Category Archives: Speeches

Recognise Palestine

Recognising PalestineI am happy to support the amendment. It has always been my position that recognition of Palestinian statehood should form the basis of any future peace negotiations, which this amendment clarifies.

“The day will come when the two-state solution collapses and Israel will face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights. As soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.”

These Mr. Speaker, are not my words, but the words of the then Israeli Prime Minister [Ehud Olmert] in 2007.

The two-state solution has been Britain’s stated policy aim for decades, but in politics talk often comes cheap. We have heard countless speeches delivered from the dispatch box stating our commitment to a two-state solution, but, so far, this commitment has been in words only

The decision to abstain at the United Nations General Assembly, when the overwhelming majority of 134 nations voted in favour of Palestinian statehood, was both a disappointing and utterly shameful act.

Not only did it place Britain at odds with the international consensus, it placed us on the wrong side of history too.

I was proud when Labour opposed the Government’s decision and said that “the British Government should be willing to support the recognition of Palestinian statehood”. And I am proud too, that Labour are supporting today’s call to recognise Palestine.

As the originator of the Balfour Declaration and holder of the Mandate of Palestine, Britain has a unique historical connection and responsibility to the people of both Israel and Palestine.

In 1920 we undertook a “sacred trust of civilization”, a commitment to guide Palestinians to statehood and independence. That was nearly a century ago and the Palestinian people are still yet to have their national rights realised. This “sacred trust” is one that we have for too long neglected.

Today, we have an historic opportunity to atone for that neglect, and take this small but symbolically important step.

The former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Rt. hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks), told the house that the two-state solution might become impossible if a settlement was not reached within a year.

That was in 2012. Two years ago.

I’m sure the House is familiar with the definition of insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. There could not be a more accurate characterisation of Government policy. The two state solution is disappearing before our very eyes, yet the Government seems determined to pursue the same policies that have failed for as long as we can remember.

I expect we will hear the Government minister stand at the dispatch box and tell us that we support a two-state solution and encourage all sides to return to negotiations. If we do, I advise he keeps a hold of his speech, because he will soon have another the opportunity to use it.

[During a statement on Gaza earlier this year, I was struck by the comments of the Rt. hon member for East Sussex who said he had heard the same statement every year; and for 30 years, nothing has happened.]

It is now more than twenty years since the Oslo Accords and we are further away from peace than ever before.

An entire generation of young Palestinians – the Oslo generation – have grown up to witness a worsening situation on the ground.

We have witnessed a significant expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, heightened security threats to both sides, punitive restrictions on Palestinian movement, economic decline, a humanitarian crisis in Gaza of catastrophic proportions and the construction of an illegal annexation wall through Palestinian land.

It is clear that the Israel-Palestine relations are stuck at an impasse, as is our foreign policy, and both of those impasses must be broken.

We hear a great deal of talk about the two state solution. Today, through validating both states, Members will have the opportunity to translate all that principled talk into action.

But we should be under no illusions, today might be a symbolically important step, but it will not change the facts on the ground.

Israel will continue to kidnap Palestinian children during night time raids, forcing them to sign confessions in a language they don’t understand.

The cruel and illegal blockade of the Gaza strip will not relent.

And the humiliating and dehumanising day to day reality of life under occupation will not change.

Opponents of the motion will use the well-worn argument that statehood should only come through negotiations, not, as they like to say, through “unilateral action”.

Let us make no mistake about it, to make our recognition of Palestine dependent on Israel’s would be to grant Israel a veto over Palestinian self-determination – a veto which Israel will exercise in perpetuity.

Recognition is not an Israeli bargaining chip, it is a Palestinian right – one that has to form the basis of any serious negotiations.

Indeed, the lack of equity between Israel and the Palestinians is a structural failure that has undermined the possibility of a political settlement for decades.

As it stands, Israel has little motivation whatsoever to enter into meaningful negotiations.

With a complete disregard for international law, Israel is taking everything it wants through force of arms with total impunity, made possible, in part, by the diplomatic shield afforded it to it by Britain, the EU and the United States of America.

The majority of Israeli Government politicians flat-out reject the notion of a Palestinian state. There are currently no negotiations and, as Secretary of State John Kerry admitted, it was Israeli intransigence that caused the collapse of the latest round of talks.

Israel has demonstrated itself unwilling to offer a viable Palestinian state through negotiations. If the acceleration of the illegal settlement enterprise hadn’t already proven this, in July Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again ruled out ever accepting a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank.

Let me be clear, to make recognition dependent on negotiations is to reject the two-state solution.

Some will argue that by recognising Palestine, we would undermine negotiations or somehow be an incitement to violence.

But it is the systematic denial of rights that incites violence and emboldens those who reject politics.

The knowledge that Britain, once again, is refusing to recognise the rights of the Palestinian people will serve only to validate those who reject diplomacy and to demonstrate the futility of the efforts of moderates on both sides.

Rejectionists in both Israel and Palestine, those that oppose any type of political settlement, will be delighted to learn that the British Parliament has refused what the vast majority of states have already accepted. Members should bear this in mind before they cast their vote.

Those Palestinians who have pursued the path of diplomacy and non-violence for more than 20 years have achieved precisely nothing.

We need to send the message that it is the path of peace and cooperation, not a resort to arms, will actually lead somewhere.

And it will send the message to Israel that the British Parliament believes that their illegal settlement enterprise – which has pushed possibility of a two-state settlement to brink of collapse – has no validity whatsoever and that the international community is resolute in its opposition to its heinous colonisation of Palestinian land.

The right to statehood has already been accepted by the Government, who have said they “reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at the moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace”.

If they do not do so urgently, any hope of a two-state solution – the only viable solution – will have disappeared altogether.

Instead, Israel will continue its crusade towards the morally repugnant and politically untenable one state solution that can only be maintained through even greater brutality and apartheid rule – a fate so bleak, any true friend of Israel would oppose it.

This summer, during the assault on Gaza, the leaders of all the main political parties told us that that the life of a Palestinian child is worth just as much as the life of an Israeli child. Today we can show that we regard both peoples as equal in dignity and in rights, not just in death, but in life too.

Westminster Hall Debate on Pancreatic Cancer

westminster hall2

I’d like to begin by congratulating my Hon. Friend, the Member for Scunthorpe, and Mrs Maggie Watts for securing this debate on what is all too often a forgotten and neglected form of cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is not an uncommon cancer, in fact, by the time this debate has concluded, three more people will have lost their lives to the disease.

Although the UK still lags behind most of European counterparts when it comes to cancer survival rates, there have been a laudable improvement in cancer treatments across the board in recent decades, yet survival rates, at 5.2%, have virtually stood still for pancreatic cancer for four whole decades.

The very nature of pancreatic cancer contributes towards poor survival rates, but the lack of progress achieved over the last 40 years is a clear indication that funding and strategy must change if victims of pancreatic cancer are to be given a better chance at survival.

We have heard some wonderful contributions suggesting how pancreatic cancer survival rates might be improved – and there is certainly a very strong argument for the need of public awareness campaigns as well as boosting the awareness amongst GPs who too often miss the symptoms of pancreatic cancer until it’s too late – but it seems that regardless of the success of awareness campaigns, that real progress will also require improved treatments.

Pancreatic cancer receives just 1% of the National Cancer Research Institute partner’s research spend, this equates to just £625 per death per year compared to £3,426 per death per year on breast cancer.  Surely, if our rhetoric on wanting to improve the survival rates for pancreatic cancer is sincere, then talk has to be backed up by an increase in available resources.

There are relatively few treatment options available for patients with pancreatic cancer, and it seems that research into and development of new drugs and treatments is key if we are to bring survival rates for pancreatic cancer towards the levels of other common cancers.

There is evidence to suggest that advanced radiotherapy, such as Nanoknife or Cyberknife which can target tumours more precisely with bursts of radiation, might be particularly effective for some pancreatic cancer patients.

