my amendment.

We must have clear penalties for breach, not only in the provisions in the Bill, but across the whole NHS and social care sector. The Minister will know that in practice, if somebody wants to snoop on someone’s personal medical data, there are far easier ways to do it. He will also know that the penalties are derisory. In a well-publicised case in December 2013, a finance manager at a general practice had been deliberately snooping on the records of thousands of patients within the practice, and focusing—rather disturbingly—on one young woman he had gone to school with and her family. Those were repeated breaches of her and her family’s privacy in a really toxic way. That individual was fined only £996. The public need to be clear that there will be severe penalties not only for individuals who deliberately breach privacy, but for companies. A fine of £996 for an insurance company or a large body is laughable.

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): The hon. Lady makes an excellent case. The maximum fine for an individual breaching the data clause in the situation she describes is £5,000. Does she agree that that is not adequate?

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Dr Wollaston: I thank the shadow Minister for making the point that £5,000 is woefully inadequate. The financial penalties—significant ones on a sliding scale commensurate with the wealth of the individuals or organisations concerned—should be set out, but I believe that people should go to prison for such data breaches. Organisations should be clearly held accountable. It should be made clear to them that, should such breaches occur, requests from them will not be looked on favourably. There should be a clear penalty. Currently, those penalties simply do not exist.

How do we explain to the public the small risks and how we will address them? One significant risk has not been covered: the powers of NHS England to direct the Health and Social Care Information Centre to collect information when it is considered “necessary or expedient”. That could include full identifiable, confidential data. Will the Minister address one point on that? I have been told that NHS England has, in meetings with senior researchers, discussed the fact that, in the next releases of care data, it plans to include free text. Free text takes us into an altogether different area, so will the Minister give categorical reassurances on it? I support the principle of a default opt-in, but might not support it if the data included free text. Free text is deeply and intensely personal data and is not coded, and the public need specific reassurances on it.

Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): Given that the intention, as I understand it, is to create wholly anonymised data, surely the use of that contextual information creates the possibility of re-linking to an individual’s identity. The hon. Lady is right to make that point, and I hope the Minister can reassure us, but surely that is a step too far.

Dr Wollaston: I agree with my right hon. Friend. Free text takes us into a different territory. People say things in free text to their doctor knowing that it will not appear in a coded form.

There are other ways in which we can improve reassurance for the public. Perhaps we could pseudonymise data before they leave the practice, which would introduce another important layer of protection. That suggestion has been made to the Minister on a number of occasions.

Barbara Keeley: The hon. Lady was in the Chamber yesterday when I talked about the cloud systems using NHS patient data launched in the States. What disturbed me about that was that the commercial companies involved said that the data—our patient data that they were using—included clinical data, demographics, education and income. That provided a context, and the companies could link episodes throughout a patient’s life. People would be disturbed if they understood that companies charging for usage in another country had linked their data in that way and had almost a lifetime’s coverage of people’s medical records.

Dr Wollaston: Linking primary and secondary care data is so important, but the purpose to which it is put is at the heart of the matter. To whom are the data released? If data are uploaded to Google—27 CDs of our database—and leave the premises, we have no control over them. We could not apply in the States the controls and sanctions I have described. It is simply not good enough to be reassured that the data will not be handled

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by Google staff. What is to stop them accessing the data when they have gone offshore? The hon. Lady is right to make that important point.

My amendments are about improving the situation in two ways, the first of which is on the purpose of the information. Will the Minister consider adding the word “improving”? He might be concerned that, if the wording is “improving health and adult social care”, the Bill could restrict open research. I do not agree. He will know that improving the care of patients is fundamentally the purpose of research. The amendment would therefore not restrict open research. The amendment would put beyond doubt the fact that the fundamental purpose of releasing data to, for example, insurance companies or Genomics UK, is improving care. People would see that the data release is not for a fundamentally commercial purpose to benefit a commercial organisation without a necessary link to improving care for people in the UK. Those questions should be asked at every stage of the process.

