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Westminster Hall

Volume 654: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2019

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 12 February 2019

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Missing Persons Guardianship

I beg to move,

That this House has considered missing persons guardianship.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.

Imagine that someone you love went missing out of the blue. Try to imagine the anxiety, the shock and the sadness, and then imagine not being able to sort out any of their affairs in their absence. That frustration, confusion and hurt is exactly what my constituent experienced.

My constituent came to my surgery in May last year to tell me about her missing brother. She told me that he was an experienced traveller who was used to travelling alone. He had gone to visit the Galapagos islands, and it was from there that he vanished. He was last sighted on 11 March 2017 and never returned to his hotel room. He was a keen photographer, and his last photograph was taken on the island of San Cristóbal. Despite extensive searches on the islands, he was never found. My constituent was very close to her brother, who would contact her regularly when he was abroad, so when she had no contact with him for more than 10 days, she suspected that he was dead. No body was ever recovered.

After the shock and grief of her brother’s disappearance, my constituent set about trying to manage his affairs, but she came across a number of problems. She discovered that banks and other financial institutions would not directly engage with her, as she could not prove that her brother was dead. During that time, mortgage payments and utility bills went unpaid, and direct debits continued to be withdrawn from her brother’s bank account. She found the situation incredibly frustrating, and it caused her even more anguish after she had just come to terms with the fact that her brother was missing and, in all likelihood, dead.

Shocked by my constituent’s experience, I told her that Parliament must legislate to stop it happening again. Imagine how disturbed I was when she told me that Parliament had already done so. I promised to look into the matter further, and I was staggered to discover that the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017, which dealt with my constituent’s exact circumstances, had received Royal Assent on 27 April 2017 but had not yet been implemented.

With time against her and options running out, my constituent was forced to go down the presumption of death route to get an order allowing her to deal with her brother’s affairs. However, although she applied for a presumption of death order, she was not certain to get one, due to the provisions of the Presumption of Death Act 2013. That Act makes it clear that if the missing person has not been missing for seven years, the court has to be convinced that they are dead. If it is not, it can refuse to make an order. That is the route the family of Lord Lucan had to go down 42 years after his disappearance, with no body ever having been recovered. They were easily able to satisfy the Act’s seven-year threshold, whereas my constituent could not. Although she was ultimately successful, she should not have had to go down that route for her brother, who had been missing for just over a year, when there was a more straightforward alternative.

The charity Missing People estimates that more than 1,000 people go missing for more than 12 months in the UK each year. The families of those who go missing suffer the distress and anguish of not knowing what has happened to their loved one, which is compounded by the powerlessness of not being able to manage their affairs. Family members have to make futile telephone calls to banks, building societies and utility companies, which will not co-operate with them due to fears of data protection breaches and fraud.

All the while, arrears accrue. If things escalate, the family may have to deal with bailiffs and lawyers to stop their loved one’s home being repossessed. They will also be unable to stop direct debits from draining that person’s account. If it is a joint account, that makes matters even worse, since financial institutions often insist on getting both parties’ express consent to change anything. Financial institutions are among the strongest supporters of the 2017 Act, as it is their staff who are forced to say no to the families of loved ones. An order declaring that someone has a right to deal with their loved one’s affairs makes it far easier for all concerned and removes the additional stress and worry from the equation.

At an event organised by Missing People, I had the privilege of meeting Mr Peter Lawrence, the father of missing person Claudia Lawrence. He told me about the challenges he faced in dealing with financial institutions in the aftermath of his daughter’s disappearance. I am pleased to say that Peter is here with us today. Peter is a remarkable man, and I have nothing but admiration for his ongoing efforts to reform the law. It was partly due to his campaigning and raising of public awareness that the Government eventually decided to legislate for the guardianship of missing persons.

In preparation for the debate, I read transcripts of previous debates about guardianship for missing persons. I note with some disappointment that the very same points I have made so far today were made by the hon. Members for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) in March 2016. In that debate, there was criticism of the Government’s failure to progress legislation they had consulted on in 2015. The Minister closed his remarks by saying:

“It is vital to get the reform right, given that it creates a legal power over another’s assets. We are committed to proceeding as swiftly as we can, never forgetting for a moment the scope that it offers to ease…the pain and suffering endured by the families who have lost loved ones.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 596WH.]

I am sure that that debate had a bearing on what happened next, as a year later the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Bill had been drafted and was making progress. On 6 April 2017, when that Bill had its Second Reading in the other place, the Minister said that it

“is unlikely to come into force earlier than one year after Royal Assent, but the Government will endeavour to keep any delay to an absolute minimum.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 April 2017; Vol. 762, c. 1188.]

The Bill passed all its stages and received Royal Assent on 27 April 2017.

The 2017 Act is a good piece of legislation. It defines what guardianship orders are and who can apply for them and in what circumstances. It covers the scope of the orders and their duration, and provides for their revocation. It was supported in Committee by all political parties. It was one of those rare pieces of legislation that transcended party politics and had genuine cross-party support. At a time of division in the country, it was something that everyone could sign up to. Unfortunately, since then, there have been a number of false dawns and dashed hopes with respect to when the Act will finally be fully implemented and when people will be able to use it. Some 21 months have passed since the Act received Royal Assent, and it has not been possible to apply for a single guardianship order.

I accept that there may be complications with getting the judiciary to familiarise themselves fully with the provisions of the Act, and no doubt some technical measures need to be properly scrutinised and overcome. I also appreciate that Brexit continues to take up significant time in Departments and that the Ministry of Justice, which has had significant cuts to its budget over a number of years, is probably very stretched. I cast no blame on the Minister, whom I have always found to be true to his word and helpful in my dealings with him. But the fact remains that the current state of affairs just is not good enough.

Since the 2017 Act received Royal Assent, the Ministry of Justice has introduced two more Bills to Parliament, both of which have passed all their stages and are now Acts—the Civil Liability Act 2018 and the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Act 2018 both received Royal Assent on 20 December. I do not suggest for one minute that those are not important pieces of legislation, but I am concerned that they managed to leapfrog the 2017 Act and will in all likelihood be implemented before it. How is that possible? I suggest that the 2017 Act has not received the priority it deserves. Time and again, it has been put to the bottom of the pile while other things have taken precedence.

In my first and only question to the Prime Minister, on 28 November 2018, I asked about that delay. I am relieved that, since then, things have started moving. On 19 December 2018 the Ministry of Justice launched its consultation on the implementation of the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017, which among other things covers the code of practice, rules of court, practice directions, the registration and supervision of guardians, and fees—I note that, by some strange coincidence, that consultation ends today.

I have received assurances from the Ministry of Justice that the 2017 Act will be implemented fully by July 2019, but that is still five months away, and although I very much welcome that commitment, I am concerned to avoid further delays. I therefore ask the Minister to give a commitment that the Act will be implemented by July this year, and that if there is any delay, he will explain the reasons for it and allow hon. Members to question him.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this timely debate on an emotive subject, which he is dealing with properly and appropriately. Does he agree that, in advance of the legislative change in July, there will be an expectation—hopefully as a result of this debate and other pressures—that financial institutions will consider these matters practically and sensibly when dealing with families?

I entirely agree, and one of the biggest areas of distress for people is dealing with financial institutions. If measures can be introduced to enable things to run more smoothly, I would strongly support that, as, I hope, would the Minister.

As we know, the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), who first promoted the Presumption of Death Act 2013 as a private Member’s Bill, is now the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. I wonder whether the Minister discussed this emotive issue with him in the hope that we can bring the financial services to the table.

I was not aware of that, and my hon. Friend makes a good point. I hope the Minister will hold such discussions with the Economic Secretary, if he has not already done so.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I agree with everything he has said so far, and it is important that the 2017 Act is implemented by July. He mentioned the figure of 1,000 missing people, but perhaps the Minister could give some indication of what the number would be if we included all those who are in the pipeline for an application.

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. One thousand people go missing a year, but some people have been missing for many more years, and the figure will obviously be far higher than the 1,000 I mentioned.

I promoted the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017, and in my experience the financial services are keen on its provisions. They wish to help and to take a different approach when these tragic situations occur, but the difficulty is that they are tied to the law on such issues. We therefore need this change so that they can provide more assistance to those who face such difficulties.

I entirely agree. If a person dies, probate can be granted to financial institutions and used as a way of allowing the executor to access a person’s accounts. More needs to be done, and financial institutions need to be protected in that area.

I hope the Minister will agree that those who have a missing family member should not have to endure the indignity of being unable to deal with their loved one’s affairs because they cannot prove death, especially when they should not need to. The 2017 Act needs to be implemented as soon as possible, because no one should have to endure the anguish endured by my constituent. The Act will make a huge difference to the lives of the families of the missing. It will bring closure to some of them, as well as some comfort following the suffering and anguish they will have endured not knowing what fate may have befallen their loved one. This is a great opportunity for the Minister to show Parliament at its best, with Members coming together to make a real difference and doing something that we all agree on and that will make a positive change to some people’s lives.

It is a pleasure to speak with you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) on securing this debate and keeping up the pressure to ensure that the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 is implemented to help the many people in need. The Act is vital because around 2,500 people waiting for such measures have already been affected when someone they know has gone missing—perhaps a relative or loved one—and it must be implemented as soon as possible. I am delighted that the Government have nailed their colours to the mast by providing a date of July for the implementation of these measures, rather than saying “shortly” or “in due course”, and that those who face such devastating circumstances will be helped from July this year.

This issue came across my desk early in my parliamentary career, because my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) and I co-host the Lawrence family in our constituencies. Being a local person, I was aware of the tragic and mysterious disappearance of Claudia Lawrence, which will be 10 years ago on 18 March this year. Despite the fact that it is 10 years on, Mr and Mrs Lawrence still need this Act, and I wonder how many other people it will help. It is vital.

I promoted the Act as a consequence of Peter Lawrence pushing me to push Ministers to raise the issue up the political agenda, which we managed to do. The Government were always supportive of the Act, but even in easier times parliamentary time is not easy to secure. I pay tribute to Peter Lawrence and to many others, as well as to the charity Missing People, which has kept up the pressure and highlighted the issues caused when people go missing and in the aftermath of such tragic circumstances.

The Act is referred to as Claudia’s law, to recognise the 10 years that Claudia has been missing. I was lucky enough also to sponsor the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill, which was called “Will’s Bill”, after my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) and another tragic circumstance. Many people stood up in those debates—including me, as a father of four children—to say that the worst thing that could possibly happen to any parent would be to lose a child. I wonder, however, whether it is actually even worse to have a child who goes missing, because of the anxiety about what happened. People want to know and they hope not to receive terrible news, but they probably accept that such news will be the inevitable consequence if somebody has been missing for some time. Just as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate outlined, when a person goes missing, although people know that something tragic has happened they do not know what, and that is probably even worse than a bereavement. It is therefore right to move this issue forward as quickly as possible.

Thousands of people go missing annually, and the Government estimate that the 2017 Act will help between 50 and 300 people a year, with a mid-range estimate of about 100 people. Those 100 cases affect thousands of people—their loved ones and friends—and this Act is vital. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, in the aftermath of someone going missing many things need to be dealt with, including direct debits, rents or mortgages, and the Act will introduce measures that are similar to the power of attorney. It is a simple measure, and based on a well tried and tested formula. The Act has been well drafted to meet those requirements, and we have learned from our experiences with such legislation over recent decades.

It can certainly be argued that the legislation has been a long time coming. It was first talked about in the Justice Committee in 2012. The Government consulted on it in 2014, and the private Member’s Bill started, probably, with Peter Lawrence pushing me to push the Government, in 2015. It started with a ten-minute rule Bill, and not many of those become legislation, so I am delighted that we were able to use that route. We did so, of course, with Government support. Ministers were always supportive. The process from drafting and First Reading to the moment the Bill passed through the House of Lords—the last day before Parliament prorogued, so it was pretty tight—took 11 weeks. That shows what cross-party support and consensus there was for the legislation. I am grateful to Members on both sides of the House, and to Ministers and shadow Ministers of all parties who helped to get it through. I am also grateful to others who acted, not least the Missing People charity, and the all-party parliamentary group on runaway and missing children and adults.

The finish line of July 2019 is now in sight. Of course it is not the finish line for the loved ones—the people who face such terrible tragedies. However, it will make life just a little easier. I again thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate for bringing forward this important debate and the Minister for doing a tremendous job in making sure that we get over the line in July. He is a great fellow. I thank other Ministers as well—Lord Keen and successive Justice Secretaries—and many officials, not least of them Paul Hughes, who did a brilliant job of drafting and has been supportive from day one. The Act is vital legislation and it will help thousands of people. Let us get it into operation as soon as possible.

I thank and congratulate the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), who brought the matter forward, as well as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and other Members who have attended to speak. I look forward to hearing the speeches of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), and the Minister. He is of course ably supported by his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair), who will keep him right—although that will not be hard to do.

The issue is important, and that is why I am here to give support. It is always good to speak on issues that affect our constituents. I am sure that I am not the only person who was touched by the Missing People choir in “Britain’s Got Talent”, when TV gave an insight into the issue. That was in 2017, which is not that long ago. As we get older, the years go by more quickly than we would ever have imagined. I admit that, like others, I shed a tear as the photos flashed up showing clearly how many people there are in this country every minute of whose days is affected by a missing person. That made it clear that there is a real issue. The pain of not knowing—rooms that remain untouched and lives that are unled—lost in the realm of waiting, is nothing short of heartbreaking. I rejoiced when I learned that one of the missing persons linked to the choir had been found. Yet that happy ending is not a normal ending in such cases; that is a fact. The 2017 Act was passed to help families and enable them to deal with financial and other issues that arise when someone has gone missing, although it will never help to ease the pain and suffering.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has a website that displays photos of those who are missing, in an attempt to enable people to give others peace of mind. However, I believe that we must have a UK-wide national register of missing persons to provide a snapshot of live missing persons incidents across police forces throughout the UK, as a way of finding missing people if possible.

In the provincial papers back home, such as Sunday Life, there are unfortunately regular stories about people who have been missing over the years, with a renewed plea for people with evidence to come forward. It is always good to publish such information. I do not go to America every year, but I recall seeing, when I was there on holiday, that Walmart stores had pictures up of children who had gone missing. There were pictures galore on the wall—a wee timely reminder of the losses that happen. The children in those pictures are always smiling. Each missing person case is a story of loss and heartache, and the pictures resonate with everyone who looks at them.

I support legislation to make life easier for the families of missing people. I should make it clear that it is not an issue that affects only a small number of people. In the United Kingdom there is a report of someone going missing every 90 seconds, and 180,000 people are reported missing every year. There are 340,000 missing person incidents every year. Children are more likely to go missing than adults—that really creates grief and strain. One in 200 children and one in 500 adults go missing each year. Research has shown that stress is one of the most common reasons for adults to go missing. In up to eight out of 10 cases of missing adults, diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues are the reason. Relationship breakdown is responsible in three out of 10 cases. Dementia is another cause, in one in 10 cases. Four in every 10 people with dementia will go missing at some point. Those people do not intend to go missing, but they do. That has happened in my constituency in the past couple of years. Both people were found in time, thank goodness, and had no knowledge of where they were or recollection of how they got there.

Whatever the reason for someone going missing, the pain is the same. The Government were right to pass the legislation and now, at the close of the consultation period, it is time to implement the measure that will make so many things easier for waiting families to deal with.

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful argument about the ways that people go missing. Does he agree that it is positive that we are moving towards the endgame, in July, for this important Act? However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) mentioned, 2,500 people are still waiting for the measure to be implemented. A thousand people go missing every year and, as has been said, they all have families. Must we not use the debate to make sure that the timescales for implementing the Act do not slip further?

I agree wholeheartedly. We look to the Minister now to encapsulate our thoughts and give us reasons why we are having this debate. Now is the time. We cannot wait longer. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate mentioned that it is the last day of the consultation, and we look to the Minister for reassurance.

Every one of us can understand the families’ uncertainty. I agree that there must be a long waiting period before a declaration of presumed death can be made; yet there are issues that should not have to wait that long to be discharged. That is what this legislation is about, and it is on that matter that we want the Minister’s reassurance. It will be helpful if a path can be set out for family members left without the financial support they need and expected, or unpaid creditors who must turn to insolvency procedures. It will be helpful also in the case of mortgages and repossession procedures. It is relevant to problems that arise when banks and other financial institutions are unable to release the missing person’s assets, or even information about them, to those left behind. In such cases the missing person’s money can be wasted by automated payments. Direct debits go out every month with no control and cannot be stopped. The person’s assets decay for want of repair. Those things happen at the moment, and that is why the urgency of the matter cannot be emphasised enough.

There has been much consideration and the time has come to implement the law right away. Many hon. Members realise that there is a need to fill a void, and to look after those who have lost loved ones, so that they can continue their lives in a way that enables them to remember. The pain of families left behind will of course never go away, but the Act will enable us to look after them.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. It is rare to be in a debate in Parliament where we feel that the whole House is coming together on an issue that affects nearly everyone. A quarter of a million people will go missing each year. Many of them will be found, but the families left behind are in no man’s land.

I will start with a bit of history. As it did for the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), this issue came to the fore with me very early in my parliamentary career, when I met Rachel Elias, the sister of Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers, who went missing in 1995. The funny thing is that before we meet people and learn about the story, we sometimes think of it as a mystery and we forget that these people are real and leave behind lives. With Richey Edwards being a high-profile guitarist and songwriter with the Manic Street Preachers—one of my favourite bands when I was a mad indie fan as a kid—we forget that these people are real. When I met Rachel, I discovered the devastation that his disappearance had left behind: mortgages unpaid, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, direct debits unpaid and a kind of no man’s land.

It is hard for people to accept, when someone has gone missing, that they may have died; they do not want to recognise that. I pay tribute to the Missing People charity for its hard work to bring this issue to the fore. When I met the charity, I was told that the law at the time was like crazy paving, with no certainty about what happens when someone goes missing. I think the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton will agree with me that that was the best way to describe it.

I was interested at the time in the Presumption of Death Act 2013. I will do something strange for a Labour Member and commend the Government, because from the beginning of my involvement in this campaign the Government got this, and I believe they got it right. When I was on the Justice Committee in 2011, I asked the then Chair, Sir Alan Beith—now Lord Beith—to look into the matter, and he did. We had the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), who was then a Minister at the Ministry of Justice, before us, and he said that the Government were supportive of a presumption of death Act but did not have parliamentary time.

That legislation was introduced as a private Member’s Bill, which I mentioned in my earlier intervention, by the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), who is now a Treasury Minister. I was delighted to be part of the Committee that ultimately brought about the Presumption of Death Act, which came into force on 1 October 2013, but I always felt that that was just part one of solving the problem. Yes, presumption of death was right—as the hon. Member for Strangford said, it is correct that we give a certain amount of time for people who have gone missing before they are pronounced dead. That is absolutely right because, sadly, we have seen high-profile cases where people have come back—I am thinking of the famous canoe man.

The second part, and the original point that Rachel brought up with me, was about still being liable for debts, direct debits and, in particular, mortgages. Banks, having no recompense, may have to look into liquidation. The financial pressure that families face is huge, at the same time as they are going through the emotions of losing and missing someone, so I was delighted when the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton introduced a private Member’s Bill that became the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017.

However, for all the good work done on this by the coalition Government and the present Government, I feel that they dragged their heels a little, and I am disappointed by that. It is pertinent, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) mentioned, that today is the end of the consultation. I think we have dragged our feet a little too much on this, and I look to the Minister to ensure that the Act comes into force in July. Too many people are left in limbo and need help, not in July, but now. If they have the banks on their back and everything else, the pressure on them is immense.

As I said in my earlier intervention, the hon. Member for Salisbury has been elevated to the Treasury team—he is on to great things—but he has responsibility for financial services now, as the Minister will know, and I hope that they have had discussions. I know the hon. Member for Salisbury enjoys a good relationship with the financial services sector, and I hope he will be heavily involved in ensuring that the banks and other financial services come to the table and talk about this to ensure a smooth transition as the Act comes into force in July, so that the financial pressure is taken off families.