As it stands, there isn’t a great enough evidence base for the National Institute of Care and Excellence to allow their routine use on the NHS. Many of the cancer and pancreatic cancer charities I have spoken to have argued, as a matter of urgency that the technology for advanced radiotherapy needs to be verified.

Patients are already receiving advanced radiotherapy for other cancer types and it is available for private patients. Until research into forms of advanced radiotherapy for the treatment of pancreatic cancer is increased and the viability of the technology can be properly verified, NHS patients will continue to miss out.

I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response, particularly in regards to research into advanced radiotherapy. Hopefully when our successors are debating in here in 40 years’ time will be talking about survival rates that are significantly higher than 3%, but for that to happen, this and the next government must act.

Backbench Business Debate — Pancreatic Cancer

Monday 8th September,
Westminster Hall Debate,
Pancreatic Cancer

westminster hall2Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): Thank you for calling me, Mr Chope. I apologise for not being present for the whole debate; I meant no discourtesy to colleagues. I wanted very much to speak in the debate. I begin by congratulating my good and hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), who made a very moving contribution. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee and, indeed, all the volunteers. I had the pleasure of meeting Maggie Watts, but there are also many hundreds of others working in charities and as volunteers who have campaigned so effectively on this issue; they have helped secure the signatures to get this debate on what is very often a forgotten and neglected form of cancer.

I know that there are time constraints, but there are some specific issues that I want to raise with the Minister. I will just make some general points and then move straight to my questions. We know from earlier contributions that pancreatic cancer is not an uncommon cancer. My understanding is that by the time this debate has concluded, three more people will have lost their lives to the disease.

We heard in the contribution from the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) that the UK still lags behind most other European countries when it comes to cancer survival rates. To be fair, there have been significant improvements in cancer treatments across the board in recent decades, but as we are aware the rates for pancreatic cancer, at 5.2%, have virtually stood still in the past four decades, so this is not a criticism of the current Minister or the present regime—the present Government.

The very nature of pancreatic cancer contributes towards poor survival rates. I do not intend to go over the arguments put so eloquently earlier about the difficulty of getting a proper diagnosis and the lack of an effective pathway to make the necessary early referrals. However, one thing that I am concerned about—I want to put this point to the Minister—is this. Yes, it is very important to have awareness campaigns, and I pay tribute to the campaigners who have brought this subject to Parliament today, but if we are to have real progress, there need to be improved treatments as well. Pancreatic cancer receives just 1% of the National Cancer Research Institute partners’ research spend. That equates to £625 per death.

I fully understand that we one cannot equate such things in financial terms, but that compares with almost £3,500 per death on breast cancer, the campaign against which receives much more public attention. If we as politicians—I am talking about all politicians; this is not a criticism of the Minister or the Government—are serious about improving survival rates for pancreatic cancer, our rhetoric must be backed up with firm action on the allocation of resources.

We have heard that relatively few treatment options are available for patients with pancreatic cancer, and research into the development of new drugs and treatments is key if we are to bring survival rates for pancreatic cancer down towards those of other common cancers. Over the past week or so, the case of the little boy Ashya has been in the news, and we have heard about the terrible circumstances and trauma that his parents went through in being unable to access the advanced radiotherapy that they felt was an appropriate form of treatment for their son. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood has already referred to the potential of advanced radiotherapy. Forms of the treatment such as NanoKnife and CyberKnife, which can target tumours very precisely with intense bursts of radiation, may be particularly effective for some, although not all, pancreatic cancer patients.

I know that the Minister is sick of me going on about advanced radiotherapy, but we are not doing as much as we should to develop the evidence base for the treatment. I fully understand that it is not suitable for all types of cancer, or even for all types of pancreatic cancer; there are a number of different forms. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence insists that before it allows routine use of the treatment, particularly in the NHS, there must be an evidence base.

Many of the cancer charities that I have spoken to have argued that, as a matter of urgency, the technology for advanced radiotherapy must be verified. I make an appeal to the Minister on that. Patients already receive advanced radiotherapy for other cancer types, and the treatment is available for private patients. I fully understand that we need to have an evidence base and see what is effective in different circumstances. Until research into advanced forms of radiotherapy for the treatment of pancreatic cancer is increased and the viability of the technology can be properly verified—until we actually grasp the nettle and fund the research and the trials—NHS patients will continue to miss out.

Stephen McPartland: The hon. Gentleman and I have debated radiotherapy and chemotherapy several times. I am proud that my NHS hospital trust was given the first CyberKnife by a wealthy donor, so it has the evidence required for advanced techniques and advanced radiotherapy. I sound a note of caution, however. My constituents have to make a 60-mile round trip to access that treatment. We have just opened a chemotherapy unit that can be used by someone who has cancer in Stevenage, but if they receive radiotherapy they often have to make a 4,000-mile journey over the course of their treatment. Although patients can have advanced radiotherapy, the difficulty is accessing that treatment.

Grahame M. Morris: That is a sensible point, which I have made to the Minister and several of her predecessors on a number of occasions. My view is that each of the 28 cancer networks should have access to advanced radiotherapy and that we should carry out a series of trials to evaluate the effectiveness of that treatment.

I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response, particularly on research into advanced radiotherapy. I hope that when our successors debate the matter in 40 years’ time, they will be talking about survival rates significantly higher than the current 3%. For that to happen, I respectfully say that the Government, or a Government, must act.

The Crisis in Gaza

Westminster Hall Debate
Middle East and North Africa
Thursday 17 July

Criminal Driving BillGrahame M. Morris: It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan. I think that I explained the reasons why I was late, and I apologise to the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) for being late and congratulate him on securing this important debate.

Unfortunately, at this late stage of the debate much of what I was planning to say has already been covered, so I will spare the Minister and the other Members who remain the injustice of hearing the statistics repeated. However, I would like to say that this issue is not only one for the Palestinian or the Arab diaspora here in the UK and in the rest of Europe. I am the MP for Easington and I declare an interest as chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, because I want to speak about the situation in Gaza and Israel.

This is a social justice issue. I heard many of the comments that Members made today, and frankly some sense was spoken on all sides. However, when someone starts to stretch the truth too thinly, people—even ordinary people and people of limited intelligence such as myself—can start to see through it, and that is starting to happen.

We are at a tipping point for the middle east. The UK Government have a critical role to play, and members of the wider international community could act as honest brokers for peace and take some practical action to tackle the root cause of the conflict, which is—let us be plain about it—the illegal occupation of Palestine. Tackling that would prevent extremism from escalating on both sides.

I will echo the comments not of a member of my party but of the right hon. Gentleman’s party, who spoke during this week’s exchanges following the urgent statement and told the House that he had heard the same responses to the same events for 30 years. I think that was the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames).

Alistair Burt: Yes.

Grahame M. Morris: The right hon. Member for Mid Sussex said that he had heard the same responses for 30 years. I ask the Minister this: is it not beyond time that the international community, with Britain at the forefront, lived up to its obligation to end this humanitarian disaster? For 30 years we have seen this happening, and we are having the same debates over and over again, with no progress to report. We can no longer continue to focus exclusively on negotiations. I will do everything I can—I think I will be protesting outside the Israeli embassy on Saturday—to further the cause of peace and a ceasefire. We have to go beyond focusing on negotiations. We cannot continue to ignore the main barriers to peace, which include the failure to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations. The annexations—

Mrs Ellman: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Grahame M. Morris: I will give way only once, because I am very short of time.

Mrs Ellman: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. There is no doubt that in this long-running tragic dispute there is fault on all sides. However, does he think that the Palestinians are in any way culpable for jeopardising the possibility of peace, when after the Oslo accords were signed the Palestinian Authority—under the leadership of Yasser Arafat—unleashed a series of suicide bombings on the young people of Jerusalem?

