Wednesday 1 February 2017
[Nadine Dorries in the Chair]
Maintained Nursery Schools Funding
Order. Only a few hon. Members have put down their names to speak, but there are rather a lot present. Interventions are welcome, but I will not tolerate their being used as an opportunity to make a speech.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered funding for maintained nursery schools.
It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. It may help if I say at the outset that I do not intend to speak for long and will take only a few interventions; otherwise I shall be unfair to colleagues, many of whom want to make speeches.
We are here because we fear for the future of maintained nursery schools—the jewel in the crown of early years education. Maintained nursery schools have an outstanding record of providing for the very youngest children; 60% of them are rated outstanding by Ofsted, and 39% as good. That record of excellence is equalled nowhere else in the education sector. It is not anything like equalled even in the early years sector, where only 17% of other nurseries and preschools, and 13% of childminders, are rated outstanding. One would think that any Government would want to preserve and even expand a system that achieves such a degree of excellence, but unfortunately the reverse is true. The Prime Minister told me last week that she wants
“good-quality education at every…stage”.—[Official Report, 25 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 285.]
However, when the Government started their consultation on early years funding, it is fair to say that it caused panic in the maintained nursery sector.
The response to the consultation has done little to allay the feeling of panic, because the Government want to fund all providers equally. They tell us that the average amount paid per hour for three and four-year-olds will rise from £4.56 to £4.94, and that no council will receive less than £4.30 an hour, so that providers can be paid at least £4. That would sound extremely reasonable if all providers had to abide by the same rules and do the same things, but they do not. That is the real problem. Even with the transitional funding that the Government have promised, one in 10 nursery schools still think they will have to close by July and 67% believe they will have to close by the end of the transitional funding.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. Warwick Nursery School and Whitnash Nursery School in my constituency will face a funding decrease under the proposals. Does she agree that the Government should revisit those proposals, so that such nurseries are not placed under a disadvantage or, worse still, forced to close?
I agree absolutely, for reasons that I hope to set out. Having just seen that every school in my area will lose money under the Government’s so-called fair funding formula, even though we were already one of the lowest-funded authorities in the country, I think that we should treat everything with a fair degree of scepticism until we see the basis on which all the funding is allocated.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this timely debate. We have a similar problem at the Hillfields nursery in Coventry, whose funding is similarly under threat. It has an excellent achievement record; Ofsted has affirmed that. More importantly, I agree that what is happening is disproportionate through the country.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The real problem is demonstrated in the foreword by the Secretary of State to the Government’s consultation response. It displays astonishing ignorance for someone holding her office, because she talks continually about childcare. Childcare is not the same thing as early years education, and Ministers must stop confusing and conflating the two. Maintained nursery schools provide early years education. They are schools and must employ qualified teachers. They must have a qualified head. Indeed, many of the headteachers in the sector are highly qualified. More than 80% are qualified at master’s degree level or above, because their job is highly skilled.
Unlike schools, they are not allowed to academise, for example, or to form unions of different schools that would allow them a centre of gravity that might just enable them to get through the difficulty.
That is an interesting point, but not one that I have heard from maintained nurseries, which value their independence and their different way of working, and want to keep that special atmosphere. The problem, of course, is that they are funded not as schools but through the early years formula, which has been consistently cut by the Government. Its various incarnations have had various names, but the Library has produced figures showing that the predecessor grants that were originally rolled up into it would have been worth £2.79 billion in 2010. There was an immediate cut to £2.48 billion and continued decreases and, based on our indicative figures, the sum will be £1 billion by 2019-20.
The problem is that at the same time, the Government have changed the way they fund local authorities. Those authorities have the power to fund nursery schools on a different basis from other providers, but they do not have an obligation to do so. They face a double whammy, because most maintained nursery places—65% of them—are in the most deprived areas. It is councils in those areas that have faced enormous cuts in their budgets, so that some are struggling even to fund statutory services. It is no surprise that there is pressure on maintained nurseries to close or amalgamate.
Maintained nursery schools provide outreach to families, support to other providers, and initial teacher training places. Nowhere else in the sector does all that. Yet they achieve enormous success with children from the most deprived families in the country. Sandy Lane Nursery and Forest School in my constituency serves, mostly, two wards, Orford and Poplars and Hulme, although it takes children from a wider area too. Those wards are among the most deprived 30% in the country. In Orford 33.7% of children are growing up in workless families. In Poplars and Hulme the figure is 32.9%. The fact that the nursery is rated outstanding in those circumstances is a tribute to the skill and expertise of the staff, but that is by no means unusual. The Government should pay heed to the words of a former chief inspector of schools, who said:
“The only early education provision that is at least as strong, or even stronger, in deprived areas compared with wealthier areas is nursery schools”.
The hon. Lady is making a very good speech. The evidence is certainly there, from health visitors who see children at an early age, that targeted interventions for deprived families, single mothers and people in other situations that may interfere with a child’s life chances make a real difference. That is actually investing to save later on, because of the reduced rates of family breakdown and the improvement in a child’s life chances.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is interesting that there is a fair degree of consensus on that across the House. The evidence is there: if the Prime Minister really wants to improve social mobility, she will stop fixating on grammar schools and start investing in maintained nursery schools. Even if I believed that there was a test that could measure the innate ability of 11-year-olds—I certainly do not—as opposed to them being tutored for that test, 11 is too late for many children. They need intervention earlier on.
For example, the Ofsted report on Sandy Lane Nursery and Forest School in my constituency is clear that most children come to the school with skills well below the level expected of their age group. However, by the time they go on to reception, the vast majority are achieving at the right level for their age. Furthermore—one of the teachers has tracked children’s progress through primary school—they maintain those gains in future years.
The fact that the school achieves that, while at the same time catering for children with disabilities and other special needs, and while—unusually for Warrington, which is largely white, British and monoglot—they have children speaking eight different languages, is amazing. On a recent visit there, I saw that all the children learn to sign; they all learn Makaton, because there are children there with communication difficulties and the staff want them all to be included.
Like most nursery schools, my local nursery also caters for children with special needs and disabilities. Some 49% of maintained nurseries are attended by children with the most severe degree of disabilities, 69% are attended by children with moderate disabilities and 72% are attended by children with mild disabilities. They get more referrals from councils than other providers, because they have the expertise. If nurseries close, the Minister has to tell us where those children will go. We already know that 42% of parents of children with disabilities find difficulty in accessing the early years provision that they are entitled to.
Maintained nurseries actually do more than simply cater for children with disabilities and special needs—they also provide advice to other providers. For example, a teacher at my local nursery co-ordinates provision for nought to five-year-olds with disabilities and special needs throughout the borough. Again, that is common: 46% of our maintained nurseries provide disability and special needs support to the local authority; 43% provide it to other maintained settings; and 47% provide it to private and voluntary sector settings as well. That outreach work, not only to families but to others in the sector, is a vital part of maintained nursery schools’ work.
Since the coalition Government took what I think was the retrograde step of not requiring children’s centres to employ a trained teacher, that expertise is largely in maintained nurseries. Some 71% of maintained nurseries support their local children’s centre and 60% of them support private and voluntary settings. In fact, in my area, the maintained nursery, the children’s centre and the private nursery were all built on the same site, precisely to facilitate that exchange of expertise. Because there is a real need to raise standards across the early years sector, we ought to cherish and facilitate that sharing of expertise.
My hon. Friend is making a truly outstanding speech in support of maintained nursery schools. We heard reassurances from the Minister at the recent meeting of the all-party group on nursery schools and nursery classes, but my hon. Friend will be aware that those assurances are insufficient given the imminence of the threat to our maintained nursery schools. Of the more than 400 nursery schools, 67 think they will close by the summer. We need urgent action, not just warm words for the future.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The lack of urgency from the Government worries all of us who support the continuance of our maintained nurseries.
Maintained nurseries do a lot more than I have already described. They have regular contact with families. Because they are trusted by families, they can refer those in difficulty to other services, such as domestic violence services or English as a second language services for those who do not speak English. That is vital in ensuring that a child’s life chances are not damaged early on.
This is a timely and tremendous debate, because my constituents are really worried. On the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), does my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) agree that despite the Government’s wish to appear to be supporting working families and caring for the quality of early years education, they are trying to do that on the cheap? That decimates any remaining credibility they have on the issue. We need them to do the right thing.
I agree with my hon. Friend; I said in a previous debate that there can be good early years provision or there can be cheap early years provision—there cannot be good, cheap early years provision. It requires high ratios of staff to children and properly trained staff. What sort of Government would want to put such a high-achieving sector, with such a wealth of expertise and such a record in promoting social mobility, in jeopardy? This Government, apparently. The Prime Minister’s repeated assertions about social mobility will ring hollow if maintained nurseries, which are the best engine of social mobility, as proven by study after study, start to close.
The Government need to look at this urgently. They need to ensure that they get a grip, to stop closures from coming this summer and to ensure the future of our maintained nurseries. They need to review the funding arrangements, and to recognise the interaction with other council funding; so far, they have not managed to do that. They cannot cut and cut and expect the same services. They also need to commit not only to interim funding, but to properly funding our maintained nursery schools.
Maintained nursery schools have far greater duties and obligations than other providers in the sector, and are supporting many of those other providers. What has consistently bedevilled early years provision in this country is that we do not have enough trained staff; most of the properly trained staff we have are in maintained nursery schools, and we would be very foolish to lose them. I can never make up my mind whether Ministers simply do not understand the difference between early education and childcare, or whether they are trying to disguise the fact that they have not properly funded their decisions and commitments on childcare, and so are taking money away from maintained nurseries. That needs to stop now.
The Government need to take this seriously. If they do not, the life chances of a whole generation of children will be damaged in a way that cannot be made up for later. The hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) was right: every teacher will agree that, with early intervention, money is saved and problems are avoided later on in the education system. The Government need to understand that and do the best they can for our youngest children. That, after all, is the mark of a civilised society. The Minister needs to make some commitments to that in this debate.
What a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on securing this important debate and on her speech; she made some very important and relevant points, many of which I have a considerable amount of sympathy for. As a Government Member, rather than an Opposition Member—I understand how the system works—I do not agree with some of her points. I would like to pick up one point immediately. I thought that her comments on my hon. Friend the Minister were a little unfair. My hon. Friend is totally committed to this area and is doing a tremendous amount of work, as I experienced at the all-party group meeting last week, to find a satisfactory solution to the situation.
The basic point of the hon. Lady’s speech was the importance of maintained nurseries in our constituencies. I could not disagree with that at all; she is absolutely right. They play a critical role, and some other nursery and primary schools do not have the same focus. In my constituency of Chelmsford we have two excellent maintained nurseries: Tanglewood and Woodcroft. I was fortunate to be invited to Tanglewood a few weeks ago to see for myself the fantastic work done there. The Minister will be as familiar as the hon. Lady with the commitment and dedication of staff and what they seek to achieve. As the hon. Lady rightly said, more often than not they are dealing with some very challenging and deprived families in difficult circumstances. It is a joy to see the commitment of staff and the help they give to children who would not otherwise have such a start in life.
Maybe I am naive, but I was told in no uncertain terms that there are children at that nursery who have no concept of what play is. I imagine most hon. Members in this Chamber take it for granted that every child knows how to play and that it comes naturally, but for some it does not, because their parents were not taught how to play or have no concept of it. We get a full appreciation of the challenges those children face when starting from that base. These schools are so crucial because of the help and the start in life they can offer children who would not otherwise benefit.
The other thing I was particularly impressed by on my visit—this certainly did not happen at my school—was the number of members of staff who were parents of children who had been at the school. They were so impressed by what was going on that they wanted to become involved. Rather than just looking on from the outside, they wanted to actually play a part. They started their training and are now working there with the next generation of children, providing help with the benefit of the experience and knowledge they have as parents of children who attended the school. It is so important that we ensure that tradition continues.
I suspect that all of us, in our different ways, have had contact with my hon. Friend the Minister on these issues. We live in difficult times, and we have to be careful that we get value for money and do not waste taxpayers’ money. It is not an enviable job, but it has to be done regardless of who is in government. I have been impressed by my hon. Friend’s commitment. It is quite clear that she accepts and understands the role of these schools and wants to find a meaningful solution that will hopefully continue to provide a solution beyond 2020, so that these schools can continue to flourish and survive.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. He is making a heart-warming speech about the emotional impact that nursery schools can have. May I reiterate the point he makes? The Minister came to our all-party group meeting last week, and I want to put on the record that her responses and the speech she gave at that meeting were very well received by the hundreds of nursery schools we had there. This debate is a good follow-on to that meeting.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady and particularly pleased that I gave way to her. All too often, partisan issues blur a debate, but for her to be so fair in her assessment of that meeting and her dealings with the Minister is a refreshing reflection of her chairmanship of that all-party group.
Basically, we are all together in trying to find a positive solution. My hon. Friend the Minister has secured funding up until 2020, which I believe is an important step forward as a short-term measure to try to allay the fear of some of these schools that they may face closure, the deadline for which is, more often than not, July 2017. What my hon. Friend has done should ensure that that does not happen. I am also confident that as she continues the consultations and assessments, a longer term solution will be found, so that we do not have to keep coming back to this issue or see the closure of schools that provide such a vital service in all our constituencies, whether they suffer from severe deprivation across the board or, like my own, are more fortunate. Constituencies such as mine do not have deprivation across the board but still have areas where there is a vital role to play and job to be done by these schools, to help give every child the best possible start in life.
These schools fill a gap in the provision of nursery care and education for a targeted group who so badly need help and who disproportionately benefit. As the hon. Member for Warrington North said in her compelling remarks at the beginning, giving a child the best start in their early years is a far better investment than any amount of money thrown at an issue. They then get experience, confidence building and everything associated with that to be able to move forward in life. It encourages and enhances their learning development, social skills and interactive skills, which are so crucial.
I am more confident that the Minister is committed to ensuring that we come up with relevant solutions. It is quite clear—from not only the all-party group meeting, but the way in which she has made herself available to all hon. Members who want to feed in their concerns and viewpoints—that she is prepared to listen and work to find a solution that is beneficial to all. I am pleased that we have this opportunity to share yet again with the Minister our different experiences in the variety of constituencies represented in the Chamber today. I believe that this will be of invaluable help to her as she continues her work to find a resolution to the concerns and worries bedevilling many people quite genuinely.
I am very happy to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I want to make a small contribution to this very important debate, because I passionately believe that nursery schools are a vital contributor to social mobility in this country. There is ample evidence to show that maintained nursery schools that offer high-quality early education can have profound impacts on the start of children’s lives. That is why it is not surprising that nursery schools have been described as the “jewel in the crown” of the education system. However, the current Government are allowing the crown to be tarnished by going down a route that will place all nursery schools under threat. That is especially true for children in some of the most deprived communities in the country.
As was said at the last meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on nursery schools and nursery classes, which my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) so excellently chairs, it was estimated in 2011 that 80% of three-year-olds from the most deprived areas attended a setting with a qualified early years professional compared with just 50% in more affluent areas. That was surely a good thing.
In my own constituency, Washington and Sunderland West, there are four maintained nurseries: Hylton Red House, Usworth Colliery, Oxclose and Pennywell Early Years Centre. I understand that I am lucky because there are four good maintained nursery schools in my constituency, but that also shows the demographics of my constituency. It must be pointed out that Sunderland has one of the highest numbers of these nurseries within our local authority area—a total of nine.
The Government have partially redeemed themselves with transitional arrangements. That is welcome, as it will help to mitigate any problems that nursery schools face due to the cuts in their funding. However, it must be said that funding will still be reduced and the transitional subsidy may not continue—the Minister may tell us otherwise this morning—after the two years are up.
In Sunderland, the baseline funding rate for three and four-year-olds for 2016-17 stood at £5.38 per hour, but through the early years national funding formula that will decrease to £5.11 per hour. That might not sound like much of a decrease, but it is per hour and it is the difference between survival and closure. As the Social Mobility Commission has stated:
“It would be a travesty if funding reforms mean that over time we lose more of the remaining high-quality, maintained nursery schools.”
I could not agree with that more, and I hope that the Minister agrees with it, too.
The concerns expressed have been echoed by staff and parents at my local nursery schools—they have all been in touch with me. Claire Nicholson, the local headteacher of Pennywell Early Years Centre, has told me that
“such a big percentage is going to be lost, that it won’t allow us to be viable”.
Also, nearly 100 parents at Pennywell Early Years Centre, in a letter they sent to me, have described their disbelief and dismay at the policy and the direction in which the Government are taking early years education.
These schools are a proven and vital part of our country’s strategy for improving social mobility, which is something we desperately need to be doing more of, not less. It is important that the Government do all they can to give children the best start in life. That is why many of us in this House, and specifically in this Chamber today, got into politics, and we will hold Ministers to account every step of the way on this matter. I urge the Minister not to squander the life chances of any of the children in this country, especially those in the most deprived communities. Our young constituents do not deserve this, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider for their sake.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on securing this important debate. During her comments, she drew an important distinction between childcare and nursery education.
I fully support the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns), who summed up very well the value of these schools. He also pointed out, rightly, that our hon. Friend the Minister is a supporter of nursery education. I am not here to seek to criticise her, because I know that she is supportive, but I want to refer to one particular school that serves my constituency and is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn)—Scartho Nursery School. I will speak specifically about that school, but my comments also relate to many schools across the country. I am here to support the hon. Lady, who will no doubt also highlight other issues.
Scartho Nursery School was actually under attack when I was a councillor for Scartho ward. The hon. Lady’s predecessor, Austin Mitchell, and I fought a campaign to ensure that it stayed open. We had the help of my now noble Friend Lord Willetts, who visited the school—were the Minister to speak to him, I am sure that he would remember, although it was 17 or 18 years ago. He was very impressed by the school at the time.
The headteacher, Liz Jeffrey, who is a constituent of mine, in a letter that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby will also have received, opens by saying: “We need your help!” She rightly points out that Scartho Nursery School
“has been a beacon for Early Years Education”.
Indeed, the Grimsby Telegraph, on 26 April 2013, had the headline “It’s another cracking Ofsted for Scartho Nursery School”. That was the fourth inspection in a row from which it had received the “excellent” accolade.
The question is how we ensure that funding continues, and not just for Scartho nursery, but for similar schools up and down the country. We need a clear statement. From my earlier remarks, the Minister knows that I recognise her support for this sort of school. However, it would be helpful if, in summing up of the debate, she made it clear that the Government do indeed to support maintained nursery schools. If that is the case, a funding formula to allow them to continue is clearly essential.
May I refer again to the comments from the headteacher of Scartho Nursery School? Liz Jeffrey says that, like many similar schools, it
“prides itself on the fact that it caters only for nursery aged children, providing them with the best possible start to their education.”
It is that “best possible start” that we would want for our children and the children in our constituencies. As Mrs Jeffrey points out,
“It is a specialist setting”.
I have visited the school on many occasions and I recognise its importance to people. I recognise how the community values it and, most particularly, how the parents value it. Generations of families continue to go to that school, which is a recommendation in itself.
Liz Jeffrey asks whether the Government are
“willing to risk losing the four hundred nursery schools that have been referred to as ‘the jewel in the education crown’.”
“We should be celebrating because at least 90% of nursery schools have been judged by OFSTED to be outstanding or good”.
As I said, Scartho itself has received the “excellent” accolade on a number of occasions.
I want to tease out from the Minister an absolute commitment to the continuation of maintained nursery schools. Will she also meet the hon. Member for Great Grimsby and me, so that we can speak specifically about Scartho? The hon. Lady will also speak about Great Coates Village Nursery School, which also serves a number of my constituents. If the Minister would do that, it would be very helpful. With that, I will conclude and look forward to hearing a positive reply from the Minister.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on securing this debate and excellently setting out the case in her thoughtful comments. I run a great risk of repeating some of them, so I will be careful not to steal her thunder too much. There is such a danger that serious and important domestic matters that will have a significant effect on my constituents and their children will be lost in the noise of Brexit. I therefore welcome this debate and ask the Minister to make sure that this important issue is not ignored and that close attention is paid to the impact of the implementation of the restructured funding.
As my hon. Friend mentioned, 97% of state-maintained nurseries are rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted. Despite that amazing rating, which many sectors would give their eye teeth for, some 67% of such nurseries say that they will be unsustainable once transitional funding provided by the Government finishes at the end of this Parliament. As mentioned by the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), two of those 67% are in my constituency—Scartho Nursery School and Great Coates Village Nursery School.
I visited Scartho Nursery School last week and met its headteacher and governors, the headteacher of Great Coates, teachers, early years practitioners, special educational needs staff and, of course, the children. Some of the children had been in that setting for only two or three weeks but they were settled, happy, polite and engaged in their learning through play. They all understood the routine of the day such as when it was snack time and when it was story time—the important parts of the day—and were comfortable and confident within that space. They were making friends and were secure with the staff.
It was not that long ago, in April 2016, that a debate was held—some of the Members in this room attended it—secured by the late Jo Cox, on educational attainment in Yorkshire and the Humber. I was keen to contribute to the debate because of the significant detriment in our region experienced by our children. The links to poverty and attainment were laid bare and commitments were made to take this seriously. Yet we now know that in two years’ time transitional funding for one of the most indicative changers of attainment and social mobility in deprived areas will end. If, in the case of my two nurseries, they are unable to raise the £100,000-plus shortfall per annum, these essential facilities in our communities will be lost. They will be lost forever and the only ones who will suffer will be our kids.
In Great Grimsby if we lose this provision, which has around 200 children enrolled across the two sites, we will experience a double whammy of loss of provision and support. Over the past few years we have seen the closure of Sure Start centres at the heart of communities in favour of more centralised family hubs. That is okay, we might think, as private nurseries still offer excellent nursery provision. Yes, there are many in my constituency of Great Grimsby that parents love and that also provide happy, safe environments. It is great that parents have a choice of provision, whether they choose a childminder, private nursery or state nursery. However, through my discussions last week, I discovered that some of those nurseries have already decided that they will not offer the additional hours up to 30. That is due to the £4.30 per pupil per hour cost allocated for those additional hours under the free childcare pledge; the private nursery hourly rates are in excess of that and they are not allowed to charge a top-up so they will lose money. The headteacher of Great Coates Nursery Village School told me that she has already been approached by many parents wanting to take up the 30-hours offer. If private nurseries recognise that they are not able to provide a service for that figure and it is not sustainable, how do the Government expect the state-maintained nurseries to do it?
As mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North, it is important to raise the issue of the hidden costs for state-maintained nurseries, so I will repeat them. Nurseries remain within the early years funding bracket and yet legislation dictates that they operate within a schools framework in terms of having to have a headteacher and teachers including a staff member with expertise in special educational needs. The school I visited has children who will be eligible for free school meals by the time they enter infant school. Those two schools have a significant percentage of children who will be eligible, but they are not funded for free school meals. The proposal for the extension of the 15-hour offer to 30 hours will not see any change to that, despite some children then possibly being there for six hours a day for five days a week. The guidance issued by the Pre-School Learning Alliance is explicit that funding is only for education or care provision, not meals or drinks.
Some children at the nursery had evident special educational needs, from suspected autism to noticeable delays in speech development. Additional funding is available to support those children, but the length of time it takes for the children to achieve a diagnosis means that the nurseries are not receiving that much-needed funding and are providing the additional support through the good will of dedicated staff. What can the Minister do to ensure that the referral of children for SEN assessments at ages three and four is sped up?
I am beyond worried that those two excellent facilities that are much loved in the community and have served multiple generations of families, some of whom have gone on—this is exactly the same situation as the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns), who is no longer in his place, mentioned—to work in those establishments where their children were educated because they love them so much, will be lost. That will leave those with the greatest need without the right support. I fundamentally disagree with the idea that those learning establishments for our children who are at the most exciting and rich period of development in their lives should have to turn their attention away from those children in order to fundraise to cover substantial financial losses.
I have heard some excellent speeches today but I want to give particular credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) for her excellent speech.
Halton is the 27th most deprived borough in the country, and its maintained nursery schools are important not only to the general population but for the difference they make for children from deprived and poorer backgrounds. They can identify at a very early age children who will struggle all the way through school and the rest of their lives. They are particularly good at that. My constituency has three maintained nursery schools: Birchfield Nursery School, Warrington Road Nursery School and Ditton Nursery School. All of them have been in existence in Widnes for 75 to 80 years to support children’s early education and parents value them greatly. The headteachers have told me that they are extremely worried that the schools may not exist for much longer if the national early years funding formula goes ahead as planned. Early Education forecasts that 67% of nurseries will be unsustainable after transitional funding finishes.
The evidence is clear that the quality of early education makes the most difference in raising achievement for the most disadvantaged children. That justifies such large Government investment in early intervention. Quality is determined by the qualifications of early years staff and teachers. Nursery schools in Halton employ well-qualified and highly experienced headteachers and assistant headteachers, as well as taking on and mentoring newly qualified teachers who work with them as early years specialists. They also have a number of staff members with early years degrees, a qualified early years teacher and special educational needs co-ordinators who are qualified and experienced teachers who have offered support across other settings and enabled transitions and planning to take place to support the most vulnerable children. Again, early intervention is crucial.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking an intervention and apologise, Ms Dorries, for not being here at the start of the debate. My constituency is very different to my hon. Friend’s, but it has the Fields Children’s Centre, which I have visited over many years. Does he agree that the work being done in this area is about far more than just childcare?
My hon. Friend is right. A whole sphere of things can make a difference. I will come back to that later in my speech, but he makes a very good point.
Halton is one of the 25% of councils that will lose money for early years in the revised formula. At present, early years is a priority for Halton and we feel there should be funding to support it—early years has always been a priority in Halton. The 2015 Ofsted early years report endorses the consistent evidence of other national research that the most effective early education is provided by such nursery schools. Over the past five years maintained nursery schools in Halton have annually increased the average points progress made by children in all settings. We can demonstrate outstanding progress for children with special educational needs and disabilities, English as an additional language and those children entering our schools with low levels of personal, social and emotional development—that is really important—communication and speech.
The headteachers in my constituency believe strongly that nursery schools are in jeopardy all over the country because the qualifications of staff and the leadership of headteachers mean that they cost more than any other sort of nursery. The current system of funding early education, or what seems to be now called childcare, assumes that what every nursery offers is broadly the same, but it is not. They cannot be funded in the same way because maintained and private provision have completely different structures. I hope the Government will understand and address that.
Nursery schools lead to the kind of outstanding early years education we want for every child in our country. They play a key role in supporting training in the early years sector including work placements, initial teacher training, qualified teacher status and postgraduate certificate in education placements. Nursery headteachers and staff want to be supported to operate as system leaders for the future to ensure that early years professionals continue to have quality training and development and are able to have a positive impact on young children’s learning.
The recent consultation showed no awareness of the reality of the funding crisis for maintained nursery schools, or of their remit and impact. Proposals should be founded upon research and a commitment to developing early years leadership. One headteacher told me:
“The consultation largely ignored social return on investment and places no weighting on rewarding those organisations mainly schools who have a statutory and moral imperative to support their communities.”
The proposed funding reform would effectively eradicate such nurseries, losing knowledge specialism and damaging the life chances of our most vulnerable children. Nurseries want reassurances from the Minister that the transitional funding mentioned in the consultation will get through to nursery schools and will be sufficient to keep them running while we move towards a new system and leadership model.
I recently asked my local authority, Halton Borough Council, about its view of the situation. People there told me that they will not know the final figures until they receive the census information in February. However, previous estimates based on this year’s funding show that the three nursery schools—even after applying the higher base rate for the maintained nursery schools—will face a shortfall for 2017-18. That takes into consideration the additional protection that nursery schools will receive. Halton Borough Council can only provide the higher base rate for one year, so the shortfall could rise in 2018-19 to £130,000. When the transitional protection is removed in two years, the shortfall could increase to between £160,000 and £190,000. Although the council is working with nursery schools on models and options to reduce the cost, it will struggle to save £130,000-plus, which might mean that it can no longer afford to retain our nursery provision. That is how serious the situation is in Halton, where securing good-quality early years provision is a particular challenge. If Halton ends up having to look at closure, it will be a considerable loss.
Before I conclude, I want to quote the headteacher at Ditton Nursery School, who told me:
“We have a higher base rate for next year (18-19) plus transitional funding for the following year. When this finishes we will have seen our individual budgets cut by between £50,000-60,000 but we have already cut staffing down to a minimum and although looking at a federated model are not sure we will be sustainable when additional funding finishes…Nursery schools drive high quality pedagogy across the sector. We provide outstanding support for Special Educational needs and disadvantaged children thus supporting their learning chances later in education. We offer partnership, innovation and system leadership within the sector, and also support Initial Teacher Training for Early Years. This would all be lost if we closed. We need to ensure that we retain high quality Early years staff to work with our children—they deserve the best.”
I stress that—they deserve the best. The headteacher continued:
“This is difficult when facing such uncertainty. We want to retain quality staff to ensure the best outcomes for our children.”
I recently visited Birchfield Nursery School and talked to the headteacher there. I was so impressed by what was going on; there was a range of support for young people in education and play, and so on. The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) made a very important point. Nurseries have seen an increase in the number of children who not only do not know how to play, but perhaps more surprisingly, are not able to speak at the age at which they should be able to start speaking. All the headteachers I spoke to said that. Even more surprisingly, that is the situation not just among poorer children, but across the sphere when it comes to talking and play. They said that children are told, “Get on and play with that,” and although most parents are still fantastic at helping their children to talk and at developing their education, a growing number of parents are not. The lack of parents talking and playing with their children is becoming a major problem for some schools. Dealing with that requires extra money and extra effort, and the schools are then making the difference, not some of the parents. Obviously they try and encourage parents to play with and speak to the children more—to have more conversations with them—but it is sometimes an uphill struggle. That is partly because of the nature of the society we live in, but in this respect nurseries are making a real difference to our children, particularly in deprived areas. That intervention is so crucial to helping children’s life chances. Maintained nursery schools have that impact because of the nature of teachers’ qualifications and experience, and because of how they work together.
I therefore urge the Minister to reconsider the plans. The real problem is that the Government are cutting education and funding, and they need to rethink that. She shakes her head, but she should talk to the headteachers. They tell me what is going on in their schools. This is not me making a political point; it is what headteachers tell me, so the Government need to think again about funding. At the end of the day we cannot lose these fantastic maintained nurseries—we must do all that we can to keep them.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) for securing this timely, much-needed debate. There is a huge misunderstanding about the treasure we have in maintained nurseries and the services they provide, and I welcome the opportunity to talk specifically about why the service should be offered considerably more protection from the Government.
Only two weeks ago, I met the headteachers and governors of the maintained nursery schools in Bradford, four of which are in my constituency. We talked about the funding pressure and challenges that this vital service is facing and the incredible early years education service that they provide. Of the four maintained nursery schools in Bradford West, all are considered good or outstanding by Ofsted, and all offer unique and exceptional early intervention for those most in need. They are what the former Education Secretary would no doubt have described as “a cluster of excellence”, but they are all facing an uncertain financial future due to the changes to Government funding for nursery provision. Although they have seen a short-term funding solution, it does not feel like a settlement that truly appreciates the high-quality services that they provide.
Does the hon. Lady agree that an advantage of maintained nurseries, such as Surbiton Children’s Centre Nursery—the only one in my constituency—is that they have the security that private nurseries, often run by private tenants, do not have if the landlord decides that they do not want them to continue there, or if the rent goes up?
Absolutely; I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point. As I was saying, the settlement does not seem to recognise the high-quality services that they provide or compensate for the unique challenges that they face, and it will do little to ensure their long-term sustainability.
Nursery schools are the one aspect of the education system where the gap in attainment between the poorest children and the rest is significantly narrowed. The reason is that nursery schools are staffed by qualified teachers and led by qualified headteachers. They are schools, and although they are not afforded all the same protections by the Government as other schools, they represent the very best provision in terms of teaching quality and outcomes, and they play a vital role in social mobility. The Government’s funding proposals will have a devastating effect on such quality provision. The funding formula will make it impossible to pay for the qualified staffing teams that have consistently delivered such outstanding results in Bradford.
Let us be clear: we are talking about schools staffed by teaching professionals that also provide a hub of support for Bradford’s children’s centres and sit at the heart of Bradford’s early years provision. Those centres play an increasing role in the early years sector, providing training and support for other types of nursery provision, as well as being the only service where the outcomes for the poorest and most deprived children are on a par with those for their more affluent counterparts. That is the case not only when compared with other forms of early years education, but across the entire education system. Such provision targets those who will struggle the most. It works with those who face the most uncertainty in their education and plays an innovative and exceptional role in the development of those with special educational needs and disability.
The question for the Government now is the same as the one that the Social Mobility Foundation asked: essentially, what do we want our early education to be? The Government seem torn between genuine development in early years and parental employment, but those things do not need to be mutually exclusive. I understand the concern that these forms of education provider may be more expensive, given that they are schools. They are also not consistently distributed across the entire country, with 64% clustered in the most deprived areas, but that is not a reason to allow the demise of expertise or to water down provision. They are located in those areas because that is where they add the most value and where they are essential.
All the evidence clearly demonstrates that maintained nursery schools are one of the most successful types of education provider, if not the most successful. That alone should be enough of a reason to give them the guarantees and support that they need, not just to maintain their current level, but to expand and to genuinely secure their long-term future. As children move through these providers, they not only develop in their environment but maintain momentum through the rest of their education.
I call on the Government to consider the wealth of data now available on the early years funding formula and to go back and try again to find a better way to support the nursery school sector. There is clear evidence that the early years funding formula will take money away from nursery school provision and that many nursery schools will become unsustainable in the very near future. There are many ways in which they could be guaranteed the funding that they need, but the Government need to go further and support the sector in its entirety, bringing provision up to par with that for other schooling. These are expert institutions that have a genuine impact on social mobility, so I call on the Minister to do everything she can to ensure that the services they provide are not watered down and can be allowed to flourish as the models of excellence that they are.
In Bradford West, and in Bradford as a whole, we face the significant challenges of complex educational needs and deprived communities. When I have met nursery heads, as my hon. Friends have done, they have told me about the other services that they provide in the community. They act as a hub and a resource for their communities. With all the funding cuts we have had across the sector, with community centres closing down and other areas being affected, nurseries are the last thing we can afford to lose. They are the one hub that binds communities together, keeps families together and gives children a start. I really, really urge the Minister to reconsider the package and to bring something much more sustainable to the table.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on securing this important debate. She said in her passionate and informed opening speech that the record of excellence for maintained nurseries has been achieved nowhere else in the education system and should be maintained.
The Government’s proposed changes and the loss of transitional funding will affect nurseries throughout England, which will be a great loss to local communities. Maintained nurseries make the difference between early years education and early years caring very prominent. There is a real difference—I know that from my experience as a local authority councillor in Scotland. Nursery education is the crème de la crème. Children need looking after in their early years, but just looking after them is not enough. If our economy is to grow and thrive, we will need people who are able to grow and thrive and to overcome their disadvantaged backgrounds. The message that I have heard clearly today is that it is maintained nurseries that best make that happen.
The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) did not really disagree much with the hon. Member for Warrington North. He, too, was very supportive of maintained nurseries, although he was trying to support his Government at the same time.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I speak as an English MP about English maintained nursery schools, and I support my hon. Friend the Minister because of her commitment and the work she does to navigate around the problem and find a meaningful solution.
I take refuge in my international observer status, which I frequently refer to on the Select Committee on Education. I look at things from a different perspective, but I passionately want children throughout the UK to have the best possible start.
The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) spoke about maintained nurseries as the jewel in the crown of the education system. She also made the point, which was echoed throughout the Chamber, that there are more maintained nurseries in deprived areas. That is undoubtedly a good thing, because that is where they are needed. If the United Kingdom is to move forward, we need to encourage and help those who are most deprived. Some of us here will not recognise the shocking statistics about parents not reading to their children or even talking to them, but there are such parents, and they and their children are the ones who need most help. That is why early years education is so important.
The hon. Lady said that the end of the two-year transitional arrangement could lead to a quite significant number of closures of maintained nurseries. She spoke about a drop in funding from £5.38 to £5.11 per hour—a huge drop that could lead to closures that I am sure no one in the Chamber wants.
The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) reinforced the difference between childcare and early years education. He spoke eloquently and passionately about Scartho Nursery School, which typifies most maintained nursery schools. In fact, it would be difficult to name any hon. Member who has contributed to the debate without speaking passionately about the need to maintain these nurseries.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) said that she did not want this debate to be lost in the Brexit fog that has now descended on the main Chamber. I could not agree more. At times like this, we have to keep raising these issues and pushing the Minister to listen carefully, change her proposals and make a difference. Some nurseries will not even be offering an additional 30 hours of free provision because of the cost of implementation.
The hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), too, was passionate about the excellent nurseries in his constituency. He described the devastating impact of the removal of transitional funding: the expertise that has been built up in the maintained nurseries in his area in supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities could be lost—and once these services are lost, it is very difficult to get them back.
The hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) said that nurseries are the part of the education system that has the least gap between children. The evidence on the subject, which the Scottish Government have based a lot of their measures on, shows that if we can get children into nurseries and give them proper education early on, we can carry it forward—the right hon. Member for Chelmsford also mentioned that. I cannot overstate the need for maintained nurseries with excellently educated staff who reach out across the whole sector.
This is not my debate or my area, but it is quite useful to turn briefly to what is happening in Scotland, as I do quite often. The political will in Scotland is different. The First Minister has made it her main priority to close the attainment gap, and the Scottish Government believe that the best way to do that is through transforming early years education and giving all children the best start in life.
Order. Ms Fellows, could you begin to wind up so that the other two Front Benchers have time to speak?
Yes. Let me just say that, as a former councillor, I know how partnership nurseries work in Scotland—the local authorities help to fund and give their expertise to privately funded nurseries—and perhaps the Minister would like to think about that. What is needed is political will. I urge her to take on board what she has heard this morning and make the changes necessary to retain maintained nurseries in England.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on introducing the debate. I never fail to be impressed by the passion she brings to her speeches or by her campaigning zeal—I have campaigned with her since before I became a Member.
We know that this debate is of great importance; that is why we have had such a high turnout of Members and such a high-quality debate. I join the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) in praising nursery staff throughout the country for their commitment. He spoke more articulately than I can about all the work that goes on.
The Minister will be aware that Members here know the importance of maintained nurseries for sure, and the role they play in our early years system. They are invaluable. In fact, they are absolutely irreplaceable. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) spoke about Scartho Nursery School with such passion, because he knows that that sort of provision cannot be replaced in any constituency up and down the land if it is lost.
Maintained nurseries operate overwhelmingly in disadvantaged areas and, as has been pointed out, 98% of them are rated “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted. If 98% of them are rated so highly, why do we feel that they are suddenly being so undervalued by the Government, and why do they face this funding crisis? We are at the point now where there is no turning back.
Research by the all-party parliamentary group on nursery schools and nursery classes, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who is no longer in her place but does astonishingly good work in this area, shows that dozens of nursery schools—I think she said 67—look like they will be forced to close by July this year. That is more than one in 10 nursery schools.
Almost 60% of those nurseries say that they will be unsustainable once the Government withdraw transitional funding support at the end of this Parliament, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) pointed out. She talked about educational attainment across the north and referred to the debate that Jo Cox secured about Yorkshire and the Humber. However, we should remember that in London 55% of kids on free school meals get five good GCSEs. If we take the area from the Mersey estuary to the Humber estuary, that figure for kids on free school meals declines to 34%. The Government produced the Nick Weller report about educational attainment in the north, but unfortunately it is now just gathering dust on a shelf somewhere—there is no evidence that any of its recommendations have been implemented.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and I apologise for not being able to be here for the whole debate, because of a prior engagement. However, I just feel so strongly about this issue that I want to put on the record how well Ganneys Meadow Nursery School in my constituency is doing. It is located in one of the 20% most deprived lower-level super output areas in the UK, but it received three “outstanding” judgments in its last three Ofsted reports. Nevertheless, it is really struggling financially and anything that the Minister can do to mitigate that situation would be hugely appreciated.
My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point, as she defends the maintained nursery in her constituency. It has three “outstanding” judgments, yet it is under all that pressure. What sort of society are we living in when that is happening to professional staff, as well as to parents and their young children?
With so many nursery schools likely to rely on the transitional funding, this debate is of huge importance. In her eloquent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) said that the order of the day at the moment is survival or closure for most of these operations. So can the Minister tell us how the transitional funding will be awarded, which nursery schools will benefit, and how will she ensure that it is used in a way that supports our nursery schools up and down the land? I ask these questions because providing transitional funding is not the same as providing certainty. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) also pointed that out. We need long-term sustainability.
Right now, nursery schools across the country support some of our most disadvantaged communities and they are highly valued by parents, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) said. He was also absolutely bang on the money about the quality of training provided in these nursery schools. I remember being a PGCE—postgraduate certificate in education—student and spending two, three or four weeks at a nursery school, and I understood that those nursery teachers knew with 95% accuracy what the kids at that nursery would attain at their key stage 1 standard assessment tests and at their key stage 2 SATs, because they knew that what they could do was make the most important intervention in a child’s life.
The Minister and her colleague, the Secretary of State for Education, have said—rather frequently—that the Government are investing a record £6 billion in early years and childcare; we will see if she comes to that figure today. However, that assessment does not tell us the whole story. For instance, it does nothing to consider the impact of changes in the early years funding formula, and nor does it consider the impact of the savage cuts to local government funding that the Minister’s party has pursued for nearly seven years in government.
I will just turn to the situation in Scotland. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) said, “Nursery education is the crème de la crème”, and I agree with her that nursery education is the best start in life. However, the Scottish National party Government are taking £150 million a year out of Glasgow City Council’s budget. How do we think that will impact on nursery schools in Scotland? And that is after Glasgow Labour had rebuilt every new school of the campus at £600 million over the last 15 years. What do we think those sorts of cuts will do for disadvantaged children in Glasgow? Let us also be absolutely clear that the SNP Government are failing to inspect nursery schools, with inspection ratios going up to years and years before the equivalent of Ofsted goes in and inspects those schools. I am afraid that the SNP Government have a record of failure in Scotland.
That is why they keep getting voted back in.
That might be the case, as the hon. Lady suggests by chuntering from a sedentary position, but we now face a party that is like the Liberal Democrats of this Parliament—everybody else is to blame, except themselves. Having said that, we are to blame—all Members—for this situation, because we are not doing our research on what is actually going on north of the border.
Will the hon. Member take an intervention?
No, I have no time.
You have done your slagging off.
Many families are supported by nursery schools that are supported by the Government. However, the Government’s policy of tax-free childcare will do nothing for many working parents. The total benefit of tax-free childcare is £2,000, but that is only available to a family that spends £10,000 a year on childcare. It is quite a regressive tax and it does not really do much for those in the most disadvantaged communities, who rely on the maintained nursery sector.
The Government have to come up with a plan to protect some of the most valuable nursery schools in our country. The Minister has seen the passion that hon. Members across the Chamber have shown today, and we know that we get the biggest bang for our buck, educationally speaking, when it is spent on nursery education. However, I fear that unless the Minister comes up with a plan, her curriculum vitae will show that many maintained nurseries closed on her watch. I know personally that she does not want that to happen. Nevertheless, the risks are clear, and if she and the Government fail to act, a generation of children will really lose out.
It is an enormous pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on securing this important debate, and indeed all the hon. Members from different parties who have taken part; they have spoken with great passion about their own experience of maintained nursery schools. It has been great to hear the support from across the House for these valuable educational providers.
The issue of maintained nursery schools is of huge importance. I am pleased to have the opportunity to set out very clearly the Government’s position on the valuable contribution that they can make, not only to the lives of disadvantaged children, but to the wider early years sector. I want to make it very clear that the Government are committed to exploring all options to address the issues that nursery schools face, and we remain committed to ensuring that nursery schools have a bright future and can continue to meet the needs of the communities they serve.
Nursery schools do indeed have an impressive history. Central to the development of the very early nurseries was the recognition that disadvantaged children could thrive and overcome their circumstances by attending nursery settings that blended both care and education. Today that approach is backed up by robust research. We know that the first few years of a child’s life are critical to shaping their future development. We also know that high-quality pre-school education reduces the effects of multiple disadvantage on later attainment and progress in primary school. In addition, we know that many maintained nursery schools go beyond the bounds of their immediate communities, using their pedagogical expertise to help other providers improve the quality of their provision.