I also understand the problems with the Act: we are asking someone to take on the affairs of someone else, and I know there has to be sensitivity around that. When the Minister responds to the debate, I hope he will touch on that sensitivity of someone else taking on responsibility for someone who is missing and does not know that they have got hold of their financial affairs. As we always worry in these cases, despite all the many genuine cases, there is always potential for fraud, so I hope the Minister will talk about how the Act will deal with that.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Strangford, who I think is setting the record for the number of Westminster Hall debates that he speaks in. He spoke very well, as he always does, and he mentioned something that I had not thought of before: whether a central database of missing people had been created by the police. I hope the Minister will have conversations with the Home Office about bringing that about. It is interesting that when we travel to America, if we buy a carton of milk, there are often pictures of missing children on there. The Government could speak to supermarkets about bringing that about, and I hope that will be thought about.

Of course, I pay tribute to Peter Lawrence, who I am delighted to see here today, for his dignified campaign. Anyone who has met him knows his passion to ensure that no other family should have to go through what he has been through. I share his sadness that it is now 10 years since Claudia went missing, and I hope beyond all hope that one day he gets some positive news, because he deserves it.

I also pay tribute to my constituent Rachel Elias for her high-profile campaign, especially through the popular press, to ensure that Richey’s tragedy is still talked about 24 years later. I met her mother Sherry and her father Graham, and I find it sad that they passed away without knowing what happened to Richey. Again, I hope that they find some closure in that case and that there is some positive news about all this; but I will say of Rachel that, in the midst of all the negativity, she has found something positive and she has campaigned very hard. My heart goes out to everybody who has someone who has gone missing. I pray and hope that they find closure and hear some positive news eventually.

We now come to the Front-Bench speeches. If the Front Benchers split the time between them, they can have up to 25 minutes each, but it is not compulsory.

Do not worry, colleagues, I will not take up that kind offer. It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) for securing the debate and to everybody who has contributed to it—the hon. Members for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), and my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans). We have heard some powerful and moving speeches. To say that I enjoyed listening to them would be to use the wrong word, but certainly I have been moved by every speech I have heard today.

Let us take a moment to imagine someone we love dearly—a family member, spouse or child—going missing without a trace; how frantic and traumatised we would feel at losing them overnight and how we would cling to the hope that they might return, even as days, months or even years went by, all the while swinging between hope and fear of the worst. Let us imagine having to experience that rollercoaster of emotional turmoil while simultaneously battling with legal and financial institutions to save the home we shared, watching the life that we hope that loved one will return to fall apart. Let us imagine being stuck in legal limbo, unable even to grieve the loss of the missing loved one, who we still hope will return, unable to manage the finances and practical affairs of the absent family member, feeling helpless.

That is the reality for families of missing people, who are still waiting on Ministers to move on this vital legislation and allow them the legal right to become guardians of their loved one’s affairs 90 days after they have been declared missing. Without the legal authority to act on a missing relative’s behalf, families can face great difficulty engaging financial and legal institutions to keep their loved one’s affairs in order. Whether it is banking, mortgages or insurance, benefits or utilities, the list of foundational elements of their relative’s life that they are unable to manage due to bureaucratic barriers is endless.

Families find themselves unable to make changes to missing relatives’ mortgages or cancel direct debits that are clearly no longer needed. The worst-case scenario is that the missing person’s finances are damaged beyond repair and that their home is lost altogether, which, unless a presumption of death certificate is gained, is the only option for some families.

However, quite understandably, many people do not want to believe that their loved one is deceased. While the presumption of death route suits some families, it does not suit many others. Imagine having a missing person declared dead when firmly believing, or at least hoping against hope, that they are actually still alive. Forcing families to declare their loved one dead just so that they can take control of a spiralling financial crisis seems an almost dystopian level of cruelty. Where is the humanity in such a system? There are examples of people who have been missing for years later returning. Who are we to deny suffering families the hope that their loved one will one day be back to resume the life they left behind?

The simple solution, as laid out in the 2017 Act, is similar to arrangements that exist for appointing people guardian of the affairs of someone who is mentally incapable of managing their own affairs. This is a humane and practical route to giving families the peace of mind and the autonomy to deal with financial quandaries that they would otherwise face.

The Government have dragged their feet on implementation of the 2017 Act, to the extent that they are still consulting on it, despite the Act receiving Royal Assent and the support of both sides of the House. This totally unnecessary consultation finishes today, with weary families watching as we continue to engage in a talking shop about the blatantly obvious and already agreed solution to their ongoing trauma. The legislation has been debated and agreed and has received Royal Assent. Why on earth are we making traumatised families wait any longer? Charities that work with the families of missing people are seriously concerned by the continued delays. Missing People says that families it works with currently face increased financial hardship, despite hoping that they would now be able to manage their missing relative’s affairs.

Claudia Lawrence is still missing after nearly 10 years. There is no evidence of any crime being committed against her, nor of her having made any contact with those close to her. Her father, Peter Lawrence, has spearheaded the campaign for changes to guardianship laws and has come so far, seeing Claudia’s law grow from a ten-minute rule Bill into a fully formed Act thanks to his brave campaigning. However, he and the rest of Claudia’s family still have no closure or ability to manage her affairs.

More people are going missing, and the latest figures show that fewer people than the Government expected have been declared as presumed dead, meaning more families being forced to face unnecessary challenges due to the Government’s slow progress on implementing the legislation. Claudia’s law passed its Third Reading in the House of Lords on 27 April 2017. It was welcomed in both Houses by all parties and passed through Parliament unamended in just over three months. It should have been fully enacted in May 2018, when we expected families of missing people to be able to start applying for guardianship powers.

However, despite initial assurances that the law would be brought into force one year after Royal Assent, in April 2018 the Government made the heartbreaking announcement that delays would ensue, preventing the necessary secondary legislation from being enacted. We are still waiting, nearly two years down the line, while families watch their finances fall apart and the burden of stress mount ever higher. All Members who have spoken have made the same plea: that we must not drag our heels any longer. Why do these delays persist? When will the Minister give these families the reassurance they need of a solid, immovable implementation timetable, and what does he have to say to them by way of apology for their prolonged pain and suffering?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) on securing a debate on this important subject. He and many other Members of both Houses, some of whom are here today, have campaigned long and hard for the implementation of the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017. The hon. Gentleman spoke very movingly, with his customary decency and power, on behalf of his constituent, whose brother went missing in the Galapagos.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who is my friend, for his work on and success with his private Member’s Bill. He mentioned that parliamentary time is hard to come by and that getting a private Member’s Bill through is harder still. I have to say that he has exceptional skill in doing so, having done it not once but twice. I commend any colleague wishing to succeed with a private Member’s Bill to seek his wise counsel and guidance, or indeed his golden touch, in this space.

My hon. Friend rightly highlighted not only the support for the 2017 Act across the House, but how he got it across the line just in time. I have to declare an interest: I was proud to be in the Chamber that day to hear his speech. On that occasion he highlighted the case of Claudia Lawrence, who has been missing since 2009. Her father, Peter, is here today. While tributes to colleagues are important, I must pay the greatest tribute to him for his bravery and dedication in securing action by Parliament on this important issue.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), made a powerful speech, as ever. It is always a pleasure to work with her. As she knows, when I say that I will do something, I tend to stick to that, and I intend to do so today. I know that she, with her customary courtesy but firmness, will hold me to account on that—she has today administered polite but firm prods to Her Majesty’s Government along those lines.

I am conscious that Members are frustrated, as they have expressed courteously but clearly, that the Act has not yet come into effect. As a Member who was in the Chamber that day, I share that frustration. I am pleased to reaffirm on the record the commitment made by my ministerial colleague, Lord Keen, that the Government are determined to implement the Act in July this year. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate asked what will happen should there be any delays or problems. First, should there be any, I will ensure that Parliament is fully informed. However, it is my determination to make sure that there are none and that we bring the Act into operation in July.

The Minister is making a genuine point, and I know from speaking to him and from asking questions of him in the House that he is determined to drive this forward. I am absolutely delighted about that, but will he give a commitment to all Members in the debate—looking around, they are the same ones who have been involved in these debates for years—that he will write to us to keep us updated and to make sure we deliver on that July timetable?

I am very happy to give that assurance and to write to all Members who have participated in the debate, as well as to others who could not be here today but who have taken a close interest in this issue. My hon. Friend pre-empts my mentioning him, but I put on the record my appreciation and, I know, everyone else’s, for his work in furthering this important cause.

Today is a significant marker on the route to implementation, not only because of our debate, but because it is the end of the consultation period, which began on 19 December last year with the publication of our consultation paper on the implementation of the Act. While I hear the shadow Minister’s points on that, I think it was right that we consulted. We are taking a novel approach to a new area of law, and it is important that we get it right.

I emphasise that the Government recognise and fully support the need for this legislation. I think it was the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) who put it very clearly, saying that, prior to the Act, the law and provisions in this area were essentially a bit like crazy paving. He is absolutely right. The need for the legislation was therefore clear.

We understood that several families each year had no legal process to turn to in order to resolve urgent property or financial affairs for a family member or friend who had gone missing with no evidence of what had happened to them. That was set out by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate and, indeed, by my friend, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who set out with his customary passion, determination and detailed research the vital need for this legislation to come into force. As ever, his constituents and the House are lucky to have him.

We understand that the terrible emotional distress and anxiety that families are already going through is increased as they seek to deal with everyday financial issues regarding their missing loved one. They cannot access bank accounts, savings or property transactions to intervene as they see those financial affairs potentially spiralling out of control. The creation of the new legal status of guardian of the property and financial affairs of a missing person will provide a structured way of dealing with financial affairs and property in the missing person’s best interests, under a legal process that builds in safeguards for all involved.

The consultation paper, to which I referred, set out the Ministry of Justice’s proposals for implementation of the Act. The Government are grateful for the comments we have received—both formally, in writing, and in numerous meetings that officials have convened in the past few months with a wide range of interested parties, following the commitment in the consultation paper to engage fully with stakeholders. Of course, we must now consider the views expressed to us. We intend to do that quickly and to publish the Government’s response to the consultation in early April, setting out the detail of the proposals for implementation.

As the consultation paper set out, there are several aspects to implementation of the Act, and all of them need to be completed successfully for it to come into force and work as intended. As I have mentioned, guardianship in this context is fairly novel; indeed, it is a significant change, so it is important that we get it right, with safeguards, but also ensure that the raft of complex legal and regulatory changes work as intended.

The first aspect is developing the rules of court and related practice directions for guardianship proceedings. Guardians can be appointed only by the High Court. Their appointment will be by a court order setting out the scope of their authority in relation to the property and financial affairs of the missing person. As I have said, the court to be designated for the process is the High Court. The decision on the court was made by the Lord Chancellor, following the required statutory consultation with the Lord Chief Justice.

Our intention is that applications to the High Court for a guardianship order will be made to the chancery division or the family division. This arrangement is modelled on the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 and the Presumption of Death Act 2013. This approach enables many of the existing rules of court and practice directions to be followed, so guardianship proceedings can be commenced under existing part 8 of the civil procedure rules, and applications after a case has started can be made via part 23. We will decide where to draw the line between the different rules over the coming months in considering the response to the consultation. However, although we can follow precedent, we are not obliged to do so, and if there are good reasons to create a new provision to cater for a particular feature of guardianship—for example, its limited duration—we are willing to look at that.

I can give an update: the work on the draft rules of court and practice directions is progressing well and efficiently, particularly through consultation with members of the judiciary and court officials who will be handling cases. The draft rules and practice directions will of course have to be considered and approved by the Civil Procedure Rule Committee. We intend to submit the drafts to the meetings of the committee in April and May. Once the committee has signed off the rules, they will be made and laid before Parliament for approval under the negative resolution procedure. The rules will be given effect through administrative procedures that will have to be created by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. Work is already under way in preparation for that.

The second major aspect of implementation is the making of regulations to enable the Public Guardian to register and supervise guardians. These regulations will be made under section 58 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. We expect that they will be similar to those applying to deputies who are appointed by the Court of Protection to manage the property and financial affairs of individuals who lack the mental capacity to do so themselves. These regulations will provide a legal framework, but the Public Guardian will also have to develop procedures to provide a supervisory and registration service. That work is also well under way, and good progress is being made.

This Act provides for the Public Guardian to establish and maintain a register of guardianship orders. The Public Guardian will also be responsible for supervision of guardians. We propose that a guardianship order will specify when the guardian is to report to the Public Guardian. The Public Guardian will deal with complaints about the conduct of guardians, including safeguarding concerns, but will also be able to offer advice and guidance, which we think will provide considerable assistance to guardians, as the equivalent advice and guidance does for deputies at the moment.

Deputies usually have to provide a security or surety bond or proof of adequate professional indemnity insurance to the Public Guardian. We anticipate that there will be similar arrangements for guardians under this Act. The Public Guardian will receive the bond and hold it against any risk of a missing person’s estate being misused and facing financial loss through the actions of the guardian.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Public Guardian and his office for their work to date in preparing for implementation of the Act. More broadly, ahead of his retirement later this year, I pay tribute to the Public Guardian, Alan Eccles, as an exemplary public servant who has done much to bring this issue to the fore and into greater public consciousness during his term of office.

The third aspect on which we have consulted is the fees for the new service. These are of two types. The first is court fees, and the proposal in the consultation is to adopt the existing fees in the High Court’s two divisions for the procedures concerned. This mirrors the approach taken for fees under the Presumption of Death Act 2013. The second type of fee is that levied by the Public Guardian for registration and supervision of guardians. These will be new fees, but the expectation in the consultation is that the approach will follow that taken by the Public Guardian in relation to existing fees for deputies. For both these types of fees, we expect that there will be the usual exemptions and remissions.

I have to say that this is not a simple process, because the fees are currently calculated to strike a balance between being affordable and covering the costs of operating the system. Obviously, for something new, it is difficult to estimate both what the costs will be and what the volume of cases will be, but it is important that we strike the right balance between ensuring that costs are covered and not allowing a situation whereby, in the initial months, when there may be only a few applications, people face a prohibitive fee. We need to strike an appropriate balance.

The fourth and final aspect on which we have consulted is the content of a draft code of practice offering guidance to guardians and those considering whether to make a guardianship application. The Act requires the Lord Chancellor to issue a code of practice, and we intend to do that when the Act comes into force. In drawing up the draft code, we have been at pains to make it as accessible as possible to the layperson, and it features a glossary of terms and a number of examples of scenarios that may be faced by the family and friends of missing people. However, we know from the comments that we have received that we can make further progress towards that objective.

The draft code explains key concepts underpinning the Act and goes into some detail on the broad range of duties that guardians will carry out. The aim is that it will assist guardians to understand their responsibilities and equip them to meet their duties. It also aims to explain their powers and the limitations of those powers, as well as where guardians can turn for help. Once the content of the rules and regulations has been settled in the light of the consultation responses, we will include them in the code of practice. The code will be an important resource for guardians and people dealing with them. We intend to lay a draft before Parliament at least 40 days before it is issued, but in the meantime we intend to publish a revised draft in response to the consultation.

I will now address one of the points made by the hon. Member for Islwyn—my pronunciation of the name of his constituency will get better one of these days—in respect of relationships with financial institutions, both in the lead-up to the Act and once the Act is fully in force. Financial institutions are already getting engaged with this process and getting on board with these changes. Officials are ensuring that there is strong engagement directly with financial institutions to discuss setting up new systems for the process in guardianship cases, to ensure that it is as simple and efficient as possible for those who have to go through the pain of this situation.

The designation of the High Court, which I mentioned, will require a statutory instrument.

I want to refresh the Minister’s memory about one the requests I made to him, on the back of which the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) came in as well. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has a statistical central catalogue of all the missing people, and it periodically publishes their names in the provincial press to remind people. I know it is not the Minister’s direct responsibility, but could he ask the correct Minister about having a central location for a catalogue of those who have gone missing across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? That would ensure that people could look at it whenever they want. Would he also take on the idea suggested by the hon. Member for Islwyn about having copies of a photograph of these people? That could be done in conjunction with a person’s family. It would highlight missing people on a regular basis, and may jog people’s memories to give a bit of evidence, which may make a difference.

The hon. Members for Strangford and for Islwyn—if I keep saying it, I will get it right—have both made powerful points, which I am happy to explore with ministerial colleagues.

The designation of the High Court will require a statutory instrument. I hope that when we get to the stage of having to lay those pieces of delegated legislation, we preserve a bipartisan and non-party political approach, to ensure that we get the regulations right and get them through as swiftly as we can.

Before finishing, I place on record my thanks to the charity Missing People, which has continued to engage with the Ministry in the preparation of the consultation and the draft legislation, and which has kindly acted as an intermediary to collect and collate responses to the consultation from families it knows who have been directly affected by people going missing.

In conclusion, I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate for bringing the topic of guardianship of missing persons before us today. I thank all the hon. Members who have taken part and who have pursued the issue, both today and over many months and years. I also thank you, Mr Hollobone, for chairing the debate. The Act is not only needed and practically important, but quite simply the right thing to do. There is still more work to do to implement the Act in July, but I and the Government know how important this legislation is to many families, who do not have any legal recourse at the moment, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that, in July, we make the ambition and intent of this Act a reality for our country, our communities and those who suffer the dreadful pain of a loved one going missing.

I will be brief in my remarks. I thank the Minister for giving details about the next steps and how the matter will progress from here. I look forward to getting updates in the near future about how things are progressing. He has given a commitment that the Act will be fully implemented in July, and I look forward to that. I thank him for being so candid.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered missing persons guardianship.

Sitting suspended.

Non-surgical Cosmetic Procedures: Regulation

I beg to move,

That this House has considered regulation of non-surgical cosmetic procedures.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I am grateful to lead this debate on an issue that I believe affects all our constituents.

We live in a time when there is a certain desire, especially among the young and impressionable, that one must always look one’s best, or in fact look different to how we may really be. There is nothing wrong with that; we live in a country that gives all citizens the ultimate freedoms over their choices and their own bodies. However, we in Parliament have a responsibility to the people, and our responsibility includes ensuring that those who wish to change their appearance and their body have all the information they need to make a fully informed and rational decision and, importantly, are able to trust those administering treatments and to have peace of mind that those treatments will be carried out correctly, with minimal risk to their health.

Does this matter not come down to a fundamental issue, namely that if something goes wrong, who do we sue? Is that not the nub of what my hon. Friend is trying to get at?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Yes, that is one of the core issues that I wish to raise today. The mark of a professional in our society is somebody who is regulated, who is trained, qualified and licensed, and who has ongoing regulation and development. However, in addition to that, in the private sector they must carry professional indemnity insurance, so that people do not sue men or women of straw and so that they have someone to sue when things go wrong.

My experience of non-surgical cosmetic procedures does not extend to Instagram celebrities or Kylie Jenner. Instead, I wish to inform you, Mr Hollobone, of the case of my constituent Rachael Knappier. First, I thank Rachael, her mother and her friend, who are all attending this debate here in Parliament. I also thank Rachael for her tremendous bravery and willingness to talk openly about the terrible injury that she sustained as a result of a botched non-surgical cosmetic procedure. I think Rachael has been a role model for hundreds, if not thousands, of people across the country who have read the articles in the British media about her trauma. They responded with sympathy, but most crucially an understanding of her experience, because—sadly—experiences such as Rachael’s are not confined to the few. Many hundreds of our constituents have suffered such botched procedures.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I congratulate him on bringing this issue to the House. This debate was supposed to be held a few weeks ago, Mr Hollobone, but unfortunately it did not take place then, so I have looked forward to this opportunity today.

Very recently, I was contacted by one of my local councillors on behalf of a registered nurse in my constituency who is asking for regulation of non-surgical cosmetic services to be made compulsory and not voluntary. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we must understand the belief of someone who sees the terrible effects of these treatments carried out by those who are not medical professionals, and that we should put legislation in place to address this grave concern? Whenever nurses or my councillors come and tell me their concerns, there is a real need for legislative change.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I agree that regulation is required and that legislation should underpin that regulation; there should not be voluntary regulation. Indeed, I would go further and say that, although I do not profess to know what type of expertise somebody should have to carry out these procedures, the regulator should identify the training, the expertise and the qualifications required and what products should be permitted in the market.

