Wednesday 20 February 2019
[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]
Police, Fire and Rescue Services: Funding Reductions
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect of reductions in funding of police, fire and rescue services.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I declare an interest as a member of a number of trade union groups, including the Fire Brigades Union parliamentary group. I start by placing on the record my appreciation for and gratitude to our police officers, firefighters and, indeed, NHS staff. I am sure that those sentiments will be shared by all Members.
The focus of the debate relates to the funding of the police and fire services, as pressures affecting those services in my constituency have been more acute in recent months. However, I in no way seek to downplay the funding challenges facing our health service and, in particular, the ambulance service. In many respects, they face similar pressures.
The last Labour Government had a well-known policy; it was a kind of catchphrase: “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. And they had a proud record. Indeed, finance, resources and police numbers were all increased. Being tough on crime was not just a slogan. It meant more visible policing, a priority being placed on community policing, intelligence gathering and the detection of crime. I well recall attending PACT—Police and Communities Together—meetings at which there were consultations with community safety partnerships and local priorities were determined. There was a real sense of partnership.
In 2010, when Labour left office, there was a record number of police officers; it was in excess of 143,000. However, in the last decade, we have seen a systematic reduction in funding and what amounts to a downgrading of the police service. In every community, we can see the effects of the missing police officers who once patrolled our streets.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. He is absolutely right. Greater Manchester police have lost nearly 2,000 police officers since 2010, and across south Manchester the problem is that the police are so stretched that they struggle to fulfil their duties, including proper investigation of the crimes that are happening. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest effects of the reduction is a loss of confidence among the local community that crimes will be properly investigated, and that that is not the fault of the police?
Trust and relationships are built over many years. Sadly, the impact of sustained funding cuts over nine or 10 years has been that much of the good work from the partnership arrangements, and often valuable intelligence, have been lost. It will take a colossal effort to regain that.
There are many implications from having fewer police officers. I am thinking of the reassurance that comes from seeing a police officer talking to residents in Peterlee town centre in my constituency, seeing officers walking down Church Street—a rare occurrence in the current climate—or community police officers gathering intelligence to combat drug dealing or engaging young people to tackle antisocial behaviour.
It is the view of many that the Conservative Government have abandoned their support for law and order by cutting more than 20,000 police officers, taking us back to numbers that we have not seen since the 1980s. Crime is now rising as a result. In my own policing area, Durham, the number of police officers is down by 25% since 2010; we have lost 360 police officers. The National Audit Office report on the financial sustainability of police forces identifies Durham as having lost more resources than any other provincial force between 2010 and 2018-19, with its funding from central Government cut by one third.
I hope that the Minister will join me in acknowledging that, despite every funding challenge being placed before Durham constabulary, credit must go to Chief Constable Mike Barton, Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg and all the officers, staff and support staff of Durham constabulary. It has been rated as the only outstanding force in the country for the past three years, and has the highest crime detection rate in England and Wales. It has endeavoured to overcome its difficulties. Nevertheless, the fact that we have fewer police officers is manifest, and the consequences are there for everyone to see.
I want to say something about Grenfell. The County Durham and Darlington fire and rescue service is experiencing the same financial pressures as the police in my constituency. Before I move on to the circumstances that apply in my constituency, I want to comment on the Channel 4 “Dispatches” episode that aired on Monday night. It was called “Grenfell: Did the Fire Brigade Fail?” Unfortunately, the episode had the same flaw as some of the questioning in the Grenfell inquiry, and was blinkered from the wider context of the incident that led to the dreadful loss of 73 lives because it focused solely on the night of the tragedy.
On 14 June 2017, the London fire brigade was confronted with a fire spreading at an unprecedented rate. The crews’ experience and training would have taught them that, in a high-rise building, a fire would be contained within a flat in an individual concrete unit built to contain the fire. In such cases, it is clear why a policy of “stay put” would work. On that night, as the fire developed, the crews on the ground had to make decisions in that moment of pressure, panic and uncertainty. I ask everyone to consider what they would do in that moment, with a fire spreading rapidly in an unexpected manner, with lives being lost in front of them, watching colleagues and friends entering a building in the belief that they might not return. Are we to expect a fire chief on the ground instinctively to change established policy and procedures that had been ingrained into the service through training, and to develop new strategies on the spot?
To scapegoat the firefighters—the men and women who bravely risk their lives in a service whose purpose is to preserve life—is nothing short of a scandal. It will not get us any nearer finding those responsible for the tragedy. In the opinion of many people, including me, the fire service and the firefighters did not fail. The building and the policy failed. Policy fails when faulty and unsafe electrical appliances are not tested, when building regulations fail and when substandard windows do not contain the fire. A local authority fails when the cheap cladding that was used to wrap the high-rise building is actually made of flammable materials. Business fails when the companies that installed the cladding and produced it do not act when their product fails to meet safety standards.
It is easy to attack the fire service for decisions made in a moment of extreme pressure, but at some point those who made the decisions with time and forethought that placed residents in a dangerous building will have to be held to account. Perhaps that is not for this debate, but that programme raised such questions that I felt that I had to put something on the record.
I am offended when the fire service and firefighters are unfairly attacked. I have seen that in my constituency. County Durham and Darlington fire and rescue service is currently consulting on changes, as it is trying to manage excessive Government cuts. It has set out a number of options and is asking the public for their views. I have never met a fire chief or a firefighter who does not want to recruit more firefighters. The barrier to recruiting more firefighters is finance, which is determined by central Government, combined with the local authority precept. Our problem is that we are being systematically underfunded, and as a result, the fire service in our area is being downgraded. The Minister may disagree, but how can the loss of 11,000 firefighter posts nationally—one in five posts—be described as anything other than a downgrade of the service?
The scale of cuts to the fire service is nothing less than a national scandal. County Durham and Darlington fire and rescue service has lost 58% of its Government funding since 2012. In the current four-year settlement, its Government funding will reduce from £10.9 million to £8.9 million, and Government support for new fire appliances and other vital equipment has been almost totally axed. Hon. Members may recall that, some years ago, we were actually encouraged to develop resilience and to acquire equipment, particularly pumping equipment and boats, which might not be used so much in our area but could support neighbouring brigades during flooding incidents.
Our own chief fire officer in Durham, Stuart Errington, described a £1.3 million stealth cut, stressing:
“I’m not worried about PFI, I’m worried about capital spending.”
I place on the record my thanks to Stuart and to our firefighters for the work they do under the most difficult circumstances. I know from my conversations with the chief fire officer that he has raised concerns with the Minister about cuts and their implications for public safety. He said to me:
“I think everyone thought the cuts would stop after four years.”
“I’m still lobbying with the Home Office really hard to stop the cuts, because we’re getting to the point where we’re going to see some really big cuts, which will increase the risk to the public.”
I ask Ministers to look at the cuts to the police and to the fire and rescue service and to recognise that they have gone too far and are now endangering the public. The idea that fire services covering Seaham and Peterlee in my constituency could be reduced, at a time when they are actually dealing with more incidents, defies all logic and common sense. It makes the likelihood of death and injury greater, which cannot be acceptable.
I ask the Minister to address funding cuts. One issue in Durham is that the precept is not an effective means of raising finance. As a relatively deprived area, we have a low council tax base. Some 55% of households in County Durham and Darlington—it is more in my constituency—are classed as band A, whereas nationally a typical property is classed as band D. That limits the capacity to increase funding for the fire and rescue authority via the precept, compared with more affluent areas.
An example used by my own police and crime commissioner is that, if Thames Valley police increased its precept by the same amount as Durham, it would raise £17 million a year more. At some point we will have to question the sustainability of the precept as a means of financing both the police service and the fire and rescue service, particularly in the current climate, where the principle of resource equalisation—that more affluent areas should provide support to less affluent areas—which has stood since the second world war, seems to have been abandoned. We increasingly see a postcode lottery in resources and funding.
I point out to the Minister that the demands on policing and fire and rescue services—particularly in areas of high deprivation, such as mine—are complex and need to be funded appropriately. That will require the Government to recognise the needs of communities like mine and the limited ability of local areas to raise the necessary funding via the precept.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing this important debate. We are discussing some of the most important services in our constituencies—people who are there to keep us safe and who come to our rescue when we are in peril. I am pleased to put on the record my thanks to the police and fire services in West Yorkshire. Regrettably, the lives of the people who work in those services are being made harder by the Government’s decisions. Ultimately, resources are the burning issue.
Our police have to do more work than ever before. Most hon. Members will be familiar with complaints in their inboxes about illegal moped use and related antisocial behaviour, but I am now receiving a growing number of complaints about fighting, threatening behaviour, drug dealing and armed robberies. Violent crime is increasing in West Yorkshire and it feels as though robberies and burglaries are becoming more common. Regrettably, there is also an ongoing investigation into historical child sexual exploitation in north Kirklees.
In such circumstances, one would rightfully expect an increase in our police numbers and resources, so words cannot fully explain my frustration that West Yorkshire police is about to enter its ninth consecutive year of real-terms cuts. West Yorkshire has lost 1,100 police officers and 152 police community support officers, and its overall budget has been reduced by £113 million since 2010. Between 2013 and 2018, there was a mind-boggling 227% rise in violent crime—the largest rise in the country.
It goes without saying that the visibility of officers has reduced, and local anger and blame is increasingly put on the shoulders of the police. We will all have experience of constituents who have been victims of crime and complained about response times or, worse, given up calling the police altogether.
That gets worse when there is a spate of crimes. In Birstall in my constituency, a number of small local businesses have been the victim of repeated burglaries, which put livelihoods at stake and drive local people to distraction. My mum used to have a café in that community, and if it had been burgled, that would have been the end of her business. These people’s businesses are hanging by a thread because of the criminality of thugs. However, I am left in little doubt that if the police were able, they would have a greater presence in communities such as Birstall, Gomersal and Cleckheaton. That is why the Labour party’s pledge to employ a new police officer for every community is important and resonates with victims of crime.
We cannot wait for that, however. People deserve to have faith in their police, and businesses need to know that their premises are secure for the good of our local high streets. The Government missed another opportunity in the most recent funding announcement, but they cannot continually leave communities such as mine out in the cold.
The debate about the resources of emergency services often focuses on the police, for good reason, as I have mentioned, but our fire services do inspiring work too. They have not been exempt from the harsh reality of austerity and continue to suffer. Hon. Members may have recently read in the news about a large domestic explosion in Batley in my constituency. It was an exceptional circumstance that received an exceptional response from the fire service. No fewer than 10 fire engines from across West Yorkshire were quickly on the scene and they dealt with the fire swiftly and professionally. I remain impressed that even when resources and numbers are tight, the fire service manages to be there when we need it most.
Having viewed the figures provided by the Fire Brigades Union, I am concerned that we will reach a tipping point where the cuts become too much to handle. Between 2010 and 2018, West Yorkshire fire service has faced massive cuts, which has led to 572—33%—fewer firefighters. By 2020 the overall national budget for fire services will have been nearly halved.
Our police and fire services are an absolute credit to our country. They constantly work hard for us and run towards danger when we run away, but we cannot take them for granted. For too long, all they have known are budget cuts and ever-tightening resources. I encourage everyone in this House to spend time, if they can, out on the frontline with both police and firefighters, as I have, to see the pressures that our brave men and women have to cope with. If austerity is over, it is vital that we start supporting the services immediately and guarantee that the fire and rescue services will suffer no further cuts to their funding.
I have several asks for the Minister. Will he please look again at the precept that unfairly hits communities such as Batley and Spen in the north? Will the Government guarantee future funding beyond 2019-20 for the increased employers’ cost for the firefighters pension scheme? With the firefighters not having any real pay rise in the past eight years, will the Government make funding available so that firefighters’ pay can at least keep pace with inflation? Will the Government now acknowledge that West Yorkshire in particular needs extra support for its police to deal with the exceptional rise in crime in order to ensure that people and my constituents feel safe as they go about their daily business?
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hosie. It will come as no surprise to anybody in this place that emergency services feel stretched; it is extremely challenging for them to operate within the constraints of nearly a decade of austerity, and that is the context of the debate today. The link between austerity and different types of crime has been well established. There is the global context of an increased risk of terrorist attacks, and forces across the UK are now also preparing for a no-deal Brexit. It is a perfect storm, and it can be remedied only with sustained investment from the UK Government.
The Scottish Government have been instrumental in ensuring that Scotland is protected from the austerity cuts that emergency services have faced in the rest of the UK. The Scottish Parliament does not have all the powers we require to increase our revenues in the way my colleagues and I would like, but we can make spending decisions that lead to much better outcomes for the people of Scotland.
Police numbers in Scotland are up by more than 5% since the Scottish National party took power at Holyrood in 2007. That is despite the wider context of nearly a decade of austerity cuts from the UK Government. In the same period, police numbers in England and Wales are down by nearly 14%. The headcount in Scotland is 17,175 officers, which is still 941 full-time equivalent police officers, or 5.8%, more than the figure we inherited when we came into office, which is significant. In September 2018, there were 32 officers per 10,000 people in Scotland, compared with 21 officers per 10,000 in England and Wales. That reflects not only our geography, but investment in our service, which needs to be protected, given the issues that have emerged in England around knife crime and so on.
The Scottish Government do not have the powers to mitigate absolutely everything, and emergency services are increasingly concerned about the impact of leaving the European Union. Police Scotland has said that a no-deal Brexit could have numerous consequences, such as officers being deployed elsewhere and a considerable risk of harm to the public if there were incidents of civil unrest. Nobody wants to see that, particularly not in Scotland, where we did not vote for Brexit, but we are at the end of the supply chain for many things, and if supplies start to run out, it could have a significant impact in terms of civil unrest.
I am absolutely appalled that our emergency services are having to squander public resources on preparing for civil unrest and other eventualities associated with crashing out of the EU without a deal. It is entirely within the Government’s gift to take no deal off the table and offer reassurances to those on the frontline that such a catastrophe can be avoided. The Government have allowed internal politics within the Tory party to escape into the lives of ordinary citizens, and Scottish taxpayers and citizens are picking up the tab.
Scotland has its own distinct challenges that must be met by our emergency services. In a diverse geographical landscape, they respond to incidents and various challenges within our cities and towns. We have our own cultural challenges and a separate legal system, but our police force has, in good faith, acknowledged that there may be a need to provide mutual assistance to other forces in the UK should that be required. The only circumstances in which that would be necessary as a result of Brexit would be if the Prime Minister continues her reckless course towards a no-deal cliff edge.
There are also challenges in the funding of fire and rescue services, and I say that as a former councillor who sat on the Strathclyde fire board before it was merged into the single service. There were good and legitimate reasons for doing that; many like to see the pooling of shared resources, and it made sense for the service. It meant a change in nature, and there were challenges in coming together as one, but nobody would change back, and there was broad cross-party agreement for the merger.
One benefit of the change for fire and rescue services has been their ability to adapt to the changing nature of the fire service. Recent FBU figures stated that non-fire rescues now considerably outnumber fire rescues. In 2017-18, more than 3,000 rescues were at non-fire incidents, compared with around 500 rescues from fires. Before the Strathclyde board was dissolved, it invested considerably in a state-of-the-art training centre at Cambuslang just outside Glasgow, and I recommend anyone who can to go and see that fantastic service. Firefighters can access a range of training opportunities, and all services in Scotland can come and use the centre, which is of huge benefit.
Scottish fire and rescue services have tried wherever possible to make savings to reduce the burden on their services, and the West Dunbartonshire service recently worked hard to reduce by 23% the number of unwanted fire alarm signals, which can cause call-outs that do not need to happen. That is 23% fewer times that the service had to turn out when it did not need to, which is important.
I would be remiss not to mention funding, and the UK Government must do the fair thing and adequately compensate Scottish police, fire and rescue services for the expenditure involved in contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit. We should not be out of pocket because of the decisions of this Government. That additional expenditure is likely to amount to £17 million in policing costs alone—around the same amount that the UK Government have provided to Northern Ireland to cover its Brexit-related policing. Why should Scotland be treated any differently?
The UK Government have shown political discretion in funding the devolved nations in the past, and it is deeply unfair that the people of Scotland and those struggling on the frontline of the emergency services should miss out. Last year, we were successful in finally persuading the Chancellor to stop charging VAT to emergency services in Scotland, which was a result of moving to the single service. That came about because of the intransigence of the UK Government as regards fixing that situation. Some have said that we chose to go forward with that merger, which we did, and the cost savings made it worthwhile. However, it was a political decision by the UK Government not to treat our services in the same way as they treat Highways England, or other services in England, and that should not have happened in the first place.
As things stand, compensation is overdue. Our emergency services paid £175 million to the UK Government before the decision to scrap the VAT obligation. That funding could have gone to the frontline, saving lives and improving the service. When will the UK Government give back the money that we are entitled to? If VAT is exempted now, it should have been exempted in the first place, and we are due our money back.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I thank the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) for securing it. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Members for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) and for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who made their contributions forcefully and gracefully on behalf of the fire and rescue services and the police.
An attempt to lower the deficit has clearly led to cuts and losses, but I believe that a few areas must be untouchable, including frontline healthcare, funding for schools to provide basic education, defence spending to secure our nation and its interests, and—lastly, but no less importantly—the police, fire and rescue services. The fat on all those things can be trimmed, but I believe the emergency services are as lean as they can be. In fact, we are too skinny, and without the ability to do what the body is capable of doing if it is well fed. We have tremendous talent and ability, yet we cannot do what a well-funded body can do.
We also have a police service and a fire service that train the world, yet they are precluded from giving their best, due to a lack of funding. I pay tribute, as others have, to the fire and rescue services of Northern Ireland and the whole nation. I also pay tribute to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I know the debate is not about the ambulance service, but I also put on record my thanks to those who work in it for what they do. In many places, they are hard-pressed financially and resources-wise.
A few years ago, I was in Afghanistan with the armed forces parliamentary scheme. We had a chance to visit Lashkar Gah in Helmand province. It was remarkable to be in a camp and all of a sudden to hear a Northern Ireland accent—former police officers were being seconded to train the Afghanistan army and police. That incident told me a number of things. Those gentlemen had done their stint in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the PSNI. They then had the opportunity to train people in other countries, and they did that. The husband of the lady who works in my office is a retired police officer, and he trains police officers in Serbia, Montenegro and other parts of the Balkans. The expertise, commitment and ability we have through our police forces is being used to train police forces in other parts of the world. That is an indication of just how highly thought of they are.
In Northern Ireland in 2017, the fire and rescue service of Northern Ireland warned that any more cuts would almost certainly result in preventable deaths. We are not playing with figures; we are playing with people’s lives—the lives of families and children. That is backed up by findings from the Local Government Association. Many of us know the LGA from our days on councils. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central spoke about her time on the council. My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) and I have been councillors, too, and I suspect others have the same expertise and knowledge. The LGA represents more than 370 councils and fire authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a massive body with a lot of knowledge and expertise. It highlighted the latest fire statistics, which show that although the overall number of fires has fallen steadily, the rate of decline has slowed and certain types of fire have increased. Deliberate primary fires are on the rise, which is incredibly concerning.
The LGA further outlined a 22% increase in fire-related deaths involving those over 65 in the past two years. There is a need to raise awareness about elderly people on their own in their homes. In Northern Ireland, we have regular advertising on TV about smoke alarms, saying, “Check your smoke alarm on a Monday. Press the button. If it goes off, you know the batteries are not done.” It is important that people do that, because some elderly people probably do not have that ability. It is about how we raise awareness.
The LGA also said that, in deciding fire service funding, Ministers should consider the rising over-85 population and the increasing numbers of people renting houses. When it comes to raising awareness, landlords should be reminded of the responsibility they have, and elderly people should be helped. It is not hard to look out for our elderly neighbours and to call in and see how they are. In two minutes, we can check their smoke alarm and make sure everything is all right.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent point about the importance of people using their smoke alarms and ensuring that they work. Is there a system in Ireland, as there is in Scotland, of home fire safety visits, where the fire brigade will come out and check someone’s house for fire safety and install smoke alarms if they are needed?
I am not sure we have that same service. I think it is left to many other organisations. The hon. Lady has highlighted what we can do, but we also have fewer resources. The fire service will call if it is asked to, but resources are stretched, and the services do not normally have the time or ability to do that. Fire and rescue services have had their funding cut by around 40% over a four-year period. That perhaps indicates why such things sometimes cannot be done.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the funding reductions we are debating have an effect on the morale of emergency services? Another thing that has a massive impact on their morale is attacks on them—attacks on police officers, on those in A&E and the wider health service, and on firefighters. We need to send the message regularly that that is totally and utterly unacceptable.
My hon. Friend may have read my script and known that I was going to mention that. I have become very alarmed by attacks on the fire and rescue service, the PSNI and the ambulance service—and, indeed, on A&E staff, which he referred to—across Northern Ireland. There is something grossly morally wrong and evil about people feeling they can attack our rescue services when they are out doing their job of responding to a fire or to someone who is hurt. There is also the issue of the theft of property from ambulances and fire engines. Defibrillators, for instance, are stolen from the back of ambulances, as is other equipment. That all has to be paid for. Whenever people lay their lives on the line to save others, they should be shown an element of respect.
