Wednesday 31 October 2018
[Mr Philip Davies in the Chair]
Hospice Funding and the NHS Pay Award
I beg to move,
That this House has considered hospice funding and the NHS pay award.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I welcome everyone to the debate. It is half-past nine in the morning, and the good number of people attending highlights the importance of, and interest in, this subject. I am pleased to have been able to secure the debate.
When the Government announced that they would give our hardworking national health service staff a pay award that freed them from the constraints of the 1% public sector pay cap and was definitely higher than the pay freeze that many NHS staff have endured since 2010, I—like many MPs, I am sure—was very pleased for those staff, especially as I used to be one of them. When I worked as a clinical scientist in the NHS, I saw my take-home pay reduce year on year from 2010 to 2014, at which time I was elected to this place.
My message is certainly not that our hard-working NHS staff do not deserve this pay award; they deserve it, and more. The question is how the pay award will be funded by the charitable sector that is commissioned to provide NHS services. In April this year, I was contacted by the chief executive of my local hospice, Springhill, which provides end of life care to my constituents in Heywood and Middleton and to the wider borough of Rochdale. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) in his place; while the hospice serves the whole borough, it is in his constituency, and I am sure he will have a useful contribution to make.
The chief executive of my local hospice raised three issues with me. The first was whether the Government have considered the impact of the increases in NHS pay on the hospice sector.
This is an incredibly important topic for debate, not least for Bolton Hospice, which is just outside my constituency. Does the hon. Lady agree that the pay increase causes problems not only in staff retention, but in the recruitment of new staff? We need very dedicated and skilled nurses to work in our hospices.
Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I will go on to talk about recruitment and retention and the problems that this issue is causing to our hospices in Bolton, in Rochdale and, I am sure, up and down the country.
The chief executive raised three issues with me; I have outlined the first, but the second was whether the effect of the pay increase on voluntary sector hospices had been calculated. The third point was whether voluntary hospices would be able to access additional Government funding to be able to afford the NHS pay increase.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that these changes will only reinforce existing recruitment and retention pressures, and agree that the Government should ensure that they take steps to address staffing issues as well as pay changes?
The points that colleagues have made seem to reflect the situation around the country. The hospice in my constituency, St Andrew’s, provides end of life and respite care for adults and children. The chief executive spoke to me when I went to the opening of its new garden, and expressed exactly the same concerns and fears about future staffing arrangements. The hospice has an incredibly dedicated team of staff, but fears losing them if they can get better pay elsewhere in the NHS.
Maybe the hon. Lady will come on to this in her speech, but has she looked at the different effects that the pay rise has on hospices for adults and hospices for children, and whether there is effectively a two-tier system in the way that those services are delivered?
That is an interesting question. In terms of hospice funding, children’s palliative care tends to receive less NHS funding, so I would imagine the problem is exacerbated for children’s hospices, because they will have to find proportionally more money to fund the pay award than adult hospices. It is an important point, and I hope the Minister will be able to shed some light on those issues when she sums up at the end.
As my hon. Friend says, we share a hospice. She said—I am not picking up on the phrase she used—that the hospice will need to raise more money. Raising money is the crux of this issue, because something like 70% of the funding for Springhill Hospice comes from charitable giving and less than 30% from public funds. Raising more money, unless the Government are prepared to put their hand into the taxpayer’s pocket, is nearly impossible. If the hospice cannot raise more money, the truth is that it will be a smaller service, and both those who are dying and their families will be unable to obtain this amazingly well-appreciated service.
I am lucky enough to have the renowned St Christopher’s Hospice in my constituency, and Demelza, which provides children’s hospice care, is also nearby and serves my community. Those hospices will have to find £200,000 a year each to fund the pay rise. Does my hon. Friend agree that the pay rise must be matched by central Government funds in order for our hospices to carry on providing their excellent services to our communities?
St Christopher’s Hospice got in touch with me about this debate, so I have had some communication with it about the problems it is experiencing. Sadly, those problems are replicated in hospices up and down the country, and it is important that we find a pot of funding to finance the NHS pay award.
Queenscourt Hospice serves my constituents and their families and carers. Like all hospices, it plays an incredibly important part in delivering NHS services, but it can only play a full part if it is fully funded. It faces a £250,000 increase in its wage bill in order to do just that. Is it not the point of this debate, which the Government have so far refused to engage with, that unless that money comes from central Government, those hospices, including Queenscourt, will not be able to continue to provide the vital services they provide now?
Am I incorrect in my understanding that hospices adopting the full Agenda for Change will receive Government assistance? Perhaps the Minister will clarify that. The difficulty for hospices in adopting it is that they lose control of their salary budget. The difficulty is in getting that balance right, and I hope that the Government will be able to help.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I will explore the Agenda for Change later, because adopting it presents huge difficulties for non-NHS organisations.
The three points from the chief executive of Springhill Hospice were tabled as parliamentary questions. Sadly they received identical answers that included:
“We are considering carefully the impact of any agreement on non-NHS organisations such as hospices that may be affected by the proposed pay deal; however no decisions have been made. Staff in hospices do a fantastic job in delivering world-class care and the Department remains fully committed to improving palliative and end of life care.”
In July, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, asking for an update on the issue. The response stated that he “understood concerns” that
“hospices may find recruitment and retention challenging if some of their staff choose to leave in favour of organisations that employ staff on the Agenda for Change contract”.
In summary, the Government will finance the pay award for non-statutory, non-NHS organisations only for organisations employing staff on the Agenda for Change contract, which is the nationally agreed set of terms and conditions for most NHS staff. The rationale for that was that:
“Additional funding relies on organisations employing staff on the Agenda for Change contract, because it is the Agenda for Change pay and non-pay reforms that together will help deliver the productivity improvements the Chancellor asked for in return for additional pay investment”.
What are the reforms that can only be made under Agenda for Change? On examination, it seems to be an emphasis on training and apprenticeships and a programme of appraisal and personal development. There is also a slightly vague statement on the improvement of the health and wellbeing of NHS staff, to improve levels of attendance, with a reference to
“positive management of sickness absence”,
whatever that may mean.
The response from Springhill Hospice was grim. The chief executive wrote to me:
“Very few charitable hospices employ their staff on Agenda for Change contracts, and as a result, Springhill Hospice, along with many other hospices, will miss out on the funding being set aside by the Government. This will place us at a considerable disadvantage in recruiting and retaining essential staff to deliver the services that we offer to people with life-limiting illness in this community, and will leave us with a significant additional cost.
Recruiting and retaining skilled staff is a critical challenge for us, and in order to remain competitive, we will have little choice but to increase pay for clinical staff. Over the course of the three-year NHS pay deal, we estimate that this will bring an additional cost to the hospice of in excess of £250,000. Without support from the Government, this extra cost can only be met by asking our communities to give more, or by reducing the services that we provide.
We are already asking our community for in excess of £2 million contribution each and every year, and in an area of high deprivation, I can only envisage that any additional ‘ask’ will not be able to be met by our community, so sadly we may have to look at service reduction, which in turn will place additional burden on an already stretched NHS.
NHS staff will start to see the pay increase reflected in their pay packets from this month onwards. Without government support, Springhill Hospice will see a significant additional cost fall to the charity as a consequence.”
My hon. Friend is being very generous with her time. Does she agree that one problem, shared by Longfield Hospice in my constituency, is the opaqueness about the money that the NHS puts into the hospice movement? It does not put much in, and it is unclear why it comes and what it should be used for.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. While preparing for the debate, I tried and failed to get clarity on how NHS funding is allocated to hospice services. I hope that the Minister will provide some clarity on that.
The chief executive of Springhill said that the Department’s response was unhelpful, and that if the hospice were to utilise Agenda for Change terms and conditions in full, it would have to go through a massive consultation with staff and would need to change everyone’s terms and conditions of employment, assuming that there was buy-in through the consultation process. In addition, it would have to employ a very bureaucratic appraisal system—it already has robust appraisal processes in place—while adopting the Agenda for Change process would necessitate a massive investment in staff training, which would again add to the cost burden.
The chief executive of a social enterprise that provides social care in my constituency under the Care Plus Group TUPE-ed out several staff in order to continue to provide those services. Those staff are on Agenda for Change contracts, but they will not receive the Government uplift in pay, because as the chief executive says:
“The plan is to fund only NHS trusts and foundation trusts, to pay the uplift directly to them.”
The issue goes much wider in the healthcare sector than hospices. It will affect providers of health and social care in our communities, as well as those staff contracted out from the NHS, including porters, orderlies and caterers. I know that Unison is campaigning for those staff who have been privatised within the NHS. Does my hon. Friend think that all those staff are integral to providing healthcare for all of us, and should be included in the uplift?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this goes wider than hospices. It applies to non-statutory, non-NHS organisations that provide essential services to the NHS. Staff being TUPE-ed out is difficult, and I hope the Minister will consider it in her remarks. The pay award has to be funded from somewhere, and it is extremely unfair if NHS staff are TUPE-ed out to a non-NHS provider and lose out on the pay award as a result.
The chief executive of Springhill talked to me about the role of the clinical commissioning group, saying she hoped that
“the CCG will recognise this significant additional burden when agreeing our annual contract”,
and that it will
“not be expecting us to reduce our costs this next financial year.”
I know, and the interventions I have taken show, that the problems experienced by Springhill Hospice are replicated up and down the country, and I am grateful to hon. Members for sharing their experiences from their own communities.
Hospice UK estimates that, over the course of the three-year NHS pay deal, charitable hospices will face an additional bill of between £60 million and £100 million. It says that the Department of Health and Social Care’s criteria for non-NHS providers to access the additional funding set aside to support the implementation of the NHS pay award exclude the majority of the country’s charitable hospices from that essential support. The Department itself has acknowledged that most charitable hospices do not employ staff on NHS terms and conditions, as the staff working in hospices are not NHS employees. However, as hospices recruit their staff from the same local pool as the NHS, they have little option but to mirror the pay award made to NHS staff in order to recruit and retain the staff they need. As a consequence, hospices face a difficult choice: they must either ask their local communities to donate more to fund the pay award or look at options to reduce services proportionately to cover the cost. Neither is a palatable option for the hospices or for the communities that they serve.
The Department maintains that hospices should look to their clinical commissioning groups for additional support, yet research by Hospice UK shows that in recent years two thirds of hospices in England have seen their NHS funding cut or frozen—in many instances, for several consecutive years. In the absence of tariffs reflecting the costs of care, the NHS currently makes a contribution towards the costs of providing hospice care. It is on average just 30% of the costs of providing adult hospice care services and just 15% for children’s hospice services, although that funding varies widely around the country.
Hospice UK has suggested a solution to the problem, which is to follow the precedent set in 2004, when the employer contribution to the NHS pension scheme was doubled from 7% to 14%. At the time, the Labour Government acknowledged that charitable hospices would face an additional cost that they could not recover from elsewhere, so they set aside a national pot of funding to be distributed centrally to mitigate the impact. That worked very well and is a model that would work well in relation to the NHS pay increase by recognising the unintended consequences for charitable hospices while maintaining the integrity of the deal negotiated and agreed with the NHS trade unions.
Additionally, I have been contacted by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), who tells me that he has secured an agreement for 3,000 healthcare workers in his constituency who work for a social enterprise to receive Government funding to finance the pay rise, so clearly a precedent has already been set. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on that.
The pay deal that has been agreed is a pay deal for NHS staff and is welcomed. Since this debate was announced, I have also been contacted by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
It has taken me a little while to catch up, but did my hon. Friend just say that a colleague has managed to secure an independent agreement that the pay deal will be honoured for some workers in a hospice setting? If so, how is it possible that one person can get such an agreement from Government but everyone in this Chamber who is raising issues cannot?
I thank my hon. Friend: that is exactly the point that I wanted to make. A deal has been done in Plymouth for a social enterprise provider that is not a hospice but a provider of mental health services. Obviously, smaller deals are being done. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport is not able to be with us today, but I was very interested in the evidence that he sent me. The Department of Health and Social Care needs to look at the smaller deals that have been done and ask itself what on earth is going on.
To return to the issue of physiotherapists, they are clinical staff whose role in hospice care is sometimes forgotten. The CSP told me that its members overwhelmingly backed the pay changes when consulted earlier this year. It pointed out to me the importance of the physiotherapist’s role in enabling people with a terminal illness to stay active as long as possible—a really important role—and went on to say that with the current shortage of physiotherapists, it is relatively easy for staff to change roles if they wish to do so, and that employers who cannot broadly match NHS pay rates will find it increasingly difficult to recruit staff.
There is clearly real concern that the NHS pay award will have an unforeseen but damaging impact on charitable hospices and other organisations that are already at a significant disadvantage compared with other non-NHS providers in not receiving reimbursement for the costs of the care that they provide to NHS patients. A sustainable hospice movement is an essential component of delivering the improvements in end of life care that the Government have rightly sought. The Government must look again at the conditions imposed on non-NHS providers and consider how funding may be made available to prevent a diminution of the end of life care service.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but we want a national agreement rather than a piecemeal set of local agreements. I hope that that will be addressed today.
I shall conclude by quoting NHS Employers:
“Patients are at the heart of everything the NHS does.”
How does that square with the Department of Health and Social Care’s refusal to finance the pay award for hospices, and how is that refusal putting terminally ill patients, at the time when they are most in need of care, at the heart of our NHS?
I thank the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) for securing the debate. “Fantastic” is probably the wrong word to use, but this is an important opportunity for us to speak about the great work that hospices do, the part that they play in all our local communities and how they help people and their families at the most difficult times of their lives. It is an honour to take part in the debate. I want to talk about the role of hospices, how they contribute to the desire to integrate health and social care and, as a result, how they must be funded to deliver the great work that they do.
This may seem a strange thing to say, but I have spent my most special moments at the bedside of someone in a hospice. Over the years and even as an MP, I have taken the opportunity to sit alongside people and their families in our local hospice, St Julia’s, which is just on the edge of my constituency, and I always leave with an incredible sense of gratitude for the work that the hospice does and how it helps people at that difficult time. It helps people to live and die well, which is what I am sure we would all love to be able to do when the time comes.
Let me explain what I have learned in recent years. Even now, the word “hospice” assumes that that is where we will die if we have—dare I say it—the right kind of illness to justify that, but I am learning that hospices are actually far from just places to die. People can go into one when they are very sick and come out a week or two later, having had various things done to help them, to get their body working again and to identify the right medicine. Hospices can give people time to work out what medicine or drug is really the right one for them. My mum was ill for a very long time. She was given a few weeks to live, but actually lived for more than a year. She spent 10 days in a hospice when we really thought it was the end and then she went on for a good six or seven months after that, simply because the hospice was able to correct her medication and—well, “flush her out” is probably the way to put it. It was lovely to come together as a family and sit alongside her, and to give my dad a break; he had about 10 days of really important respite. The hospice movement across the country, in my constituency and across Cornwall is fantastic. When I go there, it is a different experience from when I go to sit beside the bed of someone in an urgent care setting who is also reaching the end of their life.
In Cornwall, we are learning that hospices are not just about taking people in the closing days or months of their lives, but about alleviating pressure on urgent care by taking people out of a ward where it is not really appropriate for them to be in their last few days, and on community care. In response to trying to get the money it needs, our hospice has done a great bit of work by going out to homes and supporting people there in their last few days and weeks.
The point is that, by properly funding hospices and all the work they do, I am convinced that we would create a saving for the wider NHS as well as the beds that are needed for other people. That is important in my constituency, because our main hospital is in special measures—“requires improvement” is where we are at the moment—and one area of that is about palliative care. The frustration is that there is a desperate need for beds in the hospital, but in the hospice, beds are available all the time. It is simply about a lack of commissioning joined-up thinking and working together, and not having enough money in the hospice system.
Hon. Members have given various quotes about how much NHS funding hospices receive. Some time ago, my first question in Prime Minister’s questions, when the then Chancellor was replying, was about how little Cornish hospice care was funded. At that time, about 11% of the money came from the NHS. That is in a part of the world where there is a lot of deprivation and average earnings are low, so the rest of that money was being found by people who were not awash with cash. I do not know that it has improved much since; we are still one of the areas that receives the least money for our hospice care.
That is frustrating, because people are dying in the urgent care centre who should be in a hospice. Three weeks ago, I spent time with a family who were desperate to get their mum out of my local hospital, which is part of the urgent care set-up. I do not want to be unfair to the hospital team, but unfortunately, they were so keen to get the lady home that they waited for care packages that did not arrive, and she died in the hospital when she could have been in the hospice.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that important point, which raises an issue that I have had with a constituent. His wife was sent home supposedly well after going into hospital for urgent treatment but sadly she died two days later. Going to the local hospice, St Andrews, would probably have been a much better option for her, but it had not been thought of in that process.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I have heard several stories where that has been the case. Separate to the debate, there is an obsession—I use that word because it might get the Minister’s attention, although it may be the wrong one—with getting people home at every possible opportunity. When I sit with those people, some of whom are desperately lonely, I ask whether that is right for them or whether hospices, community hospitals and other settings would be more appropriate. I want us, as leaders and politicians, to be careful not to create an assumption that home is always the best place, because I do not believe that. It certainly was not for my mum in the last days and weeks of her life.
Addressing some of the challenges requires an uplift in the funding available to hospices across the board, and we must pass on pay increases to nursing staff. I say again that when I go into my hospice, the working environment is very different from that in the urgent care centre, but I have already said that Cornwall is a low-wage area with a high cost of living due to the beautiful environment that we live in, which attracts people and pushes up the cost of housing. It is expensive to live in my part of the world, so nurses are not choosing to leave the hospice setting because they prefer urgent care—obviously, we need them there as well, so I am not trying to discourage that—but because they need the money to live. We should not be saying, at any stage, “It is okay, because hospices are a different environment to work in and they might prefer it there, so they will settle for lower wages.” I hope that we would never assume or expect that.
I met the chief executive of Cornwall Hospice Care soon after the pay award, and he expressed concern that the money being offered to NHS nurses and staff would have a negative impact on hospices and other parts of the system where people are not directly employed by the NHS. I agreed to raise that in the House at the first opportunity, which I have done, and I am grateful for this opportunity to do so as well.
I know that I am among friends when I say that the value of hospice care is not underestimated. The work that hospices do for children and adults is fantastic. They are an essential part of bringing health and social care together and ensuring that people are cared for in the right setting and as close to home as possible. We all know that it is better to be near our families, whatever our health situation, and certainly during the last moments of our life.
As I have said, people are dying in my urgent care centre, which has already been judged as poor for palliative care, when there are beds in the hospice not far away. That must be addressed, and I want the Minister to intervene to put pressure on the system—or systems, at the moment—on the question of why we cannot do more. There has been progress in the last three years towards working better together, but making the right decision is painfully slow for somebody who does not actually have the time for that decision to be made. There have been improvements in working together, and the managers in all the systems in Cornwall, including the hospices, have healthy relationships, but things seem to be getting stuck at ward level, so patients are potentially not getting the best care.
As I have said, hospices now do fantastic work in the community, which has been a response partly to funding but also to need. They are going out into people’s homes to help families and individuals to manage their care properly. I have made fairly clear the two things that are needed to help hospices to deliver that vital role. In the discussions around the NHS pay award, what engagement opportunities have the Minister and the Department had with hospices? Have they been included in discussions about how that can be addressed and passed on? I would love the Minister to look closely at the situation in Cornwall, which will be true elsewhere too, where the money available for hospices is not enough. That is a choice made at a local level by commissioners, not the Department.