I am sure my hon. Friend will be aware that Sir Bruce Keogh conducted a review of the cosmetics industry and its unregulated nature earlier this decade, and he made exactly the points that my hon. Friend is making. Sir Bruce also made the point that if someone is going to perform operations on the human body, they should have the requisite knowledge and training to understand the anatomy involved and the consequences if something goes wrong. Far too often, unregulated practitioners do not have the skills or knowledge to understand what can go wrong, or indeed the skills or knowledge to advise people about the potentially adverse consequences of a procedure. I therefore agree with my hon. Friend that it is time for proper regulation of what are sometimes cowboy practitioners in this sector.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The idea that anyone who is wholly unregulated and without any medical expertise whatsoever can inject people with foreign substances is shocking, to say the least. Again, however, it would be for a regulator to determine what type of qualifications and expertise one should need, whether that is medical expertise or otherwise. I would leave that matter in the hands of an appropriate regulator.

If hon. Members do not mind, I will make some progress and then give way again.

My constituent Rachael told me that a beautician had attended a party intending to administer some treatments to those in attendance. The beautician in question did not have any medical training, nor, to the best of my knowledge, did she have any formal recognised training in administering this type of injection. Rachael received, as many thousands of our constituents do, a lip filler injection while she was attending a social engagement with friends. As a direct result of the beautician’s mistake—it was not Rachael’s mistake—lip filler was incorrectly injected into Rachael’s artery, causing her lips to swell severely, requiring her to seek urgent medical attention, before being treated privately after the NHS was unable to help. Again, I commend Rachael’s bravery in talking so willingly about her experience, providing a multitude of younger people and others with a message of understanding and empowerment.

These types of procedures, which have been popularised by Instagram celebrities and reality stars such as the Kardashians, have experienced a huge rise in popularity, with more and more people seeking them.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although the vast majority of beauticians undertaking these procedures do so in a professional setting and manner and are concerned about the reputation of their businesses, maintaining that professionalism requires some form of regulation, which would stop these Botox parties where things go horribly wrong and people have no redress, and would improve the whole industry?

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She is right to use the word “professional”, but the mark of a professional is somebody who is regulated, and in the private sector it is somebody who has professional indemnity insurance behind them. It is easy for someone to call themselves a professional, but a real professional is someone who is regulated. I am a solicitor and I am regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and behind me there is professional indemnity insurance. If I give advice negligently, a consumer has redress against the insurance product. We want a healthy, thriving industry in non-surgical cosmetics, where people can freely choose these procedures, but we have a duty as MPs to protect the health and safety of consumers, enabling them to make informed choices when seeking treatment from professional beauticians.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Regarding the training that those administering these sorts of treatments need, I recently spoke to a father whose 19-year-old daughter had received Botox injections, to which she had suffered a severe allergic reaction. This is the realm of medical practice. Anyone administering Botox should be aware of the possibility of those receiving it having an allergic reaction and should know what to do if they do. That is an area that regulation needs to address.

The hon. Lady is exactly spot-on. It is beyond belief that somebody can inject someone else with a foreign substance and have no medical expertise whatsoever. That is the nub of the problem.

We see more and more young people seeking these types of procedures, and at younger ages. It is incumbent on the Government to act swiftly and decisively to ensure that proper regulation and protection are in place for our constituents, of all ages, before the situation spirals out of control.

According to data from Save Face, a Government-approved voluntary register of accredited practitioners, there has been an alarming rise in reports of botched cosmetic procedures in the UK. The number of complaints about unregistered practitioners of treatments such as lip fillers and Botox reached almost 1,000 last year, showing that there is a large gap in safety and proper process that must be bridged.

Further, there is a separate but inextricable link between the rise of non-surgical cosmetic procedures and the pressures that young people in our society feel. Members may have seen Sky News this morning about social media, selfies and changing one’s image. That is clearly a major issue, particularly among the younger generation. Social media also has a responsibility regarding advertisements for non-surgical cosmetic procedures that are particularly targeted at minors. Although it is a person’s prerogative to undertake any treatment they wish, they should be able to do so through the prism of an informed decision, and with the peace of mind that the treatment they receive has been tried, tested and regulated by a professional body.

Colleagues might have seen the news about Superdrug a week or so ago, in which NHS England’s medical director strongly criticised the trusted high street retailer for not conducting “medically responsible” checks before customers receive their treatment. Similarly, NHS England’s chief executive sternly warned ITV about screening advertisements for these types of treatment in breaks during programmes such as “Love Island”, which is hugely popular with young people. Many colleagues will be shocked, as I was, to find that anyone can carry out non-surgical cosmetic procedures, with no regulation or expertise whatsoever.

A multitude of small businesses, and even individuals, spread across Facebook and, especially, Instagram, offer their services to impressionable young people. Many of them have no corporate responsibility or regulation and there are therefore absolutely no safeguards for consumers. Although I appreciate that many colleagues may have never seen an episode of “Love Island”—I confess to being in that category; I do not even have an Instagram account—

Dreadful, shocking. [Interruption.] Resign? With immediate effect. Members may also inexplicably not even know the different between their Kylie and Kendall Jenners, but there can be no doubt that most of our young constituents do. Those things are staples of the young generation, and are prevalent reminders, and in some cases advocates, of these types of non-surgical cosmetic treatment.

The Times recently conducted an investigation in which an Instagram account was created purporting to be that of a 13-year-old. Almost instantly after the account had followed social media influencers and celebrities, posts promoting such procedures appeared in the app’s “explore” feature. That reveals the shocking ease with which our younger constituents can be exposed to these types of treatment, under the guise of their being the new norm in today’s society.

In addition, young people’s physical access to the treatments is of tremendous concern. Although the law rightly restricts tattooing and the use of sunbeds for those under 18, there is no age-related restriction for either surgical or non-surgical invasive cosmetic procedures. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics recommends that children and young people under the age of 18 should not be able to access cosmetic procedures unless there is a medically relevant reason to do so. With the prevalence and exposure of the procedures specifically aimed at the young and impressionable in our society, action is required to protect children.

Turning to the industry itself, I have repeatedly said that non-health professionals who provide non-surgical cosmetic procedures are not regulated in an appropriate statutory manner. There is, however, an independent voluntary Joint Council for Cosmetic Practitioners, which has launched two new registers, one for practitioners who meet the clinical standards required to provide the treatments and another for accredited education providers. In the absence of an obligatory statutory register, as a minimum there should be clear public information about the need to seek a practitioner who is, at the very least, registered with that independent voluntary regulator. Nevertheless, a voluntary independent register, however laudable, does not go far enough. Dermal lip fillers, as one of the more popular non-surgical cosmetic treatments, are a good case in point regarding the total lack of standards in respect of the administered products.

I am mindful of time, so will make a few closing remarks. It was mentioned that the Keogh review, undertaken by the coalition Government, expressed huge concern that nothing prevented entirely unskilled practitioners from offering invasive treatments using unregulated products. The review stated that

“dermal fillers are a crisis waiting to happen.”

Despite the Minister at the time of the review’s publication advocating that its recommendations be taken forward, sadly this is, apparently, not happening. I therefore ask both the Minister, who I know has been a champion of ensuring appropriate health and safety standards for consumers, and the Government to at least consider setting out a cohesive and comprehensive plan to properly regulate the non-surgical cosmetic industry.

My constituent Rachael has been forthcoming, and willing to discuss her experience, but many hundreds out there have suffered botched treatments and are embarrassed or unable to come forward. As Members of Parliament, we have a duty to our constituents, and indeed to all others who may consider these treatments, to provide public information and to ensure that the procedures are administered by trained, qualified and regulated individuals. We also must ensure that, yes, those individuals are able to work in a thriving and competitive industry, but also that consumers have choice and that professional indemnity insurance is obligatory, so that our constituents are protected when things go wrong and the taxpayer is not burdened through the impact on the NHS.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) for introducing this extremely timely debate. It is good to see so many colleagues showing an interest. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), who made a start on regulating what is a growing industry. These days, we are all concerned about our body image. We all want to look good, and the industry has grown very rapidly. However, it is important to ensure that the public understand the risks associated with the procedures, and we need to do our best to improve standards throughout the industry.

Does the Minister agree that as well as looking at regulation we need to celebrate the beauty industry, which is led predominantly by women, predominantly employs women, and contributes hundreds of millions of pounds to our economy?

I am happy to endorse that point. It is worth bearing in mind that in wishing to regulate the sector we do not want to undermine its dynamism and competitiveness. What we really need is to ensure that consumers are properly educated, so that they can make informed choices about where they seek treatment and can protect themselves. Medical professionals are equipped to deliver some of the treatments, but we do not necessarily want that as a monopoly. Provided we have an appropriate system of regulation with everyone signing up to the same expected standards, such a system can be embraced.

We have had reference to Sir Bruce Keogh’s invaluable review, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich. The Government have acted to improve the regulation and registration of those performing cosmetic interventions, but we clearly need to make much more rapid and substantial progress if we are to protect consumers properly. The industry is ever-expanding. We have heard that treatments are now available on the high street in places such as Superdrug, but this is not like going to have a haircut. When things are injected into a person’s face, if it goes wrong, it takes a lot longer to fix than letting their hair grow again would. We need to be sure that we are properly looking after consumers, including their safety.

I welcome what the Minister has said about wanting to go further with regulation. Historically, the challenge has been other Government Departments pushing back against the position of the Department of Health, which has wanted to protect people—seeing them as not just consumers but people who would be considered as patients in other capacities—and put in place adequate regulation of this sector. I hope that, given the Minister’s interest in this topic, she will be able to take the challenge to other Government Departments, and overcome the out-and-out free-market instincts that are putting people at risk.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right: the priority for us in the Department of Health and Social Care has to be the safety of people undergoing these procedures. Aligned with that, I was pleased to see in the challenge to Superdrug a recognition of the fact that people’s seeking these sorts of treatments can be an indication of dysmorphia and an underlying problem. We need to make sure that all practitioners in this field have the ability to recognise those problems.

I also wanted to raise the issue of dysmorphia, which strays into the area of mental health. I am concerned that we seem to be accepting that it is okay for people to want to change their appearance. The issue of body dysmorphia illustrates that people may be asking for these procedures for the wrong reasons, and I question whether somebody on the high street who is not a qualified mental health practitioner is able to determine whether somebody is suffering from body dysmorphia.

The hon. Lady goes to the nub of this issue. We need to achieve an appropriate balance between allowing consumers to choose to embark on procedures that will enhance their appearance, and identifying whether the issue is something deeper. Again, it comes down to how we regulate those practitioners, the codes of conduct that they will sign up to, and the policies that they will put in place themselves. To an extent, the hon. Lady is right: dysmorphia can only be diagnosed by a medical professional. However, there are signs that can be taken into account, that can lead to the person’s being asked, “Do you really want to do this? Is this an appropriate procedure for you?” Perhaps there should be cooling-off periods, with bookings being made properly, and customers being advised about the risks that such treatments involve, so that they can make an informed choice. The hon. Lady is right to highlight the growing issue of dysmorphia, which we need to be very alive to.

This is a really important point. Even in the realm of plastic surgery, which is a regulated industry, we see grotesque transformations of people’s bodies and faces: people having ribs removed, leaving their external organs exposed, or having their entire appearance amended to make them look like a human Ken doll. We know that regulation in that sector is not really working, so can we make sure that in the currently unregulated sector of Botox injections and dermal fillers, we keep a closer eye on such things?

The hon. Lady makes an extremely good point. The worst thing is that the media representation of those quite grotesque transformations encourages us to look on them as entertainment, yet the person we are looking at has no idea, because those transformations are symptomatic of dysmorphia. The media have to be a lot more sensible about their portrayal of these things. My hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire mentioned the adverts during “Love Island”; these artificially enhanced images of people are becoming entertainment. I am delighted that in this country we have banned the Brazilian butt lift, which aims to make people look like one of our friends the Kardashians, but even so, people still aspire to look like that.

We can discuss regulation and ensuring that consumers understand the risks, but there is a wider challenge to society in how we celebrate learning to love ourselves. We have talked generally about the pressure that social media creates, which is becoming much more intense, but there is a hell of a lot more to do. Sadly, we could probably debate this issue for quite some time—we do not have the opportunity to do so today—but the debate about cosmetic regulation and making cosmetic procedures safe brings out these questions, which we as a society need to be better at addressing. If we do not address them, these issues about dysmorphia will only get worse, because our young people are faced with an intensity of images that make them want to change their bodies. It is just not good for them.

As there is limited time left, I will bring hon. Members up to date about what has happened since the Keogh review. Sir Bruce Keogh’s report identified several areas for change: the principles that underlined it were those of high-quality care, using safe products, administered by skilled professionals and responsible providers to an informed and empowered public. We still have a long way to go in both empowering the public and ensuring that all such procedures are administered by skilled practitioners. I wholly endorse the demand by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire that such practitioners should have professional indemnity insurance. It is important that the NHS has the opportunity to recover the costs of repairing procedures carried out by those practitioners, who should bear the risks. As I say, this is not like going to the hairdresser’s for a haircut: there are risks associated with such procedures, and those engaged in them should bear those risks.

Updated guidance for doctors about this area has been issued by both the General Medical Council and the Royal College of Surgeons. We have introduced a voluntary certification scheme for surgeons working in the cosmetic sector, and Health Education England is developing a training and qualification framework for providers of non-surgical interventions. A key outcome of the Keogh review was setting standards that anyone who wishes to perform non-surgical cosmetic procedures should meet. To that end, the Joint Council for Cosmetic Practitioners was established, and in April 2018 it launched a register for both medical and non-clinical cosmetic practitioners. That register will provide a framework for regulation, but we need to do much more to encourage non-clinical cosmetic practitioners to sign up to it.

Alongside the Cosmetic Practice Standards Authority, the JCCP released an updated competency framework last September, and launched its education and training register. To receive accreditation on that register, providers offering education and training in these procedures must meet rigorous standards set by the JCCP. We need to work closely with the JCCP to develop hallmarks that people who wish to undergo these procedures can look for, so that they can be sure that they are obtaining treatment from a regulated practitioner. We have heard references to Save Face, which also holds a register for clinical cosmetic practitioners who provide non-surgical cosmetic treatments. Some 600 practitioners are currently covered by these registers, but I am sure that hon. Members from across the House will appreciate that significantly more than 600 practitioners offer these treatments. There is some way to go in ensuring that all those involved in this industry perform to the standards that we can legitimately expect, and that those who are not doing so exit the industry. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire will agree that those registers are major steps forward in enabling consumers to make informed choices about cosmetic procedures.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend’s constituent for coming forward and telling her story, because probably the best way of helping consumers protect themselves is to have a visual illustration of the risks and someone who can demonstrate their experience. I am very grateful to her for her courage in sharing her story. We need to do much more in the area of public education, to ensure that consumers fully appreciate that there are risks involved in injecting substances into one’s face, and to ensure that the person doing so has appropriate qualifications. Botox is obviously a prescription drug, but the person injecting it does not have to be the person who obtained the prescription. That is another thing that we need to address. I can also advise my hon. Friend that we will be making dermal fillers a regulated medical device, which will remove some of the risks associated with them. However, as I have said, there is plenty more to do.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

Sitting suspended.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Funding

[Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]

[Relevant document: Oral evidence taken before the Education Committee on 23 October 2018 on Special educational needs and disabilities, HC 968.]

Before I call Sir Vince Cable to move the motion for this important debate on special educational needs and disabilities funding, I can report that 12 colleagues have put in to speak from the Back Benches. Therefore, after Sir Vince’s speech, there will be a voluntary time limit of three and a half minutes. Please try to contain yourselves a little in interventions; otherwise, we will go well over time.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered special educational needs and disabilities funding.

It is a privilege to speak on this subject, which is of immense concern to a large number of us and to our constituents, and that is reflected in the demand to speak. It is rare that we get a Brexit-free zone in Parliament at the moment, but this is one, and it is right that we pay attention to it. Far too many Government problems have been squeezed out by the attention given to a single issue, but how we treat children with special educational needs will have enormous implications for decades to come.

Essentially, I will speak about the conflict between two sets of pressures: an irresistible force and an immovable object. The irresistible force is, of course, the demand of parents of children with special needs, who have been led to believe, by the very progressive Children and Families Act 2014, that their children’s needs will be met and their full potential realised through education, health and care plans. The immovable object is money, manifesting itself now in a serious financial crisis for local authorities, which are expected to meet statutory obligations, but find that demand is rising and becoming much larger than the funding available through the special needs block. In some cases, those local authorities are in extreme difficulty.

I will introduce the debate by quoting a parents’ group called Richmond SEND Crisis, which wrote to me yesterday, describing the problem from the parents’ point of view. The group said:

“The crisis in funding has consequences. It means more stress and mental health issues for both parents and children, parents being forced to give up work, increased levels of family break up, increased levels of children being disruptive in school, failing in school or not being in school at all. It means that schools and the wider school community suffer, as children without proper support tend to absorb a disproportionate amount of time from school staff and may be disruptive in class.

All of these consequences inevitably hit the most vulnerable… families the hardest.”

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one significant change is the growth in home-school education? Given the amount of time it takes to get an assessment, parents are now just taking their children out of school. That cannot be a good thing.

Indeed. That is happening on a growing scale, and is augmented by the fact that many children are being excluded because of the lack of support. That, in turn, contributes to home education, which may be inferior.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the crisis in funding is about not only the overall sum of money but the distribution? Government policy means that schools have to absorb up to £11,000 of the cost of meeting an EHCP. Schools that do the right thing and accept children with special educational needs are therefore punished, and those that do not are rewarded. Does he agree that that is an unfair and wrong distribution?

Indeed. In addition to the problem facing local authorities, schools in effect pay a £6,000 penalty. Many schools that were committed to inclusion now find that increasingly difficult and are shying away from their obligations.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I fully agree with him about funding for special needs schools. Hereward College in Coventry has struggled with funding for a number of years, and does an excellent job. Another dimension is that children who have mental health problems often go home to a disruptive family life. That is not conducive to their education or mental health. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that something should be done about that?

Yes, I do. By mentioning mental health, the hon. Gentleman reinforces the point that I will go on to make. When we talk about special needs pupils, we are talking about significantly different classes of people with fundamentally different problems. Of course, they are all individuals, but we are talking about 1.2 million people altogether in the SEN system—up by about 0.5 million since 2014. About a quarter of them, according to Mencap, have learning difficulties. That actually understates the problem, because Mencap estimates that about 40% of children with learning difficulties are never identified at school.

About 120,000 children are on the autistic spectrum, which is the most rapidly growing and difficult group to accommodate. About 300,000 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Others have a physical disability. I have had correspondence with those with visual impairment problems, who lack equipment, and other groups such as deaf children, who are not included in the SEN categories at all.

We are dealing with large numbers of very different categories of people, but what they have in common is that demand for EHCPs is growing rapidly: it has grown by about 35% over the four years since the legislation was enacted, which is about three times the growth of the school population. It is also three times the amount of funding available through the Government grant allocation.

I thank my right hon. Friend for securing this important debate. He will be aware that one of the successes during the coalition was our insistence that disabled children need to be educated up to the age of 18. That has been a real game-changer; however, the Government did not make it clear that transport for those children should be paid for; they left it discretionary—some county councils pay for the transport, and others do not, which essentially means that those children have to stay at home. Does he agree that that is an anomaly that the Government need to rectify? Otherwise, thousands of disabled people aged 16 to 18, who should be going to school or in training, because that is what we want them to do, will not have that chance.

My hon. Friend is right; that is one of many anomalies. Many such issues were not properly accounted for and are not being fully funded. I will come to others in a moment.

The consequence of the growing demand is that many local authorities, which are genuinely trying to do their best in most cases, are accumulating large financial deficits. The Local Government Association, which has done lots of research on it, believes that there will be a gap of about £1.6 billion at the end of the next financial year. That is unaccounted for at present.

Some London authorities—I speak as a London MP, but I know that other parts of the country have similar problems—have a shortfall from the high needs block of about 7%. For about six boroughs in London, it is more than 10%. For my borough, Richmond, it is 20%, and I think three others are in an even worse position, including the borough of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey). For his borough, I think it is 40%.

My right hon. Friend is right that the situation for Kingston is the worst of any London borough. We are spending more than 40% above our allocation, with a potential knock-on to the budgets of schools across the board, and potentially even the solvency of the local authority. Given how serious that is, does he agree that Ministers need to take action now and that we need to talk to the Department of Health and Social Care? The health service is often not paying for the health part of EHCPs.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: those are both key parts of the solution. For example, I have discovered that there are children whose need for wheelchairs—clearly a health requirement—is treated as an educational need. There are many such cases in which the finance sits in silos and is not sensibly dealt with.

