Tuesday 4 June 2019
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
Telephone and Online Scams
I beg to move,
That this House has considered telephone and online scams.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to have the first debate back after the brief Whitsun recess. It is good to see the Minister in her place. I am grateful to her; I understand that, due to personal circumstances, she is covering for the Minister with responsibility for this area, the right hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace). I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), who is covering for the shadow Minister for policing, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). It is a covering event today, but I am extremely grateful to the Front Benchers for being in their places.
We do not need to be weekly watchers of “Watchdog” to know that scams are a scourge in our communities. We all hear examples week in, week out of constituents, friends and family who have been targeted by scams. In 2019, those scams are far from the more traditional forms of fraud we have seen in the past. There is no face-to-face interaction with the perpetrators of the crimes and people are not being targeted like the celebrity scammers in “The Real Hustle”. Instead, millions upon millions of individuals are being targeted in the safety of their own homes. Whether it is through a phone call, an ad that people see on their smartphone or a rogue email, the methods used by these hidden fraudsters are becoming more and more sophisticated every day. Today, I am calling on the Government to do one thing: to expose the fraudsters and get ahead of the game so that we can stamp this scam culture out once and for all.
Why are scams such a problem? Many might say, “Don’t be stupid. Anyone can tell the difference between a scam phone call or email and a legitimate communication,” but the truth is that, with the increasingly sophisticated methods being employed and the vulnerable people being targeted, we cannot rely on that assumption, and the statistics show that. Picture an 80-year-old living alone in an area of high crime. They get a call from someone purporting to be from the Department for Work and Pensions inquiring about a problem with their pension. They rely on their pension to get by and trust the caller because they have said they are from the DWP. The caller tells them that their pension payments may be put on hold if they do not provide some personal details over the phone. Can we all honestly say that we do not know of elderly family members, friends or constituents who would not be tempted to go along with that? If someone is being told that their money might stop if they do not co-operate, they could well be driven into a false sense of security and provide the information being asked for.
One of the key problems is that, whether over the phone or online, criminals are taking on the role of responsible and trusted sources to coerce potential victims into co-operating. While that is a big problem for vulnerable populations—particularly the elderly—it by no means stops with them. Many Members may well remember the recent cases where the face of the “Money Saving Expert”, Martin Lewis, was being used on targeted online advertisements on Facebook. It was not just one Facebook advert, but some 1,000 targeted Facebook ads that were using that trusted figurehead. They were glossy and looked legitimate, but ultimately they were seeking to pillage money from those who could least afford it. That just shows how wide the problem goes. If we cannot trust an advert with the face of the “Money Saving Expert”, what and who can we trust?
One constituent even approached me recently about a scam involving emails asking for information being sent from my own parliamentary email address. That issue has been referred to the House authorities. Most recently, just last week another constituent emailed me saying that a false email had come with my name on, but that was not from my email address. The constituent rang my office, querying why I was using a different email from my normal parliamentary one. Thankfully, they had had correspondence with me before. Even as Members of Parliament, trusted as we are with handling the personal information of constituents, our names are being used. I only knew about it because of that particular constituent, who was savvy enough to realise that the email was not mine, but a fake one, which was asking for personal information, including their national insurance number and their bank details. None of us are immune from the issue.
On the one hand, it is positive that clearly not all the public think of politicians as untrustworthy if they are putting us front and centre in pushing a campaign. But on a serious note, it shows how concerned we should be about the tactics that criminals are using. In the era of fake news, where there is an ever-important need to look over anything we see or hear with a critical eye, the hidden fraudsters who seek to steal our money online will adapt their methods in ways we least expect. That is why the issue is so important. It is not going away. If we manage to hold back the tide of scams out there today, the scams of tomorrow could be completely different, and we have to be prepared for that.
How big a problem are we talking about? Age UK found that up to 5 million people over the age of 65 believe that they have been targeted by a scam. It also found that single, older people are far more likely to respond to a scam than younger, married people. As many Members will know, around half of over-75s live alone. That just illustrates how elderly people are particularly vulnerable to this menace. That, in part, is where the real injustice lies with our current approach. What would our response be if 5 million older people had been a victim of an attempted burglary? There would be an urgent question on the Floor of the House, and it would rightly be declared a crime wave.
The statistics show that the over-65s are a staggering three times more likely to be targeted by a scam than be burgled. Scams pose less risk for the criminal than a standard burglary, with the number of potential victims rising exponentially as a result. Half a billion pounds was lost by UK banking customers due to scams in 2018. Remarkably, the charity Think Jessica estimates that as few as 5% of scam victims report the crime committed against them. That fact alone tells us that the statistics could well be the tip of the iceberg. But unlike icebergs, the issue is not melting away. In fact, the figures from all agencies, including the Government, suggest that the issue is getting worse.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2018, the number of reported fraud incidents rose by 12% on the previous year, equating to an astonishing 3.6 million individual cases. Sometimes that might be a fiver or a tenner stolen, but more often than not we are talking about much greater sums of money or personal information that can never be recouped. While £5 or £10 might not seem like an awful lot of money, for someone on universal credit or, worse still, appealing a universal credit decision, that £5 or £10 could be an awful lot of income for their household. Likewise, once people have become victims of fraud, it can be incredibly difficult for them to recoup the money they have lost. I recently helped a small business in my constituency get back nearly £20,000 that it lost in a scam after a long battle that the constituent had endured with his bank. That just shows how this crime can have a prolonged and significant impact on victims, and that impact is not only financial; it also puts strain on family and business. It simply is not good enough.
Just as the last Labour Government were tough on the causes of crime, it is now time we got tough on the scourge of hidden crime. Put simply, an epidemic of scams is sweeping across the country, and I know that south Wales is a particular hotspot. Every week in my inbox and during advice surgeries, I am contacted by constituents who have been targeted by the increasingly sophisticated techniques that I have outlined. Whether in written form, online, via text message or over the phone, the sophistication of the targeting seems to know no bounds. The criminals who sit behind a computer or a phone and think they are immune from the law need to be exposed as the hidden fraudsters they are. The very fact that many scams are targeted at the elderly and the vulnerable shows just how low these cowards will stoop in pursuit of a quick buck. With many communities still suffering under the strain of nearly 10 years of Government austerity, the money being stolen by scammers can push people’s finances to breaking point.
As with everything involving technology, there is no silver bullet to stop this problem, but there are things the UK Government can do to stem the tide and deter other freeloaders from seeking to cash in on our communities. We first have to look at the police’s approach. Tackling fraud online and via the telephone is not a strategic policing priority. The police watchdog, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, found only two months ago that the public are being left at risk because forces do not consider fraud to be a priority. One officer told the inspectorate that, despite people being more likely to fall victim to fraud than any other crime, it was falling behind other offences because it does not “bang, bleed or shout”.
The inspectorate’s report warned of a “disjointed and ineffective” response across England and Wales because of the lack of a national strategy. I therefore ask that the Home Office ensures that tackling such fraud becomes a strategic policing priority across all our forces. At a national level, will the Minister—perhaps she will pass this on to the Minister responsible—update Members on the progress made by the joint fraud taskforce? As I have mentioned, the ONS has found that fraud is increasing, not going down. Members across the House therefore need to know what the taskforce is achieving.
On a more positive note, I was pleased to see the introduction of the pension cold-call ban in January. I warmly welcome that effective step from Ministers. Although I recognise that the effects might not yet have been assessed, I am sure that all Members would appreciate it if the Minister provided an early indication of the effectiveness of the policy. Likewise, given that we know that fraudsters often adapt their tactics when avenues are closed off, the Government need to outline what they are doing to prevent other fraud—for example, online scams—from increasing following the cold-call ban. As I have said, the backdrop of austerity cannot be ignored when addressing this issue. The cuts to local government across England and to the Welsh block grant have undoubtedly had an impact on trading standards’ ability to tackle scams.
I want to praise the work of my local trading standards team for its work to raise public awareness of the threats posed by scams, particularly through its Friends Against Scams initiative. I also pay tribute to my local force, South Wales Police, which has done a huge amount to try to support constituents who have been scammed. There is a wider issue, in that once someone has been scammed, particularly if they are older, vulnerable and living alone, there is an element of embarrassment and they feel they cannot report it. South Wales Police has done huge amounts of work locally and across the region to try to reassure people that the scam is a crime and they deserve justice.
It cannot be denied that trading standards could do much more to tackle the problem if they had more resources. What representations will the Minister make to the Chancellor in advance of the spending review to free up funding to get to grips with the issue? The sheer scale of the crime means that one agency cannot tackle it alone. Increasing resources will mean that trading standards can work in a much more joined-up way with other agencies, such as the police and local adult social care services.
Although public awareness tactics have been used in the past, there is a need for a much more far-reaching and targeted campaign. Simply using Facebook adverts or leaflets in Government-owned buildings will not work. There is an irony, in that while many of those targeted are over 65, there is an issue about digital inclusion, access to broadband across the United Kingdom, and access to computers and the digital technologies through which advertising campaigns could work, yet lots of the people targeted do not have access to those services, so we arguably need to raise public awareness through television and other sources. We need to reach out to our communities, particularly our elderly residents, with the latest information on what types of scams are out there and how they can prevent themselves from becoming victims. The Government must see that as an investment in our communities against a problem that will only worsen if we allow the epidemic to continue to take hold.
Nobody likes the feeling of being violated by a criminal. No matter what the scale of the crime is, the feeling is still there to an extent, and yet there is a silent crime wave sweeping across the UK that very few people talk about, and the Government are not doing nearly enough to address it. It is time we got real with these hidden fraudsters and prevented them from inflicting any more damage on the communities we represent. Whether it is a family member, a friend or someone living down the street who we do not know, nobody deserves to have their money or personal information stolen from them. It is time we shouted louder and stemmed the tide. Whether it is £20 or £20,000, the Government must show today that they are serious about tackling the criminal black hole being inflicted on people’s finances. Warm words and sympathy are welcome, but they do not resolve the problem.
We are going backwards on tackling this problem. We need to get on the front foot and ensure we are ahead of the criminals. The word “scam” has become synonymous with something we cannot control of late. Today the Government—I know the Minister will do her best—need to step up and show that that is simply not the case.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for securing this extremely important debate. As he has rightly set out, the growth in recent years of online and telephone scams, which are often combined, is a deeply troubling development. The impact on individuals is colossal.
I can think of three examples that I am working on in my constituency. An early-retired teacher was recently scammed into investing £25,000 into a fake bond through an incredibly plausible copied website of a reputable bank. A young man who works in the arts was recently scammed out of an amount just shy of £50,000; he was presented with what was apparently a bill from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and was told that if he did not pay, he could be subject to prosecution. A couple who had no conventional pension were convinced by a combination of telephone and online scamming—their computer, but not their online banking operation, was hacked—into transferring nearly £200,000, which has utterly destroyed their retirement. Those are three instances of bright, not terribly elderly people being scammed by sophisticated criminals. It has had a massive impact on those people’s self-esteem; the hon. Member for Ogmore rightly talked about the sense of violation felt by victims of these scams. They have had their lives trashed, and, in one case, their retirement turned upside-down. The impact on the victims of online and telephone fraud is colossal, and we need to be aware of it.
My quick assessment of the people I am supporting through my constituency office is that there has been roughly £1 million of personal fraud perpetrated on individuals across the age ranges. Almost all the cases focused on online fraud. As the three cases I mentioned have not been resolved, we have been successful in getting significant amounts of compensation—full compensation for some—for victims of fraud in my constituency, but in the other cases, there has been nothing as yet, which is completely unacceptable. The hon. Member for Ogmore rightly pointed out the rise in fraud and the amounts of money involved. In the first half of 2018, there was some £95.7 million of online fraud.
I want to draw a correlation, which is not complete, but is hugely significant, with the loss of bank branches and physical banking opportunities in our communities. My constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale has pretty much the same geographical area as Greater London, though it has a slightly smaller population. Of all our towns and villages, only two retain physical bank branches. In the past three or four years, we have seen the closure of branches in the villages and towns of Milnthorpe, Grange, Ambleside, Sedbergh, Kirkby Lonsdale and others. To a degree, bank branch closures have come about because banks have responded to our changing banking habits. I understand that, but they have pushed it. It makes life a lot easier and cheaper for the banks if we completely relate to them online. It saves them a fortune. Think of the hundreds of thousands of pounds that banks will have saved, in my constituency alone, in wages, rent and overheads by closing down branches. When they have owned the buildings, they have had a huge cash sale capital receipt, and the money they have saved has gone into their profits.
There is also a correlation between the increase in online fraud and the decrease in the number of bank branches in our communities. Recklessly, banks have put customers—particularly, but not exclusively, older ones—at greater risk, while saving millions upon millions of pounds. I do not say that there is no business case for some branch closures, but the banks have been reckless, and have done nothing—or very little, having left it very late to do anything—to help victims of the increase in fraud as people who feel less comfortable going online have become more likely to feel obliged to do so. The banks have increased risks to their customers—our constituents—while saving themselves a fortune.
Authorised push payment scams are key to what we are talking about. We should welcome the voluntary code that came in just a few days ago, which I hope will result in significant changes. At the moment, if someone has been the victim of an unauthorised scam—in other words, if someone else has got hold of their details and taken money out of their account—nine times out of 10, or perhaps 99 out of 100, the bank will compensate them. If, however, someone has been fooled into moving some money out of their account themselves, as in the three instances I just related, nine times out of 10 they are on their own. The authorised push payment scams voluntary code ought to mean that future victims of authorised push payment fraud will be compensated.
Of course, all the people I have spoken about—indeed, all the people we will talk about today—are historical victims. Whether they were scammed in the last few weeks or the last few years, they stand to get not a penny of compensation. It is very good to see the Minister in her place. I really want her to focus on what we will do to help people who have been victims historically, which is everybody apart from those scammed in the last week. I ask her to take action so that the code can be applied retrospectively to all victims of authorised push payment scams.
The hon. Member for Ogmore rightly talked about the need to catch the criminals who do something so utterly despicable. My police force in Cumbria is under enormous resource constraints, but is doing a good job, in so far as it can, in providing support. In recent days, local media have reported on the relatively small number of police available to respond to incidents in our community. One of the reasons for that is that many have been taken off to do this kind of work. It is important to recognise that our police force must be given additional resource to catch those who are guilty of such crimes, and to support victims.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for taking part in the debate. I am in the police service parliamentary scheme. What struck me when I met one of the victims of such fraud is the sheer scale of the paperwork that the police have to complete. They told me that that is because the back-office functions have been cut, as there is no funding, which creates additional pressure. The police want to deal with these cases. The hon. Gentleman is right that there are not enough officers to do so, but it is also about the paperwork involved, because the fraud is so complicated. The police have to have an hour’s discussion with the person who has been defrauded. Does he agree that there has to be specific funding, not just for trading standards but within the police, so that they can tackle the problem as broadly as possible?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising an important point. One issue is resource; another is time and expertise. We are not dealing with stuff that is simple to fix. He is right that one of the impacts of, let us be honest, the underfunding of our police service in the last few years has been that police commissioners seek to protect the number of visible police officers, for good reasons and because it is politically sensitive. How do they then save money? They get rid of all the admin staff. Police are therefore unable to focus on frontline policing, because they are taken off to do the admin work that the back-office staff used to perform.