Grahame M. Morris: I was going to come on to the Oslo accords and their consequences. I know that my hon. Friend raised issues earlier relating to some of the things that had happened—the reactions and so on—but we have to move on. It is 20 years since Oslo. On the undertakings given, particularly in respect of the withdrawal from Gaza, we are talking about illegal settlements that were set up by Israel and were against international conventions.

The Deputy Prime Minister recently acknowledged the collective punishments dished out to the Palestinian people, which have consequences in terms of brutalising people. As was said earlier, the current military action will, I am sure, degrade the capability of Hamas and other extremist groups to wage an armed campaign against Israel, but sadly it will be counter-productive, because it will radicalise many thousands, or potentially millions, of others in Gaza, the west bank and a number of countries, perhaps even in Europe. The Israelis, who hold all the cards and have all the power and might, have to recognise that the way to peace and justice for both Israel and Palestine is a just and negotiated settlement. We have to tackle the root cause, and we have to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations, the annexation of Palestinian land and the continued expansion of illegal settlements; they are illegal in international law.

I have had the opportunity to go and see some of these settlements. I was accompanied by Jewish human rights groups, who share the concerns of the international community about some of the things that have been happening, such as the infrastructure network being available exclusively to Israeli settlements and the restrictions on the water resources, which particularly affect the Bedouin Arabs. They have a miserable existence. When I went to see them, I had a vision of a “Lawrence of Arabia”-type situation, with lovely tents and so on, but they live in absolute squalor, moving from place to place, and they are restricted, with the Israeli authorities declaring areas—on a whim, it would appear—to be military training areas or national parks. That is just a clear abuse, and a collective punishment, and it has to stop if we are to see a just and lasting peace.

The Minister is new to his post and I wish him well, because we have had these arguments before, even though I have only been a Member of this House for four years. It is a serious issue and I do not mean to laugh, but his predecessor, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire, will know that we have had lengthy debates and informal meetings, and we have tried every which way to push these things forward in a reasonable and businesslike fashion. I want the UK Government to be serious, and I hope that when my party is sitting on the Government Benches in a year’s time, we will be much more proactive.

We need to replace rhetoric with actions and demand an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza. We have heard from right hon. and hon. Members, including those who have visited Gaza, about the suffering of the people, and about the impact on the water supply, the sewerage system, and the hospitals. We must insist on an end to this blockade, and a complete freeze on illegal settlement growth. We must also halt trade with and investment in illegal Israeli settlements in the west bank. We should support a phased approach to ending the occupation of the west bank and East Jerusalem, and have greater international mediation, with a larger role for the EU. Most importantly, the international community must set out clear parameters, targets and consequences to the failure to end violations in order to make progress. I know that targets are not popular with the Conservatives, but those targets should include sanctions when Israel does not comply.

We must understand the crisis in the wider context, which is a seven-year blockade of Gaza that has left its people facing an absolute humanitarian crisis. We had an excellent debate here in Westminster Hall, in which the impact of that crisis was elaborated on, but it is time to go beyond rhetoric. We need action from the British Government; they must take a lead.


Protecting Children in Conflict

House of Commons,
Thursday 3rd July

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I congratulate my good and hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Fiona O’Donnell) and the Backbench Business Committee on allocating time for such an important and timely subject for debate.

I want to cover some areas of interest relating to the protection of children in conflict in Palestine and Israel, child prisoners and the situation of children in Gaza. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response. Clearly, the events of the past few weeks have once again brought to our attention in this House and throughout the world the enduring suffering of children as a result of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I draw to the attention of the House my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I would like to express my heartfelt and sincere sympathy to the families of the three Israeli youths abducted and killed in cold blood. My youngest son is of a similar age and I cannot begin to comprehend the grief that their parents must be experiencing at this time. There is no greater tragedy than that of a young and innocent life full of potential being taken away by conflict. In response to an urgent question earlier this week, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson) said something that I found poignant. He commented that there is no “hierarchy of victimhood” and that the deaths of innocent Palestinian children are equally tragic. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.

For Palestinians, this week’s kidnapping and murder of a 16-year-old boy in a suspected revenge attack and the two innocent teenagers shot dead by Israeli soldiers at Ofer in May this year are just as painful and just as tragic to the Palestinian communities as the deaths of the Israeli youths are for Israel. Since 2001, 1,407 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli military forces and Israeli settlers as a consequence of an unjust and illegal military occupation. Worryingly, according to the United Nations, the instances of Israeli soldiers using live fire against the Palestinian civilian population in recent weeks have increased. I place on record my condolences to all the families who have lost children in this conflict, and I emphasise my desire to see those responsible brought to justice under the rule of law.

It is my wish that no more families on either side should have to suffer such tragedies in the future. I know that that wish is shared by right hon. and hon. Members, some of whom are here today, who have participated in other debates and spoken knowledgeably about their experiences, bringing their insight and knowledge of international law and treaties. Right hon. and hon. Members who share this sentiment recognise that the conflict will continue, and children will continue to be harmed and killed until a fair and just settlement is achieved. Until international law, United Nations resolutions and international conventions for peace are implemented in the middle east, parents of the region will continue to worry for their children’s safety and young people will continue to suffer and die as a result of a conflict that is not of their making.

There is a danger that the current climate of vengeance and retribution will worsen the situation. Uri Ariel, the Israeli housing Minister, has called for a “proper Zionist response”, meaning an acceleration of Israel’s illegal expansion of settlements in the west bank and East Jerusalem and a programme of punitive house demolitions. The Israeli Deputy Minister of Defence, Danny Danon, said that Israel should make the entire Palestinian leadership pay a heavy price for the killing of the three Israeli teenagers, and Mr Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, advocated a full-scale invasion of Gaza as a legitimate response. In the name of security, rights, justice and peace, the demands of these politicians must be rebutted, resisted and challenged by the international community.

Children are never the causes of conflict, but too often they are its victims, and if the cycle of revenge and violence is accelerated, it is they who will pay the heaviest price. I was interested in the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), in which she pointed out the radicalisation of Palestinian youth as a consequence of broadcasts in the Palestinian media. We should also think about the consequences of their day-to-day experience of being brutalised by the occupying power and the impact that that has on young minds. That cannot be discounted and the effects attributed to brainwashing by their own communities. These are relevant issues, but we cannot discount the huge pressures on the Palestinians’ day-to-day existence. Israel has by far the greater ability to make the Palestinians suffer. I fear that it will escalate its policy of punishing them collectively—a crime under international law—for the violent actions of a minority.

The subject of this debate is “Protecting Children in Conflict”. I would like to refer briefly to the plight of children in Gaza. The Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip has now entered its seventh year, spelling despair for its population of 1.6 million, 42% of whom are children aged 14 or younger. Some international organisations are suggesting that the situation cannot continue. The International Monetary Fund, for example, has said that the blockade and other restrictions imposed by the Israelis on Gaza cost the Palestinians 78% of their GDP, or an estimated $6.3 billion a year. With 80% of families in Gaza dependent on humanitarian aid, the consequences are more than economic.

Gaza’s children suffer immeasurably as a result of the severe restrictions Israel places on imports, exports and the movement of people, whether by land, air or sea. Restrictions on the import of construction equipment mean that vital infrastructure, such as housing, health care facilities and schools, are not fit for purpose. More worryingly, water and sewage treatment services are starting to break down. The blockade causes endemic and long-lasting poverty, preventing families from being able to put nutritious food on the table. That manifests itself in malnutrition among the children. Stunting as a result of long-term exposure to chronic malnutrition is found in 10% of children under five in Gaza. Anaemia affects 68% of children and a third of pregnant women. Some 90% of the water extracted from Gaza’s only aquifer is unfit for human consumption, and the UN has warned that it will be irreversibly damaged by 2020.

