Thursday 14 March 2019
[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]
Future of the Oil and Gas Industry
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Sixth Report of the Scottish Affairs Committee, The future of the oil and gas industry, HC 996.
It is a pleasure to serve under such a distinguished member of the Panel of Chairs today, Mr Walker. I am grateful to see so many members of the Scottish Affairs Committee in their places and ready to go for this very important debate.
The Scottish Affairs Committee decided to hold an inquiry into oil and gas because of the unprecedented uncertainty caused to the sector by the dramatic fall in oil prices at the end of the last decade. We were interested in assessing how—or indeed whether—the sector had recovered and in better understanding the contemporary issues in the industry and how new innovations and interventions had played out.
Critically, we wanted to explore the readiness of the sector for transition and decarbonisation. We also wanted to look at its preparedness for diversification of the skills acquired over 40 years of production and development in the North sea.
We are, as always, grateful to the many people who gave evidence and contributed to our inquiry, and for the support we received from the sector. We held six evidence sessions and received more than 30 written submissions to the inquiry. We are particularly grateful to the Oil & Gas Technology Centre in the constituency of the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Ross Thomson), which hosted one of our evidence sessions and kindly lent us their premises to launch the report a few short weeks ago.
I should say first that the sector is in a reasonably good place. The resilience shown by our oil and gas industry in the face of such turbulence is to be commended. The tenacity that has been shown by the workforce and others involved in the industry is something we all recognised, and which has supported the sustainable recovery that has been put in place in the past few years. There remains a strong and positive future for Scotland’s oil and gas sector, and the opportunities of a just transition to a decarbonised future are there to be grabbed.
Scotland remains at the forefront of the global oil and gas industry, which contributed £9.2 billion to the Scottish economy in 2017 and supports 135,000 jobs in Scotland. Only this week, the Oil and Gas Authority predicted that 11.9 billion barrels will be extracted by 2050—a hike of almost 50% from the forecast four years ago of 8 billion barrels. That shows an industry and a sector in a reasonably healthy condition.
More than that, Scotland’s oil and gas is central to the UK’s energy security. It is forecast that two thirds of the UK’s primary energy needs will be met by oil and gas until at least 2035.
The hon. Gentleman is speaking of the benefits to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I have some constituents who depend on the Scottish oil and gas sector for their employment. The skills that they have learned are not specific to Scotland—they are for everyone. Does the report acknowledge that all regions of the United Kingdom benefit from the Scottish oil and gas sector and it is therefore good for everyone?
The hon. Gentleman is of course absolutely right—this is a UK-wide industry, which has a footprint in most nations of the United Kingdom. Practically every region of England has some link to the supply chain serving the oil and gas industry across the UK. He is absolutely right to remind us that this is a UK-wide industry and one that we should all be very proud of, whether we are in Northern Ireland or in rural Perthshire.
It will not surprise hon. Members, however, that the inquiry found that the sector is still facing unprecedented challenges. Fluctuation in the oil price has hit companies with extreme uncertainty, particularly those working in the supply chain, while the rate of new well exploration has nose-dived. At the same time, the industry needs to properly prepare for the decline in production that will inevitably happen, to ensure that the economic benefits and highly skilled jobs the sector has acquired in and brought to Scotland are not lost.
The industry also has to find new ways to reduce its carbon footprint and use its skills and engineering knowledge to help develop low-carbon and renewable technologies. That is no small task, and those challenges are at the heart of the Committee’s report. We address how the Government should support the industry while it gets ready for production to decline. How do we meet the UK’s energy needs, of which oil and gas will remain a major component, while meeting our climate change obligations?
We believe that the best way for the Government to support the industry through those challenges is to agree an ambitious sector deal. A sector deal backed by a combined investment of £176 million from industry and the Government could deliver £110 billion for the UK economy, with particular benefits for Scotland and the north-east of Scotland. The funding would support three centres of excellence, focused on transformational technology, underwater innovation and decommissioning.
When the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), appeared before the Committee in December, she said that she was not able to go into the detail of the deal, which we totally accepted given that the Government were still to properly design it and come forward with what would happen. She said that progress would be announced in weeks, not months. It is not many months since December, but it is certainly weeks. I know the Energy Minister could not join us today because of other pressing business, but we are fortunate to have the Minister responsible for sector deals with us. Perhaps he can update us on the progress and shape of the sector deals.
I am certain that any delay will, of course, be down to the Government’s taking very seriously the recommendations in our report, and designing the deal around some of the very useful recommendations that we made—that the sector deal is forward-thinking and sets up the industry to meet the challenges of climate change, decommissioning and of the industry’s future beyond the UK continental shelf head on, rather than focusing on the usual support for maximisation of production in the short term. The days of short-termism in the North sea are over. Long-term planning and strategic thinking is required, and those are the priorities for the deal that the report outlines.
I will explain the detail a little further. First, a sector deal must capitalise on the opportunities arising from decommissioning. The North sea is not only going to be the first major basin to go through large-scale decommissioning; without doubt, it is also one of the most challenging environments anywhere in the world for decommissioning. As one of the witnesses said to us in an evidence session, if we can decommission a rig in the North sea, we can decommission a rig anywhere in the world. Scotland has an unmissable opportunity to export its decommissioning knowledge to the rest of the world and the Committee has therefore called for the sector deal to be accompanied by a Government decommissioning export strategy to anchor a global decommissioning industry in the north-east of Scotland.
The sector deal also needs to deliver on reducing the cost of decommissioning. We were surprised when we heard the range of estimates of the cost of decommissioning—the gulf between the lowest and highest point was quite extraordinary. We need to see that cost reduced for UK taxpayers, because half of the decommissioning cost will still be met through the Treasury and by taxpayers through tax relief.
The sector must find ways to transfer its unique expertise to other sectors of the economy so that the jobs are not lost when oil production stops. One of the most impressive features—I think all members of the Committee recognised this when we were taking evidence for the report—is the range of skills available to us from North sea exploration. The skills acquired over four decades of production are among the most impressive to be found in the oil and gas sector anywhere in the world. It is absolutely imperative that the skills, expertise, talent and energy that have been built up in the sector are not lost as we move towards decommissioning and the ending of production.
We heard that there is no end to the opportunities available if we get decommissioning right. Sectors including aerospace, data analytics, marine and offshore engineering, digital manufacturing, satellite technology and offshore wind are all open for skills and technology transfer. We were particularly taken by the opportunities in the renewable sector, and we call for the sector deal to contain specific and measurable proposals for how it will improve skill and technology transfer to the sector. Scotland gained by acquiring North sea oil. It is questionable whether we secured the benefits of discovering North sea oil; we must not lose any benefits of what happens next with renewable technology. The skills acquired in the North sea are perfectly fitted, and could be adapted, for use in renewable energy.
The hon. Gentleman is speaking very well about the work of the Committee in this regard. We worked very well to produce the report. On the redeployment of skills as the supply of oil continues to diminish, paragraph 82 of the report identifies fracking as an opportunity for these skills to be redeployed. Colette Cohen, the chief executive of the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, said that fracking would provide
“increased opportunities for the workforce”
“for the technologies and skills we already have.”
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an opportunity to continue to use these skills in fracking and connected industries?
I had a sneaking suspicion that I would secure an intervention based on the hon. Gentleman’s desire for fracking to be included in all this. As he knows, there was a robust debate among Committee members on the value of fracking and what we should say about it in the report. He knows that I do not share his views, although I am aware of the evidence that was given sincerely by some members of the sector. The Committee agreed a consensus that this was something we were not really concerned with as we went forward, and we have left it as such in the report.
Yesterday in his statement the Chancellor talked about banning gas from new homes in 2025. Surely we have to look to the benefits of oil and gas in the future. Is that not a worry for us?
Absolutely. I was intrigued by the message from the Chancellor yesterday, when this was mentioned. Yes, there are huge opportunities for us. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that it was mightily impressive to see the things that could come and how these skills could be applied and transferred. Perhaps the Minister can say what more work could be done to ensure that we get this. We would be grateful for any insight into the conversation he has been having with the sector on skills transfer.
The sector deal must bring forward proposals for how the sector will address its carbon footprint, both in the process of producing and extracting oil and gas, and by finding ways to reduce emissions from their use. The report received a mixed reaction from some environmental groups—I will put is as delicately as that. That surprised me, due to the range of recommendations we made and the care and diligence that we gave to shaping up some of the transition recommendations. We believe in a just transition and said as much in the report. We believe that if that is achieved, we will get to a new future—a green and transformative future for the sector.
I agree with the Chairman of the Committee, who is speaking very well about the report. We received criticisms from Friends of the Earth, for example, which said that there was no coverage of the impact of climate change. Does he agree that the organisation had clearly not got as far as chapter 6?
Absolutely. When the report came out, all of us on the Committee were quite surprised by the scale of the response. I do not think there was a true examination of what we had in the report. We say in it that a transition is required, but it has to come from a position of strength. We cannot do anything that would compromise our ability to have a viable and sustainable sector that is in a position to carry out the just transition that environmental groups are looking for.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous with interventions. One of the things that I noticed in the report was the impact on fisheries. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation referred to the retention in the seas of artificial rigs and so on, which might disadvantage the local fishing community. What consideration did the report give to that?
I was not going to mention this, but it was a fascinating feature of the report; I am really grateful that the hon. Gentleman has drawn my attention to it. We took a lot of time speaking to environmental groups, particularly some of the wildlife groups, about sustainable fisheries. There was a suggestion of switching from rigs to reef: to leave the infrastructure in place as a magnet and attraction for wildlife and fish species.
We received very mixed evidence on that. One group told us that in the gulf of Mexico, where this project had been initiated, people had to drag the reefs off the seabed, take it onshore to clean it, and then put it back again. One recommendation in our report is that the environmental groups have to decide among themselves about the best way forward. We encourage that debate among our friends in environmental sustainability groups, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue.
We were struck by the importance of carbon capture technology for the long-term future of the industry. The Committee on Climate Change told us that without this technology, decarbonisation of the sector will happen much more slowly and be more costly. This is one area where the Government are ahead of the industry, having announced £45 million of funding for carbon capture innovation, with more potentially available from industrial strategy funds. I know that particularly pleases the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), because most of that investment will be in his constituency. It is right that it should be, because of the infrastructure that exists there.
We believe that the industry needs to step up its contribution in this area, and that the sector deal must contain a detailed proposal from the industry on how it will support the development of carbon capture technology and how that progress can be measured. The oil and gas sector has a bright future ahead of it.
I am very impressed by the report. Oil and gas obviously have an enormous footprint in my constituency. Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the fact that the UK continental shelf oil and gas industry operates in what is recognised as one of the best fiscal regimes in the world, and does he welcome Her Majesty’s Treasury’s fiscal policies on oil and gas?
Obviously. It goes without saying that some of the fiscal support that has been given to the oil and gas sector has been welcome, and it is of course necessary. I think we are going to the next stage, which is the sector deal initiative. That is now critical, according to the report and what we found in the course of the inquiry. That type of investment will be required to try to ensure that some of the things highlighted in the report take place.
We believe there is a bright future for the industry; it is now up to the Government to respond with how they will help the industry to secure it. I hope that the Government and industry rise to the challenge of the report and secure Scotland’s future as a global leader in energy technology for decades to come. We have 30 to 40 years, and we have the opportunity to maximise economic recovery. We now have the ability to ensure that we can transition to a new type of future for the North sea. I am sure that with the right type of approach and the right type of mentoring and support, we can get there. Our oil and gas industry still has a viable future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. As a member of the Scottish Affairs Committee, and as someone with 25 years’ experience of working in the oil and gas industry, I have taken a particular interest in this inquiry and very much welcome the report’s publication. Like all parts of north-east Scotland, my constituency has a deep relationship with the oil and gas sector. Many of my constituents work in the industry, as I did. The industry has helped bring prosperity to the area over the last half a century or so.
