Tuesday 16 October 2018
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered reducing stigma around eating disorders.
It is a honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.
We probably all know at least one sufferer or ex-sufferer of an eating disorder. As one put it to me, eating disorders are the easiest thing to get into and the hardest to get out of. We have come a long way in recent years, but we are nowhere near to providing lasting, successful treatments for hundreds of thousands of people. Many people are suffering alone and in silence, without a support network. We are failing as a society to support people in their deeply personal battles.
This debate is about stigma. There are two stigmas around eating disorders—that from outside and that which sufferers feel themselves. The result is that people often wait a long time before asking for help.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate on such an important issue. Does she agree that one of the ways to tackle the stigma is for people to speak out and then for others to have confidence to speak out as well? That will contribute to more early diagnosis and better treatment and care.
I totally agree. There are a number of people in the Public Gallery today who have spoken out. I will come on to how important it is that people have the confidence and feel secure enough to speak out.
It takes an average of 58 weeks from someone realising that they have a problem to them seeking help from a GP. That is more than a year of self-doubt, self-loathing and self-harm. On average, it is a further 27 weeks until the start of treatment. Add to that the time that the person has suffered with a disorder before admitting that there is a problem and we start to see the real picture.
In my constituency, there is an excellent facility, Rharian Fields, run by Navigo, a social enterprise. It is rated as outstanding by the Care Quality Commission, but only accepts patients over the age of 17. If we are to tackle some of the deep-rooted psychological issues, does the hon. Lady agree that we need facilities for young people under the age of 17? Such facilities are incredibly difficult to access around the country.
I thank the hon. Lady for that contribution. We do not really understand eating disorders deeply enough and we need to start a lot earlier. We need facilities for people younger than 17; we need to get into the issue at a much earlier age. It is all about understanding what the problem really is. We are a long way from properly understanding the deep-rooted causes. The more treatment available and the earlier we can intervene, the better.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Early intervention is hugely significant. Many eating disorders can be prevented from developing to their full extent with proper preventive care. Is she aware that the Government enable public health bodies in Cumbria to spend only 75p per head for children in the county on preventive treatment? Does she agree that that is a disgrace and that we ought instead to be investing in, for instance, having a mental health worker attached to every single school, to ensure that we prevent people getting to the later stage?
Across the board, and particularly when it comes to public health, prevention is so much better than picking up the pieces afterwards. We can save so much money if we do something early rather than only intervening when somebody is already in crisis. That is particularly true for mental health, and the challenge here is that eating disorders are still not very well understood.
I have a personal interest in this subject. A close member of my family suffered from bulimia. What we found most important was the support provided by the family network. That, above anything else that could be provided, was what carried the family member through to a positive conclusion.
Anybody who has had a close family member in such a situation will understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but families are often pretty helpless too, if they do not really understand what can be done and how they can help their family member to get out of the problem. It is a form of addiction, and like with any other addiction, family members are co-sufferers. They want to help but do not really understand the deep-seated problems. Family members are important, but we need the professionals and their understanding to help families get through together. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that families are incredibly important.
Eating disorders define large periods of people’s lives. How can we shorten that time? We need people to be okay with saying, “I’m not okay.” We need to tackle the stigma around eating disorders, and the message needs to get through to a lot of people. More than 1 million people in the UK have an eating disorder; three quarters are women and one quarter are men. That is a very large number, plus there are the friends and family who suffer with them. So many people with conditions such as anorexia and bulimia blame themselves. It is not their fault and we need to make sure that they know that.
When I announced on Twitter that I was holding this debate, I received a wave of emotional responses and personal stories. Yesterday, a local doctor dropped into my office a book that she had written, which described her fight with eating disorders since the age of 13. That shows how early it can start.
I also got an email from a young woman called Lorna, who experienced serious anorexia while studying in my constituency in Bath. This is what she told me:
“I ended up with an initial diagnosis of anxiety and depression, and was started on antidepressants. I suspended my studies and worked as a carer in my local village, living at home with my mum and brother. People I’d known all my life began commenting on the weight I’d lost, and telling me how good I looked. This is when my anorexia began to take full hold.
I stopped eating completely, lying to my mum and saying I’d eaten at work, began over-exercising compulsively, and remember pacing the corridors at work to burn extra calories. I became obsessed. I weighed myself up to 12 times a day.
My mum was terrified, and didn’t know what to do. Eventually she came with me to my GP and I told him everything. I told him I was petrified of putting on weight, exercising excessively and skipping nearly every meal. His response was ‘Oh, that’ll be your antidepressants.’ He took me off a high dose, there and then. Cold turkey.
Each time...I told him how out of control I felt with my eating. He’d force me onto the scales, shaking and crying, and then tell me my BMI was ‘healthy’ and I didn’t meet the diagnostic criteria. I was devastated. I had opened up and was denied help. I never got diagnosed with anorexia, despite going from a size 16 to a size 8 in less than a year.
I went through the monthly humiliation of being dragged onto scales and told I wasn’t thin enough to be helped yet. And not having that formal diagnosis is hard. When I tell people I was anorexic, they never quite believe me, as even doctors didn’t. I think they always assume I was being dramatic, or ‘it wasn’t that bad then’. Today, I am weight-restored, although struggle with now being overweight.
It took me 3 years to recover. 3 years of misery and obsession. I was dangerously unwell, but not sick enough to get an ounce of support.”
When I read that story, I am amazed by how brave Lorna is. She was brave to ask for treatment and even braver to put her trust into the medical system a second time, even after she did not receive the treatment that she really needed. She was very brave to tell her story. Lorna has gone on to campaign for proper treatment for eating disorders. She is here in the Chamber, and I want to thank her personally for letting me share her story—Lorna, thank you. I am so sorry that you had to go through such an awful experience. I know your words will help others, and I desperately hope that together we can improve the treatment and care of those with eating disorders and end the stigma for good.
We cannot ignore the medical failings in Lorna’s story. We need to use them and the figures that prove that Lorna’s experience is not an isolated case. First, we need to break the stereotype that all people with eating disorders are underweight. Hope Virgo’s campaign to “Dump the Scales” was also a response to being told that she was not thin enough to receive support. She is calling on the Government properly to implement the eating disorder guidance delivered by clinicians, a call that I strongly echo along with over 60,000 signatories to her petition. To judge an eating disorder simply by BMI is not good enough; rather, we need to look at the trend and rapidity of weight loss and the story that sufferers tell.
We know that the Department of Health and Social Care knows this is an issue. We know that if we fail to take action, people not only suffer but, in some cases, lose their lives. When questioned on waiting times, the Minister often says that the Government do have targets, but he ignores the fact—or he does not tell us—that there is none for adult services. On average, adults wait twice as long as people under the age of 19. The Government must do everything to remove barriers to treatment. In particular, young adults are incredibly vulnerable. At our autumn conference, the Lib Dems called for the Government to ensure that all young people can access young people’s mental health services up to the age of 25, because from the age of 18 many young adults move out of home, go into further education or start their first job, all of which can be stressful when they no longer have support from home. We must also introduce waiting times for adults to ensure that they receive help as quickly as possible.
The Minister is likely to mention that in 2015 the Government allocated £30 million of extra resources per year for five years to improve the NHS treatment of eating disorders for teenagers. However, in some cases that is not reaching the frontline, because the funding is not ring-fenced and can be diverted to other priorities.
Leading on from that point, my hon. Friend will be aware that in 2016 the Government pledged money for a specific one-to-one eating disorder service for children and young people under the age of 18. Yet two and a half years on, that service does not exist in Cumbria, and people who present with eating disorders often go through the struggles that she has just talked about, because the people that they see are not specialists.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on giving us the opportunity to discuss this very serious issue. Does she agree that, in addition to dealing with the problems that are thrown up by having an eating disorder, the difficulty for people in that position and for their families is access to proper services? That varies from place to place, town to town and city to city. Does she believe that we need a more integrated service that is the same everywhere and that provides an effective service for young people—and older people, for that matter—who are in that situation?
I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman: the services are too patchy, which is why families do not really know what to do. We need to ensure that there is not a postcode lottery—I will come to that later—and that services follow on from each other and are much more holistic and integrated. There is a lot to do.
Funding for eating disorders must be properly ring-fenced, because it is just too easy for trusts to use that money to plug other funding gaps. If we fail to do that, we end up with tragic deaths such as that of Averil Hart, which prompted a Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report. She was completely failed by the system. The report not only called for parity of adult eating disorder services with child and adolescent services, but stated that:
“The General Medical Council (GMC) should conduct a review of training for all junior doctors on eating disorders”.
Research conducted by Dr Agnes Ayton in June 2018 shows that, on average,
“medical students receive less than two hours of teaching on eating disorders”
throughout the entirety of their undergraduate training. Some 20% of medical schools do not include eating disorders in their curriculum at all. Of the medical schools that do include eating disorders in their curriculum, 50% do not include in eating disorders in their examination.
In the end, it comes down to the priority that we and the medical profession place on mental health and its treatment. Making mental health a priority and giving it parity with physical health is more than a slogan; it requires understanding and some new thinking. If somebody breaks their arm, we do not sit around for a year and then put on a cast; we treat the broken arm immediately. We need to act quickly to treat eating disorders and mental health in general. If we wait too long, these illnesses can become severe and entrenched—they can last for many years and often have a massively debilitating effect on sufferers and their families. The earlier the intervention, the more likely it is that sufferers will make a full recovery.
In Bath, we have a not-for-profit social enterprise called Brighter Futures, which is funded by child and adolescent mental health services and which provides special services for children and young people. The 30-plus practitioners do an amazing job, but their funding has been cut in half. Such services are perfect opportunities for early intervention to treat eating disorders, but if they are not properly funded, young people will slip through the cracks. Charities are now trying to fill the gap. The Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association is one such charity—the only charity between Cornwall and Norfolk that works in this field. It is based in Shepton Mallet and sees clients from a wide area: from Somerset to Bath, Bristol and Swindon. People self-refer to the service; they do not need a diagnosis. The association is very much pro-recovery and self-help.
There are people all over the country who do not have any access to such services. There should not be a difference in the level of service that people receive, depending on where they live—we cannot leave this to a postcode lottery. Clearly, we need to do better. It is obvious that services are patchy at best, and that people have to travel much too far for treatment and wait too long to be treated. Others really need help but fall under the threshold for treatment.
It is not the just the Government who should act to tackle eating disorders. The focus of this debate is stigma and how we can reduce it. Each and every one of us can help. Eating disorders are widespread, but they continue to be kept secret by so many sufferers, who fear being judged negatively by others. They see themselves as defective and as not meeting societal standards. They feel disgust and self-loathing about their appearance, eating or purging habits, or they worry that disclosure will result in their difficulties being trivialised. The stigma is perpetuated by general ignorance of what eating disorders are. The first step to challenging stigma is providing better education—it is not only our future doctors and health professionals who need to be better trained, but the general public. A successful strategy to reduce prejudice is for people to come forward and tell their stories. Such stories break the silence and the shame. That is why we so desperately need people such as Lorna and Hope, who are brave enough to come forward. I thank them for being here and telling their stories. Together, we can end the stigma.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. No one who has been directly affected by any form of eating disorder, or who has been around a relation, colleague or friend who has battled such a disease, will be in any doubt about the devastation that such conditions can bring to a person’s life. Sufferers of eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of people with mental health conditions. About 1.25 million people in the United Kingdom suffer from eating disorders, so I feel strongly that this issue has to be addressed head-on: with strong actions, rather than warm words. Although eating disorders can affect anyone, it would be inappropriate not at least to acknowledge, in an era that emphasises having a positive body image, that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence estimates that about 90% of people with eating disorders are female.
I welcome the £1.4 billion that the Government have committed to tackle mental health and eating disorders over the next five years, which comes on top of the £150 million they committed in 2014. Although funding is important, having a treatment strategy is even more so. We cannot just throw money at the issue and hope it makes the improvements we need. Hope is not a strategy.
The Government have made important commitments, such as the target to ensure that, by 2020, 95% of those referred with an eating disorder will begin treatment within one month—within one week for cases diagnosed as urgent. We cannot underestimate the benefit of early treatment; to tackle this issue, we must emphasise the need for it. It is reassuring that the Government clearly recognise that. I want to ensure that anyone with an eating disorder who needs helps receives it fast.
Someone close to me visited her doctor because she was having distressing thoughts about ending her life. Her eating disorder had taken over and gone so far that she believed it to be irreversible. She cried in the doctor’s surgery about the pain it caused her and everyone around her. She was offered antidepressants. I welcome Beat’s recommendation to the Scottish Government that GPs need to be informed of the early symptoms so that they are able to refer without delay. We are far too quick to offer patients prescriptions, rather than give them the help they actually need to overcome this deep-rooted issue.
It is incredibly troubling that the picture is so different north of the border in Scotland, compared with England. The Scottish National party-led Government have failed to deal with the problem with the same urgency. Let me make it clear that I am not here to score political points; I am here to address the gaping hole that I, my constituents and many pressure groups see in Scotland, and I want to use this opportunity to put more pressure on the Scottish Government to right that wrong. Although England’s population is 10 times that of Scotland, it has only four times as many hospital admissions for eating disorders. Although that may partly be down to differences in how such admissions are recorded, we cannot ignore the possibility that eating disorders are simply more frequent north of the border due to cultural or dietary differences.
Although the increase in eating disorders is a UK-wide phenomenon, in Scotland the number has increased by two thirds since 2005, compared with just 44% in England. Despite the apparent prevalence of eating disorders in Scotland, the Scottish Government are failing to act. Most worryingly, and with no reasoning behind it, Scotland has no specific waiting time targets for people diagnosed with eating disorders. Such patients are subject to the same 18-week target as patients with any other mental health condition. That timeframe is simply not good enough, and shows a complete failure to understand how urgently this illness needs to be treated. Eighteen weeks—126 days—is not acceptable; it could be the difference between life and death.
I wrote to the Scottish Government earlier this year to press them on this matter and to see whether they had any plans to introduce waiting time targets in line with those that the UK Government have outlined. Their response confirmed exactly what I thought: disappointingly, although not surprisingly, they have no such plans. Various groups have submitted freedom of information requests to the Scottish Government to get a true image of the position, but due to the lack of a national framework, the data has not been collated consistently. Why would the Government not implement a system that allows that information to be readily available to ensure easier data collection so solutions can be found? People with this debilitating disease expect more from their Government. I support the work of Beat and other charities that are doing great campaigning to stop the wait in Scotland, and to highlight that eating disorders should not be categorised and treated as though they are the same as other mental health disorders.
I return to my anecdote about the doctor’s surgery to talk briefly to training. Recent research shows that teaching and training in Scotland is, to put it politely, falling short. Four excellent universities in Scotland—Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee—were asked how much time on average is dedicated to eating disorder training during their four-year medical degree. They answered in hours: Aberdeen, three; Dundee, three; Edinburgh, four; and Glasgow, four. They were asked whether eating disorders were covered in the final submissions. It is covered in one question in Dundee and none in the other three. I am not a doctor, but I know that that is not enough.
When a patient with an eating disorder or a similar issue presents themselves, our specialists must have the tools to be alerted to their problem. We know that people with eating disorders have the innate ability to make out that the issues relating to their lack of food are in fact nothing to do with food—I know that, because I have witnessed it first-hand with people around me.
Self-referral is another area where we can try to get help to those who need it. We know that people with eating disorders need significant support to determine whether they need help, but when they self-refer, they should be welcomed and nurtured by our system. Two thirds of NHS trusts in England accept self-referrals from children and young people. However, in Scotland, only Dumfries and Galloway CAMHS accepts self-referrals from children and young people who are suspected of having an eating disorder. I know that all hon. Members are thinking the same as me: why?
We can make progress on this issue only if we have an approach that recognises that eating disorder diagnosis requires urgent action, resulting in specialist treatment. The Scottish Government must act sooner rather than later. I will continue to campaign and put pressure on them to get the improvements we need for my constituents and all those who are suffering in Scotland. The Scottish Government must stop burying their head in the sand and give this issue the dedicated attention it needs. We need to help those affected to get out of the position they find themselves in so they can begin to rebuild their lives and the lives of those around them.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on securing the debate and on the compassionate way she introduced it. She clearly cares, and I thank her for that.
I have been involved with this subject with some of my constituents, and I want to talk about two examples. One was not successful, and one was—I use that term loosely. I am my party’s health spokesperson, and I have been directly involved in those two cases. I have knowledge of them, so I want to comment on them.
An estimated 360 adults and 90 children are referred to specialist community eating disorder services each year in Northern Ireland. Those truly monumental and horrendous figures indicate the health problem. The figures for the past five years have increased by 92%, which indicates that we need to focus on this issue through the Department of Health and Social Care. I look to the Minister to make a suitable response that will give us heart.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the startling increase in the past five to 10 years indicates that we need even more research about the underlying reasons for the problem, so we can assess it? We must not have a superficial response to it.
I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for his intervention. He is absolutely right: we do need to raise awareness, and I think this debate will do that. We also need to raise awareness within health services so that they can give the correct diagnoses earlier for such conditions.
I will give some examples, if I may. During my research for the debate, I was distraught to learn that a young lady from Ballynahinch, whose family are from Killyleagh in my constituency, lost her fight against her eating disorder: in March, she died of a heart attack at age 21. She had been struggling with the eating disorder since 2009—that is horrendous. I will share her mum’s interpretation of it, which I read in an article that she wrote for the Belfast Telegraph; it outlined the problems with treatment in Northern Ireland. I know that that is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I just want to show that our problems are similar to those on the mainland—I do not think location matters much; problems are replicated across Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.
In the Belfast Telegraph article, we read that beautiful Sophie Bridges was 14 when she was referred to the NHS children and adolescent mental health service. The words of her mother are clear:
“Absolutely pathetic. It’s no reflection on anybody who works there, they try their best, but she was discharged on her 16th birthday. She was no better, she was just above the age for their service. She was still too young, though, for the adult service and had nowhere to go.”
That is one of the problems: moving from child to adult services. My examples will illustrate that very clearly.
I am sorry that I came late to this debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that when we talk about early intervention, we are talking about young people? Schools and social media have a responsibility, as they can be such cruel places for young people who feel that they are not perfect and are forced down the route of eating disorders. More needs to be done in that regard.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is absolutely right: social media have a lot to answer for in many respects, but especially on this issue.
In the Belfast Telegraph article, Mrs Bridges went on to say:
“We just had to deal with it at home. We felt there was only a focus on her physical health, there was absolutely no psychological service.”
We need early diagnoses to ensure that we can deal with the physical—yes—but also the psychological, because that is such a key factor. Sophie spent the first half of 2017 as a hospital patient in a mental health unit. Mrs Bridges said:
“They did their best, but the provision just isn’t there. There are just so many different issues in one unit. There are girls like Sophie in the same ward as elderly people with dementia and others with schizophrenia.”
We can see right away where the problems are. Those problems are not unique to Northern Ireland, but are replicated across the United Kingdom. It is clear that we are letting down people who need help and attention that could make a life-saving difference. That was just one example of a young girl who very tragically lost her life, and our thoughts are with her family—her parents, in particular.
Another example is that of one of my other constituents, whose mum and dad I knew quite well. They were both in the police service, and I knew them when I was a councillor and a Member of the Assembly, long before I came to this place in 2010. Their daughter, whose name I will not mention, had anorexia that was so extreme, as I was telling my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), that I spoke to Edwin Poots, the then Northern Ireland Minister for Health, and explained the case to him.
We do not have the self-referrals that the hon. Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) referred to; patients have to be referred by the Department of Health. I asked Edwin to look at the case because the young girl was very close to death. He referred her to St Thomas’ Hospital, just across Westminster bridge, where they were able to help her; I met her and her parents in the House back in 2010 or 2011. The fact of the matter is that the treatment she got—let us give the NHS some credit for its work—saved her life and turned her around. She is now married and has two children. For her, her parents and her family, that is good news.
Despite our best efforts at addressing nutrition in classrooms and through soaps and other TV programmes, the Eating Disorders Association NI said that the eating disorders most commonly seen in young people under 18 are becoming more common among children between the ages of eight and 14. Let us not underestimate just how early eating disorders can start and how that affects people; the hon. Member for Bath mentioned that in her introduction. Eating disorders in children are becoming more common within that age group, and research shows that boys are at as high a risk as girls. I will share some of the figures on that in a moment.
The society that we live in fixates on skinny living, which is a misguided approach to healthy living. At one stage, I weighed almost 18 stone and risked developing diabetes. I turned the situation around by reducing my weight, which I will hopefully keep down. I did that and stopped once my goal had been achieved. What about people who cannot stop?
Comments in programmes such as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”—I do not watch it and could not say who any of the Kardashians are or where they are from, but my parliamentary aide does watch it, much to her shame, which she will not mind me saying—fixate on looking skinny; in one clip, being called “anorexic” is even a compliment. That must be addressed.