In short, although maintained nursery schools are attended by only 2.8% of the two, three and four-year-old children who benefit from funded early education places, they nevertheless make a huge contribution to disadvantaged children and to the early years sector as a whole. Like other Members, I have seen that in my own constituency.
If, as the Minister says, she understands and values the contributions that maintained nursery schools make, why did the Government create this problem by going for a flat funding formula? She says she is trying to put it right, but the problem is entirely of the Government’s own making, is it not?
I think that the hon. Lady is being a little narrow-minded. I was a mother under the previous Labour Government and both my children were in childcare. That Government presided over some of the most expensive childcare in Europe. I was literally working to pay for my childcare under her stewardship. We can all talk about past mistakes.
If the hon. Lady sits down, I will make a little progress. [Interruption.]
Order. Ms Jones, you may get a chance to wind up at the end.
I put it on record that I want to preserve and promote the quality and expertise of maintained nursery schools. Social mobility is a high priority for the Government. That includes committing to the task of spreading existing best practice in high-quality early years provision across the whole system. We want all children, whatever their background and individual needs, to access the high-quality early education they deserve, wherever they come from. Nursery schools can play a valuable role in spreading that quality throughout the early years system, and many already do. I recently visited Sheringham Nursery School in Newham and saw at first hand the high-quality teaching and excellent system leadership it was providing to nurseries, private and voluntary providers and childminders across the local area. Many Members have already mentioned that issue.
Since I was appointed as Minister for early years in July, I have had many positive—but some challenging—conversations with nursery head teachers, staff and other early years professionals from across the country in an attempt to understand the issues these schools face. I have had a healthy flow of emails and letters from head teachers, governors and MPs on the subject of nursery schools. I really do understand the challenges they face. I have a very valuable one in my constituency, and I recognise the impressive support such schools have in their communities.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) and the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who is no longer here, have mentioned, I spoke to the all-party parliamentary group on nursery schools and nursery classes last week. I was concerned by suggestions, as misquoted by the Opposition spokesperson, that 45 maintained nursery schools thought they faced closure. As a result, I asked my officials in the Department for Education to contact Pen Green, which is the maintained nursery that conducted the survey. Because the survey was confidential, Pen Green has gone to the relevant maintained nursery schools to ask whether it can pass us their names. I urge Members and those in the sector to speak to us. I would like my officials to speak to every single one of those 45 nurseries that think they face imminent closure so that we can get to the bottom of the issues.
It is clear that one of the key issues facing nursery schools is funding, which is related to the introduction of the early years national funding formula. I want to be quite robust about this: the Government are not making any cuts to early years funding. In fact, we are spending more money on this than any Government. By the end of this Parliament, we will be spending £6 billion a year on childcare. [Interruption.] We all know that some of our Labour friends and colleagues live in a fluffy bunny world of economics, where money grows on trees and we can all spend what we want, but £6 billion a year of taxpayers’ money is more than any Government have ever spent on this area. It includes more than £300 million a year for a significant uplift to our funding rates. For example, Warrington is seeing a 19% increase, Great Grimsby is seeing a 17% uplift and Manchester Central is seeing an 18% increase. [Interruption.]
Order. I do not ever tolerate in my debates chunnering from the Back Benchers when anyone is speaking. Please desist.
Thank you, Ms Dorries. Members will also know that I have committed supplementary funding for maintained nursery schools of £55 million a year. That is not for two years, as the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) misquoted, but until at least the end of this Parliament, so that current funding rates can be maintained. It will be £56 million this year. I cannot remember who it was, but one Opposition Member said that we need to spend more money and that we are doing it on the cheap. I would like to take a moment to think about that figure: £6 billion a year is a huge amount and is taxpayers’ money, but it is the right amount and it reflects the Government’s commitment to providing the high-quality, affordable childcare that hard-working parents need.
I am intrigued by the Minister’s view on funding. Why do head teachers write to me saying that they have real concerns about massive funding cuts to their budgets?
I am more than happy to speak to the hon. Gentleman and any concerned providers in his constituency. We took a view to try to make the funding fairer across the country. We have also set in place a 95% pass-through rate, so that 95% of the money that local authorities get will go on to providers, and that will help. In some cases, local authorities were keeping back up to 30% of the funding.
I need to make some progress. We know that for historical reasons there were clearly unfair and unjustifiable funding differences between areas and between different types of providers. That is why we introduced the fair funding formula which maximises the amount passed on to providers while ensuring that all local authorities are adequately funded to secure sufficient early education, including that provided by maintained nursery schools. I recognise that nursery schools have costs over and above other providers because of their structures and because of the nature of the communities they serve. That is exactly why I announced the additional £55 million a year for local authorities to allow them to maintain existing levels of maintained nursery school funding at least until the end of this Parliament. The Opposition spokesperson asked me how that money will be distributed. It will go to the local authorities, with the presumption that 100% of it will be passed on to the maintained nursery schools. It will not be part of the 95%.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) asked about SEND funding. In our early years national funding formula response, we said that through legislation we are requiring local authorities to set up a SEN inclusion fund and publish the eligibility criteria and value of that fund at the start of the year. It will be a local decision on eligibility, but it will be made in consultation with the local early years provider. It should be focused on low levels and emerging SEN, so that we do not have the issues with having to wait so long to prove that children are eligible.
Looking ahead, Members have asked me to share what I see as my future priorities for nursery schools. Those have developed out of the conversations and discussions I have had with head teachers, staff and early years experts, and they build on examples of innovation and partnership working that many, but not all, nursery schools currently demonstrate. Nursery schools should focus on the needs of disadvantaged children and children with special educational needs and disabilities, but all of them can drive early years system improvement by providing pedagogical leadership. We can work in partnership with other local childcare providers, including childminders, to deliver better quality and practice. We can maximise the use of their skills, experience and resources to become more sustainable.
As Members know, we have committed to consulting openly on the future sustainability of nursery schools. That is the right approach. Nursery schools operate within a changing world and it is important to recognise that it might not be the case that nursery schools should provide more of the same, and in the same way. We need to ensure that they are focused on where they can have the greatest impact. The landscape for the delivery of children’s services is evolving. Partnership working is the norm in many areas, but practice is variable. Some local authorities, but not all, make full use of their nursery schools by commissioning services and asking them to co-ordinate or deliver quality improvement for their areas. System leadership of that sort makes very good use of nursery schools’ expertise and experience, and I want to encourage more of that.
However, some local authorities hardly engage with their nursery schools, leaving them isolated rather than drawing on the expertise and specialist resources they offer. The schools landscape is changing as more secondary and primary schools opt to convert to academy status and join multi-academy trusts. Moreover, all public bodies, including schools, are grappling with tight budgets. That will mean looking at how to deliver better value for money and getting the balance right.
We have a lot to bear in mind as we consider the future, but I think that we are coming from a strong starting point, given the tremendous track record nursery schools have in delivering rich learning experiences and high-quality early education to disadvantaged children, including those with special educational needs and disabilities. Our consultation will explore the vision in more detail, including the best ways to bring it about. I hope that those in the sector will take part and share their experience, wisdom and views with us once the consultation is launched. They certainly have not been shy in sharing those views with me so far. I appreciate it, and I sincerely hope they will continue to be honest and frank with me as we move forward together. The steps I have outlined will ensure the continuation of the important contribution that nursery schools make to the early years sector and the future opportunities of young children in deprived areas.
Ms Jones, would you like to wind up in the few seconds left?
I would. Briefly, I thank my colleagues for their contributions to this debate. I am far from reassured by what the Minister has said. She offered no certainty to nursery schools and clearly does not understand the problem.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered funding for maintained nursery schools.
Youth Justice System: Gypsies and Travellers
I beg to move,
That this House has considered outcomes for Gypsies and Travellers in the youth justice system.
I am very pleased to have secured this debate in order to raise the experiences and disproportionate representation of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in our youth justice system. This is a significant issue for the youth justice system. The most recent annual “Children in Custody” report, an independent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons commissioned by the Youth Justice Board, was published in November last year and revealed yet again the over-representation of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in youth custody, as have numerous reports before it.
Despite a welcome decrease in the number of children in custody in recent years, analysis of the “Children in Custody” report by the Traveller Movement shows that the number of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and young people in custody remains disproportionately high: 12% of children in secure training centres identify as Gypsy, Traveller or Roma, as do 7% of boys in young offenders institutions, and 51% of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in young offenders institutions report that this is not their first time in custody.
The figures, which are troubling in themselves, almost certainly understate the true position. The “Children in Custody” report is based on survey data, not on comprehensive and systematic monitoring of young offenders and children. The surveys completed by young offenders are based on information from only five young offenders institutions, and young offenders institutions sited in the adult prison estate are not included. Yet the Irish Chaplaincy, for example, estimates that YOI Isis, which is situated in Belmarsh prison, currently houses around 20 Gypsies and Travellers aged 18 to 21. There is little data available on sentence length, although we know that a third of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys in young offenders institutions had been sentenced to less than 12 months in custody. It is therefore reasonable to assume that over a full year, the overall number of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys in custody in the youth justice system will be higher.
However, perhaps reflecting the relative paucity of data, such over-representation in the youth custody system does not always receive sufficient official recognition and attention. All too often, Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children are overlooked by both service providers and policy makers. For example, Charlie Taylor’s recent review of the youth justice system did not mention Gypsy, Traveller and Roma young people at all, despite the representations made to him by those groups.
Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children share similar characteristics with other children in custody, particularly in relation to having been in care and their poor educational experience. It is clear, despite the deficiencies of the data that we have and the lack of attention to their circumstances, that the disproportionate representation of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma young people in the youth custody system reflects the widespread failure of support systems and services prior to those young people entering custody.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend secured a debate on this subject. She is right that we have sufficient information, because of the work of the Irish Chaplaincy and others, to know that discrimination is a serious problem, but it is shameful that the Government do not collect the statistics. Would she welcome the Minister telling us today that the Government will use up-to-date census data and will have a comprehensive investigation of this issue?
As my hon. Friend will hear, that will be the precise thrust of my speech this morning.
Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children are disproportionately likely to be the subject of care proceedings. That feeds through to the significant numbers of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in custody who have been in local authority care: 47% and 33% in secure training centres and young offenders institutions respectively, according to the Traveller Movement.
Meanwhile, at every key stage of their schooling, Gypsies and Travellers have lower rates of attainment. Again, their poor educational experience prior to entering custody shows up in the youth justice system: 84% of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys in young offenders institutions had been excluded from school, and 55% said they were 14 or younger the last time they attended school.
Although their routes into custody offer a depressing reflection of the disadvantage that Gypsy, Traveller and Roma young people experience in wider society, what is even more depressing is that these failures continue while Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children are in custody. Generally speaking, those children have a worse experience in custody compared with other children, whether in education, safety, health, understanding procedures, or being prepared for life after release. At every stage when the state ought to be looking after these young people, helping them to develop and preparing them for positive lives on release, it fails them. That need not be the case.
Despite Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children being significantly more likely to have left education early, had lower rates of attainment and had higher rates of absences and exclusions, they have very positive perceptions towards education while in custody. Some 61% of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in secure training centres believed education would benefit them when they left. In young offenders institutions, 70% said education would benefit them, compared with 58% of non-Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children. Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys were also more likely to be involved in vocational and skills training or to have a job while in custody.
Despite indications of a positive appetite for education, opportunities are being missed. In secure training centres, only 55% of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children, compared with 70% of other children, said that they had learnt skills for jobs that they would like to do in future. Youth custody institutions and facilities need to develop targeted strategies to improve educational outcomes for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma in custody, and need to promote courses that will allow those young people to lawfully participate in businesses that fit with their family lives and culture on release.
A similar picture pertains in relation to health. The Irish Chaplaincy’s “Voices Unheard” report first identified that a significant proportion of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma prisoners suffer mental health issues. The Traveller Movement’s research into the “Children in Custody” responses found that those children in secure training centres were twice as likely to report having unmet health needs, while a quarter of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys in young offenders institutions said they were disabled and 23% reported emotional or mental health problems.
Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in secure training centres were significantly more likely to report feeling unsafe and experiencing bullying or intimidation by staff or other young people. According to the Howard League, half had been restrained compared with 29% of other children. We see a similar experience in young offenders institutions with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys reporting higher rates of victimisation from other young people. Gypsy, Traveller and Roma detainees were also three and five times more likely to have their canteen and property taken off them by other young people in young offenders institutions and secure training centres respectively.
Finally, in secure training centres, Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children struggled to maintain contact with their families, and were less likely to know who to look to for help when opening a bank account, finding accommodation or continuing health services when released. Gypsy, Traveller and Roma boys in young offenders institutions were also less likely to know who they should contact if they encountered problems on release.
It is clear that many steps need to be taken to address the poor outcomes for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children in custody. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) suggested, a significant barrier is the lack of adequate data. In schools, every headteacher knows the exact ethnic breakdown of his or her pupils and is therefore able to adapt strategies and policies to correct any disadvantages they experience. Shockingly, such data are not available in the youth custody system. Reports such as “Children in Custody” present only a partial snapshot. As the then prisons Minister conceded on 9 March 2015 in answer to a written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, Ministers
“are unable to determine the actual number”
of young Gypsies and Travellers in youth custody establishments.
The limitations of relying only on survey data are compounded by the fact that the youth justice system still uses ethnic monitoring systems based on the 2001 census classifications. Since 2011, the census has used the so-called 18+1 ethnic categorisation, which enables the identification of Gypsies and Travellers. Reflecting that, the police are expected to update their ethnic monitoring system soon to include Gypsies and Travellers, while the adult prison estate has monitored Gypsies and Travellers since 2011.The youth justice system will therefore be the only key criminal justice agency without proper modern ethnic monitoring of Gypsies and Travellers.
Given the troubling picture presented by the Traveller Movement, the Irish Chaplaincy, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons and others, it is not surprising that pressure for the youth justice system to address the issue is mounting. In November last year, amendments tabled by Baroness Brinton to the Policing and Crime Bill would have required the introduction of ethnic monitoring in the youth criminal justice system for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children and young people. In the debate on her amendments on 16 November, Baroness Brinton pointed to the need to move to the 18+1 system to consistently capture the representation and experience of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma young people in the youth custody system. The national police chiefs lead for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma issues, Deputy Chief Constable Janette McCormick, wrote to the Lord Chancellor, urging her to support the amendments.
I recognise that obstacles exist to introducing that system of ethnic monitoring in the youth justice system. In the Lords’ debate on the Policing and Crime Bill, Baroness Whitaker acknowledged that
“Many young people from the Gypsy and Traveller communities are fearful of admitting their ethnicity because of the bullying and exclusion”
that they had previously experienced—but, as she pointed out,
“trust can be developed if the information is shown to be helpful.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 November 2016; Vol. 776, c. 1499.]
I also recognise concerns about the cost and complexity of changes to case management systems. Similar arguments were raised about the extension of ethnic monitoring to encompass Gypsies and Travellers in the police systems, but discussions with the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs Council revealed that there would be no cost to upgrading their systems. It is highly doubtful that the youth justice system can have a significantly more difficult or complex case management system than the police, which have eight or nine additional data sets and 45 territorial police forces to contend with.
From my conversations, I do not believe that what is needed in the youth justice system is a complete corporate systems overhaul, but instead a small amendment to existing data systems. In any event, the cost of updating the system is outweighed by the benefits of helping to turn around the lives of these children and ensuring they lead purposeful, positive lives on release. I know that point is recognised by Lord McNally, chair of the Youth Justice Board. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to discuss the matter with him recently and I very much welcome his constructive engagement.
I am also pleased that in a letter to Lord Rosser following the House of Lords debate last November in response to points he raised about the cost of changing systems, Baroness Chisholm said that the Youth Justice Board is committed to moving to the 18+1 classification, but I note that no specific timescales or costs were suggested in that letter.
Children from a Traveller background clearly experience greater levels of need and have worse experiences in custody than other children. A year ago, the then chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said that
“with any other group such huge disproportionality would have led to more formal inquiry and investigation into what part of their backgrounds or interaction with the criminal justice system had led to this situation.”
I applaud the Prime Minister’s commitment to monitoring racial disparities in public service outcomes and nowhere is that more acutely needed than in relation to Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children. I was therefore very pleased that in responding to me at Cabinet Office questions on 2 November last year, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General said that he would ensure that every Government Department and agency would use the 2011 census classifications. Nowhere is it more surely time to move from warm words to taking action properly to capture and monitor the data needed to address the needs of this deeply disadvantaged group of children than in the youth justice system. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us the tangible steps the Government are taking to do that and that they are taking them quickly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) on securing the debate. She has a long history of engagement in these issues, both before coming into Parliament and since.
Young people are some of the most vulnerable in the secure estate. We are determined to improve standards in youth justice so that we not only punish crime but intervene earlier to prevent crime and reform offenders to prevent further crimes from being committed.
There has been a significant and welcome reduction in the number of young people entering the youth justice system in recent years. However, we are concerned about the levels of disparity that exist in the justice system. Last August, the Prime Minister announced an audit of public services to reveal racial disparities, and the review, headed by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), has been established to provide an independent assessment of the treatment of and outcomes for black and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system. Gypsies and Travellers fall within the scope of the review. In November last year, the right hon. Gentleman wrote to the Prime Minister setting out some of his emerging findings. The final report is due to be published in the summer, and we will give its findings careful consideration.
We also welcome the Women and Equalities Committee inquiry launched in November last year, which will look at the effectiveness of Government policy in improving outcomes for Gypsy, Romany or Traveller communities across education, health and employment as well as the criminal justice system. We will monitor the outcome of that inquiry.
I note the recent report by the Traveller Movement on Gypsies, Romany and Travellers in the youth justice system, for which the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston drafted the foreword. I commend its work to promote increased race equality, inclusion and community cohesion.
The Youth Justice Board does not currently require local authorities to collect data specific to the identification of Gypsy, Romany and Traveller children and young people. However, the YJB and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons publish an annual report, “Children in Custody”, which monitors the number of GRT children in young offenders institutions and secure training centres. The latest report, published last November, found that of the young people surveyed in STCs, 12% identified as GRT in 2015-16, which was up from 11% in 2014-15. For young offenders institutions, 7% considered themselves to be GRT, which was down from 8% in 2014-15.
The report showed that in young offenders institutions there was no difference between GRT children and the rest of the cohort in understanding spoken and written English. It also showed that participation in education, work or vocational skills training in custody is higher for those identifying as GRT than among the rest of the cohort.
As I think the Minister is indicating, surveys show that Gypsy and Traveller young people’s experience of education in youth custody is positive; to the extent that they are in vocational training, they want to do it and their perceptions of being in education are positive.
Order. This is not a speech, Mr Lammy. It is an intervention.
I have seen that as I have been around prisons. That is something that the youth justice system can build on. I hope the Minister might indicate how that might happen.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman is very interested in expanding the evidence base on the experience of GRT children in the youth justice system, in particular. As the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston indicated, the genesis of a lot the problems encountered in the justice system predates their appearance in the system. A lot of them relate to the fact that those children do not attend school, so their first opportunity to receive education is in the system. We are conscious of that, and we are pleased that some of the indicators show that, when those services are offered, children engage with them. We want that to continue.
As I said, the youth justice system is of great importance to the Government. We have made it clear that outcomes are not good enough for children in custody. Reoffending rates remain stubbornly high, and not enough is done to support young offenders. That is evident for all young offenders, including those who identify as GRT. We also remain concerned about the level of violence in the youth secure estate. Recent figures demonstrate that levels of assault, self-harm and restraint remain too high.
In December, we set out our response to Charlie Taylor’s review of the youth justice system and how we will improve outcomes for young offenders and safety across the youth custodial estate. We will develop a new pre-apprenticeship pathway to ensure that all children and young people are in education, training or employment on their release. We have committed to boosting the number of frontline staff in young offenders institutions, and we will develop two secure schools with a particular focus on education and health. They will look to attract a wide range of specialist providers and allow them the freedom to decide how best to deliver services. I look forward to updating the House on the progress of those reforms as the work develops.
It is important that ethnicity classifications for young people are robust and accurate, so any potential disparities must be identified and suitably addressed. In 2011, the National Offender Management Service adopted the 18+1 ethnicity monitoring system on the centralised database used in prisons and young offenders institutions for the management of offenders, following the change of ethnicity classifications within the national census. The 18+1 system included as additional categories “Arab” and “Gypsy or Irish Traveller”, but the new classification is not consistently used by secure children’s homes, secure training centres and youth offending teams.
The YJB uses a number of different IT systems to monitor performance across the youth justice system. The two largest systems are eAsset, the custody booking system, and the youth justice application framework, which is used to record the ethnicity of young people and draws on data from individual youth offending team case management systems. Both of those systems currently use criteria from the 2001 census categories, which means that they do not capture GRT as a distinct category.
I am pleased to say that the Youth Justice Board has confirmed it is keen to move to the 18+1 system. However, although we support working towards consistency in the data that are recorded, further work is required to assess the feasibility and costs associated with such a move.
I am very encouraged by what the Minister is saying. Can he indicate how quickly that feasibility work can start?
No, but I will write to the hon. Lady with a guide to how long it will take. There are some issues around the implementation, as she will understand, not least because the national census criteria may change again. It is work in progress, but I am happy to write to her.
Not only would the YJB have to make changes to its central systems, but it is likely that the youth offending teams would have to amend their individual case management systems too.
I am very glad about what the Minister has said, but to clarify that point, is he saying that that will happen and he is just going to give us a date, or that it might happen depending on the cost?
No, I am not committing to it happening. I am committing to coming back to Members with the approach we are taking. There are potential issues not only with the costs, but with how the work is going to be implemented across a diverse set of institutions, which are run by different organisations. I am committed to coming back with a schedule setting out the timing and how we are approaching this issue.
Work has begun on looking into the implications of the changes. In October 2016, the Youth Justice Board informed the four case management system suppliers, which cover 158 youth offending teams in England and Wales, of its intention to move towards the revised classification system. It is formalising its business requirements prior to initiating a preliminary impact assessment, which will set out the dependencies with existing IT systems and identify the feasibility and indicative costs of moving to the revised classification system.