My hon. Friend referred to accident and emergency. Again, there is something grossly offensive about people feeling it is okay to go into A&E and verbally abuse nurses, doctors or other people who are there to help. There is something criminally wrong with those who would attack people in A&E. My hon. Friend underlines how we as a nation feel. It is time to respect our fire and rescue service; it is time to respect our police; it is time to respect our ambulance service; and it is time to respect the nurses and doctors in A&E. We must send that message from the Chamber today.
I agree with the chair of the Local Government Association fire services management committee, who said:
“Projected rises in both the elderly population, including those living alone, and the number of people living in privately rented homes will only increase the risk of more fires putting people’s lives in danger.”
We have a duty to focus on elderly people who need help, and I look to the Minister for a response to that. The FBU says the number of firefighters has fallen by 22% in the past 10 years. The fire service is not sufficiently funded, and that needs to be changed.
The hon. Member for Easington mentioned electrical wiring, which he, I and others in the Chamber have spoken about before. That is about not only upgrading and checking the wiring in houses, but identifying faulty electrical equipment. We have had many Westminster Hall debates about that issue, and he is absolutely right to underline it. I back up what he said, which was important.
I want to make a small point about that. It is a very relevant issue, and it reminds me of the public health argument. The hon. Gentleman mentioned firefighters being involved in identifying areas of high risk and installing or checking smoke detectors. There is a payback for that, but resources are so tight that the fire service and the police service are now just completely reactive. Good work was being done, and we perhaps were seeing the benefit of that in reduced incidents. Since we are no longer investing in education, installing smoke detectors and so on, we will see a higher incidence of crime and fires that could otherwise have been avoided.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is not sufficient to be reactive; we should proactively address these issues. That should be one of the key messages from the debate. Many Opposition colleagues have participated in Westminster Hall debates about electrical safety. It continues to be a massive issue, and we need to be proactive about it.
The same can be said for policing. We have some phenomenal officers, who work hand in hand with community workers to address problems on estates, yet the funding is not there to ensure that there are community workers on shifts at all times. I am a great believer in community policing—I always have been. I was probably reared in community policing, in my former life as a councillor. The relationship between the community officers, the estates and the people was phenomenal. Unfortunately, when those officers retired or moved on, that relationship fell by the way, which was a loss and a sadness.
The funding is not in place to ensure community workers are on shift at all times. Regular officers who are not up to speed with dynamics and who act as they are trained flare tensions, whereas a team who have built up a relationship would have been able to settle those tensions. How much of a talent it is to be able to solve, or salve, problems, rather than inadvertently inflaming emotions. That is down to a lack of funding. The losers are entire areas.
As I said, there are things that we cannot scrimp on, and the police and the fire services are one of them. I add my voice to those of Members who have called and will call for appropriate ring-fenced funding.
It is my pleasure and privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on bringing the debate to the Floor of the Westminster Hall Chamber. I share his tributes to the police, the fire services and the emergency services of all the nations of these islands. I also take the opportunity to commend him for his comments on the dangers of making the fire service a scapegoat for the Grenfell fire. The thrust of what he was saying was that if we want to know who was responsible for the Grenfell fire, we should follow the money—see who benefited from the cheap cladding and the poor upkeep of the building—rather than blaming the men and women who risked their lives to save lives that night.
We have heard a number of interesting and diverse contributions, from the hon. Members for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). My hon. Friend raised in particular the role that the fire services play in Scotland, with their proactive preventive measures, such as offering to go into people’s homes to assess their anti-fire readiness. That proactive strategy is reflected in the way the Scottish police force, the Crown Office and some Scottish social services have approached the problem of knife crime in Scotland, treating it as a public health emergency. My hon. Friend has spoken about that eloquently on a number of occasions.
This debate is really about funding. The hon. Member for Easington painted a concerning picture of the effect of the reductions in police and fire and rescue services across England and Wales. Those concerns are clearly widely held. As the Scottish National party spokesperson for justice and home affairs, I want to contribute constructively to the debate by offering an overview of the somewhat different position in Scotland. In an era of severe funding cuts to police and fire services across England and Wales, the UK Government would do well to look to the example of the Scottish Government, who have managed to protect such vital public services from the worst excesses of the UK Government’s failed austerity project.
Let us look at the stats on crime in Scotland, from the Scottish crime and justice survey. Since 2008-09, crime has fallen by 32%. The vast majority of people in Scotland—87%—say that they experience no crime. That is not to diminish the severe experiences of the 13% who do but, again, the Scottish Government have leading legislation for the victims of crime and for vulnerable witnesses. Since 2006-07, recorded crime in Scotland has fallen by 42%, and non-sexual violent crime is at one of its lowest levels since 1974, and represents a 49% fall since 2006-07. That is largely due to the public health approach to the problem of knife crime in Scotland, in which the police and emergency services collaborate with other healthcare and social services professionals to reduce violent crime at a time when it is sadly on the rise in England and Wales.
My hon. and learned Friend makes a good point about the impact of that approach to tackling knife crime, particularly in relation to young people. Does she agree that that investment over an extended period of time has been valuable in dealing with knife crime and the impact of violence on young people?
Absolutely, and I am pleased to say that the UK Government have recognised that, by coming up to Scotland to study the approach that we have taken. Cressida Dick from the Metropolitan police has been up to Glasgow to see the approach that has been taken there, and I know that UK Government Ministers have been to my constituency and to see Scottish Government Ministers in Edinburgh to discuss these issues. Witnesses have also given evidence to the Select Committees on Home Affairs and on Justice about the approach taken in Scotland.
However, key to the approach in Scotland is protecting the budget of the police and fire services from the consequences of austerity. As we all know, the Scottish Government’s budget has been squeezed over the past few years. Between 2010-11 and 2019-20, Scotland’s discretionary resource budget allocation will have been reduced by 6.5%, which is almost £2 billion in real terms. However, the Scottish Government’s decisions on tax and borrowing have reduced the real-terms reduction to the total Scottish fiscal budget from 5.5% to 3.4% between 2010 and the current year, and their decisions on income tax alone in this coming year mean that we will have an additional £68 million to invest in public services. Such measures have enabled the Scottish Government to mitigate the worst of austerity in very challenging circumstances.
For example, while spending on police forces in England and Wales has dropped by 17% since 2010, and the number of officers has dropped by 14%, in Scotland we have gone in the opposite direction. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central said, since the SNP Government came to power in 2007, there are now 5.8% more police officers. There has also been modernisation, with one police force for the whole of Scotland. It is important to remember that in London there is one police force for the whole metropolitan area, whose population is nearly twice that of Scotland, so having one force for Scotland was a no-brainer. I will come back to that point when I address my hon. Friend’s comments on VAT. In September last year there were around 32 police officers per 10,000 of population in Scotland, compared with around 21 officers per 10,000 of population in England and Wales.
The commitment to protect public services in Scotland from the effects of the UK Government’s austerity project extends to fire services. The recent Scottish Government Budget—for the year 2019-20—introduced increases in the money available for fire and rescue services, as well as for the police. There has been a real-terms uplift for Police Scotland. The overall Scottish Police Authority budget will increase by 3.7%, meaning an additional £42.3 million. The police revenue budget will increase by 2.8%, meaning an additional £30.3 million. The police capital budget will increase by £12 million, meaning a 52% increase. Also, the Scottish Government remain committed to protecting the police resource budget in real terms in every year of the current Scottish Parliament, which means a boost of £100 million by 2021. So it can be done when the right choices are made by Governments.
Likewise, this year will see the budget for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service increase by £5.5 million, and that is in addition to increasing the service’s spending capacity by £15.5 million in the previous financial year. The Scottish Government’s Budget also confirmed that the £21.7 million increase in capital funding for the service announced in the 2017-18 Budget will be maintained.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central said, the Scottish National party, after much campaigning during this Parliament and the last, was successful in persuading the UK Government to end the VAT obligation on Scotland’s police and fire and rescue services. However, more than a year on, the UK Government have still not repaid the £175 million taken by way of VAT before scrapping the unfair charges. They need to reverse that decision and return the money to Scotland’s emergency services. Scotland’s police and fire and rescue services were the only territorial forces in the UK asked to pay VAT—as my hon. Friend said, other national public organisations south of the border were not asked to pay VAT. Make no mistake about it: that was a political decision. It has now been reversed, and the money that was wrongfully taken should be paid back.
My hon. Friend also raised the funds required for policing in Scotland in relation to Brexit, which has been estimated at £17 million a year, including capital costs for uniforms, equipment and vehicles of around £800,000 a year. The UK Government need to recognise that when allocating spending. The majority of people living in Scotland did not vote for Brexit, and the Scottish Government’s sensible, compromise solutions for ameliorating the effects of Brexit have been ignored. If the British Government are intent on imposing Brexit on Scotland against our will, the least they can do is meet the costs of the extra policing, as I believe they intend to do for Northern Ireland. Although there are special considerations in Northern Ireland that must of course be respected, that does not mean that differing considerations in Scotland should not be taken into account.
I will end by putting three questions to the Minister. First, will she look carefully at the position in Scotland, to see what lessons can be learned for England and Wales, bearing in mind the crime figures I have quoted and the fact that the Scottish Government have managed, in a time of austerity, to find the money necessary to properly fund the police and fire and rescue services? Secondly, will she intercede with the Treasury to ensure that the £175 million wrongfully taken in VAT from Scotland’s police and fire and rescue services is paid back? Thirdly, will she explain who will fund the extra policing needed in Scotland as a result of her Government’s Brexit plans, which the Scottish people did not vote for?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. This has been an incredibly thorough, if somewhat depressing, debate on the state of funding of our police and fire services. It is testament to how strongly Members feel about the issue that we have heard such passionate speeches and that it is frequently raised, both here in Westminster Hall and when the Government are dragged to the Chamber to answer urgent questions and through Home Office questions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), in his usual mild-mannered and constructive way, gave a thorough overview of the issues facing our police and fire services. He is fortunate to be represented by an outstanding police service in Durham and, by the sounds of it, an excellent fire service as well. However, they are under exceptional and unprecedented pressure and demand. He made a powerful speech, particularly on Grenfell, and spoke about the regulatory failings of that local authority and of businesses. There was in no way a failure of those firefighters—those men and women who risked everything to go in and save others.
My hon. Friend spoke about the madness of funding our police service through the precept, which I will come on to. He is particularly affected by that, representing, as he does, Durham, which has an exceptionally low council tax base and is therefore less able, even than other metropolitan areas, to fund the police to the level needed. He also asked the Minister whether the Government have abandoned the principle of resource equalisation. It certainly feels that they have, given that we are faced with a funding settlement that bears no relation to demand, need or operational resource—instead, it relates only to the number of houses in an area that are over band D. How can any sane Government allocate resources to the police service in such a way?
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) made an important intervention about the resilience and legitimacy of policing, which undeniably is being undermined by cuts. They have left communities feeling that there is no point in reporting crimes, because they do not believe that the report will be acted on or that the police will be able to respond.
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) is a constant fighter for our police. In her usual impassioned way, she spoke about response times and said that people are giving up on reporting. Entire communities feel abandoned, which has led some areas of the country to turn to vigilante responses, because they feel that the only way to deal with crime is to deal with it themselves. She gave some shocking statistics, such as the fact that West Yorkshire has experienced a 227% increase in violent crime in the past six years, which is the highest increase in the country. That is truly shocking. Yet again, West Yorkshire receives one of the lowest funding settlements. How can that be right?
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen explicitly asked the Minister to guarantee the pension costs for police and fire services after 2019-20. The Home Office barely covered them for 2019-20 in this year’s funding settlement, and police and fire services across the country still have no guarantee beyond 2020. I would be grateful if she could respond to that point.
The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) made important points about the potential consequences of a no-deal Brexit and the demand being placed on our police services in preparing for them—not just the potential consequences of coming out of systems such as the Schengen Information System II or the European criminal records information system, or the potential impact of withdrawing from or playing a lesser role in Europol, but the potential for widespread civil unrest and for officers to be deployed to ports that they are not currently asked to police.
The lack of resilience in our police force to deal with unpredictable and large-scale disruption was highlighted when police were deployed all over the country to cover the visit of President Trump last year. If there had been a terrorist attack, a spike or even a murder during that time in any area covered by a police force that had deployed significant numbers of officers in mutual aid requests, it would have shown how stretched to breaking point our police services are.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made important points about the demand on the police and fire services. We had a debate about the important role the police and fire services play in prevention, and how the cuts have reduced our emergency services to nothing more than responsive or reactive services that turn up only when the absolute worst has happened. Again, that not only means that we are storing up problems for the future and failing to prevent crimes and fires from happening in the first place, but undermines the legitimacy of our emergency services and erodes the ability to police by consent, because that vital neighbourhood policing model has been eroded.
All hon. Members have rightly paid tribute to the police and firefighters in our emergency services, who we rely on in times of need. The Government’s twin failure to invest in the police and fire services must represent one of the most chilling consequences of a decade of Tory rule. When the Government unpick the safety net and undermine the last resort—when they take such risks with public safety, as they have done—they must be held to account for the consequences of those fateful decisions.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, no other major economy in Europe cut their police by proportionally more than we did—we are one of Europe’s leading nations when it comes to police cuts. The zeal with which the Conservative Government slashed our emergency services is unmatched. Our once proud police service, which was one of the best in the world, has been critically undermined by the party that once called itself the party of law and order. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) is absolutely right that different political choices can be made. We have seen the effect in Scotland of a Government making different political choices.
Despite an increase in the number of incidents that firefighters attend, funding for fire services has been cut by 15%. As the fire brigade says, one of the most important aspects of its work is to minimise risk and prevent fires in the first place. It is therefore staggering that, 19 months on from the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, there are still buildings in this country wrapped in Grenfell-style cladding, whose residents do not know whether their home is safe. There were 437 tower blocks with the same or similar cladding, and 370 have yet to be replaced. The Government must get their act together on that, and fast.
It is a matter of deep regret that, as the inquiry into Grenfell continues, phase 2 continues to be delayed. That is the phase in which answers will be sought from the building owners, the local authority and politicians—the very people who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington and Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the FBU, said, allowed public safety to be undermined. The one thing we know about the Grenfell fire is that the firefighters, in impossible, unimaginable conditions, showed bravery beyond what any of us could imagine. They put their lives at risk and risked their children and families growing up without them in order to save other families. In my mind—I am the granddaughter of a firefighter—and the mind of my party, they are absolute heroes. Those who are casting aspersions, as the disgraceful documentary did on Monday, long before the inquiry has concluded, should take a long, hard look in the mirror. Our firefighters and police have not let us down; they have been badly let down by the Government.
The consequences of the Government’s actions are stark: more than 21,000 officers, nearly 7,000 PCSOs and 17,000 police staff are gone, recorded violent crime and knife crime are at record levels, arrests have halved in a decade, and there are almost 2 million unsolved crimes. With that as a backdrop, it was almost unbelievable that the Government chose to bring forward the funding settlement last month. The reaction to it from police leaders across the country has been stark. The chief constable of West Midlands police has calculated that it will mean another real-terms cut. In North Yorkshire, the police and crime panel has rejected the imposition of another council tax increase. In Lincolnshire, the chief constable has been forced to make £3.2 million in savings this year as a direct result of the funding settlement. Despite asking local rate payers to pay the full whack of £24 a year, it is still cutting officers this year. People are paying more for a lesser service.
At the heart of the inequity in the funding settlement, which hits policing hard, is the fact that it is basing increased funding on the ability of an area to pay. It is basing operational improvement on the number of big houses in an area. Why was each force asked to put together a management statement? Why did the Policing Minister go around every force to assess the level of demand and then apparently completely ignore it? Serious crime is expected to increase substantially in many forces, as are areas of protection for vulnerable people. That means big increases in demand due to cases involving missing persons, stalking, harassment, cyber-crime and managing sexual offenders. The challenge is massive and is expected only to increase. People will be in utter disbelief that, once again, the Government are causing the police to suffer a ninth consecutive year of real-terms cuts, once the Government-imposed pensions black hole is taken into account.
The Policing Minister promised that he would help forces manage the pensions black hole. He said:
“Every police and crime commissioner will have their Government grant funding protected in real terms”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 432.]
I am afraid that was disingenuous at best, and demonstrably false at worst. Nationwide, there will be a cut in central Government funding in cash terms, never mind real terms. That investment will not be used to help meet the operational demands from cases involving missing persons, child sexual exploitation and serious crime; rather, every penny of it will be sunk on pension costs. The Government are giving with one hand and taking with the other. It is perverse, and it is creating a postcode lottery.
These arguments are well rehearsed; hon. Members have made them in this Chamber time and again. It appears that there are fundamental differences between the two sides of the House on how our police and fire services should be funded. I ask the Minister to justify this if she can. How can West Yorkshire, which has experienced a 227% rise in violence crime, receive just 13% of the money that it has lost since 2010, in comparison with Surrey, which has seen half that rise in violent crime but is receiving 36% of the money that it has lost since 2010? How can Durham, which has seen one of the largest increases in police recorded crime, receive just 13% of the money that it has lost since 2010, in comparison with Wiltshire, which has seen one of the lowest increases in police recorded crime but is receiving 29% of the money that it has lost since 2010? Can she confirm that this Government have abandoned the principle of resource equalisation and that, instead, their philosophy is that only those areas that can pay deserve to be kept safe?
It is of course a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) on securing the debate and giving me what I think is my first opportunity to listen to a debate on police funding. I am conscious that, as the spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), said, many hon. Members have been in this Chamber and the main Chamber discussing this issue on a number of occasions.
I start, as the hon. Member for Easington did, by paying tribute to our police officers and fire and rescue officers across the country for their tireless work in keeping our communities safe. He mentioned in particular Durham’s police and crime commissioner and chief constable. I was reminded the night before last, when an officer was threatened in Romsey in my constituency—an individual has now been charged with possession of a knife in a public place—that such incidents occur across the country and even in the most unexpected locations. Although I cannot comment further on the incident in my constituency, it reminds us that every day and every night officers face significant threats and dangers. I also cannot add to the comments that hon. Members have made about the “Dispatches” programme on Grenfell. The inquiry is ongoing, and I am conscious that I am not the fire Minister. I am not going to say anything that might in any way affect that inquiry, but it is absolutely right to point out that on that night it was our brave public servants who yet again were rushing towards a dangerous situation, not away from it. They were, as the shadow Minister said, putting their lives on the line, and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.
I will seek to respond to the comments made by hon. Members in this debate; I think it important to reflect on some of the comments that I have heard and respond to them. Of course, the recent funding settlement represents the biggest rise in police funding since 2010. There is not just more for our local police forces, but more for counter-terrorism and dealing with serious and organised crime.
It is important that the public have trust in the police and that we work as a Government to ensure that the funding is in place to enable the police to carry out their important roles. The ability to raise council tax, which a number of hon. Members mentioned, is taken into account when calculating the amount of Government grant, and the same is true for business rates. Areas that raise low levels of council tax receive higher levels of settlement funding. Reductions in Government funding do not necessarily show the full picture. Council tax has been a significant part of fire funding—on average, 60% of funding for fire and rescue authorities.
We heard interesting comments from—he is now back in his place—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who talked in particular about preventive work and the impact on loneliness. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) is here, and of course her predecessor in the House was Jo Cox. I mean no disrespect to the hon. Lady when I say that we still miss Jo every single day, and perhaps more at the current time than previously. She did an enormous amount of work on loneliness, and I am delighted that we now have a loneliness Minister, who has made much of the issue of loneliness among the elderly, the legacy of Jo Cox and the importance of our continuing to emphasise it.
I am struck by the fact that our fire and rescue services up and down the country often do important preventive work with elderly people who live alone in their own home. The importance of checking smoke alarms was mentioned, and Hampshire fire and rescue service has provided me with—I do not know the technical term for the device; I refer to it as “the prodder”. It is a long stick with a hand on the end of it, so people do not have to stand on a chair to test their smoke alarm, which is a crucial way of avoiding accidents. It might seem a simple, straightforward and slightly odd-looking device, but it serves two purposes—not only is it easier for people to check their smoke alarms, but they are not putting themselves at risk by climbing up to do so.
When my daughter was in year 2 at school, she went on a visit to a fire station in Salisbury—the shadow Minister mentioned Wiltshire fire and rescue service— and she was given a fridge magnet. That might seem a simple thing for a year 2 child, but she is now 20 and that magnet is still on my fridge. Every month I have to write in the date with a specially provided pen that indicates when I last checked my smoke alarm. Such important preventive work continues across the country, and many fire and rescue services continue to do such work. Our fire station in Romsey has an annual “check the safety of your electric blanket day”. Perhaps we are particularly soft southerners who need electric blankets, but they can pose a significant fire risk and it is important that they have an annual health check.
Part of our fire reform programme is about establishing the independent fire inspectorate service, and although only the first 14 service reports are complete, questions have been raised about the extent of the focus on fire prevention, which is part of the inspection process. In a speech in January my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service raised with fire leaders the importance of preventive work.
The changing nature of rescues was rightly mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). Although traditional fires are fortunately decreasing, rescues of different types are on the increase—for instance, the crucial work done by fire and rescue services on our motorway network, or in more recent years the work with flooding and assisting those who have been flooded out of their homes. As well as saving individuals, those services also do important pumping work.