Fiona O’Donnell: My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Unfortunately, the Israeli authorities would not allow the Select Committee to travel to Gaza. Does he share my concerns about salt in the water? When mothers have to make formula with water that contains salt that has huge implications for their young children’s physical and mental development.

Grahame M. Morris: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I was a member of a delegation that visited the west bank, and we, too, were refused entry to Gaza. I have certainly heard from other right hon. and hon. Members who visited Gaza and can corroborate exactly what she says. I think that the Minister should make representations to the Israeli authorities on humanitarian grounds.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs has said that the blockade is

“a collective punishment of all those living in Gaza and is a denial of basic human rights in contravention of international law”.

I completely agree. There is no moral or legal justification for Israel’s collective punishment of over 800,000 children. Although they are kept apart by military checkpoints and separation walls—my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian and I were unable to gain access to Gaza because of the restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities—the children of Gaza’s fellow Palestinians in the illegally occupied west bank and east Jerusalem, and indeed in the refugee camps, also suffer profoundly as a result of the conflict.

The rights of Palestinian children are routinely violated as Israeli military detention fails to safeguard basic human rights or to adhere to international law in relation to detaining children. The most recent figures indicate that 196 Palestinian children were being held in Israeli military custody at the end of April, but I suspect that the number has increased dramatically in recent weeks. I am disturbed that the Israeli authorities are no longer releasing information on precisely how many children are being held in military detention.

My hon. Friend referred to the independent report “Children in Military Custody”, which was authored by seven senior lawyers from the United Kingdom and funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It highlights how two distinct legal systems are applied by the Israeli authorities to residents of the west bank depending on an individual’s race or national identity. When that policy was applied in South Africa, it was called apartheid, and international politicians, including John Kerry, have used that term with respect to what is happening in the west bank. That independent report by leading lawyers, commissioned by our own Foreign Office, concluded that Israel is in breach of seven articles of the UN convention on the rights of the child, including in relation to discrimination, the child’s best interests, premature resort to detention, non-separation from adults, prompt access to lawyers and the use of shackles.

When I was first elected, I had the opportunity to visit the west bank and see one of those military courts in operation. Some of the children are very young. Some are arrested in midnight raids. The crime for which they are most commonly arrested is throwing stones, and there is often little evidence that the arrested child is the one responsible. They are then shackled and blindfolded before being questioned without their parents being present and without access to any legal representation. There are extensive reports indicating that physical and verbal abuse by the Israeli authorities against those children is commonplace. They can be detained without charge for 188 days and then be made to wait two more years before the conclusion of their trial. They are often arrested in the refugee camps or the occupied territories, but they are held in military detention within Israel. Again, I am not a lawyer, but I believe that that contravenes a United Nations convention.

Most of those children are forced to sign confessions in Hebrew. They might have some understanding of Hebrew when it is spoken, but not when it is written. They often sign the confession in the hope of speeding up the trial. Unsurprisingly, given the flagrant disregard for international law, the overall conviction rate for Palestinian children in Israeli military courts—I should not laugh, but this number is like something from North Korea—is 99.74%.

I believe that a form of psychological warfare is being waged on an entire community and that it is children who are being made to bear the brunt of Israel’s punitive measures. I have witnessed those court proceedings while visiting Israel. Indeed, the image of a young boy the same age as my youngest son being marched along by soldiers with his hands and feet in shackles was truly shocking and will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Recent events have served as a stark reminder of the brutality of life for children in conflict areas. As a parent, I wish that no mother or father had to experience the tragic loss of their child. For a serious commitment towards that end, we must understand that recent tragedies are rooted in a conflict that will not end until Israel acts in accordance with international law, United Nations resolutions and the overwhelming consensus of the international community in order to realise peace and justice in the middle east.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister, in conjunction with his ministerial colleagues, to press the Israeli Government to adhere to these international conventions, particularly in relation to the right of the child.

Speech: Taxi licensing and deregulation

Monday 23rd June,
House of Commons,
Deregulation Bill,

HoCI urge the House to support amendments 61 and 1, and to reject clause 35. I will not rehearse the strong arguments comprehensively and ably made by my hon. Friend Mr Marsden about the safety of seafarers.

I want to say a few words about the Government’s proposals on taxi deregulation. In April, I held a Westminster Hall debate on their proposed reforms to the legislation on taxis, private hire vehicles and hackney carriages. Incredibly, there was near-unanimous support across the Chamber, even from Government Members who seemed to agree that the reforms were poorly drafted, rushed, and involved risk and unintended consequences. Taxis and private hire vehicles form an essential part of our national transport system. Indeed, for many of our elderly and disabled constituents, they are often the only form of public transport; that applies particularly to those of us who represent rural or semi-rural areas. I fear that in the rush to deregulate, changes are being proposed that may well endanger public safety.

Those concerns are being expressed not only by me and by other Labour MPs but by, among others, Unite, my union; the RMT; the GMB, which represents thousands of drivers of private hire and hackney vehicles all over the country; the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers; the Local Government Association; and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. I have met all those bodies, or they have been in contact with my office to express their worries about the nature and implications of these proposals for the deregulation of private hire vehicles.

Opposition Members have expressed a particular concern about clause 10, which will enable people who do not hold a private hire vehicle licence to drive that vehicle when off duty. The reform will surely lead to an increase in the number of unlicensed drivers posing as legitimate drivers, if there is very little that policing or licensing authorities can do, in practice, to identify bogus drivers.

Following the Westminster Hall debate, I conducted a consultation exercise with taxi and private hire vehicle drivers in my constituency. One of my findings was that passengers very rarely, if ever, ask drivers to show their licence badge. Drivers made it clear that they felt that the operation of unlicensed taxis in their area risked damaging the reputation of, and confidence in, the firms they worked for.

I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the concerns voiced by some 19 police and crime commissioners around the country, including mine, Ron Hogg, the police and crime commissioner for County Durham and Darlington. His view is that an inevitable consequence of this deregulation will be an increase in the number of people attacked after a night out.

For the sake of the record, I want to make the Minister aware of police figures showing that, in London alone, 214 women were sexually assaulted last year after getting into an illegal minicab or an unlicensed taxi, and 54 were raped. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a leading independent women’s safety charity, shares my concerns. It has said that clause 10

“will provide greater opportunity for those intent on preying on women in this way.”

None of us wants our constituents to be put at risk—I do not believe that the Minister does, either—but passenger safety and public confidence in the taxi and private hire vehicle industry should not be undermined by the Government’s mad dash to deregulate.

There are concerns about clause 11, which will set standard durations of three years for taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences, and of five years for private hire vehicle operator licences. The industry and trade unions expressed concerns on that point during the limited time available for the consultation. The National Private Hire Association and the Institute of Licensing have said that the clause will remove flexibility from councils, and there are already concerns about how effectively drivers are scrutinised.

Although local authorities impose licence conditions on private hire vehicle drivers and operators that require them to report criminal convictions and changes to their medical status within a specified period, in practice such conditions are often ignored. Even in the case of driver licences, although the police are supposed to inform the local authority of any recordable convictions—indeed, the police have the discretion to inform the local authority of minor matters—information is often given haphazardly.

Some local authorities get information directly from their local police force, but—for the Minister, it is a big but—in very few instances do local authorities receive information from police forces outside their area. My hon. Friend Graham Jones, who is sitting alongside me, made that very point. It is important, because one of the Bill’s provisions will allow subcontracting, so a taxi or private hire firm might come from another area and be covered by a different police force.

I remind the House that effective implementation will require local authorities to sign up to the Disclosure and Barring Service in order to receive information about convictions during the term of a licence. The Minister has said that he does not see any problem, but the service is relatively new, and how it will work in practice is not yet known. We know that local authorities have inadequate control over, or powers for, effective policing or enforcement, so how will the extension of cross-border work that the provision will bring in be properly licensed and controlled? The lack of confidence in clause 11 is further evidence, I believe, of the rushed and piecemeal nature of the reforms.