Banks are saving perhaps hundreds of millions of pounds by closing branches and changing the way in which we relate to them, but they thereby put our communities at greater risk of online and telephone fraud. There is a real opportunity for the Government to take—not in a punitive way—a small fraction of the profits that banks have made by closing those branches. That windfall tax could be used for two purposes: compensating victims and resourcing our police service properly, so that we can protect people.
I would love the Minister to give us more information on those two points. First, will she backdate the code and ensure that it has teeth, so that historical victims of authorised push payment scams are compensated, as well as future victims? Secondly, will she consider a windfall tax on the banks, based on the profits they make from closing so many branches, so that we can resource our police properly, in order to protect the victims and pursue the criminals?
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate; I thank the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for introducing it. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron).
Every one of us elected representatives will know people who have been scammed. I will give a couple of examples, though I cannot put a figure on the moneys scammed from the people I will refer to. I was recently made aware of a successful scam whereby a lady was relieved of her entire retirement savings of some £20,000—basically, her life savings. She was a schoolteacher; it is funny that the lady to whom the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred was a schoolteacher as well. I do not mean to be negative in any way—just realistic—but one would have assumed that they would have been well aware of what was before them.
This lady was the head of the English department, and was very active in her local church. She is a very bright lady who is still very much with it; she is under 70. To put it simply, she fell for an elaborate scam. A man who sounded as though he were in his 50s, knew the banking lingo, and was polite to the extreme agreed to ring her back after she said that she was busy and could not speak because she was leaving her grandchild at school. He called back at the time they had agreed and went through what seemed like the logical steps to stop a scam from taking place. Unfortunately, he was the scammer, and he knew exactly what he was doing.
The point that I am trying to make is that even the best people can be scammed if they are not careful. Perhaps the scammer once worked in a bank or in the financial sector. Certainly he sounded beyond plausible by the end of the call. This lovely retired teacher’s husband was a long-distance lorry driver. They had worked long and hard hours to save enough money to retire—money that they were going to use to visit relatives and do what they wanted to do when they had more time to spend together. I must highlight that when this lady went down to her bank, the staff were incredible. It is good to underline it when banks step in and do the right thing. In this case, Santander and Nationwide must be thanked; they were able to track and trace some of the money, and the lady got some 75% of it back. I put on record my thanks to them for what they did.
Clearly, the scammers have upped their game. Their scams do not involve emails from so-called Nigerian princes, kings, and retired army generals, telling people, “You’ve just won all the money in the world, which you never thought you’d have, and you’ve inherited land. All you have to do is send your bank details, and we’ll transfer the money and everything else to you.” It is much more sophisticated today; we now have home-grown, plausible, knowledgeable thieves, able to prey on those who have worked hard and deserve to live their life free from such vile thieves.
I know another lady who was scammed. She is separated and divorced. The person who scammed her was aware of her personal circumstances because she has a Facebook account. Whenever we put something on Facebook, we innocently tell the world where we are. People know whether we are separated or divorced, and when they read that story, they quickly assume that we are vulnerable, which gives them another opportunity for a scam. The scam involved transferring money to a person from eastern Europe or wherever—he certainly sounded English, according to the lady. They had a Facebook arrangement and made telephone calls, but they did not meet. Appointments and liaisons were made, but there was always a reason he could not make it. The signs tell us that something was not right about it. He purported to be serving in the forces, but when the address that he had given was checked out, it was false, as were the details of his Army record. Everything about him was false, but she was vulnerable and innocently lost money to his scam. We need to be careful about that.
My local paper, Newtownards Chronicle, regularly publishes stories to highlight scams, whether online or telephone frauds, as do the police. The scams are on a large scale. HMRC reported that, last spring, it received some 250,000 reports of tax scams—nearly 2,500 a day—and asked for more than 6,000 websites to be deactivated. Some 84,000 customers lost money. About a month or two ago, HMRC warned in the press about people telling others, “Pay your tax by this time”, and some people were caught as a result.
Last year alone, customers lost tens of thousands of pounds, but only a fraction of that amount was refunded by banks. The new code, which we all know about, should mean that more money will be reimbursed. The refund will come from a central pot in cases where neither the bank nor the customer was to blame. Eight banks, covering 17 brands, have committed to implement the code immediately: Barclays; HSBC, including first direct and M&S Bank; Lloyds Bank, including Halifax, Bank of Scotland, and Intelligent Finance; Metro Bank; Nationwide; Royal Bank of Scotland, including NatWest and Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland; Santander, including cahoot and Cater Allen; and Starling Bank.
Not all banks have signed up, however, and that needs to change. In the Minister’s response, which I know will be forthcoming and helpful, perhaps she can give us an idea of what has been done to encourage other banks to sign up and be part of the initiative. We need to drive change and the way forward from this place and from this debate, and I look to the Minister, as I often do, to understand the Government’s plans for the line of action to be taken, legislation, and the methodology to ensure that scams and scammers can be stopped.
What more can we do to tackle the issue? In large part, it needs to be tackled through conversation and coverage. We need to encourage people to have conversations about phone scams with all family members, not simply those whom we believe to be vulnerable, although they also need to be told. It is surprising how many people can be caught out unwittingly. Hon. Members present, and people further afield, may remember the old days when front doors were left open, probably with the key inside. The money was in the wee tin in the kitchen, but it was never touched—that is how it was. Life has moved on. Today, thieves are willing to rob, pillage and steal, and they have different ways of doing it, which we need to understand.
The message must be clear. People should always check with their local branch before they give out any details. They should pop down and ask the staff on the front desk what is happening—or if they do not have a bank to pop down to and ask, as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said, they should certainly phone. The staff can let them know if there is an issue with any of their accounts. A genuine caller will understand and encourage the need to check with the bank.
I usually go on holiday every second year, and we have paid the money this year. As an example of how banks can do it, when the money is paid out from my credit card account, my bank phones me up and says, “This is a larger amount of money than we normally have coming through your bank account. Can you confirm it?” Some banks, and some debit and credit card companies, are proactive, as they should be.
I am not a soap watcher—I do not watch “Coronation Street” or “Emmerdale”, or any of those sorts of things—but my wife is, and millions of other people watch, too. As I understand from my wife, not from my own experience, they do storylines about different issues. There is an opportunity to use some of those soaps to raise awareness by carrying a hacker storyline. That would make more people aware of what is happening throughout the country. We need to understand that it is happening to people of all ages, not simply to the old and infirm; a 20, 25 or 30-year-old can be scammed as well. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred clearly to young and old.
We need to set aside more funding to enable the police to be more effective in tackling such fraud, as the hon. Member for Ogmore said, and as others will. A business in my constituency caught online fraud while it was taking place, but when it rang its bank and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, they did not have the expertise to stop and trace the fraud. That should not be the case. The necessary expertise, experience and wherewithal must be in place.
The scams that happen in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ogmore or the Minister, or in my constituency or yours, Mr Hollobone, are the same scams that take place all over the United Kingdom. It is important that the police forces in all four regions interact with one another about scams. Perhaps that already happens, but if it does not, it needs to. Every region of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland needs to exchange information about new scams, so that others know, and so that the knowledge passes down through the system.
We must have experts available to do what needs to be done—not simply to stop transfers midway, but to trace those who are carrying them out and ensure that they get the maximum sentence for their fraud. The sentences for fraud and for stealing from people need to reflect those criminal activities.
The lady about whom I spoke at the beginning of my remarks has been irrevocably changed by the experience; someone who was outgoing and confident has lost trust, not in her bank, but in herself. The effect on people is not just monetary or financial; it is deeper than that. There are long-term mental and emotional effects. We need to ensure that support is available to tackle the crime, catch the criminals, stop the scams and help the victims.
I thank the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for securing the debate and for his comprehensive exposition of the matter.
The cost of scamming in our society is undoubtedly huge and cannot be counted only in pounds, shillings and pence, although the financial cost is significant. As we have heard, scamming affects all sections of our communities, but the elderly and other vulnerable members of our communities are at particular risk. The Office for National Statistics predicts that by 2030, the number of elderly people living in our communities will increase by 34% from 11.6 million to 15.7 million, and the number of people living with dementia is set to increase from 850,000 to 2.1 million across the UK.
We should not forget that the impact of dementia and other impairments makes vulnerability much more pronounced and the ability to target an individual repeatedly much more possible. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) discussed the impact of scams, and it is worth noting that victims of scams are nearly two and a half times more likely to require increased care provision or to die within two years of being scammed. It has also been reported that victims often experience a rapid drop in their physical health after realising that they have been scammed.
Those who perpetrate scams use increasingly sophisticated techniques to scam their victims, in some cases repeatedly. Trading standards, although already hard-pressed, is working on the frontline to do all that it can to safeguard the vulnerable. The most sinister, cynical and cruel aspect of scamming is that it is a criminal activity that targets the most vulnerable in their own homes. The one place where any of us should feel safe becomes the setting for people being conned out of their money, via sales scripts, data collection and sometimes even targeted mail.
The most common telephone scams are cold calls. I am delighted that, despite an unnecessary two-year delay, the Government have finally implemented my ten-minute rule Bill on nuisance calls in full, because there is a huge overlap between cold calls and nuisance scams. The adoption of that Bill is a very good start, but more needs to be done.
As the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale set out, the impact of scams goes far beyond the financial loss. It is emotional and psychological, and has been shown to have an impact on our wellbeing. The hon. Member for Ogmore pointed out that scams can ruin lives and split up families, with the consequences lasting long beyond the initial trauma of financial loss. Moreover, even when financial losses are comparatively low, scams lead to a breakdown in consumer confidence.
The full effects of the harm caused are difficult to estimate, as—alarmingly—only around 5% of victims report that they have lost money. The average age of a victim is 74 years old and the losses average about £1,000, but many lose hundreds of thousands of pounds. Victims of scams often feel embarrassed and are afraid that their families will judge them to be no longer capable of living alone. For that reason, scams may not be reported, which leaves the victims open and vulnerable to repeat scams. Some people find it extremely difficult even to admit that they have been the victim of a crime.
The scale of the problem and its associated costs are huge. Alongside that, we know that trading standards is struggling to cope, although the work it does is worthy of high praise and demands our respect. I also want to highlight the excellent work carried out by the Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System, which works to prevent fraud and financial crime through the sharing of confirmed fraud data. Last year, CIFAS prevented more than £1 billion in fraud loss by sharing data across sectors. Its data shows that in my constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran, 278 frauds took place last year and there were 103 victims of fraud. That is a mere snapshot of the true level of fraud, which is likely to be much higher because of under-reporting.
Scams do more than rob people of their money. They rob them of their confidence; their belief in themselves and in their judgment; their self-esteem; their willingness to trust people; and the help others may be able to offer them. Ultimately, they rob them of their ability to live full, happy, independent lives. Research carried out by Which? shows that what makes us vulnerable to scams is that we are all overconfident about our ability to spot one. Ironically, that overconfidence makes us all the more vulnerable. The gap between confidence and ability is dangerous.
What can we do? I absolutely agree with the suggestion put forward by trading standards that financial institutions should recognise that clients with dementia are by definition more at risk of being scammed and that measures need to be taken to protect that group as a duty of care—I would argue that it should be a legal duty of care. Those who are diagnosed with dementia live with a cognitive impairment, and that must be recognised as we seek to protect them.
The sharing of personal details and information with other organisations should of course require a clear opt-in, as opposed to an opt-out, which is an important tool in the fight against scamming. The normal default position of charities and other organisations should be that personal details are not passed on or shared. Although there is legislation in place, I am not convinced from the evidence I have seen that it is being as rigorously adhered to as it should be.
It is worth noting that about 850,000 people in the UK currently live with dementia and the figure is expected to rise to more than 1 million by 2025. Sadly, the scammer does not see people who need help and are vulnerable; they simply see rich pickings. It is the duty of society to do all it can to protect these vulnerable, elderly people.
Customers should be able to formally notify their bank in writing if they feel at risk and request that all transactions over a certain amount to new payees have a 24-hour delay before being processed. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) discussed his experience of that, and it is time that all banks had a legal duty to do the same. It would give time for the proposed transaction to be challenged and would potentially stop scammed money from leaving a scam victim’s account.
Of course, it is not just the elderly who can be rich pickings for scamming. In 2015, almost 24,000 people aged under 30 were victims of identity fraud, up from 15,766 in 2014 and more than double the 11,000 victims in that age bracket in 2010. Fraudsters get hold of their victim’s personal information—such as name, date of birth, address, their bank and who they hold accounts with—in a variety of ways, including through hacking and data loss, as well as by using social media to put the pieces of someone’s identity together.
Some 86% of all identity frauds in 2015 were perpetrated online, and that figure is rising. Interesting emerging evidence suggests that younger people report losing money to fraud more often than older people, as scams move online. Older people are more reluctant to report being scammed, but when older people are victims of scams, their losses tend to be much greater.
Society, the Government and industry all have a role in preventing fraud. Our concern is that the lack of awareness about identity fraud is making it even easier for fraudsters to obtain the information they need from social media sites. It is important that we all check our privacy settings today and think twice about what we share on social media.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale talked about the closure of bank branches, which is an important point. There is no doubt that banks are trying to force those of us who have chosen not to bank online—I include myself—to do so, not because it is convenient for us but because it is convenient for the banks. I for one will not bank online and I urge those who are not comfortable doing so to similarly resist that pressure.
We have heard today about some eminently sensible and straightforward measures that could be taken by having a more strategic approach. Banks having safeguards for vulnerable people could do much to protect those who are most at risk of scamming—the elderly and vulnerable in our communities. We should also reach out to those of all ages who use social media but do not have the information they need to protect themselves from identity fraud. We could do more to give people information, with education campaigns to better inform people how they can take some responsibility and some simple steps to protect themselves, as the hon. Member for Strangford suggested.
I urge the Minister to reflect on the suggestions that have been put forward to tackle this problem and to confront the situation whereby people are robbed in their own homes—an experience that they subsequently find deeply scarring. The effects are far-reaching. Let us do more to protect the victims of scams—we can do more. The scammers and fraudsters are very creative; we have heard some examples of that today. They are evolving their techniques. We need to be creative and evolve our measures to deal with them. In the end, we are all at risk, so we need to work together to protect our communities. I am very interested to hear what ideas the Minister is going to take forward.
It is a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone, in the first debate back after the short recess. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for raising this crucial issue and for his thoughtful and powerful speech, which made a compelling case for greater action by the Government on telephone and other types of scamming.
The scale of this problem is truly breathtaking. Age UK has estimated that up to 5 million people over the age of 65 believe they have been targeted by a scam. South Wales, the part of the country that my hon. Friend and I represent, is a hotspot for these issues. He was right to speak of his local trading standards team and South Wales police. I entirely concur with his comments and support what he says in respect not only of his local authority, but my local authority in Torfaen and Gwent police. There is no doubt that trading standards and other law enforcement agencies would be in a better position to tackle this issue if they had not been subjected to nine years of austerity and spending cuts.
