Wednesday 27 June 2018
[David Hanson in the Chair]
Healthcare on English Islands
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the provision of healthcare on English islands.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I thank the Speaker’s Office for granting this debate and the Minister for coming to respond to it.
I will outline three arguments. First, I will explain why I believe Isle of Wight health services remain underfunded compared with the mainland. My trust believes that that underfunding ranges from £5 million to £8 million just for acute services. Secondly, I will ask why the Isle of Wight is the only UK island, separated by sea, without NHS-subsidised travel. I believe that is deeply unfair to my constituents. Thirdly, I will suggest ways in which we can help both the Department of Health and Social Care to deliver better health and social care on the Island through the creation of a single public services authority for local government and health, and the Island to become a national leader, as it has done in the past, in improving Government services by combining them.
By way of background, I start by paying tribute to the Island’s NHS staff, who do a wonderful job delivering NHS healthcare provision. We greatly value their professionalism and dedication. I also acknowledge the work of the Island’s NHS leadership in the clinical commissioning group and the trust, and the work of Maggie Oldham and Vaughan Thomas specifically. Along with their wider teams, they do a challenging job in difficult circumstances, and I am hugely grateful for their work and that of everybody in the health services, including medics and ambulance staff, and our public services.
I have called this debate both as Member for the Isle of Wight and as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for UK islands. The purpose of the APPG is to promote the needs of island communities within Great Britain and Northern Ireland and to advocate for their economic and social wellbeing, the provision of high-quality, accessible public services, and affordable transport arrangements, which are particularly pertinent to the Island I have the privilege of representing. The issues I am raising today focus directly on those matters.
Today’s subject follows earlier debates that I or the APPG have called on the economies and public services of UK islands. Due to devolution, this debate is largely focused on English islands, meaning primarily the Isle of Wight, whose population is approximately 140,000, and the much smaller Isles of Scilly, which I believe have a population of about 1,500.
As I have previously raised, there are additional costs associated with providing public services in island communities. The University of Portsmouth has issued a peer-reviewed report showing that the extra costs of providing local government services on the Isle of Wight are some £6.4 million a year. Coincidentally, that is similar to the amount of money that Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles get, despite having much smaller populations.
Those principles work for healthcare provision as well. I believe there are significant additional costs to providing services on the Isle of Wight. As I have said, we have a population of 143,000. That is half the size of a population that would usually have a district general hospital, so we are very grateful to have such a hospital and its great staff. However, because our helicopters do not fly 24 hours a day and sometimes the ferries do not go at night, the Island needs a maternity unit. Women cannot give birth in a helicopter. We need paediatrics and we need A&E. Our funding is naturally and obviously skewed by our environment, and because of that there is an argument that we are unable to properly fund some of the other services we need.
An additional problem is that if the trust has a full-time consultant on its books and pays them for their expertise while, in effect, using them only three days a week, or if the maternity consultant is not being used to his full capacity because, although we do need a maternity unit, ours is not as active as that of the average district general hospital, those consultants are not getting the required hours on their ticket, to put it in layman’s terms. That causes diseconomies of scale. One solution is to work much more closely with Southampton and Portsmouth. That is critical to our future, and it is going to happen.
Our costs are also exacerbated by the demographic profile of Isle of Wight residents. We have a lot of young people, as the Isle of Wight festival proved, but it is also the case that 24% of our population are aged over 65, and that percentage will increase. As the Minister and I discussed before the debate, there is an argument that NHS funding for those over 80 is not generous enough, because of the more focused health requirements of people of those advanced ages. Given that a fair chunk of our population are over 80, we have significant pressures. More than 2,700 residents are living with dementia, which is double the national average per constituency.
We are experiencing a growing financial challenge. Our CCG is £19 million above its target funding. The Island overall receives £233 million to fund its healthcare services. The CCG and the trust are seeking to make £19.1 million savings this year, which will still leave cost pressures. The rise in our funding has been marginal compared with that in trusts and CCGs elsewhere in the UK. Those very small rises in funding are now having a very negative effect, and I would appreciate the Minister looking closely at that.
Financial modelling undertaken as part of the acute services redesign shows that even if services are reconfigured to the maximum extent, there will still be a gap between the costs of funding services for the Island population and the amount of money its NHS receives. Our trust believes that the cost, even under our most ambitious plans, is between £5.3 million and £8 million. That is just for the delivery of acute services, if I understand correctly.
My first suggestion to the Minister is that he accept that there are additional costs associated with providing those services on the Island. This is not a case of special pleading; it is merely an acceptance that the Island’s healthcare structure has exceptional circumstances by dint of being separated from the mainland. The Minister could build us a fixed link, at a cost of about £3 billion, or we can argue about the extra millions needed to properly fund the NHS.
I strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s recent announcement of a new long-term funding plan for the NHS, which is a clear sign of our party’s commitment to ensuring that the NHS continues its world-class provision—but I want to ensure that some of that funding comes my way. I would be grateful if the Minister would continue that conversation and meet our Island NHS leadership, so that he and his officials can understand the extra costs in detail.
I also want to propose a way that we on the Island can work more effectively with the integration of public services. I hope that idea will be attractive to the Minister and his officials. As I have said, we are not looking for special treatment, but we are looking for fairer funding. I place emphasis on both provision and access because we want to provide as many services as possible on the Island, but we also need access to the mainland for when some of our Islanders need to go to Southampton or Portsmouth for specialist services such as radiotherapy. There will be a small decrease in the number of visits to the mainland, but a small rise in the number of more specialised healthcare appointments there.
As the Minister may know, the NHS trust has laid out a series of options for the future of healthcare on the Isle of Wight. I seek Government support for its more ambitious aim of taking back more bread-and-butter acute services to the Island, thereby requiring fewer trips to the mainland, rather than the current option of slightly fewer services on the Island and slightly more on the mainland. We will discuss that at length.
The local care finance system has undertaken a detailed assessment of how to strike the appropriate balance between providing services within the shores of the Island and enabling access. However, there are increased patient safety risks associated with any shift of more services to the mainland, particularly for patients who may be frail and in need of swift access to services.
My constituents have made it clear, through a range of public engagement exercises, that they wish to see the maximum retention of services on the Island, and they join me in asking the Government to ensure that that is recognised in any future funding. As recently as two weeks ago, the Isle of Wight County Press and Isle of Wight Radio hosted a question time event with representatives of the Isle of Wight NHS at which the Island-mainland split in services was debated. My constituents’ views were clear: where possible, the retention of services on the Island should be a priority. I therefore urge the Minister to carefully examine the funding arrangements in place for healthcare, to ensure that those needs are met.
I also ask that we examine the issue of patient travel and how visits to the mainland from the Island are funded. As I have said, the Isle of Wight is the only UK island with no subsidised ferry travel to support local residents in accessing specialised services on the mainland. I will not dwell on arrangements for Scottish islands, because they are part of a wider mechanism and their arrangements are devolved.
The National Health Service (Travel Expenses and Remission of Charges) Regulations 2003 set out that any resident of the Isles of Scilly not entitled to payment in full of NHS travel expenses in accordance with low-income criteria will pay a maximum of £5 for their travel costs. A document from the Cornish CCG, NHS Kernow, also sets out that residents of the Isles of Scilly have to pay only £5 towards the cost of NHS-funded patient transport to the mainland. Furthermore, if it is deemed necessary that the patient needs an escort, a further maximum payment of £5 will be applicable.
I have talked about the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), who represents the Isles of Scilly. I am delighted that residents of the Isles of Scilly benefit from such an arrangement, but why is it not available to my constituents as well? Although some on the Isle of Wight meet the narrow definition of being on a low income and would benefit from having such costs met, many other residents have to regularly access healthcare treatment on the mainland—such as those with prostate cancer, who may need 40 trips —and face difficulty in affording the associated and oft repeated costs. I believe it is inequitable and unfair for one set of English islands to enjoy such a benefit when others do not. It is yet another example of the Isle of Wight’s not being treated fairly.
The arrangements for Isle of Wight residents travelling to the mainland for operations and medical appointments are much less generous, and exist only due to the co-operation of our three cross-Solent operators. Red Funnel offers a special return ferry fare; Wightlink offers a discount for both vehicle and foot passengers plus a patient escort; and Hovertravel offers a 20% discount on day returns. I am grateful to those operators for putting those arrangements in place, and to the NHS on the Isle of Wight for negotiating them, but the reality is that even with such discounts, the cost of trips to access healthcare on the mainland can place a great financial burden on patients, which is at odds with the NHS’s founding principle of being free at the point of delivery.
I therefore ask the Minister to amend the 2003 regulations to extend that statutory requirement to the Isle of Wight, as well as the Isles of Scilly. That would be a significant step forward and would have a transformational effect on the lives of many of my constituents who go to the mainland for treatment. Around 32,000 return visits are undertaken a year. Under option 3, that would be about 30,000, while under option 4 it would be about 27,000 or 28,000. We are talking about numbers in the low tens of thousands, and funding those visits would require relatively small amounts of money.
However, as those visits are in the tens of thousands, and because our CCG is struggling for money, I ask that any such arrangements do not have a budgetary impact, either on Cornwall’s or the Isle of Wight’s CCGs, and that the cost of funding the discount comes directly out of the NHS budget. That would be recognition that English islands should be treated similarly to Scottish islands, and of the cost of going to the mainland from the Isles of Scilly or the Isle of Wight. Under this plan, patients and their escorts would pay no more than £5 to travel to the mainland for treatment. I believe that to be a fair and reasonable gesture for the Government to make, and I ask for that change to be brought forward, along with the changes to the 2003 regulations to allow the Isle of Wight to benefit from statutory obligations.
There is also the issue of travel for families. Staying overnight in a mainland hospital brings about financial pressures for my constituents. I appreciate that the 2003 regulations do not provide for support in these cases, but if the Minister was generous enough to consider those changes, and to find the small amount of money to fund directly the £5 fare for people seeking treatment, my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives and I could go back to the ferry companies serving our respective islands and see if they would be generous enough to make similar provision for patients’ visitors. Someone from Ventnor, Cowes or Ryde who was going to hospital in Southampton on the mainland would pay £5 to get to the hospital, but their families often pay full whack on the ferries. That is not cheap. If we changed those arrangements, we could talk to the ferry companies about providing properly recognised and organised support to families visiting their loved ones in hospital. That would be a generous gesture to the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.
I am grateful to the Minister for listening, and I will raise one other issue. To recap, the Isle of Wight is not properly funded, and my folks—my constituents—are hard done by when traveling to the mainland. Do not get me wrong: we love being an island, but we seek fair funding to mitigate the effect of the Solent, which is often overlooked by the Government. However, I am here not just to ask, but to offer. We on the Island are already committed to integrating health and social care as much as possible, and I believe that Islanders would be delighted, with Government support, to lead the way in delivering best practice in the integration of council, health and adult social care services.
For example, we have the “My Life a Full Life” programme, which is a collaboration between the Isle of Wight CCG, the NHS trust and the Isle of Wight Council. The programme works in partnership with local people, voluntary organisations and the private sector to deliver a more co-ordinated approach to the delivery of health and social care for older people and people with long-term conditions on the Island.
My aim is to keep as many young people on the Island as possible, to build an economy for them, and to get a university and improve our education system. However, at the same time, it is critical that we become a leader in ensuring quality of life in later life. We are naturally drawn towards integrating our services, because we are a small island, so we have the potential to be a national leader in this. “My Life a Full Life” is a great idea, but it arguably has not reached the point that it should, because we still have siloed organisations. There are bureaucratic hurdles to overcome in combining the leadership of those organisations, but ensuring their full integration could save a considerable amount of money on appointments, which could then be put back into frontline services.
I would like to acknowledge the work of all those involved on the Island in delivering some really good programmes that we have for integration, but particularly Councillors David Stewart and Clare Mosdell, along with professional officers such as Dr Carol Tozer, the director of adult social care. They have established a local care board, and it is already bringing the services together as part of our One Public Service vision for the Island, but it is still not combined structurally and in terms of leadership and governance.
At the moment, the Government provide one pot of money to local government on the Island, another to fund the Isle of Wight NHS, and another to the CCG. Does it have to be that rigid? Can we aspire to a situation in which one combined funding pot is made available for public service provision on the Island, thereby increasing the requirement for deeper and more meaningful integration? Such circumstances may require combining the governance and leadership of public services. It is important to explore that, and there are questions about the role of experts, certainly in healthcare and adult social care provision.
I ask the Minister to explore, with his ministerial colleagues, whether there is an appetite for creating a unique public authority on the Isle of Wight that combines traditional local government functions with those of NHS trusts, the CCG, adult social care, mental health services and so on. If such a fully combined and integrated approach can work anywhere, it should work on the Island. Such a step would be a natural progression from the integrated way in which we are trying to work; we are trying to overcome those siloed, bureaucratic, financial hurdles. Clearly, if we achieved that, we would ensure that the input of healthcare professionals was still very much at the forefront of decision making. I urge the Minister to work with us as closely as possible on that, because that could be a valuable exercise that could be repeated elsewhere, perhaps in more isolated communities, and in places where the combination of healthcare and public service could achieve real public good and address public need.
I will not talk for much longer; I will just make a couple of other points briefly. I am grateful to you, Mr Hanson, for allowing me to speak at length.
I want to talk about digital solutions. Again, we are not the only part of Britain that is isolated, but clearly the Solent is a boundary and border for us. I find the situation slightly ridiculous. Yes, if people need to go to Southampton for an operation, that is great, but do they need to go there for every pre-op appointment? Do they need to go to Southampton or Portsmouth for every post-op appointment? We were talking about this earlier. We need to find the greatest centres of expertise in Britain and be able to buy in those services. Perhaps people can have their appointment in Southampton, Reading, London or Portsmouth, but can have their pre-op using digital technology—telemedicine. We need to be much more efficient in how we use that.
Again, we are not the only isolated part of Britain. However, I am offering the Island to NHS England as a pioneer in not only integrated services, but how we use advances in telemedicine and all those other wonderful things. Also relevant is data collection. The NHS does not use data terribly well, if I understand correctly. In relation to data for preventive medicine, we are small enough to be manageable. Social scientists love us because we are geographically isolated; we are clearly, in a very geographically obvious way, measurable. And for relatively small amounts of money, a great deal of learning could be done on the use of data in relation to preventive medicine, telemedicine and integration—the combining of health and adult social care.
As well as saying, “Please look at our funding”, because we have funding problems on the Island, we have special needs that have never, ever been recognised. I find the situation shocking, frankly. The Government, with the best will in the world, try to be fair. They fund the Scottish islands via the Scottish Government; they give them extra money. Anglesey has a bridge; the Scilly Isles have a small population anyway. However, the Government permanently function without taking into account my constituency. I know that they do not mean to do that, but our circumstances are unique, in that we are isolated by water, and that has never been recognised. When isolation factors are looked at, we never seem to qualify.
We are not properly funded, but we would like to be, and I would like the Government to look seriously at the struggle that some Islanders face in paying for the travel to the mainland when they go for treatment. I am offering the Government suggestions of ways in which the Island could be used as a test case, as a national leader, to integrate services better, to use data better and to combine all these functions, using telemedicine, to create a world-class service on the Island. That could be used not only to deliver great healthcare to my residents, but as a national role model for others.
It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) on securing the debate and on his very knowledgeable presentation of his constituents’ concerns and views. It is clear that health services on the Isle of Wight face challenges that, as he eloquently set out, are unique and require a tailored approach. However, there are similarities between the experiences that he reported and people’s experiences with health services throughout England.
When we think of the geography of England, there can be too little appreciation of the fact that England covers just five eighths of Great Britain, and includes more than 100 islands. Those islands are an intrinsic part of our nation, as you will know, Mr Hanson. Not too far from both our constituencies is Hilbre Island, which, although it has no resident population, is an important part of our area’s history and culture. Like Hilbre, the vast majority of islands do not have a permanent population. Most of those that do are connected to the mainland by road—examples are Canvey Island in Essex and Portsea Island in Hampshire—and, as a result, their healthcare services are very integrated with those of the surrounding areas.
As we have heard, however, there are islands, including the Isle of Wight, the Isles of Scilly and Holy Island, that are accessible only by sea and air, and they do not benefit from such ease of access. That poses serious challenges, particularly for the smaller islands, especially in emergencies, which of course cannot be planned for.
Before discussing the points made by the hon. Gentleman about the Isle of Wight, I will touch on the situation on some of the other islands in England. Many do not have their own medical facilities providing emergency care, because of their smaller populations. With the exception of the Isle of Wight, all our islands are served by NHS organisations based on the mainland. For those with road access, ambulances from the mainland can reach patients without undue difficulty. However, those without access have had to develop local approaches to providing support. Much of that support comes from volunteer community first responders, who reach patients before an ambulance can arrive to provide first aid.
On behalf of the Opposition, I pay tribute to all those who give their time to such services. They provide a vital lifeline in their communities. We do not speak enough about the role that volunteers play in our health service. I have seen for myself during a stint at my local ambulance station how volunteer responders can play an important role in assisting paid professionals. On that occasion, it was in a rural location, but the principles about access and timely intervention also apply there.
I understand that last year a volunteer first responder group was launched on Holy Island, which as we all know is inaccessible at high tide. Supported by the North East Ambulance Service, the group plays an extremely valuable role. There are similar groups across many of our islands.
In the time that I have served on the Front Bench, I have been privileged to visit several air ambulance services. They, too, play an extremely valuable role in providing urgent care in isolated areas. Again, much is down to efforts by volunteers and to fundraising, as they are of course charities. There was a reception at Parliament yesterday for the various regional air ambulances, and I was very pleased to see a great many parliamentarians attend to show their support. It is concerning to consider what the position would be for our island communities if those volunteer organisations were not involved.
Aside from the Isle of Wight, the Isles of Scilly are our most populous islands that can be accessed only by air or sea. Despite five of those islands being inhabited, there is just one minor injuries unit, at St Mary’s, so the island is hugely reliant on the five ambulance all-terrain vehicles that serve the island. Many non-emergency procedures have to take place on the mainland because of the need to access specialised treatment for conditions. The cost of accessing that treatment is usually met by the patient, when they are not in receipt of qualifying benefits. That can cause problems for a number of individuals.
As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight said, for those who live on the Isles of Scilly, a £5 concessionary fare on the Skybus to the mainland is available, but that covers the cost of the journey only from St Mary’s to Land’s End; there is the additional cost of the remainder of the journey. However, that is still a better situation than the hon. Gentleman’s constituents enjoy—or not, as the case may be. It was perfectly reasonable for him to raise that anomaly, which he described as an inequitable situation. He was also right to raise the issue of families travelling to the mainland. It is important that those faced with an extended stay in hospital have the support of family and friends.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight set out three main arguments to show that his constituents are in a different position. He believes that the Isle of Wight is underfunded generally when it comes to health services. He made the point that it is the only English island separated from the mainland by sea that is without any kind of subsidy for patient travel. He also expressed a desire to integrate public services, particularly health and social care. He raised a point about the extra cost of providing public services on the Island, because of reduced capacity; that was no surprise to hon. Members. He said that services such as A&E and maternity are needed on the Island, because it is not possible to travel to the mainland in every emergency. He set out very well how that sometimes creates diseconomies of scale, and problems that require more working with mainland providers.
The hon. Gentleman made comparisons with the funding increases for other CCGs in recent years. He expressed a desire for his constituency to become a national leader in integrating local services. He will be aware that up and down the country there are a great many plans at various stages of development. It is clear that many communities are heading in the direction of greater integration between health and social care. On that point, I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate in his response whether he believes there is any need for legislation to bolster this development, particularly in terms of safeguards around governance and standards.