One of my principal concerns relates to the Government proposal to allow private hire vehicles to subcontract and book an operator in a different licensing area. When I re-read in Hansard the Minister’s response in the Westminster Hall debate, and indeed on Second Reading and in Committee, I saw that he said that the change would give customers more choice—that was part of his justification—and that it might be advantageous, in that passengers could ring up their local provider if they did not know who to call. However, passengers may well not want to use the subcontractor that has been sent to their door. At the moment, they have some degree of control over that.

Quality is an issue, and in some cases, the name of a company is important—a Government Member raised that point during the Minister’s opening statement. People may book on that basis, and may choose not to book others on the same basis. A customer might choose a local operator because of their local knowledge, because they like those particular drivers and feel comfortable with them, or because they have experienced problems with another operator. A member of the public might call a specific operator because they feel that they are reliable and safe to travel with. I am thinking specifically about women travelling home. They might not be travelling back from a night out; they might be nurses or home care workers travelling back from employment. They might have a preferred operator because they know they will be transported safely. A disabled passenger might know their preferred provider to be competent in assisting disabled passengers, and they may have confidence and comfort in the knowledge that a particular provider will take them home safely.

My consultation found that drivers appreciated those concerns, and as a consequence, were overwhelmingly opposed to the reforms. Particularly in relation to subcontracting, there is a risk in passing jobs from one company to another. It is not the wonderful panacea that some advocates of deregulation, such as Mr Redwood, who is no longer in his place, would have us believe. The House really should think about some of the consequences, including the unintended consequences, of the proposals.

Speech to BMA North East Regional Council

BMA Regional Council,
Thursday, 10th April

The creation of the NHS is Labour’s proudest achievement. More than anything else, it’s what binds us together as a nation.

Our National Health Service is facing the greatest challenges it has known since its inception. The principle of a national health service, free at the point of use, has huge popular support amongst the general public, and it is a sentiment shared by those in this room.

This support will be vital for the NHS to answer the questions that the 21st century is posing.

We are facing a huge sustainability challenge in an era where there’s less money around and these financial challenges will be exacerbated by an ageing society.

There are now 3 million people over 80 and this will nearly double by 2030.

There are increasing numbers with complex needs, mental health problems, or long-term conditions. The number with a long-term condition, such as diabetes and asthma, will rise from 15 million today to 18 million by 2025.

The NHS is on a knife edge. The previous Chief Executive of NHS England, Sir David Nicholson, recently warned that the service faced “oblivion” and that it could not survive if it had to remain in the straitjacket of austerity and keep on the same path it’s on for another parliament.

When the great post-war Labour government created the NHS, the health challenges of the time were very different to the challenges we face today.

Then the priority of the NHS was fighting infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and diphtheria, now 70% of all health and care spending is on treating long term conditions like cancer, heart disease or dementia, while large numbers of patients have multiple needs.

If we are to meet the challenges of providing excellent healthcare and ensuring that people live in dignity into old age without the entire system becoming financially unsustainable, then changes will have to be made.

In their current format, the structures and care pathways that are responsible for our health and wellbeing are unsustainable.

At the moment, we have 3 or 4 fragmented systems to deal with different aspects of health & social care: physical health in acute hospitals; mental health often in separate services on the fringes of the NHS; and social care in council-run services and primary and community services.

People are being passed from pillar to post by different professionals and different points of contact.

People are in hospitals or A&E with mental health problems, but in a system that is only treating their physical ailments.

A quarter of all patients admitted to hospital with a physical illness also have a mental health condition that, in most cases, is not treated while the patient is in hospital.

And people with mental health problems are having their physical health neglected. Those with serious mental health problems die on average 15 years earlier than everyone else.

It is a system that’s working for Whitehall, but not for the people. It’s wasting billions and we end up paying for failure, playing into the hands of the privateers.

People with physical illnesses are struggling with undiagnosed mental health problems. Untreated mental illness is costing the NHS around £10 billion each year.

Care services have been cut in the knowledge the NHS will pick up the pieces – even though it is far more expensive to treat someone in hospital, and it is ultimately damaging both the NHS to care services, and the individual.

People can’t be discharged from hospital because help is not there at home and it’s costing the NHS £4 million a week.

And we are paying for failure: we are paying for people coming through the hospital door, rather than paying to prevent them needing hospital treatment in the first place.

There is a tendency for our hospitals to only see the immediate problem – a broken hip or a stroke – not the whole person behind it.

We are treating a person’s needs through three or four disjointed services. This means not only that we are building up costs at an unsustainable rate, but that patients are falling through the gaps between services and aren’t receiving the care they need.

It’s the way that we have worked for 66 years, and, for the most part, it has served us well.

But in the 21st century when we are faced with increased funding pressures and changing demographics the old model is no longer tenable.

If we want to deliver what people deserve we cannot continue to pass patients around from service to service.

One person, three or four services is not the way forward.

What is needed is a holistic approach to each patient – a single service that cares for a person as a whole.

But this Government is delivering the reverse. Our services are becoming more fragmented, not less, and it is competition, not cooperation that is the driving force behind Tory-led health reforms.

Far from helping integrate services, the Tories’ marketisation is fragmenting the NHS. It’s hard to integrate care when many different providers are all competing for different parts of a patient’s care ‘pathway’.

The Government’s decision to enforce competition law within the NHS will have a chilling effect on the behaviour of commissioners and providers who want to work together– the opposite of the cultural change we need to drive integration.

Last year, for the first time ever, the Competition Commission intervened in the NHS to block collaboration between two hospitals in Dorset and Poole looking to improve services.

Competition lawyers, not GPs are becoming the decision makers in our NHS

Our NHS is becoming bogged down in a morass of competition law.

Since April, CCGs have spent £5 million on external advice as services are forced out to tender.

This competition regime is a barrier to the service changes that the NHS needs survive in the 21st century.

It is sheer madness to say to hospitals that they can’t collaborate or work with GPs and social care to improve care for older people because it’s “anti-competitive”.

If we are to relieve the intense pressure on our services, and rise to the financial challenge, it is precisely this kind of collaboration that is needed, and the marketisation of the NHS must be reversed.

NHS professionals like GPs, doctors and nurses need to play a greater role in coordinating the provision of social care services, and joining them up with other health services.

But despite the rhetoric of Government ministers, the exact opposite is being delivered.

Far from delivering a de-centralised service that puts power in the hands of clinicians, which was the promise of this Government’s NHS reforms, Clause 119, or, as it’s aptly referred to in some circles, the “hospital closure clause”, has been pushed through parliament.

Jeremy Hunt has wrestled power away from GPs and local communities to further re-configure the NHS for non-clinical reasons.

The Trust Special Administrator regime has been distorted. It was never intended as a backdoor way to make unpopular re-configurations, but that is what it has become.

Clause 119 was designed to allow the Secretary of State to do what he failed to do in Lewisham—to close down thriving and financially sustainable hospitals without full and proper consultation.

Sometimes there is a strong argument to close and reconfigure services in a local health economy. In such cases there needs to be a sustained effort to persuade people about the benefits of a reconfiguration, and the arguments need to be clinically led.

It should not be done at the whim of a Secretary of State on the basis of a financial driver. Genuine public engagement is required, not unaccountable decisions decreed from Richmond House by Whitehall bureaucrats.

The Secretary of State’s increased power and Monitor’s expanding role directly contradict earlier Government promises that local commissioners would no longer be subject to central diktat, and represent a reversal of the vision of a decentralised health service that was presented during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

Again, what is needed is more joined-up commissioning of health and care services at local level, with NHS and local-authority commissioners working in partnership.

But what we’ve seen is the worst year in A&Es in a decade. It is the consequence of a false economy.