We should also assess whether we are making full use of what is available in hospices. If there are 12 beds with people in who are being cared for in the right place, that care is far more cost-effective than if there are eight beds, as is the case in my local hospice. It is not just about throwing more money at hospices, but about making better use of resources. That will reduce the cost of care while ensuring that those people, who have such a challenge ahead of them in the days and weeks to come, are given the care, love and attention that they absolutely deserve and that we would expect in the great nation in which we live.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) for securing the debate and for her knowledgeable and informative speech. The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) also made a sympathetic and informed contribution using personal and constituency examples, which we all benefit from.
There is little doubt that hospices play a vital role throughout the UK in providing palliative and end of life care, and that demand for care is increasing. We have heard that hospices face many of the same challenges as the NHS in terms of recruitment, and have to compete with pay levels to recruit and retain a good calibre of staff. Attracting and retaining the right people and raising the status and image of social care as a profession is key to delivering quality care.
In Scotland, health is devolved, and getting health and social care right for people is a key element of the Scottish Government’s health strategy. In 2015, the Scottish Government committed through the strategic framework for action on palliative and end of life care, or SFA, that by 2021 everyone in Scotland who needs palliative care will have access to it. Hospices play a vital role in meeting that aim and in ensuring that by 2021 all who would benefit from a key information summary will receive one. These summaries bring together important information, such as future care plans and end of life preferences, to support those with complex care needs or long-term conditions. The availability of care options will be improved by doubling the provision of palliative and end of life care in the community. That will result in fewer people dying in a hospital setting, which I am sure none of us would want to experience. As part of the Scottish Government’s 2016-17 budget, we have allocated a further £250 million to health and social care partnerships, to protect and grow social care services, and to deliver our shared priorities.
Historically, hospices have led the development and provision of palliative care. Their specialist expertise has often supported non-specialist services at the end of life and hospices can typically able t attract high numbers of volunteers and to generate significant levels of charitable income from within their communities.
In 2016-17, hospices in Scotland supported 19,000 people of all ages, ranging from newborn babies to centenarians. In the briefing sent round for today’s debate from Together for Short Lives, the UK’s charity for children’s palliative care, there was a request for parity in the contribution to charitable costs by children and adult hospices, and palliative care charities. That is a very reasonable and sensible suggestion, and the Scottish Government have committed to bring about such parity and to fund 50% of the agreed charitable costs of children’s hospices, in line with the adult provision.
During 2016-17, a total of 12,000 people in Scotland received hospice care in their homes. Over the past decade, a significant amount of work and investment has gone in to supporting older people and people with disabilities to live well in their own homes for longer. When hospice care is needed, the Scottish Government have clear standards that meet the needs of patients and respect their rights. And of course Scotland continues to be the only country in the UK that provides free personal care, benefiting over 76,000 older and vulnerable people. In addition, legislation has been approved to extend free personal care to under-65s, which will come into force from April next year.
Much of today’s debate focuses on NHS pay and its impact on the hospice sector. What does it mean for staff in Scotland? Staff on the Agenda for Change scale will benefit from an increase. Such staff include registered nurses, lead nurse managers, ward sisters, clinical nurse managers, clinical nurse specialists, senior nurses and nurse managers. The Scottish National party Government agreed a three-year pay deal linked to reform discussions that are due to be completed by December, meaning that most Agenda for Change staff will make more than their English equivalents.
For adult social care workers, the Scottish Government require all public sector employers to pay at least the Scottish living wage, so health and social care partnerships will have to pay the Scottish living wage, too. I stress that in Scotland we are committed to paying everyone in social care the living wage, and anything additional would be an arrangement agreed between the integration authorities and hospices. Those discussions are ongoing and I look forward to hearing their outcome.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.
I am grateful for the contributions by Members from both sides of the Chamber; they obviously all value the hospices in their constituencies. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) for securing this important debate and for outlining so clearly the dilemma facing hospices, citing the example of her own excellent hospice, Springhill. The dilemma is that the delivery of excellent services, by an excellent and qualified workforce, must be balanced against the funding to deliver those services continually.
We are all aware that the NHS is facing massive workforce issues and that recruitment of skilled people is an issue right across the NHS; there is a shortage of such people. We are also very much aware that if hospices are to compete for staff and to recruit and—crucially—retain staff, they must be able to make this pay award, which is extremely welcome. That is the essence of this debate.
Hon. Members made some really important points about the wider issues of funding, which are important, and about the lack of funding. I am grateful to the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) for sharing a very personal family experience from his local hospice and for making the important point that hospices allow people to live and die well, which is absolutely crucial.
It is important to set this debate, which is essentially about funding, in a wider context, looking in the first instance at the vast array of services provided by hospices. The majority of hospices are charitable organisations, and provide absolutely tremendous support to the NHS but are not directly part of it. There are in the region of 3,000 in-patient hospice beds in the UK, where patients are helped to manage pain and other symptoms. Hospices also provide respite for carers; it is important not to overlook that.
However, hospices offer far more than an in-patient bed for those reaching the end of their life. In fact, the majority of hospice care is provided in people’s own homes. Hospice UK reports that, in 2016, 51,000 people accessed in-patient hospice care, while 179,000 people received the support of trained hospice staff at home. Many hospices also offer daycare, which gives people the chance to spend time in a hospice and use the majority of the services it offers, while still living at home. In 2017, 37,000 people used day hospice services.
The majority of hospices also offer bereavement counselling. Hospices help to mitigate negative outcomes of loss, helping people to manage what can be a hugely painful and isolating experience. One gentleman in my constituency told me that he did not know how he and his daughters would have coped without the excellent Pendleside Hospice when he lost his wife, and his daughters lost their mother.
It is clear that our hospices are doing a fantastic job supporting people when they need it most. It is difficult to measure the level of demand, but it is a fact that, in 2016, 597,000 people died in the UK, and Hospice UK estimates that 450,000 of them could potentially have benefited from hospice services. It is also clear that there is much unmet demand and that provision varies widely from town to town. Given the changing demographics, though, it is very likely that demand for hospice services will continue to rise.
Consequently, it is imperative that, at the very least, we protect the provision that already exists. As I have said, the majority of hospice services are provided by charitable hospices, which rely on donations from, and fundraising in, their local community to meet the majority of their costs. It is a fact that hospices have a combined revenue of £1.4 billion, and yet the NHS pays only £350 million towards hospices. The average NHS contribution to hospices equates to 30%, and that proportion is falling because there has not been an uplift in funding to hospices for many years. Ten years ago, my own hospice received 32% of its funding from the NHS. That has now fallen to 22%, and in common with other charitable hospices it is reliant on the generosity of local people and businesses. Each year, hospices must raise millions of pounds to run their services and pay their staff.
I will briefly mention children’s hospices. Last week, I met staff from Derian House, and I was shocked to learn that although this excellent hospice supports children and young people from 38 constituencies, only 10% of its funding comes from the NHS. There are 49,000 babies, children and young people in the UK with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions. That number is growing as a result of advances in medical technology, and it is vital that these children and their families have access to palliative care that meets their needs.
Austerity has made fundraising more challenging, as many new and worthy charities now compete for funds. It is a fact that in this economic environment the financial stability and sustainability of many hospices is at risk, and implementing the NHS pay award will add to the financial pressures they face. It is unthinkable that, in the face of increasing demand, they may be forced to reduce services or even close.
At this point, I want to join colleagues in paying tribute to the dedicated staff who are the lifeblood of our hospices. The majority of charitable hospices, although outside the NHS Agenda for Change, attempt to match NHS pay and conditions, ensuring that staff who do that amazing work are properly remunerated. It is essential that those hospices are able to match NHS levels of pay if they are to continue to recruit and retain the staff they need.
I welcome the recently negotiated NHS pay award. That award, which has been hard won and is long overdue, will be hugely welcomed by clinical and non-clinical staff throughout the NHS. Crucially, though, it will not be funded for the charitable sector, and hospices will need to raise additional funds. Coming on top of existing funding pressures, that is going to push our hospices to breaking point. Pendleside Hospice, which serves my constituency, will need to raise an additional £500,000 to fully fund that award. I am sure that the Department of Health and Social Care did not intend to disadvantage hospices in this way, and that this was an unintended consequence. I hope that, in the first instance, the Minister will take the opportunity to announce that the Government will fund the staff pay award in all hospices.
In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will go further to ensure that NHS England resumes its work on developing a specialist palliative care currency, to inform future CCG commissioning of hospice care. It is an inescapable fact that a mechanism to increase the proportion of NHS funding paid to hospices is urgently needed. In a world without hospices, that clinical care would have to be entirely provided directly by the NHS, and would add significantly to NHS costs.
As ever, it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I add my voice to those congratulating the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) on securing a debate on this important matter, and congratulate every Member who has been involved, either through a speech or an intervention. As MPs, we are all aware of the crucial role that hospices play in supporting and caring for our communities at a time of great need. I understand the concerns that have been raised, and have listened carefully to the strong arguments that have been made.
Hospices across England are delivering excellent end of life care and contributing to their local communities, as they have for many years. The Care Quality Commission’s “State of Care” report, published on 10 October, is testament to that. That report showed that hospices have continued to provide high-quality care at the end of people’s lives, even improving on their performance last year, which saw them rated as the highest performing secondary care servicer, with 27% of hospices—more than a quarter—rated as outstanding. I know that Springhill Hospice in the constituency of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton was rated as good overall in the CQC’s most recent assessment, but was rated as outstanding in the delivery of care and effective services, and people spoke highly of the kindness and caring attitude of staff. That is why the hon. Lady is right to raise this debate. I add my thanks to all those working and volunteering in the hon. Lady’s hospice, and in hospices up and down the country, for the quality of care that they offer.
We all know that palliative care can take many forms, whether at home, in a hospice, or in a hospital. There is never a more important time to make sure people get the right level of care. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) spoke about the immeasurable support that was given to his mum by his local hospice, and he rightly mentioned the crucial role of local commissioners in ensuring that hospices can do their amazing work, which I will speak more about in a moment. My mum was responsible for fundraising to build the Naomi House children’s hospice that my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) mentioned earlier.
Sadly, I cannot comment on individual cases. I am not aware of any individual deals being done with the Government, but of course, this could be a local arrangement. For 2019-20 and the remaining two years of the deal, funding will follow the usual route. It goes through CCGs, so I imagine that the instance that the hon. Lady mentioned is due to that, but I am keen to hear more.
Maybe the Minister would like to take the issue up with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), who has informed me of an agreement that has been made in Plymouth regarding a social enterprise, with the support of the trade unions. That is an interesting example that we potentially should extend to the whole country.
I can only applaud the hon. Lady’s tenacity in continuing to make that case, and we will certainly look into the matter. As I say, I have no knowledge of that individual case, but I share the desire of my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West to ensure that hospices such as Naomi House and Jacksplace have the funding that is necessary to do their incredible work. My mum got the whole family involved in all manner of quite humiliating fundraising exercises back in the 1990s to build Naomi House children’s hospice, and I was delighted that my role as Minister took me back to Naomi House and, indeed, Jacksplace, which caters for young adults. I went there over the summer, and Mark Smith, its director of care, was kind enough to give me a tour of the facilities. We discussed some of the issues that have been raised today, as well as others, and my team has been looking carefully at what more we can do about some of those issues.
Since I was appointed Minister for Care in January, I have met with a range of charitable stakeholders from the end of life and palliative care sector, as well as the national clinical director for end of life care, Professor Bee Wee, who is quite incredible. Having met both system representatives and representatives of charities, I have been impressed by not only their incredible passion and commitment to see Government aims for end of life care delivered, but the shared consensus on what changes are needed to drive through the improvements that we would all like to see. Hospices are an incredibly important feature of end of life care provision, but we have to see them in the wider context of our ambitions in that area. In 2016, the Government published our end of life care choice commitment, which encompasses the whole system approach to transforming end of life care, placing patients and their choices, needs and preferences at the heart of planning. The NHS gets it right when choice is meaningful, personalised, and matched by healthcare services that can respond in an effective way that places patients, families and carers at the centre of the decision-making process. I know that parts of the country are delivering excellent palliative and end of life care for both adults and children.
The Minister’s reference to “parts of the country” is of concern to me. Does she agree that the amount of funding, and the capacity for particular communities to raise that funding, is still a postcode lottery? In more deprived areas, accessing the knowledge, skills and ability to raise that funding is more of a challenge. How would the Minister suggest that we create more equity and parity?
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. She is right: there are services up and down the country delivering first-class care, but there are also areas where we know we need to do more. NHS England is firmly focused on providing both the support and the challenge to achieve that, and the hon. Lady is right to mention the incredible efforts of the imaginative and resourceful volunteers who do incredible work to raise much-needed funds for those vital hospices.
A key objective in delivering our commitment to strengthening the provision of end of life services out of hospital and in the community is that people should have that level of choice, and a quality choice, up and down the country. Work is ongoing nationally to provide sustainability and transformation partnerships with tailored information to assess and enhance end of life care services in their areas. We talked earlier about commissioning; NHS England has commissioned Hospice UK to undertake an evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of hospice-led interventions in the community. Historically, hospices have struggled to demonstrate strong evidence of the services they provide and the fabulous care that we all know they offer.
The hon. Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper) mentioned currency. NHS England is working to support local use of the specialist palliative care currency, which can help local areas to plan and deliver services, including hospice services. The currency can help local services better understand the complexity of palliative care and the investment needed to deliver it properly. It is also essential that we can assess how effectively commissioners are working to improve end of life care services. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives hit the nail on the head when he spoke about that. This year we have a new indicator in place designed to help measure how well patients needing end of life care are supported in the community. Going forward, we are planning to do more work to develop indicators that will enable NHS England to further scrutinise the effectiveness of local health economies in delivering choice in end of life care and securing the progress we all want to see.
Can the Minister give some idea of the timescales? The point has been made that not only are these organisations at risk of closing, but the people who need the care have not got time. Timescales that indicate the urgency with which the Government are treating the matter would be welcome.
That is a very good point. NHS England will bring forward its report on hospice care very shortly, in November.
I want to talk about staff funding. In common with much of the sector, I know hospices have faced financial challenges. I recognise the concerns of hospices that the recently announced NHS pay rise is putting them under pressure to match the uplift awarded to staff employed on the Agenda for Change contract not only to retain the incredible staff they already have, but to attract the staff they need. We have agreed that for 2018-19, non-NHS organisations that employ existing and new staff on the Agenda for Change contract will be eligible to receive additional funding. Most hospices do not employ their staff on the Agenda for Change contract because of the cost that would entail and so are ineligible.
That is a very good question, which I will drop my right hon. Friend a note to answer, if he does not mind, as we need to make a few more inquiries about that.
It is important to stress that the Agenda for Change pay deal does not seek to make any distinction between the value we place on staff working in NHS and non-NHS organisations. Staff work incredibly hard to provide services, always putting patients and service users first. Funding is linked to the direct costs of implementing the Agenda for Change pay deal, which includes both pay and non-pay reforms. As the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton mentioned, it is not just about headline pay. It is right that those organisations that employ existing and new staff on the Agenda for Change contract and must implement the entire pay deal should receive additional funding for 2018-19.
The hon. Lady is right to raise the matter, and I thank her again for doing so. I have listened carefully to the issues that have been raised, and we will look again at all of them and what we can do to better support our hospices to continue doing their vital work.
I thank everyone who has contributed, and I thank the Minister for her response, but I am disappointed that there was no commitment to provide funding for hospices to afford this pay award. The case has clearly been made on the disastrous effects of not funding the pay award. I had hoped that the Minister might have been able to commit to more than a report that is coming out in November.
We need to deal with the issue as a matter of urgency. I suggest the Minister looks at equivalence and whether appraisals, staff health and wellbeing and the systems that hospices already operate can be classed as equivalent to the agreement set out under Agenda for Change. That would help get over the hurdle of the productivity demands that the Chancellor has made.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered hospice funding and the NHS pay award.
Leaving the EU: Timber Industry
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect on the timber industry of the UK leaving the EU.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies; I thank you and the Minister for being in your places today. I welcome hon. Members and guests from across the timber industry, who are eagerly anticipating the Government’s response on how the industry will be affected by the terms of our withdrawal from Europe. It is also good to have Hansard here so that we do not have to face the age-old philosophical question: if no one is there to listen to a debate on tree-felling, does it actually take place? Perhaps today we will see through the wood and hunt out some of the trees of questions that are outstanding. Let me put it on the record that, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the timber industries, I shall raise a number of concerns from those who come to our meetings to discuss the problems they face.
Our debate is about the industry and the terms of withdrawal. I wish to focus on three distinct root and branch problems, of which the first is our crashing out of the customs union and single market. I will discuss the real-terms consequences of the Chequers plan for the strategy for the future of house building, for the tax bombshell that could hit the industry after March 2019, and for the importance of upholding regulatory standards when importing and exporting goods after we leave.
The timber industry is very diverse. In Scotland, we have Scotframe, which produces timber-frame house kits from trees grown in the United Kingdom from UK seedlings. It also takes wood from across Europe to manufacture the kits that it sends out to be constructed on sites across the UK.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this important debate. Although 92% of large contractors would support an industry-wide commitment to using more home-grown timber, the UK remains one of the world’s biggest timber importers. Some companies unnecessarily specify grades of timber that are more common abroad, when home-grown alternatives would work perfectly well. Does he agree that we should work to facilitate a stronger domestic market for timber post Brexit?
This is certainly an opportunity for the industry to review itself. It is important to note that the timber industry is neither for nor against Brexit. What it seeks is clarity and a way of moving forward, both through increased home-grown production and through facilitating the import and export of wood, which will continue to be a requirement. Interestingly, in 2016 we were the second largest net importer of wood products; only China has a higher net import ratio. We rely heavily on wood and timber from across the EU and from across the world.
This debate takes place under exceptional circumstances. On 29 March, we will leave the European Union. We have had almost two years of negotiations with the EU about the terms of our withdrawal. Admittedly, we are not quite 95% of the way through this period, but the gap for the Prime Minister to secure a workable deal with Europe is closing. The protracted negotiation period has left several key industries, including timber, in the lurch—or out on a branch—over the impact of Brexit.
The sector contributes more than £10 billion a year to the UK economy and has a workforce of more than 200,000. There are profound questions about the nature of our withdrawal and its impact, particularly on the small and medium-sized businesses that make up a substantial part of the industry. As well as being of great national worth, the timber industry supports jobs in my constituency, which has BSW Timber, Windymains Timber and Alba Trees. In East Lothian, we take the acorn to the oak and then cut it up for the use of others.
I am here to express the industry’s concerns about the terms of our withdrawal from Europe and to make a personal case for continued membership of the customs union and the single market after we leave. The technicalities of our withdrawal can appear confusing, but the way in which timber currently enters the UK market from Europe is remarkably simple and has been developed through work across the EU—within the timber industry as much as by the Government. When timber enters the UK from the EU, it clears the ports immediately, with no need for customs checks to be carried out. The materials are then instantly available to be used or sold.
Leaving the customs union threatens the efficiency and simplicity of our current arrangements. The real-terms impact of a poor deal or no deal would mean timber arriving in Britain from Europe and sitting in customs checks for weeks on end. Indeed, the timber industry in the Republic of Ireland is so concerned about that possibility that it has written to its members with advice on it. This is the reality for companies importing timber from outwith the EU, particularly from North America, and it gives a worrying glimpse of the potential post-Brexit future that our timber industry faces. The time that it will take for businesses, most often small and medium-sized enterprises, to not only get hold of timber but store it before selling is of great concern.