It was reassuring yesterday to hear the Minister clarify that insurance companies will be specifically excluded. However, there is no reassurance in the existing wording in respect of other organisations, including, for example, the Department for Work and Pensions. We can see how the case could be made that disseminating information to the Department for Work and Pensions is for the purposes of

“the provision of health care or adult social care”

or “the promotion of health”, which is the existing wording of new clause 34. As he knows, the longer somebody is off work with, say, lower back pain, the less likely it is that they will ever return to work. The Department for Work and Pensions could argue that disseminating information is all about improving care, but in fact, the fundamental purpose might be altogether different. If the principle in the Bill is that information dissemination is clearly about “improving” care, it would focus people’s minds on the underlying purposes when they make appraisals about whether their information should be given out. That could happen without disadvantaging primary medical research access to the information—the principle of improving care would clearly be at stake. I hope the Minister considers adding the word “improving” to the Bill.

My amendment (b) would mean that there is a reassurance in the Bill on how the data are handled by the person receiving them. We have the reassurance of the confidentiality advisory group, but including a responsibility and a duty in the Bill not just for those giving out the information but for those receiving it would be helpful. I ask anyone following this debate to hold their fire and not to be distracted by those who are rather jumping on the bandwagon on this issue and seeking to undermine the fundamental principles behind care.data. Those principles are important and we could save countless hundreds of thousands of lives in the future by having good access to medical data. But it simply will not do to gloss over the very real concerns that have been expressed. We will see the same problems arising six months down the line unless those very real concerns are addressed. To those who are following the debate, I say, “Do not opt out.” Let us give the Government, NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre the opportunity to address those real concerns and to put them beyond doubt. I will not opt out and I hope that others will join me.

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1 pm

Barbara Keeley: In my early career, I worked as a systems programmer and engineer for IBM. I do not usually have much opportunity to mention that, but it is probably appropriate in this debate. I have been struck in recent weeks by how many people with an IT background—as well as those with medical backgrounds—have serious concerns about care.data and the plans of the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

The Minister was not keen to take interventions last night, so I will ask my questions now. I want to touch on the important issue of consent for the uses of patient data. As I said earlier in the debate, the hospital episodes statistics database was originally an administrative database. When did any of us sign up to having our data used to recalculate the cost of insurance cover for long-term illness? Given the points I made about the use of our confidential hospital patient data in commercially chargeable systems in the US, when did we sign up to have our data used on a chargeable basis by companies such as BT and MedRed on their cloud systems in the US? I do not recall doing that, and I suspect no one else does either. Does the Minister agree that patients should have the option of having their data used only for clinical care and for commissioning that care? If the genie is not completely out of the bottle yet, that is a question worth asking.

Paul Burstow: The hon. Lady is making important points about the need to be clear about what these data are used for. There is an argument that anonymised and properly controlled data have a part to play in the area of medical research. Does she think that should be out of scope, or can we have safeguards that enable it to be in scope? Understanding whether a medicine works in a particular way with a population is a very powerful use of such data. In her view, is that appropriate or not?

Barbara Keeley: In the concerns I am listing, I am not touching on the use of data in medical research. My concern is about the revelations we have had in recent weeks. I am citing commercial uses. Those data are being used on a chargeable basis and the companies involved seem to be crowing about it.

Can a project such as care.data guarantee that what patients sign up to now—or at any point in time—will not mean something different in future months when new datasets are gathered? The hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) touched on some of the exciting possibilities for data, but new uses are being planned all the time. I mentioned systems in the US, but the Health Secretary recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the US Health Secretary for secondary uses sharing. The Minister last night said that he would not comment on a US system, but our hospital patient data is on those systems being used on a chargeable basis. Should patients have the right to withdraw their consent if new uses are developed that they do not approve of? The data have gone, and people are developing new uses for them, way beyond what any patient may have felt they consented to.

My right hon. Friend the shadow Health Secretary raised the issue of lack of transparency over the patient’s right to opt out. He asked about the junk mail leaflets— as they have been called—that were not even delivered to every household. What do Ministers propose to do to

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explain to all patients about the extraction of their identifiable personal data, and what precisely the dissent codes mean? We touched on this in our Health Committee inquiry sessions, and it was not clear, although some people thought they knew. It is a pity that Ministers have not taken the opportunity to answer the questions that were put to them in Health questions—the information changed on the HSCIC database on the very day we had Health questions in the morning.

We know that NHS England and the HSCIC can require GPs to upload patient data in an identifiable form from every GP practice in England, to be linked with the hospital episode statistics and other datasets. That is concerning enough, because it is a powerful new use of a lot of data, but the hon. Lady suggested that the HSCIC is talking about free text. That is a concern, because that is the place where people open up to their doctor and might give information that they do not want to be shared.

