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Westminster Hall

Volume 655: debated on Tuesday 5 March 2019

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 5 March 2019

[Geraint Davies in the Chair]

Catholic Sixth-form Colleges

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the future of Catholic sixth form colleges.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and at the outset of this debate I thank the Backbench Business Committee for selecting it.

Catholic sixth-form colleges face double discrimination under the Government’s funding of post-16 education: they are not academies, so they receive less funding than colleges that have converted to become academies, but even if they wanted to become academies they cannot do so.

The Government have been aware of these problems for a number of years, but they have done little to address either concern. On top of the huge cuts in funding to post-16 education since 2010, this double discrimination is raising concerns within the Catholic community about the long-term future of all 14 Catholic sixth-form colleges in England.

Unlike Catholic schools, the religious character of Catholic sixth-form colleges is not protected in statute, so the trustees of Catholic sixth-form colleges such as the nationally renowned St Dominic’s in my constituency, even if they were huge fans of academising, could not switch their college to make it an academy and take advantage of the many financial inducements that such status might allow.

St Dominic’s has an impressive history. It was established 140 years ago, in 1879, as a school. When the London borough of Harrow reorganised its education system, creating a specific sixth-form sector, the Dominican nuns agreed to transfer the school grounds to the Diocese of Westminster as the site of a new Catholic sixth-form college.

St Dominic’s Sixth Form College opened its doors to its first 289 students—boys and girls—in September 1979. With more than 1,300 students, it attracts young men and women from a wide geographical area across north-west London, with a number travelling more than 15 miles a day to study for their level 3 qualifications. It is a great Catholic college, but it exists within a multi-faith and multi-cultural setting that reflects our very diverse local community in Harrow.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman wanted to add at this point the enormous concentration that that college and other Catholic sixth-form colleges have shown in relation to social justice. That has been a strong element of what those colleges teach and the way that they teach it.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to take the opportunity to praise the contribution of Catholic sixth-form colleges in teaching about social justice. I do not know whether that is part of the reason that I keep getting elected. [Laughter.] Certainly, though, Catholic sixth-form colleges deserve his praise for their teaching about social justice.

The staff at St Dominic’s, to whom the hon. Gentleman was perhaps also alluding, are some of the best in the business. They are experts in their field who have devoted their careers to the education of post-16 students. They teach at a very high level, which in turn enables the students to get excellent results.

The hon. Gentleman is making a great case for that specific sixth-form college, but I understand that 85% of these Catholic sixth-form colleges are rated “outstanding” or “good” by Ofsted, so clearly there is excellent teaching going on across all of them.

I should not have allowed the hon. Gentleman to intervene, because he has stolen a line from later in my speech, but he makes a good point and I will return to it later.

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for being unable to stay and make a speech in this debate—I have a meeting with a Minister—but I want to make this point. Does he agree that, given the fact that schools are increasingly becoming secularised, parents must have the option to have their child educated with faith as a cornerstone and to have an input into spiritual teaching, and that the Government cannot and must not ignore this point but instead must take it into consideration when allocating funding? Spiritual education is so important in this day and age.

I recognise the continuing and strong support for spiritual education, and it continues to be a striking feature of many of our communities that there is strong support for faith schools. In the context of the debate, there is strong support for this Catholic sixth-form college, which inspired me to seek Backbench Business Committee approval for this debate, and I am sure that there is also strong support for the other Catholic sixth-form colleges across the country. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point.

To re-emphasise that point, when it comes to parents seeking a school for their children to go to, it is so important that they have a choice between secular teaching and faith-based teaching. When it comes to funding and assistance, we obviously look to the Minister for some support, but it is important that people have that choice and that that choice is available in Members’ own constituencies as well.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about choice. I suppose the essential point of this debate is to say that there needs to be a level playing field in funding. A child who wants to go to a certain type of school or college should not see that there is better funding for one particular institution than there is for another down the road. I am sure that is a point he will agree with.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. In relation to capital, particularly for colleges and their funding, sometimes Catholic schools have had to amalgamate to release property they can sell to raise capital funding. I have come across cases such as that—I do not know whether he has or not—because of the lack of capital funding.

My hon. Friend makes a good point about the lack of capital funding, and access to capital funding is one way in which Catholic sixth-form colleges face the double discrimination that I talked about in my opening remarks. Later in my speech, I will give some detail about the issue of capital.

Until 1993, St Dominic’s Sixth Form College was part of Harrow’s local authority-maintained system, but following the Government’s post-16 reorganisation the college became independent within the state tertiary system, overseen by the Further Education Funding Council for England. That change brought about new challenges and pressures on the college, primarily to increase student numbers and its educational provision, in order to cater for the educational needs in our community.

The 21st century has seen a series of considerable successes for the college, as its reputation for delivering high-quality sixth-form education has continued to spread. By 2007, St Dominic’s Sixth Form College was among the small group of colleges that were awarded beacon status. The 2008 Ofsted inspection of the college judged it “outstanding”, which is a distinction it has held on to ever since. Indeed, the college is now regarded as being at the very top of the league of sixth-form colleges for “excellence” in its educational provision and for its A-level results. In 2017, The Sunday Times specifically recognised it as the best sixth-form college of the year.

Not surprisingly, therefore, St Dominic’s is heavily oversubscribed—typically, there are about 3,000 applications for the 700 places available annually—but in recent years the college has had to expand, in part to meet the financial challenges of a static budgetary settlement. However, with 1,300 students, the college is now full, with no capacity to expand further.

Without an increase in funding per student or additional students, revenue income will remain flat and with increased costs such as pensions, salaries and so on, the risk of further financial challenge becomes very real. The implications of that include the possibility of a reduced curriculum, at a time when the new Ofsted framework requires a rich and diverse curriculum offer, and the possibility of substantially increased teacher-to-student ratios.

The principal of St Dominic’s, the excellent Andrew Parkin, rightly describes his college as an “educational jewel” that is looking increasingly fragile, because there are no significant financial increases on the horizon.

There are 14 Catholic sixth-form colleges in England: Aquinas in Cheshire, Cardinal Newman in Preston, Carmel in St Helens, Christ the King in Lewisham, Holy Cross in Bury, Loreto in Manchester, Notre Dame in Leeds, St Brendan’s in Bristol, St Charles in Kensington, St Francis Xavier in Wandsworth, St John Rigby in Wigan, St Mary’s in Blackburn and Xaverian in Manchester, as well as my own, St Dominic’s. Like the wider sixth-form college sector, those are high-performing institutions, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes).

Catholic sixth-form colleges teach just over 27,000 pupils, and employ almost 2,500 teachers and support staff. Together, they educate about 3% of all 16 to 18-year-olds in publicly funded provision. They account for 4% of all A-level students and for 5% of students progressing to higher education, including to the most competitive universities. Some 86% of them, as the hon. Gentleman also mentioned, are rated outstanding or good by Ofsted. They have a justified reputation as centres of excellence and places of academic rigour and achievement. They give students the chance to excel, regardless of their previous academic achievement.

Catholic sixth-form colleges have many things in common, and most serve diverse and often deprived communities.

My hon. Friend talks about the excellent standard of education in Catholic sixth-form colleges. Does he agree that that is all the more commendable in relation to Carmel College in St Helens—a college of which we are very proud—where more than a third of the cohort is from a disadvantaged background? That high standard of educational excellence means that the college contributes strongly to social mobility in the borough.

My hon. Friend makes a good point about Carmel College, which he knows very well. Catholic sixth-form colleges are generally regarded as a vital catalyst for social mobility in the areas they serve, and many have high levels of progression into further and higher education. Although they maintain a strong Catholic ethos, they are open to students of all faiths and none. Inevitably, many understandably cite their Catholic identity and vision as being key to their success.

I am told that Catholic dioceses across the country are developing multi-academy trusts so as not to suffer needless financial loss and because of the inducements on offer from the Government for conversion to academies. Within that construct, which is not of their choosing, they are, to their credit, trying to lock down school partnership and school-to-school support. Given the wealth of expertise within Catholic sixth-form colleges, one might have thought that the Government would have wanted them to be part of such multi-academy trust arrangements. However, even if the colleges want to join the trusts, they cannot do so at the moment.

The future of Catholic sixth-form colleges and their ongoing excellent performance largely depend on three things: revenue funding, capital funding and, in the worst case, the possibility of conversion to academies. On revenue funding, it is without question that sixth-form funding is in crisis. Two deep cuts to post-16 education funding were made after 2010. The national funding rate, which is by far the biggest component of the 16-to-18 funding formula, has been frozen at £4,000 per student per year since 2013, and funding for 18-year-olds was cut to just £3,300 per student in 2014. Expenditure on 16-to-19 education fell from £6.39 billion in 2010-11 to £5.68 billion in 2017-18—a reduction of more than 11% in cash terms and more than 20% in real terms. In 2018, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that, at 2018-19 prices, spending per full-time equivalent 16-to-19 student in further education fell from just over £6,200 in 2010-11 to £5,698 in 2017-18.

The cuts come against a backdrop of significant increases in running costs in education generally, and in colleges in particular. Since 2010, the Government have imposed a range of new requirements on institutions, which has left much less money for schools and colleges to spend on the frontline education of students, at a time when the needs of young people are becoming increasingly complex.

The future for Catholic sixth-form colleges also depends on changes to capital funding—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham). A number of institutions are keen to expand but cannot access the necessary funding to educate more students. Others have increased student numbers as a response to funding pressures, but have reached maximum capacity and lack the capital needed to satisfy the demand for places. The absence of a sufficient national capital fund, as well as the growing reluctance of banks to lend for capital projects, means that many sixth-form colleges, including most Catholic ones, have nowhere to turn.

On academy conversions, I understand that some 23 sixth-form colleges have taken the opportunity to change their status and become 16-to-19 academies. That has allowed them to have their VAT costs refunded, and it provides, on average, more than £385,000 more to spend on the frontline education of students each year. Catholic sixth-form colleges, in common with all colleges that do not convert, face financial disadvantages also due to the Government’s implementation of the teachers’ pay grant. In September 2018, they extended the grant to cover 16-to-19 academies, but not sixth-form colleges or other colleges that had not converted. All Catholic sixth-form colleges were affected. They have the same workforce, pay rates and negotiating machinery as almost every 16-to-19 academy, and there is no justification for treating them differently when it comes to teachers’ pay.

Due to the religious character of Catholic sixth-form colleges, they do not have the option to convert to academies. Since they are not schools, they do not come within the legislative framework that applies to schools and which includes protections of a school’s religious character. As 16-to-19 academies, they would have to remain further education institutions but would not be governed by the statutory provisions of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, which contains the current legislative protections that enable them to be conducted as Catholic colleges.

An Act of Parliament or a change of legislation is not required to allow a sixth-form college to become a 16-to-19 academy. The position is, however, different for Catholic colleges. When maintained schools become academies they become independent schools that are subject to statutory provision and regulation, including protection of their religious character, which thereby enables them to be conducted, still, as Catholic schools. When sixth-form colleges become 16-to-19 academies, they do not come within the legislative framework that applies to independent schools, because they remain as further education institutions. However, they are also not governed by the statutory provisions of the 1992 Act. A review of the legislation, jointly undertaken by the Catholic Education Service and the Department for Education, has made it clear that the statutory protections will no longer apply to Catholic colleges post conversion to 16-to-19 academies. That includes protections in the areas of curriculum, acts of worship and the responsible body—in other words, the governance.

Furthermore, I understand that financial risk assessments for further education institutions that wish to convert into academies require any Church-controlled premises to be removed from the college’s balance sheet. That stipulation is likely to affect the perceived financial health of Catholic sixth-form colleges and place them in the position of being unable to pass the risk assessment needed to become an academy.

One solution to address those anomalies suggested by the Catholic Education Service is for the Government to explore legislative and non-legislative options for Catholic sixth-form colleges to convert while retaining their religious character. Such legislation would affect only Catholic sixth-form colleges, as there are no other religiously designated sixth-form colleges in the country. I understand that the Catholic Education Service has had useful discussions with the Department for Education about reinstating in a future education Bill the legislative protections for Catholic colleges that want to become 16-to-19 academies. Such a Bill could ensure that the protections that Catholic sixth-form colleges currently have would be mirrored if they converted into 16-to-19 academies. I understand that only a short clause would be needed, although it is difficult to know when such a Bill might emerge in a future Queen’s Speech, or, given the way that Brexit is affecting the parliamentary timetable, how soon the House of Commons and the House of Lords might realistically have a chance to debate such a provision. It is also not clear whether such a clause is the Government’s preferred option for protecting the future of Catholic sixth-form colleges.

It is worth noting that non-Catholic sixth-form colleges that want to become academies have benefited from some £10 million of Government funding through the area review restructuring facility. I understand that that facility, from which Catholic sixth-form colleges have been clearly unable to benefit, closes this month.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the sense of urgency within the Catholic sixth-form college sector about this matter cannot be stressed enough to the Minister? Representatives of Carmel College have told me that they have had to reduce the number of subjects they teach and have larger class sizes, but they are also having to lay off staff. That is not sustainable or viable, nor is it something that any of us wants, so I urge the Minister to address that anomaly quickly.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention on behalf of Carmel College; he makes his point extremely well. Capital funding, VAT refunds and the teachers’ pay grant are all areas of finance for post-16 academies that Catholic sixth-form colleges, like other non-academy post-16 colleges, are not benefiting from. That is short-changing Catholic students, and also many other students who benefit from attending those other institutions.

As the number of 16 to 18-year-olds is set to increase, it is important that funding is made available to deal with that demographic upturn. Sixth-form colleges, as large specialist 16-to-18 institutions with proven track records, are well placed to help to cater for the coming upturn in student numbers, but they urgently need access to sufficient capital funding to build the necessary capacity. The Sixth Form Colleges Association believes that establishing a capital expansion fund for dedicated 16-to-18 educational institutions such as sixth-form colleges is the way to break that capital impasse. Other colleges also deserve to be able to access proper capital funding, such as Harrow College and Stanmore College, which serve my constituency. That would help to increase the number of young people being educated in high-performing institutions, at a lower cost to the public purse and with a higher likelihood of success than continuing to establish new, usually much smaller providers.

The critical issue is that since 2010 the further education sector has been held back through lack of investment. Over the past 10 years, colleges have had to deal with an average funding cut of 30%, while at the same time costs have increased dramatically. As I alluded to, other colleges in Harrow such as Harrow College and Stanmore College have been hit financially, reflecting problems across the English post-16 sector. Further education is the only part of the education budget to have been cut year on year since 2010. That drop in funding has had a real impact on staff pay: on average, college teachers are now paid at less than 80% of the rate of school staff. The latest Association of Colleges workforce survey suggests that average lecturer pay in colleges is just over £30,000—significantly lower than average schoolteacher pay and university academic pay, which are £35,000 and just over £43,000 respectively. The value of staff pay has fallen by more than 25% since 2009, and staff turnover rates in colleges averaged 17% in 2017, which is the most recent year for which stats are available. The hardest-to-fill posts are teaching jobs in engineering, construction and mathematics.

The recent ring-fenced teachers’ pay grant for schools was not extended to further education colleges, which made it even more difficult for Catholic sixth-form colleges and other post-16 institutions to recruit the teachers they need. Schoolteachers received a pay rise of up to 3.5%, whereas college staff did not, which is simply unfair. Extending the teachers’ pay grant to Catholic sixth-form colleges and all other non-academy 16-to-19 institutions would relieve pressure on the frontline and begin to level the playing field between institutions that are delivering effectively the same type of education. The cost would be comparatively small, but the impact would be significant—not just on the financial position of individual colleges, but in reassuring the sector that its work, curriculum and workforce were properly understood and appreciated by the Government.

In short, students do not deserve to be discriminated against. If students attend a college that is not an academy, the Government are discriminating against them, as they allow academy colleges to be better funded. Catholic sixth-form colleges and their students are doubly disadvantaged, as those colleges cannot convert to become academies even if they want to. It is high time that Catholic sixth-form colleges, like other non-academy colleges, got the same funding as academies; that this double discrimination was brought to an end; and, crucially, that funding for all post-16 education was significantly improved. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, for what I believe is the first time. I congratulate my neighbour, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), on securing this debate at an important time for not only Catholic education, but education as a whole. It was a great pleasure to chair the Backbench Business Committee and give him the opportunity to hold this debate.

I rise for a number of reasons, the first of which is fairness. I have always strongly believed in a parent’s right to choose the type of education they want for their children, be that a church school, any other form of religious school, or a secular school—I do not take a particular view. Equally, parents should have the right to choose whether their child receives single-sex or mixed education. One of the great beauties of the London borough of Harrow, which my neighbour and I share, is that we have education for Hindus, Jews, Catholics and Protestants, and we will soon have a Muslim state school as a result of parental demand.

St Dominic’s Sixth Form College, which is in my neighbour’s constituency, has as its main feeders two Catholic schools in my constituency: Salvatorian College and Sacred Heart Language College. They are 11-to-16 schools, both Catholic in nature, and the natural progression for their pupils is to go on to St Dominic’s college. However, St Dominic’s does not just take young people from Salvatorian College and Sacred Heart; as my neighbour alluded to, it takes young people from across north-west London. It has quite a long reach into a number of London boroughs.

The nature of St Dominic’s, and of other Catholic colleges, is that they provide excellent education. That is why they are in demand, after all. It is worth remembering that in many ways we have such advanced education across this country because of the investment made by the Church of England and the Catholic Church going back way before we had state education. It is important to understand that the colleges are excellent. They provide a very good standard of education, are well led and have excellent teachers. That is the feature of a good education system, so it is grossly unfair that they are disadvantaged.

I rise to seek fairness in the system for Catholic sixth-form colleges. It is fair to say that when we have changed the funding formula, sixth forms generally have suffered. Clearly, the priority has been on young people between the ages of 11 and 16, who have a higher rate of funding than sixth forms. A head or member of a governing body of a school, college or whatever that teaches people from the ages of 11 to 18 can adjust the funding to ensure a spread throughout the institution, but a sixth-form college is totally dependent on the funding that comes in for those young people between the ages of 16 and 18. The slight problem is that the average funding is £4,545 for a sixth-form student, which is 15% lower than that for 11 to 16-year-olds. Straightaway, sixth-form colleges are at a disadvantage from a revenue perspective.

One of the challenges in Harrow is that Sacred Heart Language College has always been full. It is an excellent school, so there has been a steady flow of young women going on to St Dominic’s or beyond. It is fair to say that Salvatorian College has had real challenges. However, it is being completely rebuilt and we are looking forward to the new premises opening completely. The school is now full with young boys coming through, so the impact on St Dominic’s will be even greater. The college is full, and as the hon. Member for Harrow West alluded to, there is little if any space to expand. Even if we could get hold of the money required, expansion is a real challenge, given where it is located and that it has such a tight site.

The impact on the funding level is important. Colleges—sixth-form colleges and Catholic sixth-form colleges in particular—are dropping courses in modern languages as a result of funding pressures. When we are trying to encourage the development of modern languages, it is not helpful if colleges are dropping them due to funding. Equally, we are trying to get young people better educated in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. When we are encouraging them to do STEM subjects, it is a disaster for colleges to drop those courses.

There are other issues. St Dominic’s is having to put young people in much larger class sizes to try to use the facilities available. I visited the college only last week. It has a plan to expand into lecture halls, as opposed to classrooms, to try to use facilities to their maximum capability. There is good sense to that. Teachers can lecture, but then there still needs to be the capacity for one-to-one teaching subsequently. As has been mentioned by my neighbour, the hon. Member for Harrow West, and in various interventions, we have a crisis.

What effect is the situation that my hon. Friend describes having on university applications and the success that Catholic sixth-form colleges have had in getting people into good universities to do good courses?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. There is that concern. All the Catholic sixth-form colleges are producing an excellent education, with a good flow of young people going on to university and being given the opportunity to excel. Virtually every young person who goes through St Dominic’s goes on to good universities with good courses, particularly in maths and science. We should be encouraging that and ensuring that it happens.

At the same time, we have the challenge of what we could call the learning tax. Catholic sixth-form colleges are not able to academise and therefore cannot claim the VAT back. That gives any college a real challenge. Catholic sixth-form colleges should be able to academise. We should also remove any restrictions on the faith of the leadership of the college. Such colleges should be able to ensure that Catholics are the senior management and senior staff. We should have a position where the intake is in line with legislation, namely that a proportion of the students coming into the college can be selected. They do not have to be exclusively Catholic, but there should be a Catholic flavour to the colleges.

Equally, there is a challenge in what we do to expand such colleges, which are extremely popular and very successful. It is fair to say that the teachers in those colleges are experienced, highly professional and doing a good job, yet they do not get the pay rises they would get if they were working in a college down the road. That is clearly unfair. We have to remove the restriction whereby these colleges are not getting the pay grant that other colleges get. That is unfair discrimination.

Unusually, the hon. Gentleman is making a very good speech, but will he join me in urging the Minister to commit today to the next teachers’ pay award for post-16 institutions being fully funded, regardless of status? That would certainly give substantial reassurance to the principal of St Dominic’s Sixth Form College, as well as other Catholic sixth-form colleges.