Earlier this year, the Labour party conducted a coastal communities consultation, which extended to the islands. The issues we have discussed this morning are exactly the kind of things that a future Labour Government would be keen to look at. We have heard that the Isle of Wight is a unique island in our nation, with such a large population being dependent on ferries to get to the mainland. As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight set out, the Island’s unique status has led to a unique response, in terms of the configuration of health services. The Isle of Wight NHS Trust is the only integrated acute, community, mental health and ambulance healthcare provider in England. The hon. Gentleman wants to increase integration further. As we also heard, in addition to the geographical challenges, there are demographic issues on the Isle of Wight. Its proportion of residents aged 80-plus is above the national average. That has an additional impact on health and social care costs. The proportion of patients with dementia is double the national average.
In response to some of the unique challenges the Island is facing, a service reconfiguration is being planned through the Hampshire and Isle of Wight sustainability and transformation partnership. That involves 89% of current hospital-based care remaining on the Island, with 11% of more complex and specialist treatments being provided on the mainland. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman would like as many of those treatments as possible to be dealt with directly on the Island, and for his constituents not to have to travel to the mainland to access them. I appreciate that that will not always be achievable, but I seek the Minister’s assurances that he will consider the measures that can be put in place to support those patients who will have to travel, and will often be in a vulnerable condition as a result of that. Will he confirm that the changes proposed are based on clinical, rather than financial, priorities? Will he also confirm that proposals will not lead to a reduction in the overall number of beds on the Isle of Wight? The STP document states:
“There would be no change in capacity at St Mary’s until actual changes in activity are put in place”.
That suggests that there may be some reduction in bed numbers.
The Isle of Wight NHS Trust was again rated inadequate by the Care Quality Commission as recently as April, and it remains in special measures. No fewer than 233 incidents were reported in which the NHS was found to be failing to meet its obligations to residents of the Island. I would be grateful if the Minister said what he is doing to improve the trust’s performance. The report recognised that there were some improvements, although those can never come quickly enough.
Finally, while many of the challenges facing our health service on the islands are unique, there are also many similarities in the challenges we face. One of those similarities is in the financial pressures trusts are facing as a result of the longest and most sustained period of financial constraint the NHS has ever faced. As a result of that, performance has deteriorated. Take the example of the four-hour A&E target, which the Secretary of State described as being critical for safe care. In 2010-11, 99% of patients were seen within four hours on the Isle of Wight, whereas today that figure has fallen to 88%. Some 22% of Isle of Wight cancer patients wait more than two months for treatment, which, again, represents a significant deterioration. That is not uncommon within other parts of the NHS.
The financial challenges faced by the Isle of Wight NHS Trust are deeply concerning, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight set out, and I believe that they can be directly traced to years of austerity. As we have heard, the trust and the CCG will end the year in a significant deficit. The trust is having to take out more than £1.5 million in loans each month, which will have to be repaid. We have heard reference to the additional funding announcements made by the Prime Minister last week. We should acknowledge that those funding announcements, if they are delivered on, will represent nothing more than a standstill position, rather than an improvement on the current situation. It has also been confirmed that social care, capital spending and public health are excluded from that announcement.
In conclusion, I thank the hon. Member for Isle of Wight for the impressive way he set out the issues facing his constituents, and the unique challenges that face those on the Isle of Wight and our other islands. Giving the NHS the funding that it needs is at the core of all that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) for raising the issue in the way that he has. He has used Westminster Hall exactly as it should be used—to bring the concerns of his constituents front and centre before the House. He set out not only the challenges faced, but the ways forward and a number of solutions for different issues. In short, he raised issues of funding that relate to population and geography, travel, the potential for further integration, and also a way forward involving digital and data. I will address each of those in turn.
This is also a timely debate, as the shadow Minister mentioned, following the Prime Minister’s announcement at the Royal Free Hospital last week of a significant funding boost to the NHS. Alongside that, NHS leaders are drafting a long-term, 10-year plan on services, which will look at many of the issues he cited in his speech. As we start that journey with NHS leaders, bringing the issues of the Isle of Wight front and centre is timely and helpful.
I would segment the funding formula issue into two: the challenges that the Island has in common with other parts of the country, such as those posed by the over-80s and by the significant number of constituents with dementia, and those that are unique to it. Indeed, few hon. Members feel that their constituents’ circumstances do not merit being higher up the funding formula than they currently sit. It is valid to raise those issues, and NHS England will look at them on the advice of the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation, which advises on the funding formula. Those decisions are common to other areas, but they need to be made in respect of the Island. If my hon. Friend wishes, I am happy to facilitate a meeting with NHS England so the funding pressures pertaining to the demography of the Island can be raised. He will recognise that the setting of the funding formula is an independent process.
There are specific issues about the geography that my hon. Friend raised very well, not least about maternity services and paediatrics. The Island needs to supply those services and that will have an impact on its funding. I am happy to look at those issues. Integration is one way that headroom will be facilitated to meet those challenges. As he said, the Island was a vanguard site that has received £8.4 million of extra funding since 2015 to facilitate the transformation of services. That funding recognised some of the Island’s specific geographical challenges.
Although geography can be, and is in certain areas, a disadvantage and a driver of cost, it is also a driver of opportunity, as my hon. Friend set out. The Island has a strong sense of place and identity, and there are strong personal links between key decision makers and stakeholders. As the shadow Minister rightly said, the move towards greater integration between health and social care—as is reflected in the name of the Department—is also an opportunity to drive integration between the council and health services. My hon. Friend alluded to the bureaucratic obstacles to that, and I am happy to work with him to overcome them. As patients present with multiple conditions and as we move away from silos of care to a more holistic approach to patients and their wellbeing, the Island offers a huge opportunity for greater integration.
On my hon. Friend’s point about data, I had an interesting meeting yesterday with the chief executive of the Christie in Manchester, which is one of our outstanding trusts. I was struck by the fact that 19% of its patients take part in medical research programmes. The chief executive set out how that is hugely beneficial to the trust and to the patients, who get access to cutting-edge drugs and the latest thinking. He has also been able to attract some of the world-leading figures in research because he has a population that researchers can work for, which is very attractive to them. That is a real win-win, and the demographics of the Island offer an opportunity in that regard.
One point that I did not make was that when it comes to looking at dementia, the Island would be very open to becoming a national leader or a place where academics and researchers could investigate how we can live better with dementia in this country. We have double the national average of people with dementia, so it would be a natural fit for us.
I am keen to work with my hon. Friend on that, because the Government have prioritised their research and development budget, as I know from my time at the Treasury. A significant investment has also been made in health R&D. The NHS has an opportunity to combine its patient data with our world-leading universities and R&D to attract researchers, drive forward the most innovative approach on healthcare and translate that cutting-edge research into day-to-day care. That can be a frustration for our constituents; it is fine to have the research, but we need to roll it out to scale in a way that is meaningful for patients. The challenge of the Island’s geography is also a huge advantage to it. I do not know what percentage of its patients are taking part in research, but that may be an area for him to explore and for the Department to work with him on.
My hon. Friend also raised the potential of digital. He will be aware that the Secretary of State has asked Dr Eric Topol, one of the world leaders on the use of digital in healthcare, to undertake a report for the Department. My hon. Friend is right that rather than a patient having to be physically present in all instances, as was traditionally the case, there is scope to use digital much more for them to see a consultant online and for information to be sent digitally. I recognise that if the clinical commissioning group is in deficit, finding the headroom to invest in that technology becomes a trade-off and a challenge, but that is one of the opportunities that will be opened up by the Prime Minister’s investment in the NHS and it is an area that the 10-year forward view will specifically examine.
In terms of timing, the Island has a chance to look at how it can become a leader, what has been done with digital enablers and early adopters in the NHS, and in which areas it can lead on in technology. I will come on to the challenges of travel, but reducing the need for journeys is a more sustainable solution than seeking to subsidise them. Our starting point should be how we can use technology to reduce the need for as many journeys, rather than how we can subsidise more journeys. That offers significant scope.
On travel, I heard my hon. Friend’s remarks about the cost and its wider impact on families. There is a correlation with a separate debate we have had about car parking charges. Clearly, there are specific challenges related to travel, but as he also set out, it is quite complex, because there are already arrangements with the ferry companies and national schemes for subsidies and assistance that can be given to people who are financially challenged. It is a question of looking at how we can fit in with the existing schemes and what agreements can be reached with the companies concerned. I am happy to meet him to pick up on that specific point to better understand our current approach and what can be done, given the challenges. Again, the challenge of distance is not unique to the Island, but as he mentioned, there are certain features of travel to the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles that pose challenges.
As my hon. Friend will be aware, the NHS healthcare travel cost scheme provides financial help for travel costs for patients on low incomes who are referred. The scheme is part of the NHS’s low-income scheme, under which people are also entitled to free prescriptions and glasses. Under the scheme, the full cost of transport can be reimbursed by the NHS to eligible patients. Schemes are in place, but I hear the wider points that he has raised and I am happy to discuss them with him.
In short, my hon. Friend has set out that the Isle of Wight is ideally placed to be at the vanguard of the NHS’s approach as we move forward with the 10-year forward view, in embracing digital and integration and in looking at how to deliver place-based commissioning most effectively. There are some specific challenges with regard to its population and its geography in terms of travel. The interplay of those two things is another challenge in terms of efficiencies of scale and the services that are considered essential on the Island, which may be dealt with at a larger-population level elsewhere.
In the NHS more widely, as we move to a hub-and-spoke model and to more flexible population sizes, and as we look at place-based commissioning, the Isle of Wight has huge potential to be at the forefront, as my hon. Friend has set out. I am very happy to follow up this debate by meeting my hon. Friend, and to facilitate a discussion between him and NHS England, to ensure that we deliver what he has campaigned passionately for—the best healthcare for residents of the Island—and that the significant investment set out by the Prime Minister is maximised for his constituents.
The shadow Minister quite reasonably asked whether we were open to changes to the legislation. As he will be aware, the Prime Minister said to the NHS leadership in her remarks at the Royal Free Hospital that we are open to such suggestions if NHS leaders feel that changes are necessary. As part of the workings of the long-term plan, those leaders will need to look at what they need, and whether much of the integration—I know that the Mayor of Manchester supports the integration that is taking place in Manchester—can be done under existing legislation, or whether changes are needed, and if so, what those are. That will be part of the discussions with Simon Stevens and others in the weeks and months ahead.
Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games: Shooting
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the removal of shooting sports from Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I would like to push forward with the efforts started by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—I am pleased to see him present—to make the case for the reinstatement of shooting sports at the 2022 Commonwealth games in Birmingham. I have picked up many of the points raised during his Adjournment debate, and I will expand on them in the wake of the home nations’ phenomenal performance at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games this year.
The decision not to include shooting in the 2022 Commonwealth games in Birmingham has left many in the UK, particularly in my constituency, confused and unhappy. The matter is of particular importance to a constituent of mine, David McMath, a 21-year-old young man who recently won gold in the men’s double trap competition at the games this year. He set a games record with a total of 74—four ahead of his nearest rival, Tim Kneale from the Isle of Man, who took silver.
Without a doubt, shooting is a source of extreme national pride for the home nations of the United Kingdom, as it is one of our strongest sports. In fact, we are the second strongest group in shooting events and managed to collect 38% of the medals on offer this year. Not adding shooting to the 2022 games has taken away 57 medal opportunities. Every one of the home nations and Channel Islands participated in the shooting events, which proves the sport’s popularity. In fact, it was the only sport for which the Isle of Man won a medal this year. Given that England came second in the medals table for the past three games, it seems odd and counterproductive that shooting has been removed from the programme.
The Birmingham organisers cited venue issues as the reason not to include shooting in 2022, stating that the only suitable venue would be Bisley, which, at 130 miles from Birmingham, is too far away.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene so early in his speech. The notion that Bisley is too far away is simply nonsensical. It was upgraded for the Commonwealth games a number of years ago and is a perfect, ready-made and ready-prepared venue for these events. In addition to the fact that we have lots of medal opportunities in shooting, it is a totally egalitarian sport. People with disabilities, and people of different genders and abilities can compete on the same basis; there is no better sport to demonstrate that.
My hon. Friend makes a number of excellent points and he will be pleased to know that I will cover them all. As I have said, the organisers said that Bisley, at 130 miles from Birmingham, is too far away. They also claimed that it would be too expensive to renovate Bisley. That argument has little merit when we consider that they decided to use the London velodrome track for cycling, which is 135 miles away.
As my hon. Friend has said, Bisley shooting ground was deemed adequate for the Commonwealth games held in Manchester in 2002. Manchester is significantly further north than Birmingham, at a total of 215 miles from Bisley.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on a topic that we are all interested in. The fact that more of those who participated in the Adjournment debate are not here does not mean it is any less of a concern today. Does he agree that the removal of shooting sports from the Birmingham games appears to have more to do with misconceptions about the sport than with a lack of facilities? Will he join me in sincerely urging the Minister to use her influence—I know she is keen to do so—to incorporate this very popular and successful sport into the schedule before it is too late?
The hon. Gentleman makes very good points and I agree with him.
Manchester used Bisley in 2002, although it is 215 miles from the shooting ground. I therefore argue that it can be done and that Bisley can provide the required facilities. I concede that Bisley is not in tip-top condition, but the venue remains fully operational and would require only light modernisation to bring it up to scratch. With 95% of the competition venues already in place, minor refurbishment of the Bisley shooting ground would not add an unfeasible workload to the games organisers.
A second solution is to build a new site alongside the new national shooting centre for which UK Sport and British Shooting are currently securing funding and planning permission. If the organisers of the Birmingham games were to link funding to the national governing body, it would be a fantastic opportunity to ensure that the games leave a lasting legacy.
Shooting is currently on a list of optional sports, from which the host city must choose seven. The organisers of Birmingham 2022 have opted to include table tennis, for which England has only ever won 15 medals. That pales in comparison with the 168 medals won for shooting. They have also opted for 3x3 basketball, which is a novelty in the Commonwealth games. I think shooting is a more important sport.
Given that I have just presented a counter-argument and an alternative option to the venue issue cited by the Birmingham organisers, I see no logical reason why England would want to cheat herself of a significant number of medals by removing shooting from the agenda.
Shooting has been on the Commonwealth games agenda at every games bar 1970. It was originally introduced in 1966 and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) has said, it is one of the most diverse and inclusive sports on offer. Two of the 13 shooting events —the fullbore rifle competitions—are open to men and women. They are the only competitions at the Commonwealth games in which men and women compete equally on an open field. The sport gets people of all backgrounds out and competing. Competitors do not have to be incredibly fit to be active in the sport, which means that people can compete in it for longer. At this year’s games on the Gold Cost, Scotland had two medallists, a man and a woman, aged 21, and two medallists, also a man and a woman, over the age of 50. There was even a competitor from Canada who was in his 80s.
In the spirit of inclusivity, it is worth mentioning that, for many of the small Commonwealth nations, such as Cyprus, Malta, the Falkland Islands, Niue, Norfolk Island and Papa New Guinea, shooting is a dominant sport. Without shooting, some of those nations would not be able to send teams to the games at all. Norfolk Island only sent shooters and bowlers to the 2018 Gold Cost games, and the Turks and Caicos Islands only sent teams for shooting and athletics. To remove shooting from the games would possibly be to deny those small nations access to the competition altogether.
This debate has taken on an international flavour, as I have been contacted by the Crown Prince of Patiala, India, His Highness Raninder Singh, who is also president of the National Rifle Association of India. He stresses how important it is for his country to be involved. I have also had support from Lord Bilimoria, who is in Kenya and has similar strong feelings.
Let me also highlight the impact that this decision would have on India’s medal standing. India is the largest member state, and shooting sports contributed to 24% of the medals she won at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games. At the previous games in Glasgow, 23% of her medals came from shooting sports. Not to include shooting sports in Birmingham will deny India the ability to maximise and showcase her shooting athletes’ skills, which have enabled them to secure the No. 1 position in shooting in the past two games.
Birmingham was only recently announced as the host of the 2022 games. Although I am obviously pleased for the city, it should be noted that the original host, Durban, had confirmed that shooting would be on the agenda. The sudden removal of the sport will deprive the home nations not only of the chance to excel on the medal table but of the opportunity to test their skills on an international stage before the Olympic games in 2024.
The support for the shooting competitions only increases with each games. That is highlighted by 38 of 72 nations competing in the sport at this year’s Gold Coast games. Additionally, the Shooting Times recently launched a petition to get shooting back on the agenda for 2022, and in just four months it has already been signed by more than 60,000 people. To include shooting sports in 2022 will have the threefold effect of boosting the home nations’ performances in the medal table, offering a more diverse and inclusive competition, and creating a forum for the numerous shooting athletes who use the Commonwealth games as a stepping stone to the Olympics.
Therefore, for the reasons I have outlined, I urge the organisers of the Birmingham Commonwealth games to reconsider their decision and to reinstate shooting on the agenda.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) for leading today’s debate, which follows the recent Adjournment debate tabled by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) for his intervention. He contributed to the Adjournment debate, and he made a powerful point about the egalitarian nature of the sport.
This is clearly a matter that invokes much passion and is of personal interest to a number of Members across the whole House and their constituents. I am happy to confirm right at the outset that both the Secretary of State and I support the request for the Birmingham games to include shooting, but I should explain our limitations as Ministers of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the other challenges that need to be overcome.
First, let us remind ourselves of the phenomenal success of shooting at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, hosted at the Royal Artillery barracks. The tears of joy of double trap gold medallist Peter Wilson were a lasting image of the emotion felt by dedicated athletes at the top of their sport. His success was followed by incredible performances at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games by our home nation athletes. They returned from Australia with an impressive 21 medals —22 including the medal won for the Isle of Man. The athletes included David McMath, who won gold in the double trap and, as has been mentioned, is a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway. I am sure that Members will join me in recognising and applauding the efforts of our athletes on the international sporting stage. It is a testament to the efforts of these athletes, and to the wider high-performance sporting framework in the UK, that British athletes continue to produce medal-winning performances that inspire us all.
Being the next host city for the Commonwealth games will bring a huge number of positive opportunities to the city of Birmingham, the wider west midlands and the UK as a whole. They will showcase to the world the best of Britain as a destination for international trade, provide new economic growth and social benefits and maximise legacy opportunities for the west midlands. Government have been working closely with their partners Birmingham City Council, Commonwealth Games England, West Midlands Combined Authority and the Commonwealth Games Federation to begin preparations. The process to set up the board of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth games organising committee is well under way.
Hosting the games is a significant undertaking that, despite presenting enormous opportunities for Birmingham and the UK, must be done within the requirements of the Commonwealth Games Federation and in a pragmatic way. As custodians of public funds, we must recognise that any changes to the sport programme agreed by games partners will have a financial implication. It is our duty to ensure that the event is delivered in a cost-effective way. As my hon. Friend and hon. Members who contributed to the Adjournment debate will be aware, the host city is bound by regulations that prescribe the delivery of 16 core sports. Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway said, table tennis is a core sport, not an optional sport. In addition, the host city is able to select a small number of sports from the optional list, of which shooting is one.
Shooting is one of the top five most popular sports among participating Commonwealth nations and territories. At Glasgow 2014, more than 350 athletes represented 39 nations and territories. At Gold Coast 2018, 281 athletes from 38 nations and territories took part in the shooting disciplines. I am conscious of my hon. Friend’s point that large Commonwealth countries such as India participate in shooting, but so do very small nations, who contribute a great deal. The list of nations and territories that participated in Glasgow and in Gold Coast include Norfolk Island and Niue, which my hon. Friend mentioned. I am trying to work out whether they are the two smallest; Norfolk Island has a population of about 1,700 people, yet it had eight athletes competing in the shooting discipline at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games.
When selecting optional sports, the games partners should take into account the delivery of a diverse sport programme that will appeal to spectators domestically and abroad; hosting a sport programme that features gender equity and appropriate para-sport inclusion; sport operational staging costs; and the existence of suitable, well-located venues.