My right hon. Friend is being very generous with his time, and I congratulate him on securing this debate. My constituent Sally Foulsham, who runs a parent group called SHIFT, is in contact with more than 100 parents. She reports that what most frustrates them is the lack of funding for child and adolescent mental health services, which is a major block to unlocking the funding that should be available for EHCPs in the first place. Does my right hon. Friend agree?

Yes. The decline in CAMHS has led to a lot of children not being properly helped at an early stage and requiring greater special needs provision as a result.

To conclude my point about finance, a large number of local authorities are in serious financial trouble, and not just in London—even those that are doing their best and are perfectly competent. Consequently, they have a large financial deficit sitting on their balance sheet. One of their main sources of anxiety is what will happen with respect to Government legislation that treats them as requiring special measures if they do not sort out the problem. At the moment, they are not sure whether to deal with the problem immediately. Perhaps the Minister could advise us what conversations her colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have had about how to deal with the problem.

The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. My council, Hartlepool Borough Council, will have a shortfall of £621,000 in its high needs block funding for 2019-2020. Does he agree that our children and schools need a dedicated schools grant that is sustained and reflects local need?

I am sure that that would be sensible. The hon. Gentleman represents Hartlepool—a very different kind of community from mine in Twickenham—but his helpful intervention illustrates that the problem is felt across the board.

Why has the problem arisen? Why is there such rapid growth in demand, and why is it not being met? There are good reasons and bad reasons. One of the good reasons is that the 2014 Act extended entitlement to special educational needs provision from 18 up to 25. That was a progressive step, but nobody thought about how it would be paid for. Another big biological change is that perinatal and natal mortality has been reduced; that has been a great step in medicine, but it means that there are now many more children who are much loved by their parents but who do need extra help. We are also getting more successful early intervention and diagnosis, meaning that children with special needs are being identified but then have to be helped.

Those are the good reasons. One of the bad reasons is the decline in CAMHS that my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) referred to. Another is the pressure on schools, partly as a result of the minimum £6,000 requirement, and partly because they are having to dispense with teaching assistants—in my area, certainly, cuts are reducing schools’ capacity to handle children with behavioural problems. There is also a rapid rise in exclusions. All those things are bringing pressure to bear on the system.

I have just received figures from my local authority, Derbyshire County Council, that show that children who have special needs but no statement or EHCP are five times as likely to be excluded as children without special needs, whereas those who have a statement or plan are more than 12 times as likely to be excluded. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is a shocking indictment of what we are delivering for children with special needs?

It is a shocking indictment, but it brings to the surface the dilemmas that many local authorities face when they are forced into a position of rationing. They are not allowed to describe it as rationing, because they would be admitting to a legal offence that could be held against them in a tribunal, but we all know that rationing takes place.

Rationing happens in several forms. One, which relates to the hon. Lady’s intervention, is that local authorities drag their feet with what were once called statements but are now called healthcare plans. I believe that the National Autistic Society says that 50% of parents with autistic children wait more than a year for those plans to appear. In other cases, provision is cut to well below the necessary standard: the Young Vision Alliance draws attention to the fact that one of the casualties of the recent rationing has been the issuing of aids to children with visual impairments, which is becoming a serious problem.

Another device that authorities resort to, although of course they do not present it as such, is refusing residential places. In most cases, inclusion in mainstream schools is much the best course of action, but in other cases residential schools are more appropriate. Yet, authorities refuse to agree to them, so the parents have to become carers while the children sit at home, become socially isolated and are never able to develop properly into adulthood.

The main consequence of the conflict between supply and demand is that more and more parents are having to go to tribunal. There has been a 20% growth in tribunals in each of the past few years, and 86% of parents win them, although perhaps “win” is not the right word—in some ways it is a lose-lose situation. Nevertheless, that is an extraordinary figure. It indicates that many local authorities are pushing parents to tribunal, knowing that they themselves will lose, incurring significant costs—about £34 million a year, I believe—simply as a way of holding off demand that they are legally required to meet.

My concluding section is about solutions. How do we deal with this? First, there is a broad acceptance that children should be kept, as far as possible, in mainstream and maintained schools rather than in more demanding provision elsewhere. That is true for educational reasons—inclusion is a good philosophy and has good results—but it is also more economical. The figures are striking: in mainstream and maintained schools, the cost is about £6,000 more for SEND pupils than for non-SEND pupils, while for maintained special schools the cost is about £23,000 more, and for private special schools it is about £40,000 more. In many cases, the private special schools perform a very important function and are of very high quality, which is clearly why people seek them out, but there is certainly some evidence that those schools are exploiting monopoly provision and taking advantage of local authorities. In some cases, they should be referred to the Competition and Markets Authority.

Notwithstanding that issue, the differential suggests an enormous demand for specialist provision that the maintained sector should cater for, but the trend is in the opposite direction. Last year, for the first time, the majority of special needs pupils were not catered for in mainstream maintained schools—a big backward step that reflects the pressures that I have described.

The second clearly undesirable mechanism being used is shifting the burden to other schools, which unfortunately is happening in my own borough. The council is deeply regretful, but it has had to ask the Department for permission to raid the schools budget because the special needs block is grossly insufficient. That is bad not just in itself, because schools are under financial pressure, but because it sets mainstream pupils against special needs pupils. It is quite wicked, actually—it creates resentment in an area in which we should be united in compassion.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the practice is now ubiquitous throughout the country? In Oxfordshire, we have a bizarre situation in which the heads board has refused the extra transfer of money, yet the council is now going to the Secretary of State to override what the heads of local schools believe is the right thing for everyone else. There is an inherent tension around where the money will come from. In the end, it should just be more money.

Indeed. My hon. Friend graphically highlights the dilemma that I am describing: people acting with very good intentions are now being forced into conflict, in a very damaging way.

That point brings me to the crux of the problem: the Government’s role via the high needs budget. I acknowledge that the Government have taken some action—I do not want to be completely grudging. There was an increase of £250 million in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 budgets, part of the special provision announced last year, and that is welcome. However, the LGA has run its ruler over that and has computed that it accounts for about a quarter of the deficit. It is a small step forward. A much bigger step is required.

The second thing the Government can do within existing budget constraints was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton. Some money should be diverted to special needs school provision from within the large increase in cash that is being made available to the health service.

We cannot avoid the conclusion that, in the spending review ahead, the Government are simply going to have to review the weight they give to special needs provision as opposed to the normal school funding block, and to be substantially more generous in respect of special needs provision. They have announced that we have come to the end of austerity. Some of us are a bit sceptical, but this is one area where they can prove it.

Order. I see a few more people here indicating that they wish to speak, so I remind Members of the three-and-a-half minute speaking limit. I call Priti Patel.

Thank you, Sir Gary. I commend the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) on securing what is a really important debate. It is a real privilege to be here today among colleagues to cover the issues of funding. Local authorities, including Essex County Council, are facing real pressures in meeting the needs of pupils, especially those with special educational needs and disabilities. There is no doubt that all of us who visit our local schools and engage with parents and pupils understand where the real pressures lie.

It is important to recognise that the Government have announced additional funding for high needs of £125 million, which is welcome. For Essex, that means another £3.3 million for this and next financial year. The reality is, however, that that is not enough, because of the new pressures caused by the increase in pupils who have additional needs, adding greater burdens and pressure to a local authority that is in a budget-setting cycle at this very time, as all local authorities are. With that comes the challenge of the overspend in special needs funding that Essex County Council is experiencing. A new banding matrix for funding pupils with SEND in special schools is causing a £2.3 million overspend. Increased growth in education, health and care plans is driving an overspend of more than £700,000. In addition, the number of young people in the EHCP category has gone up by 22%.

Local authorities are of course desperately trying to meet their statutory obligations and to find innovative ways of doing so. That obviously includes working across health budgets, which is the right thing to do, and looking at ways in which they can integrate support for care and educational provision.

In total, Essex County Council anticipates a £15 million overspend on the high needs block by the end of 2019-20. The council is investing through its capital programme in new schools, including planning a new autism special school in Witham, which we all welcome and support. In addition to plugging some of the funding gaps, the council has recently asked the schools forum if it would agree to transfer 0.5% of the schools block allocation—approximately £4.3 million—to SEND. Quite understandably, that is going to cause tensions and is causing concern among local schools, and the council has asked the Secretary of State to approve the transfer. Rather than encouraging tensions and anger within our local schools, and leaving the schools and council at loggerheads, I encourage the Minister to take the opportunity to intervene and review the situation, not just by encouraging more financial support, but by encouraging a better way of working so that we can address some of the long-standing issues.

I hope that the forthcoming comprehensive spending review can support local authorities to come together and look at how we can invest in new provision, join up networks and increase integrated provision, so that we can bring education and health more closely together, wrapped around the needs of each pupil. While more funding is needed and is absolutely welcome, we want to maximise the benefits through greater integration of working across local authorities and Government Departments, so that we can give young people the best start in life and so that they can fulfil their potential.

When I was elected to Parliament in June 2017, the problems of children with special needs and the struggles that their parents face became one of the major issues in my casework almost immediately. The problems are with the system, which has been framed around funding that does not meet its needs.

In High Peak in Derbyshire, the county council will not look at applications either for graduated response for individual pupil, or GRIP, lower-level funding or for EHCPs until children are at least two years behind academically. Parents and schools who struggle as best they can to support children are punished for doing so if those children achieve and make progress. By the time they get two years behind, they are usually in year 4 or year 5, and then the process of trying to get additional funding from the county council starts. In Derbyshire, that process is taking up to two years, largely because of a lack of educational psychiatrists, who have been cut and cut again.

Schools have to put an enormous amount of time into preparing applications, often for very small amounts of funding. They have to put in £6,000-worth of funding themselves before they even start. One secondary school in my constituency says it has 125 children with special needs who should qualify. They would have to find three quarters of a million pounds from their budget to apply for additional funding for all those children. The school cannot find £7,000, let alone £750,000, after four years of school funding freezes and increases in its costs. Parents are becoming increasingly distraught, seemingly caught in a fight against schools, which are reluctant to put in applications for funding because they know that the majority are refused even after days of a school trying to put a case together as best it can.

In Derbyshire, there is a £727,000 shortfall in our high needs block funding. Our Conservative county council suggested that the funding it got for road mending, at the end of the winter, when it could least be used, would have been more helpful for the children’s services budget and education. That might be a case that the Minister could make. Ultimately, we need more funding. I pointed out earlier the number of exclusions that children with special needs are facing. This is a system that is failing them, as well as schools, teachers, and parents.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) on securing this important debate. In my three minutes, I will touch on school funding, school choices and another area that I passionately support.

On school funding, I ask the Minister to focus particularly on recent changes to the allocations between school block, early years block and high needs block. Previously, it was a notional figure that could be switched across blocks, and now the limit is just 0.5%. I am concerned about the knock-on effect, as it creates a perverse incentive for mainstream schools to see children moved out of mainstream into specialist schools. Previously, they would have complained that they would be salami-sliced and would have to pay for that—now, they would not have to. I ask the Minister if it would be possible to see data on whether that is actually forcing more young people out of mainstream into specialist schools. Mainstream should be where we start. It is where these young people will return to after they have finished school, in their communities and workplace. Anything that creates an incentive away from that is a concern to me.

Balcarras School in my constituency takes a number of SEND children—more than 20—yet because of a quirk of the system that means it has to pay the first £6,000, it is disincentivised from doing the right thing. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful if the Government looked constructively at changing that funding arrangement?

I do indeed. My constituents living in east Sussex are less likely to be in a maintained mainstream school than children living in any other county around us, so I absolutely agree. The difficulty is that we have received a 3% real-terms cut to school funding in my constituency of Bexhill and Battle. We are at 4,334, whereas the figure is 5,157 in Birmingham, Edgbaston, and 5,123 in Nottingham North. I am afraid that my constituents are worse off living in my constituency. I have some fantastic primary schools that do an amazing job with young pupils with EHCPs, but in reality they are now reaching into a deficit. If it costs an extra £8,000 to £10,000 for those schools to educate those pupils, the incentive is moving away from their doing so.

On school choice, I absolutely support the belief that mainstream is best, but I am very concerned that my constituents are reporting that they almost have to fail in a mainstream in order to get to the school of their choice. As I think has been touched on, there is real difficulty in having a system in which the local authority is incentivised financially to put the child in a mainstream school, the mainstream school is incentivised financially to put them in a specialist school, and independent schools are incentivised to have the pupil in that particular setting. It is no wonder that we end up in a tribunal system as a result. Surely through reform we could have more independent assessment at the very outset, perhaps more informally, rather than waiting for a tribunal.

Finally, I am grateful to the Department for Education for accepting the recommendations of “Autism and education in England 2017”, the report of an inquiry that I co-chaired last year. We made some recommendations, and the Government have listened and announced that they will extend the autism strategy to young pupils in education. That is a great step forward—it is all about the training of staff. My last ask is whether it is possible for every new specialist school to be built within a mainstream perimeter, rather than having the apartheid system that we have at the moment.

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. This debate could not be more important, because—like all hon. Members—in every surgery I have held since being elected, I have met the parents of children with SEN. Without exception, they are dedicated to their children’s future, and many have sacrificed their jobs and careers in order to navigate the labyrinthine systems, which they often feel have been deliberately designed to prevent them from accessing the support that their child is due. They include the parents I saw last week, whose eight-year-old son has a variety of complex needs but has not been to school for three years, the 12-year-old with autism spectrum disorder, processing disorder and anxiety, who has been out of school for 16 months, and the child who has selective mutism as part of his ASD, whose school is, in his mother’s words, “supportive”, but frequently uses informal exclusions when short-staffed, as it cannot provide one-to-one support.

None of these types of cases will be unfamiliar to us, and they are all the more heart-breaking in their familiarity. We are normalising the mistreatment of children with special educational needs and, without a shadow of doubt, funding is the primary issue. Sheffield City Council has a deficit of £6 million for the high needs block, out of a total deficit of £8 million for school funding this year. That underfunding manifests itself in a number of ways. First, mainstream schools have less additional and specialist support in place and so are unable to cater for children with SEN. I have had reports of parents going to schools in my constituency and being told explicitly, “This is not the school for your child if he has autism.” As there are not enough spaces, more and more parents are choosing to educate their children at home, not truly out of choice, but out of desperation. The cuts to the local authorities have left teams so short-staffed that the availability, quality and consistency of EHCPs is really poor.

There are other issues beyond funding. A recent Ofsted inspection of Sheffield found that

“High levels of fixed-term and permanent exclusions result in children and young people with SEND not achieving as well as they should…Good outcomes for children and young people with SEND are compromised by the widespread use of partial timetables for lengthy periods. At the time of this inspection, 70 pupils with an EHC plan and 118 with special educational needs support were on these partial timetables.”

When can we expect the Timpson review, and does the Minister recognise the vital role of Ofsted in making our schools much more inclusive?

Finally, navigation for parents needs to be much simpler. Parents need clearer pathways and an understanding of their rights. They absolutely do not receive clear or timely information on the support available for their children and how to access it. One parent said to me, “It is so very wrong that a child who needs more educational support than others gets none at all. The lack of provision is a total disgrace and has created a sub-group of children with special needs and no schooling.” Sadly, that is the picture that many parents and children now face. Who could disagree with her?

I commend the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) for securing this debate and giving us the opportunity to speak on such an important issue. On most Fridays, I take the opportunity to visit a local school. Across west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, I see great schools. Among those are schools that excel because of their support for SEN. As a result of doing such a great job—we have heard this already—they find themselves attracting more and more parents and their children, and they are then presented with all sorts of funding issues.

There are two things that I want to bring to the Minister’s attention—things that I have raised before, but to which I have not had satisfactory responses. First, we have heard about the £6,000 that needs to be found once the educational plan is in place. Secondly, there is a bizarre situation in which a school will be counted—the register will be taken after 1 October, and this will settle the funding for the following April. For a time, a school that has taken in new children will not have any funding for those pupils, but will still have to find the £6,000. If children arrive after 1 October, there will not be any funding for them until up to 18 months later, and the school will still have to find the £6,000 as well as pay for the normal education costs that are incurred. I have asked the Department over and over again to look at how that funding follows the individual child, whatever their needs might be, so that schools really can provide the very best education and the best start for their children.

There are arrangements in place with local authorities and with those who support the funding of academies, but schools are not fully aware of them. I know that schools are not getting the funding to which they are entitled when new children arrive. We must simplify the way that school funding is distributed, particularly for children with special needs. Despite tremendous effort from our schools, I fear that we are at risk of failing many children. They will not be able to live full lives, and their life chances will be curtailed. As others have said, funding for schools and for this aspect of school education should be addressed properly and enthusiastically by the spending review when the opportunity arises.

I want briefly to mention some positive signs of movement towards a proper, sensible approach to the education of children with SEN. Ofsted recently launched a consultation and said that it is now prepared to look more at teaching rather than school results. The consultation finishes on 4 April. I encourage everyone to take part, so that Ofsted can genuinely recognise good schools, even though their attainment might not be quite as good as it could be, in view of the children that those schools support.

The 10-year health plan commits to accelerating assessments for children with SEN. Can the Minister provide us with more detail about that? We would appreciate more detail about how it can be delivered. The 10-year plan also says that there will be the right care for children with learning disabilities. Again, we would appreciate a bit more detail from the Minister about how the 10-year plan will be able to deliver that and what resources can support it.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Gary. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) on securing this debate. It is an important subject and has not had enough attention in the House in recent times. I declare my interest in this matter, as my wife is a cabinet member for children and young people on Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Like other hon. Members, I know how much anxiety this issue causes the families who I see in my surgeries. Too often there is a delay in agreeing that an education, health and care plan is needed at all. When it is finally put in place, too often the plan is not delivered in full because the school has funding pressures elsewhere. The situation is distressing for all parties. Parents feel like they have to fight to get a plan for their child and then, once it is in place, fight again to ensure that the funding and support is adequate to meet the needs of their child, which is simply not right. It worries me even more that there are probably other parents out there who do not have the time, money or information that they need to keep fighting for the support for their child, which means that there are vulnerable people across this country who are simply not getting the support they need.

Not every child with SEND has an EHCP; the proportion of children with SEND who have an EHCP remains low. Hon. Members have already talked about Ofsted. I do not always agree with everything that it says, but given that the chief executive acknowledged last year that something was deeply wrong when parents were repeatedly telling inspectors that they had to fight to get help for their children, we know that we have to act. Ofsted concluded that support for children with SEND was too disjointed and too inconsistent, and that diagnoses were taking too long and were often inadequate.

As we have heard, the number of exclusions among children with SEND continues to rise, with the Department reporting that pupils with SEND are up to six times more likely to be excluded, accounting for almost half of all permanent exclusions. That should be a mark of failure. The number of pupils with SEND without a school place has more than doubled in recent years, up to 4,050, whereas it was only 776 in 2010. Perhaps that is why, as Members have asked, more children are being home-schooled—up by more than 40%. Are schools perhaps suggesting that a particular child should be home-schooled to avoid an exclusion or that the school environment might not be the best place if the child has SEND? In short, are parents being forced down that route because they have no real choice? It is a serious question because we now find ourselves in a situation in which many parents of children with SEND feel that the only way to ensure that their child receives the specialist education that they are entitled to is through legal action.

Thousands are taking their local authority to tribunal. In a staggering 89% of cases, the tribunal found in favour of parents, costing local authorities around £70 million since 2014. Such a high success rate at appeal throughout the country ought to send a warning to the Government that something is fundamentally wrong. The situation has got so bad that one group of parents has now launched a High Court legal challenge against the Government’s SEND funding policy, demanding that children have access to the specialist educational provision that current budgets are simply not able to fund. There can be no greater indictment of the crisis than the fact that legal action has been sought and a judicial review commenced.

Education is a fundamental right for every child. We should not aim for anything less and should not accept anything less, but I fear we are doing that by default. When will the Government take action and ensure that all our children are able to benefit from a full and inclusive education?

I will start with my four recommendations to ensure that I get them out in time. This is my first request to the Minister: when the Department looks at the high needs block formula, can it look at the historical element, because there is no justification for the allocations? They have simply come from history. Some of them are clearly unfair and my local authority has certainly been hit. Secondly, can the Minister speak to her education colleagues to ensure that capital funding is provided for a new special school in Kingston when the announcement is made shortly? Thirdly, as I said in my intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable), can we look at the way the NHS contributes to the cost of EHCPs? I have spoken to many headteachers and Achieving for Children in Kingston and it is clear that the health component is coming out of the education component to deal with things such as physio, testing for diabetes, and members of staff in the classroom dealing with the child’s health needs, not their educational needs. The bills that the NHS is not meeting run into hundreds of millions of pounds across our country.