I welcome the work of the joint fraud taskforce, which I look forward to hearing more about from the Minister in due course, and the ban on pension cold-calling that came into effect in January. However, I note that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary said there was a “disjointed and ineffective” national strategy. Therein lies an enormous challenge for the Government in pulling together so many different aspects of a strategy and enforcing it around the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) spoke powerfully about the cases he has seen in his constituency office, and about a crucial issue that should not be missed in this debate: the future of bank branches. At the last general election, my hon. Friends and I stood on a manifesto that sought to change the framework of legal obligations to be considered when closure decisions come to the fore. Nobody is saying that there are not business cases. Footfall is of course important—nobody is denying that—but there are two things to consider. First, the wider social impact of closing branches is often missed. Secondly, if the current rate of branches disappearing from the high street continues, we will end up with deserts in different parts of the country because there are no branches nearby. The hon. Gentleman represents a very rural constituency where I am sure that would be a particular issue, but it applies across all parts of the country and is something that we really need to tackle.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke movingly about his constituent, a schoolteacher who clearly fell victim to a fraudster who was extremely credible, as I am afraid they too often are. The hon. Gentleman also highlighted a further issue, which I will come back to in a moment: once someone has fallen victim to a scam, what awareness is there of the remedy and the compensation that can subsequently be recovered? In some cases, it is sadly not.
The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) was absolutely right to highlight the increasing risk to vulnerable people. When we talk about some of the statistics on scams affecting people over 75—I will do so in a moment—we must not forget that anyone of any age can fall victim to such scams. She was right to point out the risk to young people from different types of online scams, including identity fraud, and the importance of being cautious about what is shared on social media and knowing how that information can be used by people who wish us harm.
In its most recent statistics on crime in England and Wales, the Office for National Statistics identifies a worrying trend in these types of cases. The number of fraud incidents, 3.6 million, was up 12% on the previous survey year, driven in part by a 27% rise in consumer and retail fraud. It is vulnerable people who are targeted. Age UK has identified that single older people are more likely to respond than married people, and half of all people over 75 live alone. In addition to that vulnerability, the people who perpetrate such crimes are becoming more menacing and sophisticated in how they set out to defraud people.
A number of aspects of this issue demonstrate the need for a laser-like focus from the Government. There is the classic lottery scam, where people are told that they have won something when they have not. There are Government scams, where groups essentially pretend to be the Government and use that badge of credibility to carry out their crime. There are also security scams, which were mentioned in earlier speeches, whereby people are contacted by someone pretending to be their bank or some other trusted source.
What are we to do? We have to raise awareness, but it has to be done in a robust, targeted and smart way. People who are victims of scams need to report them, and a number of the speeches picked out that it is often difficult. People perhaps feel embarrassed and do not want to say they have been a victim of this particular type of confidence trick. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore pointed out, that relates to how people are treated when they do speak up, and it is important that best practice on being sensitive to the relevant issues is spread among our police forces.
There are other, practical things that people can do. For example, the Royal Mail can stop unaddressed mailings in the post if people register for that service. There is also the issue of data protection, which is covered by both the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation. The Information Commissioner’s Office, to which I often direct constituents who are worried about what has happened to their data, is an oversight body. If people are concerned about the retention of their data, they should be encouraged to go to that scrutiny body.
The hon. Member for Strangford raised the question of what remedies there are when someone falls victim to one of these confidence tricks. There is the Consumer Credit Act 1974, and people often forget that credit companies are jointly and severally liable even if the breach or misrepresentation is by the person doing the selling. The Act applies only to sums between £100 and £30,000, but that is none the less one remedy. There is debit card chargeback and the authorised push payment voluntary code, to which the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred. I praise the work of consumer groups on raising awareness of those remedies. It is something that we really need to focus on, so that people are aware that should they fall victim and lose substantial amounts of money—one of the cases mentioned in the debate involved around £50,000, which is a huge amount of money—there are routes they can go down to try to recoup at least some of their losses.
There was an excellent Library briefing for this debate, and I pay tribute to the Library staff who produced it. The Government really need to look at how they collect statistics in this area. Where they do collect statistics, is there a way of breaking them down into types of scams? Are they online or telephone scams? I have raised this point with Ministers before, and I appreciate that there is always a balance. They cannot collect every single statistic, but if statistics were collected on what the fastest-growing risk was, the Minister would be more able to target Government policy to reduce it.
It is crucial that we bring together a robust strategy all over the country. We need more resources for our law enforcement agencies, but they also need a consistent strategy that pushes back against the fraudsters who target our constituents. To use the words quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, the victims might not “bang, bleed or shout,” but great misery is certainly caused to them by this crime. The Government have to rise to the challenge.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) for securing this debate. He and other hon. Members have campaigned consistently on this extremely important subject. I thank all hon. Members who made contributions. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, this issue affects each and every constituency, and we all know someone, whether personally or professionally, who has been a victim of a scam or an attempted scam.
The examples that hon. Members gave show the range of scams that criminals can pursue and the range of people who can be victims. We rightly tend to focus on the most vulnerable—particularly the elderly, who are exploited by fraudsters because of their age and, the fraudsters assume, their frailties—but as the hon. Members for Strangford and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) highlighted, these scams are not restricted to the most vulnerable. They are now so sophisticated that they can take in people who would ordinarily think that they are able to withstand such efforts. The methods that fraudsters use include playing a recording of a call centre in the background so it sounds like they are calling from a large call centre, which reassures the victim that the call is legitimate. There are huge challenges, not just for law enforcement, which must respond robustly, but for us as individuals. We must ensure that we are as knowledgeable as possible about these scams to protect ourselves, those we care for and those we think may be vulnerable. I will go into that in a bit more detail in due course.
The Government take this harm extremely seriously. Fraud is the second most prevalent crime in England and Wales. The crime survey estimates that there were 3.6 million frauds in 2018. Victims can suffer serious financial and emotional harm, and the money that fraudsters make can fund other serious organised crime. Although we have made substantial progress, the Government’s efforts to tackle scams and fraud in general are focusing on three areas: the policing response to fraud, reducing vulnerabilities, and the care and service that victims receive.
We are clear that the law enforcement response to fraud must improve. The previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), requested that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services conduct an inspection of the police response to fraud because we wanted a much clearer view of how fraud is being investigated and what improvements are needed. The inspectorate’s recent report highlighted key weaknesses in the police response, suggesting that significant improvements are required to ensure the efficient and effective operation of the current fraud policing model. In practice, that means local and, increasingly, regional investigations, supported by national functions.
The hon. Member for Strangford rightly said that fraudsters do not recognise geographical boundaries. On his point about the UK-wide response, we very much recognise the need to develop a national policing strategy for fraud, which will address, for example, how the Police Service of Northern Ireland can link with the overall national strategy. The City of London police is the national lead force for fraud and serves as a national centre for the collection and sharing of intelligence across the four regions of the United Kingdom. We very much take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point about the cross-border implications for the internal borders in the United Kingdom.
The inspectorate’s report and 16 recommendations demonstrate that the policing response to fraud must improve. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Economic Crime, who apologises for not being able to be present today, takes this matter extremely seriously. He expects that the report will be taken seriously by chief constables and police and crime commissioners alike. We are working with the police and other law enforcement agencies to take forward those recommendations and challenge fraud at a national, regional and local level. The shadow Minister rightly asked about the statistics. I will take that point back to the Minister for Security and Economic Crime.
Let me turn to reducing vulnerabilities. In addition to improving the police response to fraud, we must also address the vulnerabilities in systems that fraudsters exploit if we are to make the UK a harder target for fraudsters. The hon. Member for Ogmore gave the example of a fraudster citing the DWP in a scam that one of his constituents suffered. We recognise that the Government and law enforcement must work closely with the private sector, as well as with each other. Agencies such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are leading the way in the fight against online and phone fraudsters and are working relentlessly to close tax scams and raise awareness.
In the previous financial year, HMRC reported more than 12,000 malicious websites for takedown, recovered hundreds of misleading HMRC-branded domains, initiated the removal of hundreds of phone numbers used to perpetrate HMRC-related phone scams, and increased education efforts to ensure that the general public are aware that people may use HMRC’s or other agencies’ branding to try to extract their much-needed and carefully saved savings and income. Those education campaigns are being run by the media, television and newspapers. In 2016, HMRC identified a significant increase in the number of customers receiving malicious HMRC-branded texts. With the phone industry, it piloted award-winning controls that resulted in a 90% reduction in reports of such scams. The lessons learned from that are being scaled into a solution for the whole of the United Kingdom. As was reported at the weekend—hon. Members mentioned this—HMRC is deploying new controls to put an end to fraudsters spoofing the tax authorities’ most recognisable helpline numbers.
Nuisance calls are a source of extreme irritation for many, but for the most vulnerable they can also be incredibly stressful and harmful. We have taken a range of actions to reduce the number of nuisance calls. We have banned cold calls from personal injury firms and pension providers, as hon. Members noted. The hon. Member for Ogmore asked for an update. I will ask the Minister for Security and Economic Crime to write to him about that. It is very early days, but hopefully we can provide some information to him.
We have also introduced director liability for nuisance calls, and we are supporting national trading standards in rolling out call-blocking devices to vulnerable people. Members of Parliament have a real opportunity to help our constituents to understand the ways in which scams can operate and what we can do to protect ourselves against them. I recommend the Take Five to Stop Fraud scheme—a joint awareness campaign run by the Government and UK Finance, which provides simple advice to prevent people from falling victim to scams. The key message is that people should take their time when making a new payment, because fraudsters will try to rush them, as some of the very sad examples highlighted in this debate show.
The response to scams and fraud in general requires a collaborative, innovative response, because as we catch up with criminals, they will find other ways of exploiting technology to present new challenges and find new ways to steal people’s money. That is why the Government created the joint fraud taskforce: to better protect the public and businesses from fraud, reduce the impact of fraud on victims, and increase the disruption and prosecution of fraudsters. We continue to work with the taskforce to build on successful initiatives, such as the banking protocol—it has been discussed today—which is a code of practice to help banks to identify victims and alert law enforcement. It has prevented more than £48 million from falling into the hands of fraudsters and has led to more than 400 arrests.
We also welcome the publication of the voluntary industry code. It marks a significant step forward in the fight against authorised push payment frauds, which involve tricking customers into sending money to fraudsters via a payment service provider. To give an idea of the scale of the task, in the first half of 2018, consumer losses from APP scams amounted to around £145.4 million, of which just under £31 million was repaid to customers. The code will ensure that sending and receiving payment service providers will take steps to protect their customers, including with procedures to detect, prevent and respond to APP scams, with greater protection for customers who are considered vulnerable to that type of fraud.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale asked about the retrospectivity of the code. Again, I will raise that with the Minister for Security and Economic Crime. There are no plans to force banks to apply the code retrospectively, but there are certainly no rules or laws in place that prevent banks from making good-will payments. We also encourage victims of APP scams who have not been compensated by their bank to lodge a complaint with the financial ombudsman.
As the hon. Member for Strangford said, the code is voluntary, but to reassure hon. Members, the current signatories of the code cover approximately 85% of APP scams, and the Payments Systems Regulator, which leads the development of the code, actively encourages banks to sign up, as does UK Finance. In addition, the Financial Ombudsman Service will take the code into consideration when determining cases, regardless of whether the bank in dispute has signed up to the code.
On the other work that the payments industry does to prevent APP scams from occurring in the first place, the confirmation of payee service is the industry-agreed way of ensuring that names of recipients are checked before payments are made. Essentially, it is an account name checking service that can help to avoid the misdirection of payments. The industries developing the service say that it can be implemented by payment providers during the course of this year.
Regulators and industry are taking further action to increase payment security and reduce fraud via stronger customer authentication. From 14 September this year, rules supplementary to the second payment services directive will apply, meaning that payment service providers such as banks will be required to apply more security measures to large transactions, and customers may be asked to provide more credentials. That could reduce some types of fraud by up to 30%.
It is also right that we look at the service provided to victims of scams and fraud. Two economic crime victim care units have been established to better identify vulnerable victims of fraud and ensure that they are provided with the right level of support. That includes practical advice, support and guidance to help victims to cope and to prevent them from again falling victim in future. The units have been trialled in the Greater Manchester and West Midlands Police force areas, and an assessment will be completed this year to help to measure the impact of the scheme.
With funding from the Home Office, National Trading Standards has piloted local multi-agency hubs to ensure that victims of fraud receive support from the local agency best able to provide it, whether that be the police, social services or charities. At the risk of boasting about my own county, in Lincolnshire—one of the pilot areas—the local police, National Trading Standards and a health trust have worked in partnership to train 1,000 health and social care professionals to identify and support older people who have been, or may be, the victims of doorstep crime and scams.
A strategic action plan has been developed by Victim Support and National Trading Standards, with Home Office support, to ensure that the service received by fraud victims is rapid, appropriate and consistent, and takes into account any specific needs that they may have that might make them particularly vulnerable or susceptible to fraud. The joint fraud taskforce is working on a technical and regulatory framework to ensure that more fraud losses can be returned to victims. Work is also being undertaken to test the technology that can trace the movement of funds back to their source. The next step will be for banks to agree ways of operating that allow for the freezing of funds, a system of dealing with disputes and, ultimately, the return of stolen funds.
We all take this threat very seriously. The responsibility is shared by all concerned agencies, both in the public and private sectors, which is supported by civil society. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Ogmore for providing the opportunity to discuss this fraud, innovative ways of tackling it, and ways to ensure that the Government’s steps are monitored and have the impact that we wish them to have. This is a piece of work that, I am delighted to say, many colleagues across the House, not all of them here today, have shared in common to ensure that the financial and social damage that such invasive crime inflicts on some of our most vulnerable citizens is tackled and stopped.
I am exceedingly grateful to the hon. Members for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for their contributions, as well as to the SNP spokesperson and the shadow Minister. I thank the Minister for stepping in for the Security Minister. I do not doubt for one second hers or the Security Minister’s sincerity in trying to tackle what should be a cross-party issue. No one wants to see constituents defrauded in any way. Certainly, I know that we all want to work constructively to resolve those issues. In the Minister’s typical style, it was refreshing of her to acknowledge that problems still need to be resolved, but that she is trying to do her bit within her portfolio, while encouraging other Home Office Ministers to find a way forward.
I sincerely believe that there is more to be done, and I hope to continue—over my next 18 months as an MP and in future—raising the profile of this issue, working with Ministers and those on the Opposition Front Bench, to ensure that we have robust processes in place to protect our constituents and get ahead of the scammers, rather than what feels like forever catching up with them.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered telephone and online scams.