I thank my neighbour for congratulating me on my speech. I look forward to him congratulating me on many occasions on my speeches in this place and in the main Chamber. He makes an important point. We are going into the comprehensive spending review, where there is an opportunity for the Government to make some changes. I am not sure whether we need a change in the law to ensure that Catholic sixth-form colleges receive the pay award that other colleges receive. If that change is needed, we should get on and do it. Given that the Government seem to find time to adjust the law when they wish, it may be that that would be relatively easy to do. I do not think there would be any disagreement across the House on the need for the measure.

If we could reach a point where Catholic sixth-form colleges could academise, get the benefits of academy status and reclaim VAT costs, that would be an enormous boost to their revenue funding. Equally, if we could remove any measures that prevent senior staff from holding a particular faith, that would remove the challenge that many such colleges face.

The hon. Member for Harrow West raised the issue of capital funding. Why would a bank lend to a college if its revenue funding was already challenged and it might not be able to repay the loan? That is one of the key challenges in raising capital. There needs to be a fund available to Catholic sixth-form colleges from which they can draw in order to provide capital provision within the system. All Catholic sixth-form colleges suffer the same challenge of how to expand and get more revenue funding. If they do not have the capital, they are clearly not able to expand. Their revenue base is a particular challenge.

In terms of the money for 2019-20, if the teachers’ pay award was extended to Catholic sixth-form colleges, it would cost only £2.5 million—a relatively small amount compared with the overall budget—but it would make a huge difference to the colleges that need to pay it. As my neighbour, the hon. Member for Harrow West, has mentioned, if we could get to a position whereby Catholic sixth-form colleges were allowed to academise or possibly join multi-academy trusts, it would assist them to some degree. At a time when the majority of young people in this country are taught in academies, it seems unfair that Catholic sixth-form colleges are discriminated against and do not have the capacity to opt in. If they were an 11-to-18 school, they could academise, but because they have chosen to be a sixth-form Catholic college, they cannot. That does not make sense in this day and age.

We have T-levels coming on stream. It seems ridiculous that sixth-form colleges are dropping STEM courses when we are trying to develop T-levels. They will be properly on stream by 2023, but we need action now.

Will the Minister look at the case that has been put forward? If we need a change in the law, so be it. We could change the law relatively easily with all-party support, and I believe it would pass the Commons and Lords very quickly. We could equalise the situation for the benefit of the young people we all serve.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) delivered an excellent and comprehensive speech, so I do not think that I need to add much. As he mentioned, I have a Catholic sixth-form college, St Brendan’s, in my constituency, although it serves a wide catchment area that stretches as far as Weston-super-Mare. My hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) and for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) have all visited the college. They are great supporters of it and would have been here today to speak in its defence if they had been able to.

I do not hold a particular torch for faith-based education. I have some reservations about it, although I think that a greater problem is where demographics in a particular area lead to a school being de facto one culture. I say this as someone who grew up in Luton and went to Luton Sixth Form College, which was very diverse, but some of the schools there, just because of where people live, tend not to be as diverse as they could be. We are fortunate in Bristol that all the schools, including St Brendan’s, have a healthy mix of pupils from different backgrounds. Although St Brendan’s is a Catholic sixth-form college and priority is given to students from Catholic schools, it is very diverse.

St Brendan’s clearly has an ethical focus to its teaching, but the Catholicism is not too evident. Catholic parents get the faith-based education that they want for their children, but children from all faiths feel comfortable there and the college is doing well. It has significant plans to expand, which presents some challenges, particularly in relation to traffic, because it is at the top of the most congested road in my constituency, but we can address that. There is also the challenge that school sixth forms are smaller and struggle to provide a broader curriculum. If St Brendan’s expands, will the school sixth forms be no longer viable? However, I still support its expansion because, as I have said, it provides an excellent service.

When I have been to St Brendan’s I have always been impressed by how open-minded the college is and how receptive it is to discussing issues across all faiths and no faiths. I attended a session there once after some young pupils from elsewhere in the Bristol school system had led a nationwide campaign against female genital mutilation. The sixth form brought the young women to talk to a group of pupils about issues within the community and about FGM. It was a real eye-opener for the pupils and was a really good thing to do. I have also met the feminist society there.

I had a meeting recently with the principal and a couple of student reps, one of whom said, “I identify as gender-neutral”, and not an eyelid was batted. Some people have real fears about what a faith-based organisation looks like, particularly a Catholic college, but St Brendan’s is as far from bigoted as we would want an educational establishment to be. There is also a real focus on international development, which links with the work of lots of churches in my constituency that do really good work with overseas communities, as does St Brendan’s as well.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West said, St Brendan’s and the other Catholic sixth-form colleges face double discrimination. Sixth-form academies do not have to pay VAT, but sixth-form colleges do. We have debated that before in Westminster Hall on numerous occasions in the broader context of how sixth-form colleges are treated, and we are all keen for the Minister to move forward on that. Other sixth-form colleges have the get-out clause that they can convert to academies and receive funding as a result. Only the Catholic sixth-form colleges cannot, which is particularly unfair when schools that convert to academies can retain their current status. It seems completely anomalous, as has been said, that Catholic sixth-form colleges are treated differently from other sixth-form colleges, and differently from other Catholic schools.

The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) mentioned another issue. I was not expecting to speak in today’s debate, so I do not have the figures to hand, but there is an issue with pupils in sixth-form colleges receiving less funding than pupils in schools. There is also still an issue with third-year funding, whereby they get even less if the pupil stays on at the sixth form for three years. Perhaps the school system failed the young people; perhaps they simply were not ready to grapple with education; or perhaps there were issues with their home circumstances. We have a lot of children in Bristol who have come from fairly chaotic family backgrounds. They might come from refugee families, for example. For one reason or another, they might not have left school with the GCSEs that we would want them to, so they might need to do three years at St Brendan’s. As I understand it, if they stay on for three years, the college gets less funding once they have passed 18. That might have been rectified because we have raised it with the Minister before, but perhaps he will address that point. As has been said, rectifying that would require only a short clause in the next education Bill. The discussions have been going on for a very long time.

I will finish by referring to a note that Michael Jaffrain, the principal of St Brendan’s, sent me recently, in which he asked me to speak in the debate. He said that the fact that Catholic sixth-form colleges are not allowed to become academies

“seriously limits choices in terms of future strategy.”

I have already said that the college has huge ambitions to expand, which I support. The principal also said:

“The ability not to be able to convert into the schools sector is now starting to have a real bite. Unlike the sixth form colleges who have converted, St Brendan’s will not receive any additional funding to cover the 2% increase in teacher pay and there is still no commitment that we will be fully funded for the 7% increase in teacher pension contributions. This, alongside the injustice that, unlike schools sixth forms, we still also have to pay VAT on all goods and services we purchase, is now putting a considerable strain on our finances and the ability to continue to deliver an outstanding education to our community.”

St Brendan’s serves not only my constituency, but constituencies in a significant range around the Bristol area. It is so important that we do all that we can to support it.

This is a so-called EVEL debate—English votes for English laws—so we do not have a representative of the Scottish National party. I therefore call Mike Kane to speak for the Labour party.

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Referring to a faith-based debate as an “EVEL debate” might not be the best phraseology.

In addition to being the Front-Bench spokesperson, I should declare that I am the convenor of the Catholic legislators’ network in Parliament. It is important that I put that on the record. It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West, who is an assiduous campaigner for his constituents. Both of us would like to see a day where we are talking not about academisation, but about the co-operatisation of more of our schools up and down the country. He is the country’s leading campaigner for the co-operative movement, in my opinion.

My second interest to declare is that I am a product of Loreto College in Manchester. Having grown up in a council flat and a council house, going to Loreto at the age of 16 widened my horizons unbelievably. It turned me on to politics. I had a lecturer called Colleen Harris, who is still alive. I want to get it in Hansard that I would not be in this place had it not been for her. Coming down here for the first time and seeing Parliament was one of the most amazing experiences that I got from going to that sixth form.

I was glad to visit the college the other week, to campaign to raise the rate, and to speak to the principal, Peter McGhee, who is also the principal of St John Rigby College in Wigan. It is great to know that my principal, Sister Patricia, is still on Loreto’s governing body. The only bit of the college that is left is the 19th-century grade II listed chapel. Otherwise, the college has been rebuilt completely, and serves the whole community of Manchester and Greater Manchester. In terms of social mobility, there was nowhere like it. It helped people from poor backgrounds such as my own to move forward, along with Xaverian College in Rusholme.

The Catholic Church is the biggest provider of education on the planet, and tomorrow 1.2 billion Catholics around the world will be celebrating one of their most solemn feasts: Ash Wednesday. It is a period of reflection, fast and abstinence, but for sixth-form colleges in this country the last 10 years have been a period of fast and abstinence. I want to put some of the figures that have already been stated on to the record. Since 2010, funding for 16 to 18-year-olds has been cut sharply. That is why we are talking about this matter today. Costs have risen, the needs of students have become more complex and the Government have demanded much more of colleges.

Recent research from London Economics found that, in real terms, sixth-form colleges received £1,380 less per student in 2016-17 than in 2010-11—a 22% decline in funding. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that funding per student aged 16 to 18 has seen the biggest squeeze of all stages of education for young people in recent years. We have had debate after debate in this Chamber about schools, but school funding started to be cut only in about 2015. Since then, about £1.7 billion has been taken out of the system. However, we have seen a continual attack on sixth-form colleges since 2010.

Sixth-form colleges are in a strange place. It is interesting that the Minister and I speak for stand-alone sixth-form colleges, but the responsibility for further education colleges sits with our counterparts in our teams. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West highlighted in his very good speech, funding per sixth-former is £4,545. That is 15% lower than for 11 to 16-year-olds, which is £5,341, and half the average university tuition fee, which is £8,901.

The impact on students could not be clearer. A recent funding impact survey found that 50% of schools and colleges have dropped courses in modern foreign languages as a result of funding pressures. As has been pointed out, 34% have dropped STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, maths—and 67% have reduced student support services and extracurricular activities. Some 77% of schools are teaching students in larger class sizes. The national funding rate for 16 and 17-year-olds has remained frozen at £4,000 per student since 2013-14. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East pointed out, the rate for 18-year-olds is even lower, at £3,300 per student.

There is only one way to ensure that schools and colleges can continue to deliver competitively good sixth-form education, and that is to raise the rate. I congratulate the Sixth Form Colleges Association on its fine campaign on the issue. According to London Economics, raising the rate would protect student support services, mental health support and minority subject support, and would increase non-qualification time, extracurricular activities and work experience for those in sixth-form colleges. The Government like to target funding at individual subjects or qualifications, but that has had little impact; there are just higgledy-piggledy pots of money here and there for sixth-form colleges to bid for. As the hon. Member for Harrow East stated, the £500 million for T-levels—the Government’s proposed suite of technical qualifications—will not materialise until 2023.

The key point that has been made today is that the option to convert is not currently available to Catholic sixth-form colleges. Colleges that do not change status lose out in multiple ways, as has been mentioned. First, although school sixth forms and 16-to-19 academies have their VAT costs refunded, sixth-form colleges do not. That leaves the average sixth-form college with £386,000 less to spend on the frontline education of students each year.

Secondly, as has also been pointed out, sixth-form colleges face a further financial disadvantage due to the Government’s implementation of the teachers’ pay grant. In September 2018 the Government extended the teachers’ pay grant to cover 16-to-19 academies, but not sixth-form colleges. The Minister has to tell us why that is the case. Extending the teachers’ pay grant would make a huge difference. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West said in an intervention, we really need an answer from the Minister on that.

VAT and the teachers’ pay grant are the two examples of how sixth-form colleges are treated differently from 16-to-19 academies and schools. One solution would be to address both anomalies without requiring sixth-form colleges to change their legal status, but the other—and perhaps more realistic—solution would be for the Government to explore some legislative change. At the moment, Catholic sixth-form colleges will not convert for fear of losing their religious character, particularly if there were some sort of judicial review or legal challenge.

Non-Catholic sixth-form colleges have benefited from £10 million for conversion. That is another anomaly—Catholic sixth-form colleges have not been allowed to bid for that money, as my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) pointed out. He also spoke admirably about Carmel College in his constituency. The Government should commit to allowing Catholic sixth-form colleges to change their status after the March deadline in the area reviews, and ensure that they can access Government funding.

Catholic sixth-form colleges are prevented from converting to academies as their religious character, protected under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, would not be maintained under current Government rules. They suggest that they would lose protections in areas of the curriculum, acts of worship and governance. Most Catholic sixth-form colleges in this country provide a religious education basis, which is not funded through their Government funding, and extracurricular activities such as mass and prayer, which are unfunded, and chaplaincy work. The key nature of a Catholic sixth-form college and the essence of its governance, and the reason that they are education institutions that are highly prized, is their very strong ethical character in Catholic social teaching. The social teaching in the colleges is driven by human dignity, solidarity, subsidiarity and preferential option for the poor, and that is what is highly prized by parents, both those of the Catholic faith and those not of the faith.

The director of the Catholic Education Service, Paul Barber, said in an article that

“because academisation legislation for SFCs was developed separately from schools, the same safeguards given to schools were omitted for Catholic SFCs”.

Under current Government rules, the colleges would lose protections for the religious character of areas of the curriculum, acts of worship and governance if they converted. Primary legislation would be required, but we have been discussing this for 28 months, and no action has been taken.

It would be an enormous act of good faith for the Government to begin to act. We have seen the problems that have arisen with the Conservative party’s manifesto commitment on the cap on new free schools for Catholic schools, which has led to the Catholic Church refusing to build any more schools in this country, when perhaps 50 are needed in London and 12 in East Anglia. The Government refused to raise the cap. Faith schools are feeling quite battered at the moment, particularly in a muscular liberal secularised world, and are concerned about their status with the Government. It would be an enormous act of good faith for the Minister to act on some of the issues facing Catholic sixth-form colleges today.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. It is not for the first time in my case, but I am not going to say that it is too often—it is never enough.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) on securing this debate. Catholic sixth-form colleges make an important contribution to education in this country and the Government recognise the distinctive role that they play. To address the important issue raised by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), we value faith schools generally. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) that it is the right of parents to be able to bring up their children in their faith and that the state should provide faith schools to enable them to do that. The Government have provided capital through the voluntary-aided route to enable the Catholic Education Society to establish more Catholic faith schools in this country.

I am aware that the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills has met the hon. Member for Harrow West to discuss the issues facing this group of colleges. The Minister has also recently seen at first hand the quality of the educational and wider opportunities provided to young people at St. Dominic’s Sixth Form College in Harrow. I welcome the opportunity to explore the issues further today.

I want to begin by paying tribute to all the hard-working staff, principals, heads and governors in those colleges. Sixth-form colleges at their best not only provide excellent academic education, but help provide direction to young people and help them to grow in maturity through those crucial years. They allow young people to develop outside a school environment, giving them the aspiration to achieve in whatever field, job or career they want to pursue. Catholic sixth-form colleges provide that within an atmosphere of moral guidance and pastoral support.

Catholic sixth-form colleges represent a significant proportion of sixth-form colleges in England—14 out of 60, not including those that have become academies—and 17% of sixth-form college students attend a Catholic college. Such colleges are focused on meeting the needs of local communities and are key to our drive to improve social mobility. A high proportion of students in sixth-form colleges and 16-to-19 academies are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Colleges provide excellent support to help those students achieve high results and progress to sustained education, apprenticeships or employment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) was right to point to the priority that Catholic sixth-form colleges give to social justice. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) pointed out that 12 of the 14 Catholic sixth-form colleges are rated “good” or “outstanding”. Academic excellence has always been, and remains, at the core. More than a third of sixth-form colleges are rated by Ofsted as “outstanding”. Looking at the 14 Catholic sixth-from colleges in England, the picture is even better, with seven out of the 14 rated “outstanding”, and five other colleges rated “good”. I recognise that that has been achieved in increasingly challenging financial circumstances.

Of course, an Ofsted rating is only a snapshot and I know that colleges are constantly reviewing their practices and procedures to see whether further improvements can be made. Two Catholic sixth-form colleges, for example, have benefited from support from the Government’s strategic college improvement fund. St Dominic’s Sixth Form College is partnering with St Francis Xavier Sixth Form College in south London. The fund supports colleges to improve the quality of provision and helps to mobilise and strengthen improvement capacity within the further education sector.

I congratulate sixth-form colleges on the successful implementation of the reforms to A-levels over the last few years, with the first wave of exams in 13 new subjects in 2017 and a further 12 last year. The reforms will continue to be rolled out over the next two years, with the first exams in a further 20 new A-levels in summer this year and another 13 next year. Exam reform is never easy. In the last 30 years, we have had four significant reforms to A-levels—the introduction of the advanced supplementaries, Curriculum 2000, which introduced the AS/A2 structure, the introduction of the A* grade a decade ago and now demodularisation.

In the run-up to the spending review that is expected later this year, we have been looking closely at the sustainability and funding of the FE sector, including sixth-form colleges. The Government understand that the sector faces significant challenges, and the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills has made it a personal priority to address the constraints and their impact over the last year. Campaigns such as “Love our Colleges” and “Raise the Rate” have helped raise the profile of FE and sixth-form colleges and their important work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East raised the issue of 16-to-19 funding for colleges compared with sixth forms in schools. We have ended that unfair discrimination between colleges and schools. All institutions now receive funding according to the same base rate. The funding system aims to ensure a common entitlement. The same formula is applied to all students and different institutions now receive the same funding rate.

However, we recognise that funding per student in the 16-to-19 phase has not kept up with costs. We protected the base rate for funding for 16 to 19-year-olds at £4,000 until the end of this spending review period, but that is, of course, against the backdrop of previous reductions and the impact of inflation—reductions that happened because we had to tackle the historic and unsustainable deficit that we inherited in 2010, representing 10% of GDP. As my hon. Friend the Member of Harrow East pointed out, we prioritised protecting core school funding for five to 16-year-olds, because that is where the biggest influence on life outcomes happens.

The position has been made more difficult by reducing numbers of students. The number of 16 to 18-year-olds in the population has been falling for 10 years and it is now 10% lower than in 2008-09.

The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) raised the issue of the lower base funding rate for the third year of 16-to-19 education. She is right to do so, but that lower level does not apply to students with special educational needs.

As the hon. Members for Harrow West and for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) pointed out, capital funding is a key concern for sixth-form colleges. Unlike general further education colleges, sixth-form colleges can bid for the condition improvement fund along with schools. Unlike academies, SFCs can borrow, and many have productive relationships with banks, although some of them have found it harder to borrow in recent years—a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East.

We recognise that an important challenge facing sixth-form colleges in many areas over the coming years is to prepare for the anticipated increase in student numbers. That increase is, of course, an opportunity to recruit additional students and receive the associated increased funding, but in some cases it needs extra up-front investment—for example, to build new classrooms—so we will look carefully in the spending review at how we can help colleges to prepare for the increase in student numbers that many of them now anticipate.

It is true that we have made a teacher pay grant available to schools and academies to ensure that they can afford to implement the school teacher pay award this year, and that it did not extend to FE or sixth-form colleges. Compared with maintained schools and academies, colleges have a different legal status and relationship with Government, and they are not covered by the recommendations of the School Teachers Review Body. We concluded that we could therefore not extend the teacher pay grant to colleges. We are considering colleges’ needs separately ahead of the coming spending review, to help make the case for the best FE funding. The Government are concerned about ensuring that FE colleges can attract and retain the staff they need to deliver high quality education. Again, we welcome the input of Catholic sixth-form colleges.

I am not sure I accept the argument the Minister is making for the last pay award, but let us put that to one side for now. Can he tell us whether he has sorted the issues, so that the next teachers’ pay award will be fully funded not only for colleges that are academies, but for those that are not, such as the Catholic sixth-form colleges that have been mentioned and all post-16 institutions?

That will be very much an issue for the next spending review, but perhaps a neater solution would be to address the issue of the conversion of Catholic sixth-form colleges to academy status. I am aware that the issue of academy conversion is very significant for this group of colleges. Indeed, each Catholic sixth-form college was asked to consider joining an academy in the reports of the further education area reviews covering their areas, but I understand that only three of the 14 made an immediate decision not to pursue that option.

I should explain—as other hon. Members have explained—that the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 includes specific freedoms, which permit Catholic sixth-form colleges to maintain and develop their religious character. Fully equivalent protections are not included in the legal framework for 16-to-19 academies, which are a distinctive type of institution compared with other academies established through the Education Act 2011. The provisions that allow sixth-form colleges to consider faith when appointing governors and staff, and that allow them to teach religious education and provide collective worship in line with tenets of the Catholic faith, do not currently exist for 16-to-19 academies.

When the legislative framework for 16-to-19 academies was first established, we did not envisage establishing them as faith-based 16-to-19 institutions. At the time, our view was that EU directive 2000/78/EC prevented the creation of new post-16 vocational institutions with a religious character. We had adopted a blanket approach, so that no post-16 provision could be established with a religious character. We are now exploring how to put in place the right conditions to enable Catholic sixth-form colleges to convert to academy status with their existing freedoms.