We have seen savage cuts to local Government. Under this Government, almost £2 billion has been taken out of budgets for adult social care. Compared to a decade ago, half a million fewer older people are getting support to help them cope.

A quarter of Walk-In Centres have closed and NHS Direct has been dismantled. Labour’s 48 hour appointment guarantee with your GP has been scrapped.

A recent Care Quality Commission report found avoidable emergency admissions for pensioners topping half a million for the first time – and rising faster than the increase in the ageing population.

Terrible for older people, putting huge pressure on A&Es and costing around a billion pounds a year.

But other vulnerable people are suffering too. The Government is cutting mental health more deeply than the rest of the NHS.

Some mental health trusts are now reporting bed occupancy levels of over 100%. It’s no wonder we’ve heard growing evidence of highly vulnerable people being held in police cells or ending up in A&E because no crisis beds are available.

These are the types of practices that will make our health and care services unsustainable.

If we want to ensure better, more efficient care, especially for millions of older people and those with long-term care conditions who have multiple needs, we need to bring together services and shape them around the individual.

Labour’s whole person care is about putting the emphasis on preventing illness in the first place and preventing costly and unnecessary hospital visits.

Not paying for failure, but preventing people becoming ill and keeping them out of hospital. Not rewarding one part of the system for building up costs elsewhere.

People are often troubled by attempting to navigate themselves through the fragmented systems that take care of their health and wellbeing, so we want to focus on integrated, multi-disciplinary care teams who can work around the individual, rather than the individual working around them, to draw up personalised care plans.

And there should be a go-to person, an advocate or a point of contact, to help a person coordinate their care. People living with long term conditions need to be given more help to manage their conditions by themselves, preventing unnecessary trips to the hospital and delivering more independence to patients.

One of the key recommendations of the Oldham Commission was that annualised tariffs should replace the current payment by results tariff, shifting the incentive to prevention rather than just treatment when things have gone wrong.

What is needed is more joined-up commissioning of health and care services at local level, with NHS and local-authority commissioners working in partnership. And allowing local health and social care services pool to a single budget

Installing a grab rail in an older person’s home might prevent a fall, we could save people a great amount of distress and we will save the service money. If we want a sustainable service that delivers the best for the patient, then incentives need to change.

What the Oldham Commission has set out is a blueprint for how to deliver the changes needed for the NHS to succeed in the future.

And the answer is close the gaps between services that generate false economies and leave patients behind; to integrate services and have a parity between mental and physical health and social care; to work with people to help them stay empowered and independent into their old age and to shift the emphasis onto prevention.

It is crucial not only for people’s dignity, but to ensure that the NHS is equipped to survive and meet the challenges of the next century.

Nye Bevan said when the NHS was founded that it “will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”.

We need to continue this fight to safeguard the NHS for future generations.


Speech to Peterlee Business Park Group

100dayPic1I would like to thank you, the members of the Peterlee Business Park Group, and the chairman of the Steering Group, Steve Metcalf, for inviting me to speak with you.

Today is another significant step forward in promoting Peterlee as a local, national, and international business hub. The new website, launched today, will assist in the efforts to create a new identity for Peterlee Business Park, and I am confident it will help attract new inward investment, businesses, and jobs to the region.

I hope the stronger business community that is being created under the banner of the Peterlee Business Park will act as a strong voice for all businesses in the area.

Far to often – politicians like to talk to business, but I am here to listen and represent your views, because the solutions that will work for businesses in Peterlee will come from you.

You have the expertise, knowledge and experience regarding how we can expand, grow, and promote East Durham as a place to do business – and I have read with great interest the Steering Group report and will raise the issues identified with Government.

I am immensely proud to represent the Easington constituency.

We have a rich industrial heritage which shaped our communities, and I believe we have a bright future in manufacturing and engineering that will help redefine East Durham.

East Durham was built on coal.

Many of the villages and towns which we have today can trace their roots back to the sinking of a mine. They were built up over time on the back of the jobs and communities that were created in the mine.

The pit provided jobs for all those who wanted to work, and the loss of the industry over 20 years ago left an indelible scar on our communities, and we still live with the legacy today.

Easington constituency still has some of the highest levels of worklessness in the UK.

One in five of the working age population are in receipt of an “out of work” benefit, over 10,000 people. Many have not worked since the pit closure of the late 80s and early 90’s, with the implicit acceptance of governments seeking to mask unemployment figures.

The Steering Group survey raised concerns about a 2nd generation unemployment, with young people living in workless households not receiving the basic life skills to make them work ready or to instil a work ethic.

This situation can only change through the creation of new jobs to break the cycle of worklessness. However, this can be difficult and it is not an easy time to be a school leaver in East Durham as we struggle to return to pre-recession levels of employment.

The number of NEETs with the Easington constituency, those Not in Education, Employment or Training, has risen by nearly 60% since 2010.

Long term youth unemployment has risen by an extraordinary 1167% over the same period, with 190 under 24’s now being out of work for more than 12 months.

Unemployment in general, remains too high, and has only recently returned to similar levels as 2010. However, we are a long way away from our pre-recess levels where unemployment was nearly half the current level.

It took many years to reverse the problems linked to mass job losses – rising unemployment, industrial decline, and the associated social problems. We made significant progress transforming the area since the early 90s, however, the economic crisis has questioned our resilience to cope with external shocks.

Built on coal, but our future success and local economy will be built upon new technologies, manufacturing, and engineering, the very work that is taking place at Peterlee Business Park.

We have got to ensure that our young people have the skills to seize these opportunities, and education, along with the input of   business will help to achieve this.

The schools and colleges in East Durham have been transformed over the past decade. Our schools were once neglected and left to fall into a state of disrepair, however, after a major investment by the previous Labour Government all but one of our schools have been rebuilt, and we now have excellent facilities and the modern teaching environments to help our children succeed.

And significant progress has been made.

Through a combination of excellent teaching, and modern facilities, once underperforming schools have been turned into centres of excellence, and we have seen a marked improvement in standards.

Analysis by the Local Schools Network has shown that if East Durham was a local education authority on its own, last year’s results would have made us the most improved area in the country.

These results are particularly remarkable given the high numbers of disadvantaged pupils, and all our schools exceed the Government’s GCSE bench mark of passing 52.9% with five A* to C including Maths and English.

In fact, our schools did more than exceed this bench mark, and we saw exceptional results at Easington Academy, passing 79%, Shotton Hall, 71% and Seaham School of Technology, 71%.

Wellfield Community School in the neighbouring constituency was listed as one of the 100 most improved secondary schools, Seaham School of Technology also received an Education Business Award for Outstanding Progress, and Education Minister David Laws wrote to Easington Academy as they ranked number one for achievement, when compared to schools facing similar challenges with disadvantaged pupils.

However, I fear that often the brightest young people in East Durham feel they have little opportunity but to move away from the area in order to progress their careers. And I also acknowledge your concerns that despite the improved GCSE results many young people are entering the workplace lacking the basic skills in literacy and numeracy to succeed.

There is also a lack of engineering and technical skills that are required for the local jobs market, which we need to address.

I believe there is an opportunity here for Peterlee Business Park to work with local schools and colleges, to advance those skills our young people require to succeed in the local jobs market.

I would be interested in exploring with businesses the possibility of offering work experience placements, whether this be through extending the current one week work experience, or offering summer placements, reaching out to those who want to pursue a career in engineering and manufacturing.

I hope as part of the agenda moving forward we will see greater collaboration between business and local schools. I am a strong believer in apprenticeships, and the benefits young people can gain from training and practical skills which are developed in a workplace environment. While apprentices gain invaluable experience, businesses are able to tailor a workforce to meet their specific needs, avoid skills gaps and increase competitiveness.

Figures released during National Apprenticeship Week, highlighted that every time a company in Easington takes on an apprentice, their bottom line gets an average boost of £2,048. Last year new apprentices in Easington gave local businesses a boost of £2.7 million.