Suggitt’s Lane Level Crossing
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the closure of Suggitt’s Lane level crossing, Cleethorpes.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As you say, this debate concerns a very important subject. Although it relates specifically to Suggitt’s Lane crossing, it should be considered in the broader context of the accountability of Network Rail, a nationalised company that, on this issue, seems to be unaccountable to the Secretary of State of its sponsoring Department.
In theory, Network Rail can be held to account in a number of ways. The Office of Rail and Road monitors health and safety, has a role in determining the public funding that Network Rail receives and sets certain objectives. Andrew Haines, the company’s chief executive, is personally accountable to Parliament for Network Rail’s use of taxpayer’s money, and the Secretary of State for Transport holds some power over the board’s leadership and management of the business, but accountability on issues that can have a significant impact on local communities seems to be totally absent. For it to be so independent that it is wholly unaccountable and free from adequate scrutiny on such matters as the Suggitt’s Lane issue clearly is unacceptable. If Network Rail is able to dismiss the representations of local residents, councils, Members of Parliament and even the Secretary of State, surely it is time to revisit its structures. That should not and cannot be allowed to continue.
Until recently, the level crossing allowed hundreds of local residents every day to pass quickly and easily to the north promenade of the east coast’s premier seaside resort, without the hassle of a bridge. Let us consider the figures: according to Network Rail, 570 pedestrians and cyclists use the crossing each day. That figure undoubtedly will be higher at weekends and during holiday periods, but even assuming that it is a constant 570, that amounts to 208,050 per annum, which equates to over 2 million in 10 years. According to Network Rail’s figures, in 10 years, there have been just 15 near misses. A near miss must meet specific, closely defined criteria. I will return to those figures shortly.
The proposed closure was first drawn to my attention in a letter from the route managing director, Rob McIntosh, of 3 January. Later that month, Network Rail wrote a similar letter to the then leader of North East Lincolnshire Council, Councillor Ray Oxby, informing him that it had taken the decision to close the crossing—not to consult about it, but to close it. That decision was made before any consultation with local residents, the council or me. In that letter, the route managing director either exaggerated the case or was ill informed when he stated that the crossing was very dangerous, and outlined that over 50 freight and passenger trains traverse the crossing every day at speeds of up to 60 mph.
Let us remember the figure of 15 near misses in the last 10 years. Does that qualify as “very dangerous”? For the record, there are three trains per hour Monday to Friday, one in each direction, on the Manchester service, and the two-hourly service to Barton-on-Humber. In other words, there are three trains an hour almost every hour of a weekday. On Saturdays, there are six extra movements, with services to Sheffield via the Brigg and Gainsborough route. Incidentally, four years ago, a new footbridge was erected at Brigg station. No doubt, that improved facilities for a handful of passengers each Saturday, but the logic of spending thousands on the project is at the very least another example of Network Rail’s questionable priorities.
As for freight trains travelling at 60 mph, not a single freight train is in operation on that part of the line. Trains reduce their speed on the approach to the station, and immediately after passing the level crossing, the speed limit falls to 30 mph. Why not reduce the speed before the level crossing? Trains leaving the station do not have time to reach a high speed, so why not allow them to travel slowly, at 20 or 25 mph, until they have crossed Suggitt’s Lane, which is only a quarter of a mile away?
I raised those discrepancies with the Network Rail representatives in a meeting in March, but they seemed to be of little concern to them. In fact, one of their representatives was forward in telling me that given the opportunity, they would quite happily close every level crossing in the country—a laudable but wholly unachievable aim. Unfortunately, although the crossing has been in constant use by members of the public for 150 years, there seems to be no right of way, so Network Rail has been able to close it. It highlighted a pedestrian bridge a little down the line at Fuller Street and argued that it was a suitable alternative for local residents. It may be suitable for the able bodied, but not for the disabled and those with prams and the like. If it did occur to Network Rail—I am sure it did—that a bridge somewhere down the line would pose a great inconvenience for local residents, it chose to dismiss the issue. It is the lack of disabled access that has been the concern that constituents have raised most frequently with me in recent weeks.
Over the last few months, I have been in frequent contact with Network Rail in writing and in meetings, but no progress has been made. I have raised the matter in the House on five occasions in the last couple of months, and have secured the support of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), who is in his place, who asked Network Rail to review its decision. He and I met Network Rail representatives on Monday 8 April to make the case further. They agreed to consider reopening the crossing while they review their plans. I presented a petition to the House, organised by Cleethorpes-based DN35 CrimeWatch, which was signed by over 4,000 local residents who oppose the closure.
Late in April, I had the opportunity to make representations directly to Andrew Haines, the chief executive of Network Rail. I pressed him on the situation and argued that, at the very least, the crossing should be reopened while a review takes place. He promised that he would personally look into the issue, which he duly did and wrote to me to say, “No change.” In a matter of days, I discovered that Network Rail had erected a permanent barrier at the crossing to make it impossible for pedestrians to cross. Clearly, it did not consider the recommendation of reopening very seriously, or in any great detail.
The response from Network Rail to date has been disappointing, but I remain committed to the campaign, and will continue to support local residents, who I am glad to see in the Public Gallery, in their objections to this heavy-handed and ill-advised decision. According to Robert Wainwright, head of level crossings at Network Rail, the UK has one of the best level crossing safety records in Europe. That is especially remarkable as our country has one of the most intensively used rail systems in the world.
Five years ago, the Select Committee on Transport, of which I was a member at the time, produced a report on level crossing safety. I draw hon. Members’ attention to two of its recommendations. The first stated:
“We recommend that Network Rail address criticism of its apparent preference for footbridges as replacements for level crossings and explain what assessment it makes of the impact on disabled people of replacing level crossings with footbridges rather than underpasses.”
The second stated:
“We are concerned that the proposed appeal mechanism for closure orders, using judicial review, will be out of reach for ordinary people and, increasingly, local authorities. We recommend that the DfT consider using alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation by the Office of Rail Regulation”.
Did the Committee not also state in its recommendations that it considered there was merit in applying a public safety test to any diversionary route that may result from the closure of a level crossing? Is the hon. Gentleman aware of whether Network Rail followed that recommendation in this situation?
I certainly recall that point. I have to confess that I do not know whether it has been followed through. We will wait to see whether the Minister is able to confirm that.
I understand that in the past decade, Network Rail has made a great deal of effort to improve the safety of level crossings. Initiatives such as the introduction of level crossing managers and ever-improving technology have proven successful in improving behaviour at level crossings. From a practical perspective, technology is probably the most effective means of changing outcomes. It is a huge factor in the reduction of deliberate misuse and human error across the country. I see no reason why Network Rail could not implement technology to aid pedestrian decision making at Suggitt’s Lane. Perhaps it could include supplementary audible warnings and overlay miniature stop light solutions.
In September 2013, the Law Commission published a report and a draft Bill containing a series of recommendations aimed at improving the safety and regulation of level crossings. Its suggestions included providing tools to support health and safety regulation, including level crossing plans and enforceable agreements between railway operators and other duty holders, and giving the Secretary of State the power to issue directions if necessary. Those proposals, if properly implemented, have the potential to make level crossings much safer, so that Network Rail feels less incentivised to close them on a whim.
Clearly, a vast number of alternatives to closure are available to Network Rail. I have no doubt that this decision was taken as it was the easiest and cheapest option. There was no need for Network Rail to take into consideration the trouble the closure would cause elderly and disabled residents, given the lack of powers for any person or institution to hold it to account. That is unacceptable, and it must change.
Installing a modern footbridge with disabled access at Fuller Street would prove extremely expensive. Whether the funding for that came from the owner of the bridge, North East Lincolnshire Council, or from Network Rail, it would be public money. I question whether public money should be spent on eliminating a theoretical risk at Suggitt’s Lane when there are thousands of level crossings, many with trains passing at 125 mph, where the money could be better spent.
I referred to the 15 near misses to which Network Rail referred. Remember, that is 15 near misses in 10 years, during which time more than 2 million people will have passed over the crossing. On 9 April, Mr Ian Stuart from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch emailed one of the local campaigners, Lynn Sayles. He wrote:
“We have reviewed our records from when we were established in October 2005 and have found details of only one Incident at Suggitt’s Lane level crossing, which occurred on 13 January 2011. The circumstances of this particular case were unclear, but involved an individual being found with an injury in the vicinity of the crossing. However, there was no direct evidence that the injury had actually been caused by a train. The RAIB received no formal notification from the industry about the accident and the circumstances could not be substantiated so no further action was taken.”
Only one of the 15 near misses was considered significant enough to involve the RAIB. That is one near miss, in which the circumstances could not be substantiated, against more than 2 million crossings. Why close the crossing and cause massive inconvenience on the basis of those results?
Of course people should not trespass on the railway, and of course people should not act foolishly, but, sadly, some do. We all suffer to some extent as a result, but in this instance the massive inconvenience simply is not justified. Anyone who is determined to trespass on that stretch of railway can go along to Cleethorpes station at any time of the day or night and wander down the platform and on to the track.
I urge Network Rail to do the right thing: to admit that it has not fully appreciated the strength of local feeling, that full, proper and meaningful consultation should take place, and that while those discussions happen, it should reopen Suggitt’s Lane crossing. My plea to the Minister is that he uses his good offices to find a solution.
I thank the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) for generously allowing me a few minutes to add my voice to those of the campaigners who crowdfunded to get here to participate in the debate, such is the strength of their feeling.
It is really important to acknowledge that any death on our railways is a tragedy. Of course that must be avoided, so I completely understand the desire to close dangerous level crossings, particularly where there is a real risk to life. However, this issue is not about a genuine risk; it is about a perceived risk. It is about an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist—an attempt that has caused huge disruption and upset to residents across north-east Lincolnshire.
The risk is actually worse now that people with bicycles and people with mobility problems have to cross a bridge that is not really suitable for that. In fact, young William, who has joined us in the Gallery, recently fell down that bridge trying to take his bicycle across it. Has Network Rail given that any consideration? I suspect not, because now it has displaced the risk, it has become somebody else’s problem.
Having been asked about risk assessments, Network Rail conveniently says there is no need for it to do them because this is not a public access route. However, it drafted factually incorrect risk assessments to support the decision to close the crossing, as the hon. Member for Cleethorpes said. Network Rail says there is no public right of way, but it has previously written to members of the public and local authority planners in support of Suggitt’s Lane crossing becoming a right of way.
As recently as September 2018, Network Rail confirmed in writing that there were no plans to close the crossing, yet within just three months, without providing any details or timeframe to the public, and without even responding to the former council leader’s concerns, it closed it. After 150 years, despite the fact that more than 500 people a day use the crossing, Network Rail has walked away, saying it has no need to take any account of the impact it has caused to the local community.
We heard about the RAIB’s assessment. Is there something in that that we need to consider? If there have been so many near misses that Network Rail considered to be so important, why did it not report them to the RAIB? Network Rail has published various documents about the risk of the crossing, which are completely inconsistent. One gives the crossing a risk status of D2, but another puts it in the extremely low M13 category. The recent risk assessment was produced and published just four days before the closure, but that was months after the hon. Member for Cleethorpes, the leader of the council and I were notified in writing of the decision. What on earth was the point of doing that assessment if Network Rail had no need to do risk assessments in the first place?
Network Rail says it has given safety talks to schools. It can provide no evidence of that. It says it participated in local safety events. It holds no records of those. It says it has communicated with local residents and businesses about safety issues. It has no evidence of those letters. How is it possible that a public body can be so utterly incompetent, seek embarrassingly and obviously to pull the wool over the eyes of members of the public, and be in a situation where it not only ignores its own mission statements about accountability but has no transparency whatsoever in its decision making? It has left campaigners, such as those in the Gallery, with just the very expensive route of a judicial review.
There is a similar situation with the Angerstein Wharf crossing in Greenwich. Network Rail has had the good grace to listen to the leader of the council, the MP and the community, and to delay the closure of that crossing. If that is possible for Greenwich residents, why is it not possible for Grimsby and Cleethorpes residents? I think Network Rail hopes to get away with this, but this is a warning. The campaigners, who are here today, are dogged and tenacious. They will not give in. Network Rail might hope for an easy exit, but that will not happen.
I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Cleethorpes. I urge the Minister to use his considerable influence on Network Rail to insist on a proper consultation, and to recognise the hard work of campaigners such as Lynn Sayles, Robert Palmer and Councillor Debbie Rodwell, among others, as well as the impact on local businesses, disabled people, families and the elderly, who all rely on this crossing.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) on securing this important debate. We should also recognise and thank the local residents who have come down to observe the debate for their perseverance in raising this important issue—and their perseverance in getting into the building when it is pretty lively outside. I will talk briefly about the railway more broadly and level crossings in general before addressing Suggitt’s Lane.
We must recognise that rail is a critical part of our national economic infrastructure, offering safe journeys to work and facilitating business and leisure travel. It also moves millions of tonnes of freight around our country, relieving congestion on our roads. We are seeing a real boom time in the rail industry, with passenger numbers having doubled since privatisation in the mid-1990s.
I want to see more progress made, with that success built on by improving and extending services wherever viable, as well as ensuring that we see more frequent and better services to places such as Cleethorpes, which is a point my hon. Friend has made to me many times. He is a champion of this issue, particularly on a direct service to London, which was the subject of our last meeting. However, the growth in rail and rail freight comes at a cost: a more heavily used network can bring greater safety risks to passengers and the public, particularly at stations and level crossings, and that leads to difficult choices for Network Rail to make as it seeks to deliver faster and more frequent services; of course, it must not compromise on safety while doing so.
There are no easy solutions. I recognise the responsibility that Network Rail has in making operational decisions as the duty holder for Britain’s railway infrastructure—indeed, Ministers cannot overrule decisions made on safety issues—but the point raised by Members about accountability was well made. I will take that away from the debate.
There are 7,000 level crossings across our mainland rail network, with different types of crossing based on the different levels of risk. These range from open passive crossings, with no barriers or gates, for where trains are infrequent and speeds are low, to crossings with full barriers monitored by CCTV and with telephones.
Level crossings of whatever type are safe when used correctly. Absolute safety may be an impossible goal—we should aim at it, though—but it is important that the right type of crossing is used at a location to achieve safety with minimum delays to the surrounding community, whether on foot or on wheels. The factors that are taken into account include the speed and number of trains; the volume and type of road traffic; the nature of private use; the number of pedestrians; and the location itself. Clearly decisions have to be made locally, because what is appropriate for a quiet country road is totally different from that for a busy urban area.
Ninety-six per cent of accidents at level crossings are considered to be caused by either driver or pedestrian action, whether intentional or unintentional. Safety, therefore, clearly can be compromised in this area. Statistics show that the safety record of level crossings in this country is among the best in the world, but we always seek ways to improve safety.
Level crossings now represent the single biggest source of risk of train accidents—those with the potential for multiple deaths. I therefore agree with Network Rail’s initiative to minimise the number of level crossings on the network, but that must be done in a proportionate way that takes people with it. Network Rail has to focus on improving the operation and maintenance of level crossings; a risk assessment programme to identify where additional action may be needed, which certainly includes the safety impacts of any diversionary routes; measures to promote the safe use of level crossings; and, where feasible and appropriate, closing crossings altogether if the opportunity arises.