In fairness, the apology from the Kardashians is wonderful, and they should be commended for realising that their comments came across in an unhealthy way, but the words cannot be withdrawn: young women who want to be more like the Kardashians, who seem to have it all, have already been impacted. I am not saying that we should have censorship, but we must have the common sense to address and not worsen our eating disorder problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) referred to social media, which have a lot to answer for. They set trends and create peer pressure. Sometimes, I wonder whether some of society’s problems—not all, but some—are caused by social media.
Many of us have referred to raising awareness, and the health service ombudsman has also recommended measures to increase awareness of eating disorders among healthcare staff, who have to know what the tell-tale signs are to support early diagnosis. Maybe the Minister can give us an indication of what he can do on that.
I look at my own beautiful granddaughters and sincerely believe that they are perfect. The thought of their view of themselves being shaped by others is frightening. They are young girls—only nine and four—but for some eight-year-olds, eating disorders have already taken hold, so let us address the issue at the earliest opportunity. We must take steps to ensure that the difference between skinny and healthy is taught from a young age.
I have some figures here that indicate the magnitude of eating disorders. Some 725,000 people in the UK are affected. At the time I found the figures, 90% of those affected were female, but the latest figures indicate that 25% of those affected are male. While it is very much an issue for young girls—they make up the cases I am aware of in my constituency—we also have to recognise that there are young men out there with the same problems. Young men are becoming as likely as young women to suffer from an eating disorder, and we must ensure that the message is sent that this is not a teenage girls’ disorder. It affects men and women, old and young, rich and poor. The disorder is life-threatening and we must do more to address it. We must provide more help to beat it and keep beating it every day of sufferers’ lives.
I thank you, Sir Roger, and congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on securing this important debate. She began, rightly, by saying that eating disorders are about so much more than stigma. It is right that we focus on treatment, because eating disorders—as all of us in the room know—are conditions that are often dismissed initially as girls trying to look like celebrities. They often end with a third of sufferers recovering, but a third of sufferers live with them for the rest of their lives and a third do not make it at all. Those figures are truly shocking and would be shocking for any condition, whether mental or physical.
The stigma arising from eating disorders is not solely about looking slim. It is about the pervasive effect of that eating disorder. It is a condition that quickly stops people being able to function in the way that they would wish to function. It a condition that stops people leaving the house. People end up being stigmatised because they are not behaving as they would like to, not able to fulfil a function within society and, often, not even able to work or go out. The stigma arises because of the condition, and it is the condition on which, clearly, we should focus.
I commend the work that charities such as Beat have done to raise awareness of eating disorders and to ensure that people are not stigmatised; that GPs in particular do not greet people who show up suggesting that they are worried about their attitude to food by saying that it is not a problem and that they might just allow themselves to go away and get better. We need to focus on NHS training but also to acknowledge, as my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) did, that there has been some progress in England, if not sufficient in Scotland yet. However, this is not a party political matter.
We have seen not only some positive work by the NHS and charities, but some of the damaging effects of social media, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said. Social media presents a huge opportunity to promote the positive body image that we would all like to see of what being healthy in the 21st century looks like. In reality, at this stage on this front social media does far more harm than good. It is far too easy to scratch the surface of the internet to find images that reinforce deeply negative perceptions of body image, reinforcing behaviours that are profoundly harmful. If social media companies can do a huge amount to take down child abuse images and other images that we as a society decide are profoundly harmful, it is reasonable to ask what more could be done automatically or more rapidly to take down images that all too often end up with people losing or taking their own life.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about social media, but perhaps he needs to go one stage further, to look at the role of the advertising industry and the images that it puts forward, which encourage young people to achieve a fantasy position for themselves and their body image.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and, in fact, that was the point that I was coming on to make next. Clearly, not only do some sites encourage profoundly self-harming behaviour, but the advertising industry puts forward exactly that pervasive image to which he referred. We should look to regulators and Government for action to tackle that in a sensible way that promotes a genuinely healthy lifestyle without promoting unhealthy or unreasonable expectations, but we should not pretend that it is anything other than very difficult. Tackling such issues should not bleed over into not being positive about people who struggle with their weight, who would often like to see a more positive image of people who are larger. None of us wants to see an advertising regulator that ends up prescribing an ideal weight, although we need to prescribe a greater sense of health.
I agree absolutely with what the hon. Member for Bath said about no sensible and properly trained doctor in the modern NHS using BMI alone to assess whether a person has an eating disorder. However, too often it does become the single defining characteristic. Too many doctors have not been provided with all the tools and do not have the services to which they might refer their patients. Too often BMI becomes the measurement of last resort, and it is right for the NHS to seek to tackle that and for this House to do all we can to encourage the Minister and the NHS itself.
The hon. Lady mentioned family therapy. My understanding is that family therapy, in particular for young people and adolescents, is the only clinically proven therapy. It has been shown to make a real difference. It is incredibly intensive in resources and in the pressure on the family and patient, but it works. We should do more to reduce the stigma—to come back to the point of the debate—so that families accept that they might have someone in their midst who needs help not just from the NHS but from them—their family and friends.
As the hon. Lady said, however, it remains the case that eating disorders do not stop when someone is 17 or 18. In all too many cases, triggered by stress, they can emerge or return when a patient gets older. With that in mind, we should commend the work of places such as the Maudsley, which have tried to push family therapy beyond the point where everyone is expected to live at home and to say, for example, that the university setting could be a kind of family that encourages people to get better. What happens when people are older? As I said at the start of my speech, there are of course a number of functioning older adults who need all the help with which we can provide them, and that is about more than antidepressants.
If the Government could do two things, the first would be to encourage social media companies to look more closely at what can be done to tackle those images that go beyond the kind of advertising that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) said we need to look at and go way into a territory that is not healthy for anyone. My second ask, when it comes to funding research and spending some of that £1.4 billion that we are allocating to eating disorders over the coming years, is for the extension of family therapy—the one method that we know works. With the help of science and innovation, we should be looking at whether we can go further with that therapy. The stigma around the condition is a hugely important issue, but we must focus on tackling the illness itself.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Roger, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on securing this important debate.
A sad reflection of our times is that the explosion of social media in the past decade has spawned an obsession with looking good and showing off the body. If people want to be in with the right crowd, they need to post images of themselves looking happy with their beautiful body. Sadly, sometimes the impression given on social media does not match the reality, and cases have been reported of people who have not been able to keep up with the facade of being permanently happy, and striving for the perfect body has resulted in their suicide.
Eating disorders are part of that obsession with body image, and hashtags such as #thinspiration are associated with images of mainly young people showing off their thin bodies and limbs. Unfortunately, the way in which social media works nowadays means that if they click on the internet links about being thin or having a beautiful body, and thanks to the algorithms that are part and parcel of social media, people will more than likely receive online advertisements about dieting or weight loss.
One thing that is desperately needed is greater understanding of the mental health aspect of eating disorders and the addictive nature of many of the conditions, including body dysmorphia. I have a constituent who has been struggling with anorexia for a number of years. He had difficulty in living on his own and, for his own wellbeing, had to move back in with his parents, because of the support that they were able to give him at home. He desperately needed mental health services from the local clinical commissioning group and, although it was a battle, we were successful in getting him the help that he needed.
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that can have severe psychological, physical and social consequences. Typically, they involve disordered eating behaviour, which might mean restricting food intake, binge eating, purging, fasting, excessive exercise or some combination of those behaviours. Recently, I was made aware of orthorexia, which is an obsession with or addiction to eating healthy food—a gateway to other eating disorders. Many of the eating disorders are associated with negative perceptions of body image, as I mentioned. A negative perception such as that, coupled with an obsession with posting pictures on social media, exacerbates the problem and leads to more stress, pushing those who are suffering closer to the edge. In its clinical guidelines on eating disorders, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence states:
“The emotional and physical consequences of these beliefs and behaviours maintain the disorder and result in a high mortality rate from malnutrition, suicide and physical issues,”
such as electrolyte imbalances, osteoporosis and anxiety disorders.
Using figures for UK hospital admissions from 2012 to 2013, the eating disorders charity Beat estimates that there are 725,000 people with an eating disorder in the UK, approximately 90% of whom are female. Every disorder is closely associated with poor quality of life and social isolation, and each one has a substantial impact on family members and carers. Eating disorders are long-lasting conditions if they are not treated.
In The Guardian in October last year, Dave Chawner described his experiences as a boy with an eating disorder. He wrote:
“Before I was anorexic I’d always assumed people with mental illness knew they weren’t well. But on reflection that’s ridiculous. My Dad has diabetes. He had it for years before anyone realised and no one expected him to innately know. Sometimes you’re too close to your own life to gain perspective; it’s like trying to make sense of a painting if you’re only inches from it.
It’s really hard to find the words to describe my anorexia—it was more of a feeling, a lacking, an awareness I wasn’t really coping…I wanted to talk but I didn’t know what to say. I was waiting for something to happen so I could classify myself as ill. I was worried people wouldn’t take me seriously, that if I didn’t explain myself properly people would think I was attention-seeking or pathetic.”
“So I understand why more people don’t just talk, because sometimes finding the words can seem impossible. Not all the silence on mental illness is to do with stigma. It’s also about finding the right words.”
We have to get rid of the stigma around eating disorders to help the thousands of people like Dave who are suffering.
Thousands of people with eating disorders are turned away from treatment and support every day. The NICE guidelines for access to treatment are correct, but they are not implemented in the right way.
That is a real issue with Vale of York CCG, where only 12.9% of people start treatment within four weeks. The CCG spent only £68,000 of the £161,000 it had to spend on eating disorders. Beat identified it as the worst CCG in the country. Does my hon. Friend agree that far more robust accountability is needed for the delivery of services for eating disorders?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Yes, much more funding and accountability is needed to tackle eating disorders. I will come to that shortly.
A person’s BMI should not prevent them from getting the support that they need. Action is also needed to tackle irresponsible social media companies, which give platforms to those who glorify eating disorders and negative body images. Failure to tackle eating disorders costs lives and results in heartbreak, anguish and despair for people with such disorders and for their families. It ends up costing the NHS more, because of the increased need when someone hits crisis. Much more funding is needed for mental health services, including child and adolescent mental health services. More early intervention is needed to address eating disorders.
Eating disorders are serious and potentially life-threatening conditions. Unless proper support and more mental health funding are made available to tackle them, we will all pay the price.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on bringing this vital debate to the House. I pay tribute to everyone who is watching the debate, whether they are in the House or at home. I know that eating disorders—bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphia and others— are secretive and private illnesses that people battle, and that it is difficult for those individuals to speak out because of their fear of being judged.
Many Members touched on the immense pressure that people are under to look thin, healthy or muscular. When I was a teenager, my big role models were Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Every time their films came out, I wanted to look like them. It got to the point where I worked out twice a day. I lifted weights constantly and followed a diet. I suffered from all the causes of body dysmorphia. I never looked good enough. But wanting to look like big Arnie was not the trigger; the trigger was that my parents were going through a divorce and I was about to sit my exams. It was a high-stress situation, and the only way out of it was to look like Schwarzenegger or Stallone. Luckily—or unluckily—I injured my arms and could not lift weights any more, and that feeling went away. But for so many people, it does not go away.
On my way to the Chamber, I went to the newsagent and looked at the magazines. This week’s Men’s Health says, “Lose belly fat in 30 days.” GQ has pictures of people with six-packs. Gary Barlow, who is promoting a new book, said, “I was so unhappy when I was 17 stone, but look at me now—I’m 12 stone. I lost 5 stone.” People are under immense pressure. Mark Wahlberg, who led the band Marky Mark and has starred in various films, said recently that his daily regime begins with him getting up at half-past 2 in the morning and working out twice before half-past 7, when he plays golf and goes off to work. Nobody in the media condemned him—everyone complimented him on his discipline. That is madness.
What message are we sending to young people—that it is good to look like someone from “Love Island”? When I am on the beach in Porthcawl, no one looks like they are on “Love Island”. This weekend, my wife and I decided to clear out some old books. Most of them were by Atkins or had titles like 30 Days to a New You or Body for Life—“12 weeks to your new body!” There was even one about the Dukan diet. All those diets sell a perfect way of life. If someone suffers from self-esteem issues and thinks they are not good enough, like I did many years ago, those books feed into that. It is not just social media that we have to come down on.
Let me say this about social media. I read in the paper that a young girl who got through to the final of “The X Factor” said she had been plagued by trolls about her size. As someone said earlier, if we force social media to take down illegal things, we should do the same with trolls. The Government could go further with the diet industry. The Advertising Standards Authority needs real teeth so that when it sees those things happen, it can come down on magazines and advertisers like a ton of bricks. Equally, we have introduced health warnings for things such as cigarettes and alcohol, and we should do exactly the same for eating disorders.
Eating disorders manifest themselves in different ways. For me, it was body dysmorphia and my constant desire to train. Other people experience other things. When I was about 10 or 11, an extremely skinny young woman lived at the top of our street. My mother, who said that the woman had anorexia, befriended her. That young woman said that every morning, she would wake up and eat a quarter of a red pepper. My mother asked why, and she said, “Because when that comes up, I know I’m empty.” She could not get the help she required. She could not get a referral to a psychiatrist.
It is all very well saying that that was 30 years ago, but it still happens. The National Audit Office reported the other day that a quarter of young people, who make up most of those affected by eating disorders, cannot get an appointment with a psychiatrist. When they do, it is often not with a specialist. The picture is patchy across the country.
Let me end as I began—by paying tribute to everyone who suffers from an eating disorder. I say to them: “Talk to someone. Seek out the help you need. It does not have to be from a professional—it just has to be from someone you trust. If you come forward, you will find that people do not judge you but try to help you if they can.”
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, in an extremely important debate that reaches out to those across the United Kingdom who are struggling with eating disorders, and their families. I very much commend the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on bringing the debate to the House and on her extremely poignant and sensitive speech about the day-to-day issues that people living with eating disorders face and their difficulties in accessing services across the United Kingdom, and specifically in her constituency.
Let me put it on the record that I have worked as a psychologist in the NHS in Scotland, including with people who have eating disorders. I want to spend a few minutes discussing the issues I had while working with people and how services can be taken forward. First, I thank all hon. Members who have spoken; the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke consensually, as always, about the issues in Northern Ireland and how difficult it can be for people to come forward and seek treatment. I also thank the hon. Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair), who spoke about her difficulties in accessing treatment in her locality; that is a difficulty indeed, which is reflective of the service difficulties across the United Kingdom. I would like to sit down and discuss my own experience with her, if she were willing to do that.
The Scottish Government have put money into mental health services, including eating disorder services. An extra £250 million for mental health has been placed at the heart of the strategy. The Scottish Government’s mental health strategy is a long-term strategy from 2017 to 2027.
The issues raised by hon. Members about body image are extremely important. Body image has come to the fore with the advent of social media. People struggle with it, particularly young people, and I think it contributes to the difficulties that people face. It is possible that there is a greater propensity for eating disorders to develop as a result of those issues. I particularly thank the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) for raising the issue of body image, particularly for young men, because often that is overlooked. It is extremely important and will become much more relevant as time goes on, because social media has such an impact on people, as do advertisers. It certainly contributes to the difficulties that people experience, through the sense of perfectionism. Young men are not excluded from that—in fact, idealistic images are portrayed to young men and young women that are particularly unhealthy to psychological and physical development, particularly in relation to people’s adjustment and mental health in particular.
The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) also spoke about body image, social media and the difficulties of accessing treatment and services in his constituency. He often makes fantastic contributions and I am always pleased to be in debates alongside him. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) made an extremely well-informed speech, about some of the difficulties in coming forward and GP training, primary care and people’s pathway through services. I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland produced a briefing paper that states that
“Scotland has seen striking improvements in the provision of specialist eating disorder services over the past decade.”
They include specialist units in Aberdeen and West Lothian, and beds in Glasgow. It continues:
“Services have been developed to provide alternatives to hospital admission, or shorter admissions.”
There are anorexia intensive treatment services in Lothian and Fife, day programmes in Aberdeen and specialist teams in Glasgow. On training, the 2010 Eating Disorders Education and Training Scotland programme was set up to bring training to professionals across Scotland and to train experts in practice. But despite all those issues and progress made, there is still so much more to be done.
From my own experience, I agree with the majority of Members who have spoken that services remain quite patchy. There is still a postcode lottery across the United Kingdom. I do not set Scotland out as different or having different difficulties in that regard, but Governments across the United Kingdom are trying to grapple with and make progress with these issues. It would be helpful if the Minister could address service provision in rural areas, what might that look like and how people could access services. I know that having to travel long distances to services can be a particular difficulty for patients when they come forward, and that is not always helpful for family involvement, yet we have heard that therapy and family involvement can be extremely important for the prognosis.
On CAMHS, it is an objective of the Scottish Government to put counselling services in every school. From the work I have been doing on the Health Committee, I know that the UK Government are also looking at those issues. However, it is difficult because when young people have an eating disorder it perhaps does not initially present as that—it might present as depression, anxiety or another symptom. Often the eating disorder is not acknowledged by the person suffering from it or does not come to the attention of those around them for some time later.
Those who work with young people should have appropriate training to look below the surface for the symptoms of eating disorders, which might present in different ways in young people, so that people do not fall through the net so often. It can be difficult, and misdiagnosis in the initial stages is quite common, because one of the symptoms is denial. Perhaps the person does not want to seek treatment, or they present themselves in a way that suggests that they have a different mental health difficulty. Perhaps their family wish them to seek treatment but they are resistant. Those are all the issues that services have to grapple with. Therefore, the care pathway must be improved.
Denial is extremely important. Hon. Members spoke about early intervention, but it is extremely difficult to intervene early when often people do not accept their own difficulties and do not wish to come forward for treatment. Often, we look for other types of difficulties at presentations in primary care at GP level. GP training will have to be extremely sensitive and more hours will have to be devoted to understanding the different ways eating disorders present.
One of the difficulties I experienced was referring from primary care to specialist eating disorder services. The person had to go through three services to get where they needed to be. By that point, we are talking months down the line because only a community mental health team can refer to the eating disorder service. I suggest that that is not necessary, because psychologists and psychiatrists working in primary care are perfectly capable of diagnosing eating difficulties and referring straight on to specialist services. That should be addressed.
Weight restrictions are a particular issue for those with bulimia. If a service uses weight restrictions and makes body mass index a key criterion, those with bulimia will fall through the net. My quick ask of the Minister is for services to be more flexible and accept referrals to specialist services from those in primary care; for specialist training for a member in every CAMHS team to pick up eating disorders in young people; to have a discussion with advertisers about the contribution to mental health of unrealistic body image expectations; and to pick up the issue of rural services.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. Like others, I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for securing this important debate and for speaking so passionately.
As we have heard from many colleagues, eating disorders manifest in many different ways. They are mental illnesses that involve disordered eating behaviour, with types including anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia, purging disorder and avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder—that list is clearly not exhaustive. Their severity and complexity should never be underestimated. Sufferers will commonly go to extreme lengths to hide their symptoms and behaviours even from those closest to them.
It is thought that the majority of people with eating disorders are young women aged 12 to 20, but it is harmful to stereotype; the possibility that someone can develop such a disorder should never be ruled out. The number of boys and young men developing them is rising, and the numbers could be higher than we think, mainly due to stigmatisation and fear of speaking out. Indeed, when I visited the Navigo eating disorder service, which my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) spoke about, I met four service users of whom two were women over 40 and another was a young man in his late teens. That shows that we must not stereotype.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates among psychiatric disorders, with anorexia having the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Of those who survive, 50% recover, whereas 30% improve and 20% remain chronically ill. It is estimated that 40% of sufferers will also self-harm. Given those startling statistics, it is clear that more needs to be done to help sufferers with their recovery and that access to treatments must be greatly improved. Someone with an eating disorder will currently wait an average of 3.5 years before receiving treatment. As we have heard, it is worse for adults, who statistics show have to wait twice as long as children before accessing treatment.
In 2015, clinical commissioning groups were given extra money to help children and adolescents suffering with eating disorders. Unfortunately, in the CCGs’ bid to balance the books in these times of severe NHS funding cuts, much of that money never found its way to the frontline and, of what did, little was actually used for eating disorder services. We heard from the hon. Members for Bath and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) about how services are patchy. There does appear to be a postcode lottery and disparate availability of services. However, we do recognise that some fabulous work is going on, including the service run by Navigo in Grimsby.
Much more needs to be done to raise awareness and to remove stigmas. Common misconceptions include that people with eating disorders are more responsible for their symptoms and that they would be more likely to use their disorder to gain attention than those suffering from other mental illnesses. Such misconceptions must be dispelled and greater awareness must be raised. The popular TV series “Hollyoaks” is currently running a story highlighting a young woman’s struggle with her eating disorder. Well-researched storylines such as that are an important way of educating people and dispelling myths, but there is still much work to be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), who made a passionate speech, spoke about how the media controls much of the narrative. I remember looking at women’s magazines—I tend not to buy them so much anymore—and constantly seeing frighteningly thin models; plus-size models are rarely seen, even though being bigger than a size 10 does not necessarily mean that someone is unhealthy. Equally, social media plays a big part. Role models also have a responsibility. I remember a supermodel famously saying that nothing tastes as good as thin feels. Children and adolescents in particular look up to those people, who must recognise that they are role models in society.