It is important that we know exactly how the HSCIC is funded. In the spirit of transparency, will Ministers request full disclosure of all funding sources of the HSCIC, including outside earnings from third parties for the use of data? I have talked about seeing our hospital data now being used on a chargeable basis by companies such as BT in the US. Who pays for the HSCIC’s staff? Are staff seconded to the HSCIC? Who pays the transaction costs? We have seen examples recently of networks of private organisations coming into NHS England to write and fund reports and lead consultations. Who pays for staffing and transaction costs, if it is third parties, is a key aspect of transparency.

The Health Committee has held an initial inquiry into care.data, and I and other Committee members expressed real concerns about the scheme and the impact it could have on the trust between patient and doctor. Our concerns have been compounded by news that commercial companies have been allowed to pay for NHS patient data, and use them for purposes unknown to the public. The use of our data has gone beyond our control, the data are in other countries and uploaded to cloud servers, and we do not know where they are.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making pertinent and relevant points. Does she share my concern about the need to tighten up on section 251 exemptions? They allow the use of identifiable data for commissioning purposes. NHS England was granted a 251 exemption last April, and that may lead to identifiable data being used at a national level, a regional level, in the area teams and in the clinical commissioning groups. Is that something that the Government should address?

Barbara Keeley: Indeed it is. There is a question about why CCGs have to have identifiable patient data, and there is a lot of concern about that, which my hon. Friend is right to raise.

We expressed our concerns, but they have been compounded by reports of use of data unknown to the public. The Minister was unwilling to answer the point I wanted to put to him earlier in the debate about how the HSCIC will treat organisations such as BUPA, which are insurance providers as well as providers of health

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and care. I hope that he will answer that question when he winds up the debate. BUPA is one example, but there are other companies that have multiple functions—some of them are straightforwardly commercial and others involve health and social care—and there is scope for confusion if those firms apply for and obtain access to the data.

The revelations we have already had show that HSCIC does not have accountability, transparency or sufficient control over releases of patient data. In our Committee inquiry, it was put to HSCIC and to NHS England that one of the ways being recommended to ensure that escapes of patient data did not happen, and to allay the fears and concerns we have expressed, was for HSCIC to run on the basis that it kept the database intact and did not download datasets outside the information centre. What it did was take in research queries and ran them. That would be much safer and that is what is done on secure systems in other places. A mechanism has been suggested and I hope it is being considered.

I appreciate the comments made by my colleague, the hon. Member for Totnes about not opting out, but a recent survey of 400 GPs found that 40% intend to opt out of the scheme because of a lack of confidence in how the data will be shared.

Dr Wollaston: Does the hon. Lady agree that we have an opportunity, in the next six months, to provide reassurance on some of these real concerns? Does she share my hope that GPs will change their position and that we should be doing everything we can, as opinion-formers, to encourage them to do so?

Barbara Keeley: I would like to think so, but I am not going to hold my breath. I think I am a lot more pessimistic than the hon. Lady. Indeed, we know that some GPs have been so alarmed that they want to opt their patients out of the scheme. They should be able to do that without penalty. It is up to Ministers, NHS England and HSCIC to rebuild that confidence, but they are not doing so at the moment. They seem to see what is going wrong as a communication or public relations problem. It is not a communication or PR problem; it is a very serious problem with regard to the integrity of what they are doing, and a lack of transparency and accountability. We cannot say that enough times.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I have worked alongside the hon. Lady to try to improve our social care system, so does she not agree that it is important that we work on this issue so that GPs are confident about sharing data? Otherwise, how will we enable the integration of social care with the NHS in the community to give people the sort of care that I know that she and I, through all our work together in Parliament, want to see?

Barbara Keeley: Yes, indeed, but I cannot emphasise enough that I do not feel much confidence at the moment and I do not blame GPs for not being confident. They are, in data protection terms, the owners of their patient data. If they do not feel that their concerns have been allayed, we have some way to go. I will touch on that point in a moment.

There are fundamental concerns on how data will be shared and the Government’s amendments do not address them. The amendments would improve Government

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new clause 34, but broadly it offers no further protection. It seems that data could still be released to commercial bodies, such as private health care companies that are also health insurers, the pharmaceutical industry and private health care providers. We need assurances on that. As far as I can see in this debate, we have not had them.