Let us focus on Suggitt’s Lane, which Network Rail told me it decided, with a heavy heart, to close permanently. That is in line with its statutory duties as the managers of our rail infrastructure. On the legal position, Suggitt’s Lane was established as a private level crossing to serve a local fishing business in, I believe, the 1860s. That business has ceased, and there was no public right of way at that crossing; it was just for the business. That position was confirmed in discussion with North East Lincolnshire Council and in Network Rail’s own investigation.
Let me explain what brought Network Rail to its decision. It observed a number of potentially fatal incidents at the level crossing, including young children crossing unattended, people walking on the tracks and motorcyclists using the crossing. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) highlighted the 15 near misses recorded in the past 10 years, which are in addition to those examples. Evidence suggests that other incidents may have gone unreported.
I recognise that point. The RAIB records are clear—that is the truth—but we always try to avoid the need for the RAIB to get involved, because its involvement means there has been an accident. This is about trying to ensure that accidents do not happen.
Network Rail has concluded that, having taken action with the British Transport police to improve public awareness and use of that crossing, no infrastructure can be installed to address its concerns. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes will be aware, Network Rail held a public information event on 22 March at which it explained that, in its view, closure was the most effective option for ensuring the safety of the public.
From comments in this place, from media coverage in the local paper, which I have looked at, and from the fact that people have made a great effort to join us at this debate, it is clear how the closure has affected local users, how strongly people feel about that, and how it has also affected some businesses on the promenade. I understand that entirely. To balance against that, I also understand why Network Rail made this difficult decision. It is not a straightforward matter, and there is no ideal alternative.
I am aware of the provision at Fuller Street footbridge and recognise the point, which was well made by my hon. Friend, about the lack of access there for people with reduced mobility. It was interesting to learn that that is a significant concern among his constituents. My hon. Friend chaired a meeting last Friday with Network Rail and North East Lincolnshire Council to discuss the options for that bridge in more detail. I understand that Network Rail has agreed in principle to contribute to enhancing the bridge, should that prove viable, and that it and the council will send engineers to review the bridge in the weeks ahead.
We have obligations to keep our rail network as safe as possible. The definition and calculation of risk is a key factor in deciding where money is spent. It is important that we have a dialogue between the local council and Network Rail to look at all the options and come to an effective permanent solution, which can and must be found. That could mean work at Fuller Street or other areas, but I want to ensure that people are talking locally about a local solution to a local problem.
The challenge has been well articulated by Members. Network Rail will have been following the debate, and I will ensure that it picks up the content of our discussions and addresses the concerns that have been expressed. I will write to both hon. Members and, through them, to their constituents.
We have a difficult situation where a local community has been affected by an organisation charged with safety seeking to improve safety. In this case, we are not seeing what an agreement might look like. That is of some regret, but we must work harder to try to reach a solution that all sides will be happy with, keeping the community together and making sure that people can travel safely in and out of Cleethorpes.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Trade Union Access to Workplaces
[Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered trade union access to workplaces.
Working people in the UK can thank our trade unions for fighting to give us the minimum wage, parental rights, holidays and sickness pay. With nearly 6.5 million members in the UK, trade unions are our largest voluntary and democratic organisations. Trade unions are on the frontline every day, fighting poverty, inequality and injustice, and negotiating a better deal for working people. This role has never been more critical than it is today, with in-work poverty on the rise and zero-hours contracts widespread, but a barrage of anti-trade union legislation over the past decade has meant that workers have found their ability to organise and take industrial action to challenge these injustices greatly restricted.
Under existing legislation, huge multinational companies such as Amazon and McDonald’s can employ legions of low-paid, insecure staff, often in terrible working conditions, all while turning record-breaking profits. It is boom time for large multinational companies, but their success is not passed down to employees. With British workers facing an uncertain and exploitative job market, trade unions are the perfect tool to make these workplaces fairer.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that it is a real pity that some big employers do not see the benefit of having an organised workforce, which facilitates better industrial relations, improves dialogue between employers and employees, and is better for staff morale and for keeping staff turnover low?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which I will come to later in my speech. If employers look after their employees and they are happy, then they are more productive; in the end, everybody wins. That was a great point.
It is no exaggeration to say that working conditions at large multinational companies are, at times, reminiscent of the deplorable practices of the 19th century. Workers have recounted having to urinate in bottles for fear of being disciplined for a toilet break and heavily pregnant women report being refused permission to sit down for a break during 12-hour shifts. How can we allow this to happen in the UK in the 21st century? I have spoken to countless trade union officials who tell me that, despite the widespread desire for improved rights and conditions at work, efforts to unionise staff in such workplaces are often fruitless.
In large part, that is because there are currently no rights of access for trade unions to enter the workplace and speak to workers for the purposes of recruitment. Workers at Amazon have had their shift patterns interrupted and randomised simply to prevent them from talking to union officials on the way into work. Union representatives visiting branches of McDonald’s across the UK to speak to workers about the benefits of joining a trade union are routinely thrown out of stores, with their presence reported to senior regional managers.
When I raised these issues in Parliament several weeks ago, both Amazon and McDonald’s responded by denying that these practices were taking place in their stores. McDonald’s stated:
“We strongly dispute the notion that we are asking people to leave our restaurants based on their membership of a union. If anybody comes into a restaurant with the sole intention of disrupting our people while they work, or customers while they eat, we would ask them to leave regardless of their reason for causing disruption.”
Does that attitude not sum up the problem with the current legislation? The crucial work of our trade unions is simply a nuisance to these companies and is getting in the way of their exploitative practices and profiteering. The current laws simply let them get away with it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that our highly restrictive trade union laws and low collective bargaining coverage have helped to make the UK one of the most unequal countries in Europe and the OECD in terms of income inequality, and that guaranteeing trade union access to all workplaces would be a moderate and practical step in addressing these issues?
Absolutely; that is an excellent point. I could not agree more.
Union members from the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union have recounted stories like that of Mohamed’s, a worker from north London, who was excited at the prospect of working alongside his colleagues to improve basic things at work, like getting his shifts 10 days in advance so that he could plan his life. Because of those efforts, he was informed by the management that he was banned from every McDonald’s store in the area. I note that in its statement McDonald’s did not dispute that account.
In its response, Amazon stated:
“If you want a true assessment of our working conditions just register for a tour at one of our fulfilment centres.”
A registered, company-sanctioned tour—effectively a corporate PR exercise—would hardly paint an accurate picture of working conditions at Amazon. Let the figures speak for themselves: from 2015 to 2018, a shocking 600 ambulance calls were made to Amazon warehouses. I have visited an Amazon warehouse in my own constituency in the past; the technology on show was indeed very impressive, but that hardly gives an accurate account of what it would be like to work a 12-hour shift in the warehouse. Nevertheless, I am happy to take Amazon up on its offer of another visit. Would I be able to bring representatives from the GMB union with me? Until now, many of them have consistently been denied access to the workplace.
It is not just Amazon and McDonald’s; these practices are widespread, particularly in poorly paid jobs. In its recently published report on InterContinental Hotels Group, Unite the union documented a workplace culture of fear and bullying, with management pressurising low-paid staff into working for eight to 10 days straight. IHG employees and subcontracted employees have been routinely denied the right to freedom of association and have stood little chance of exercising their right to collective bargaining.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for calling this debate. While making the case about large employers, will he acknowledge that there is a lot of exploitation of workers by small employers, particularly bullying and harassment, and that they also shut their doors to trade unions? That is to the detriment of small employers, as well as to the detriment of their staff.
I thank my hon. Friend for that brilliant point. It works for all stages in every sector, regardless of the size of the business. If large organisations practise fairly, it will filter down, especially through subcontractors. It is the responsibility of large businesses to show smaller businesses what they are doing. If they follow the right practices, that will filter down to subcontractors. Perhaps larger businesses could have some kind of contract to make sure that their subcontractors look after their employees in the same way as they do. Large businesses have to set a precedent.
Union members are vulnerable and live in fear of reprisals from their employer. Bupa is one of the largest and highest-profile providers of residential social care in the UK and part of an international health group that serves approximately 32 million customers in 190 countries. It consistently refuses to allow Unison officials access to workplaces to speak with staff and members regarding union rights and representation.
During 2017 and 2018, Unison North West regional officers were banned from every Bupa care workplace, despite assurances that visits could be conducted at the employer’s convenience and with due regard to operational and safeguarding concerns and priorities. I have just mentioned what McDonald’s said about disruption, but unions do not want to disrupt the business at all. They give adequate time before they come, and that is all I am asking for in the legislation. Of course I am pro-business and I support great businesses, but not at the cost of poor workplace conditions for employees.
I am sure I do not need to remind the Minister that the UK is a signatory to the European convention on human rights, article 11 of which states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”
Does he not agree that the examples I have listed constitute a flagrant violation of that right? If so, what does his Department intend to do about it?
I do not want to use this debate simply as an opportunity to criticise existing practices, but to propose a way forward. I hope the Minister will listen to my proposals, because it does not have to be like this. By expanding trade union access to workplaces, we can restore dignity and respect at work and put an end to the exploitation and misery we see on the rise today. As I said, I am pro-business and I want to see our businesses flourish, but that should not come at the cost of dignity and respect at work. An alternative is possible.
We can look to places such as New Zealand for inspiration, as well as for evidence that the legislation that I am proposing works. Under the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018, trade unions there have far greater access to workplaces. Workers in New Zealand can speak to union representatives in their place of work, which has led to higher union membership, higher wages, and fairer and more just workplaces.
Under this legislation, all that is required is that the union provide a short period of notice that it will be visiting the workplace, allowing for management to add the extra staff member needed for the duration of the visit. The situation is beneficial for all involved: disruption to the business is kept to an absolute minimum, while workers’ legal and human right to join and form a union is properly adhered to.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent case. Does he agree that that access is even more important when individual workers are undergoing disciplinary or grievance procedures, and that we need to see a full right to representation for workers in those procedures? At the moment the employers have an unequal force of arms, but resolving these issues could make workplaces better for all employees.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was a union rep at my workplace before I joined Parliament, and the number of cases in which I represented my colleagues is unbelievable. There are a number of things that union reps can achieve, working with the employer and of course the workers, and that is crucial.
With the success of New Zealand in mind, I want to see similar legislation adopted in this country. Last month, I presented a private Member’s Bill to that effect, which seeks to remove a number of restrictions on trade unions’ conducting business in workplaces. I have received a lot of support for the Bill from hon. Members, over 50 of whom were willing to co-sign it. However, to date I have not been supported by a single Conservative or Liberal Democrat MP.
Arguments against increasing the collective bargaining power of working people have long been discredited. It is a myth that strong trade unions drive down profit. If strong trade unions drive down productivity, why has the UK long suffered from a productivity gap despite having the most restrictive trade union laws in western Europe? In truth, a happy, well-respected workforce is also a productive one, but the stories I have heard from union officials paint the opposite picture: too many people in this country feel exploited and dispensable at work.
If we are to transition away from a low-wage, precarious economy, increasing the collective bargaining power of our workers is critical. That is why I am fighting to improve trade union access to the workplace. We need strong trade unions and a better deal for working people.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) on securing this debate and on talking eloquently about this important issue. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of his private Member’s Bill that he talked about.
As we know, the right to join a trade union is a basic democratic right. Trade unions play an invaluable role in ensuring that justice is served, defending their members’ workplace rights, pay, and terms and conditions. As I have said many times in this place and will always say, the best thing anyone can do to protect themselves at work is to join a trade union. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my membership of GMB and Unite.
As my hon. Friend said in his excellent speech, the European convention on human rights provides that everyone has the right to form or to join a trade union for the protection of his or her interests. Given that, we might think there would be no need to introduce his Bill to remove restrictions on trade unions conducting business in workplaces in the UK, but sadly both the law and the culture in this country place little emphasis on workplace protection and do little to support or respect it.
Far too many people experience insecurity, uncertainty and exploitation at work. As we have heard, in-work poverty is on the rise and zero-hours contracts are widespread. Anti-trade union legislation introduced by the Government has actively sought to clamp down on trade unions and to diminish the voice of ordinary working people. In my opinion, that is based on a ridiculous and outdated view of trade unions and their role in society.
As we heard, there are 6.5 million trade union members in the UK. Every hon. Member present today will have constituents who are members of trade unions. They are ordinary men and women who want to organise themselves collectively to strive for better working conditions, and who can argue with that as an aim? We should be supporting them in their efforts to improve working conditions, not attempting to thwart them. As my hon. Friend said, a happy workplace is a productive workplace; it is good for employers and good for the economy.
We should therefore be saddened to hear that research by the TUC has found that one in three workers do not feel comfortable approaching managers about a problem with work, that more than one third do not feel that they or their colleagues are treated fairly and that nearly half say that their line managers do not explain their rights at work. Trade unions were founded exactly for those reasons, to fight for the rights of every worker.
Union representatives in the workplace can inform workers of their rights, help to ensure those rights are enforced and provide workers with a collective voice in negotiations with employers. They provide the safety net we all need. That is why it is vital that trade unions should have a legal right of access to workplaces in the UK.
Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the fundamental problems now, with so many workers working for small and medium-sized companies, is the lack of a place to meet? Often, workers just need to discuss some of the issues, but they have no opportunity to do that, and that makes it difficult for them to join a trade union. Does he agree that that is something we could look at seriously?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I think there is more we can do to meet in the electronic sense, online; there can be more discussion forums that way. The old workplace messes are a thing of the past, but we can improve things in that way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South spoke about various examples around the country where employers have prevented unions such as the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, Unison, GMB and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers from accessing workplaces. We have heard about some of the largest employers in the country, including McDonald’s, Amazon and Bupa, actively seeking to prevent trade union activity through restricting access, banning visits or manipulating shift patterns to prevent opportunities for engagement. That is a shameless way to behave and is ultimately self-defeating.
In my area, trade union recognition in the construction industry has been a particularly hot issue recently. We have a lot of industrial construction, but for some reason some of those involved refuse to engage with trade unions on recognition issues, to their detriment. National agreements are important for pay, training and safety—all things we want to see in the construction industry.
My hon. Friend mentions the construction industry. I have a constituent who found that she is blacklisted not only from a particular company but from the whole sector and is therefore unable to get employment in the field she is an expert in, all because of her trade union activity. Does he agree that that has to be wiped out? We cannot have people unable to get work because of trade union activity.
I absolutely agree. We have had a number of debates on blacklisting, particularly in construction, but it applies in other areas. Whistleblowers often find that, once they have blown the whistle, they are unable to gain employment. It is a disgraceful activity that needs outlawing.
My hon. Friend was just coming on to health and safety. Our area has a lot of heavy industry manufacturing. Does he agree that all the evidence demonstrates that where there is an active trade union branch, there is a much better safety culture than where trade unions are not welcome or, in some cases, prevented from organising?
Yes. We have a lot of potentially dangerous industries in our area. The ones I tend to deal with have been around for a long time. They all have long-standing recognition agreements with trade unions, and excellent safety records as a result. It is a learning process, not an adversarial process, particularly in health and safety.
