IMPRISONMENT FOR PUBLIC PROTECTION
The latest figures show that there are still nearly 2,500 prisoners serving IPP sentences. These sentences often have punitive recall conditions, which means that people might be returned to prison for fairly minor breaches of their licence conditions, resulting in many prisoners serving well beyond their original tariffs. It was previously a target of the Parole Board to reduce IPP prisoner numbers to 15,000 by 2020, so what steps will the Secretary of Statetake to ensure that this happens?
Obviously I want to reduce the numbers, and one of the reasons that we have provided additional support to the Parole Board is to enable it to do so. In the end, it comes down to individual decisions in respect of particular individuals, and some cases present a number of challenging factors. Decisions have to strike the right balance between progressing people as we should and ensuring that we protect the public.
TERMINALLY ILL CONSTITUENT WHO DWP FOUND ‘FIT FOR WORK’
A recent DWP assessment found a constituent fit for work. He is terminally ill and relies on regular dialysis, but the assessor stopped his benefits based on his adequate rapport and the fact that he was able to keep eye contact. The DWP’s culture of disbelief is plunging many vulnerable constituents into poverty, so can we please have a debate on the impact that such assessments are having on disabled people and vulnerable constituents?
The hon. Lady raises a serious constituency issue. It does sound concerning that the assessment was potentially wrong. At the same time, she will appreciate that the Government spend £55 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions—up by more than £10 billion since 2010 and a record high. Under this Government, the number of disabled people in work increased by more than 950,000 between 2013 and 2018, so the Government’s policy is to support those with disabilities both financially, so that they are able to lead normal lives, and by helping them to get into work to enable them to have a more fulfilling life. Nevertheless, she makes a serious point. If she wants to write to me after business questions, I can take it up directly with the Department.
SCHOOL EXCLUSIONS / ISOLATION
What progress has been made on the Timpson review of school exclusions?.
I am very grateful to Edward Timpson for the thorough work he has been leading on exclusions. The review has gathered substantial evidence and will report shortly, and I will then respond. (Citation: HC Deb, 29 April 2019, c1)
The all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which I chair, found through an extensive freedom of information request that a third of local authorities have no space left in their pupil referral units. We know that excluded children who are not offered a full-time place at a pupil referral unit are at an increased risk of being involved in crime. We were told that the Timpson review was finalised last year. We are still waiting for a publication date to be confirmed. When will the Secretary of State confirm that date, and when will the Government act?
I commend the hon. Lady for the work that she and her colleagues do on the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which is a terrible scourge for us all to grapple with. I am not in a position to give her a date for publication of the Timpson review. It will be soon, but we have to be careful not to draw a simple causal link between exclusions and knife crime.
As well as having concerns about delays to the review, I am concerned about other forms of exclusion that may fall out of scope. I am aware in my constituency of the use of isolation units in schools, where students are removed from lessons and placed in single booths to work on their own, often for several days at a time, with no therapeutic intervention, as a form of punishment for poor behaviour. Often that results in the student no longer going to school. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss ending the draconian use of isolation units?
I know that there was a good debate on related matters recently in the House. We support headteachers and schools in making decisions on proportionate use of behaviour management. It is important that that is proportionate, but headteachers and schools are generally in the best position to make those judgments. We also issue guidance from the centre, which we keep under review.
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if he will make it his policy to provide statutory guidance to schools on the use of isolation rooms for students.
All schools are required by law to have a behaviour policy which should set out the behaviour expected of pupils, the sanctions that will be imposed for poor behaviour, and rewards for good behaviour. Schools have to make these policies publicly available on their websites. To help schools develop effective strategies, the Department has produced advice for schools which covers what should be included in the behaviour policy. This advice can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/behaviour-and-discipline-in-schools.
Schools can adopt a policy which allows disruptive pupils to be placed in isolation away from other pupils for a limited period. If a school uses isolation rooms as a disciplinary penalty, this should be made clear in their behaviour policy. As with other disciplinary penalties, schools must act lawfully, reasonably and proportionately in all cases. The school must also ensure the health and safety of pupils.
The Department regularly reviews the guidance issued to schools and updates it as appropriate. The Department has no current plans to make the guidance statutory. Hansard source(Citation: HC Deb, 2 May 2019, cW)
It is deeply concerning that in the past 10 years the number of prescriptions for opioid drugs has risen by 9 million. In this time, codeine-related deaths have more than doubled to over 150 a year. While I welcome moves to label opioid medicines, what further measures will the Secretary of State take to protect people from the dangers of opioid addiction?