Although I hear what my hon. Friend says about Bisley and the London velodrome being equidistant, by the time the games take place, the Bisley venue will be nearly 20 years old. Advancements in the sport and the scale of the events in shooting dictate that the upgrade would incur significant costs. Satellite accommodation would also be required. I understand his point about the geographical aspects—that is not necessarily the argument in this case—but there is a cost incurred. He and the hon. Member for Strangford, who are passionate about shooting, will, I am sure, appreciate that if we are to host a shooting event, we must have the best venue, to attract the world’s best shooters.
The Minister says that Bisley is 20 years old; it has been 20 years since its last refurbishment, but it is much older than that. As a teenager, I shot at Bisley, so I can assure the Minister it is a lot older. It is not a significant cost to bring it up to standard. Could the Minister speak to the games organisers, to put some form of costing in place and to assess generally how expensive it would be to go to Bisley? My understanding is that there is not much to do.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s clarification, but it is not just about the cost; it could also be about the accommodation. We are looking at the issue and, as I said at the outset, the Secretary of State and I both support the inclusion of shooting, but as core partners in the delivery of the Commonwealth games, we must ensure we deliver a cost-effective games. These are not necessarily challenges that we cannot overcome, but they are challenges.
Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in the Minister’s response. Bisley is a world-renowned championship venue for many events. The skeletal frame is in place, but if some edges need to be sharpened—if accommodation needs to be arranged and some other small things need to be done—that is not impossible. It is an acceptable venue, and a wee bit more effort would make it conform to all requirements. Surely we should do our best to make that happen.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman or with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway, but there are logistical and cost challenges. They are not necessarily ones that we cannot overcome, and both Members are right to place their points on the record, to ensure that anyone reading this debate, particularly from the Commonwealth Games Federation, understands that there is a real desire to support everybody in overcoming the challenges.
I thank the Minister for her detailed response. The point about the accommodation could be a spurious argument from the games organisers, because the athletes competing in the other sports that replace shooting will still need accommodation. Whether that is near Bisley or Birmingham, there is still a cost. There may be an opportunity cost, but it is not a saving in real terms.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We can further discuss the assumptions in his point after the debate.
In selecting optional sports, the games partners have to take into account the four considerations I just outlined, while complying with the athlete and team official quota restrictions set by the Commonwealth Games Federation, which is one of the assumptions my hon. Friend alluded to. The games partners have developed a sport programme that includes 3x3 basketball and 3x3 para-basketball, track cycling and para-track cycling, mountain biking, diving, rhythmic gymnastics and para-triathlon.
I will have to disagree slightly with my hon. Friend about the value of some of those optional sports, which are popular within particular communities that we are trying to engage in sport. In looking at an overall sporting programme, we must ensure that we are inspiring a large number of people across all sectors of society. More than 2 million people in the UK regularly participate in the sports I just listed, and the home nations collected 37 medals from those events on the Gold Coast.
I do, however, understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I sympathise with his position. Shooting’s popularity across the Commonwealth nations and territories, from the largest nation to the smallest, is enormous, and the home nations have had a particularly strong track record at previous games.
In recognition of that and of the value that shooting brings to the games, the Secretary of State and I are exploring with games partners the potential for including shooting in the sport programme. However, I stress that that decision is beyond our remit, and we have an enormous challenge, in that Birmingham was awarded the games with just 4.5 years to deliver, rather than the usual seven years. While I have no doubt that the city will deliver an outstanding event, despite that timeframe, a number of practical considerations must be taken into account to ensure that the games are delivered successfully. While planning for the games continues, we continue to invest in shooting and its athletes’ medal-winning aspirations. Colleagues will be pleased to hear that UK Sport is providing £6.9 million of funding for the Tokyo 2020 shooting performance cycle and £2.5 million for para-shooting.
The Government support the notion of shooting being included, and will work with partners to overcome logistical challenges, if required. We will continue to work with games partners. In the meantime, I am sure my hon. Friend and others will join me in supporting all those involved to ensure the delivery of a fantastic Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth games.
Question put and agreed to.
[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of the Scottish economy.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main, and to bring such an important and timely debate to the House. I am pleased to see so many colleagues here, although I am disappointed that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales is the only Government Minister who could join us. I know the Government take a rather apathetic view of devolution these days—[Interruption.]
I must point out that this is a debate about the Scottish economy, so I am not sure whether the presence of the Minister, albeit welcome, is an indication of diary conflicts, or that we are all the same in the eyes of the UK Government. It would have been nice to see someone from the Scotland Office or perhaps a Treasury Minister here to answer the debate.
It has been 10 years since the financial crisis, and in an ideal world we would be looking back on the crisis from a renewed position of strength, with the fundamentals of our economy strong, and with optimism for the future. Sadly, that is not where we find ourselves. Following a decade of economic mismanagement of Scotland by the Scottish National party and Conservative Governments, Scotland’s economy has failed to recover to above pre-crisis levels in a number of areas. The fundamentals of the economy are structurally unsound, with built-in constraints on future growth, and we appear to be trapped between two economic futures: one a Tory hard Brexit, the other supercharged austerity under the SNP’s growth commission.
The Scottish people have lost a decade of economic growth. Under the projections of the Scottish Fiscal Commission, that lost decade threatens to turn into a generation. However, I remain optimistic, because there is a third way: a Labour vision for the economy—an economy driven by investment, not cuts, and a vision that has an optimistic outlook for the Scottish economy, rather than one of managed decline. Today, I will set out where the Scottish economy stands; the two visions before us as posed by the UK and Scottish Governments; and the third way offered by the Labour party.
Ten years on from the financial crisis, the Scottish economy is in a difficult position. Economic growth remains heavily stagnant. GDP growth in Scotland has averaged out at less than 1% per year since the financial crisis, while the rest of the UK has done only slightly better. Unfortunately, things are not expected to get much better, because the Scottish Fiscal Commission does not expect growth to rise above 1% until after at least 2023. If that is the case, Scotland’s economy will not just have been at a standstill for a decade, but will have remained in the freezer for a generation.
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the consequence of this slow growth in our economy is that an estimated £1.7 billion projected to be raised in tax will not be raised at all, and that we will have a deficit in the revenue that is expected to fund the public services we all depend on?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. We have a serious issue with how we expect to finance public spending in Scotland, and I will come on to that later.
Unfortunately, the story is the same when we turn to productivity. While the productivity puzzle on these islands has been a problem for both Scotland and the rest of the UK, the most recent figures show that in Scotland the puzzle is even more complex, and while UK productivity has risen by 0.7%, trend productivity in Scotland is zero. On key indicators for growing our economy and making our workers more productive, the SNP Government have an even poorer track record than the UK Government. That means that the country is not reaching its full potential, and the average person’s wages are being squeezed more and more. In the real world, in terms of how far towards the end of the month people’s pay reaches, when it comes to buying food, paying bills and socialising, the average Scot is worse off now than they were 10 years ago and is doing worse than the UK average.
The hon. Gentleman makes a point about take-home pay and how much workers have in their pay packets, but when the SNP and Scottish Parliament announced their “Nat Tax”, his Labour colleagues in the Scottish Parliament argued that it did not go high enough. They wanted to take greater taxes off the hard-working Scots. How can he complain about how much people are taking home in their pay packets, when he wants to increase tax and take more money out of those pay packets?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments; I know we have very different views on tax and spend, and I do not think we will resolve them here.
To add to all that, Scotland is more unequal than ever. The wealth disparity means that the average household would need to save every penny of their income for 43 years to enter the top 10% of wealthiest Scots. A failure to increase wages, build more houses or spread wealth means that the most significant factor in determining whether a person will own their own home or secure a top-tier job is not their skills and talents, but who their parents are and where they live. A Scotland where circumstances of birth will take people further than their skills and talents is not the kind of country we should aspire to be, but that is the situation we find ourselves in.
Despite those facts, the vision put forward by our governing parties is not for the radical transformation that is clearly needed. On one side, one of Scotland’s Governments supports a damaging Brexit policy that will cut the ties of Scotland and the rest of the UK to the EU’s internal markets and the customs union. The Fraser of Allander Institute has modelled that with each degree of separation from those two tenets of the EU, Scotland will be more and more damaged. Scotland faces being between 2% and 5% worse off in GDP terms as a result of this Tory Brexit, while in the worst of cases, under a no-deal Brexit, in which we default to World Trade Organisation rules, wage growth will go into reverse, the economy will shrink and, most worryingly, Scotland’s successful food and drinks exporting industry could suffer as much as a 26% reduction in trade.
Thank you, Mrs Main. The Labour party position is quite clearly putting jobs and the economy first. If the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) intends to contribute to this debate, perhaps he can explain why it is very important for Scotland’s economy to remain in the European Union but his party wants to take us out of the United Kingdom. That is something I would find difficult to square.
The UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Fraser of Allander Institute have all warned of serious damage to Scotland’s economy as the result of a no-deal Brexit. Worryingly, recently it has seemed that some members of the Conservative party believe that that is an acceptable outcome. In no circumstances should any public representative be recommending that that risk be taken in pursuit of gains that, in my view, are vastly outweighed by the negatives.
On the other side of the equation we have the SNP Government, who have produced a growth commission to set out how they want to see Scotland’s economy grow in the future. In 2015 and 2017, the SNP stood on a manifesto that claimed that it was anti-austerity. The publication of the growth commission and the endorsement of its policies by the First Minister should represent the day when the mask slipped and the SNP was shown to be the party of austerity that we know it to be.
In the growth commission, the Scottish Government propose reducing Scotland’s budget deficit through an approach that would see spending on public services and benefits fall by about 4% of GDP over a decade. Compare that with the policies of the Conservative UK Government, as set out by the Office for Budget Responsibility. The UK Government’s projections see spending on public services and benefits over a five-year period, from 2018-19 to 2022-23, falling by 0.9% of GDP. The plans set out by the SNP in the growth commission would mean the Scottish Government cutting public expenditure on public services and benefits close to five times faster than this Conservative UK Government.
In its model for the future of an independent Scottish economy, the SNP has given up on monetary policy as a tool for stimulating the economy. By not proposing a new currency and by setting public spending and borrowing targets that even George Osborne would have considered ambitious, the SNP has baked serious public spending cuts into its preferred future economic model. Relying on fiscal policy alone to reduce Government debt and budget deficits, they will have to introduce spending cuts, raise taxes or do a combination of both. That is the dictionary definition of austerity.
Those are the most optimistic of figures. The IFS says that, with an ageing population adding to the pressures on the health, social care and state pension budgets, keeping to the growth commission’s targets would likely require cuts to many public services, with the commission not taking the time to spell out exactly where the axe would fall and who would lose out as a consequence. Furthermore, the IFS also said what all know to be true:
“It is also inconsistent to claim that these plans do not amount to austerity but the UK government’s current policy does”,
particularly while the growth commission’s plans
“imply slightly slower real growth in spending than the UK Government is currently implementing.”
I am sure that the SNP will not cease to call itself the anti-austerity party, even after the growth commission’s publication. However, the facts speak for themselves. These are empty calls and stolen clothing. The growth commission is most disappointing because of its lack of ambition. The two Governments of Scotland have produced plans for the future of the Scottish economy that leave much to be desired, and it is therefore up to the Labour party to present a true alternative.
The Scottish economy has three core structural problems: stagnant GDP growth, low productivity and demographic challenges caused by a projected significant increase in the over-65 population and a shrinking in the relative size of the economically active population. Labour has a vision to address all three problems. The problems of growth and productivity cannot be separated; they are twin problems. The Scottish labour market is strong—we have a relatively low unemployment rate by European standards, and an exceptionally low youth unemployment rate.
However, while unemployment has decreased over the years, wages have stagnated and economic output has not matched the increase in the labour force that would usually be expected. That is because, while jobs have been created, they are predominantly low-skill, low-wage jobs that have not helped to accelerate growth; nor have they been productive enough to increase wages. By introducing a minimum wage of £10 per hour, we can reverse the trend of low wages and encourage investment to improve labour productivity. If we increase the minimum wage, companies will have to invest in technology and training to improve the output of their workforce to match the demands they are under. No longer will low-wage, gig economy jobs serve to undercut the advantages of investment.
The hon. Gentleman talks about raising the minimum wage, which is a laudable aim for us all to strive for. However, we are talking about Scotland’s economy, and he will of course realise that this area of economic policy is reserved to the UK Government, so this is not in the gift of the Scottish Government to enforce.
Perhaps the hon. Lady will tell us in her remarks how her party intends to change employment law, if it is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
Scotland suffers from under-investment. While the Scottish Government have produced many investment packages, they are often too small, too numerous and too unfocused to deliver the outcomes they are set up to achieve. Those are not my words but the conclusions of recent reports by the Fraser of Allander Institute and the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee.
Under the current Scottish Government, we have had economic development plans governed by press release. Labour proposes real investment to correct the problems of stagnant labour productivity and GDP growth. We aim to stimulate investment more widely through a national plan that focuses long-term investment on local and national infrastructure, such as information, communication, services and production technologies, as well as in physical infrastructure, such as roads, buildings and town and city centres. That will not only correct the decade of under-investment that led to the productivity problem, but begin the vital future-proofing of the Scottish workforce against the challenges of automation and increasing digitalisation.
Furthermore, we plan to examine the possibility of public sector pension funds using their resources to establish a Scottish public provident fund, which could invest in local production and infrastructure, boost local supply chains and stimulate employment.
We will implement our industrial strategy and invest in Scotland’s economy. We will also encourage and incentivise firms in Scotland to raise the percentage of turnover invested in research and development. Scotland is only ninth in the UK in R&D spend per head, so such measures are sorely needed and will be vital in solving the productivity puzzle. Those kinds of investments will encourage the growth of new industries. An excellent example of that is CST Global in my constituency—a photonics manufacturer that I believe represents the future of jobs in Scotland.
CST Global has shown itself to be a significantly high-growth, high-skill business. It has sustained strong annual growth, with revenues increasing by 88% in a year to £6.7 million in 2017. It is a strong exporter, and the photonics industry is one of the UK’s most productive. On average, each employee in the sector contributes £62,000 to the economy in gross value per year—three times the UK average. These companies also have some of the highest export rates of any industry, exporting an average of 75% of their manufactured output.
Such companies are often city-based, and we would not typically expect them to be found in smaller towns, such as Blantyre in my constituency. However, CST Global has proven that that need not be the case; when conditions are right, those companies can not only do well but thrive in these places. CST Global is very welcome in Blantyre. Supporting such businesses is central to the investment-based economic model. If we want to see the future of the Scottish economy defined by high-skill, high-wage and high-tech jobs, we have to invest.
If the hon. Gentleman is genuinely interested in growing the Scottish economy, he should support the devolution of powers to set VAT and national insurance rates, and to collect fuel duties, capital gains tax, interest on dividends and export duties, as well as all the other powers that the Scottish Parliament does not possess and is therefore unable to use to grow our economy.
It is nice to see that both the hon. Lady and her favourite pantomime villains have turned up to continue the set-to that we often see in the Chamber. I am here to make a speech on what I believe is right for the Scottish economy. She will clearly disagree on several areas, and she can set those out in her remarks. As always for SNP Members, independence is the answer, no matter the question. I am surprised to hear SNP Members now talk about devolution so much, given that they have always opposed it. [Interruption.]
Order. This is becoming somewhat intolerable. No respect is being shown to the hon. Gentleman, who is trying to make his speech. This is not a conversation among Members; it is a debate, which will be held in the proper manner. I ask all colleagues to respect the hon. Members making speeches and to keep their remarks to themselves or to voice them in the proper manner—through interventions.
Thank you, Mrs Main. While we invest in a productive workforce, we must also attract talent to fill those spaces. All of Scotland’s population growth from 2016 to 2041 will derive from inward migration, as deaths will outnumber births in each year. Brexit therefore presents a risk, as it could reduce inward migration from the EU. However, even without Brexit, population growth is too slow and lags behind that of other parts of the UK, both in terms of birth and death rates, and through inward migration. We can correct that by supporting a needs-based immigration system. It is simply unhelpful to focus on an abstract number, as the UK Government are doing—or are failing to do.
However, we must also build the communities that attract the best talent. That is why we have called on the Scottish and UK Governments to get on with the completion of the city deals projects. People move to cities and communities. The delivery of more than £1 billion of funding and the devolution of further powers will allow our cities and communities to make themselves attractive to international talent on their own terms, rather than having terms dictated by Holyrood or Westminster.
Overall, 83% of Scotland’s population—4.5 million people—live in areas covered by existing or planned city region deals. That is a huge amount of talent and aspiration to be unlocked, and we simply cannot wait any longer. However, those deals have been bogged down as both the Scottish and UK Governments cannot bring themselves together to settle the matter. We have seen in the wrangling over the devolution settlement that the SNP and Conservative party can lock themselves in disagreement if it is politically opportune to do so; dare I say that we have seen that today? However, the people of Scotland should not be punished because of the narrow interests of the two governing parties.
In conclusion, Scotland has lost a decade of economic progress under its two Governments. If nothing changes, this decade threatens to turn into a generation of stagnation. However, an opportunity exists to turn this around, and the pathway to growth is best fulfilled by an investment-based economic model.
It is a pleasure to serve under your direction, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) on securing this important debate on a matter that is close to my and many of my colleagues’ hearts.
I will begin by looking at some of the statistical indicators for Scotland’s current economic performance, starting with GDP. Scotland’s GDP was 1.7% in 2015; it plummeted to 0.2% in 2016 and rose marginally, to 0.4%, in 2017. In comparison, UK GDP was 2.3% in 2015, 1.9% in 2016 and 1.8% in 2017. The employment rate in Scotland in the first three months of 2018 was 75.2%, compared with a UK rate of 75.6%. The unemployment rate in Scotland was 4.3%, slightly higher than the UK rate of 4.2%, over the same period.
Not just now. According to figures provided by the House of Commons Library, the unemployment rate for my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire is 0.5% higher than the UK unemployment rate. Meanwhile, the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s predicted growth rate for Scotland is 0.7% in 2018, 0.8% in 2019 and 0.9% thereafter until 2022. In comparison, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast the UK growth rate to be 1.5% this year, 1.3% next year and to rise thereafter to 1.5% over the same period.
The more observant among us will have noticed that for every single one of those economic statistics, Scotland lags behind the UK in terms of economic performance. However, it is not just in GDP, employment and unemployment rates or forecast growth that that is the case. Scotland’s median weekly earnings are also lower than those of the UK. When it comes to small business confidence, Scotland lags about 23 percentage points behind the UK. Meanwhile, Scotland has higher public sector expenditure per head yet lower public sector revenue per head than the UK. Put simply, Scottish taxpayers are not getting value for money from their public sector.
Under the guidance of the SNP, the Scottish economy has grown at half the UK rate. It has failed to meet its targets to match the UK GDP growth rate and succeeded only in overseeing the slowest growth rate of any country in the EU.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that the responsibility for the growth of all the nations of the UK sits firmly with him?
That is why we are having a debate in this place—because growth is the responsibility of the United Kingdom. The problem is the claims of the SNP Administration that they champion economic growth in Scotland. Scottish Enterprise is devolved. Much of the tourism is devolved. The scream for powers has meant that so many levers have been denied to this place and put into Edinburgh. Although I agree that accountability —[Interruption.] If you want to make an intervention, stand up and make one, madam.
I am just going to repeat what I said before: the setting of VAT rates, national insurance, fuel duties, capital gains tax are not devolved to the Scottish Parliament and therefore can have no impact on the economic powers that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.
The hon. Lady repeats the point, and it is as weak as it was the first time.