Some companies ought to take a leaf out of those employers’ books and learn how to treat and to deal with employee representatives in a much more reasonable and engaging way. A number of employers behave despicably, adding to employees’ fears about victimisation, which leaves many individuals not wanting their employers to know that they belong to a trade union. How sad is that? How damning is it that some companies are so vindictive to their staff that their employees will not tell them that they belong to a trade union?
Only last week I met a constituent who told me what it was like in his workplace, where unions are not welcome, where arbitrary decisions are made about who is retained and who is let go, and where all the workers are too worried to put their head above the parapet. I hope to discuss my concerns with the company in due course, but does it really need a Member of Parliament to remind an employer of how to treat its staff? If a trade union official was allowed access to the site, they would be able to do that, and in the end everybody would benefit—the workers and the company. At the moment they are locked out, which is simply not good enough. It is shocking that these kinds of things still take place in the 21st century.
What is the point of someone having the right to join a trade union if they cannot exercise that right because an employer refuses to engage? What is the point of their being a trade union member if they cannot be represented? I have lost count of the number of times companies have lied to employees about their right to be accompanied by trade union reps at disciplinary or grievance hearings by saying that, because the company does not recognise a particular trade union, those unions do not have the right to attend the hearings. The Government should clamp down on that.
We have a culture of weak employment rights, greedy corporations and a Government that obstruct trade unions. We need to get away from that and towards a period of renewal and rebuilding of one of the pillars of a decent society: job security. Without job security, people have no security. How can they plan for their future, for a home or for their family if the labour market is so cut-throat, so insecure and so parasitic that they are always just one step away from disaster? The stabilising force of trade unions is a vital component of a decent society.
“Rights” is not a dirty word. Rights are not only about individual dignity and respect in the workplace; they give people a stake in society, when they know that if they do a good job and their employer runs the business well, they will be rewarded. We need an economy —and a country—where everyone has a stake in its prosperity, but to do that we must have a system that values the security and sustainability of a job itself as much as the principle of job creation. Good employers want to work with unions, and in an ideal world all employers would be able to do so without the need for the legislation that we have talked about.
My hon. Friend mentions insecure employment. Does he agree that while those on short-term or rolling contracts are among the least organised of the workforce in the United Kingdom, they actually need to be members of a trade union probably more than any other group of workers?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have seen an explosion of insecure employment in this country in recent years. We wonder why people are so fed up with the way this country is run. People have no security and do not know what they are doing from one day to the next. Let us not forget that until someone has two years of continuous employment somewhere, they have no employment rights whatsoever. What kind of country is that? We do not really want to live in a place where people have no protection until they have been somewhere for two years. Their whole life could change in that period. We absolutely need more support at an earlier stage for people who live in these precarious times.
This is not only about improving workplace rights, but about sending a message to employers that we need to move to a much more stable system, and we need the Government to bring forward legislation to encourage that. A good example is New Zealand’s Employment Relations Amendment Act, which has already had a positive impact on the workforce, restoring protections and strengthening the rights of workers without causing disruption to business. Just as importantly, it has changed people’s attitudes towards their right to represent themselves. I think the people of this country deserve the same. It is a shame that there are absolutely zero Members on the Tory Back Benches. That tells us absolutely everything that we need to know about the priority that the Conservative party places on this issue. In these circumstances, the idea that it could rebrand itself as the party of the worker is a joke.
In conclusion, it is only through improved access to workplaces that unions will be able to inform individuals of their rights and, critically, ensure that those rights are enforced—people’s rights are only as good as their ability to enforce them. Only then will we see real changes and improvements to people’s working lives. It is my belief that it is the duty of the Government to be an enabler in that process, not an accomplice to those who would deny people those basic rights.
It is a great pleasure to follow the previous speakers in this important debate. Having worked for the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—USDAW, the shop workers’ union—for 18 years before coming to this place, I have seen an enormous amount of good practice in a trade union. I am sad to say that, since being elected as a Member of Parliament, I have seen the opposite side of the coin. Constituents come to me with employment cases, some of them really serious, and my first question is always whether they are a member of a trade union. I am really sorry to say that the vast majority are not; if they were, they would not end up in these situations with their employers.
Only 14% of workers in the private sector are in trade unions, so it is a very rare breed who have the benefit of trade union protection at work. While working with USDAW and the retail sector over many years, I often heard from skilled and experienced reps; they had been trained and had done training courses on employment rights, and were far better at negotiating under their companies’ grievance and disciplinary procedures than the managers, who were often straight out of business school, or were moved around shops in different areas and so were never able to build up the expertise that the reps had.
Employers are missing a trick by not seeing trade union representatives as an asset to their workplaces and workforces. Having helped to put together presentations for employers on the value of a trade union in the workplace, I know that a trade union can absolutely bring value for money and productivity to a company. A union can also ensure that a company is doing everything by the book, and can certify that at national level; at local level, the presence of a trade union rep can give people confidence in the management in the company—confidence that things are being done right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) mentioned health and safety. I am honoured to have the laboratory for the Health and Safety Executive in my constituency. It is really useful to be able to talk to people there about how best to implement health and safety at work, particularly given the decline in the resources that the Government give to the Health and Safety Executive. We have seen inspections decline—they are now done on a risk-assessed basis—but where a workplace has trade union representatives who are trained in health and safety, those health and safety reps do risk assessments and take soundings from their work colleagues, who often feel more able to raise problems with their trade union representatives than with their management, particularly if they are concerned about their safety. That is even more the case where there are people in the workplace with a disability or some other form of impairment. It is so important that they feel that they have that support.
We have some basic rights at work, but in the UK they are particularly basic, and we often see that even those are not provided. We have a system of employment tribunals whereby individuals have to put their head above the parapet, as has been mentioned; they have to show that they are able to make a complaint in order to access an employment tribunal. That does not help the rest of the workforce, who are probably suffering in exactly the same conditions, particularly where the issue has to do with the minimum wage, holiday pay, sick pay, parental leave or flexible working. Those are basic rights at work that we expect to be in place, but too often they are not, and individual employees have to put themselves forward in order to be able to access a particular right. Many feel that it is not worth it; many feel that it is better to move on to a different place of work. That does not help the other people there.
To access the protection from unfair dismissal, a person now has to have been in a workplace for two years. We have an increasingly mobile workforce, so a growing number of people are not able to access the right to claim unfair dismissal, and do not feel that they can access any of the other rights that enable them to take a case to their employer or to a tribunal, especially where they cannot get the support of a trade union representative in that. That is why, as I have said, it is so important that trade union representatives are able to come in and support individual members in a workplace. Even where the union is not the recognised trade union, the trade union reps need to be able to support their members, who are paying for the privilege of membership. If they are paying for that service, it is not right that their employer should be able to deny it to them.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she agree, at this moment, when we are trying to deal with cultures of bullying or sexual harassment, that it is very important that when people take complaints forward, they have somebody with them to give them confidence and comfort in what can be a stressful and sometimes distressing situation?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. People often spend the majority of their waking lives at work, and the relationships in the workplace are some of the most important to them. If they are subject to bullying or harassment, that affects their whole life and their confidence in taking the issue forward, so having a trade union representative, or a trade union office that they know they can phone for expert support and advice—having someone on their side—is so important, particularly when they are taking forward a case against a manager or another colleague with whom they work closely. That creates very difficult situations for individuals.
It is not just individuals who benefit from trade union membership. The state also benefits from higher productivity and from better pay and conditions, which reduce the reliance on in-work benefits that comes from low pay and low hours at work. Universal credit is being rolled out, and the only thing that employers have been told by the Department for Work and Pensions is that they no longer have to give people set hours of work. With tax credits, people used to need to have a contract to work 16, 24 or 30 hours a week, for access at different points. Employers knew that and were prepared to give those contracts to ensure that people could afford to live on the contract of work. Under universal credit, yes, people can access mini jobs, with fewer hours of work, but that will encourage employers to provide more flexibility within contracts; I am afraid that the Department for Work and Pensions is actively encouraging them in that. They may not be zero-hours contracts—those are bad enough—but they are short-hour contracts, sometimes for as little as four or eight hours a week. People simply cannot afford to live on them, but employers are happy to give those sorts of contracts and to ask people to flex up when they are busy. It gives employers maximum flexibility, but it does not mean that people who are in work can get by.
That is why we are seeing such a huge increase in in-work poverty. Up to 8 million workers—more than one quarter of the workforce—are now in poverty. That is a crying shame for any decent economy, any decent society. If someone goes out to work, they should be able to support themselves; if there are two of them, they should be able to support a family. There are rising house prices, housing costs and rents, but there have been reduced real wages for almost a decade, and people simply cannot afford to live on the wages that they get.
The issue is not just pay but pension provision. Employers with trade unions provide far better pension entitlements than employers who do not recognise a trade union. Again, the state benefits, because it does not then have to provide a top-up where pensioners are falling into poverty. Trade unions that I saw in the workplace helped to keep better pension schemes going for their members. We have seen innovative schemes, such as the Communication Workers Union and Royal Mail scheme, that will help far more workers continue to have a decent standard of living when they retire, and will save the state from having to step in where people fall into poverty because they have an inadequate pension scheme.
Trade unions can bring benefits across the whole range of rights at work, pay and conditions, and pensions. That is why it is inexcusable that no Conservative Back-Bench MPs have bothered to turn up to this debate to, at the very least, discuss the value of trade unions in the workplace and have a robust discussion about their merits and what they can bring to working people who particularly need that support.
We certainly need trade unions in the workplace at a time when employers are possibly facing a lack of labour. Workers from the European Union are returning to their own countries, or countries of origin, and many workplaces are desperate to recruit. They are seeing a recruitment shortage, and they need to ensure that they can provide the best standards and conditions of employment. Trade unions will help them to do that. They help them to stamp out cultures of bullying, which unfortunately can exist in the workplace. They ensure that there is always a trusted third party. They ensure that people have a friend at work whom they can turn to—and everybody needs one of those at times. I really hope that the Minister will reflect on those points and respond to them.
Thank you, Ms McDonagh, for allowing me to speak in this very important and timely debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) on securing it and on speaking so passionately in his introductory remarks. He raised issues that resonate very strongly with me and, indeed, with the wider trade union movement across this country.
It is good to start on a positive note: trade union membership in the United Kingdom has gone up in the past year by 103,000. Now 6.35 million people are members of a trade union in the United Kingdom. However, the long-term trends still give cause for concern. Trade union membership is half of its peak in the late 1970s, when there were 12 million members of trade unions. Over that time, we have seen a 5% fall in the labour share of our economy—the share of our gross national wealth taken home by workers in wages has fallen. There is a strong correlation between the trade union organisation and collective bargaining power in our economy and the amount of wealth that workers are able to secure from the fruits of their labour.
We need to return that fundamental analysis to the heart of how we understand our economy and the relationship between working people and the owners of capital. It has been forgotten from the mainstream narrative in this country, which is about shirkers, people not working hard enough and how people need to be more flexible and sacrifice more, rather than about unity, organisation and agitation against exploitation and in favour of workers’ right to receive the fruits of their labour. The correlation is stark; it is a fact of economic history. The long-term trend in the past 40 years is a diminishing share of wealth for workers.
It would not be half as bad if that share, which workers once took home in their pay packets, was invested by companies and private capital to improve the efficiency of our economy. However, it has not been invested at all. Investment as a share of GDP has flatlined throughout that period. I wonder where that share of capital has gone. The workers are producing wealth and productivity continues to go up, but the share taken home in wages is declining. What happens to that share? It is extracted in profits by companies, which are often not based in the United Kingdom. The wealth is taken overseas, often to opaque tax havens around the world, or invested elsewhere. It is never seen by the people who produce the wealth.
That is the stark reality that we face. That is why, I would argue, having a Labour Government is so critical to restoring the collective bargaining powers in our economy, which are so essential to recapturing the share of the wealth that working people rightly deserve and produce in this country. Workers put in great innovation, productivity and effort every day in many workplaces across the United Kingdom. However, we have seen the hollowing out of their collective capacity to fight for their share of the wealth they produce.
We have seen an increase in trade union membership. Of the total UK workforce, about 23% of workers are in trade unions. However, there are regional disparities in the way trade union organisation works across the United Kingdom. Trade union membership in London and the south-east is 16% to 17% of workers, yet in Scotland, the north-west, north-east and Wales it is between 28% and 30%. There is significant regional variation. There are a number of reasons for that.
First, in areas with traditional manufacturing and labour-intensive employment, where there are large industrial employers, there seems to be more cultural recognition of trade union membership—it is an accepted fact of life. Secondly, in some regions the public sector forms a much more important share of the economy. In public sector workplaces, 52% of the workforce are trade union members, whereas in the private sector, membership is at a mere 13%. That is a huge contrast, which has evolved and become more stark in the past 40 years.
There is a significant age disparity in trade union membership, which reflects the increased casualisation of work. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South mentioned McDonald’s employees being exploited. Many in the retail and food sectors see that happen on a daily basis. Just 4% of 16 to 24-year-olds are members of trade unions, and 77% of trade union members are over 35. The age disparity is significant and we need to tackle it.
We need to introduce information about trade unions into our education system. When I first entered work, I was exploited by employers. I undertook unpaid trial shifts. I worked minimum-wage jobs. I was denied tips. I started in a pizzeria and then worked in a supermarket. When I started working in fruit and veg at Morrisons supermarket, we had a presentation from the USDAW official. At that time, I did not really understand what a trade union was or why it would be significant to me. Why should I give up the precious little money I was paid to a trade union when I could take it home and spend it on going out and having a good time with my pals? Believe it or not, I did have a good time. Education is required on why trade union representation is important, particularly for young people for whom exploitation has never been more critical.
I am pleased to hear that my hon. Friend had a positive experience of the USDAW official. Unfortunately, I have met too many people, young and old, who started their first job in fruit and veg in a supermarket and injured their back, often for life, because of incorrect lifting practices, and who did not have trade union representation in the workplace to support them and ensure they were lifting correctly. That happens to too many young people. I hope it did not happen to my hon. Friend.
Believe it or not, that did not happen. I managed to survive my experience in fruit and veg largely unscathed. My hon. Friend makes an important point. People never know when they will need a trade union until they do. It is critical that people join, because it is like an insurance policy. We need to educate people in that necessity.
My first adult job was in a shipyard. It was a traditional engineering and manufacturing company—a large-scale employer—where there was significant trade union density. At that point, I joined the Unite and GMB trade unions, because they were the shipyard trade unions. They ably represent the workforce on the Clyde and are often mentioned in this place. I ran into trouble from time to time in the shipyard and my trade union was critical in helping me get through those difficult periods. If I had a dispute with my bosses or another issue, the officials were very helpful. I did not know when I would need them—when a bit of bad luck could strike. It is critical that people understand why trade union membership is so important.