The Government’s new clause will actually widen the dissemination of information to include the promotion of health. Promotion of health can take in all kinds of commercial companies, for example food and drink companies that say they have a public health campaign. This will cause more problems. It draws the purposes so widely that misuses would still be permitted, and even be given a statutory basis. The requirement that the HSCIC must have regard to the advice of the confidentiality advisory group is still an inadequate protection.

I have added my name to amendments (a) and (b), tabled by the hon. Member for Totnes, because they would narrow the purposes for which data can be disseminated. However, I remain concerned about the commercial exploitation of patient data. I support new clause 25, which highlights the seriousness of the offence of misusing patient data. We need a clear disincentive for institutional abuse of confidential patient data with appropriate penalties including, as the hon. Lady said, imprisonment. Imprisonment is appropriate for the abuse of confidential patient data.

1.15 pm

The Health Committee has started looking at these issues, but I fear that our inquiry and this debate are only the start of a necessary process of scrutiny. We will need a much longer period of consultation to get the provisions right. As a stop-gap measure, I have tabled new clause 35 as a manuscript amendment, because there is a need to ensure that Parliament retains oversight of the HSCIC. The amendment would ensure that the main powers and duties in part 9 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 that relate to the functions of the HSCIC are all made subject to the super-affirmative resolution. That would be needed until we felt more comfortable and our concerns had been allayed.

My final point is that it is vital that the relationship of trust between a patient and a doctor is not lost. To ensure that that does not happen, patients must feel that their personal information that they disclose to a doctor will remain confidential. I do not think that people have that confidence at the moment, and much needs to happen to make sure that they will.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I was under the illusion that there would be five speakers ahead of me, but I am none the less pleased to make some comments on amendments (a) and (b) to Government new clause 34, and on new clause 25. I thank the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for setting the scene, and the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) for her contribution.

My inbox, like many others, has been full with messages from various charities on different aspects of the Bill. Having sat on the Care Public Bill Committee, I can well understand many of their concerns. I received a briefing from Cancer Research UK, as many other

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Members did. It was informative and clear, and raised points that I do not believe have been addressed in the Bill and require greater clarity through amendment.

Along with Cancer Research UK, I warmly welcome the clauses that will introduce the Health Research Authority as a non-departmental government body. I have the highest respect for the Minister, but last night clarity on this was sought by the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the hon. Members for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) and for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and me. With respect, I do not think that Hansard gives the clarification that right hon. and hon. Members, Cancer Research UK and Macmillan are seeking. I am hopeful that the Minister will today be able to give us that assurance and clarity.

Clarification of the amendment of section 261 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is needed to ensure that access to data for research is not restricted on the basis of the amendment. Cancer Research UK states:

“While we appreciate the context of this amendment and understand that the motive behind it is to avoid inappropriate disclosures of data, we are concerned that the wording of this is unclear. We would like reassurance that access to data for researchers is included under ‘provision of health care and adult social care’ and that access to research data will not be restricted on the basis of this amendment.”

I hope the Minister will be able to provide assurance on that.

Cancer Research UK is one of the largest funders of clinical research in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is currently running more than 240 clinical trials, which in 2012 recruited some 37,000 patients. Clinical research is important to find drugs that work and treatment that saves lives. Today in Westminster Hall, we were made aware that with better access to new cancer drugs, 5,000 more people would be alive today and that many more lives could be saved. It is essential that we develop an understanding of both new and existing treatments, and that they are offered through the NHS. We therefore want to see a regulation and governance system in the NHS that promotes and supports research, while also protecting patients.

There has been significant controversy surrounding the proposed care data upload of GP records to the Health and Social Care Information Centre and there have been at least two debates in Westminster Hall on these issues where Members have expressed their concerns strongly. Concerns have been expressed that the public have been insufficiently informed about this upload and that data may be released inappropriately, for example to insurance or marketing companies. I know the Minister replied last night to my intervention, but the doubt lingers even today within Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Care and other charities that had expressed initial concerns. I have concerns regarding the nature of the release, but it was never my intention to restrict data going to the likes of Macmillan or Cancer Research UK to aid in their fight against the scourge of cancer.