Data on access, quality, workforce and investment in adult eating disorders services, which is key to the evaluation of whether services are effective, is not routinely collected and published. That would not be acceptable for physical health conditions, so why is it for a mental health condition? Furthermore, we have heard that there are no waiting time targets in place for over-18s. It would be great if the Minister responded on that.
In December 2017, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman published its findings after investigating the death of 19-year-old Averil Hart from anorexia. Its investigation “Ignoring the alarms: How NHS eating disorder services are failing patients” found that there had been inadequate co-ordination and planning of Averil’s care and that, tragically, Averil’s death could have been prevented had the NHS provided appropriate care and treatment.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and Beat, which I also thank—it does fabulous work and lobbies Members of Parliament to ensure that this issue is firmly on the agenda—have recommended that the General Medical Council conduct a review of training for all junior doctors on eating disorders to improve understanding of complex mental illnesses. As we have heard, although eating disorders affect an estimated 1.25 million people in the UK, training on it is limited to just a few hours over several years of training.
GPs, who are often the first port of call for people with eating disorders, must be provided with the training they need to identify the illness and to know what steps to take next. Blame is attached not to NHS staff but to how the service is run. The problems in the NHS have not come about overnight; the Government knew they would happen. Junior doctors have protested against the situation.
Much more needs to be done to aid the early stages of diagnosing and treating eating disorders because, as with much else, early intervention is crucial. A constituent of mine who was suffering from an eating disorder was praised on her weight gain during a consultation—such comments are enough to set recovery back for months. Health professionals should be given training on acceptable basic language when dealing with these sensitive issues. I am interested to explore family therapy further, because when I have met sufferers of eating disorders and their families, its great impact on the whole family has been clear. Family therapy is therefore a positive way forward.
I am conscious that I am running short of time, so I will try to summarise the remainder of my speech. NICE guidance for eating disorders states that children and young people with suspected eating disorders should start treatment within four weeks. However, a 2017 survey by Beat found that only 14% are referred within four weeks of their first GP visit. The average wait for referral is more than 11 weeks, and those aged 19 and over wait significantly longer. The situation is worse for men and boys, who make up between 10% and 20% of people with anorexia or bulimia.
We know—it has been said before—that mental health services are the poor relation in a cash-starved NHS. Some 40% of NHS mental health trusts are having their budgets cut, and we appear to be moving further and further away from parity of esteem. When I recently questioned the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), it emerged that an average of 2,000 mental health staff are leaving their posts in the NHS every month. At the end of June this year, one in 10 mental health posts was vacant, despite promises by the then Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), that he would increase the mental health workforce by 21,000.
As Labour’s shadow mental health Minister, I am passionate about seeing improvements across all our mental health services—as I know everyone in the Chamber is. I am committed to delivering on Labour’s promise to have a counsellor in every high school, as early intervention is the key to preventing serious mental health issues. We would also ensure that budgets for mental health services are ring-fenced and ensure parity of esteem, providing a properly funded NHS with properly funded mental health services.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on securing this incredibly important debate on a topic that is a key priority for the Government and for the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who unfortunately cannot be here; that is why I am responding to the debate.
It is clear from the testimony we have heard today that having an eating disorder can be devastating. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that people should have the correct mental health support—in the right place, at the right time and, most importantly, without the fear of stigma.
Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening conditions with the highest mortality rates of any mental health disorder. They can have severe psychological, physical and social consequences and they often start and are prevalent when people are young. We know that early intervention is absolutely vital, as noted by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), and we recognise how important it is that everyone with an eating disorder can access quick, specialist help when necessary. That is why we set up the first waiting times, in order to improve access to eating disorder services for children and young people, so that by 2020-21 some 95% of children with an eating disorder will receive treatment within one week in urgent cases and within four weeks in routine cases.
Latest available waiting time figures for children and young people with an eating disorder indicate that NHS England is on track to meet that standard by 2020-21. First quarter data showed that 74.7% of all patients started urgent treatment within one week and over 81% of patients started routine treatment within four weeks. The number of people who are seeking treatment is rising and it is greatly encouraging to see a commensurate increase in patients getting the care they need, as well as a significant reduction in waiting times compared with last year.
However, there is further to go. Beat, the eating disorder charity referred to this morning, which does fantastic work, reports that on average it takes people over a year to seek help after first recognising the symptoms of an eating disorder. We recognise the importance of raising awareness and reducing stigma so that more people feel able to talk about their eating disorder and to seek treatment.
In January 2017, the Prime Minister committed to making mental health first aid training available to all secondary schools, aiming to have trained at least one teacher in every secondary school by 2020. In the first two years of the programme, over 2,000 school staff have received training, helping to reduce stigma in school environments. The Government have also committed to equip 1 million people to be better informed about looking after their own mental health. Public Health England is leading the development of a £15 million national mental health campaign called “Every Mind Matters”. The first pilot began earlier this month in the midlands, ahead of a national launch next spring.
I move on to community services for children. In-patient treatment should be seen as a last resort wherever possible, which is why the Government announced in 2014 that they would invest £150 million to expand and improve eating disorder community-based care. We are making good on this promise and as a result 70 dedicated new or extended community services are now either open or in development. This has led to swift access to effective eating disorder treatment in the community, with the number of children and young people accessing treatment increasing from 5,243 in 2016-17 to 6,867 in 2017-18.
The services are designed to give young people with eating disorders and self-harm issues early access to services in their communities, provided by properly trained expert teams that deliver evidence-based psychological and medical intervention, aiming to avoid the need for hospital stays. By improving care in the community, we can improve outcomes and recovery, reduce rates of relapse or prevent eating disorders continuing into adulthood and, if admission is required as a very last resort, reduce lengths of stay.
I will now address some of the issues raised by hon. Members in the debate. The hon. Member for Bath made a series of incredibly important points, particularly about training for GPs. Early identification is crucial and it is vital that professionals look out for potential signs that indicate an eating disorder. GPs are trained to identify symptoms and help patients discuss the issues, but in response to the recommendations in the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report on the tragic death of Averil Hart, as referenced by the hon. Member for Dewsbury, Health Education England is reviewing its current education and training offer and, crucially, identifying any gaps. It is working with eating disorder experts to scope existing evidence-based practice, to inform any new education and training resources.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury was right to mention that being under weight and body mass index are not good criteria for treatment. The NICE guidance is clear: rejection for treatment on the grounds of weight and BMI is not in line with any of the published guidance and should not occur. The hon. Lady also mentioned travelling too far for treatment, as did the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). We are committed to ensuring that everyone with an eating disorder has access to timely treatment, as close to home as possible. That is why we are seeing a shift to community services, to try to reduce, wherever possible, out-of-area placements. The hon. Lady talked about ring-fencing funding for these services. This is important too, as local areas need to fund services based on local needs. That is why I was alarmed to hear the figures from the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). I will ensure I take this up with our local clinical commissioning group. As the hon. Member for Bath said, funding must reach the frontline. We already have in place the 70 community services, designed to give young people with eating disorders early access to services in their communities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) talked about having the confidence to speak out. She is right and we welcome Beat’s work in helping to improve awareness. I am delighted that the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow will be meeting my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, following her powerful speech. The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) brought up an awful case concerning a constituent. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my officials have heard what he said and, with his permission, we will follow up and make sure the Department of Health and Social Care comes back to him about that case. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow was correct to mention service provision in rural areas.
Several hon. Members raised the issue of social media, including my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) and, not least, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). It would be very unwise of me to attempt to keep up with the Shannons, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government recognise the impact that social media can have on mental health. Increasing evidence is showing that excessive social media use may have a detrimental effect on young people’s mental health.
The hon. Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and for Enfield, Southgate also raised body image, as did the hon. Member for Islwyn in his incredibly powerful and moving speech. Those promoting the perfect body image should be forced to watch this debate, to listen to the testimony we have heard and to be made to think about what they publish and the devastating impact it can have.
To conclude, I extend my thanks again to the hon. Member for Bath for securing the debate and all hon. Members here today for their powerful speeches. I am proud of the work the Government are doing to improve eating disorder services. We have a long way to go. I am also proud of the incredibly brave young people who have come here today to listen to the debate and who have been mentioned in the speeches. I hope I have been able to provide some reassurance that we are absolutely committed to reducing the stigma associated with all mental health conditions, including eating disorders.
I thank everyone who is here, particularly the amazing campaigners, including Lorna, Hope and the representatives from Beat, who do amazing work to help us all to break the silence and the shame that sufferers feel. We can do a lot as a society and social media can help.
Practical things can be done, where Government and mental health services are responsible. We have been talking—I thank the Minister for his response—about waiting times, ring-fencing of funding and proper training for doctors, but also practical things, such as dumping the scales. As he said, there are NICE guidelines, but we need to make sure that they are followed.
The statistics, including the fact that the mortality rate is the highest for any psychiatric disorder, are shocking. A third of people do not get better, and a third suffer chronic consequences. Only a third get better, while a third get worse. Those are terrible statistics for something that we know what to do about. We can do something about it, and we fail to. I see today’s debate only as a beginning; I promise everyone in the Gallery that. I also promise the Minister that I shall continue to bother him.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Step-free Access: Battersea Stations
I beg to move,
That this House has considered step-free access at stations in Battersea.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I speak not only as the Member representing Battersea, but also as someone with a disability, because I am a visually impaired person. My constituency is home to four railway stations. Clapham Junction, the busiest interchange station in the country, served more than 27 million journeys last year and has step-free access to all platforms. However, step-free access to trains remains a significant challenge for many disabled rail travellers; that is a point I shall come to later. The other three stations—Battersea Park, Queenstown Road and Wandsworth Town—at present have no step-free access. In total, more than 7.5 million passengers go through their doors each year but, as the stations do not have step-free access, their doors are closed to people with mobility issues, including a great many disabled people.
Battersea Park station, which had nearly 2 million people passing through its doors last year, was chosen as a station for the Access for All 2014-19 funding cycle. Access for All is a Government programme to fund accessible infrastructure improvements at all train stations. However, that much-needed planned work was put on hold because of the Hendy review of Network Rail’s investment programme. Queenstown Road station, another busy station, which served more than 1.5 million journeys last year, is due to have a fully accessible second entrance as part of the new Battersea Park East development on the north of the site, but there will be no step-free access to the station platforms. Wandsworth Town station, which was the 20th busiest station on the Wessex route, with 4 million journeys last year, is similarly due to have an accessible entrance at its north side as part of the Swandon Way development. Again, however, step-free access will not be provided to all platforms. That raises a question: what is the point of having an accessible step-free entrance, but no step-free access to the actual train platform? I would like the Minister to address that point. I am pleased to say, however, that two new stations currently under construction in Battersea—Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station—are expected to have step-free access.
Battersea Park station and Queenstown Road station are both in Queenstown ward, which has a higher proportion of disabled people and people with long-term health conditions than does the constituency as a whole. Yet their local train stations are not accessible to them. Clapham Junction—a station that is step-free and where more than 6 million journeys are made by disabled people each year—does not guarantee step-free transfers between train and platform, which prevents many disabled passengers from getting on and off trains independently.
Why is what I have described important? We must not underestimate the significance of barriers. Step-free access to stations can mean the difference between the ability to lead a fulfilling and flourishing life seeing friends and family and going to work, and being left isolated at home, unable to travel and excluded from participation, from leading a fulfilling and flourishing life, and from the world of work. That is the reality for far too many disabled people. For example, one man said that the lack of step-free access means that
“you have to consider which jobs you go for, some are just not an option. If someone offered you a promotion and you think there’s a train station around the corner but scope it out and...there’s steps then it will make the difference between going for the job or not.”
Another person spoke of feeling anxiety when having to travel by train, and being unsure whether there would be support at each station. That is also the case where there is no step-free transfer between the train and the platform, which leads to many disabled people having to rely on members of the public for assistance getting off or on a train.
There is no doubt that much more can be done to enable disabled passengers to embark on and disembark from trains independently. It will require meaningful commitment and investment. The Government must step up to that.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate her on securing the debate. Disability access is an issue in many places. In my constituency, campaigners in Levenshulme have been calling for step-free access for a long time. We are making good progress, which is largely down to the determination of community groups and local representatives who have brought the issue to the fore. Does my hon. Friend agree that all stations in the country should have step-free access as standard, and it should not depend on how organised communities are?
I agree with my hon. Friend and will come on to that point, because many older people’s and disabled people’s groups campaign tirelessly and push for fully step-free access at all stations. My hon. Friend is right that that should be standard.
As well as the lack of step-free access, disabled people face numerous other barriers when they want to travel by train. They include the unreasonable requirement to book assistance in advance—that prevents spontaneous travel and removes the ability to turn up and go—and the expansion of driver-only trains. The removal of guards means that the railways become more inaccessible, and disabled people lose the assistance on trains that many of them require. That is why we must keep guards on trains.
With so many barriers placed in the way of disabled people’s independent travel, it is no surprise that a recent survey by Leonard Cheshire Disability found that more than a third of disabled people experienced problems using trains last year. That highlights the fact that we still cannot say we are a fully inclusive society. Many of those barriers exist because when stations were built, the rights and interests of disabled people were not recognised or acknowledged. It is essential for infrastructure work to be done on stations to modernise them, and for them to be built around everyone’s needs. We would all benefit, and we could truly say that we were a fully inclusive society.
Department for Transport cost-benefit analysis shows that, on a “conservative estimate”, for every £1 invested in the Access for All programme there is a £2.90 benefit to the economy as a whole. However, I am disappointed that the Government’s progress to date has been inadequate. The Access for All programme was founded under the Labour Government in 2006, and it brought about significant benefits, including the funding of the infrastructure improvements that led to Clapham Junction being made step-free in 2011. That has helped to remove some of the barriers that prevent disabled people from travelling by train, but its progress has been too slow, with just one in five stations around the country being fully accessible.
The Conservative-led coalition Government’s Equality 2025 programme created a target for disabled people to have the same access to transportation as non-disabled people by 2025. However, in the 2015 to 2019 rail investment control period, the Government cut £47 million from the Access for All funding. That lost funding should be restored in the 2019 to 2024 rail investment period, but the Government’s commitments, as set out in their recently published inclusive transport strategy, did not appear to do that. After such significant cuts to the Access for All programme, do the Government have any hope of delivering on the transportation aim of Equality 2025?
The process for securing funding needs to be improved—that point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). Access for All funding depends on applications being made to Network Rail. Rail operating companies have to compete for funding, and whether a station is allocated funding depends on the strength of the business case that is put forward. Will the Minister comment on that? Should not the starting point be to ensure that the Access for All programme is adequately funded, so that all stations that require infrastructure work can be covered? All our stations should be accessible by default, and they should all be step-free.
Will the Minister say whether there will be step-free access not just to station entrances, but to platforms? Can she guarantee that all newly built stations will be fully step-free? Given the scale of the work needed and the cuts that have been handed down, when do the Government expect disabled people to have the same access to transport as non-disabled people do? It was once hoped that that would be achieved in seven years, but is there still any hope of that? Will the Minister commit to restoring the £47 million that has been cut from Access for All, so that stations such as Queenstown Road and Wandsworth Town can be made fully step-free?
It is the Government’s responsibility to build an inclusive society, in which the barriers I have spoken about are broken down. To do that, train journeys must be accessible from end to end—that means that someone can get to the station, on to the train, off the train and out of the station at the other end. I call on the Government to put in the investment needed to build an inclusive railway, including accessible stations in Battersea. Finally, I thank those who have provided me with briefings on this important issue.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) on securing this debate and giving colleagues across the House the opportunity to discuss the important subject of accessibility to the rail network as far as Manchester—that is no distance from Battersea! I recognise how important it is for the hon. Lady’s constituents to have access to the railway and to get to and from work, see family and friends, and go about their lives.
Delivering a transport system that is truly accessible to all is of great importance to me, and I hope that the hon. Lady has seen the Department for Transport’s inclusive transport strategy, published in July, as evidence of the Government’s commitment to taking action to safeguard and promote the rights of all disabled passengers. We do not deny that our strategy is ambitious, but we are determined to deliver it. By 2030 we want disabled people to have the same access to transport as everyone else, and if physical infrastructure remains a barrier, assistance will play a role in guaranteeing those rights. Key commitments to improving accessibility across all modes of transport for those with visible and less visible disabilities include up to £300 million to extend the Access for All programme until at least 2024.
Forgive me, Sir Roger. I will make sure not to do that again.
The hon. Lady is conflating two issues. There is the 2025 aspiration, but the 2030 target is to ensure that we come into line with the UN’s ambition to ensure accessibility across all modes of transport. We mentioned £300 million for Access for All, and we also have £2 million to help bus operators install new audio-visual equipment on buses, and £2 million to enable the installation of more Changing Places toilets in motorway service areas. The strategy also requests that local authorities pause the installation of new “shared-space” schemes.
I am glad the hon. Lady is pleased about that. That will apply specifically to new schemes at the design stage that incorporate a level surface. An accessible transport network is central to the Government’s wider ambition to build a society that works for all, regardless of the nature of a person’s disability. People should have the same access to transport and the same opportunity to travel as everyone else, and this is an important measure to reduce social isolation and create opportunities for people to play a more active role in society. I represented the Department for Transport at the loneliness strategy that was published yesterday, along with the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Tracey Crouch) and the family of Jo Cox, to ensure that transport is seen as a way of ensuring that we tackle isolation.
As the hon. Lady noted, many of our stations—including those in her constituency—are Victorian, and their infrastructure is not fit for today. Those 19th century stations were not built with the needs of 21st century passengers in mind, which has left us with the huge task of opening up the rail network to disabled passengers. Although 70% of journeys are step free, we have continued our commitment to the Access for All programme. The inclusive transport strategy included a commitment to extend our Access for All programme across control period 6 between 2019 and 2024, with an additional £300 million of funding from the public purse. The hon. Lady asked about the £47 million, but that was not cut at all as it has been deferred to that round of funding. Part of that funding will be used to continue work on the stations that were deferred as part of the 2015 Hendy review, including Battersea Park station—I am pleased that the hon. Lady welcomes that investment.
Those funds will allow design work to restart on all deferred projects from April next year, and once the designs are completed, Network Rail will confirm the construction date for Battersea Park. The project is likely to be difficult to complete, given the nature of the station, but Network Rail has been instructed to continue to work with local stakeholders, including Wandsworth Borough Council. I know that the council has aspirations to improve not just the station but the wider area, going further than the Access for All project.
I am confident that a solution that meets the requirements of all stakeholders can be found. Some of the best Access for All projects have been those where a number of smaller schemes and funding streams have come together to enhance a station greatly. For example, Clapham Junction and Putney both had lifts installed in recent years to make the stations accessible, and other work has been carried out at the same time to reduce congestion. In addition to those stations deferred from the previous round of funding, we will use part of the £300 million fund to make improvements at even more stations. We have asked the industry to nominate stations for new funding by 16 November this year, and I urge all hon. Members to encourage nominations in their constituencies. Nominated stations will be selected based on annual footfall and weighted by the incidence of disability in the area. We will take into account local factors such as proximity to a hospital or the availability of third-party funding for the project, and we will ensure a fair geographical spread of projects across the country.
The hon. Lady will know that neither Queenstown Road nor Wandsworth Town in her constituency have previously been nominated for Access for All funding. Nominations come through the train operating company in partnership with the local authorities, Members of Parliament and, of course, local councillors championing them. I encourage her to liaise with South Western Railway if she wishes these or any other station to be put forward, and ideally to seek a proportion of third-party matched funding that will help to weight the business case. I hope to announce the selected stations by April next year.
I noted that the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) mentioned a station in his constituency. We are not asking for local communities to drive these campaigns. We are asking for train operating companies to recognise the stations that they would wish to prioritise. We have quite a large sum of funding, £300 million, but we have to ensure that it is spread appropriately. This new £300 million of funding builds on the success of the Access for All programme. So far it has installed accessible, step-free routes at over 200 stations, and around 1,500 stations have benefited from smaller-scale access improvements.
We are also pressing the industry to comply with its legal obligations to ensure that work at stations meets current accessibility standards, not only on flagship projects such as Crossrail, the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street and the TransPennine route upgrade, all of which are delivering significant accessibility improvements, but as part of the business as usual work of their renewals programme, for example by making sure that any replacement bridges have lifts or ramps. It is also important that the industry meets its obligations to anyone who needs assistance, whether they have booked ahead of time or not.
Will the Minister explain why it is appropriate to defer the £47 million she talked about when so many disabled people throughout the country are suffering because they do not have fair access to stations? Also, when is the Minister likely to visit Levenshulme, as she has said she will try to do?