On an issue raised by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, the Government agree in principle with the use of the 18+1 system. We opposed the amendments that Baroness Brinton tabled to the Policing and Crime Bill for two main reasons: first, because further work was required to consider the cost and feasibility; and, secondly, because enshrining its use in legislation would create issues in the event that the Office for National Statistics decided to change the 18+1 system and introduce a new system of ethnicity classification in the future.
Although there is much work to do, the Government are committed to accurate monitoring of ethnicity across the youth justice system.
Question put and agreed to.
[Sir David Crausby in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered implementation of the Prevent Strategy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Sir David. I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise this important issue. The statutory Prevent duty introduced in 2015 has given rise to increasing levels of concern in different parts of our communities and of the House. There is now a level of disquiet, which it would be wrong to ignore, about how the Prevent duty is working in practice and its impact on community cohesion.
The Prevent duty requires those in a position of trust, such as teachers or doctors, to report people who they perceive might be a risk—
I am sorry to intervene on my hon. Friend so early, but I am afraid that she has repeated the same line she said at the beginning of the debate on her private Member’s Bill on Friday. There is no requirement to report; there is a requirement to put in place safeguards and risk assessment for children. She may look at the guidance, at paragraphs 67 and 68 on page 11. It does not include a requirement to report. I ask her to change that line, because it is part of peddling a myth of what Prevent is about.
I thank the Minister for correcting me on that point. I am opening a debate on issues of concern to many people, and I would not want to fall inadvertently into any traps of myth-peddling.
The people referred to Prevent are those perceived to be at risk of being drawn into terrorism and those deemed possibly to be susceptible to extremism, including non-violent extremism. Today I want to highlight the difficulties that the Prevent duty is creating. I want to set out why, despite individual examples of good practice, Prevent as a concept or strategy to draw people away from terrorism is not working. I also want to draw attention to the way such concerns are being dismissed, rather than listened to, and the way those who express them are being depicted as seeking to undermine Prevent or even our security.
All of us come to this place with the objective of giving a voice to those who are not being listened to or heard, and of campaigning on something we have seen to be wrong or not working—we want to put it right and highlight where it is happening. That is what I am seeking to do in this debate.
The greatest difficulty with Prevent is that it is driving a wedge between authority and the community. The problem lies in the way the communities most affected by Prevent experience and perceive the strategy. For all its good intentions, if it is perceived by those it affects as punitive or intrusive, it will not be productive or have the desired effect.
I am listening with interest to the point my hon. Friend is making, which reflects the evidence that the Women and Equalities Committee gathered for our report on challenges that Muslim people face in the workplace. Has she had a chance to look at that report, which backs up some of her points?
I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point. Absolutely, Select Committees such as the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have looked at all of this in some detail, so in preparing for the debate I read the reports of her Committee and those others. The reports reflect several recurring themes, such as how communities perceive Prevent and what they feel about the way it is being operated. That is incredibly important. If the strategy is to succeed and make us safer, people have to consent to it; they have to buy into it and accept that it is helpful, not intrusive or punitive. If we do not deal with the perception and how people are experiencing Prevent, it will not work.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech and is to be commended for bringing this matter before the House. She is saying that communities need to be at the heart of any Prevent strategy. Prevent must not be seen as Whitehall imposing its views on communities, whatever those communities are. The strategy must work in tandem and engage with them in order to find a solution to the problems of terrorism.
I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I am delighted that he made that point, and that he made it so eloquently, because he has helped to articulate my argument.
Under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, Prevent moved from being a co-operative and voluntary action by the community to being a statutory duty, and therein lies the problem. A failure to meet a statutory duty can have negative consequences, for example for teachers in schools. Ofsted assesses whether the duty has been met and delivers a grading for the achievement of compliance with it. The grading will be reduced if a school has not complied with the duty. As a school governor, I have seen the incentive to make referrals under Prevent. If we do not make them, we might feel that we will get into trouble, or that there will be a negative impact on the school or a teacher’s career.
That approach has led to an exponential increase in the number of referrals since Prevent became a statutory duty. One child a week under the age of 10 is being reported to Prevent—I use the word “reported”, but perhaps I should use “referred” instead.
My hon. Friend is making some good points about concerns in certain communities, particularly the Muslim community. Does she accept that one issue is that of miscommunication? My understanding is that Prevent is not only about the Muslim community, which seems to be the focus for a lot of the discussion; it is also about the real danger from right-wing extremist groups. Prevent is focused on training people to understand that as well.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have not so far mentioned, and I think I will not mention at any point, the Muslim community specifically. However, I will mention some use of Prevent to tackle the far right, which is a good point and one we should all take on board.
My hon. Friend is being most generous in giving way. In the course of her speech, will she tackle an important evil that Prevent is designed to counter and mention how it is used to build up our child safeguarding provisions?
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important issue, to which I will devote a whole section of my speech. I have concerns about the conflation of safeguarding and counter-extremism measures, which I will come to in due course.
The Government naturally have a duty to protect the public, and they are seeking to discharge that duty through the Prevent strategy. We all want to see extremism tackled, and the intention of Prevent is, in theory, to stop young people being drawn into terrorism and to protect them from extremist views that might render them more susceptible to radicalisation. We get into more difficult territory, however, when we start to tackle belief, ideas and the expression of political and religious views. The whole issue then becomes a great deal more complicated. We could find ourselves in a situation in which the Government decide which views are too extreme and debate can be shut down, so that issues that are better discussed and challenged openly are driven underground.
That is all before anyone has even done anything, Prevent is operating in a pre-crime space, which sounds positively Orwellian. That is at the heart of some of the concerns being expressed about the Prevent duty. Our schools need to be places where young people can discuss any issue at all and develop the ability to see extremist ideologies for what they are. We need to help young people develop the resilience to challenge those ideologies, and if we expose them to only the views that the Government find acceptable, we deny them the opportunity to challenge alternative views and fail to equip them with the ability to think critically and learn how to exercise judgment.
The hon. Lady talks about children. Is she aware of a recent case in Bedfordshire where a school called the police because a seven-year-old child had been given a plastic gun as a present? Neither of the child’s parents was an observant anything; the father was a lapsed Muslim and the mother was a Hindu. If Prevent has reached the stage where people call the police on seven-year-old children, something is wrong.
I agree. I am aware of that case, and there have been many similar cases. That is a real concern, because it puts teachers in the position of having to take action that they might feel is inappropriate, because they do not want to damage their school’s credibility and its Ofsted reports. We are suddenly in a cycle where people say, “Let’s report people just in case.” The Minister will say that Prevent is a protective and safeguarding measure. We must be very careful not to use words to describe what is happening that do not necessarily reflect reality.
Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). The case that the hon. Lady raised was not a Prevent case; it was not referred to Prevent and it did not involve Prevent officers, either council officers or police officers. It had nothing to do with Prevent. The Guardian sought to report it as if it was a Prevent case, but it did not bother checking the facts. Therein lies part of the issue; people are happy to report things that might have taken place in another part of the education environment and had nothing to do with Prevent.
Order. I will call the first of the three Front Benchers at 3.30 pm. Several Back Benchers want to speak, and there will be little enough time for them to do so, so I say to the Front Benchers: hold your horses until you get the opportunity to make a speech.
I thank the Minister for his intervention. What is important about what he said is that although the incident was not referred under the Prevent mechanism, the same actions were taken. The teachers concerned would have been trained in Prevent and alert to this whole issue. Although they did not formally trigger the Prevent mechanism, they still called the police about an issue that might otherwise have been to do with extremism. It is important to bear that in mind.
From what I have seen, when schools look for signs of extremism, they do not really know what they are looking for. They often come up with suggestions for things that might be grounds for referral that have no possible connection at all to extremism. I have sat in governors’ meetings where teachers who want to comply have openly discussed scenarios such as a child coming into school and saying that he has been on a Fathers 4 Justice march or a march to protest against badger culls. To me, Prevent is certainly not intended to tackle that. There is no indication that that type of activity would lead to extremist or terrorist behaviour. It is greatly concerning that people are sitting around in schools thinking, “What possible scenarios can we come up with?”
More and more public sector workers are being trained in how to report under the Prevent duty, but that does not make me feel any more comfortable. I believe that some 600,000 people are now trained to refer people under Prevent for the purposes of re-education and religious guidance. That does not give me confidence at all; it actually makes me feel more concerned. We should not, as a matter of course, have people sitting and waiting to spot signs when, if there had been grounds to report them, their own good judgment may have kicked in and enabled some less intrusive, less authoritarian approach to be taken to deal with the issue.
My hon. Friend might be aware that I am one of those public sector workers when I am not working as an MP. May I reassure her that a lot of work on Prevent goes on, particularly in psychiatry, and we use clinical judgment in exercising our duties? Referrals are rarely made to Prevent through mental health services unless there is a reason for doing so. Referrals are usually made due to the exploitation of an individual by other people, and it is those people who end up being referred and engaged in the Prevent process, not the individual themselves.
My hon. Friend makes a good point.
Children and young people will always test boundaries, and playground banter and bragging must not be seen as potentially sinister things where children must be watched. That breeds fear, suspicion and mistrust, which concerns me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) raised safeguarding. I want to challenge the way that Prevent is packaged as a safeguarding measure. In effect, we are told, “Prevent must be a good thing, because it is intended to keep us safe.” It is depicted as offering support and advice to ensure that susceptibility to radicalisation is diminished. It is a real concern that that is how the Government perceive Prevent, because that perception is out of step with how Prevent is interpreted and perceived by those affected by it. In the context of Prevent, safeguarding is often about forcible state intervention in the private life of an individual when no crime has been committed, and that is inevitably experienced in a negative way.
It is important to understand that families subjected to safeguarding measures will, in any event, experience them as frightening, shaming and stigmatising. Someone in a position of trust—whether a teacher or a doctor—is used to gather and share data, often about young children, without consent, investigations are conducted and the police are involved. That process is anything but supportive and helpful; it destroys trust. A less heavy-handed approach would be far more constructive. Calling that approach safeguarding, and conflating counter-extremism measures and safeguarding, is quite dangerous.
I, too, was one of those public sector workers before being elected. The difficulty is that counter-terrorism is the extreme end of what the Prevent strategy tries to deal with. The other measures—those to do with child safeguarding—are often part and parcel of the journey to countering terrorism and the problems that are experienced in families who are becoming radicalised. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Byron Davies) knows well that criminal activity is very much part of terrorism. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Telford will talk about those links, which are rightly made.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I reiterate that we should not present Prevent as simply supportive and helpful; we must be more aware of the way it is perceived by the people to whom it is delivered. If we do not try to put ourselves in the shoes of the people who experience it, Prevent will not achieve what we want it to achieve. It is all very well for the Government to say, “Well, we know best, we want the best and we are well intentioned. We want to support and protect people.” Actually, if we call the police, share data and stigmatise people, we will alienate them. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury may not agree that that can happen, but I urge the Minister to try to anticipate how he might feel if his children were subjected to a safeguarding procedure. That process is intimidating and frightening, and there is no doubt that people feel ostracised and alienated by it, however well intended it is.
That brings me quite neatly to the way the Government are responding to the concerns that have been raised by Members of several parties in this House and in the Lords, and by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, David Anderson QC and many others. We must listen to people when they raise concerns. It is not enough just to say, “Well, it’s well intended and there are good examples of it working well in practice for individual cases.” This is a much bigger issue of principle; it is about whether our communities will be safer or less safe as a result of Prevent. It is about whether communities feel stigmatised, alienated or marginalised. If people are saying that is how they feel, there is a duty on the Government to listen and not just bat their concerns away by saying, “Well, they don’t understand the level of terrorist threat,” “They are seeking to undermine Prevent,” or “They are doing something that is destructive of our efforts to keep society safe.”
I ask the Minister to listen and to understand that the state can be oppressive and authoritarian when it intervenes and interferes in the lives of individuals. People who are concerned about Prevent should not be dismissed as failing to understand or for not being a criminal barrister or having the right knowledge of such things. That is how they feel, and I urge the Government to listen to that. I do not believe the narrative that people are somehow motivated to undermine Prevent. They are just raising concerns, and it would help community cohesion if there was an overt attempt to hear those concerns and not just plough on regardless.
The terror threat is real and we must take all measures to reduce it. I do not underestimate the difficult job that the Minister and his Department have in doing that—I fully support him in his efforts—but the statutory Prevent duty is not the way to do it. It is too blunt an instrument.
I ask the Minister to consider the Select Committee reports we have talked about and to reflect on their recommendations. Some incredibly important work—research done and evidence taken—has been done on that and it would be helpful if all of that was taken on board. I ask him in particular to consider the views of David Anderson QC and the evidence he gave to those inquiries. He had been out in the communities, talking to the people affected, and his specific recommendation was that there should be an independent review of the Prevent duty. I gently ask the Minister to give that further consideration.
The Government have said in response to concerns that they intend to strengthen Prevent. I urge the Minister to consider whether the desired outcome would be more achievable if we were to use more emotional intelligence and consent, in a collaborative, community-led way at the grassroots, rather than the muscle of continued forced state intervention, which is what is implied by strengthening Prevent, even if that is not the intention.
Our safety and security is too important. We must get this right. It is therefore essential that we reflect on all these issues. I am grateful to the Minister for coming here today and for all the contributions that have been made.
As I said, I will call the Front-Bench speakers in 35 minutes or so. Seven Members are standing, so if they keep their contributions short, everyone will get in.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing it. I will start with one of her first points: that those who question the use of Prevent are accused of not being concerned with people’s safety. Let me give an example. When the 7 July incident took place near the bus stops in Euston, it happened in an area to which I normally used to travel to go to my chambers in the Temple—it just happened that that day I was out of the country. I therefore think I am well aware of the possible threats to security that people face. When I am accused of not being concerned about people’s security, I find that incredibly insulting because, but for the grace of God, I could have been in that incident.
The Minister intervened on the hon. Lady and said that Prevent is not about reporting but about putting safeguards in place. However, that is effectively reporting. When a person thinks there is someone of concern and they start the safeguarding process, they call on the local authority, social services and various other people—that is effectively nothing but reporting.
The Government have a duty to protect our country, but the rules, laws, programmes and provisions we put in place must be effective. There is no point in having a knee-jerk reaction to a problem and saying, “We will have Prevent. We will put it on a statutory basis, and somehow all the problems of radicalisation will go away”, without realising whether the policy is effective.
Countless studies have been carried out. In October last year I hosted an event for the Open Society Justice Initiative, which had spoken to 80 different sets of experts in the field and many families who had been affected by Prevent. It showed that 80% of the people affected had been referred wrongly—that is 80% of children and families affected completely unnecessarily. The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson, QC, said:
“Prevent has become a more significant source of grievance in affected communities than the police and ministerial powers that are exercised under the Pursue strand of the Contest strategy”.
Again, someone has looked at terrorism legislation and thinks that Prevent is wrong. Unless and until we get the community on board, we will not be able to effect any real changes. All Prevent does is stigmatise people.
Prevent was brought in by the Labour Government, but it was rolled out on a voluntary basis. I have to say I was not keen on it then, but at least it was voluntary. Now it is statutory, which means that doctors, nurses, hospitals and teachers can get into trouble if they do not report something that the Government think they should have done. That puts so much pressure on professionals. They are being asked to make disclosures and breach confidentiality, and families and everyone else are being put under stress for something that is not achieving anything.
Apologies for coming into the debate late, Sir David. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing it. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) agree that professionals—teachers, clinicians and so on—would say they already have professional standards that meet the need, and that the additional duty does not add anything?
I absolutely agree. Dr Clare Gerada, who spoke at the presentation I held last year, said exactly the same thing: they already have duties to look after vulnerable people. By making Prevent statutory, we are pressurising them, which could lead to them being affected if, for example, they feel that somebody should not be referred in a particular case.
The hon. Lady is making a good case against Prevent. However, she said that it is not achieving anything. Will she set out the evidence for that assertion?
All I hear is that the people who are being affected are annoyed by it, and they are getting upset. It is not achieving anything because the communities we need to have on board are not. It is therefore a waste of time, money and resources.
If we want to deal with radicalisation, whether far-right radicalisation or any other fundamentalism, there are ways of doing that. However, we should not use this method, which criminalises people. For example, in schools we could have classes taught to everyone, not to particular groups, about the dangers of the internet. We do not talk enough about the amount of online grooming, pornography on websites, how many young people are being bullied in schools and how much sex texting is going on. All those things are part of safeguarding. We should invest in classes in junior and secondary schools where all the children get together and are taught about all the dangers they could face, so that they can discuss and deal with them together. That would mean we could prevent them from facing such issues, whether far-right, sexual or whatever. We should not do that in the way that has happened since the Prevent programme was rolled out.
I want to make two final points. All of these measures come from the fact that there are security issues. However, we must remember one thing. I know we are talking about the far right, but we must remember that while the measures all came out of so-called Islamic terrorism, 99% of the people who have died as a result of Daesh, al-Qaeda and other such groups have been Muslims, whether in the middle east or the UK. Far-right extremism has killed Muslims in Canada, USA, Norway, the UK and other countries. Yes, there is an issue with people having right-wing or fundamentalist views, and we need to challenge those views, but Prevent is not the way to do so.
We say that Prevent is about British values. I am not making a joke of this, but the President of the USA, through what he has said and his Executive orders, has contravened every single fundamental British value. When he comes to the UK, he should be put in the Prevent programme, along with his adviser, Steve Bannon, who is a right-wing fascist and white supremacist. Both should be put in the Prevent programme when they come to the UK.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a small contribution to the debate under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate and giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue.
It is my belief that Prevent is making a positive difference. The Government are working in partnership with local communities and grassroots organisations to challenge poisonous extremist narratives and safeguard our young people and society. The battle against terrorist recruiters must be fought on several fronts, including online as well as in our communities. Much of the work being done in the UK is world leading, including the first counter-terrorism internet referral unit dedicated to taking down hundreds of pieces of extremist and terrorist content that are referred to it every day, which has now been replicated internationally. However, extremism cannot be defeated by the Government and law enforcement alone: it is vital that everyone plays their part.
The importance of the Prevent strategy was made clear in the other place in 2016. I draw attention to Channel, which is one part of the broader Prevent agenda. It is an intensive, one-to-one mentoring programme that challenges violent views through the de-programming and rewiring of an individual. About 7,500 referrals were made to Prevent in 2015-16—around 20 a day. Of those referred to the scheme, which was set up in 2005 in the wake of the 7/7 bombings, one in 10 were deemed to be vulnerable to terrorism and were referred to Channel, while a quarter were found to be vulnerable but not at risk of involvement in terrorism.
Baroness Williams of Trafford has noted that
“since 2012 over 1,000 people have received support through Channel, the voluntary and confidential programme which provides support for people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism. The vast majority of those people went on to leave the programme with no further terrorist-related concerns.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 December 2016; Vol. 777, c. 1544.]
That shows the important work that Channel and Prevent are undertaking. Every time a person receives support and turns their back on the hatred of extremism is a life saved, a family with renewed hope and a community that is brought closer together, not dragged further apart. Each person who is aided is a story of the struggle to battle extremism, but with each person we move a step closer to defeating the poison of radicalisation and those who would seek to drive us apart.
My hon. Friend is making an important speech. Does he agree that the statutory duty in Prevent puts it on to a different level from being just a voluntary and community-based source of support and guidance?
I understand what my hon. Friend says but, at the end of the day, it is a set of guidelines that we would be floundering without. I accept what she says to a certain extent, but that guidance has so far proven to be of great advantage.
As I was saying, those lives saved shine a light on the positive difference Prevent makes to safeguarding people, particularly children, from the risks of radicalisation—which I think further addresses my hon. Friend’s point. Indeed, Simon Cole, who is the chief constable of Leicestershire and the National Police Chiefs Council’s lead on Prevent, said the scheme is “fundamental” to fighting terrorism. It is clear from intelligence sources, police on the ground and those in the communities that Prevent plays a crucial role in combating terrorism and extreme ideologies.
Furthermore, Prevent protects our young people, who are the future of our society, from the poison of hatred and vitriol from whatever ideology or extremist element it comes from. Indeed, schools play a vital role in protecting pupils from those risks, and it is right and important that these issues are discussed in an open and trusting environment.
Does my hon. Friend agree that trust is important in making Prevent work? If people are reported behind their backs without their knowing, does he not think that erodes trust?
I agree that it is a question of trust, and of communities understanding the principle behind Prevent. The Government certainly have a big part to play in that, and I think we all share a responsibility for that.
It is the essence of our values that we can discuss the risks of a certain ideology or way of thinking in an open and trusting environment that allows full examination of the issue—not behind closed doors or simply ignoring it in the hope that the problem goes away, because it simply never does. If we are to have a healthy society, the most significant and meaningful thing we can do is to ensure that our children grow up with the key values of tolerance, respect for other cultures, creeds and races, a healthy respect for the rule of law and an inquisitive attitude towards those who wield power.
We must therefore continue to support the vital programmes that challenge those ideologies and individuals that seek to undermine our society, and the foundations on which it is built, with poisonous and extremist narratives. That is why I am particularly pleased that Prevent focuses on all forms of terrorism, including the particularly dangerous and disgusting ideology of the extreme right, as I have mentioned, and not only on one community.
I know that the Home Affairs Committee and others have expressed concerns that Prevent is perhaps not quite as community-led as it should be and is treated with suspicion by some. It is not unusual that schemes and programmes are treated with suspicion by certain communities at first; perhaps we must all work a bit harder at it. I witnessed that at first hand while working with communities on numerous issues during my time with the police service. It takes time to build trust and rapport with local communities, but I know the Government and those delivering Prevent work tirelessly to address certain perceptions and beliefs, and that they are more aware than anybody of the importance of working in partnership with communities and grassroots organisations.
We must not forget that the Government cannot do everything alone; communities and individuals need to step forward. We all need to step forward and play our part in fighting extremism and its root causes wherever we find them without fear or favour. Radicalisation devastates the lives of individuals, their families and communities. Prevent does not target anyone—it is about safeguarding those at risk, plain and simple. Prevent is, and must be, fundamentally rooted in and led by communities. Those delivering Prevent travel the length and breadth of the country to engage with community leaders, civil society groups, local authorities and frontline workers.