I feel I might be wasting the Minister’s time if I asked for his support for a deal to keep us in both the customs union and the single market, so I will be a little more generous with my two questions. Will the Government commit to ensuring that, after we leave the EU, timber imports will continue to clear customs in the same manner? Will they assure the industry that there will be no up-front costs after we leave the EU, particularly for SMEs that trade with EU countries?
Let me turn to the house building strategy. The timber industry provides the frames and parts for virtually all our houses. In East Lothian, there is a commitment to 10,000 new homes in the near future, and the requirement for wood frames for roofing and joists will be exceptional. Our future relationship with the EU will go hand in hand with our current house building strategy, so I want to explore the impact of our withdrawal on the construction of new homes.
We have an unprecedented housing crisis across the UK, and nowhere more so than in Scotland. I accept that, in my constituency, the responsibility for increasing home ownership and eradicating homelessness rests with the Scottish Government, but the desire to achieve those ends is felt across the whole United Kingdom. At least 150,000 households are on waiting lists for homes in Scotland, while just a quarter of people under the age of 34 own their own home, which is down from just under half in 1999. This is a challenge that the Scottish Government are failing to meet.
These simple figures foreshadow an impending crisis in the supply of raw materials, notably timber, after we leave the EU. Some 60% of wood imports come from Europe, but for the timber that we need to manufacture homes, the figure stands at 90%. It is simply not feasible for the UK to become self-sufficient in timber production by next year or even by the end of any transition period that has been discussed. Of course, a move to greater self-sufficiency would be admirable, but there are questions about climate and about the quality of wood grown for purposes ranging from pulping to open joists in houses.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. I do not share his concerns about Britain leaving the EU; I feel that the forestry sector, the timber sector and indeed all sectors will have a very good future after we leave in March. However, does he agree that, although trees planted today will not be ready for next year, the British Government are woefully behind on the tree-planting targets that we need for future years? Forestry and timber is an ongoing industry, not something that will stop tomorrow.
The hon. Gentleman is right. If we look back to the planting of the great forest, done all those decades—nay, centuries, ago—with the intention of providing this country with the raw materials it was perceived it needed at the time, and we look at the, frankly, very poor forestry planting record of the recent past, we can see that we are in a desperate situation that needs to be addressed. The tree nurseries in East Lothian grow their plants for about 18 months, until they are large enough to plant out without too much protection. We are then still looking at 20 years before there is usable wood. It would need 60 years for that wood to be of use in house building and for ornate furnishings. What we choose to do today will not be of any benefit to us, but will be of benefit to our children and grandchildren—to those who come after us. It is that foresight that is needed by Governments and politicians, in order to make the correct decisions.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that commercial forestry—the planting of softwoods—should not be seen as a crime in the countryside? The industries that we are talking about rely on softwoods, not necessarily hardwoods, which would not mature for 100 years.
Absolutely. A diversity in timber planting is essential for the surrounding ecology and for the intended subsequent use of the trees. What is needed is a diverse plan that recognises the differences that are needed in the future. I commend the ambitions north or south of the border on revitalising house building in Britain, but any housing strategy must factor the strength of timber imports into that.
I turn to what is called “the tax and revenue bombshell” in the timber industry. There is a long-term vision for house building, which is vulnerable to any flawed Brexit deal that the Prime Minister may come back with. The current VAT payment system that timber companies are signatories to when importing from Europe is critical for the cash flow of small and medium-sized businesses. The system allows companies to spread the payment of VAT on EU imports, so that goods are sold before they have to pay. In the August no deal papers, that issue was recognised and confidence was given to the timber industry that, in the appalling situation of a no deal Brexit, they would be in a better position with regard to VAT than potentially under any deal.
The Timber Trade Federation is clear that the impact of the VAT bill would fall directly on to small business owners, operating on tight margins, who are the most vulnerable to this change. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will ensure that the existing VAT payments system for imports from the EU will remain in place in case of a deal? Alternatively, will the Government commit to establishing a new system that maintains the same benefits?
The immediate impact to consumers of the scheme collapsing would be massive additional costs on building materials, leading to increased costs for basic building work. Piling more money on the base cost of building new homes will not ease the financial burden of encouraging new homeowners. I hope the Government heed the industry’s call and look to fix this issue.
I turn finally to standards. Any industry of this size, which operates with trade heading in either direction, requires a regulatory environment that is fit for purpose—an environment that is strong but that is also standardised. Membership of the EU has created a standardised model that has effectively reduced individual national standards within Europe from 160,000 in 1980 to 20,000 today. That simplification has acted as a passport to trade and minimises the financial barriers that imported goods face. Crucially, standards exist not just to benefit those sitting in boardrooms, but to provide a firewall for consumers across the country. They build consumer trust and they ensure customer safety. One sector-specific issue within the timber industry is the assurance that products are both sustainable and secure.
Leaving Europe will limit our influence over the standards. Does the Minister agree that we should continue to prohibit the importing and use of illegally harvested timber from outwith the EU, and that we should retain the assurance and ensure that our current consistent and simplified approach to EU regulation will continue after March 2019?
There are a number of exciting opportunities present within the timber industry. It is a sector that is spread across every constituency. It provides jobs and investment. It provides training in serious skills shortages in the UK economy. Steps are being taken to seek apprenticeships that will take people from the very start of planting all the way through to the building site to see how the wooden frames are turned into houses, and to the housing factories, where ready-made houses are produced to be assembled on site. That is a massive commitment from the timber industry; it realises that the commitment to future skills is crucial in order for it to maximise opportunities. It would like the same enthusiasm, excitement and out-of-the-box thinking from the Government, to ensure that this industry can continue.
A reckless Brexit deal could affect up to 10 million cubic metres of timber, which we import every year. I hope the Minister agrees that, if the Prime Minister is serious about her personal mission to solve the housing crisis, she must start by scrapping the Chequers deal and broker an improved deal that ensures the timber industry can clear customs freely, considers the VAT question and addresses the question of the house building strategy, so that this hugely important UK industry can be at the root, trunk and branch of our future.
As always, it is an honour to participate in this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I congratulate the hon. Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield) on securing it. Continuing the wood gags, I was concerned at the start of the debate that I would be stumped by his line of questioning, but he has been very clear, for which I am grateful.
Forestry and timber processing is a growth sector, as the hon. Gentleman said, with 82,000 jobs in the UK, and it contributes £2 billion each year to the economy. In the Budget this week, it was good to see the Chancellor announce £60 million to plant trees, including £10 million to do so in urban areas and £50 million to encourage large-scale afforestation through the woodland carbon guarantee. It is important to discuss the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU on this sector and I welcome the opportunity to do so in this debate.
Like all Departments, DEFRA is working incredibly hard to understand the implications of exiting from the EU. We have been taking note of the potential risks, coming up with mitigating actions and looking at what the opportunities will be, in this and other sectors, as well as ensuring that contingency planning is in place, regardless of what scenario we might move into.
Strengthening the timber trade, and enhancing the sustainable management of the woodlands and forests that support the trade, will continue to be a real priority for DEFRA. In the 25-year environment plan, we committed to increase forest cover in England from 10% of land area now to 12% by 2060. That is an area equivalent to the size of Dorset. I know that that is not north of the border, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is big area. Meeting that target will require increases in both private and publicly funded planting, including from the timber industry. That will be music to the ears of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies). Clear opportunities for the sector lie ahead as well.
This is a growth sector, and the value of our forests is on the increase. Market conditions are good and British wood is competitive with imports, leading to increased levels of domestic production, which we need to start thinking about and preparing for. UK mills produce around 3.5 million cubic metres of sawn wood each year. The increase in house building is increasing demand for wood, and 27% of housing starts in 2017 are expected to use timber frames. That is a good opportunity, and we want to be ready to support it through increased domestic production.
At a UK level, timber availability is forecast to increase in the short to medium term and then decline to current levels after 2030. We are gearing up and moving forward. We recognise that increasing domestic production will also boost the rural economy, which many of us represent.
I am very grateful that the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew), is here. Does the Minister feel that more credit should have been given to the timber industry in the Agriculture Bill, which is currently passing through the House?
That is a good question, and I will come on to it—we will not duck it.
As the hon. Member for East Lothian said, we are the second-largest importer of timber behind China— 82% of our wood production uses imported wood. Increased import costs caused by currency fluctuation or regulatory barriers could therefore pose a challenge to the timber trade, but there is capacity in the UK to increase our use of our own forestry resource. There is a real opportunity for import substitution, which over time will help to mitigate any rise in import costs or increase in tariff barriers and will help bring more of the UK’s woodlands under active, sustainable management. That is something we all want to see.
We have a number of schemes in place, and the Agriculture Bill will introduce environmental land management systems, which will help us to promote the production of different wood types. I can meet my hon. Friend after the debate to discuss that question in more detail.
There are clear opportunities ahead, which are good commercially and make sense, given our wider ambition to increase woodland coverage and meet our carbon targets. The hon. Member for East Lothian mentioned Scotframe. The issues he raised are matters for the Scottish Government, but I am keen to discuss new timber-based construction with business, and the 25-year environment plan commitment to use more domestic timber in construction points to where we want to go. Using our timber in construction will help us create what some people call a conveyor belt of carbon sequestration here at home, helping us to meet not only the housing targets that the hon. Gentleman outlined but our long-term objectives under the Paris agreement.
Our new environmental land management system will focus public money on the provision of public goods, and put forestry and agriculture on an equal footing. Trees and woodlands provide multiple capital benefits, including carbon sequestration, soil quality preservation and reduced water run-off. There is clearly more work to be done, but that exiting development will help to address some of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.
The hon. Gentleman also raised concerns about VAT. The Government are committed to keep the VAT regime as similar as possible to what we have now. If there is no deal, we will introduce postponed accounting for goods imported into the UK. That was stated in the technical notice entitled “VAT for business if there’s no Brexit deal”, and a written answer from 8 October gives more detail about that. If the hon. Gentleman has more concerns, I will gladly discuss them, but the Government have set out clearly that that is our aim.
The hon. Gentleman also made some important points about EU readiness. We are preparing for any eventuality, but our primary aim is to secure a deal. In our planning for the unlikely scenario of a no deal, we are working to ensure that timber importers face as little inconvenience and as few additional costs as possible in the event that they need to conduct extra due diligence at the borders. Current due diligence checks on imports from outside the EU will remain the same, so in a no-deal scenario a large number of importers will not notice any increased costs. Although we recognise there will be some additional costs for businesses that import from EU countries—I will talk more about that in a minute—we will give them support and advice to ensure the costs are minimised as far as possible. A number of technical notices have been published in the public domain to provide such information, reduce the grey areas that businesses are working with, and give them greater clarity.
As I was trying to explain, our aim is to ensure any added burden is kept to a minimum. The technical notices help to set that out, but there is clearly more work to do.
We want to ensure businesses can continue to trade with the EU in a no-deal scenario, which is why the Office for Product Safety and Standards will support and advise UK exporters about what documentation they might need to give EU customers so they can fulfil their due diligence requirements. We are working hard to ensure that the supply of timber for building is not interrupted—I know that is a priority for the hon. Gentleman—and we will work with those who face any additional costs or burdens to ensure these are minimised. We are also making good progress in driving up planting rates across the country so we have a resilient timber supply for the future. We are on track to meet our commitment to plant 11 million trees by 2022 and an additional 1 million trees in our towns and cities.
As part of our planning, we are working to ensure that biosecurity standards continue to be met in ways that support trade and the smooth flow of goods. Our plant health biosecurity arrangements protect the environment from pests and diseases, and we will continue to protect the nation’s plant health biosecurity during and after our exit from the EU. That is a clear priority.
We are considering our import controls for plants and their products, including timber and forestry material, for a range of scenarios. The Government are working to ensure that systems and processes are in place so that trade continues to flow after exit.
We have set out our technical notices, including one entitled “Importing and exporting plants and plant products if there’s no Brexit deal”. Timber currently managed under the EU plant passport regime will need to enter the UK with a phytosanitary certificate in a no-deal scenario. Checks will take place remotely after the border to minimise impacts on businesses and ensure the continued smooth flow of goods.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the number and weight of regulations. Our aim is to ensure that, although we will have to adjust to any eventuality, the burden is kept to a minimum.
My goodness—that sounds like an incredibly good idea. Joined-up thinking! I like the sound of that. I will gladly arrange that meeting.
The hon. Member for East Lothian talked about illegally harvested timber. We will ensure that there is a successor arrangement in a no-deal scenario, and are creating a UK forest law enforcement, governance and trade system.
I think all hon. Members recognise that UK forestry and timber processing is a growth sector, and that the value of our forests is on the increase—not just commercially, but in terms of natural capital. Market conditions are good, which gives us the opportunity to increase British wood production. Although the UK’s exit from the EU may pose challenges for the forestry and timber-processing industries, we are working flat out to ensure that those issues are mitigated. We want to create more opportunities for the production of domestic timber. That will fit neatly with the commercial opportunities and what we are trying to do with our 25-year environment plan and our clean growth strategy. I know that is important to the hon. Gentleman and to others who participated in the debate. I thank him for securing this important debate, and I assure him that achieving those objectives is very important to me in my new ministerial role.
Question put and agreed to.
Leaving the EU: Aviation Sector
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect on the aviation sector of the UK leaving the EU.
It is, as ever, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. The focus of today’s debate is the aviation sector and the risks and opportunities that will be presented when we leave the EU. Aviation and the international connectivity it provides are one of the key drivers of trade, exports and tourism, bringing economic growth and prosperity to the UK.
To many people, an airport is a place they pass through on their way to and from a summer holiday, and an aircraft is simply a thing they board to go on a weekend away or a business trip. However, like many Members here today with airports in and around their constituencies, I know that aviation is about a lot more than that. It is a large, technical and complex industry, and the ease and regularity with which we use it often hides the expertise and investments that go into making it so safe, simple and affordable for all our constituents.
In my own constituency, the sector is a vital source of employment, with more than 25,000 jobs directly supported on the Manchester airport campus. Hundreds of businesses outside the airport work to supply it, sustaining thousands more jobs. Those benefits come from just one airport, and there are many more like it across the country. Imagine the headlines that would follow if a new business was brought to the UK with the promise of creating 25,000 jobs. Imagine the crisis headlines we would read if even a fraction of employment on that scale was suddenly lost.
Aviation is a key enabler of overseas trade. As an island nation, we rely on flight connectivity more than most as we strive to get British products on the shelves of markets around the world, or foreign goods on ours. In addition, as an economy with such a prominent services sector, being able to move British expertise around the world plays a major role in our overseas trade, and that role will only continue to grow.
It is well known that we as a nation need to export more and to ensure that British businesses are competing effectively on the world stage. It is clear that, for those businesses that export, travel and trade abroad, their international exploits are made a lot easier when they have access to direct air links to their chosen markets. Growing our access to those markets will be even more important after Brexit, as will ensuring that they can access the UK market. I am very proud to represent an airport that has the most point-to-point connections of any airport in the UK.
Tourists from all corners of the world flock to the UK to sample our countryside, our history and our cultural, sporting and other assets. In Manchester alone we are surrounded by the Peak district and the Lake district. We have the world’s most famous and successful football teams—some of my hon. Friends here today might argue about which is the most successful of the two. Manchester has an international cricket ground, fantastic universities and even the British Broadcasting Corporation.
As Britain leaves the EU, we need people from right across the globe to find it quick and easy to visit the UK to support our tourist economy. I am sure that colleagues from all parties in this House, regardless of their political background and how they voted in the EU referendum, would agree that it is critical that we continue to enjoy those benefits and that the choice available to our constituents today remains the same. That is critical to those who rely on tourism as their source of income, and it is critical to the businesses that the Government want to support—those that export and trade with the world.
I want to outline both the risks and the opportunities for the aviation sector as we edge closer to the EU exit door. The most fundamental of those is maintaining the connections that are utilised so much today. Some 74% of flights from Manchester airport go to other EU nations. The EU remains our biggest export market and the place where most Britons travel on holiday, with about two thirds of overseas holidaymakers going to Europe every year. It is clear that we have a mutual interest with the EU in a deal being done so that the doomsday scenario of planes being grounded on 29 March next year does not play out. I ask the Minister whether he can provide reassurance that aviation remains at the top of the list as negotiations continue, and that it will be prioritised quickly should no deal become a reality.
Lucy Chadwick, the director general of the Department for Transport, recently said to the Public Accounts Committee that air and rail services between Britain and the EU are an “area of growing concern.” The House of Lords EU Committee reported last year:
“There is no adequate ‘fall-back’ position for aviation services in the event that no agreement is reached with the EU. Air services are excluded from the WTO.”
That is worth repeating: there is no World Trade Organisation fall-back position for aviation when we exit the EU next year. Although airlines and airports are optimistic that a deal will be negotiated, there is a very real danger that planes will be unable to take off if we leave the EU without a deal. Can the Minister comment on that and, furthermore, describe the practical steps the Government are taking to secure the mutual recognition of aviation safety standards, which is currently provided for under the European Aviation Safety Agency system? This must be about not mitigating any risk to aviation, but actively supporting it after Brexit.
The opportunity is there for us to pull the levers we need to to further improve our links with the rest of the world and to edge ahead of our competitors. We have the chance now to think about the markets we want to access if we are serious about Britain competing on the world stage after Brexit. There is no better time to consider the kind of aviation sector we want and the role we want it to play in driving growth and prosperity, particularly in our regions. It is clear that those benefits need to be spread across the whole of the UK—not only by allowing people in the north to fly south, but by allowing people from all over our country to fly wherever they need to. That strategy goes hand in hand with defining what a post-Brexit Britain will look like.
The hon. Gentleman talks about Brexit allowing a reorientation so that we can look at where else in the world UK airlines can fly to. Can he explain why we cannot do that now, and why we need to lose our flights to Europe to gain flights to elsewhere?
We are doing that now at my own airport. I will be going to the inaugural flight from Manchester to Mumbai next week. We now have direct connectivity to Beijing and Hong Kong, and shortly we will announce direct connectivity to Shanghai as well. Airports are increasingly going from point to point, and that seems to be the way of the future.
I wanted to come in at that point, because my hon. Friend is talking specifically about those connections between Manchester airport and China. I want to touch on air freight, because Manchester has seen a £300 million increase in air freight exports to China in the last two years. To have that thriving air freight sector requires further work to be done. Does he agree that the UK needs to be doing better, given that we are outside the top 10 on the air trade facilitation index and outside the top 20 for electronic freight processing?
The Manchester Airports Group includes East Midlands airport, which is close to my hon. Friend’s constituency, and Stansted. East Midlands is a huge hub for freight leaving the UK, and has huge expansion potential. I am concerned that the Government are not ready to use the opportunity, as we leave the EU, to prepare the aviation sector for the next, crucial five to 10 years.
The welcome that we give to those who visit us is also part and parcel of creating a truly international Britain after Brexit. It is how we tell the world that we are open for business and how we encourage tourists to come to see us time and time again.
Lots of questions still need answering, and there is a risk that questions are not being answered in good time. I am sure we were all concerned by the recent National Audit Office report on our state of preparedness for a no-deal scenario. Airports across the country have repeatedly reported problems of under-resourcing, queues at the border and a total dissatisfaction with the targets that Border Force works to. The Government have continued to cut funding for Border Force, while passenger numbers have grown, so can we really expect a proper service at our borders? I hope the Minister will tell us what the Government are doing to work with airports and Border Force to put in place a realistic, long-term plan to ensure our borders are adequately resourced into the future.