My hon. Friend is giving a detailed analysis and a great speech. Does he agree that there is less trade union membership in the third sector? It is often seen to be the nice sector, but it employs a lot of young people and women, and we need to encourage more trade union membership within it.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. She makes a good point about the gender disparity. It is interesting to note that female membership of trade unions has increased in the past year, but male membership has decreased. That does not read across the different sectors that she mentioned. It is important to recognise that issue, particularly when we look at casualisation in the workforce, which is a key driver of why workers are taking home less in their pay packets than they ought to.
Traditional collective bargaining in large-scale organisations and traditional large industrial workplaces are fragmenting, and the way people work is continually atomising. We need to adapt our trade union regulation and organisation to reflect the changing nature of our economy. The charity sector has not been penetrated by the trade union movement to the same extent. We need to tackle that. Great thought must be given to how to increase recruitment to trade unions in those non-traditional workplaces.
I will offer another view as to why trade union membership is so critical. In the past few months, I have been dealing with a major industrial dispute in my constituency. The Caley railway works, which has been around for 160 years, faces closure. From 1948 to 1995 it was part of British Rail, but it was privatised and sold off. It has been through myriad different owners, culminating in an overseas company purchasing it in an asset-stripping exercise. There are 200 people on that site, which faces closure. Thankfully, they have high trade union density—90%, which is fantastic—because the railway works was a traditional workplace. The trade union was able to swing into action immediately when the closure was announced.
In stark contrast, when the immediate closure of Jamie’s Italian was announced, the workforce were completely blindsided and had no capacity to organise and effectively agitate against that exploitation. People were told to go home with no recourse, redundancy payment or share in the liquidation of the company. With the potential closure of the Caley railway works, the trade union was able to organise to bid up the terms and conditions of severance for the workforce. The liabilities of the workforce were originally assessed as being about £700,000 to close the site. The trade union has now managed to negotiate almost £4 million from the employer to wind up the site. That is an amazing achievement, and the company has even offered to try to sell it or pay the Government to take the site off its hands, because the owners just want rid of it. That is just one example of how effective negotiation by trade unions can massively improve the hand of workers who face really difficult disputes with their employers.
I pay tribute to the tenacity of the Caley railway works workforce, who are facing the most testing conditions and were told just before Christmas—as is often the case—that they would lose their livelihoods. People have been working there for generations. Families have grown up and lived around the railway works their whole lives, to the point that in some cases people felt there was no other way out but to take their lives. The stress that the workforce have had to deal with has been absolutely appalling. I pay tribute to their tenacious work, particularly by Pat McIlvogue of Unite the union, in organising the workforce and keeping their spirits high at a really tough time. I hope the Government in Edinburgh will step in and take action to save those jobs and the workforce, because they deserve it. They deserve to have that commitment shown to them by the state.
The Government and trade unions can work in co-operation to ensure that we salvage the collective knowledge and skills of our workforce and redeploy them in the future, rather than see the industrial vandalism that has so often happened across this country, where we have seen industrial capability destroyed. With the lack of a trade union to organise, agitate and struggle against it, there has not been the fight that could have been mounted. I pay tribute to everyone in the trade union movement who has fought so hard for workers’ rights to capture a better share of workers’ efforts—in the form of labour—in wages, and to secure their rights and those of future generations who will follow in their footsteps, so that we have a prosperous society that gets a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) on securing this debate and on bringing forward his ten-minute rule Bill, which I support—he has my guarantee.
It is traditional in these trade union debates to make our declarations. I declare my 20 years of trade union activity before I was elected to this place, my membership of Glasgow City Unison, and my position as chair of the Public and Commercial Services Union parliamentary group. I will in the next few days declare a settlement agreement with my former employer as a result of an equal pay claim.
I make those declarations not just to show my trade union credentials; it is obviously important to mention the trade union role in the education and personal development of workers. I have no shame in saying—I am sure I am not the only Member of Parliament present who would say this—that I would not be here without the skills, knowledge and experience I gained as a trade union representative and activist.
The hon. Member for Warrington South described the historical and present contexts. On the current context, it is very interesting that the governing party is having a leadership election—a so-called grand national, although I think the grand national is for thoroughbreds, not necessarily for people putting themselves forward for leader of the Conservative party. Many who are seeking to be the next Prime Minister have the inclination to deregulate markets—an inclination not too dissimilar to that of Donald Trump. It seems that some will argue over the next few years that the solution to a deregulated market is to deregulate it even further. It is complete and utter political nonsense.
The hon. Gentleman mentions the contenders for leadership of the Conservative party. The Foreign Secretary presides over a Department that is in dispute with PCS over Interserve. The Department has essentially hived off core staff into an arm’s length company that fails even to recognise the trade union that is mentioned in employees’ contracts. Is that not shameful? The Foreign Office should act immediately to resolve the situation.
I agree wholeheartedly, but on this occasion the hon. Gentleman underdoes his criticism of the Foreign Office. It gave a contract to a company that will be the next Carillion, because it is in administration. It is absolutely and utterly ludicrous that the Government are giving contracts to companies that are failing.
Members including the hon. Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley) have mentioned the historical context and blacklisting. We know that it has been going on in the construction sector. The difference between that sector and other sectors of the economy is that people in the construction sector found the blacklist, but I know there are blacklists in other sectors. Given my trade union activity over the past 20 years, I would be very surprised if I were not on a blacklist.
We have seen the erosion of trade union rights over the past few decades. There is the anti-trade union Bill, which I will touch on; the erosion of facility time in the public sector; the publishing of that facility time, and the suggestion that it is a cost to the public purse when it is not; a public sector pay cap; and the erosion of collective bargaining. In Scotland, 81% of workers were covered by collective bargaining agreements for pay in 1979. The figure is now 23% as a result of the deregulation of markets.
The examples provided by the hon. Member for Warrington South are very alarming. As far as the Scottish National party is concerned, all workers should have the right to trade union membership and to organise as a collective trade union. Multinational companies purposefully stopping trade unions from recruiting staff is against employer best practice, and does not bode well for the prospect of positive workplace relations. These incidents can make workers feel isolated and alienated, further frustrating cohesion in the working environment.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the benefits of a trade union workforce have been consistently documented by research—not just by the TUC, but by others—that suggests members are more likely to be paid more, more likely not to be dismissed, more likely to have better leave provisions and more likely to work fewer hours of unpaid overtime. Those are important gains. Members are also more likely to find themselves in a pay and grading scheme that complies with the Equal Pay Act 1970, and trade unions have played a vital role in ensuring that employers comply with that very important piece of legislation. As the chief economist of the Bank of England has said, the weakening of trade union power in the United Kingdom has hit workers’ pay over the past few decades.
Trade unionism should be viewed as an opportunity to improve workplace relations, as trade union representatives and officials bring a vital perspective to a workplace, and do more than play a role in collective bargaining; for example, they ensure effective communication between employers and workers. Indeed, trade unions provide workers who go on to become trade union representatives with the opportunity for personal development through lifelong learning. They ensure a common footing on communication between employees and employers.
I want to highlight the great work being done by organisations such as Better Than Zero, which is highlighting some awful employment practices, particularly on zero-hour contracts and the status of workers—the bogus self-employment that is increasing in the economy. Since I support the ten-minute rule Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Warrington South, I hope that he will support mine, the Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill, because it is important that we deal with zero-hours contracts. Under my Bill, such contracts would be allowed in only one circumstance: where there is a collective agreement with an organised trade union. That would nail once and for all the view espoused by some people that workers like zero-hours contracts. Having trade unions in workplaces where there are zero-hours contracts would put that to the test.
My Bill would simplify the status of workers, because there is far too much bogus self-employment—people are finding out that they are self-employed when they thought that they were employees. It would also provide another opportunity to expose the anti-trade union Act that was passed in the last Parliament and has significantly reduced the mobilisation and organising power of trade unions. The Act has in particular impacted on facility time, which is integral to a trade union’s ability to prepare for collective bargaining. That law pits the Government and employers against trade unions and is needlessly divisive. Publishing details of facility time and its so-called cost to the public purse is frankly outrageous. The fact is that trade union reps save both time and money by improving workplace relations and enforcing best practice.
I support the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, and I hope he supports mine. It is a pleasure once again to support the trade union movement—the best partner with our society.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) on securing this debate, on introducing his ten-minute rule Bill, and on bringing trade union issues to the House of Commons. With some exceptions, it is only Labour Members who press these issues continuously and bring the worker’s voice into this space.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on an important issue for workers everywhere. I declare my interest as a member of Unite the union. We know from information provided by a number of unions, including the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, GMB, Unite and Unison, that union officials are routinely denied access to workers by many employers. There are examples of trade union officials being locked out of workplaces, prevented from speaking to workers or forced to meet members in car parks—some horrifying stories have been outlined by comrades in this room today.
What is this debate really about? In my mind, it is simply about trade unions and workers exercising their fundamental right to meet, discuss and organise on issues that workers face. That right is being systematically denied in this country; for most workers, it does not exist and has not existed for some time because of the serious restrictions placed on unions, because of employers’ anti-union practices and because of the fear that is whipped up in workplaces and that often prevents workers from having the confidence to exercise their rights.
Here are just a few examples, from across the UK, of what happens when workers take part in union activity, want to meet their trade unions or talk to fellow workers. As has been mentioned, a young worker from Watford was enthused by winning positive change in his workplace through the union, but was then banned from going into any McDonald’s in the area. He was told that he was not allowed to talk to other workers. Managers are being trained to notice the signs and language of a union and report them to senior management. Managers are telling workers that they can be sacked for joining a trade union. Portuguese workers in McDonald’s in Cambridge were told that they could be sent to jail for taking strike action.
Tim Martin, chair and founder of Wetherspoon, has refused even to speak to the general secretary of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, which has many members in Wetherspoon. What kind of disregard is that? The general secretary of PCS had to address his civil servant members in a blizzard in a car park in January. What kind of respect did that show to all his members, or to him as general secretary? Union organisers are routinely banned from workplaces.
If we want to open workplaces up, the law needs to be changed so that workers can realise their rights. The Labour party has been clear that to improve dramatically the rates of pay—and therefore wages and terms and conditions—of workers, a system of collective bargaining needs to be restored. If the balance of power in the workplace is to be redressed, workers need to be able to negotiate; that is a fundamental principle. I am sure that every Conservative Member has read “For the Many, Not the Few”, the Labour party’s 2017 manifesto, which many Opposition Members were elected on. It promised that a Labour Government would
“roll out sectoral collective bargaining…Guarantee trade unions a right to access workplaces—so that unions can speak to members and potential members.”
The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights established 11 years ago that the right to bargain collectively is a fundamental human right that is protected by the European convention on human rights, yet the latest statistics show that the percentage of workers in the UK covered by collective bargaining has fallen from 82% in 1979 to 26% today, and the figure is even lower in the private sector. Of course it has been political ideology that has forced that percentage downwards, yet the International Labour Organisation, the OECD and even the International Monetary Fund have shown that extensive collective bargaining is essential to a successful economy, as colleagues have outlined so eloquently today. Crucially, it is also essential to reducing inequality.
Trade union access to members and workers is essential for the restoration of collective bargaining. With that in mind—this has been mentioned, but I will say it again—many trade unionists have looked with envy at legislation in New Zealand, where union representatives have a right to access workplaces to
“discuss union business with union members…seek to recruit employees as union members”
“provide information…to any employee on the premises.”
The Minister might want to take note of those very simple asks. Does he agree that workers who are not trade union members should have a fundamental right of access to information that allows them to consider membership?
The New Zealand legislation also allows union representatives to bargain with the employer for a collective agreement; deal with health and safety issues for members; check that the employer is complying with the collective agreement and with employment law; help individuals to implement employment agreements; and ask the employer to comply with any relevant requirements if non-compliance has been detected. So many of those things are crucial to helping workers to access their basic rights, yet there is no comparable right of access in this country. It is true that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has a code of practice that gives unions access to the workplace during recognition ballots, but Labour must, and will, build on that to provide a general right of access to the workplace for trade union officials for the lawful purposes of the union.
Under Labour’s plans, trade unions will, on giving reasonable notice to the employer, have a right of access to a workplace for the purposes of organising, meeting and representing workers on any matter relating to their employment. The employer will be under a duty to provide an opportunity for meetings to be held on the premises, in conditions that are reasonable and appropriate and that respect the confidentiality of the workers and the union.
I stress two points. First, “access” must mean both physical access and access by email, where email is provided or controlled by the employer. In both cases, access should be free from employer surveillance, and the fear of intimidation should not prevent workers from speaking to a union. Secondly, we have to deal with employers who refuse to provide access despite the law; access delayed is access denied, as the saying goes. We may need to look again to New Zealand, where denial of access can lead to financial penalties on the employer. We will look at all ways of ensuring that the denial of trade union access rights and of other trade union rights is dealt with effectively and appropriately by enforcement.
Any effective right of access introduced by a Labour Government along those lines will go a long way towards helping to restore the balance of power in the workplace. It will enable trade unions to speak to workers about the benefits of trade union recognition and expand the coverage of collective bargaining, and it will enable trade unions to speak for workers, ensure that they are effectively represented and address the abuses that we know are taking place. Colleagues have talked about workers being scared to go to the toilet, or having to go to the toilet in really degrading circumstances, and about heavily pregnant women not being given a seat. It is clearly men, who have never been heavily pregnant, who have designed those rules. The Government just refuse to address those abuses through serious legislation. They think, “Just leave it to the free market. Leave it to the employers to do whatever they want to do.”
I am mindful that rights of access can only be the very beginning of a programme to restore trade union presence in the workplace; it is only the start of giving workers a voice, and of ensuring that high standards and a good quality of work are a reality for everyone. We need to look again at trade union recognition legislation to remove obstacles that make it difficult for trade unions to secure recognition for collective bargaining. We also need to look again at legislation for dealing with trade union facilities, so that trade union representatives in the workplace have the time, space, resources and powers to carry out their duties. We also need to look at legislation dealing with the right of workers to be accompanied by a trade union representative, to ensure that all workers have the right to full trade union representation at work.
We are under no illusions; trade union access to the workplace is just one of several crucial steps in strengthening workers’ rights. It is, however, an essential step in our plan to roll out sectoral collective bargaining. The reintroduction of that bargaining, so that sector by sector, workers can negotiate on and determine pay, terms and conditions, hinges on workplaces being opened up. This is critical.
I finish with a political point, because this is a political Chamber, is it not? So often we look at the technical details of all these issues, but what do they actually mean for workers? Throughout our history, has there not been constant tension between workers and the state, with the state often removing the rights that workers have fought for, or ignoring and resisting the rights that workers demand? Trade unions’ access to the workplace goes to the very heart of how our society is set up, the cultural norms established, and who they benefit. Often, those cultural norms are not established by working-class people.
In the current climate, workers are scared to talk about the issues that affect them. Our culture makes them petrified of losing their job; it says that that should be their No. 1 fear, and it should dictate how they act and what they say in the workplace. The system and the norms that we live by support this climate of fear, so that the worker defers to the employer all the time, worried that they could be replaced at any time. As was mentioned, the system is rigged against workers, to enable those who own the capital or the business to extract as much value as possible from the worker for the smallest reward—and, it seems, with the least comfort for workers.