We must support this vital work to ensure that we safeguard those who are at risk of the terrible toxicity of radicalisation, and to persuade them of a different outlook based on tolerance and respect for other cultures, of which I spoke earlier. With each person, this scheme helps our society to become healthier, which is why I am, and will continue to be, a strong supporter of the scheme.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate. She made a thoughtful speech that I agreed with and supported for the most part.
I do not think anybody here doubts that the Government should have a plan and should act to prevent citizens and residents from falling into terrorism. The Government’s good intentions are not in doubt, and I would go as far as to say that some good initiatives are carried out under the Prevent strategy. However, as the hon. Lady said in opening the debate, we must get this right, and we must get the overall strategy right. The way the Government have gone about the strategy’s implementation seems to have caused confusion and alienation, and risks being significantly counter-productive. I agree that there should be a review, including of the statutory duty, and I say that based on the evidence that the Home Affairs Committee received. Other colleagues present today will also talk about that inquiry. From what we heard, there is little doubt that trust in Prevent is at rock bottom in some of our communities. As part of our inquiry, in Bradford we met around 70 young people aged between 16 and 25 representing Muslim communities in Bradford, Leeds and Dewsbury. It was a fantastic initiative from the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), brilliantly organised by the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah).
The message from the young people was pretty clear and damning. They felt picked upon and stigmatised. Many had felt restricted in what they could say and do for fear of attracting attention. They certainly did not feel engaged with or involved positively in Prevent; it was quite the opposite.
Out of interest, can my hon. Friend confirm whether the Committee took evidence from any Scottish-based stakeholders or kids in Scotland that had been subject to the Prevent duty?
My hon. Friend has stolen the thunder from the end of my speech: I will come on to that shortly.
Going back to the young people in Bradford, as far as I could glean, their almost unanimous view was that Prevent was irretrievable. Their views were pretty consistent with a lot of what we heard in oral evidence at formal hearings and in the written submissions that we received as well. With that evidence as a background, even on its own terms the Government’s Prevent strategy seems to be falling short. When we look at the 2011 strategy, what was apparently intended sometimes seems to bear little resemblance to what has happened in practice. The strategy pointed out that:
“Prevent depends on a successful integration strategy...the Government will not securitise its integration strategy. This has been a mistake in the past.”
In the eyes of so many of our witnesses, securitisation is exactly what has happened at the expense of broader integration.
The strategy also stated:
“The Government’s commitment to localism will support the Prevent strategy. Communities and local authorities have a key part in this strategy. But as a national security issue, Prevent needs to be developed in very close conjunction with central Departments.”
Again, for many of those giving evidence to the Committee, the emphasis had been much more on central departmental control than it was on empowering communities. That is why our Committee concluded:
“Rather than being seen as the community-led approach Prevent was supposed to be, it is perceived to be a top-down ‘Big Brother’ security operation.”
So there is a need, as the Committee concluded, to build
“a real partnership between community groups and the state.”
Before I finish I want to touch briefly on the position in Scotland. National security and
“special powers for dealing with terrorism”
are reserved under the Scotland Act 1998—but not “extremism”. Many of the key agencies for countering extremism such as education, police, communities and so on are devolved. From that we have a rather different set of guidance documents issued under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 on a joint Scottish and UK Government basis. It is worth comparing those documents—how they work and what works best—because there are always things to learn from each jurisdiction. It will not surprise hon. Members that I am going to stick up for the Scottish version. It is interesting how most of the five or so chapters are the same. However, chapter C in the version for Scotland is entitled “A collaborative approach to the Prevent duty”, whereas the guidance for England and Wales has a chapter entitled, “A risk-based approach to the Prevent duty”. Although good chunks of that chapter overlap, that difference in emphasis is important: collaboration instead of securitisation.
Furthermore, when we look at the 2011 UK-wide Prevent strategy, that document notes:
“The approach to Prevent in Scotland has always made a distinction between preventing terrorism and community cohesion and integration. In Scotland, Prevent has been more closely aligned to those areas of policy that promote community safety, tackle crime and reduce violence...These first principles of Prevent have influenced delivery in Scotland and this has necessarily involved a different style and emphasis.”
Although not scientific—to answer my hon. Friend’s question—those differences in emphasis and implementation were reflected in another visit undertaken as part of the Home Affairs inquiry when the right hon. Member for Leicester East and I visited Shawlands Academy in Glasgow. It is fair to say that that is the most ethnically and religiously diverse school in Scotland. We discussed with senior pupils and staff issues relating to extremism and terrorism. The pupils were all aware of Prevent, but it did not inhibit their discussions or generally have a negative impact on their lives. The teachers did not feel under pressure or that their relationships with pupils had been undermined. Overall, it seemed Prevent was less in your face for those young people than it had been for the young people in Bradford.
It is essential that we look more closely at those features and see what lessons can be learnt. For that, as Sir David Anderson and the hon. Member for Telford have said, we need a review.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing this debate.
I recognise that there are concerns about Prevent, and I have heard those concerns from a range of different people. As a member of the Home Affairs Committee and as someone with an interest in this area, I have taken the time to speak to Muslim groups with the Committee, and to members of the Muslim community, police officers and teachers. I have not spoken to any far right extremists yet, but I am sure we will get some in to the Home Affairs Committee in due course.
There are two polar opposite views. Prevent is viewed as a vital tool in the fight against terrorism and absolutely essential, or it is said to be discredited because it targets Muslims and places unfair obligations on the public sector. It is important to note that Prevent is just one of the four elements of the Contest counter-extremism strategy that aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism or extremism. In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) about success, it is difficult to measure success when there is no counterfactual, but I am sure that the Minister will tell us about the success that the Prevent programme has had, because I have heard that from some of Britain’s most senior police officers.
It is important to start by asking what we would do tomorrow if we cancelled the Prevent programme today. I asked one of the most senior counter-terrorism officers in the country about this and he was very open-minded. He said, “If we do not like Prevent and we get rid of it, what do we replace it with?” We would surely want a system for identifying people such as the poor young girls from east London—the people who have committed no criminal offence but suddenly slide into radicalism and attempt to go off to somewhere such as Syria. We need a means of identifying them and preventing them from going.
On exactly the same point, those young ladies in the school were very bright. The teachers could not see anything wrong with anything they had done, so Prevent did nothing for them and would not have noted them.
That is right, but that is certainly not an argument for getting rid of Prevent. There are countless other cases in which the Prevent duty would result in issues being picked up. That is why there have been 1,000 voluntary referrals to Channel, where people have been channelled away from any risks. That is what the Contest strategy does.
This hypothetical was tested when the Home Affairs Committee went on a trip to the USA. Two members of the Committee who went on the trip are in the Chamber today. We asked the Americans what they did about domestic counter-terrorism prevention and whether they had a Prevent type of programme. The answer was no, they did not have such a programme. They recognised that that was a gap in their toolkit and they were actually looking at the British system, although the Committee members did point out some of the deficiencies and gave them some advice. Of course, the trip took place under the Obama regime before Donald Trump became President. If only President Trump were focusing on domestic terrorism, which is where the threat actually comes from, rather than banning people coming from seven countries with currently no risk of terrorism on American soil. However, the Americans are looking at a strategy because they do not have a system like Prevent on their soil at the moment.
I will turn to the two main objections. The first is that Prevent targets Muslims. It is right that 70% of those who have been directed to Channel for voluntary referrals have been Muslims and 15% have been far right extremists who are not Muslims. That fact does not mean that the Muslim community is being targeted, but I understand why members of the Muslim community, including the young people we met on the trip organised by the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), felt that way. It is right that the Government should do more to publicise the cases of far right extremists who have been dealt with under the policy, because the people we spoke to on that trip simply were not aware of them, even though the cases were well publicised.
Equally, we have to guard against the reality that some groups such as Cage, a disgraceful organisation that gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, would make sustained efforts to undermine any replacement of the Prevent programme, just as they have done with Prevent. They have spoken out, criticised and been involved in threats against Muslim groups who stand up and support Prevent or elements of Prevent. They do that because they do not even accept that a problem exists that needs tackling by something such as Prevent in the first place.
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech. Does he agree that one of the successes of the Prevent programme has been—for example, in the health service—raising awareness of people who may be vulnerable? People with mental illness are particularly susceptible to adverse influences and potentially susceptible to extremists of all different types exploiting them. The programme has also helped to encourage partnership working between the NHS and the police, because there is often strong clinical judgment exerted and used in such cases.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said. That brings me to the second main criticism of Prevent—that it puts undue pressure on teachers, doctors and social workers. It is true that they are not policemen and are already under huge pressure—I know that teachers are, because my mother was one—because of all sorts of duties of the kind, besides their core one of teaching. However, they are the people with day-to-day contact with young people and they have the opportunity to notice what others, including the police, may not. That is why they have similar duties to report child abuse, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and the like. We rely on them to pick up things that others might miss or parents would not report.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that teachers are among those who have regular contact with young people, and it should be part of professional practice to notice when children’s behaviour changes—such as becoming withdrawn or difficult. However, teachers and parents in my constituency tell me that the way the Prevent duty on professionals is perceived is breaking down trust between families, parents and schools. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that must be addressed if the programme is to work effectively?
That certainly must be addressed, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) that the Prevent duty has led to much greater awareness among professionals of what to look for and how to help. We need a way to pick up the signs of radicalisation before it is too late and innocent lives are devastated by being drawn into the ideologies in question. Prevent, the current system, certainly has issues that need to be worked through, and the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) raises a good point. There is a need for constant updating, but equally, if we were to replace Prevent it could only be with a similar duty. Whatever we replaced it with would come under sustained attack, and it is our duty in the House to stand up for the Government’s efforts as well as to scrutinise and criticise them as we are doing.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate. It is interesting to follow two colleagues from the Home Affairs Committee; we took a lot of evidence on the subject last year and produced a report. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) will also give his version of events.
Headlines about Prevent have included “Prevent will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent”; “Oxford University vice-chancellor says Prevent strategy ‘wrong-headed’”; “Instead of fighting terror, Prevent is creating a climate of fear”; and “Human rights group condemns Prevent anti-radicalisation strategy”. It is not a matter of one newspaper article getting things wrong. They are not reports from the Daily Mail, otherwise known as the “Daily Fail”, about radicalisation and the Prevent strategy going wrong. They are reports derived from academics. People have written to the Home Secretary or the Government expressing concern about how the strategy is implemented.
Some 60% of my constituents are of black and minority ethnic heritage, and the majority are Muslims, but we have not got things as wrong in Bradford West as they are nationally. We have a better middle ground, and some really good conversations are happening. However, the overall consensus among Muslim communities nationally is that Prevent stigmatises them. I accept the view of the hon. Member for Gower (Byron Davies) that it is successful, but only in part. I accept that there are instances in which Prevent has prevented radicalisation. For every article against it, there is always one for it. However, it must be acknowledged that its implementation has created a “them and us” situation between the Government and the Muslim community. That is a fact. I can give a list as long as my arm of incidents in which people say they have been stigmatised.
Research evidence shows that Prevent has had a particularly acute effect on children. An average of one child under 10 is referred every day. I accept that the referrals are voluntary, but as for four-year olds being involved, I am the mother of a five-year-old, and when he has a tantrum or a paddy it is very extreme, but that does not mean he is on the slippery slope to extremism. Children are children. Yes, we have different ways of running our households, but religious conservatism does not result in extremism. We need to make that point, and it must be acknowledged in the House.
Although I am a critic of the implementation of Prevent, it is clear to me that we need a prevention strategy. When the Home Secretary appeared before the Home Affairs Committee on the previous occasion—not yesterday—she said that we needed to talk Prevent up. Unfortunately I cannot commit to talking it up when it fails to acknowledge the “them and us” that its implementation has created between the Muslim community and the Government. The architect of Prevent, Sir David Omand, observed that the “key issue” was whether most people in the community accepted Prevent “as protective of their rights”. He said:
“If the community sees it as a problem, then you have a problem.”
The Muslim community sees Prevent as a problem.
No one, including the Muslim community, is saying we do not need a Prevent strategy. We absolutely do; we must provide safeguards. I do not know what my now nearly teenage daughter will be doing in her bedroom; the way people are radicalised in the majority of cases is online. However, we need to educate people, including parents, and put safeguarding measures in place.
More than 80% of Channel referrals end in no further action. What does that say about them? The majority of the children referred happen to be Muslim. I met a young boy from Luton who was campaigning on issues to do with Palestine and Gaza. He was referred to Channel just because he was passionate about those issues. We have damped down debate in universities and colleges, where people dare not use the word “terrorism”. A GP I know said in the roundtable referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), “When my child comes home, every day he sees terrorism on the TV”—whether it is the Paris attack, Tunisia or anywhere else in the world, such as Quebec recently. She said, “I dare not have the conversation with him in case he goes back and discusses it in school. If someone does not know how to respond to my child, he might be on the next referral to Channel.” Those are real concerns; they are not made up. I accept that there are organisations that would have issues no matter what the strategy was replaced by, but the young people of Bradford gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee and said there is a “them and us” situation, and we must respond to that.
I ask the Minister whether the Government will publish their internal review of the Contest counter-terrorism strategy. Will they accept the advice in the independent review of terrorism legislation by David Anderson, QC, and establish an independent inquiry into the operation and effectiveness of the Prevent strategy? By the Government’s own figures 80% of referrals to the Channel programme between 2007 and 2014 were set aside. Will they publish comprehensive data disaggregated by age, gender, location, ethnicity, type of referring authority and type of extremism of the people who have been referred to the Prevent programme, and the outcomes? Without such transparency the Muslim community will rightly continue to view Prevent through a lens of suspicion.
There is time for a very short speech by Keith Vaz.
Thank you, Sir David. May I start by congratulating you warmly on your knighthood and the House authorities on their efficiency in changing your nameplate so quickly? I will be very brief. I can say quite honestly that I agree with every single speech given this afternoon, not because it was a bit like all our yesterdays—the Home Affairs Committee, of which I am a former member, did an inquiry into counter-terrorism—but because each came with particular knowledge of this area. Passion has been shown because we want to keep our country secure, protect our children and ensure that the Government’s strategy works.
The hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) deserves special praise for bringing this matter before the House. We really need more than an hour and a half to discuss it. She says that we need a strategy, but the problem with the strategy we have at the moment is that the people we need to work with feel they are on the outside. The issue is one of trust.
I want briefly to say three things. First, as the hon. Member for Gower (Byron Davies) said, my local chief constable, Simon Cole, who is the national Prevent lead for the National Police Chiefs Council, has said that Prevent is fundamental to the success of our strategy against terrorism. We want the strategy to work, and we have to ensure that it works. We have to ensure that communities are involved with it, and it has to be a partnership. That means listening to what the young people in Bradford said, acknowledging what we found in Glasgow when we went up there and listening to the questions from the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) to his local university vice-chancellor when he came before our Select Committee. It is important that we work with communities.
Secondly, our Committee suggested that we should change the name of Prevent and call it Engage, because Prevent sounds very harsh. We need to rebrand this mechanism, so that we can engage with communities. Otherwise, they feel that Whitehall is imposing a certain course of action on them. Finally, the internet was the most important form of radicalisation that we discovered during our inquiry. Unless we tackle that, and unless the internet companies are prepared to work with Government, we will not deal with this issue.
There are problems. The Government should acknowledge them and work to ensure that they are dealt with, but more than anything, the message from this House must be, “Please work with communities. Put them at the forefront of our fight against terrorism.”
Can I have an even shorter contribution from Imran Hussain?
Thank you, Sir David. I did have quite a lot to say on this subject, but I will try to be as brief as possible. Please bear with me for a few minutes at least.
First, I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate and made some very valuable points. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), in particular, made a powerful point at the outset of her speech: nobody here is saying that we do not want our streets to be safe. We absolutely want our streets to be safe and to defeat the poison of radicalisation, but we must ask what the best way of doing that is, and the best way is having a strategy that works.
We have heard from hon. Members that the Prevent strategy, in its current format, is not as effective as it could be because there is massive mistrust of it, in particular among the Muslim community. We have heard evidence of that from young people in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah). We have heard how 70% of those who end up in the process belong to that community. It is clear that in its current format, the Prevent strategy is perceived as unfair and is stigmatising communities.
We need a complete rethink of the Prevent strategy. We need a strategy that is as effective as possible, that engages Muslim youth and communities and that comes without stories—although some may be fabricated—of cameras, spying and young children being placed in these programmes. I ask the Minister to use this opportunity to reflect on the genuine concerns that the Muslim community in particular has, which I am sure other communities share. We need an overhaul of the whole Prevent strategy to recognise those concerns.
I offer you belated congratulations, Sir David, on your knighthood. I am conscious that we are short on time and that everyone is keen to hear what the Minister has to say, so I will whizz through some of the points that I have found interesting in today’s debate.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate, to the obvious agitation of the Government Front Benchers, which in my view makes it even more commendable. She was right to mention at the outset that the strategy appears to be driving a wedge between authority and community. She said that perception is very important—a point that other Members have corroborated. Perception may be everything in this instance. I have heard her talk before about her personal experience as a governor of a school. She made the point that there is peer pressure and that people are incentivised and cajoled to make referrals. That is a very dangerous situation.
I was struck by some of the comments of the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), particularly about the accusation that if someone criticises Prevent, they somehow do not care about safety. She made that point well with reference to what happened on 7/7. In response to an intervention on her about the strategy not achieving anything, I will say this: evidence is one thing, but how many communities and people do we marginalise to stop one kid being radicalised? I think that was the point she was making.
The hon. Member for Gower (Byron Davies), who brings a wealth of experience as a former member of the police force, was right to say that this is about taking time to build relationships. Perhaps that is where Prevent has gone wrong; we have put the cart before the horse, and we should have built those relationships before we started asking this community or any community to put people through the referral process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), on whom I made an untimely intervention, was right to recognise that everyone wants to prevent terrorism. That is common ground, and it should be noted by the Minister. My hon. Friend gave a more than adequate summary of the position in Scotland, so he has saved me from detailing that.
I did not agree with much of what the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) said, but there was one point I agreed with. Everybody wants to prevent terrorism, and he asked a valid question: what would we replace Prevent with? Clearly the perception is that things are not working and that something needs to be done, but it is not wise to leave a vacuum.
The hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) corroborated the point about perception. If we are going to prevent communities—I do not single out any particular one—from being radicalised, perception is everything. That is an important point. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who of course brings a wealth of knowledge as he led the Select Committee inquiry on this issue, pinpointed trust. That is key. The people we need to influence feel that they are on the outside. I was interested in his idea of rebranding Prevent as Engage. I do not know whether that would work, but I certainly agree with the principle that this is more about engagement than sniping on kids and marginalising them.
Some hon. Members alluded to the distinction between non-violent extremism and violent extremism. I am from the west coast of Scotland. Scotland has a history, unfortunately, of sectarianism. In Scotland, if you ask someone which school they go to, it has nothing to do with education. If you ask someone which team they support, it has nothing to do with football. We understand these dynamics. Perhaps that is why we have a more wide-ranging approach to this issue. We recognise that various communities are susceptible to radicalisation and do not try to single out any particular one.
You are looking at me keenly, Sir David, so I will wind up. In Scotland, this is a reserved matter, with the roll-out of Prevent being undertaken by the Scottish Parliament. We put engagement and fostering relations with communities at the heart of what we do, which involves simple things like discussions with people before they are put in the referral process and engagement with various communities to ensure that they are on board. If we foster that relationship, perhaps communities will come to us with information before we have to start knocking on doors. If the referral process were from the bottom up, it would work a lot better and would not marginalise the very people who we need to help us prevent terrorism.
I call Diane Abbott. The Minister looks desperate to get his points in, so could you give him some time?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on initiating this important debate. I think that the Muslim community can take some reassurance from the fact that MPs of all parties and from all parts of the country are scrutinising how the Prevent strategy works in practice.
Clearly, the first duty of Government is to protect the citizen. As hon. Friends have said, it is nonsense to say that those of us who are asking questions about Prevent are somehow careless of the threat of terrorism. I remember the 1996 IRA bomb at Canary Wharf—I was standing in my kitchen in Hackney when I heard it go off. Do not tell those of us in our great cities, who have sometimes had very close engagement with the after-effects of terrorism, that we do not take it seriously. Of course the Government have to have a counter-terrorism strategy. I have met people from the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism command and been very impressed by much of their work.
However, what President Trump shows us is that there is such a thing as an effective counter-terrorism strategy, but there are also ineffective and counterproductive counter-terrorism strategies. It is now very clear to everybody that banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries, plus green card holders, plus Syrian refugees, from coming into the US has been wholly counterproductive and unsuccessful.
And we have the support of the Home Secretary. Only yesterday she said that the ban was a gift to the propagandists who support ISIL. I am sure that my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary will find lots on which to disagree with the Home Secretary, but they are on the same side on this issue.
Exactly. There is such a thing as an anti- terrorism strategy that is misconceived, counterproductive and does not actually make people any safer.
Let me quickly return to the question of the police being called because a child in a Bedfordshire school had a plastic gun. The Minister claims that had nothing to do with Prevent. All I can say to him is that the Central Bedfordshire Council local education authority admitted that the teachers were attempting to act in accordance with the Government’s Prevent guidance, and they admitted that they would not have called the police if a white child had received a toy gun.
Let me quote the child’s mother, who is probably closer to the situation than the Minister. She said:
“To this day, I cannot fathom why a teacher who has known my family for years would suspect terrorist activities based upon a plastic toy gun. Our only distinguishing feature is the colour of our skin. I was utterly humiliated by this experience—but more importantly my sons were confused and terrified. They had to move schools, lost important friendships and…lost trust in their teachers. They will carry the scars of this experience for some time yet.”
The sole reason why they were singled out was the Prevent programme. An anti-terrorism programme that has that kind of result with innocent families and mothers and children is clearly at risk of being wholly counterproductive.
As other hon. Members have said, the report from the Open Society Justice Initiative analyses the effect of the Prevent strategy on the education system and the NHS. It states that the effect is to erode trust, because it is draconian and therefore counterproductive.