I know that my ministerial colleagues have met representatives of Catholic sixth-form colleges and the Catholic Education Service to discuss this issue. As the hon. Member for Harrow West pointed out, it would require primary legislation to make the necessary changes, but the Government’s legislative programme does not yet provide the scope for such legislation. We will of course keep this under review in future parliamentary Sessions, and we will continue to work with this group of colleges and with the hon. Gentleman to try to find a solution to this problem.

Clearly there is the issue of any potential legal impediment. Will the Minister confirm that, provided the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on 29 March, that legal impediment will fall way and it would be up to the Government to bring forward a change in the law—a private Member’s Bill could achieve the same—that would enable Catholic sixth-form colleges to academise if they chose to do so?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I think later legal advice shows that the issue is more nuanced than that, and it might be possible to legislate even while we remain subject to the EU directive. I very much hope that we can take that forward when an opportunity arises.

Last year, sixth-form colleges raised concerns about the creation of new 16-to-19 free schools and the approvals process for academies to create new sixth-form provision. We have listened to those concerns and strengthened the criteria we use to assess new sixth-form proposals. For all schools that apply to open a sixth form, we have set a clear requirement that all local sixth-form and FE colleges must be consulted prior to a business case being submitted. Furthermore, during the last free school application wave, we were explicit that all applications for new 16-to-19 provision must provide evidence of need for additional places in the area, and that any request is likely to be approved by exception only. In the guidance for wave 14, which we published recently, this requirement was strengthened further.

I conclude as I began: by paying tribute to the excellent academic achievements of Catholic sixth-form colleges and their support for improving social mobility among students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I recognise that such colleges have particularly felt the tightening financial circumstances, despite our protection of the base rate of funding. The issue of academisation is significant for the sector.

I echo the sentiments of the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills when she spoke at the winter conference of the Sixth Form Colleges Association in January. As we prepare for the spending review, explaining the issues through opportunities such as this debate will help provide strong arguments for the sector. More importantly, the continued delivery of excellent education and strong pastoral support and guidance will be the best advert for further investment in Catholic sixth-form colleges and all colleges in this important and high-performing sector.

This has been an extremely good debate. I reinforce my gratitude to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing me to secure it, and to Back-Bench colleagues and the shadow Minister for their contributions. I also thank the Minister for his thorough response. However, I have to say that from listening to him speak—notwithstanding the thorough contribution he made—it is clear that the double discrimination that Catholic sixth-form colleges face is unlikely to end any time soon.

I urge the Minister and Secretary of State for Education to give this issue further priority in the months to come. If the issue of the next teachers’ pay award being fully funded—not just funded in full for those colleges that have converted to become academies—could be resolved quickly, it would certainly provide some reassurance to Catholic sixth-form colleges and other post-16 institutions that are not academies. This issue needs to be sorted out. Although it is good that the Minister has been able to focus on it today, clearly more urgency is needed.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the future of Catholic sixth form colleges.

Sitting suspended.

UK Relations with Kosovo

I beg to move,

That this House has considered UK relations with Kosovo.

There have been three major debates about Kosovo in the history of this House. It is fitting to have this debate this month, because the first of those three debates took place in the shadow of war, on 25 March 1999, when the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, flew back from the European Council at Berlin—NATO air forces had commanded strikes against military targets in Yugoslavia the night before. Justifying that action, and mentioning the unity that eight NATO countries had demonstrated in taking that action, he said:

“The solid basis for that unity is our common revulsion at the violent repression that we witness in Kosovo. Since March last year, well over 400,000 people in Kosovo have at some point been driven from their homes. That is about a fifth of the total population.”—[Official Report, 25 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 536.]

I had many conversations with Robin Cook about Kosovo. My first interest in the country came from meeting members of the diaspora of 80,000 refugees from the war at one point. After Robin Cook resigned over the Iraq war, his office was next to mine. We had two conversation topics: Kosovo, which I learned a great deal about from talking to him, and horseracing. He misjudged me as an expert on horseracing, so I had to do a lot of swatting up—more than on Kosovo. He is remembered with great affection in Kosovo.

We had to wait eight years for the next debate, on 27 June 2007, led by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard). He made one or two gentle criticisms of American policy—I will follow that tradition in a moment. This debate, 20 years after that action, was inspired by my recent visit with my co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Kosovo, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers). We went for the eleventh celebration of Kosovan independence. I thank the chargé of Kosovo in London, Heroina Telaku, Her Majesty’s ambassador in Pristina, Ruairí O’Connell, and all the staff for making the arrangements.

We took with us three rising stars from the British Kosovan community: Freskim Rushiti, a banker; Artan Llabjani, from the British Albanian Business Association; and Fadil Maqedonci, who runs the Koha bar in Leicester Square, where Robin Cook went to meet some Kosovans during the war. We had a fascinating time and learned a great deal. Kosovo is now recognised by 116 countries, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and, importantly, by FIFA, the International Olympic Committee and UEFA. I will finish my remarks in a few minutes on sport. We had the honour to see Prekaz, which was the centre of much of the fighting, and the Jashari graves—a whole family bar one young girl were massacred, and the anniversary of that massacre is today. It made a great impression on the hon. Member for Cleethorpes and me. There are still 3,000 people missing from that war—not just Albanians but Serbs too.

I have some general points about contemporary issues in Kosovo and remarks about the contribution that the Kosovan diaspora can make. I was pleased that last week the President of Kosovo said that land swaps would never occur. Last year he talked about border corrections with Serbia, but that was the wrong approach. Quite a lot of money was spent on lobbying in London and elsewhere on the issue, but I am glad the President has changed approach. The Prime Minister and the Parliament were right to be wary of land swaps, border corrections or whatever they are called. They could be very destabilising in the Balkans.

A delegation from North Macedonia is in Parliament at the moment, whom I was talking to yesterday. When borders start getting swapped in the Balkans, it can be destabilising. One member of the diaspora told me that land swaps should never be an issue for just one man to decide, and Kosovo as a nation will never allow it to happen. The Parliament’s approach to have a negotiating team, involving opposition parties, is a good one. Given that the President has clarified his position, I hope the United States will back away from statements that some officials have made to suggest land swaps, deals with President Putin and so on. A sober approach is needed, and I hope progress can be made.

It was good to see the Kosovo army on parade for the first time. Before this year, they were a defence force. It is an appropriate move for Kosovo to make.

Good work has been done by our own UK Government to support the reform and restructuring of the police force, among other initiatives. That is essential for this war-ravaged area. Nothing must be allowed to detract from the advance to more modern and acceptable policing. Some of my constituents who are ex-Royal Ulster Constabulary and Police Service of Northern Ireland are involved in some of that training. They are doing excellent work and should be commended for it.

The hon. Gentleman is completely right about the efforts that the British and others have made to train the police and the army. I understand that, on average, four cadets each year train in the United Kingdom.

There are still heavy tariffs between Kosovo and Serbia. That decision was made in response to perceived Serbian interference in Kosovo’s attempt to be recognised by Interpol. I hope that in time the tariffs can be lifted, because economic relations and contacts between Serbia and Kosovo are very important to encourage normalisation and a final agreement. Countries that trade with each other are far more likely to reach a final agreement.

I am a member of the Council of Europe, which is very interested in helping to provide stability in Kosovo. One of the great things we could do, with the help of the hon. Gentleman and others, is to push the case for human rights. That has gone very slowly, despite the actions of the Council of Europe to try to increase them. Could he see his way to help with that?

The hon. Gentleman is right; human rights are very important, as is the Council of Europe’s work in Kosovo. The treatment of the Serb minority is important to Kosovo’s reputation and future.

The diaspora of 30,000 in the United Kingdom are important to encourage economic links. There are Kosovan students in the UK; there are five Chevening scholarships and many others besides. We also visited the Kosovo Innovation Centre, run by Uranik Begu. It was a window on the world for many young Kosovars working in new technology in the digital economy. It was a highly skilled workforce. Fox Marble is the biggest British investor in Kosovo. It has four quarries in the centre of Kosovo and is listed on the stock exchange. Hopefully there will be more investors in future.

I suggest to Her Majesty’s Government that it may be time for a trade envoy to the Balkans—the hon. Member for Cleethorpes would be an ideal candidate. It is notable that although the Department for International Trade is involved in Belgrade and has a couple of local members of staff who cover Serbia and Montenegro, there is nothing similar in Albania and Kosovo. I hope that in time that might change. I invite you, Mr Davies, to a future event I will organise with my APPG co-chair to showcase Kosovan wine. There are 3,000 hectares of vineyards in the country. Stone Castle is the most famous name but there are others. The BBC now has a news service in Serbian, which I understand is listened to quite a lot by the minority. That has provided another news source in the past year.

My hon. Friend mentions the BBC. The British Council, another British institution, has an important role in the region. I did a number of projects with Kosovan young people in 2002 and 2003. Does he agree that we must redouble our efforts to ensure that the British Council is able to access both EU funding and, in the light of Brexit, other non-British funding so it can continue those important democracy-building projects with young people?

Yes. During our visit we heard many people praise the work of the British Council in Pristina and elsewhere in Kosovo. We also met the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which is very active and engages with all the political parties.

It would be wrong when talking about the diaspora not to mention sport and culture. Rita Ora and Dua Lipa are both of Kosovan extraction. Mr Davies, you will be familiar with Rita Ora’s first hit, “Hot Right Now”. She has gone on to have many No. 1 hits. There is a big debate in Kosovo about which artist is the greatest. I could not possibly say, but Rita Ora’s dad has a pub in north London—the Queen’s Arms—so that probably does it for me. Nevertheless, there are many following in their footsteps.

In sport, Majlinda Kelmendi won Kosovo’s first Olympic gold medal. There is a healthy competition with Albania, which has never won a medal at the Olympics. Majlinda said she had proved to the youngsters of Kosovo that

“even after the war, even after we survived a war, if they want something they can have it. If they want to be Olympic champions, they can be.”

She has inspired a whole new generation of judokas, some of whom I and the hon. Member for Cleethorpes met at the independence celebrations. There is a Yorkshire connection to everything, and one of the leading Kosovar footballers, Atdhe Nuhiu, plays for Sheffield Wednesday. He came on late in the steel city derby last night. He did not manage to score, but he is one of a generation of Kosovar footballers who are inspiring the nation, too.

I will finish on football in a moment, but let me just say that corruption has to be confronted. Our ambassador, Ruairí O’Connell, made a very good speech about that recently. He pointed out that, although a high number of leading figures—more than 50, I think—had been indicted over the past three years, they had all been acquitted. He said Kosovo is “100% responsible” for dealing with corruption. That issue has to be dealt with if Kosovo wants more investment.

I mentioned football. Kosovo will play its biggest ever games against England, home and away, in the qualifiers for the European football championships at Wembley in September and in Pristina in November. I and my APPG co-chair believe that the day of the game in Pristina, which is on a Sunday afternoon, could be a day to celebrate the United Kingdom’s culture and to forge more economic links between our two countries.

Thank you, Mr Davies. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my APPG co-chair, the hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan), on obtaining this important debate. I concur with everything he said.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I was delighted to be in Pristina a couple of weeks ago to mark independence day on 17 February. That was the third occasion I have had the privilege of being there, and it is always a joyful occasion, on which the local people can show how proud they are of their nation. I too wish to thank our ambassador, Ruairí O’Connell, and the staff of Parliament and the Kosovan embassy here in London, who helped put together our visit and have always been extremely helpful.

We had a number of important meetings, including with the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers, but we also met important young people who are developing the economy, particularly in the IT sector. The innovation centre in Pristina was very impressive, and there are certainly opportunities, perhaps including those created by the football tournament, to develop our business connections further. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, Fox Marble is a major British investor in Kosovo. It has testified to the fact that it is possible to do business between Kosovo and the UK, although, as has been said, there is an acknowledgement that more must be done to tackle corruption.

Having taken two or three minutes of the hon. Gentleman’s time, I will hand over to the Minister. I hope that he is able to develop the themes we have touched on.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan) for securing the debate and for all the work he and his colleagues do to promote relations between the United Kingdom and Kosovo. I am grateful, too, for the other contributions we have heard.

As we know, the United Kingdom was the first country to recognise the independence of Kosovo 11 years ago, and we are as committed to friendship and partnership with Kosovo now as we were then. Today, Kosovo’s diaspora is a powerful bridge between the UK and Kosovo. As we heard, British pop star Rita Ora, who was born in Pristina, has supported Kosovo’s survivors of sexual violence by sending the clear message that their dignified fight for justice is a source of great pride. Dua Lipa, who is the daughter of Kosovan parents and winner of multiple Grammy and Brit awards, is patron of Kosovo’s Sunny Hill Foundation, which supports some of the most vulnerable people in Kosovo. Leonora Brajshori, the young British Army weightlifter, now competes for Kosovo.

Today, our two nations share a thriving and candid bilateral relationship—a relationship reinforced by our growing programme of technical assistance, which is designed to help the Government of Kosovo to deliver the reforms necessary for the country to make progress towards robust institutions and western standards of governance, and founded on our unequivocal support for Kosovo’s independence and territorial integrity, and for its integration into the international community. We are very conscious that Kosovo will struggle to reach its potential if it does not enjoy peaceful and productive relations with its neighbours, so a significant strand of our policy to help Kosovo thrive is to support greater harmony and co-operation in the region.

As the hon. Member for Keighley will have witnessed during his visits to the country, Kosovo has great potential and offers many opportunities for economic development. Kosovo has Europe’s youngest population, widespread foreign language skills and increasing digital literacy. Those assets can help Kosovo to succeed in an era when technology makes it easier than ever for ambitious individuals and companies to access consumers around the globe. That is why, through the British Council, which has been mentioned, the UK is contributing to building vital digital skills in Kosovo and right across the western Balkans with our 21st Century Schools programme. That programme, which will be launched later this month, will provide 1 million schoolchildren with coding and problem-solving skills.

On the point about the Department for International Trade, the DIT staff in Belgrade and Sarajevo cover the whole region. Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff are in close touch with the DIT to help UK companies to exploit the economic opportunities that clearly exist in the region.

However, although we are right to focus on the opportunities in Kosovo, we must also acknowledge important constraining factors. First, although Kosovo has many assets that provide trade and investment potential, there are also risks. That is why, through the embassy in Pristina, we work with the Government of Kosovo to ensure that international businesses have a level playing field and that Kosovo is tackling challenges such as corruption, uneven contract enforcement, arbitration and access to justice or remediation.

Secondly, the opportunities that exist are not equally accessible to all, which is why we and others in the international community are promoting greater inclusion of women and girls and of members of marginalised communities.

Thirdly, organised crime and corruption remain serious challenges, even after almost two decades of international support. We urge Kosovo’s leadership to do more to show that it is a reliable partner, ready to root out crime and corruption, and promote the rule of law. We put those security-related challenges at the heart of the Western Balkans summit, which we hosted last July, for good reason: we have a vested interest in helping Kosovo and the wider region to tackle the problems.

A part of Kosovo’s standing as an independent country is the development of its own armed forces, which is the sovereign right of an independent state. We continue to encourage Kosovo to do that in close consultation with NATO, and expect it to continue to co-operate closely with the Kosovo force—KFOR—as it has done to date.

Unfortunately, regional tensions continue to undermine stability and economic development in the Balkans, and recent months have brought unwelcome friction between the Governments of Serbia and Kosovo. We have seen Serbia urge countries to withdraw their recognition of Kosovo’s independence and we have seen Kosovo impose 100% tariffs on goods from Serbia and from Bosnia and Herzegovina. All that distracts from the EU facilitated dialogue on the normalisation of relations. We look to Kosovo and Serbia to seize the opportunity for an agreement, taking their inspiration from the leadership shown by Greece and what is now North Macedonia in reaching an agreement to resolve a long-standing name issue.

We believe progress between Serbia and Kosovo is possible and urgently needed, but that negotiations should not just be about speed, but should focus on reaching the optimum and most sustainable agreement. We continue to press both sides to de-escalate tensions and to return to negotiations. With our international partners, we have asked Kosovo’s Government to set out the steps they intend to take to suspend the tariffs and enable a return to the dialogue. It is in Kosovo’s interests to maintain momentum towards an agreement.

The United Kingdom believes that a dialogue agreement based on border changes risks endangering stability in Kosovo, Serbia and beyond, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in North Macedonia, as the hon. Member for Keighley said in his opening remarks. Border changes would also risk setting a precedent that could be unhelpfully exploited by third parties in the region and elsewhere. We are at an important juncture in negotiations, with the prospect of making progress this year. A conclusive and sustainable agreement would usher in an era of stability and economic development.

We urge all parties to remain focused on an agreement that strengthens regional security and stability, abides by the European principle of multi-ethnicity, commands the support of democratically elected representatives in both countries, strengthens the rule of law and comprehensively addresses all issues outstanding from previous agreements. Achieving those aims requires all sides to respect Kosovo’s democratic right to determine how and by whom the country is represented in the negotiations. Therefore, we see Kosovo’s formation of a state delegation, which it is working to put on a legal footing, as a positive step forward. A broad-based negotiating team, representing a plurality of voices, will be better equipped to deliver a comprehensive agreement acceptable to Kosovo’s people and Parliament.

The United Kingdom will continue to devote sustained political and diplomatic effort to bring about such an agreement. The United Kingdom’s support for the countries of the western Balkans is in our mutual interest. Instability and insecurity in the region have implications for the United Kingdom and Europe, as we saw at immense human cost during the conflicts of the 1990s. As the Prime Minister made clear at our Western Balkans summit last year, the United Kingdom remains resolute in support of the region’s path towards Euro-Atlantic integration. That includes our efforts to help to resolve legacy issues, such as missing persons and war crimes, and to combat serious and organised crime.

The UK’s commitment to European security will remain steadfast after we leave the EU. To reinforce this, we are doubling our programme funding for the western Balkans to £80 million a year by 2021 and also doubling the number of staff we have in the region working to combat security threats. The UK is Kosovo’s friend. We want the country and its people to thrive, and we will help them to do so. In turn, Kosovo has to be open to dealing with its challenges, as well as celebrating its successes. For that to be effective, Kosovo will need its friends and I am proud to say that we in the United Kingdom can count ourselves among them.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Regional Transport Infrastructure

[Joan Ryan in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered investment in regional transport infrastructure.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I declare an interest as Mayor of the Sheffield city region and as a board member of Transport for the North.

This debate comes at a critical moment in our country’s history and for Britain’s regions. While the debate is about investment in our regional transport infrastructure, it is also about fairness and equality of opportunity for all parts of our country, because getting the right transport infrastructure in place will determine the ability of different parts of the country to contribute to national prosperity, as we face the future. If we believe in social mobility, we must ensure practical mobility, so that people can move around to access opportunities. Connecting people with the places that they need to go to is critical if we are to connect our nation’s most talented people with the opportunities that will enable them to reach their potential.

Our country finds itself at a crossroads. We must not lose sight of the fact that in 2016 a huge number of citizens participated in one of the most important democratic exercises in our recent history: they voted for Britain to leave the European Union. I do not claim to hold all the answers as to why they did that—none of us should—because there is no overarching or unifying theory that can explain the Brexit vote. The referendum campaign became about immigration, national sovereignty, our international relationships and trade, but it was also about how well our democracy and our politics had responded to the challenges and concerns that people face in their daily and working lives.

The answer that we got was that the status quo was simply not delivering for many parts of our country, and that people wanted change. That is entirely understandable, because in places like Barnsley, which I represent, and south Yorkshire, there is an overwhelming sense of frustration that for too long the decisions made by successive Governments have not gone nearly far enough to match the aspirations and expectations of residents, and neither have they addressed the long-term structural barriers that have held communities back from reaching their potential. Alongside that is an increasing concern that for too long Britain’s regions and nations, outside London and the south-east, have not seen their fair share of investment.

I emphasise the phrase “Britain’s regions”, which I am always careful to use, because it is not about the north versus the south. Communities in the south-west, the midlands, the east of England, the north-east and the north-west, and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are as relevant to this debate as the communities in Yorkshire that I am proud to represent. This is not about north versus south—in fact, when it comes to transport infrastructure, the divide is often more east-west than north-south—but about the fact that city-led development has meant that growth has not been inclusive for those living outside the reach of cities.

The ink-spot approach to regional development has failed to serve many of our people and our economy. Our economic strategy has been too city-centric and dependent on the hope that wealth will trickle down and ripple out.