I am thankful for the intervention, which allows me to clarify that the £47 million has not been deferred. All the deferred stations in the last spending round have been put into this spending round, which is why we have £300 million to spend. I am grateful once again for an invitation to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency; I will see what I can do, but obviously I cannot accept every invitation, although this one is incredibly attractive.
Getting back to the point that the hon. Member for Battersea raised about how much time people have to leave before taking a journey, every passenger should get the best possible help to use the trains, whether booked ahead of time or not, particularly at stations that do not have fully accessible facilities. Each operator is required to have a disabled people’s protection policy in place as part of its licence to operate services. The policy sets out the services that disabled passengers can expect and what to do if things go wrong, and commits the operator to meeting its legal obligations by making reasonable adjustments to their services to allow disabled people to use them, for example by providing an accessible taxi, free of charge, to anyone unable to access a particular station. Through the inclusive transport strategy, we are also looking at how we can improve Passenger Assist to make it more flexible and responsive to real-time changes.
I hope I have demonstrated that this Government are committed to improving access at stations for disabled passengers, through both specific projects such as Access for All and improvements delivered as part of our wider commitment to improving the rail network. I thank the hon. Member for Battersea and all colleagues for the contributions they have made; I appreciate the frustration of passengers who do not have access to stations in her constituency, but I hope the hon. Lady has been reassured that the Government remain committed to investment that will improve rail services. We want people to continue to benefit from the record levels of funding, including the Access for All investment that will benefit passengers at Battersea station. I am beginning to understand her particular experience of disability and accessibility, and I am more than available to meet her to discuss any issues relating to hidden disabilities that we need to cover through the inclusive transport strategy.
Question put and agreed to.
[Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered road safety.
It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Mrs Moon. I am grateful to have secured this important debate. Road safety is an issue that affects every constituency, and I am delighted to see colleagues here from both sides of the House. No doubt they will want to draw my hon. Friend the Minister’s attention to particular roads or even particular accidents, but I will endeavour to keep my remarks as encompassing as possible and to explore how we can best measure and improve road safety as a general rule. I hope that we can have a dispassionate debate about an emotive subject, while always recognising how traumatic failures of road safety can have life-changing implications.
In Great Britain last year, 1,793 people were killed in road crashes—that is 1,793 too many. In addition, the Government estimate that road traffic collisions cost the UK economy more than £16.3 billion a year. In Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire alone, all accidents involving speed cost the economy an average of £32.5 million annually. Those costs could be reduced if we made our roads safer.
Last month, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety released a new report, entitled “Developing safe system road safety indicators for the UK”. That timely and interesting report from PACTS will form the basis of my remarks. It was done in association with Ageas, which is one of our largest motor insurers; it employs more than 400 people in my constituency. They are all too aware of the devastation that poor road safety can cause to those injured or bereaved. I am grateful to them for sending me briefing materials and also grateful for input from the Association of British Insurers, the Road Safety Foundation, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Institute of Alcohol Studies, Living Streets and Highways England.
The economy has grown every year since 2010, and the population and the volume of road traffic have grown with it. Despite that, the number of road deaths has not grown over the same period, and we can be thankful for that. However, we could be doing better and getting the number of deaths and serious injuries down. More worryingly, the number of pedestrian fatalities accounts for more than one quarter; it is up 5% on the previous year and up 11% on the 2010 to 2014 average.
We have some of the safest roads in the world, but we need to ensure that the general downward trend in road deaths over the past 45 years continues. That was achieved through improved safety measures, technological advances and public awareness campaigns, modifying behaviours and militating against elements of previously fatal scenarios. And we are far from exhausting the potential for technological advances, particularly in the field of autonomous cars and smart roads. It is at this time of great technological change that a more comprehensive approach to road safety is needed—something against which both current and new forms of transport can be tested, and something that is responsive to new technology. The Government are of course aware of that, and it is strongly to their credit that the UK is leading the way in embracing the advances that driverless technology promises to bring.
The Government issued a British road safety statement in 2015. That was followed by the road safety management review commissioned last year and published in June of this year. It is clear that the Government favour a partnership approach, fully respecting devolution and local authority competences. That is all very welcome, and it is welcome that the report by PACTS and Ageas has come forward. In this spirit of encouragement, I ask the Minister to respond to the points raised by the report. In particular, I ask how the Department is progressing towards a safe system approach.
Traditionally, road safety measures have always been far too reactive. Areas with a history of more serious collisions have received far more focus and, often, locations where there is the greatest danger of collisions and a history of near misses do not get the attention that they need. Also, campaigns have focused on getting drivers and vulnerable road users to stop certain behaviours, instead of such behaviours being proactively designed out.
Systemic measures are needed; that is what a safe system is all about. It is an evidence-based approach focused on preventing death and serious injury, rather than preventing all crashes in the face of human error. Because people do make mistakes and collisions do and will take place, a systemic approach recognises that minimising the physical impact of collisions is a shared responsibility for those who design, build, manage and use roads and vehicles. To put it bluntly, if we crash into someone or something, the vehicle and not the people should take the impact and any damage. That means that, as well as expecting road users to comply with the laws on seatbelts, speed limits, not using phones and so on, we should expect, first, vehicle makers to design safer cars, vans, lorries and buses and, secondly, highways agencies to design and maintain legible and forgiving road infrastructure. Thirdly, medical and emergency services should be prepared, trained and equipped to provide an efficient and effective post-crash response.
A key aspect of a safe system approach is the ability to monitor, target and track progress through specific performance indicators. As Dr Suzy Charman of the Road Safety Foundation has said,
“You cannot manage what you do not measure. There is a need for road safety performance indicators in order to drive effort and investment in the right direction.”
I would be interested to hear from the Minister what consideration has been given to devising any indicators beyond those EuroRAP—European Road Assessment Programme—indicators that are already in use for the strategic road network. I would be especially keen to hear his early responses to the eight indicators proposed in the PACTS report. I will briefly run through the indicators set out in the report.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Before he gets on to the eight indicators, would he agree with me that it is already known where the most dangerous roads are? They are often roads over moors, in rural areas, where overtaking takes the car on to the other side of the road, and there are often head-on collisions, which lead to fatalities. Improving those roads should be the focus of the Government’s investment policy. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
I agree to an extent, in that those are some of the key roads where investment should be prioritised. There are also far too many accidents occurring in urban areas—hits particularly involving pedestrians, which are obviously much more prevalent in towns and cities, where an accident can be much more serious.
I will go through the eight specific indicators. The first is compliance with speed limits on national roads. Speeding currently accounts for about one fifth of road fatalities. The second indicator is compliance with speed limits on local roads. Data collection for both those speed indicators would be through existing speed monitoring equipment and self-reporting in, for example, the Royal Automobile Club survey, which already identifies this.
Obviously, speed is not everything when it comes to reducing dangers, so the third point is abstinence from alcohol and drug consumption. That is a key indicator. Nearly 15% of road crash fatalities involve a driver exceeding the legal alcohol limit. I am told by the Institute of Alcohol Studies that deaths caused by drink-driving are now at their highest rate since 2012. Meanwhile, it is estimated that some 200 road deaths a year—more than 10% of road deaths—are drug-driving related.
The fourth indicator is the percentage of car occupants using a seatbelt, child seats or child restraints. For many people, wearing a seatbelt is now second nature, but, despite it being illegal not to wear a seatbelt, not enough people are wearing seatbelts. Not wearing a seatbelt accounts for between 20% and 30% of road fatalities among car occupants. That is more than 150 deaths a year.
The fifth indicator relates to one of the more recent legislative changes; it is the percentage of drivers not using an in-car or hands-free phone. It can be difficult to establish when mobile phone use has contributed to a crash, but it is reported that dozens of fatal crashes involve the use of a mobile phone.
The sixth indicator is the percentage of new passenger cars with the highest European New Car Assessment Programme safety rating, which is obviously important for the quality and design of vehicles. An academic study cited in the PACTS report has estimated that the risk of fatal injuries is dramatically reduced in five-star-rated vehicles by as much as 68% compared with two-star-rated vehicles. The seventh indicator is the percentage of roads with the highest relevant International Road Assessment Programme ratings, broken down by road type. The final proposed indicator is the percentage of emergency medical vehicles arriving at an accident within 18 minutes of notification.
Those are the eight indicators set out in the report by PACTS and Ageas. Some data will be more challenging than others to collect. The report identifies a number of sources and methods for that collection. It also lists alternative indicators that were considered but rejected because of the difficulties in accurate data collection, such as cyclists not wearing the correct type of helmet, which would be quite difficult to calculate.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. I want to pick up on one thing he said about cyclists not wearing the correct kind of helmet. Is he aware that there is no requirement on cyclists to wear helmets in this country? In fact, in most countries where cycling is an awful lot more prevalent than it is in this country, most people do not wear helmets, because they do not need to.
I think that is an issue. I encourage more people to wear a helmet, because the more they do so, the lower the risk. I recognise that on the continent there is more of a cycling culture, and that we do not see as much of that in this country, outside of London. It is challenging in many communities to encourage people to use cycling as an alternative. I always say to my constituents that wearing a helmet is a way of ensuring that they have the best possible protection and safety on our roads.
As I was saying, it would be interesting to know whether the Department for Transport intends to explore such potential key performance indicators for non-motorised road use and for road crossers, such as those on foot—that also relates to cyclists. I recognise the danger that too many indicators might dilute that focus. A further danger is that indicators can become targets that skew priorities. I think that the PACTS report is helpful for recognising the importance of having effective comparative data that can be trusted to assess road safety.
It is essential for indicators to go beyond the fatal and seriously injured figure—the KSI figure, as it is known. As the former co-chair of the Staffordshire Safer Roads Partnerships, prior to my election to this House, I am quite impressed by the thinking and working that has gone into this report. It is aligned with the progress that is being made at a local and national level, following the Government’s determination to reduce the number of fatalities on our roads.
Of course, actions to improve road safety must be data-led—we must take proportionate action that has a meaningful impact—but the data needs to be broader and take a more systemic view. If we consider the Stoke-on-Trent figures for 2016 as an example, the KSI figure showed an increase of 74%, but within the context of a 5% reduction of overall reported casualties over the same period. There are clearly issues with using the KSI figure alone on a local network level, as significant short-term percentage changes can be caused by a small number of particularly deadly collisions.
As the Government’s road safety statement notes, 98% of the road network in England is local roads, and local action needs to be encouraged and respected. I would be interested in hearing how the Department is getting on with initiatives to spread good practice from one authority to another, particularly on more controversial schemes, such as shared space roads, which the RNIB has raised concerns about.
Another area of controversy is the use of speed cameras. In an age of high levels of accountability, the public increasingly demand transparency. Sometimes speed cameras are seen, unfortunately, as nothing more than a cash cow, to help to meet tightened public finances. We need to ensure that there is public confidence in road safety measures, that we communicate with motorists effectively and that actions on speed—such as putting in cameras or vans—remain reasonable and build on justified, tangible improvements in road safety. Better indicators and data collection may well help to justify such actions.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. On the issue of speed cameras and their locations, does he agree that it is essential that the wider public—pedestrians and motorists—see that they are positioned in such a way as to help to prevent accidents, rather than to apprehend motorists who might happen to be doing 31 mph in a 30 mph zone?
I certainly agree that that should be the case. That is why it is so important that the work is data-led, so that the public can have confidence that cameras are used only in locations where there is a justifiable need for them. I think that that is particularly important when it comes to things such as speed cameras, where motorists are being fined.
Moving on to working locally, it has become increasingly clear, as the PACTS report recognises, that road safety is not just about speed or chasing previous collision history, but about ensuring that actions are focused on reducing dangers more widely. Sometimes, making motorists feel safer has the perverse effect of making them drive more dangerously, but if they are made alert to possible risks, they drive with greater attention. It was, for example, a brave decision for Westminster City Council to remove the pedestrian railings at Oxford Circus when the crossing was redesigned to include diagonal lines. I think we would all agree that that has been a success. It works through behavioural measures—through a nudge, as they say.
It is not only Westminster that is innovating and taking bold steps forward to tackle broader dangers on our roads. Across the country, we are increasingly seeing proactive partnerships, like the one we have in Staffordshire, which represents a change in approach from local service providers. There is an increasing shift towards more holistic preventive actions through a whole range of methods, with the local community stepping up to take greater responsibility to improve safety on their roads. That means more work in schools and with community groups, to teach people about safety and encourage more responsible road usage. Many communities are also developing speed watches in their towns and villages, with local residents volunteering time to encourage safer road usage. After all, the people who drive most irresponsibly and dangerously are often part of those communities, and peer pressure from friends and neighbours can be a powerful tool—more powerful than directions from central Government. I am glad that Whitehall now recognises that.
In conclusion, I hope that the improved use of safety indicators is under serious consideration and progressing well. We need to bolster the trend towards broader preventive and community-led initiatives that best encourage behavioural change and more responsible road usage from everyone. Making data available will be key to that, as will spreading information and examples of best practice in road safety across local partnerships, which will deliver the improvements that we all want to see. I think PACTS and Ageas have made a great contribution.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s giving way, because I know he is winding up. Will he say a little bit about the Government’s consultation last year on causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving? Yesterday was the anniversary of the Government’s statement that they would bring in tougher sentences for those crimes, but nothing has happened in the last year. Will he say something about the possible deterrent effect of a tougher sentence for dangerous driving?
I know that that issue is important to the hon. Lady, and we had a brief discussion about it earlier. It is important that we have tough and appropriate sentences, but they are only part of the picture. As I have set out, there are several ways in which we should encourage safer driving. It is not just about encouragement, but about designing a safer road system and taking a holistic approach to road safety. I hope that the Minister keenly anticipates, as I do, the forthcoming Ageas-supported Road Safety Foundation annual risk mapping and performance tracking report, which will be launched on 30 October and entitled “Getting Back on Track”. The Minister is always on track—or, I should say, on road—so I look forward to his response.
I am pleased to see you presiding over our proceedings, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this important debate. I will do my best to be brief, given how many hon. Members want to contribute.
I chair Fire Aid, an international charity that delivers pillar 5 post-crash response to 40 countries using staff and equipment from the UK fire and rescue service and its supply chain. Our constituent members also use the Department for Transport’s excellent THINK! road safety education material and are grateful for it. I thank the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, Anderson Etika and David Davies; Cycling UK, especially Roger Geffen; and the all-party parliamentary group on cycling and Adam Coffman for their briefings for the debate, which I am sure hon. Members found extremely useful.
There is a concern, which I am sure the Minister shares, that casualty reductions have plateaued in recent years. PACTS writes that its members are particularly interested to hear more about the refreshed road safety statement and two-year action plan, which was trailed as being due out in October. I hope the Minister can tell us when that will actually be seen.
I have raised the issue of targets with the Minister before. As he knows, PACTS and many others would like the Government to adopt casualty reduction targets. There is some encouragement, which perhaps the Minister can say more about, in the fact that the Department appears to be reconsidering their advantages. There is a recognition that targets are not a magic bullet, but the absence of a UK target badly undermines our claim to be an international leader in road safety. In the UK, we have a plethora of targets set by various bodies with different dates, baselines and definitions, including one set by the Department for Transport for Highways England, and we endorse United Nations and EU casualty reduction targets, but do not have our own.
Targets can be aspirational, and the Government have adopted them in a range of public policy areas such as NHS waiting times, reducing suicide, vehicle emissions and greenhouse gases. Given that road crashes are the largest cause of death and injury for young people and many of us in our daily lives, surely they deserve equal priority.
If possible, I would like the Minister to say something about 20 mph zones. Everybody supports them and they have appeared all over the country, but we all recognise that without physical restraints or technological equipment, just putting up signs that say 20 mph does not achieve anything.
I would also be grateful if the Minister commented on the number of traffic police and enforcement officers. There have been massive reductions in the number of police officers around the country, which would suggest that the number of traffic police has also been significantly reduced. If he could say something about that, and about the last time that he discussed the numbers with his ministerial counterpart at the Home Office, that would be helpful.
The cycling community has expressed angst about the Minister’s review of dangerous cycling. As a cyclist, I see far too many fellow cyclists going through red lights and pedestrian crossings, and the tragic incidents that have taken place warrant a review of dangerous cycling. The cycling community says that there also needs to be a review of dangerous driving, however, and that the Government need to show an approach to both rather than just focusing on cycling.
Cycling UK makes reference to the fact that convicted drivers routinely evade driving bans by claiming that it could cause exceptional hardship. As of June 2017, more than 10,000 drivers in Britain were still permitted to drive despite having more than 12 points on their licence. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that and the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) about convictions and the punishment fitting the crime—the Government have been promising to make a statement on that for some time.
This ought not to be a party political issue, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, whom I congratulate again on securing this important debate, and the number of hon. Members from both sides of the House who want to speak demonstrate, but the Government have to recognise that there is disappointment. To go back to targets, there was a 30-year consensus. Targets were introduced by the Thatcher Administration in the ’80s and parties of both colours kept to them for all that time. They were effective in reducing the numbers of people being killed and seriously injured on our roads. I am keen to hear whether the Minister has any news on that.
As a former Road Safety Minister, I know that the issue presents huge challenges, but the Minister is highly regarded and trusted so he has an opportunity to restore the confidence of road safety campaign organisations and hon. Members present. We hope that his refreshed road safety strategy and two-year action plan does just that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this important debate. I compliment him on his speech’s content and his delivery. I pay tribute to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Police Scotland and the Central Scotland Road Safety Partnership, which delivers the “Safe Drive Stay Alive” campaign every year, as I have previously remarked on in the House. The highly effective campaign includes an evocative and emotive live presentation designed to change behaviour and thinking about the responsibilities that we have when we sit behind the wheel of a car.
I want to speak about my constituent, Mrs Elizabeth Billett, who came to see me a few months ago because she had read something in the Stirling Observer that vividly brought back memories of what had happened to her grandson, whom she had brought up. Her case was previously mentioned in the House by my predecessor, Dame Anne McGuire, but I mention it again because the issues surrounding it are still relevant. Those issues relate to the consequences of foreign drivers who visit the UK driving on the wrong side of the road. The essence of my speech is to ask the Minister what more can be done to help foreign drivers who come to this country to be aware of the need to stay on the correct side of the road. I will also raise points that are outside his remit as a Minister, but which I hope he will contemplate and perhaps offer a view on.
Mrs Billett came to talk to me about her grandson, Andrew McLean, who was 22 years old when the car he was driving was hit by someone driving on the wrong side of the road. That person happened to be a French national, who was subsequently sentenced to 200 hours of community service and given an 18-month driving ban in 2012. When I met Mrs Billett, it was clear that the grief that she felt was still as fresh as if it had only just happened. That is the reality of that kind of shocking loss. To lose a grandson at such a young age—he was only 22, as I said—is a truly horrible thing to happen. It has blighted her life. We must recognise the truly shattering effect that the loss of such a young man has had on Mrs Billett and her family.
I now turn to the case that brought Mrs Billett to my constituency office and highlight the issue that I wish to raise. Recently, in Gartmore on the A81 in my constituency, a French driver, again on the wrong side of the road, resulted in three people being seriously injured and hospitalised. The sheriff in Stirling imposed a £3,000 fine, which he stated was immediately enforceable, and he disqualified the driver from driving for 27 months. I recognise that this is a devolved area, but it is a relevant one, which we should contemplate in this debate.
The sheriff said the second part of the sentence—not the fine, but the disqualification—was unenforceable, because if the individual concerned returned to France it would have no effect. That is what I ask the Minister to contemplate today. Is there not a way in which the consequences of this type of accident, the impact it has—visible to me when I met my constituent; I have a lasting memory of her grief and pain at the loss of her grandson—and the resulting sentence can be enforced, regardless of where the individual concerned goes? There must be a way of co-operating across Governments on this issue.
Being in charge of a motorcar is a very serious responsibility and drivers must take it seriously. I ask the Minister and all of us here today to consider how we might ensure that sentences are appropriate to the impact of the crime and are enforceable across national boundaries. My constituent, Mrs Billett, has been left in limbo for years. Nothing can be done to bring her grandson back, but we can go further than we currently do and help to bring her some sense of justice.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this very worthwhile debate. My contribution will be very short and will cover slightly different areas to those covered so far.
I am indebted to many of my parish councils. I attended a meeting last Friday at St Paul’s church in Whiteshill and over two thirds of my parish councils were represented there. The issue that people came to discuss was speeding. It is probably the biggest issue I have, in terms of postbag, outside of all the individual issues that we all face as Members of Parliament.
People came to that meeting to express their concerns, but I was also greatly indebted to my friend Charles Pedrick, who has done more than anyone I know in the area to highlight the issue of what to do about speeding. He organised the meeting, with the support of Martin Surl, Gloucestershire’s police and crime commissioner, who has put his money where his mouth is by partly paying for two automatic number plate recognition cameras—one in Whiteshill, which is why we were there, and the other one in Rodborough. The cameras have demonstrated that, in the main, people are law-abiding, but those who break the law do so in a hideous way, by driving at 70 mph through a 30 mph zone.