In the North East, the total benefit to business last year was £125 million and across the UK apprentices boosted businesses by £1.8 billion. I think as a country we need to do more to promote the benefits of apprenticeships, and help those businesses that seek to create and train the workforce of the future.

I hope that we can work towards the creation of a Peterlee Business Park apprenticeship programme, that collaborates with local schools and East Durham College to provide the skills and training our young people need to excel in local engineering and manufacturing businesses.

Increasing and improving employment opportunities is my number one priority for East Durham. I am here to support you in this effort, whether that be through seeking to improve local infrastructure, supporting grant applicants, or raising issues of concern to Government.

The health and wealth of East Durham is directly linked to the growth and expansion of business and jobs, and I hope we can work together to create a successful future for Peterlee Business Park.

Thank you once again for inviting me to speak with you today.

It is great to see so many businesses working together, collaborating, promoting and sharing best practice.

I am here to listen and learn about your goals and aims, about what you require to drive the success of your businesses, and to give you my full backing and support.

I am your voice in parliament, and I am here to take your message to Government, that Peterlee has a thriving business community, and that we need to do more to get behind the companies that are creating the modern jobs and opportunities that will sustain our former mining communities and develop a new identity for our area in the 21st Century as the home of technology, engineering and manufacturing.

I hope East Durham will become renowned for the engineering and manufacturing taking place on Peterlee Business Park, in the same away as Washington is known for Nissan, and Newton Aycliffe will be associated with Hitachi.  At times it is a struggle to get Government Minister’s to recognise the diverse range of business the North East has to offer.

I already know we have world class companies in Peterlee, and I hope in the coming months we can do more to promote the success of Peterlee Business Park, and continue its growth and expansion; I will certainly endeavour to do my part in Parliament.

For more information about Peterlee Business Park, please visit


Socialist Health Association: Accountability in the NHS

Regional Conference
Socialist Health Association Fringe Meeting

Thank you all for coming today.

It’s a sign of how much we value the NHS that you have taken time to come along today.

We are here today because of the concern that we share over the current state and the direction of the NHS.

I believe that the NHS is becoming a less democratic organisation and is becoming less and less accountable to the wants and needs of the public.

In recent years the number of public services being outsourced has accelerated. One in three pounds spent by the current Government now goes into the hands of private providers.

Owing to the Government’s policy of opening up public services to the private and voluntary sectors, billions of pounds of NHS contracts are now being made available to the private sector.

Since the implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, 7 in 10 NHS contracts have been awarded to private healthcare companies.

More and more NHS contracts are being handed over to private healthcare companies, many with pasts checkered with fraud, failure and criminality.

Unfortunately, while more and more taxpayer money is being handed to the private sector, the public have their hands tied when trying to obtain information about those who are providing their public services.

Currently it is not possible to make private providers comply with freedom of information requests.

Private health care companies should not be permitted to hide behind a cloak of commercial confidentiality. Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being awarded to private sector companies under barely transparent contracts. Meanwhile, private companies are free to benefit by gaining detailed knowledge of public sector bodies through their use and submission of FOI requests. The same information is then used by the private sector to undercut or outbid the very same public sector bodies when contracts are tendered or put up for renewal.

This is something I have been campaigning against in parliament. I believe that, as the NHS constitution says, the NHS belongs to the people, not to predatory private healthcare providers and that it should remain in public hands and should stay accountable to the public.

This is why I have been campaigning on the back of my 10 Minute Rule Bill – Freedom of Information (Private Healthcare Companies) The Bill would extend the provisions of the 2000 Act to all bodies bidding for NHS contracts and ensure that freedom of information legislation is applied equally in the implementation of any public contract.

Labour has pledged to extend the current FOI legislation to all private provides provide public services, but I don’t believe the NHS can afford to wait even another year. The cloak of commercial confidentiality that private providers are afforded in our NHS is damaging the organization.

The danger for our NHS is that we are inviting convicted fraudsters into our health system.

HCA, which is the world’s biggest private health care company, won the contract to provide cancer treatment for NHS brain tumour patients, stopping patients receiving world-class treatment at London’s University College hospital. The Competition Commission has already caught HCA overcharging private patients in the United Kingdom. In the United States, HCA has had to pay fines and costs in excess of $2 billion for systematically defrauding federal health care programmes. The public are right to be concerned about these providers coming into the NHS. If that is to happen, it is essential that their operations and their contracts with the NHS should be open, transparent and subject to public scrutiny.

Last week during PMQ’s I asked David Cameron about East Coast Ambulance Service, a private ambulance operator that won a £600,000 NHS contract despite one of its managers previously running companies owing the service thousands of pounds.

Their Operations Director had previously been involved with three private ambulance firms, all of which went bust leaving millions of pounds of debts.

Despite the director’s track record of failure he was awarded another large NHS contract. East Coast Ambulance Service folded in 2011, owing thousands in unpaid wages to staff. The North East Ambulance Trust said they would not have awarded the contract had they known the history.

There is a democratic deficit surrounding how the public pound is being spent and the public are prevented from obtaining important information. We are being denied information that we ought to have access too, and it is damaging our NHS.

On Tuesday this week the Care Bill passed through parliament. I was involved in the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill as well as the Bill’s committee stage and have been intimately involved with the Bill’s journey through parliament.

By and large, many of the reforms contained within the Care Bill were sensible. They sought to bring together and reform the disparate pieces of legislation that regulate social care in England.

However, a piece of legislation concerning health and social care under this Tory Government would be incomplete without a few appendages that sought to make our NHS less transparent and less accountable to the British public.

Clause 119, or, as it’s aptly referred to in some circles, the “hospital closure clause”, is a terrible affront to democracy and accountability in our NHS.

Far from delivering a de-centralised service that puts power in the hands of clinicians, which was the promise of this Government’s NHS reforms. Jeremy Hunt has wrestled power away from GPs and local communities to further re-configure the NHS for purely financial reasons.

The Trust Special Administrator regime has been distorted. It was never intended as a backdoor way to make unpopular re-configurations, but that is what it has become.

Clause 119 was designed to allow the Secretary of State to do what he failed to do in Lewisham—to close down thriving and financially sustainable hospitals on a whim, without full and proper consultation.

Sometimes there is a strong argument to close and reconfigure services in a local health economy. In such cases there needs to be a sustained effort to persuade people about the benefits of a reconfiguration, and the arguments need to be clinically led.

It should not be done at the whim of a Secretary of State on the basis of a financial driver. Genuine public engagement is required, not unaccountable decisions decreed from Richmond House by Whitehall bureaucrats.

The Secretary of State’s increased power and Monitor’s expanding role directly contradict earlier Government promises that local commissioners would no longer be subject to central diktat, and represent a reversal of the vision of a decentralised health service that was presented during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

We warned that rhetoric about putting GPs in charge was a smokescreen and the Act was a Trojan horse for competition and privatisation.

Can anyone now seriously dispute that?

Last year, for the first time ever, the Competition Commission intervened in the NHS to block collaboration between two hospitals looking to improve services.

Competition lawyers, not GPs are becoming the decision makers in our NHS

The outgoing NHS Chief Executive, Sir David Nicholson, has complained that the NHS is now “bogged down in a morass of competition law”.

Since April, CCGs have spent £5 million on external advice as services are forced out to tender.

This competition regime is a barrier to the service changes that the NHS needs survive in the 21st century.

It is sheer madness to say to hospitals that they can’t collaborate or work with GPs and social care to improve care for older people because it’s “anti-competitive”.

If we are to relieve the intense pressure on A&E, and rise to the financial challenge, it is precisely this kind of collaboration that the NHS needs.

The NHS is becoming less transparent and less accountable to the public. The service is being stolen from us and sold without our permission, and this in turn is preventing the changes that need to be made for the NHS to rise to the challenges that funding cuts and changing demographics bring.