My fourth recommendation relates to looking at special needs education and health again in a cross-party way. I speak not only from the experience of looking after my constituents and their children, but as the father of a special needs child who has attended two special schools, and who we now educate at home. In my experience of dealing with the schools and with EHCPs and the process, there is a huge amount of waste, which is a scandal when children are not getting the service that they should, such as CAMHS and so on.

I speak as a governor of a local school. I am very impressed by how maintained state schools are properly held to account for their budgets; but some of the voluntary or private schools, which might be very good, are not properly held accountable for the money that they spend. This might be controversial, but in my experience some of them do not provide the quality of care with the money they are given, partly because special needs are extremely difficult to look at. It is much more difficult to get a proper distribution and proper comparisons because special needs are so broad and heterogeneous, and it is difficult to get a proper statistical analysis, unlike with mainstream schools. It is also difficult because Ofsted does not analyse well enough what special needs schools are doing, so I urge the Minister to look at that problem.

In my constituency in the Royal Borough of Kingston we have a crisis in special needs schools. If I could show the Minister the graph of the London boroughs and their overspending on their allocated formulas, she would see that we are a long way to one end—more than 40% above our allocated funding. If we do not bring that overspending under control—it is partly our job to do so, but we need patience and help from the Government—it will call into question the solvency of the council.

The love and care of parents and families with special needs children is humbling; we have all seen that. However, it has come to something—and we have to question ourselves as to how it has come to this—when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) mentioned, in December’s Ofsted report the chief inspector said that something was deeply

“wrong when parents repeatedly tell inspectors that they have to fight to get the help and support that their child needs.”

I get told that regularly; there is no need to be an inspector. All hon. Members present today, without exception, will have taken up cases for constituents. Sometimes we get improvement, sometimes not. I say to the Minister that as a country and as a society, it cannot go on: it simply is not good enough.

By the end of 2020, Nottinghamshire County Council will have a £9.2 million shortfall in its high needs budget. I can cite that. Other hon. Members have quoted other figures, and those figures are real in balance sheet terms. But what does it mean for each and every family and each child? I am fairly articulate, as are all the Members here, but finding one’s way through the system and finding the person responsible for making a decision is sometimes an impenetrable task.

There is a funding issue, so the Minister needs to go and bang on the door of the Chancellor, supported by every single Member, and tell him that it is not acceptable for any Government of any colour to be in power with the situation that we have at the moment, when so many families across this country cannot access the support that they need for their child. It is not the sort of country that any of us want to be a part of. We need to do something about it.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I thank the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) for securing this crucial debate. I very much echo what the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has said, particularly about trying to navigate through such complexity when it comes to special educational needs. I appreciate that time is short, so I shall simply echo many of the points raised by other hon. Members about the pressures on mainstream schools in terms of financing and classroom support, the time it takes to obtain education, health and care plans, and the tensions that can be created between schools and councils in meeting statutory obligations to SEND children.

Since my election I have made it a priority to visit each of the 42 schools in my constituency to get to know the school community and its needs. The pressures on special educational needs services have been one of the most consistent themes in my conversations with parents and teachers, and I have highlighted those concerns to the Education Secretary and to the borough’s lead for children’s services. In Havering we have had the fastest-growing number of children of any London borough for the past few years, and funding has simply not kept up with that changing demography. Redden Court School in Harold Wood, for instance, has three times the national average of students with special educational needs and disabilities. That is more than 50 children with an education, health and care plan. The schools in my constituency are doing a fantastic job at ensuring that SEND children can be educated in the mainstream, but we must take into account the pressure that that can place on classroom staff and resources.

I was pleased by the announcement, before Christmas, of an additional £250 million of high needs funding, of which my borough will get more than £600,000. It is also welcome that the Secretary of State has allocated a £100 million top-up fund for new high needs school places and improved facilities, as well as removing the cap on the number of bids for free schools with special and alternative provisions. However, we must also look at the strain on third sector organisations at pre-school level, which often rely on diminishing local authority funds. Pre-school can be a critical time for getting the right support, and the right diagnosis of any condition, for SEND children before primary education begins. First Step, in Hornchurch, provides many fantastic services to local families affected by autism and other special educational needs. The Prime Minister has indeed promoted that charity’s work on my behalf on her own Twitter account. However, pre-school support for autistic children can be patchy, and new difficulties can arise, within the school environment and beyond, as those children grow older. I should be most grateful if the Minister would advise on what she is doing at pre-school level to ensure that parents and schools are equipped with the right support to help children to make the transition into primary education.

I thank the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable), but I take issue with him on one point: there is something Brexit-related about the debate, because Brexit is masking a crisis in special educational needs. If it were not for the focus of the media and politics on Brexit, issues such as the crisis in special educational needs and disability would be to the fore. More people would be talking about it, and there would be more pressure in Parliament—particularly on the Treasury—to give the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care the funding they need to make things work.

Frankly, kids are being failed by a system that does not have enough money in it, that is too complex for people to navigate, and that is taking too long to get the support kids need. Councils and child and adolescent mental health services need more money, and I support the call for an increase in the high needs block funding. We need to make that case in the comprehensive spending review, as well as to the Minister here, and to make sure that the fantastic staff in mainstream and specialist schools get the support they need.

We should also support parents. In a debate on children’s social care, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith) told most powerfully a story about one of her constituents, who said:

“I am a warrior, but I just want to be a mum.”—[Official Report, 17 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 1416.]

Parents are fighting every day to get their kids with SEND the support they need. They are struggling with it, and that is why so many kids are now home-schooled. The support is not there in mainstream education—not because teachers do not work hard enough to deliver it, but because there is not enough funding. That is why we need it.

Constituents come to my surgery nearly every week to talk about the difficulties. I imagine that the story in Plymouth is no different from the story across the country. There is a crisis in SEND support, and we need to restore the safety net that these kids deserve. If we do not invest in them now, not only will they cost us more in the short term as taxpayers, but we will lose the potential of these young people to deliver benefits in the future; we risk paying more for them throughout their lives. That is why it makes good economic sense to invest in these children and their families now and to make sure they get the wraparound support they need and deserve. We must restore the safety net, and that means funding services properly.

I too want to thank the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) for securing this important debate. Every one of us in the Chamber is here because we want to fight for children with special educational needs we have met during visits to schools, and for their parents, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) pointed out. Throughout the country every day parents fight for the best for their child, and we want to help them in that fight.

The situation of special educational needs funding in my constituency is particularly acute. West Sussex has a higher percentage of SEN pupils than the national average. For instance, 25% of the children at Chichester Nursery School have special educational needs or disabilities—a huge figure, considering that just 6% of young children in the general population are identified as having them. Meeting those additional needs has been tough on the council’s budget. For 2018-19, West Sussex has an estimated £4.9 million deficit in its high needs block. The one-time transfer of 0.5% from its dedicated schools grant has helped plug the gap. I think we all welcome the additional funding, as has been mentioned, but one-off payments cannot be the remedy for the funding pressures that schools face.

West Sussex wants to switch to a long-term invest and save model for its high needs block. Provision in the county—particularly for autism-related support—is chronically lacking. Because of this, the council spent more than £1 million last year sending children outside the county to specialist schools with the right resources. That is an expensive short-term response when the right long-term solution is needed closer to home. It is natural that parents want the best possible education for their children. We have all met constituents who battle to get that and to get the council to fund their child’s out-of-county school place. The aim of investing to save is to improve the standards of in-county provision and to avoid costly tribunals and out-of-county referrals. The average cost out of county for West Sussex is just under £44,000 per pupil. The in-county cost is £3,000 to £9,000 per pupil, so the business case is simple. The new centres of excellence will of course incur an initial up-front cost, but that will be offset by the decline in spending on out-of-county provision, which is not even the best provision, as it is so far from home.

West Sussex MPs have already had meetings with the Chancellor and the Education Secretary to discuss a fairer funding settlement for the authority, as well as the benefits of securing additional funding for long-term gains. We look forward to the upcoming spending review, and hope that they will listen to the invest to save plan. It is essential that the funds are available for schools and authorities to support the children who need the most support within the school system. Like many Members, I want sustainable funding, and I hope that the spending review can deliver that.

Thank you, Sir Gary. It is a pleasure to speak in this Chamber on every occasion, as it has been to hear the wonderful contributions made so far by right hon. and hon. Members. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) on obtaining the debate and giving us the chance to participate.

I am taking part because I take an interest in school budgets and in children. Having been consistently cut, school budgets are unable to deliver in the way they have previously. Classroom assistants are losing hours, and the wait to get a statement for a child is getting longer. Instead of treating the meeting of special needs as an obligation, we should look at it as an opportunity to give such children the best possible education to enable them to overcome difficulties and meet their potential. If that is not something that requires additional ring-fenced funding, I do not what does. I look to the Minister to see what she can do about releasing that funding.

There are 49,000 babies, children and young people with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions in the UK, and the number is rising. Most of those children have complex health needs. They need constant care and support 24 hours a day. Most will also have a special educational need and/or a disability. The success of the system depends on whether there is equitable and sustainable funding for children’s education, health and social care provision. With great respect, that does not seem to be the case.

In the short time I have available, I want to mention a briefing from Together for Short Lives, which says that respite breaks are a part of the system that is not working. Seriously ill children and their families rely particularly on frequent short breaks for respite, which is provided by skilled people, who can meet the children’s often complex health needs. It may be for only a few hours, but it can be overnight or for a few days at a time. It is important because the 24/7 pressure on parents of having a child with a life-limiting condition is immense. Social care is vital to help them relieve the stress, catch up on sleep, spend time as a family and do the things that other families do. Frequent short breaks for respite for seriously ill children combine health and social care. They help to maintain children’s and families’ physical and mental health. Respite care is immensely important. The short breaks provided by children’s hospices can help to reduce stress and mitigate the risk of parental relationships breaking down.

There are some incredible statistics from research involving 17 children’s hospices in England and Scotland: 64% of divorced or separated parents cited having a child with complex needs as a reason for the breakdown of their relationship. Furthermore, 75% had had no access to short breaks, and 74% rated short breaks as having a direct, positive effect. Short breaks are necessary to help families regain some balance in their lives. Couples whose relationships were identified in the research as “non-distressed” were found to have received 43% more hours of short breaks on average from a children’s hospice than those who were in distressed relationships. Quite simply, respite care makes a difference. The facts are clear. If we deal with children’s needs in this way, there will be a lifelong benefit not simply to the child but to the entire family.

Just as they did for adult social care, will the Government review how social care for disabled children in England is funded? Will they address the £434 million shortfall in funding for social care services for disabled children that has been identified by the Disabled Children’s Partnership, by setting up an early intervention and family resilience fund? Intervention at that stage will provide benefits at later stages, and if we invest now to improve the quality of life of those who are most vulnerable and struggling the most, it will be worth every penny.

I thank colleagues for complying with the voluntary time limit. It is now time for the Front-Bench speakers, but let us remember to leave Sir Vince Cable one minute at the end to respond to the debate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship yet again, Sir Gary, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) on securing this important debate. Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that I will not reiterate what others have said or mention individual Members, but I will give the Scottish perspective on this issue.

In Scotland, like here, we believe that all children and young people deserve to receive the support they need to reach their full learning potential. The Scottish system focuses on overcoming barriers to learning and on “Getting it right for every child”, known as GIRFEC. Children and young people should learn in the environment that best suits their needs, whether that is a mainstream or special school setting. Some 97% of children in Scotland who need additional support are educated in mainstream schools, and the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 places a duty on education authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils. Local government financial statistics for 2016-17 show a 0.3% increase in real-terms spending on education, and £610 million of that was on additional support for learning—a real-terms increase of 2.3%. Teacher numbers have also increased, as have numbers of support staff.

Despite challenging circumstances, children and young people continue to achieve, and in 2016-17, 87% of school leavers with additional support needs had a positive follow-up destination—a 5% increase on 2011-12. The Scottish credit and qualifications framework highlights an interesting statistic, because 69% of school leavers with SEN left school with one or more level 5 qualifications. That is important for people with special educational needs, because such achievements help their employment possibilities and give them and their parents a far better sense of worth.

The 2004 Act places a duty on education authorities to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils, including those with dyslexia. The Scottish definition of dyslexia has been developed by the Scottish Government, Dyslexia Scotland, the cross-party group on dyslexia in the Scottish Parliament, and a wide range of stakeholders.

Members have mentioned autism, and in 2018 the Scottish Government published “The Scottish Strategy for Autism: Outcomes and Priorities 2018-2021”. That document sets out the priorities for action to improve outcomes for autistic people, including support for improved educational outcomes for children and young people with autism. The SNP understands the importance of autistic people and their families being understood and welcomed within their communities.

The budget passed recently in the Scottish Parliament helps with concessionary travel schemes that allow disabled people to access education and employment opportunities, and Companion Cards are given to parents or carers to help with that.

With new powers over disability benefits coming to the Scottish Parliament, a Scottish social security agency—Social Security Scotland—has been established, with dignity and respect at its heart. The Scottish Government will maintain disability benefits, not cut them, and ensure that they remain universal, rather than means-tested. In Scotland, the carer’s allowance supplement is available to those who care for people who are sick or disabled, and it puts an extra £442 into carers’ pockets, which is important for parents who have children with special needs. I received an interesting briefing from the Association of Educational Psychologists, which is concerned that local government funding and changes to school funding arrangements are preventing it from doing its job as well as it would like.

I am a member of the Education Committee, and we are conducting an inquiry into special educational needs and disabilities. I have listened to the concerns raised by hon. Members this afternoon, including on issues that have been considered by the Committee. We have taken evidence from children and parents, local authorities, schools and other interested parties, and we look forward to more input from hon. Members here today. I look forward to the eventual publishing of the Committee’s report and recommendations, and to an effective Government response. In that regard, I urge the Minister to look at the good work being done in Scotland.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary, and I thank the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) for securing this debate, and all hon. Members who have spoken today. Children and adult learners with special educational needs and disabilities are being failed by this Government. Competition instead of collaboration has harmed our education system, and the fragmentation and marketisation of education has left gaping holes in provision, accountability and support. The crisis in our education system of recruitment, retention and cuts across the board is impacting everywhere, but nowhere more starkly than in the arena of special educational needs and disabilities.

That view is shared by an army of parents, carers, children, learners, schools, colleges, universities, teachers, healthcare professionals, local authorities and a number of cross-party groups in the House. The reforms that led to this shambolic and damaging situation are rooted in the early years of the coalition Government, and summed up well by the then Education Secretary, who stated that the aim was to remove the “bias towards inclusion.” In other words, it was a move no longer to consider special educational needs as an intrinsic part of every learning environment—even though that has been proven to improve learning outcomes for disabled and non-disabled learners alike—but to start treating them as an add-on.

It is little wonder that in 2016 the United Nations expressed concern that for the first time in 25 years, more children with special educational needs and disabilities are being educated outside the mainstream, and that the Government have developed a dual education system that unnecessarily segregates children with disabilities to special schools, rather than providing for them sufficiently in mainstream schools. The following year the United Nations stated that this Government were guilty of

“grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities.”

The cultivation of that hostile environment has had dire, lasting effects on children and learners with SEND. The rushed reforms introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014 have created a postcode lottery of variable provision, and many children with SEND continue to be let down. During the passage of that Act, Labour Members warned that unless the proposed reforms were properly funded and proper demographic modelling carried out, the reforms would fail—and fail they did.

As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), Her Majesty’s chief inspector of education, children’s services and skills concluded last year that overall provision remained

“too disjointed and too inconsistent”.

That inconsistency comes from the lack of adequate funding. Schools have had £1.7 billion cut from their budgets since 2015. In a recent survey by the National Education Union, 94% of respondents confirmed that the cuts were having a negative effect on the support that schools are able to give to SEND pupils. The £365 million announced in December 2018 to help local authorities create new places or improve facilities for SEND pupils is a one-off cash injection, not the sustainable funding that people are crying out for, and it does not close the shortfall in local authority funding for SEND support that the Local Government Association identified at £472 million.

Recent steps to ring-fence SEND funding represent an inflexible policy, as the strict rules mean that only 0.5% of a school’s overall budget can be transferred to the high needs block. The policy isn’t working, as evidenced by the 43 local authorities that have appealed, asking for it to be relaxed to meet their local need. Can the Minister explain why a large majority of the successful appeals have been in Conservative-led authorities? This is a toxic combination of a misguided policy direction and savage cuts across the board to health and other support services. A recent survey from the National Association of Head Teachers found that 83% of heads are not receiving any funding from health and social care budgets to support pupils with SEND statements, and 94% have reported that they are finding it harder to resource the support required to meet the needs of pupils with SEND than they did two years ago.

The best intentions, will and desire of parents, local government, teachers and health professionals to do the best for learners with SEND are not being matched by the Government. In 2017, more than 4,000 children with SEND were left without a school place. Nearly 9,000 children have had their existing statement or education and healthcare plan taken away from them—not because they have moved school or have left school, but just because they have been denied the support that they were previously deemed in need of. The number of children with SEND statements in alternative provision has increased by more than 50%, and the number of children facing fixed-period, permanent or even illegal exclusions remains disproportionate compared with their peers. They account for half of permanent or fixed-period exclusions.

Some are lucky enough to get a plan, often at the end of a difficult and fraught process for them and their parents—a point made articulately by my hon. Friends the Members for High Peak (Ruth George), for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard)—but many of those plans are flawed or substandard. Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission found that access to therapy for children in adolescent mental health services was poor, and progress was minimal in implementing a co-ordinated service for those with SEND.

After the SEND reforms, the number of costly appeals against education, health and care plans rose to more than 4,000, and the number of tribunals almost doubled to 1,600, but that is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) noted, many parents do not have the time, energy, financial support or the opportunity to navigate that difficult legal action. The fact that almost nine out of 10 appeals are successful at tribunal confirms that there are serious flaws in the system.

It is not just children who are being short-changed. College principals have also warned the Government that support for learners over 19 is now being met by already stretched college budgets and is completely unsustainable. Some 16 to 19-year-old students with SEND are being charged up to £1,500 a year for their transport. Since 2015, university students have been required to pay a £200 contribution towards the cost of essential equipment for their study.

Behind all those statistics and figures are children and learners who just want access to education, which should be a fundamental right for all, no matter who they are, where they are from or what their circumstances are. Hopefully, when the Minister answers my points and those that other hon. Members have made, she will explain why, under her Government, that fundamental right does not apply to those with special educational needs and disabilities.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable) on securing this debate, and I thank him for the constructive tone that he adopted in his opening remarks.

Provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and the support available for their parents and families, has been a particular concern for me since I was elected in 2005. Governments of all political persuasions have struggled to get it right.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the success of the Children and Families Act 2014, and pointed out some of the issues that have arisen. I was a Minister in the Department of Health when we were doing the early work on it. Much of what was done at the time was the right thing to do, but we must now resolve some of the issues that have arisen from that. Many—but not all—of the issues relate to funding. Many local authorities and schools are having to work very hard to make the best use of the resources available, particularly in supporting those children and their families.

I want to put on the record some of the things that we have done. We have prioritised funding for schools, and increased funding for high needs from £5 billion in 2013 to £6 billion this year—a 20% increase over five years. In December we allocated an additional £250 million funding for high needs, and in the next financial year we will ensure that every local authority will get a share of that additional funding. Across England, funding for high needs will rise to £6.3 billion in 2019-20. We have also announced an additional £100 million of capital funding to create new places and improve facilities for children and young people. That will take our total investment between 2018 and 2021 to £360 million.

We will invest in more of the new special schools that are needed locally. Sixty-five local authorities have applied for funding to build special and alternative provision free schools. We are currently looking carefully at those requests and will go ahead with all bids that meet the criteria and are of good quality, so that local authorities have the specialist provision they need. We are hoping to notify local authorities before Easter. I recognise that although that additional support is welcome, it will not provide a complete answer to the funding pressures that local authorities are reporting to us. We are preparing for the spending review with that in mind.