My first question to the Minister—this is why I will be brief—is whether it is possible that we could use the data that has been collected. In Gloucestershire, about 100,000 pieces of data have been collected in the year or so since the two ANPR cameras have been up. At the moment, that data is used by the police. They go and knock on a door, in extremis, or they send letters to those who have offended seriously, not once or twice but on a regular basis. Is it possible that we could use that data more proactively, so that we can catch these people out?
I was genuinely shocked when I tabled a parliamentary question about how many people in Gloucestershire were banned from driving. Given how serious speeding and drink-driving are, the number is infinitesimally small, and that is because we do not seem to have any joined-up action. Can we use that information to crack down on those people who are making other people’s lives a misery?
Of course, it is not only people who are affected by speeding but cows and horses. There are a number of commons in my constituency. Every year, when the cows are put out we lose about 12 of them, because they are knocked down. However, it is not just a case of knocking down an animal; such incidents have a hideous impact on the affected farmers, who have to pick up the beast and who also often lose out financially. There is very little that can be done about the perpetrators. We ought to be able to do much more to them. If anyone hits an animal in a car, it is their own fault; they were driving without due care and attention. Is there something more that we can do to follow up on those individuals who have had accidents and caused all this disruption?
The same is true of horses. We are considering how we can have safer bridleways, but how do people get to those safer bridleways? We need to consider, very carefully, how the network can be joined up, to ensure that people are able to ride their horses safely, without people rushing past them at 60 mph.
My last point comes from the meeting I attended last week and it is a request to look at traffic regulation orders. Can we have a way in which we can make villages more composite, so that each village does not have to pay quite a large sum of money to get a TRO to reduce the speed in their area to 20 mph, which is largely recognised as being what villages need?
If the Minister could answer those questions in the short time that he has today, I would be very grateful.
Safety on our roads is obviously an important issue; it is also one that we have discussed here in Parliament before. The countryside is changing and has been for many years, and yet country roads are not changing, except perhaps for repairs of a few potholes and patchy resurfacing. I am talking in particular about roads in rural areas.
I credit my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), first, for securing the debate—it is a fantastic debate on an important issue—and, secondly, for highlighting the hazards and deaths on our roads. Devon and Cornwall police have recently diverted resources from fighting what we might call traditional crime, such as burglary, to keeping our roads safer. They recently launched their “No Excuse” campaign, which challenges road users who, basically, break clear rules about road safety and thereby cause injury and death. It is a shame that, because of that and the inability to maintain improvements to the roads, resources are being diverted in this way.
Attention really must be given to designing out danger, as well as to managing driver error and behaviour. As a rural constituency MP in west Cornwall, a number of issues are raised with me on a regular basis; indeed, I have raised many of them in this place before. As I have said, the countryside is changing. However, as a local MP I believe that I have exhausted every possible route other than to raise these issues with the Minister, which is disappointing. I would like to hear from him today what tools MPs can use to get their local authorities and others to focus their efforts on areas where there is clearly a danger, as well as a concern, and where local communities are genuinely worried about what is going on in their neighbourhoods and outside their houses.
I would really like to know from the Minister what more I can do on roads such as, for example, the A30 at Trereife junction, which I was involved with even before I was elected to this House. The A30 is a very busy road that takes people to Land’s End and the junction is tricky, and advertised as such. Years ago, red was painted on it to slow people down. However, that red paint has now gone, and despite many efforts and petitions, Cornwall Council seems completely uninterested in making the junction safer.
In New Road, there is simply a need for a pedestrian crossing from a massive housing area across to the beach. Again, however, the local authority has shown no interest.
As I have said, the countryside is changing. We have huge vehicles, including agricultural vehicles, using our roads. Often they use minor roads, and in a village called Leedstown, which is on the B3302, it has been established that speeding takes place. I have had many meetings with the council, huge petitions have been created by the local community and lots of concerns have been accepted, but there has been no action whatsoever. The council blames the police for not enforcing the law; the police blame the council for not improving the roads. And in Ashton and in Breage, the situation is exactly the same.
The Minister and the Secretary of State will be aware of our concern about the A30 in Crowlas. It is the main road that takes people into Penzance, which has a population of more than 20,000 people. It is a single-carriageway road that takes people to that end of Cornwall. The money has been secured to make it safer—indeed, it was secured some time ago—but there has been absolutely no action. So I would love it if the Minister could give Highways England and Cornwall Council a call, to ask them why they have not acted when they have the money to do so.
Finally, on Sunday there was a three-car crash, which resulted in life-changing injuries for one individual, on the A30 from Camborne to Penzance. I recently talked to Highways England in Bristol about that road and it said that there was no more that it could do; it needs the Secretary of State to ensure that a route appraisal is included in the second road investment strategy, or RIS 2. I thought that I would take the opportunity today to make that point, particularly to the Minister. So, please include a route appraisal in RIS 2.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate under your chairmanship today, Mrs Moon.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on bringing this issue forward and giving us all a chance to participate in this debate.
I will very quickly give a flavour of what is happening in Northern Ireland, as I do in nearly every debate in Westminster Hall, because it is always important to have the statistics that back up the story we are trying to tell.
In Northern Ireland we had 9,737 casualties on our roads last year. Obviously, we have to do better. Road safety is a multifaceted issue and a multifaceted approach is needed. Speeding is a clear issue. All hon. Members who have spoken so far have said that, and will continue to say that. According to statistics released by the Department for Infrastructure, 69% of drivers broke the speed limit on built-up roads in Northern Ireland. Whereas 50% of them drove too fast on single and dual carriageways, speeding on motorways was down by 30%, so there are some good things. The majority of pedestrian casualties occur in built-up areas. Again, we need to highlight that issue. Twenty-nine of the 34 child pedestrians and 302 of the 413 adult pedestrians who were killed in 2016 died on built-up roads.
Pedal cyclists are also vulnerable in built-up areas. More than half of the cyclist deaths in 2016, 58 out of 102, and most cyclist injuries in that year, almost 17,000 out of nearly 18,500, occurred on built-up roads. Although rural areas have their own particular issues, built-up areas are where the real pressure seems to be. In 2016, 789 people were killed, almost 16,000 were seriously injured and 113,055 were slightly injured. If someone is driving at 40 mph and they hit a child, they will probably kill them; at 30 mph, the child has an 80% chance of survival; and at 20 mph, the child is likely to survive being hit, with only minor injuries. So it is clear that we need to drive in built-up areas at a speed that is not a threat to other people.
Inexperience does not end with passing the test, which is why the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, which the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) referred to, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the Institute of Advanced Motorists have a scheme that involves on-road driving assessments, manoeuvrability tests, road-safe and wellbeing exhibitions and simulated fatal car crashes. Those are important steps in the way forward to educating people and raising awareness.
Teaching our young drivers is essential. We must address the fact that they do not have lessons on motorways, and their first trip up the road to university, changing lanes and navigating, is simply dangerous, so we must look at that issue as well.
I very much support the scheme that we have back home in Northern Ireland; I suspect it is probably evident in other parts of the United Kingdom as well. Our education programmes in high schools feature personal stories, often from young people who have been disabled in accidents. There are graphic demonstrations or dramatisations to influence the attitude of young students driving for the first time. I remind the Minister that the insurance companies do some monitoring of first-time drivers. The scheme to reduce insurance and to monitor the speed of cars is a good scheme.
I also have concerns about horse deaths on the roads. The British Horse Society is aware of some 2,914 reports of road incidents involving horses; 230 horses have died and 39 riders have lost their lives. We need to remind people how to drive at the right speed at the right place. There might be a 60 mph national speed limit, but sometimes it is safe only to drive at 40. When it might be safe to drive at 60, some people doing 20 mph is an issue that must be addressed as well. There is work to do, and there must be funding for a strategy. I look to the Minister for the strategy and for the funding to back it up. I welcome the fact that in Northern Ireland we have put measures in outside schools. We have put in schemes to reduce speed, which will increase safety for children at school.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, in this important debate.
We have had so many statements from the Government and debates in this House about one or more of the issues of congestion, air pollution, obesity, diabetes, poor physical and mental health, and the decline in our high streets’ economies. I have two solutions to all those, which do not cost a lot to the public purse or to our constituents: cycling and walking. I shall focus mainly on the first: more people cycling more often to work, school, the shops, to visit friends and family and all those other journeys that we take as part of day-to-day life.
Unfortunately, too few people in this country cycle regularly. The single greatest reason why British people, most of whom own bikes, do not cycle as part of their daily or weekly activities is fear for their safety. If the road culture and infrastructure were safer, more people would cycle. So we need to normalise cycling, as many of our competitor countries have done, as a safe and convenient activity for people of all ages and abilities, with all the health, environmental, economic and quality of life benefits that that would yield. We can do that only if the Government focus on the safety of those who are on bikes and on foot.
I want to express my concern at the Government’s announcement of a new review specifically of cycling offences in 2017 in response to one admittedly awful case involving a pedestrian killed in a collision with Charlie Alliston, who was illegally riding a fixed-wheel bike, which illegally lacked a front brake, on the road. I believe a much wider overhaul of our laws is needed, as promised by Ministers more than four years ago.
I shall focus on the key issues that reflect the five main headings of the “safe systems” approach adopted in the Government’s road safety statement. On safer roads and junctions, we were promised new standards for cycle-friendly planning so that they consistently applied in all new roads and traffic schemes, new developments and planned highway maintenance works. It cannot be right that new housing estates are built in this country with not only no segregated cycle paths, but sometimes no footways, either. The Government should show leadership in all new developments, housing schemes, rail infrastructure and major roads, as well as leading on retrofitting our existing urban and rural infrastructure.
We need work in every town and city so that we can all be served with a safe network of segregated cycle routes on main roads, safe quietways on minor roads, and safe accessible places to lock or store cycles, and that needs a shift of some—not a lot, proportionately—of transport capital funding. The earmarked UK Government spending for cycling and walking in 2019-20 will decline to just 37p per person: just a fraction of the £10 per head called for by my group, the all-party parliamentary group on cycling, in our 2013 “Get Britain Cycling” report and by the Transport Committee’s own 2014 report on cycle safety.
We ask that the Government adopt continental-style rules to give greater safety and priority to pedestrians and cyclists at junctions, as promoted by British Cycling’s “Turning the Corner” campaign. This is based on the principle that drivers turning at a junction give way to pedestrians and cyclists travelling straight ahead across their path. We hope that that will be incorporated into The Highway Code.
We need to build a nation of safer drivers. It goes without saying that all road users should respect the rules of the road and the safety of others, which means a combination of education and enforcement, as other speakers have said today. We need better driver awareness of cycle safety, including new and consistent advice in The Highway Code, to be reinforced through public awareness campaigns. We need to strengthen roads policing and the capacity to enforce. We need to review traffic laws and penalties to clarify, for instance, the distinction between careless and dangerous offences. We need to make use of driving bans, reducing the ability of convicted drivers to evade such bans, and we need tougher penalties overall.
We must invest in cycle training for children and adults to give them more confidence in cycling on the roads. Provision is currently a postcode lottery. Such training also leads to safe driving behaviour for those who have experienced it. After all, HGV drivers regularly include cycle training as part of their driving training. I had hoped to mention more of the recommendations today, but time is short. We look forward to working with the Minister on the recommendations.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this important debate on an issue that clearly and obviously has much cross-party support and interest. I want to speak today on behalf of my constituents, the Smith family from Llandevaud, who tragically lost their daughter Rhiannon, aged just 21, in a road collision last year. I want to pay tribute to them for the way in which they have bravely and relentlessly campaigned ever since for measures to make our roads safer, to prevent such events from happening to other families.
Alongside their work on local road safety issues, the family established the Rhiannon Jade Smith Memorial Trust, which held its first Welsh road safety conference last month at the Celtic Manor in Newport. It was extremely well attended and covered a large range of road safety issues, many of which were touched on today. Experts who attended included Rod King, from the “20’s Plenty For Us” campaign, which advocates the potential benefits of default 20 mph speed limits in urban and residential areas, except where it makes sense to retain 30 mph speed limits. My Welsh Assembly colleague, John Griffiths, is campaigning on that with the Welsh Government, and it was the subject of a recent debate.
Gwent police Chief Inspector Martyn Smith, who is responsible for our roads policing, and police and crime commissioner Jeff Cuthbert, spoke about how they are tackling alcohol and drug driving as well as those who use their phones behind the wheel. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) that cuts to police and traffic officers make their job far more difficult, and that that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. We also heard from Sarah Jones, of Public Health Wales, who talked in favour of graduated driving licences. Those are obviously targeted at younger drivers and they exist in other countries. She is a passionate advocate of them. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s views on both the 20 mph campaign and graduated driving licences.
We talked about the need for a dedicated road collision investigation branch, similar to those that investigate rail, maritime and air accidents, which would look at road accident data, analyse incidents and spot any trends, to identify solutions. I know that the Smith family would like me to raise that specifically with the Minister today. Obviously, it would not replace the work of the coroners and police, but it would work on top of that, to analyse trends, and would have the potential to save more lives.
I was pleased to see the Government’s announcement in the summer of a dedicated branch run by the RAC Foundation as a pilot. I look forward to hearing the results so far from the Minister, so that that approach can grow. Countries such as Sweden have used it effectively for many years, and it would be interesting to see how far the Government have got. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse, I think targets are important; it is time that the Department for Transport thought again about the national road safety targets, which were scrapped in 2010.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the suggestion for an all-Wales fatal collision review board, which South Wales police are working on. They have proposed a model similar to the national road collision investigation unit, where a board of experts would meet regularly to discuss categories of drivers or road users who are particularly high-risk and review fatal collisions to consider trends. All kinds of bodies and partners could be included. It would be good if the Minister looked at that, and specifically at cross-border working with the Welsh Government. It is important to learn road safety lessons wherever we can.
We are clearly not making the progress on road safety and fatalities that we should expect as a nation. The Government’s projections show an increase in local traffic of up to 50% by 2040, so clearly we must do more and collaborate better to make roads safer.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this debate, whose importance is self-evident, given the Members attending it.
Having served for 31 years in the fire service, and sadly over that time having attended many needless and avoidable road traffic crashes, I believe that the importance of road safety in all its forms throughout the UK must never be underestimated. Many of the events in question ended with fatalities or life-changing injuries. As we have heard today, the impact extends to the families of the individuals, and that must be considered. The needless loss of a loved one in a road traffic crash can be continually devastating.
Before the emergency services arrive at an incident, many people find they are trapped in not only a crushed motor vehicle but a twilight world between life and death. It is often wet, miserable, cold and bleak. In a rural area it might be in an insecure and isolated place. I, and many others in the fire, police and ambulance services, have on many occasions had the privilege simply of holding someone’s hand, squeezing it gently and speaking to them quietly, making the promise—not knowing whether it can be kept—“We’ll soon have you out of here,” while mentally formulating a plan to achieve that important goal.
In those 30-plus years, I have seen many improvements to vehicles and, indeed, to legislation—I commend manufacturers for improvements such as airbags, crumple zones, improved braking systems, side impact systems and so on. Many people owe their lives to those developments. Legislators can be proud of introducing the compulsory wearing of seatbelts, and of crash helmets for motorcyclists. I take the point that has been eloquently made that we should perhaps be on the journey towards the compulsory wearing of head safety gear by cyclists on the streets today. Not least of all such measures is the breathalyser, although it is sad to note that, despite it, the relevant statistics are rising. That is shameful and disgraceful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South ably emphasised the importance of the recent report on developing safe system road safety indicators. I do not intend to repeat what was said, but in the report, PACTS raises the importance of securing statistics in the form of eight key performance indicators. I, for one, would welcome those KPIs on road safety, but with the proviso that they should be used wisely and actively by roads authorities, police, policy makers and other stakeholders. That might include the Chancellor, with respect to investment.
The intention should be to reduce road traffic crashes. Statistics tell us that currently 71 deaths or serious injuries occur every day in the UK. That must be unacceptable. There is no value in gathering useful data and not putting it to use. All of us present in the Chamber are concerned about the fact that the trend for improvement in road traffic fatalities and serious injuries has in recent years ceased. The improvement has plateaued and bottomed out: the figures for 2017 show another year of no improvement with respect to the reduction in deaths and serious injuries on the UK’s roads. It is not good enough.
We need to ensure that the driving test keeps up with new developments. I hope that I will not be misunderstood, as it is not always a matter of young drivers—some people do pass their test when they are older, and there are mature gentlemen like me who cause road accidents. Aspects of the test might be how to cope with driverless vehicles, which will soon be on the roads and could be encountered in the not-too-distant future. Drivers and riders should be encouraged proactively and continually to self-assess their abilities to drive in a safe manner. Should they be driving? People need to be safe to drive. That is especially relevant when people are affected by illnesses notifiable to the DVLA.
It may be hard when someone reaches my time in life to give up what they have done for 40 or 50 years or more, but perhaps it is wise to give it some thought, or seek serious advice about whether they should do it. There is a balance between the young and the old. Educating drivers on managing everyday tiredness and fatigue is an enormous factor in accident prevention. It will be interesting to assess the data gathered on that, if the PACTS recommendations are brought forward.
I would be pleased if the PACTS recommendations on statistics gathering were introduced. However, in tandem with gathering data for future years, we must endeavour to secure improvements across the field of road safety year on year. I am encouraged by the work that various agencies and Governments undertake to arrest the increase in fatalities and serious accidents.
We recognise that things are not working as they should at the moment. I know a great deal is being done, but further improvements will be achieved through education of individuals as much as improvements to the environment in which they drive—something that has been mentioned before. There is recognition that improvement is needed in some of those areas. I welcome the KPIs. I think that they will be a good step, and I hope that the Minister will consider introducing them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on initiating the debate. I want to raise an issue that is rarely discussed in the context of road safety—driver eyesight. My interest—indeed, my passion—about the issue arises from a terrible incident in my constituency two years ago. Poppy-Arabella Clarke—three years old, a delightful girl and the apple of her mum’s and dad’s eye—was crossing the Chester Road with her mother, Rachel. She was run down by a driver who was 72, and who had been told twice in the previous three weeks that he should never drive again, although he continued to do so. The family are devastated to this day.
We need a common-sense approach towards this—indeed, on other issues we have had such common-sense engagement with the Government. Five years ago Avril Child’s two daughters, who were in their early 20s, were crossing the Walsall Road. They got hit by a driver who was doing 64 miles an hour, and Sarah died. Bizarrely, the individual who was behind the wheel got four years in jail and a four-year driving ban, and he started serving the driving ban on day one of being in jail. We engaged with the then Justice Minister, the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), and the law was changed so that such bans will now run consecutively. In a similar vein, I hope that the Government will approach with common sense the issue of what needs to be done about driver eyesight.
I wish to make three points. First, as things stand, when we take a driving test we have to read a number plate from 20 metres. That is a lamentably poor measure of visual acuity, so why not improve it? The original number plate test dates back 80 years to 1937. It is a comparatively weak test, and across Europe there is a much more robust approach. Of 29 countries assessed by the European Council of Optometry and Optics, the UK was one of only five that required just a licence plate test. Furthermore, in 22 of the 29 countries assessed, a doctor or ophthalmologist is required to carry out an eye test, yet in the UK, only the driving instructor conducts the test on the day. Evidence from Brake suggests that the public would support such a measure, and polling shows that 67% of the general public believe that the system should change.
There is also a case for the introduction of regular eyesight tests during our driving lives, because at no point do most drivers ever have to take an eye test. Again, if we consider the European experience we see that some countries such as Hungary and Finland require an eye test from drivers in their 40s, and a further 13 countries require an eye test at 70, 75 or 80. We know from evidence provided by Brake and data from Direct Line that British drivers are not getting their eyes tested on a regular basis. Indeed, 12% of drivers never get their eyes tested, and 16% of drivers have had an accident in the past two years. For those who have problems with their eyesight, the figure for those involved in an accident increases to 67%. There is a strong case for us to do something in the United Kingdom, as has happened in many countries throughout Europe.
There is also the question of older drivers. Under UK law, once someone reaches 70 they must renew their driving licence, but they self-certify that they are fit to drive. There is no requirement for a medical—people just fill out a form and stay on the road. According to evidence from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, there are 4.5 million drivers over 70, and 100,000 over 90. The overwhelming majority of those people drive safely—indeed, statistically the big problem is not older drivers; it is young men. Having said that, there has been rapid growth in the number of older drivers, and as we live longer the number of drivers over 70 and over 90 increases—there are 3,700 drivers over 90 in the west midlands alone.