Finally, as I said, the aviation sector is a huge employer in its own right, and millions more are employed in related industries, such as the visitor economy and the logistics sector, which my hon. Friend just mentioned. Across the country, tens of millions of EU nationals make a valuable contribution to those industries. Although I am hopeful that arrangements will be put in place to ensure that people can remain employed in those sectors, we need to think seriously about what happens post Brexit. We must ensure we have the skills and training to support and grow the aviation sector in the years ahead. We have the opportunity to get this right through the industrial strategy process to ensure that Britain is known around the globe for delivering world-class service and hospitality, as well as for having a slick, efficient transport system.
As I have outlined, aviation is an essential component of an outward-looking Britain. It must continue to play a pivotal role in our economy and our social and cultural future, but the question is, how will we harness that potential? How will we use the sector to drive growth through enhanced trade and investment in tourism? How, on a more basic level, will we ensure that consumers continue to enjoy the choices they enjoy today? If we are serious about creating a balanced and truly international Britain, we must prioritise this sector now, during and after our exit from the European Union.
Order. The debate can last until 4 o’clock, and I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokespeople no later than 3.28 pm. The guideline limits are 10 minutes for the Scottish National party, 10 minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister, with Mr Kane having two or three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. Until 3.28 pm, it is Back-Bench time. The first Back-Bench contribution will come from Jim Shannon.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. It is not often that I get called first, so I appreciate the opportunity. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) on securing the debate, and I thank him for the cohesive way in which he put forward his point of view. His speech was constructive, and he looked forward with some positivity to our exit from the EU on 29 March next year.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this matter. In my constituency, I have Bombardier, which is involved in the production of planes, and Belfast City airport is not that far away, so domestic connectivity is very important to us. The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) referred to air freight. We have some of the largest air freight connections in the domestic market through Belfast International airport. It is surprising how much air freight goes through the airports of the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland in particular.
I hope I will be able to bring a bit more positivity to the debate. Of course, the ongoing Brexit negotiations are complex and difficult, but leaving the EU was never going to be quick and simple. If only that were the case. It will not come as a surprise to hon. Members that I think Brexit is a fantastic opportunity, including for our aviation sector, and I hope to expand on that point of view.
Although hon. Members have different points of view about Brexit, we are united by the need to have a thriving aviation sector in the UK after we leave the EU. I believe that it will thrive. The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East put forward that view very eloquently, and I support that.
The UK has the second largest aerospace sector in the world, behind that of the United States, and the largest in Europe. We must not underestimate the importance of our aviation sector to the EU or the importance of the EU’s sector to the UK. We both need each other. I often say in this House that we are better together. In this case, we are parting, but there is no reason why we should not be able to work together.
It is in both our interests to secure the best deal to allow the liberalisation of air transport to continue. The UK is currently a member of the European common aviation area, which allows registered airlines to have a base in one member state and operate on a cabotage basis—to use the terminology that they use—in other member states. It is an arrangement that works well.
The latest European Council negotiating guidelines aim to maintain connectivity between the UK and the EU through an air transport agreement. The Minister will respond to this debate in some detail, and we look forward to his comments. Naturally, at this stage it is unclear what that agreement might be. It might involve an open skies arrangement like the one the UK currently has with the US, or it might involve negotiating a single bilateral agreement with the EU as a whole, if member states give it a mandate to negotiate on their behalf.
Given the value of the industry to the United Kingdom and the EU, I am confident that we will get a good deal for our aviation sector and for future air travel between the UK and the EU. We need each other to succeed in this sector. London remains the world’s best connected and most attractive destination.
Although it is a while off, and there are hurdles to overcome, the third runway at Heathrow should be an even greater draw to London. It will improve our connectivity across Europe and with the rest of the world. My party and I fully support the third runway at Heathrow, and we would like to see it happen sooner rather than later.
In 2016, the chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority said that the UK is a key player in aviation, and he was not wrong. We have the third best developed aviation network in the world, just behind the US and China. The figures show why the UK is such a vital player in the sector. It is not surprising that some airlines are already applying for licences to operate in the UK in the event of no deal. I suggest that that shows the confidence that people outside the United Kingdom have in the UK’s aviation sector. Although I am confident that we will secure a good deal—it has always been my intention that we will, and hopefully the Prime Minister will be successful in that—it is good that airlines are preparing for any eventuality. It is also welcome that, despite people’s warnings, airlines have every intention of continuing to fly to and from the UK. Life will not end when we leave the EU on 29 March. Indeed, it will get better. That has got to be good.
As well as liberalisation, we should also consider our membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency, which develops common safety and environmental rules at the European level. The Government have explicitly stated that they want to negotiate some sort of ongoing membership of EASA after Brexit, and there is widespread agreement that continued membership would benefit both the UK and the EU.
In a speech in 2016, Andrew Haines highlighted that the UK and France provide two thirds of the rule-making input on European safety regulation, and that together we undertake close to 90% of EASA’s outsourced activities. Again, that indicates EASA’s importance to the United Kingdom. Mr Haines set out four principles for the UK to consider during the Brexit negotiations. The third principle, which relates to competition, could present a real opportunity for the UK post Brexit. It relates to airline ownership rules, which are currently very outdated. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. If the UK relaxed the ownership arrangements that UK-registered airlines currently have to comply with, that could present an opportunity to attract new equity from non-EU investors, which could improve choice and competitiveness for consumers.
Haines also referred to the EU slot regime, which requires that 50% of new slots are allocated to new competitors at a particular airport. I believe, however, that restricting such a large proportion to new entrants has been a barrier to strong competition, and changing our rules could be one advantage of leaving. That shows a lack of future planning from the EU, which could be to our benefit. The UK will have the opportunity to develop a new and more competitive slot regime—there are enormous possibilities.
As negotiations continue, there will be difficulties and we must plan for every eventuality, but it is also important to see the potential opportunities that Brexit could bring to the industry, especially regarding competition, which can drive prices down and keep air fares low. We should also consider the way that the industry has responded to date; according to ADS Group’s 2017 figures, the sector directly employed 120,000 people, with a further 118,000 employed indirectly—enormous employment figures. In 2017, the sector had a turnover of £31.8 billion, which was up 39% in five years. If a sector is growing, and probably outgrowing every other sector, it is the aviation sector of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
While productivity growth in the general economy between 2010 and 2016 was just 3%, it was 19% in the aviation industry. Not only that, but so far, the UK's decision to leave the EU appears to have had no financial impact on the industry, which is perhaps another positive indication of where we are. In fact, according to ADS Group’s 2017 figures, 73% of companies were planning to increase investment—an indication of their confidence in the future. In Northern Ireland, Bombardier secured a deal in May this year with the Latvian carrier airBaltic, for up to 60 Belfast-made jets, which is another indication of how well our aviation sector is doing and how it benefits all regions of the United Kingdom.
Of course, airlines are concerned and, given the uncertainty, that is not surprising. It is important to consider the value of the sector to the UK and to the EU; to realise that Brexit can provide positive change and opportunity for the UK; and to realise that little has changed since the referendum. Moreover, aerospace is an important part of the Government’s industrial strategy: a number of initiatives have been set up to boost research and investment, and to guarantee exports. The Aerospace Growth Partnership and the Aerospace Technology Institute have both been set up in recent years as a collaboration between Government and the industry, to build on past success and look forward to the future success.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I am very concerned about the implications of leaving the European Union for our aerospace sector. The chief executive of Airbus said that there will be “severe negative consequences” to withdrawing from the European Union, and that they will be particularly severe if there is a hard or no-deal Brexit. Does he agree that it is essential that the Government address those issues to protect high-skilled and high-paid engineering jobs in our aerospace industry?
I thank the hon. Lady, but for the record, I do not share her concerns about leaving the EU in relation to the aviation sector. Maybe I did not make that clear enough, so let me make it quite clear: I believe that we should look forward to a very positive future. That has been demonstrated in my own constituency, where Bombardier have secured a fairly substantial and significant contract, and by aviation authorities and the airlines, which have indicated their confidence in the direction of the country over the last five years. It has been a fact that we are going to leave the EU for a year and a half of that time, and that has not slowed the industry. Government’s central theme of support, focus and strategy for the aviation sector indicates to me that good times are just around the corner. Hopefully, after 29 March 2019, the good times will come back, and those who have doubts about that just have to look at how the aviation sector is growing in anticipation. I put on record that I hope that the Prime Minister secures a deal for the UK, but in the event that she does not, the aviation authorities are well aware of their options in that scenario.
I sincerely apologise for being late, Mr Hollobone; I had another meeting. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we can get the Government to look at air passenger duty, we would see a significant change in the aviation industry? In the Republic of Ireland, numbers have soared above 13 million passengers because the air passenger duty has been abolished. If that could be achieved in the UK, we might see even better days within the aviation industry.
I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for his intervention. I am glad that he has reminded me to mention air passenger duty. We feel that abolishing APD would benefit Northern Ireland, as well the rest of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that we would gain from that collectively. In the Republic of Ireland—Northern Ireland’s next door neighbour—Dublin airport has grown in leaps and bounds because it is more competitive. I have highlighted the different advantages of competition, which we need to drive prices down and drive the numbers up, and we will soon have that opportunity.
Brexit is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a chance to reduce unnecessary regulation and red tape, both in aviation and across other sectors. It is also an opportunity to continue working closely with our EU counterparts—we have to—to ensure that safety and environmental standards are met and continue to improve, which is to everyone’s advantage. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that, and I look forward to his comments, as well as those of the shadow Minister.
Given the global nature of the airline industry and the need to be connected to one another, I am confident that a good deal will be secured; one that is in the interests of both the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of the EU. There are many sectors where close co-operation and mutual interest will play a role, but none more so than aviation and aerospace.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As hon. Members have mentioned, Brexit is five months away, and aviation is not covered by World Trade Organisation rules and is not usually covered in other free trade agreements. The idea that we can replace the European common aviation area easily is not true.
The single aviation market has transformed flight for ordinary punters. Most people in the Chamber will know that my husband is German, and when we first started our four-year long-distance romance, it cost £220 to fly from London to Hanover. Now, people can fly all over the place, often for less than £50 each way, which has transformed how much we fly. We have seen a huge rise in connectivity across Europe, in people travelling in both directions and, in particular, in people flying. That is because airlines registered in the EU can fly domestically in another country or between two third countries, which allowed them to drop prices—[Interruption.] I apologise; the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is trying to throw me off.
As we know, easyJet has registered in Austria to try to get around the fact that it is a UK airline and might have difficulties flying within Europe’s single aviation market. The airline that flies to Glasgow Prestwick—the airport in my constituency—is Ryanair, an Irish-EU airline, and may be forced to consider registering in the UK. The problem is that it would then be a part-UK, part-EU airline. That does not replace what we have at the moment; it avoids triangular flying. Very few routes just shuttle backwards and forwards; often, we hear that the plane we are boarding has just come from somewhere else.
This issue is critical for my local airport. Prestwick is a major airport: we have 50% of the Scottish aerospace industry and a huge cargo industry. Although our passenger numbers have dwindled, they are still a significant proportion of our income. In particular, they represent the main part of Ryanair’s flights to the Iberian peninsula. The problem is that in recent years we have had no strategic plan for regional airports across the nations and regions of the UK, and, obviously, we have had air passenger duty. The hon. Member for Strangford talked about competing with the Republic of Ireland where they have not just got rid of air passenger duty but have dropped tourism valued added tax to 9%. If people in Europe or America decide whether they fancy the mountains of Scotland or the mountains of Ireland, unfortunately one is much more expensive than the other.
Things can be done in UK policy to try to support our network of airports, but Brexit clauses are already creeping into airline bookings. Already, tourists are holding off because they are not sure what will happen. The International Air Transport Association said that the Brexit deadline might be next March, but tourists book six months to a year in advance. For airlines the deadline is in October 2018 right now, but they have no idea what the landscape will look like.
My constituency is also a major tourist part of the country, where golf is a significant attraction in beautiful rolling countryside on the west coast of Scotland. We think often about the outward-bound tourists—and that is us when we go on our holidays. Three quarters of visits from the UK are to the EU, and EU passengers make up half of all passengers who fly backwards and forwards. Nine out of 10 of the flight destination top 10 are in the EU, the US being the only non-EU country in the top 10. However, inward-bound tourists are more important because they do not just generate a bit of duty-free and the price of a flight but stay in hotels, eat out and go to pubs and to the theatre. That is a major part of the tourism industry—I use that term advisedly because tourism is often overlooked as an industry, but in the more rural parts of the United Kingdom, tourism often is the main industry. If we are not attracting people because it is harder to get here, flight numbers are decreasing or APD puts people off, that will lead to huge shockwaves right through our local economies.
Another part of the significant work in Prestwick is maintenance, repair and overhaul work. Multiple companies perform that work, including for Ryanair. If Ryanair decides not to fly to Prestwick, we would not only lose that passenger income—Ryanair will not fly there just to get its MRO work done if it no longer brings planes through. It is critical that we stay in the European Aviation Safety Agency, because the companies that carry out MRO work do so under EASA part-145 that allows them to release a plane as safe to fly in the EU. Their engineers are licensed under part-66; they could go off and license themselves in the national aviation agency of another country, but the company cannot do that. We are talking about companies that could do MRO work only for United Kingdom airlines but not for European airlines. That would take away an enormous swathe of MRO work.
We have companies such as Chevron or GTSMRO that are local, home-grown companies in Ayrshire, but we also have major multinationals such as UTC Aerospace Systems, Goodrich Corporation, Woodward, BAE Systems and more. As the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) mentioned, they generate high-quality, high-paid engineering jobs—not something that can be easily replaced. We have companies in our aerospace cluster that manufacture parts for planes, such as Spirit AeroSystems, which makes the leading edges for Airbus wings.
If the aviation industry starts to shrink, inevitably that will have a follow-on impact on MRO work and manufacturing work. Those are really good jobs. With the clock ticking down to Brexit, we are already getting past the aviation deadline. It is important that we start to get some vision from the Government of their plan with regard to the EU, the single aviation market and staying in EASA, and of what they plan to do to support airlines in the UK, tourism and our regional airports.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) on this timely debate. It is only a shame that there are not more Members here to listen to the good contributions being made. Let me put on the record that before being elected, I was proud to work in aviation for ABTA for many years, working with large tour operators, airlines and airports. I am also vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on general aviation, which looks after airfields and small airports very proudly.
Brexit is a testing time for all parts of our economy. Whether hon. Members think Brexit is the best thing since sliced bread or a national disaster, we can all agree that the uncertainty created by Brexit is bad for business and bad for our country. For aviation, in particular, uncertainty is eating away at confidence in the investment and business decisions that are vital to its continued success in the UK. In that spirit, I hope my remarks will create some more clarity on Brexit and aviation.
If we are to mitigate the impacts of Brexit—or maximise the opportunities, depending on the side of the debate—we must look at the detail of aviation. How does it work, how are people employed, how are planes maintained—we just heard about that—and flown, and how will business investment continue? That requires an understanding of the detail of international agreements, but that involves a level of detail I have not really seen since I was elected to this place. Parliament is unaccustomed to dealing with that level of detail at scale, so I welcome this debate as a chance to get stuck in.
Sadly, my time with the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) on the Transport Committee has just come to an end. When I left, I said I would continue to talk about transport and aviation, and I regard this speech as continuing that promise. It is worth talking about aviation in the UK because it is a global success story. We are really good at it, and we need to maintain that success. We have the largest aviation sector in the EU and the third largest in the world after the United States and China. We have direct connections to more than 370 international destinations, and more than 284 million passengers passed through a UK airport in 2017—a record number. Whether people are flying for business, for leisure or to visit friends and relatives, they all make a contribution to our economy. We must recognise that we get benefit from people not only flying in but flying out.
My hon. Friend made a great contribution to the Transport Committee. He will remember that the Committee was told repeatedly by the Transport Secretary that he is optimistic about a deal with the European Union on air transport. He told Parliament in November 2016 that he was
“absolutely in no doubt that we would secure in good time and effectively the agreements that our aviation sector needs”.—[Official Report, 23 November 2016; Vol. 617, c. 953.]
We are now five months away from the exit, and we still do not know what it means for our access to the European common aviation area or international agreements such as the open skies to the US; how it will affect our nine freedoms to fly and air traffic control, including our participation in the Single European Sky regime; and whether the UK will remain part of the UK-Ireland functional airspace block. Do those questions not need answering now?
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns. We need certainty about what is going on, and we need to ensure that we hear the authentic voice of British business. The Government’s use of non-disclosure agreements in some of the discussions taking place between them and industry about certain aspects, especially no-deal preparations, concerns me. We are not getting the clarity that we need from Ministers and, unfortunately, the hands of business have been tied by NDAs, preventing them from exploring how the worst effects of no deal can be dealt with.
I share some of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East about planes being grounded, but I want to deal with a couple of other aspects of EASA membership. Our debate in Parliament to date has focused on the safety role of EASA, but our participation in EASA is about more than safety certification and standards, although they are important. We also need to deal with pilot registration and engineering standards and qualifications. I want the UK to remain part of EASA. I simply cannot believe that any competent British Government would sanction our departure from that vital body.
The UK’s expertise makes an important contribution to EASA, with 40% of its staff coming from the UK. The UK also participates in nearly every single technical programme to facilitate the movement of both passengers and cargo. In our future relationship with EASA, which I hope is as a full member, we must maintain full participation, especially in EASA’s technical working groups, to get the detail of what is going on. EASA is not a body where we have no influence. Britain’s hard and soft power in EASA is strong. A third of EASA regulations come directly from the UK’s CAA, so we have a strong voice in that body and we need to maintain it.
The issue of CAA pilots’ licences was raised with me by pilots ahead of this debate. Currently, CAA pilots’ licences, gained at considerable cost to the individual, are recognised throughout Europe, and European licences are recognised in the UK. After Brexit, unless a provision can be made, all pilots flying in the UK will need a full CAA UK licence, and not necessarily an EASA one that is recognised in the rest of the EU. At present, pilots are swapping their EASA licences for UK licences to enable them to fly UK planes in UK airspace, but there is a considerable backlog in processing applications. Will the Minister tell us what the current waiting time is for processing the transfers of EASA licences to CAA licences? What plans does he have to reduce that considerable waiting list, and what guidance is given to the CAA on prioritising pilot licences for commercial flyers, perhaps ahead of leisure pilots, who might be less time-dependent? At the moment, they go into a single queue and are not prioritised.
Indeed. We need to recognise that, and that is why the full participation of the UK in EASA is vital. There is no point having a UK-only licence enabling flights within UK airspace, because the vast majority of flights from UK airports leave UK airspace. We therefore need those licences recognised at the point of destination and at the point of departure as well.
Will the Minister look at what actions can be taken to speed up the processing? Pilots need to carry their licences every time they fly, and when they do not have their licences they are grounded. Delays of six weeks are not uncommon. That is important because groundings of over a month trigger a requirement for additional time in flight simulators to ensure compliance with safety standards, and rightly so. However, that means the flight simulators are not being used for pilot training, and we know that we have a shortage of pilots not only in the UK, but around the world. That puts pressure on UK airlines when ensuring that they have a sufficient number of pilots to fly the aircraft that we need them to.