It is a crucial moment for the NHS. Letting it go down the road of marketisation and privatisation and removing transparency and democracy from the service is not sustainable.

We can see the direction the NHS taking under this Government and the public have a choice.

A public, integrated NHS, transparent and accountable to the public under Labour or a health market accountable to nobody and cloaked in commercial confidentiality under David Cameron.

For the future of the NHS it is crucial that we win.

Care Bill Debate – Hospital Closure Clause

Care Bill Debate,
House of Commons
Tuesday 11th March

NHS RallyGrahame M. Morris: I want to make a few points in support of amendment 30, which would delete clause 119 on the basis that the TSA was never designed to deal with reconfigurations across an entire region. Despite the assurances given by the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell) and Government Front Benchers, the potential remains for this mechanism to be used as a back-door route to making changes and closures at hospitals.

I also declare my support for new clause 16. However, although it would ameliorate the worst parts of clause 119 by ensuring that local commissioners in non-failing areas had a veto over any decisions affecting their trust, it is not, as colleagues have said, a perfect solution.

Clause 19—or, as 38 Degrees and other campaigning groups refer to it, the hospital closure clause—should not stand part of the Bill. I had the honour to serve on the Bill Committee for what is now the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and I attended 39 out of 40 sittings. I missed one because I attended a Health Committee sitting at which the then Health Secretary was giving evidence about NHS England, which was previously called the NHS Commissioning Board, and I did not want to miss that.

I sat through that Bill Committee and listened to the Government’s reasons for their reorganisation. We were told that it would deliver a decentralised service and put power in the hands of clinicians. To be frank, clause 119 makes a mockery of that claim. Far from delivering a decentralised service that puts power in the hands of clinicians, the Secretary of State seems to be seeking to take power away from GPs and local communities in order to further reconfigure the NHS for purely financial reasons.

To suggest that the trust special administrator regime is a natural extension of the existing legislation is a gross distortion. The TSA process was never intended to be used as a back-door way to make unpopular reconfigurations. Potentially, clause 119 could take control of every NHS trust and foundation trust away from the public, leaving no hospital bed in the country safe. It should not stand part of the Bill.

If the Bill is enacted, clause 119 will mean that the NHS in England will face further wholesale, top-down reorganisations. The clause could be used as a method to achieve that. I do not think that anyone in this House wishes that to happen. I am sure that, in their hearts, some Government Members do not want that, and certainly no one in the country voted for it. Our problem is that there would be virtually no accountability to local people.

The successful legal challenge brought by the London borough of Lewisham and the Save Lewisham Hospital umbrella campaign—I pay tribute to their efforts, which have brought about this situation—showed conclusively that the Secretary of State did not have the power to axe Lewisham’s accident and emergency and maternity wards as a solution to problems in the neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust.

Clause 119 is designed to allow the Secretary of State to do what he failed to do in Lewisham—to close down thriving and financially sustainable hospitals on a whim, without full and proper consultation. To suggest, as was said in Committee, that a tokenistic meeting with a local authority overview and scrutiny committee would assuage public concerns does not hold water. We must rebuild trust: we need full and proper consultation with patients and the public, and we need agreements with clinical commissioning groups. I am somewhat surprised at the willingness of Government Members, who have championed the cause of GP-led commissioning, to subvert the role of CCGs in that respect.

Liz Kendall: As a fellow member of the Health and Social Care Bill Committee, does my hon. Friend remember that we warned the Government that although there were clearly problems with strategic health authorities, those bodies could take a wider view of the health economy, and that having very new, young and small clinical commissioning groups that are all separate meant that it would be very hard to take such wider views? Does he remember that we warned the Government in those debates, and does he agree that they are doing this top-down reorganisation now precisely because there is no mechanism for delivering wider health views?

Grahame M. Morris: I do remember those debates, some of which were very long and acrimonious. I still have the scars on my back. They are a badge of honour, and I am proud to have been in the trenches with hon. Members fighting to preserve our NHS and to save it from the Trojan horse of privatisation.

To return to the matter in hand, the trust special administration process will bring drastic changes to hospital configurations. It represents a move away from the principle of reconfiguration of services on the basis of clinical need in favour of doing so solely on the basis of financial considerations. The justification process starts with the need to save money.

There have been attempts to reassure hon. Members and the general public that the trust special administration process would be enacted only in exceptional circumstances. As in our earlier exchanges about clause 119, hon. Members need to be alive to the situation confronting many NHS trusts, including the fact that about 30 trusts have been identified as being in particular financial difficulties. Those circumstances are not exceptional: come the end of the year and next year, there is a very clear and present danger that they will be not exceptional but normal.

In this situation, the NHS and foundation trusts are struggling, for a variety of reasons, to do more with less. I accept that the burden of the private finance initiative is one of those reasons, but there are others. There have been problems where walk-in treatment centres have closed. NHS spending has fallen in real terms. Almost a third of NHS trusts in England now forecast a deficit at the end of the financial year. There is growing pessimism about the financial health of the NHS, and figures suggest that the number of trusts undergoing the trust special administration regime will grow. As I have said, some 30 trusts have been identified as at risk of closure were clause 119 to be enacted as part of the Bill. Under this Government, it seems that the exceptional circumstances that would trigger the trust special administration process would no longer be exceptional.

I advise hon. Members who want to avoid soon having to take part in campaigns to save accident and emergency or maternity wards in their own constituencies —as has been done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock), my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) and for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), and the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy)—to support Labour’s amendment 30.

Clause 119 will permit the Secretary of State, on the recommendation of a trust special administrator, to take actions against hospitals that lie outside the initial scope of the administrator’s investigation. Any organisation that neighbours a trust that is in financial distress, regardless of how popular, successful or robust its services are or how financially viable it is, could be downgraded or closed. The whole House—not just Opposition Members, but Government Members—should be concerned about the implications of the clause.

I have no doubt that, as was outlined by the Chair of the Health Committee, there are cases in which changes are needed in the local health economy that extend beyond the trust that is failing. The fundamental problem is that clause 119 seeks to change the trust special administration process in a way that was never intended. It has the potential radically to change the configuration of our NHS services. When hospitals are identified as being no longer viable, it risks being used as a Trojan horse to privatise our hospitals. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] There is a groan from Government Members, but one of them suggested a merger between two hospitals in or nearby his constituency in Devon. There are practical issues to consider. We saw what happened in Bournemouth and Poole, where a sensible merger proposal was resisted on the grounds that it was anti-competitive.

Andy Burnham: Given that clause 119 is a dramatic extension of the Secretary of State’s powers, as my hon. Friend is rightly saying, does he agree that it is astonishing that the Secretary of State is not in the House this afternoon to make the case in person, to ask for the powers and to justify the idea that we should entrust the future of our hospitals to him?

Grahame M. Morris: I am absolutely amazed. I share my right hon. Friend’s incredulity that the Secretary of State is not here. In my view, clause 119 is one power too many for a Secretary of State who apparently believes the NHS to be a 60-year-old mistake. [Interruption.] That is a direct quotation from the Secretary of State before he took office.

The Secretary of State’s increased power and Monitor’s expanded role directly contradict the Government’s earlier promise that local commissioners would no longer be subject to central diktat. That represents a reversal of the vision that was presented during the consideration of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Clause 119 supports none of the preconditions for a legitimate reorganisation of a local health economy and will allow trust special administrators to overrule any concerned parties.

If clause 119 becomes law, the Secretary of State will be granted the power to issue directions to require foundation trusts and clinical commissioning groups to take steps that they do not want to take. Any Member who wants to prevent the Secretary of State’s axe from falling arbitrarily on their own hospitals without clinical justification should seek to remove the clause from the Bill. I therefore urge right hon. and hon. Members to support Labour’s amendment 30 and new clause 16, which is a compromise measure to ameliorate the worst aspects of clause 119.