Barbara Keeley: I read a blog article this morning written from the point of view of people with disabilities who had real concerns about the mention of insurance providers. It is often very difficult for people with serious conditions to get insurance, even travel insurance, and the notion that their medical data are being linked

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to insurance information, or might be sold in future to companies that are insurance providers—even if those are health and social care providers—is a real worry for them. They are really fearful about this and I think we would see a mass opt-out by people who have that fear.

Jim Shannon: That is the issue, summed up in a couple of sentences. The Minister may look to his civil servants for some direction; he may have it already. If so, that is good news.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr Daniel Poulter): May I reiterate what I said many times in my opening remarks, which I hope will be helpful to the hon. Gentleman? Clear safeguards are being put in place to ensure that the data cannot be used for insurance purposes. I give that reassurance again today.

Jim Shannon: Earlier I referred to Macmillan and to Cancer Research UK who, even today, are not convinced. We make these points on behalf of our constituents and the groups that lobby us.

Dr Wollaston: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with many commentators, including the British Medical Association, that it would help if the remit of the confidentiality advisory group could be extended from currently just looking at patient-identifiable data to looking at pseudonymised data or potentially identifiable data? That would give further reassurance that there is more oversight so that we do not see the kind of instances that many people are expressing concerns about.

Jim Shannon: The hon. Lady is right that the amendments would go a long way to addressing that issue. I hope that the Government take that on board.

In response to the fears expressed by many, several amendments were tabled to clarify the circumstances in which the Health and Social Care Information Centre will be able to release data. We need further clarification of the provisions concerning the dissemination of information, which suggest that the information centre may disseminate it only if it considers that doing so would be for the purposes of the provision of health care and adult social care. Clarification is needed for those charities that have contacted many of us in the Chamber. Cancer Research UK, among other worthy causes, would like reassurance that access to data for research is included on the

“provision of health care and adult social care”

and that access to research data will not be restricted on the basis of the amendment. That is the reason I support the proposals.

Cancer Research UK has said that it particularly welcomes the Government’s inclusion of proposals that would give the Health Research Authority the ability to accept guidance on how the governance of particular research should be handled by the NHS trusts and their duty to adhere to it. These proposals were added following calls from Cancer Research UK and the medical research

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sector, and were supported by many parliamentarians during the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill of which I, with others, was a part.

Governance continues to be the primary barrier to conducting research in the NHS. A single trial can take place across multiple trusts, so obtaining governance approvals from each participating trust, which may have different approval criteria and often duplicate checks, can cause significant delays. New clause 25 would put in the Bill the firmness, accountability and legislative control that is necessary to ensure that the leakage, for want of a better word, of information does not take place. It is important that we do that.

In conclusion, statistics indicate that by 2020 one in two people will get cancer. We had a debate in Westminster Hall this morning on cancer care; it was passionate and well thought out by many Members with personal experience of cancer in their families and their constituencies. The enormity of cancer and what it will do to society is why we have a responsibility in the House to ensure that we help. The need for research and new treatments for cancer is greater now than ever. We must ensure that while protecting people from the unsafe or mercenary use of personal information, we are not hampering the fantastic work done by these charities to discover more about cancer and to help more people win their personal battle. I support these amendments and I ask the House to do the same.

Sarah Newton: It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who touched on an incredibly important point: we must not forget the people whose lives have already been transformed by research organisations’ access to data to find cures and prevention for diseases such as cancer. There cannot be anyone in the House who has not been touched by cancer, personally or within their families. It is incumbent on us all to do everything we can to create the right ecosystem and regulatory environment to enable research that will have a life-saving and transformative effect for people.

Dr Wollaston: Does my hon. Friend agree that early diagnosis is one the keys to improving cancer outcomes? By linking GP records to hospital records we can identify which practices were not referring early enough and help to improve that practice.

Sarah Newton: That is a very important point. Without the sharing of data, such patterns would not occur and we would have the much-talked-about postcode lottery whereby someone’s ability to get timed referrals and access to the best quality care depends on where they live and who their GP is.

I have the great pleasure and privilege of serving on the Science and Technology Committee. We have recently undertaken an inquiry into the regulatory framework for research into all sorts of diseases, including cancer. A very important finding of the inquiry was the essential role of sharing data. It is incredibly important that we come up with the right structures and protections to enable people, and GPs, to have confidence to enable the sharing of that data.