It is clear that the industry is moving into a new era, which is why the report is so important. While the industry is emerging from the downturn of the last few years, the medium to long term promises smaller reserve finds, reduced production rates, more decommissioning and the challenge of a wider transition towards a low-carbon economy. The prosperity of north-east Scotland relies on the industry making the most of this transition. The report makes a valuable contribution to the important debate on how we can achieve that. The industry has led the way in that debate, and its recognition of long-term risks and the need to address them will give many people confidence in the industry’s future.
It is worth recognising the work that many of the large oil and gas companies have been doing to encourage a transition towards low-carbon energies. They are often cast as cartoon villains in relation to climate change, but throughout the inquiry I have commended them for leading the way in the sector, and for taking climate change seriously. That commitment was exemplified by the creation in 2015 of the Oil and Gas Climate Change Initiative, initially made up of the BG Group, BP, Eni, Pemex, Reliance Industries, Repsol, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Statoil—now known as Equinor—and Total. Significantly, it was joined in the last year by American companies—Chevron, ExxonMobil and Occidental. Having worked for many of those companies as a member of staff, mostly for BP, and as a consultant for some of the others, I can confirm that that commitment to a low-carbon future is not just lip service.
The Committee’s report praises industry efforts such as Vision 2035 and the “maximising economic recovery” strategy, which aim to ensure that the industry continues to thrive in the medium to long term. As recommended in the report, I hope that the UK Government continue to listen to the call for an oil and gas sector deal to help the industry achieve those aims.
We need to use the next couple of decades to diversify the industry beyond just exploration and the production of hydrocarbons. Decommissioning technology and expertise will not only accelerate the reduction of decommissioning costs in the North sea but open up new export opportunities for the industry. Similarly, the subsea or underwater sector has great export potential, provided that we act quickly and do not fall behind other countries with expertise in this area, such as Brazil and Norway.
I am particularly pleased that the report recognises the potential of carbon capture, use and storage for the future of the industry. As the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) mentioned, that is particularly important in my constituency. CCUS technology will be vital if we are to continue to use oil and gas in a low-carbon economy. In assets that have ceased or are due to cease production, decommissioned infrastructure can be converted to use for CCUS purposes. This report is certainly not the first time that that potential has been recognised. Banff and Buchan has been the location of previous proposals for CCUS projects, which were sadly deemed not viable at the time. I continue to believe that CCUS can be part of a great future for the energy sector in Banff and Buchan, provided that the right proposals come along.
I am particularly excited by the Acorn project by Pale Blue Dot. Unlike previous proposals, it focuses on the St Fergus gas terminal, which is the third-largest emissions site in Scotland. The St Fergus gas terminal is an attractive proposition because it is already linked by pipeline to the Grangemouth industrial complex. Unlike previous proposals, Acorn aims to achieve commercial viability by starting small and growing through additions to the core project later. Whereas a previous proposal for a CCUS power station at Peterhead would have cost about £1 billion, the cost of the initial Acorn project is estimated to be just £300 million.
I pay particular tribute to the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, run by Colette Cohen. Its vision is to become more about the technology than the oil and gas. The trade body, Oil & Gas UK, led by Deirdre Michie, provides a huge amount of co-ordination and expertise for the industry. Finally, the Oil and Gas Authority, run by Dr Andy Samuel, is an exemplar of how a UK Government body can be hugely effective when based closer to the action.
I look forward to the Minister’s response to the report and, in particular, the recommendations on the sector deal. The report’s tone and the industry’s approach are constructive and optimistic, so I hope that the UK Government’s response will be similarly constructive and encouraging. Together, we can build on the work already done, and take the necessary steps to help the oil and gas sector continue to contribute to the economy, not just for Aberdeen and north-east Scotland, but for the whole United Kingdom, sustainably and for decades to come.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr Walker. I thank all my colleagues on the Scottish Affairs Committee for their work in producing this report.
It would be an understatement to say that the oil and gas industry is a vital part of the Scottish economy. It contributed £9.2 billion in 2017 and, as we have heard, it supports about 135,000 jobs. It is essential to the UK’s energy security, and forecasts suggest that oil and gas will account for two thirds of the UK’s primary energy needs until at least 2035.
The industry has suffered in recent years, but is starting to come through a challenging downturn, although there are still worrying signs, such as the low levels of new well exploration. There are also future challenges for the industry, such as declining production, climate change targets and the decommissioning of oil and gas rigs. I agree with the report’s central finding that the Government must provide serious and credible support to the industry through the sector deal. A sector deal supported by the Government and industry has the potential to deliver £110 billion for the UK economy by 2035. It must help with the development of new technology to maximise the recovery of the 10 billion to 20 billion barrels of oil that remain in the UK. It must find ways of encouraging greater decommissioning of oil and gas rigs, while reducing the cost of doing so. It must ensure that the industry’s skills, expertise and technology are protected for the future, including by transferring them for use in renewable energy, subsea engineering and carbon capture. The oil and gas industry has many opportunities for Scotland and the whole UK, which we should not waste. That is why I endorse the report’s findings, including its key recommendations about a sector deal.
I want to touch on some of the issues raised with the Scottish Affairs Committee, particularly by Unite and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. Those unions play a crucial role in organising and representing the interests of workers in the oil and gas industry. They were both keen to emphasise the need to maximise the industry’s economic recovery to its full potential. They share the sentiment of the industry and the Government.
It is welcome that the Oil and Gas Authority will lead exploration by commissioning surveys of unexplored areas of the sea bed. The creation of the Oil & Gas Technology Centre through the Aberdeen city deal was welcome. The “maximising economic recovery” strategy cannot be implemented through significant reductions in costs, given the impact that they could have on the workforce. There is a clear case for the Oil and Gas Authority working with the UK and Scottish Governments to create strategic public stakes in the implementation of the strategy. Those stakes should include infrastructure, such as pipelines, and public investment through borrowing and national investment banks. Only through co-investment by public and private stakeholders can we ensure the strategy’s success.
The fall in the oil price in recent years led to an 18% reduction in the core offshore workforce between 2014 and 2016. It also led to a reduction in the workforce’s terms and conditions. RMT highlights the growing use of short-term and zero-hours contracts. The industry and trade unions have observed practices including the application of retrospective charges for training, the exclusion of trade unions from heliports, the denial of holiday entitlements and the ignoring of TUPE requirements. I believe that Unite is right to call for the full devolution of employment law to Scotland so that we can begin to address those issues, alongside investing in skills, apprenticeships and training in the industry.
Although decommissioning must be a crucial part of the sector deal, it must be done in a way that preserves skills, expertise and technology. It is clear to me that there should be a national decommissioning strategy to ensure that decommissioning delivers for workers and our economy. The strategy must be devised through discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments, local authorities, industries and trade unions.
I would like to talk about safety in the industry. As a trade unionist, I want to ensure that all workers are safe in their workplace. It alarms me to see the findings of a recent report by Robert Gordon University, which received responses from 40% of offshore workers from the major companies in the industry. It found that 52% of workers are dissatisfied with their work-life balance; 45% said that it takes them longer to recover from their shifts, and 57% believe that the conditions of their offshore sleeping environment have worsened. Let us not ignore workers’ concerns about offshore helicopter safety. Some 62% said that they would be unlikely to fly in a Super Puma helicopter if given a choice.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the safety of workers and the avoidance of accidents. What does he think the Government can do to bring the oil companies to the table for discussions with trade unions about the important matter of the safety of personnel on their rigs and in helicopters?
I will come to that point; I take an interest in it. I recently met Oil & Gas UK, with which the unions are getting together to bring the workforce on board. Without the workers on board, no company can go anywhere. Unless companies involve their workers in the process, there is no point trying to organise the company.
I declare an interest: 27 years ago today, I took an interest in North sea oil safety helicopters when a Super Puma helicopter went down, killing 11 men, of whom my brother-in-law was one. Today is the 27th anniversary of the crash, so I welcome the report. I hope that the industry will take serious steps to address those safety concerns, particularly as employers have a duty to ensure that workers are safe in their workplace and can get home safely.
To conclude, I reiterate my support for the findings of the report, including its recommendation of a sector deal. It is clear, however, that there are challenges that we will have to address: “maximising economic recovery”, decommissioning, terms and conditions and, most importantly, the safety of the workforce.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I genuinely welcome the report and thank colleagues on the Scottish Affairs Committee not only for looking at this important issue, but for taking the time to come to Aberdeen—the heart of the UK’s oil and gas industry—to speak with representatives and hear the views of the industry on how we can move forward. That was much appreciated by the oil and gas companies there.
My constituents in Aberdeen South know better than most just how important the future of the oil and gas industry is and how difficult the past few years have been. The climb out of those difficult days has been long and not without challenges. I see those challenges every day when I speak with constituents and meet local businesses.
I was encouraged to hear the latest news from the OGA this week that North sea production reached a seven-year high last year. That shows that the sector still has huge potential to form an integral part of the UK’s energy mix and be a major source of high-value jobs across Scotland and the whole of the UK. Last week, I was pleased to welcome my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to Aberdeen, where we met representatives from Oil & Gas UK at Aberdeen harbour. During his visit, the Foreign Secretary highlighted the huge opportunities that await oil and gas companies once we leave the European Union.
Balmoral Group, a company based in my constituency, specialises in subsea buoyancy, renewable energy products and engineering solutions. It employs 500 people and is highly dependent on the rapidly growing markets of west Africa, South America, and the gulf of Mexico. The company is clear that its opportunities for growth are truly global. Aberdeen is a global city, and oil and gas companies based in my constituency have an increasingly international outlook. The new technologies developed through the Oil & Gas Technology Centre show the great export potential that will place Aberdeen at the centre of supply chains reaching around the world into mature and emerging markets.
Oil & Gas UK’s Vision 2035 has the ambitious aim of doubling the supply chain’s share of the global market from 3.7% to 7.4% by 2035. Those new technologies will be key to achieving that goal. They will not just unlock the future potential of the UK continental shelf, but secure the future of companies throughout the sector, as they diversify their interests. I welcome the Government’s continued work with industry to invest in technology that maximises recovery, improves efficiencies and extends the life of the UK continental shelf, while boosting the potential for export growth.
From the day we arrived in Westminster, my colleagues and I have worked hard to secure much needed support for this vital industry. I remember vividly lobbying the Treasury at every opportunity, and we were successful in securing transferable tax history for the sector, which unblocked billions of pounds of investment. Maintaining certainty on tax relief and reducing barriers to investment will be crucial to attracting the investment that the sector requires to maximise economic recovery and secure the long-term future.
The UK’s position as a market leader at the centre of global supply chains rests on the industry and Government working hand in hand to attract talent and investment as the sector prepares to navigate the challenges and opportunities of the coming years. I welcome the report on the future of the oil and gas industry, as it sets out the case for a sector deal for the industry and calls on the Government to commit to securing the long-term future of this vital industry. I look forward to the Minister’s remarks on the progress of that sector deal.
The future of the oil and gas industry rests on innovation not only in extraction to ensure that we maximise recovery, but in decommissioning. Decommissioning represents not the end of the oil and gas industry, but a huge opportunity to use the expertise and talent of a globally focused industry to turn a liability into an opportunity. The UK will be the largest market for decommissioning spending over the next decade, and is placed at the forefront of a rapidly growing market. I welcome the report’s emphasis on the benefits of a sector deal to unlock the global potential of the oil and gas industry not just in my constituency, but in constituencies across the United Kingdom.
There is a lot of life left in the North sea, and a bright future for the oil and gas industry. Investment in new technologies and the growth of the sector at the centre of a global supply chain are key to grasping future opportunities. I welcome the report, which sets out how industry and Government can work together to secure that future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Walker.
As has been mentioned, Scotland’s oil and gas industry is a world leader in many areas, health and safety being a notable one. Of course, we know the reason for that and we should pay our respects to the memory of the workers who have lost their lives in the industry, particularly in the Piper Alpha explosion and fire, but also in other incidents, including helicopter crashes, which the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) mentioned.
We should acknowledge that other workers have suffered serious injuries over the years while working in the industry. The safety record of North sea operations is better now, but that did not come easily or free of charge. The North sea industry has come a long way since its beginnings in the 1960s and the first gas from the Sea Gem rig, which gave us the first large-scale loss of life three months later. The industry has delivered substantial sums in wages, profits and taxes over the last half century, and it is incumbent on the Government to make a substantive contribution to decisions on the future of the industry, as the Committee’s report lays out.