In conclusion, we hope that the Government will consider a range of measures, including a mandatory obligation for an ophthalmologist or doctor to report to the DVLA anyone they examine who cannot drive safely. It is somewhat surprising that the road safety strategy does not refer to eye testing, and I hope that the Minister will agree that these are real issues. We have already engaged with the Minister and had constructive discussions, and I hope that the Government will be prepared to take the necessary action, because never again should we have a tragedy such as the one that befell Poppy-Arabella Clarke.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this important and, as it turns out, wide-ranging debate. It is my duty to sum up the debate, and I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I miss any salient points. I shall start with the previous speaker, because I felt that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) was directing his remarks at me, although I will try not to take it too personally. I recently had an eye operation, and at the moment I have a self-imposed ban on driving, even though I have been reliably informed by my consultant that I am fit to drive. The hon. Gentleman’s points were well made.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South introduced the debate with a wide-ranging discussion that covered traumatic tales of accidents, as well as the need for us to use data properly, to data-mine why accidents happen, and to use that information to further road safety. I do not think that anyone disagrees with him. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) wants us to think about road safety, and to consider 20 mph zones as well as looking at the reduction in the number of traffic police that has led to other accidents. The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) commended his local police and road safety people on their “Safe Drive Stay Alive” campaign. He touched us all when he spoke about foreign drivers and how there is no way to enforce the bans imposed by Scottish sheriffs. That is a tragedy.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) spoke about local speeding issues and data from local cameras. I cannot go into the technicalities of English law, but anything that helps to increase road safety should be used, and it is the duty of all Members of the House to ensure that roads in their constituencies are as safe as possible. The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) spoke about country roads and made an important point about the A30. I will try to get through my remarks quickly, because there is a lot for the Minister to answer.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) gave a comprehensive overview of road safety in Northern Ireland, and he spoke about the education of young drivers and how graphic illustrations really help. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) is a real advocate for cycling and walking. She may be surprised to hear that until recently I cycled frequently, but I take on board her views that most people do not cycle because of road safety issues. I only ever cycled on cycle paths, and I thank Sustrans for its work in Scotland and for the number of cycle paths that pass by beautiful places.
It is important to consider amending The Highway Code—that returns to the point about education because we must ensure that people understand those amendments. The hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) eloquently paid tribute to the Smith family in her constituency and the trust that they have set up. The investigation of such road accidents can only help to improve the lives of people in her constituency and across the UK.
The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) spoke about his more than 30 years’ service in the fire and rescue service, and about the devastation caused by accidents. People who are trapped often require a simple hand hold, which is an immensely powerful thing. I thank him for his service. As he said, the improvements made to motor vehicles by manufacturers are important, but, as we know, vehicles are driven by people and education is the most important thing. The hon. Gentleman mentioned seatbelts, crash helmets and so on, as well as breathalysers. Drink-driving is still rising in the UK, but I am glad that things are improving in Scotland, because of the actions of the Scottish Government. I think those were all the Members who spoke, so I will briefly do some quick headlines.
I want the Minister to consider the Scottish Government examples that I will give him. Scotland’s road safety framework to 2020 has produced really good results, with cuts in the numbers of accidents. Things that the Scottish Government have done include cutting the blood alcohol limit, and we must take on board the fact that the limit has been reduced from 80 mg to 50 mg, which is lower than for the rest of the UK. We really must look at, and I would like the Minister to think about, the 7.6% reduction in drink-driving as a result of that.
The Scottish Government are also looking at drug-driving limits—I commend that idea to the Minister—and they are going to introduce roadside testing. They have considered where they can make prosecutions for different types of drug, specifying the limit for each and testing against that. Importantly, they also want to ensure that it is not just people who are driving in an impaired manner—zig-zagging across the road—who can be stopped by the police.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) for securing this important and timely debate. He is clearly very committed to making roads safer in his constituency and he speaks with great knowledge of the subject.
The Government recently published their 2017 figures for reported road casualties in Great Britain, after a lengthy delay. Although there are some positives in that latest statistical release, there is also cause for concern. The Minister told me earlier this year that the picture was mixed, and it remains so. We have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House about this country’s proud record. We have some of the safest roads in the world. In fact, we have the fourth lowest number of road deaths per million inhabitants, behind Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. However, we must never think that that means the job is done, while thousands of families each year are still traumatised by the tragedy of losing a loved one in what are so often avoidable circumstances.
Last year, as we have heard, 1,793 people were killed on Britain’s roads. That is an average of five every day, and more than 10 times that number suffered serious injuries, many of which were life-changing. The Government talk a good game about road safety being a top priority, but their legacy so far is one of disappointment and frustration, and the latest Department for Transport figures reaffirm that. Since 2010, progress has well and truly stalled. Another year of stats has been published and we are no further forward.
I pay tribute to the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and Ageas for publishing their important report on safe system and road safety indicators earlier this month, and the Government need to sit up and take notice of that. Many stakeholders are calling on the Government to adopt road safety performance indicators. The Government scrapped road targets that successfully reduced the number of people killed or seriously injured by a third under the Labour Government. The Government say that targets do not achieve anything, but I disagree. They focus minds and attention, and hold the Government to account. Currently, there are no targets with which to assess progress. The Government set themselves targets to meet in pretty much every other area of policy, but not for reducing road deaths and injuries. Why is that the case?
We have heard about the safer road fund, and we welcomed that targeted approach to enabling local authorities to improve the most dangerous stretches of A road in England. The fund initially totalled £175 million, of which £100 million is currently invested. However, the other £75 million that was originally allocated has, according to the Minister, “not been required”. Will he clarify what that is about? We saw this morning that the RAC Foundation and the Road Safety Foundation have published a report on the possible benefits of the safer road fund, which estimates that the fund could prevent almost 1,450 deaths and serious injuries over the next two decades on the riskiest A roads of England. We are crying out for investment in road safety, so why is that money not being spent and where is it being reallocated to?
We are also concerned about enforcement. Traffic officers have seen a 24% fall in their numbers since 2012—a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). In 2010, there were 3,500 police officers patrolling the UK’s roads, but by 2017 the figure had fallen to 2,600. It seems that cuts to our vital services are putting safety at risk.
The latest road safety figures show that there has been an increase in the number of pedestrian and motorcyclist fatalities as well. The number of cyclists killed has remained broadly constant since 2010: why has progress stalled in that area as well? I would be grateful if, in the time he has available, the Minister could answer some of the points raised by the Front-Bench spokespeople as well as by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I thank you, Mrs Moon, and I thank all colleagues across the House for the very interesting and wide-ranging debate this afternoon.
Far from not being held to account, I think this is the third road safety debate I have done in recent months, and it speaks to the vigour of our democracy that Ministers can be held to account on this important issue. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) who has done excellent work on the Transport Committee. He knows from that, and from his work before entering Parliament, that this country has what was described by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner)—perhaps I should not refer to him as my hon. Friend, but he is—as a “proud record” in road safety improvements, and that is rightly recognised.
An interesting example is a case I have officials looking at, which is the recent concerns about seatbelts and the proportion of accidents in which failure to wear a seatbelt has been a contributing cause. That has rightly been touched on in the debate. It is sometimes important to remember that seatbelt use is observed by 98.2% of car drivers in England and Scotland, which is one small indication of how attitudes and practices have changed over time. Although the number of fatalities has levelled out recently, as has been said, we should be very proud that that number fell over a consistent period and is significantly lower now than it was even 10 years ago. However, it is important to say that I recognise, as do the Government, the billions of pounds in economic costs alone of road casualties, and that is not to say anything of the human costs. Three dreadful stories of death on our roads have been mentioned in the debate, and I hope to have the chance to touch on those.
If I may, I will briefly rehearse the current state of play from the Government’s standpoint and then come to the many interesting questions that colleagues have raised. As colleagues will know, in 2015 my predecessor announced an overarching strategy known as the road safety statement, and I think the evidence is clear that we have made very good headway in many areas. However, we absolutely recognise that there is more work to do. I am glad that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East has mentioned the RAC Foundation’s report into the effect of the investment that was made in safer roads.
That £100 million was bid for by 50 local authorities, and it was allocated to them. I am sure we will return to that subject over time, but it is worth saying that as the report shows, that money is projected to have a very positive effect on reducing casualties and deaths, and—purely in economic terms—a high cost-benefit ratio, as one might expect. That in itself is worth mentioning.
However, as an indication that the Government are not in any sense letting the grass grow under our feet, we announced in June a two-year action plan to address four specific priority groups within the overall road safety statement, as part of a refresh of that statement. The first group is motorcyclists, and the second is rural road users, who have been mentioned; I think the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) rightly picked up the issue of rural roads. The third group is older and more vulnerable users—the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) mentioned elderly drivers and the effects posed by them—and the fourth is young road users, who are disproportionately implicated in killed and seriously injured statistics.
We are also trialling many new and different approaches to try to get at the root of what is clearly a hard problem. That is why earlier this year, the Prime Minister announced a £480,000 partnership between the police and the RAC Foundation to trial the new approach to investigating road collisions, along the lines of the road collision investigation branch mentioned by the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden). It is also important to note the £350,000 competition run by PACTS to provide police forces with the next generation of mobile breathalyser equipment. If that is being adopted in Scotland as well, we can be delighted, because that is a source of improvement.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) suggested that somehow, the Government were only targeting cyclists with our latest announcement about the review of cycling road offences. First of all, that is clearly not true, although there are specific concerns about potential risks and harm posed by cyclists, which Laura Thomas mentioned in her report and have existed among the judiciary and the legal fraternity for a long time. That harm is not large in numerical terms—it is very small compared to the number of cyclists killed by drivers—but it is undoubtedly worth noting as we evolve a wider ecology of road use. We have taken measures to address drivers specifically, including doubling the penalty for the use of mobile phones to six points and a £200 fine, and targeting drink and drug driving. Drug driving is a particular menace, killing some 200 people a year, and we have targeted it through a new regime of roadside swab testing, which has proven to be a fast and efficient means of identifying drug drivers.
Of course, some things are best handled not just through regulation, but through other, softer interventions. I was pleased to note that the national speed awareness course is having a real effect, and is more effective at reducing speed re-offending than fines and penalty points, according to a recent evaluation over a period of three years following the initial offer to attend. The Government are also thinking about interventions to support new drivers. A range of measures is being trialled, but legislation is now in force that allows learners on to motorways when accompanied by an approved driving instructor, so they do not have that cliff-edge experience of going from driving on local roads to driving on fast-flowing motorways.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South rightly mentioned the safer roads fund. He will be aware that in Shropshire, not far from his constituency, there is the A529 between Hinstock and Market Drayton, which has the unhappy accolade of being the most dangerous road in that part of the UK, according to analysis carried out by the Road Safety Foundation in 2014. That is just one of the areas that has been targeted with nearly £4 million through the fund. Of course, Stoke-on-Trent City Council should be congratulated on the work it has been doing on investing in road and pavement maintenance, re-allocating bus lanes, upgrading traffic signals, and the like.
I mentioned that the two-year action plan focuses in particular on young people, rural road users, motorcyclists, and older people—not just the damage that older people might do to themselves, but the hazard they pose to others. It was my very unhappy duty to meet with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, and the Clarke family to discuss the awful situation of Poppy-Arabella. I remember it extremely well, and I hope that Rachel and Phil were glad of the opportunity to talk about their situation and the experience that they had. It is important to say that optometrists already have a duty of care to check eyesight, and at the moment there is not any evidence that a compulsory, formal duty to assess eyesight would have a marked positive effect. However, that is one of the things that we are trying to cover—if not directly now, then as part of a future flow of work—through the two-year action plan.
The issue of cyclists was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth. She will understand that a formal response to the safety review consultation is coming, and a formal action plan, I hope, will follow later in the year. There is some further work to be done on road safety that I hope to announce before too long, so there is a pattern of things under way. I cannot always anticipate things that are going to be made public in formal statements after proper agreement across Government, but she recognises—as does my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South—that there must be, and is, a hierarchy of road use, and that cars do enormous damage to vulnerable road users of every kind, not just cyclists. That is the fitting counterpart to the work we have been doing through the Thomas report, and of course, the killed and seriously injured statistics show that cars are much more dangerous. The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy safety review has had an enormous response. Something like 13,000 responses have been received; a lot have come through formal write-in programmes, but many have come from ordinary cyclists and members of the public, and rightly so. One of the things that has come out of that, on which the Government have done a lot of work, has been the work of the West Midlands police on close passing. We have already announced some further work on that, and I expect that to continue.
The PACTS report is the original instigator of some of this debate. I congratulate PACTS on the work it has have done, and I thank Ageas for its work as well. I welcome the work on the indicators that are being used. The Government are already very engaged with what might be considered the “safe systems” approach. We have thought about that in the context of cycling and walking, but we are trying to balance that with specific evidence of places where one needs to be able to address actual harm inflicted. The response cannot just be about predictive anticipation of where there may be collisions. It also has to be about showing a local community that a collision has been addressed; an accident has met with a response; and a concern has in some sense been understood, recognised and salved, if not solved. It is important to recognise that we adopt that approach within Government, and we do so seriously.
I have constantly gone round the houses on the issue of targets with my great friend the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick)—a brilliant fireman and, I have no doubt, a great campaigner in this area—and with others. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East mentioned, there are countries with targets that have better safety records than ours, but there are also countries with targets that do not have better safety records than ours. The matter is not absolutely clear by any means, and we will continue to discuss it over time.
On 20-mile-an-hour zones, I remind colleagues that local authorities are fully free to use a range of traffic-calming measures, including all-day limits or partial limits. I am very sympathetic to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) regarding the situation of Mrs Billett, as he will know. We have all kinds of flags at ports, and we have bollards and interventions on roads, but he is absolutely right to flag that issue. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) is absolutely right to pick up the point about agricultural vehicles, and I will be writing to him separately on the topic of the A30. RIS 2 will be announced in the middle of next year.
I had better sit down. Mrs Moon, you have been a brilliant Chair. Thank you so much.
I thank all Members who have contributed to this wide-ranging and interesting debate, and I am particularly grateful for the heartfelt speeches that some colleagues have made. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) will notice, I now wear glasses. I have recently had my eyes checked, and I did not wear glasses previously, but I do now. I am sure that he will be happy to know that my eyesight is now much better.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive remarks on a number of the points that were raised throughout the debate. I hope the debate has raised awareness, and I particularly thank Ageas and PACTS for the work they have done. I also remind Members of the report produced by the Road Safety Foundation, which is due to be released on 30 October.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered road safety.
Housing and Home Ownership
[Mark Pritchard in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered housing and home ownership.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I recently published an 80-page report for the think-tank Onward. Members will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to read it out today, but I want to talk about some of the themes in it.
This is a short debate, so I want to ask the Minister just two questions. First, will he update us on his thoughts about how we can increase home ownership by rebalancing things between the private rented sector and home ownership? Building more homes is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of reversing the decline in home ownership. Over the past decade, the private sector has built about 165,000 extra houses every year, but home ownership fell because the private rented sector has expanded by 195,000 homes every year. Multiple property ownership has been squeezing out home ownership for individuals. Private landlords are not doing anything wrong, but we have to ask ourselves as a country whether we want so much of our housing stock to flow into renting, rather than owning.
To rebalance things back towards ownership, we could do a number of things. We could introduce a capital gains tax break for those who want to sell their rented property to their existing tenants. For future rented properties, we could change the tax treatment to encourage people to put their investments into stocks, shares and businesses, rather than just into bidding up the price of housing. Rebalancing in that way could make a big difference. To give a sense of the magnitude, I should say that if we had kept the ratio of privately owned to privately rented homes the same between 2000 and 2015, 2.2 million more homes would be in ownership. That would make a huge difference—at least as big a difference as we could make by increasing the rate at which we build homes.
We know that tax can be effective. The changes brought in by the then Chancellor in 2015 saw the first substantial increase in home ownership for a decade in the following year. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues at the Treasury are thinking about ownership. If we only think about the supply side of the market in challenging the housing problem, we are effectively fighting with one hand tied behind our backs.
The second thing I would like the Minister to update us on is his and the Government’s overall vision for what, where and how we build. The ultimate constraint on how much we build is public consent. If we want to build more, we need to tackle the underlying reasons why people oppose so much of what is built today. For me, there are three underlying reasons. First, too often we build in the wrong places and we lose the green spaces that people value the most. Secondly, we build without the required infrastructure. Thirdly, there are too few benefits for existing residents.
How can we solve those problems? That requires different things in different places. It means building more in the centres of our great cities—densifying them and regenerating more land. Outside our cities, it means more stand-alone, planned new communities and fewer tacked-on developments stuck on the edges of all our existing villages and towns. Everywhere, it means sharing more of the benefits of development with existing residents so that they can see those benefits.
Let me unpack that a little bit. There is lots of room in our great cities for growth. Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Hull and Dundee all had a smaller population in 2016 than they did in 1981. Other cities such as Manchester and Birmingham were only about 6% bigger. There is lots of room to grow in our great cities, and there are lots of reasons to densify the centres of those cities: it is greener; it means less congestion; it means more people walk to work, which in turn is healthier; and infrastructure costs are lower. There are lots of ways to make it happen. To put ideas in the Minister’s head, we could change objectively assessed need to favour inner-city development, to take into account the potential for cities to densify. We could further liberalise building upwards and amend change of use to allow empty shops to be turned into homes.
We could devolve further powers over transport beyond the mayoral combined authority areas. Mayoral authorities such as in London have powers over public transport and the buses. That means they could have denser development, because they can ensure good public transport to it. We could review sightlines in London and build upwards. We could do what the think-tank Create Streets recommends and review regulations so that we can once again build those tall, dense terraces that are so beloved by the population. We can do a lot more in our cities, but we will continue to want to build outside our cities, including in rural areas.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this debate to the House. His suggestions are good. Does he think that housing provision for people with disabilities should be improved as well? At a sitting of the Select Committee of which I am a member last week, I argued that the Government should implement approved document M4(2). It sounds a bit wordy, but that is about making new homes accessible and adaptable by default. Does he agree with doing that? That measure includes provisions for a wheelchair standard for new homes.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and bringing this crucial debate to the House. Does he agree that unless we radically reform our local planning system, we will never get the planning applications through and the houses built that we need? We need to build in huge numbers—more than the Government are proposing at the moment.
I utterly agree; I was about to make that very point. At the moment, we infill bits on the edges of every village and town. We are effectively building in the places that annoy people the most, so we do not build enough homes, as my hon. Friend said. When we do that, we cannot keep up with the infrastructure needs of these places, because it is physically impossible. Perhaps the primary school is on too small a plot or we cannot widen a road that has become a rat run because there is not enough money to meet infrastructure needs.
Previously, we did things very differently. There was the new towns programme: those new towns now house more than 2 million people very successfully. They are fast-growing places. Mrs Thatcher created docklands in London and Liverpool, and the model was roughly the same for both. A development corporation would buy land cheap at existing low values. It would assemble the land, install the infrastructure and sell on that land for uplifted values, therefore paying for itself. That model has been used successfully all over the world.
I congratulate my hon. Friend who, as ever, is making a very persuasive case. His Onwards report is very good, and he is contributing to what I would call the battle of ideas. He mentioned Margaret Thatcher, who was at the forefront of that. The Centre for Policy Studies published a paper on “help to own” on Monday. We want to be in this space to address some of the big challenges we are facing on planning, taxation and infrastructure, but we also need to try to persuade other parts of the Government—including the Treasury and our dear colleague in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government—to address some of the bigger issues of intergenerational fairness. A whole generation is locked out of home ownership, and we want to help them get back on the ladder so that we can become that property-owning democracy again.
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely profound and important point.
A lot of councils are now getting back into the business of building new places. They are being forced to, because if they do not want to mess up every village and town in their area, they need to build new stand-alone places. We need to ensure that they have the tools and expertise they need to make that work.
My hon. Friend has brought a very important debate to the House. When we build around existing settlements, we tend to have inflated land values before things have even started. Having new settlements will allow us to capture some of that value to provide some of the infrastructure. Does he agree?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I agree in the strongest possible terms, and will come to that point in a second.
Where there have been good new planned settlements, such as Poundbury or Nansledan, they have often been because of a visionary landowner in the area, but we cannot always rely on that. Sometimes, other good ideas have gone wrong because developers have wiggled out of their commitments or planners have failed to get control over the land. How do we make sure that we always build good new places? I would love to see Homes England become a supporting masterplanner for local authorities. I would love us to build on the housing infrastructure fund, which is a brilliant initiative. I would love more central encouragement, which is already coming from the Minister, for good vernacular design.
As ever, the other thing we need is money. That brings me to the third of the reasons why people oppose development—because there is not enough benefit for existing residents. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) mentioned, when planning permission is granted, there is typically a big increase in the value of land, but too little of that flows to existing residents. The Centre for Progressive Policy estimates only about a quarter of the value goes to the local community.
My hon. Friend mentioned money. Many of the councillors in Northampton welcomed the lifting of the borrowing cap on the housing revenue account. Does he share my hope—this reflects the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel)—that that will be used for shared ownership or owned properties, as well as just for social housing?
I do. That is perhaps for the Minister to answer rather than me, but I absolutely agree that it would be a good thing to do with the extra borrowing power.