The changing nature of crime has also had an impact on our police forces. I was struck by the comments of the hon. Member for Batley and Spen about child sexual exploitation, and sadly we have seen increasing reports of that horrific crime. There has been not only an increase in crime, but an increase in the confidence of victims to come forward. These are incredibly complex, difficult and sensitive crimes to investigate; we must ensure that our police can respond whenever such occurrences are reported and that they have the resource and ability to investigate. I am routinely struck by the increase in cyber-crime, which a few short years ago was not even heard of. Criminals are incredibly resourceful and adaptive and they will find opportunities wherever they exist. Our police forces must be equally adaptive and able to take important preventive action.
I am sure that hon. Members will comment on what I say about funding, but the House has approved total funding for policing of up to £14 billion for 2019-20, which is an increase of up to £970 million compared with 2018-19, including the precept pensions funding and national investment. We reviewed the changing and increasingly complex demands on police; the settlement will enable them to meet the financial pressures they face next year, while continuing to recruit and fill capability gaps, such as the shortage of detectives. If all police and crime commissioners use their precept flexibility in full next year, there will be a total increase in police funding of £2 billion between 2015-16 and 2019-20.
We are increasing Government grants to police and crime commissioners by £161 million, with every police and crime commissioner’s grant funding protected in real terms. They are being empowered to raise council tax contributions for local policing by up to £2 a month per household, which could raise up to £509 million. Elected PCCs have made the case for raising local tax from their electorate, and they are accountable for delivering a return on that public investment. That additional funding of up to £970 million will enable the police to manage their additional pension costs of approximately £330 million next year, while continuing to address capability issues. The police need to use that money well, which means every force saving money on procurement and back-office functions so that it can be invested in the frontline. The Home Secretary has been clear: he will prioritise police funding at the spending review.
Turning to the issue of fire funding, fire and rescue services have the resources they need to do their work and keep people safe. Fire and rescue authorities will receive about £2.3 billion in 2019-20. Single purpose fire and rescue authorities will receive an increase in core spending power of 2.3% in cash terms in 2019-20 and an overall increase of 0.3% from 2015-16 to 2019-20. We are also providing additional pension funding in 2019-20 to fire and rescue authorities to ensure that their additional pension cost is limited to £10 million. Financial reserves held by single purpose fire and rescue authorities increased by more than 80% to £545 million between 31 March 2011 and 31 March 2018, which is equivalent to 42% of their core spending power. The sector has made efficiencies, but as by the first tranche of inspections by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services indicated, it can do more to work smarter and to reduce costs. It is important that fire services continues to receive the right level of resources, which is why we work closely with the services to build the evidence to develop a clear proposition for the spending review.
Some issues were raised about neighbourhood policing. I want to put on the record how much we value neighbourhood policing and the vital role that officers play in keeping the public safe. That is why we are enabling police and crime commissioners to increase their cash funding next year, and many PCCs have set out their plans in that regard.
On top of protecting 2019-20 general grant funding in real terms for all police forces in England and Wales, the Government have increased funding for counter-terrorism policing and to combat serious and organised crime.
There was mention of the impact of Brexit, which is not only topical but of real concern. The Government have provided additional funding to Kent police for the particular pressures that they might face with Operations Stack and Brock in their area. Rightly, as part of Brexit planning, we look closely at police resourcing and the additional pressures that might be put on the police. In common with every other Minister, I am working hard to ensure that we get a deal—that is the best way forward for the country—but it is important to plan for all eventualities, and the Government are doing that carefully.
In conclusion, the Government support policing and fire and rescue services to do their vital work by providing the resources that they need. I pay extreme tribute to their very hard work.
Before the Minister finishes, I was paying attention to what she was saying but she does not seem to have picked up the issue of VAT in Scotland. Will she give us our money back?
That is a question that the hon. Lady might best put to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service when she next gets the chance. I am conscious that Home Office questions are on Monday, and I am sure that she will take that opportunity. With that, I will say no more.
I thank all Members who participated: my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) and for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), and the hon. Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell). I also thank the respective Front Benchers, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), and the SNP spokesperson, the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), who made extremely powerful and incontrovertible contributions.
Funding cuts are putting public safety at risk. Injuries, deaths, tragedies such as Grenfell, crime and community safety are all compromised when the emergency services are not properly funded. This Government have made political choices—there were alternatives—and they have made the wrong ones. I want to know when we will return to a level of funding that will restore the numbers of police and firefighters that our communities need. The consequences of cuts can be seen in communities in every constituency in the country. I urge the Minister to reverse the cuts and to provide the funding needed properly to support our emergency services.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the effect of reductions in funding of police, fire and rescue services.
UK Deep Sea Mining Industry
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the UK deep sea mining industry.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I am grateful to the Minister for coming to respond to the debate. Just a little political push from her over the next few weeks might be all that our fledgling deep sea mining industry needs to succeed and to catch up with our international competitors.
The debate is timely and important. This year, we reached a critical point in the development of the UK’s deep sea mining exploration and exploitation capabilities. A small push from the Minister’s Department could mean that the UK leads the world in the environmentally responsible exploitation of vital and valuable seabed minerals. We could secure supplies of the raw materials we need for a host of new technologies, including rechargeable batteries, as well as large tax revenues. On the other hand, neglect or bureaucratic inertia could mean that we squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity and lose out to more agile, forward-thinking countries, such as China and Belgium.
I will briefly outline why Parliament legislated for deep sea mining in 2014, what has changed since, the progress of other nations, the enormous benefit that the industry could bring to the UK and, finally, some things that the Government could do to help it to move forward. Deep sea mining has come a long way since I took the Deep Sea Mining Act 2014 through Parliament. Back then, we were concerned with making our law technically consistent with the United Nations convention on the law of the sea—UNCLOS. Actual exploration of the deep Pacific seabed, let alone exploitation, was uneconomic, yet Parliament recognised, even then, the enormous economic and strategic potential of deep sea minerals, as well as the environmental risks. We recognised that the UK must be at the forefront of setting global standards for operating in these untouched and sensitive marine environments.
In the last five years, technology has moved apace. Every year, seabed minerals, such as cobalt, grow in importance. Demand for seabed minerals, for example, for wind turbines, solar panels and rechargeable batteries, means that the economics of mining have totally changed. The commercial opportunity, and the environmental risks, are there right now. Other countries are well aware of that and have made good progress in building their industrial bases to seize this opportunity. The International Seabed Authority says it wants to complete its regulations on mineral exploitation by 2020, so that we are no longer concerned with the legal technicalities and theoretical licences.
This is happening right now, and the UK is falling behind. China, South Korea, Japan and the European Union all have well-developed deep seabed mining industries. China was just a side player five years ago but has since made great strides. It now sponsors four deep seabed mining contractors and has just applied for its fifth exploitation contract. That is more than any other country. During those same five years, the UK has sacrificed an enviably strong position.
When I took the 2014 Act through Parliament, Lockheed Martin told me that the UK was in a superb position to lead this industry, economically and environmentally, for the following reasons. First, our regulatory and legislative processes are transparent and predictable. That is crucial for industry, because it reduces the regulatory risk and allows it to plan long-term investments. Secondly, we have high environmental standards and diplomatic leadership on maritime issues. Thirdly, we have a leading and central position in the offshore oil, gas and mining industries. Fourthly, we have a world-leading financial services industry. Last but not least, we have an international reputation for innovation and engineering, and a track record of solving complex engineering challenges.
That really matters, because there are strong concerns about the security of our national supplies of cobalt and rare earth minerals. China currently has a stranglehold on the supply of those minerals. The UK is totally dependent on imports for its supply of cobalt. Cobalt is required for rechargeable batteries for electric cars, which we all know will become incredibly important very soon. Both cobalt and rare earth minerals are present in polymetallic nodules. The International Seabed Authority has granted two licences sponsored by the UK, which cover an area of 133,000 sq km—roughly the size of England. The current best estimate is that that area of seabed contains almost 1 billion tonnes of minerals. Nickel and manganese are vital for the so-called decarbonisation agenda—for electric vehicle batteries and wind farms. Unless we secure the supply of those minerals, we will have no hope of meeting the terms of the Paris agreement.
I believe that after just one deep sea mining operation, we would go from being a 100% net importer of cobalt, nickel, manganese and other rare earth minerals to being a net exporter. Deep sea mining would allow the UK to secure its own supply of those important minerals, yet through inaction we are letting China and other countries beat us to it. The frustrating thing is that the UK has incredible, world-class expertise in battery science. Two years ago, this Conservative Government launched the Faraday battery challenge, yet apparently we have not realised that if we want to be world leaders in rechargeable battery technology, we need raw materials such as cobalt. We simply do not have our own supply of the required raw materials in place.
It is important that the UK becomes a leader in this new international industry so we can ensure that high environmental standards are followed. That is especially important since the USA has not ratified UNCLOS and therefore cannot participate. We can lead not just technologically but in ensuring high environmental standards. Other nations might not have the same commitment to the environment as we have. There is a kind of gold rush under way and, just as with other gold rushes, proper environmental scrutiny could easily be neglected.
The International Seabed Authority has issued 26 different permits for mineral prospecting, of which two are British sponsored. The total area of seabed licensed by the ISA is now a massive 1.2 million sq km. The seabed is largely an unknown world, and new species are being discovered that exist nowhere else. It is one of the last untouched ecosystems in the world. It is vital that the UK leads the world in setting standards for exploration and exploitation without ruining yet another ecosystem.
The two UK-sponsored licences were granted to UK Seabed Resources Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin drew up charts of the Pacific seabed nodules in the 1970s, when exploitation was completely impossible. Those charts, which we might think of as almost literal treasure maps, now form the basis for exploration and eventual exploitation. Needless to say, both those phases require significant investment.
Belgium benefited from EU funding. Unfortunately, the UK chose not to apply for that funding. Until now, Lockheed Martin has self-funded, but in view of the ongoing regulatory uncertainty, it has been obliged to slow its rate of investment.
It is worth noting that the other projects in the Clarion Clipperton belt have received financial investment from their respective Governments, which is a major reason why those projects are well advanced. Exploitation of those licences needs to reach the pre-feasibility stage by 2022. That will require fairly significant funding if we are not to fall behind further. Government funding would be highly desirable so that at least the UK is not disadvantaged compared with competitor nations.
It is also worth noting that the funding will not go to UK Seabed Resources, but to universities and other regional partners, which will conduct research once funded. The total investment for a seabed mining project is very significant, perhaps as much as £3 billion. That is about the same amount as for a similarly sized onshore mine, but the level of technical risk is higher, which is why some element of Government involvement is normally required.
The funding would not be required all at once, but in several smaller chunks. Furthermore, only about £400 million is required to reach the “bankable” feasibility phase. At that point, traditional debt finance becomes readily available. It is an energy security issue and an environmental issue, and it requires large investment.
Deep sea mining also presents a huge commercial and tax revenue opportunity. When David Cameron was Prime Minister, he called it a £40-billion opportunity, which was almost certainly an over-cautious estimate. If we invest in the industry and make it a commercial success, there will be benefits to the Exchequer in the form of tax and royalties. On current estimates, the Treasury will take £5.7 billion in tax plus £360 million in royalties over 25 years. That is about £2.8 billion at net present value, given the Treasury’s 3.5% discount rate. I have tried to show that the new deep sea mining industry in the UK would create huge commercial, environmental and tax revenue benefits for the country.
The Government could do some simple things that would have a huge impact on the prospects of the fledgling industry. I ask the Minister, in general, what steps the Government have taken, or plan to take, to pioneer the new and essential industry. Specifically, how does she plan for us to catch up with competitor nations and get back to where we should be—in front and leading the way in engineering and environmental standards? What assessment have the Government made of the risks of the economic reliance of the UK and our allies on imports of minerals such as cobalt, nickel and manganese? What is our strategy to reduce or mitigate those risks? Does deep sea mining form part of that strategy? It is now more than four years since the 2014 Act received Royal Assent, but we do not have a strategy or regulatory framework.
To turn to academia and business, how can the Government support a research programme? Can we put one together through the industrial strategy challenge fund to make UK academia and small and medium-sized enterprises world leaders in deep sea mining? If so, how? As I have tried to stress, the benefits would be rapid and large, in the form of mineral supply autonomy and environmental leadership.
Can we explore avenues for international co-operation, for example with the USA, which has not signed up to UNCLOS? Other nations look to us to show leadership in the field. As we look outwards, beyond Brexit, I sincerely hope that we will rise to the challenge.
I have tried to show how the world has changed since the Deep Sea Mining Act passed into law. I have explained what an enormous opportunity we have before us. We can ensure our mineral security and our environmental leadership in this new industry, and gain massive benefits for our industry and the Exchequer.
We are falling behind, and for want of a tiny push by the Government we are in danger of squandering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to look for ways to drive this fledgling industry forward. This is a new, challenging task of the kind that the UK is uniquely capable of delivering. Our capable officials need political will, determination and leadership if they are to make progress. I therefore urge the Minister to work across Government to ensure the UK does not miss this generational opportunity to pioneer a new and essential industry, which potentially has huge benefits to the environment, our energy security and the Exchequer.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and to respond to the debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who set out her extremely interesting and detailed knowledge of the current situation and the opportunities presented by new technology. She is known to many of us as one who has an almost unique perspective on these matters. Matters maritime and mining run in the blood of Cornish men and women, and she has certainly demonstrated that she is capable of talking with great knowledge about both.
My hon. Friend was responsible for delivering the Deep Sea Mining Act 2014. A private Member’s Bill, it did some incredible work by amending the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981, which provided only powers to license applications in relation to polymetallic nodules—a rather niche area. Through her work, the 2014 Act extended that to apply to all minerals found in the deep sea, opening the way, as she rightly said, for the UK to sponsor applications to the ISA for all minerals in the future. It was striking that that Bill received cross-party support in Parliament. During its passage, my hon. Friend expressed the need to carry out economic exploitation in a sensitive environment with the utmost environmental concern and caution.
My hon. Friend also managed to steer the Marine Navigation Act 2013 successfully through Parliament. Again, that is a tribute to her commitment and her family’s longstanding involvement with the sea. She does a brilliant job of representing her constituency. She pointed out how we need to move forward in maritime matters and mining.
I will start by giving some context. The UN convention on the law of the sea established that the mineral resources of the seabed are the common heritage of mankind and sit beyond national jurisdiction. As my hon. Friend well knows, reserves of terrestrial minerals are dwindling. There is a rich opportunity out there, which she rightly points out is critical to many of the new technology challenges that we are facing and rising to meet. That has led to pressure on the International Seabed Authority to set out a framework for mining the seabed. There have been 29 exploration contracts so far issued from 20 countries to bodies including state-owned enterprises and commercial organisations with a state sponsor, which has been the model that the UK has put forward. I believe that it is approaching two licences so far.
The Deep Sea Mining Act, of which my hon. Friend was the proud steward, enabled the domestic deep sea mining sector to be regulated in a modern way that has due regard for the economic opportunity and aims to prevent damage to the environment. The ISA is now working towards agreeing a mining code that contains technical, financial and environmental provisions by a deadline of March 2020. The UK delegation has been leading at those negotiations.
Given your geographic interest, Mr Hosie, you will know that we have a very profound heritage in the extraction of hydrocarbons and minerals, both onshore and offshore, with the proudest tradition of high environmental standards. We will continue that commitment to transparency, science and evidence-based policy making and environmentally sound regulation to ensure the effective protection of deep sea habitats and biodiversity. The mining code, once it is in place, will enable the ISA to issue so-called “exploitation contracts”—that sounds awful. We should perhaps find a new name for them—perhaps “exploration contracts”. Of course, the UK would need to consider whether these regulations need to be supplemented with additional domestic provisions in line with the Deep Sea Mining Act 2014.
The UK has sponsored two 15-year exploration contracts on behalf of UK Seabed Resources Ltd, which is a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, the US corporation. The contracts are for polymetallic nodules in the Clarion Clipperton fracture zone of the Pacific. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, these activities and others may allow us to access minerals and metals and achieve safety and security of supply of those materials in the long term.
Also, my hon. Friend rightly joined up the dots to point out that when we talk about our clean growth strategy and the opportunity for the UK’s economy to benefit from investment in low-carbon technologies, such as battery storage and solar energy, they require some of the self-same minerals and metals that are there to be found. If we do it carefully, this work will help us to protect our environment and meet our climate change obligations while creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
A MOG—machinery of government—change is a very boring term. This whole area has been subject to cross-Government movement recently, and indeed it has been moved to my Department, and I am now the responsible Minister. My hon. Friend will know that I take the issues in my portfolio seriously and try to get things done. Hopefully, it will give her some comfort to know that this subject now sits within the clean growth area of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, having been transferred recently from my excellent colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I mean no disrespect to them when I say that it may now form part of a more coherent view of the economic potential before us. As the responsible Minister for oil and gas in the UK as well, both onshore and offshore, I assure my hon. Friend that the proud commitment to high regulatory standards will of course apply. In BEIS, we are leading a cross-Whitehall working group to co-ordinate Government activities ahead of the finalisation of the mining code.
My hon. Friend asked me about some of the activities that the Department is undertaking. We have undertaken to analyse the potential economic value to the UK of the first two licences granted in the Clarion Clipperton fracture zone. That work should be completed this summer, ahead of the UN’s ratifications of the regulations this year. We have also made a commitment to the ISA that UK Seabed Resources Ltd, our commercial operator, will undertake a plan of work throughout the period of exploration, reporting back in a very detailed way on all of its exploration activities, including the considerable amount of work it has done on environmental exploration, so that we have a good dataset upon which to base any future regulations.
My hon. Friend will know that this is a long-term investment, so it is quite right to do the turf-rolling now and indeed to make sure that the regulations are fit for purpose. I think it is accepted that commercial-scale deep sea mining operations will probably not begin before the middle of the next decade. Having said that, she pointed out that other countries are starting to move faster than previous estimates suggested, so it may well be the case that these challenges are pulled forward and that we will need to move a little faster. However, understanding the environmental implications of mining some of the deepest seabed or seafloor regions, particularly in the Pacific, is a monumental task.
I pay tribute to the superb piece of work put together by the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh). The Committee did a really superb piece of work in looking at many of these issues, including sustainable seas in general, but very specifically the opportunities and challenges of deep sea mining. That work is really well worth a read.
My hon. Friend asked me essentially what the Government’s plans are. The decision on whether or not our UK-sponsored contractor will go into production will be a commercial one, but we will need to consider—on the evidence—whether we are prepared to sponsor an exploitation licence and on what conditions such a licence should be applied.
I have mentioned before my hon. Friend’s very coherent and eloquent statements about the economic importance of deep sea mining; I suspect that she might have had something to do with persuading the former Prime Minister of the value of this activity, and she quoted some superb statistics to show why it should be examined with great interest. I emphasise, however, that we need to understand our obligations to protect the seabed as well as the water columns and the currents, because the last thing we want to do is to start treating the seas as an infinitely exploitable resource.
We will continue to ensure that effective and binding environmental standards have been adopted and adhered to before we grant any commercial exploration licences, and that the mining activity is part of a well-evidenced environmental plan. My hon. Friend knows that we will continue to use our significant global influence to promote at global level the adoption of our transparent, science-based and environmentally sound approach, and a set of principles that are based on precautionary work, rather than responsiveness.
I am pleased to report that the UK is taking a leading role in international negotiations. As my hon. Friend knows, perhaps better than many others, we have a wide range of deep sea scientific and engineering expertise, and the opportunity to onshore many of the jobs and much of the intellectual property from that is profound. The important question we need to ask ourselves is how to balance exploration in environmentally sensitive areas against the potential risks. I am confident that we can do that; we have done it in many other environments around the world and can continue to do so.
My hon. Friend asked some specific questions about funding for the proposals and about research and development investment. I am pleased to say that UK Research and Innovation would be open to accepting a deep sea mining proposal in a future industrial strategy challenge fund competition. She also asked whether we have made an economic assessment of the dependency on rare earth minerals. I do not know, but I will find out and write to her. I am sure that someone has done that analysis and I am keen to see it.
I offer my heartfelt thanks to my hon. Friend for securing such an interesting and timely debate. As the Minister responsible, I am pleased to tell her that I am committed to taking the issue forward, taking into account the opportunity and what we can do to ensure the work is done in the most environmentally sustainable manner.
Question put and agreed to.
Recall of Women to Prisons
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the recall of women to prisons.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. During my time as MP for Swansea East, I have engaged with many women in the criminal justice system by visiting prisons up and down the country and mother-and-baby units in them, and it has always been made clear to me that the reasons why women are in the criminal justice system are multifaceted and complex.
The Prison Reform Trust’s report “Broken Trust: The rising numbers of women recalled to prison” illustrates the fact that the reasons for that are also multifaceted and complex, and the number of women being recalled is rising quickly. Of course, it is right that women are recalled to prison in some instances—if they are at imminent risk of causing harm to the public or of reoffending, for example—but this debate is not about that; it is about the huge increase in the number of women being recalled to prison and whether that increase is helping women to break their cycle of criminality and creating safer communities and opportunities for the women themselves.