There is a long line of reports critical of the Government’s failing strategy. The National Union of Teachers has mounted a sustained criticism of Prevent and passed a motion opposing it outright, as has the National Union of Students. Other teaching unions—the University and College Union and NASUWT—have also opposed it. Liberty has made strong criticisms. Organisation after organisation is calling for either reform of Prevent or certainly review. None of these organisations has any sympathies with terrorism, or acts as an apologist for it; their members and supporters are the potential victims of any terrorist incidents that are committed here.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has again called for a review, arguing, as so many hon. Friends have argued this afternoon, that Prevent has the potential to drive a wedge between the authorities and entire communities. It is clearly targeted at one community. The Government’s own report, “The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism: Annual Report for 2015”, stated that 70% of referrals were linked to “Islamist-related extremism”. As hon. Members have said, with a power and an authenticity that I can only hope to match, that is having an alienating effect on a whole community. It worries me that Ministers will not recognise that fact, and I believe that the alienating effect is made worse by some aspects of the Casey review.
Of course the Government have a duty to protect the right to life of all their citizens. That includes, but is not confined to, terrorism. The problem with the Prevent strategy is that it seems to be failing in its stated objective; it is not necessarily preventing the growth of terrorism, because it seems to be counterproductive. It tramples on hard-won rights and demonises whole communities. As the hon. Member for Telford pointed out, it tends towards criminalising ideas, towards saying what people should be allowed to think, which is contrary to British values.
Even with the widespread concern on the ground about Prevent, more than 400 children under 10 have in the past four years been referred to the police’s Channel programme, which is part of Prevent—400 children under 10. Families are terrified that their children will be taken from them, guilty of engaging in playground games, play-acting or childish bragging. The National Police Chiefs Council says that 80% of all referrals require no action at all.
Anti-terrorism is a serious issue, and effective anti-terrorism is always intelligence-led. That must be fully supported and resourced. Prevent is the opposite of an intelligence-led policy. Any counter-terrorism strategy that depends on sending the police to interview seven-year-old children who happen to have a plastic gun is misconceived. It is my view, and that of Opposition Members generally, that it is time for a major review of Prevent and a fundamental rethink by the Government.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing the debate. I am a father of three. I am a Lancashire MP, representing many diverse communities in my constituency, and in our communities there are threats from both far-right and Islamic extremism. I am therefore well aware of some of the issues that we face on the ground in trying to keep all of our young people safe in today’s world.
However, I do not accuse people who question or criticise Prevent of being anti-security or trying to put at risk the society in which we live. I recognise that people have a right to question Prevent, and I recognise the issues that have been raised today. I have to say that I could not agree more with the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who put it perfectly well, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) also made the point that we have to strike a delicate balance. The balance is between safety and security and our obligations to society; some of the very extreme threats and individuals who try to peddle that to our young people or people who are vulnerable to exploitation; and ensuring that policing is done by consent and that the relationship between the community and the Government is indeed collaborative and that they are working together for the best.
Of course we could fine-tune Prevent and do more to engage, build that trust and work with communities. I have said to my hon. Friend the Member for Telford that I am very happy to take her to a Prevent provider, or to meet either a provider or some of the local authorities to do that. I make that offer to all colleagues in the Chamber, to ensure that we start down the road of ensuring that people understand both sides of the argument.
One of the most moving things for me was speaking to a number of community groups involved in delivering Prevent. It is sometimes quite hard to argue with their point of view. When one meets people whose children have been saved from going to Syria to fight for Daesh, it is quite hard to say to them that the Prevent strategy does not help, that it has not helped to protect their children or even saved their lives.
As the Minister for Security, I have the privilege of knowing about many of the successes. We do not often advertise the successes, because we want people to move on with their lives. I am thinking of the 15-year-old in Lancashire who was radicalised by the far right and whose headteacher put him in touch with Prevent. He is now not only out of the specialist school he was in, but in mainstream further education, enjoying the prospect of a good life. I cannot advertise who those individuals are or put their names on a leaflet for everyone to see, because we want them to progress further in life.
The classic example is the difference between the three Bethnal Green girls and the two young men from Brent. The two young men from Brent had strong relationships with the local police and the leader of the council and were able to come back when they got to Istanbul, whereas we lost the three young girls from Bethnal Green. The key to this is building up that trust and those relationships between the police and the community.
I could not agree more. It also means that unfortunately we often know about the failures rather than the successes. The right hon. Gentleman knows from his long period as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee that in the world of policing and security it is nearly always the failures that we hear about when there is an intelligence breakdown or someone slips under the radar. As someone who started in counter-terrorism as a young man in his early 20s, I can tell Members that something always gets through the net. One failure does not justify the scrapping of Prevent. I think that is important.
We all have a duty to do more to make sure that we challenge some of the perceptions that are peddled about Prevent, and to better investigate the stories that are sometimes put in the media. It was also in Lancashire that a child was reported apparently—according to the media—for saying, “I live in a terrorist house.” The child actually said, “I live in a terrorist house and my uncle beats me.” That story is never reported. The referral was a safeguarding referral about abuse of the child, but that was not good enough for some of the media, who chose to leave those details out and report in a lazy manner. We all have a duty to investigate and explore not only those local authorities that deliver Prevent, but the communities—
I cannot give way; I must press on as I have only seven or eight minutes.
One of the first things I did as Security Minister, because I come from Lancashire, was to travel the country. My challenge to Contest is that it must not start and stop in central London. It must not be about the big metropolitan centres; it must be about the whole of the United Kingdom. I have been to the north-east, the north-west and around the whole country to meet more people, and I will continue to do so.
It is important that we start to pick up transparency in Prevent. One of the ways to challenge those perceptions is to get more statistics out where we can. We are going to do that and I have asked my officials to collate and publish many of the stats that the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) raised in her questions, because that is one of the best ways to counter the perceptions.
As Security Minister, I have responsibility for countering not only terrorism, but serious organised crime and child sexual exploitation. At the heart of all those—I am afraid I could not disagree more with my hon. Friend the Member for Telford—is safeguarding. What I see across that whole remit is people using the same methods to groom young men and vulnerable people into a course of violent extremism, gangs, crime or sexual exploitation. If we care about the safeguarding of vulnerable young people, Prevent is just one of those strains for delivering that safeguarding. Contrary to what is often reported, safeguarding is delivered not from my office in Whitehall but through the local authorities and the combined safeguarding officers. I met my hon. Friend’s Prevent officer in Telford at the beginning of this week; he is the councillor who deals with safeguarding across the piece, not just in Prevent, which is often how it is delivered. Of course we would like to see Prevent delivered more widely—not only from the police but across the board—which would be a right step in keeping communities on side.
We should challenge some of the main criticisms. There is the issue that there is no trust in Prevent. I recognise that in some communities there is a stigma attached to Prevent and that people do not necessarily trust parts of it, but in other communities some people do. It is partly about the relationship between the victims, or the people who have perhaps been diverted from a more extreme course. I have to say that in the speeches from the hon. Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah) and for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) there was an element of, “Locally we are delivering some success, but nationally we are worried about it,” or, “In other parts of the community we represent, it does not always work.” Of course we have to ensure that we rebuild that trust, and transparency will go some way towards doing that.
It is not the case that there is a special category for reporting children to Prevent, as opposed to normal safeguarding. Let me put this in perspective. Every year there are 621,000 child safety referrals to authorities. Prevent, which is not included in that figure, is less than 1% of it, if compared alongside it. There are safeguarding referrals from teachers, and from all the duties that doctors and teachers hold for safeguarding our children—they have a plethora of duties that are either implied or statutory—so we need to put that into perspective.
I have referred to the accusation that Prevent is not working. There are case studies and champions of Prevent. It is not the case that everyone is against Prevent and no one is for it. I met a mother of two children who did not go to Syria. She is delighted, funnily enough, that her children were successfully referred through the Prevent programme. People forget that Channel is a voluntary process. Regretfully, not everyone takes up some of the offers and some go on to do much worse things. However, Channel is voluntary and Big Brother does not force people into it. Some people have tried to imply that, but it is simply not the case.
In 2015, 150 people were prevented from going to Syria. That is a lot of people’s lives that have been saved. Many more people have been diverted from the path of throwing their life away through either violent terrorism and extremism or crime, gangs and the other areas that those same groomers often exploit—the methods they use are the same.
Many hon. Members raised the issue of internet safety and the hon. Member for Bolton South East made the point about education. We do teach cyber-safety in schools; my children had a lesson in cyber-safety at their primary school. We do teach the discourse between political beliefs and religious beliefs. I went to see a school’s Prevent officer in action in Walthamstow, teaching many girls in east London.
Everyone would agree that there is nothing wrong with running programmes and working with young people, but one of the problems is the statutory obligation on teachers, schools and doctors, which means there may well face penalties if they do not deal with things. What we are saying is that it is the statutory obligation—the almost criminalising part—that is wrong. Why can it not be voluntary?
I have listened to the hon. Lady’s valid points, but statutory duties are writ large through the relationship between the state, children and the community. They are writ large in schools and in the medical profession. We all have a statutory duty. If I was a teacher and a child came to me and reported that they were being interfered with or sexually exploited and I did not report it, I would be in breach of a teaching council duty. We all have a duty and that does not make it wrong. What makes it wrong is for us to fail to safeguard our children or take action to prevent them from being radicalised.
There is this idea that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater by scrapping Prevent. I hear what all Members have said today about those perceptions and making sure we reinforce trust and work with communities to ensure that it is collaborative. That is absolutely important and the direction we must travel in to keep it going. On the idea that Prevent is actually having a massive negative effect, I ask colleagues to look across the channel to Germany, France, Belgium and Holland, where they do not have a Prevent strategy anything like ours. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) rightly pointed out, in America they have almost no Prevent strategy. Why are they now scrabbling to engage with their communities and ensure that they keep back the flow of terrorist attacks? This country, under Labour, started a process; we invested in a Prevent strategy to work with our communities and to safeguard children and vulnerable people.
I absolutely agree that we can always do more, and I am committed, as Security Minister, to doing so. It is not always the Security Minister who must do that; local police forces must recruit the right policemen in the right places to do the right jobs. Ultimately, Prevent is working. I can only tell hon. Members the successes, but we have saved lives, we are preventing the far right from rising in other parts of the country, and we are making sure that young people have a future. That is why I back Prevent. I am passionate about it and I am happy to take colleagues to go and meet providers and hear about it at first hand. It is not the disaster that it is painted to be. The misperceptions that are peddled, often by an irresponsible media, only add fuel to the fire, rather than working with us to ensure we protect people in the future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered implementation of the Prevent Strategy.
[Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Marriage Week.
It is a privilege to have secured a debate about Marriage Week, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. I pipped it to the post when I celebrated my 21st wedding anniversary last weekend, but the last 12 hours have brought home to my dear wife, Janet, the reality of the vow “in sickness and in health,” because there has been a bit of a bug going round our house. I welcome the aim behind Marriage Week: to draw attention to the importance of marriage for individuals, family life and civil society. All of us can take part in the celebration. It is not exclusive to those who are married; it is for everyone, because we all know that marriage is for the common good.
I welcome the Minister to her place. She has already answered my written question about the Government’s plans to promote Marriage Week, saying that
“we cannot afford to overlook the importance of the family as the basic building block upon which we build a successful economy and a stable society.”
That is indeed true, but I want to give her the opportunity to explain further the Government’s plans and the value that they place on marriage.
Many of my hon. Friends support the idea of having a dedicated Minister for the family, so perhaps this is an opportunity to make a bid for the Minister’s promotion—she regularly attends Westminster Hall and speaks about lots of issues. We want a dedicated Minister for the family —indeed, a Cabinet Minister—given that the topic covers so many areas and Departments. When I was looking through some old cuttings the other day I was reminded that back in 2004, the current Prime Minister was the shadow Cabinet Minister for the family. She came to my house when she was supporting my campaign to be the Member of Parliament for Enfield, Southgate, and we talked about families. The current Prime Minister got it, and talked about how important that role is, so who knows? Perhaps in time the Minister can follow that path.
The Minister was absolutely correct: we cannot afford to overlook the importance of family. Family provides social capital to those who have fallen on hard times, as we all have—that experience is common to all human beings. This celebration is not just of a domestic issue. In fact, on Monday Professor Bradford Wilcox will help us to understand the evidence relating to marriage’s global value, which it is important for us to recognise.
However, I would like the Minister to go further. It is important to be unapologetic about the social benefits not just of family, but particularly of marriage. It is difficult to celebrate marriage without using the M-word. As a candidate in 2004-05, I got hissed not when I talked about immigration or Europe, but when I mentioned marriage. Sadly, there is disdain and antagonism towards marriage in some circles, but we can avowedly be great fans of marriage—of the M-word. I am unapologetic about celebrating marriage not only because I am in favour of the family formation, but because of the growing evidence that marriage is socially just.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this important issue to the House. Is he aware of the ComRes poll showing that 21% of people support further increases in the personal allowance, but that 60% support increasing the marriage allowance? Does he feel that the Government should consider making the married couple’s allowance that is provided to couples in their 80s and 90s much more generous?
The hon. Gentleman and I share views on many issues, not least on how welcome it is that the marriage allowance is once again a transferable allowance. However, that is just a small dent in properly recognising marriage and giving it its true worth and value. That could perhaps be done not least by following the call from many of us, and from the Centre for Social Justice and others, to focus particularly on couples with young children. I would certainly support that.
Not all marriages last, and external support is often needed when there are difficulties. The Department for Education has said that for every £1 spent on relationship support, the Government save £11.40, yet the Department for Work and Pensions seems to be considering significant cuts in support for face-to-face marriage counselling services. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that would be a terrible mistake?
This celebration and debate is not just about putting everyone in a Persil advert of perfect families, where everything goes right. Things go wrong, and resilience is needed. That can come at an early stage through counselling, support or marriage preparation, or after marriage through MOT tests and further support, not least at crucial moments involving young children or debt. Statistics show that the Government spend only 1.6p for every £100 of social harm that is caused by family breakdown. More needs to be done to tackle the associated price tag of £47 billion a year, which is a conservative estimate.
The way in which a marriage plays out in our society should provoke the Government to do all they can to ensure that marriage and the social benefits it affords are accessible to everyone, for richer and for poorer. In 2015, the Marriage Foundation—I very much commend Sir Paul Coleridge, who is here today, and Harry Benson for the great evidence-based work that they have done over the years—found an alarming widening of the marriage gap between rich and poor, with wealthier couples being four times more likely to get married than those from poorer backgrounds. Some 80% of high earners marry, whereas only 24% of low earners do. The rich get married and the poor increasingly do not. That bias in favour of wealthy couples is a social injustice. In fact, to use the words of the former shadow Cabinet Minister for the family—now our Prime Minister—it is a burning injustice, which needs to be tackled by the Government and others. That is vital because marriage supports family stability and provides an important pathway out of poverty.
Marriage must not disappear; in fact, it should be central to Government policy making. I sometimes search Government policy documents on my computer to see where the M-word comes up, but it often does not. There should be family impact statements looking at the impact of marriage and the support it provides in a lot of arenas. The life chances strategy or the social reform strategy, or whatever it will be called, will be published shortly, and I will again search to see where the word “marriage” comes up, because it needs to. If we are tackling burning injustices, we need to support marriage.
I want to spell out some social benefits of marriage. Unmarried parents are six times more likely to break up before their first child’s fifth birthday. Children from broken homes are two-and-a-half times more likely to be in long-term poverty, and 44% of children in lone parent families live in relative poverty—almost twice the figure for children in couple families. Cohabiting couples make up just a fifth of couples with dependent children, but nearly half of all family breakdown. There are a lot of reasons to consider, but marriage is socially just and aids social mobility. Children who experience family breakdown perform less well at school, gain fewer qualifications and are more likely to be expelled from school. I therefore encourage the Government to commit more resources to tackling family breakdown by celebrating marriage.
I welcome the marriage tax allowance. We have mentioned the importance of that; it brings us in line with other OECD countries that have recognised family stability by recognising marriage. However, it is also important to build on that good work. The fact that 90% of a married person’s tax allowance remains transferrable means that although we have that recognition in principle, it does not really get to the heart of the problem.
There are many creative ways of celebrating marriage. As hon. Members have mentioned in their interventions, we can do much more. There is the financial element—we have debated whether that is important in the past—but more than that, it is about practical support and how we provide relationship support. I welcome the previous Prime Minister’s absolute commitment to that and the money that was provided for relationship support, which must continue—indeed, it should increase, because it is money well spent. Supporting fathers, which several hon. Members present have championed through the all-party group on fatherhood, is particularly important, as is broadening access to marriage preparation classes and marriage counselling.
I pay tribute to the Marriage Foundation, which is behind next week’s celebration, and to Harry and Kate Benson, whose life as a couple has recently received a lot of publicity. They recognise that marriage is not just a bed of roses. We all experience problems. Marriage Week is about recognising that we must not take our marriages for granted—we all need to work on them, and that applies to me as much as to anyone else—and nor should society or the Government. We should promote and celebrate this vital institution for a good society.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) for his tremendous speech, which I strongly support.
The most powerful statistic in this whole area is that, of all the parents who are still together when their children reach the age of 15, 93% are married. That says so much about why marriage matters. As MPs, we are here for all our constituents—we are here for the single mums who do an amazing job, and we are here for people who are not married—but it is right to celebrate marriage as a massively important social institution that builds resilience and is clearly really good for our children.
Three quarters of 20 to 24-year-olds say that they want to marry, so the aspiration for our younger people is very much there. Likewise, three quarters of lone parents and almost nine in 10 step-parents agree that it is appropriate and necessary for the Government to send the message that having two parents is important. That is all worth putting on record.
The Austrian political economist Joseph Schumpeter said that in a modern consumer economy, people might end up living for the present rather than having projects for the future. That involves things like saving less and borrowing more. Critically, he said that there would be less willingness for people to make long-term commitments to one another. Of course, the greatest long-term commitment that we can make is a marriage in which we bring up children.
There is so much more that we can do, including really good marriage preparation and really good marriage MOTs. We all get our cars serviced once a year; we spend time and money on it because we think it is important. But how much more important it is to have a look under the bonnet of our marriages, to make sure that what started off romantically, but might now feel a bit like running a small business with an ex-girlfriend, stays on track.
My hon. Friend has been a great champion of marriage for many years. He also has experience in Bedfordshire with voluntary organisations that try to help couples, particularly those who have just had a child. Some Government funding was coming through for such projects; does he know whether any progress has been made?
I am very pleased that the last Prime Minister doubled the amount of spending on relationship support across Government, as my hon. Friend already mentioned, but there are real pressures on the sector and on the Relationships Alliance. I will meet the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions next week to discuss those issues.
Was my hon. Friend as surprised as I was to learn that last year the Government spent more money on repairing cathedrals than on supporting marriage and family relationships? Will he join me in calling on the Government to put more resources into supporting marriage?
I am a great supporter of cathedrals, as I am sure my hon. Friend is, but it should not be either/or. We need to take care of the living as well as the buildings in which people celebrate great events.
I will end my short contribution by stating the importance not only of marriage preparation but of really good ongoing marriage support. I am afraid that many churches often provide some of the worst after-sales service of any organisation I know. We all get into bad habits—I put my hand up to that, and my wife would be the first to draw attention to it—but just one evening a year can make a huge difference. We do it for our cars, so why not for our marriages?
I call Fiona Bruce. I remind her that we still need to hear from the Minister. If she takes interventions, the Minister will have less time.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) for securing this debate on a subject that is too infrequently spoken of in this place but that is important to the people we serve. Some 80% of young people aspire to marry, because they recognise the benefits of marriage for the parties, for any children they may have and for wider society. As my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said, marriage promotes stability in relationships. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate that it is therefore a matter of social justice that the Government support marriage, particularly because it is the least well off who have the least resilience to cope with the consequences of relationship breakdown.
There are many benefits of marriage. The health benefits are powerful for women and men. Marriage is associated with a significant reduction in depression and marital status affects the progress of Alzheimer’s disease in later life—singles have twice the risk of developing it. Married people are more likely to survive cancer, and they have a lower risk of suicide. The longevity effect of marriage can even offset the consequences of smoking.
We are all rightly concerned about the cost and scarcity of social care, but the social care burden is significantly greater if elderly people are not being looked after by their spouse. Those living with a spouse are least likely to go into an institution after the age of 60. A European study of 20,000 older people found that men and women living with a spouse were more likely to be satisfied with life. Older people living with a spouse are also the most healthy group.
Obviously, many people in couples find themselves alone in later life, and single people may find themselves bringing up children. As we have said many times when discussing this issue, there is no condemnation of any individual when we speak about marriage. We know and recognise that single parents work valiantly and often very successfully to bring up children, but statistics show that marriage is good for people and for their children. Studies consistently indicate that children raised by two happily and continuously married parents have the best chance of developing into competent and successful adults. During early parenthood, the single biggest predictor of stability—even when controlling for age, income, education, benefits and ethnic group—is whether the parents are married. That challenges the assumption that factors other than marriage—so-called selection effects —are at play. As we have heard, 93% of all couples that are still intact by the time their child is 15 are married. Indeed, 9% of married parents split before their child’s fifth birthday, but 35% of unmarried parents split.
There is a huge level of interest at the moment in young people’s wellbeing and mental health, but family structure is very rarely considered to be the important factor it is. I am patron of a children’s mental health wellbeing charity in my constituency; the chief executive has told me that it is having to care for children at a younger and younger age, and in nearly every case family relationship difficulties are one of the chief causes of their mental health problems.
My hon. Friend is right to mention the benefits of raising children in a stable family home. Does she agree that the Government have a real opportunity and responsibility to promote marriage because of what it is and what it does for children?
Absolutely, particularly with respect to mental health. Teenage boys who live with continuously married parents have the highest self-esteem among teenagers, while teenage girls who live with continuously cohabiting parents have the lowest. I could cite a plethora of other research and statistics, but I am out of time. Marriage is indispensable to a flourishing society. We need to stop fighting that fact and start supporting it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, and to be able to respond to this very important debate today.
I do not intend to start by being facetious, but the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) have left me fearing for my own future good health. Nevertheless, I welcome the comments that many Members have made about the importance of lone parents in our society and the very, very hard work that they put in to bringing up their children.