How do we capture more of the benefit for the community? We could reform section 106 and the community infrastructure levy and take off the various limits that apply. We could create transparency by creating a register of all land options so that we know what people are paying for land and we stop viability being used as an excuse not to pay for vital infrastructure. We could change the national planning policy framework so that sites do not get put through the strategic housing land availability assessment unless they can pay for their own infrastructure. We could give local authorities the fiscal firepower to assemble land and be their own developers and masterplanners. We could reform land compensation and the Land Compensation Act 1961 to reverse the changes made by unelected judges in the 1970s. A group of organisations, including Shelter, Onward and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, recently came together to call for just that.
As well as more benefits for the local community generally, we also need to see more specific benefit for those most affected by development—those who are right next to it. What about offering cheap homes for sale to the neighbours of new construction sites? At the moment, there is too little other than disruption for the neighbours. In Farndon Fields in my constituency, a developer refused to route construction traffic through neighbouring fields and has instead insisted, using the viability argument, on forcing them down tiny suburban streets. My constituents now have to put up with huge HGVs going down these tiny streets where their children are playing, for several years. No wonder we oppose so much development, when it happens like that. No wonder we do not build enough homes. We have a system that seems geared to maximise opposition.
The only way to build more homes is to deal with the underlying reasons why we oppose so much development today. Those problems can be fixed, and I know our new, energetic Minister is setting about fixing them with aplomb, but we need to think radically about the way we build and start a new conversation about the balance of renting and owning.
It is a pleasure to serve under your guiding hand, Mr Pritchard. It is a great pleasure to respond to this very important debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien). In his report, “Green, pleasant and affordable,” he has presented a smorgasbord—a veritable cornucopia—of radical and interesting ideas. In the time I have available, I want to go through a number of the areas that the report covers, in particular supply and home ownership.
The first issue he quite rightly raises is that of getting the most out of land. In order to increase housing supply, we understand that local authorities need to be empowered to make the most effective use of the land that is present across all our towns and cities.
In its recent report on land value capture, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee made several recommendations for reform of compulsory purchase compensation. Its recommendations included restricting compensation by removing hope value from the assessment of the market value of land. The Government will publish their response to the Committee’s report shortly. As I explained when I gave evidence to the Committee, we have very recently introduced wide-ranging reforms to make the compulsory purchase process clearer, fairer and faster for all. That includes changes to the Land Compensation Act 1961. We are keen to let those important reforms bed in. The revised national planning policy framework, to which my hon. Friend referred, encourages local authorities to make more proactive use of their extensive land assembly powers. We will keep the operation of the system under review.
We also recognise that the availability of sustainable infrastructure is important to support new housing. That is why we have introduced changes to the NPPF that will ensure that developers know what contributions they are expected to make towards affordable housing and essential infrastructure, that local communities are clear about the infrastructure and affordable housing, and that local authorities can hold them to account. The revised NPPF requires local authorities to set clearer policy requirements for infrastructure and affordable housing through plans, informed by more transparent viability assessments. It will also support local authorities to ensure that development meets the policy requirements set out in the local plan.
Fundamentally, what we are trying to do in the NPPF is to give clarity up front to developers and local communities about what will be expected, which will allow them to factor that into land value over time. My hon. Friend quite rightly expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of value that is captured from land. He is correct that often in a viability assessment, it is the community infrastructure component—the section 106 component—that gets squeezed. That is largely because the negotiation takes place after planning permission has been granted. We are trying to give more clarity up front through the planning system, so that developers know what the requirements are going to be, whether that is infrastructure or affordable housing, and can factor that into the value that they pay for the land, so that fundamentally it is the land value that will get squeezed.
We have consulted on further reforms to developer contributions, including removing existing restrictions in certain circumstances that prevent local planning authorities pooling more than five section 106 planning obligations towards a single piece of infrastructure. We will be responding to that consultation in the near future as well.
Local authorities are also able to use the community infrastructure levy to help to fund the supporting infrastructure that is needed to address the cumulative impact of development. Where authorities have introduced CIL, 15% is specifically allocated to meet local priorities, and that is increased to 25% in areas with a neighbourhood plan in place. In an area that has a parish council, the money is passed directly to it. That neighbourhood allocation from CIL gives communities real power in deciding and delivering their infrastructure priorities for their area and will hopefully encourage the spread of neighbourhood planning.
In his report, my hon. Friend also considered the creation of new communities. We believe strongly that the creation of new garden communities can play a vital role in helping to meet this country’s housing need well into the future. Our current programme supports 23 locally-led garden communities that have the potential to deliver more than 200,000 homes by 2050. They range in size from 1,500 to more than 40,000 new homes in one place. We have just launched a new garden communities prospectus, inviting ambitious proposals for new garden communities at scale. This is not just about getting the numbers up; it is about building quality, innovative places that people are happy to call home.
The Minister has lit the blue touch paper in mentioning garden communities. He will know from my correspondence with his Department that one of those garden community proposals covers my constituency, and the Braintree district and Colchester borough. Can he provide any clarity on the conditional requirements that the Department is putting in place for the development of those schemes—where public funds are being used—to support the concept of garden communities?
The primary requirement we have for garden communities is that they have strong local support and are supported by local democratically elected politicians. We would, for example, not countenance a proposal for a garden community that came forward against the wishes of the local authority or local authorities concerned. My right hon. Friend may have noticed—this points to an issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough raised about capacity and capability—that we recently changed the regulations so that we can have locally-led development corporations. They are brought together and approved by the Secretary of State, but under local initiatives and with local control, to try to deliver some of those communities more effectively. Local control, consent and engagement are key, in terms of both acceptability and development.
Another issue that has been raised is increasing density, which we believe is also important. We need to make sure that we make the most effective use of underutilised land. That is a crucial part of our focus. Higher density development and the development of brownfield land can play a significant role in increasing housing supply in urban locations, especially in areas that are well served by public transport and in town and city centre locations. The revised NPPF requires local planning authorities to be more proactive in identifying opportunities to make more effective use of land. That includes planning for higher densities in locations that are well served by public transport, and reallocating underutilised land to serve local development needs better.
I disagree slightly with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough about the requirement to build towers to achieve density. In central London—a place that I know very well, having served there as a London Assembly member and councillor—some of the densest areas are in fact some of the most desirable, and they are low-rise. It is probably still the case that the densest part of central London is Cadogan Square. Towers do not necessarily deliver density, and they can often be intrusive. Our framework goes further by stating that local authorities should support the use of airspace above existing residential and commercial buildings to provide new homes, as my hon. Friend said. We recognise that there is more to be done, and that is why we have just announced that we will publish proposals for a national permitted development right to permit people to build upwards on existing buildings rather than just to build out.
Important in all of this is the need to diversify the market. We believe that to increase our housing supply we have to be innovative and boost the development sector to allow both large and small builders to flourish and to build the homes that our communities need. The Government fully recognise the important role that small and medium-sized house builders play in delivering much-needed housing in this country, and we are committed to ensuring that this support is in the right place. We have already put in place a number of initiatives to help SME house builders to grow and develop, including the home building fund, the housing growth fund and the housing delivery fund, as well as proposals to make it easier for SMEs to identify land.
We believe that that is a critical way to encourage innovation. The market has agglomerated into a small number of large players, which are perhaps not as innovative as they could be. If we can create a more vigorous market of people competing to build houses and competing for our custom, they are likely to be much more innovative in their method, supply and typography of housing, and they may well cater to different parts of the market and look at sites that larger builders might not.
My hon. Friend is doing a cracking job, especially with his “more, better, faster” campaign on housing delivery. My point is about self-build—he has not mentioned it specifically, but I know that it is part of the Government’s strategy on delivery. Does he agree with the sentiment that there is no better help that we can give to an individual than to allocate them a plot and allow them to build their own home?
I wholeheartedly agree on self-build, which I am very keen to encourage. Something like three out of every four houses in Austria are self-built or custom-built. It holds enormous capacity for the future. I recommend that my hon. Friend go and visit a site called Graven Hill just outside Bicester, which is the largest self-build site in Europe and which will deliver about 1,400 self-build homes. It is quite something to see—an amazing array of different houses. There is a house that looks like a stealth bomber sitting next to a Swiss chalet, a Cotswold cottage and a flat-pack house from Poland. As I said on the fringes of conference, I think the site will be a conservation area in the future because of the effervescence of design that is taking place there. We are very keen to encourage self-build.
Finally, one of the big issues—
I was scared by my hon. Friend’s use of the word “finally” and thought that I might not have the opportunity to intervene before he finished. As an accidental landlord myself—I need to refer to my declaration of interest—I was intrigued by the report on a proposed “help to own” scheme published by the Centre for Policy Studies on Monday. I understand that the Minister has been sent a copy. The idea that landlords might be able to sell a property to a sitting tenant, and that there would be a capital gains tax break for both parties, seemed innovative and interesting. Does he have any thoughts on that?
By sheer coincidence, on my accession to the chrysanthemum throne in housing, I raised a similar possibility, should we look at some way of transferring from landlord to tenant in the future. Those issues of tax, stamp duty and ownership are way above my pay grade, but I have no doubt that the report will have winged its way to the Treasury, where our colleagues will be considering its efficacy. I can see why it might be attractive from a landlord transfer to ownership point of view, although we would have to study its fiscal effects to see what the cost might be.
I will make a bit of progress. I want to address the issue of home ownership, because it is fundamental to the report and it is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough quite rightly said, one of the most important challenges of our time. As he mentioned, we must find ways to improve home ownership. Rising demand for housing has increased prices and in many cases pushed down home ownership. The Government believe that people should be free to purchase a second home or invest in a buy-to-let property. However, we are aware that that can make it difficult for other people, particularly first-time buyers, to get on the property ladder. That is why in April 2016 the Government introduced higher rates of stamp duty land tax on purchases of additional properties.
Since the council tax empty homes premium was introduced in April 2013, the number of long-term empty residential properties has fallen. When it is in force, the Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill will allow councils to go further, increasing the premium by up to 300% in some cases. That will allow authorities to encourage better use of the existing housing stock in their area. As the Prime Minister announced, the Government are also taking action on non-resident purchases of residential property, which can make it more difficult for UK residents to purchase a home of their own. The Government will publish a consultation on introducing an increased stamp duty land tax charge on non-residents buying property in England and Northern Ireland. More details will be brought forward through that consultation in due course, following the normal tax policy-making process set out by the Government—the legislation will be in a future Finance Bill.
We must also support our younger generation, who find it increasingly hard to get on to the property ladder. We are supporting people’s aspirations to buy through a range of initiatives, including Help to Buy, right to buy, greater funding for shared ownership, and rent to buy. Since the spring of 2010, Government-backed schemes have helped more than 481,000 households to buy a home. Younger people are also helped directly by our investment in affordable housing. The Government are investing more than £9 billion in the affordable homes programme to deliver a wide range of affordable homes, including shared ownership homes, by 2022. Since 2010, we have delivered more than 60,000 shared ownership properties, helping people to take their first steps into home ownership. Our recent Green Paper, “A new deal for social housing”, announced that we would be exploring innovative, affordable home ownership models to support those who are struggling to raise a deposit.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that this should be a country that works for everyone. That means building more of the right homes in the right places and ensuring that the housing market works for all parts of our community. It is this Government’s mission to reverse the decline in home ownership and to revive the dream of Britain as a property-owning democracy. We must revive that dream for ordinary people—for those striving on low and middle incomes, who find the first rung of the housing ladder beyond their reach. The Government are committed to tackling this challenge to make the housing market work. By the mid-2020s, we aim to have increased house building to an average of 300,000 net new homes a year.
On planning permissions, which my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) mentioned, we are now granting more than 350,000 permissions a year against a building target of 300,000 houses. That is another challenge that I face. In the time that I have in this job, I am always open to ideas. I certainly welcome the radical thinking that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough and his collaborators on the paper have injected into the debate. I will be studying the paper in some detail and I hope to weave some of his thinking into our policies in the future.
Question put and agreed to.
Closures of RAF Scampton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the closures of RAF Scampton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I am pleased to lead this debate on a vital national and local issue—the closures of RAF Scampton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse. I will focus on Scampton, as its closure has a major impact on my constituency, but other hon. Members may wish to give a more informed assessment of the closure of RAF Linton. I apologise in advance that I will not take too many interventions, but I have quite a lot to raise before I open the debate to other hon. Members.
I am pleased to say that I have a huge amount of local support in opposing Scampton’s closure. I have the backing of the Historic Lincoln Trust, which is chaired by Lord Cormack, and I have collected more than 5,000 signatures for my petition opposing the closure. Other local groups have collected signatures on petitions, and added to the signatures I have collected, that amounts to a huge public outcry against the decision.
There is a lot of local anger in Lincoln at the Ministry of Defence’s decision. There is real concern about the future of the Red Arrows in Lincolnshire and the potential loss of many local jobs. Since the decision, I have campaigned rigorously and gathered local momentum against it. This is one of the best-supported campaigns I have ever been involved in. People have signed my petition, regardless of their age or political persuasion. Never before have I had members of the public queuing down the high street to sign a petition about which they feel such passion. So far, it has reached 5,000 signatures. We are calling, first, for the Red Arrows to stay in Lincolnshire—that is an absolute must—secondly, for the rationale behind the closure and the impact it will have on the UK’s defences to be made public, which I have tried to do; thirdly, for a thorough consultation to be undertaken with all local and national stakeholders; and, finally, for a full impact assessment of the effect that the closure will have on the local economy and workers.
This year, we are celebrating 100 years of the Royal Air Force and 100 years since Air Station Brattleby Cliff was renamed RAF Scampton. The airbase is central to Lincolnshire’s past and present identity. Scampton was home to the legendary Dambusters, and since 2000 it has housed the world-renowned Red Arrows. For 100 years, Scampton has symbolised our Royal Air Force’s proud history, and it has received a lot of praise for its role. Recently, Air Marshal Sir Michael Graydon referred to it as a “very good base”, and the strategic defence review conducted in 2010 concluded that keeping the Red Arrows at Scampton was the best way to allow them to operate. However, the Ministry of Defence ploughed on and announced that RAF Scampton was to be closed and sold off. Although the MOD made that decision, it is ultimately Government cuts that forced that step to be taken. If budgets are cut, our communities suffer. Cuts have consequences.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will not, I am sorry. I want to go on, because I am aware that we will have votes in the House.
Locally, in bomber county, there is incredulity that the Conservatives are effectively signing the death warrant of our local RAF base and taking away our Red Arrows, especially as, like Labour Members, only a very short time ago they welcomed the RAF to London and enjoyed the fly-past by the wonderful historic planes. The decision to close RAF Scampton has been very badly managed. There has not been a local transparent consultation. Although I am the local MP, I was not informed; I found out through the local and national press coverage when I turned on BBC news in the morning.
Although the Ministry of Defence statement asserted that it would engage with local stakeholders, that has been far from the reality. I have submitted a letter requesting a meeting and a freedom of information request. I acknowledge that this is a sensitive subject, but I submitted my FOI request on 30 July—78 days, or 11 weeks, ago—and, other than two holding replies, I have not had a proper response. The last thing I want to do is publish anything that would put our country’s safety at risk, but my request relates to my petition and to the effect that the closure will have on the surrounding area and the future of the Red Arrows. Rather than withhold the information for an extended length of time, the MOD should publish the impact assessments that informed the decision for the public to see.
From the information available to me locally, I feel confident in saying that the decision is highly flawed. The Minister noted in the initial announcement that
“The disposal of the site would offer better value for money and, crucially, better military capability by relocating the units based there.”
I cannot comment on military capability, as I am not privy to the details, but I dispute the idea that it was an effective “value for money” decision.
The argument for closing RAF Scampton is that the land can be sold and used for housing. That case has been proposed twice before—in 1994 and 2000. On both occasions, the financial case was flawed. The value of the land, particularly the assumed capital receipt and the expected value of the land per hectare, was overestimated. The previous decisions, and most likely this one, were based on an unrealistic view of land values. Other MOD site disposals were used as comparisons, but variations across the country were not considered. On that basis, I asked the Minister to release the forecast pricing of the land, as it has been miscalculated twice previously.
The land in question is also very likely contaminated, and any decision must take into account the cost of land remediation to ensure that it is of the necessary standard for residential development. I have been advised locally that there is an extensive underground fuel system, which is likely to have leaked over the years, leading to hydrocarbon contamination, so a major clean-up would be required before the land could be considered suitable for residential use. The environmental factors, alongside the cost of removing RAF infrastructure, may reduce the value of the land and result in a loss if it were sold. Will the Minister explain in detail the expected savings from closing Scampton, factoring in the cost of remediation work?
It is not just the cost of the land that means that Scampton should not be closed: It is what it and the Red Arrows provide to the local economy. Not only does Scampton provide 600 jobs, which enables spending in Lincoln and thus increases productivity in the local economy—we hear a lot from the Conservative Government about jobs—but Lincolnshire has a rich military history, and Scampton epitomises that and attracts tourists. I work closely with Visit Lincoln, which has stressed to me on numerous occasions the importance of the base and the Red Arrows. The heritage centre at Scampton is housed in one of the original world war two hangars. It holds more than 1,000 artefacts and contains the original office of Guy Gibson, commanding officer of 617 Squadron—the Dambusters. The Red Arrows are world renowned. Even though they tour the world, between November and March the public can visit them at Scampton. It is an exciting opportunity to visit the impressive Arrows up close. Aviation enthusiasts travel across the UK and from abroad to visit Scampton, but possibly not for much longer.
The selling of Scampton not only deprives the local economy and costs us jobs but wipes out the history of those who bravely fought against the fascist threat during world war two. Did the Minister and the Ministry of Defence consider the effect that the closure would have on the local economy when they decided to close Scampton and relocate the Arrows? Has the Ministry of Defence honestly given any consideration to the future of the heritage centre?
The leader of the Labour party has committed to save Scampton—I went straight up and bent his ear, and he agreed to that. He recognises its immense local and national significance, but the Prime Minister continues with an unpopular, short-sighted and misinformed policy. I have had more requests about this issue in the 16 months I have been an MP than about anything else—it is so vital locally in Lincoln.
I began this debate by asking the Minister questions about land value and the local economy. I hope that I get some kind of reply, because I have had nothing from the MOD. I would now like to open the debate to other Members.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I thank the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) for securing this very important debate.
In my constituency, I have the historic RAF base of Linton-on-Ouse, and I quite understand that the Minister has a difficult job. No one wants their local base to close. Bases are not just about bricks and mortar, tarmac and concrete. They are places of heroic deeds, great endeavours and often the ultimate sacrifice.
Linton-on-Ouse has a proud history. It was first formed in 1937, in the lead-up to the second world war. The No. 4 Group RAF was based there, and it undertook some heroic bombing raids on Norway, the Netherlands and into Germany. Linton-on-Ouse was also host to the No. 6 Group Royal Canadian Air Force. In some of the pubs in my area there are lots of photos of those days—of Canadian airmen and British aircrew together, looking valiant and invincible. Of course, many of those people never returned from their bombing raids. Indeed, in 1941, the base at Linton was bombed by the Luftwaffe, with a loss of 13 men, including the station commander. All my life, RAF Linton-on-Ouse has been part of the local community. I remember playing darts in the officers’ mess there as a young man, and I also went to a very extravagant, formal military wedding there. As a young boy, my son Charlie was first shown how to fly a plane on the flight simulator there by a very good friend of ours, Flight Lieutenant Rod Leigh—a great man who is sadly no longer with us.
The announcement that the base would close in 2020 has shocked the entire community because of the part that it has played in people’s lives. It employs many people—as the hon. Member for Lincoln said, these bases employ many people directly—and many people work in the base’s supply chain too. Many jobs will be at risk because of the closure and, of course, the local community is very proud of the base’s historic contribution to our previous fights against tyranny. The Minister has a very difficult job because he is responsible for taxpayer’s money—it is not Government money—and he has got to make sure that all the resources he has are used in the most cost-effective way possible. I understand that maintaining the military estate costs £2.5 billion per annum. The closure of the base at Linton will save £140 million by the end of the decade, and will contribute to a significant investment of £4 billion in our infrastructure and military bases going forward. It is hugely important that our military bases and forces are fit for purpose and can do us proud when they are needed in the future.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his speech, which is very effective. Does he agree that another of the problems that we face is the need to keep the capacity to flex and to expand our capability in the event of threat? With Russian submarines off our coast, Russian aircraft coming very close to our airspace and ships also coming into our waters, is this not a time when our capacity to expand is central to our defence not only in the future but now?
The hon. Lady makes some excellent points. The international threat that she outlines—particularly from Russia—is greater now than it was for many years, so it is absolutely right that we have a military that is fit for purpose.