There are also concerns around engineering licences because EASA looks after the qualifications and certification of engineers as well as pilots. If UK engineers are no longer allowed to work on EU planes, as was hinted at in the technical notices that came out, it is deeply concerning. As we have already heard from the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), the UK is a hub for not only aviation but aviation maintenance and support. Those jobs are not done only at London’s big airports; they are done mainly in our regions and nations, bringing much needed high-skilled jobs into those localities. In the far south-west, Flybe has an excellent facility at Exeter airport, providing a good number of decent, well-paid jobs, recruiting from the local area and training people for a career in aviation that will, in theory, do them well. If UK engineers are prohibited from maintaining EU aircraft, how will such jobs be protected in future? A key part of keeping costs down in the UK is bringing foreign planes into UK airports; maintenance costs are subsidised by ensuring that, when there is space in the schedule, foreign planes can be maintained as well. If there is no authorisation to do so because we sit outside EASA, it has serious implications for the future of our industry.
Creating certainty is key, and the upcoming aviation strategy is an opportunity to create that certainty. Far too much of our aviation debate to date has been focused purely on London Heathrow. Although it is a very important airport for not only London but for the rest of the country, including Plymouth, we need to make sure that the future aviation strategy deals with airports big and small, in every region of the country, and creates more certainty. Ministers need to do more than just put out a bold statement. They can do more in several areas to create more certainty. It is about accelerating what, in many cases, the Government have already planned.
The confirmation that Five Eyes countries will be able to use e-gates was a welcome step, but what is not clear is when they will be able to use them. It needs to happen before 29 March next year. Confirmation that that will be brought in ahead of that Brexit departure date and not afterwards is important for airlines and airports.
We need to look again at our funding for the border. The queues are too long. If we are to have a comprehensive and positive welcome to Britain, at a time when there is increased uncertainty not only in the UK but among our international trading partners, we need to make sure that people are not queuing at the border. Additional investment in Border Force, and particularly its staff, is absolutely vital.
We also need Ministers to recognise that the flight is only one part of the customer journey. That is really important. People do not simply magic up at an airport and then disappear when they land. They have a journey to get to an airport, which is why surface connectivity is so vital and needs to be looked at. What are the opportunities that can be maximised by Brexit, and how can the impact be mitigated? Projects have been promised for some time, such as western rail access to Heathrow, and we need to accelerate that programme. Will the Minister set out when the timetable for funding western rail access will be delivered?
We also need the Government to look at regional connectivity to airports. Some have good connectivity in our regions, but others less so. At Exeter, Plymouth’s local airport, we have a bus to the city centre only once every hour, which is not good enough. Supporting regional economies is vital.
The review of APD has already been mentioned. It could be a big boost to the UK economy. We need to bring forward the airspace review that Ministers have been considering for some time. We need certainty about how airspace will operate in future. The creation of flight paths that make it better and easier for airlines to invest in and fly from the UK could bring considerable benefits.
We also need to make sure that aviation is greener. Will the Minister set an objective for the UK to be the greenest and most sustainable aviation market in the world? That means really motoring the work of Sustainable Aviation, the industry-led body, to look at how improvements can be brought in.
Finally, will the Minister look at removing uncertainty by reopening Plymouth airport? This has been absent from most people’s speeches so far, which surprises me. Plymouth airport, which closed in 2010, could make a big contribution to the future economy of my city, and also help provide the certainty for businesses to invest in the region as well. Plymouth airport was not a bucket-and-spade airport; it was an airport built on senior-level connectivity and high-value investors. It provided connectivity for our marine, maritime, oil and gas, and science industries. We need to preserve that. The loss of the airport has been detrimental to Plymouth. There are other forms of connectivity, but the train has to get through Dawlish, and we know that the impact of the hanging bridge, when the line was washed away, affected business confidence in terms of investing in the west country.
In conclusion, the more the Government can bring certainty to the aviation debate around Brexit, the better. In many cases, the tools are already sitting with Ministers. We need to be able to commit to full participation in EASA and to deal with the uncertainty around pilots’ licences and engineers’ certifications. We should also bring forward projects for aviation investment that can make a real difference in making journeys smoother, quicker and greener.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Hollobone. I want, like other hon. Members, to congratulate the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) on bringing forward the debate. The opportunity is timely, given the ticking of the clock towards Brexit day. The hon. Gentleman was right to highlight the aviation industry’s skills and its scale—the fact that it supports thousands of jobs, as well as exports, imports, businesses across the entire UK, and of course inward and outward tourism. He went on to highlight the risks and opportunities, and I found some parts of what he said easier to agree with than others.
Unfortunately I agreed with the negative points, rather than the positive ones. As to risks, the hon. Gentleman was right to highlight the risk to connectivity. There is clearly such a risk, and the UK Government are now beginning to acknowledge that. He highlighted how critical the EU is for Manchester airport’s connectivity, citing the figure of 74% of its flights. With respect to connectivity risks and day-to-day operations, he mentioned evidence to the Public Accounts Committee that air and rail services between Britain and the EU are an “area of growing concern.” That point was recently echoed by Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, who last month stated industry concerns about the implications of no deal, and the lack of preparation for that. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), the hon. Gentleman was correct that the WTO is not an option; that is not an alternative that is compliant with the aviation sector. The UK Government need to get their act together.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Department for Transport has been telling the aviation industry since the Brexit vote that it will be all right on the night? I warned the Airport Operators Association and others that, while that might be the case, there was no justification for that confidence. Does my hon. Friend agree with the EASA and Civil Aviation Authority employees I spoke to a few months ago, who think that there is a huge risk that the UK Government are sleepwalking into an aviation crisis, and that it is time we in this place, and the industry, made a lot more noise about it?
I completely agree. The UK Government’s attitude is completely blasé and lackadaisical.
The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, in discussing opportunities, spoke about future markets, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire, who intervened on him to say we do not need Brexit for those opportunities. The whole growth of the airline industry is the result of our membership of the EU, so it is hard to see what opportunities there are. The hon. Gentleman spoke of aviation as an essential component of an outward-looking Britain, but unfortunately that is not the message that people from outwith the UK get at the moment. Britain is becoming too inward-looking, rather than being outward-looking. However, I agree with the sentiments of the hon. Gentleman’s “how” questions to the Minister, and I should like to hear the response.
Clearly, no Westminster Hall debate would be complete without a contribution from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). He certainly knows how to maximise the lack of a time limit; he used all his experience there. It was good to hear him talk about the importance of Bombardier to his constituency, but it reminded me of the games that can be played in trade negotiations, and protectionism such as the recent carry-on in the US. I am glad that that has been resolved, and it was good to hear about the new order for 60 planes to go to Latvia. I wish them well with the opportunities and jobs that it will bring.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about bringing positivity, but then even he had to admit that Brexit is not a quick and easy process, so I find it hard to believe in the opportunities that will suddenly arise the day after Brexit. I agree with him about the opportunities that the third runway at Heathrow would bring, but I hope he shares my concern at the fact that the UK Government have not confirmed how they will provide protection to domestic slots that are supposed to open with the expansion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire confirmed that the single aviation market is what has transformed travel in the UK and within the EU, with the connectivity and opportunities it has brought. However, Brexit now brings risks to companies such as Ryanair, which is so important to her local airport, Prestwick. She highlighted the fact that those companies operate using the freedoms of the European common aviation area, and the registration issues that will arise post-Brexit.
Finally, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) correctly highlighted issues to do with EASA—that it is not just a matter of safety. He pointed out the standards that it imposes for pilot registration, and consequent issues relating to conversion to the CAA and a bilateral agreement. We need to know the Government’s plans as to membership of EASA.
It is clear that from the perspective of Tory Back-Bench Members the future of the aviation seems not to be of much concern. It is surprising that those Benches are empty.
As the clock ticks towards Brexit, the UK Government’s handling of the aviation sector sums up their shambolic approach, including the attitude of the Secretary of State for Transport, who is an arch-Brexiteer and has the blasé attitude that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North said, “It will be all right on the night; everything will be okay.” I am speaking of a Secretary of State who does not know how the US-Canada border works for lorry crossings, and who seems still not to accept Brexit’s implications for the Ireland-Northern Ireland border. He is someone who goes along with the mantra “They need us more than we need them,” and the assertion “You know what—Spain needs flights, and the tourists who come from the UK, or their economy will crash.” That level of arrogance is not enough to get over the finishing line, which will need hard thinking, hard negotiations and a willingness to compromise.
Let us consider the promises on an aviation deal, to date. In November 2016, in a debate on Brexit, the Transport Secretary said he was
“in absolutely no doubt that we will secure in good time and effectively the agreements that our aviation sector needs to continue to fly around the world”.—[Official Report, 23 November 2016; Vol. 617, c. 953.]
In October 2017 he told the Transport Committee:
“I am absolutely certain that over the coming months we will have mutual sensible arrangements put in place”.
On the open skies agreement with the US, another EU benefit, he said in October 2016 that his
“expectation and my intention would be that we retain the open skies arrangement for the United States.”
In March 2018, after media reports that the US would offer only its standard bilateral agreement, those claims were rebutted. We heard from Nick Calio, the chief executive of Airlines for America, who said:
“In terms of the timetable, we hope something will be in place as early as the end of the month or the beginning of April.”
There we are. Two years on from initial claims of how easily and imminently those definite agreements would be reached, I ask the Minister where they are. Yesterday in an article in The Guardian we learned that with five months to go the Secretary of State for Transport admits that negotiations on an aviation agreement have not even started. What does the Minister say about that? It is truly shameful, if it is true.
It is now five months to Brexit day. As my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire said, airlines are now selling seats with disclaimers for post-Brexit issues. Clearly, people are being put off from making bookings beyond Brexit. It is a fact that lack of certainty is curbing airline expansion and the opening of new routes in the EU, with respect to the UK. If an EU airline has a choice of a new destination, it will clearly choose the internal EU market over the UK. That will be a simple business decision to make.
The UK Government have clearly been operating on the premise that there is no way the EU will allow flights to be grounded, because of the inconvenience that that would cause EU citizens and airlines. I agree that it seems inconceivable; but it also now seems to be a real possibility, and our only method of overcoming it seems to be to kick it into the long grass of a transition period. It is clear that the proper preparations for no deal are not in place. There will be some sort of fudge. It will be kicked down the road and not be dealt with properly. Why do not the UK Government look at staying in a customs union, the single market and the single aviation market? It just makes sense.
We have heard that the UK Government have been making contingency plans for no deal. They, too, have warned about the risk of planes being grounded. However, the advice about the no-deal technical notice for aviation seems to be that each airline is to negotiate directly with the relevant authority in each country that it wants to fly to, and must get approval from EASA, with the slight caveat added that at present there is no process enabling individual airlines to do that. What kind of no deal preparations are those? It is saying to the airlines, “It is over to you lot, because we don’t know what to do.”
Absolutely, and that highlights the absolute chaos there would be if there is genuinely no deal and no arrangements are in place to fly to those countries.
The no-deal preparations confirm the UK Government’s incompetence, lack of direction and inability to manage this process. Will the Minister say what contingency plans have gone into border control? We have already heard that UK Border Agency currently fails to meet its waiting time targets, so what are the proposals for increased personnel and preventing queues at the border? What plans have been made for customs checks? I accept that airports are probably more suited to deal with the implications of no deal than the ports currently are, but we still need to know about the Government’s plans, discussions and dialogues with airlines. I look forward to getting some clarity from the Minister. It would also be ideal to hear directly from the aviation Minister, but—this kind of sums up this place—the aviation Minister is in the other place, so MPs do not get to scrutinise and interrogate her properly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) for securing this important and timely debate. His excellent speech set out the current and future benefits of the aviation sector, as well as the possible risks. He said that more than 25,000 jobs—a staggering number—are directly supported by the Manchester Airport campus in his constituency. That is remarkable, and I pay tribute to Manchester Airports Group for its great work.
Labour believes that a strong aviation sector is crucial to the UK’s status as a global, outward-looking nation, and it is even more important following our decision to leave the European Union. As we have heard, Britain has the largest aviation network in Europe and the third largest in the world. It creates a million jobs, brings in tax revenues, and is vital for importing and exporting trade.
We are now just five months away from leaving the EU, and as the days pass, the risk of a no-deal Brexit becomes greater. Regrettably, it seems to be becoming more likely by the day that we might leave the European Union without a deal. Let us be clear: a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for the UK aviation sector—indeed, the Government’s aviation technical notices relating to no deal confirmed that crashing out of the EU without a deal would be a total disaster for the UK’s aviation sector. It would have a serious impact, and that cannot be dismissed as scaremongering. It is crucial that the Government now prioritise securing a deal for the aviation sector, and provide the industry with the certainty it needs in the run-up to March 2019 and beyond.
Labour has always maintained that the aviation sector should have been the first priority for the Government in their negotiations with the EU. Despite that, when the Transport Secretary addressed the annual conference of the Airport Operators Association on Monday, we heard that the Government are still negotiating future arrangements for air services with the EU. Indeed, it is worse than that because, as I understand it, the Transport Secretary has not had a single meeting with one of his counterparts from the 27 European member states to discuss what would happen if we are in no-deal territory.
Ministers might like to boast that 95% of the Brexit withdrawal agreement is done, but that is completely irrelevant as there can be no agreement unless everything is agreed—a point reiterated time and again by the Prime Minister—and that includes reaching a suitable agreement on aviation. Consumers and businesses have benefited from the UK’s global connectivity and access to markets, and the Government must build on that as we leave the EU. I would be grateful if the Minister could set out what steps the Government are taking to improve our global connectivity through aviation, post Brexit.
Labour believes that any new service agreements for the aviation industry following Brexit should seek to replicate existing arrangements as much as possible. First, and foremost, we must retain access to the Single European Sky air traffic management system. Since 2007 we have enjoyed an open skies agreement with the United States of America which, as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) made clear, includes 16 other countries. That must also continue.
Through our membership of the EU we are members of the European single aviation market, which allows airlines based in Britain to operate throughout Europe. There is no World Trade Organisation fall-back for the aviation sector, which means that unless the Government negotiate a deal there will be no legal right to operate flights to Europe. It is no good saying continually that everything will be all right on the night. The sector is worried, and it is crucial that we retain our status as a full and engaged member of the European Aviation Safety Agency. Alongside France we have been a key contributor to the development of European safety regulations and rulemaking, and nobody wants the UK to lose that influence. UK air passenger rights following Brexit should not be fewer than they currently are, and that is particularly important for disabled travellers and passengers with reduced mobility.
The entire aviation sector in the UK has developed through EU law, and it has led to cheaper fares and greater choice for consumers. Our current deal has given us greater consumer rights, and passengers can claim compensation for delayed and cancelled flights. We are members of the European Aviation Safety Agency, which deals with the safe operation of aviation. All that could easily be put at risk if we leave the EU without a deal. Will the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to ensure that we will have the same air passenger rights once we have left the European Union? Overall, the Government’s shambolic handling of the Brexit negotiations could lead to thousands of skilled jobs being lost in the aviation sector unless they change tack and get a grip now.
I am grateful to you, Mr Hollobone, and rejoice in your chairmanship of this debate. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane)—an old and much-loved colleague of mine from the Treasury Committee—for securing this important debate on the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the aviation sector.
I need hardly say that this is a matter of great importance to the Government, and a topic on which there is a keen focus on achieving our desired outcome. The hon. Gentleman asked for reassurance, and I can tell him that aviation remains a high priority for the Government, just as it is for him. I point out to him and to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) that this country is far from not having an outward-looking industry—nothing could be further from the truth. We are proud of the aerospace companies. We know that, like all global businesses, they constantly have to manage change in their political circumstances, and we are pleased that there has been no shortage of capital investment in the UK.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is no longer in his place, but as he said, not only has there been new investment such as that in Bombardier but, as he put it, we can expect good times to be around the corner, based on the economic flows that he has observed. He is right about that, and we have projects such as the joint investment with the MOD and RAF Lossiemouth, and the Airbus Wing Integration Centre in Filton—my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) has worked closely on that, alongside his other work with Airbus—and the opening of Boeing’s first European manufacturing facility in Sheffield. Those are not the actions of companies that are worried about the UK, or about the safety of their investment and the possibility of it growing in the aviation sector—far from it—nor are they the actions of companies that are concerned that the UK might be, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun suggested, turning in on itself. On the contrary, they show that the aviation industry is confident about Britain’s place in the world post Brexit, and rightly so.
This is a priority for us and, as the Government’s White Paper sets out, we are seeking to secure an agreement that maintains reciprocal and liberalised—I emphasise the word liberalised—aviation access between and within the territory of the UK and the EU, alongside UK participation in the EASA system. There is something of a contradiction among the things said by Opposition Members, in that they are perfectly happy to recognise that these things are matters that go down to the last minutes, because only when everything is agreed is anything agreed, but at the same time they are desperate for there to be more progress. In many cases it is the EU which is inhibiting progress on this for negotiating purposes.
I take all comments and points made by hon. Members across the House with great seriousness, but all I am doing is pointing out an inconsistency in the Opposition’s position. The Government remain confident that an agreement will be secured. Not only that, it is interesting to see that there appears to be increasing confidence of that within the private sector as well, as the remarks of several chief executives of airlines have recently made clear.
I have a short period of time in which to speak. I have been given a little extra time by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner). I have dozens of points to address but if hon. Gentlemen wish to intervene, I am happy to take their points.
As so often the case, I am sad to have given way to the hon. Gentleman because these points are covered precisely in my speech and if I had had the extra 45 seconds to be allowed to make them, I could have reached them. We are seeking liberalised aviation access. We recognise that is what UK and EU consumers and businesses want and need. As we move forward it is important to be clear that we recognise that it is in everyone’s interests to do a deal quickly and to make it a good deal.
Before I turn to the many specific points that have been raised, as colleagues have said aviation is crucial to the UK’s economy and its standing as a great trading nation. It has been a global success—there can be no doubt about that. We have the third largest aviation network in the world and the biggest in Europe, with direct flights to more than 370 international destinations in 100 or so countries, providing at least £22 billion to the UK economy every year and supporting more than half a million UK jobs.
As a Government we do not wish to see the introduction of new barriers that would hinder the growth of our aviation industry—I do not think any Member of Parliament wishes to see that. That is why we are seeking to strike the right deal with the EU, one that allows that sector to grow and prosper. We should be clear that not just the UK will benefit from a liberal aviation market. It is in the interest of all EU countries and citizens that a comprehensive air transport agreement is negotiated.
Lest we forget, 164 million passengers travelled between the UK and EU airports in 2017. UK residents made 42.7 million visits to the EU and spent an estimated £21.3 billion while they were there. It cannot be in the interests of either UK or EU businesses or consumers for flights to stop, let alone be interrupted. That is why we are working so hard to reach a deal which continues the current arrangements, in as close to a liberalised form as we can.
As hon. Members across the Chamber have said, consumers and industry want certainty, and quickly. So do the Government and much, if not all, of the EU and its member states. It is true that negotiations on transport have yet to begin—that is an EU decision—but let me assure Members that we are ready for that when they do. We work closely with the aviation industry to ensure that the needs of the global sector are factored into our negotiations. Our objectives for future partnership on aviation are precisely to preserve the connectivity, the high safety standards and the efficient use of airspace that consumers benefit from today.
There are many reasons why the EU should and will, I think, agree to a liberal aviation deal with the UK. The UK has been at the forefront of driving forward the liberalisation of aviation markets across the world, precisely the point made eloquently by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford). It is that liberalisation that has driven down prices and opened up accessibility to aviation markets for many people across this country.
We provide EASA with a significant amount of expertise and have played a key role in enhancing safety standards across Europe. One of the ironies of the present situation is that EASA was set up if not largely by the Civil Aviation Authority then with heavy influence from this country. We are a global leader in aviation security, with one of the best security systems in the world. Our geographical position in the aviation network means that along with Ireland, the UK services more than 80% of traffic entering or leaving EU airspace from the north Atlantic.