Of course, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on securing this important debate on Marriage Week, although not quite during Marriage Week, which I understand runs from 7 February to 14 February, coinciding very nicely with St Valentine’s day, which is coming up very soon indeed. I acknowledge his keen interest in social justice issues and that of the many other Members who have spoken. It demonstrates the importance that the House places on the subject that so many Members, from all parties, are here today for what is just a 30-minute debate, and have sought to make their contributions.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on securing this debate. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that the fact that marriage is now open to all helps to embed social justice in our society?
I very much thank my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) for that comment. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate on his 21 years of marriage to Janet, but I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green has recently also celebrated his wedding anniversary. Although he has only been married for two years, he has actually been with his husband for a quarter of a century. That is something that we can all be very impressed by and I extend my congratulations to them.
Of course, Marriage Week provides us with a very good opportunity to celebrate the commitment and connectedness that a stable relationship brings to a family. The Government view the role of families as fundamental in shaping individuals, and in having an overwhelmingly positive effect on wider society. We know that growing up in families where parents are collaborative and communicative gives children the skills they need to develop into happy and successful adults, and the vital institution of marriage is a strong symbol of wider society’s desire to celebrate commitment between partners.
The institution of marriage can indeed be the basis of a successful family life and many people make this very important commitment every year. As we have heard, marriage can lay the foundations for parenthood, and is emblematic of the love and security that parents need to give their children.
A stable family that provides a nurturing environment for children is something that the Government will continue to champion and encourage. That is why we are focused on helping families and children, to enhance the educational and employment opportunities available to the young, and to reinforce the benefits that parental collaboration undoubtedly has.
Since 2015, Marriage Care in Tyneside has provided counselling services to 54 couples and 48 couples have received relationship education, undoubtedly helping those couples to form healthier marriages and stronger family units. Does the Minister agree that the Department for Work and Pensions should continue to fund face-to-face marriage and relationship counselling services?
I thank the hon. Lady for that comment, and I have written the name of her constituency on my speech so I remember to mention specifically the point she has made about Newcastle upon Tyne.
The importance of marriage is reflected in the Government’s introduction of the marriage tax allowance. Furthermore, our commitment to supporting different types of family means that we have extended that tax allowance to include civil partnerships and, of course, same-sex marriages, which were introduced in 2014 and have been taking place since.
I understand that the take-up of the marriage tax allowance has not been as great as the Government had hoped. May I gently suggest to the Minister that the take-up would increase dramatically if she and her Department were able to make it a more serious allowance? Perhaps that is something the Government can consider.
I am sure that is also a matter for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and recently it has been a subject that my own constituents have raised with me, following some publicity about take-up of the marriage tax allowance.
This debate is an opportunity for us to celebrate the diversity and vibrancy of marriage as the basis for family life across the United Kingdom, and we recognise that supportive families can come in many different shapes and sizes.
When it comes to the critical issue of improving children’s outcomes, the evidence shows that it is not the structure of a family that is important but the quality of the relationship between the parents. Recent research by the Early Intervention Foundation has shown that children exposed to frequent, intense and poorly resolved inter-parental conflict have poorer outcomes in later life. We also know that an improvement in parenting skills does not mitigate the worst effects if relationship issues are not addressed.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that marriages can and do break down, but the Government have been clear that, even when a family has separated, both parents still have a positive role to play in the lives of their children. Evidence shows that parental collaboration has a direct and positive impact on child outcomes. As we have heard, children tend to have better health, emotional wellbeing and higher academic attainment if they grow up with parents who have a good relationship and who are able to manage conflict well. That is why we are committed to supporting healthy relationships between parents—whether married or cohabiting, together or separated—in the best interests of children.
I just wonder whether the Minister could reflect on the statistic that 93% of couples who are still together when their children reach the age of 15 are married. Does that not speak very powerfully, notwithstanding what she said about the recent research by the Early Intervention Foundation?
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment and I will shortly make some very specific points about marriage that I know will make everybody very happy.
Over 48,000 couples have participated in counselling and more than 17,000 practitioners have been trained to help families in difficulty in the last four years, during which we have invested more than £30 million in services offering support to couples, to reduce parental conflict. In total, 160,000 people have been given access to support, to reduce that conflict. Alongside that, our ongoing child maintenance reforms are delivering a new programme designed to increase collaboration and reduce conflict between separated parents.
Our current programme was designed without the benefit of the latest evidence about the importance of good inter-parental relationships, while a focus on national commissioning of services makes it hard to establish effective referral mechanisms from local services. This means that, in some areas, take-up remains low, despite the prevalence of relationship distress. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) made an important intervention earlier and we will soon announce plans to procure new services to help disadvantaged parents, and others, to address parental conflict.
Will the Minister give way?
I am really sorry, but I am now left with only three and a half minutes and I still have quite a lot that I would like to say.
The importance of both parents to children’s future outcomes is well known to all of us. Only around half of children in separated families see their non-resident parent every fortnight or more. Through both our programme to reduce parental conflict and our child maintenance reforms, we are specifically supporting fathers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate mentioned, in both intact and separated families, to form more collaborative co-parenting relationships and hence improve their children’s outcomes. We know that some fathers feel that they are not recognised by public services as having responsibilities for their children and we want to explore how to give them the same chance to engage in their children’s lives as mothers.
Of course, we are aware that different organisations offer classes specifically aimed at preparing a couple for marriage, and those classes can offer very real benefits to people in those circumstances. We want to support programmes that have the biggest impact possible, which is why our new programme will offer support to all family types.
I acknowledge the great work of the community of organisations that advise my Department on family and parental conflict issues. I recognise the great breadth and depth of experience they have in this area. In seeking to draw on their valuable experience, on 23 January I met members of the Relationships Alliance—Relate, Marriage Care, OnePlusOne and Tavistock Relationships. We enjoyed a really productive and informative discussion about the challenges involved in addressing parental conflict, including in the most disadvantaged families, and the new national development of this important work.
The Relationships Alliance is an important organisation that plays a key role in promoting the many benefits of healthy adult relationships, and our objectives are very closely aligned. Members of the alliance have been long-standing partners of the Department, both in their capacity as subject matter experts, and as contract-holders for our current and past delivery programmes. They have given their time and expertise to policy development, and I thank them for that support. In particular, they have supported our efforts to create a new programme targeted at reducing parental conflict. We will continue to engage with the Relationships Alliance, and a wide range of stakeholders, in the future.
The Green Paper that we will bring forward shortly is a listening exercise as much as a tool to express our policy intentions. It will provide an excellent opportunity to hear from stakeholders to garner their views and expertise, and I look forward to exploring the outcomes in more depth. Disadvantaged children are a priority for Government support, and as such will also be a priority for our parental conflict contracts.
In conclusion, let me assure hon. Members that this Government are clear on the importance of the family and of marriage, in all the different forms that it can take, and we are continuing to work to drive up outcomes for children by increasing collaboration between parents, which we know is so crucially important.
I reiterate my thanks to all Members who have expressed their views and their particular enthusiasm and support for marriage. I welcome that, I acknowledge that and I reassure them that the Department intends to continue to work very hard to ensure that marriage gets the support it needs to continue being a strong bedrock for the families and the children for whom we want to secure the best possible outcomes in the future.
Question put and agreed to.
Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles
I beg to move,
That this House has considered ultra-low emission vehicles.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I am grateful to have been granted this debate. Before I begin, I should say that in a conversation I had earlier today with the Minister’s colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes)—I understand that this is his policy area—he agreed to have a meeting with me shortly on this issue, and I am grateful for that.
It is nearly five years since I initiated a debate on ultra low emissions vehicles in the Chamber. I have strongly championed the new technology throughout that time. In my debate in May 2011, I said that the issue mattered for four main reasons: first, because it is part of the answer in tackling climate change; secondly, because it is at the heart of creating the new industries of the future; thirdly, because it helps the United Kingdom respond to the challenge of energy security; and fourthly, because it helps our constituents reduce the cost of driving. In that debate, no one, including me, mentioned the important contribution that ultra low emissions vehicles can make in improving air quality, which is an issue that is rapidly rising up the political agenda, not least because 40% of local authorities are currently breaching air quality guidelines. A quarter of children in London are breathing illegally polluted air, meaning that their lung capacity may never recover. The air quality in London last week was worse than that in Beijing.
One of my local schools is in an area that breaches the limit. In fact, my constituents, particularly those living off the North Circular Road, are breathing some of the worst air in London, if not the country. Does my hon. Friend recognise that the highest cost to the health of Londoners and those across the country is paid by those in our most deprived communities, who on average are exposed to 25% higher levels of air pollution than people elsewhere?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. It is often the most disadvantaged communities that suffer the worst air quality. That is another reason why the issue is so important.
In May 2011, there were 57,000 ultra low emissions vehicles on our roads. Nearly five years later, that figure has increased to 87,000. The Government’s central projection of 5% of all cars in the UK being ultra low emissions vehicles by 2020 means that we need to have 1.6 million such vehicles on our roads by then. The Committee on Climate Change recommends that 9% of the cars on our roads should be ultra low emissions by 2020. That equates to 2.8 million cars. Even 9% is unambitious compared with Japan, which has a target for 20% of all its cars to be ultra low emissions vehicles by 2020. While I am very happy to give the Government due and proper credit for what they have done in this area, my purpose in holding the debate is to challenge them to lay out a much clearer road map as to how we are to get to at least 1.6 million ultra low emissions vehicles on our roads by 2020.
In response to a parliamentary question I asked recently, the Department for Transport declined to indicate how many ultra low emissions vehicles it expects to be on our roads by the end of this year, in 2018 or in 2019. I think it would be helpful to have a more detailed road map of how we will achieve the 2020 target.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the correct approach is a balanced one? Encouraging the greater use of low emissions vehicles should not mean that we should ban historic vehicles from our roads. I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party group on historic vehicles.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He has a long record of campaigning on this issue. We should help people transition to the new, cleaner vehicles that we see on our roads, and his point is well made.
Will my hon. Friend give way again?
If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, there are quite a few other Members who wish to speak.
I will be brief. Can I place on the record the fact that historic vehicles comprise 0.7% of all licensed vehicles, so their impact on the environment is negligible?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He has done a service by putting that figure on the record.
Do the Government intend to influence the choice of public sector vehicles that taxpayers pay for, such as local authority school buses, police cars, ambulances and so on? Installing many more charging points, both for home charging and for charging en route, is critical to the increase in ultra low emissions vehicles. The modern transport Bill will enable the UK to make further progress. Issues that should be addressed include the standardisation of sockets and plugs for charging, and the ease of payment among different charging providers. Only last week, a Central Bedfordshire councillor who has an electric car shared his frustration with me at not being able to plug it in to charge in some locations and not being able to pay for the charge in others. The Government need to take a lead.
I am glad my hon. Friend has mentioned councillors. Does he agree that local authorities have a vital role to play? What they can do can magnificently help low emissions vehicles.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Convenience store representatives have asked whether any charging point investments they may be required to make can be offset against their business rates. While we must have more charging points, we must act fairly towards small businesses. What steps are the Government taking to expand electric vehicle car sharing services, which have been introduced in Paris, Indianapolis and Singapore? Have they given any thought to the steps that need to be taken to establish a healthy second-hand ultra low emissions vehicle market, the lack of which is currently holding back growth?
Is there anything the Minister can say to reassure Guide Dogs, which is concerned about increased injuries to pedestrians as a result of ultra low emissions vehicles’ quietness? Volkswagen, BMW and Ford plan to set up a European network for the speedy charging of electric vehicles. Their technology will apparently be significantly faster than the current arrangements. Will the United Kingdom benefit from similar private sector investment in the latest and fastest technology?
The United Kingdom has the largest market in the European Union for ultra low emissions vehicles, which is something we should all celebrate, but I note that a quarter of all the vehicles in Norway are already electric or hybrid electric. The Netherlands, along with Norway, plans to completely phase out diesel vehicles by 2025. Last year, China produced 517,000 new energy vehicles, as it calls them, and it expects to quadruple its new energy vehicle output to 2,000,000 vehicles by 2020. This year, it will also install another 800,000 public charging stations. I appreciate that China is a much larger country than the United Kingdom, but a smaller country can still aim for the same trajectory of growth, and that is what I would like to see the United Kingdom do to become and remain a world leader.
It is important that when we refer to ultra low emissions vehicles, we do not just refer to what comes out of the exhaust. There are, I understand, estimated to be 84,000 transport refrigeration units powered by highly polluting diesel engines that are not yet regulated. That is a significant omission in the urgent battle that the Government need to fight to significantly improve the United Kingdom’s air quality. What action will the Government take on transport refrigeration units?
When we refer to emissions, we should include nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. It is important to realise that particulate matter comes not only from exhausts, but from tyres and brakes. What research are the Government commissioning to reduce emissions from tyres and brakes? For the industry to continue to invest, there needs to be long-term commitment from the Government. The plug-in car grant is a critical lever to developing that market and continuing commitment to it is important, as is continued investment in charging infrastructure. Taxation is a matter for Her Majesty’s Treasury, but can the Minister say anything about representations made to Treasury Ministers on the research and development tax credit? That needs to be internationally competitive to demonstrate ongoing commitment to the industry over the next decade. Can the Minister say anything about changes to vehicle excise duty and company car tax to reflect the amount of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emitted in addition to the levels of carbon emitted?
Has the hon. Gentleman seen last week’s air quality audits from the Mayor of London’s office? Does he welcome the recommendation to move school entrances and play areas away from areas with idling vehicles, and the idea of “no engine idling” schemes to reduce harmful emissions during school time? Perhaps the Minister could take those points on board too.
I referred to last week’s very bad levels of air quality. The hon. Lady is right; as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) said, local authorities absolutely have a role.
If the Government are to meet their legal air quality obligations, change is necessary. We need to make sure that there are affordable, cleaner alternatives for people on low incomes to switch to. What estimate have the Government made of the ability of compression engines to mix diesel and hydrogen in vans and lorries to reduce emissions? It is excellent to see the Liverpool-based technology firm ULEMCo working with the University of Liverpool and Huazhong University’s Wuhan New Energy Institute to do exactly that. It is also good to see the Scottish company Alexander Dennis partnering with Chinese vehicle manufacturer BYD—it stands for “Build Your Dreams”—to put electric buses on our roads and Zhejiang Geely making electric taxis in Rugby for the streets of London.
Would the hon. Gentleman perhaps like to add to his ask list the issue of local authorities that are grappling with air quality issues? Five local authorities are under infraction and, with the Department, are dealing with a plan for low-carbon development to counter poor air quality caused by transport. The Department’s response may well be to provide funding to, for example, convert taxi fleets, local authority vehicles and public vehicles to low-carbon usage. Would he encourage the Department responsible to make sure that grants go to those local authorities?
What is happening in London with taxis for the future is excellent, and I am sure we would all like to see more cities across the United Kingdom making progress. The hon. Gentleman has a long record of interest in this area, and I thank him for putting that point on the record.
What discussions are the Government having with local authorities to roll out ultra low emissions buses and taxis more widely across the United Kingdom? As the UK seeks new markets and trading arrangements, I want to see this country excelling in that area, with high take-up in our home market and massive exports around the world. I am extremely grateful to colleagues who have come along to take an interest in this important matter today.
Order. There are some people standing to indicate that they wish to speak who did not submit their names for the debate. I warn all those who would like to speak that I intend to go to the Front-Bench spokespeople at 10 past five.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) for bringing forward this debate and for his work championing this issue, which began long before I got to this place. I will split my speech into two parts—first, why we need to encourage more electric and hybrid vehicles on to the road and, secondly, the framework that we need to enable that to happen.
It is really obvious now why we need to make the switch to electric nationally and with all speed. It is because of the shocking air quality statistics that we have all highlighted recently. Only last week, the levels of air pollution in London overtook those in Beijing. One would hardly credit that that could be possible in this nation, but it is true.
I have taken part in two air quality inquiries. The first was as part of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the second as part of the Environmental Audit Committee. The statistics that we were presented with were quite shocking. We have failed our nitrogen oxide and particulate matter targets miserably, and the impact has been a terrible knock-on effect on health. We are told that something like 40,000 to 50,000 people die every year as a result of air pollution. I believe that the statistics could be higher, and that is a shocking indictment of how we are running our society.
We should consider the impact on children. Bowes Primary School in my patch is 66% over the legal limit. The issue is whether an ultra low emissions zone, which could be extended by the Mayor, would help on the north and south circular routes. It may lead to further congestion and other problems. Has the hon. Lady looked at ultra low emissions zones to see whether they are a good solution to the problem?
I will say a bit about those zones later, but I think all local authorities will have to consider them. I hope the Minister will have some guidance on that later.
Even in Taunton Deane, which people might consider a beautiful rural area with a few urban centres, there are two pollution hotspots. One is on East Street, which is a busy road going right into the centre of Taunton. The other is on the famous A358—I have spoken about getting an upgrade for that road ever since I arrived in this place—where there is a pollution hotspot in a village called Henlade. We need to tackle that and, although I believe local authorities have the powers to tackle such issues—I have questioned Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers about that—they do not have the know-how on how to put measures in place. More particularly, they do not have the funds to tackle the issue even if they would like to.
I welcome the fact that the Government will produce their consultation on air quality fairly soon, and we look forward to seeing what is in it. I urge the Government—this is particularly a point for DEFRA—to adopt World Health Organisation rules on air quality, as they are far more stringent than the European rules that we have nevertheless shockingly contravened.
I come on to the real reason for today’s debate, which is encouraging the use of electric cars to help tackle air quality. As we have heard, the electric car market is growing substantially. There are many models available on the market now. Some are extremely well designed and are built to last. Many could be built not exactly as kit cars but on a much more local basis. Perhaps that might spawn new industries in our constituencies that could manufacture those cars. I would welcome the Minister’s views on whether we should have some sort of incentive to kick-start those industries.
There are already some world leaders in the industry. Formula 1, which is largely based in this country, has already been driving electric racing cars—there is a new league called Formula E, where they are raced at venues around the world. If we increased productivity and innovation in an industry that we already invest in, we could become world leaders. There would be spin-offs for our industrial strategy, and for technology and innovation, as we leave the EU, and it would work to improve our environment and help to build an environment that works for everyone—a point that the Government have to address. There will be spin-offs all round.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument. I entirely agree that we have to improve air quality. The 9% target—I think it was provided by the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change—is one that we really need to aim for. Is one of the biggest barriers to the growth of low emissions vehicles not the high depreciation costs that are incurred at the moment? Does my hon. Friend have any ideas about how the Government could help overcome that?
I will leave the Minister to come up with some answers on that.
I have been having discussions with a company called EV Hub Global, which has a 21st century idea: a hub —a filling station—for electric cars, run on a membership basis. We cannot increase our use of electric cars by the numbers that have been predicted unless we have the right infrastructure in place to refuel them. At the moment, there are 1,000 rapid chargers available in the UK and approximately 100,000 electric vehicles, and 50,000 taxis have got to be off the road by 2020. If they are all going to go electric, and if we are all going to buy electric cars, we have to have a framework in place to recharge them. Those hubs can help.
People I have talked to in the industry suggest that we should focus on fleet vehicles first—buses, taxis, vans and lorries—and then the domestic car market will follow. I appreciate that we have to be very careful not to create economic difficulties for businesses that use vans; it is a very fine line.
Networks are important, and ideas for incentivising fleet businesses to convert to electric vehicles are crucial. Our electric charging facilities have to get faster. People do not want to spend an hour charging up—they want to spend 30 minutes or less—so we need innovation to help that. Equally, we need storage for the charging facilities so that they do not have an adverse impact on or disrupt the grid. Charging hubs or extra facilities need to be where we most need them, so we should focus on cities and airports first. There will be a new runway at Heathrow, so it will be important to focus on that. We must plan how we will work these ideas into towns such as Taunton, which has just been given green town status, to reduce high-emission cars. There are some big opportunities here.
I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire for bringing this subject to our attention and for giving us the opportunity to speak. There are huge opportunities, so we should be positive about the world of hybrid and electric cars, but the framework has to be in place. I very much welcome the Minister’s view on how he will enable that. Over and above everything else, we have to tackle this dreadful air pollution.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing the debate.
I agree with all that has been said about the need to promote ultra low emissions vehicles. It is clear that we have to do so to meet the carbon targets that we have committed to and because air quality is increasingly featuring in the public conscience. Court cases about air quality may force the Government’s hand more quickly than the requirement to meet our carbon plans.
Our plans to reduce transport emissions by 2020 are already quite challenging. The Energy and Climate Change Committee, on which I previously served, produced a report that looked at how the Government are progressing towards meeting those targets. It was apparent that hitting the targets we set for 2020 will be very difficult indeed. The transition to biofuels will help, of course, but there are real challenges to achieving that transition, given the capability of some of the cars currently on the road. Obviously the quickest way to meet those targets, both for 2020 and beyond, is to adopt ultra low emissions vehicles.
The technology is hugely exciting. When the Select Committee visited California just before we finished compiling our last report, we visited Tesla. Seeing the vehicles there, I came to understand that they are no longer golf carts or milk floats; they are proper cars that will really excite people the world over and will achieve significant saturation, even if the market is left to its own devices. A small plug: I am delighted that Tesla is going to come and speak to the all-party parliamentary group for Globe UK, which I chair, in a few weeks’ time to explain its vision to colleagues in Parliament. Of course, other manufacturers are doing great things, too—it is not just Tesla—but I have seen that factory, and what it is doing really is very impressive.
The argument for such cars is compelling. They are not milk floats. They have all the gadgets and oomph—I think that is the technical term—that cars need to turn the heads of proper petrolheads. They are also amazingly cheap to run. Of course, they now accelerate like proper cars and have all the gadgets inside like proper cars, but it is the fact that they can run for hundreds and hundreds of miles for pence that makes the real difference.
I agree with colleagues that the existence of a second-hand market is important. As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane rightly said, the Government should focus their attention on really screwing down on the fleets to ensure that they are aggressively encouraged to become ULEV fleets as quickly as possible. Vehicles are invariably in fleet service for only a very short time—a year or two—and it is those vehicles that filter through to the second-hand market most quickly.