The “Broken Trust” report points to a number of reasons for the steep rise in the number of women being recalled. I will cover those in more detail later. I think that it will be useful now to make clear the current situation regarding the recall of women to prison. An individual can be recalled to prison if they have served a sentence of more than a day. A probation officer will normally initiate the recall. About 3,800 women are currently in prison in the UK—we have one of the highest female imprisonment rates in western Europe. The female offender strategy states that about nine in 10 women in prison on remand or serving 12 months or less pose a low or medium risk of serious harm to the public. In the year ending September 2018, there were 1,846 recalls of women to custody while on licence.
One significant contributory factor in the steep rise in the number of such recalls is the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014—affectionately known as the ORA. It introduced a provision whereby everyone sentenced to a day or more in prison would be supervised by probation services on their release. Before the ORA, those sentenced to a term of imprisonment of less than 12 months were not supervised on release. In 2017, 72% of women sentenced to custody were sentenced to six months or less, compared with 56% of men. That demonstrates how the change brought in under the ORA disproportionately affects women. As the “Broken Trust” report states, on page 3:
“From the moment it was announced that post-custody supervision would be extended to people sentenced to less than 12 months, two things were obvious: this would result in the imprisonment of large numbers of people; and the impact would fall disproportionately upon women.”
Reforms that are meant to be supporting individuals are having the opposite effect and keeping them trapped in cycles of the criminal justice system, rather than allowing them to take positive steps in their lives. That is a direct result of the changes brought about under a previous Secretary of State for Justice. Previously, anyone sentenced to a short period in prison served their term and on release that was it. Putting in place a year of additional supervision—in addition to the prison term—with recalls if people fail to comply, is largely responsible for the huge increase in recalls.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on the powerful case she is making. Does she agree that the lack of housing available to women after leaving prison contributes to their vulnerability?
I most certainly do, and I am just coming on to housing, so I thank my hon. Friend for his astute intervention.
The report from the Prison Reform Trust makes it clear that there is a lack of services available to women on leaving prison, which contributes to their being recalled. A lack of secure housing for women when they leave prison is a significant factor leading to the recall of female offenders. Of the 24 women interviewed for the report, 22 said that they required help with housing on leaving prison.
If women leave prison and do not successfully secure somewhere to live, they are more likely to be recalled to prison. The female offender strategy highlights that from April to December 2017, 39% of women allocated to community rehabilitation companies and the national probation service were released into unsettled accommodation, with 18% released into homelessness. That not only puts women in a dangerous and vulnerable situation, but directly leads to them being recalled to prison. “Broken Trust” cites the example of a female offender released from prison without secure accommodation to go to, only to be recalled for breach of an antisocial behaviour order because she slept in a park. She was then released homeless for a second time.
How do we expect women to take positive steps to rebuild their lives after leaving prison if they are not given adequate support services such as secure housing? The relentless cuts made to local authorities by the Tory Government have resulted in a dangerous lack of housing for such women. Furthermore, without a secure home, women will find it more difficult to engage successfully with employment opportunities or maintain a healthy lifestyle. With 60% of female prisoners not having a home to go to on release, we know that is a real issue when they leave prison.
Data secured under a freedom of information request made by The Guardian demonstrates that between October 2016 and June 2018 there was a 25-fold increase in rough sleeping in England and Wales among those who have served sentences of less than six months. It is an absolute scandal that women are released home- less anyway, but even if a woman is found secure accommodation, it must be suitable and provide a safe environment in order to help her rebuild her life. Otherwise, female prisoners are likely to return to the potentially toxic settings that led to their arrest in the first place, such as environments with negative influences, including being surrounded by drugs and alcohol, which often leads them to a breach of their licence conditions and recall to prison. Using drugs is one of the six categories that the National Probation Service data present for recall of an individual to prison. In the “Broken Trust” report, an interviewee shared her experience of becoming homeless once she was released from prison:
“By the third night of my release, I was street homeless. My using got worse, I fell off my script even quicker this time. My life was just chaotic. I was doing whatever I could to survive.”
Earlier this week, the Secretary of State for Justice said in a speech that, as part of the Government’s rough sleeping agenda, they will invest £6.4 million in a pilot scheme to help individuals released from three prisons—Bristol, Leeds and Pentonville—into settled accommodation. However, I want to know what the Government will invest specifically in accommodation suitable for female offenders and their complex needs. If support services in the community to help such women find secure housing continue to be inadequate, women will be less likely to be able to break the cycle of criminality.
Another contributing factor to the high recall rate among female offenders is the high rate of complex needs and problems. Women under community supervision and in custody with an assessment are twice as likely as the men to have a mental health need, and 60% of women in the criminal justice system have experienced domestic violence. “Broken Trust” found that a third of those interviewed needed help with mental health, drug misuse and domestic violence. The report also showed that the relevant probation officers were unable to support them adequately, given their complex needs. Female offenders are much more likely to be vulnerable, so we need to ensure that there are services to assist them in rebuilding their lives, not only to help them but to make the community they live in safer.
Another issue that distinctly affects women recalled to prison is that female offenders are more likely than male offenders to be carers for children or other family relatives, and their recall therefore affects not only them, but their dependants. The length of time for which a woman can be recalled to prison can be just a number of days, but it will cause huge disruption to her and her family. Therefore, what provision is being made to ensure that the lives of those family members and dependants are not thrown into chaos?
The female offender strategy is clear that short custodial sentences are less effective in reducing offending than community orders, and that early intervention is key to reducing the number of women entering the criminal justice system.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. There are too many women in prison, but does she welcome the Ministry of Justice’s move to reduce the number of shorter sentences available? To retain people’s faith in the criminal justice system, early release should be a privilege earned rather than a right automatically given. It is a two-way street.
I am coming on to that statement now.
I welcome the proposal by the Secretary of State to abolish short sentences, which would make a huge difference to women offenders, who are overwhelmingly sentenced to short periods in prison. I urge him to follow through on the proposal as soon as possible in order to create a more effective criminal justice system. Furthermore, there must be a greater focus on funding for early intervention services, which have been cut considerably because of constrained budgets.
It is a stark statistic that 60% of female offenders supervised in the community or in custody who have an assessment have experienced domestic abuse. It illustrates how important it is to make domestic abuse services available to women, either to stop them offending in the first place or to help them not to reoffend. In the Women’s Aid annual survey, those who run domestic abuse services reported that the largest challenge was funding for and sustainability of their services. That will obviously impact on their ability to help vulnerable women. The same report shows that one in five of all referrals to a refuge were declined owing to a lack of space. If the Government are serious about supporting women, there needs to be greater funding for those life-saving services so that refuges do not have to turn away referred women and so that they can be supported before they enter the criminal justice system.
Another report from the Prison Reform Trust showed strong links between women’s experience of domestic and sexual abuse and coercive relationships and their offending. Better funding for domestic abuse services and ensuring that the provision is consistent and joined up across the UK would provide stronger provision for women who are victims of domestic violence, moving them away from entering the criminal justice system.
Given the reports by Women’s Aid and the Prison Reform Trust of the patchy delivery of domestic abuse services for women, will the Government commit to adequate funding of early intervention services, particularly domestic abuse services, so that women are either supported not to enter the criminal justice system in the first place, or not forced to re-enter it? Early intervention services across the UK would have a positive impact on reducing the number of women in prison, thus reducing the recall rate. For example, last year the Welsh Labour Government—I am very proud that I am Welsh—introduced a framework to support positive changes for those at risk of offending, which will have a renewed focus on early intervention services to help stop individuals entering the criminal justice system and to keep people from offending. I can supply a copy of the relevant documents to the Minister should he wish to see them.
Lastly, one of the most important factors that would prevent a woman being recalled to prison is a successful working relationship between the probation officer and the individual. I want to put on the record my admiration for Napo, the union, which I know tries really hard to support the staff, as I know the staff try to support their clients. The report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation into recall described the impact that a negative relationship with a probation officer can have on recall:
“Those who have a poor relationship with their responsible officer are more likely to breach, and the fairness of enforcement decisions may affect this relationship.”
The report also showed that there was limited access to appropriate, women-only provision for female offenders. Furthermore, as I said, it is widely understood that female offenders have more complex needs than male offenders. Probation officers must therefore be properly trained in how to support offenders with complex needs, and must be able to signpost them to services that have resources to help them. That will be possible only if there are adequate support services with a joined-up approach to supporting the service user as soon as they leave prison. That, combined with positive relationships between probation officers and female offenders, would see the number of women recalled to prison fall.
Given the shocking rise in the number of women being recalled, we have to ask whether this is the most effective way of helping women to break their cycles in the criminal justice system. I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments earlier this week, which echoed the view that it is particularly disruptive to women’s lives for them to be recalled to prison, given that they are likely to have dependants. I want assurances that his proposal to abolish short sentences will be introduced as soon as possible. The female offender strategy is clear that women in prison are complex. The support services need to be well resourced so that, when they are released from prison, they have all the help they need to prevent them being recalled. Responses from the Prison Reform Trust show that a lack of secure and safe housing for women once they are released from prison directly leads to their recall. It is an absolute scandal that we are releasing women who are likely to be victims of domestic violence and have complex needs on to the streets.
There must be more funding for local authorities so that the right support services are in place and we can offer a joined-up approach to support women. Furthermore, there must be more of a focus on early intervention, which will steer women away from entering the criminal justice system in the first place or stop them being recalled. Services must be better resourced so that there is no longer patchy delivery for women across the UK.
Finally, a successful relationship between probation officers and service users is key. Probation officers must have adequate training to help female offenders, who have a variety of complex needs. I want assurances from the Government that they will provide that desperately needed funding. That would demonstrate that they are truly committed to the aims of the female offender strategy. They must properly resource the relevant bodies so that women are supported to break their negative cycles in the criminal justice system.
Order. The debate can last until 4 pm. I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokespeople no later than 3.27 pm, and the guideline limits are 10 minutes for the SNP, 10 minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister, and then Carolyn Harris will have three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. Until 3.27 pm, it is Back-Bench time. There is a galaxy of talent waiting to be called. We will start with Wera Hobhouse.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing this important debate.
Recall of female offenders has gone up by 131%—an odd number, but dramatic—in the last 12 months, since the Government introduced mandatory post-custody supervision. The reasons for the dramatic increase in recall rates are complex, but there is a common theme: community support services, which were once a lifeline for recently released offenders, are no longer available.
Women offenders are far more likely to be convicted for non-violent offences, which means that the majority—72%—are serving sentences of less than a year. Despite the Secretary of State’s acknowledgement that short-term sentences do more harm than good, they are still being issued in their thousands. The startling figures illustrating the failure of the new post-custody system highlight the inability to join up vision and implementation. Too often, women who end up in prison come from a background of systematic violence. Current research suggests that 57% of female offenders have suffered domestic violence, and 53% have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse during childhood. Furthermore, research suggests that prison is not an effective deterrent for women, with 61% of those who are inside for less than 12 months going on to be reconvicted within a year of being released.
Recent recall numbers illustrate how our system fails female offenders with backgrounds of trauma. In the Prison Reform Trust’s new research paper, 19 out of 24 women interviewed said that they received no support from support officers to address the complicated and interlocking issues they faced once they had left prison, including the struggle to find accommodation, as we have heard; to identify services to combat drug or alcohol abuse; to reunite with children who were taken into care following their mother’s incarceration; or to take other steps needed to rebuild a life.
The ideas behind the extension of post-custody mandatory supervision were sound. They suggested that the Government were interested in rehabilitating offenders, not just punishing them. However, those good intentions have been smashed to pieces by the consistent and deliberate refusal to fund the services that support people transitioning from prison. Many must wait weeks after release to start receiving benefits, and universal credit claims must be made online, which is not possible for most inmates.
According to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation, one in seven short-term inmates leaves prison without knowing where they will sleep that night, and only a small proportion find suitable accommodation on the day of release. One woman recalled to prison and interviewed for the Prison Reform Trust said:
“Being a homeless woman is so degrading. They will send me out to no housing. It’s a big, ‘recall me’ sign on my forehead. I have no excitement about going out. I got no place to go and an ex-partner who is very violent.”
It is a bleak situation, made worse when we remember that two thirds of female offenders have dependent children and one third are single parents. Some 95% of the children of single mothers who are sentenced to prison time are taken into care, further perpetuating the cycle of neglect and trauma.
Although female prisoners make up less than 5% of our prison population, the dramatic increase in recall rates proves that our system is failing them. There is something clearly wrong with a system in which female offenders who have served short sentences for non-violent crimes end up being recalled for many more months because they have missed appointments with their support officers due to homelessness.
Centrally, that issue cannot be separated from the continued use of short-term sentences, which are destructive and do not work as a deterrent to crime. There needs to be a presumption against their use and an increased use of non-custodial punishments. If we as a society believe that our prisons should rehabilitate as well as deter, we must properly invest in support services. Leaving our ex-inmates to fend for themselves while imposing strict regulations on them greatly increases their chances of reoffending. Testimonies suggest that some ex-inmates deliberately reoffend to be readmitted to the system, where, crucially, they have a roof over their head. That cannot go on. We can solve it, but it needs political will and the right financial support.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing this important debate. With our prisons stretched to breaking point, it is important to have a mature and considered debate about penal reform in the country. From statements made by the Prisons Minister, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), and most recently the Secretary of State for Justice about the futility of short prison sentences, it seems that on this occasion the Department wants to engage in a fruitful discussion.
Two weeks ago, I had a debate on short sentences where I called for a ban on prison sentences under six months. I believe that short prison sentences should also be at the front and centre of today’s debate on the recall of women to prisons and that is where I will focus my remarks.
Short prison sentences are an ineffective way to address the root causes of criminality, as they cause disruption to people’s lives, as my hon. Friend so eloquently described. They are too short to help inmates to rehabilitate and serve only as a punishment, which leads to increased reoffending rates. It is important to have this debate because, more often than not, women in particular are caught in a cycle of short prison sentences; and reoffending or recall despite their being convicted of non-violent offences adds to the chaos and uncertainty in their lives.
The 2017 “Guide to Proven Reoffending Statistics” found that both men and women who receive short-term prison sentences were considerably more likely to reoffend in the future. Most women receive prison sentences of less than 12 months and are more likely to reoffend than a male who has a comparable sentence. Short sentences place greater strain on an already overcrowded prison system and do not provide inmates with adequate time to become involved with rehabilitative programmes. Not only are our prisons facing staff shortages, but cuts to prison services mean that inmates cannot access important services that prevent reoffending.
The Government can and must do a better job of bolstering social programmes that aim to reduce the rate of offending among individuals who commit petty crimes. Many who do so feel they have no other option, especially if they are affected by addiction or mental health issues.
It seems to me as well that we cannot talk about this issue without talking about the Prison Service and the real problems that people within it are facing. Over the weekend, a constituent of mine appeared in The Daily Mirror and talked about leaving the Prison Service after only five days, simply because the training was not good enough; he felt intimidated and scared. How can Prison Service staff deliver rehabilitative programmes if they are leaving the service because of lack of training and because of intimidation and threats of violence? The Government need to address that.
It seems that the justice system is blind to the impacts of short prison sentences on mothers and their families. Women are more likely to be a child’s primary carer, so these sentences have greater impact on their lives than on the lives of their male counterparts, who do not often have that experience of being primary carers. Children of women in prison find themselves struggling when it comes to basic necessities, including housing, health and education. In many respects, many of them have failed in the system before they have begun.
The Government can do something about that. According to a Prison Reform Trust report in 2018, every year over 17,000 children in England and Wales experience their mothers going to prison. Just imagine that: suddenly the primary carer in their life is gone; suddenly there is discord and disharmony in their life. Their education will be disrupted, whether they like it or not. The children of prisoners are more likely to be ill. Often, they are displaced from their home and their lives are uprooted. They have to enter new schools, often with the stigma of knowing that their classmates know that they are the children of prisoners. They may be separated from their siblings. All of this sounds almost like a Charles Dickens story, but it is happening in this country in the 21st century, and it is something that all of us, as Members of Parliament, should be concerned about and should do something about.
According to the 2018 female offender strategy document, roughly 60% of female inmates are victims of domestic violence. As a result of horrific abuse, these women find themselves in dire situations, with a limited pool of supportive resources. They may be coerced into a life of crime by an abusive partner, or they may turn to petty crime to provide for themselves and their children. If somebody is particularly shoplifting for food, it seems common sense to me to ask why. Are they hungry? Rather than make them criminals, is it not far better to offer them hope?
Women with abusive partners often find themselves cut off financially and unable to keep up with a variety of payments, ranging from bills to council tax payments. Women sent to prison due to non-payment become entrenched in a cycle of instability. How are they supposed to create a better life for themselves and become proactive citizens if they are imprisoned and thrown back into the exact same situation that led them into trouble? If someone is falling behind on their bills, such as council tax, the wrong place to send them is to prison, because that just criminalises them.
I firmly believe that women do not belong in prison, especially if they have not been convicted of a violent crime. They need support and should be placed in a facility that is at least designed to rehabilitate and educate them. These women require a safe space where they can learn valuable skills that allow them to live independently, thus removing their need to return to crime; instead they can become useful citizens to society.
The probation service does not facilitate support for recently released inmates. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said, since reforms such as the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 were made, recall numbers for women have risen by 131%—a shocking statistic when compared with the 22% recall rate among men. Something is wrong when for so many women the system is not working. Between 2017 and 2018 more than 1,700 women were recalled to prisons, which is roughly half the female prison population.
In addition to attempting to restabilise and normalise their lives, these women have the added stress of maintaining contact with their probation officers. The constant threat of being recalled creates a lack of trust between offenders and probation officers, and trust is key to ensuring that those women do not return to a life of crime. Offenders have no one to turn to if they face having to slip back into petty crime in order to survive. If a probation officer is on the lookout only for a perceived risk of offending, it seems unlikely that they will be someone to whom an at-risk offender can turn for help.
Two weeks ago, I called on the Government to abolish the practice of administering short sentences to non-violent offenders, and instead to focus their efforts on establishing rehabilitation services, residential centres, and the use of community service orders. For women who are also themselves victims, short stints in prison only cause more problems in often chaotic lives. I am impressed that the Secretary of State acknowledged that short prison sentences do not work. I urge him and other Justice Ministers to put their words into action, to abolish short prison sentences for women, and to create a system that benefits and builds trust in the whole of society.
It is an honour to speak in this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on her excellent opening remarks.
When the Government brought forward their proposals for transforming rehabilitation about five years ago, I was critical of the plan to separate probation into the National Probation Service for the management of high-risk offenders, and community rehabilitation companies for the management of low and medium-risk offenders. I was critical of the contracts given to community rehabilitation companies, because I did not see the justification for breaking up a successful probation service in that way. I feel that my concerns have been proven right, as shown by the failure of the Working Links contract the other day.
At the time of those proposals, I supported the introduction of post-release supervision for those released from short custodial sentences, and I thought that the Government’s proposed model of through-the-gate support would help to resettle offenders in the community, help women in particular to manage complex and chaotic lifestyles, and contribute to a reduction in reoffending. In the light of experience, I now think I was wrong to believe that that model of supervision for those released from short custodial sentences would be beneficial, and that is partly because of the way in which such support has been delivered.
There has been a lack of genuine through-the-gate provision—to the gate, possibly, and possibly provision after someone is released, but it is not the genuinely, seamless, through-the-gate offer we were promised. As we heard, that was compounded by the chronic lack of support services in the community. That resulted in deeply perverse consequences for women who are massively and disproportionately affected, as shown by Ministry of Justice figures for the proportion of women subject to recall. It is particularly concerning that, in contrast to the experience of men, women released from short custodial sentences are likely to be recalled to prison. The figures flip round the other way for male offenders subject to recall, who have usually received longer custodial sentences.
In addition to the design failures and the problems with the lack of community support, we know that there are real problems with the community rehabilitation companies that provide the specialist support that women subject to post-release supervision should receive. I have heard reports of women receiving phone contact only from their supervising officer, a lack of women-specific support and programmes designed specifically to meet the needs of women, and chopping and changing supervisory staff, which makes it difficult to build that relationship of trust between supervisor and the woman being supervised. It is also clear that most women appear to be recalled not because of further offending, but because of a failure to comply with the terms of their supervision. According to a written answer I obtained from the Minister for Prisons on 5 November last year, only a quarter of women are subjected to recall as a result of committing a new offence.
As we have heard, there are particular reasons why women might find it more difficult to comply with the terms of an order. They may have childcare obligations. If it is difficult to get childcare, they might find it hard to get to a supervision meeting. There is the difficulty of managing complex household needs, the lack of access to stable housing, difficulties accessing transport—women who are less likely to have access to a car may have particular problems with that—and women’s greater range of vulnerabilities. That experience of going in and out—of short periods of custodial sentence and then of being recalled, perhaps on more than one or two occasions—represents a cat and mouse situation that does nothing to help stabilise chaotic lives and support those women away from a path of reoffending. Nor does it help the Lord Chancellor in his rightful ambition to reduce the prison population.
It is clearly time to radically rethink the policy. The Minister will be familiar with the whole-system approach we have adopted in Greater Manchester over a number of years. I firmly believe it offers a much better model of support for women. I am pleased that many of the concepts we have used in the whole-system approach have found their way into the female offender strategy, but I urge the Minister to be much more vigorous and determined in effecting those principles. He should take a “what works” approach to policy and abandon one that clearly does not work.