As the hon. Lady may know, I am very concerned about this. We are working on what we can do to ensure that opioids are prescribed and used only when they are the most appropriate and right treatment. Opioids save people from significant pain and are used every day right across the NHS, but opioid addiction is a very serious problem. Some other countries have got this wrong, and we must get it right.
Following the Windrush scandal, my constituent was plunged into financial difficulties. He was unable to see his father before he died because he could not afford the return flight to Barbados. He spent the last of his money on a one-way ticket to attend the funeral, but he is now stranded there. His request for an exceptional payment has rolled on for months while he has been plunged into poverty. May we have a debate in Government time about the effectiveness of the compensation scheme for Windrush victims?
I am genuinely sorry to hear about the situation of the hon. Lady’s constituent. As she will know, Ministers have apologised for the mistakes that were made. Windrush citizens are British and deserve to be treated as such, and a dedicated taskforce set up to handle those cases has so far helped more than 2,400 people to get the documentation they need. She will be aware that there is also a compensation scheme and, if she wants to write to me following business questions, I will raise her particular issue directly with Ministers. (Citation: HC Deb, 25 April 2019, c917)
Public sentiment and Labour’s position is clear: we must declare a climate emergency and legislate for net zero emissions. But the Government are procrastinating. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the political will to tackle climate change is there in the public and there on these Benches but it is absolutely lacking on the Benches opposite?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Let us show today that the political will is here, in this Parliament, to declare the climate emergency, which we believe is necessary.
Let us work more closely with countries that are serious about ending the climate catastrophe, especially those at the sharp end of it, such as the small country of the Maldives, so vulnerable to rising sea levels. It told the UN climate talks last year:
“We are not prepared to die” and implored countries to unite. Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister recently warned of the “existential threat” posed by climate breakdown to the 160 million people of his country and urged others to adhere to their commitments under the Paris climate change agreement.
I attended the Paris conference in 2015 with my good friend, my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner. I thank him for his passion at that conference, for his commitment to environmental sustainability and for the great work he did on forestry during the last Labour Government. It is a pleasure to work with him. He and the whole of the Labour party strongly support the UK’s bid to host the UN climate change conference in 2020, and I really hope that that will happen. When it does, Members from across the House will have a chance to interact with those attending the conference.
Let us also make it clear to President Trump that he must re-engage with international climate agreements. We must also be absolutely clear-eyed about the Paris agreement: it is a huge and significant breakthrough, but it is not enough. If every country in the whole world meets its current pledges as per the Paris agreement, temperatures will still rise by 3° in this century. At that point, southern Europe, the horn of Africa, central America and the Caribbean will be in permanent drought. Major cities such as Miami and Rio de Janeiro would be lost to rising sea levels. At 4°, which is where we are all heading with the current rate of emissions, agricultural systems would be collapsing.
This is not just a climate change issue; it is a climate emergency. We are already experiencing the effects all around us. Here at home, our weather is becoming more extreme. The chief executive of the Environment Agency recently warned that we were looking into what he called the “jaws of death” and that we could run short of water within 25 years. At the same time, flash flooding is becoming more frequent. Anyone who has visited the scene of a flooded town or village knows the devastation that it brings to families. That was vividly brought home to me when I visited Cockermouth after the 2015 floods, alongside my hon. Friend Sue Hayman, who is doing such a brilliant job as shadow Environment Secretary. She first challenged the Government to declare a climate emergency a month ago.
Around the world, we are seeing ice caps melting, coral reefs dissolving, droughts in Africa, hurricanes in the Americas and wildfires in Australia. Cyclone Idai killed more than 900 people in south-east Africa, mainly in Mozambique, and affected 3 million more, only to be immediately followed by the current horrors of Cyclone Kenneth. The heating up of our climate is contributing to a terrifying loss of animal and plant species, but sadly, that is something that we are only just recognising. I remember joining and working with the World Wide Fund for Nature when I was at school. According to the WWF, humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970—a year that many of us in this House can remember.
Earlier this year, the first global scientific review of its kind found that insects could become extinct within a century unless action was taken. Insects pollinate plants and keep the soil healthy. Without pollination and healthy soil there is no food, and without food there is no life. Meanwhile, there is far too much intensive farming. We are pumping far too many fertilisers into the earth, which is taking its toll on our soil. Soil degradation is a major issue, as anyone who reads the farming journals will be picking up on all the time. We are seeing the weakening of soil structures, and there is a need to strengthen them. More sustainable farming systems will lead in the longer run to better yields and less cost for pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. The Environment Secretary himself has warned that we have only 30 to 40 years left before our fertile soil is eradicated, so I hope he will support the motion today. (Citation: HC Deb, 1 May 2019, c228) (Sources:TheyWorkForYou)