That should include the transfer of skills to new industries, and it seems to me that renewable energy should be a major recipient of those transferred skills. Offshore wind farms and marine energy schemes would be ideal recipients of those skills. I recently had the privilege of visiting Nova Innovation, which is headquartered only a few hundred yards from my constituency office in Leith, and I was extremely impressed by the advances it is making and the pace of change in the offshore renewables industry. Nova leads the way in the tidal energy industry, and the Shetland tidal array looks like it may be at the leading edge of a new energy revolution. Just as Shetland was important in the development of the oil and gas industry, it may well be important in the development of the next energy industry.
While the Government are developing their future plan for the oil and gas industry, they really should be developing a parallel plan for the future of renewables that offers proper financial support for research and development and for connection to the grid. I have a bit of trouble having confidence in the UK Government to do that, however, given the record of past UK Governments when it comes to the North sea. Regulatory and taxation changes have come abruptly and swept in with very little consultation. Frankly, there is little in the current Government’s approach to legislating that gives me much hope of an alternative way of working.
Does the hon. Lady, my Committee colleague, agree with me and the testimony of witnesses that locating the Oil and Gas Authority, which is responsible for the regulations, in Aberdeen, close to the action, has already shown benefits and should show more in the future?
I agree that that was a definite point of progress and much to be welcomed, but the industry has been going for some 50 years, and some within it would argue that it was too little and almost too late. It is great that that came along, but much more can be done to support the industry.
As I mentioned with regard to improved support, I hope that the Government will surprise me, because the industry still has a lot to offer. The industry has plans to increase productivity so that in 16 years’ time it will be producing an additional £920 billion in revenue—not bad for an industry that we get told regularly is finished.
The scale of the contribution that the industry has made over the years is breathtaking. Scots will be aware of the famous, or infamous, McCrone report that was uncovered in 2005 by a friend of mine, Davie Hutchison, but written some years before he was born, in 1974. Professor McCrone was a UK Government civil servant at the time of writing, when he pointed out that the resources in the North sea were so enormous that they destroyed all the economic arguments against Scottish independence. Recently, Professor McCrone said that he regrets that the UK Government wasted that resource, frittering the income away, rather than investing in a sovereign wealth fund.
Furthermore, the McCrone report was written some years before the biggest discoveries in the North sea. Peak annual production did not come until 1999 and, as we have heard throughout the inquiry, new extraction techniques are increasing the potential recoverable resources even now. With another half century of extraction still possible, and new fields coming on stream in other areas, the industry has a long future yet. The Government need to step up to the plate.
One of the issues that has been mentioned is the protection of the environment and the development of serious carbon capture and storage proposals. Previous attempts to develop such schemes fell foul of Government inaction and broken promises. We need to see some serious commitment to making progress. I once heard about a pilot project, I think in Poland, where the carbon was captured and pressurised only to be driven a couple of hundred miles in tankers to the injection site, possibly defeating the purpose.
Some schemes that have been suggested before may well be capable of revival, and I am sure that more ideas would emerge when asked for. I hope that the Government will open the door to those ideas and help fund them, perhaps even hypothecating some of the revenue gleaned from the offshore industry, which should have gone into a sovereign wealth fund for Scots but is instead frittered away by successive UK Governments. The Government should consider doing a lot more for the environment with the resources brought in by the offshore industry. They could match the Saltire tidal energy challenge fund launched by the Scottish Government earlier this year, or reinstate the marine energy subsidy. If oil and gas were the energy choices in the second half of the 20th century, renewables will fill that role in the 21st century. We urgently need Government investment to make that industry a world leader.
The oil and gas industry is not dead yet, not by a long way. With at least as many years of exploitation left as we have already seen, there is still some way to go. The UK Government should sit down regularly with the industry to help plan the next half century. Vision 2035 is the industry view of the next few years; it would be good to see a UK Government vision or, better still, one agreed by the Government with the industry.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I congratulate the Scottish Affairs Committee on producing this informative report and on securing the debate.
The oil and gas industry is extremely important in the north-east of Scotland, but it also has other clusters, although not quite as large, in the north-east of England and East Anglia, which I represent. I chair the British offshore oil and gas industry all-party parliamentary group. It is important to remember that the industry is a national one and that it has a supply chain that extends throughout the whole of the UK.
The industry has been, I would say, the British industrial success story of the past 55 years. The results of extracting hydrocarbons on the UK continental shelf have been the creation of thousands of well-paid good jobs, the generation of an enormous amount of money for Her Majesty’s Treasury, and the development of expertise that can be taken, and has been taken, all around the world. Go to Libya, the gulf of Mexico, Kazakhstan or China, and one hears Scottish, Geordie and East Anglian accents.
Following on from something the Chair of the Committee said in his opening remarks—I meant to say this in my speech—I have benefited from that skills transfer, having worked not in Libya but in some of those other places around the world where oil and gas are prevalent. Does the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) agree that an important aspect of the sector deal, and the urgency of it, is to encourage the retention of those skills in this country in order to develop the technologies and innovations that we have discussed?
My hon. Friend is right. We have developed enormous expertise in the oil and gas sector which it is important to retain and build on. We are just beginning to see that in the offshore wind sector as well and, as I will come on to, the two are inextricably linked.
Yesterday was an important day for the industry. The APPG had its annual parliamentary reception, and those attending were in good heart and had a positive outlook for the future. We also had the Chancellor’s spring statement. Normally, the APPG lobbies Government hard coming up to annual Budgets and statements, but yesterday the Chancellor made no mention of the industry. I think that was mainly because he is keen for statements to be just that and not mini Budgets, but in many respects that was good news, because the industry wants a stable fiscal regime with no unforeseen, unpleasant or unhelpful surprises. That said, as we anticipate the autumn Budget, I suggest that we should all be back in top lobbying gear.
I acknowledge that we are now entering the second half of the contest—perhaps I should say challenge—of extracting oil and gas on the UKCS, but we should emphasise that this is not a sunset industry, as indeed colleagues in all parts of the Chamber have said. As in many matches, the best performances, goals and tries come in the second half. The industry has come through a great deal in recent years, but while challenges remain—in particular the low level of drilling activity and exploration—it is largely in a good place. Last year, significant final investment decisions were made on a number of major projects, production performance was strong, and unit operating costs had stabilised.
I shall highlight three areas in which the industry, the Oil and Gas Authority and the Government need to work together in the immediate future to maximise the sector’s potential for the benefit of all those who work in it and for the UK. First, attention needs to be given to strengthening the industry’s supply chain. Many companies’ revenues and margins are under extreme pressure, and increased collaboration and innovative contracting models are needed. If those are put in place, as a country we will be able to continue to compete for international investment, to provide security of energy supply, and to create and support highly skilled and fulfilling jobs.
Secondly, we need to build up expertise and create specialist hubs to carry out decommissioning. A good start has been made with the launch of the National Decommissioning Centre, but we must have it in mind that that is an enormous prize, not just on the UKCS—and, from my own perspective, most immediately in the southern North sea—but in basins all around the world.
Thirdly, the sector has made a good start in promoting and facilitating the transition to a low-carbon economy. Instead of the Danish oil and natural gas company and Statoil, we talk about Ørsted and Equinor. Gas has an important role to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy. In the southern North sea, the oil and gas and offshore wind sectors are collaborating on such innovative projects as gas to wire, which involves gas being generated into electricity offshore and transmitted to shore via spare capacity in the subsea cables that are used for the wind farms.
There are plenty of challenges, but my sense is that the industry is resurgent and brimful of ideas. With the right nurturing, promotion and collaboration, it can play a key role in the UK on the post-Brexit global stage.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. I thank the Committee members and the witnesses for helping to reach the well-considered conclusions and recommendations, and I thank the Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), for his push to consider matters of real significance to Scotland. If one sector has been a dominant industry in the political discourse of Scotland in the past 40 or 50 years, it has been oil and gas.
Today’s Scottish oil and gas sector is in a strong position. With up to 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent remaining, there is enough to sustain production for the next 20 years and beyond. Recent discoveries such as the Capercaillie and Achmelvich wells by BP, the huge and significant gas reserves west of Shetland and Clair Ridge, and Nexen’s phase two of developing the Buzzard field, demonstrate the significant untapped potential that this industry holds should we wish to exploit reserves.
Figures published in the last week by the Oil and Gas Authority forecast that 11.9 billion barrels will be extracted by 2050, up almost 50% from the estimated 8 billion barrels predicted just four years ago. That is why the Scottish Government are keen to do everything they can to support the industry and its workforce. In 2016, the Scottish Government launched a £12 million transition training fund to help oil workers retrain and make the most of their transferable skills to forge careers in other sectors. Some 4,000 applications have been approved, with training satisfaction at around 90%.
We have helped the Scottish supply chain to capitalise on an expanding decommissioning market that is forecast to reach £17 billion by 2025. The decommissioning challenge fund has offered grant funding of £3.1 million for projects focused on delivering innovative infrastructure improvements and technological advances in this area. As part of the Aberdeen city region deal, the SNP has committed £90 million over the next decade to support the Oil & Gas Technology Centre.
We are looking at an uplift of over £194 million in the enterprise and energy budget to support entrepreneurship, construction and productivity. That additional funding will contribute to an investment of almost £2.4 billion in enterprise and skills through our enterprise agencies and skills bodies.
The Scottish Government offer an impressive range of support for the industry. As we move forward, I hope the UK can step up to the plate and do more to support the industry as it moves into its next phases of production. However, successive Tory and Labour Governments have continually exploited the oil and gas industry for cash, with little regard for its future sustainability. They have been quite content to rake in a tax take of £350 billion from North sea revenues alone over the past 50 years. The Tories failed to deliver any real fiscal support when the sector was in depression after the oil price dropped. I hope that is a lesson learned. This is an extremely important sector for the future, and we need to support it to allow it to continue, maintain jobs and transition out of oil and gas into other areas.
On successive UK Governments’ management of the oil resource, I should say that in recent years Norway’s state-owned oil sector has generated many billions of pounds in Government revenue, while the UK has lost many. Does my hon. Friend agree that that points to a gross mismanagement of this valuable resource over many years by successive UK Governments?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Norway’s population is very similar to Scotland’s and it has a similar ability make good from the resource it found on its doorstep. It now has the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, yet in Scotland and the UK we have not put anything aside for future generations. That is a huge lost opportunity for the industry and the UK people.
That is a fantastic option that Norway has, but in the UK we do not have that wealth fund to decide how we will invest in the future. That makes a bit of a mockery of us. We have had all that wealth; Norway has done a huge amount with theirs, but we have taken ours off our balance sheet and spent it as it came in. We should have put some away for future generations.
I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that there is no sovereign wealth fund in the UK, but the revenues generated from the oil and gas industry in the UK were used at the time to invest in what we enjoy now: hospitals and infrastructure. That money was used for huge investment in infrastructure that is still used today by people across the United Kingdom. In the 1970s, it was used to help lessen the costs of unemployment.
The UK Government has had a spend, spend, spend approach, but as I said, I would like us to put away much more of that wealth for future generations. Perhaps it is a bit late to do that now; we probably should have started doing it from the beginning. It is easy to say in hindsight, but it should have been part of the overall oil and gas strategy right from the start.
It was interesting to hear the Chancellor’s reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) during the spring statement yesterday. He said:
“Scotland gets its share of…capital and resource, but precious little thanks do we ever hear from…the SNP Benches”.—[Official Report, 13 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 360.]
The fact that £350 billion went into Treasury coffers but not a brass farthing went directly into the Scottish economy underlines the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) about what Scotland has got out of oil and gas. We could have had an awful lot more to benefit every man, woman and child in our country. The Chancellor’s concept of pooling and sharing is much different from mine.
I am grateful that the control, stewardship and the tax take will soon be back in Scotland’s hands—“stewardship” is the key word rather than “management”. I return to the eloquent point made by the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) on safety: if companies are being brought to the table to talk about how to license certain fields, surely that is a fantastic opportunity to talk about their responsibilities for trade union recognition, and the safety and security of people who work on rigs far out in the North sea.