First, the Minister needs to consider what genuine, through-the-gate support will look like. How can that be designed and resourced for the move from prison into the community? Secondly, we need a commitment to proper investment in community provision. In particular, that should be in sustainable and adequate funding for women’s centres. Thirdly, as we have heard, we need better processes for information and decision making by supervising officers when considering recall, and that means better staff training. We urgently need legislation for a presumption against short custodial sentences coupled with building greater confidence in community alternatives, as we are seeing in Scotland. We know that short custodial sentences are particularly damaging to women and their families. They also fuel the recall problem.
Fundamentally, I ask the Minister to join me in rethinking the policy of active post-release supervision that we signed up to in 2015. It is not clear that it is doing any good, but it is quite clear that it is doing quite a lot of harm. I am persuaded that it was not the right policy to adopt. I hope the Minister will be prepared to reconsider it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing this important and timely debate on an issue that does not receive nearly enough attention or the attention it deserves. I have long been deeply passionate about reform of our prisons system, particularly in Wales, and I have campaigned on the issue since first being elected to the House.
I preface my remarks by making it clear that nothing in what I am about to say undermines my fundamental belief that any person of any gender should be subject to the same consequence under the law if they commit a criminal act. My comments are not about watering down justice, but about looking at improving outcomes for the benefit of everyone: the offender, the victim and society more broadly. Central to that is a sincere belief that it is foolish and wrong-headed to continue with the “lock up, throw away the key and crime will reduce” attitude to criminal justice, which simply does not work.
Research published last year by the Prison Reform Trust showed that the number of women recalled to prison has more than doubled since the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 was passed. That demonstrates that the Government’s rehabilitation strategy is not working. The problem is worsening at an alarming rate. The message is clear: the 2014 reforms to recall must be reversed at the earliest opportunity.
There are no women’s prisons in Wales. I have said before—the Minister knows this—that I would never advocate for one to be opened, but that in itself makes things doubly challenging for women prisoners in Wales, who are uprooted and taken far from their communities, often after committing relatively minor offences. It is for that core reason that we should urgently address short sentences—their damaging impact demands our attention. I believe strongly that getting rid of those sentences and replacing them with other punitive measures closer to home would create better outcomes all round.
Simply put, locking women up for a few months many miles from home leads only to increased alienation, increased problems for families and carers, and, perhaps most damagingly, an increased likelihood of reoffending and recall. They should not be in prison to begin with. Indeed, the Government’s own female offender strategy underlines that shorter sentences are far less effective than non-custodial sentences such as community orders. It also hammers home the point that early intervention is key to reducing the number of women who enter the penal system in the first place.
We know that homelessness is a big catalyst for reoffending and recall to prison. Six out of 10 women prisoners have no home to go to when they are released. Given that the nearest prison for women living in my constituency is more than 50 miles away, in England, that can force women on to the streets, far from their own communities and any support networks they may have.
I urge Members to take a second to try to put themselves in the shoes of a woman who is convicted of theft and given a prison sentence of less than six months. In that time, that woman will be unable to pay her rent and will be evicted. She will have no money to secure a new property, and little or no means of travelling back to the community she lived in and any fragile support systems she may have access to. It is no exaggeration to say that the prospect of going back to prison eventually becomes appealing compared with the terrifying alternative. In its recent report, “Broken Trust”, the Prison Reform Trust stressed that the lack of housing post-release needs to be addressed urgently.
The huge distances women are placed from home can have a terrible impact on their ties with family and friends, with bonds often shattered during their imprisonment. Children, loved ones and friends face long, expensive travel and short visiting hours, and the ensuing relationship breakdowns can easily escalate into the breakdown of formal support networks. Too often, women are left in truly hopeless situations, facing the most appalling isolation. The 2014 recall reforms mean that if a woman in a vulnerable situation commits even the most cursory transgression, she can find herself back inside, and back in the well-known cycle of institutionalisation, with all the perils that poses.
Our criminal justice system should, at its core, be about reducing crime, yet the situation as it stands is pure smoke and mirrors, with the supposed short-term win of detaining women for short periods masking the actual impact. The longer-term cost of that—namely, an ever greater number of potential victims of crime—is not only counterproductive but, frankly, shameful.
The 1997 Labour Government were famously elected on a promise to be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Although that Government’s record in this area was sometimes chequered, they had at their heart an understanding that the causes matter as much as the crime. We must address the elephant in the room: why do women commit relatively low-level crimes in the first place? Lots of Members have referred to that, and I make no apology for reinforcing what they said. A six-month prison sentence will not help a woman who was forced to steal to feed her children. A short time inside will not help a woman who has a long-standing addiction to drugs, alcohol or gambling. Being put behind bars will not help a victim of domestic violence who lashed out in response to years of oppression. We need to look again at the causes of crime rather than having ridiculous blanket sentencing regimes.
In 2017, the charity Women in Prison found that 84% of women entering prison had committed a non-violent offence. It is precisely for such crimes that women receive relatively short custodial sentences. In the same year, the Ministry of Justice itself found that shorter sentences were
“consistently associated with higher rates of proven reoffending”.
I am pleased that this week the Justice Secretary mooted a move away from short prison sentences but, as with everything with this Government, we will have to wait to see whether the reality stacks up to the rhetoric—perhaps the Minister will give us some assurances about that. But—it remains a but—if what the Secretary of State said this week is true, we might at last have a real opportunity to start turning around the damaging trend among female offenders.
The Prison Reform Trust’s “Broken Trust” report is a call for action that the Government would do well to heed. I support the trust’s call for the establishment of women-specific community services, including multi-agency outreach services. The complex nature of crime and its causes demand such a multifaceted approach. We cannot blindly continue to treat prisoners as a tick-box exercise, assuming that they will integrate well into society after they leave the prison gates. Far greater attention therefore needs to be paid to work with local authorities and the devolved Administrations.
There are pressures on housing throughout the country, but until we integrate housing services with the prison system properly, we will never sever the link between women leaving prison and elevated levels of homelessness. Too many of us see the blooming numbers of rough sleepers on our streets, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. However unpalatable some might find this, women leaving prison have just as much right to council services and support networks as any other residents in need.
Justice Ministers must work much more closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that those prisoners who are eligible to claim welfare support when they are released have the right information well in advance of the day they walk out of the prison door. Given the plethora of issues with universal credit, I do not hold out much hope of the Government taking action on that—they have consistently let down the most vulnerable in society.
Time does not allow me to discuss all the Prison Reform Trust’s recommendations, but if the Minister will do one thing today, please let it be this: agree to implement each of the report’s recommendations or, if he feels that any cannot be implemented, to explain why not. Some recommendations will cost, but failing to act will have far more significant financial implications for the Treasury long into the future.
In truth, although it might not always be popular to advocate increasing funding to help released prisoners to reintegrate, it remains the right thing to do. Nine years of Tory austerity make the case even more strongly. The fact remains that investing in rehabilitation and specific support services for women who are in prison and, crucially, who are leaving prison, will reap economic rewards as well as social dividends. Reducing the rate of recall to prisons will, in the long run, slacken the strain on our Prison Service, which is reaching breaking point in many places—in some places, it is broken already.
We have heard from the Prisons Minister that he is prepared to resign should he fail on prison safety, which is a major problem. However, it is just as important for the Government to get to grips with the issues outlined today, not least because if prisoner numbers constantly increase in the long term—increase as the Government fail to get a grip—prison safety will only worsen.
My remarks are not a counsel of despair, and the Justice Secretary’s comments this week give rise to some cautious optimism, albeit after significant pressure from the Opposition. Warm words, however, mean nothing if they do not translate into meaningful action. I hope that my message to the Minister is clear: this week’s welcome news cannot simply be about giving the Government a good news day amid the Brexit chaos; the Justice Secretary’s words must translate into real investment in support services and rehabilitation, with a nuanced focus on women and their individual needs. Only then will we truly begin to start reversing this deeply worrying trend.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing this incredibly important debate. As a member of the Select Committee on Justice, I have visited a number of prisons, including Downview women’s prison. On every visit to a prison, I hear stories about punitive, arbitrary and often completely avoidable recalls to prison.
Recall appears to operate more harshly in relation to prisoners serving indeterminate sentences for public protection. Although IPP prisoners account for a small proportion of the female prison population, it is important to mention them in this debate. I acknowledge that there are prisoners who pose a genuine risk to society, but the opinion is widely held that IPP sentences are not the way to deal with them. Such sentences have now been abolished and the Parole Board has a priority target of reducing the IPP prison population significantly. Of the 440 women recalled to prison in the three months between July and September last year, four were IPP prisoners. Although there are substantially fewer women on IPP tariffs compared with men—I think there are 46 women on IPP tariffs—between 2010 and 2017, 40 women were recalled due to breach of their licence conditions.
At present, an IPP prisoner’s licence can be terminated only after the they have completed 10 years in the community following their release—an extremely lengthy period. I have significant concerns that the terms by which the licence and recall system operates are set at too low a threshold, with the result that prisoners flip between detention, parole boards and release on licence once more. I urge the Minister to look at the issue of removing the last of the IPP prisoners in the prison estate with some urgency.
In the year ending September 2018, there were 1,846 recalls of women to custody while on licence—a significant number, considering that the current female prison population stands at 3,809. The first set of data since the implementation of the Offender Rehabilitation Act shows that more than three times as many women were recalled to prison since the ORA changes.
As has been said extensively in this debate and others, short sentences have huge implications for women and their families. A recent report by the Prison Reform Trust show that 17,000 children in England and Wales are affected by maternal imprisonment. Those 17,000 children might have to be cared for by somebody else, be rehomed, leave school or drop out of education altogether. Sometimes recall is necessary, but a decent justice system is also a humane one. In the current system, licence conditions are often seen as a tick-box exercise, rather than a more holistic approach being taken. It is clear that it is not working. Those 17,000 children did not commit crimes, but recall can have a catastrophic impact on them.
We must not forget that, although women can be perpetrators of crime, more often than not they are victims of crime. The Prison Reform Trust data shows that, shockingly, nearly 60% of women prisoners have previously experienced domestic abuse. If we are to solve the issue of female prisoners, this debate must go well beyond recall and prisons, and delve into the wider issue of women in society. As the Prison Reform Trust succinctly states:
“women can become trapped in a vicious cycle of victimisation and criminal activity. Their situation is often worsened by poverty, substance dependency or poor mental health.”
Given that women are often the principal carers for children, it is obvious that the impact of recall and imprisonment is far-reaching.
Some 84% of sentenced women entering prison committed a non-violent offence. When I spoke to the women in Downview prison, I was struck by the fact that none of them was the ringleader in the crimes they had committed. All the women I spoke to were ancillary to the crimes and all the ringleaders were men, so the situation needs looking at holistically. At present, women are more likely than men to be given a prison sentence for a first offence, with one in four women sentenced to less than one month and 55% to less than three months. Women are also more likely to complete their community order or licence period supervision successfully, so there is a huge question about whether the vast majority of women prisoners ought to be in prison in the first place.
The 2007 Corston report called for a distinct, radically different, visibly led, strategic, proportionate, holistic and women-centred approach. Much of the report focused on community support, sentencing reform and alternatives to custody. I fear that, 12 years on, progress on women prisoners has fallen far short of Baroness Corston’s original recommendations. The Secretary of State for Justice has signalled an intention to move away from the model of short sentences, but in regard to women and short sentences, Baroness Corston remarked that short sentences
“do not successfully deflect from further offending and for many women make their lives and those of their children worse.”
Why has it taken 12 years to reconsider short sentences when their effects have been known for so long?
The Select Committee on Justice found, in our recent work on transforming rehabilitation and introducing a presumption against short sentences, which we recommended, that volatile short stays in prison can exacerbate the issues in play, rather than reduce reoffending. It has been shown that offenders serving a community sentence typically have a reoffending rate 7% lower than that for similar people serving prison sentences of less than a year, so surely that is where the emphasis should be—on delivering rehabilitation and reducing reoffending.
Women are only a small percentage of the overall prison population. Their distinct issues often go unnoticed or are not focused on in the context of the significantly greater number of men in the prison estate. I therefore welcome the message from the Ministry of Justice in relation to short custodial sentences, but I want to see legislation on that issue and more robust community sentencing, so that those who are passing sentences have confidence that no non-custodial sentence—
Order. I have been generous with the hon. Lady, but she is a minute over her time and I have to call the first Front-Bench speaker: Stuart C. McDonald for the SNP.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on a typically thoughtful and persuasive case. Indeed, I think that every Member in the galaxy of talent here today has contributed thoughtful and persuasive arguments.
I agree absolutely that hon. Members are right to express serious concern about the huge increase in the number of women recalled to prison. As we heard, the number has tripled since the introduction of the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014. That is truly an extraordinary and shocking development. I understand that the latest statistics show that there are 29 recalls to custody for every 100 releases of women offenders on licence. I am not usually one to make comparisons with other jurisdictions, but I will do that today. Although there are difficulties in making direct comparisons, it is interesting to note that in the 10 years to 2015—the figure is not completely up to date—the comparable figure for Scotland is between four and five recalls per 100 releases—one sixth or less of what we are now seeing in England and Wales. We have to ask why that is.
The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) made a very honest speech about how she had been persuaded at the time of the 2014 reforms, but now, in the light of the numbers, she has reconsidered. I think that if I had been in this place in 2014, I would have been attracted by what the Government were apparently proposing, but the numbers in themselves do seem to make a case for repeal of the 2014 provisions relating to supervision after sentences of less than 12 months. At the very least, there must be a significant review of how those provisions are operating. Even during the passage of the Bill, prison reform organisations warned that many people serving short prison sentences have complex and multiple needs, which increase the likelihood of breach of licence conditions. As the hon. Member for Swansea East said, the Prison Reform Trust is among those who have concluded that that is exactly what has happened, referring to a “coercive response” that was brought about by the Act creating a distrust between offenders and responsible officers. The trust stated:
“The threat of recall accentuates the fault lines in relationships that are already fragile, inhibiting women from confiding in their responsible officers about difficulties that, eventually, lead to their recall.”
Accordingly, two fifths of recalls for women are apparently down to a failure to keep contact with a responsible officer, which contrasts with the figure provided by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston that suggests that only a quarter of recalls relate to further offending behaviour.
For the second and final time I will compare this system with how things operate in Scotland. In Scotland there is no automatic requirement to supervise those released after a sentence of less than four years, although judges can impose a supervised release order in certain cases where that would be necessary for public protection. That might provide a better balance and focus than the system introduced in England by the 2014 Act, and a lack of compulsory supervision does not mean that support is not available.
I know this is a strange thing to say, but most people who reoffend were released on a Friday when there is no access to services such as housing, social security or whatever. What is the experience in Scotland? Has anyone considered the days on which prisoners are released?
I must confess that I do not have the answer to that today, although the issue has been flagged up to me previously. I will look at it again to see whether a policy is in place to try to address that issue, as it seems significant.
There is broad agreement that women who are released on licence desperately need more support, and we are finding that supervising officers are simply not able to resolve or help with problems of unstable housing, debt, abusive relationships, mental health and the various other issues that hon. Members have highlighted. In fairness, the Government recognised that in their most recent female offender strategy, published last summer, which notes that a
“lack of access to supportive community services can contribute to recall to custody”
and that the aforementioned problem of not keeping in touch with supervising officers was driven by a lack of safe accommodation, as well as substance misuse and other issues.
Few Members present would not agree that residential support in the community that provides holistic support to turn lives around is far preferable to prison recall. The Government’s strategy document gives various examples of successful residential support options, including the marvellous Turning Point 281 centre in Glasgow. Such places are not soft options; they are a serious challenge to help women turn their lives around and address the root causes of their being on the wrong side of the law, whether that is substance abuse, adult or childhood trauma, financial problems or debt, mental health issues, or domestic abuse. As hon. Members pointed out, we need a coherent, comprehensive and joined-up network of services, and that requires resourcing a whole-system approach with sustainable funding, such as that described by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston.
My most important point—here I agree with everyone who has spoken in the debate so far—is that short-term prison sentences of less than a year are, to all intents and purposes, pointless. As the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston said, the Scottish Government are moving to a presumption against sentences of under 12 months, which hopefully will lead to a significant reduction in the number of women receiving custodial sentences. I also welcome and support the positive moves made by the UK Government. Short sentences do not allow time or space to address the root causes of offending behaviour, and as hon. Members have said, they often exacerbate existing problems, breaking up families and social networks and disrupting employment and housing.
Reform could make a significant difference and help far more women to turn their lives around than locking them up and making things worse. I encourage and support the Government in that endeavour. Again I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East on securing this debate. She is right in what she has argued for today, and I very much hope that the Government have listened.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to follow so many strong and passionate contributions. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for securing this important debate. She is a passionate advocate of supporting women in prisons and vulnerable women more generally.
The “Broken Trust” report found that the number of women recalled to prison has more than doubled since the end of 2014. Equally shocking is the fact that 40% of recalls were due not to breaking conditions or reoffending, but to losing contact with the offender manager—a point made by several Members today. It is not right. It is heavy-handed, disproportionate and in no one’s interests but those of the probation providers.
The conditions for recall were set out by the National Offender Management Service, now Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, which put forward a test by which recall decisions must be judged. The test operates on a scale, with “threat to the public” at the top, but the test is clearly not being adhered to. Recalls should be for public safety alone, either to protect members of the public or to prevent imminent offending. Instead, it has become a box-ticking exercise for private probation companies more interested in profits and contracts.
I wanted to attend this debate, Mr Hollobone, but I had to be in the Chamber for a statutory instrument and could not be in two places at one time—although, I do try to do that sometimes. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the Prison Service must answer the question as to why the use of recall of women continues to increase when they are far less likely to commit serious offences? Why is the trend not slowing down as it did for men? That poses a question for the Minister, who must consider how the resettling process is carried out. Can it be improved and regulated better? Clearly it can.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. That point has been made by various Members today and the questions have been posed. I will continue to explore further some of the concerns he raises.
Because of the bureaucratic approach, probation companies are not respected or trusted by the women they should work with. Instead of seeing the complex needs that women face, probation companies look past them and see them as risks, so that homelessness, joblessness, poverty and childcare are not needs to be met, but risks. It is outrageous, particularly when years of austerity have resulted in closed independent support networks and therapy groups in the community and left probation as the only means of assistance. The probation companies see the women not as vulnerable but as potential reoffenders, whereas others would see them as women who needs help, and they issue them with recall orders, sending them back to prison, even though they have done nothing wrong.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, I want to cite real examples. One woman slept rough for two weeks before signing for a flat in a new area. She contacted the probation service to say that she had settled in but that she had not heard from them and did not know whether to attend the old or the new office, the address of which she did not know. She was instead told that there was a warrant out for her arrest and then returned to prison for 14 days. That directly affected her settling into the new area and delayed her social services assessment. As if that was not bad enough, her paperwork stated that she had been recalled because
“a period of stability in custody would benefit her”.
She had a house and she had stability, but still they recalled her. It is shocking.
Probation staff are under significant pressure, with ever-growing workloads and directions from above to fulfil quotas. The culture of privatised probation means that no thought is given to the rule to consider the specific needs of female offenders. We have seen that clearly with community rehabilitation companies believing that that need is fulfilled not by funding a network of women’s centres, but by making available a female offender manager. With pressure to be rid of female offenders so that CRCs no longer have to deal with their often complex needs, what is created is the disproportionate and excessive recall that many hon. Members have spoken about today.
The rapid rise of recall is worrying, and so too is the disproportionate and negative impact it has on women. By repeatedly dragging women back into our prison system, we are trapping them there. A woman might complete her short sentence, but if she does not get help she may be recalled, serve a couple more weeks and then get out. If she still cannot get help she may be recalled again, thus entering a cycle. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East was absolutely right to describe it as being trapped in the criminal justice system.
The Ministry of Justice has abolished the use of IPP sentences—imprisonment for public protection—as my hon. Friend said, but it has created problems by locking in offenders with no prospect of getting out or ever actually being free or alive and kicking. Make no mistake: prisons are in a state of emergency. Women cannot access help in them, violence has exploded and safety has plummeted. Far too many women are killing themselves, and many more are committing acts of self-harm.
That leads me to the question of the suitability of prison and short sentences for women in the first place—an issue that many hon. Members have spoken about. The women we are locking up have committed crimes of poverty such as petty theft. More than 80% are inside for non-violent offences, and they are often troubled and vulnerable. More than half have mental health issues, have suffered child abuse or domestic abuse, or are struggling with substance misuse. There is no way we can deal with the problems that drive them to offend in the first place in prison because there are not enough experienced officers or the support services to aid them. We are clear that we must end super-short sentences, which cause too many women to be in prison for petty crimes. That is the only way women will be able to access the support they need to tackle their offending. That is the only way we can keep the public safe.
The Justice Secretary spoke about this matter on Monday, and the Prisons Minister has done so on previous occasions. I sincerely hope that we do not see another plan that comes to nothing in reality. We are having this debate because of a plan that has come to nothing. At the heart of the rise in recall is the Government’s failure to address female offenders’ needs and reduce their reoffending. If we do not have women offending or serving short sentences in prison, there will be no one to recall.