We should be very proud—we in the Chamber must not forget—of the fact that the UK leads the way in many areas of medical research; our universities, our

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trusts and our foundations are world leaders in what they do. That is very important in terms of our universities’ standing and important to a lot of high-quality jobs in our economy, not only for the benefit of citizens here but people all over the world. We must to do all in our power to maintain a system that enables money to be invested in research at our universities.

1.30 pm

Grahame M. Morris: The hon. Lady is making a powerful case for the benefits of a system that would make it possible to identify hotspots of disease and carry out early interventions. I think that it could also be useful to studies of the long-term effects of medication. For instance, there was a long-term study of the link between the oral contraceptive and the incidence of particular forms of cancer. I think that such a database would be incredibly useful to studies of that kind, provided that there were the necessary safeguards in relation to privacy and access.

Sarah Newton: The hon. Gentleman has given yet another reason for the importance of collecting and sharing data in a way that helps to improve health outcomes. A further example is an inquiry into medical implants that was conducted by the Science and Technology Committee. Orthopaedic surgeons were able to keep a great many data relating to the types of implants used in, for instance, hip replacements, and to track, over time, the outcomes for the patients. As a result of that research, they were able to identify particularly problematic implants, and the information was shared among clinicians so that they could improve existing implants and develop new ones. Hip replacements have improved greatly as a result. It is vital that we establish frameworks that give confidence to patients and to medical practitioners, so that such information can be collected and used to improve patient outcomes.

Barbara Keeley: The hon. Lady clearly supports such uses of the databases, but, as I said earlier, there is concern about the fact that this is going global. There are memorandums of understanding between countries, and the granting of access to one organisation seems to lead to its being granted to others. The whole thing could easily spiral out of control. Does the hon. Lady share that concern? I do not know whether her inquiry established any way of describing the system that would enable people to understand it and have confidence in it.

Sarah Newton: In many of our inquiries, we have looked into international collaborations between universities that are tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time. One example is research into various forms of dementia, and proteins in the brain that contribute not only to vascular dementia, but even to vCJD. We have concluded that in order to meet the huge challenges that those diseases pose to the whole world, we need to pool our resources across universities and research communities internationally. There is an increasing number of well-established protocols and sensible ways of reassuring patients and others about the use of their data. Such international collaboration makes it more likely that we can make discoveries that will drive improvements in people’s outcomes.

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Frameworks and safeguards exist to enable universities and academics to collaborate. We should be careful about the language that we use in this context, because there has been scaremongering, and people are identifying all sorts of potential uses for the data for which there is not much evidence. We have been reassured several times today that the information would not fall into the hands of insurance companies and be used in a harmful way.

Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): The hon. Lady is making a strong point. I visited the oesophageal cancer research unit at Southampton hospital. As I am sure all Members know, oesophageal cancer is a particularly filthy disease, and is very difficult to treat. The lack of data made it hard for those in the unit to find out what was going on, and to have more information to work on. I am glad to say that they are getting there—slowly—but I think it particularly important to note that data of this kind can be used to save lives.

Sarah Newton: We could spend a great deal of time talking about different types of medical research that are enabling huge progress to be made with particular diseases. Given the time that is available to me, however, I now want to talk about another aspect of the importance of sharing medical data to improve patient outcomes—the integration of social care with NHS services. I am sure that everyone in the Chamber would say that that was a good thing. It is important for all the services in a community, whether provided by a local council or by primary or acute care authorities, to be joined up around patients and their families to ensure that patients receive the best possible care, whatever their long-term condition may be. That is a subject that we all discuss, and on which we largely agree. However, when it comes to practical implementation, what we hear in inquiry after inquiry is that the barrier that prevents the delivery of those joined-up, improved outcomes is a lack of ability to share data.

Grahame M. Morris: The hon. Lady is being extremely generous in taking so many interventions. I agree with her assessment of the value of integration and better collaboration, but does she agree with me that the most important way of getting primary care on board is winning the confidence of general practitioners? One suggestion from the British Medical Association is that the Department of Health should offer GPs an indemnity against the possibility of being sued by patients who feel that their data has been misused. Does the hon. Lady think that that would be a good way of rebuilding their trust?

Sarah Newton: I think that GPs are some of the most trusted people in our communities, and that the relationship between them and their patients is incredibly special and important. I certainly have not detected any lack of trust in GPs in the course of my constituency work.