Scotland does not underestimate the vital part the oil and gas sector plays in meeting our energy needs; as the Committee points out, it is forecast that two thirds of the UK’s primary energy needs will be met from the North sea until at least 2035. However, we must also appreciate that we need to transition to a low-energy, low-carbon economy. Our world-leading, export-oriented supply chain already plays a positive role in that respect by looking at ways to reduce its carbon footprint at every turn. Average emissions per unit of production on the UK continental shelf have fallen year on year since 2013, and total emissions have been in decline since their peak in 2000.
Our oil and gas industry is awash with highly skilled individuals in possession of world-leading expertise. The sector currently supports 283,000 jobs across the UK. We must seek to hold on to those workers to retain the value they add to our economy. As I said, the Scottish Government’s transition training fund has made good progress in that regard, facilitating training for many oil and gas workers to move into renewables such as tidal, onshore and offshore wind, wave power and solar. However, the UK Government’s decision to slash funding for the renewable energy sector does not give us much encouragement. In fact, it does exactly the opposite, removing opportunities for talented individuals to utilise their skills to develop new wind technology and other low-carbon technologies such as carbon capture and storage—not so much opportunity knocks as an opportunity lost.
Brexit looms large in many people’s minds. We stand at a Brexit crossroads, with freefall into no deal on one side and a car crash of a bad deal on the other. It is inevitable that business across the UK will suffer if we ever actually leave the EU, but the oil and gas industry is likely to be one of the hardest hit, due to its highly globalised nature. With approximately £61 billion of oil and gas-related goods traded with the rest of the world, the threat of tariffs looms over the industry. In a worst-case scenario where the UK reverted to World Trade Organisation rules with the EU and the rest of the world, the cost of trade would likely almost double to around £1.1 billion per annum, assuming trading behaviours remained unchanged.
Certainly, Mr Walker; I will move on to my final comment.
The report’s conclusions focus on the positives: developing an ambitious deal for the sector as a whole, which I hope will be supported; developing new technology, which many Members spoke about, so we can recover more of what we need; reducing the costs of decommissioning; exporting the sector’s skills and experience, not just in exploration but in subsea work; and making the vital transition from carbon energy such as oil and gas to renewables—especially hydrogen, which could be a game changer and might just help save the planet. The opportunities remain immense, and the sector deal outlined by the Committee would offer energy security for decades to come and allow Scotland to remain a sector leader.
I congratulate the authors of the Select Committee’s excellent and wide-ranging report, and everyone who took part in the Committee’s proceedings. The report goes well beyond some previous considerations of the future of the North sea by putting it in the context of a number of other issues relating to where we stand on the exploitation of North sea oil and gas and what the future looks like.
As the report states, the North sea is a very mature basin. Hon. Members mentioned that its exploited resources total some 43 billion barrels, and estimates of what is left vary from about 8 billion to 10 billion barrels. Some of the discoveries to the west of Shetland notwithstanding, it is extremely likely that there will be no more Brents and that we will see the exploitation of smaller pools, which are more difficult to exploit. Clearly, there will be great emphasis on the efficiency of exploitation. The report emphasises the extent to which the oil and gas industry has increased its efficiency; it needs to continue to do so for that exploitation to be effective.
The report also goes into considerable detail about not just the future alternative paths, but what we might call the future imperative paths for the North sea as a mature basin. My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) mentioned that the oil industry has come through a challenging period—it is in a better position than it has been in for quite a while, given its efficiency achievements and what is happening with the exploitation of future fields—but he drew attention to the need to look at a future industry for decommissioning in the context of the climate change imperative. I was pleased to see that the report did not duck climate change; quite a few of its passages actually centred on the challenges that the fight to get us to a low-carbon economy will present for the oil and gas industry, and on how the industry can take part in that process rather than opposing it.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Ross Thomson) is right about the need to consider how decommissioning can be turned from a liability into an opportunity and, indeed, become a substantial part of the industry. We need only reflect on what is at stake: 250 fixed installations, 250 subsea platforms, 10,000 km of pipeline and 5,000 oil wells need to be decommissioned. The potential decommissioning industry is huge, not just in its own right but in terms of the expertise that already exists, which could be added to. The UK could be a world leader in decommissioning, exporting its expertise and methods. I commend the report’s attention to the detail of decommissioning and how it can be undertaken to the advantage of jobs, skills and exports for UK plc.
We must recognise that the imperative of climate change will cause us to take a considerable number of decisions about the oil and gas industry. Indeed, the report identifies a number of those decisions, one of which is the question of what we do about carbon capture, use and storage. That is not just a possible extension of activity and industry for the North sea as fields are depleted—indeed, those fields are enormous potential repositories for carbon dioxide—but can be used to the benefit of the North sea fields in their own right.
I would link that to the decommissioning efforts that are under way, because the next phase will be about exploiting smaller fields. That needs to be done on the back of existing infrastructure, which arguably should not be decommissioned but rather kept in place, so that those fields can be exploited without the infrastructure having to be completely replaced. If we decommissioned all that infrastructure when a lot of it could be used as the carrying capacity for carbon capture and storage, we may well live to regret it.
We need an understanding about future roles for the North sea. We should not only think about potentially depleted fields that could be repositories for carbon capture and storage, but look at practical considerations in respect of how the capture, transport and sequestration chain can be completed, possibly by using installations that are already there. The same applies to the future North sea wind industry. As the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) said, there is a close link between the skills and practical measures involved in developing offshore wind energy and maintaining the structure and infrastructure of the North sea oil and gas industry. Those two industries should work in tandem, rather than separately. As is mentioned in the report, that is important for satisfactory developments in the North sea and for the transfer of skills to the new industries. The skills, facilities and techniques that are already there in the North sea can greatly aid us in creating world-beating offshore wind energy installations and similar technologies, and ensure that the North sea plays its part in the transition to the attainment of a low-carbon energy economy.
In conclusion, the report marks an important milestone. It shows where we need to go next with the North sea oil and gas industry, and its recommendations and suggestions will stand the test of time. In the immediate future, I commend the report’s suggestion that we need to get on with a sector deal for the oil and gas industry. I do not need to say more about that, because I am sure the Minister will update us about it in his response. I emphasise my support for the need to get that deal over the line. In addition to milestones for the future, we have ambitions for the immediate time ahead to ensure that the oil and gas industry continues to be in a better position than it was in before and that it has the wherewithal to make its mark over the decades to come.
Certainly, Mr Walker. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. The Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee referred to you as a distinguished member of the Panel of Chairs. The next time I appear in front of him in a different capacity, I will remind him of that, as it implies that he is less than distinguished. I am sure nobody could say that about him; in fact, Mr Walker, I think you would agree that the opposite is true.
I congratulate the Scottish Affairs Committee and its Chairman on bringing forward the report, which I have read. One never knows what happens with Committee reports behind the scenes—the whole idea, of course, is that that information is privileged to the Committee—but from what I can gather, the Committee is an exemplar in the way that its members work cross-party. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman), the spokesman for the Scottish National party, most of the comments today were of a non-partisan nature. I will try to answer in that spirit.
Ministers in Westminster Hall debates either give a prepared speech—written by civil servants, then checked and rewritten by Ministers—or respond to comments; the difficulty is that so many comments were made today, and I disagree with so few of them, but I will absolutely do my best.
The former Prime Minister referred to this sector as the real jewel in the crown of the UK economy. Of course, I would refer to the former Prime Minister as the jewel in the crown, but he is not here to answer that. I briefly held the energy portfolio, but I am here today because there was a fight of a verbal nature between myself and the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth as to who should appear at this debate. I cover sector deals generally and she covers the oil and gas sector, but we are not both allowed to speak. I discussed the subject extensively with her and I am trying to speak for us both.
When I held the energy portfolio I went on a visit to Aberdeen, and I was amazed by the way the industry was fighting back from a real recession, if not depression, caused entirely by the reduction of the oil price on the international markets. I have not had any experience in oil and gas, but I realised that the cycle was similar to those in the mining sector that I had read about, though I have no experience in mining, either. Once skills disappear, it can be difficult to restart. In mining, as in oil rigs, some sites can become disused, and it is difficult to get them back into action. Exactly the opposite has happened; I was amazed by the way the oil and gas industry fought its way out of the recession, especially given that the core bit—the international commodity price of oil—is completely beyond its control.
To paraphrase some of the Brexit debate—the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife brought Brexit into this, so I felt I should—the oil companies are market takers, rather than market makers. They cannot control the international oil price—the price of what they have to sell. At least, I assume they cannot; nothing I have read suggests that they can. The sector has changed itself into a lower-cost, more nimble industry, which is interesting. Some big companies found that difficult because of their high overheads, but other companies have come into the market, are more nimble and have new sources of cash. I found that fascinating.
On setting a regulatory environment in the oil and gas industry and funding for research and development—that funding can come about in different ways, including from Government—Government’s work has been absolutely brilliant. In these discussions, it is easy to criticise Governments generally, but please do not think I am making a party comment; any sensible Government would have done this. I am pleased to say that we have had a lot of sensible Governments in this country. My comments are not a reason for complacency, though; I hope hon. Members do not think that I am saying that.
I am completely ignoring the speech that I prepared because I was so excited by some of the things that were said. To an outside person, perhaps a reader of the Daily Mail, it may seem as if North sea oil is finished and the continental shelf is clapped out. The exact opposite seems to be the case. I am pleased that the report reiterates that, and that it has been confirmed by hon. Members. There is huge potential. I hope the Government are on top of it.
A formal response to the report will be made in the usual way. However, the major conclusion, as far as I can see, was that a sector deal—a really ambitious one—should be agreed. I absolutely share the Committee’s desire to support the sector; there is a close relationship there.
I will make one comment that might be politely critical, if it is possible to be politely critical, to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) regarding what she said about the McCrone report. I know one should not talk about drinks party conversations, but I had the pleasure of meeting Gavin McCrone—I believe that is his name—once. I do not think it was quite a formal report. He was a well-respected adviser to different Scottish Secretaries of State, I seem to remember his telling me—if Gavin McCrone is the same person. The way the hon. Lady quoted him, if I may respectfully say so, was a little unfair to what has happened.
On sovereign wealth funds, Norway sounds really great—it is wonderful what it does; it invests billions of pounds all over the place—but it is a little bit selective to say that our money was squandered. First, as has been said, a lot of tax came from it. We have a big economy and a big population. It is not as though the money was spent somewhere else; it was spent for the benefit of everybody in the United Kingdom, so I do not accept the “squandering” point of view.
I think we will have to agree to disagree on the benefits or otherwise of sovereign wealth funds, but can I ask about the taxation situation and North sea oil revenues? In 2017, Norway taxed the Royal Dutch Shell company £4.6 billion, while the UK gave the company £176 million. Can the Minister talk a little bit about the implications of those figures? I find them quite staggering.
The hon. Lady has caught me unawares, because I am afraid tax is not one of my specialities; I apologise to her. I will find out about that, and if she would like me to write to her—or we could have a coffee together outwith this place—I would be happy to do so.
I should make some progress, because I am testing the patience of the Chair, and he wants two minutes left over. Trevor Garlick and the team have done a lot for the industry. He has brought a diverse sector together, which is the purpose of our sector deals; previously, most relationships between Government and companies seemed to be based on a few big companies that had very effective lobbying machines and knew the way the Government worked. In the oil and gas sector, he has helped to break that and has brought a lot of things forward.
The leadership has been very good, as have many of the work streams; we have five areas of focus in the report, but it seems to me that work on them is already being undertaken. For example, the National Decommissioning Centre has already been launched, with £38 million in funding. The Oil & Gas Technology Centre continues to lead on new technology and to support MER UK, which I was happy to visit in Aberdeen, on transformative technology. The work on exports that was mentioned is progressing well.
The work streams on other things that are part of Government policy, such as diversity and inclusion as well as CCUS, have developed very well. I was pleased that the Chancellor yesterday called for evidence to identify what more should be done to make Scotland and the UK a global hub for decommissioning, as the Chair of the Select Committee has talked about.