The Government set out a strategy and goals nine months ago, but they are yet to set out how they will achieve them. They offer warm words but no way forward. They propose residential women’s centres, which are a revised policy of the previous Labour Government, but they have promised only five and there are no signs of where they will be, how they will be funded and who they will be for. Will they house homeless women or those with housing? Will it be judges or the probation service and the Prison Service that send them there? Months later, we still do not have those answers. Perhaps the Minister will start by answering some of those pertinent questions about the female offender strategy.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be very helpful if the Minister could show us, either today or in due course, the evidence about the efficacy of residential women’s centres? An even better solution might be simply to support them in their own homes and in the community.
My hon. Friend makes a very pertinent point. She is right, and I hope the Minister will address that issue.
The Government also delivered a huge funding cut to the female offender strategy. They promised £50 million but reduced it to £5 million over two years. How they intend to achieve any of the strategy’s goals with such insufficient funding, particularly given that it is double-counted and has already been announced elsewhere, is a mystery. I do not want to alarm the Minister, but there is just one year of the strategy and £5 million left, with no sign of progress or more funding next year. Again, can the Minister provide answers about where the money for the five residential centres will come from? What progress has been made? Those are important questions that he and others have not yet answered.
The excessive use of recall for troubled women who have done nothing wrong after release, and whose recall is the result not of their failings but of those of CRCs, is an absolute scandal. The Government were warned that the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 would force women through needless hardship, but they neglected to listen.
As well as providing answers to the questions that have been asked, the Minister must use his response today to announce a review of the impact that the extension of recall for short sentences has had on women. He must set out plans that will ensure that people are detained only on the orders of judges, not probation officers. Ultimately, he must set out a coherent plan for ending short sentences, which trap many vulnerable and troubled female offenders in the criminal justice system, and for ending the involvement of private companies in our probation system, which has left it target-driven, not people-driven.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, which I seem to be doing quite frequently. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who is a doughty and effective champion for her constituency and for women in the criminal justice system—the House is lucky to have her among its Members. I also thank all hon. Members who have spoken today and recognise the work of many organisations in this space, including charities and others, such as the Prison Reform Trust, whose report has been frequently cited. I reassure hon. Members that I will consider the contents of the report carefully.
Hon. Members have understandably highlighted their concerns about the rise in the number of women recalled to prison since the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014. The hon. Members for Swansea East and for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) clearly and effectively set out the context and complexity of the cohort of female offenders we are talking about. Quite rightly, they highlighted that many women who offend are not only offenders and perpetrators, but victims.
Many hon. Members cited the powerful statistic that about 60% of women in custody have suffered some form of domestic abuse or domestic violence. In the context of those multiple and complex needs, it has also been highlighted that the crimes for which many of those women received custodial sentences were non-violent crimes that did not appear to present any physical threat to broader society.
As hon. Members have highlighted, the female offender strategy—one of my first ministerial decisions on my appointment last summer—set out our future ambition in this area. The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) highlighted the whole-system approach at work in Manchester, which we have looked at in that context. I look forward to meeting the deputy Mayor in the coming months to talk to her about her work in that area and the Manchester experience.
Considerable progress has been made. I appreciate the comments of the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) and I have updated his fellow shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), who is well aware of our progress in spending that money, which I will touch on, and the longer term plans. I do not take his comments in an unpleasant way; I taken them in the spirit in which they are intended. He is keen to see progress, as are we, and as a diligent shadow Minister he is rightly prodding and pushing me to make sure that we continue to make progress.
Although serious crimes will still justify a custodial sentence in some cases, we were clear in our vision, which was set out in the strategy, for fewer women to get custodial sentences, especially short custodial sentences, and for women to serve custodial sentences in better conditions when they are imposed. The evidence suggests that short sentences simply do not reduce the risk of reoffending among women who have such sentences imposed on them. Our aim must be to protect society from crime and to reduce the number of victims. We must therefore look at what reduces the risk of reoffending, future offences and victims. That runs through the heart of our strategy.
In the shorter term, as we deliver on that strategy and vision, we must ensure that we support women under supervision in the community, so that they are not recalled to prison, with all the disruption and distress that causes. Hon. Members have rightly highlighted the impact on family life—often a short sentence or recall is not enough to make a difference to the life of that woman or reduce the risk of her reoffending, but more often it is enough to make matters worse, causing huge disruption to accommodation, family life and home life.
The hon. Members for Swansea East and for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) highlighted that the best point at which to intervene is not when a woman is in the criminal justice system or in custody, but before getting to that point. It is better for such women, for society and for their children to maintain their family life, reducing the risk of their falling into offending. The hon. Member for Swansea East is right to draw attention to work in Wales in that respect. Within the Ministry of Justice, I am the Minister responsible for relationships with the devolved Administrations, and I look forward to working with Jane Hutt—I have met her already—on that and with the Welsh Government on the blueprints for female offenders, to ensure that we have a joined-up approach.
It is also important that such support is gender and trauma informed and helps a woman as a person, rather than taking place in a silo. Hon. Members have touched on a number of factors that play a part in recall—multiple needs, housing, substance misuse, trauma—and on what the statistics say about why most women have been recalled to prison. The main reason comes down to the particular challenge of an offender being out of touch with the supervising officer.
In 57% of cases of women offenders being recalled, the offender had failed to keep in touch with the supervising officer; where the sentence was for less than 12 months, in 71% of cases of female offenders being recalled to custody, again the offender had failed to keep in touch with the supervising officer. I do not mean that they had simply missed an appointment with the probation officer and therefore needed to be punished. Indeed, the power to recall any offender to custody is not to be used punitively. Rather, the probation officer had felt that all reasonable efforts to trace an offender had been exhausted and that there was no other way to bring the offender back in touch.
We must recognise that in some circumstance there is something inherently risky in a situation in which a probation officer is unable to assess an offender’s risk because contact cannot be made. Recalling such an offender might sometimes be unavoidable. The hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge highlighted those female prisoners serving IPP sentences, and I will reflect carefully on the points she made. However, there can be a number of underlying reasons for an offender to be out of touch, particularly female offenders, given their complex needs, which in many cases form the context of their offending. The HMPPS guidance therefore encourages probation officers to identify alternatives to recall wherever possible, while upholding the integrity of the conditions imposed in the licence.
Earlier this month I had the privilege of visiting Brighton Women’s Centre, which I am pleased to say we recently awarded funding as part of the female offender strategy. That centre, like many across the country, is an excellent example of how women’s centres can play an important role in supporting female offenders to turn their life around. The proposals for five residential women’s centres, which Jean Corston would argue she originated back in 2007, have attracted a lot of attention and form an important part of our approach. Clearly, the foundation of the support services for women will always be in those women’s centres, working in and with the community.
I was grateful that the Brighton service users were willing—incredibly courageously—to share with me, a stranger, their stories and backgrounds. I was particularly interested to hear about the excellent work that Brighton Women’s Centre is doing in partnership with its local CRC. It has begun to use the centre as the location for probation appointments—a trusted space with trusted people—and it means that women who are already using the centre to address other needs can meet their probation officer in an environment that is already familiar to them.
I was told that this co-location model has already seen a 15 percentage point improvement in attendance for reporting appointments for female service users at the Brighton Women’s Centre premises between July 2018 and December 2018. That provides me with optimism. There are models out there that can help to drive down the number of women being recalled to prison because they do not keep in contact with their probation officer. Of course, they can also address other factors that might be problematic in those women’s lives.
We are also working hard to meet the needs of those women who are newly released on licence. CRCs introduced through-the-gate services in 2015 to support offenders in their transition from prison to the community, by providing resettlement support for accommodation—rightly highlighted by many Members today as a hugely important challenge for those leaving prison—and support with employment, finance, mental health and substance misuse.
We know that these services are not currently meeting the standard required. That is why we are investing an additional £22 million a year over the duration of the current CRC contracts, to improve the support given to all offenders on release from custody, with new and enhanced arrangements from April this year. They will include sustained support to find proper accommodation and employment on discharge from prison, and there will be approximately 500 more staff working with offenders after April 2019.
The important role that women-specific services, such as women’s centres, can play in helping a woman to turn around her life is clear. We have announced and awarded the £5 million of investment, alongside our female offender strategy, to support community provision. That is allocated to a range of organisations to support and enhance existing provision, and to develop new services.
In conclusion, we are clear that we wish to see fewer women being recalled to prison for breach of licence and fewer women serving short custodial sentences, and we believe that we are adopting the right approach to achieve that.
I thank everyone who has spoken today for their contributions, because we have had a really grown-up debate. If colleagues will indulge me and my emotions slightly, I spend a lot of time when I am in my constituency, and when I am visiting other parts of the country, meeting women who are in this situation, where they are in prison or have been recalled to prison. Unfortunately, because of the nature of their lives, they will not have heard what we have said today; they will not know that we are interested in them and care about them. All they feel is that the whole system is meant to set them up to fail. They do not really care that we are having these discussions; they are more interested in what we are going to do to help them. So I ask the Minister please to bear in mind that most of these women are victims, all of them have experienced trauma, and it is our moral duty to make sure we do not continue to set them up to fail. If I could hug them all better, I would, but unfortunately I have only one pair of arms. I thank everyone again for coming today.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the recall of women to prisons.
Aberystwyth to Carmarthen Railway Reopening
[Ian Paisley in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered reopening the railway between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Paisley. It is a pleasure and an honour to serve under your chairmanship.
The Carmarthen to Aberystwyth rail line fell victim to the infamous Beeching axe in 1965. Together with the closure of the Afon Wen to Bangor line, this closure has meant that for more than 50 years, people in Wales have had to cross the border into England to travel between the north and south of their country by rail.
That is precisely what happens when a country allows another country to determine its transport policy. To this day, decisions over rail infrastructure remain the preserve of Westminster, with Wales left to deal with the far-reaching financial and economic consequences. What appears reasonable on Whitehall spreadsheets and maps has far-reaching and always overlooked consequences in Welsh communities. The people of my country face the indignity of a dilapidated transport system, with no line linking the north and the south, while having to pay, via their taxes, for England to get an incalculably expensive vanity project that links the north and south of that country. At the same time, the British Government refuse to provide full Barnett consequentials for Wales.
I have full sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, having spent three happy years in Carmarthen, which, as he knows, is home to the successful University of Wales Trinity Saint David. How are we to attract students to that world-class institution when it is really difficult to travel between Carmarthen, Lampeter and Aberystwyth? I am told there is a great university in Aberystwyth, too, which the hon. Gentleman may have attended at one point.
I was fully aware of the hon. Gentleman’s history in Carmarthen. He will realise the importance of a north-south link in the context of the west of our country. I will deal with his point about universities later, but he is absolutely right to highlight the importance of linking those higher education institutions to enable us to develop the economy of the west of our country.
Let us knock on the head the British Government’s fake truth about the Barnett consequentials from HS2. Unlike Northern Ireland and Scotland, Wales does not receive its full share of spending from HS2. In the latest statement of funding policy, which accompanied the last comprehensive spending review, Wales had a 0% rating for HS2 whereas Scotland and Northern Ireland had 100% ratings, showing once again that the British Government regard my country as nothing more than the west of England. This week, the boss of HS2 essentially said he has no idea how much the project will cost and no way of calculating it. Mr Paisley, I am sure you can appreciate our concern in Wales about the current arrangements.
My hon. Friend mentioned north-south links and talked about HS2. There is actually a north-south rail link on the west coast of Wales, but if someone wants to go by train from Aberystwyth to Porthmadog to Llandudno Junction, a critical part of their journey will be on the delightful but steam-powered Ffestiniog railway.
I am grateful for that intervention by my party’s parliamentary leader. I have long had an ambition to go on that rail line, but that shows the lack of serious investment in Welsh rail infrastructure over the years.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most peculiar things about the current devolution settlement for rail infrastructure is that the Secretary of State for Wales makes bold statements about looking to expand lines and open new lines but Wales, which has 11% of the track, has had only 2% of the infrastructure investment in the nine years for which the Conservative party has been in government? That simply is not sustainable if the British Government are going to continue to hold all the economic levers for railway infrastructure investment. They must invest—they must step up to the plate and do their job.
I have a very simple answer to that problem: devolve responsibility for rail infrastructure to Wales, as is the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland. That would give us the key consequentials.
I will return to that point, but I want to continue concentrating on HS2 for a minute. If we consider that the Infrastructure and Projects Authority estimates that it will cost £80 billion, Wales would get about £4 billion if we received our full share. This is not just about HS2, of course; there will also be HS3 and Crossrail 2. The former Mayor of London, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), calculated that London will need more than £1 trillion of investment to cope with the extra demand of planned investments by 2050.
Just to be clear, I am not calling for a high-speed line between north and south Wales. I am not even calling for an electrified line. What I am here to ask for is a line, so that the people of my country can travel by rail between the north and south of their own country without having to leave it.
I am more sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments on this subject than he might expect. He refers, not unreasonably, to the people of our country, but this does not affect just the people of our country; it affects the people of any country who happen to visit Wales and might bring wealth and investment to our aid. They do not have to be from Wales.
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. I will go on to talk about the development of the Borders line in Scotland, which has been an incredible success. I have no doubt that a north-south railway would be a huge attraction to the tourists who come to Wales and to that sector of our economy.
The facts on rail spending in Wales are sobering. According to the Welsh Government’s Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates, Wales has 11% of the British state’s rail network, but has received only 1% of the investment—that is 11% of the network and 1% of the spend. There is no such thing as a Union dividend for Wales, and it is a record that shames every single Unionist politician based in my country—I do not mean to upset my near neighbours.
The economic consequences of that imbalance should send a shiver down anyone’s spine, let alone those who aspire to see the British state as a vaguely cohesive unit. Of the British state’s 12 nations and regions, only three are in surplus. It will not come as a surprise to anyone to hear that those areas are none other than London, the south-east of England, and the east of England. The wealth per head in inner London, based on the latest figures, is an incredible 614% of the European Union average. To put that into perspective, in the communities that I represent in the industrial valleys and the west of my country, that figure is only 68%. That disgraceful record is no accident. It is the direct result of British Government policy, based on a philosophy that the role of Westminster is to throw all the resources at London, with the nations and regions left to share out the crumbs. In Wales, we are no longer dealing with crumbs, but with the dust the crumbs leave behind.
The excellent researchers at the Wales Governance Centre have calculated that, had transport infrastructure in Wales kept pace with spending in London since 1999, an extra £5.6 billion would have been invested in Welsh transport. In such a case we would not be having this debate today, because the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth rail line would already have been built. Indeed, we would have not only that line, but the Swansea Bay metro, the Cardiff Bay metro, and full electrification on both north and south main lines. Imagine the economic productivity gains for Wales and the far-reaching consequences for the wellbeing and opportunities of my fellow countrymen and women if that were the case. Wales is relatively poor because Westminster decides to keep us poor.
The British state is broken beyond repair. Brexit was largely driven by those disgraceful imbalances, and the great tragedy of this moment in history is that Brexit will more than likely exacerbate those imbalances, rather than offer a remedy. Had the British state remained in the EU, communities in its poorest parts were likely to have received £13 billion in convergence funding in the next spending round—a 22% increase from the 2014-20 spending cycle, according to the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions. West Wales and the valleys is a convergence area and therefore a direct recipient of EU regional aid. Here we are almost three years after the referendum, and only a year from the end of the current European convergence period, and the British Government have yet to provide a single detail about their shared prosperity fund.
We all know that Wales is about to be done over once again, despite the clear promises that we would not lose a single penny—promises that were made by the Secretary of State for Transport. If Brexit Britannia is not to turn out to be a 21st-century Tartarus, there must be a major rethink of policy priority, with a long-term view of economic planning based on dealing with the gross geographical wealth inequalities within the British state. Central to that will be the need to ensure an equitable share of infrastructure investment.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. He makes a valid point about the need to reconnect our communities and bring about economic regeneration in the western part of Wales. Does he agree that other benefits will come with connecting Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, not least for our local health services, and particularly for individuals in Aberystwyth who find the trek down to Glangwili and Carmarthen by bus or car far too onerous?
My hon. Friend is right, and I congratulate him on his work since he was elected as the Member of Parliament for Ceredigion in pushing forward this whole project. He is absolutely right, and that is one of the benefits that I will mention later, because for health and other public services, having a spine rail line linking the two largest towns in the west of our country will be hugely beneficial.
Unless the British Government can be unhooked from their obsession with high finance and London, the structural imbalances of the British state economy of low productivity, low wages, and high personal debt will continue unabated—indeed they will get worse. The economist Grace Blakeley writes forcefully in the New Statesman this week about the need for an economic green new deal. The Carmarthen to Aberystwyth line fits into that sort of stimulus to a T. It is not just about the rail line itself, but how it would act as a literal economic spine. It would provide a much-needed north-south economic focus, which is a far more natural focus for those of us living in the west of Wales, as opposed to the obsession with east-west links. The communities are ideal for any economic strategy based on environmental investment because of our abundance of natural resources.
Too often, the missing link is physical connectivity. The line would open up significant opportunities for bulk freight movement, linking the western ports of Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock with the southern ports of Swansea, Cardiff and Newport. If the west of my country was linked from top to bottom, it would link three universities—Bangor, Aberystwyth and the University of Wales’s campuses in Lampeter, Carmarthen and now in Swansea. The line would promote greater collaboration between two university health boards, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) said, and a range of other public services. It would make the hospital in Aberystwyth far more viable. We have a threat at the moment of services being restructured in the west of Wales.
Aberystwyth and Carmarthen are two of the largest towns in the west of my country, yet anyone who wishes to make that journey by train today would face an average journey time of seven hours and five minutes. The fastest possible route is five hours and 52 minutes. The old rail line closed to freight in 1973. Since 2000, calls to reopen the line have intensified. I pay tribute to the dedicated work of the campaign group, Traws Link Cymru. We were lucky enough to meet it a few weeks ago in the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion, and it has done incredible work in developing the case. Its proposed route would use much of the existing line, with a new section from Alltwalis to Carmarthen, in the constituency of my friend, the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart). Stations along the route would include Pencader or Llandysul and Llanybydder in my constituency, and Lampeter, Tregaron and Llanilar in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion. The expected journey would be one hour thirty minutes, compared with the more than two hours 20 minutes that the bus service takes. Despite the slow march of the bus route, it provides a service for more than a quarter of a million people per annum. The link would have a huge impact on Welsh connectivity, providing for a figure-of-eight system for Wales and reducing the rail journey between Aberystwyth and the capital city of Cardiff by more than two hours.
Opponents of the project will throw back the cost-benefit analysis. However, more than 55,000 people live on the proposed route, compared with the 50,000 who live on the Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury line. The mid Wales line thankfully survived Beeching’s axe, and its passenger numbers are increasing, providing a vital link between Welshpool, Newtown, Machynlleth and Aberystwyth.
As a result of the Budget deal between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Labour Government, Mott MacDonald was commissioned to undertake a feasibility study on the project. It calculated that if the rail line was up and running by 2024, it would generate 370,000 trips. That would rise to 425,000 by 2027 and 489,000 by 2037. Public appetite for rail is growing and the Minister will be more than familiar with the incredible success of the Scottish Borders line since it was reopened.
In the case of Carmarthen to Aberystwyth and the link to journeys further north, we are talking about, in the words of “Lonely Planet”,
“one of the most beautiful countries in the world”.
What better way to appreciate the splendour of Wales than on a pan-nation rail journey, especially considering that 85% of all visitors into the catchment area of the rail line are day tourists. The hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire made that point eloquently.
The report puts the approximate cost at £775 million. For the British Government, that is not a lot of money, and they have shown they can find the money when they need to, whether that is £1 billion to bribe 10 MPs from across the Irish sea or £5 billion to prop up this place for privileged politicians. The cost of refurbishing this place will go up considerably, I have no doubt. The report calculates that the project would create 2,584 gross jobs along the line, with only 144 of them directly attributable to the railway. It calculates that £170.1 million per annum will be created in gross GVA. I am confident that those figures could be magnified if a proper detailed economic strategy was put in place to increase the impact of the line.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the old line between Afon Wen and Bangor. We talk about advantages for south-west Wales, but moving ahead with that line would replicate those same advantages in north-west Wales, which has just as much need of them and just as much need of improved transport links.
I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Wylfa Newydd, which is now viewed as a white elephant and is in grave danger, was seen as the saviour of the economy of the north of our country. The reality is that we need a major project in Wales; we need a major project in the west of our country.
My hon. Friend is generous with his time. To elaborate on his point about the railway’s potentially being a spine of the economy, it could also be the spine of a more integrated transport network, allowing bus services that currently service the main towns to be redirected to the smaller villages, thus bringing a lot more connectivity to the more rural areas of west Wales.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I was born and raised in the Amman valley in Carmarthenshire and he was born and raised in Ceredigion. We understand the challenges of travelling very small distances within the communities that we represent. This project could integrate public transport and get people out of their cars. It could actually make public transport viable.