I agree with everything my hon. Friend is saying and I congratulate him on securing this debate. I appreciate that it is about the way that we invest, as much as where we invest. Does he agree that some of the expensive national infrastructure investment that has taken place risks alienating areas that are not regionally connected to that investment, no matter where they are in the country? For example, with HS2 there is no confirmation from the Government that the line north of York will be upgraded, which will make parts of the north even further away from that national infrastructure investment, rather than benefiting from HS2.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. If this Government—or any Government—want to be taken seriously about investing in infrastructure that will benefit all parts of the country, it is absolutely right that they take into account the important and reasonable point that she makes.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that the Government need to commit to and invest in schemes that will benefit regions? For example, the western rail link to Heathrow—which the Government committed to in 2012, but about which they have since been dragging their feet—would benefit not only my constituency in Slough, but Wales, the south-west, the west and the south-east. It would mean that 20% of the UK population would be within one interchange of the Heathrow hub airport. Should the Government be dragging their feet or should they finally be taking some action?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, for which I am grateful. The Minister will have heard him, and perhaps he will respond later.

In rural, semi-rural or coastal areas, and in areas such as former coalfield communities like the one that I am proud to represent, there is undoubtedly a strong sense that residents feel cut off from the major centres of growth. That is partly because across our regions we have a transport system that is disjointed and serves neither communities nor businesses as well as it should.

I, too, represent a coalfield community and can relate to what my hon. Friend is saying. One or two trains per hour serve the stations in my constituency, but two of the three stations that constituents might use have no disabled access, which means that parents with prams also struggle to use them. It is not north versus south, but it often feels like town versus city.

My hon. Friend makes an important point and I will say something about the criteria that determine national infrastructure spend later. I am conscious that there will be people who will not necessarily be riveted by a debate about the criteria that determine national infrastructure spend, but as my hon. Friend clearly articulated, these are incredibly important matters that impact hugely on the lives that our constituents lead.

I thank my hon. Friend for securing the debate and for his incredibly powerful opening speech. In Batley and Spen, we have one railway station, so would he agree that buses are needed more than ever before? With the recent shake-up of the timetable, we are getting fast buses into the cities but we are not getting connectivity between communities, which, as he has said, leaves some communities increasingly isolated.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and Yorkshire neighbour for that important intervention. I was hoping someone would refer to buses. Debates of this nature traditionally tend to focus on rail, but the reality for many of our constituents is that buses are a lifeline that enable them to go and do the things they need to do, whether that is travel to work, access vital public services or travel in their leisure time.

I was delighted that a week ago my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who is not here, agreed to conduct an independent review of bus services in south Yorkshire. That provides an exciting opportunity to look carefully at the issue of bus services. My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) will know that the number of people using bus services has fallen significantly in recent years. In south Yorkshire, we will look carefully at the reasons for that and look at how we can improve the bus services, which are a lifeline to many constituents.

The last two interventions highlight an important point: many people around our country feel disempowered and alienated, and that raises a big question about how we give people a stake in their communities and in our country as a whole. I believe the answer to that lies partly in how we respond to people’s concerns about Britain’s regional divide. We must respond to those concerns by strengthening our regional policy so that we have a joined-up approach to addressing the systemic structural imbalances in our economy.

We have before us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put that right, and I believe that collectively we must rise to that challenge. As we face the future, we need to have all parts of our country contributing to Britain’s national prosperity. We in the north are prepared to do our bit, but the Government must in turn recognise the crucial role that transport infrastructure will play in helping us to do so.

Roads and railways are the lifeblood of our economy. They are vital in connecting people with the places they want to go for work, access to public services and leisure. If we are to address the long-term structural imbalances in our country’s economy so that we have stronger networks between towns, cities and rural locations, we must have a serious programme of investment in our transport infrastructure. That must include investment in innovative technologies such as tram-train, the first of which we have in south Yorkshire, running between Sheffield and Rotherham.

Integrated with all that is the need to do all we can to promote active travel as a means of getting out and about within our towns and cities. I know the Minister will be supportive of that. Chris Boardman has been doing a sterling job as Mayor Andy Burnham’s walking and cycling commissioner in Greater Manchester. I will soon be announcing the appointment of an active travel commissioner for the Sheffield city region, and I have received confirmation that the next Transport for the North board meeting in April will, for the first time, include discussion of active travel, which I very much welcome.

Active travel is not about telling residents that they should ditch their cars or public transport, but about giving them the option to lead healthier, more active lives by investing in infrastructure to encourage more sustainable transport, walking and cycling—maybe even running, but we will see how that one goes.

We know the benefits of having strong transport networks in place around good economic infrastructure. Commuters find it easier to access sites of employment. Businesses can shift their goods to both domestic and international markets. Strong transport infrastructure is a key driver of both productivity and growth, but, unfortunately, too many communities across the north know all too well the consequences of poor connectivity. It has an impact on residents living in rural and semi-rural areas, who struggle to access the major sites of employment. It constrains the reach of our businesses, wastes the talent and skills of our workforce, and stifles our competitiveness. It is a drag on our productivity.

When we get this right, we can make a real difference. I will give an example of where we have done that. The Great Yorkshire Way is a stretch of road built to link up Doncaster Sheffield airport with the M18. The last mile of the Great Yorkshire Way is the most significant mile of road built in south Yorkshire for decades. From an initial investment of £56 million, with both the public and the private sectors working together, our region unlocked £1.8 billion-worth of investment, creating 1,200 jobs, supporting national airport capacity by delivering airport growth, and aiding the development of iPort, which is one of the UK’s largest logistics developments. All of that was achieved while regenerating a former colliery community.

In order to achieve our potential, the north’s existing and future economic clusters must be better connected.

Like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this important debate to the Chamber. He makes a powerful argument, particularly in favour of infrastructure support for all regions. In the north, one of the most important infrastructure support projects is Northern Powerhouse Rail, but unfortunately it is reliant on the successful completion of HS2, which itself is in doubt. Does he agree that we need these projects to go ahead regardless and not be reliant on London-based projects?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I agree with him, and in just a moment I will say more about Northern Powerhouse Rail, because it is an important case.

Before I do, I will give another example of how we can achieve growth as a result of investment in regional transport infrastructure: the plan for an east coast main line link-up with Doncaster Sheffield airport. The creation of a station serving the airport has so much potential. It will support the expansion of the airport, create a major economic hub around it and make a further contribution to the UK’s national aviation capacity.

Better connecting our communities and neighbourhoods is how we give people the means to get from where they live to the economic opportunities that are being created around us. It is how we give businesses the means to shift their goods from one place to another in the most cost-effective and efficient way. The truth of the matter is, though, that there are not enough instances where we have managed to achieve those things, because despite having the ambition, we have not had the investment.

Transport for the North has a key role to play in looking at how we can make significant improvements right across the north of England. Last month, the Transport for the North board signed off its strategic transport plan, which calls for an ambitious and bold £70 billion programme of investment in the north’s transport networks. We also agreed the strategic outline business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) just referred to, and which will better connect Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Hull and Newcastle.

TfN’s plans are hugely significant, because they remind us of what we are working towards: a transport network that fully integrates all parts of the north, connects our people and businesses with opportunities both within and beyond our great towns and cities, and transforms our economy so that it works better for the 15 million residents of the north. I take the opportunity today to ask the Minister, when he responds to this debate, to say something about how the Government intend to resource those important plans. As he will know, leaders across the north have agreed to a plan that will make a meaningful and lasting difference, but we now need the Government to get behind it and support it.

The situation we find ourselves in is underpinned by a systemic unfairness in the way that the Treasury allocates funding for major projects. The current Green Book criteria used by Government are automatically skewed toward better-performing areas, because they naturally favour areas with lots of latent demand, but do not properly recognise that transport infrastructure is a stimulus for economic growth and supports the growth of new demand as well as being a response to existing demand.

Looking at the Government’s own figures, for every £1 of public infrastructure investment spent on transport across Yorkshire and the Humber, £3.20 is spent on London’s transport networks. I am not suggesting that London should have less spent on its transport infrastructure; not only would I be in big trouble with Mayor Sadiq Khan, but investment is critical in maintaining our capital city’s vital transport networks. What I am saying is that, across Britain’s regions, we simply have not had anywhere near enough of what is required to begin to address our economic challenges.

The Government have been talking a lot about issues surrounding regional inequality, industrial strategy, growth and productivity, but if we are not prepared to make investments on the scale that is needed, we will fail to meet the productivity challenge the Government have set. The second question I would like the Minister to address today is whether he will look at the Green Book criteria with his colleagues at the Treasury, so that he can satisfy himself that the funding allocation is fair.

I represent a small but beautiful island, and we are in exactly the same iniquitous position with Green Book funding. Because we are an island, we cannot use Portsmouth or Southampton in our argument; they are the wrong side of the Solent. It is not only the hon. Gentleman’s area that suffers but mine as well.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to discuss it with his Treasury colleagues. I met the Chancellor recently, and I know that he is keen to hear representations from people who share my view that the current system is not fair.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He is making some important points. As a midlander, I class my constituency as being northern. I will give the hon. Gentleman some hope: we were able to secure more than £50 million of funding in my constituency to improve the A50. The Government put that money up and it is making a real difference. He is absolutely right about engaging with the Government and the Treasury. I am the proof of the pudding that the Government want to improve infrastructure in the north.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. I hope other hon. Members take it as their cue to make similar representations on projects for which they seek funding, and I hope that the Government will give them the same support that they have given the hon. Gentleman.

I will make one final point on the importance of devolution. There is little point in giving regions the funding if we do not have the robust frameworks through which to decide where best to spend those resources. I know that my Yorkshire neighbour, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), gives a huge amount of consideration to that. He knows, as I do, that there is great potential in Yorkshire. The Great Yorkshire Way shows the power that investment can have in unlocking possibilities for businesses and communities across our region.

We also know that political leaders in the north are ready, as they have shown in recent weeks and months, to work constructively together and with stakeholders to make a real difference. We have seen great enthusiasm for devolution in Yorkshire; not everyone in this room is entirely convinced, but I am working on them.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He tempts me on devolution. I am absolutely committed to devolution in Yorkshire, but we have to get the right type of devolution. He is a trailblazer with the city region devolution deal that he has struck with the Government. Does he agree that the best form of devolution to Yorkshire would be on a city region basis, including to Sheffield, Leeds, Hull and York?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, which he has made with consistency and clarity over a number of years. I always enjoy having that debate, as we will be having in Leeds on Friday, although I am not sure whether he will be there.

I extend an invitation to him. There is an important debate to be had about Yorkshire devolution, and I was pleased to meet not only the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government but the Government Chief Whip at Fountains Abbey on Friday to discuss it. I think we agree that there is an absolute requirement to move as quickly as possible to put in place a system of devolution that will best serve our great county. We may not be able to agree on precisely what that is today, but it is important that we reach agreement in the near future.

When thinking about regional transport infrastructure, we should be guided by the simple principle that we should connect our people to the places that they want to go for work, to access public services and for leisure, creating opportunities where we can and connecting people to them. That is how we give people a stake in their communities and in our country.

As we prepare for the future and life beyond the Brexit debate, all our regions and nations must be given the very best opportunity to contribute to our national prosperity. If we do not invest in regional transport infrastructure, we will not give the people we serve the tools they need to thrive, nor will we answer the concerns that motivated people to vote leave in the referendum. However, we can only do that if the Government support us. There are real opportunities before the Minister to help us to do that. I hope he takes them up.

I am sure that Members can see how many people wish to speak. I suggest that, out of consideration for each other, Members limit their speeches to about three minutes. I will not impose a time limit; I will leave it to Members.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan, and to follow the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). I thank him for securing the debate. I will touch briefly on devolution, which has proven to be the most intractable political situation in Yorkshire—much more so than Brexit—over the past five or 10 years. However, I am sure that there is a way forward, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is crucial that we find it, so that we can properly exert our influence over central Government on hugely important matters, such as transport investment in our counties.

As the Chancellor admitted in his Budget speech in November 2016, no other major developed country has as large a productivity gap between its capital and its second and third cities as the UK. We are the most regionally imbalanced nation, which is a huge issue that we must deal with. London is 50% more productive than the regions of England—not only the north—and has 50% higher wages, on average, than the north. There is a direct correlation there. This is not about spending for spending’s sake; it is about the prosperity of the people we represent. There is no doubt that infrastructure spending has been disproportionately higher in the capital than in the regions, and redressing that imbalance will transform the economy right across the UK.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in seeking to redress that imbalance, it is critical to present an ask, as it were, to the Department for Transport? When the Cheltenham cyber-park needed transport infrastructure, the Department provided £22 million, showing that, where there is a clear goal to improve infrastructure, it is keen to help where it can.

I totally agree. I will come shortly to the clear ask, which has been set out for us by Transport for the North.

The Government are doing much. By 2021, infrastructure investment spending as a percentage of GDP will be at its highest for the last 30 years, while the national productivity investment fund will increase to £37 billion by 2023-24. The Government recognise that this is an issue. We must always make sure that we spend wisely and, in many cases, the minimum amount, because this is taxpayers’ money.

However, in my view there is a difference between recurrent spending—much of which is important but which we clearly have to keep under control, making sure that we run a surplus, rather than a deficit—and investment spending. A business would treat the two things differently in its accounts. Businesses have balance sheets and they also look at profit and loss. Investment spending goes on the balance sheet. We should look at investment spending in our regions in a completely different light from other types of spending, particularly in the north.

I support Transport for the North’s recent strategic plan. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central rightly referred to £3 being spent per capita in London for every £1 spent per capita in the north. However, it is not all to do with central Government spending or central allocations. Much of it is about local authority spending and private sector investment. It is important that we recognise that difference. Nevertheless, Transport for the North’s strategic transport plan sets out very clearly the £70 billion of spending needed between now and 2050, which would contribute an extra £100 billion gross value added to our economy and 850,000 jobs. That is a compelling case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) referred to earlier.

Yes, part of it is about Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is so important to connect Liverpool to Manchester, to Bradford, to Leeds, to Hull and to Scarborough, and to go up into the north-east as well, but when that is delivered is also key. I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to consider, if possible, in his closing remarks when Northern Powerhouse Rail will be delivered, because the key ask in the Transport for the North strategic plan is that it be delivered to coincide with High Speed 2 delivery in 2033, and that would involve bringing forward the very important Northern Powerhouse Rail plan.

I again congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley Central on initiating the debate. I look forward to listening to further contributions.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Ryan. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for securing this important debate.

Since becoming Lincoln’s MP, I have consistently been told that Lincoln’s transport infrastructure does not work effectively for those who use it. I am working hard with local stakeholders to create a vision of a better connected Lincoln. I wanted to know how residents thought that transport in Lincoln could be improved, so I did two things: I held a community engagement event, and I sent out a survey locally. The survey showed that people in Lincoln are currently not engaging with the public transport options available to them and therefore car travel is by far the most common way of travelling in the city. Residents expressed concerns about the value for money and punctuality of local transport. When I asked what would incentivise public transport use, “lower fares” was by far the most popular response. That is not surprising, because in the last year local bus fares in England have risen by 2.8%, increasing faster than wages and inflation.

The Government’s austerity agenda has meant that, since 2010, bus budgets have been cut by 45%, leading to thousands of routes being cut or withdrawn, and last year saw the lowest level of bus journeys per head on record. The concerns raised by my constituents reflect the fact that, under this Government, Lincolnshire’s transport infrastructure has consistently been neglected. Analysis last year by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that London was allocated more than three and a half times more transport funding per capita than the east midlands. My constituents deserve just as much investment as people living in London, but this Government have facilitated an unacceptable rise in regional inequalities.

Before the railways were privatised, our city had direct services to Birmingham, Coventry, Crewe and Chester. Those have all disappeared over the past 30 years. That is the logic of our fragmented and privatised public services: regional transport links become more unprofitable and are therefore discontinued. Shareholders are protected while people and our communities lose out.

Lincoln lacks the strategic service that might be expected for a city of its size. It has a very limited service to London and no east-west services running beyond Nottingham. Along with Lord Patrick Cormack, I have campaigned for the promise of extra trains from London to Lincoln later this year to be honoured, and we are keeping our fingers crossed on that one, but there are currently no clear plans for the improvement of east-west services beyond Nottingham.

Local stakeholders unanimously agree that electrification of the joint line between Peterborough, Spalding, Lincoln and Doncaster would be hugely beneficial in improving our regional interconnectivity, but a Network Rail report last year predicted that any upgrades were not to be expected until after the 2030s, once HS2 has been completed. I can see the benefit of improving transport to and from London, but I think that this Government often forget that not every journey in the UK goes through our capital.

Over the past 20 years there have been relatively few changes to Lincolnshire’s rail network, and almost no service enhancements or changes to the rolling stock. Economic modelling by the Greater Lincolnshire local enterprise partnership indicated that improvements in rail services would lead to substantial benefits to our regional and national economy. Merely bringing existing services up to Network Rail’s “good” standard could bring about a £34 million increase in GDP per year, and improvements in line with the best equivalent services in the UK could be worth as much as £167 million. That shows that investing in our regional transport infrastructure can set in motion a virtuous cycle of prosperity that benefits commuters, businesses and residents, but the Government refuse to recognise that.

It is clear that this Government have consistently neglected Lincolnshire’s transport infrastructure, along with every other region outside London. Like many of my colleagues, I will continue to work hard to deliver improvements that are in line with the wants and needs of my local community, but it is difficult to do that when we have one hand tied behind our back by a fragmented, shareholder-driven, privatised system and the other hand tied by a Government who refuse to distribute transport investment fairly across all regions of the UK.

The two Opposition Front-Bench spokespeople have kindly agreed to reduce their time to seven minutes each, which gives us an extra six minutes, but that still puts pressure on, so I just remind right hon. and hon. Members to be considerate.

I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this important debate, won by the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), on investment in regional transport infrastructure. I believe that there is a powerful good news story on this. It is not unalloyed, not perfect, not quite as good as we would like it to be, but it is still very positive overall. When I was growing up in Liverpool, we used to be able to look over at Runcorn bridge. Runcorn bridge had not been upgraded—it had been over capacity for decades. That was the result of under-investment by Governments of both colours. It was fantastic to see the Mersey Gateway being delivered, a £1.2 billion investment—

I will not take an intervention because of the time constraints, but I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the tolls that have been put on the bridge. I would rather that had not been done, because it is a major local concern. However, that upgrade should have been delivered decades ago.

We also have Liverpool2—a £400 million investment in the docks. That is an immense commitment from a private company, but there is an understanding that, economically, the country is going in the right direction. A company has to have confidence in the future of the country, the economic prosperity of the country and the manufacturing in the country in order to invest £400 million in a new docks system, and I understand that it wants to upgrade that further.

It is very positive that electrification has gone ahead between Liverpool and Manchester. The project is ongoing between Manchester and Preston. It has suffered too many delays, which are very disappointing for my commuters. However, the hon. Member for Barnsley Central was right to highlight that this is not just about connecting cities; it is about connecting communities, such as Blackrod, Horwich and Lostock in my constituency. The electrification project will join them together or provide an enhanced service once it is completed.

People are looking into extending the tram-train system out to Hag Fold, Atherton and Daisy Hill, which would be a further advantage for my constituents, making them better connected and making work more accessible. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will maintain his focus on—and ensure that the Government’s focus is on—the central importance of the northern powerhouse. Fundamentally, it is about connectivity. It is about having that wealth of talent in the north-west, and indeed across the north of England, and ensuring that those in that pool of talent can work together, so that we can attract the best businesses and give our young people the best opportunities.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I will try desperately hard to confine my comments to just three minutes. I would like to start by being kind to the Minister and thanking him for his personal support in getting the A63 project working in Hull. That has been 20 years coming—for 20 years it has been a battle to get the bridge built and the A63 work done. I am thanking the Minister partly because I want that support and help to continue until the project is completely finished—I hope to buy myself some favours there.

Hull does have a bright future. In 2017 it was the UK city of culture, described as

“a city coming out of the shadows”.

Some people describe that as the end of the line, but I say it was just the beginning, because what better place could there be to start than in the city of Hull? To keep that going and stop talent leaving our city—to enable people to stay there, live there, work there, be successful and reach their potential—we desperately need more money for our infrastructure; for our roads and railway. The Minister is already supporting us with the roads, so I will comment briefly on the need to support us with the railway. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), is coming up to Hull to look at the railway.

I fully support what my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) said about Transport for the North’s proposal and the desperate need for Northern Powerhouse Rail to link up with Hull. We desperately need a direct service from Hull all the way through to Manchester City airport. We would also like more frequent trains to go through to Leeds. Some constituents living in my city work in Leeds, and they now feel compelled to move to Leeds because of the problems with the transport links and infrastructure. I want to press the Minister on that.

I also want to press the Minister for a little more cash, please, but for a different road this time: Calvert Lane in Hull, which is in desperate need of complete remodelling. The ongoing work on the A63, which I am eternally grateful for, as he knows, has created additional pressure and traffic chaos at times in the city, and also huge problems with air pollution. Hull bid for the transforming cities fund but was unsuccessful, so if the Minister could look kindly upon Hull again and perhaps reach down the back of the sofa and find us some more cash for Calvert Lane, I would be very grateful for that as well.

Hull has a great future, but the money needed for our transport infrastructure is desperately overdue, and what better time to start giving us more cash than today?

I thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) for securing this genuinely important debate. I shall be brief. I apologise for being a bit late, Ms Ryan.