We have reformed the funding system and have introduced a new formula allocation to make the funding for those with high needs fairer. We introduced the national funding formula after extensive consultation. It marks an historic change to the way that we distribute education funding—one that previous Governments have long avoided. The formula that we use to allocate high needs funding uses a range of factors, including low attainment, deprivation and health factors, to direct funding to where it is most needed.

The formula ensures that the funding changes from year to year and takes account of changes in the overall population of young people and children, which the system it replaced did not. The formula also includes a substantial element of funding based on local authorities’ past spending, to reflect the fact that there are factors driving costs that depend on local circumstances and cannot be linked directly to the population and other characteristics represented in the formula. The formula also includes a funding floor to guarantee an underlying increase in high needs funding from this year to next year, subject to population and pupil or student number changes. Although the national funding formula is a significant improvement in the way that we distribute high needs funding to local authorities, we will keep it under review.

Is the Minister able to tell me, either today or in writing, how the historical spend factor in the formula was set? I understand what history is, but it needs a justification.

I will make sure that the right hon. Gentleman gets a letter on that point.

We want to ensure that the design of the funding system works in mainstream provision. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) raised the issue of perverse incentives, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) and for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who has raised this issue with the Secretary of State. There is an expectation that mainstream schools pay for the cost of SEND support—up to £6,000 from their core budget—before accessing additional top-up funding from the local authority. We are very aware that that arrangement is deterring schools from meeting the needs of pupils with special needs.

A number of issues were raised in this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) talked about the life chances of those young people and referred to proposed changes in Ofsted inspections, which are very important. I am the Minister with responsibility for post-16 further education, and I know what a brilliant job further education colleges do. As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said, getting education right early in a child’s life saves money and, in some instances, much heartache further down the line.

I point out to the shadow Minister that discretionary bursaries are available for transport, although I know that that is an issue for some local authorities. I do not recognise all that the shadow Minister said, which is disappointing, bearing in mind the consensual tone of the debate. I think that we all share and acknowledge the problems that families and their children face. There is no one system that works for every child. I remember that when I was elected in 2005, the whole issue of inclusion was much debated. Inclusion is positive, but it is not always the right answer for children or their families.

Home schooling is without doubt the option that some parents choose if their child’s needs are not being met. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) mentioned increase in demand for EHCPs and the issue of transport costs, while the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) raised the issue of the NHS not paying for the health part of the EHCP. When I was a junior Minister, bringing health and care together was at the heart of discussions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) talked about wraparound provision, which is exactly what the changes to the 2014 Act were meant to ensure.

The hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George) talked about the fight that parents face—as if they do not already have enough to manage. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley talked about navigation of the complex system. It is a complete nightmare for parents who, as I said, already have a lot on their plate. There are right hon. and hon. Members present who are members of the Government—my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) is one—and who have an interest in this subject. If House convention had allowed it, they would have raised particular points, because this issue is shared by many.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education—

I will finish because I do not have much time. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education indicated that, alongside our announcement of additional funding for high needs in December, we will shortly launch a call for evidence to build our understanding of the current arrangements and the problems that they create. Money matters, but how it is spent matters as well.

I do not have time, sadly.

We have established a new special educational needs and disabilities system leadership board. Effective joint commissioning is key to meeting some of the challenges of high needs funding, and the board will focus on improving local joint working and strategic commissioning to help address some of the problems highlighted in Dame Christine Lenehan’s review into the experiences and outcomes of children in residential special schools and colleges.

Drawing on good practice, the Local Government Association has done good work and has published a report from the Isos Partnership that highlights how local authorities can work collectively and collaboratively with families, schools, colleges and others to make the best use of the available resources.

As the term suggests, children with special educational needs are indeed special, as are their families. I have dealt with some very poignant and tragic cases in which the family simply felt unable to continue to care for their child. The impact of care can often be very difficult for siblings in those families, and we have heard that marital breakdown often ensues. There is additional investment, but the call for evidence is much needed, and I am sure that hon. Members will want to contribute to it. The Secretary of State is determined to get this right. The invitation from the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton for cross-party work is well made and much welcomed, particularly in the light of his personal experiences of caring for a child with special needs.

The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) talked about the humbling experience of hearing stories from parents. Before I leave the remainder of the time to the right hon. Member for Twickenham, I would just like to say that I feel exactly the same. It is humbling to hear the stories of parents who struggle to navigate the system and who often have to fight local authorities. We know that in some areas provision is better, and that local authorities are doing a good job.

Finally, collaboration and joint working between health, care and teaching is what will make this work. There will always be funding constraints, so it is extremely important that we make sure that those collaborations are in place, to stop the parents of those children from facing such a terrible fight.

I thank the 13 Members who have contributed to the debate, which was very rich in content. They all pointed in pretty much the same direction, regardless of region of the UK or political party. We heard plenty of examples of the extreme tensions that parents face because of the pressures of special needs, and how so many of them have been disappointed.

I was struck by the example that the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George) cited of children being kept waiting and falling two years behind in their learning before they are even assessed. There are many similar cruelties and disadvantages of that kind. We also heard many examples of the pressures on schools. The Minister acknowledged the point raised by several hon. Members about the £6,000 hurdle—the perverse incentive—and although I did not hear in her speech whether she was going to change that, she at least acknowledged the problem and recognised that much of it is hidden by home schooling, which is growing rapidly.

Several Members from different parties mentioned how their councils—of different kinds—are being put into serious financial difficulties as a result of the problem. Worst of all, councils, schools and parents are reduced to fighting and blaming each other for what is actually a collective problem. The aim of the 2014 Act was to deal with all this in a consensual way, and to focus on the needs of pupils, but the issue has become a cockpit of conflict—manifested in the tribunals system—which is growing rapidly and becoming increasingly costly, both emotionally and financially.

To conclude, I wish to acknowledge some of the constructive thoughts in the debate. The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) talked about creating an intermediate triage system for picking needs up early before the formal assessment process is completed. The hon. Member for High Peak and others suggested that we could focus on getting more information to parents about their entitlements, to avoid their missing out or finding out too late in the day, and on changing Ofsted’s terms of reference, so that it incentivises rather than penalises inclusion, as is very often implicitly the case in its rating system. We also heard suggestions from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) and others about how the funding formula should be changed and how we could make more use of flexibility between health and education.

All that ultimately comes back to—I know that the Minster is painfully conscious of this—more money and the spending review. I know just how fraught that process is because I have been the head of a spending Department, but I can do no more than wish the Minister well and say on behalf of us all that we basically want a significant enhancement of special needs provision—alongside schools, not at their expense.

Finally, I will quote what I thought was one of the more memorable phrases. The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) said that parents just want to stop fighting and get on with being parents. I thought that was a very good way of summarising what we are all trying to say.

May I break a few rules by saying from the Chair that I strongly support the broad thrust of the debate? I very much hope that our Government will sort this out in the next 12 months. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] That is the end of me chairing.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered special educational needs and disabilities funding.

Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme

[Albert Owen in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the seasonal agricultural workers scheme.

I represent a particularly urban part of one of the UK’s biggest cities, so why do I want to talk about agriculture? That is because the issue, as much as it is about food and food security, especially after Brexit, is about slavery.

Since my election in 2017, I have been proud to play my part in highlighting, combating and working to eradicate the appalling scourge of modern slavery. I work alongside Members from all parties on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, hon. Friends from the Co-operative party, colleagues from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and friends at FLEX—Focus on Labour Exploitation—the Human Trafficking Foundation and the rights lab at my alma mater, the University of Nottingham. I have been proud to use my place in the House of Commons to do so.

I am joined in the Chamber by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), the chair of our all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery. We will continue to raise the issue, because slavery is a disease, pure and simple. It is much more widespread than people would ever countenance, it is appalling and it impacts on and blights lives throughout our communities, but all too often it is hidden from view by a deadly combination of fear, shame and circumstance.

Nevertheless, despite the scale of the challenge, I remain confident that we can achieve the goal of stamping modern slavery out in its totality by 2030. That will necessitate identifying, challenging and eradicating sources of slavery at home and abroad. It is also vital that, as we fight existing sources of slavery, we do not unwittingly create new opportunities through decisions that we make. That is why I am in the Chamber today.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the immense amount of work that he and our hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) do on modern slavery and preventing it in this country. Does he agree that the seasonal agricultural workers scheme proposed by the Government could, because of the way it is set out, create greater opportunities for modern slavery to exist, and that one way to tackle that properly would be to ensure that every worker brought into the UK under a seasonal scheme is given access to a trade union, and clear and comprehensive knowledge of what their rights are and how to enforce them?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and for his commitment to this agenda. I share his view, and it will not surprise him to hear that I will address that shortly. As he said, it is vital that we do not inadvertently create new opportunities.

As formulated, the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, or SAWS, presents a significant risk of creating slavery. In theory, SAWS offers fruit and vegetable farmers a route to alleviate labour shortages during peak production periods by employing migrant workers for up to six months—but that is a tale as old as time, frankly. The pilot will start this spring and run until the end of 2020. For migrant workers, it represents a chance to improve their lives, but it carries the risk of workers being treated as a disposable asset, creating a recipe for exploitation.

My constituency has a large agri-food sector, which has a real need for agricultural workers coming in to bring in the vegetables so that the factories can process them, selling them throughout the United Kingdom and further afield. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need some sort of scheme in place to provide that important protection and, in doing so, enable the factories in my constituency and others to do the job that they want to do and export their products?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. After Brexit, we have a chance to reform our migration system, but we have to ensure that we still meet the needs of our growing industries. I am about to highlight the fact that the soft fruit production industry has doubled in size over the past two decades. We have to move and to keep pace with that, building in the regulation to make things work.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. He is right to express legitimate and long-standing concerns about modern-day slavery. Wilkin & Sons is an outstanding soft fruit production company and manufacturer in my constituency. Does he agree that other businesses, and in fact the Government, could learn best practice from how such businesses have conducted their own seasonal agricultural workers schemes in the past?

I very much recognise what the right hon. Lady is saying. Only this morning, during Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions, I mentioned the example of Hermes and the GMB which, while untangling the difficulties in the so-called gig economy, have gone ahead of the Government and this place by building their own regulations, which work for both employer and employee. That is wonderful and where it happens, such as in the example she suggested, we should highlight and be proud of it.

To be clear, I do not wish to prevent the seasonal agricultural workers scheme from running—it is important—but I want to ensure that we get honesty in the debate and that the workers who will be at the heart of the scheme get a fair deal and are heard. I feel that I ought to use my place here in support of that.

The hon. Gentleman is making a hugely significant point. I agree with him that the scheme has great benefits, but does he agree that, as well as risking potential slavery, a six-month scheme is so restrictive that many people will simply choose to go underground? The Government are setting themselves up for that to be a serious problem. Does he also agree that for many other industries—the 10,000 people working in hospitality and tourism in Cumbria, for example—that kind of option is neither available nor even proposed? That will have a huge impact on the economy in communities such as mine.

Many of the technical points about the scheme, such as those that the hon. Gentleman has made, will be seen in the pilot. We will have to test that and see the evaluation. I am interested to hear from the Minister how much that evaluation will be shared with all of us, so that we can have a say. Moving beyond agriculture, I know that other Members have an interest in the tourism sector, so if they wish to intervene at any point, I will be happy to accept.

There are real dangers in the scheme. Looking at history, a seasonal agricultural workers scheme ran from the second world war until only six years ago. It was not perfect: there were examples of abuse, the minimum wage being dodged, workers being misled about available work and recruiters purposefully over-recruiting. I have pressed the Home Office on this, so I know that

“ensuring the protection and wellbeing of participating migrant workers is of primary importance”,

but part of this debate is about wanting to know how that will be so and what safeguards and accountability will be in place.

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying about workers’ rights, but is he aware that in 1961 this country signed a treaty produced by the Council of Europe to give all workers the proper rights within their countries? That is still in force, despite the wealth of European Union legislation that has come in since. Will he hang on to that as a hope for the future?

Those protections are in place, although we have seen that they have not been enough in the past. In the 50 or so years since, it is important that we have built on them.

The hon. Gentleman might be aware that I have a significant soft fruit industry in my constituency. When I visit my farmers, I see migrants who have come over year after year. I met someone in a packhouse who had been there for nine years consecutively, working their way up into their role. If the conditions were particularly hard, people would not come back year on year.

I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting that and for adding to the debate with her experience back home. Those are exactly the sort of things that we should weave in to how we proceed in future.

To put ourselves in the place of people who wish to enter the scheme, and so seek insecure and relatively low-paid work in this country, it is reasonable to expect that they would not have ready access to funding or the hard cash to pay for, for example, a visa, their flights, any recruitment fees, medical costs and other associated fees. The likelihood is therefore very high that, in order to get a better income for themselves and their families and to start a better life, they would be forced to seek a loan—

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way—although I did not mean to interrupt him mid-sentence. I have one point to make. Those of us with significant soft fruit farmers in our constituencies are calling for a seasonal agricultural workers scheme to ensure sufficient labour. At the moment, one of the challenges for the industry is that workers have choices of where to go, so we are competing with other countries to attract them. Workers will therefore only come to this country if there are good opportunities and working conditions for them. It is important for us to offer good working conditions and extend the hand of welcome to seasonal workers who come to the UK.

Order. The Member in charge is being very generous in allowing interventions from a number of people, but I warn him that I want to give the Minister the chance to give a comprehensive response to the debate. Could he please bear that in mind? I notice that he has a number of papers in front of him that he may wish to go through.

A couple of them are just for you to autograph to put on eBay, Mr Owen. I am sure the Minister will not mind my gobbling a little of his time so his colleagues may make interventions.

The point raised by the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) makes my heart bleed a bit. By raising our standards—whether on pay, accommodation or the nature of work or management—to ensure that we attract those workers, we would make Britain a beacon that would attract the best. That can be only a good thing. It would mean the market was working well, and I would be keen for that to happen.

I worry about sources of money. People like us go to banks to get loans; too often our constituents go to loan sharks. The people we are talking about are likely to enter debt bondage. A recruiter offers the chance to enter the scheme and says, “Don’t worry about the upfront cost and your flights,” but that turns into an inflated or artificial debt that people never actually work off. That happens around the world, but in our country, too, there is a very live risk. It cannot be right that about half the victims of forced labour in the private economy are in some sort of debt bondage, according to the International Labour Organisation. We must not defer our responsibility as a country for ensuring that that does not happen to whichever recruitment firms we work with. We cannot give away our responsibility.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about slavery and allowing gangmasters to flourish in any migration system we create. To temper that, among Ayrshire vegetable growers there is a great relationship between the employer and the migrant worker on accommodation and rates of pay. Surely, we need to encourage a system to ensure that that continues to thrive, for the benefit of the industry and the individuals who choose to work in the UK.

The hon. Gentleman gives an example of something else that we should seek to build on. We should not think that the fears that I am raising apply across the industry to all employers—far from it—but where it does happen, it is exceptionally serious and we should want to tackle it. The scheme that ran until 2013 would cost workers often more than £10,000 for their jobs. Overcoming that challenge is a matter for the state and not just about good commissioning or contracting.

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority will play a very important role. As colleagues have highlighted, the GLAA has 123 members of staff in the entire country, who are tasked with licensing gangmasters in agriculture, horticulture and shellfish gathering. They oversee the entire labour market to protect workers from modern slavery. Those 123 people must be very talented. There is no proposal to increase the number of staff as part of SAWS. They will be expected to license and monitor overseas labour agents from anywhere outside the EU. How are they likely to be able to do that? I hope the Minister will address that in his reply.

Under the previous iteration of SAWS, workers reported utter deprivation due to low hours, bad weather affecting their work, and being paid less than the minimum wage and being unable to afford to fly home. That situation cannot be repeated, because workers in the scheme rely on their employer for all their necessities: accommodation, transportation, food and information. They will not have access to public funds. People may face a choice between remaining in an abusive situation and becoming destitute. None of us would want to be in that situation. The Government need to ensure that individuals who enter the scheme will have access to support to leave their situation if they are being exploited.

Debt bondage and entrapped workers are the two risks that I am most concerned about, but there are other issues, too. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) said that, because migrant workers by definition are here for a short time, they are less likely to know their immigration and employment rights. Therefore, they are less likely to be able to identify abuses. We will all have heard extraordinary stories of car washes, where individuals who are liberated from their slavery find out that the minimum wage is three or four times what they are paid. They did know they were being exploited; they just thought that was what happened. The only information they had access to led them to think that was the case.

We should draw on the trade union movement. I thank Unite for its support in preparing this speech; it has proposed a series of things to work well alongside the scheme to help to organise these workers. I hope the Minister will look at that. Not speaking English puts people at risk of abuse, and those who are not here for long are not likely to develop language skills. Let us make sure that rights advice and support is available in the UK beyond the current limited multilingual support.

Very often, the people who abuse workers are from the workers’ own communities. This is as much about ensuring that police have access in the ways the hon. Gentleman describes, as it is about talking to those communities.

Slavery operations are incredibly sophisticated, while also being simple: people from the same place who speak the same language take a person from home and exploit them, cutting out all the other links in the chain, so that they do not know that they are in an exploitative situation. As constituency MPs, we all know that our labour inspection regime in this country is predominantly reactive and relies on workers’ complaints. How would a catchment of workers who have not identified their own abuse be able to say that is the case? We ought to be mindful of that.

I have laid out a number of real challenges in the scheme that none of us would design legislation to support—quite the opposite. We know that after we leave the European Union we will face a defining moment for our country, when we decide where we want to be. We have heard a lot in the Chamber in recent weeks about being a high-standards country, especially when it comes to workers’ rights. Now is a good time for that. I want that for my constituents, neighbours, friends and family. I also want that for the people who come here and make sure we have food on our table. Those high standards must apply to them, too. We cannot use strong language in this place while allowing gaps in our system where abuse prevails.

I am pleased that, through my engagement with the Home Affairs Committee, I have received a commitment from the Home Secretary that slavery will be given due regard as part of the evaluation of the pilot. I would like to know what that looks like, when we will start to understand that and what Ministers will be doing about the agents used as intermediary third parties. The breadth of contributions from Members from every corner of the UK shows the strength of feeling. I hope that we can work collectively to get this right.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen.

Hon. Members may wonder what the Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service, who is also the Minister with responsibility for London, is doing here responding to a debate on seasonal agricultural workers. In truth, the Immigration Minister is tied up in a Public Bill Committee and cannot be here. Since we operate the principle of total football in the Home Office, every Minister is meant to be comfortable whatever ball is passed to him or her. Underlying that, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) made the point that the main thrust of the debate has been the determination to protect people from exploitation and abuse.

I am extremely happy to respond to this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) not just on calling a debate that has galvanised 16 Members of Parliament from across the country and across parties, but on his passion and his persistent cross-party work on modern slavery since he has been in this place. One of the great beacons of progress I have witnessed in my time in Parliament is the country’s increased understanding of the reality of modern slavery and our determination as a society to combat it. On the Government side, we are proud of the leadership, particularly of the Prime Minister, but I recognise the cross-party determination essential to make the kind of progress we need.

Given what the Minister says about the Government’s commitment to modern slavery, may I ask, cheekily and slightly tangentially, whether he will have a word with the Leader of the House about finding Government time to debate Lord McColl’s excellent Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, which would give additional support to the victims of modern slavery? That would be another example of cross-party support for tackling modern slavery.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his cheekiness. I certainly undertake to ensure that the Leader of the House is aware of his intervention.

I will seek to reassure the hon. Member for Nottingham North and others who share his concerns that, in proposing the pilot, we are determined not to risk going back in time or creating loopholes for exploitation. I am delighted to have this period of scrutiny, which is incredibly important to us. I hope I can persuade him that we have addressed most of his concerns.

The hon. Gentleman and others were rightly up front about the need to support some of our fastest growing industries. Of course it is right that we do so, but a balance needs to be struck. He mentioned that how we meet temporary labour needs in the agriculture sector is a long-standing issue. We totally appreciate that farming is a long-term endeavour and that UK growers, like most businesses, place great emphasis on certainty when it comes to workforce planning.

Will the Department write to me and to colleagues about the need for certainty for rural and agricultural businesses, and in particular about looking at examples of other companies and learning from best practice? Can the Minister say how the Department would respond to support the needs of rural businesses should demand exceed the 2,500 places?

I am certainly happy to look at giving that undertaking, and I totally accept the point my right hon. Friend makes about the opportunity to learn from best practice. Clearly, she believes strongly that that exists in her constituency.