We start from a unique position of having wholly aligned regulatory standards with the EU. No two agreements are exactly the same; we recognise that. Each one will inevitably be tailored to suit the circumstances of the parties involved, but we seek an agreement on which we can build a further liberal future aviation relationship. The benefits that both sides gain from air transport are clear, and the benefits that we have described are so evident that we feel some justification in believing that the arrangements will continue.
As a responsible Government, we must also contemplate the unlikely event that we might conceivably be forced to leave the EU without a deal. We believe that flights between the UK and EU will continue, even if that happened. It would be in nobody’s interest to introduce obstacles to airlines or to limit the choice of destinations that passengers enjoy today. The continuation of flights is far and away the highest probability, but we have to prepare for all eventualities until we can be certain of the outcome of negotiations. Our preparation plans continue at pace, against the possibility of a no deal, in part to support the final deal we eventually agree.
As part of that planning we have published three aviation technical notices. These set out the pragmatic approach that the UK would take in any no-deal scenario. The point of that approach is to avoid disruption to air services, to support businesses and consumers, and to maintain their rights across the EU. We expect the EU to do the same. We think they will. It is character for them and in the interests of both UK and EU consumers and businesses. Our preference, of course, would be to have in place a multilateral contingency agreement with the EU27. We are pleased that the EU is preparing for contingency plans as well as for future partnership discussions. We would welcome a common approach, but we must prepare for all scenarios.
It is certainly true that the UK and EU aviation sectors urgently need reassurance that we are working on positive post-EU exit solutions for all possible outcomes and that in any scenario there will be continued connectivity. Regardless of the outcome, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will provide the maximum possible certainty to individuals and businesses about their legal rights and obligations as we leave the EU.
Turning to third countries, we are also aware that the issue reaches beyond the EU. We are working hard to deliver another priority, which is to replace quickly EU-based third country agreements with countries such as the US and Canada. We are working with these countries to ensure new replacement arrangements are in place after we leave the EU. Despite some reports to the contrary, talks have been positive and we have made significant progress. We believe with some confidence that these arrangements will be ready for exit.
The UK also has 111 independently negotiated bilateral air service agreements with countries all over the world, including China, India and Brazil. There will be no change to these when the UK leaves the EU. As always, we will continue to seek new and improved bilateral air service agreements with the rest of the world, seeking to improve connectivity, choice and value for money for businesses and consumers.
I turn now to the points raised in the debate, starting with those of the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East. He said that it was critical that the choices that constituents are able to make remain the same. We recognise that. It is important to be aware that tourism is booming across the UK and is now worth over £66 billion annually to the economy. As he knows, we are proposing reciprocal visa-free travel arrangements to enable UK and EU citizens to continue to travel freely for tourism. The Home Office has set out proposals on the movement of workers and will set out future immigration policy shortly. We have been clear that we seek a comprehensive agreement on air transport that provides for continuity of services and opportunities.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether there was an adequate fall-back. As I said, our preference is for a contingency agreement with the EU27 to be in place, but since the Commission will not engage with the UK at the moment, for tactical reasons of negotiation, we need to discuss bilaterally with member states what arrangements will be put in place. The aviation technical notices clearly set out the pragmatic approach we propose in any no-deal scenario. Specifically, we intend to give permits to EU airlines—this addresses the point the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire made about Ryanair—to allow them to operate in the UK, and we expect that to be reciprocated by the EU.
The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and other colleagues asked what practical steps the Government are taking to secure the mutual recognition of aviation safety standards. Of course we recognise that our continued participation in EASA in some form will reduce regulatory burdens for the sector. As we set out in the White Paper, there is an established mechanism and a precedent for third countries to participate in the EASA system.
All UK-issued safety approvals and certificates conform with the international requirements of the Chicago convention, so all those associated with the international operation of UK-registered aircraft should continue to be recognised for the operation of air services by UK aircraft. Let me be clear that we are pressing the EU for technical discussions to take place between the CAA and EASA as soon as possible, to ensure that any respective contingency and other plans are fully aligned. We seek an improved shared understanding of the situation on all sides.
The hon. Gentleman expressed concern that the Government may not be prepared to use the opportunity to prepare the aviation sector for the next five to 10 years. As colleagues across the House have rightly pointed out, that issue is in many ways independent of Brexit. As colleagues know, the Government are developing a new aviation strategy, the purpose of which is specifically to achieve a safe, secure and sustainable aviation sector. That is a long-term strategy. It is not a 10-year or even a five-year thing—it is a strategy out to 2050 that is designed to lay the foundations of a strategic shift and development in the way our aviation industry operates.
We have a strong focus on consumer issues, but of course we also champion the economic benefits of aviation. We will consider how we can maximise the role of our world-class aviation sector in developing trade links, but we recognise the need to focus inward on industrial strategy as well as outward on international trade. On 7 April, the Government published the aviation strategy next steps document, which outlines the key challenges ahead for aviation and our considerations in responding to them. We plan to deliver a final aviation strategy in early 2019—for those who asked, that is not so far away.
Turning to airports and Border Force, the Department for Transport continues to work closely with Border Force on the “Welcome to the UK” initiative. Border Force recognises that, given predicted passenger growth, which is undiminished by the concerns that were raised, queues at passport control may get longer. The purpose of the recent announcement that millions more people will be able to use e-passport gates was precisely to meet that long-term contingency. The two sides are committed to working closely with the industry to minimise queuing times by reducing last-minute schedule changes and ensuring that service-level agreements are set at the right level. Alongside that, the Government plan to consider whether there are additional or alternative funding mechanisms in the medium term.
The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East rightly asked whether skills and training will be adequately maintained in the face of the changes to the sector after Brexit. I reassure him that the Government are very much committed to working with industry to support the aviation sector. The Department is working closely with officials across Government to explore all those issues and to incentivise the growth of the UK aviation sector in the longer term by examining options to stimulate skills and training alongside and through the work that is being done in this sector under the industrial strategy. We believe aviation is critical to both the UK and the EU, and we are determined to make it so in the future, too.
The hon. Member for Strangford, who was not in his place when I mentioned him earlier, is absolutely right to highlight the continued investment in this country. He said good times are around the corner. I think times are pretty good at the moment, given the way tourism is booming and the economy continues to grow. We have a late-stage economy that is still growing at more than 2.5%—I think we can all be very pleased about that. He is absolutely right that that performance is not discounting a disaster post Brexit; it is actually discounting continued business and economic growth, and rightly so.
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire rightly pointed out the huge falls in flight costs that resulted from liberalisation. She highlighted Hanover. I am pleased to say that when George I came to this country from Hanover he did not have to go by aeroplane, but it would have been a lot cheaper if he had done so—in her judgment, the Elector of Hanover could have come here in a matter of hours for something like £50. Let me reassure the hon. Lady that Ryanair should have no reason at all not to fly to Britain. The UK intends to continue to offer arrangements that will allow it to fly unimpeded to this country, and we expect the EU, in the open spirit I described, to do the same, as we grant permits to EU carriers. But we want a comprehensive, liberalised agreement, and she rightly focused on the benefits of that.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) raised non-disclosure agreements. I do not think there is anything that any Government could or should be concerned about in that respect. This is a very delicate time in discussions with the EU over Brexit, and such agreements are quite common.
I was invited to wind up by 3.57 pm, so I will quickly pick up some other points. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport mentioned licences, and I have a private pilot’s licence myself. Tragically, I have not used it much recently, but I am sensitive to the point he raised. I am confident in the capacity of the CAA to manage any issues and to ramp up. Given the time, I should probably sit down. Thank you very much indeed, Mr Hollobone.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. We have had a good debate. Now we know the Minister has a pilot’s licence, we know he could have brought it in to land himself, but he had to wind up.
Since Richard Arkwright built his mill in 1783, Manchester has been a global trading city. That is why this issue is important to me, my constituents and the 30 million passengers, and that is why I look at a global Britain. I say with all gentleness to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) that his was the first contribution from the Scottish National party Front Bench that did not mention air passenger duty. I say to him: “Now that you’ve got the power, use it if you want to be a global Scotland.” That is really important.
I turn to my fellow seafaring city MPs. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) made a fine speech, which demonstrated his expert work before he came to the House, and I wish him all the best with his campaign to reopen Plymouth airport. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) that it would be devastating to leave without a deal. Although the Minister summed up our relationship with the EU on aviation really eloquently, it is still worrying that we have had no negotiations to date. It is important that those do not go down to the last minute.
The hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) summed up the issue. As the hon. Gentleman said, this is about confidence and there are options, but the industry needs to know what its options are because, as the hon. Lady said, we are selling slots for summer now. This is not a problem for next summer—it is a problem now. We must get the Government around the table, get a deal and ensure we can go forward in confidence as global Britain with our aviation sector.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the effect on the aviation sector of the UK leaving the EU.
Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency
I beg to move,
That this House has considered treatment for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
Hon. Members might wish to know what alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is. It is a rare and complex hereditary illness, and those who suffer from it simply refer to it as alpha-1 and to themselves as alphas. Some people affected by alpha-1 are in the Public Gallery today.
I will explain the condition: alpha-1 antitrypsin, or AAT, is a protein produced in the liver. In healthy people, it is released into the blood circulation to protect the body from the effects of inflammation, but for those with alpha-1 the protein does not function properly and is trapped in the liver. That can cause damage to the liver and, because the protein is unable to circulate around the body, the lungs lack the protection they need from the damaging effects of pollutants and infections. Those with alpha-1 are particularly susceptible and sensitive to cigarette smoke, for example.
Alpha-1 affects both children and adults, and the condition is chronic and progressive. It can affect life expectancy and lead to disability, leaving sufferers dependent on the health service and carers. The damage it can cause to the liver can lead to jaundice, sickness and tiredness, and those with the condition are more prone to chest infections, often leading to a swift deterioration in health. In extreme cases, patients can require an organ transplant.
In the early stages, it is common for alpha-1 not to be properly diagnosed, and sufferers are often thought to have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, more widely known as COPD. In many instances, they are treated for those conditions for a number of years before a correct diagnosis is given. As with most conditions, the earlier diagnosis takes place and appropriate treatment can begin, the better someone’s chances of managing the condition.
I became aware of the condition in 2012, when a constituent of mine, Sarah Parrin, attended my constituency advice surgery and brought along her son, Stephen Leadbetter. Stephen’s case was characteristic of many others across the country. He had been thought initially to have severe asthma; he had suffered with lung problems since the age of 14 and had undergone several surgeries due to pneumothoraxes. Those occur when small sacs of air collect in the pleural space between the lung and the chest wall, creating pressure on the lungs that can lead to lung collapse.
Stephen was 22 when I met him, and had only just been diagnosed with alpha-1, eight years after he had really started to suffer. The thing I remember most about his mother’s bringing him to see me was her telling me how things would have been so much better if Stephen had been diagnosed earlier and been able to access specialised services. If that had been the case, his health might not have declined so rapidly during his teenage years.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter to Westminster Hall for consideration. As my party’s health spokesperson, this is something that I have responsibility for, so I appreciate it. While AATD can cause a lot of conditions, such as COPD or liver disease, it is a separate condition. If treatment for it was available in the UK, that could prevent the development of other lung and liver conditions, as he has said. Surely the prevention of other diseases would be of long-term benefit to the national health service. I say that to the Minister in particular. While there are some lifestyle changes that people can make, AATD is inherited and if a person has inherited two ZZ genotypes they are likely to develop further issues.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that time must be given to clinical trials involving AAT augmentation therapy? If he does, perhaps the Minister would like to respond positively to that.
The hon. Gentleman anticipates two of the asks that I will come to later; I thank him for that helpful contribution.
Going back to Stephen’s condition, he suffered very seriously from chest infections. In fact, at one point he suffered with his lungs collapsing, and Birmingham Children’s Hospital, which was treating him at the time, took the decision to staple his lungs to his chest wall. As I say, it was eight years after first presenting with the issues that Stephen’s own general practitioner tested him for alpha-1 and that was found to be the condition he was suffering from.
The British Lung Foundation estimates that approximately 25,000 people in the UK suffer from the disease, and while many can live relatively normal and healthy lives, others such as Stephen suffer from the condition. Interestingly, I was contacted only today by a colleague here in Parliament, who told me that they suffer from the condition and that, as one of three siblings in a family of six, they were involved in a study based at University College London in the 1970s. That was someone we would not recognise as being a sufferer, which exemplifies the fact that not everybody shows the symptoms that so many people have.
It is rarer for children to suffer, which explains why the doctors who treated Stephen did not test for alpha-1 initially, but we can be grateful that by 2012 he was finally correctly diagnosed. Stephen’s mother Sarah was very concerned about the lack of awareness of the condition and became involved with the Alpha-1 Alliance, a charity formed in 1997 to support those suffering from the condition and their families, carers and friends. We are joined today by members of that group and affiliated organisations, as well as Professor David Parr, who is head of medicine and clinical director for cardiothoracic services and a consultant respiratory physician at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire.
Both Sarah and Stephen, who suffers from alpha-1, have told me that they found the support from the Alpha-1 Alliance and the alpha-1 support group invaluable. When I met them back in 2012, they asked me to get more involved, learn and understand more about the condition, and do what I might as their Member of Parliament to raise awareness here in Westminster. To that end, I raised the condition with the Leader of the House in business questions in December 2012; I understand that was the first time that the condition alpha-1 had been mentioned in the House. We then arranged a seminar and a report was brought to Parliament, and there I met Professor Parr, whose hospital, UHCW, happens to serve the residents of my Rugby constituency.
At that time, there was a sense that the work of the Alpha-1 Alliance was gaining traction and starting to raise awareness. We had a meeting with the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), and Karen North and Margaret Millar of the alpha-1 support group came along to explain a little about the condition and how the treatment for it could be improved.
Testing for this condition is a relatively straightforward process, requiring a simple blood test. Many organisations, including the World Health Organisation, have made recommendations on who should be tested for the condition, such as anyone who suffers from emphysema, COPD or chronic bronchitis; people with a family history of liver disease; and certainly blood relatives of a person diagnosed with alpha-1. Perhaps also newborns and children with unexplained liver diseases should be considered as potential sufferers from alpha-1.
I welcome today’s debate, as I also have a constituent, Tina Walker, who has alpha-1. She travels from Swansea to the clinic in Coventry twice a year. Last night, I also had an email from an ex-pupil who I used to teach in Wigan, whose daughter—she must be just a small child—also has the condition. I feel strongly that we parliamentarians should be working together. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be wise of us to urge the Government to run a UK-wide campaign to raise awareness? As he says, this involves just a simple blood test.
Part and parcel of our efforts today is to achieve precisely that. I am delighted that the hon. Lady’s constituent comes to Coventry and is being treated by the excellent services at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire.
Unfortunately, alpha-1 is not yet curable, and no specific treatment for the disease is freely available in the UK; it is a matter of treating only the symptoms with the appropriate therapeutic methods. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) referred to intravenous AAT protein augmentation therapy, which involves replacing the missing AAT protein. That treatment is available in the United States, Spain, Germany and Italy, for example, but it is not yet available in the UK.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—the Government body that produces guidelines on which treatments to make available—only last month published draft guidelines that rejected the use of the only licensed augmentation therapy product in the UK, Respreeza. It has had a UK licence since 2015, but was unfortunately deemed by NICE to be too expensive to be made available on the NHS. We acknowledge that it is expensive; lifelong therapy costs around £60,000 per patient per year. NICE continues to evaluate that and will make its final recommendations next year. The entire alpha-1 community has been heavily involved in pressing the case for patients across the country to be prescribed the treatment.
Only the symptoms of alpha-1 sufferers are treated, often by inhaled medications developed for people suffering from asthma and COPD, rather than specific treatments for the lung damage caused by alpha-1. The other issue is that those who suffer from alpha-1 become susceptible to chest infections, which was certainly the case for Stephen Leadbetter, and it is vital that they are treated quickly with antibiotics at the first sign of infection and are vaccinated every year against flu.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate, and I commend the work of the alpha-1 patient community in pressing for it as well. Does he share my frustration that the highly specialised NHS alpha-1 service has been approved and budgeted for and was due to be put in place earlier this year, but may not actually be installed by next year?
That is certainly a frustration for the many patients who suffer. I hope that the Minister will address progress towards the outcome that we would all like to see.
There are changes that patients can make to their lifestyle to help to manage the condition, including specific exercise programmes and altering their diets. It is also important for them to avoid being around second-hand smoke and other environmental pollutants, such as open fires, petrol fumes, paint, solvents and dust, and that they avoid coming into contact with anyone suffering from a cold or the flu. However, that is often not enough. There is a need for Government action. We would like the Government to look at the prescribed specialised services advisory group’s recommendations and address the specific recommendation for a national, highly specialised service for patients with severe alpha-1.
A Department of Health and Social Care paper sets it out that that service, referred to by the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western), should be operational by April 2019, which is only six months away. However, I understand that the formal development of the service has not yet commenced, and that it is highly unlikely that it will be operational by the original deadline.
The need for progress on the service forms one of the two principal objectives of the alpha-1 patient community, and I look forward to the Minister’s commenting on that. The second particular ask is to ensure that alpha-1 antitrypsin augmentation therapy—access to Respreeza, the only licensed treatment—will be available. I hope that the Minister responds positively to that.
It is the view of the alpha-1 patient community that the Government should focus on five key areas. The first is that that highly specialised service should become operational in a timely fashion. Secondly, patients should be involved at all stages in the development and implementation of the service to ensure that the patient voice is fully heard and taken into consideration. Thirdly, we are calling for a review of the impact of the NICE highly specialised technologies guidelines on patient access to rare disease treatments.
Fourthly, we are looking to apply a broader decision framework to the NICE process of evaluating the value of rare disease treatments, looking particularly at the social and societal benefits that impact patients and carers. Finally, we ask the Government to consider the appropriateness of introducing a more formalised process of conditional approval of rare disease treatments in England, such as alpha-1 augmentation therapy, as is being implemented in Scotland.
I shall conclude by referring to an email I received from a patient only yesterday that sets out her concerns with alpha-1 and its misdiagnosis. The sufferer emailed me to say that her mother died from antitrypsin deficiency, and that she now has the lung version of the disease. She is 48-years-old, and two years ago was a runner, but can now barely run for a bus or climb stairs. Her lung function has dropped dramatically in just one year. She is an ex-smoker and acknowledges the harm that smoking caused with respect to the condition. Had she been diagnosed earlier, she would have been able to make better lifestyle choices. The bit that got me was when she said that the deficiency for those who are symptomatic progresses at a very fast rate, and that, for many, it will end in gasping for breath for a long, drawn-out period, until such time as their lungs stop functioning completely. She says it feels like being eaten alive.
If the Government can work towards the two principal objectives and five key recommendations of the alpha-1 patient community, there will be a huge benefit to a significant group of people. It is our hope that the present and future needs of patients suffering this rare condition may finally be met.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) on securing this important debate on the need to raise awareness of alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency disease. I was unaware of the condition until I heard about the debate, and it has been enlightening to learn about it and the number of people it affects in this country. He set out, with great clarity and passion, the concerns of alpha-1 patients across the country.
With up to 8,000 rare diseases identified so far—a number that steadily grows as our diagnostic tools improve—the Government remain dedicated to improving the lives of all those living with a rare condition and to implementing the 51 commitments of the UK strategy for rare diseases, which was reinforced in the Prime Minister’s speech in June, in which she set out her future vision. That vision will be underpinned by increased funding for the NHS, so that the UK can lead the world in the use of data and technology to prevent, and not just treat, illness; to diagnose conditions before symptoms occur; and, importantly, to deliver personalised treatment informed not only by a general understanding of disease but by our own data, including our own genetic make-ups.