First, I would love Ministers to look at the ferry duopoly on the Solent. It is the most expensive ferry route in the world, and many issues that relate to the ownership of the two ferry companies are not necessarily in the public interest and help to sustain the very high fares that Islanders are forced to pay. There is also the issue of the debt that is loaded on to at least one of those companies.

Secondly, Island Line is not the longest railway line in the world, but it is nevertheless the line from Ryde Pier Head down to Shanklin, which is very important for Islanders. I am grateful to the Minster for his Ministry’s kind support in pledging to rebuild Ryde railway pier. However, there is foot-dragging on the priced option for Island Line. The amounts of money are tiny compared with the very large sums going to other regions. At the moment, travelling on Island Line is almost the rail equivalent of travelling in a Land Rover over a reasonably rough bridleway. It needs significant infrastructure work on the track, signalling and rolling stock.

There was something approaching uproar when we learnt that Newcastle’s rolling stock was 40 years old. Without sounding like something out of a Monty Python sketch, what I would give for rolling stock that is 40 years old! We have 10 Northern line carriages from 1938. As part of the modernisation for the priced option, if the Minister is generous enough, we will get refurbished 40-year-old rolling stock, which we will be more than happy with—it will be 41 years younger than the 81-year-old rolling stock we currently have. I hope I can press my hon. Friend the Minister to be generous.

Finally, I want to mention Southern railway. I really hope that HS2 is not diverting funds to every other rail project in the country. We should have proceeded with HS3, the northern high-speed railway, which is, as the Americans say, a no-brainer, rather than build a £100 billion route from London to Birmingham, which I am not sure we need—perhaps some of my colleagues disagree. Because of that, I am concerned that the main line routes to Portsmouth and Southampton will not get the attention they deserve. What I find most staggering is the speed of the London to Portsmouth express train service: currently 47 miles an hour, which is slower than it was in the 1920s. Will the Minister look at some of the examples of where a little bit of impetus from him and the Department for Transport would reap real benefits for our economy in the Southampton-Portsmouth conurbation, and especially in my constituency?

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Ryan, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing the debate.

I chair the all-party group on the east of England. Although I fully understand the arguments made by colleagues about disparities in regional funding, and I know that some will argue that the south in general does well, I ask people to look a little deeper, particularly at the east. The east of England region has enjoyed significant growth over the years and is a net contributor to the Treasury, with great innovation hubs, but there are substantial challenges, almost all based around transport and housing. Despite considerable effort in different parts of the region, that continues to be a struggle. I pay tribute to those who developed the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough independent economic review, but still the answers often depend on unlocking the investment levers that sit in the Treasury.

I want to flag up a couple of positive suggestions that might help. Since coming to the House, I have strongly supported the London Stansted Cambridge Consortium and the West Anglia Taskforce, which has made a powerful case for rail improvements in the corridor, including sections of four-tracking. The case remains strong, but there are still considerable challenges to achieving it, so it is worth looking at other options.

I have been told that digital signalling across the eastern region could make a huge difference. The cost is £1 billion—a lot of money—and this does not necessarily make old, unreliable infrastructure any more reliable, but it can make better use of what we have. I am told that it could increase reliability and frequency, such that it could take up to 10 to 12 minutes off the Stansted to Liverpool Street journey: completely transformative in terms of our transport connections within the region.

For understandable reasons, I take Cambridge to be the centre of our transport hubs within the region, and I want to see better connectivity to the east. I also want to look west, having already looked south. There is much debate about the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor, or CaMKOx, as it is likely to be called. To make the best use of it we will need much better regional co-ordination, but observers as esteemed as Sir John Armitt have pointed out that the plethora of organisations along the arc makes that extremely difficult.

I am grateful to England’s Economic Heartland, which has suggested that a geographically-specific national policy statement might be considered. Such statements were established by the Planning Act 2008 and are introduced for major projects. It might be innovative to use a geographically-specific NPS to bring together infrastructure requirements, but that is not without precedent and there is a sound legal basis. As a member of the Transport Committee that looked in detail at the Heathrow NPS, I really can see the value of such a process. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that suggestion.

As we see the northern powerhouse, the midlands engine and other regions of the country come together to campaign on these issues, it is clear that this is a question not just of investment, but of how the investment is made. I do not want to see the south and the east get left behind in this new world.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, Ms Ryan, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing this important debate.

The figures are plain to see, and I am afraid I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths). I am sure the level of investment in the year ’50 was wonderful; it certainly is not in the year ’19. My issue for the Minister is fairness. We have seen tables produced by the Library detailing the inequalities in investment between London and the south-east and the northern regions, particularly the north-east. It is clear that there is a question of fairness.

I know figures are manipulated. Yesterday, I attended a debate on school funding and there were arguments about whether funding for schools has increased and, depending on which baseline is used, whether local government funding has increased, but I want to talk about the actual experience of my constituents. We have very old Pacer trains, overcrowding and a lack of resilience on the A19, which is the main arterial route that serves my constituency. It is a potential engine of growth that is so important to the future prosperity of the region. There are accidents on a weekly basis—on a daily basis, when the weather is inclement—and that causes massive disruption. We really need the Government to look carefully at where money is spent. They have a moral and political obligation to tackle the inequalities in investment with regard to the older industrial areas—mine is a former coalmining area—that are being left behind, and they have an opportunity to address that inequality.

The A19 runs through my constituency as well, as the hon. Gentleman may know. He makes a good point about fairness, but does he concede that the point is not a party political one? The situation has been going on for decades under Governments of different political persuasions.

I do not want to delay things by making a lengthy reply, but everything is political in this place and, whatever has gone on before, there is an opportunity to put things right now. I appeal to the Minister in the interest of fairness to address some of the fundamental issues. This is not a pipe dream. It is important, and it is about a vital part of the national infrastructure. Please do not leave the north-east behind.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on bringing the matter forward.

We all know that a rising tide floats all ships, and certainly investing in infrastructure means that all the businesses in the vicinity are winners. Declining to invest in infrastructure means retaining a situation where rural communities are socially isolated, contributing to over-reliance on towns. The main town in my constituency, Newtownards, lies just short of 10 miles from Belfast City airport—the journey takes less than 20 minutes—yet I fear that my town does not benefit as it should from proximity to the airport, and the business and tourism that that should attract. I believe that is due to a lack of correct infrastructure in relation to the airport.

Whenever I have put questions to the Minister—I am always talking about connectivity with Belfast City airport or Belfast International airport—he has responded positively about the need for connectivity, but I want to emphasise this again. If we were to invest in the strengthening of routes directly from airports, that would allow businessmen to reach cheaper rental accommodation in Newtownards and other towns, and the local economy would benefit.

Another issue in my constituency is the coastal erosion programme. There are many roads around the Ards peninsula where I live, and in the centre of the constituency, where high tides and the weather conditions cause a lot of erosion, yet the methodology for responding seems to be reactive rather than proactive. I do not fault the Department, but I ask that we look for future aspirational projects that could address the issues. Northern Ireland is at the bottom of the table in relation to spend per head throughout the United Kingdom. There is an historic lack of infrastructure. I do not want to insult anyone’s intelligence in this place, but of course the fact is that over 30-odd years there was a campaign in which the IRA destroyed everything it could, including as many places as it could.

We have moved on, thank the Lord, but when I look at my local towns’ potential and the state-of-the-art office space, UK-wide connectivity and low business rates, it is clear that while short-term issues must be addressed, so must the long-term goal of showing the world that Northern Ireland is the place to invest in business. It is the place to produce television shows and locate a high-class graduate labour force, as well as an abundance of admin staff. It is the cyber-security region for the whole United Kingdom, and we have more people employed in that work. That is an example of what we are doing right.

One of the keys to unlock global attraction is the ability to connect easily, both globally and UK-wide, and we simply have not yet come close to unlocking that potential. I would like an extension of the city deals, which the Minister will be aware of, although he is not directly responsible for them. Last night, the stronger towns plan was put forward, and those projects will link towns and cities to the markets that are available. This place is where action must be spearheaded, and I look to the Minister to understand how and when that can be done.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I shall be brief. The good news for the Minister is that, on the basis of what I am about to say, he can remind me that all I have said is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. However, I think I am duty-bound to raise the issues, partly on behalf of my constituents, but, secondarily and in a wider context, as a cautionary tale.

Some weeks ago, my wife and I had occasion to catch the ScotRail service from Inverness to Edinburgh. ScotRail has become something of a national sad and bad joke in Scotland. I think I speak for all Scottish Members when I say we are deeply critical of the appalling standard of service—to call it the standard of service that we enjoy would be to use the wrong verb. On that particular train, I happened to notice as we took our seats—by the way, seat reservation does not work on ScotRail for some reason—I noticed that the toilet was marked as out of order. I thought quickly, and I shall explain why in a moment, and went down the train to see whether the other one was working. I discovered that it was also out of order. There were only two toilets on the train, although it was embarking on a long journey.

I kind of threw my weight about, for which I apologise to hon. Members: I got hold of the guard and said, “Really, you cannot leave and go all the way from Inverness to Edinburgh with no toilets working.” The staff were helpful and it is not them I blame, not one little bit. They got the toilet working. We hear about trolleys being cancelled, toilets not working and trains being cancelled. It is a shambles, and that is the cautionary tale for the UK Government. I hope to goodness that our letters to Nicola Sturgeon and Michael Matheson will have some effect. The best thing would be for the contract to be changed—got rid of.

My second point is about the Stagecoach X99 bus service and a letter that appeared in last week’s John O’Groat Journal:

“I am temporarily disabled following a fall. Last week I took the…bus from Edinburgh with comfortable seats, hot drinks and snacks. There was a ‘new bus’ from Inverness to Wick. It is the worst-designed vehicle ever. The entrance step did not lower. There were no grab-bars at the door to pull myself up, then a steep and narrow stair, impossible for me. Access to the driver was impeded and awkward. Other folk told me the upstairs seats are most uncomfortable.

For disabled people there were three cramped, narrow seats behind the driver. Access to the toilet was up the impossible stairs, then down again to the loo—and back again. It was too much for the third disabled passenger who soaked the velvet seat.

Stagecoach has a full fleet of these for the X99 service. All of our representatives… I dare you to take a trip on one. Then have them taken off the road.

Nancy Nicolson, Loch Street, Wick”.

There is a letter in this week’s issue, which I shall not read out in full, but it begins:

“I am in total agreement with Nancy Nicolson who wrote…that these so-called double-decker coaches are not designed for use on public service”.

For Stagecoach, a company owned by Sir Brian Souter, to get a fundamental design so badly wrong, particularly for disabled people, appals me. I mentioned the train because my wife is disabled, and when I am not with her in the north of Scotland she has to take the bus, unless she can get a friend to drive her, to go to hospital appointments in Inverness, for example. When I think of her having to scale the stairs to get to the toilet—it is all very well, travelling on a long-distance coach in Europe, but in the highlands, when the bus goes around the twists and bends and up and down hills, it is not funny trying to negotiate that. I thank you for being patient with me, Ms Ryan, but I speak with some passion on the matter.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing the debate.

Given that the debate is about investment in regional transport infrastructure, I note that large aspects of transport policy are now within the remit of the Scottish Government. However, the funding issues that are causing serious under-investment in transport infrastructure in other areas of the UK are just as present in Scotland. The Treasury’s country and regional analysis document highlights the fact that London had the largest amount of capital expenditure spent on transport in the UK— £6.5 billion in 2017-18. In contrast, Scotland spent £2 billion in 2017-18, placing it behind London, the north-west and the south-east. It is worth reflecting on the fact that the difference in spending between Scotland and London was a staggering £4.5 billion.

I accept that Scotland is not alone in lagging behind in investment in transport infrastructure, which is a problem that other regions and nations of the UK face. Just look at the level of integration and improvement in London’s transport system compared with the often disjointed and under-invested transport systems in other areas of the country. That is what a lack of investment means in reality: transport systems in some parts of the country that cannot modernise their infrastructure, integrate their services or meet the needs of communities.

I look at the state of infrastructure in my constituency. We have ongoing problems with the Shawhead flyover, and a lack of proper road markings and filter lights is causing real safety concerns. There is a continued lack of reliable services for passengers on the Stepps to Gartcosh railway line. Other areas in my constituency, such as Chryston and Moodiesburn, are suffering from a reduction in bus services as a result of under-investment, and some areas such as Cardowan have virtually no bus services at all.

In Thorniewood, the ward where I am a councillor, the local bus service linking Viewpark, Tannochside and Birkenshaw with Uddingston town had been running since the days of tram cars, but now it has no service. That has cut off many schools, local factories such as Tunnock’s and the local doctors, leaving many people having to walk miles or take taxis, which are unaffordable. I am holding a public meeting on this issue. It does not just affect Scotland; it is present across the country, and we need further investment.

I will be brief, Ms Ryan. For transport, we in the far south-west need four things, plus one wraparound thing, which is to find our voice. I am disappointed that more of the south-west blue team are not here to add their voices to my four asks, because these are cross-party issues and I implore the Minister to take them seriously.

The first ask is to ensure that our railway is fast and resilient. The £80 million for Dawlish is a good start, but it requires £300 million and we need the remaining money. Secondly, we must ensure that we capitalise on growth in cruise travel by having a new cruise terminal at Mill Bay that will bring tourists into Plymouth and create more jobs and investment, especially in the lead-up to Mayflower 2020 and the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth.

The third point is the extension of the M5 from Exeter to Plymouth, which will provide a safer road with more capacity. The final point is the reopening of Plymouth airport. It closed in 2010, and we are one of a few cities in the country where aviation capacity has been lost. Huge potential can be realised by reopening Plymouth airport, and I hope that after the planning inspectors have made their decision, the Minister will meet me and representatives from Plymouth City Council to see what we can do together, collectively and on a cross-party basis to restore aviation links to Plymouth so that we get our airport back and address the structural underfunding that we in the far south-west have had for far too long.

The west of England is an area of huge success, with more than 1 million people, 42,000 businesses and a £31 billion economy. We are building 100,000 new homes and expecting 80,000 new jobs, along with new retail and an arena in my constituency. That will involve increased travel demand—we are expecting a 25% increase by 2036, yet two in three journeys are still made by car. We have air quality issues, with 300 premature deaths a year, and congestion costs our economy £300 million a year, yet we have a £6 billion shortfall in investment, as estimated by the west of England joint transport study.

Given the short time that we have to speak today, I invite the Minister to meet me to listen to output from my constituents regarding our north Bristol transport plan, and to deal with the intracity and intercity travel that we are expecting. The success of Bristol means that we are becoming more like London, and we therefore need investment to ensure that our city is not gridlocked. We must target deaths from air pollution, and ensure that people are happy and able to get around and enjoy the city that they love and in which they live.

Thank you, Ms Ryan. To compress the municipal transport system of the entire city of Glasgow into that time will be quite a challenge.

As a cautionary tale for some of those embarking on new devolution projects and city region planning, let me say that it is important to get the balance right because it involves devolving not just financial decision making, but the proper integrated planning of transport policy. Consider the history of municipal transport development in Glasgow. We started 40 years ago with the best urban integrated transport system in the UK, but we now have one of the worst and most fragmented. Why did that happen? Municipal transport structures and planning in Glasgow have been fragmented, partly because of privatisation—including of the municipal bus system and the railways—but also because strategic and regional planning powers were inadvertently taken away by devolution, and such issues became merged with the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government. Indicative regional planning of the transport system has failed miserably over the past 30 years or so, and we need a much more robust and integrated way of doing things.

When considering how to create a devolved regional structure, we need the opportunity to rebalance productivity and investment in our city regions. Those are the things that will change our economic promise across the country, driven by our major city regions. Those are the issues we must address, and perhaps Glasgow can stand as an example. We must redouble our efforts to improve the city’s regional planning and transport infrastructure. There has been no major railway expansion in the urban metro railway system over the past 20 years, and there are still no efforts to address that major issue. Bus regulation has not been achieved, and there is a major issue of car dependency, particularly in some of the poorest communities in the UK and Glasgow, where people do not have the average access to car ownership. That is creating a severe problem of social dislocation.

If we invest properly in our city regions, with the proper integrated planning powers associated with that, we will be in a much better position than we are currently. We must reverse the clock and relearn some of the old lessons.

It is an immense pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan, and I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing the debate. As we can tell by the time limit on speeches, there is clearly an appetite for further debate on this issue, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other Members will pursue it via the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. We have heard a number of excellent speeches, but because of the time, and since I have already relinquished some of my speech, I will not sum them up.

Given that at least three Scottish Members have contributed today, it would be remiss of me not to refer to the investment that the Scottish Government have been making, as they have steadfastly invested in transport infrastructure in Scotland. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) will know, since 2007 the SNP has invested £20 billion in transport infrastructure and services, including the largest road investment programme Scotland has ever seen. I am more than happy to have a conversation about where that additional money for transport will come from, and it is regrettable that the Scottish Labour party did not engage in the budget process that we in Scotland have just been through. Perhaps it will next year.

Let me focus on some of the projects that we have invested in. There is the Queensferry crossing over the Forth estuary and the dualling of the A9 all the way from Perth to Inverness—I am sorry that the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) is not in his place to hear that. We are about to dual the A96 from Inverness to Aberdeen, completing the Aberdeen western peripheral route. There is the Borders Railway—Scottish Conservative Members are normally desperate to talk about the SNP Government, but I note that the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) is not here to talk about that wonderful investment by the SNP Government. There is the electrification of the rail link along the central belt, and an extension to the national concessionary travel scheme. I was speaking to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard). He turns 60 tomorrow and is very excited to receive his new bus pass, which he will be using. We wish him well with that.

I wish also to reflect on investment in my constituency over the years. The M74 motorway extension was spoken about for many years in Scotland, and it was delivered eight months ahead of schedule and millions of pounds under budget. The extension of the Airdrie to Bathgate railway will benefit my constituents who use Carntyne, Shettleston, Garrowhill or Easterhouse stations, because they can now go directly to Edinburgh, which is great news. There was the upgrading of the A8 to a motorway. For those of us who travel to Airdrie—great Airdrie fans that we are—our journey time to go and see the Diamonds is even faster.

In Glasgow, I would like the east end regeneration route to be completed, including from Parkhead Forge to the M8 motorway. I am disappointed that the previous council took that off the city deal plans, but perhaps it will return. On the subject of stalled spaces, alongside my colleague, John Mason, I would like a train station in Parkhead. It has a vibrant retail environment, whether that is the Forge shopping centre, the Forge retail park, the Forge market, or Scotland’s largest football stadium, Celtic Park, with its capacity of 64,000 people. Parkhead needs a train station, and my message to Network Rail is that it should consider the successes of Bridgeton and Dalmarnock. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) has arrived, and she will have seen the benefits of the high footfall there.

The investment in Dalmarnock railway station has been marked. It went from being the lowest used station on the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport network, to a brand new, state-of-the-art station built for the Commonwealth games. Does my hon. Friend agree that there are still challenges for stations such as Bridgeton, which need lift access so that people can get in and out more easily?

Order. This has been a very busy debate with huge pressure on time. I do not think it is acceptable to come in so close to the end of the debate and be given an intervention. It is not fair on other Members.

Thank you, Ms Ryan. It is always a pleasure to have an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who is an assiduous campaigner for her constituents. She is absolutely right to place on the record the need to ensure that our train stations are accessible for those constituents who have a disability. I hope that the funding that has been made available from the UK Government can be extended. There are far too many train stations, not only in Glasgow but across the country, where it is frankly abysmal for people.

On the issue of passenger figures, I am grateful to Clyde Gateway for furnishing me with information. Because of investment in Dalmarnock and Bridgeton in my hon. Friend’s constituency, passenger numbers have risen by 157%, which is obviously a good thing for the local economy. We have seen a lot of investment in the Clyde Gateway area, which I want to see continue, but I would also like to see a bit of investment around the Parkhead area, which would bring huge benefits to my constituents. I unashamedly make that case to Network Rail.

It is a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair, Ms Ryan.

We have had fantastic contributions from the north, south, east and west of the country, with hon. Members making representations and airing grievances. I am sure that the Minister will respond to all of those. I want to start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who has brought forward a really exciting, multi-modal approach to transport in south Yorkshire. He proposes a transport system connecting people and places, taking the Sheffield city region through to 2040 with his ambition for transport there, and ensuring that transport is the servant and not the master of the local economy.

We know that we need to develop housing and industry around our transport system, so that transport can be sown into a modern, sustainable and accessible process, in order to move people around. This is about productivity and social inclusion. We have heard what a stimulus that can be for our modern economy.

We have seen the power of devolution in places such as Manchester and London. We want to see that across the whole of Yorkshire. However, devolution has to mean a real emphasis on moving resources, power and decision making, and not just lip service, so that regions can determine their own destiny.

The transport brief is about clear, strategic objectives. However, there are some really important things missing and areas where greater focus is needed from the Government. I want to highlight the decarbonisation of our transport system. We have a carbon crisis at the moment. Transport comprises between 29% and 32% of all carbon emissions in the UK, and we have to reduce our carbon emissions by 15% year on year.