Let me say this about how the Government have risen to the challenge of supporting some of our fastest growing industries with their employment needs: against the backdrop of Brexit, we have set out clear transitional arrangements that will enable UK growers to continue to recruit from the European Union for up to two years after the UK’s exit. It is important to note that those arrangements will apply regardless of whether we leave with or without a deal.

The Minister mentioned some of our fastest growing sectors. Will he join me in recognising that the tourism and hospitality sector also has a great need for seasonal workers? We must ensure that we make provision for that sector as well as for agriculture.

I certainly note that point, and I quite understand where it comes from, given the constituency my hon. Friend represents. I will ensure that the Immigration Minister takes that on board.

As the House knows, we have published an ambitious White Paper, setting out proposals for our future skills-based immigration system. That includes introducing, as a transitional measure, a new temporary short-term workers route to ensure that UK businesses, irrespective of sector, have the staff they need, including seasonal workers, and to help employers move smoothly to the future system. However, this debate is principally about the two-year seasonal workers pilot, which allows non-EU migrants to work on UK farms for six months, specifically in the edible horticultural sector, and I will use the time remaining to focus on the concerns the hon. Member for Nottingham North raised.

We are very clear that we want to support UK businesses, but it is just as important to us that everyone working in our economy is safe and is treated fairly and with respect. Exploiting people for their labour, subjecting them to horrific conditions such as those we have seen in the past, and denying them basic employment rights is of course a form of abuse.

That is the fundamental point. We must give people not only the right to complain but the confidence to come forward. Will the Minister consider talking to the Immigration Minister about how to give that confidence to people who come to work on these schemes, both when they arrive and before they leave their countries?

I certainly take on board that point and give that undertaking. We are determined to protect workers from abuse and to crack down on employers who try to profit from exploiting people. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is a world-leading landmark that gives law enforcement agencies the tools to deal with offenders and provides enhanced protection for victims, but we recognise that the nature of labour exploitation continues to evolve. We believe we are keeping pace with that, having introduced further measures to tackle exploitation through the Immigration Act 2016. We have widened the remit of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, giving it new powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to investigate serious labour market offences, including modern slavery offences, in all sectors. Those principles underpin all our immigration employment arrangements.

Let me turn to the clear and robust protections we have built into the design of the pilot, which were central to the line of inquiry from the hon. Member for Nottingham North. At the heart of those protections is our sponsorship system, which will be used to manage the licensing of the organisations—the scheme operators—selected to manage the pilot. The sponsor licensing system places clear and binding requirements and obligations on scheme operators, including robust responsibilities to ensure the welfare of participating migrant workers. Critically, it also gives the Home Office clear powers to revoke an operator’s licence if it falls short in its duties. That will be underpinned by a robust monitoring and compliance regime, which will include site visits by Home Office sponsor compliance teams.

On the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), the Home Office is working closely with the GLAA to share best practice for conducting such compliance visits and to share intelligence about our respective findings. We are absolutely determined to get this right. We have no desire to go backwards. We need to learn from the past.

The tier 2 and tier 5 sponsor guidance published by the Home Office on 11 January sets out organisations’ full responsibilities towards their seasonal workers. Those include ensuring that the work environment is safe and complies with all relevant health and safety requirements; that workers are treated fairly by their employer and are not threatened with or subjected to violence; that workers are paid properly, with time off and proper breaks; that workers are housed in hygienic and safe accommodation, although it is not mandatory for workers to live in accommodation provided by their employer; that workers’ passports are not withheld from them; and that procedures are in place to enable migrants to report any concerns and to move to another employer.

Should either of the selected operators fall short in those duties, action will be taken, up to and including the revocation of their sponsor licences. As a prerequisite for becoming a scheme operator, each organisation must hold and maintain licencing from the GLAA. Should a scheme operator lose its GLAA licensing at any point, its sponsor licence will be revoked with immediate effect.

I understand that the issue of debt bondage is of particular concern to the hon. Member for Nottingham North. Placing someone in debt bondage would constitute a failure to comply with the licensing standards and lead to the revocation of the operator’s licence. That in turn would lead to the revocation of its licence to act as a scheme operator. We therefore believe we have the sanctions in place to tackle that unacceptable practice. It is, however, important that we are alive to that risk and remain vigilant to any risk of exploitation.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the GLAA requires additional resources as a result of the pilot. I reassure him that the pilot is very much business as usual for the GLAA. We believe that an additional 2,500 workers will not place a significant additional burden on it, especially at a time when the sector tells us the overall number of seasonal workers is decreasing.

The Immigration Minister and I would be happy to look at any proposals put forward by Unite, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. I hope he is reassured by the range of protective measures we have put in place and by the clear requirements on scheme operators. We are confident that we have designed the scheme in a way that addresses his concerns.

Question put and agreed to.

Young Carers Support

I beg to move,

That this House has considered support for young carers.

It is a privilege to move the motion with you in the Chair, Mr Owen. One of the special things about being a Member of Parliament is the opportunity we are given to find out more about the extraordinary people in the communities that we represent. Following my election back in 2010, there are few more extraordinary people who I have come into contact with than the young carers I have come to know.

John, for example, is 17 years old now and started caring for his mum when he was 10 years old. She has fibromyalgia. John says:

“This causes her muscles and bones to become weak and most of the time she is unable to walk or even get out of bed. As a young carer, I help my mum with shopping and things inside and outside of the house. I don’t get much time to go out with my mates or have much time to myself. My life is different because I am looking after my mum, making sure she is taking her tablets and eating and drinking.”

John was one of eight young people from Sheffield who I took to meet the Prime Minister last May. I thank the Prime Minister—she has one or two other things on right now—for finding time to sit down for half an hour with us. Another one of the group was Holly. She is now 14 years old but she started caring for her mum and her sister around the age of four or five. Her mum has an underactive thyroid and her sister has a reflux in her right kidney. Holly says of their life:

“I don’t get much time to be a child or to spend time with friends. I don’t mind, but it sometimes gets really frustrating if I can’t sit down for five minutes or so. My life is different to young people who aren’t carers, because I struggle a lot with life and have people to care for. They get to be kids and live their life. I still get to live my life but I have to an adult and I have to be very careful. The highs are that I get to spend lots of time with my mum and my sister. The lows are that I have no other family around, so it is just the three of us. It is very painful for me and very emotional to have to watch my sister screaming in agony.”

Holly and John are the lucky ones, because they have made contact with Sheffield Young Carers, of which I am proud to be a patron. They are getting tremendous support and the opportunity to meet and share their experience with others in the same position, but most young carers are hidden from view. One in 12 children and young people is taking on mid to high-level care for a family member. Their average age is just 12 years old, the average annual income for their families is £5,000 lower than others, 68% are bullied at school, 26% are being bullied about their caring role, 45% report a mental health problem, they achieve nine grades lower at GCSE and they are four times more likely to drop out of further and higher education. The right support is vital, and we owe them nothing less.

This is such an important issue, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is raising it. He has said, quite rightly, that in many cases young carers are unidentified within the system. Does he agree that it is important that schools and GPs, who will have contact with the people the young carers are caring for, do all they can to try to make sure that young carers are flagged up in the system, so they get the support that they need?

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She anticipates my next point, which is how important it is that we as a society identify young carers. When I sat down with our young carers in Sheffield and asked them what their priorities were, typically selflessly they put that at the top. They were not thinking of themselves but of the others who had not come into contact with the local group. As she points out, schools and GPs are in the best position to play that role.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on calling this important debate. There is a charity in my constituency called Be Free Young Carers, which represents over 3,000 young carers in south Oxfordshire and the Vale of White Horse. One of its concerns is that once young carers are identified, the assessment process takes about six months and the help they receive can often be superficial—for example, simply being directed to websites. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the assessment and support for young carers is still inadequate?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that is a point that I will return to.

The lives of young carers are divided between home and school, so schools can make a huge difference. In their recommendations to the Prime Minister last May, our young carers made two main points. The first was that schools should be required to have a young carers lead. There is nothing special about that—it is there for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and for looked after children, so we would just be following the same approach. The second recommendation was that Ofsted should inspect schools on what they are doing to support young carers and whether they have a young carers lead in the school. In a press release after the meeting, No. 10 said:

“The Prime Minister recently met with a group of young carers who highlighted issues with identification and support in schools and NHS settings and the Government will be undertaking a review to identify opportunities for improvement in these spaces.”

Will the Minister say, eight months on, what progress his Department has made with the review?

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. Will he join me in commending Megan McGarrigle from Glasgow North East Carers Centre, who has being doing a lot of work, going into schools in the east end of Glasgow and talking to young people? That work has identified young people who probably do not even realise that they are carers. The hon. Gentleman is right to touch on the collaboration between local authorities, because in my experience it has been a bit piecemeal.

I certainly congratulate the group that the hon. Gentleman mentions for its work, and indeed groups across the country for their work, but that work is very patchy, and it is patchy in our schools, too.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this crucial debate. I was a young carer in a lone parent family between the ages of 14 and 18. I looked after my mother, who had a debilitating back condition during those four years. At that time there was absolutely no help whatsoever and seemingly no information about any help. Nobody knew where to turn in that regard. Does he agree that when help is framed, it needs to be flexible? It can be as simple as an afternoon off, or as major as to be all encompassing in its scope, to help that person and their family.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for sharing his personal experience as a young carer. I agree with his point about the flexibility of help needed for young carers, who face many different challenges. It needs to be tailored for individual need.

My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. In relation to support, does he agree with me and my local Oxfordshire charity, Be Free Young Carers, that charities are often relied upon to deliver all of this support, and that there is little support from other actors, such as local authorities? We need to have that.

My hon. Friend is right. She is reaffirming the point that has been reflected in a number of interventions about how patchy provision is. Charities play a tremendously important role, but more needs to be done by the statutory sector as well.

Further to that point, does my hon. Friend agree that extending commissioning and grant funding is essential in ensuring that the needs of our young carers are met? That is something that was relayed to me by an amazing charity in my area, Wigan & Leigh Young Carers. The problem of sustainability and reliance on short-term funding streams is holding many charities back.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about consistency of commissioning and support for work in this area.

My hon. Friend is making a crucial and powerful speech. I have been working as part of the cross-party parliamentary taskforce on kinship care to try to join all the dots and find a way forward in supporting kinship carers, young and old, through the system. Quite frankly, they save the state a fortune. Does he agree that Parliament needs to take a good look at this problem and start supporting these people in a proper manner?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The response to today’s debate is extremely encouraging, and shows that there is clearly concern across Parliament, so I hope the Government will pay full attention to that.

My hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. Two weeks ago, I was giving out awards at the inaugural Eleanor Marx awards ceremony in Lewisham. Schools were asked to nominate young women for their achievements, and the winner of the award was a young carer, in recognition of the work she did in supporting her mum and younger brother. She was overwhelmed by the recognition she got at that awards ceremony. Does he agree that more needs to be done to recognise the tremendous work that young carers are doing?

It is brilliant that that award was allocated in that way. That sort of recognition is certainly something we should all be looking to, and maybe we can all seek out opportunities in our own areas to help to secure it.

Taking the hon. Gentleman back to the schools situation, does he think that the power that Ofsted is given to look at what the school is doing on this is very weak, and that strengthening Ofsted’s power in that respect would be a great help in identifying those young carers and ensuring that they are looked after?

The hon. Gentleman anticipates my very next point. We will never see consistently good practice across schools until they are measured and assessed on it, and Ofsted’s role in that is crucial. I ask the Minister, in his winding-up speech, to say whether we can look forward to the Government’s requiring schools to have a young carers lead and requiring Ofsted to include the issue in its inspections.

Returning to some of the other points that our young carers from Sheffield made, there were two recommendations for the national health service, which have begun to be addressed in the NHS long-term plan and the commitment to carers, for which I am grateful. I have shared their recommendations and my questions with the Minister, so I hope he will also be able to confirm that the commitment in paragraph 2.33 of the long-term plan, which says:

“We will continue to identify and support carers”,

will include young carers and recognise the special nature of their needs. Will he say whether general practitioners will be required by the Care Quality Commission to hold a register of young carers in their practices and be inspected on it?

I welcome paragraph 2.35 of the commitment, which says:

“The NHS will roll out ‘top tips’ for general practice which have been developed by Young Carers, which include access to preventive health and social prescribing, and timely referral to local support services.”

It goes on to say:

“Up to 20,000 Young Carers will benefit from this more proactive approach by 23/24”,

but does the Minister recognise that that number falls well short of the estimated 700,000 young carers across the country?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and fellow Sheffield MP for securing this debate. In a previous life, when I was a councillor, I was privileged to chair the children, young people and families scrutiny board, and met every year with Sheffield Young Carers, to whom I say thank you once again for bringing the young carers down to Parliament and letting their voices be heard. It is a shame that we do not celebrate the work they do, because they save the NHS hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds. I was a young carer. My mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was about six, so I had the opportunity to look after her. That was good, but at the same time you are not the same as your mates; you are somebody a bit different. The ask from the Sheffield Young Carers is very small, so will he join me in hoping that the Minister will give those young people hope for a better future? The statistics that we have seen show a high risk of their becoming NEETs—not in education, employment or training—with 67% of young carers being bullied and 45% of young adult carers reporting mental health issues. This is a small group of people who really go the full mile and need some care themselves.

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I thank her for sharing her personal experience and for the work that she has previously done with Sheffield Young Carers. Our young carers also have some fairly modest recommendations on financial support, which is an issue she touched on, recognising that their families are poorer, that they have higher costs and that, unlike their peers, they cannot get part-time jobs. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on their proposal that they should get some form of carer’s allowance, which is being introduced in Scotland, and free bus passes, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) is spearheading a local campaign. Specifically with relation to his Department, does the Minister agree that young carers should be one of the named groups eligible for the 16-to-19 bursary?

I have one final question, relating to implementation of the Care Act 2014. A key principle of the statutory guidance issued under that Act is:

“Children should not undertake inappropriate or excessive caring roles that may have an impact on their development…their emotional or physical wellbeing and their prospects in education and life.”

Clearly, the evidence demonstrates the impact. In 2016, the Children’s Commissioner published a report revealing a very patchy service across the country, with many young carers remaining hidden and unsupported. One problem is that there is no guidance to define what is meant by “inappropriate or excessive”. Does the Minister agree that there should be national guidelines defining what is inappropriate or excessive care, to better support professionals in assessing and providing for the needs of young carers?

Fourteen-year-old Phoebe, who also joined me to meet the Prime Minister, has been caring since the age of eight. She probably spoke for all 700,000 young carers in the country when she said:

“I never get much time to myself. I worry a lot. I do panic that I can’t look after myself as much.”

She also said:

“This affects my own well-being.”

Should we not be doing everything to ensure that the caring that contributes so much to the family and saves the country so much does not affect the wellbeing of our young people, and that those young carers get the support they need to make the most of their lives?

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on securing the debate and on the eloquent way in which he outlined the issues.

I will not repeat the catalogue of personal experiences that my hon. Friend has witnessed at first hand. I think anybody who has had any experience of working with young carers in any part of the country would be able to repeat them. My own local authority, Sandwell Council, was one of the pioneers investigating this particular social problem, and published an early piece of work on child carers in 1989 with the specific objective of identifying the number of potential young carers in the borough and supporting charitable initiatives to address the problems they had. Certainly, first as a councillor and then as a Member of Parliament, it has been my privilege to work with the Sandwell Young Carers organisation, which has enabled me to see at first hand the inspirational young people we have in the borough and the work they do not only on behalf of their own families, but in relieving pressure on public services locally.

As in my hon. Friend’s area, we have Gloucestershire Young Carers, which has just won a tender to remain as the organisation representing young carers in Gloucestershire. Does my hon. Friend agree that a tendering process is the most improper way to encourage those organisations to function properly in representing young carers? It just seems the wrong approach.

Absolutely. In fact, there was an earlier remark on the almost haphazard way in which young carer organisations can access funding. The fact is that to provide a proper, long-term service with the capacity to meet an area’s needs requires long-term, assured funding. The continual tendering process does not provide the degree of certainty necessary to plan services effectively for the long term.

In addition to the inspirational young people that I mentioned, there is the chief executive of SYC, Tracey Hawkins, whom I have known for many years. She brings absolute passion to the job—often in very trying financial circumstances—to sustain that service within my local authority. SYC has a record of raising awareness for professionals across the board within the borough to help them identify and support young carers, and it has a contract with the council to do so.

SYC provides lottery-funded academic support—through homework clubs—and educational support for young carers who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central outlined, often face very difficult home circumstances, resulting in their low attainment, and sometimes low aspiration. It also provides publicity and communicates with other community groups and clubs to broaden young carers’ activities, which again is lottery-funded. The problem is that SYC has to continually try to find new or repeat sources of funds to go on providing those services.

The initial survey in Sandwell identified 2,000 potential young carers as needing support, but SYC has the funding and capacity to deal with only about 520 at any one time. SYC also makes an enormous contribution to supporting other public services in the area.

As a fellow West Midlands MP, I concur with many things the hon. Gentleman says, including on the hand-to-mouth existence that these organisations seem to lead. Does he also recognise that this is not so much about social deprivation or the area of the country where someone lives? I understand from Solihull Young Carers that the wealthier south of my constituency has as many cases of young people in this plight as the north of the borough, which is much more economically deprived. It is actually a nationwide problem.

I certainly agree that this problem is not confined to what were historically called deprived areas. By its very nature, the role of a young carer is often so hidden from general view that it is very difficult to make accurate assessments and comparisons. Although I cannot speak up for Solihull, I can say that it is very important that a uniformity of service should exist around the country, because this problem is not confined to specific geographical areas.

I am conscious of time, so I will quickly come to my concluding questions. To repeat the thrust of the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central, I ask the Minister what is being done to ensure that GPs and other health professionals identify, recognise and register young carers within their practice. The Department of Health and Social Care needs to take a more proactive role in raising awareness of this particular responsibility and ensuring that it is carried out. Similarly, what is being done to ensure that local authorities have pathways for young carers to access care and suitably trained, child-friendly staff with knowledge of the Acts covering young carers? What role do we envisage the voluntary-sector young carers projects playing in that pathway?

My hon. Friend also mentioned transport. Many young carers cite difficulties in accessing school transport and transport to young carers’ facilities, which are put on by charities and other community organisations to relieve some of the pressure of their everyday caring responsibilities. There is little point in having those facilities if the young carers who need them have not the wherewithal to get to them and enjoy them.

There is also an issue around the very welcome transitional arrangement policies for carers over 18 now being devised through a joint initiative of the Children’s Society and the Department of Health and Social Care. The 18-year-old barrier is often a sort of cliff-edge for young carers in their receiving care and advice, which needs to be overcome. I welcome the initiatives now being undertaken to address that problem.

However, my concern is that because many young carers organisations have historically not been involved in this particular area, it may provide a market opportunity for organisations that do not have the same community base, experience and sensitivity to actually fulfil that role. We do not want this to be regarded only as a business opportunity. We want to enable those organisations with a long history of providing this service for young carers in their local communities, and which know their local communities, to have the opportunity to build on that expertise and to develop it for the post-18 cohort of young carers.

Before I call the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), I remind Members that I will begin calling the Front-Bench spokespeople at eight minutes past 5. That will give the Opposition spokespeople five minutes each, will protect the Minister’s 10 minutes and will also give two minutes at the end for the sponsor of the debate to respond.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I echo the sentiments already expressed in both interventions and speeches, including the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield). If I may say so, responsibility for the questions he posed to the Minister does not sit only in the Department for Education but across Government. If we are serious about this issue, the need to break out of those silos, and perhaps to have a cross-departmental take on all this, is really important.

I will speak principally on the excellent and enormously positive work done in Blackpool, often by our carers centre, which is of long standing. I have had the privilege to work with the centre over my 22 years as the local Member of Parliament, and particularly with its young carers. Over the past 12 months, the centre has supported 666 young carers. Let us bear in mind that this is—I will not say that it is the tip of the iceberg—certainly not the actual number of young people caring for a parent or family member in Blackpool. Various surveys over the years have suggested that the figure is anything between 2,000 and 3,000, which gives some sense of the scale of it.

The other thing about Blackpool, which is also an issue for many inner-city areas and other seaside and coastal communities, is the degree of double transience—of families coming into the town and of people moving within the town, often because of family break-ups or economic hardship. That means that the ability of people who need care to latch on to a local community is much reduced on what it might be in other parts of the country, which puts even more pressure on the work of those young carers.