The Scottish economy is not forecast to grow by more than 1% at any stage over the next five years. As a result, the Scottish economy will be more than £18 billion smaller by 2022. It is not helped one iota by any devolved power, whereas in this place we have been trying to help the Scottish economy.
Does my hon. Friend agree with the conclusion of the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee of the Scottish Parliament, which includes, I think, four or five SNP Members? It states:
“If we are to reverse this trend then the Scottish Government must use all of the levers at its disposal to bring a sharper focus on growing the economy, and ensuring that growth is inclusive.”
That is something they are failing to do currently.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention; I could not agree more. One point on which I do agree with the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West is that Scotland has two levels of government—one in Edinburgh and one in Westminster—and they should work together productively to try to improve Scotland’s economic performance, which lags behind that of the UK. As a Member who has just negotiated a city deal for his region, I can say honestly, hand on heart, that the two levels of government are not working well together. The relationship is dysfunctional; it does not work. Powers are being hoarded in Edinburgh and not given down to the local authorities, as they should be.
Productivity is lower than it was in 2010 and the gap between Scottish and UK productivity is wider than it was in 2009. Scotland has the lowest rate of business growth in the UK and is forced to pay the highest business rates in Europe. In addition, the SNP broke a major manifesto promise and raised tax on more than 1 million Scots earning over £26,000, ensuring that Scotland’s wealth creators have less of their wealth to create more through further investment.
We talk about powers a lot in this place; the issue dominates a lot of our debate, but let us be clear. The only power given back was that to vary income tax by 1p, and it was given back to Westminster by the SNP, having originally been devolved under the Scotland Act 1998. The Conservatives do not give away powers; the SNP does. [Interruption.] Between 2010 and 2016, Scotland’s economic growth rate was 1.7%, compared with—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) must control herself. She is not down to speak, but she can speak if she wishes to rise. Will she please limit her remarks to either interventions or a speech, instead of barracking?
Scotland’s economic growth rate was 1.7%, compared with 1.9% for the UK, and that was even before Brexit, showing that Scotland’s economy consistently performs worse than that of the United Kingdom.
Last year the SNP Administration set up the Scottish growth scheme—a £500 million fund designed
“to help businesses thrive and grow”.
They have spent only £25 million of that fund. Similarly, they have failed to spend a single penny of the £36 million digital growth fund since it was announced in March 2017. Meanwhile, last Thursday, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, Derek Mackay, announced that there was a £453 million underspend by the SNP Administration in the last financial year. It is the fourth year in a row that the SNP Administration have underspent their budget. In total, it is more than £1.2 billion that they have chosen to deprive the Scottish economy of since 2014. That is unacceptable.
Meanwhile, my local councils in Clackmannanshire and Perth and Kinross are forced to increase council tax and cut services for our local residents. That means cuts to music tuition, public transport and the upkeep of our paths and roads. It is unacceptable and it cannot go on.
This is not about Brexit. It is about the deliberately dysfunctional devolution overseen by the Scottish National party. The SNP is failing our constituents through its woeful mismanagement of the Scottish economy and its refusal to invest the money that we already have and the money that comes from this place, which should be going directly to our constituents. If they do not want to use the levers of administration to improve the Scottish economy, perhaps it is time to stand aside for the Conservative and Unionist Opposition, who certainly will.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Main, for what I believe is the first time. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) on securing this very important debate.
A key component missing from the plan for the future of Scotland’s economy is an appropriate and robust industrial strategy, on which I will focus my remarks. Neither the UK Government nor the Scottish Government have a coherent strategy for industry in Scotland. As a result, Scotland’s economy is declining. Economic growth has slowed to well below its historical average. It was 0.2% during the first quarter of 2018, according to figures released today. Real wages are lower today than they were in 2010, and closures continue.
One of the areas where the lack of an industrial strategy is clearest is the construction sector. Crummock, a construction firm in my constituency of Midlothian, recently collapsed and its closure led to the direct loss of almost 300 jobs.
Does the hon. Lady share my concern that the industrial strategy that Scotland requires needs a strong, well-functioning and delivering education system? Over the past decade, Scotland’s education system has been undermined to the extent that one in five children now leave school functionally illiterate.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I absolutely agree that education is a fundamental part of growing industry in Scotland.
The collapse of Crummock in my constituency is just the latest example of the deep problems surrounding the financial health and stability of the Scottish construction industry.
The hon. Lady is speaking very well about the economic challenges that Scotland faces. Does she agree that those challenges would be turned into complete misery for the people of Scotland if the SNP had its way and ripped Scotland out of the United Kingdom?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He will know that I would agree with that.
To focus on the construction industry, the collapse of Crummock is just one of many that we have seen recently, with many job losses, in Scotland. The closure of large employers such as Crummock will have a significant impact on local economies. A number of suppliers and service providers have spoken to me about their worries. A small electrical company and those providing cleaning services have expressed to me concerns about the future of their businesses following Crummock’s closure. Such closures reflect the failure of an economic strategy that is over-reliant on free-market forces, as well as an absence of joined-up Government policy and action, especially in public procurement.
You mentioned the lack of free-market forces. Do you agree with your shadow Chancellor when he says that he wants to overthrow capitalism and bring down Britain’s system of free enterprise? That would mean fewer jobs, less money for public services and untold damage to the Scottish economy. Do you agree with his position?
Thank you, Mrs Main. I think that overthrowing capitalism is a matter bigger than this debate. Perhaps we can debate it some other time.
Crummock’s recent accounts noted that the absence of public sector contracts was the biggest risk to the firm’s future. That includes Scottish Government contracts and local authority contracts, which have been declining as local government budgets are slashed. That suggests the need for an investigation into how public institutions can best use the resources available and better support the construction sector and the wider industry in Scotland. It also suggests that the decline in council revenue funding overseen by the Scottish Government, which has fallen in real terms by 9.6% since 2010, is having a severe impact on Scotland’s local economies.
By contrast, Scottish Labour plans to invest in Scotland’s economy. Labour policy would see £70 billion of investment in industry in Scotland. We would create a national investment bank that would see £20 billion of capital structured in Scotland for industrial strategy and investment. That is the scale of investment required to get the sector to where it needs to be. We need to be investing to the tune of billions of pounds, not just the millions of pounds put forward by the SNP.
Closures in the construction industry have further highlighted the vital need to proactively plan for the sustainable development of our industrial base. Rather than simply reacting to market failure, we must plan ahead. As part of that, the Scottish Government need to properly investigate why well-established Scottish construction companies are collapsing.
The focus of that investigation should include any changes to the way in which banks finance companies. We need to look at why it is taking so long for subcontractors to be paid by client companies, which is another huge issue raised with me. The investigation must also look at office-based workers and administration staff who are affected by construction sector closures. The construction industry already displays the largest gender pay gap. Once again, female workers are disproportionately and adversely affected by the collapse of construction companies.
Another area where there is a clear need for a coherent strategy to support our economy is our struggling high streets. We need to mitigate the effects of RBS bank closures and post office closures. The Secretary of State for Scotland needs to work with the Scottish Government to develop an appropriate industrial strategy for Scotland. Both Governments must work with our local councils and properly fund them, so that our local economies can be supported.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my colleague on the Scottish Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen), on securing this important debate.
East Renfrewshire is home to the thriving small businesses and micro-enterprises that power the British economy while also providing investment and employment for the local community. It is these companies that help make Britain one of the largest economies in the world, which helps provide our vital public services. We have more established names, such as Barrhead Travel and A. C. Whyte, which are based in East Renfrewshire but are world leaders in their sector, as well as dynamic, newer enterprises, such as J&M Murdoch & Son, which was recently recognised in the 2018 London Stock Exchange report, “1000 Companies to Inspire”. The Scottish and UK Governments must prioritise and support those companies and many thousands like them, if we are to encourage investment and continue to grow our sluggish economy.
For too long, however, a high oil price has hidden Scotland’s economic underperformance, allowing Scottish Governments of both colours to neglect fixing the Scottish economy’s fundamentals. Most recently, the Scottish Parliament’s own highly respected Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee unanimously agreed a report that stated that in Scotland,
“levels of GDP growth are marginal, productivity low and wages are stagnant”.
Scotland’s major problem, as the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West has highlighted, is its productivity, which is at a lower level than it was in 2010. The gap between UK and Scottish productivity is larger than it was in 2009.
The Scottish Government do deserve some credit for setting up the new Scottish national investment bank. Ultimately, however, it was a rehashed announcement of something that has already supposedly been launched multiple times by this tired, separatist Government. If it does come to fruition, it will be a positive step for the Scottish economy, but we will have to wait and see what happens.
Last year, the Scottish economy grew at less than half the rate of the UK and slower than every single EU country. Future predictions are not particularly positive. The Scottish Fiscal Commission forecasts that Scotland will fail to match wider UK economic growth for the next five years. That is really important, because it means less money for the Scottish NHS, Scottish schools and other Scottish public services. It means less money in the pockets of those struggling to get by and businesses taking on fewer staff. It means less money circulating in the local economy, something which contributes to the picture of high streets across Scotland, where local businesses simply cannot continue.
Let us not forget that behind the economic data, this is a real story for people throughout Scotland. Entrepreneurs are risk takers, innovators and wealth creators. They need both our Governments to support them, but too often they are the victims of competing priorities. The UK Government have recognised the importance of increasing productivity, with the publication of the industrial strategy, and city deals are an important part of solving the productivity puzzle. The Glasgow city region deal is investing £44 million in East Renfrewshire. I was pleased to visit a number of the projects recently. City deals also demonstrate the benefits of Scotland’s two Governments working together rather than pulling apart—we need a heck of a lot more of that.
Meanwhile, businesses in rural Scotland, including areas such as Eaglesham and Uplawmoor, continue to be hampered by poor broadband—a basic necessity in the 21st century. People across Scotland have been hit with a double whammy, as the SNP Government raise taxes on more than 1 million Scots—22,000 of them in my constituency—on top of significant council tax hikes. Local employers suffer under the highest business rates across Europe. I do not understand why the Scottish Government believe that when 80% of our economy is based in the service sector they can boost economic growth by taking more out of hard-working people’s wallets.
The truth is that the Scottish economy needs a kick. It is flatlining and the Scottish Government’s high-tax agenda may be the final straw. The UK Government have introduced various measures, including the national living wage, personal allowance increases and wider business initiatives, such as the industrial strategy, to help mitigate some of the damage, but they also can and should do more. We need a pragmatic approach and some better joined-up thinking between Scotland’s two Governments. Nine successive quarters of declining activity in the construction sector, for example, is not acceptable. The hon. Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley) dealt well with some of the challenges facing that sector.
Yesterday saw the departure from Holyrood of an Economic Secretary whose legacy is one of declining productivity, skills, job quality and investment, and an economy with one of the lowest GDP growth rates in the OECD. Scotland needs a Scottish Government prepared to invest and give businesses the opportunity and security they so desperately need. Roll on 2021, when we will finally get one.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) on securing this important debate. What I am about to say might be slightly more boring than previous contributions to this debate.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. I want to talk about the positive points of the Scottish economy, as well as some of the challenges we face. As always, I will turn hon. Member’s eyes to my constituency in the far north.
First, I want to talk about food and drink. There is no doubt that we have great strengths in the highlands, particularly in my constituency. I will take a leaf out of the book of the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) and name some distilleries in my constituency, which make the most excellent products: Glenmorangie, Balblair, Dalmore, Clynelish and Old Pulteney in Wick. If we combine that with the quality of food that is offered, all the way from the Cocoa Mountain in Durness, which makes the most delicious hot chocolate, to The Albannach, which has one Michelin star, in Lochinver, and from Luigi’s in Dornoch to Greens Market in Tain, we can offer a really good tourism product. The success of the north coast 500 is based on what we can offer. There is a message for a wider Scotland in that: if we can get these things right, we can boost the local economy.
Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment, in that although the highlands has successes, they could have been so much stronger had the Highlands and Islands Enterprise agency not been so undermined since 2007 by a Scottish national Government in Holyrood determined to centralise everything, including enterprise, and to tie HIE’s hands behind its back ?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Let us not forget that the Highlands and Islands Development Board, as it then was, was introduced by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government because, as was said at the time, the highlands were on the conscience of the rest of Scotland. Anything that undermines enterprise today worries me greatly. Highlands and Islands Enterprise did some research some years ago looking at the word “highland” and what it means. It is synonymous with an unspoilt environment with a particularly special culture. In marketing terms, the word “highland” is a strong tool to use.
I turn to slightly more problematic areas. When I was growing up in the highlands, pretty much all my generation left the area to find employment. They went to England, or abroad. Some went to Canada. My father used to say to me, “When you leave school, you will go away to find work.” Then Nigg came to Easter Ross and provided vital jobs. Some years earlier, Dounreay came to Caithness and offered the same, and the historical depopulation of the highlands, whereby our brightest and best left, was halted and reversed. I brought up my family in Easter Ross. They went to school there, and that might not have happened if I had not had employment at Nigg.
How do we replace that employment? Hopefully, the price of oil will recover, and Global may yet get the contracts we crave. In the case of Dounreay, we have to work out—for not only the local economy but the Scottish economy—how we replace those jobs with high-quality jobs that build on the skills that we have in Caithness and parts of Sutherland. That is a challenge for the Government. It can be done, but it will require a leap of faith at both Scottish and UK level to say, “Yes, we will put a nuclear reactor at Dounreay,” or “Yes, we will approve putting in a big oil platform construction yard at Nigg.” That is what I am looking for on that front.
We had a debate on upland farming yesterday. We need to add value to the farm product. Again, that is linked into the image of the highlands. Upland farming in any other part of Scotland has a clean environmental image that is crucial to marketing, so thought needs to be given to that.
Our towns’ and cities’ infrastructure has been mentioned. Let us not kid ourselves: we have a crisis in many of our town centres, which are dying before our very eyes. Once thriving high streets have far too many charity shops and similar. The issue of bank closures was touched on by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley). That has in no way helped what has been happening in our Scottish towns. I have made this plea before, but for the good of the economy, we should have some sort of one-stop shop, in which the Scottish clearing banks combine to provide a human face offering services at a counter. At the end of the day, a hole in the wall cannot provide the advice that people need.
The challenge for Government is to modernise banking. I have written several times to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask whether a scheme could be introduced to stop the rot in our town centres. In the widest context of the Scottish economy, if our communities and town centres die, it not only shows rot in the economy, but damages our social infrastructure and our cohesion. With the best will and the best of intentions, we can head off those challenges, but we must all work together to deal with them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) on securing this important debate on the future of Scotland’s economy.
Scotland’s GDP continues to languish in the doldrums and is not forecast to grow by more than 1% per year until at least 2023. A critical indicator of an economy’s future success is the overall level of investment. In Scotland, although foreign investment is high, overall investment is low. That is not a healthy picture, and it is not a solely Scottish problem, but one that affects the entire UK economy. It is one of the key drivers of low productivity.
According to World Bank figures, investment in the UK from public and private sources sits at 17% of our GDP, which put us 118th in the world. The United States invests 20% of its economy, and Japan invests 24%. The arguments on the need to improve our levels of investment are well rehearsed, but I would like to focus on the need for a fully functioning, effectively organised UK national investment bank to shape the future of Scotland’s economy, and to invest in enterprise—especially, of course, in Scotland. Let me strike a chord of bipartisanship here. I know the Scottish National party has a plan for a Scottish investment bank, and it is a worthy concept, but I want to advance the case for a UK national investment bank.
Jim McColl is one of Scotland’s most successful business people and we should listen to him. He recently commissioned a report from University College London on the case for a UK national investment bank, and I recommend it as a thoroughly sound read. I would be very happy to supply every Member of the House with a digital copy of the report, from which I wish to make three quick points. First,
“By making strategic investments and nurturing new industrial landscapes, a modern industrial strategy focused on solving important societal challenges can help to rebalance the economy and reinvigorate the industrial base.”
“This requires not just any type of finance but patient, long-term, committed finance. This can take different forms, but in many countries, patient strategic finance is increasingly coming from state investment banks...By developing new financial tools and working closely with public and private stakeholders, state investment banks can—if structured effectively—play a leading role driving growth and innovation.”
“The European Investment Bank...has long been a key source of finance for infrastructure projects in the UK, financing £7 billion of projects in 2016.”
As we leave the EU, we clearly need to consider options to replace the European Investment Bank.
A national investment bank of the type found in many European countries would ensure the availability of quality patient capital. Entrepreneurs have to have access to patient capital, because they need immediate investment for longer-term returns. If businesses do not have access to that quality of capital in our country, they move to where they can get it. If they do not physically move, the ideas that need to be nurtured by patient capital move, and we see the continuation of the old cycle. Britain, and Scotland in particular, is a magnificent nursery of imagination and creativity. New products and concepts start off on their journey of commercialisation on these shores, but end up being fully deployed and exploited somewhere else. That cycle must be broken for good, and the availability of patient capital is crucial.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Jim McColl; I met him recently to discuss the future of commercial shipbuilding in Scotland. The example he cites is exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. In Germany, they have access to patient finance and can finance the capital cost of a ship—up to £1 billion apiece—whereas in Scotland there is simply no facility for that. Does he not agree that a Scottish investment bank, although a laudable proposal, would not be on anywhere near the scale needed to achieve the massive industrial growth that we need?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why I am advocating, for the future of Scotland’s economy, a UK investment bank. I have had many dealings with Jim McColl, and I agree with the direction of his argument.
Patient capital instils long-term support, builds confidence in the whole commercialisation process, from ideation to launch, and fosters the entrepreneurial spirit of our brightest and best. The return on patient capital invested is a measure of financial success, but when it comes to measuring social good, those things are exponentially better.
I prepared a much longer speech on this subject. I know the Minister might refer me to the British Business Bank, but to me it is not really operating to its full potential as an actual real bank. The resource available is too low. It is £200 million a year from the taxpayer for the whole UK economy; that will do little to address the investment shortfall in our economy. Essentially the British Business Bank needs to be reformed to become a real bank with the ability to issue bonds and raise funds.
Finally, in the interests of time—I might have already gone over my time limit, for which I apologise, Mrs Main—I want to ask the Minister a couple of simple questions as we consider the future of Scotland’s economy. Do the Government accept that British businesses and entrepreneurs need an additional source of good quality patient capital—capital that is not currently available in any quantity? What is our Government’s considered view on the proposition that the British Business Bank be converted into a fully functioning national investment bank, on the same basis as the national investment banks in other countries? To agree further with the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), Germany is an example: the KfW is worthy of close examination by the Government, especially as we leave the European Union and have to consider how we will support British businesses—and Scottish businesses in particular—to compete on the global scene.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) on securing the debate, and share his disappointment that neither the Secretary of State for Scotland nor any of his team turned out for the debate.
I should like to give some uncommon—
It is such a shame: I was going to offer some unusual, uncommon praise for the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), with whom I commonly duel across the Chamber, where we fervently disagree. However, his speech today was unusually positive. It may have been slightly off track, as he admitted, but judging by its tone he was at least looking for some opportunity.
I would also almost make an honourable exception of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone). Until he took an intervention, which unfortunately did not point out that Highlands and Islands Enterprise still operates exactly as it did in the past, or mention the new south of Scotland enterprise agency to go with it, he was talking about Scotland’s strengths. Otherwise, what a desperate collection of speeches talking Scotland down—
I will not give way just now. We are short of time.
Scotland has strong economic fundamentals. We heard nothing about its vast natural resources, the innovation there, or the talent of our people. Scotland has the most inward investment of anywhere in the UK outside London.
I am going to make some progress.
That inward investment is happening in the face of Tory austerity, during which time the Scottish Government have focused on building an economy of the future—taking measures to unlock innovation and drive productivity. As we have heard today, productivity is the key, but what we have not heard today is how UK productivity has flatlined for the past decade. As economists will agree, productivity is not everything, but it is almost everything, to an economy.