If I were the hon. Gentleman, I would not worry about that. We are also asking how the sector can support the development of UK carbon capture, usage and storage infrastructure through the effective use of legacy assets. The focus on underwater engineering proposed by industry, as part of a phased approach, is welcome. We are a global leader in subsea engineering, a market forecast to grow exponentially, but competition is fierce.
I am responsible for sector deals generally, and I am very much looking forward to advancing these proposals. What impresses me most about the way this sector has developed is that with Mr Garlick’s work and the co-operation of many people in Government, Parliament and the industry, so many of these things are already happening. I am very impressed by that; I wish I could say that was true in other sectors that I have been involved in. I commend the Committee’s report, and I look forward to developing the points in it.
The Minister is coming to the end of his remarks, but I worry that he has not touched on the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney). Can he outline how the Government will work with the workers in the industry and the unions?
The hon. Lady has brought up an excellent point. From what I have seen—I expect to be corrected by her or by the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) if I am incorrect—I feel that there is a lot of co-operation between companies and the union. However, I was very concerned by the points that the hon. Gentleman brought up about the survey from Robert Gordon University on the stress and everything else; that is of concern. While this is, I hope, a highly-paid industry, it is one where we must be very conscious of health and safety—not just the formal things to do with safety regulations, but things to do with the wellbeing of the workers in it. The hon. Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley) was correct to bring the question to my attention; I am sorry I had not answered it in the body of my speech. I will confine my remarks to that, and thank the Committee again for the work it has done.
I am grateful to you once again, Mr Walker. I thank everyone who has contributed to a very fine debate, which has touched on and explored most of the issues in the report. It is a report that all the Committee are proud of, and I am glad to see so many Committee members here, contributing and making their own particular points.
In particular, I am impressed with the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney), who reminded us of very real trade union-related issues that we touched on in the report. We took evidence from the trade unions, as he will remember from the visit to Aberdeen. We heard about his personal tragedy—something that was taken very seriously. Safety at work remains a live issue throughout the industry.
I am grateful to the Minister for the update on issues to do with the sector deal. I recognise that we are making solid progress on the global hub for decommissioning, but we need to hear a bit more about the other ambitions we mentioned—things that we believe should be included in the sector deal—particularly as regards transformational technology and underwater innovations.
We have a real opportunity to be world beaters here, and we cannot lose it, because it is so important to the sector. The skills that have been acquired over the decades of production in Aberdeen and the north-east must be utilised to full effect, and we must ensure that the investment follows that; £178 million of investment between Government and industry could return something in the region of £110 billion for the whole UK, but primarily for Scotland and the north-east. We must ensure that we get that investment and that support from Government.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for reminding us again that this is a UK-wide industry, with a footprint in practically every nation of the UK and every region. That is something we recognise. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) for reminding us about the history of all this; I know this has been a consensual report and we have all ensured that we can agree on it, but in Scotland we still have issues about not being able to secure the benefits, and we look across the North sea at what Norway has secured and acquired. We will leave that to one side just now, but it is worthwhile our being reminded of that as we go forward, and seeing what we can do to ensure that we continue to see the fruits and benefits of the North sea.
The key point, which I think everyone touched on, is ensuring a just transition from a hydrocarbon past to a low-carbon future, and that the investment, skills and expertise carry on into the next stage. I do not like talking of doing away with what we have, or a lack of production. A new adventure is in store for the North sea, and that will include all the things in this report—transformational technology, underwater innovation and decommissioning.
We have a great future, if we are able to ensure that all the wonderful skills that have been acquired can be properly utilised in the next stage of the story of the North sea. I look forward to seeing that chapter written with the support of both Governments, and of Members of Parliament right across this House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Sixth Report of the Scottish Affairs Committee, The future of the oil and gas industry, HC 996.
Health and Care Professions Council: Registration Fees
[Mr Steve McCabe in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered registration fees at the Health and Care Professions Council.
You and I have known each other a long time, Mr McCabe, but I think that this is the first time I have led a debate under your chairmanship. I hope you will show a bit of leniency, particularly to some of my hon. Friends. I thank Mr Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means for making provision for the debate. In actual fact, we were granted the debate at short notice; I think somebody else pulled out. Hon. Members will have to excuse me—I have a heavy cold, to say the least. I hope they can all hear me.
The debate follows on from early-day motion 2069, which I tabled last month and which condemned the Health and Care Professions Council’s unfair rise in registration fees. To date, that early-day motion has been signed by a truly cross-party group of 118 MPs, which shows the real concern across the House; it is very hard to get such a number. I hope that the debate leads to a rethink from the HCPC and the Government.
The HCPC exists to regulate health and care professionals. It sets standards, investigates complaints and keeps a register of workers in 16 different professions. Members might be interested to know what those professions are: arts therapist; biomedical scientist; chiropodist and podiatrist; clinical scientist; dietician; hearing aid dispenser; occupational therapist; operating department practitioner; orthoptist; paramedic; physiotherapist; practitioner psychologist; prosthetist and orthotist—I do not know what those are-radiographer; social worker, in England; and speech and language therapist. That covers quite a wide range, to say the least. Notably, social workers in England are still covered, despite plans to change that from 2019. Altogether, the HCPC regulates more than 360,000 professionals, 90,000 of whom are social workers.
To register, professionals have to pay an annual registration fee, which is currently £90. In autumn last year, the HCPC announced plans to raise its registration fees from £90 to £106 per year—an 18% rise. That follows a 5% rise in 2014 and a further 12.5% rise in 2015, so with the new rise fees will have risen by 40% since 2014. The HCPC argues that the rise is necessary in order to secure its financial health, giving five main reasons for the fee increase.
First, it plans to increase efforts to prevent problems before they occur. Secondly, it wants to use innovation and technology to modernise and improve services. Thirdly, it needs to address a caseload that is growing in number and complexity. Fourthly, it needs to address the impact of inflation since its last fee increase. Finally, it needs to pre-empt the transfer of social workers to a new regulatory body. While the HCPC has faced higher expenditure since 2015, these reasons cannot possibly support an 18% rise. Expenditure increased by £2.8 million in 2017-18, but £400,000 went on redundancy packages for management staff and £1.2 million went on refurbishing the HCPC head office.
The HCPC put its plans for a fee increase to its members over the winter. Responses to the consultation were damning, with 90% of respondents opposing the increase. Despite the findings of the consultation, the HCPC decided last month to impose the 18% increase. It has defended the rise by saying that its fees are lower than those of any other health and care regulator. However, other regulators are not comparable. Some cover very few members, reducing their economies of scale.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Of course, this issue affects not only the HCPC’s but other registrants, such as nurses, who have to register with the National Midwifery Council. Does he agree that, along with other things, such as car parking charges, low pay and no automatic incremental progression in a lot of health-related occupations—particularly for nurses—these kind of registration fee increases are just another tax on healthcare workers’ wages?
In considering that, we have to remember that a lot of those workers’ salaries—for want of a better term—have in some instances been frozen since 2010, while in some instances they may have increased by 1% or 2%. With inflation at about 2% over that period, that is roughly an 18% cut in wages. Add the increased fee, and those workers are carrying a heavy burden that they should not have to carry. Adequate funding should be provided, rather than finding it by using hidden taxation methods. We all know that nurses and so forth in some of our hospitals have to pay car park charges. Given all those hidden costs, these workers are quite frankly bearing the brunt of the recession.
A lot of these organisations have always said that they want to keep their independence and do not want to be funded by other sources; they are pretty keen on making sure that that continues. Is the real issue not the amount of regulation that they have to deal with? That must be one reason why the funding level has increased.
Organisations always argue that they want to be self-sufficient, but that should not come at the expense of the people whom they actually regulate. I am not an expert on the regulations that some of these bodies govern, but we should be very careful when thinking about changing regulations or reducing their amount. We would need to test that.
Altogether, the HCPC has not given a strong reason for this huge increase, leaving affected workers frustrated and angry. In addition, the Government’s response to the fee change has been very disappointing: in answer to written questions, they have just repeated the HCPC’s weak defence of the fee rise. Ministers have argued that the registration fees remain the lowest of any health regulator, but that does not change the fact that the rise is disproportionate and unfair. The Government should be concerned over the threats to staff levels in the affected professions, but Ministers say they have made no assessment of the impact on staffing of this rise. That is a complete dereliction of duty, with staff openly talking of leaving due to the rise.
It is an irresponsible move by the Government to hide behind the HCPC’s independence. They must take steps to prevent fee rises from being the norm for the HCPC, and for all regulators, and help to build bridges between healthcare professionals and the HCPC, as trust is breaking down. HCPC members are understandably angry, believing that it is exploiting a stranglehold over their jobs. The rise amounts to nothing less than a tax on practising, and it has had little scrutiny or debate. I would like the HCPC to reverse the decision to increase registration fees by 18%. The Government and the HCPC must change the way fees are decided on, to prevent such a huge change happening in the future. The HCPC must operate in a fairer and more transparent way, and the Government must play a role in ensuring that that happens. It is time that the Government and the HCPC stopped taking advantage of those who take care of us all.
In response to the rise in fees, Unison conducted a survey of affected members and found that 99% of respondents did not back it. Importantly, it found that 76% did not see the current £90 fee as good value for money. Members feel that the HCPC offers no real benefit except for allowing them to practise. They are also critical of the justification given by the HCPC for the fee rise.
First, it must be pointed out that the 18% rise completely outstrips inflation. If the HCPC was genuinely concerned to cover inflation, it could implement smaller, year-on-year rises. I doubt whether the staff could afford those, frankly, but it is one way to look at it. Secondly, it is unfair for members of other professions to cover the costs of transferring social workers to a new regulator. The HCPC faces upheaval because of the change, but it is wrong for other professionals to pay the price.
Thirdly, the case for needing more funding after the transfer of social worker regulation is dubious. Social workers make up a quarter of members, which is a substantial number of registration fees. We all know what a difficult job they do. Often they are put in a situation where they cannot win, and they bear the brunt of some of the ills of society, to say the least of it. However, they also account for more than half of all fitness to practise cases. That is the HCPC’s largest area of expenditure. Despite a loss of income, the HCPC will face a sharper fall in costs at the same time. That fundamentally undermines the case for an 18% rise, and proves that it is unnecessary.
Unison also highlighted several changes that the HCPC should implement to reduce spending. First, it must take steps to make its complaints process more efficient. The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care found in 2018 that the HCPC’s investigation committee refers cases too readily to the fitness to practise panel and that more than 20% of complaints are found at final hearings to be “not well founded”. Overall, members are funding a system that handles complaints against 0.64% of registrants and sanctions just 0.09%. No wonder so many members are left feeling that they gain nothing from their registration.
The fee rise comes on top of many years of wage freezes and below-inflation wage rises. Although £106 might not sound much to the Government or to some higher-earners in the health sector, the rise will be a real hit to part-time workers and those on lower wages. Professionals are left doubting their trust in the HCPC after being ignored in the consultation. The HCPC is facing growing unrest and resentment among its members. Many are now moving to non-regulated posts, and part-time working will become a lot less attractive, inevitably causing a fall in the number of workers in the sector.
I am always surprised when I am called early, Mr McCabe, but it is always a pleasure to speak in such debates.
I thank the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), who is a friend as well as a colleague, for obtaining the debate. I, along with many others, signed the original early-day motion, as he mentioned. I have had the benefit of his knowledge in studying the background and making sure we were on the same page. When he told me the story, it resonated with me and I knew it would resonate with my constituents and with people back home who work in the caring services. It will therefore come as no surprise if my comments echo those of the hon. Gentleman.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for persevering with the matters he is interested in. He was a Member when I first came to the House, and the two of us made friends quickly and have worked together on many things. I would say that he has signed all my EDMs and I have probably signed all his, so we have a mutual understanding. That is not because we are friends, but because we are of the same mind on the issues and we work together on them. I am pleased to do it. I think I signed his Coventry City early-day motion, and I think he even signed mine on Leicester City, so there we are. We crossed that divide as well.