Nevertheless, the good news from Blackpool is that there has been tremendous progress in the last few years. I have been privileged and very proud to be part of that. In 2016 we all got a little bit of BBC showbiz dust sprinkled on us, because the BBC’s “DIY SOS” programme, which some hon. Members may be familiar with, descended on Blackpool to transform a building, Blenheim House—which is in the constituency of my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), but which serves the whole of Blackpool—into a young carers centre. Literally hundreds and hundreds of volunteers came from across the community, and I, along with some of my councillor colleagues, lent my hod, as it were, by clearing rubble and doing general labouring tasks in the morning. I also pay tribute to the Beaverbrooks Charitable Trust—the local charity and local business that provided the property and has supported the centre very strongly ever since. It is invidious, when one thinks about the work that is done by young carers and the carers associations that support them, to single out lots of individuals, but I do particularly want to single out Michelle Smith, who has done extraordinary things with the centre and everything that has been taken forward from it.

The hon. Gentleman is paying fitting tribute to the organisations in his constituency. Will he join me in recognising the work of volunteers, particularly the volunteers who assist in my constituency, Gloucestershire Young Carers, because it is their contribution that means that the work can reach so much further and change so many more lives?

I am delighted to agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course, the multiplier factor is very important, but it is also very important that young carers themselves do not get burned out. That is one of the key issues. It did not involve young carers, but I have a family history in this regard, in that my father cared for my mother for nearly 25 years; she had severe osteoporosis. Unfortunately, he would not take advantage of the things that were available, and I saw, in his latter years, how he was absolutely worn down by the process. Young people may not show that, but they have the same sorts of issues. When I tell hon. Members that 48% of those young people in Blackpool are caring for a parent because of substance misuse or mental ill health, they will get a sense of the sorts of issues that young carers have to face and deal with.

Last autumn, very important new research from the University of Nottingham revealed that the number of young people between the ages of 11 and 16 who act as carers has more than doubled since a comparable BBC survey in 2010. I was privileged to discuss those findings with people from the carers centre in my area, but also with two young carers, Caitlin Churchill and Claire Taylor, who had written to me over the summer with their personal experiences as well as with ideas to give young carers more support in the classroom.

The classroom is a key factor in this area. We have heard today about the need for Ofsted to be more forthcoming in this area, but school heads and schoolteachers also need to take the issue on board. They may not even know that they have young carers in their midst, and those young people, who sometimes turn up looking bleary-eyed and without having had a meal, may be disciplined for that, because they do not regard it as a caring thing; they think that it is just something they do for mum or dad or sometimes for an older sister or whoever.

That point is very important, as is the mental health project launched by Blackpool Carers Centre for young carers last spring. There have been workshops on this subject, and it is my experience that sometimes, when we bring young people together outside their school frameworks and put young people from one school or college with those from another, they work more collaboratively and do not feel as constrained. However, we need to ensure that the voluntary efforts and voluntary research by those young people outside school feed into schools and colleges as well.

The role of the local authority is also important. Blackpool is a small unitary authority, and I am sad to say that we have been hit very strongly by cuts over the last six or seven years, but it does support the carers centre.

Yes, Mr Owen. The authority does support the carers centre, with a relatively modest amount of funding, so there we have it—a good example of people taking things forward. May I just say one last thing to the Minister? The role of young carers ought to be recognised not just by Ofsted, but in our thinking about bursaries and so on, and particularly when they want to enter higher education and apprenticeships.

It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) wholeheartedly on securing the debate. He does an enormous amount of work in championing young carers from Sheffield and across the country. Like him, I have met many of the young carers that he mentioned, in part because of the fantastic work of Sheffield Young Carers, which is such an effective voice for those young people, but also because the young people themselves are such excellent advocates, who need absolutely no prompting in describing their experiences and making an impassioned case for change to support the needs of this hidden army of young people, who contribute so much yet receive so little.

I employ a young carer in my constituency office. Gabby has cared for her family since she was four years old and still cares for them now. As a result of that experience, she is an absolutely amazing young woman, who I believe is genuinely capable of anything, but who just needed a chance and some recognition of the obstacles that she faced while growing up that other young people did not have to. That is really at the heart of what young carers are asking for—recognition. I am talking about recognition of the incredible work that they do day in, day out; recognition that as a result of caring for siblings or parents, they struggle to get to school right on time, and that when they are at school, they are really tired; recognition that as a result of their caring, they are much more likely to have mental health problems of their own and risk burnout. Some services do recognise that, but nowhere is the recognition more important than in schools, and I am sorry to say that young carers’ experience in schools is patchy at best. In the words of Sheffield Young Carers, some schools help young carers, but some still do not at all.

It is incumbent on Government to ensure that schools treat young carers consistently and with the respect and recognition that they deserve, so I should be grateful if the Minister would respond explicitly to the recommendations made on education by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central—that schools should be required to have a young carers lead that Ofsted’s inspection framework should cover support for young carers, and that the teacher training curriculum should include information about identifying and supporting young carers.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, I have been working with a lot of young carers over the past year to campaign for free travel for young carers in Sheffield, both while they are in school and outside term time. Understandably, young carers travel much more than their counterparts, going to and from health appointments, collecting shopping and perhaps visiting those they care for. It is absolute common sense that we should recognise that by providing them with free travel.

Just last week, the young carers presented our petition to Sheffield City Council, where they received a standing ovation. Last summer, South Yorkshire passenger transport executive conducted a pilot, but we now need to see it rolled out. If the Minister could commit to raising that with his counterparts in the Department for Transport, we would appreciate it.

These young people ask so little of us, but give so selflessly to their loved ones and save the Exchequer and society so much. It is the very least we can do to make their voices heard in this place and to ensure that sufficient support is in place in their communities.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on securing the debate. Like several other hon. Members, I declare an interest as a former young carer. I would like to thank both the organisations in my constituency and the other organisations that I worked with across Scotland as a volunteer with young carers services in later years. This issue is close to my heart, and I think it is of paramount importance that we should be having this debate.

Lanarkshire Carers Centre in my constituency works with, and for, carers to develop and deliver services that make a positive difference to the lives of carers in Lanarkshire. The services that it provides include one-to-one carer support, carer support groups, short breaks for carers, and carer training opportunities. South Lanarkshire Carers Network empowers carers with knowledge and information that will allow them to make informed choices about available services. It also aims to identify unpaid carers, develop and maintain a network for those carers and identify gaps in service provision.

Carers not only perform a vital role for the people whom they look after, but ease the strain on our public services, as we have heard from many hon. Members. In fact, this point was well made by the hon. Member for Sheffield Central. I recognise his incredible work and passion as a patron of Sheffield Young Carers. He rightly gives a voice to John, Holly and all the other young carers, who deserve to be heard in this House.

Other hon. Members from across the House talked about their personal experiences, which were heartfelt and touching. It is worth recognising the words of the hon. Members for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) and for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), who have done a great deal of work in their constituencies over many years. That commitment is recognised here, as well as by their constituents. I also recognise the work of Michelle Smith, whom the hon. Member for Blackpool South mentioned, and the work she has done in his constituency. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) rightly identified that she has employed someone in her office who is a young carer. That recognition and opportunity is vital. Every young carer hopes for a chance and we should ensure that they get one.

Young carers provide a vital service to our economy, taking a huge burden off public services, and addressing the constraints of an already decreasing budget. In Scotland’s case, they save the Scottish economy £10.3 billion, which is close to the cost of providing the NHS service in Scotland. There are approximately 759,000 carers in Scotland, which is 17% of the adult population. When we think about carers we assume that they are adults, but there are an estimated 29,000 young carers in Scotland, which is 4% of under-16-year-olds. Being a young carer has a big impact on a young person’s life.

The hon. Lady is making an important point. It is difficult to know the exact figures, but substance abuse and mental health issues are on the rise. We have not mentioned the number of young people who are out there caring but are not recognised, even by themselves, as young carers. How do we identify those young carers going forward?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that salient point. From my point of view, growing up, I did not recognise myself as a young carer. A poster in school reminded me of the kinds of responsibilities that a young carer might have, which make that young person different from other young people in school. The Department for Education should consider an awareness-raising campaign around the responsibilities of young carers. If they are taking on additional responsibilities, they might not necessarily assume that they are caring for a parent or younger sibling. We need to raise awareness of that.

Many young carers find it difficult to balance their caring responsibilities with their education and social life. It can negatively impact their health and the financial difficulties can impact their stress levels. It is vital that young carers are supported, so that they can not only continue to care, but have a life and childhood of their own and not feel different from their non-caring peers at school.

The Scottish Government are leading the way on supporting carers. They have invested around £122 million in a programme for support for young carers. That carer’s allowance is the same level as jobseeker’s allowance and has been backdated to be paid from April 2018. From this autumn, the Scottish Government will introduce the young carer grant, worth £300 per year, which will be granted to 16 to 18-year-olds who have at least 16 hours of caring responsibility. I hope that the Minister will take that into account when he speaks to his colleagues across all Departments, because this issue is not reserved to the Department for Education.

I am conscious that I do not have much time left. I call on the Minister to consider carefully the important role of young carers, and do more to recognise them and support them financially.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for securing this debate and for his powerful contribution, which set us off on the right footing.

The latest figures identify close to 200,000 young carers, but it is likely that the real figure is much higher, because many child carers, some as young as four years old, do not identify themselves as carers. All too often, young carers go about their lives managing their caring responsibilities as best they can, unseen, unheard and unsupported. I want to thank the young carers who have allowed their stories to be shared here today, especially the Sheffield carers.

I was a young carer and I know it is not easy. Being a young carer can be a very isolating experience. All chances of childhood are lost. It is hard to laugh with so much responsibility. It is hard to be carefree when you are coming home from school worrying about what you will find, worrying about household bills, because there is no one else to worry about them, and worrying about siblings. Balancing school and caring responsibilities is, to say the least, difficult. There is no time for homework and it is hard to concentrate at school. There are few chances to have a life of one’s own and few chances to socialise; it is difficult.

Children have rights. The United Nations says that all children have a right to education and a childhood, and the right to be protected from the demands of excessive and inappropriate caring. Too often those rights are denied, and children and young people are suffering. One third of all carers aged between 11 and 18 experience mental health problems of their own. Research shows that one in 20 carers miss school because of their caring responsibilities. Young carers are far more likely to have lower educational attainment, less likely to stay on at school and more likely to be out of work in adult life.

There is some support out there. I pay tribute to the Carers Trust for the work it does supporting 32,000 young carers. I recognise and thank Carers UK and organisations such as Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity, which remind us that the siblings of children with life-limiting conditions are also young carers, who deserve the right to regular short breaks. I also thank the all-party parliamentary group on carers for shining a spotlight on these issues.

We are here today because Government support is urgently needed. The Care Act 2014 placed the duty on local authorities to consider the needs of children and young people living in a household where there is an adult with a disability or an impairment. That has not been fully implemented, because of a lack of funds. The Children’s Society worryingly reports that in the last four years the number of young carers has soared by 10,000. It suggests that this may be due to young carers picking up the slack from a shortage of adult social care. It is certainly a fact that adult care budgets have been cut by £7 billion since 2010, and cuts have consequences. Fewer people are now eligible for publicly funded care. Consequently, young family members have to take on more caring responsibilities.

Those young carers need and deserve support. Various promises have been made along the way. Eight months ago, the Prime Minister met some of these brilliant young people and promised to help them. The Government’s carers action plan promised a cross-departmental approach,

“to increase the timely identification”

of carers, to improve access to sport for general health and wellbeing, and to improve educational opportunities and outcomes.

Hon. Members relayed specific and sensible steps that could be taken to support young carers. In terms of health, GPs need to be aware of the caring responsibilities of their young patients. Social prescribing needs to be an option for these young people. In education, every school needs to have a designated lead for young carers. The Government must recognise that funding support is needed. Many young carers live in low-income households, and too often are left to shoulder financial worries. Costs associated with the caring role can be burdensome. Teenage carers often have little time to take on part-time work. Making carers eligible for the vulnerable bursary and free travel arrangements will be a welcome step. Again, I make the plea for funding short breaks for young carers.

Will the Minister go beyond warm words and give us a guarantee on some of the specifics? It is astonishing that the Department of Health and Social Care has published a 10-year plan for the future delivery of services, but does not outline a plan for social care. These issues are so fundamentally interconnected that it is hard to believe that they have not been dealt with in the 10-year plan. When will the long-awaited Green Paper on social care will be published? Will the Minister assure us that the understanding of the needs of all carers will be at the heart of not only the Green Paper on social care, but all Government strategy going forward? Will he guarantee that the Government will ensure that young carers are never forgotten or left behind?

I thank the Front-Bench spokespeople and Back Benchers for keeping to the time constraints. I call the Minister.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) on securing this debate. I apologise on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), for whom I am deputising. He is unable to be here due to prior departmental commitments.

Young carers do heroic work. They provide vital support to those they look after. We all recognise the enormous contribution that young carers make. The number of hon. Members who have turned up to make interventions or contributions is testament to that. We heard contributions from the hon. Members for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) and for Burnley (Julie Cooper). They have all made excellent points.

Young carers are likely to need additional support to develop and thrive, and there are many voluntary sector organisations doing inspirational work to support them. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central talked about John and Holly coming to meet the Prime Minister in May. She was impressed by the good work of Sheffield Young Carers, which provides respite and support with education and employment training.

Although I am the Minister with responsibility for higher education, I visited Kingston University earlier this month to see first hand how the university supports young carers to access and succeed in higher education through its dedicated KU Cares team. We recognise that many organisations provide similar services across the country, and we applaud the work they do.

It is important that young carers feel able to have the same aspirations as any other child and that they are supported to meet them. The Government are committed to ensuring that young carers have access to services that support and encourage them to achieve the best educational outcomes.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Surrey Young Carers, which supports 2,300 young carers in the county? It has been pointed out that young carers are 40% more likely to have mental health problems if they are not identified and supported early. That is important, because it is only fair to them and the public purse that they are supported.

I thank the organisation my hon. Friend mentions for its work. I will return to that critical point about mental health. The Department thanks all the organisations that hon. Members have mentioned for the work they do. The time and dedication they give is much appreciated.

On identification, many young people wish to help their loved ones, and find reward in doing so, but young carers often go unnoticed and hidden, and perhaps do not even recognise themselves as young carers, as the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East said. That can put their education, training or health at risk, and prevent them from enjoying their childhood in the same way as other children.

The consistent identification of young carers is challenging, and there are many complex reasons for that, which is why the Department has made sustained progress to tangibly improve identification and support. I was asked about the progress in the past eight months. The Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care have commissioned the Carers Trust to undertake a review of best practice in identifying young carers. That work is ongoing, but its conclusion should give us new insights into how schools, health services and other providers can best achieve that in practice.

Recommendation 3.2 of the cross-Government carers action plan, which was published in June 2018, identified that the two Departments would conduct a review of best practice in identifying young carers. That review will work alongside the Carers Trust work and will involve experts to look at existing best practice and identify what can be done to spread it. It will report back shortly.

We recognise the points that were made about mental health treatment and improving school support for vulnerable pupils. Young carers should receive mental health support if they need it. As part of the NHS long-term plan, there is a commitment to increasing the funding for children’s and young people’s mental health services to improve the support for 345,000 more children and young people to access NHS-funded mental health services in schools and colleges.

NHS England, in particular, is working with the young carer health champions programme to support confidence in using health services. It also focuses on improving support to enable young carers to make a positive transition from children’s to adults’ services. The Department of Health and Social Care will fund a project to identify and disseminate effective practice on that.

On the points made about children in need and about support for them as young carers, when it comes to looking at the impact, which we recognise, we know that statutory support for young carers’ needs is necessary. For that reason, we have implemented the legislative changes that have been touched on, so that young carers have an automatic entitlement to assessment by children’s services. Changes to the Care Act 2014 and the Children and Families Act 2014 have been implemented. The consolidation and simplification of legislation relating to young carers’ assessments has made the rights and duties clearer to young people and practitioners.

There is, however, still work to do on children in need. The Department collects only limited data on young carers through the annual children in need census, which had about 16,100 assessments that identified young care as a factor that contributes to children being in need. We want to do more, which is why the children in need review is identifying how to spread best practice on raising educational outcomes.

Support through social care is reflected in the statutory guidance “Working together to safeguard children”, which clearly states that the specific needs of young carers should be given support, recognition and priority in the assessment process. That process needs to take a whole-family approach to assessment and support.

Like the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, we strongly believe that young people should be protected from inappropriate and excessive caring responsibilities and that we should take that whole-family approach. Local authorities have an overarching responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children in their area. They are best placed to assess the needs and priorities in their area, and thresholds are set locally to allow for the specific needs of local children and families. We agree on the need for consistent, high-quality decision making, which is why Ofsted assesses whether local thresholds are set appropriately for children.

We want a system that responds to the needs and interests of children and families, and not the other way around. In such a system, practitioners need to be clear about what is required of them individually and how they can work in partnership with others. That is why the Department is working with the wider charitable sector to improve access to the support that young carers deserve. We have provided the Carers Trust with half a million pounds to develop and run the project “Making a Step Change for Young Carers and their Families”. Improving access to support for young carers is championed across Government through the NHS England young carer health champions programme, which aims to improve confidence in using health services.

There are clearly benefits for schools in identifying and supporting young carers, but changing the law to make them do so is not the best way forward. It is important that headteachers and governors are allowed the freedom to exercise their wealth of responsibilities in the most appropriate way, according to the individual needs of their pupils. Programmes such as those delivered by Suffolk Family Carers, the Carers Trust and the Children’s Society are important, and the more schools that complete them, the more that other schools will not want to be left behind.

Guidance such as “Keeping children safe in education” asks school and college staff to be alert to the potential need for early help for young carers. That support is evaluated by Ofsted inspections that take into account how schools and colleges meet the needs of the range of children and young people that attend them.

The issue of the financial burdens on young carers was raised. Young carers over 16 can be entitled to a carer’s allowance and carer’s credit to support the financial burden and help with gaps in their national insurance record. They can receive discretionary help from the 16 to 19 bursary fund, which is available to education and training institutions. It is the role of those institutions to determine which young people need bursaries and the level of financial support required to enable those students to participate.

The Department for Education provides schools with about £2.4 billion a year through the pupil premium, which provides £1,320 for primary schools and £935 for secondary schools. Eligibility is based on children receiving free school meals, but roughly 60% of young carers are on free school meals, so we know that they will receive that benefit as well.

When it comes to schools making effective use of their pupil premium budgets, we do not seek to tell them how to use the premium, as they will know best how to spend the grant according to their pupil needs. Crucially, however, schools are held to account for their use of the pupil premium through Ofsted inspections and information in performance tables. Most schools are required to publish details online about the impact of that funding.

On bus passes, it is up to local authorities to decide how they wish to allocate their discretionary budgets, including on providing free transport. The Government have made more than £200 billion available up to 2020 for councils to deliver on the local services that their communities want. I note the South Yorkshire pilot, and I will make sure that the Department looks into that.

I thank the hon. Member for Sheffield Central again for securing the debate—I am sure we could have spoken for at least another hour—and it has highlighted a crucial issue. Regardless of which side we are on, we are all determined to help those young carers who do so much for our local society.

I am delighted by the number of hon. Members from both sides of the House who have contributed, and I thank them for that—I am sure the young carers they represent will be grateful too. I am also grateful to hon. Members for sharing their personal experience, which underlines the point about recognising only the tip of the iceberg. Four hon. Members described their experience as young carers, which makes an important statement about the number who go without recognition.

The point was made that good work is done by volunteers, and that is absolutely right, but we should not have to depend on them. Their work should be underpinned by good statutory provision, which needs to be consistent across the country if young carers are not to burn out.

I thank the Minister for the answers that he did provide, although I was disappointed by some of them. He spoke quickly and quietly, so I did not catch everything that he said—I will be reading Hansard. I gave the Department four days’ written notice of every question, so I had hoped that I would get fuller answers. In some cases, where he did answer, he tried to shift responsibility away from the Government and on to local authorities and others, which was disappointing.

Finally, I pay tribute to Sheffield Young Carers, which was the inspiration for the debate. I hope that it recognised, in all the contributions, how strongly hon. Members feel about these issues and how far we will not let them go.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered support for young carers.

Sitting adjourned.