Our horizons should be broader. Why not do something really innovative and exciting as part of this project and operate battery or hydrogen-powered passenger trains on the line? I am not an engineering expert, but why not design the line with inclines leading up to stations and declines leaving them, to allow a battery-powered train to regenerate? I am led to believe that Network Rail has trialled a battery-operated train, the Class 379 Electrostar, between Harwich International and Manningtree. Bombardier is a world leader in producing battery-powered trains, so there are opportunities to create manufacturing jobs within the British state on the back of the project.
With the new nuclear power station, Wylfa Newydd, in difficulty, the west of my country needs a new big idea, as I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts). This rail line would cost considerably less than the exposure of the British Treasury to a new nuclear power station.
In a recent meeting with Traws Link Cymru, I was supplied with a letter dated April 2017 to the former Member for Lincoln, Mr Karl MᶜCartney, from the then Transport Minister, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). Mr McCartney had a great interest in the project because he used to be a student at Lampeter University. In the letter, the former Minister said that
“if the Welsh Government progress positively with the studies conducted and subsequently decide that the reopening of this line is a transport priority for Wales, I would have no objection to fund and deliver the scheme.”
Will the Minister to confirm that the British Government have no objection to funding and delivering this scheme if the Welsh Government make the appropriate request? If not, will he finally give Wales the tools to do it ourselves?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) on securing the debate.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s interest in ensuring that the corridor between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen in which this former rail line is located has the transport infrastructure that it needs to flourish and grow, and I agree that the potential role of reopening that line needs to be carefully considered by regional partners alongside potential improvements to existing transport links. He thinks that that area of Wales is one of the most beautiful in the world. I entirely agree. My name might be Jones, but I have to say that I am a Yorkshire Jones, rather than a Welsh Jones.
The hon. Gentleman says that the Government are not investing anywhere outside London and have ignored Wales. I do not accept that. The Government have committed to investing in Wales. We delivered the Wales Act 2017, which places the Welsh devolution settlement on a firm footing and builds further powers in areas such as transport, elections and energy. We are providing a boost of more than £550 million to the Welsh Government’s budget, including more than £25 million from a 5% uplift in the Barnett consequentials. By 2020, the Welsh Government’s block grant will have grown to more than £16 billion before tax devolution adjustments, which is a real-terms increase over the spending review period.
The Williams review is looking at the structure of our rail industry and includes a review of devolutionary arrangements. I hope that we will see more devolution in our services, but let us see where that goes. We do not yet know what Mr Williams will recommend.
The UK Government recognise that improving transport connections is an important part of helping people to access job opportunities, supporting business growth and access to education in Wales. Throughout control period 5, which covered the period from 2014 to now, Network Rail invested £900 million in the Welsh rail network. That includes a £50 million project to upgrade the north Wales railway, including new signalling on the north Wales coast mainline from Shotton to Colwyn Bay, which was completed only last year.
Network Rail’s proposed investment for the rail network during CP6, which starts in April and runs to 2024, is £1.34 billion. The Welsh Government now have responsibility for franchising rail services in Wales, and franchises bring investment. The new Transport for Wales franchise will recruit an additional 600 members of staff and invest £194 million in station improvements.
We have committed £125 million to the upgrade of the Valley lines as part of a wider contribution of £500 million to the Cardiff capital region investment fund, which will help to drive the growth and employment increase in the Cardiff region that we all want. Through our investment, Wales is benefiting directly from a range of projects.
HS2 was mentioned as a white elephant. I do not accept that. HS2 will deliver the capacity and connectivity that our United Kingdom needs. It will benefit the people of Wales, most obviously by bringing forward by six years the delivery of HS2 to Crewe to give access to north Wales. The idea that the Government are focused only on London is simply not correct.
In addition to the spending I mentioned earlier, Bow Street station near Aberystwyth was announced as one of the five successful new station fund 2 stations in July 2017. The scheme received close to £4 million from that fund in addition to £2.4 million from the Welsh Government. The station will increase accessibility to the rail network, improve transport integration and provide an alternative to car journeys. It is on schedule for completion by April next year.
The line from Aberystwyth to Carmarthen was closed to passenger traffic in 1965, although a section remained open to freight until 1973, as the hon. Gentleman said. I am aware of the local group, Traws Link Cymru, which campaigns to reopen the line. The group was established in 2013 and calls for the reinstatement of rail links across west Wales. I pay tribute to its work. It has raised the profile of the case for reinstating that 55-mile link. The scheme has been discussed here on several occasions, including a debate in November 2017.
Our rail strategy, “Connecting people”, includes exploring opportunities to restore capacity lost under Beeching where it unlocks growth for housing or commercial development, eases crowded routes or offers value for money. The strategy makes it clear that any potential line reopening would need to demonstrate a strong business case if Government funding were sought. If we are to invest in reopening routes, they have to unlock economic or housing opportunities, or break up a point of congestion.
The Government have, however, consistently explained throughout the years that local authorities and local leadership are best placed to decide on and take forward transport schemes that will most directly benefit their local areas. We work closely with individual authorities to help them to take forward schemes that they are interested in progressing.
The rail planning process is led by Network Rail with input from a wide range of stakeholders and funders. In March 2016, Network Rail published its Welsh route study, which sets out its strategic vision for the network in Wales over the next 10 to 30 years. That route strategy will inform decisions by funders for the period up to 2024, and the reopening of the route between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen is identified as a stakeholder aspiration. It has not, however, been identified as a potential priority for funders during that period.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the Welsh Government and local authorities have commissioned useful reports over the years. A scoping study commissioned by the Welsh Government, which reported in October 2015, set out all the issues to be considered in a full feasibility study into reopening the line. The report identified a large section of former track bed that remains in place, but there are other engineering challenges. It discussed the potential routes to obtaining consent, along with the operational and environmental considerations.
In November 2016 a strategic case jointly commissioned by Ceredigion/Cardigan County Council appraised potential options for improving strategic connections between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen. It recommended that road-based options were taken forward and a rail link not pursued further. That was followed by a Welsh Government-funded £300,000 feasibility study completed only last year that estimated the cost of reinstatement at £775 million.
The study identified numerous challenges, including the continued need to accommodate the Gwili Railway Preservation Society, which runs on part of the former track bed. It considered the environmental impact: ground conditions, property impacts and the need for environmental protection of peat bogs. Subject to the satisfactory resolution of the issues, the report states that initial operational assessments have determined that the reinstated route could provide a regular hourly train service between Aberystwyth, Llanilar, Tregaron, Lampeter, Llanybydder, Pencader and Carmarthen—I am not sure I got the pronunciations absolutely correct—with an end-to-end journey time of around 85 minutes. It really comes down to how we can best serve the transport connections in that area to deliver the connections that the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) articulated very clearly.
The route can include bus services as well. The hon. Gentleman mentioned there was a bus service. There is a road-based transport link in the TrawsCymru bus service, funded by the Welsh Government. It has operated since 2014, seven days a week, between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen. It has an hourly service on weekdays and Saturdays. I recognise the journey takes more than two hours, but it does connect Aberystwyth and Carmarthen rail stations and offers free weekend travel. TrawsCymru is an important part of the integrated transport network in Wales. The route between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen connects with Bwcabus and is a fully accessible bus service.
I will finish by congratulating the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr on the commitment that he and his local groups have shown to the issue. I recognise entirely the case he makes for broader devolution with transport budgets, but I also have to highlight that the Government look to local leaders, local authorities and the Welsh Government to determine their priorities for connectivity in his region and in Wales. On this particular proposal they think the transport need can be met through other solutions, but of course that may change over time. I look forward to seeing how the Welsh Government determine their transport priorities in the future.
Congratulations on the pronunciations, Minister.
Question put and agreed to.
Small Modular Reactors
I beg to move,
That this House has considered small modular reactors.
It is an honour and privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. This debate is so important for my constituency, the nuclear industry, the country and—if we are going to slow down the rate of climate change—our planet. The three parts of the energy trilemma are reducing carbon emissions, securing the supply of power and ensuring affordability. The Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change reports that, if we are to slow down the rise in global temperatures this century, nuclear will feature as a hearty part of the energy mix.
Government have recognised that. It is this Government who are investing in nuclear new build. It is this Government who have begun investing in the technology advances of small modular, advanced modular and nuclear fusion innovation, in partnership with industry. And it is this Government who have ensured, as we leave the European Union, that the necessary non-proliferation nuclear safeguard regimes are in place and that we will be able to operate internationally, under the roof of the Office for Nuclear Regulation, which also has responsibility for safety and security. The industrial strategy and the nuclear sector deal are great policy advances, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to tell us, in his response to the debate, what is being done to promote policy to progress.
More wind farms—on and offshore—and the abundance of solar panels mean that, in addition to much more, intermittent renewable energy, reliable low-carbon nuclear is needed to make the UK energy system secure and affordable. During the long dark hours without any sun, or when the wind is not blowing and the blades do not turn, we can all depend on fission—on the splitting of atoms—to heat water, to create steam, to turn the turbine that generates electricity, which is then transmitted on our national grid, and to provide baseload power and the potential for district heating—24 hours a day and 365 days a year, for up to 60 years.
There is a demonstrable need for clean, low-carbon electricity now and long into the future. The anticipated requirement for electric vehicles alone could reach additional capacity of 18 GW by 2040. And in Copeland we have an indisputable capability. Nowhere else in Europe could there be found such a concentration of knowledge and skills, yet we face an uncertain future. First it was Moorside, and then Wylfa: the headlines have not been positive for new nuclear, despite significant Government efforts and financial incentives.
Economies of scale, based on the size of a reactor, have been, at least until very recently, widely regarded as the most cost-effective method of development, but the “bigger is better” argument may well be contested by small modular reactors. Calder Hall, which began construction in 1953 in my constituency, generated electricity from 1956. It was officially opened by the Queen in 1957 and consisted of four 50 MW Magnox reactors, which transmitted electricity on to the national grid for 47 years, until 2003. Today, we are desperately fighting to get a whopping 3.4 GW power station over the line. Moorside—the proposed new generation III nuclear power station, which is to be built adjacent to the Sellafield site—has been beset by a range of ongoing problems over many years.
Following what happened at Fukushima, the increased cost of engineering means that nuclear is getting more expensive. The return on investment is becoming prohibitively difficult to predict, and the availability of companies capable of constructing large-scale gigawatt-plus reactors is limited. Sadly, there are no large-scale British civil nuclear companies operating today.
Let me be clear: the development of small modular reactors is not in competition with large gigawatt reactors. Small reactors have a complementary role in contributing to the energy mix. Because of the economies of scale that could be achieved by building multiple reactors, having many more small modular reactors could be the key to our energy future.
The Government’s nuclear sector deal aims for a 30% reduction in the cost of new build and advocates the merits of a fleet-build approach. The reduced-cost, repetitive-formula, standardised, modular method of construction has yet to be rolled out in the civil nuclear industry, but it has transformed the car and aerospace industries. As we look for ways to secure the necessary resurgence of nuclear power, I ask the Minister whether it is time to do what we have done in those industries in our energy sector.
Small modular reactors of up to 440 MW in size, with a diverse range of technologies, are currently being researched and developed across the UK, thanks, in part, to Government funding. Of course, small nuclear reactors are nothing new; for 50 years, our Royal Navy’s continuous at-sea deterrent has reliably been dependent on a mini light water reactor to keep it powered for years at a time without the need for refuelling—a fact that the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) celebrates well and often in this place.
Rolls-Royce has mastered the art of small-space engineering, and is now one of many companies developing its technology on a slightly larger scale.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does she agree that companies such as Goodwin International, which the Minister has visited in my constituency, could help? It has already been working in the defence industry, which she touched on, and could really help to commercialise SMRs in this country.
I absolutely agree. It will be no surprise that I commend Goodwin International for the work it does in the defence industry. This is all about ensuring that British companies can contribute and can benefit companies in the supply chain, which provide components and, most importantly, jobs and apprenticeships. I understand that 125 new apprenticeships are coming from Goodwin, and there will be many more in the future.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is important for not just our country but our county. She talks about the private sector. Does she agree that there is a role for the Government, who should make a real commitment to supporting the SMR sector? That may include a financial contribution.
I thank my hon. Friend for that important reminder that we cannot do this without Government support. We have the capability and the demonstrable need. The industry is desperate to be part of the solution, but we must have the Government’s financial policy and industrial support to take this forward.
From light water reactors to heavy water reactors, and molten salt to sodium cooled, the innovation in fission technology is most certainly alive and kicking. Some of our greatest, most innovative companies are now interested in building small reactors in the UK. Moltex, Atkins, NuScale, EDF, DBD, U-Battery Developments, Westinghouse, Sheffield Forgemasters and Rolls-Royce—these companies and hundreds of others involved with their supply chains, such as Goodwin, need our political, financial and industrial support.
Today, there are about 50 civil small modular reactors at various stages of research and development across the world. Fleet build is widely anticipated to bring a swifter return on investment, with lower barriers to entry and standardisation. As politicians, it is surely our job to ensure that policy takes possibility towards probability. Constructing single or incremental small modular reactors on nuclear-licensed sites, where the existing industrial power requirement is currently dependent on fossil fuel, is surely a credible, sensible and more sustainable way to power the UK and beyond.
There is one such location on the outskirts of the Sellafield site in Copeland. Fellside is a combined heat and power plant with a capability of about 170 MW, but it is due to come out of service later this year. It is outwith the nuclear licensed site boundary, but it has the benefit of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary for security, and obviously has a huge adjacent industrial power requirement, which is currently dependent on gas. Will the Minister consider Fellside a suitable, if not perfect, site for a future small modular reactor, and value the huge potential for further advanced manufacturing facilities in Copeland?
This is not just about being the first, although we do have an impressive track record of firsts: the first civil nuclear reactor, the first Magnox reprocessing plant and the first thermal oxide reprocessing plant. In the words of my Prospect union rep:
“With the most experienced workforce in the nuclear industry, West Cumbrians do it best”—
and we want to keep doing it.
I hope the Minister will tell me and the other Members in this debate who share my passion for nuclear how his Department will create the right market conditions to enable developers to bring new reactors to market and to create national and international markets. Grasping the opportunity to meet our domestic power requirements and capitalising on the early-adopter benefits of a multi- billion-pound, global export market while tackling the energy trilemma of security, affordability and environmental sustainability will mean that Cumbria continues to be the centre of nuclear excellence.
This is not rocket science—although we do a bit of that at the National Nuclear Laboratory—but a case of multiples: the more we build, the cheaper things get. Many of the UK’s 15 nuclear reactors will come to the end of their long-serving lives by 2030, leaving us perilously vulnerable and dependent on fossil fuels. We must get serious about meeting the world need for affordable and reliable electricity, while slowing down global warming before it is too late.
Thank you, Mr Paisley, for listening most intently. I look forward to a robust debate and to the Minister’s considered response to the points that I have made and that other Members will no doubt make as well.
Order. Before I call Mr Shannon, I advise Members that each speaker will have three minutes. I intend to call the SNP spokesman just after 5.5 pm, then the Labour party spokesman—
Three minutes for him!
No, the hon. Gentleman will get more—otherwise, the Minister might only get three minutes. I will call the Minister at 5.20 pm.
Thank you, Mr Paisley. It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) on securing it and on arguing the case for her constituency so passionately. She mentioned that you were listening intently, but you always do—that was never in doubt.
Like the hon. Lady, I see nuclear energy and our ability to produce it as essential. I have always supported it, even on my local council many years ago and in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We must have that ability until, if ever, we have the capacity to produce energy wholly through renewable energy in a reliable and consistent manner. We must have the ability to secure our energy supply until that stage comes. I also wish to plug Harland & Wolff and its engineering in Belfast. It has the capacity to be involved in forwarding some of these projects with its engineering expertise.
I agree with colleagues who have stated clearly that nuclear power is clean, producing fewer greenhouse gases and thus contributing to the fight against the danger of climate change. It is accepted that nuclear production does not directly produce sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury or other pollutants associated with the combustion of fossil fuels, which is why it is so important that we use that form of energy.
With that as my beginning point—in this race to the end of my speech—it is not difficult to see where I am going with my brief comments. The UK has 15 existing reactors, generating about 21% of our electricity, and 13 others are at various stages of planning. I am thankful that the Government have announced initiatives and funding for advanced reactors, including £250 million for development, and that there is support for nuclear power in the industrial strategy, as well as specific funding elsewhere.
I would certainly be supportive of a Government strategy regarding the regulated asset base model, which regulates a rate of return for investors during a power plant’s construction. An interesting article that I read through the Royal Society of Chemistry highlighted that the RAB model
“is more attractive to a greater pool of investors…The cost of capital associated with it is lower”.
“reduces the financial risk for investors and has an added benefit for the government. Such a package could allow the state to negotiate a lower electricity strike price as the investor will take on less capital risk.”
That is positive, and I look to the Minister to respond to that. It also raises the question as to why the form is limited to nuclear energy, when it could be used to keep all industry prices down, but I understand that that is a debate for another day.
I support small nuclear modular reactors; we need that form of energy for the foreseeable future. We need to secure it and find a way forward, and I support the Government’s attempts to do that. Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Copeland on securing the debate and thereby giving us a chance to contribute.
I declare an interest because my eldest son is part of the Rolls-Royce team that looks after the reactors in the Astute class submarines that have been so reliable and that keep us safe. As we have heard, large nuclear reactors over 1 GW are proving hard to deliver, not only in this country but worldwide, so small modular reactors may be part of the answer.
It is true that nuclear is the safest and greenest way to generate electricity. It delivers for the environment, which is why I am astounded that green parties around the world campaign against nuclear energy. In Germany, the green coalition forced the Government of the time to abandon nuclear generation. Indeed, it tried to prevent the Czechs, with their Temelin plant, from generating there.
I saw an interesting interview on YouTube the other day with President Putin, who was complaining that the Germans were angry that they were so reliant on Russian gas. He said, “Well, what do they expect? They’ve abandoned their nuclear stations. They’re abandoning their brown coal stations. What do they expect to burn—firewood?” Then he turned, in a rather sinister way, and said, “We have a lot of firewood in Siberia.”
Coal is a dangerous fuel to burn. Statistics from China indicate that, in 2014, there were 931 fatalities in its coalmining industry—the first time in history that the figure had been below 1,000. In fact, between 1996 and 2000, there were an average of 7,619 deaths in the Chinese coal industry, which is 20 deaths per day. When coal is burned, it has an effect on air quality, and statistics I have seen say that nuclear generates 440 fewer deaths per unit than brown coal. In terms of climate change, nuclear is 83 times less likely to produce carbon dioxide than coal. Nuclear is the answer to air quality and to climate change.
Other renewables are not in the clear either. Deaths from photovoltaic solar panels on rooftops make them 16 times more dangerous than nuclear—people fall off roofs—and wind generation, particularly out at sea, is four times more dangerous. Of course, when that issue is raised, people trot out Chernobyl. We need to make it clear that we have learned lessons from Chernobyl. I have been to the Chernobyl plant, and it is not the same sort of plant. I had a Lada car once, and it was not the same as a Rolls-Royce.
We have seen 17,000 cumulative reactor years in 33 countries in the nuclear industry. If we can build in some passive features as well, we will have a great future and the UK will once again be a world leader in nuclear technology.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) on securing the debate.
Nuclear remains the most dependable low-carbon energy source to deploy in the energy mix alongside large-scale renewable projects. We must be open to all research and development of low-carbon and environmentally friendly technologies, just as Finland’s Green party endorses. Nuclear and renewables have a symbiotic relationship. That may change, but from where we stand, it is likely that the greatest advances in technology, such as advanced modular reactors and fusion, will arise from nuclear origins.
My constituency is among the lowest waged in the United Kingdom. The median full-time earnings for 2018 were £21,840—almost £8,000 less than the UK average, and £5,000 lower than the Welsh average. With the rural economy of Wales greatly dependent on ever dwindling public sector jobs and minimum wage leisure and hospitality employment, the development of the future economy of my constituency and county cries out for a range of employment.
Rural Wales suffers generational depopulation as our young people move away to seek job opportunities elsewhere. In Welsh-speaking areas such as Dwyfor Meirionnydd, that is a double loss. It is therefore imperative that the Government recognise the potential of Trawsfynydd, M-SParc and Bangor University to not only grow the economy of north-west Wales but act as catalysts to stimulate supply chains across a region stretching from Caergybi to Cumbria.
I also call on the Government to support their own industrial policy. A small modular reactor or an advanced modular reactor at Trawsfynydd will help to transform not only the economy of Trawsfynydd but the wider supply chain across north Wales and north England. In view of the accepted need to develop an SMR or AMR, coupled with the nuclear sector deal’s proposal to site a thermal hydraulic facility at Menai Science Park in Ynys Môn, it is now surely urgent that the Government publicly recognise that Trawsfynydd is an ideal site for a first-of-a-kind development.
Let us speak plainly: the Government must sense the appetite for co-operation that leads cross-party representatives to spell out that the future of an indigenous nuclear industry in serving the economic and energy needs of Wales, England and beyond is dependent on the SMR or AMR programme going ahead. I am proud to work alongside trade union representative Rory Trappe of Blaenau Ffestiniog, who campaigns doggedly for the UK Government to specify Trawsfynydd as an SMR site because he recognises the potential for a range of jobs over a 60-year lifespan. This is an opportunity for well-paid work for up to three generations of local families and for families across wider north Wales and the north of England. I close by repeating that: well-paid work for three generations of families in rural, Welsh-speaking Wales.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) on securing this timely debate.