The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) talked about the city deals, but not about how, for example, when one of those deals was put together in Inverness, the Scottish Government put in £135 million and the UK Government—in a so-called partnership—put in only £52 million.
No, I am not going to give way. I am going to make some progress; there is limited time in the debate.
The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire also talked about the Scottish Government having a surplus this year. The Scottish Government work with a fixed budget; they cannot overrun on that. Other Members have mentioned Governments working together, but the present Tory Government cannot even work with the other parties in the Scottish Parliament on Brexit, so how can they be trusted to work with the Scottish Government? The other falsehood—I am sorry, I will take back that word. The other erroneous suggestion made was that Scotland is under a high-tax agenda. That was to forget conveniently that 70% of people in Scotland now pay less tax than they did last year.
The biggest threat to Scotland’s economy comes from the Tory Government’s reckless—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mrs Main.
The biggest threat to Scotland’s economy comes from the Tory Government’s reckless obsession with a hard Brexit. That is not being challenged by the Labour Front Benchers. We have no protection from it. The Scottish Government have put forward, in “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, an option to enable Scotland to avoid the worst effects and stay in the single market and customs union. Incidentally, this week the EU chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said that that would be entirely acceptable. Scotland is likely to be hammered by a hard Brexit.
No, I am going to carry on, because I have only a minute.
The UK Government are paying no real attention to stimulating the oil and gas industry. Fortunately there is now an upturn in oil and gas prices, and we need investment from the UK Government.
I have much more to say, and as we are the third party in Parliament I should have hoped for more time to say it, but unfortunately that is not the case—
I would not want the hon. Gentleman to misunderstand me. I do not decry the efforts being made by Highlands and Islands Enterprise. However, anyone who thinks that despite its best efforts it is more than a poor shadow of what went before, in the Highlands and Islands Development Board, is in dreamland. Surely hon. Members agree with me about that.
I disagree, and so do many businesses that I interact with in the highlands on a daily basis.
Production efficiency in the oil sector has risen for the fifth consecutive year, reaching 74% in 2017, demonstrating sustained efficiency improvements and maximising the economic recovery. Oil & Gas UK’s “Business Outlook for 2018” shows growth in investment and a further 5% increase in the forecast production for that year. Recent industry announcements about BP’s successful working discoveries in the Capercaillie and Achmelvich wells and Shell’s redevelopment of the Penguins field demonstrate the investment potential that the UK fields still hold. Over the next decade our oil and gas sector can capitalise on the decommissioning market, which is forecast to reach £17 billion; but that is only if the right decisions on investment are made.
The hon. Gentleman points out the challenges for the oil and gas sector, but on Monday when the Scottish Affairs Committee was taking evidence on the sector in Aberdeen, we heard people saying they wanted fracking to be expanded in Scotland. Does he support the industry in making that call?
I certainly do not support fracking. I do not believe that a country as rich in natural resources and renewable energy as we are—and indeed one with the oil and gas industry that we have at the moment—needs to go for fracking. I absolutely support the ban on fracking in Scotland. [Hon. Members: “There is no ban!”] There is a ban in Scotland. As to an effective ban, a court ruled in the past week that that is the case: fracking cannot go ahead in Scotland under the current situation.
Unfortunately I am a bit late to the debate, but I have been paying attention. I am amazed by the efforts of Conservative Members, in relation to thinking of Scotland as a country. They are the people who want to see Scotland as a region. [Interruption.] They should remember that the Norwegians have an oil fund, whereas they have squandered Scotland’s oil.
Thank you, Mrs Main.
The other issue I wanted to touch on was the opportunity for carbon capture and storage development in Scotland. There is a measure of co-operation between the UK and Scottish Governments, but there is nowhere near the required level of ambition from the UK Government. The rug was pulled out from under Peterhead, where £1 billion of investment was supposed to be put into the carbon capture and storage operation. At the time, that was judged to be just about enough. Now, the UK Government’s overall investment in carbon capture and storage is set to be about £100 million, which is desperately insufficient for the needs of the carbon capture industry, and nowhere near the amount needed to show the ambition that we should be showing to lead that industry. I will draw my remarks to a close, and I thank you, Mrs Main, for allowing me the extra time.
The hon. Gentleman was not on a time limit. With the permission of the Front Benchers, I will take four extra minutes from them and place a two-minute time limit on the last two Back-Bench Members, who have been here for the entire debate.
I will be brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) on securing this debate. He started with a tettie point, which was repeated by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry). A UK Minister is present to respond on the UK Government’s behalf, and I do not see any problem with that.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West said that in his speech, he would mention a third way—a Labour way—and I was excited about that, because on Monday night, the small rump of Scottish Labour MPs voted three different ways in the Heathrow debate. Some voted for it, some voted against it, and others joined the Scottish National party in sitting on their hands. In a debate about the future of Scotland’s economy, it is interesting that not a single SNP Member who has spoken or intervened has mentioned their last-minute decision to change their mind about Heathrow on orders from Nicola Sturgeon and to stop the investment into Scotland’s jobs and economy.
The hon. Gentleman spoke for 10 minutes; I cannot take an intervention from him.
SNP Members sat on their hands and abstained, despite talking in the debate about all the positive interventions that would come to Scotland as a result of Heathrow’s expansion.
It is good that some SNP MSPs can speak out against their party. My hon. Friends have quoted a report, “Scotland’s Economic Performance”, by a cross-party committee of the Scottish Parliament and supported by SNP MSPs, which says:
“Levels of GDP growth are marginal; productivity is low and wages are stagnant.”
No—I will not give way to some Johnny-come-lately.
Eleven years of SNP power in Scotland have resulted in its own MSPs criticising it. We have two Governments in Scotland—a UK Government and a Scottish Government—who should be working together, but all we get from the SNP is its obsession with independence and picking fights with Westminster, rather than standing up for my Moray constituents and others.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) on securing this debate.
After a decade of the Scottish National party and eight years of a Conservative Government, what will the future of Scotland’s economy be? Where are the jobs, the finance and the security for our next generation of young workers as we enter the uncharted waters of life outside the European Union? After a recent trip to Brussels, we were told that Brexit is over. In Europe, we have already left—only the paperwork has to be filled in. Deal or no deal, we are out of the European market.
Section 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 should have been fixed in time for Scotland’s voice to be heard, but without the SNP’s approval, and with a Tory party that could not make amends or recommendations, the buck was passed to the House of Lords. The SNP could only huff and puff and walk out of the House for five minutes as it was blowing down, with their instructions to walk out following behind them.
I sympathise with the Scottish Government, who, like us, waited on our amendments to section 11. For the Tories to fail to deliver on the will of the Scottish people puts our devolution settlement at risk, with fewer powers and a breakdown between the two Governments.
What will the future of the economy be when we have low wages, fewer working hours, temporary jobs, agency work and, of course—the way to get unemployment figures down—zero-hours contracts? What chance do our Scottish youth have of building a future, securing housing, raising a family or providing for themselves before caring for others? It really is a game of survival. In 2018, it is sad that the only growth and development in Scotland is in food banks.
I will try, Mrs Main. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair. I thank the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) for securing this spirited debate. Hon. Members have lots of ideas about the Scottish economy, which is always something to welcome.
I take issue with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of a decade of lost opportunity. It is no coincidence that that decade has also seen Tory austerity writ large and a financial crash caused by the previous Westminster Administration. We have had to put up with the consequences and do the best we can with one hand tied behind our back.
My time is constrained, and there are a couple of hon. Members I want to mention, but I will try to take an intervention from the hon. Gentleman if I can.
I would also take issue with anybody who says that the Scottish National party has a lack of ambition; we could not have more ambition for our country than to take control of all the financial levers to improve the conditions for our people. With the powers of independence, that is exactly what we would do.
Scotland’s economy is performing relatively well on many indicators. It is a country with many economic strengths: it is an attractive place to work, live and conduct business.
The end of property business rates relief in Aberdeen is doing a lot of damage to the business community, which is having, essentially, to knock down buildings. Does the hon. Lady agree that that policy went too far, and that there have been consequences that the Scottish Government did not foresee? Would she recommend that Scottish Government Ministers reverse it?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has made those representations to the Minister and that the Minister will take them on board.
We have one of the lowest youth unemployment rates, not just in the UK, but in the whole of the EU. We have been described as the most highly qualified population anywhere in Europe, and we are the most successful part of the UK outside London when it comes to attracting foreign investment. Our exports have gone up 44.7% under the SNP, to more than £29.8 billion in 2016, which is no small feat. Scotland was the only part of the UK where employment went up in the last year.
We have a well-deserved international reputation in a range of growth sectors of the economy, such as life sciences, the creative industries, and food and drink, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) mentioned. Those sectors are an asset to our country. We are also making great strides in renewable energy. Through Scottish Enterprise, we have invested an additional £45 million in business research over the next three years.
There is no doubt that Scotland is a wealthy nation, but challenges remain. Like other advanced economies, we face long-term structural inequality. The Glasgow Centre for Population Health has found that the decisions taken by the Tory Government in the 1980s are still having repercussions. [Interruption.] The post-industrial impact that hon. Members on the Government side are chortling about has had a long-term effect on my constituents and constituents across Scotland.
It is not only possible to grow the economy while tackling that inequality; it is absolutely imperative. The type of growth that is built on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable, and that comes at the expense of the environment, is almost not worth having.
The OECD estimates that, between 1990 and 2010, rising income inequality in the UK reduced our economic output per head by 9%. Inequality stunts economic growth, and Scotland is no exception. It is time to shift the focus of the debate away from short-term reckless growth and towards a more sustainable model built on inclusion, dignity and respect. Economic choices are not just about the bottom line; they should reflect the society that we want to live in.
My colleagues in the Scottish Government have received international attention for the work they have done so far on inclusive growth. Putting that at the heart of our economic strategy has led to different outcomes in Scotland. We want to make choices such as a Scottish national investment bank, and I am glad that the hon. Members for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) welcome that. The hon. Member for Stirling mentioned KfW, a bank in Germany that I visited when I was on the Communities and Local Government Committee. It was set up as part of the Marshall plan in 1945. We know that it works, but we have never done the same for ourselves. It makes absolute sense for us to do that, and it is interesting that the hon. Gentleman looks to pinch the Scottish Government’s ideas for the UK. There should be more of that in future—why not?
We are also researching a citizen’s basic income, and we invest in human capital by keeping university tuition free for all. We also pay better in Scotland. We have more living wage employers per head than anywhere else in the UK, and we seek the real living wage, not the Tories’ pretendy living wage, which has age discrimination baked into it. Although the Labour party might wish to have a £10 living wage, it did not give the Scottish Government power over that policy; we asked for the devolution of employment law, and it stood firmly against that.
Like the rest of the UK, Scotland has an ageing population. It is great that people are living longer, but it presents several challenges to our economy—not least an increased old-age dependency ratio. With fewer working-age people in proportion to the number of older people, tax revenues become lower and public spending on pensions and healthcare becomes higher. That makes it more difficult to keep public finances stable for the future. There are two ways to improve the situation. One is to increase labour market participation, which we are trying to do. We have created free childcare services, which are a known driver for getting women into work. Increased female employment has also been linked to higher productivity, to economies that are more resilient to recession, and to a multitude of improvements to health and wellbeing outcomes.
The other way to protect our economy from the problems arising from an ageing population is to increase immigration. The Tories have stood against devolving immigration law to Scotland, despite our particular circumstances, which the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West recognised in his speech. Immigration law is a reserved matter. At constituency surgeries every single Friday, I see the impact of a Government keen to decrease immigration and ignore the large net contribution to our economy of those who choose to come and make their home in Scotland. I see the devastating effects of a hostile environment created by a UK Government Home Office hellbent on reducing migration for no economic purpose whatever. That includes the highly skilled migrants group, on behalf of which I have been campaigning. They come here, pay taxes and have not taken a day’s benefits in their life, yet the Government see fit to deport them for making entirely legitimate changes to their tax returns.
At the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, we had experts in. We questioned them on a separate immigration policy. They used the word “shambles” directly to describe having a separate immigration policy in any region of the United Kingdom. Does the hon. Lady agree that the SNP should maybe start listening to experts? We would then see the best outcomes for Scotland.
Coming from the party that regularly likes to run down experts and their views, that is a bit rich. What is a shambles is the situation I see for my constituents week in, week out. Their lives are made an absolute misery by the Home Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) has been to Canada and has spoken about how a differentiated immigration policy can work in practice. There is no reason why Scotland cannot do that.
No, I am conscious of time, and I am running out of it. It is estimated that each additional EU migrant working in Scotland pays £10,400 in tax towards our NHS and other public services. The Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde used advanced modelling techniques to estimate the impact of reduced migration after Brexit on Scotland’s economy. In its Brexit scenario, aggregate GDP is 9% lower by 2065, all other things held constant.
If there is one thing that is certain for Scotland after Brexit, it is that all other things will not be held constant. It is estimated by the Scottish Government that leaving the single market—a position backed by both the Conservatives and Labour—will reduce output by 8.5% by 2030, which is equivalent to a loss of £2,300 a year for each person in Scotland. Of course, the UK Government do not agree with the figure, having conducted their own analysis of the impact of Brexit on Scotland’s economy. Their analysis presents an even worse scenario, with output reduced by 9% over the next 15 years.
We are at a crucial point in determining the future of our economy. We have to take into account that we are having Brexit as a result of an internal debate within the Conservative party that got out of hand. Only one party has a clear and meaningful vision for the future of Scotland’s economy: the SNP. We have looked at the issue. We have the Sustainable Growth Commission, a suite of recommendations and a robust plan for the type of Scotland we would like to see. The report calls for more investment to grow Scotland’s economy by increasing population, participation and productivity. Some of that can be done now, but some of it cannot. We require cross-party support for some of the things we want to see, whether that is devolving some of those powers to Scotland to let us get on with the job, or whether it is independence, where we could have the full suite of powers without having one hand tied behind our back. Through that, we could make changes for the benefit of all our population, not just the Tories and their cronies.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Main. I start by thanking my good friend and comrade, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen), for securing this debate and for making a speech that cut to the very heart of the problems that will face the Scottish economy in the decades to come.
With the impending threat of Brexit and the threat of a second Scottish independence referendum always on the horizon, it strikes me that once again people in Scotland are caught in a vice between two Governments who are absolutely intent on causing them economic harm in pursuit of their own nationalist and constitutionally driven agendas. We have seen that writ large today. It is not about talking Scotland down. In fact, speeches today have reflected the passion that Members have for standing up for their constituents and their economic interests. My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley) talked about the real issue of the massive job cuts her constituents face. Calling that “talking Scotland down” does a real disservice to Members in this Chamber.
People in Scotland have been let down on two counts over the past 10 years. First, a UK Government have taken the political choice—I emphasise that it is a choice—to implement austerity. Secondly, a Scottish Government, rather than use the powers they have to alleviate and mitigate those austerity measures, have consistently chosen to use the Scottish Parliament as a conveyor belt simply to pass that austerity on and, indeed, amplify it at the local government level. That is not what the Scottish Parliament was meant to be and not what those of us on these Benches who fought long and hard for its creation envisaged.
We envisaged a Parliament in Edinburgh that would be a bulwark against Tory austerity, would stand up and be counted and would chose a different path. Trends show that the Scottish economy is lagging behind that of the rest of the UK in terms of growth, productivity and employment. In 2017, growth stood at just 0.8%, while the Scottish Fiscal Commission predicts that growth will remain at less than 1% until 2024—something that the Fraser of Allander Institute has labelled as “unprecedented in a generation”. It is the slowest period of long-term growth in the Scottish economy in over 60 years.
I would of course like to caveat that with the fact that statistics released this morning show that growth has increased by 0.2% during the first quarter of 2018, which is slightly higher than in the UK as a whole. That news is of course welcome, but I should like to think that everyone in the room today would like to see improvement and would agree that the long-term growth trend remains insufficient. Productivity was mentioned by several Members, and it has dropped by 2.2% in the past year alone. It is a fundamental economic principle that to generate economic growth, a country must increase productivity. To increase productivity, two very important factors must be addressed: investment and an interventionist industrial strategy.
Scotland’s productivity ranks in the third quartile of OECD countries, and the rate of productivity growth in Scotland lags behind that of many of our competitors. To catch up, Scotland must expedite a significant increase in its rate of productivity growth. Achieving the required growth would be truly transformational for the Scottish economy. Increasing Scotland’s productivity to the level of the top quartile of OECD countries would grow GDP by almost £45 billion, which is an increase of 30%. Annual average wages would be more £6,500 higher, which is an increase of 25%. That is the prize if we can address the structural problem.
Just 10 businesses in Scotland account for 45% of all private sector R&D activity in Scotland. Almost 70% of R&D investment is by non-Scottish-owned businesses. Despite higher education R&D rates in Scotland being among the highest in the world, we have seen a significant disconnect between academic innovation and its application by industry in Scotland. There is obvious potential to increase industrial interaction with higher education, and addressing that is a major focus of the innovation centres, such as the advanced forming research centre, that were set up by the last Labour Government.
Much work is still to be done. To match the rate of the top quartile of OECD countries, business R&D investment in Scotland would need to be 90% higher—an increase of £10 billion a year. Companies that are looking to grow are not considering external funding, and that raises questions about the level of growth ambition and whether ambitions can be achieved through internal funding alone. Poor competitiveness in productivity, innovation and capital investment also hinder the scope to drive export sales and grow overall industrial production. Around 60% of Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises trade only within Scotland. Scotland’s exports are also highly concentrated. Just 15 businesses account for 30% of all international exports, and 70 firms account for 50%. Scotland’s key international export markets remain Europe and the USA, with sales to emerging markets relatively low, and five sectors account for 50% of exports in Scotland.
Labour is absolutely committed to addressing the problems we see in our growth and productivity levels, not only in Scotland, but across the entirety of the UK. In our manifesto, we detailed the investment we would make in economic development in the event of a UK Labour Government. In Scotland, that would mean £70 billion over a 10-year period: £20 billion through our proposals to enhance the Scottish Investment Bank, providing patient long-term finance to industry, which the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) mentioned; £20 billion through our national transformation fund; and £30 billion that Scotland would benefit from through enhanced Barnett consequentials. If the hon. Gentleman is so enthusiastic about Labour policies, I encourage him to consider crossing the Floor, instead of having to lobby his Ministers for the same policies.
Scottish Labour has also committed to a proper industrial strategy, which has unfortunately been sorely lacking in the UK and Scottish Governments’ plans. Our industrial strategy would generate high-skilled, high-quality, stable employment for men and women. It would encourage a diversification of ownership models and the governance of our industrial base, encourage and actively support the role of trade unions in the economy, and recognise and resource the critical role of innovation in developing sectors of our economy.
Critical to all those pledges is the investment I spoke about. We must recognise that the role of a Government is to be an enabler—part of a triple helix of private entrepreneurs, research-led universities and an entrepreneurial state, assisting where there is potential to develop sectors, create new high-skilled, high-paid jobs, and sustain and grow viable enterprises.
We must never forget the human cost of failing to address those issues, of a stagnating economy that results in unemployment, and of an economy that is propped up by low-skilled, low-paid jobs, meaning that we have the scandalous situation in which 52% of all adults living in poverty in Scotland are in employment. Whether people like it or not, it is a fact that the UK economy is propped up by low-skilled, low-paid jobs. The Office for National Statistics recently indicated that the number of zero-hours contracts has increased to 1.8 million. That is 1.8 million workers across the UK who do not know what their income will be from week to week. Is that really the way we want our economy to function—built on the back of low-paid and insecure work?
That takes me back to the points I made about our industrial strategy. We have been explicit in our desire to ban zero-hours contracts on the basis that they are exploitative and ensure that our economy is skewed in favour of big business while ordinary working people suffer. If we were in any doubt about the truth of that, we need only to look at the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s findings, which state that real wages are lower today than they were in 2010 and are predicted to continue falling this year. It is simply not good enough.