The catastrophic road building project and the cancellation of rail electrification show that the Government are moving in the wrong direction. They are adding to the carbon footprint, rather than reducing it. In my city, 50,000 people each year lose their lives due to poor air quality. That is a national crisis and it must be addressed as such.

I am sorry, I do not have time.

I want to see a focus on decarbonisation and decongestion as a priority for my city of York. Over the next 12 months, Labour’s citizens and transport commission will achieve that.

We have heard about inequality of spending across the country. The north-east has the worst levels of investment. That must change. It was also interesting to hear about the need for greater investment on the Isle of Wight, which shows that our infrastructure needs to be brought up to the modern era.

When we are making these investments, we have to plan for our railway system over a 30 to 40 year period—the length of time our infrastructure is sustained. Therefore, we need to ensure not only that the infrastructure is right, but that we have the skills to serve the infrastructure. While the Government have issued great plans around energy, construction and the transport system for future engineering projects, I say to the Minister—I am sure he has had similar conversations himself—that we are facing a skills cliff edge at the moment, given our ageing demographic and Brexit. The industry is doubtful that the infrastructure projects mentioned will be delivered. At the same time, there is a draw-down into the south-east, which means that we may not see the development across the country that we want.

We are seriously concerned about the emphasis on road building as opposed to moving forward into modern transport systems, bringing about modal shift, and ensuring that people are moving from their cars to public transport and to active travel for local journeys, which constitute 80% of journeys. We need to focus on a modern system, such as exists in Strasbourg, Copenhagen and much of the Netherlands. That is the kind of ambition that Labour has, and why we believe that we will deliver strongly in the transport brief.

We also recognise that there have been some good initiatives. The tram-train project in Sheffield has taken forward a mechanism of good, clean energy for the future. Importantly, it serves not only the city, but the more rural areas. As has been mentioned, this is about drawing in people from the towns and wider conurbations, so that people can get to work and travel for leisure. That is so important.

Opposition Members spoke about bus services. The Government’s profit-driven bus plan—I use the word “plan” lightly—does not deliver for the public. We believe that buses should be brought under public control. When we look at places such as Reading, where we see an increase in patronage and a service that meets the needs of residents, day and night, we can see what is possible when bus services are integrated into economic development. There are powerful testimonies to that from elsewhere. Coaches never get a mention, but I want to mention them, because they can also form part of a modal shift and bring rapid change. I believe that we must explore all options.

The trans-Pennine route was mentioned yet again. I say to the Minister that it is really important at this stage to scope out the work for the full electrification project, and to ensure that the scope includes opportunity for future freight. Labour will electrify that line and ensure that freight is deliverable on it. Speaking of freight—which, again, has not been mentioned yet—it is important that we build a freight system for the future, putting as much freight as we can on to rail and ensuring that all long-distance journeys are accessible, reliable and timely for freight. Therefore, we need to see a real move in that direction, as well as investment in urban consolidation centres, which will enable us to stop heavy goods vehicles travelling into town centres.

Finally, I want to touch on inter-modal connectivity. Joining everything up is really important. We have been quite startled by the fact that HS2 is being placed at Curzon Street, as opposed to New Street, meaning that people will have to trundle through the middle of Birmingham. I am sure that might be an advantage to Birmingham, but it does not really address the connectivity that is needed. We need to ensure that there is good connectivity across all transport modes. We expect the Government to look again at the way that they have put transport into siloes. Labour believes that inter-modal connectivity and moving people more on to public transport is the way forward, and that is what we will deliver in government.

It is an absolute pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Ryan. I am not a huge reader of Tom Clancy, but I think that Jack Ryan could take your correspondence course when it comes to bravery in public office, so thank you very much indeed. I congratulate my friend the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing the debate, and all hon. Members who participated in the wide-ranging conversation.

I know that the hon. Member for Barnsley Central, with his mayoral hat on, will hope, as do the Department and I, that he will be able to complete the devolution deal that he has in mind for the Sheffield city region, releasing powers and funding. Although I know that is not always the position held on the Government Benches, we have been working closely with him on that. As he said, transport is essential for prosperity, growth and wellbeing across the whole country. We recognise that good transport infrastructure is absolutely essential to productivity. That point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who highlighted the productivity gap in this country. That means delivering new infrastructure, from strategic and regional priorities all the way down to the local level. I will touch on all of those levels, while addressing as many of the points that have been raised by hon. Members as I can.

As hon. Members will know, in 2017 the Government published a very ambitious transport investment strategy, setting out our ambition to build a stronger and more balanced economy within the industrial strategy more widely, and responding to local growth priorities. That has conditioned the investments we have made ever since.

On the road side—hon. Members know that I am the roads Minister—we have invested heavily in existing transport infrastructure and new schemes, with some £15 billion being spent through road investment strategy 1 between 2015 and 2020. In the 2018 Budget the Government published objectives for road investment strategy 2, which will run from 2020 to 2025 and include £25.3 billion to be made available to further develop and improve the strategic road network. We are developing an affordable and deliverable investment plan for RIS2, which will be published later this year.

I could not help noticing that the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) was extremely rude about road building and called it catastrophic. Does that constitute a change of policy on the part of the whole Labour party? I encourage her not to think of it in that way, because road investment strategy 2 not only includes hundreds of millions of pounds for cycling and walking schemes and an enormous investment in skills, which she cares very much about, but paves the ways for autonomous and electric vehicles, which will be the vehicle—if I may use the pun—for the decarbonisation and greening of our economy in the longer term.

I do not have time; I apologise.

In the 2018 Budget we also provided a top-up of £420 million for local roads, particularly to repair potholes. A share of £3.5 billion of the national roads fund over five years from 2020-21 will fund improvements in the middle tier of the country’s busiest and most economically important local authority A roads, such as the A66, which connects Cumbria to the north-east. I have made no secret of the fact that, in the spending review, I am pressing for a local roads settlement that follows a similar five-year pattern so that local authorities have more visibility and more capacity to make strategic decisions at a level that is, hopefully, at least as good as the present one.

Of course, we are not just investing in the strategic road network; we are continually investing in upgrades and improvements to rail, including £1 billion that has been invested so far in the great north rail project and £3 billion that will be spent over the next few years to improve rail journeys between Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and York. Every train on the Northern and TransPennine networks will be new or modernised by 2020.

On Northern Powerhouse Rail, the strategic outline business case has been received and is under review. We expect to develop a response to it in close co-operation with partners across the north. It has been suggested that scrapping HS2 is the best way to secure Northern Powerhouse Rail, but that is naive, if I may say so. The Government’s commitment remains unchanged. HS2 is one of the keys to developing Northern Powerhouse Rail, not least because Northern Powerhouse Rail trains will use HS2 infrastructure, including on the approach to Manchester and between Sheffield and Leeds. That may mean that HS2 infrastructure will have to be built first, as a priority, before NPR can be implemented on those stretches.

Rightly, active travel has been mentioned and has been a focus of the debate. The hon. Member for York Central spoke about mode shift, and I could not agree more—I spoke at the Modeshift awards earlier today. It involves investment in air quality, cycling and walking schemes, our new road to zero strategy and the future of mobility. We are heavily involved in all those things.

We have published a cycling and walking investment strategy, which sets out ambitions for 2040. So far we have made £1 billion available to local bodies over the next five years to invest in local cycling and walking schemes. We have supported 46 local authorities on specific schemes that they have in mind. I share the view of the hon. Member for Barnsley Central and am delighted that he is appointing an active travel commissioner. I take my hat off to Chris Boardman and to the other highly engaged local teams at mayoral authorities that are making transformative differences.

There is a question about the city versus town balance. Recent Government initiatives, such as the future high streets fund and the stronger towns fund, which was just announced, have tried to recognise that. That city focus has been well picked up by mayoral authorities, however, and in Manchester we have invested £250 million through the transforming cities fund, of which £160 million is going on cycling and walking schemes through the transformative Beelines project.

Hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have expressed concerns about regional investment. There cannot be much doubt that successive Governments have under-invested in the north, which we recognise. However, we are investing in the north not just because of that, but because it is the right thing to do and it is essential to our future productivity as a nation.

The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) rightly mentioned perceptions of unfairness. He is probably more sophisticated than I am in looking at the specific regional differences, but he ought to know that new figures from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority show that central Government’s planned transport capital investment spend will be higher in the north-west, north-east, and Yorkshire and Humber than for London, the south-east and the south-west as a whole. That conceals regional variations, as he will be aware, but it is a highly encouraging sign overall.

I will crack on in the few minutes I have left, because I want to leave some time for the hon. Member for Barnsley Central to reply. At a regional level, we have supported sub-national transport bodies, which are important from our point of view, particularly in the production of a regional evidence base for our major road network. Hon. Members will know about the transformative move that took place on 1 April 2018, when Transport for the North became a statutory body. It is not just about the north; the Government have been clear that investment in the south-west is also important to that region’s economy, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) touched on. That is why we have just published “Investing in the South West”, building on ambitious plans to grow the region’s economy.

The hon. Member for Barnsley Central rightly said that there has been a lot of focus on cities. I have mentioned three obvious ways in which we have tried to address that head-on: first, through devolution deals and wider city regions; secondly, through the £2.5 billion transforming cities fund; and thirdly, through the new stronger towns fund and the future high streets fund, which comprise nearly £1.3 billion.

The future of mobility is of great importance. We are thinking hard about how to improve mobility, which does not just mean the autonomous and electric vehicles that will require higher quality road surfaces and that underpin the need for continued road investment. It also involves the £150 million that we have invested in Transport for the North for smart and integrated ticketing and the investment we have made in future mobility zones across the west midlands.

In the minute remaining, I will quickly pick up on some of the points raised by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), who is no longer here, which is a pity, asked whether we were dragging our feet on western rail links to Heathrow. The answer is absolutely not. The consultation concluded in June 2018 and Network Rail intends to submit proposals for planning powers later this year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Seely) asked a whole host of questions—I wish I could respond to all of them. I have looked closely at the Green Book and think there is still work to be done on it. Frankly, in many ways the Treasury takes a Department for Transport lead on it, precisely to get away from an overly financialised or economic view. We have a five-case model, which includes environmental impacts and others. If hon. Members would like to come and discuss with officials how that works in specific cases, I would be happy to curate a roundtable or something of that kind.

A question was asked about the fragmentation of transport, which is always a concern and something that the Williams reviews is looking at. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is no longer here, made a point about connectivity. I could not agree with him more. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) expressed her gratitude. I remind her of the definition of gratitude in “Yes Minister”, which is, “a lively expectation of favours to come”.

It has been a wide-ranging debate and I am grateful to all hon. Members who have contributed. There has been general agreement on the importance of active travel. Perhaps the Minister might consider appointing a country-wide active travel commissioner.

I am delighted to hear that, because it will provide an important opportunity to join up the good work that is taking place across the country.

The point about the Green Book criteria might sound niche, but it is vital. I am pleased that the Minister has made a commitment to meet hon. Members to discuss the detail of those criteria. I look forward to that opportunity.

The point I want to end on is that the architecture and governance around the decisions that underpin transport infrastructure is a crowded field; lots of different organisations and stakeholders are involved, from national Government and the Department to Network Rail, combined mayoral authorities and local authorities. In the north, however, the landscape has changed recently with Transport for the North, which is doing an important job well and is well led. It has successfully established a consensus among leaders. Northern Powerhouse Rail’s strategic outline business case and the strategic transport plan show us that we can do it. We just need the Government to allocate the resources to underpin the plans that have been agreed in the north.

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

Solar Industry

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the effect on the solar industry of the replacement of the feed-in tariff.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am pleased to have secured this important debate. The Minister knows that I have been focused on this issue for a number of months now. The solar industry is reeling from the announcement that the feed-in tariff scheme is to close. The scheme was a huge success, with solar panels installed on nearly 1 million homes since it was launched in 2010. However, the loss of such a successful programme has led to a substantial loss of confidence in the sector. Between 30% and 40% of firms are contemplating closure, and international figures are considering pulling out of the UK market.

The news about the scheme came on top of a business rates rise and caused a huge degree of apprehension in the sector. If that apprehension turns into something more substantial, the loss of firms on the scale suggested would be hugely damaging to the sector, the wider economy and our efforts to tackle climate change.

I thank the hon. Lady for securing this important debate. Does she recognise that this sector is not just about profit-making firms; it is also about charitable and community organisations? In my constituency, for example, they make money from solar farms to help fund youth centre services and other community outreach activities. This is also an issue for their funding sustainability.

I absolutely agree, and I hope the Minister will say something about community schemes in her response, because there are many different ways of installing and making the best of solar power, as the hon. Gentleman has just indicated, and its flexibility has been one of the reasons why it has been taken up so quickly.

I was talking about the damage to the solar industry. One firm in my constituency, near the village of Malpas, closed once the restrictions on the existing feed-in tariff schemes were imposed. I hope that was a one-off and not a sign of things to come.

The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech about the benefits of the feed-in tariff scheme and why it ought to be maintained. However, does she recognise that there are flaws in the way it has been applied, particularly in relation to the green deal scheme, such that many people were mis-sold feed-in tariffs and have been severely financially affected by the issue, including many of my constituents and others across the UK? The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy still has to address that through the Green Deal Finance Company.

I am aware of the issue. I think those people were misled at the point of signing, and then were trapped in contracts that they found very difficult to execute. I know there have been some very detailed radio programmes that have covered the position of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and others.

In my area, however, solar has been a success and people are keen to get involved in solar projects. In fact, that is true not only of solar. In Church Minshull in my constituency we have a wonderful Archimedes screw. That is not a cocktail or anything salacious, but a hydropower project that produces enough electricity to power the equivalent of 77 homes. Nevertheless, despite the success of such projects locally, the prospects for solar power nationally are rather bleak. The UK was recently rated 20th out of 20 for global solar photovoltaics prospects between 2018 and 2022 by SolarPower Europe’s global market outlook.

When the scheme was closed down, there was a lot of talk about alternative technology. My hon. Friend just mentioned the Archimedes screw, and there are other alternative technologies such as batteries. Have they come to fruition at all?

There are huge changes coming forward in battery technology. Of course, battery technology will be the key not only to solar energy, but to small-scale wind projects, particularly in relation to how we harness and store such power. There are a number of new and exciting technologies in renewable power. As someone who is keen to see as much of our power as possible coming from renewable sources, I know that the Government are committed to looking at how we can encourage those kinds of projects to go forward, and in the battery sector there is the Government’s Faraday battery challenge.

Given the prospects outlined by SolarPower Europe’s global market outlook, it is clear that the sector needs some positive news, and I hope that the Minister can deliver that today. However, businesses need reassurance more than anything. The Government have been consulting on the replacement to the feed-in tariff regime: the smart export guarantee. The consultation on that measure closed just over four hours ago. However, the export tariff, which is a key part of the FIT, ends on 31 March, which leaves just 18 days to resolve the questions surrounding a replacement before we risk falling into the void that will be created between the old policy closing and the new one beginning.

I welcomed the Minister’s reassurance last November that

“solar power should not be provided to the grid for free”.—[Official Report, 20 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 701.]

However, there is a risk that that is exactly what will happen if there is a gap between the two schemes, so I would like her to give some reassurance that the replacement scheme will be fully operational in time. This should be a baseline to build upon, not a standard to live up to. What the sector really needs is a minimum floor price.

I thank the hon. Lady for her excellent speech. Does she agree that some schools and voluntary sector organisations are really getting involved in this kind of green initiative, and that small businesses in particular could be affected adversely if the scheme should fail and the recommendations are not taken up fully by the Government?

The Minister will have heard the hon. Lady’s comments, and I hope that she takes account of them, because a minimum floor price would put the sector on the same footing as the offshore wind industry, which benefits from the certainty that contracts for difference provide, and fossil fuel investors, who benefit from the capacity market.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I note that the Renewable Energy Association has lobbied for a market-based solution, which this clearly is. However, I share some of her concerns that, without certainty on pricing, some people will be deterred from investing here in the first place, unless we can get the matter right.

I agree with that assessment, which is why I argue that a minimum floor is needed. I am afraid that failure to extend that kind of certainty to small-scale prosumers will give the impression that the Government are more comfortable with big business than with small producer-consumers.

A fair minimum export price will ensure that consumers are not ripped off while the industry and the new regulation sort themselves out. It will also encourage suppliers to get their systems in place in readiness for market-wide, half-hourly settlement, which will help accelerate the smart energy transition. If a minimum floor price was to be informed by the system imbalance price, it would ensure that all other generators and prosumers could be treated equally, as required by article 21 of the renewable energy directive, without inhibiting innovative smart offerings.

Additionally, the commitment to a zero floor price, while welcome, is insufficient. No country in Europe asks prosumers to pay to put electricity into the grid. Likewise, in 2018 just 0.4% of daylight hours were a negative pricing period. Therefore, given the rarity of such an occasion, this is not what prosumers need. What is needed is the minimum floor price, which would have a transformative impact on the prospects for the sector, not simply a zero floor price.

I thank the hon. Lady for securing the debate and for her eloquence in introducing it. I completely agree about the need for a minimum floor price. Before I entered this place, I was the lead on this issue at Leeds City Council, and we put 2,003 solar roofs on council properties. Without being a prosumer, we could not have a FIT reduction, which would allow us to fit more roofs. This is therefore not only about individual consumers; it is about social housing and housing associations, which cannot afford not to have a repayment scheme. The minimum floor price would enable such schemes to be brought forward.

I completely agree. I know that councils and housing associations have certainly taken advantage of the ability to install solar power, which is a great development.

The decision needs to be made quickly, to meet the tight deadlines, but it would be a shot in the arm for a sector that has faced a series of difficulties. It would also help to deliver our climate change targets. Yesterday’s Carbon Brief analysis shows that the UK’s CO2 emissions fell in 2018 for the sixth consecutive year—something we should celebrate—and if we are to continue that record-breaking trend, we must double down on investment in renewables.

I would like to show my support for the hon. Lady’s initiative on this important matter, and to reinforce her point. Surely the issue is not that our carbon emissions are dropping, but how quickly they are dropping, and the need to accelerate that rapidly. I wholeheartedly support her very worthwhile potential initiative to help accelerate the speed of reduction. I have some experience in our local authority of the benefits, which she mentioned, of local authorities and charities working together to help install solar panels.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention.

Beyond the need to make the decision, there is a concern that the roll-out of the smart meter programme could have an impact on the deliverability of necessary infrastructure to facilitate the smart export guarantee. SMETS 1 meters, which are in 17 million homes, cannot yet relay export data to the Data Communications Company. What happens to those homes if they install solar? Not a single supplier has trialled export metering through the DCC. Does the Minister know how long the trials take? Will individual homeowners be the testing ground? What reassurance can she give?

The value of the renewables sector, and of solar specifically, is huge to the future of both our economy and our planet. All the sector asks for is to be treated fairly and to be given the reassurance that exists in other parts of the energy market.

My hon. Friend makes a compelling argument on a subject that is important to many constituencies, including mine, where we have an extremely successful company, AES Solar. Does she agree that certainty is absolutely needed, because the deployment of solar photovoltaics fell by 94% in 2018 compared with 2015, which is a worrying statistic?

I agree that is worrying. I would argue that small-scale renewables encourage our constituents to get involved in a whole green agenda and to look at their homes and their energy use in a completely different way. If we combined that with energy efficiency measures, we would start to get some dramatic change in the sector. There is a big opportunity for the Minister regarding energy efficiency, as well as in combination with renewables.

The hon. Lady is being very generous, and I commend her for bringing the matter before us. From 2012 to 2018 we saw an 80% reduction in installations. We were democratising energy; a powerful thing was going on in this country. It is so important that the sector has some certainty—such as a 10-year plan— to ensure that we deliver.

The hon. Gentleman will have heard in my speech that I have been arguing for that certainty. The consultation closed four hours ago, so the Minister will not yet have had time to consider the responses, but I think that, from the debate, she will appreciate the urgency of doing so. I hope that she can offer answers to my questions and reassurance to those who have backed renewables. We are rightly proud of our position as a world leader in renewables technology and climate change, and I hope that the Government will take concrete steps to keep us in that positive position.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I know that you take a strong interest in these matters on behalf of your constituents in Kettering. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) on securing the debate and putting forward, as always, an excellent, well-informed set of points, which have been responded to and added to by the knowledgeable group we have here today.

I will not do the usual context setting, which is that we are doing well on the whole agenda. Renewable energy is now up to more than 32%, and emissions continue to fall rapidly. In fact, the last time our CO2 emissions were this low was in 1888, when Queen Victoria was on the throne. That is absolutely worth celebrating.

I want to respond to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury, but of course I will accept the intervention.

I thank the Minister for being so generous with her time. Will she also congratulate the Greater London Authority and the Mayor of London on the London community energy fund, which helps to promote this sort of initiative?

I will touch on that good point about community. Many good schemes operate across various local authorities.