As we have heard from hon. Members, people with alpha-1 have low levels of the protective enzyme alpha1-proteinase inhibitor. That means that they are more vulnerable to body tissue damage from infections and environmental toxins—tobacco smoke, in particular. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby said, there is no cure for alpha-1, and treatment is focused on alleviating the symptoms.
My hon. Friend referred to the ongoing highly specialised technology evaluation by NICE of the drug Respreeza. That is a type of therapy called replacement therapy. It aims to boost the levels of alpha-1 antitrypsin in the blood. As those in the Chamber will know, NICE is an independent body and its highly specialised technologies evaluation committee makes recommendations on the use of new and existing highly specialised medicines and treatments within the NHS in England.
I am confident that NICE has in place a robust framework for evaluating technologies for rare diseases. As was said, it has not yet published its final guidance on the use of Respreeza for treating emphysema in patients with alpha-1, but it recently consulted on its draft guidance. As we heard, NICE’s evaluation committee is due to meet again to consider its recommendations in March 2019. That is to enable the company that makes Respreeza to prepare and submit additional information for the committee to consider. I am assured that, in developing its final recommendations, NICE will take fully into account all the comments that it received in response to the consultation, along with any additional information provided by the company. We look forward to hearing NICE’s recommendations after consideration has concluded.
As my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) mentioned, Ministers agreed with the advice of the prescribed specialised services advisory group that services for people diagnosed with alpha-1 should be nationally commissioned by NHS England and not by clinical commissioning groups. May I reassure my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman that NHS England is engaging with NICE on the HST evaluation of Respreeza? Once final guidance is received, following the evaluation committee’s meeting scheduled for March next year, NHS England will consider the commissioning implications in consultation with the specialised respiratory clinical reference group.
Should Respreeza be recommended by NICE, it would be for NHS England to make funding available within 90 calendar days of the positive evaluation. Should that be the case, NHS England would want to be assured that the centres initiating the treatment had the appropriate expertise and resources in place. NHS England is committed to involving patients in the development of new services, and routinely does so in line with the specialised commissioning framework, and with dedicated working groups that inform service specification and have patient representation.
As my hon. Friend said, alpha-1 is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. It is sometimes diagnosed late, as in the case of his constituent, Mr Leadbetter. More can be done to diagnose rare conditions earlier. Whole genome sequencing is increasingly utilised as a diagnostic tool for rare diseases in individuals with unrecognised signs and symptoms. I am pleased to report that about 25% of rare disease patients who have their genome sequenced through the 100,000 Genomes Project now receive a diagnosis for the first time.
The genomic medicine service was launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on 2 October 2018, making the UK the first in the world to integrate genomic technologies, including whole genome sequencing, into routine clinical care. The first national genomic test directory also became operational from October this year. It specifies which genomic tests are commissioned by the NHS in England, the technology by which they are available and the patients who will be eligible to access them. Alpha-1 is included in the new directory, which will be kept up to date on an annual basis to keep pace with scientific and technological advances.
Let me refer to one or two of the comments from hon. Members. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about the prevention of disease and clinical trials having taken place. Improving the lives of people with alpha-1 through research is critical. We support continued research into rare diseases through the National Institute for Health Research. That has established 20 biomedical research centres that develop new treatments for patients with a range of rare diseases.
The hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) referred to a UK-wide campaign to raise awareness of this condition. I fully agree with her and support the notion that we should always be working together to raise awareness of alpha-1. Many of our initiatives are aimed at raising awareness of rare diseases among healthcare professionals and the general public; it must be extremely difficult for a GP to have knowledge of, spot the symptoms of, and recognise up to 8,000 rare diseases. Health Education England and Genomics England have produced a range of educational materials about rare diseases aimed at those very people—healthcare professionals, including GPs, as the first point of contact in the NHS. Information about rare diseases is also provided for patients and their families.
Let me refer to some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby. He talked about allowing patients to be closely involved at all stages of the development and implementation of the service that we are discussing. NHS England routinely involves patients in the development of new services, in line with the specialised commissioning framework, and there are dedicated working groups that inform service specification development. My hon. Friend talked about a review to reflect the impact that the changes to the NICE HST guidelines have had on patient access. NICE’s methods and processes for assessing drugs have been carefully developed over time and are internationally respected. It continues to keep its procedures under review. That includes extensive engagement with patient groups.
I want to press the Minister on the availability of the specialised service, on the assumption that use of Respreeza will be approved by NICE. We are running a little behind. Does he think that the service, which was intended to be available by 2019, might be available by 2020? Is there hope for sufferers that that service might be available to them?
It is absolutely a matter for NICE to make its recommendations, but I think that, if this was approved, we could have a situation in which it could be available by at least April 2020. I hope that that is some encouraging news for my hon. Friend.
I probably need to wrap up the debate, but my hon. Friend also talked about the Government considering the appropriateness of introducing a more formal process of conditional approval for rare disease treatments such as alpha-1 augmentation therapy. The Department has no plans currently to establish a new assessment process for the evaluation of rare disease treatments. NICE’s methods and processes for developing its recommendations have been developed over the past 20 years through extensive engagement with interested parties.
Finally, let me assure my hon. Friend and all other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate that the Government are dedicated to improving the lives of all patients with rare diseases such as alpha-1. The publication of the UK strategy for rare diseases in 2013 was a significant milestone in that respect, and the strategy is now being implemented across the UK. The strategy set out our strategic vision and contains 51 commitments concentrating on raising awareness, providing better diagnosis and patient care, and ensuring a strong emphasis on the importance of research in our quest better to understand and treat rare diseases. Research is at the heart of better treatment and, we hope, prevention. That is why in 2017 the NIHR BioResource for Translational Research in Common and Rare Diseases was launched, supported by £36.5 million of NIHR funding.
I thank those who have come to listen to the debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and everyone present for contributing to it and for highlighting and discussing these issues. For their constituents and for all those who suffer from alpha-1 or any rare disease, I hope that I have helped in some way to assure them that the Government and the NHS are working hard to tackle these conditions and to help improve the lives of, and treatment pathways for, all patients.
Question put and agreed to.
Shale Gas Development
Before I call Mark Menzies to move the motion, I say to all hon. Members that the debate will last only one hour and will finish at 5.30 pm. There are lots of hon. Members in the Chamber, and I am sure that many wish to make contributions. I am keen for everyone to have their say, but I warn hon. Members that the time limit for speeches is likely to be extremely short. As a sign of courtesy from one hon. Member to another, I strongly encourage those who are seeking to make a speech to resist making an intervention as well. In this debate, it simply will not be fair to have two bites of the cherry.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered local involvement in shale gas development.
Thank you for your guidance at the start of this well-attended debate, Mr Hollobone. Many right hon. and hon. Members have been emailed by constituents asking them to come along and support Mark Menzies in his debate. If it is any consolation, I, too, have been emailed by constituents asking me to come along and support Mark Menzies in his debate. I assure those constituents that I am supporting Mark Menzies in his debate.
Throughout my time as a Member of Parliament, I have lived with shale gas. I have seen several sites in my constituency developed, and some have been developed and abandoned. I could talk about that for some time. When I was elected in 2010, it came as a surprise that in 2008 the previous Labour Government had awarded a shale gas exploration licence for the area that covers my constituency and some of my neighbouring constituencies. At the time, it was not well known about and the level of awareness was quite low. The company did not even have a website, so finding out what was going on took some doing.
Since its introduction in the UK, shale gas extraction has become a contentious issue. Individuals on both sides offer passionate arguments, as I have witnessed throughout my tenure as a Member of Parliament. My contribution today will largely focus on the proposed planning changes that have been out for consultation.
I will be quick. Does my hon. Friend think that shale gas extraction is worth while? Are there enough layers of schist in this country, as opposed to the vast expanses of the European plain, to make it profitable or to get enough gas out of it?
The companies concerned argue that there are substantial reserves of shale gas. The issue, and the difference between the United Kingdom and large swathes of America, is population density. We are not Dakota or rural Pennsylvania, where people can travel for hundreds of miles without seeing a farmhouse.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is about not just population density, but unique areas. In my constituency, the villages of Allerton Bywater and Great Preston have many unmapped mine shafts. Looking at what is happening in Lancashire with seismic movement, there is a real concern with the exploratory licence that has been granted that, in areas with unmapped mine shafts, seismic movement will cause collapses and sinkholes at the top. Decisions at the local level are, therefore, more important in this kind of planning application.
Let me make some progress and I will take some more interventions.
As the Minister is aware, the Department recently held a consultation on the proposals to bring applications for non-hydraulic fracturing sites under permitted development rights. In addition, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy simultaneously held a consultation on proposals to bring the production phase of a site under the nationally significant infrastructure projects—NSIP—scheme.
I recognise the issues surrounding the development of shale gas sites. The Government’s concern that it takes local mineral rights authorities far too long to consider planning applications carries some legitimacy. It originally took Lancashire County Council 12 months to consider each of the applications in my constituency. It was a further 15 months after appeal before a decision was made on Preston New Road. Four years on, no decision has been made on the Roseacre Wood site.
I will touch on that further. The situation in Lancashire, particularly with Preston New Road, was slightly more nuanced than that. Officers recommended approval but councillors voted against. The issue is that we are kidding ourselves if we think that those decisions are being taken locally. Overwhelmingly, they are not. They end up being called in by the Planning Inspectorate, and for some of these sites, there is more than one planning inquiry that runs on at enormous expense and is incredibly complicated. The decision is then taken out of local people’s hands. The situation at the moment is fully flawed.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. That is the very heart of it. We have heard evidence in the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee about the arguments for addressing that, picking it up as a piece of national infrastructure and treating it the same, but are we not denuding our local democracy in that process? We try to respect our democracy here, and it is so important, particularly in the current climate, that people are heard locally.
My hon. Friend is being very generous. Is he aware of the recent comments of the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who said that we need
“‘people power’ more than ever”
and that the Government’s civil society strategy will put communities at the centre of decision making? If the Government were being consistent, should local communities not have more say in fracking matters, and not have their voices taken away?
I will try to make some progress, but I shall also try to be generous in taking interventions.
It cannot be the case that decisions that were taking so long are now simply being sped up by the Government’s introduction of applications under permitted development rights. When we are talking about exploration sites, it can sound a bit innocent, but the scale of an exploration site is something to behold.
My hon. Friend mentioned rural Pennsylvania, where I went to look at this issue in 2015. I came back with the distinct impression that it can be done in a way that is sensitive to the countryside, but it needs careful planning. North Yorkshire County Council developed a plan that restricts proliferation and density, but the concern with NSIP and permitted development is that they will ride a coach and horses through those restrictions. We need to restrict the development of shale as it is rolled out.
I have an interest as the hon. Gentleman’s constituency neighbour—he has the end of Preston New Road and I have the beginning of it. He just referred to Roseacre Wood, which is a planning issue and not about the broader issues. As I am sure he has heard, purely and simply on the basis of what happened with Preston New Road on traffic planning, local residents’ concern about the position that Lancashire County Council took on that basis, and about planning terms, is considerable. Is it not regrettable, therefore, that as far as I am aware, no Minister—let alone the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, who responded to the previous debate, and who we are now told by The Guardian has been going round talking to companies about how they should be fracking advocates around the world—has taken the trouble to come to Lancashire and see what is going on?
I do want to make some progress; I am three quarters of the way down the first page of my speech and I have been very generous in giving way.
Along with many colleagues here today, I have made submissions to both consultations, making clear my constituents’ opposition to the proposals, which is a position that is echoed whenever I speak to colleagues from across the House.
I have called this debate to discuss the issue further, as well as to raise the general matter of local involvement in major decisions such as the approval of shale gas sites. Under permitted development, proposals for shale gas exploration are subject to the requirements of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which is administered by the mineral rights authority for the area in which the proposed development will be located. The decisions that are taken are based on the national planning policy framework and include consideration of the operational impacts of the site, traffic management concerns, visual impact and the effect on nearby heritage features, among many other factors. If we were to move to a system whereby proposals for non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration developments were decided under permitted development rights, that would no longer be the case.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I declare myself as a fracking sceptic, if not an opponent. Does he agree that trying to change the planning regime now, with the heritage that we already have on this issue, does not in my book pass what I would describe as “the sniff test”? It does not quite have legitimacy. It seems a sleight of hand and should be resisted.
I will give way in one moment, but I will just make some more progress on permitted development.
As we know, permitted development rights are most commonly used to simplify and speed up minor planning processes around such issues as small property extensions or the change of use of property. Indeed, I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for Communities and Local Government, as it was then, at a time when we looked to relax permitted development rights on home extensions and conservatories, and even then the Department had to row back from its original proposals because even with changes on that scale, particularly in urban areas, the impact was there for all to see.
What permitted development rights are not suitable for are new and substantial developments, especially those that have significant and ongoing operational activities associated with them. As the Minister knows, I have extensive knowledge of shale gas development, with the first horizontal wells in the UK within my constituency. These are not small or straightforward developments by any means. They are major industrial sites that require the construction of substantial infrastructure to set up and countless vehicle movements to operate. Indeed, if you will indulge me, Mr Hollobone, I will go through some examples.
I will take the site on Preston New Road first. We have got thousands of tonnes of hardcore piled on top of double-layered polyurethane membranes; big trenches dug around a site that is up to 2 hectares; a 30-metre drilling rig; a 2-metre high perimeter fence; 4.8-metre high bunding and fencing; several cabins that are 3 metres in height; acoustic screening of 5 metres in height; a lighting rig of 9 metres in height; a 2.9-metre high-powered generator; two water tanks that are 3 metres in height; a 10-metre high emergency vent; an access road off a busy main road; and I could go on. Now, who on earth thinks that is equivalent to building a little extension on the side of your bungalow? It is not.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and I am very grateful to him for initiating the debate. On that point, he has just described something that is hugely disruptive that we know is hugely unpopular. Does it not strike him as odd that we would subject that enterprise to permitted development, while at the same time making almost impossible the erection of new onshore wind turbines, which has been subjected almost entirely—rightly in my view—to local control? Does that not strike him as being inexplicably inconsistent and give the appearance of a policy that is driven more by ideology than anything else?
The inconsistencies in this process are there for all to see, and I really appeal to the Government to start approaching this issue in a sensible and consistent manner, whether we are talking about onshore wind or the shale gas sites that we are discussing today.
Let me just make some more progress and I will give way. [Interruption.] Permitted developments are certainly not appropriate for all locations.
Again, this is an issue that I have personal experience of. In addition to Cuadrilla Resources’ site at Preston New Road, proposals were also received for a further site within my constituency, at Roseacre Wood. That application is currently with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, so I appreciate that the Minister in the Chamber will be constrained in what he can say with regard to that site today. However, following its refusal by the local mineral rights authority and the decision going to a planning inquiry, it was then further turned down. But under permitted development that site would have been allowed to go ahead, even though one of the reasons it was turned down is that it is in an area with very narrow roads. No matter how many times the company tried to cut and recut the traffic management plan to get it through a planning inspector, it could not stand up to any form of scrutiny. I myself have gone with local people down those roads. In one case, they even hired an HGV of a similar size to those that would be taking product to and from the proposed site, and we could see that it was downright dangerous. The road was simply not designed to take either that size of vehicle or that volume of traffic.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right about the inconsistency in all this. Is he aware that the Government have put out a press release today, saying:
“Shale gas developers could be required to consult local communities, even before submitting a planning application, following the launch of the latest government consultation”?
This is the most inconsistent, confusing thing that I have seen in all my 35 years in Parliament. The Government clearly do not know what is going on with it. They would be much better withdrawing all of this and sitting down with experts to talk about the issues around fracking and how they will affect constituencies such as mine, but it is quite clear that they are all over the place when it comes to consulting on this industrial process.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention.
These concerns hold such significance for local people with local knowledge—these are not nimbys. They are people who approach the issue in a very level-headed way, but they know that some of these sites are clearly not suitable. Under permitted development rights, however, developers can rock up, develop sites in the way that I have outlined, and people will feel done to. Even if a site was considered to be suitable, there is not the level of scrutiny involved to consider operational matters, traffic management plans and matters that could perhaps alleviate some of the visual impacts. Those would all be mitigating factors under a normal planning process, but that process is not what is being put on the table under this consultation and it is one of the reasons why I strongly oppose it.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that these concerns are being expressed by very ordinary general people? They are not organised protesters. They are people who live in these communities and they are fearful that their rural communities will become industrial.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In recent years, the Government have put protections into areas of outstanding natural beauty. So, if the Government recognise that these developments are not acceptable for AONBs, what about the rest of the countryside? On the point about consistency, it is very important that we approach this issue in a sensible, constructive, well-planned way, and moving to permitted development is nothing short of irresponsible and downright bonkers.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. When local authorities have developed policy based on their analysis of the impact that fracking will have, surely their voice counts, particularly when it is backed up by the voices of local people overwhelmingly saying that this activity will be a disaster for their local community?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) referred to some planning experiences that arose while working with North Yorkshire County Council in Kirby Misperton. The second consultation was about bringing shale gas production sites into the NSIP regime, and I can see some of the benefits of that. One important aspect is getting consistency in decisions that are taken across the country. For example, in Kirby Misperton, there was a sensible addition: 400 metres, or half a mile, was added between the shale gas exploration site and residential properties. No such conditions were placed on either of the sites at Preston New Road, or on the application at Roseacre Wood. When planning inspectors are making those decisions—and they are different planning inspectors all the time—and those decisions are going up to the Secretary of State, inconsistent decisions are being made time after time.
Taking permitted development off the table—it is an absolutely crackers idea—I ask the Minister to look into how we can move to a planning regime where there is consistency, and where we avoid some of the decisions that go against local communities and that ignore traffic issues, population density, and the proximity of residential houses. I ask him to look at how we can come up with a workable framework. For example, there are no rules—
Order. I am hugely enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech, but the debate is only one hour long, and he has already had one third of the time. There are only 15 minutes of Back-Bench time remaining, and I have at least eight people seeking to speak, who are going to be speaking for under two minutes each. It is the hon. Gentleman’s debate, but he might want to think about bringing his remarks towards a close.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate, and on the powerful representations he is making on behalf of his community. Is he aware of the wider concern? The latest polling shows that just 18% of the public supports fracking. Many people are watching this debate, such as my constituent Etienne Stott—who is anything but ordinary—who asked me to attend the debate. He has said, “Can you tell the Minister that fracking is a terrible idea?” He does not want the Government to be able to bulldoze their misguided policy over local and global concerns. Does the hon. Gentleman understand why Mr Stott believes that?
I do indeed.
Mr Hollobone, let me plough on and bring my contribution to a conclusion. I ask the Minister to look at how consistency can be brought into the planning process. It is important that communities do not face years and years of uncertainty, and that we have consistency. It is also important that the industry knows where it stands. When that planning process is developed, it might well take lots of potential sites off the table altogether, so that the industry can stop wasting its time pursuing sites that, quite frankly, are not suitable.
Central Government’s involvement in recent years has brought some benefits. We have seen much more regulation and understanding of the industry, and I commend the Government on the creation of the Oil and Gas Authority. Indeed, that was something that I called for, campaigned for and pushed on right from the outset. We need an organisation that recognises that shale gas is very different, and that can pull together the work of the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency, mineral rights authorities, BEIS, and other organisations. We need to create a level of expertise within Government that can help ensure that, if this industry develops, it does so in a safe way.