While the UK Government and the Scottish Government bicker over constitutional intricacies, people are struggling to feed their children. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, more than 230,000 children in Scotland live in poverty. Just let that sink in for a second: one in every four children in Scotland is in poverty today. That should shame every single one of us.
We are on the cusp of a great opportunity, with the fourth industrial revolution now under way. One of the great achievements in Scotland under the last Labour Government was to reverse Scotland’s historical population decline, but there is so much more to do. We need to enhance population growth in Scotland. In 1902, the Scottish Registrar General predicted that by 1962 the Scottish population would be 10 million. Clearly we never achieved that, so we have a great opportunity to make up for lost ground.
We are on the cusp of that opportunity. That is why I am proud to stand here today as a Labour MP who can say that when there is a UK Labour Government and a Labour Government in Scotland we will address the inequalities in our society and the structural problems that we have identified in today’s debate. It is time for the UK Government and the Scottish Government to stop burying their heads in the sand when it comes to such issues purely because they are deemed too difficult to deal with.
We are ready to govern this country in a way that works for the many, not the few. If others are not, I have one message: call a general election and let us get on with it, because we are ready to invest in Scotland and to ensure that Scotland’s economy and people do not suffer anymore due to the short-sighted nature of their current Governments.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) on securing the debate. I am sorry that he is not as pleased to see me as I am to respond to the debate. I point out to him that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) said, I am a UK Minister. I am proud of being part of a Unionist UK Government, and I will work with my colleagues—and colleagues across the Floor—from Scotland just as much as I will work with colleagues from Wales and, indeed, from my own constituency.
No—I have very little time, in fairness, and I want to get through quite a few of the points that have been raised. This has been a very good and lively debate. I said it was a pleasure to be here. At the beginning of it, I was thinking, “What have I walked into?” However, it is a pleasure.
A fundamental change is going on in the global economy that will throw up both opportunities and challenges for Scotland and the rest of the UK. Automation, artificial intelligence, growing digital connectivity and the need to deliver environmentally sustainable growth will profoundly affect the way that we do business, how businesses function and how people work. As we plan for Scotland’s economic future, the UK Government are confident that Scotland is well placed to take advantage of the changes that will affect the entire economy. Scotland is an open and enterprising nation, with some of the best universities and research institutions in the world. As part of the UK, it has a global reputation for welcoming businesses with high standards, respected institutions and a strong rule of law.
It is the job of Government to ensure that business is ready to respond to change, and that is why we have created the industrial strategy, which is incredibly important. Through the four grand challenges that we have identified, the UK can become a global technological revolution leader in clean growth, artificial intelligence and big data, the future of mobility, and meeting the needs of an ageing society—something that the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) rightly mentioned.
In all those areas, Scotland can make a fantastic contribution. Edinburgh is becoming one of the UK’s most important clusters for AI and digital technology. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced an AI sector deal, bringing around £1 billion of investment through public and industry funding. That will ensure that it is a vibrant sector and has the resources and structures in place to survive.
I am pleased that we have already made an announcement about the construction industry, which the hon. Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley) rightly highlighted. We will report back later in the year, once all the details have been agreed. I am glad that she raised that. Equally, there is the food and drink sector, which the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West mentioned.
I am conscious that time is going fast, and I want to respond to some of the issues that were raised. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West talked about a “third way”. We heard that before with the previous Labour Government, which landed us with a £150 billion deficit. This Government have had to work hard to get that deficit down, which has not been easy. The Opposition Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), said that those are “choices”. It is the reality of ensuring that we have an economy that is balanced and in which people have confidence, so that we can get the investment we need to create the growth that has brought millions of new jobs for people in this country. We are seeing record levels of employment. That is a record of which I am proud.
No, I am not taking any interventions, because I am very conscious of time.
Brexit was also mentioned. I have heard it said time and time again that the Government are hell bent on a hard Brexit. If anything, we are hell bent on ensuring that we get a deal that works for the UK and the EU. I have faith in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She has achieved agreements when the media and people in this House thought that she could not. Let us have faith in her and support her as she goes to the June Council, and I am sure that we will have a Brexit deal that will work.
I agreed with what the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West said about the deficit in Scotland. It is concerning that as a share of GDP the deficit is 8.3% in Scotland, compared with 2.4% for the rest of the UK. That needs to be addressed. Not dealing with the deficit really knocks confidence. People in business will not be confident if it is not being dealt with properly.
We also heard about low wages. I remind hon. Members that it was this Government that dealt with the personal allowance, which is benefiting some 2.5 million Scots’ wage packets. We have increased the minimum wage to a living wage—from £5.80, as it was in 2010, to £7.83—bringing £4,000 a year more to the lowest paid in the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) was right to show the differing figures, comparing the UK performance with the Scottish performance. We on this side are determined to work with the Scottish Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland worked closely with the former Economy Secretary in Scotland. That needs to continue.
Some of the comments that have been made today are absolutely right. We have challenges ahead of us, but we also have opportunities. As we can now develop trading agreements around the world, I want us to expand that for the whole of the UK, so that every part of the UK can benefit. Scotland is as important a part of this nation as any other.
As I said, the hon. Member for Midlothian was right to talk about the construction industry. She talked about overthrowing capitalism being a bigger issue. I would say that, yes, it certainly is—and one that would seriously damage the economy of this country. I hope that people will take note.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) talked about a UK investment bank. We are always open to positive proposals to support the economy. The UK Government will consider any such proposal, ensuring that it offers value for money. I will ensure that I raise those points with colleagues in the Treasury following today’s debate.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) said that we were talking Scotland down. We are determined to ensure that our economy works for every part of the UK, and we are working with the oil and gas industry to ensure that there is a sector deal. In the last 10 seconds I have, I say to the SNP that constant talk of independence does nothing to give confidence to business to invest in the UK.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
BAME Blood, Stem Cell and Organ Donation
[Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered BAME blood, stem cell and organ donation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I first became aware of the issue of blood, stem cell and organ donation within black, Asian, mixed race and minority ethnic communities when I met Poonam Shah, who works in my constituency. Poonam’s husband, Rakesh, died from a blood disorder at the age of just 35. Due to Rakesh’s Indian heritage, he struggled to find a donor with the 10 matching genes that would have helped ensure that his blood would accept the donor’s cells. Eventually, an anonymous donor with eight out of 10 matches was found from South Africa for Rakesh, who had a stem cell transplant in October 2014.
I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has secured this important debate. I should declare that I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on stem cell transplantation. My hon. Friend makes a point that is particularly relevant for the BAME community—often the donor will come from outside the UK. There have been a number of cases where there have been difficulties with visas. Time is vital in this area and we need a fast-track process to make sure that those people can get here as quickly as possible.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Those from the BAME community make up 5% of blood donors, yet they make up 14% of the population. The Imam Hussain Blood Donation Campaign was set up in my own city of Manchester; it has had a tremendous success rate of 3,408 donations. To be successful, it is important to ensure that cultural initiatives such as that are taken, so that we can carry on with improvements. If not, we will carry on experiencing difficulties.
My hon. Friend makes an important point and I will refer to similar points later in my speech.
Sadly, despite receiving a transplant, Rakesh’s condition, MDS, was so advanced that he died in December 2014, leaving Poonam and their two young children. After Rakesh’s death, Poonam decided to raise funds for Anthony Nolan and raise awareness among people from south Asia and other ethnic minority backgrounds about stem cell donations.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. Does he agree that Health Ministers should work more closely with grassroots and community organisations? Currently, donors from Asian or other minority ethnic backgrounds make up just 15% of the stem cell register, but campaigns such as Cure Kaiya, which held an event in my constituency, and Match4Rajie are encouraging more people from BAME backgrounds to become registered donors.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point.
In November, Poonam’s fundraising efforts were recognised when she was awarded individual fundraiser of the year. I was so inspired by her story that I wanted to help raise awareness of the issue in BAME communities, because none of us know whether we or one of our loved ones might be a name on that list in need of a match, desperately waiting for a lifesaving opportunity. The reality is that many patients will not receive the stem cell transplant they need, because either there is no donor available or a donor cannot be found quickly enough. Only 20% of BAME patients receive the best possible match, compared with 69% of white, northern European patients.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter forward. I have always supported the issue of organ transplants, including for BAME people. With only six out of every 100 people who have signed up to the NHS organ donor register having told us that they are from black, Asian or minority ethnic communities, does the hon. Gentleman feel as I feel that when it comes to organ donation, every race is needed and we should urge the Minister to respond with a focused campaign for BAME donation? That is the best way forward and I think the Minister needs to do that.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point. The disparity urgently needs to be addressed and I therefore welcome the very timely review by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Eleanor Smith) on BAME stem cell and organ donation.
The problem of insufficient blood, stem cell and organ donation is fundamentally one of supply and demand. According to the review, fewer than 5% of donors who gave blood in the past year were from BAME communities, although the BAME group makes up around 14% of the total UK population. Currently, only 1% of people who give blood in England are black. BAME people are unequally affected by that, as they are subject to a higher demand and shorter supply than other groups. The most common blood diseases that affect BAME communities are thalassaemia and sickle cell disease.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. While we know that there are problems and that there is much still to do, will he join me in congratulating Kanya King and the MOBO Awards on all the great campaigning work that they do to increase BAME blood and organ donation? They do an excellent job. Will he also join me in encouraging other organisations and companies with existing BAME reach to campaign in a similar manner?
I agree with the hon. Lady. BAME donors make up 15% of the stem cell register; black donors make up just 1.2% of potential donors on the British Bone Marrow Registry. I hope the Minister shares my concerns about those statistics and that she will commit today to agreeing in full to the recommendations of the review by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this timely debate. My review, “Ending the Silent Crisis”, is about the lack of stem cell and organ donation in black and minority ethnic groups. I hope that the Minister will look at the review’s recommendations, take them on board and come back to us on them.
I thank my hon. Friend for her hard work on the review and I look forward to working together on the issue.
It is clear that increasing the number of BAME stem cell donors requires a many-sided approach, but one of the most important things that can be done is to integrate information about donation into the formal curriculum, which the review recommends. We already know that education works. For example, Anthony Nolan and other blood disorder charities have had great success working with schools, universities and colleges across the UK. Just last month, I wrote a letter to all schools with a sixth form in or near my constituency to ask whether they would consider using an assembly or personal, social, health and economic lessons to teach students about the importance of donating stem cells, blood and organs. I am delighted that one of the schools has already agreed to do so.
Since the Hero Project started in 2009, more than 32,000 people have signed up to the Anthony Nolan stem cell donor register, and approximately 16% of them are from a BAME background. The Hero Project recognises that the different religious views about organ donation are one of the barriers preventing people from signing up to the organ donation register. Anthony Nolan and other blood disorder charities recognise and respect those diverse views and tailor their message to suit different interpretations of faith. They focus on what people can do to help, not on what they cannot do.
The review found that the three main barriers that prevent people from signing up are a lack of knowledge or awareness, religious permissibility and a lack of trust in medical institutions. The opt-out system for organ and tissue donation, with additional safeguards, is welcome, but there must be an awareness campaign that is mindful of the cultural sensitivities relating to organ donation and addresses the significant pressure on NHS Blood and Transplant’s capacity to accommodate any rise in organ donations.
It is vital that we get more young people from BAME backgrounds, such as students, to sign up to the stem cell donor register, because the research shows that the younger the donor, the more likely the patient is to survive. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that all students aged 16 and above have the opportunity to learn about the importance of donating stem cells, blood and organs? There is a real desire in the BAME community —especially among the younger generation—to turn this issue around.
I was touched by the action of the Bandhan Bedford Group, a group of Asian professional women in my constituency who helped to add 300 new names to the stem cell register. They organised a stem cell drive this month in Bedford, with support from the blood cancer charity DKMS, to help Kaiya Patel, a five-year-old girl who I understand is still waiting for a lifesaving match for her rare and aggressive form of leukaemia. I know that similar drives are taking place around the country, but this is a race against time. It has been reported that, to have a chance, Kaiya needs a transplant within the next two months.
There is a strong will out there to increase the life chances of people from a BAME background. I hope that this timely review, which highlights the scale of this silent crisis, is enough to spur the Government into assisting communities with a more co-ordinated approach. This blatant inequality must end.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) for securing this debate on an issue that is so important to my constituents in Hampstead and Kilburn. I will speak briefly.
More than 2,000 incredible people from Hampstead and Kilburn are on the Anthony Nolan stem cell register, a large proportion of whom are from BAME backgrounds. I mention that fact because, as Members from across the House have said, only 20% of patients from BAME backgrounds will get a perfect match, compared with 69% of people from white northern European backgrounds.
I declare an interest: my husband had a stem cell transplant three years ago. His donor came from this country. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we are to meet the needs of BAME patients who require a stem cell transplant, we must work with international registers? Increasing BAME donation in the UK alone is not enough. Some 60% of UK patients already receive stem cell transplants from international donors. That is made possible by Anthony Nolan’s incredible volunteer couriers, who collect donated stem cells around the world and transport them to patients. I hope the Minister will explain what steps the Government will take to support international registers.
My hon. Friend has stolen one of the questions I was going to ask the Minister, but I will forgive her.
In 2016, a young woman in my constituency called Lara, who was 27 years old and from a BAME background, needed a stem cell donor. The constituency snapped into action and organised the Match4Lara campaign. Elana Wall and Jacob Haddad, the volunteer co-ordinators for Anthony Nolan, co-ordinated 40 volunteers who spent their evenings packing spit kits and organising spit drives and spit drive socials. I went to a spit drive in the O2 Centre on Finchley Road, and I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the youngsters—especially those from a BAME background—who realised that if they took the spit test on the spot, there was a chance they could save a life. My younger sister, Azmina, participated and said that she found the science very accessible. She understood that she needed to raise awareness of the issue among young people. She has recently had a call to say that she could be a potential match for a patient.
Will the Minister address the request to integrate awareness-raising into the school curriculum? Will she talk about how the Department of Health and Social Care can work with international donor banks? That issue has been raised a few times already. How does she intend to spread the word about stem cell donation among young people, especially those from BAME backgrounds?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I thank the hon. Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) for securing this important debate on an issue that has been exercising me for the past year. Since I became Minister with responsibility for this area, the disparity in access for people from black and minority ethnic communities to blood, organs and stem cells has been of great concern to me. I have been working with NHSBT on this theme for the past year, and I hope I can give the hon. Gentleman some comfort. We are making some progress, but I want to assure all hon. Members that I am under no illusions about how big this challenge is, for a host of reasons that I will come on to.
I thank the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Eleanor Smith) for being here. I read her report with interest and agreed with every word. The principles she articulated are key to increasing donation. If I were to highlight one particular issue, it would be the culture of normalising donation in those communities. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) has just given a beautiful example of how local leadership can do that, and that is something we can all take away.
Whenever we debate a subject like organ and blood donation, everyone brings their own personal story, because we have all been touched by people who have needed a transplant. That is what brings the issue alive for us; it is about saving lives.
My overall objective is to increase the rate of donation across the board. Although it is true that a person is more likely to die waiting for a transplant if they are from a black and minority ethnic community, the fact is that we are losing too many people who are waiting for a transplant. We need a concerted effort to improve the rate of donation from all parts of our society. There is much we can do to achieve that. Hon. Members will be aware of the private Member’s Bill from the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson), which seeks to change the opt-out system. It will be a big help, but it will not solve the problem by itself. There is a lot more we need to do to educate the public about the importance of donation and to dispel the fears and myths about it.
The Minister mentioned the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson). I hope she is aware that stem cell transplantation is very much done when the person is alive, which is what makes it so easy. People do not have to die to donate. I just want to make sure people listening to this debate know that.
That is a point well made. It is the same for blood, of course—donors do not have to die to give blood. People who give blood do so regularly because they get into the habit and it has become normal. Perhaps we need to do a lot more about stem cell transplants.
I am particularly moved to be having this debate today because only this weekend I lost a very good friend of mine to lymphoma at the age of 47. That brings home how cancer and illness can kill people at a very young age. It will be in honour of my dear friend David Furze that I will do something to reboot stem cell donation.
On the barriers to more donation, some have serious concerns about faith and religious beliefs. Tackling those concerns is a big challenge for us in Government, because of the element of trust. The hon. Member for Bedford mentioned that quite often people do not trust medical professionals, but they trust Government even less. We must find innovative ways of getting that message out. We need the right messengers. Dare I say, the people in this Chamber are among the right messengers? Most of us have respect in our communities and are able to show leadership in our communities. We can go out, speak, raise awareness and encourage donation. I have given NHSBT the challenge to do exactly that.
Other organisations are also trying to do that, such as the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust, but they get very limited resources. One of my recommendations is about sharing resources with groups that are already organised and going out to the community, because with limited resources they can do very little.
The NHSBT strategy has that in mind. Recently, we had a faith summit where we worked with the individuals who are able to go out and give those messages. The approach must be organic. I have also tasked NHSBT to work with me to develop an MP’s toolkit to help us to go out in our constituencies and develop the right networks and links. The hon. Lady is right to say that people from these communities will listen to their elders and other representatives, and that is why we need to work through those people. We are doing that with a number of organisations.
Turning to stem cell donation, all hon. Members articulated beautifully the real disparity of access to appropriate treatment. It is only by building and diversifying the UK stem cell register that we will be able to provide the best match for patients. Hon. Members have raised the issue of an international register; the Department funds Anthony Nolan’s efforts in this area. Members of the World Marrow Donor Association already promote global collaboration. We will continue to support that as best we can, working with Anthony Nolan and NHSBT.
NHSBT continues to grow both its cord blood banks and bone marrow donor registers, with the explicit intent of increasing the number of black and Asian donors. Overall, we have paid more than £20 million to NHSBT and Anthony Nolan specifically for stem cell donation since 2015. So far, we have made some progress in increasing donations from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, but not nearly enough to address the disparity. We will all continue to make our efforts count in that area.
I pay tribute to the initiative of the Bandhan Bedford Group that the hon. Member for Bedford mentioned. If there is a good local champion that captures local imagination, real progress can be made. We all need to encourage those sorts of activities.
Turning to blood, there is a real need for black donors and donors from the Asian community to increase supplies, not least because they are more likely to suffer from diseases that will require blood transfusions, specifically sickle cell anaemia. We are undertaking initiatives to increase the number of black and Asian blood donors. We are holding “know your type” events in high population areas, where people can learn their blood type with a finger prick test. That will help NHSBT to manage its blood stocks and develop a database of exactly the type of blood that there is a shortage of.
We are supporting others, such as the music of black origin awards, to reach audiences. Those who watch “Britain’s Got Talent”—I watch it—will have seen the B Positive choir, who did so much to raise awareness and were absolutely fantastic.
In terms of outreach work, whether with the MOBO awards or otherwise, can the Minister outline the steps that have been taken to reach out via the media? I am not just referring to the national media but the culturally specific and ethnic media, which have a greater outreach in those ethnic minority communities.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I could not give him a definitive answer at this moment in time. I would expect NHSBT to be using those outlets to spread the message. If it is not, I will make sure it does, but I will ask that question and I will write to him with a fuller answer.
Turning to organs, we have discussed that there are around 6,000 people waiting for an organ transplant, of whom 34% are from a black or Asian background. That illustrates the disparity, given that only 6% of deceased donors were from those backgrounds. There is a real challenge to ensure that we are able to save all the lives we can through transplant. We have a big campaign designed to improve the rates of organ donation.