I, like many Members in this Chamber, have been a consistent advocate of a pay increase for NHS staff. I lobbied the Government for it when my party came into the confidence and supply arrangement, and we thank them for the increase that they gave in response. I am fighting to equalise nurses’ pay on the mainland and in Northern Ireland, because there is a differential and we must close the gap. I am endeavouring, with the Department of Health in Northern Ireland and the permanent secretary, to ensure that we move closer together. It is very simple to me: I see a group of civil servants working in conditions that are not acceptable and I know that what they should be paid is vastly more than what is there. We need to pay them what they should be paid. We appreciate them and all that they do, as the hon. Member for Coventry South said, and I thank them too.
I had occasion about two years ago to be cared for by nurses in hospital, so I know how much they do. I was there three times that year. The 1.5% rise does not seem like a huge amount, yet the staff felt that it was a gesture of appreciation. It was important that we made a move in that direction. The Government’s agreement was 3% over a five-year period. To accept, in the same breath, an 18% increase in the fee to practise is shocking and far outweighs any gesture we have made. Such an increase will mean a 40% rise in HCPC fees since 2014. How can that be acceptable? There is no fairness or sense of balance in the process.
I always relate my speeches in the House to what happens in Strangford, so that the people there know I am industrious on their behalf. The Strangford example I want to use today is of a district nurse who approached me a few weeks ago. She complained that those who have gone to the private sector to carry out personal independence payment assessments and the like not only get to work nine-to-five, have a company car and a higher wage, and are not run off their feet in an understaffed ward; they also have their registration fees paid. They get better conditions in the private sector, and their fees are paid, so we can understand how NHS professionals feel. My constituent said it is little wonder that wards are crying out for qualified nurses, while the assessors can find people left, right and centre. We have a dearth of nurses in Northern Ireland and are 1,500 short. The Minister knows I understand that that is not his responsibility; I say it just to show the situation we are in. We simply cannot compete with the private sector, but why are we competing against ourselves with the PIP assessments, which are carried out with public money? We are robbing Peter to pay Paul, and that needs to end.
We need to take the opportunity to assure paramedics, occupational therapists, operating department practitioners, physiotherapists, radiographers, dieticians, chiropodists, podiatrists, orthoptists, clinical scientists and speech and language therapists that to ask them for a 40% increase in fees over five years is not acceptable. Yes, it may be only a pound a month, as some people have said, but the fact is that all bills, from gas to petrol to food, have risen. The issue is the combination of all those increases in bills. They all contribute to the lowering of income. We should want to encourage NHS practitioners—those in the health and care professions—to stay there and work in their vocation of choice.
I firmly believe that a message must be sent today from this place that we support health and care professionals in their fight for fairness and equality, and that we oppose the rise or will pay the fees on behalf of those who work full time in our NHS as part of our thank you to them. That would be an endorsement of their commitment to us as their patients. It is not even £9 a month per staff member, so can the Government not look after this and ensure that it is paid for NHS staff? Why are we asking them to pay it while those who work privately have theirs paid for? The issue is the imbalance. Those who work privately have this paid for, but that does not happen in the NHS. That is not the right message to send to dedicated NHS workers, and we must do better.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) for securing this important debate. I, too, had requested a debate on this subject but was unsuccessful, so I am pleased that he has been able to bring this important issue to the attention of the House.
Before I was elected to this place, I was registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, because I worked as a clinical scientist in the NHS. As we have heard, registration with the HCPC is an essential part of the job: without professional registration, scientists and allied health professionals in the NHS are not allowed to practise. I am no longer registered with the HCPC. Having worked for the NHS for 33 years and had a career change late in my working life, I have called time on my NHS career, so there is no conflict of interest.
The HCPC charging above-inflation fee increases is nothing new, but it is scandalous that its latest proposal is to raise fees for already hard-pressed healthcare professionals by an enormous inflating-busting 18%. If that increase is imposed, HCPC fees will have risen by 40% since 2014, outstripping inflation and going hugely above any pay rises that NHS staff have had.
I remember from my days in the NHS that the HCPC used to impose above-inflation fee increases during the years of the George Osborne 1% public sector pay cap. Any representations that the staff and trade unions made to the HCPC, at a time when many staff had had no pay rise at all, fell on deaf ears and were simply ignored. It appears that that has emboldened the HCPC to ask for more and more from its members, with no discernible improvement in the performance of the HCPC or an increase in the services that it provides to its registrants.
NHS staff are already struggling, their pay having been suppressed for many years since 2010, but more and more financial demands are made on them in order to stay in work. NHS staff in England have to pay to park at their workplace; NHS staff are paying more towards their pensions; any member of staff with any sense will be paying trade union subscriptions; many are repaying student loans; and now, they appear to be expected to finance the HCPC’s excessive, unreasonable and unjustified fee demands.
The staff are just not being listened to. My trade union, Unite, submitted a 38,000-signature petition against the fee increase to the chief executive of the HCPC before the decision was made on 14 February this year to increase its mandatory fees by 18%. It appears that the HCPC is quite happy to blithely ignore the voices of 38,000 of its members. Additionally, the HCPC consulted on increasing its fees from £90 to £106 a year and 90% of those who responded disagreed, yet that seems to have had no impact on the decision made on 14 February.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me—she is making this case anyway—about how unaccountable this body is? I have dealt with individuals who have fallen foul of it and I have written to it on their behalf, but it appears to take no notice at all of what an individual MP or constituent has to say.
I do agree, and I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I should add that while I worked for the NHS, I was a trade union rep for Unite the union and had many encounters with the HCPC. I found it to be opaque in its dealings and difficult to deal with.
I want to mention the effect of the fee increase on part-time workers, because scandalously there is no difference in fees between full-time and part-time workers, so it will have a disproportionate effect on part-time workers, who in the NHS are predominantly female.
If we look at what the HCPC actually does, we find, from its 2018 annual report, that it dealt with complaints against only 0.64% of registrants and that it sanctioned only 0.09%. Many members comment that they receive no benefit or professional services at all from their registration. As we have just discussed, the HCPC operates in a very opaque manner. Trade unions are not recognised within its own workforce, so there is no collective pay bargaining for its own employees, and so we do not even know what the HCPC pays its staff.
The HCPC says that it needs this increase so that it can deliver smarter regulation, improve services and mitigate the impact of the transfer of the regulation of social workers to Social Work England. However, I have already talked about how few fitness-to-practise cases the HCPC deals with as a proportion of the total membership. When social worker regulation moves to a new regulator later this year, that should lead to a reduction in fitness-to-practise expenditure, given that 59% of that expenditure currently goes on social work cases. The HCPC’s costs should decrease, not increase, which makes this demand on registrants even more unjustified.
This is Healthcare Science Week and I pay tribute to all the scientists working across our NHS. Their work quite often goes unrecognised, but is an essential component of the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Healthcare scientists and allied health professionals are a vital part of our NHS team.
In conclusion, I call on the HCPC to pause, to delay any decision to increase fees, and instead to explore alternative ways to reduce costs and to fully assess the impact of the transfer of social workers.
It is a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair, Mr McCabe. I was also registered with the HCPC and the preceding bodies. Although I am no longer registered, I recognise the impact this issue has on NHS staff.
There are nine different regulators in the NHS, regulating 32 different professions. They provide a very important function: this is about protecting not only the public, but health professionals themselves in the course of their practice. The regulators are there to set, maintain and raise standards and to give confidence to the public, as well as to hold a register and protect the title of a profession, so that other people cannot set up a business pretending that they hold the professional qualifications, which people across the NHS work hard for.
Increasingly, regulators also ensure continuing professional development. The most advanced programme of professional development has been put in place by the Nursing and Midwifery Council in recent times. The regulations around that ensure that registrants are compliant with continuing professional development. The function of regulators is to ensure that professionals who fail to uphold professional standards and their duty of care are called to account, so that sanction is applied where necessary and recourse is taken.
We have already heard that—thankfully—a miniscule number of professionals are taken through disciplinary processes. That is a tribute to the great professionalism across the NHS. However, such cases do occur, and it is appropriate that rigorous processes are in place so that individuals can defend their position and have recourse to justice before appropriate action is taken. To have someone practising who is not fit for practice risks the whole profession, so it is vital that that is put in place.
However, the cost of that process has escalated substantially, as hon. Members have mentioned. When I first registered as a physio, I had to pay only £17. In 2015, the last year that I was registered, there was a huge increase—from £80 to £90. The suggested increase to £106 is, quite frankly, unacceptable, particularly given the background, as set out by hon. Members, of a decade of pay regression, pension cuts and student loan repayments. In my time we had grants, so things have changed significantly.
More and more burdens are being placed on health professionals. That means that more risk is placed on health professionals. When we had adequate staffing in the NHS, mistakes were less frequent and caseloads were safer. Unfortunately, in many professions people’s caseloads are now too big. The pressure on those individuals increases.
I was formerly head of health at Unite. We focused on organisations’ duty of care. Managers in particular must say no to the organisation and argue the case for more staff, rather than increase the pressure on health professionals by making their caseloads unsafe—that would mean that managers were failing in their duty of care, in breach of their standards of professional conduct.
I am also a former Unison official. In view of that, does my hon. Friend agree that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) rightly pointed out, the professional bodies cover not only full-time and part-time staff, but student social workers and student nurses? They are under the same constraints.
Students do have responsibility, but the registered health professional is responsible for ensuring that they are safe under their practice while they are training in their profession. Training the future workforce is an incredibly important additional function of health professionals.
The Law Commission came forward with a set of recommendations for registrant bodies in 2012. In 2019, we still have not seen the implementation of those recommendations in full. I would like the Minister to explain why that is the case. Implementing a substantial piece of work about ensuring patient safety should surely be at the forefront of the Minister’s agenda. I am interested to hear the reasons for the delay, and what plans there are to put those recommendations in place. Training programmes for health professionals need to focus on the ethics, behaviour and conduct of health professionals, if we want to see a reduction in the number of cases. Managing that risk is really important.
I want to raise a number of points to move this case forward. First, as we have heard, 38,000 people signed a petition to register their discontent with the fee rise. That cannot be ignored. These are valuable NHS workers. Their call must be heard and reflected on. However, the HCPC hardly seems to have taken that into consideration. As my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) said, the number of fitness-to-practise cases being taken forward—currently, 59% of them involve social workers—will disappear. Therefore, surely the registrant body’s costs will decrease. We want to hear how that will benefit health professionals.
This is a tax on professionals. Will the Minister consider funding that regulation fee through the NHS? It does not make sense for nurses, physios and speech therapists, for example, to pay a different amount. That is a tax on professionals who have put in the training and the hours, and go over and above the hours. Why can the Government not pay the amount for each health professional? More than a gesture, it is a responsibility of the NHS to ensure that its registrants, including part-time workers, have that support. I completely concur with the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton that there should be a part-time rate.
My hon. Friend makes such a good point. I wish I could explain that, but to me it seems to be more money and less work. I am as baffled as he is about why health sector workers have to pay into this institution to do less work. I worked as a part-timer when I was head of health at Unite. Although I worked at weekends, I had to pay the full fee, so I certainly understand the frustration. Of course, that mainly affects women, who are more likely to work part time.
Finally, I ask that an expansion of the number of registered health professionals should be considered—after all, this is about keeping the public safe. We should know that the title under which the professional acts is secure and represents them. Certainly psychological services, such as psychotherapists, have requested to be registered, as have community nursery nurses. It is perplexing that the registration of nursing associates on a register—not this one—has been accelerated, but the registration of community nursery nurses, who have long asked for that, has not happened.
I would go further and say that, as we are looking at the future of the social care workforce across the country, we should also look at individuals who are singlehandedly going into people’s homes but who do not have the protection of being on a professional register. Ultimately, that is about keeping the public and our health professionals safe and secure. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that a greater number of professionals are protected under the existing regulatory regimes?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) for securing this important debate, which I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in. For many years, it was my privilege to work with many healthcare professionals, so I take a keen interest in this subject. I was happy to add my signature to the letter to the HCPC to oppose the, at the time, 18% proposed increase in fees.