As I see it, continued instability in the middle east, coupled with an increasingly hostile Russian state, means that it is now vital that we once again establish our own independent source of clean, affordable, low-carbon domestic energy, to achieve our energy security. Since the first nuclear power station was connected to the national grid in 1956, nuclear has become a major contributor to the UK’s energy market, with 21% of all electricity now generated in that way. However, with seven stations due to be decommissioned in the next 10 to 15 years, the stark reality is that the UK faces a potential energy gap before new conventional nuclear stations can be brought online. To bridge that gap, we must look towards innovation. In small modular reactors, which take a relatively short period of time to construct—estimated to be between two and five years—I believe we have a ready-made solution.
It is estimated by a UK small modular reactor consortium led by Rolls-Royce that the design, development and production of a fleet of small modular reactors has the potential to create up to 40,000 skilled jobs in the nuclear supply chain and to add more than £100 billion to our economy. Translated to a local level, with Derby being the centre of Roll-Royce’s nuclear operation in the UK, a sustained programme of SMR production in the city would see significant new job opportunities open up for my constituents, as well as in the supply chain.
It is clear that the Government have made a degree of progress in fostering this new technology in partnership with the UK’s civil nuclear sector. The small modular reactor competition was launched in 2016, followed by £56 million to develop and regulate designs in 2017, but with the clock ticking we need to accelerate the UK’s efforts to develop this technology. I therefore urge the Minister to review the Government’s energy strategy and to put a renewed emphasis on supporting the nuclear industry.
We have a golden opportunity to become a world leader in new nuclear technology and at the same time to secure an independent supply of domestic energy. I once again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland on bringing this important debate to the House. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I thank the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) for bringing forward this important debate. I begin with a message to the Minister: Hartlepool has the best and most skilled workforce in the industry, and we already have a licence for our site. The Civil Nuclear Constabulary, which has been mentioned, keeps our nuclear facilities and workers safe right around the clock. I know that we all support its federation in its attempt to resolve pension and retirement inequality issues. I hope and trust that that matter will be resolved soon.
One of the big positives about the new technology is that it shows that the nuclear industry remains a major asset for meeting our future energy needs. Our world needs more low-carbon power. The nuclear sector deal sets out pledges from the Government and the industry itself to make cost reductions in nuclear, and initiatives to support the sector. Arguably, SMRs are central to that vision. They meet the increased demand for low-carbon solutions and produce clean, affordable energy; they are much smaller than traditional nuclear reactors, and over their lifecycle they could deliver £62 billion into the economy and create up to 40,000 jobs, as the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) highlighted.
Our friends at EDF Energy successfully operate the advanced gas-cooled reactor in Hartlepool, which provides electricity for more than 3% of the UK, with a net electrical output of 1,190 MW—enough to power 1.5 million homes—but that reactor is coming to the end of its lifecycle, and decisions need to be made about the future provision of nuclear on the site. EDF has lots of good ideas and is keen to develop alternatives. If necessary, that may include further extending the life of the current plant or developing next-generation technology, like at Hinkley Point C.
Sadly, as we have seen with projects at Anglesey and Moorside, we cannot rely 100% on foreign investment to build our fleet of next-generation nuclear. That is why SMRs—developed and driven by a British consortium, based on tried and tested technology, offering the same output as traditional larger reactors with a lower carbon footprint—are important. The UK’s nuclear sector is among the most varied in the world, but its future needs to be secured by direct Government investment in projects such as the development of SMRs. Either way, given the circumstances the industry faces, we need to know whether the future of nuclear energy in Hartlepool is secure. I seek the Minister’s assurance that it is.
I reiterate my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) on securing the debate and, more importantly, on being a real advocate for Copeland and the nuclear industry. I have played a secondary role to her and have held a couple of nuclear conferences in my constituency. I am grateful to the Minister for attending the one I held last year.
I am disappointed that the original development at Moorside did not go ahead. NuGen did a huge amount of work and it is to be congratulated on that effort. I pay tribute to Tom Samson and his team for the work they did. It is a disappointment that the development did not go ahead. The investment would have helped to transform Cumbria—not just west Cumbria but the whole county—and brought tremendous economic benefits. In addition, it would have provided 7% of our national energy needs and made a significant contribution to the low-carbon economy.
I believe the Government could and should take a proactive interest in the nuclear industry, including by investing directly in it. None the less, Moorside did not happen, so I look to how Cumbria’s strengths can be used in the future, particularly with regard to the possibilities of SMRs. Cumbria has two unique selling points: tourism and the nuclear industry, which employs a huge number of people. Some 10,000-plus are employed at Sellafield, we have the National Nuclear Laboratory and the Low Level Waste Repository, and there is a highly skilled supply chain. The industry’s impact on the area is significant in terms of employment, apprentices, graduates, research and skills. We must use the opportunities and skills we have to ensure that Cumbria exploits the alternatives that are available in the nuclear industry.
I have talked about the local interest but, as I say, there is also a national interest. We are moving to a low-carbon world. How will we achieve that? Renewables undoubtedly will be a significant element, and I am a big supporter of solar, but nuclear clearly has its place in the energy mix. I have supported large nuclear plants, but clearly we need to get behind the development of SMRs, which may well be the future for our country. They offer greater flexibility, many commercial opportunities and a real chance for the UK to rediscover its nuclear development expertise.
I believe that if we do that, Cumbria will play a central part. As I have already said, we have the skills and the expertise, the research facilities and the land, but probably most importantly, we have a population that supports the nuclear industry. Our people want to get behind the industry, in the interests of Cumbria and our national economy.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) on securing this debate. I welcome the Minister back to his place. I know he has been a strong supporter of nuclear. He has been helpful to me and others in this difficult time after the suspension of the Wylfa project, which has been a huge blow to the whole of north Wales and the nuclear sector deal.
I want to be positive in my speech today. I am a pro-nuclear, pro-renewables and pro-energy efficiency Member of Parliament, and I think we need all those things in the energy mix. I want us to go forward. I share the frustration of the hon. Member for Copeland about turning policy into action. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and I were on the old Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change arguing for SMRs some eight years ago. We wanted to see that work moving forward and we visited many places in the United Kingdom where we have the resources, the skills base and the technology that can make SMRs a reality.
The Wylfa site is, according to objective people, the best development site in the United Kingdom. I want the project with Hitachi to go forward, but I want nuclear skills to be developed in the interim period, too. As hon. Members from Cumbria will know, consortiums are being set up between Cumbria and north Wales. They are working together as the North West Nuclear Arc to bring together skilled providers, the nuclear industry and host communities to develop the skills base.
In the short time I have, I want to ask the Minister whether the energy White Paper will help SMRs as well as large-scale nuclear, as the large projects have failed when they are private sector-led. We need a proper funding formula to ensure that our energy projects are developed here in this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) said, the advantage of having the SMRs developed in this country is that the domestic supply base can be in this country and we can rely on British innovation to make it happen, rather than being totally reliant on foreign countries investing in our nuclear sector.
I volunteer to be on the Committee that scrutinises the energy Bill when it is introduced, because I want it to work. I want the new regulated asset base formula that the Minister is proposing to be flexible enough that all technologies can benefit from it. I want success in this country. As the hon. Member for Copeland said, Britain has a proud record of pioneering nuclear technology. This is the next generation. We have to get the formula right. We have to get Government support. I am in favour of more Government support, because that is long-termism. If we are to meet our low-carbon emissions goals for the future, we have to invest now, and Government have to take a lead.
It is great to see you in the Chair, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my neighbour, the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), on securing this debate and on continuing to be a champion for the industry. It is great to work with her on that. It is good to see the Minister in his place. There were some doubts about that this time last week, and it is probably a good job the debate is happening this week, given everything else that is happening.
I endorse everything that has been said about small modular reactors. Fellside should be right up there at the forefront as a pathfinder for SMRs in this country. However I will use my brief time to say that while SMRs are absolutely necessary, they can never on their own be sufficient to solve the huge energy gap now opening up in our future.
The Minister and his boss are probably doing God’s work in trying to wrench the Government from total madness on the Brexit deal, but that illustrates the lack of focus across Government on our wider energy future at a critical time. We have the crisis derailing the Moorside deal, and Wylfa is in a very difficult patch. Where will our energy come from? We do not know what our relationships will be with other energy-producing nations in 10, 20 or 30 months’ time, never mind 10, 20 or 30 years. We have got to secure Britain’s future by securing our energy, and the only reliable way to do that is through UK nuclear energy.
I am sick of us going and pleading with other nations and things not quite going well. We see that everyone is working really hard but it does not quite get results. We need to get back into UK nuclear—not simply taking a stake, but taking the lead. Let us show the world that we, who created the fabulous nuclear energy in the 1950s in Cumbria, can do that again with a new nuclear revolution, led by Government and backed—I would imagine—by many Members here.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I shall be very brief, partly because I have to be very brief, but also because it would be useful to hear what the Front Benchers have to say in response to the debate.
I have been in correspondence with one of my constituents, Ron George, and I have copied that to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), who is on the Front Bench. Mr George is a great supporter of molten salts reactors; he has looked at the three different reactor models that are possible. When the Minister replies to the debate, will he consider some of the issues that Mr George has raised with me? They largely relate to a letter that Mr George received from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in August 2017, which was about the process of deciding what is an appropriate reactor design to take forward.
In March 2017, the Government launched the small modular reactor competition to see what was out there in the marketplace. There were more than 30 entrants and last year the Government gave eligible participants the opportunity to make presentations and so on. My question is: where has that process got to? It was supposedly going to result in a
“Techno-Economic Assessment of SMRs”.
Have the Government now published the protocol for that, and if they have, are they now at a stage where they can at least begin to distil the number of interesting designs, to see which ones they are potentially prepared to support and which ones they are not? I hope the Minister will be able to bring us up to date with what is happening in that process. Is it now yielding some definite outcomes, and is there a preferred SMR design that the Government are looking at?
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Paisley; I believe that this is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) on securing this debate. Normally, I would look around Westminster Hall and see all these friendly faces and think, “Great, it’s going to be a very consensual debate,” but a debate needs a dissenting voice and this afternoon’s debate will certainly hear one from me. Before I do that, however, I congratulate right hon. and hon. Members on the passionate case that they have made. I have been looking for words and points that I can agree with, and I do agree about the need to tackle the trilemma, particularly the issue of climate change and affordability. However, I cannot say that new nuclear is the way to do that and the small modular reactor development is not going to change that.
There has been a common theme among some hon. Members today that renewable energy is not reliable. In October last year, 98% of Scotland’s electricity was generated by wind power and we are on track to produce all of our electricity from renewables by 2020. That is possible through the Scottish National party’s environmental policy support.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has always been a passionate champion of nuclear; I understand that although, again, I cannot agree. The right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) said that the safest and greenest power is nuclear. Actually, the safest and greenest power is renewables. There is no half-life and nothing to clean up. If he wants to come up and speak to some of the people who saw the clean-up at Dounreay to hear about the eye-watering cost and the danger to the public from that British nuclear project, he is welcome to do so. The fact that he once purchased a Lada car tells us everything about his choices. I will leave it at that.
The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) talked about generational depopulation. I absolutely agree that that must be tackled and there must be ways to do that, but nuclear does not fix it. We need a challenge on well-paid work.
I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts). In peripheral areas, the nuclear industry has been a saviour in many ways. It ensures longevity and skills. People who left school at the same time as me are still working in it. The hon. Lady highlighted that. We want renewables and nuclear, not either/or.
I understand that. The one thing I was agreeing with is that there must be more solutions on offer. There must be a mix, but I respectfully disagree about nuclear. I was going to highlight the hon. Gentleman’s support for renewable projects, which a couple of people have mentioned.
I will not use my time to go through every Member’s speech, but the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) made a powerful case. He incidentally made the Minister something of a deity and said that he was doing the Lord’s work. I am not sure which Lord, but we will come back to that.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) talked about the SMR competition. A warning about competitions from the UK Government can be found in Peterhead, where the carbon capture and storage competition was launched, and £100 million was spent before the £1 billion—[Interruption.] The Minister is trying to wave me away from that bit. The people of Peterhead will not forget the UK Government’s betrayal and the cancellation of that carbon capture project, which could have given the UK a five-year lead on carbon capture and storage. That is all gone.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not give way, because the other Front Benchers have to get in and I have to restrict my comments.
The first SMR is not due for 10 years. The costs are uncertain. There will probably be limited access to sites, planning delays and rising costs. The UK Government have pursued costly, dangerous nuclear energy over cheap renewables out of misplaced ideology. We have heard about the delays at Wylfa and the collapse of Woodside. That is the pursuit of ideology over pragmatism, and it does not work. The Government are letting people down.
The UK Government are already spending vast amounts on nuclear schemes about which there are safety concerns. They were about to lend £15 billion to Hitachi in Wales for Wylfa before the project collapsed because even that was not enough money. At Hinkley Point C, there is a £30 billion cost to the public sector. The Minister will argue that that is not the case, but the strike price amounts to what the public will be paying over that period to cover the cost of delays, complications, overspends and up-front costs. That is from the National Audit Office, not from me.
Will the Member draw his remarks to a conclusion?
The fact is that there is a very good future in renewable energy. If the Government set down their ideological opposition, particularly to wind and solar, they would be able to do a lot better in providing the mix that is required.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) once again on securing this important debate. I want to concentrate on the wording of the motion, because we are talking about small modular reactors. A number of hon. Members have concentrated not only on the potential for small modular nuclear reactors, but on the wider issues relating to the nuclear programme. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and the hon. Members for Carlisle (John Stevenson) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) all talked, in one way or another, about the disappointments that have followed the closure or suspension of the existing nuclear programmes, which have featured large nuclear plants. Of course that has been a dreadful disappointment, and a potentially serious problem, for those parts of the country.
It is tempting to say that small modular nuclear reactors are the solution to the problem of size for the future. They are certainly capable of being replicated by modular construction in a way that large plants generally cannot be; they can be deployable locally; they can be deployable on a large number of sites, rather than just the big nuclear sites that recent developments have concentrated on; and they may be able to fit into the future energy market in a way that large power, whatever its origin, might find increasingly difficult. There are a lot of potential positives to small modular nuclear reactors, provided that they can do better, cost-wise, than the nuclear reactors in front of us at the moment.
What concerns me about some of the early information about small modular nuclear reactors is that they do not appear likely to be any cheaper than existing nuclear reactors. I refer to a 2016 report that the Government commissioned about their likely cost. The initial cost is projected to be 30% higher than for existing nuclear plants. As that research projects, the learning curve that would go with the modularisation of those reactors—I am talking about first-of-a-kind—would probably mean that, if several such plants were deployed, the costs could be level with present nuclear plants within 10 years. However, as we have seen recently with Wylfa, one of the issues was the apparent cost of the nuclear plant coming forward, in relation to the power going out to the public, and the unwillingness of Hitachi to go ahead with it, despite substantial assistance from the Government of up to about £75 per MWh for production.
First, it is clear that small modular nuclear reactors have to get their costs down to be viable. The Minister needs to be apprised of that. The Government claim to have invested substantial amounts of money over a period of time in the development of small modular nuclear reactors. There was a competition in 2016 and the then Chancellor—
Order. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to bring his remarks to a close.
I think I may have a bit of time, but I will make sure that the Minister can get his comments in.
You have been speaking for five minutes and 50 seconds.
I will try to draw my remarks to a close as rapidly as I can and make only this point on the funding of small modular nuclear reactors, because it is important. The Government initially said that £250 million was available for research, development and a competition. That competition did not take place. That figure was recently replaced by £58 million of funding, which was subsequently reduced to £44 million. Only £4 million of that has been spent, on developing initial feasibility studies for those who want to develop small modular nuclear reactors—
Order. I really have to ask you to conclude.
Will the Minister clarify what is being spent at the moment on supporting small modular nuclear reactors, and how that will support the development of cheaper and more effective small modular nuclear reactors in future? That is the imperative.
I will try to deal with this briefly. However, before that, in answer to the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), we all have great moments in our political careers. I am sure that the Prime Minister’s will be securing a deal next week. Mine is appearing before you in a Westminster Hall debate, Mr Paisley.
I very much regret that I do not have time to go through all the points raised by hon. Members. I am happy to go through them later with any of those Members, except of course the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry)—for the sake of Hansard, I am joking. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) on securing this excellent debate. The term “Trudy-isation” is beginning to enter our parliamentary language, and she has Trudy-ised the whole debate on small modular reactors.
The development of small modular reactors is very much at the core—excuse the pun—of the Government’s strategy for the development of nuclear power, which we know is an important part of the mix. I would like to answer in detail the shadow Minister’s questions about money, but I do not have the time. Suffice it to say that we are considering a consortium bid. Rolls-Royce is at the centre of that, but many other companies are involved. I obviously cannot go into detail, but this is of the magnitude of money that the shadow Minister mentioned, and it is very close to fruition. We worked closely with all members of the consortium to develop it.
The good thing about this debate is that every Member bar one was very much in favour of the development of nuclear energy, our sector deal and everything we are trying to do to make sure that nuclear remains an important part of our mix, for several reasons. There are security reasons. The point was made about the excellence of offshore and onshore wind and all sorts of wind, but the wind does not blow all the time. There is the green energy point of view, because this will develop a significant amount of carbon-free power. My right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) quoted President Putin, who made the point that countries that have tried basically to have no nuclear or coal energy do not know what to do. We will not put ourselves in that position. Modular reactors are an important part of our future.
Times are changing and costs are going down. The shadow Minister made the point that we have to be very careful about the costs of small modular reactors. Those are very well known, which means that we have to look at scale. Building one was the original problem, particularly for the two sites at Moorside, which were mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Carlisle (John Stevenson) and for Copeland. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) spoke so well about Anglesey. The hon. Lady who is the spokesperson for Plaid Cymru—
The Westminster leader.
And she is the Westminster leader. I beg the pardon of the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), but I was trying to avoid making a mess of her constituency name, which I have done before—I will not fall for that one again. I will, however, have a good go at saying Trawsfynydd, because I have been there. It is an excellent site for small modular reactors, as are Anglesey, Moorside and many others. The good thing about them is the support of the local community for nuclear, because many have seen the benefits that nuclear has brought in the past, such as prosperity and good-quality, highly paid employment.
In the time that I have left—I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland should be left a couple of minutes at the end—I will talk briefly about the financing models. Clearly, one of the big problems about nuclear generally has been financing. Everyone knows that, and that the large chunk for current nuclear power stations is about £15 billion-plus, and could be £20 billion. That is a significant sum of money. The two projects we have talked about—Moorside and Wylfa in Anglesey—are not to take place in the timescale we had hoped for because of the financing.
However, I believe that the efforts we are putting into the regulated asset base model will open up nuclear again—a modern way to fund it. Institutions are very interested. On the small modular reactor side, my Department organised a very successful conference for the first time—in a high-tech area of the midlands, rather than one of the traditional sites—and quite a few financial institutions attended. We are in talks with the Treasury and inside the Department about developing that finance model. Logically, I believe it will work for smaller nuclear developments as well as large ones, because institutions obviously like to invest in smaller chunks.
The Government are very committed. We are helping small modular reactors. Apart from dealing with the consortium that I mentioned, we are providing funds to give the regulators the kinds of facilities necessary for the regulatory process. Quite a lot is going on, and I had wanted to speak for about 20 minutes on this subject. Earlier I was waving my hands at the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey not out of disrespect for him personally or because of anything he said, but because I wanted more time to go through my speech. However, I have galloped through the major points. I would just like formally to put on the record that the Government’s policy is firmly behind nuclear and very much behind—
Will the Minister give way?
The hon. Gentleman will have to be very brief.
Will the Minister give us timescales for the publication of the possible energy White Paper and for the models being tested by the House? That is important.
You have time, Minister.
Thank you, Mr Paisley. The answer is that that will happen in the next few months—in early summer, I hope. Since the hon. Gentleman brings the question up, I confirm that our intention is that nuclear, and the small modular reactors side of it, will be developed in the White Paper. I noted—I am sure the House authorities will, too—his offer to serve on the Bill Committee. That is a little presumptuous, but I hope he may do so. I will conclude my remarks there, because my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland deserves the last word in this important debate.
Thank you, Minister. I call Trudy Harrison to wind up.
I thank the Minister for his remarks and for his ongoing support for our nuclear industry. That is absolutely clear and welcome to me and the overwhelming majority of Members in the Chamber. I thank them all, although I do not have time to list them all. Their contributions have been absolutely fabulous. However, I cannot let the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) get away with the strike price comparison. The comparison of £57.50 is not fair, because it does not build in the cost of storage. If we look at any potential for more renewable energy, the cost of storage must be built in. My under- standing is that it would be 600 times what we have today.
I should declare an interest, as my second daughter is a degree apprentice with an electrical design company, Athena PTS, which works across nuclear and wind, and with solar panels. She tells me that the strike price would be about eight times the cost of a diverse energy mix including nuclear. It is very unfair to compare the current strike price of £57.50 against the nuclear strike price.
Aside from that, I thank all Members. The support for nuclear is incredibly strong, and we can look forward to a prosperous future for the nuclear industry.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered small modular reactors.