The feed-in tariff scheme has been an effective part of our great decarbonisation journey. Since 2010, the scheme has supported more than 830,000 installations, 99% of which are solar and are currently generating about 3% of total electricity consumption. Also, a few things have changed since that time, as the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) will know. We have seen a dramatic fall in the cost of solar installation—up to 80% in some cases—which is to be welcomed, as it makes that more accessible to many people. We have also seen a dramatic fall in the cost of other renewable energies.

I like the phrase the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) used: the democratisation of energy. We are all participating, and one of the great benefits is that the hugely important technology that is offshore wind now costs the same, effectively, as building a new gas-fired power plant. That is a benefit to us all and to all our bills.

The feed-in tariff scheme has cost us almost £6 billion to date, and over its lifetime it will continue to cost us all about £30 billion, on many of our bills. It was absolutely right, therefore, that the decision was taken—before my time—to close the scheme. As we move to a lower-cost solar environment, and to a world in which we are rapidly seeing price parity between renewables and non-renewables technology, it is important to think about the impact on bills.

With all the new build housing that is going up, does the Minister think the Government could be a lot more ambitious? There are hundreds of thousands of houses, which is terrific, but we are so unambitious in enabling people to have that democratisation of energy from within their own properties.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have some of the tightest energy efficiency standards for new homes, but I totally agree that we need to go further, and my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are looking at that right now. Under this Government, we will build millions of homes; that is absolutely part of our ambition, and it is right that we make them as energy efficient as possible and that they contribute as much as possible to this revolution.

I want to focus on a couple of the challenges that my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury emphasised, one of which is the concern about jobs. We have seen a healthy supply chain build up and it is exciting that we are already seeing subsidy-free solar projects at scale being brought forward. One consultant’s estimates tell us that 2.3 GW of solar projects already in the system in the UK with, or awaiting, planning permission could be delivered without subsidy. Lightsource, which has just been bought by BP, says that it is developing 300 MW of subsidy-free projects backed by power purchase agreements, some of which will be delivered during 2019. So we are starting to see solar being delivered at scale without subsidy—indeed, I opened the country’s first subsidy-free solar farm in my first few weeks in the job. That is incredibly exciting, and I am very ambitious for the jobs that will be created over the next few years.

The Minister is making a very fair point: as the technology has moved forward, the cost of solar has dropped. That is certainly true for the businesses that are taking this agenda forward at scale, but for many individual householders, the cost of investing in panels is still prohibitive. Will she address the question of how the Government could support householders to invest in that technology?

I am coming to that point. We have not said that the feed-in tariff is no more, and that there is essentially no value out there; there is huge value in having decentralised energy generation. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury and others made some powerful points about the role of community energy, which I am passionate about. As she mentioned, it is often a way in which people drink the green Kool-Aid and realise that they can be part of this transformation; zero-carbon faith groups, for instance, are amazing movements. That is why we have continued to support communities.

I was pleased to extract from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs a commitment to the rural community energy fund, which will be reopening for bids later this year; it is an important part of delivering community schemes in many of our constituencies. We have invested £8 million in local energy hubs, which are helping some of the local authority-led schemes that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green mentioned, both in London and across the country. We have a local energy contact group, and we are working closely with communities through investments in energy efficiency, local energy schemes, and combined heat and power plants through the £350 million heat network scheme. There is a lot of support for communities that want to move forward.

The smart export guarantee is not just to provide a route to market for those who have installed, or will be installing, decentralised installations; it is intended to do a couple of things. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury is quite right to say that this energy should not be provided for free, or indeed at negative prices, as is sometimes the case in other countries. She will be pleased to know that the consultation has not yet closed, although it closes at a quarter to midnight tonight, so hon. Members can make their representations.

The plan is essentially for this scheme—which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) pointed out, is a market-based approach—to help move us towards the smart energy system of the future that we all talk about, in which we have decentralised energy and people are able to do the energy balancing for their home or their community, plugging in their electric vehicles and doing peer-to-peer energy trading. The scheme is designed to support all those exciting things that are out there. I had a very effective meeting with suppliers of products and services who really support this, and who want to get to that decentralised energy future. They accept the points about tariffs needing to be fair and reasonable, and needing to provide an incentive, but they support creating those prosumers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury has said. They support creating that aggregated demand side, meaning that all of us who install solar panels will have some power and some value in the system.

Is the Minister minded to ensure a fair minimum market rate for small-scale generators of exported electricity, to give them some incentive and some degree of confidence?

That is an important question that will come out in the consultation. Frankly, I would ensure that the market rate was always greater than zero, but that it varied at different times of day, because many of us may have excess energy that we wanted to sell into the grid at a particular time. I want to see what proposals come forward for setting that market rate. There are ideas out there, including that the rate should be wholesale price minus, or that it should be entirely market led.

I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury about speed being of the essence when coming forward with a response, but I really want to get this right. I do not want this to be a scheme that we are debating in three years’ time because it has suddenly become unaffordable and has not delivered. My hon. Friend will be aware that installers are already scrutinising with care what we are saying and doing. We do not want to create a hiatus, but we want to produce a set of incentives that works for the future.

I will come to the hon. Lady’s point in a second.

I talked about jobs and the opportunity for skilled workers to pursue careers in this sector. Not only is there ongoing growth in solar, but so many other opportunities are emerging: electric vehicles, charging infrastructure, smart appliances and battery technology are all working to decarbonise our buildings and our transport systems. The opportunity for green-collar jobs is enormous; we already have almost 400,000 people in the UK working directly in the low-carbon economy or in its supply chain, making it a bigger sector than aerospace. Those jobs exist in the here and now.

I am going to take an intervention from the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), who has not spoken yet.

Does the Minister also recognise the potential for the energy company obligation scheme to support innovation, particularly in renewable energy? Often, the challenges to securing a return on investment that developers face can be overcome through the certainty that some sort of support mechanism can offer.

Indeed I do, and I am proud to have secured one of the largest increases in innovation research and development spending in the clean energy space. Of course, the ECO scheme, which we have recently pivoted to focus on fuel poverty in its entirety, includes an increase in the amount spent on innovation.

Will the Minister reassure us that when her officers are looking at the responses to the consultation, they will take into account the fact that for small schemes, such as the one that is putting solar panels on schools in my constituency, the overheads tend to be greater?

That is a valuable point, and the hon. Lady is right to make it.

The consultation is closing in a few hours’ time. I know that it has been welcomed, including by the industry, which sees it as a bridge to a renewable, subsidy-free future. The comments that have been made today will be valuable in ensuring the details of the scheme are acceptable.

The Minister may be under the misapprehension that she has to allow the mover of the motion time to sum up, but that does not apply in half-hour debates, so she has another four minutes if she wants to use them.

Well, Mr Hollobone, you learn something every day in Parliament. It would perhaps be only courteous to allow my hon. Friend to sum up; is that permissible?

One of my concerns is the gap that has been spoken about. I understand the Minister’s desire to get things right, but will she consider extending the FIT scheme to cover that gap, bearing in mind that, given her efficient work in her Department, it is likely to be a short delay?

Sadly, in all honesty, probably not. We have been clearly signalling the closing of the FIT scheme for several years now, and the response from the industry has been, “We understand that. We understand that some schemes may be on hold, but we welcome the smart export guarantee, because our main ask was to ensure that the energy that was being generated had some value.”

My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury asked me another question about an issue that I was not fully aware of—namely, the concerns about testing the smart metering equipment technical specification 2 programme to ensure it interacts effectively with solar generation. I have instructed my officials to ensure that that testing is actioned, because that is an important point.

Will the Minister give a brief account of what is happening with Government buildings? They are clearly low-hanging fruit, as it were; there should be more and more solar installations on Government buildings.

I am sure that the hon. Lady will have read the clean growth strategy from cover to cover, and will have seen in there that we have set out ambitious targets for the central Government estate and the wider estate. As we have so many former representatives of local authorities here, I encourage all Members to look at the Salix scheme, which allows local authorities to green up their own activities and rely on an interest-free revolving loan. It has been a great success story, and one that we must do a lot more on.

I will mention another issue—briefly, as I only have two minutes. A question was asked about encouraging housing associations and others to be involved, and I have been encouraging housing associations and local authorities to think about issuing green financial instruments. There is a huge appetite for green bonds, either individually or collectively, and using that funding for some of the excellent energy efficiency work that is available.

On a related matter, will the Minister also consider the issue of the private rented sector, which in some parts of our towns and cities makes up a substantial amount of the homes in those local authority areas? In my experience as a former councillor, there is a serious issue with both fuel poverty—people living in poverty in private rented homes—and poor insulation linked to a lack of take-up of solar.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am pleased to tell him that one of the pieces of legislation we have introduced ensures that the least efficient homes in the private rented sector will no longer be allowed to be re-rented until those improvements have been made.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury for an excellent and timely debate. I will just say something that is a tiny bit political: would it not be lovely if we could get through Brexit and vote for the deal so that we could bring all this collective knowledge together to solve these problems, which are about not the next three years but the next 30? If we do that, will my hon. Friend promise us that she will mix us an Archimedes’ screw cocktail, so that we can celebrate and focus on saving the planet, rather than saving our sanity in the Brexit negotiations?

Question put and agreed to.

Will those Members not staying for the next debate please be kind enough to leave quickly and, importantly, quietly?

No-deal EU Exit: Public Sector Catering

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the effect of leaving the EU without a deal on public sector catering.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I start by thanking all the public sector catering providers, users and campaigners who have been in touch with me over the past week to raise their concerns about this issue. I can see a number of them in the Public Gallery today. I am extremely grateful and pleased that they have made the journey here today.

Although a no-deal Brexit in general is deeply concerning to me and many others up and down the country, I tabled this debate because the quality, quantity and safety of the food provided to some of the most vulnerable in our society is often overlooked in the debates around a no-deal Brexit. I therefore wanted to speak up today for the estimated 10.5 million people in the UK who rely on public sector institutions for at least some of their food. Some are completely reliant on such institutions for all their meals. I want to say clearly to the Government that no deal should not mean no meal.

The Soil Association brief sent to me yesterday reads clearly:

“It is very likely that a No deal Brexit would be disastrous for public sector catering.”

Institutions including schools, universities, hospitals, care homes, meals on wheels and prisons will be adversely affected by a no-deal Brexit. They feed some of the most vulnerable in our society. Without those services, many would simply not eat. High quality public sector catering is so important to the health and wellbeing of millions of people across the country. A drop in standards or the availability of nutritious food because of a no-deal Brexit would be extremely detrimental to service users.

I want to focus on three main concerns today, which I will address in turn: the cost and availability of meals; the quality, quantity and safety of food available to public sector providers; and, finally, workforce retention.

At the end of last year, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, told the Treasury Committee that in the most “extreme” no-deal Brexit, food prices would rise by 10%, but that in a less severe scenario, the increase would be about 6%. Either scenario is concerning to suppliers of public sector catering, which are already struggling to cover the cost of nutritious meals.

For example, the allowance for universal infant free school meals is £2.30. That goes directly to schools and is not ring-fenced. It has not been increased since the start of universal infant free school meals in September 2014. In many cases, the caterers do not receive the full amount. Bidfood has calculated that with 13% inflationary costs and the potential increase in costs following no deal, the meal allowance would need to be increased by 69p to bring the allowance back to where we are now. There are serious concerns about the impact Brexit could have on the provision of school meals in some schools, particularly small rural schools, that no longer receive the small school allowance of £2,000, which ceased about two years ago.

Due to Brexit uncertainty, caterers have reported an overall increase in costs of up to 20% for some ingredients over the past 12 months, with the cost of eggs reported to be up by 14%.

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate and making the case about food price rises. Is she not also concerned that a no-deal Brexit might lead to trade deals that lower standards, particularly with the US? The National Farmers Union has said that it is concerned about US practices and that trade deals should

“not allow imports of food produced to lower standards than those required of British farmers”,

such as chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-fed beef. We might be pushed to lower standards for cheaper food. That is a huge health and safety issue for our children.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend, and I will touch on the issue he raises later in my contribution. This morning, I sat on a no-deal Delegated Legislation Committee with my shadow Public Health Minister hat on. In that Committee Room, we were talking about the very issues my hon. Friend raises in respect of a no-deal Brexit. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), assured me that our chicken will still be washed in drinking water and not in any form of chlorine. However, my hon. Friend’s worry is very much taken on board, given that the money will not be there and costs will be cut to the bone—no pun intended.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the prices of raw materials and commodities will go up, but who will absorb the price increases? Social care providers, particularly those with a majority of local authority-funded residents, will not have the capability to accept increased catering costs. Will the Government therefore increase the budgets for public sector catering to cover the shortfall?

I apologise for being slightly late for the beginning of the debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing it. In my city of Hull, there has been an attempt to keep school meal prices as low as possible—50p, rather than the normal £2-odd. What concerns me is that there is already pressure on that budget. It has already gone up to £1 because of school budget pressures. What does she think about the fact that there is a public health initiative to try to ensure that children are eating healthily and well, yet the cost may go up even more due to what she has described in her contribution?

That is the worry. As Bidfood worked out, the cost will have to go up by 69p a child just to stand still. In areas that are trying to keep the price as low as possible, that initiative disappears, but in other areas that are already paying £2.30 or £2.40, what will happen? Parents cannot afford to pay much more than that, so the quality of the food, children’s health and the health of the 10.5 million people who rely on this food every day will suffer as a consequence.

If the Government do not cover the shortfall, menus may have to be reduced so that providers do not overspend. As my hon. Friend has just said, that will compromise the nutritional value of the meals given to service users. An increase in the costs of public sector meals could therefore see an increase in poverty, childhood obesity and malnutrition in hospitals and care homes, which could have serious implications for the health and wellbeing of service users.

The affordability of food post Brexit, especially in the event of no deal, is an incredibly alarming issue. That is the case for all our constituents, but even more so for those who rely on public sector catering for their food. General food shortages due to panic buying or an impact on deliveries due to fuel shortages are of particular concern, especially for public sector catering in hospitals and care homes. The Government should communicate openly and factually about the food challenges ahead and encourage the food industry, caterers, institutions and organisations to do so too.

One person wrote to me to say that the Government had given them

“no real guidance, other than to stockpile food”.

One local authority caterer told Food for Life that it had invested more than £1 million in stockpiling ingredients, including 250 tonnes of meat. However, the caterer is concerned, as that food will only last for a short period. Not every caterer has the capacity to stockpile food. What advice have the Government given to suppliers and caterers? Is advice being updated clearly and regularly?

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors has expressed concern about the continuity of food supplies to schools and hospitals in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It has suggested that food supplies should be triaged and prioritised for those most in need, but that could happen only with Government intervention. Is that something the Minister has considered? Concerns have also been raised with me about products being diverted to more lucrative customers, rather than being prioritised for vulnerable people. Will the Minister address that point too?

The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 does not deal directly with food—probably nobody ever thought that we would be in this position—and nor does it identify responsible agencies with a food remit. Has the Minister had any conversations with his Government colleagues about including food in the 2004 Act, particularly for vulnerable people?

The meals distributed in schools, universities, hospitals, care homes and prisons each day are crucial to those who eat them. Caterers are already beginning to remove higher quality produce from menus, with some school caterers considering a move from hot food to cold meals. That could result in a reduction in the nutritional value of meals, which would be detrimental to children or to service users in the case of the other provisions.

My hon. Friend does amazing work on schools through the all-party parliamentary group, and through the children’s future food inquiry, which I am pleased to be involved in. She will know that there is real concern about children living in food poverty. Indeed, the Food Foundation assessed towards the end of last year that around 3.7 million children are living in households that would have to spend 42% of their annual income to meet the guidance of the “eatwell plate”. That is simply unaffordable and if food prices rocket because of Brexit, it will become even more so. Does she share my concern that we are reaching crisis point?

I am really grateful that my hon. Friend has made that point. The average person spends 17% to 18% of their income on food, but people living on benefits and in poverty spend around 42% of their money on food, and that is at today’s prices. We do not need a mathematician to work out what a vulnerable position people will be in if food prices go up. Even the 6% increase would have a detrimental effect.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there must also be a concern about food banks, and especially about schemes such as FareShare and organisations such as the Pickle Palace in my constituency that provide low-cost meals and “pay-what-you-can” food for people on low incomes.

That is another very good point. Often, those who supply local authority caterers are some of the best for supplying food banks and FareShare. When they have to trim and trim again, that will be one of the charitable aspects of their operations that will sadly have to go. Again, that will have a knock-on effect on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

My hon. Friend is being very generous. I am involved in something called Feeding Bristol, which is an offshoot of Feeding Britain—an organisation that aims to eradicate food poverty. We were discussing this matter at a meeting last week. Food prices going up will create an affordability issue, and if people stockpile and panic-buy food and the supermarkets run dry, donated food to hostels and food banks will dry up completely. Not only will people be more likely to have to go to food banks because they will be unable to afford food—and they might not be getting such good quality food through public sector catering—but food banks will run out as well.

I hope that the Minister acknowledges the picture being painted of the potential knock-on effects. I appreciate that this is the worst-case scenario—a no-deal, catastrophe scenario—but, given that there is no deal on the table that the majority of the House can vote for, a responsible Parliament has to prepare for it. These doomsday scenarios could become the reality for many people’s lives, despite none of us in this room wanting that to happen.

Does the Minister share my concern about a reduction in the safety and nutritional quality of food served to those using public sector catering, especially given that those meals are, as we have heard, the main source of nutrition for millions of people—10.5 million people, day in and day out, up and down the country? Equally, public sector caterers must provide food that meets specific health or cultural needs, such as kosher, gluten-free, vegetarian or allergy-specific food. There are many other examples. For some, it could be a matter of life or death. For others, a failure to provide nutritionally complete meals would slow down their recovery and increase the risk of malnutrition, or result in a deficiency in other nutritional values.

I received a message from the National Association of Care Catering that reads:

“We have 60 plus residents in our home, so have to provide 60 meals three times a day, with the average age of 86, how do we ensure regular supply?”

That is of great concern across the industry. Even where contingencies can be made, it may involve people eating very bland or repetitive menus, which I know goes against the entire ethos of public sector catering.

Finally, the workforce are crucial to public sector catering. Have the Government engaged with the catering sector to understand the challenges that a disorderly Brexit might pose to its workforce and services? The public sector employs a considerable number of EU nationals, and I am told that some are already returning home. The threat of a no-deal Brexit will only make the situation worse, thereby posing a threat to the services that the sector provides, and having an impact on safety.

Although new members of staff can, of course, be recruited, it takes time and money to train them. A workforce gap in the event of a no-deal Brexit would limit the effectiveness of public sector catering, which is already facing all the challenges that I have highlighted. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the public sector catering workforce are trained, equipped and funded to provide vital services in the event of no deal?

Public sector catering is fundamental to the care provided in schools, universities, hospitals, care homes and prisons. A delay in food deliveries, an increase in the cost of food and a decrease in nutritional standards or safety could be detrimental to service users and, in some cases, a matter of life or death. When we talk about the impact of no deal on our health and wellbeing, we must also consider the availability of food to the most vulnerable in our society, which a number of my hon. Friends have spoken about.

What about those who cannot afford to stockpile or lack the capacity to do so? What about those who are in hospitals, care homes or prisons? They cannot stockpile food in their little bedside cabinet. I do not have time to discuss this issue fully now—thankfully others have mentioned it—but we must remember that a surge in food prices could mean a reduction in donations to food banks from public sector caterers, some of whom are very generous to not only food banks but to holiday provision. I know that Bidfood supports holiday clubs. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) spoke in glowing terms about Bidfood’s support for her holiday clubs at the last APPG meeting. All of that will have implications for families already living in poverty.

Brexit should not be the reason that millions of people go hungry, and I hope that after the debate the Minister will have considered another aspect of a no-deal Brexit that perhaps the Government had not already considered. I hope that he will urgently relay what I have said back to his Government colleagues. In closing, I reiterate that no deal should not mean no meal. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). She is a hard act to follow, and I have had to do so twice today—I was on the Delegated Legislation Committee with her this morning.

To be perfectly honest, I had not really thought about this subject in any great depth until I was asked to sum up for the SNP in this debate. I have learned so much listening to the hon. Lady, and I congratulate her on her speech. Having now considered the issue, I realise that a worrying, appalling impact may result for the most vulnerable people in our society.

The hon. Lady talked about three main areas—cost and availability, quantity and quality of food, and workforce retention. They are all points that the Minister must take on board. I hope he will be able to reassure all of us, and the wider public, about these issues in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

I have some wonderful organisations in my constituency of Motherwell and Wishaw. My office and I run a poverty action group, which meets quarterly. The next meeting, due in the next month or so, is sure to have this issue very high on the agenda. We deal with carers and people who work in the public sector, and mainly with organisations that help the most vulnerable. It is really important to consider the point that was made about how, at present, 40% of some household budgets is spent on food. If there are food shortages, which are a possibility with a no-deal Brexit, that percentage is going to rise, and could rise significantly. That will also affect the nutritional value of what can be done in the home and in public sector catering.