It is right that healthcare professions should be regulated and that those bodies should be independent of the Government, which means that fees must be attached to the registration. Having set fees, however, those bodies must have a view to the people and the professions that they regulate. Many people covered by the Health and Care Professions Council are not big earners, despite playing an incredibly important part in our healthcare system, and they are often missed out when we talk about healthcare workers.
We talk about doctors and nurses, but we rarely talk about all the other NHS staff who are integral to our healthcare system. I have worked with paramedics, occupational therapists, dieticians and many others, who are an important part of that healthcare team. In the last 18 months, I have had personal experience in my family of the great work they do—on stroke rehabilitation, for example. It is important work, but the pay is not great. Typically, people are paid at band 5, which starts at £23,000 a year, so we are not talking big bucks.
My hon. Friend is making a good argument about the different levels of pay. Does she agree that one of the most unfair arguments for raising the fees is that they are lower than for other professional bodies? Dentists and doctors get paid much more money, so there is no fairness in that comparison.
I agree with my hon. Friend and I will come on to that point later.
Although we in this House talk about how valuable healthcare workers are in all kinds of debates, the fact is that their pay has not kept in line with the real cost of living, so an 18% increase in registration fees is huge and out of all proportion with the pay increases that they have had in recent years. Most of them do not have a choice about whether to register; they must be registered to be able to work. The increase will bring the total increase in registration fees to 40% since 2014, which is incredible.
As hon. Members know, one issue that the NHS is facing is staff shortages in certain areas. It cannot be ignored that something such as this increase can only be a disincentive to staff looking to do those important jobs. As other hon. Members have said, another key issue is the impact of social workers. They are currently covered by the HCPC, but they are about to go off to their own regulatory body. The significance of that should not be lost. While it will mean a reduction in income, of course, it will also mean a significant decrease in the number of fitness-to-practise cases, which are inevitably expensive to prepare. Currently, 25% of HCPC registrants are social workers, but more than 50% of fitness-to-practise cases are in the social work field. That significant factor should be taken into account when the HCPC considers its fees.
On fitness-to-practise cases, I well remember from representing people how devastating it is for any health professional to face a complaint or a fitness-to-practise case, but many people are being held in limbo waiting for their case to be heard, or even awaiting a decision that the case should not be pursued. A 2018 report by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care was critical of the HCPC and suggested that cases were being referred to the fitness-to-practise panel by its investigation committee too readily. The report stated:
“In our review of its performance this year, we set out our concerns about how the HCPC approaches the discontinuance of cases. Our view was that the approval of discontinuance decisions by the HCPC (with no additional information or evidence being presented since the decision of the Investigation Committee to refer the case) may indicate that the Investigation Committee is failing to identify when there is no case to answer.”
Clearly, that has a significant impact on the professional under investigation and on the operation of the HCPC, and is a factor in costs.
As other hon. Members have mentioned, the proposed 18% increase will have a disproportionate impact on part-time workers, who are predominantly women and mostly in the NHS, because it is a flat-rate fee. That does not seem reasonable.
We hope that the Health and Care Professions Council will listen to the comments made in the debate. Unison has also made some suggestions that the HCPC should consider. First, there should be a pause in implementing the decision to increase fees until the impact of social workers moving away can be assessed. It will clearly be a significant factor in the future, so it seems appropriate that the full impact should be known before an important decision to increase by 18% is made. Secondly, I am told that the Health and Care Professions Council has £18 million of cash reserves, which should be used to allow the impact of the move of social workers to be considered before fees are raised. Thirdly, there should be a more stringent look at other means of raising revenue, rather than just increasing fees.
The Health and Care Professions Council carried out a consultation on the fee increase. By its own admission there were 2,398 responses, many of which opposed the proposed increase. The HCPC has written to explain its position to those of us who signed the letter that we wrote before it made the decision. In that letter, it compared its fees with those of other healthcare regulators. Frankly, that comparison is not valid, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) has already said. A comparison with the fees paid by dentists, which are £890 a year, or doctors, which are £390 a year, is completely misleading. Typically, HCPC registrants will be paid vastly smaller salaries, so it is not just apples and pears, but apples and strawberries. There is a real mismatch and disparity in the comparisons being made, so they are not valid.
As other hon. Members have, I call on the Health and Care Professions Council to reconsider its position and to agree to Unison’s suggestions as a way to avoid the 18% increase in fees.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) on securing this important debate and highlighting the issue. If it were not for him and one or two other hon. Members, the change might have gone largely unnoticed, except by those adversely affected by it. I sincerely hope that it now gets the attention that it so deserves.
As hon. Members will know, the overwhelming majority of health and care matters involving Scotland are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. However, most of the system of regulation of health and care professionals still operates at a UK-wide level. That is because in 2010 the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution felt that those bodies that dealt with professional regulation of practitioners would best operate at a UK level. The commission’s rationale was that that would provide clarity and assurance to patients that there was a common approach and a common set of standards right across the UK, and that it would also help to facilitate the mobility of professionals who chose to move between the nations of the United Kingdom.
The one exception to that was, of course, social work; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had their own professional bodies in place alongside the Health and Care Professionals Council, which represented social workers in England. Together, those bodies worked on a four-council basis across the UK, and had a memorandum of understanding that set out a framework for close working. As I understand it, part of the problem is that the HCPC is about to lose around 90,000 social workers in England to a new professional body—an issue to which I will return shortly.
Professional registration fees for social workers is a devolved matter; it was devolved in 2003, and the fees remained static until 2016. It goes without saying that the Scottish Government would welcome further devolution of such powers to Scotland, so that we can ensure that any planned changes to that regime are better tailored to the needs of health and care practitioners in Scotland.
As for the issue before us, the Scottish Government are on record as saying that they are more than a little surprised and confused as to why an 18% hike in fees was deemed necessary or appropriate. They seek clarification from the HCPC on how such a substantial jump, which is so out of line with inflation, could possibly be justified. In addition, they are seeking reassurances from the HCPC that it is not simply attempting to make up any projected loss in revenue as a result of the departure of social workers in England by hiking up membership registration fees.
As the hon. Member for Coventry South said, being a member of the HCPC is not an optional extra; people cannot opt out of it and still practise their profession. As the HCPC has a captive market, any price increase must be seen as fair and proportionate, and the practitioners who pay that increased fee must know why they are being forced to pay it, and what benefits it will bring to them and to the profession as a whole. As I understand it, the Scottish Government have contacted, or will contact, the HCPC to get a clearer understanding of its motivation, both in the short and the long term.
As has been pointed out by just about every speaker, this 18% rise in fees hugely outstrips inflation. Given the real-terms cuts that many health and care staff have experienced in recent years, that is another financial blow that they could do without.
In addition, as the HCPC insists on charging a flat rate, if the rise in fees goes ahead as planned, it will of course have a disproportionate effect on part-time workers, who are mainly women, and those workers who are considering reducing, or want to reduce, their working hours. I repeat the Scottish Government’s call for all workers to be paid the real living wage, which better reflects the cost of living and inflation. I am proud that Scotland has the highest proportion of employees earning the real living wage of any nation of the UK.
The contributions to this excellent debate have had a common theme. Regarding the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), it beggars belief that anyone in his constituency could be unaware of how hard he works. I used to wonder how he did so much in this place, and I have concluded that he is one of triplets. His valuable contribution today, which compared the pay rise for NHS workers with the rise in professional fees being asked by the HCPC, was very telling.
The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) brought a much-needed voice from the shop floor or the coalface to this debate, and I am very grateful to her for sharing her experience. It is that experience, and her credibility, that demand that she be listened to by the people making this decision.
Similarly, the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), another former healthcare professional, gave a personal account of paying £17—I think that is what she said—at the beginning of her career, and compared that with the £106 fee being proposed. That really gave this debate context.
I thank the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) for sharing the personal experiences of her family, who have been supported by a dedicated professional. I guarantee that that dedicated professional will not earn a great deal; for them, this increase will be a significant amount of money. I thank all the hon. Members who have spoken for their contributions this afternoon.
If this proposed 18% increase goes ahead, HCPC fees will have risen by 40% since 2014. That is a remarkable figure by any standard, and it is easy to see why the unions and others view it as excessive, unreasonable and unjustified. I put on the record my thanks to Unison for its enormous help in briefing Members of Parliament. I cannot think why the HCPC did not take advantage of this opportunity to brief Members as well; it seems to be entrenched somewhere and does not wish to engage. It had an opportunity to put its case and let Members understand in greater detail its rationale for this increase.
I cannot help but think that at a time when the NHS is struggling with staff shortages in many areas, this decision could have a negative impact on key parts of its workforce. The arbitrary way in which this increase seems to have been arrived at, and the lack of any adequate mechanism to prevent such an arbitrary rise, is seriously problematic.
A consultation opened in September last year. The consultation document put out by the HCPC referred to: improving capacity and services around fitness to practise; keeping pace with inflation, although perhaps the HCPC is talking about Venezuelan inflation, because this increase seems wildly out of line with inflation here; and the costs associated with the impending transfer of social workers in England to their own professional regulatory body. I think that last part is the key to this situation. There is an overwhelming sense that the HCPC is chasing money that it fears it will lose as a result of this reorganisation.
I am not naive; I understand that folk do not normally vote for price rises. However, the fact that 90% of respondents were opposed to the rise should cause concern, yet the HCPC is pressing ahead regardless with its decision to implement this rise in fees. When Unison asked about the increase, 99% of respondents opposed it, and 76% said that they did not believe that they were getting good value for money as things were, which shows that the HCPC has a problem.
As we have heard many times—indeed, I have referred to this myself—the change in the regulation of social workers in England is the key to this situation. However, I call on the HCPC to pause before implementing this decision to increase fees. It should seriously consider why its members are so implacably opposed to it. Can it seriously justify asking its remaining members to pick up the slack resulting from the loss of social workers in England to a new professional body? I do not think it can. During that pause, perhaps it could examine further ways of increasing its revenue, rather than continuing on the road that it is on.
I finish by once again thanking the hon. Member for Coventry South for bringing this matter to our attention, and for securing this ever so important debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe.
As have many other hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) on securing this important debate, and on the way in which he has led the campaign. As he rightly pointed out, 114 Members have signed an early-day motion on this topic, which shows the level of concern about the proposals across the House.
My hon. Friend set out the five main reasons why the HCPC argues that the increase is justified. However, as he correctly pointed out, it cannot be justified, particularly in the context of what he referred to as excessive redundancy packages and refurbishment costs within the organisation. He was right that it is irresponsible of the Government to hide behind the HCPC. Recent events may give us cause to believe that the Government are completely powerless in everything and unable to govern, but surely there is something they can do about this; it is a question of political will.
As always, it was a pleasure to hear from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). He put it aptly when he described the increases as having no sense of fairness or balance, and he is right that increases in the cost of everyday items make it difficult to find any justification for these fee increases.
My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) brought her experience to the debate, as she often does. I am sorry to hear that she has called time on her NHS career, but the NHS’s loss is no doubt her constituents’ gain. She was right to remark on the correlation between public sector pay restraint and increased fees, and she highlighted what I would characterise as the opaque way in which the HCPC operates. It does not recognise trade unions, we do not know what its pay rates are and, as she said, many registrants do not see any value in what it does. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the healthcare scientists and allied health professionals who work in the NHS, and agree with her that they provide a vital part of the service.
We heard from another former NHS professional, my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). She brought her own frontline experience to the debate and highlighted the importance of maintaining the integrity of the register, to protect both the professions and the public. She rightly pointed out that the number of those whose professional standards are brought into question is minuscule, and made the pertinent point that the risk for professionals is probably greater now than in the past, due to the continual challenges with workforce numbers.
We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), who made the point—as did many others—that although the staff we are concerned with today are not the typical NHS staff we spend a lot of our time talking about, they are just as important as every other member of the NHS family. She was right that this fee increase is out of proportion, and that such fees can only be seen by staff as a disincentive to stay in the professions. She also made the perfectly reasonable point that cash reserves could be used to prevent a fee increase this year and to make time for a more open and detailed examination of how such eye-watering increases can be avoided in future.