The Government need to address three barriers to the roll-out of electric vehicles, which the Minister has heard me talk about previously. First, we need to get the charging network right. The challenge is not the charging network at service stations on motorways and trunk routes, because service stations all over the country now have electric charging points. Nor is it the charging network on driveways at people’s homes, because the Government’s excellent grant scheme ensures that when someone buys an electric vehicle they can install a charging point on their private land. It is residential curbside charging, particularly in areas of high population density. If someone goes out in any direction from here, it will not be long before they find high concentrations of people living with no private parking. Having a curbside charging network—probably buried in the curb stone—would be an extraordinary infrastructure project.
My hon. Friend is making a serious point. Is that not where the hubs that I talked about could be useful? We could have hubs in various areas in cities so that people do not need to park and charge on the curbside; they can go to the hub, which they join on a membership basis.
I, too, had the pleasure of meeting EV Hub, and its initial model focuses on commercial fleets. The reality is that, if every vehicle has to go via one of those hubs when it leaves its parking spot each morning, the scale of the demand will be unworkable. We have to find a solution to curbside charging for those who do not have off-road parking of their own.
We also need to find a way of incentivising businesses to install electric vehicle charging points in their work car parks. When we visited California, a number of businesses made a great virtue of that and let people charge their cars for free while they were working. It would be worthwhile to find a way of encouraging businesses to do that.
The second barrier is the preparedness of the energy system itself: quite simply, do we have the generation capacity to meet the likely increase in electricity need? Is the energy system—the wires and switches—capable of dealing with the clusters in demand when a lot of EVs are charged in one street or neighbourhood at the same time? Is the system smart enough yet? Has it been digitised so that we can mitigate that clustering in both time and space by load-shifting, so that cars are charged when the energy is available at the cheapest possible point? We risk exacerbating the peak energy price in the evening if we do not have that digitised load-shifting capability in place. If everybody comes home and lazily plugs in their car before they go inside, alongside switching on the kettle, cooking supper and all the other things that go on in homes when people first get home at night, demand will increase massively.
Thirdly, people will need certainty about the future tax regime for how we charge people to drive cars. It is blatantly obvious that Her Majesty’s Treasury is not going to give up the receipts it currently gets for fuel duty without a compensating tax in place, and I suspect that that will be very pricey. If we are really going to encourage people to go for electric vehicles, we need to be very clear—perhaps in a Green Paper alongside the modern transport Bill—about what we are thinking of for an alternative way of raising tax from motoring once people transition and we lose the fuel duty.
We can work through all that, but the Government need to be clear about their role in encouraging the transition. The grants that are in place are doing an excellent job and, as a result, people are being encouraged to look at EVs in particular. The more EVs come down in price and, crucially, the more they increase their range, the more people will see them as a viable option and be incentivised by the grants. The size of the grants will be the indicator of how serious the Government are about facilitating the transition.
My plea, however, is that we do not penalise the drivers of diesel cars. I declare an interest as the driver of a diesel car, who thought I was doing the right thing by buying one, because it produced low emissions and was efficient. We have our diesel cars now and, if we are to be incentivised to transition away from them, the Government need to recognise that we did not do the wrong thing by buying them—quite the contrary, we thought we were doing the right thing.
The transition is happening, the technology is compelling and Government intervention is the throttle in the process. To meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, however, we surely require the Government to put their foot down fully on the accelerator.
Order. I have 10 minutes before I need to call the Front Benchers, so I will ask the three gentlemen standing to be very circumspect with their time. I can allow them a little more than three minutes each.
Thank you, Mrs Moon. It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and I congratulate the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on initiating it.
In my younger days—and, probably, those of everyone in the Chamber—we walked to school, the shop and church, and we took the bus anywhere else. Time has moved on, and families may have one, two or more cars, which has led to the many problems with pollution and effects on the environment.
The Volkswagen transmission issue is still an ongoing problem. The week before last I met some of my constituents who informed me that after the new software had been installed the cars did not go well. Has the Minister had the opportunity to find out exactly where we are? Also, I understand the Government’s initiative to reduce road tax for newer and more eco-friendly cars, but what is being done to encourage young people to take up such opportunities?
Without fear of contradiction, I hope, I can say that I live in the most beautiful constituency in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We want to keep Strangford that way and have corrected environmental damage caused to beautiful old buildings, for example. The council has also designated car-charging points. Those are all steps in the right direction.
Some information and stats on ULEVs have already been given, such as the numbers registered recently. To put the figure into perspective, however, some 43,000 ULEVs have been registered for the first time in Great Britain, compared with some 3.4 million cars registered overall. There is still a long, long way to go. The Minister has stated:
“Plug-in vehicle registrations reached a record high in 2015…more than the past 5 years’ totals rolled into one”.
Some 29 models are now available, which gives a lot of variety and choice for those who wish to go that way.
We need to have plug-in points available for people to charge their cars so that the fear of running out of power is not valid. The Government have a role in providing grants for businesses, such as shopping centres, or in ensuring that all council facilities, wherever they may be, have at least one power point. Will the Minister outline any such initiatives or plans for initiatives? Also, what discussions have taken place with the Assemblies and devolved Administrations?
I am conscious of the time, Mrs Moon, given the challenge you set us. These days, people want to travel further and we try to provide a good public transport system at a cost. We also have an opportunity to outlay funds for the benefit of all. I support any measures that will incentivise those who wish to be more environmentally sound to be able to make that choice financially. I also take the opportunity to caution the Government about enforcing such a choice or removing choice for others. We may all want new cars to be ultra low emission, but those who wish to choose standard cars must be allowed to do so and not be financially penalised. Whatever the Minister’s response, I urge him to be aware of the difference between incentivising and penalising.
I thank the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who introduced the debate, for the opportunity to talk about something apart from Brexit for once.
When we talk about this subject in Transport questions, I often intervene. I do not know whether the Minister has noticed, but I sound a slightly sceptical note, simply because I am not wholly convinced of the case for electric cars. The roll-out is slow, the product is expensive and there are a lot of long-term uncertainties, including maintenance—when a car is no longer to be seen by the franchise dealer but goes to the local garage—and supply issues. The hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey) alluded to the difficulty of getting the grid and supply of electricity right and ensuring that not everyone in London goes home at 6 o’clock and plugs in electric cars at the same time.
There is also the issue of exactly how the electricity is generated. The Chinese are indeed making lots of electric cars, but they are building a lot of coal-fired power stations as well. Furthermore, a degree of optimism bias exists in the business with regard to where battery technology will take us, so the absence of much consumer confidence means that most people prefer a hybrid car to an electric- only one. There is also a lack of clarity about what success would look like when we are all driving electric cars. The vision was partly sketched by the hon. Member for Wells, but I do not think that we are at all clear.
The one point that I want to make is that at one time the Department used to express itself as being technology-neutral, but—probably under the influence of Liberal Democrat Transport Ministers as much as anything else —we started to talk almost exclusively about electric cars. Many other viable alternatives are around, such as hydrogen cars, which are being developed by Honda and Toyota. I believe that the Metropolitan police are thinking of ordering some, and I have driven in one. Hydrogen cars fuel up much more quickly than electric cars, a charging-point structure is not needed and the costs have been coming down. They are a very viable alternative.
Other alternatives are already around, and they are what I might describe as under-supported—for example, liquefied petroleum gas. I do not want to be a spokesman for petrolheads, but the LPG infrastructure is already there. Manufacturing capacity is already in place at Ellesmere Port, where we make LPG for export. We rarely incentivise it appropriately—someone will get £10 off in tax each year, which is a minimal incentive. There is little benefit to drivers from converting, unless they hang on to the car for a very long time. The duty on LPG, as opposed to straightforward petrol, is uncertain.
There is one big problem with electric cars that fuel cells, or even hydrogen fuel cells, will not cut into effectively. At the moment, if we put a battery big enough into a lorry to drive it and let it do what it has to do, that is basically the payload of the lorry. Lorry drivers will not be driving electric vehicles any time soon, so we need to incentivise them to use the cleanest possible fuel—and that is not diesel.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing the debate, on keeping a spotlight very much on air quality and on bringing in ultra low emission vehicles.
We have to remember that, in hotspots in this city and throughout the country, 80% of the nitric oxide that turns into nitric dioxide is produced by transport. We really have to deal with that. At issue is private cars, and we have to put in place the right systems of grants and encouragement for the public to buy. For example, charging points must be not only available, but very fast, so people do not have to wait all day for their car to charge up if they are going long distances.
I agree with the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) that lorries will be difficult to turn electric. Delivery vans, taxis and buses can reduce their emissions dramatically, not just through electricity but other fuels. Unless we target such high areas of pollution, we will not be doing enough for air quality. The lives of thousands of people out there in our inner cities are being shortened by air quality.
Yes, electric vehicles carry great incentives now—we are talking about 4p a mile in running costs—and I congratulate the Government on the initiatives in place, but only 1% of vehicles are electric and ultra low emission, while in Norway the figure is 25%. The key now is to ensure that people have alternative vehicles, not only purely electric ones, but hybrid vehicles, which allow drivers to use petrol or diesel over long distances and the batteries when they get to the inner cities. That could perhaps also be done with hybrid lorries, so that lorries’ engines charge on the journey into London and they are able to make deliveries in central London using their electric motors.
We must stop these vehicles—from taxis to buses and delivery vans. Given our lifestyles, we all like to order our shopping online with a click from Tesco, Sainsbury’s or wherever, but all that has to be delivered by a van, which again means emissions in our inner cities. We must tackle the issue head-on, and tackle the hotspots in particular, by incentivising people to ensure that we take diesel polluters out of our city centres, and I am confident that the Minister can do that.
Order. The Minister has been asked a large number of questions. I would like to give him as much time as possible to respond, so will the Front-Bench spokesmen also be very tight with their time? I call Alan Brown.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on bringing forward this debate and sticking to a theme that he has raised before—it is obviously close to his heart.
We have heard much about air quality and the need for action. Just today, I read in the newspapers that according to the United Nations special rapporteur on hazardous substance and waste, air pollution is a crisis that plagues the UK, particularly for children, and urgent Government action is required. In November 2016, for the second time in 18 months, the Government lost a court case on their proposals to tackle air pollution. ClientEarth, which took the Government to court, states that over-optimistic modelling of diesel car fumes was used rather than actual road emissions. The Government clearly need to take proper action. It has also been widely reported that up to 40,000 deaths per year arise from air pollution. Air pollution is a killer, and we need to tackle it head-on.
Transport alone accounts for 23% of CO2 emissions; transport and electricity generation are the joint largest net contributors to those emissions. That highlights the scale of the problem that needs to be tackled. Over the years, Governments of different colours have introduced a series of initiatives to encourage low emissions vehicles. Many of those initiatives seemed logical at the time, but Governments and their initiatives change, and that has hindered progress in people purchasing low emissions vehicles and the roll-out of the infrastructure that is required to support them.
In January last year, the Minister said he reckoned that the sale of ultra low emissions vehicles had reached a tipping point, and in September 2016 the Department for Transport issued a triumphant press release that said there had been a 49% increase in registrations of ULEVs compared with the previous year. That sounds great, but 805,000 new vehicles were registered and fewer than 10,000 of those were ULEVs, so they actually account for only 1.2% of new vehicles. As the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire said earlier, we need a massive increase in the sale and registration of these vehicles to reach the 5% target by 2020, and we are behind schedule. It is good to hear praise for the wee independent oil-rich country also known as Norway, where ULEVs have a market share of approximately 20%. What lessons does the Minister think can be learned from Norway, and what are the Government doing to replicate its success?
I appreciate the Government’s grant scheme. On the face of it, the scheme is good—it is attractive and the figures look good—but clearly there are still not enough people purchasing ULEVs, so perhaps it needs to be reviewed. Perhaps the Government just need to raise awareness and encourage the public to take up those grants. The Scottish Government have introduced a low-carbon transport fund, which, as well as grants, allows people to access interest-free loans of up to £35,000, which are repaid over six years. Businesses can access interest-free loans of up to £100,000. That is another way of encouraging people to purchase these vehicles. Again, perhaps the UK Government could do more.
The Scottish Government have spent £13 million in the last five years to support bus operators, and Aberdeen actually has Europe’s largest fleet of hydrogen-powered buses. Some 15% of charge points in the UK are in Scotland, which shows that Scotland is ahead in providing that infrastructure.
Does my hon. Friend also recognise that Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government did a lot of work during the Commonwealth games to install lots of charging points in sports venues around the city where people may want to go?
Yes, and I welcome that work, although ironically, I was contacted by a constituent who is concerned that Glasgow City Council will charge people for using parking bays while they charge their cars, which is actually a disincentive. The council needs to take that on board.
As we have heard, we need to get diesel vehicles off the road. Similarly to the example that the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey) gave, I have been contacted by constituents who are concerned that they will be penalised for having purchased diesel vehicles in good faith. Will the Government look at compensation or find other ways to fully incentivise those people to move to ultra low emissions vehicles? We must find a way to disincentivise people from buying diesel cars. There were good proposals in the Government’s consultation on the modern transport Bill, but the Bill has been delayed. When will it come forward, and will it contain proper measures, as we have discussed?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who has campaigned for a clear road map for ultra low emissions vehicles for some time, on securing the debate.
Ultra low emissions, electric and alternative fuel vehicles and technologies offer huge opportunities for UK plc. The UK automotive sector added £18.9 billion in value to the UK economy last year, supporting 169,000 people in manufacturing directly and 814,000 across the industry and throughout the supply chains. If we are to sustain those numbers, we must strive for further growth and investment in more high-skilled design and engineering jobs. Supporting our ULEV market must be a priority for this Government.
A strategic approach to ULEVs must be a priority not just for growth’s sake but for the sake of public health and the environment. However, the Government have presided over nothing other than an air quality crisis that is poisoning our towns. We know about the 40,000 deaths in the UK every year. Brixton Road in London breached its annual pollution limit for 2017 after just five days, and the Government are legally required to produce a strategy for improving air quality by 24 April, following a judicial review in which a High Court judge described the two previous plans of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as “woefully inadequate”.
Sadly, the Government are failing on the environment. Yes, new registrations for electric, hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles are increasing year on year, but the Government are more than 1.5 million registrations short of their 1.6 million target for 2020. The UK is also legally bound to provide 10% of transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020, and it does not look like that target will be met, given that the proportion of energy from renewable sources fell last year from 4.93% to 4.23%.
Labour believes that clean air is a right, not a privilege. I will address some of the barriers, but we must consider all the levers for change. It is imperative that the Government recognise that the transition towards a low-carbon sustainable future is a journey in itself. The future vehicles market is still young and emerging, and we need a properly structured pathway. That means focusing not on purely electric cars but on all cleaner cars, including hybrids, and thinking about how taxation and grants can effectively incentivise uptake.
It is clear that the Chancellor’s changes to vehicle excise duty lacked any consultation, and the industry is calling for the changes that are due to take place in April to be delayed. Will the Minister review those concerns with his counterparts in the Treasury and consider whether focusing on CO2 alone remains rational? There are also concerns that cuts of £500 and £2,500 to plug-in grants for electric and hybrid cars and home charge points may not be allocated as effectively as they could be. Will the Minister outline how those cuts help to encourage motorists to shift to lower-emissions vehicles?
The prominence and accessibility of the wider infrastructure is also key to shaping consumer choices. We recognise some of the Government’s work towards that and welcome their broad aims for the imminent modern transport Bill. It is essential that we have a good network of smart and easy-to-use charging points, and it is key that charging stations offer common standards and appropriately accommodate drivers. We must be wary that, at least initially, even rapid charging might take much longer than filling up a petrol car. Preparing for the wider impacts of a surge in use of low emissions electric vehicles is also key. Will the Minister therefore outline what the modern transport Bill will include and when it will be published?
Does the Minister have a plan to address the concerns of the Institute of the Motor Industry, which warns of the huge skills gap in licensed technicians—just 1,000 of 250,000 are currently trained to fix such vehicles? We must ensure that all small garages and mechanics have an opportunity to upskill and are not left behind. Without action, insurance premiums and waiting times for maintenance will be higher, not lower. Will he also update the House on developing operation restrictions through the clear air zones plan and his Government’s third attempt at an air quality plan?
The key for the industry is uniformity; a patchwork of different plans would be troublesome. Given the size and weight of heavy goods vehicles, the technology is far more problematic for such vehicles, but their impact is huge—they contribute between 20% and 30% of emissions. The Minister will know the importance of the Automotive Council, introduced by the previous Labour Government to get things moving. Hopefully he can work with it.
Labour is pleased that the Government are taking seriously the transition to ultra low emissions vehicles, which will be the single biggest incremental change in transport for a century. However, we need effective consumer incentives and a customer-centred approach to upskilling and infrastructure as well as making full use of the public sector’s procurement power. Only then can we hope to reap the full benefits of the migration to ULEVs.
I will go at some pace and not take any interventions, because I have many points to make and an astonishing number of questions to answer. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing the debate. He has a long and distinguished record of campaigning on this issue. In terms of health and carbon emissions, and from balancing our grid and the move to renewables to ensuring that our automotive sector, which has been so powerful, is busy building the vehicles of the future, not of the past, we can all see the benefits of this fantastic new technology.
How will we achieve our objectives? We are investing a significant amount of money to support the ultra low emissions vehicle market. In 2015 the Chancellor committed more than £600 million to the market, and in the 2016 autumn statement that was boosted by a further £270 million.
My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire mentioned the requirement for a plan. We have a plan, called “Driving the future today”, which was set out in 2013, and we are on track. Significant progress has been made: we have supported the purchase of more than 80,000 plug-in cars through the plug-in car grant, and we expect that figure to reach 100,000 soon. That is a strong start, but I have no doubt that the scale of the challenge ahead is quite big. We will continue to support other vehicle types as well, through the plug-in van and plug-in motorcycle grant schemes. Last month we announced the winners of £20 million of funding for a low emissions freight and logistics trial.
To start on the questions, my hon. Friend raised the issue of transport refrigeration. Air Liquide was one of the winners, which will trial five refrigeration units that will use a prototype liquid nitrogen system. I confirm that the Government have been actively involved in developing new legislation at a European level, and a new regulation was recently agreed that will mean that any new transport refrigeration unit powered by a combustion engine will be subject to strict new emissions limits from 2019.
Colleagues have highlighted the importance of tackling air pollution, particularly in our larger cities and towns. To make some progress there we need to see change in the bus and taxi markets. We will continue our support for buses through the low emission bus scheme. We have seen £30 million invested there to convert 325 buses in a clean, new infrastructure. For taxis, we have the £20 million taxi infrastructure scheme. The TX5 from the London Taxi Company and the Metrocab from Frazer-Nash are being built here in the UK, which is a very positive story. We therefore have progress to build on.
In the 2016 autumn statement the Chancellor announced a further £150 million of new funding to help local authorities introduce more clean buses and taxis to our roads. Indeed, as was suggested, we are liaising with authorities all over the country. We will make announcements—hopefully quite shortly—on how that money will be invested, and I encourage all authorities to seize the opportunity to transform their public transport fleets. We are already supporting some cities through the Go Ultra Low City scheme, which we wish to become global exemplars in the deployment of ultra low emissions vehicles.
Many colleagues highlighted the importance of having the right type of infrastructure. Our evidence suggests that the majority of drivers will want to charge their vehicles at home overnight, but that is not what everyone needs—there is also range anxiety—so we need more publicly accessible charge points. Through a mixture of public and private funding we have created more than 11,000 charge points across the country and more than 900 of those are rapid charge points—that is the largest network in Europe. I reassure my hon. Friend that the current plans of vehicle manufacturers to build a Europe-wide fast charging network do indeed include the UK, as one of Europe’s leading markets. Regulation is clearly a part of this issue. A modern transport Bill is coming shortly, which will include many points raised by colleagues.
I will now move on to the questions. Do the Government seek to influence the choice of public sector vehicles? Yes. We are currently reviewing the Government buying standards for new vehicles, and the new standards will encourage the purchase of ultra low emissions vehicles in the public sector. On convenience stores and charge points, we have been carefully considering all the responses in the consultation on the modern transport Bill, and that will be sensitive to the potential costs as well as the benefits for any business, so that will be picked up.
On the expansion of electric vehicle car sharing schemes, as we have seen in other parts of the world, we have supported through funding the development and expansion of car clubs in England and to date we have helped to launch, expand or develop 24 car clubs across the country.
My hon. Friend asked whether the Government have considered the second-hand market. Yes, we have. When electric vehicles first went on sale there were concerns about the durability of the technology. As that has become much less of a concern the market has stabilised. However, my officials are watching that carefully and will continue to do so.
On electric vehicle noise, an EU regulation will require sound generators on new types of electric and hybrid vehicles from 2019, but of course manufacturers can choose to fit sound generators at any point if they so wish before that—that is the last date, not the first date.
On VWs and the corrections, well, I have a VW with a defeat device and I received a letter inviting me to have my VW corrected only a few days ago. I am interested to hear that the process might not be working quite as smoothly as was hoped. I will pick up that point with my ministerial colleagues to take forward.
We certainly are taking a cross-UK view. My officials regularly speak with colleagues from all the devolved authorities and Governments and local authorities. The key thing is that we want to make progress as the UK, and progress can only be made when everyone is involved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) mentioned EV Hub. We are in contact with many charge point providers, including EV Hub, and we are funding rapid charging hubs through the Go Ultra Low City scheme.
In response to the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), the Government are indeed technology-neutral. We are backing ultra low and zero emissions vehicles however that is best achieved, and that does include hydrogen. I have opened a hydrogen fuelling station in south-west London and saw the benefits of that technology.
That was a real scamper across the debate. There were many other points that I was unable to make or answer in this speech, but we are very busy promoting an exciting agenda. We have many more initiatives but there is clearly a long way to go. The debate has shown that we share a common goal: to make our country a global leader in ultra low emissions vehicles.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister, who I know cares passionately about and is a genuine enthusiast for this area. I am grateful to him for answering all the questions he did. May I ask him to have his officials go through the contributions so that if any were unanswered he can kindly write to me and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House so that interested colleagues can pick it up?
I am happy to do so.
I am grateful. I was reassured by much of what the Minister said. However, the one issue I would bring him back to is the interim targets. It is great to hear that he thinks we are on track, but will he provide us with the detail to ensure that we really are, to scrutinise—
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).