We estimate that if the private Member’s Bill from the hon. Member for Coventry North West successfully passes through Parliament, it will save an additional 200 lives a year. That is not to be sniffed at. As a Health Minister, I would be failing in my duty if I did not do everything I possibly could to secure the passage of that Bill, and I will do that. But that does not alter the fact that we still need more black and Asian people to agree to go on the register. We are working on a number of tools to address people’s real concerns, whether they are about faith, belief or heritage. We need to be able to produce materials that attack misconceptions but do so in an extremely sensitive way to those who will react to them.
Again, I encourage all Members to get involved in helping us to develop those tools and in spreading those messages as best they can. We have a library of resources that are specifically tailored to particular communities, but I am always open to any suggestions for what more we can do, because ultimately this is a very serious injustice that we need to tackle. I have a very large black African Christian community in my constituency, so I am used to engaging with them, having these debates and encouraging them to sign up to the register. We can all do that.
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Bedford and to all hon. Members who have shown support for this debate. I am under no illusion about the challenge here, but I am very heartened to see that so many Members recognise that this is a problem and are taking positive steps to do something about it. Those are the ingredients for success, but I will not be complacent—this is a tough one for us to tackle. I thank all donors, whether of blood, stem cells or organs, for everything that they have done to save people’s lives.
Question put and agreed to.
British Flora: Protection from Imported Diseases
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the protection of British flora from imported diseases.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I am extremely grateful to have been granted this debate, particularly as this is such a pertinent issue; the Forestry Commission recently stated:
“The threat to our forests and woodlands has never been greater.”
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and former Mayor of London pledged that 2 million trees would be planted in London between 2009 and 2025. By 2012, I understand only 100,000 had been planted. The current Mayor, Sadiq Khan, promised before his election in May 2016 to plant 2 million trees in his first term, but for some unknown and unwise reason, he abandoned that policy just five months later, in October 2016. Can the Minister cast light on any of that? Can any pressure be brought to bear on all our city mayors to plant more trees? Should that not form part of the Government’s plans to tackle pollution, particularly in our inner cities?
UK imports of live plants have increased by 71% since 1999. There are now more than 1,000 pests and diseases on the UK plant health register. The Royal Horticultural Society has, however, clamped down on imports. All imported semi-mature trees will be held in isolation for 12 months before they are planted at RHS gardens and shows, and evaluation of plant health risk will be incorporated into judging criteria at RHS flower shows. Services relating to our almost 9.3 million acres of forests, woodlands and other trees are estimated to have an annual value of £44.9 billion to the UK economy. Such services include wood processing, recreation and landscaping, as well as biodiversity.
In my part of the world, the beautiful county of Devon in south-west England, a number of diseases have already been found in trees, including phytophthora ramorum, a fungus-like pathogen called a water mould, which has infected large trees widely grown in the UK for the timber market and rhododendrons. Phytophthora ramorum causes extensive damage and death to a large number of trees and other plants.
Red band needle blight, which particularly affects the Corsican pine, is found in most parts of the UK. A five-year moratorium on the planting of the species has been established for Forestry Commission plantations. Here I pay tribute to a fellow Devonian, Sir Harry Studholme, who does such important work as chairman of the Forestry Commission.
Ash dieback is an extremely serious disease of ash trees caused by a fungus. It causes wilting leaves and crown dieback, most usually leading to tree death. Ash dieback was discovered in Devon by the county council, and in February 2016, Natural Devon published a strategy entitled, “Devon ash dieback action plan: an overarching plan to identify and address the risks of ash dieback disease in Devon.” The plan states that there are more than 1.9 million ash trees in Devon, and goes on to say:
“Today we probably have more such trees because many hedges have been permitted to develop into tree lines. The 2012 estimate of nearly half a million roadside ash trees bigger than about 7.5 cm in diameter…confirms that the 1.9 million figure represents only larger trees, and that the true number of non-woodland ash in the county is much greater.”
Finally, sweet chestnut blight was discovered in Devon in December 2016. It is a plant disease caused by the ascomycete fungus, which causes death and dieback in sweet chestnut plants. Restrictions are in place in Devon on the movement of sweet chestnut material.
All of that comes on the back of the change to our landscape. We all remember the devastation that Dutch elm disease caused to the English countryside in the late 1960s and 1970s. That in turn preceded the unprecedented storm of 1987, which uprooted and killed so much woodland. It is unthinkable that we might lose any more of our flora. Act we must.
However, we must give the Government credit here. The Minister will make his remarks later, but I welcome some of the actions taken by the Government and his Department, not least under the stewardship of my former boss in the Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), when he was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am extremely pleased to see him in his place. I believe he intends to catch your eye later, Sir Henry.
The appointment in 2014 of Professor Nicola Spence as a chief plant health officer was a huge step forward. She has invested £4.5 million in new patrols and inspectors, which hopefully will stem the flow of diseases entering the United Kingdom. I also very much welcome the appointment this month of Sir William Worsley as the Government’s tree champion. That appointment meets one of the key commitments in the Government’s 25-year environment plan.
Sir William’s task of driving forward planting rates will help raise awareness of the impact our flora have on our planet. Such action by Government will teach us all further about the impact that diseases have on our environment and our economy. When the Minister gets to his feet, I hope he will confirm that Sir William will be fully resourced—or is he to be just another Government tsar with no power? How will his success be measured? Will he have full access to Ministers? I hope to hear positive answers to those key questions on the role of our excellent new tree champion.
I also very much welcome the work of the Action Oak partnership, supported by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, a man who is always ahead of the curve on all matters environmental. The partnership will, among other things, fund research to improve the understanding of the threats to our oak trees and inform best management practices. I understand that it is looking to raise £15 million. Can the Minister confirm how much has been raised since its launch at last year’s Chelsea flower show and say whether the Government will make a financial contribution to that important project?
One of the common threats is xylella from continental Europe. I pay tribute to Country Life magazine and the RHS for bringing it to my attention. Xylella has not yet reached our shores, but it could pose a severe threat to our flora if it does. It was found in the United States, Taiwan and Italy, where it has destroyed olive groves in the southern part of the country. Subsequently, it has been discovered in Spain, Germany and France, along with some of the Baltic states. According to Mark Griffiths in Country Life, the EU’s reaction to xylella has been “authoritarian”; its vectors have been
“subjected to mass insecticide, an action that has turned plant disease into an ecological disaster”,
through a policy of fighting the disease by eradicating everything that might possibly succumb to it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reasons for many of these diseases reaching us are twofold: climate change and the movement of people? Her Majesty’s Government should understand that it is in our economic, social and environmental interest to have as much early warning as possible of such diseases moving up through Europe. Does he agree that we should require our embassies and other agencies to give much earlier warnings as diseases approach, so that we on these islands can develop strategies to tackle them before they get here?
My right hon. Friend is precisely right. Forewarned is forearmed, and the more we can publicise these impending diseases coming to our islands, the better. He will acknowledge, as a former Environment Minister, that in some respects the problem is already here. It is about how we stop it from spreading and try to contain it where we can. He has a record second to none on environmental matters, and I am extremely pleased that he is here and taking an interest in the debate.
This rather follows on from what my right hon. Friend said: there have been reports that if the British Government were presented with the problem of xylella, they would destroy not only the infected plant, but all plants within a 100-metre radius. I am concerned that that would amount to uprooting parks, gardens and the greenery of entire neighbourhoods. I would appreciate it if the Minister could confirm what action the Government would take in the event of a xylella outbreak in the UK, and what precautions he is taking to prevent such an outbreak.
As in many of our discussions nowadays, the Commonwealth has its part to play, with the invention of the Queen’s Commonwealth canopy. That initiative, which aims to involve all 53 Commonwealth countries and was first conceived by, among others, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), will hopefully save one of the world’s most important natural habitats, forests. Three UK projects are involved: Epping forest, Wentwood in Wales and the national forest, which covers parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire. Those of us who saw it enjoyed the ITV documentary in April, “The Queen’s Green Planet”, with the legendary Sir David Attenborough, in which Her Majesty the Queen and Sir David discussed the importance of the Queen’s Commonwealth canopy. I particularly look forward to planting a tree in the name of the canopy in Devon in the near future. Will the Minister say what the British Government are doing to raise awareness of and support this Commonwealth initiative?
That leads me on to the defining issue that the United Kingdom faces: leaving the European Union. I am well aware that there is a small amount of irony in the fact that while this debate is about indigenous British flora, many trees and plants in this country are not originally from these shores. Indeed, without our great plant-gatherers of the 18th and 19th centuries, we would not be enjoying many of the trees, shrubs and plants that we have come to know and love. However, I believe that we have a real chance to deliver a green Brexit by ensuring that trading incentives are used to improve biosecurity in trade, including green trade deals. We have a chance to be a pioneering force in having the greenest possible free trade deals, and I hope the Minister will have a positive view of that suggestion.
I commend the millennium seed bank at the royal botanic gardens, Kew, which achieved its initial aim of storing seeds from all the UK’s native plant species in 2009, making Britain the first country in the world to have preserved its botanical heritage. The current phase of the millennium seed bank project is to conserve a quarter of the world’s plant species by 2020. I hope that the Commonwealth, and in particular the Queen’s Commonwealth canopy, will help with the project through their extensive global contacts, and that the British Government will support those efforts.
My hon. Friend the Minister, who represents another wonderful constituency in the south-west, a bit further to the west than mine, will be aware that I always approach these debates with a shopping list. I have some key asks of him this afternoon, which I hope he will address. I welcome the Government’s announcement of £37 million in funding through the tree health resilience strategy. However, how will it be divided up? How much of that money will go to the new tree champion?
Will the Minister commit to tightening up and enforcing more strongly the rules concerning which plant materials can be imported into the UK from the EU and further afield, and how will that be affected once we leave the European Union in March 2019? Could biosecurity be incorporated into any transition deal that the Government agree with Europe? Further to the remarks by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), what instructions can be issued to our embassies and high commissions around the world to identify the threats to the United Kingdom, and some of those plants and trees, to prevent people from trying to export them to the UK?
I am much heartened by the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee’s inquiry on plant and animal biosecurity after Brexit. Will the Government implement the Committee’s recommendations when the report is published, if they are in line with the stated ambition under the 25-year environment strategy and the tree health resilience strategy?
I could go on much longer on this extraordinary subject, but those with greater knowledge of the subject wish to contribute to the debate. I will conclude by saying that many of us spend our recreational time walking the British countryside. It is the envy of the world. How distraught would we be if it were to be further decimated by diseases that killed our flora? I call on us all to act now to protect our green and pleasant land.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry, and a great honour to follow my ex-Minister of State in Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire). We worked very closely together. He made a fine speech, and I congratulate him on bringing this important issue before us. I put on the record that I am delighted that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will answer the debate. He also served under me, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who was a junior Minister while I was at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am among friends.
When I came to DEFRA, I set the Department four simple priorities over a kaleidoscopic variety of responsibilities. The first was to grow the rural economy. The second was to improve the environment—not protect it, but improve it. The third was to protect the country from animal disease. The fourth, which is relevant to the debate, was to protect the country from plant disease. Little did I know when I came to DEFRA what I was about to walk into.
Back in 1992, Chalara fraxinea had been found in Poland and was decimating ash trees there. It later struck me— my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury made a pertinent observation on this—how extraordinary it was that our embassies and consulates were not reading horticultural magazines and reporting back. If we had known then what was about to come to us, we could possibly have done more about it.
However, this terrible disease, which will ravage the 80 million-odd ash trees in this country, came west, probably not helped by the foolish practice of sending seedlings to Holland and then bringing them back as whips and saplings to grow into full trees here. Shortly before I went to DEFRA, the disease was found in a nursery in Buckinghamshire during a routine inspection by the Food and Environment Research Agency, and by the autumn, shortly after I took over, we were in a full-blooded crisis, in which we were trying to handle the issue.
We saw immediately that the disease had clearly followed the Schmallenberg virus, which had blown in, according to the maps, to the eastern tip of Kent and of East Anglia. However—this was unprecedented for DEFRA—we then had a most extraordinary exercise in which, over a week, we mapped the whole country, with amazing co-operation from the public and voluntary organisations and the devolved Administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I also very much pay tribute to the Republic of Ireland, which played a part in this. We established spots of Chalara infection where trees had quite clearly been unwisely brought in from the continent. That immediately set in train the need to set about doing something.
It seemed crazy to me that we had a chief vet, but did not really have anyone in charge of tree and plant health, so I commissioned Professor Chris Gilligan, professor of mathematical biology and head of the school of biological sciences at the University of Cambridge, to chair the tree health and plant biosecurity expert taskforce, which we set up—all helped by Professor Boyd, the chief scientist at DEFRA. The taskforce produced a really good report.
My speech will be quite brief, because I would really like the Minister to reply—I tipped him off about this yesterday—on how many of the report’s key points have been implemented. The taskforce’s final report came out in May 2013, and DEFRA produced a plant biosecurity strategy in April 2014 that adopted nearly all the key recommendations, the first of which was to set up a UK risk register.
Are there still monthly meetings at DEFRA? I chaired meetings with my chief vet and the newly appointed chief plant health officer at which we monitored all diseases coming towards this country, and those that were already here, which my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon has rightly mentioned. Those were really valuable meetings.
The other key recommendation, which we adopted very early on after receiving the taskforce’s interim report, was to appoint a chief plant health officer; as I said, we had a chief vet but not an equivalent in plant health. We rapidly appointed Professor Nicola Spence. She had been a visiting professor at Harper Adams University, which is near my constituency, and is very distinguished. We put her in post, and I remember our benefiting very quickly: as soon as she was appointed, there was a case of a shipment of, I think, heavy electrical plant cables from Turkey. The dunnage—the wooden packing—was infested with some form of insect that was very unwelcome in this country. Professor Spence asked what to do, and I told her to send it back. We sent it back, which I said would send a striking lesson to the whole industry that, now that she had been appointed, I would back her all the way.
That is why the monthly meetings were really important. We would discuss these individual cases, and sightings of diseases—both plant and animal—in distant countries and here. I would like reassurances that those meetings are going on.
We also talked about getting much better intelligence. That was one of the key recommendations. On that front, I went to Russia, primarily to promote exports at a big Russian food exhibition. I visited the really interesting and top-class Russian institute for plant health, which had amazing, state-of-the-art facilities. We agreed with the Minister that we would have regular meetings of scientists and, once a year, a ministerial meeting. Many of these diseases have come from east to west, Chalara being the most obvious one. It would be nice to know that we have kept up those meetings.
While we were in Moscow, Martin Ward, who was chief plant officer at DEFRA, was elected chairman of the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation, on which there are 50 countries; it goes well beyond the EU. I would like to know what our contacts are with that organisation, because I thought that was a thoroughly worthwhile body to be part of and keep beefed-up. Martin Ward was a key man when he was in DEFRA and did a great job. I hoped that we would pick up a lot more intelligence there about where the diseases were coming from. We were going to look at procedures for preparedness. For instance, we planted 250,000 saplings to stake out and see where there might be resistance to Chalara; we found that that was in a tiny percentage of trees. The tragedy of all that was that we could have done so much work, if we had known back in 1992 that this disease was out there. I would like to know what other programmes DEFRA has embarked on.
There was going to be much tighter protection of borders. Around the same time, I went to Australia and New Zealand. I was absolutely stunned by the incredibly vigorous measures taken there. I remember seeing second-hand JCBs being stripped down and steam-cleaned at Sydney port before being allowed entry. No mud or dust was allowed in. In New Zealand, I saw intelligence-based monitoring of every single passenger at the airport. Everyone was monitored. There were sniffer dogs and x-ray machines. There were amnesty bins with warnings for anyone who had a sandwich or an apple. It was made absolutely clear on the aeroplane that we were not allowed to bring plant or animal products into either of those two countries.
I noted that Heathrow had virtually no notices and no alerts on the plane. Changing that would not have been an expensive exercise, and we set that in train when I was at DEFRA. I would like to know how we are getting on there. We agreed to give passengers far more early warning that they should not bring these products in, and to print leaflets in various languages, with an easily communicable message, for passengers coming in. I would like to know what we are doing at borders, because there is so much we could learn from countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
With Brexit, we will have a wonderful opportunity. Everybody talks about human movement at the borders; what about the movement of plants, both healthy and unhealthy? The European Union assumes that all plants are healthy, but sadly they are not. I have had meetings with Matt Shardlow of Buglife, which does splendid work on this. He reckons that invasive, non-native species are costing the UK economy £1.7 billion every year, which is shocking. There is a particularly disgusting invader called the Obama flatworm, an invasive flatworm from Brazil. It is already a threat in France, and one has been found in a pot plant in a garden centre in Oxfordshire. It was originally imported from the Netherlands.
As you know, Sir Henry, you will not find anyone in the House of Commons more in favour of free trade than me, but we need free trade in healthy products. Interestingly, in its latest publication, Buglife goes so far as to say that we should ban all pot plant imports, which would be a very strong measure. In DEFRA, we were looking at much more vigorous quarantining. Some of these imports are mad; for example, bringing from south-east Asia a reasonably mature tree with half a tonne of earth on it is just inviting trouble. Even the smallest pot plants can include a few eggs. We were going to look at longer quarantine periods, so that the bugs could incubate, and then have much more vigorous measures for sending them back. We will be able to do that after Brexit. We will be able to run and control our own borders.
I hope that the UK will become a haven for healthy plant products. I want to say the British Isles, because we worked extremely closely with the Government of the Republic of Ireland. They were really co-operative, and they have a massive interest: think of the tragedy of the decimation of ash populations across northern Europe. I had hoped we could begin to develop healthy plants and repopulate. We could be a reservoir of healthy plants that could be used to repopulate parts of Europe that had been blighted.
Other Members want to speak, and we very much want to hear from the Minister. I would like a résumé of where we are up to. Lastly, we promised we would increase skills and get more people interested in this area, and in training in plant diseases; we were going to put more money into that. I heartily congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon on this debate on a really worthwhile subject.
I plan to start the wind-ups at five past five, which leaves us exactly 10 minutes. I would be grateful if the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) would split the time between them.
I will adhere to the five-minute limit, Sir Henry. First, I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) on presenting the case so well. He said others with expertise would speak after him, but he spoke at the beginning with a lot of expertise, as did the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), and we appreciate that. I have not held any of the positions that the right hon. Gentlemen used to hold, but I come as an MP from Northern Ireland, so perhaps that gets me into the club. I am not sure whether it does or not, but there we are. It is always a pleasure to speak on these issues. In his introduction, the right hon. Member for East Devon referred to the beauty of his constituency, but my constituency of Strangford, which the right hon. Gentleman has visited on numerous occasions, is equal to his, if not better.
The issue of protection for our habitats is something that I have a great interest in. Whenever I get off the plane from Heathrow to Belfast City, the advertising on the walls clearly states, “No plants and no food”. It is very strict. That is what we see displayed at Belfast International airport, Belfast City airport and also Londonderry airport, so it is clear that we have a policy in place.
On my farm I have planted some 3,500 trees and created duck ponds. My sons and I are fastidious about pest control to encourage a thriving fauna haven, and I am not alone, as many country sports enthusiasts have the same passion for conservation and the issue of protection, as does the right hon. Gentleman. I was pleased to learn that there would be tighter controls on importing plants to prevent pests and diseases from damaging our native trees. The right hon. Gentleman has said that, and I will say it from a Northern Ireland perspective.
We have had numerous ash dieback outbreaks in Northern Ireland, some in my constituency. In Ballywalter, not too far away, Lord Dunleath’s estate has had an outbreak in the past. Oak and ash trees are among the species at risk from imported diseases and pests such as xylella and the emerald ash borer beetle. Xylella was first detected in 2013 when it destroyed olive trees in southern Italy. It spread to France, Spain and Mediterranean islands. It could arrive in Britain in imported plants such as rosemary, lavender, olives, oleander and almond.