One of the changes that came in was a traffic light system—red, amber and green—and we have seen seismic events triggered at Preston New Road in recent days. Four of those events have been classed as red events, and have led to a cessation in activity. I put it to the Minister that for six years, the industry was not approaching me or anyone else to say that the threshold was far too low, but we now hear calls that a seismic event should need to be a 1.5 or a 2 to trigger a red event. I am sorry, but that ship has sailed. The industry had six years to make the case for that, and no case was made.
Bearing in mind your advice to allow other Members in, Mr Hollobone, I will conclude, because I know that many other people wish to speak in this important debate.
The debate can last until 5.30. I am obliged to call the first of the Front- Bench spokespeople at seven minutes past 5 for a five-minute contribution, then a five-minute contribution from Her Majesty’s Opposition, and then a 10-minute contribution from the Minister. Mr Menzies will have three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. Eight Members are seeking to contribute, and we have 10 minutes left, so Members basically have one minute and 30 seconds each.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I will go on for as long as I can.
The Government’s proposals to fast track fracking are a shameful clampdown on local democracy and disregard the autonomy of residents and communities. Under the Government’s proposals, councils and residents will be deprived of a say on incredibly disruptive work being forced on their area. Communities have already been sidelined in the Government’s reckless pursuit of fracking. In my county of Lincolnshire, which is one of the areas most threatened by long-term fracking, £53 million of Lincolnshire County Council’s pension fund is invested in companies associated with shale gas development. The relationship between shale gas industries and Government officials at national and local levels threatens our democracy and our environment, and it must end.
Rather than imposing an unpopular and dangerous method of extraction on communities, the Government should follow Labour’s lead and commit to banning fracking outright, because shale gas is completely incompatible with this country’s climate commitments. The majority of fossil fuels will need to remain in the ground if we are to have even a chance of avoiding catastrophic temperature rises, and as a 2015 Government report found, fracking poses a uniquely damaging threat to our environment, including air pollution, water waste and earth tremors. At a time when we urgently need to transition to a green economy, the Government must abandon their senseless commitment to fracking, and stop their undemocratic assault on the power of communities and on local authorities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. My interest in this topic stems from the village of Marsh Lane in my constituency—a village of fewer than 1,000 people, who have been impacted by an application for exploratory drilling since the end of 2016. I started without any fixed view on fracking, but I stand here today to say that the proposal on permitted development and the proposal on NSIP are ludicrous and need to be stopped, and that fracking will not work in this country.
I am simply not clear from the consultation that has run over the summer about what the problem is, what we are trying to achieve, and how we will achieve it. Speaking as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the impact of shale gas, I can say that we have heard from a significant number of people that it will be technically extremely difficult, if not impossible, to confuse the planning process in the way the Government are proposing. I urge them to withdraw the proposal immediately, as did the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron)—he is a friend in this regard.
I am also unclear about what, as a country, we are seeking to achieve through fracking in general. The Government have not outlined any serious objectives beyond energy security, jobs and growth, and ultimately, price reductions. They have not made clear how any of those objectives can be achieved, and none of them can be achieved unless fracking is done at a scale that requires thousands of well pads, with a well pad in every village like Marsh Lane. People will not stand for it, and the proposal needs to be stopped.
My interest in this issue is that two thirds of our energy is produced from gas at present. Some 85% of households across the United Kingdom depend on gas for their heating and 65% depend on gas to cook their meals. Millions of jobs depend on having gas as an energy source, and we are increasingly dependent on imports. By 2030, 72% of our gas will have to be imported from places where we cannot guarantee supply or by routes where gas could be directed to other areas. With 50 years’ supply of gas already proven to be lying underneath the land of our country, it seems strange that we do not look for ways of ensuring we have that energy supply available to us.
I do not have time. I believe that the Government’s proposals, such as for exploratory wells to fall under permitted development, are modest. If there is to be full exploitation, it has to go through the full planning process. There are already other regulatory agencies that will oversee even the exploratory well process. On that basis, and on behalf of the millions of consumers across the United Kingdom who rely on gas, I trust that the Government’s sensible proposals will be adopted.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on securing this debate. Let me be clear on two points: first, I am intensely sceptical about whether fracking is sensible at all, but secondly, I am very clear that the expansion of permitted development to circumvent the normal planning process is disproportionate and potentially counterproductive.
Environmentally, the starting point has to be that we should seek to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We have obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008. The only argument I have heard that gives some possible justification is the potential for fracking to be a bridging fuel so that we can phase out dirty coal as quickly as possible. The problem is that the science is as yet unproven. I will listen carefully to what the Minister has to say about whether that is a credible argument. The second and perhaps even more important point is that the principle must be that we should depart from the ordinary standards of consultation with local communities only in exceptional circumstances. That hurdle has not been jumped here.
The point has already been made about the inconsistency that exists. As someone who sat on a planning committee for a very long time, I know that the most serious applications ordinarily go through the local scrutiny procedure. There is no reason not to do so in these circumstances. I suggest that not to do so is dangerous and could be highly counterproductive.
Fracking is one of the No. 1 issues that my constituents email me about. That is why I am here speaking today. I receive more emails on it than on Brexit and the tree-felling programme in Sheffield, which is another environmental issue. One person said:
“I asked myself, ‘would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no. I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”
That was not one of my constituents; that was Dr Howard Zucker, the commissioner of health for New York State. The New York State Department of Health concluded that fracking should be banned due to the significant public health risks. That led to a state-wide ban.
Some of the dangers that come with fracking include earthquakes, as we saw earlier this week with the 1.1 magnitude tremor at the Little Plumpton site in Lancashire. In Oklahoma, earthquakes rose from two a year to an average of two a day. One recent study has shown that in Pennsylvania, hospital admissions for cardiology and neurology are higher in counties with more fracking. A letter to the British Medical Journal earlier this year signed by Professor Hugh Montgomery, Dr Clare Gerada, Dr Sheila Adam and several other health professionals called for fracking to be halted due to the health risks. Numerous studies have highlighted significant risks. For example, a study in December 2014 found that fracking operations use and create chemicals linked to birth defects.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. People from many different communities and, as we have seen today, from different political persuasions have been united by the proposals. In my area, Labour, Conservative and independent councillors have voted unanimously to oppose the Government’s approach on fracking. We have an application in my area from IGas that has been rejected by the council and is going to review and appeal, but at least in that case there was a local process and local people had a say. The Government seem to have decided that in future, local people will have no voice at all.
Is there not real concern about the level of seismic events in Blackpool from just one well? Imagine how many events we would have if hundreds of wells were coming through that local people had no say about. Is that not a real concern? Local people should have an opportunity to have their concerns dealt with in a legitimate, open and transparent process. If we are truly going to take back control, that should mean a genuine democratic procedure, not a stitch-up that benefits private interests.
Classifying fracking rigs under the banner of permitted development is a subversion of the planning process and therefore a subversion of local democracy. Permitted development was created for conservatories, small extensions and outhouses, none of which to the best of my knowledge have ever caused an earth tremor, yet we see fracking rigs potentially being given rights under permitted development, which is a cynical disgrace.
The subversion of the planning process works both ways, however. The proposed gas turbines at Old Hutton in my constituency are just a few hundred yards away from the local primary school. The development is just a fraction below the scale needed for national consideration. As we know, developers often do that to put pressure on a local planner, a local authority or local communities who might fear saying no because they cannot afford the cost of the appeal. When we are trying to tackle climate change and are on the cusp of catastrophic climate change, we need to ensure that all fossil fuels remain in the ground and back local authorities that oppose such things as the Old Hutton gas turbines and fracking.
It was the test drilling in my constituency that first alerted me to the concerns of my constituents. There was test drilling going on in the constituency of my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper), and in Formby. Many have written to me with their concerns about what goes on in the local environment and near their homes. They feel that they should have a voice and be involved in the decision making.
Sefton Council unanimously opposes fracking—there will be no fracking approved by it—but the Government have overruled. That is simply not acceptable. We need alternatives to fracking. The science is there and the climate change effects are there. Members on the Government Benches have to oppose their Government when they make cuts to renewable energy. There must be an alternative to fracking, and it has to be renewables and hydrogen. That is the way forward, not supporting fracking.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee produced a report on 2 July where we opposed the permitted development approach and the nationally significant infrastructure project regime because we believed they would create more contention with local communities and give them less say. We opposed the NSIP regime because we had no evidence at all that it would expedite the process and also because it would destroy relationships between fracking applications and local plans, such as in North Yorkshire, where detailed guidance on fracking was put in the local plan. It would be completely redundant.
If the Minister looks at the two issues together, can he not see something fundamentally contradictory about the approach? It says at one stage of the planning process that fracking is so insignificant that permitted development should be allowed, but at the next stage it says that fracking is so important that it should be treated as a national infrastructure project. Surely the two are not compatible in the same sentence. Listen to Members of Parliament and allow councils to listen to their communities.
I represent a coalfield constituency in Lancashire, and fracking is unfortunately a particular and common concern for residents. Six licences have been imposed on the people of Leigh, who have serious and legitimate concerns about the impact on their environment. Despite the sentiments we often hear from the Government, we have reason to be concerned. Earlier this year, we heard from Peter Styles, a former Government adviser, who found that fracking in former coalmining areas increases the probability of earthquakes on faults that have already been subject to movement through mining.
Given that vulnerability, I hope that the Minister will be able in his reply to detail the steps he is taking to protect our community and that he will accept the real anxiety that fracking has caused in our region, which has been left feeling singled out by the Government’s fracking regime. Ultimately, it is totally unacceptable to impose such a chaotic process on communities without giving them a say.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I have to declare a non-financial interest: I am involved with local groups in my area.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on securing this timely, topical and extremely controversial debate. He always treats everything with a great sense of humour and great knowledge. He addressed the same problems that everybody brought up. Most Members agree that there is a huge problem, and recognised the confusion surrounding such developments. I particularly liked the point about local accidental activists becoming involved and becoming the voice for their communities. That is an essential point that we should all listen to.
I do not need to tell anyone that we in Scotland have some of the world’s greatest renewable resources. It is estimated that Scotland has one quarter of the entire offshore wind energy potential of the whole of Europe, and there are the same incredible figures for tidal energy. Those elements, when harnessed, can be seen as a blessing. That gives Members an understanding of why there is overwhelming support for renewables in Scotland, and why 99% of respondents to the Scottish Government’s consultation were diametrically opposed to fracking. That consultation received more than 60,000 responses in just four months. In my constituency and in the neighbouring constituency, Linlithgow and East Falkirk, there has been a long-standing and vigorous opposition to fracking.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning both our constituencies, which have a very long history with the shale industry, going back to the 1850s, with many communities built on the areas where there are deposits. There is clearly no support for fracking in our areas. Would it not be advisable for the UK Government to follow the lead of the Scottish Government and place a moratorium on all fracking?
I totally agree. My hon. Friend and I have attended various meetings and screenings about the experiences of communities across the world caused by fracking. In February this year, the Dutch Government announced the end of gas exploration in the Netherlands. Companies have been given four years to end the extraction process. That decision followed a five-year moratorium on further development after Government-funded studies, importantly, revealed that drilling for gas in the natural gas fields had led to double the number of earthquakes.
I do not have time.
There was widespread property damage there and damage to flood defences. Residents have the right to sue the Government and gas field operators for damages. As of July 2017, there have been 80,000 damage claims totalling €1.2 billion.
Turning to a local debate, according to a recent article in The Blackpool Gazette, more than 30 earthquakes have been recorded in the last couple of weeks. Alarm bells should be ringing. Operations should be ceased, according to the local county council’s Labour group, which says that self-regulation is not working. I totally agree. Natascha Engel, the Government’s shale gas commissioner, has said that our laws are stricter than anywhere else in the world. I would advise Natascha to speak to the Dutch Economics Minister Eric Wiebes, who said:
“Shale gas is not an option in the Netherlands any more…It is over and done with.”
No law can be stricter than an outright ban.
Of the many events I attended in London and elsewhere before becoming an MP, I went to a screening of one film in particular that everybody should watch. It was called “The Bentley Effect” and was made by Stop Climate Chaos. The screening stands out in my mind. The film was shown to a packed hall in Falkirk Trinity Church and is about the experiences of communities in Australia. It is worth a look for anyone who has not seen it and who wants to see the impact on communities and how these things affect them immediately.
In Falkirk we were there at the very start of test drilling for fracking in Scotland. The people of Falkirk set up a properly constituted group, Concerned Communities of Falkirk, and have been running a campaign called Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas, setting out their objections in great detail. I mention that because I helped to draw up the community charter, expressing communities’ rights and responsibilities in participating in planning processes that could affect community assets.
Communities have been asking many serious questions that could be, and are, affected by fracking. I have only two uncomplicated questions, to which I would like to hear the Minister’s response. First, what would the Government do if house prices began to fall in the immediate area or the house market slowed down? Does the Minister have a plan to deal with that? Secondly, it is already known that insurance for farmers becomes unrealistic or can be denied. Can the Minister reassure farmers and growers that the Government will cover any loss of business due to perceived contamination of water to crops caused by fracking?
To conclude, the wishes of the Scottish people are being respected by the Scottish Government. The UK Government seem to have an obsession with fracking. Forget it!
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) on securing the debate, which is obviously important and timely given the number of people in the Chamber.
Labour is totally opposed to fracking, and it will be interesting to see how the Minister, when he gets to his feet, defends the indefensible. The Government are becoming increasingly isolated on the topic. The following organisations have come out against fracking: Friends of the Earth, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, the Woodland Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Senior scientists have also come out against fracking, and there is increasing medical evidence, particularly from the US, about the negative impact that it has on people’s health.
As a Lancashire MP I was horrified by the Government’s decision to overturn Lancashire County Council’s decision to refuse permission for fracking. It flies in the face of the Government’s pretend localism agenda, and current attempts to meddle with the process do not pass the sniff test. My constituents oppose it. Perhaps the Tories should pinch another Labour policy and ban fracking.
I totally agree.
Despite the huge wealth of environmental, medical, geomorphological and other scientific evidence, the Government are ploughing ahead. Even the research of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy shows that just 16% of people support fracking—the lowest figure since it started collecting data five years ago. Greenpeace has commented that public opinion on fracking is in free-fall.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government cannot have it both ways? They say that they want a national regime, but when it comes to policing the drilling of fracking in Blackpool and the Fylde, they are refusing to pay the cost fully from Home Office resources, and are leaving it to Lancashire ratepayers.
My hon. Friend makes an important point.
BEIS concludes that all the scientific evidence pertaining to possible risks of damage to the natural environment, the risk of contamination to the water supply, and safety concerns about earthquakes are to be dismissed. Try telling that to the people of Lancashire. They have had 18 earthquakes recently, each one increasing in seismic magnitude. Interestingly, the Government are telling local people who oppose fracking that they just need help to understand the process. It is exactly because they do understand it that they are concerned. The Minister for Energy and Clean Growth has said that she pities
“any local councillor who gets an application on their desk, because they will shortly have a travelling circus of protestors to deal with”.—[Official Report, 12 September 2018; Vol. 646, c. 333WH.]
Is that really how a Minister should respond to concerns of local people? I hope that the Minister today will distance himself from those comments.
I am not sure that the planning system should allow fracking at all, but I know that the permitted development system is not appropriate for dealing with the complexities of fracking, and neither is the nationally significant infrastructure project process. Both those aspects of the planning system totally ignore the voice of local people. Greenpeace has said that the fracking industry is pulling UK energy policy in entirely the wrong direction and that the public are right to be concerned, and I agree.
Many people in the Chamber might not know that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government today issued a further consultation document on talking to people earlier in the planning process for fracking, as if that will stop them opposing it. I say to the Minister that that is just not going to cut it. The Government have to start listening to local people, change track and get planning policies that support renewables, not fracking.
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I, too, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) for securing the debate. It is obvious that he and many Members have strong constituency interests in the topic and want to ensure, as I do, that local voices are heard as we consider the development of the shale gas industry in the UK.
No, because I want to leave time at the end for my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde.
It is clear from my hon. Friend’s speech that the recent consultations are important and have excited a strong reaction from his constituents, from him and from other hon. Members. I emphasise that no decision has been made whether to bring the proposals forward. The consultations have now closed: the Government are considering the representations made and will issue a response in due course.
The consultations are part of a range of measures to make planning decisions faster and fairer for all those affected by new shale gas development and ensure that local communities are fully involved in the planning decisions that affect them. Hon. Members will know that the Secretary of State has a quasi-judicial role in the planning system, so they will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to comment today on the detail of individual planning applications, on decisions on those applications, or on local plans. Hon. Members will also know that my remit as Housing Minister in relation to shale gas development is focused on planning policy and on delivering related manifesto commitments. However, given that many matters have been raised that are beyond my remit, I undertake to refer them to the appropriate Ministers, not least the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth.
I am afraid that I do not have time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde highlighted the importance of community engagement in the planning process. I reassure him that we remain fully committed to ensuring that local communities are fully involved in planning decisions that affect them, and to making planning decisions faster and fairer. Those are long-standing principles and I am adamant that we should stick to them. However, we understand that communities feel that they are often not consulted closely enough before planning applications are submitted to the local planning authority by developers. As my hon. Friend highlighted, that can lead to opposition to developments and a longer application process.
Engagement with communities at the pre-application stage gives local people a say earlier in the planning process and makes developers aware of issues of importance to the community that may need to be resolved. The planning system in the UK already provides an extensive legislative framework for community involvement, but I believe there is scope to do more. We have therefore published a consultation on whether applicants should be required to conduct a pre-application consultation with the local community prior to submitting a planning application for shale gas development. We believe that that could further strengthen the role that local people play in the process, and we are keen to hear the voices of industry and of communities. The consultation also seeks views on the process of community consultation that should be required and on the stages of shale gas development that should be covered. It closes on 7 January, and I urge everybody to contribute to it.
Let me move on to the potential changes to permitted development rights. Over the summer, we consulted on whether permitted development rights should be expanded to include shale gas exploration development, and on the circumstances in which those proposals might be appropriate. I make it clear that any potential permitted development right granted for shale gas exploration would not apply to hydraulic fracturing operations or to the production stage of shale gas extraction. I also emphasise that any permitted development right covers only the planning aspects of the development; it does not remove requirements under the regulatory regimes of the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority.
It is important to note that all permitted development rights contain specific exemptions, conditions and restrictions to control and mitigate the impact of the development and protect local amenity. Any potential permitted development right for shale gas exploration would be no exception; for example, it could specify limits on the height of any structure, areas where a permitted development right would not apply, or noise and operation controls. The consultation has sought views on that issue.
In relation to the role that local communities and mineral planning authorities can play within the permitted development rights regime, our consultation also sought views on whether MPAs should be able to conduct a prior approval process to consider specific elements of a development before works can proceed. Such a process can include a requirement for public consultation. It would also enable local consideration of key matters.
There is currently no commercial production from any hydraulically fractured shale gas resources in the UK. However, we believe that it is vital to look ahead and understand how best to manage planning permissions for a future state in which shale gas is produced. We therefore also consulted over the summer on whether the production phase of shale gas developments should be brought within the nationally significant infrastructure projects, which many hon. Members have referred to. The consultation particularly sought to understand what the appropriate triggers and criteria could be for including production projects in the NSIP regime.
I emphasise that community engagement is fundamental to the NSIP regime’s operation. Pre-application consultation with the local community and with local authorities is a statutory requirement. Developers are required to consult extensively before an application is submitted and considered, and where the consultation has not been carried out in line with the statutory requirements, the Planning Inspe