Professional regulation plays a vital role in setting and enforcing the standards of professional behaviour, competence and ethics that underpin the day-to-day interactions between patients and health and social care services in the UK. There are nine regulators in the UK, which regulate 32 professions and are independent of Government under the law. Their roles, functions and powers vary, but all set standards of competence, conduct and ethics that professionals must abide by. Professionals must register with them to practise. They monitor the quality of all education and training courses, maintain a public register of professionals, investigate complaints, and make decisions about whether registered professionals should be allowed to continue to practise. In short, they play a vital role in upholding public trust and confidence in the professions.
The HCPC currently regulates 15 health and care professions across the UK, as well as social workers in England, although as we have heard, social workers are due to move to a new regulator later this year. At the moment, that represents 366,000 health and social care professionals, including paramedics, occupational therapists, biomedical scientists, chiropodists, dieticians, physiotherapists, radiographers, prosthetists, orthotists, speech therapists and social workers—Members will be glad that they were not the only ones to struggle with some of those names. All those professionals are vital to the day-to-day running of the national health service. Registrants have to pay a fee to join the register and must then pay a yearly retention fee to remain on it and be able to practise.
A massive 18% increase in the registration fee is due to take effect from October 2019, taking the fee to £106, although that increase is subject to parliamentary approval. It comes on the back of above-inflation increases in 2014 and 2015, the second of which occurred despite the HCPC reassuring registrants that their fees would not be reviewed again for a period of two years. If the proposed increase is imposed, HCPC fees will have increased by 40% since 2014, which not only outstrips inflation—which, according to the Office for National Statistics, has averaged about 2.5% over the past few years—but is well above the pay rises that our hard-working NHS staff have received over that period. Let us not forget that the modest pay award that those staff recently secured came only after many years of campaigning, during which time their wages consistently fell behind the cost of living.
I can understand why, in that context, an 18% increase seems disproportionately high. Would the Minister care to comment on whether, in the context of the years of pay restraint that we have talked about, such an unprecedented increase in fees is indeed indefensible, and whether it is right that pay rises will not keep up with the increases in fees?
I appreciate the concern expressed by some Members that there is no real mechanism to stop the HCPC imposing fees at whatever level it sees fit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton has said, and as we all regularly hear from staff-side union members, modest pay rises are being eroded by a series of other costs, including increased pension contributions, student loan repayments and increasing car parking charges. Another increase, at a time when pay is not keeping up with the cost of living, will only reduce the disposable income of those staff. The Government must acknowledge the crisis in recruitment and retention, and that all those factors are conspiring against any improvement in the serious staff shortages the NHS faces.
The need to retain staff has never been greater; we should be doing all we can to attract new people, and to encourage those who already work in the NHS to stay. As we have heard, that is a particular concern for part-time staff. Over the years, the HCPC has declined to consider introducing a pro rata structure. Unison has expressed concern that some registrants might be pushed to move into non-regulated posts, work in posts where there is no requirement to renew their registration or decide not to continue to practise, even on reduced hours. Again, that might have a negative effect. Will the Minister comment on that disparity between part-time and full-time staff, and make representations to the HCPC about it? Does he agree that it creates a disincentive for people who might not want to work full time, but could still play a valuable role in the NHS?
Some 90% of respondents to the consultation argued against the fee rise, but the HCPC is going to press ahead with it. When Unison carried out a survey of its registered members at the end of last year, 99% did not support an increase in registration fees. Those large fee increases raise concerns about whether the HCPC is operating as efficiently as it could be, so when he responds, will the Minister comment on whether the HCPC represents value for money?
The HCPC has given a number of reasons for the proposed increase, including improving capacity and service in the area of fitness to practise, keeping pace with inflation, and costs associated with the impending transfer of the regulation of social workers to Social Work England this year. The HCPC became the regulator for social workers in 2012, and has had to invest in additional staff and accommodation to fulfil that role. The reasons why, four years later, the Government announced that they would be transferring the regulation of social workers to a new regulator are not clear to me, but it is unacceptable that HCPC registrants should effectively be paying the price for a political decision. Several Members mentioned that 73% of HCPC resources are spent on fitness-to-practise cases, and social worker cases account for 59% of that amount, so it seems reasonable to conclude that costs ought to decrease this year. In that context, it is incumbent on the Minister to see whether any justification can be put forward for the fee increase.
As my hon. Friend the Member for York Central mentioned, the Law Commission made recommendations back in 2012 that would have enabled regulators to become more agile, to modernise and to reduce the costs associated with fitness to practise. I recall the Conservative party signalling its intention to reform in its 2017 general election manifesto. As we know, the Queen’s Speech following that election did not include any reference to that legislation. Will the Minister indicate whether that reform will now see the light of day?
Does the Minister agree that the Government should accept responsibility for the lack of action on reforming healthcare regulation and for their decisions on social work regulation, which have had a negative impact on the HCPC? Will he do what he can to ensure that registrants do not pay the price for that failure? Our dedicated and hard-working NHS staff deserve better than that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. Like everyone else, I congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) on securing this debate. He made an impassioned speech that aired his campaign, which he has led with style and impact. The Health and Care Professions Council is one of nine UK-wide regulators. It performs an important role in the health and care sectors across all four countries of the UK, acting in patients’ and service users’ interest to ensure the professional standards we need to guarantee safety and quality.
Right at the start of my speech, I pay tribute to all the dedicated professionals who work in the professions governed by the HCPC. It is also right to respond to the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). He said, if I heard him correctly, that it was irresponsible of the Government not to intervene. There is an important point of principle here: the HCPC is independent of the Government. It is funded by registrants’ fees on a cost-recovery basis. It is therefore not the Government’s role to tell the HCPC what its fees should be. It is not a question of hiding or a lack of political will; it is a matter of law. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a mechanism for oversight of the HCPC, which is the Professional Standards Authority. It oversees the HCPC and its setting of fees.
It has been an excellent debate with lots of useful and informed contributions. I have been in a number of debates with the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and he spoke with his usual passion not only on behalf of the people of Strangford, but in the wider context as well. I want to pick up on what the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) said; I was listening carefully to her contribution. She is right that the vast majority of registrants have very little contact with the regulator between renewals of their registration. That may be a frustration and not seen as value for money, but from the other point of view, the HCPC’s largest expenditure is on delivering the fitness-to-practise function. It is therefore inevitable that it concentrates on the very small number of registrants whose performance or conduct has fallen below the expected level.
The key thing is the need for regulatory reform, which the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston was challenging me on a moment ago. We have recognised that regulators have inherited a complex and restrictive registration practice that is often bureaucratic and administratively burdensome. As he rightly pointed out, the four UK Governments consulted on proposals for reforming the legislative structure of professional regulation. That consultation finished last year.
The reforms that we are looking to make, and are still committed to, will shift the balance in professional regulation, freeing up the regulators to concentrate more on prevention and to work directly with registrants, rather than just on fitness to practise. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not our intention to hide that. We intend to bring it forward, and we will do so in the near future.
I was listening carefully to the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). She made a point about the need for registration and also for the system to be updated. The Government are committed to that. I also listened carefully to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist). She spoke with knowledge and mentioned a number of the fitness-to-practise cases she has been involved with. She was right to point out that the vast majority of those have been social care cases over a number of years. That brings me to a key point. A number of Members raised the issue of the HCPC’s costs potentially going down as a result of social workers moving out of that regulatory process. I have not looked at that in great depth, but it is highly likely that variable costs will decline for the HCPC. As a number of Members have pointed out, social workers make up the vast majority of the professions that are regulated—more than 25%—so there is an element of fixed costs. They are being helped by the establishment of Social Care England, and the costs are being met by the Government.
The HCPC currently regulates 16 professions. The hon. Members for Coventry South and for Ellesmere Port and Neston read out the list of professions, so I will not rehearse them all over again, but I reiterate my point: these valued professionals are performing crucial roles across the NHS and the wider health and care system. It is important that the public have assurance that those professionals are regulated. If they are regulated by the HCPC, the public knows that they are appropriately trained and hold the relevant qualifications, and that they meet the expected standards of conduct, performance and ethics. Where a professional falls below these standards, it is important that the HCPC is able to protect the interests of patients.
I take the point made by a number of hon. Members that the HCPC currently has the lowest registration fees of any UK-wide regulator in the health and care professions. It is clearly not right to look at that in comparison with some of the more highly paid professions, but it is true that the current annual registration is lower than that for a number of others, such as nurses and midwives. I also take the point that the proposal is for a large, one-off increase, but there has not been an increase for two years, and the registration fees are tax-deductible, so the increase will amount to about £1 a month.
A number of Members mentioned the disparity between the fees that are payable by part-time and full-time staff. I have listened carefully to that argument, and I will write to the HCPC to ask it to look at that more carefully. That seems to me to be a fair point.
A number of Members raised points about the consultation. The legislation that founded the HCPC required it to consult on any fee increase. Accordingly, it ran a public consultation, to which it received 2,396 responses. Some 95% of those responses were from professionals whom it regulates. It also engaged extensively with professional bodies, trade unions and other bodies ahead of and during its consultation. The draft response to the fees consultation was published with the HCPC’s council papers of 14 February. It is right that 90% of the respondents did not support a proposed fee rise.
However, it is fair to note that the majority of respondents also wanted HCPC to invest more in prevention and improved services, in increasing capacity, and in improving the quality and timeliness of the fitness-to-practise services that it delivers. Everybody accepts that no fee rise is popular, but the HCPC has been clear that the principal reason for this one is to allow it to deliver the services identified by registrants in the consultation.
I listened to the hon. Gentleman, and I will make a promise to him. As I pointed out at the beginning of my speech, it is not the Government’s role to tell the regulator how to set its fees or what to set them for. However, I see no reason why the Professional Standards Authority should not ask the HCPC to give that reassurance and to publish that information. I will write to the hon. Gentleman when I have spoken to the PSA to ensure that it can do that within its remit. Given that it has oversight, I am sure that that will be possible.
On oversight of the fee change, there is effectively accountability to Parliament through an order of the Privy Council. The Government will need to introduce an order of the Privy Council, which will be subject to the negative resolution procedure. The financial oversight is done by the PSA. The Government have to lay the order, but the oversight is done via the Privy Council.
As I said, there has rightly been much discussion this afternoon about the reason for the proposed fee rise. The HCPC makes the point that it has not raised its fees since 2015. It also rightly makes the point that the vast bulk of the fee rise is for the services that its registrants want. I promised to write to the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) about that.
I thank the hon. Member for Coventry South for raising this issue. The debate has highlighted his campaign. I have no doubt that the HCPC and the PSA will have listened, and will take regard of this afternoon’s debate. I hope that my remarks, the promise I made to the hon. Member for Stroud, and my commitment to write to the HCPC will help the campaign of the hon. Member for Coventry South. I am clear that registrants should continue to benefit from a regulator that provides value for money and services to its registrants; I know that the PSA will ensure that they do so.
I thank all Members who took part in the debate: my hon. Friends the Members for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and for Blaydon (Liz Twist), the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara), my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), and of course the Minister.
I welcome the undertakings that the Minister gave. I realise that some of the national health service issues that were raised are above his pay grade; the wages and conditions of employees are really an issue for the Secretary of State, so I would not expect any undertakings from the Minister about them.
I very much appreciated the contributions made by Front Benchers and Back Benchers alike, and I hope that listening to them enlightened the Minister. It certainly enlightened me, because I have never been involved in the national health service or anything like it; I have been involved more in the engineering side of life and in industry. It is always useful to hear from hon. Members about their experience. More importantly, I also thank the trade union for the invaluable background information that it provided. Some colleagues are probably aware of the situations that it has highlighted, but others may not be.
The Minister gave an undertaking to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) that he would talk to the Professional Standards Authority; if he sent me a copy of that communication, I would be very interested. I come from an industrial trade union background. We were always taught, “Just because you get a knock-back, it doesn’t mean you should give in. Pick yourself up, dust yourself down and keep campaigning until you get justice.” Once again, I thank everybody who participated in the debate.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered registration fees at the Health and Care Professions Council.