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman about a wonderful initiative that is taking place in Cornwall as part of the Government’s pioneer programme. Many organisations in various parts of the United Kingdom applied to the Government to become integration pioneers, and 14 areas were chosen. I am very proud that Cornwall was one of them.

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We are blessed with a unitary authority and a commissioning group of GPs, the Kernow commissioning group. They are full of great ideas about working in new and collaborative ways to improve health outcomes in Cornwall: they are truly dedicated individuals, with an inspiring programme of change. However, all that depends on data sharing. If patients in Cornwall are to be given the joined-up care that they need, general practices must be able to share patient information with other organisations in Cornwall—organisations such as Peninsula Community Health, a social enterprise that is delivering most of our community services alongside the acute hospital, Royal Cornwall hospital, and voluntary sector organisations. They are leading the way in our pioneer bid to enable patients to live independent, good-quality lives at home.

All that great work is underpinned by the need of all those people, working together to bring about health improvements in Cornwall, to share patient information. At present the Cornwall pilot is going very well, is growing, and is supported by both GPs and patients. That leads me to believe that the relationship between GPs and others is different from the relationship described by the hon. Gentleman, in that it is based on trust.

Grahame M. Morris: I apologise if I did not make my point very well. I was suggesting not that there had been a breakdown of trust between patients and GPs, but that there was a tension between GPs and the Department of Health—or, at least, NHS England—over the way in which the scheme was being administered, and that there was an opportunity for that to be corrected. That was my simple contention.

Sarah Newton: Again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I am sure we are going to hear more from the Minister, although we have already heard a great deal from him, about the sorts of reassurances GPs and other people have been seeking about how the data are going to be used.

It is essential that we address the fears and concerns that have been so well raised today, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), because it is vital that people do not opt out. For all the benefits we have heard about today in improving care in our country by integrating the NHS with social care and in making sure we get the benefits from our first-class medical research, we have to have a data capture and data sharing set of regulations and behaviours among the people who are making those decisions that gives us all confidence so that we truly do derive the benefits we have heard about today.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: It is very good of the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) to drop in on us. I know he was here yesterday and we must now hear from the Chair of the Health Committee.

Mr Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): Mr Speaker, I take your rap across the knuckles in the spirit in which it was intended. I apologise to the House for being late today, due to a diary conflict. I hope I can claim that I

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do not arrive, speak and then disappear very often. My practice is to be here for a debate and to contribute and listen to it, and I apologise to the House for not matching that standard in this debate.

I am, however, grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, because a discussion about the way in which the health service handles data and introduces a culture that allows a freer exchange of data around the health and care system is fundamental to the delivery of more joined-up services—ultimately between the NHS and the social care sector—which is an objective that is espoused widely, and regularly repeated, in this House.

The Select Committee had a session at which NHS England gave evidence about the position it got to with care.data and the delay that was announced two or three weeks ago. Although there is a widespread view within the Select Committee that it is important to get better at handling data in order to allow the delivery of improved services, we also had a sense that NHS England, in its handling of the care.data programme, had not respected sufficiently the sensitivities both of individual GPs, as the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) was saying, and—more importantly, ultimately—of individual patients about the safeguards that apply to their data and the uses to which those data can be put.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that the six months of additional breathing space NHS England has given itself is used to address those concerns, both within the service and among patient groups, about security of data and the safeguards in respect of which data are used as a result of a more open—in the correct sense of that word—use of data around the system.

Barbara Keeley: As the right hon. Gentleman was not here at the time, he will not know that I moved a manuscript amendment on better parliamentary oversight of the Health and Social Care Information Centre. It seemed to me—I wonder if he noticed this, too, in our Committee inquiry—that there were a great many individuals making decisions on key issues. Questions were put to the HSCIC about the pseudonymisation of data at source, yet the answer we got back was, “Well, I’ve looked at that, and I don’t support it.” The comments were all a bit “I”, but I would like a bit more of the “We” in oversight, and not so much of the “I”.

1.45 pm

Mr Dorrell: I was told a long time ago that it is important in certain circumstances in life to be careful with pronouns. It is fair to say that in the evidence we heard last week not all the witnesses were as careful as they could have been with their pronouns. However, I do not want to follow the hon. Lady too far down that road. Instead, I want to make a couple of broader points that I think are important if we are to deliver the objective of the efficient use of data within the health and care system in a way that respects the sensitivities of patients and the people who work in the system.