The Minister will acknowledge that we have corresponded many times over this closure, including with senior officers from the RAF, to challenge them on whether closing the base is the right thing to do, or if it is a false economy. I understand that it makes sense to aggregate all training needs in a single place—they are being moved to RAF Valley on Anglesey—but I have written to the Minister on a number of occasions about some concerns we have, which were first raised by the Public Accounts Committee during a session on military flying training in October 2015. The Committee raised concerns about the prospect of all training being moved from Linton to RAF Valley, and it noted in its December 2015 report that the full implementation of the new training system for military air crew had been delayed by a number of years and that only 151 students had graduated, at a cost of £143 million to the taxpayer—that shows how expensive it is to train pilots—when we were aiming for an annual figure of around 320 students.
On top of this, part of our capacity will be used to train other nations. The RAF is a world leader in its field, so many nations come to it for training, which we should be very proud of. However, there are concerns about how those providing the training will manage with only one simulator when there are currently three at Linton-on-Ouse. It is calculated that the number of flying hours required to make sure that we have the extra capacity has increased by 20 to 25%.
I have a number of concerns—I know the Minister has addressed them before and given me every assurance—along the same lines as those expressed by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon). Is this going to mean that we have the capacity when needed in the future, particularly in extra training needs both for our nation and for services that we provide to other nations?
On that point, I was lucky enough to visit Linton-on-Ouse with some colleagues in the armed forces parliamentary scheme just a couple of weeks ago. There is a problem with capacity: at the minute, wannabe pilots are joining the RAF and spending up to 18 months to two years in holding, as they await the training to become fighter jet pilots. Does he agree that moving the training to Anglesey will only exacerbate that problem; that young men and women joining up now to fly fast jets will be prevented from doing so; and that this is doing nothing to encourage people to join the armed forces to do the job that they want to do?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which was also made to me by one of the training officers at RAF Linton who is retiring and has no axe to grind. He made exactly the same point about making sure that we have the capacity to train people on the base. I would like the Minister to make sure that we have got that capacity and that the airbase will not be needed, and to consider the points that we have raised. If he decides ultimately that the base will be closed, I ask him to support us in the planning work that we will have to carry out to find the best possible future uses for the base—yes, housing is one potential use, but there could be many employment uses as well. We want to make sure, if the closure goes ahead, that on that sad day, the employment prospects created as a result at least make up for some of the jobs lost in the locality, and that we provide opportunities for local people who have such a long connection with and have relied so much on that base for their community and for jobs both at the base and in the local supply chain.
I know that the Minister will address those points either now or on a later occasion, and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak.
As always, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) on securing this timely and important debate. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). Recently, I had the privilege to be on a parliamentary armed forces visit, and I take this opportunity to thank everyone at RAF Linton-on-Ouse for making us so welcome and giving us such an instructive, informative and excellent visit.
I want to focus in particular on RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey, which was closed in 2013. It is in my constituency. There is still an association with RAF Scampton in so far as there are assets in Kirton-in-Lindsey still being used by the Scampton base. The closure of RAF Scampton will have an impact on Kirton-in-Lindsey. Those are the assets that I am concerned about.
I have always found the military personnel—from the RAF and all the armed services—with whom I have come into contact to be excellent, but I found that dealing with the MOD was less than excellent when it was disposing of the site in Kirton-in-Lindsey. The MOD’s attitude of mind is very much focused on disposal and simple numbers. However, the impact on cost is not about simple numbers from a disposal—the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton touched on this, in some ways—but about community value and community assets.
In Lincolnshire—“bomber county”, as my colleague said—the disposal of assets has a history of being done in a way that has actually cost the public purse. The disposal might have got a little cash for the MOD at the time, but the cost to the public purse has been a lot more, because the disposal was not done effectively: the maintenance and support of often derelict sites has frequently fallen back on other parts of the public purse.
My plea is that the disposals of RAF Linton-on-Ouse and RAF Scampton are done in a way that engages fully with the local community and that looks for full community value, not simple pennies in the pot. That will much better serve the nation and the communities in which the bases have served for such a long while, giving better value for money to the public purse.
I return to Kirton-in-Lindsey, to read from the letter sent to me by the town council. It reminded me:
“Previously Kirton in Lindsey Town Council have submitted requests to North Lincolnshire Council for the registering of the tennis courts, gymnasium and surrounding leisure land off York Road, Kirton in Lindsey, as assets of community value which are now listed as such”—
under legislation brought in by the coalition Government, which is rightly being used by communities to benefit community interest. The letter continues:
“The Town Council has also proactively written to the MOD requesting that they consider selling the leisure land at RAF Kirton in Lindsey to the Town Council for the good of the community.”
I very much support the town council. Those are assets of community value that can benefit a significant community—or they can be sold to a slightly higher bidder for a bit of cash that would probably be spent fairly quickly by the Red Arrows and would not have the same community and public benefit of the more intelligent approach.
I hope that the Minister will do everything he can to look at the assets in the Kirton-in-Lindsey base and to ensure that the community interest is explored and delivered to the maximum extent possible. It is interesting that in the disposal of the base, North Lincolnshire Council, which is Conservative controlled—sadly, still Conservative controlled—put in a bid for the base land. I think that the numbers were probably fairly close to those of the successful bidder, but by now the council would have developed the base further than has been done.
Instead, the development of the base has been stalled, typically, although I hope it is now moving forward. With the best will in the world, a private developer, even though developing the base for very good business interests, is not making the same progress that might otherwise have been made. I hope that lessons have been learned to benefit both Linton-on-Ouse and Scampton, and that there is an opportunity to put the community value back into the community through the appropriate disposal of the community value assets that Kirton-in-Lindsey Town Council identified and registered—appropriately—with the Ministry of Defence and with North Lincolnshire Council. That is my plea. I cannot make that plea big enough, because this is a moment in time when the public good can be better delivered. If the opportunity is missed, the future will not benefit.
I cannot finish without mentioning the historic nature of the Scampton site. As everyone knows, it was the host of 617 Squadron, otherwise known as the Dambusters. That is rich within our heritage, and always will be—one of the big emblematic and triumphant missions of the second world war, to which we all owe a huge debt. In the 100th anniversary year of the RAF, it is something that we commemorate and remember. The Red Arrows maintain that historical tradition by flying out of RAF Scampton. Often, when I drive to Newark to catch a train down to London on a Monday morning, I see the Red Arrows above, in the Lincolnshire skies, doing their stuff. It is a sight to be seen—awesome, frankly. I share the feeling of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln that it would be appropriate, if the changes go ahead, for the Red Arrows to remain in Lincolnshire, flying across the Lincolnshire skies.
I may be cut off by the Division bell, but many might be grateful for that.
I want to emphasise that this is such an important issue. I am lucky because some of the air traffic control personnel in RAF Scampton at present will move up to RAF Boulmer in my constituency as a result of RAF decisions. The reality is, however, that the one group of people who are not ever able to speak for themselves, and who indeed colleagues have perhaps not mentioned much, is those in the RAF itself. This is very much their decision.
As ever, the RAF is in a state of continuous change and, although this year we have commemorated in extraordinary ways the RAF 100 and the exploits, bravery, and extraordinary and impossible challenges of our incredible airmen and women over the past 100 years, the reality is that those in the RAF look forward. While respecting history, we must allow those who are planning for the future—with technology and aircraft that are out of this world in terms of a normal human’s comprehension—to be in places that necessarily work for the RAF. We must respect the RAF’s decisions.
I completely respect the position of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) on the community, however, and I hope very much that the Minister and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which will be charged with finding new uses for the site, are mindful of history and the need to maintain the location whence extraordinary deeds were done.
I am no shrinking violet when it comes to criticising the way the DIO has managed housing challenges: the MOD was set the challenge of finding a huge amount of land to build housing on, as part of the Government’s big housing strategy, and I led the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry into how that was going. I continue to say that much more needs to be done. I commend colleagues on encouraging the Minister to ensure that that relationship is stronger than it has been so that communities know the MOD understands the value of a community. This is not just about taking a piece of land and building houses on it.
We must remember that the RAF wants to move forward. It has a budget—everyone has a budget—and it wants its technological abilities to be honed in the right places. The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) mentioned the Russian threat, but the MOD’s investment in Lossiemouth, where the P-8 is coming in, will enable it to do so much more. Technology is constantly moving forward, and the RAF wants those centres of excellence and those training and base centres.
The point I was making was not about meeting current capability; it was about having the capability to flex and expand. Once we build on an aerodrome, it is gone. We have to have the capacity to keep things operational, so that should the bases be needed, we can make them so.
I entirely agree. During the second world war, we built hundreds of airfields in a hurry, so that we could move those brave young men in and out of the country to defend our shores, but they have not been used since. We always have to look forward. The reality is that we have no idea what the future warfare space might look like. The RAF is telling us constantly that it wants those centres of excellence where it can have the investment.
I am an east coast MP too, and we have long seen our potential enemies as coming from the east—that is why most of those airfields that are now redundant are on that side of the country. However, we must always look forward and support RAF decisions.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
I was given a great deal of leeway before the Division bell went, and I will not abuse the privilege.
One more thing I wanted to raise with the Minister was the value of our pilots. The RAF is making decisions that I entirely understand are difficult for those in the Lincolnshire area—in moving how it does training, and indeed in finding a new home for the Red Arrows. I know that RAF Leeming and the north of England would welcome them with open arms. It would be lovely to have a northern point where we have planes in Boulmer—we look after the air traffic control, but we do not have anything that flies.
Notwithstanding that, the key point is that these pilots are extraordinary people and one of the nation’s great assets—not only because of their own human endeavour and great bravery, but because we invest millions of pounds in each of them. It is so important that we consider them an asset rather than a cost. There is the wrap-around that goes with the pilots, and indeed the teams who work with them, and the pilots and their families need to be looked after. We come back to housing and how we invest the money in the MOD budget to ensure that we are not accidently failing to invest properly in the whole family around our pilots, with us losing the huge investment made by the MOD and the RAF through lack of consideration of that wider family support. I leave that for the Minister to consider.
The RAF can never speak for itself, and it is a great challenge for those who serve that their voice is silenced, but we can thank them for their extraordinary work on our behalf in defending us and our nation, while remembering that their decisions are made looking forwards to the fight that we do not yet know exists—preparing for the unknown and thinking strategically, so as to be able to adapt to whatever the future threats might be. I hope very much that the Minister will consider carefully how we look after all these pilots and engineers as we find a new home for them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) on securing the debate and the informative and passionate speech she made, outlining the impact and effect of any proposed closure for RAF Scampton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse.
We all recognise that the requirements of the defence estate will change over time and that there is a need to modernise to reflect that. However, any restructuring of the estate must enhance our military capability and deliver value for money for the British taxpayer while providing flexibility, as highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon). These two proposed closures are particularly disappointing, coming as they do in the RAF’s centenary year. The closure of either site would have a significant impact on the livelihoods of a large number of people, as we have heard: we know that 600 personnel are working at RAF Scampton and just under 300 at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. If those sites were to close, servicemen and women and their families would be required to move, and civilian staff would face redeployment.
Those closures would also affect the wider community. As Members are aware, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln and others highlighted, MOD sites are important to the local economies in which they are situated as well as the wider supply chains that support the work of the bases. In that vein, I ask the Minister what assessment the Department has made of the economic impact of closing the two sites. Will he also set out in as much detail as possible the discussions that have taken place with personnel at those bases and the options that have been made available to civilian staff? What help and support will be given to civilian employees who are unable to move?
I will address that later in my contribution.
It is important that we look at civilian employees who are not able to move and the impact any closure would have on them. They may have restrictions that perhaps Air Force personnel do not have.
RAF Scampton is known to many as the base for the world-famous Red Arrows, as well as having historic links to the Dambusters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) has highlighted, there are historic links to RAF Scampton that we must consider. I ask the Minister to assure the House that any decision about the future of the site would take full account of those historic links.
To address the hon. Lady’s intervention, the Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that we want to see RAF Scampton continue as the home for the Red Arrows, for many years to come. It is a case of prioritising and taking into consideration my points about the links it has, as well as the economic impact of closures, not just on the RAF but on the wider economy and community.
Can the Minister outline what consideration has been given to preserving the heritage centre at RAF Scampton? We understand that the Government are considering other potential defence uses for the site at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, ahead of any potential closure. Can the Minister set out what possible uses there may be and what the timescale is for exploring those options? It is important, as we have said, to look at the wider impact and the community value of the sites.
The announcement of these two closures will undoubtedly raise concerns about other possible cuts and efficiencies that may come about as a result of the modernising defence programme. In light of this, can the Minister take the opportunity to update the House on the progress of that programme and, crucially, when he expects to be reporting on it?
It is a pleasure to respond to this debate, and I join the others in congratulating the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) on securing it.
I begin with a declaration of interest. I am a private pilot and I am pleased to say that the last plane I flew was a Typhoon out of RAF Coningsby, which I took through the sound barrier. That is an example of what the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon)—who is no longer in her place—mentioned earlier of dealing with threats, as clearly my presence in the air over the east of England pushed away any Russian threats that day. RAF Coningsby is a fantastic example of what the county of Lincolnshire offers the RAF. We should be very proud of what happens at that base and at all the other bases across the county, and indeed across the country.
Before we discuss the individual basing decisions, it would be remiss of me not to briefly acknowledge, as others have done, the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force, a merger of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service created the first independent air force in the world. At the time, General Haig commented that he hoped that no one would be so foolish as to think that planes would be usefully employed in the objectives of reconnaissance for the purposes of war. He was a cavalry man who thought that the only way of gaining intelligence on the battlefield was on the back of a horse. We now know that the Air Force would become a significant component in our military capability. Indeed, it was our superior air power during the battle of Britain that led to the cancellation of Operation Sea Lion, the planned Nazi invasion of England.
The size of the RAF has fluctuated. Before the war it was around 31,000; at the height of the war it was 264,000; today it is around 30,000. Such were its requirements that much of the country, especially in the eastern counties, was peppered with bases, landing strips, early warning systems and the factories that made the aircraft, all gearing to support the war effort. Today, thanks to technological advances and changing threats and tactics, our air power footprint is very different indeed. We have a leaner, more versatile and more capable fighting force than we have ever had.
However, we find ourselves responsible for a legacy estate that owns 2% to 3% of UK land, and we realise we cannot afford to keep that going. A significant amount of that land is surplus to requirement. As a result, the MOD undertook a wide-ranging study of the entire estate, culminating in what was known as the better defence announcement in November 2016. That study identified many areas that could be used more efficiently, but stated that overall the estate was too big and expensive, with too many sites in the wrong location. We therefore embarked on a transformation of our estate. We will invest £4 billion over the next 10 years to upgrade key sites—and, yes, we will reduce our footprint elsewhere.
We have a total of 91 sites across the defence estate. Painful though it is, those will have to be reconciled. I hope that that results in a more modern and capability-focused estate. That approach will provide the modern facilities that the RAF needs and give personnel better employment opportunities for their partners and, with fewer movements during an RAF career, the ability to put down roots in their local community, which my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) mentioned. Crucially, that work is being done not by a central body—not by the MOD or the Defence Infrastructure Organisation—but by the armed forces and, in this case, the RAF, which is best placed to understand what it requires to support the delivery of defence in the United Kingdom.
That takes us to the sites that are the subject of the debate. First, as was said, RAF Scampton is steeped in history, but it is of course most famous for 617 Squadron and its daring Dambuster raid on 16 May 1943. As I mentioned, Lincolnshire is blessed with a number of other RAF bases, including Waddington and Cranwell, which I visited recently, and Lossiemouth. RAF Scampton is not in good condition. Some buildings have changed little since world war two. The station is in a poor state of repair, as indeed is the runway. I make it very clear, difficult though it is to hear, that it would require significant investment to restore the base to a suitable standard for the aircraft we use today.
I absolutely recognise the passion—that was illustrated in the powerful speech by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee)—and the sense of nostalgia about the tough choices concerning the future of RAF Scampton. It simply would not be an efficient use of public money for the Royal Air Force to retain that site purely for heritage reasons. Instead, it will continue to concentrate its resources on active sites that contribute to the defence outputs that will shape the future. Fortunately, as I said, many of those sites are based in Lincolnshire, so we will not remove that county’s important relationship with the RAF.
The Royal Air Force, the MOD and I, as a Minister, are not indifferent to the heroic contributions of those who served at Scampton—not least the Dambusters. I can think of no more fitting tribute than the newly re-formed 617 Squadron, which will be based at RAF Marham with the world’s most advanced jets in the form of the F-35 Lightning.
It is those difficult factors that led me to conclude in my announcement to Parliament on 24 July 2018 that RAF Scampton needed to close. We have ensured that our personnel are fully aware of the plans for the future of the site and we can begin to work with interest to prepare the long-term locations for the units, including the famous Red Arrows as well as No. 1 Air Control Centre and the Mobile Meteorological Unit.
I heard the passion that was expressed about the connectivity between Scampton and the Red Arrows, but I would argue that they are a national asset. I think the hon. Lady knows that they have not only been based in Scampton, although there is a current bond there. They spend a fair bit of time in Bournemouth, dare I say it, when they are doing the air shows down in the south of the country. They move around, doing 60 air shows a year not only in this country but elsewhere, and they have moved in the time since they came into existence in 1965. They have been at Fairford, where another international air show takes place, they have been at Kemble and they were at Scampton before moving to Cranwell and then back to Scampton—and yes, they now need to move again.
Of course it is dramatic when the Red Arrows move, but we must bear in mind the costs of keeping that runway and its facilities open and making the best use of the limited budget that we have. This is a tough decision to make, but we must provide them with a home that is fit for purpose. There are now detailed discussions; I know that the hon. Lady wants to know more information about them, but this is subject to discussions with the Civil Aviation Authority and there are difficulties with sharing absolutely everything. If I can agree to meet her one on one, we can have a further discussion about this, which I hope will be of help to her. We have already identified a number of options to ensure there is a home fit for the Red Arrows.
If I may turn to RAF Linton-on-Ouse, again, we heard a powerful but measured understanding of what needs to be put forward for the future of this base from my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). As he is well aware, and I think touched on in his contribution, the Tucano aircraft used by No. 1 Flying Training School, the main users of the site, will go out of service in October 2019. The essential Basic Fast Jet training will also move to RAF Valley, as has also been mentioned, using the Texan aircraft type.
With the main occupants due to leave in 2019, the Royal Air Force assessed that there was no requirement to maintain the station in the long term. The remaining units are due to be moved to existing sites, further consolidating the Royal Air Force into core locations up and down the country. Like RAF Scampton, this is an example of how we are driving down our running costs and consolidating our people and our investment into fewer sites but ones that are better maintained.
Understanding the realisation of the defence estate is difficult, and some painful decisions must be made. As it was, it no longer represented the modern-day armed forces it was meant to serve. It was too large, and both our people and our investment were spread too thinly across the entire United Kingdom.
Will the Minister touch on the issue of capacity? There were concerns raised by people who, I think, had no vested interest here, but were concerned that a single base could not deliver the level of pilot training required for our future needs and some of the contracts we have for other nations. Can we guarantee today that RAF Valley will be able to meet that need?
I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I visited RAF Cranwell only a couple of weeks ago and had a full briefing on the progression of the pilots, depending on which aircraft they will eventually use. He also touched on something else. The expertise that we have in this country is phenomenal. We not only train our pilots to an exemplary standard but train pilots for other nations too. That is important for the soft power relationships that we build with other nations.
Before the Minister finishes, could he address the points that I raised about the community assets at the Kirton-in-Lindsey site, which will be disposed of as part of the disposal of RAF Scampton? Will he commit to ensuring that the Ministry of Defence engages fully and proactively with the town council and others who have community interests?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about what happens once a decision is made, and the importance of having a strategy, working with the local authorities and with the devolved Administrations in some cases, to take best advantage of the estate that is being provided. Discussions happen with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation on that very front. The air base that he mentioned was not part of the subject matter for this particular debate, which was focused on these two RAF bases, but I would be more than delighted to meet him to be apprised of what is happening and to discuss that in further detail.
I am sure hon. Members will agree that the men and women of our armed forces, who do so much for our country, deserve to work and train at sites with modern facilities, and that the civil servants and contractors who support them in delivering their outputs need the certainty that the establishment of core sites provides. Let us also not forget the families around the serving personnel, who must be able to benefit from the necessary schooling for their children and be able to buy their homes, put down roots and be part of local communities.
The world is becoming a more complex and dangerous place. We are very fortunate with the history of the RAF, what it has gone through and how it has helped to shape the world and who we are today. I simply make the case, as we head toward the next Budget, that we must keep investing in all our armed forces and in our bases to ensure that we continue to have a place and a voice at the international top table.
I thank all hon. Members, the shadow Minister and the Minister for attending the debate and for speaking, especially on such an important subject. I thank the Minister for the offer of a meeting, which I genuinely appreciate. I want to make one final plea from the people of Lincoln to let us keep our Red Arrows in Lincolnshire—although I think we all know that it probably will not be my final one. I thank you, Mr Pritchard, for your excellent chairing, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who has been wonderful. This is the first time I have led a debate, and I will certainly remember it.