North Lanarkshire is a Labour-controlled council, and I frequently comment on whether it does well or badly, according to my lights. In this case, it does a wonderful job through its running of an organisation called Club 365 that provides nutritious meals for those children in primaries 1 to 7, aged 5 to 12, who receive free school meals during the school week, at weekends and in school holidays, with the aim of ending holiday hunger. I know many Members across the Chamber have been working hard to prevent that for quite a long time.

Although there are fewer public sector care homes than there used to be—that has been forced on many local authorities—it is appalling to think that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, many older people could finish up with poorer quality meals, at a time when for many of them a hot meal is the main part of their day, especially if it is provided through meals on wheels or other similar organisations. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) made a good point about food banks and other organisations that rely on donations also being affected in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The knock-on effect of a no-deal Brexit on food is quite appalling to consider. I am sure the Minister is going to reassure us that it will all be all right on the night and that there are contingency plans already prepared and that no one will go hungry, but I do not think the United Kingdom is ready to dig for victory, as it had to do in the second world war. We need to know that people will still be able to access nutritious, fresh food. Perishable food being held up at channel ports does not bear thinking about.

The point about perishable food being held up at ports is really important. I am vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for fruit and vegetable farmers. We have heard such scare stories, but they are not scare stories, because they are rooted in reality. This is a combination of two things. About 90% of our mushrooms now come from Poland because it is cheaper to grow them there, and those products will be held up at ports, and, obviously, they go off very quickly. There is also a real shortage of workers to pick the fresh fruit and veg in this country now. A crisis is looming—the fruit and veg farmers have been warning of it for a long time. We may find that even though food might be growing in plentiful quantities, it will still be rotting in the fields.

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. Only last summer in Angus in Scotland, many fruit farms could not recruit the workers who traditionally came from EU countries and a lot of the fruit lay rotting in the fields. This is a really serious issue.

This is perhaps slightly off key—I apologise, Mr Hollobone. I was thinking of EU nationals and public service catering, and I like to think that I provide a public service in being a Member of Parliament! I started to look around at the number of people who were serving me. So many of them are EU nationals, but because of the almost hostile environment—there is a current story in Scotland of a woman who has been here for 47 years and does not understand why she has to register because this is her home; what else is she going to do?—there are real difficulties for the many EU nationals who are here and who might stay and register. In Scotland, they are very welcome. There will also be many who are completely put off even thinking about coming to work here.

For example, so many EU nationals work in care homes. It is all very well for the Government to say that those jobs could be done by UK citizens, but they are not being done by UK citizens. I do not think that anyone is going to suddenly change their mind and make a career in catering or in care homes, just because there is a job available.

I hope the Minister is able to answer some of the fears that have been expressed here today. Leaving with no deal is a serious and worrying prospect. The SNP is against the United Kingdom exiting the EU, but nevertheless we put forward suggestions on how compromises could be made so that there would not be such a brutal disruption to life in this country after we leave the European Union.

It is a pleasure to make the winding-up speech for the Opposition with you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) on securing this important debate. As other hon. Friends have said, she does a huge amount of work in this area, not least through her chairpersonship of the all-party parliamentary group on school food. She has done the House a real service by focusing our attention on the likely impact of a no-deal exit from the EU on public sector catering, and on all those who are looked after by public sector institutions. Her warnings were all the more powerful for being delivered with her customary frankness and thoughtfulness.

This is not the first debate in which hon. and right hon. Members have raised concerns about the implications of a no-deal exit from the EU and it is obvious why that is so. An exit from the EU on 29 March or any date thereafter without agreement would be nothing short of a national disaster, affecting every facet of our national life and every region and nation of the UK. It would end, at a stroke, the whole body of legal arrangements we have with the EU, built up over many decades. Its effects would extend far beyond the absence of a trade deal, leaving the UK without rules to govern trade in a range of crucial areas, from financial contract clearing to medicines regulation. It would threaten the complex law enforcement and judicial co-operation arrangements that keep Britain safe. It would almost inevitably result in infrastructure being placed on the Irish border, place untold strain on the Good Friday agreement and Anglo-Irish relations more generally, and exacerbate the political instability in Northern Ireland.

In short, such an exit is the hardest and most chaotic of departures possible. To be honest, no one knows for sure how extensive the negative impact would be, yet among Brexiters, brimming with the misplaced confidence that has defined their approach to this process, the fantasy of a cost-free, no-deal exit lives on.

The most cavalier among the Brexiters dismiss any concerns out of hand as the latest round of “Project Fear” alarmism; others concede that there will be disruption, but insist it would be only temporary and would be outweighed by the new legal freedoms and opportunities arising from being completely outside the EU’s orbit. In debates in the House, they exhort us to have faith that the British people would make the best of it. I have no doubt that they would make the best of it, but why would any Government force the British people to cope with an entirely avoidable act of self-harm, which opinion polling suggests only a minority of the public support?

No Government in their right mind should countenance a no-deal exit from the EU, especially when the other party to the negotiations knows full well that that is an empty threat. The tragedy is that instead of simply announcing that under no circumstances will the UK leave the EU without a deal, this Government have adopted such an outcome as their official plan B, endlessly repeating over many months the mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal. They have spent significant sums of public money trying—I emphasise that word—to ensure they are prepared for it.

The Government have kept alive the possibility of a no-deal exit in spite of the stark conclusions of their internal assessments of the implications. From the no-deal impact assessment summary, which was forced out of the Government two weeks ago, we now have a clearer idea of what a no-deal Brexit would entail in specific sectors and for different regions and nations of the UK. The impact summary makes it absolutely clear that the UK is simply not prepared for a no-deal exit on 29 March, with Departments on track for just over two thirds of the most critical projects. The summary is honest about the fact that in the event of a no-deal exit the UK would be at the mercy of the actions of the European Commission, EU member states and EU businesses. In other words, the Government would not be in control of the situation. The summary admits that there is little evidence that businesses are preparing in earnest for a no-deal scenario, and the readiness of small and medium-size enterprises is particularly low.

The impact summary plainly restates the UK Government’s estimate that, compared with today’s arrangements, the economy would be 6.3% to 9% smaller over a 15-year period, which brings me to the subject of this debate. The summary makes it clear that the anticipated effects of a no-deal scenario across a range of areas would include the UK’s food supply being affected by delays in goods crossing the channel and a likely rise in food prices, and many businesses in the food supply industry are simply unprepared.

Disruption to food supplies and an increase in food prices would affect every single one of us. My hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West is absolutely right to draw attention, by way of this debate, to the significant implications of a no-deal exit for people who rely on public sector catering for their meals, especially if the UK exits without a deal on 29 March—a time of year when we import a large proportion of our fresh food from Europe, and in the run-up to the Easter weekend.

My hon. Friend is right to make it clear that we are talking about 10.5 million people potentially affected—hospital patients, care home residents, prisoners and school pupils—of whom I think she said 1.5 million are children who are eligible for free school meals. I want to emphasise concerns about the impact of a no-deal exit from the EU with regard to the cost and availability of meals; the quality, quantity and safety of food available to public sector providers; and the issue of how we ensure that we recruit and retain a workforce to deliver the service. In saying that, I very much echo the comments made by the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows).

I was particularly struck by the revelation that many caterers have been advised by Government to stockpile food, and that one local authority has already spent £1 million on doing so. My hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West is right to point out that most schools and hospitals lack the money and the necessary storage space to stockpile food. She set out in painstaking detail how tight the margins are on the meals these institutions supply, and how sensitive they are to price increases. She rightly drew our attention to the fact that the implications of any food disruption, particularly with fresh fruit and vegetables, and an increase in food prices would be especially stark for the 1.5 million children in this country who are eligible for free school meals, and, in a wider sense, for people who rely on the social security system and find themselves in deprivation.

My hon. Friend also raised a series of important points, not least the deficiencies of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 with regard to food. I will not go over all of them. However, in the light of the concerns she raised, may I press the Minister to set out in detail what specific contingency planning the Government have undertaken, or are currently undertaking, to ensure that public sector caterers can cope with food disruption and/or food price increases? Will he explain precisely what his Department is doing to ensure that public sector institutions of the kind we have discussed do not find themselves in competition with the private sector or private consumers for food essentials in the event of a no-deal exit?

I expect the Minister to ignore the following question, as his colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union have done repeatedly in the past week, but it would be fantastic if gave me an answer. Will he tell us whether the Government intend on 13 March to whip against a no-deal exit, should the House once again vote down the deal on the preceding day? It is simply not good enough to dismiss the question on the basis that it is a hypothetical decision on a hypothetical vote. There is a high likelihood that next week we will confront this issue and that of extending article 50, and the country really deserves to know the Government’s intentions on whipping their Members of Parliament on that vote.

There are now only 25 days until 29 March. By my calculation, there are 16 sitting days. Although an extension to the article 50 process is now almost certain, it is not guaranteed. Even if the House votes for an extension on 14 March, we could simply end up facing a much sharper cliff edge if the Government insist only on a short, one-off extension and recklessly continue to run down the clock in the hope that the failed strategy to which they have adhered for the 49 days since 15 January will pay off.

The possibility of a no-deal exit—whether by accident or design—is still very real. On 29 January, a clear majority in the House voted against a no-deal exit by backing the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman). I have no doubt that the House will do so again on 13 March if the Government’s deal goes down to a second defeat.

It is time that the Government responded to the will of Parliament and announced that under no circumstances will the UK leave the EU without a deal. To do otherwise risks the Government finding themselves responsible for a disastrous outcome that, as we have heard today, would endanger the health and wellbeing of people who can least afford it.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) for securing the debate, for her contribution and for all the hard work she does in Parliament on these and related matters.

Let me reassure hon. Members that the continued provision of nutritious, high-quality and safe food in the public sector is a top priority for Departments across Government and for the devolved Administrations. I shall go on to explain the steps that are being taken to ensure that is the case. The best way to avoid a no-deal exit is to secure a deal, and hon. Members will have an opportunity to have our say on that next week. Securing a deal with the EU remains the Government’s top priority. However, as a responsible Government we have a responsibility to actively prepare for the possibility of a no-deal exit and to look at other scenarios as well, as has been recognised by Members of different parties in this debate.

We have a highly resilient food supply chain in the UK, with access to a range of sources of food. That will continue whether we leave the EU with or without a deal. There would continue to be an adequate supply of food to ensure people continue to have a balanced diet. The food industry in the UK is highly diverse, competitive and well versed in dealing with scenarios that can affect food supply, from adverse weather damaging crops in other countries to transport issues abroad. It is a resilient sector.

Prior to this life, I used to run Asda’s home shopping business. As a Minister, I work with the industry and attend high-level meetings with representatives every week—I will do so after this debate—to ensure that we are prepared for any eventuality. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been contributing to cross-Government contingency planning, which has involved working with the food industry to understand the potential impacts of a no-deal scenario and to support such planning by the industry.

The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) asked about contingency planning, and I can assure him that there is a lot of it going on. We are working very closely with industry, which has led most of the contingency planning—we are providing support and direction. The industry has the expertise and capacity to help ensure that we minimise any potential disruption to supply.

We have been working through various forums, including DEFRA’s long-standing food chain emergency liaison group, which has been through many experiences in the past. As a result of extensive engagement with the food industry and cross-Government discussions, as previously stated, in a worst-case no-deal scenario consumers and businesses will continue to have access to a wide range of food products. We are working to mitigate possible disruption in availability and choice of certain seasonal products in that case, which I think it is fair to say would indeed be a worst-case scenario.

DEFRA is working with the Department for Transport and with industry to ensure that, in the event of a no-deal scenario, goods can continue to be transported on existing trade routes, including across the Dover straits, as quickly as possible. That includes securing extra freight capacity across the English channel, and ensuring a functioning customs, VAT and excise system from day one, to facilitate the flow of goods. To have that consistent supply is vital.

We are working closely with the industry and across Government through the border delivery group—a co-ordinated effort across Government to tackle that vital issue. We have also been working with the Cabinet Office and lead Departments in their work to ensure the resilience of food supply in public sector settings, including schools, hospitals and social care settings, as well as prisons and the military. Some of those have been mentioned in the debate. The lead Departments include the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defence. We have been working flat out to ensure that we have robust contingency plans in place for public sector food provision. We are reviewing catering services and contracts and have engaged with providers of food, such as hospital trusts and schools, to identify the risks and contingency measures for their sectors.

That has included working closely with catering suppliers to ensure that contingency plans are in place. Suppliers have been looking at a variety of contingency measures to ensure the continued provision of food that meets standards—for example, looking at alternative suppliers and adjusting menus in line with product availability while continuing to meet school and hospital food standards. It is vital to continue to meet the requirements of those standards. Lead Departments are confident that the public will continue to receive nutritious meals in public sector settings. If time permits, I will go into some more detail about the various sectors.

The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich asked about prioritising between public and private sectors. In the contingency plan, we want to ensure that food is available to all sectors but, as he rightly stated, for many public sector services and vulnerable groups we need to ensure food provision. We believe that, even in a worst case scenario, customers will continue to have access to a broad range of food, and that will extend to those services as well. Different choices of food types might be necessary, but there will be enough food to ensure the balanced diet that people need.

Another question was about food prices. Clearly the best way to ensure against any impact on food prices is to get the deal, but in a no-deal scenario it is again to minimise the disruption to food supply. We therefore need to work across Government to find ways of ensuring that the food supply is available. DEFRA officials are working with the DFT to find ways over potential hurdles and challenges to ensure that continuity of supply. As we do that, we will ensure that any potential price rises are kept to a minimum, and of course we have mechanisms in place to help those who are most needy if prices were to rise significantly. Her Majesty’s Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions are aware of the potential impacts, and we are working with them on that. I hope that addresses some of the concerns expressed today.

Moving on to the Department for Education and schools in particular, a number of points were made about schools. The DFE is confident that schools will continue to be able to provide pupils with nutritious school meals no matter what the outcome of EU exit is. It expects schools still to meet the school food standards in a no-deal scenario. Schools have a great deal of flexibility in the foods that they can deliver under those standards. If a particular product is not readily available for any reason, the standards allow schools a wide range of freedoms to substitute similar foods that are available.

In January, the Department for Education published a technical notice on no-deal preparations for schools in England, including information on food supplies. The DFE is also engaging with leading school food suppliers, local authorities and schools as part of its preparations. We will continue to monitor that and work with the Department.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) asked about school meals. Schools and their suppliers have considerable freedom to source food that offers the best value for money. When considering the potential for any price rises, it is important to note that the UK has a high level of food security built into a diverse range of sources, including strong domestic production and imports from other countries, as I said before. We do not envisage a scenario in which the Government would need to provide additional funding to support schools with rising food costs, for the reason I set out earlier: the UK has a high level of food security. We are confident that schools, colleges and other settings will continue to be able to provide pupils with nutritious school meals whatever the outcome of Brexit.

Another hon. Member asked about the Civil Contingencies Act. It does cover food supply, but it is designed for a national emergency. In a worst case Brexit scenario, we do not believe that overall food shortages would be such that it is necessary to invoke the Act. In the scenarios that we are working to, that would not be required. None the less, as I have said several times, we are working with and speaking to colleagues across Government to minimise disruption and to consider the possible impacts on vulnerable groups.

The hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), who is no longer in her place, and the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) mentioned the potential impact on food banks. Again, we do not expect overall shortages of food, but we speak regularly to retailers—in fact, I will be speaking with a group of them after the debate, so I can re-emphasise concerns expressed in this Chamber—and our aim is to ensure that we can continue the food supply so that consumers do not need to alter their shopping patterns.

The hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) mentioned watering down standards. The hon. Member for Bristol East holds my feet to the fire on this issue regularly, and she has a consistent record on it across Government. We respect her views—no question—and she knows that, but it is important to recognise that, no matter the future challenges, there are also opportunities. However, we do not want to see the watering down of food standards in any way. I think she is aware that protections are in place as far as chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef are concerned—I cannot resist mentioning that.

The Minister is appearing before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee tomorrow afternoon, so he can expect a little more of that treatment then.

I look forward to it with glee. I am sure that I will get more of that treatment. We can talk in more detail then, but I hope the hon. Lady understands the reassurances given consistently in various settings in the House.

I will move on to health and social care. The DHSC is confident that its contingency plans for ensuring the seamless supply of products and services after we leave the EU are comprehensive and robust, and that food supply for patients will be protected in a no-deal scenario. The Department is working with food providers and suppliers to understand their contingency planning and mitigation activities. That work covers both social care and NHS providers.

The DHSC is working closely with Public Health England and nutritional specialists to ensure that nutritional standards are maintained in hospitals and care homes. Standard guidelines are being finalised for health and adult social care providers to support the continued provision of a balanced diet, in line with the Government’s “eatwell” guide. The DHSC is also working to ensure that it has the necessary resources and contingencies in place to continue to protect patients and to have uninterrupted supplies of any specialist nutritional products, including infant formula. It is important to note that, because a lot of the focus has been on ensuring the continued supply of vital medicines—or vet meds, for that matter—but we will also protect key nutritional products such as infant formula.

We are working very closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that local authorities are able to support vulnerable people such as the elderly and vulnerable families. Hon. Members are probably aware that we are working very actively with local resilience forums. Local authorities need to work with their local resilience forums to plan and prepare for localised incidents, identify potential risks and produce emergency plans to prevent or mitigate the impact of any incident on their local communities. We are doing that at a local level. We meet regularly with key contacts in LRFs to share intelligence on the impacts that a no-deal EU exit would have on local areas. DEFRA and MHCLG have provided advice to LRFs on food supply impacts, to support their preparedness for a no-deal exit, and particularly to consider any impacts on vulnerable groups if they should arise. We are working closely to mitigate issues with vulnerable groups at a local level.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West was assiduous in mentioning workforce retention, which is vital across Government. We rely very heavily on those citizens in many public services, and in services that are provided in the public sector for the public. I share her concern; we want to continue to make them feel welcome, whatever the scenario might be.

The Government have been clear that we will protect EU citizens’ rights, including in a no-deal scenario. All EU citizens resident in the UK by 29 March will be able to stay. They will have until 31 December 2020 to apply for settled status. We want them to feel welcome and we recognise the contribution they make. DEFRA will continue to work with the Home Office as the future immigration system is fully developed, to ensure that we have a clear strategy for those who work so hard in the food supply chain, often in critical sectors—slaughterhouses, meat processing and vets. It is uppermost in our mind.

As we leave the EU, the Government are committed to securing the best possible deal for Britain that works for farmers, food producers and consumers, and ensures strong public services. Although we do not want or expect a no deal, the Government are taking sensible measures to prepare for all scenarios.

The Minister will know from the no-deal impact assessment summary that one particular concern is that, despite communications from the Government, there is little evidence that businesses are preparing in earnest for a no-deal scenario. Does the Minister have a sense of whether the public catering industry suppliers and providers are responding to the Government’s call to prepare themselves, or whether the industry is lagging behind, as others clearly are?

The hon. Gentleman asks a good question. I meet the National Farmers Union, the Food and Drink Federation, UKHospitality and the British Retail Consortium every week to review their concerns and considerations. We have established a good dialogue at a senior level with those trade bodies and their members, but it is fair to say there is still more work required with small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly our smaller and microbusinesses. Some are prepared and some need further information. I hope that he recognises that across Government a far greater weight of activity is being put out to encourage people to find out more about what is going on and to engage in the processes. We are working very hard on that but there is more work to do.

The UK has a high degree of overall food security, and that will remain the case, deal or no deal. As well as DEFRA’s work to support contingency planning by the food industry, and the industry’s proven capability to respond to supply chain disruptions, steps are being taken by my colleagues across other Government Departments. We are all working to ensure the resilience of food supplies in the public sector. Across Government, Departments are putting into place the necessary steps to ensure that patients, school children and others who are reliant on the public sector will be supplied with nutritious, high-quality and safe food in all exit scenarios.

I thank everyone who has attended the debate. I am sure that if there was not so much other business, not least the no-deal statutory instruments in almost every room in the House, many more Members would have taken part. It was definitely a case of quality over quantity.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Liz Twist), for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), as well as the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). I hope it does not come to a situation where we have to dig for victory. I was not around then and I do not think the hon. Lady or any of us have dug for victory—I would definitely have to give up false nails if it came to that.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) for his excellent contribution. I used the figure of 24 or 25 days, but he has worked out that there are 16 sitting days before we could crash out without a deal. We all hope that it will not come to that, and that next week we can get a deal through the House that everyone can vote for, but the subject of this debate was no-deal preparation for public sector catering. We sincerely hope that if it comes to that, public sector catering providers will be prioritised if there are any food shortages, as they cater to some of the most vulnerable people in our society who are least able to prepare, stockpile or go in search of food.

The Minister said that he believed there will be no need for the Government to help to fund any shortfall or costs for schools or other public sector catering, as the Government feel that the food supply is secure enough to withstand a no-deal Brexit. I do not have access to all the research he has access to in the Government but, following my research, I do not share his optimism. I hope that the Government will commit to revisiting the decision if that situation arose. I thank everyone once again. Let us hope that we will not be in the position that we have all been talking about.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the effect of leaving the EU without a deal on public sector catering.

Sitting adjourned.