In my constituency, Japanese knotweed is a major issue with people not understanding that trying to pull it out or cut it down merely spreads the problem. We must do more to educate people about the dangers of dealing with foreign plants, along with our own. Although the nurturing of Japanese bonsai trees for 50 years is a lovely thought, try dealing with Japanese knotweed that attacks plants and undermines the very foundations of homes and buildings throughout the Province. Japanese knotweed has become a real problem in my constituency around some of the houses, and land has been blighted. An area in the centre of Newtownards cannot be developed for six years because of the presence of Japanese knotweed. Weed killing has been undertaken, but a period of time has to be allowed to make sure that the incubation has not arisen again.
When I tried to help a constituent address their knotweed issue, I ran into problem after problem with Government Departments unwilling to step in and stop the spread. Instead of one garden being sprayed by a specialist at the right time of year for the prescribed time, a row of houses is now literally infested and losing their plants, and possibly their foundations. We were told that the weed killer was reasonably priced and the constituent could do the job themselves, but that did not really work. We need a targeted effort from Government Departments and the local councils to address the diseases and stop them destroying our beautiful UK.
I want to ask the Minister a quick question. There is a farmers’ market event today in the Members’ Dining Room, and I spoke to some of the people there. Different regions of the United Kingdom are represented, including Northern Ireland. I understand that the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, in Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland have a cross-border body that involves the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and other Government bodies. However, although the framework is in place, there is no financial assistance for that cross-border body so that it can move forward and address the issue of invasive species coming to Northern Ireland, but also to the Republic. We need to dedicate funding to that purpose for the greater good of all our plants and fauna. I ask the Minister whether there is any intention to widen the attack on the invaders in our gardens.
I fully support the Department’s decision to implement stricter controls, yet it is a matter of closing the gate after the horse has bolted—we have all these foreign invaders already attacking our trees and wildlife and we must defend them. That needs to be targeted and done on a UK-wide basis. Across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we need to encourage the growth of our own beautiful plants and wildlife, free from attack by other plants that have no right to be thriving on our shores.
It is a great pleasure to be involved in this very important and timely debate. I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I should also say that I am a trustee of a charity called Plantlife, which is doing a lot of work on invasive species and plant health and trying to encourage wildflowers.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), a former Secretary of State, said, invasive species are costing our economy at least £1.7 billion a year. I remember the plant retailers coming to me, when I was in his Department, to whinge about the increased biosecurity measures that he was rightly implementing. I listened to them, but I am afraid that I just said to them, “Look, you really have got this wrong. Your industry is in part responsible for a devastating effect on our natural environment. You have to face facts: we are now moving into almost a military-style campaign to attack the invasive species and the diseases that are coming to this country, and you have to wise up to it.” They were quite shocked, but I was in turn quite shocked at their lack of biosecurity over decades, at the failure of Governments over decades to implement proper biosecurity, and how we were happy to import nearly all the stock of young trees of certain species that we were planting.
As my right hon. Friend said, we have followed the progression of Chalara as, like Schmallenberg disease and blue tongue, it has progressed across the country. At the weekend, I was looking at a wood in Berkshire and I estimated that about one third of the canopy was ash, and that will be gone in a very short space of time. We can learn from this. We can prevent other diseases that could be devastating to the remaining stock of trees and plants, if we learn from our mistakes in the past. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) is absolutely right to say that.
I hope that the Minister will, in his reply, comment on Action Oak, which is spearheaded by Woodland Heritage. It is based quite near Alice Holt forest, and there is good reason why it should be there and able to build on the information at that centre of excellence. But funding is the key. We welcome the £500,000 that DEFRA promised, but £15 million is needed, and it would be great to know how close we are to getting to that.
Plantlife has identified what it calls its dirty dozen of invasive species, including American skunk-cabbage, broad-leaved bamboo, giant rhubarb, cotoneasters, Himalayan balsam, the Hottentot fig and Japanese knotweed. These invasive species are not only causing huge environmental damage, but creating a huge cost for us to deal with. What my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire did at DEFRA was quite right. He applied a logistician’s approach. I can remember that as a result of foot and mouth, when we had a very serious drought—this was before he was Secretary of State—we developed the same concept as was applied at the time of foot and mouth. It was called birdtable meetings. All the experts were brought in on a regular basis. They were very executive: they were called birdtable meetings because no one sat down—rather like the Privy Council—people just got the business done and then everyone went away and got on with it. I think that that kind of approach is required now to deal with this issue.
Of course, one measure that we need to talk about is husbandry. If dealing with Chalara requires the ash tree to be cut down and burned or taken away, or just cut down at the first sign, that is easy for a larger state or an organisation such as the Forestry Commission, but it is hard for a small farmer or someone with a few ash trees in their garden. Who will take responsibility for encouraging people to do the right thing? It requires a logistician’s approach to dealing with it.
We should beware easy solutions. I remember people coming to see me and saying that we should spray acres of woodland with copper sulphate. Instead of listening to those people, who seemed to have lifted their solutions off the internet, I listened much more readily to the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who said that that would have a much more malign effect on our biodiversity and plant life.
I, too, have visited New Zealand and Australia. While I was still many thousands of miles away from arriving, I was hit by how hard-wired biosecurity is into every aspect of the travelling experience. The airline and the airport staff are tuned in to it, and there is signage, so it is impossible to move without it being apparent. We need to develop a much more overt and proactive form of biosecurity. I hope the Minister will give us some reassurance about that.
It is a pleasure to sum up for the Scottish National party with you in the Chair, Sir Henry. I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) on securing this debate and on his speech, which I will come to. Given the subject of the debate, it would be remiss of me not to put on record my congratulations to Mairi Gougeon MSP on her nomination to the Scottish Government as the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment. It is a nomination because it is the practice in Scotland that Government nominations to ministerial office must be passed by Parliament. One of her early introductions might be to read the Hansard of this debate to get a sense of some of the challenges that she will face in her job, not least from the likes of ash dieback.
The right hon. Gentleman made a typically forthright and challenging speech to the Minister. He spoke of the rate of planting trees elsewhere in these isles, but he did not mention that Scotland created 73% of all new woodland in the UK in 2016-17. Its target is now 15,000 hectares of new woodland by 2024-25, which is ambitious but achievable.
The right hon. Gentleman obviously spoke about ash dieback, which is a considerable problem in Scotland. Some 20% of all 10 km grid squares in Scotland have confirmed ash dieback. It appears that some ash trees may have some tolerance or resistance to infection, so it would be interesting for scientists to get to the bottom of how that came about. I take the point that mistakes were made in how we targeted prevention, but we need to ensure that a new strain of ash trees can be bred for the future.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about xylella, which I understand is the subject of EU emergency measures to control the movement of affected species such as plane, elm and oak. He also posed some questions to the Minister about strategy should it arrive in this country. He made a forthright and knowledgeable speech, to which I am sure the Minister will seek to respond.
The speech by the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) was obviously partly influenced by his time in ministerial office and the knowledge he gained there. He also posed several questions to the Minister, and we look forward to hearing the answers.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke of his contribution to the flora of Northern Ireland. He rightly spoke about the pervasive problem of Japanese knotweed, which is a horrendous issue. From personal experience of constituency cases in Airdrie and Shotts, I know that it is expensive and challenging to deal with. The right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) described a military-style campaign, and that is exactly what is often required to deal with Japanese knotweed. It is a horrendous issue. He also spoke of the major challenges of ash dieback, and not just for larger organisations. He rightly emphasised the challenges faced by smaller landowners in ensuring that they can respond if an outbreak sadly arrives in their area.
I should mention briefly some of the areas that we are working on in Scotland. Plant health is at the heart of Scotland’s thriving natural environment, our rural economy and our wellbeing. The aim of the Scottish plant health strategy is to safeguard agriculture, horticulture, forestry and the wider environment from plant pests, from 2016 to 2021 and beyond.
One of the greatest threats to biodiversity worldwide is invasive non-native species. That threat is particularly pronounced for fragile island ecosystems—I am not just talking about the British Isles, but the islands within the British Isles. Disease has already been spoken about by the right hon. Member for East Devon and the hon. Member for Strangford, and I think particularly of Japanese knotweed.
Scotland has led the way in the UK in creating a statutory framework to prevent the introduction and spread of non-invasive species, but we have concerns about the UK Government’s Brexit strategy and the power grab, including over environmental protections. We are not opposed to UK-wide frameworks when they are in Scotland’s interests. However, they must be agreed rather than imposed, and they must happen in a manner that respects and recognises devolution. The Scottish First Minister has been clear that any threat to Scotland’s distinctive and ambitious approach to environmental standards and climate change would be completely unacceptable. Imposing a UK framework could result in substantial damage to the work that has already been done by the Scottish Government.
For example, we used EU rules to ban genetically modified crops in Scotland to protect our environment and support Scottish agriculture, and there is no such ban in England. A UK-wide framework in that area could see the ban lifted, thereby threatening Scotland’s clean, green brand and the future of Scotland’s £14 billion food and drink sector. Scotland has gained international recognition for our work on climate change and the circular economy, so we clearly do not want to put that at risk.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I congratulate the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) on securing this debate. Biosecurity is a huge issue that does not often get its turn in the spotlight.
The right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and the right hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) all made important points. I share their concerns about the problems we have with the many invasive species. In our village, we have had to deal with Japanese knotweed, and we have huge issues with Himalayan balsam. Until I was elected to this place, I had a personal mission against Himalayan balsam encroaching on to our land, which I have now handed over to my husband. Removing invasive species is a terribly difficult, time-consuming and costly exercise. There is then the dreadful problem of dealing with diseases such as ash dieback, which we have also discussed.
Biosecurity is terribly critical but perhaps does not get enough attention. It is also vital for our biosecurity that we retain access to EU markets. We have to make sure that the right resources and infrastructure are in place to handle the continued movement of animals and plants. We need our trade with the EU to continue to be as frictionless as possible. Most importantly, regulatory standards must not be compromised by Brexit. The right hon. Member for North Shropshire said that we need to trade in healthy plants and I could not agree with him more.
Prospect recently submitted evidence to an inquiry by the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee into biosecurity, recommending better training for plant health officers, an issue that has already been mentioned. We need to establish a viable training programme for new and established inspectors, plus joint training ventures with the Horticultural Trades Association and the Royal Horticultural Society. The evidence also recommends more long-term investment in agricultural and environmental science, as well as that Ministers should put together a plan to deliver future biosecurity collaboration with the EU post-Brexit.
There are significant worries that we may weaken biosecurity protection and open ourselves up to risks and threats through trade deals, unless we do everything we can to ensure that sufficient checks and resources are put in place to mitigate those risks. Brexit could mean the end of shared biosecurity information—such as that provided through the European rapid alert system for food and feed, and through the European Union notification system for plant health interceptions—for the intercepting of pests and diseases on imported goods.
We are at the end of a huge plant supply chain from other EU states. This could be significant for the future of British biosecurity. The current system of sharing intelligence of biosecurity threats within or bordering the EU must continue in some form. Given the volume of UK-EU trade, it is critical that we continue to collaborate. The cost of dealing with pests and pathogens once they are in the UK is significantly more expensive and much more challenging than preventing their introduction in the first place, as has been mentioned by right hon. and hon. Members. That shared expertise is vital to being able to plan and prepare for future challenges. Any loss of that integrated approach would pose a risk to UK biosecurity. Will the Minister commit to retaining the precautionary principle in implementing biosecurity legislation?
We need a closer relationship with EU standards post-Brexit, but that may not provide the protections we need in the future, because we will have to continue to update legislation and practices, to tackle any new challenges and threats as they emerge. We know that climate change is spreading pests and diseases to new locations, and new trade deals will require new supply-chain assurances and the expertise to manage those risks. New legislation also needs to be flexible enough to enable quicker reaction to new threats and to improve the move from pest eradication, to containment, to management.
Another problem is that we simply do not know how much plant material is imported from the EU every year, as it is not checked, so we do not have any idea what resources we will need to check it. Have any estimates been made of the volume of plant imports from the EU? If those imports are not checked properly, does the Minister agree that there will be risks for biosecurity?
The current assumption on checks is that they will have to happen at supermarket distribution centres, for example, because we do not have the capacity to do so at the points of entry. There is a risk that inspectors could be overwhelmed by the volume of additional inspections and therefore miss dangerous pests or diseases in other imports. To combat that, I understand that the Animal and Plant Health Agency is recruiting about 40 new inspectors and seven new mangers, which is excellent news, but it is hard to see how they can be trained in time. There has never been a requirement for training on this scale before. Will the Minister comment on that and let me know if the training is being done face to face or online, as there are clearly concerns about the issue?
Currently, non-EU imports are managed through an HMRC customs computer system. The volumes are relatively low and require advanced notice. Inspectors are asking whether that system is appropriate for EU imports and whether it could cope with additional volume. Does the Minister believe that the current HMRC plant import customs IT system will be able to deal with the imports from the EU? Has any assessment been made of that? Is a new system being designed? If so, on what basis and will it be ready in time?
I am aware that I have posed quite a number of questions to the Minister and I appreciate that he may not be able to answer them all today. If that is the case, I would be grateful if he would write to me with the answers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) on securing this debate.
As a number of hon. Members have pointed out, protecting our country from pests and diseases is vital to safeguarding our environment. The loss of veteran trees, some of which have been around for hundreds of years, due to some of those diseases, is particularly tragic. I remember as a boy growing up in Cornwall that we had beautiful elms right around the farm. I can remember my father having to cut them down, year after year, because they had died. It was a tremendous tragedy, and since then threats to plant health have only increased. That is why, as a number of hon. Members have pointed out, we have to be constantly on our guard and strengthen our responses.
My right hon. Friend highlighted in his comprehensive speech many of the current threats. As he pointed out, we have the problem of ash dieback, which prompted changes to our plans some years ago. In the west country we have a particular problem, as he said, with phytophthora ramorum, which is particularly prevalent in areas of the country with wet conditions and species that are prone to that disease. We have, with our iconic oaks, the problem of oak processionary moth and acute oak decline, which has been around for a number of years. As he pointed out, recently in his part of the world we have seen the arrival of sweet chestnut blight. In addition, we are now monitoring and are vigilant against threats, including xylella at the top of the list, and others such as plane wilt, which would be a major threat to some of our trees in urban areas such as London, and the emerald ash borer.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), who was the first Secretary of State I served under in my post in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—I think we are now on to Secretary of State No. 4—asked a very specific question with, I have to say, a hint of scepticism in his voice. He wanted to know whether the recommendations of the tree health and plant biosecurity initiative expert taskforce, which he commissioned and which reported in 2014, had been implemented. He will be delighted to know that those recommendations have been implemented, and many of the important changes that he put in place are still with us today. In fact, we have built on some of the architecture and infrastructure that he put in place.
For instance, we now have a chief plant health officer; indeed, Nicola Spence, our current chief plant health officer, is here today listening to the debate. We have also developed a prioritised UK risk register, which has in the region of 1,000 pests registered on it. We have strengthened governance arrangements. My right hon. Friend asked—with, I think, an especial hint of scepticism—whether our monthly biosecurity meetings, which he used to chair, continue. Perhaps he thought that they had fallen by the wayside after he had gone, as meetings often do. I reassure him that that monthly biosecurity meeting is critical and still takes place. He will be delighted to know that my noble Friend Lord Gardiner, who leads on that element of the DEFRA portfolio, is every bit as tenacious as he was in identifying threats and ensuring that we take them seriously.
The fourth recommendation was that there should be improved border security and strengthened import regulations, which I will deal with a little later. The final recommendation was that there should be a new plant health information portal. We have introduced all those recommendations and taken them further.
As a result of the biosecurity strategy launched in 2014, the plant health service now operates, pre-border, things such as systematic screening of risk, at-the-border checks—inspections at entry points—and also an inland strategy that uses both aerial and ground surveillance to reduce the risk of pests and diseases entering the country, and to manage the impact of established pests.
Turning first to the pre-border checks, we try to stop pests and diseases before they even arrive, and our international horizon scanning helps us spot new risks and take action to stop them. Risks are tracked through a fully published UK plant health risk register, which, as I have said, now has more than 1,000 plant pests and diseases registered on it. Where necessary, we take action to drive up international biosecurity standards, ensuring that regulations are robust in both Europe and beyond. For instance, we secured stronger EU-wide protections against the threat of xylella.
Turning to the border, we have invested more than £4.5 million to strengthen our border security, recruiting new plant inspectors and enhancing training. Our border inspectors carry out more than 100,000 document checks and 30,000 physical checks a year of consignments deemed to be of higher risk. They are highly effective in comparison with their peers, so the UK consistently makes more interceptions of harmful organisms than any other EU member state. In fact, the interceptions we make account for about 40% of the total number of interceptions that take place at EU level.
I referred earlier to the fact that there is a skeletal body in place in Northern Ireland and the Republic—it involves the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, and others from the Republic of Ireland—but it has no funding. I do not expect the Minister to have all the answers—that would be unfair—but will he come back to me with an answer about the funding, so that we can get it going?
I was going to try to touch on that; it was on the long list of issues that I wanted to cover. There is already an all-Ireland approach to plant health between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and we co-operate closely with the Republic of Ireland on plant health. For instance, we invite it to the UK plant health co-ordination meeting. A lot of joint working takes place in that regard.
In 2016, some 445 different pests were intercepted and identified at UK points of entry; in 2017, the figure was 401. We cannot eliminate all the risks, but we have robust contingency plans in place so that we can take prompt, effective action to tackle the pests and diseases that make it through. In February 2017 we published the generic contingency plan for plant and bee health, which sets out how the DEFRA chief plant health officer will co-ordinate and lead the response to an outbreak of pests or diseases in plants or bees in England.
We also have ongoing extensive aerial and ground-based surveillance programmes, including Observatree, a nationwide network of more than 200 volunteer surveyors trained by the Forest Research agency and the Woodland Trust. We have increased national protection at home by introducing statutory notification schemes for certain tree species and securing protected zones, which prevent the import of trees that do not meet stringent conditions. A protected zone effectively bans the import of trees unless they have been grown in an area free of the relevant disease and are accompanied by a plant passport certifying that. We have introduced more protected zones than any other member state. Since the introduction of statutory notification schemes for imports, there has also been a significant reduction in the number of tree imports. For instance, we have seen a 60% reduction in plane tree imports.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon raised the issue of budget, which is obviously important. There is a £37 million budget for tree health between 2012 and 2020, which has been spent on research, monitoring, risk assessment, surveillance and management and will support the priorities of our tree health resilience strategy. He also asked about Sir William Worsley, our new tree champion. I know the budget is being discussed and any budget he needs will be funded out of the provision we have for tree health, alongside other priorities. Having that tree champion has been an important step forward.
Both my right hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon raised the issue of the Action Oak programme, which was launched only recently by my noble Friend Lord De Mauley. We have made progress with it: so far, £1.6 million has been raised towards it. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire raised the issue of border controls. This week, we are running a “Don’t Risk It” campaign, with visible posters and information for the public.
Finally, on the issue of the European Union—no debate in this place is complete without contemplating what might happen with Brexit—leaving the EU is an opportunity to examine all our national biosecurity measures, to ensure that they are as robust as possible and that we are doing everything we can to protect our country. We are working to secure the best EU exit deal, balancing frictionless trade in plants with robust protection against pests and diseases from day one, but certainly there will be opportunities as we leave the EU to adopt a slightly different approach where we deem it necessary to protect our trees and promote plant health in this country.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members from the Conservative party, the Scottish National party and the Democratic Unionist party, and the rather lonely spokesman for the Opposition Labour party, for taking part in this debate. It is a subject that I would have thought would interest hon. Members from all over the country, and I hope that when we debate these matters in future, as I am sure we will, we will have greater representation. I think we are all agreed, in a rare form of consensus, that this is a serious problem and one that we need to get a grip on if we are to preserve our landscape for future generations.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the protection of British flora from imported diseases.