The consequence of all this is that power is concentrated in very few hands, which is really unhealthy. It means that entire workforces are stressed, tired, underpaid, undervalued and—let us be honest—deeply dissatisfied with life, with little to look forward to.
In the Labour and trade union movement, we have a totally different way of viewing the world of work. We believe that it is workers who create the wealth, and that they deserve the right to negotiate freely their rate of pay; and that it is a fundamental right of workers to assemble, associate with one another, organise and bargain with the employer with one voice. It is therefore common sense that trade unions should have access to the workplace; it is their space, and it is their right to meet the people they represent, or wish to represent. That should not be a difficult concept to grasp. If policies were won on the strength of argument alone, the Labour side would clearly have won this argument, and not just because nobody from the Government side has spoken. Our argument is not that weak; it is a powerful and common-sense one, even though Government Members did not turn up today. To my mind, those on the other side of this argument do grasp the simplicity of enacting those rights, but I think they are deeply scared of and worried about its transformative potential for working-class people.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) on securing today’s important debate, and commend the impassioned speeches by the hon. Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), for High Peak (Ruth George), for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), and for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock).
I am very pleased to engage in this debate. Before I address the individual points made by hon. Members, I want to put it on record that the Government recognise the important role that trade unions play across the United Kingdom, and I personally recognise the important role that they play. In my role as a constituency MP, I have worked closely with trade union representatives at Rolls-Royce, which has a site at Barnoldswick in my constituency, and since my appointment as Business and Industry Minister, I have met trade union representatives at BAE Systems here in Parliament and trade union representatives at British Steel on a visit to Scunthorpe.
I am glad that the Minister mentioned all of those organisations, but there is another organisation that he should mention, which is the Council of Europe, of which we are a member. The Council of Europe has always taken a very strong line on this issue. For example, it runs facilitation courses to help people to understand the role of trade unions and how they can participate in them. That is something that we should be proud of.
I thank my hon. Friend for his point. He is not just a powerful advocate in the Council of Europe, but a powerful advocate in this place for the role it plays in helping to make positive change, not only in this country but across Europe.
Trade unions have played a long and positive role in our society; they have long represented their members and lobbied for wider changes in society. They have campaigned on equality issues for women and other groups, helped to tackle child poverty and fought against modern day slavery. They have shown how we can bring about change that benefits everybody in society.
Over the decades, unions have improved the working lives of their members, and this Government hope to see that continue. Throughout the country, trade union health and safety representatives have made our workplaces safer, which not only benefits workers but contributes to our economy, by reducing accidents.
Unions have also invested in people, working to develop the skills of their members. Unionlearn is an excellent example of that. It has helped to engage with more than 50 trade unions in more than 700 workplaces. Unionlearn has helped those with low literacy and numeracy and also helped to recruit and support thousands of apprentices. That is why the Government continue to support initiatives such as Unionlearn with over £8 million over the previous and coming years.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, as a fellow north-west MP, I am a passionate advocate of the positive role that unions can play. I have stepped into this debate today because the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), who is the Minister with responsibility for small business, consumers and corporate responsibility, has to take an urgent question in the main Chamber. This is her policy remit, but I will certainly speak to her to see what we can do to ensure that we lobby for things such as Unionlearn in the spending review. I am passionate about trade unions. In 2015, I helped to re-establish the Conservative workers and trade union movement in my own party, so Members have a friend of the trade union movement stood before them today.
Let me turn to the points made in the debate. I think it would be helpful if I set out the legislative position. Workers in the UK have a right to join a trade union. That right is protected under our trade union law. It is automatically unfair for an employer to dismiss an employee on the grounds of trade union membership or for being active in a trade union, and employers cannot subject their workers to detriment in attempting to deter union membership or participation in trade union activities.
All union members have the right to participate in union activities, which includes members who are union officials. They have the right, for example, to organise union meetings and consult their members. Furthermore, the right to be active in the affairs of a trade union is enhanced where the union is an independent union that is recognised by the employer for collective bargaining purposes. Officials of such unions may seek time off work with pay to discharge certain union duties. Members who are union learning representatives may also seek paid time off in order to carry out their functions. Individual workers can enforce these rights at an employment tribunal.
I want to emphasise that the debate is about what happens before people become members of a union. The Minister is explaining exactly what members’ rights are, but we are not talking about those rights; we are talking about what happens before employees become union members.
I appreciate that point, and I hope I will get to address it slightly later in my remarks. I was trying to emphasise that those rights, as they exist, amount to the right for a union, through its individual members and officials, to recruit and organise in a workplace.
It is important that I address the argument about the UK’s general commitment to human rights. In particular, I wish to refute the argument that the right, under article 11 of the European convention on human rights, for workers to join a trade union and to organise is effectively being denied. That could not be further from the truth. The UK has a long-standing commitment to uphold human rights. The Government are satisfied that our trade union legislation complies with our international obligations, including article 11 of the European convention.
As I have set out previously, workers are free to join a trade union and to participate in trade union activities. That is protected by law. Unions are also free to organise and seek collective bargaining arrangements with employers. Where an employer refuses to recognise a trade union voluntarily, our legislation provides for a statutory recognition procedure. That allows independent unions to apply to the Central Arbitration Committee to be formally recognised for collective bargaining purposes. Unions that can demonstrate majority support for recognition in the workplace will secure statutory recognition from the committee.
The Minister defines the legal position. Does he believe, therefore, that the Government could do more to enforce that legislation, to ensure that the many alarming examples that the hon. Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) gave us are not repeated anywhere in the United Kingdom?
I do not wish to comment on any of the individual cases that have been raised by Members today, but it is always important to keep these things under review, to look at the evidence and to see where legislation can be changed if there is a need for that, to reflect what is happening in the labour markets.
Returning to the Central Arbitration Committee, the UK courts have found that the statutory recognition procedure complies with article 11. Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights has accepted the Government’s view that the UK’s trade union legislation strikes the right balance between the rights of trade unions and their members, and the legitimate interests of others. The UK’s system is based on the democratic wishes of workers in the workplace. If workers in the UK want to organise and be represented by a trade union, they have the means to do so.
I think the Minister will find that in practice individual workers do not have the ability to organise themselves and to join trade unions, as all the evidence presented by Opposition Members has shown. Employers frequently victimise trade union members and do not allow trade unions into the workplace to support their members, even when they are needed.
I take the hon. Lady’s point. As a constituency MP, I have come across companies whose practices I would not approve of, and I have taken the matter up with managers and been able to secure better access for trade union officials. The hon. Lady will know that workers have the right to bring a union representative to a disciplinary or grievance hearing. Unions have the right to accompany workers in such cases, even if the union is not recognised. It is fundamental that we allow unions access and that we remind workers all the time that they have that right.
On that point, the member might have the right to be accompanied but the trade union representative does not have the right to speak in the meeting, so their presence is pointless. Does the Minister not agree that that makes the regulation fairly useless?
No, I would never describe trade union representatives as pointless. It is important that they are able to attend and support workers in grievance or disciplinary meetings. They do not have to be able to speak to support someone.
On giving practical effect to article 11 rights, let me turn to a matter that a number of hon. Members have raised: facility time for union representatives to carry out union activities. I agree that without facility time union representatives cannot carry out their trade union duties in relation to collective bargaining and related matters, and our trade union legislation provides for that. Where an independent union has been recognised by an employer for collective bargaining purposes, the employer is required to provide facility time to the union’s representatives and its members. Union representatives are entitled to paid time off to carry out their union duties as well as paid time off for training. That allows them to negotiate with the employer and carry out their functions in relation to matters covered by the collective bargaining agreement.
I have to make some progress.
Union members are also entitled to unpaid time off during working hours to participate in union activities, for example to attend union meetings or vote in internal union elections.
In relation to access to facilities, the ACAS code of practice on time off for trade union duties and activities states that employers should, where practical, make available to union representatives the facilities necessary for them to perform their duties efficiently and to communicate with their members. The provisions of the code are admissible in evidence in proceedings before an employment tribunal relating to time off for trade union duties and activities. Provisions of the code that appear to the tribunal to be relevant should be taken into account. The Government therefore believe that the current arrangements in relation to facility time are sufficient. The arrangements have been in place for a long time, and are well understood by both employers and trade unions.
I thank the Minister for his generosity. Why, therefore, is it necessary for the Government to publish the so-called cost to the public purse of facility time for civil service trade unions? It seems to me that there is no cost and that the benefits of providing facility time outweigh the so-called cost.
I will raise that matter with the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, and I am sure she will be more than happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with an answer.
In his speech on 15 May introducing his Bill, and again today, the hon. Member for Warrington South referred to strengthening collective bargaining in the workplace. In the UK, collective bargaining remains an important method whereby pay and other terms and conditions are set. The UK takes a voluntary approach to collective issues. Collective bargaining is largely a matter for individual employers, their employees and their trade unions. Most collective bargaining in this country takes place because employers have voluntarily agreed to recognise a trade union and bargain with it. The Government do not believe that they should be in the business of forcing employers or their workers to enter into collective bargaining arrangements if they do not wish to do so. Instead, we prefer a voluntary and democratic approach. However, where an employer refuses to recognise a trade union voluntarily, our legislation provides for a statutory recognition procedure.
In 2018-19, the Central Arbitration Committee received 56 trade union recognition applications. Of those, six were able to reach agreement without the need for a ballot, including that reached between the employer Babcock Mission Critical Services Onshore and Prospect. A total of 25 applications were withdrawn and, encouragingly, 13 of these were because the employers and unions were able to reach agreement voluntarily. The key point I wish to reiterate is that if a majority of workers in a workplace want to organise and be represented by a trade union, they have the right to secure trade union recognition for collective bargaining purposes.
The Government recognise the important role that trade unions play in the UK economy and society and, personally, I hope that that continues for many years to come. Individual workers have the right to join a union and take part in union activities. Unions, through their individual members and officials, effectively have the right to recruit and organise in the workplace. Unions are also free to seek collective bargaining agreements with employers. If necessary, they can obtain statutory trade union recognition as long as they can demonstrate majority support for union recognition in the workplace. Our legislation therefore does not need amending. It is well established, and has been backed by successive Governments. If workers and unions want collective bargaining in workplaces across the UK, they are free to organise to achieve that.
I thank all my hon. Friends who have taken part in the debate. Every one of them has made excellent and eloquent points. In the few seconds I have left, I wish to respond to the Minister. I am very disappointed, because 80% to 90% of his response was about what union members can do rather than about trade unions’ access to the workplace. I totally appreciate that he is substituting on his colleague’s behalf; however, I reiterate that he should go back and do some real thinking about what we on this side of the House are, with some common sense, proposing.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Cost of Policing Football
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the cost of policing football.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I am grateful to have been granted this important debate. Football policing is an interest of mine and is of particular local interest in my constituency, which is home to the famous Hillsborough stadium—one of England’s largest grounds and home to Sheffield Wednesday, which my family have supported for generations. Let us hope they do better this season, but there we go.
I am proud of our football history and of having such an important football ground in our community. However, the cost of policing matches is increasing, and the burden is falling on our already stretched police forces. Despite Wednesday’s extended stay in the second tier of English football—something that I am sure will end soon—South Yorkshire police incurs significant match day costs. According to the BBC, the steel city derby between Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United in September 2017 was the country’s most expensive match to police that year, costing over £200,000. Figures from South Yorkshire police, using a recent improved methodology for calculating match day policing costs, put the cost of this April’s steel city derby at Hillsborough at £203,000. That is against a backdrop of unprecedented cuts to our police services.
The Tories’ record on policing is one of failure and broken promises. Over 21,000 police officers and 7,000 community support officers have been axed since 2010, despite a promise to protect the frontline. While officer numbers have been slashed, the police have recorded the highest number of offences in a decade, and violent crime has doubled under the Tories and is now at record levels. The Tories have slashed billions from the police since coming into office and broken their promise to protect police budgets after 2015.
Our police forces have had resources drained out by a Government intent on policing on the cheap. Sadly, that means competing and conflicting demands on those vital, yet limited, resources. Knife crime continues to rise, as do other forms of violent crime. Alongside large sporting events such as football games, the police are struggling to keep pace with the scale of incidents to be responded to. In a sense, this debate is regrettable, in that if the Government had not abandoned our police forces, we might not be in the position of asking clubs to help foot the bill. However, given the overstretched nature of policing, we are where we are. The Labour party will invest in our police forces, giving them the proper resources to ensure that our communities are safe.
Professional football clubs rely heavily on the support of police to ensure football matches are safe for fans. Police officers do not just provide safety and reassurance within the bounds of a stadium, but have essential duties in preventing disorder around football grounds before and after matches. I will use my time today to highlight three factors that threaten the ability of our police forces to maintain order at football matches. First, as I said in opening, police forces are under the biggest strain they have faced in modern times. They have vastly reduced budgets and are dealing with a rising tide of violence and organised crime within our communities—something that, sadly, I know too well in my constituency. The number of officers available to cover matches is lower than it was, which unfortunately means that police officers must be taken away from neighbourhoods to support match day policing.
Secondly, disorder at football matches is rising. The figures presented to me by the UK football policing unit are stark: disorder has risen, with nearly 38% of professional matches reporting some form of violence or disorder incident during the 2017-18 season, compared with 25% of matches during the 2013-14 season. I have seen police footage of recent disorder at football matches, some of which is truly shocking. Many of those incidents took place away from the ground, where police are often less well positioned to respond. The consistent and sharp rise in hate crime at football matches is particularly concerning: police received reports of hate crime at 127 fixtures in 2017-18, and the campaign group Kick It Out received over 500 reports during the same season. As a society, we still have a long way to go in stamping racism, homophobia and sexism out of our beautiful game. Although education is at the heart of that work, police officers need to be able and ready to clamp down hard on the tiny minority of people who pollute football.
The third problem facing the police is that despite the rise in disorder over recent years, they are able to recover only a small proportion of the money they spend on policing. Mark Roberts, the football policing lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, has put the cost of policing professional football matches in England and Wales at over £48 million a year, of which police are able to claim back only around £5.5 million from clubs. Why are the police repaid only a fraction of their costs? The question of who pays for football policing is complicated, and has been in dispute for many years. The argument chiefly centres on the cost of policing outside stadiums, whether on closed streets immediately surrounding them or routes to and from the match. Despite the huge wealth that many football clubs have, they consistently challenge the extent to which they should refund the police for their expenditure outside the ground itself.
Currently, the legal position on the extent to which police can charge clubs for match costs is based on an October 2017 Court of Appeal ruling that went in favour of Ipswich Town and against Suffolk police. The ruling in that case was that the police could recover only the costs of policing the stadium itself—not even the immediate surroundings, let alone the wider area. To any of us who attend matches, it is clear that police do a significant amount of extra work outside the stadium to ensure that fans can go to and from matches safely. In giving their judgment, the judges recognised that the situation seemed unfair, but argued that it was for the Government to fix it. That difficult legal situation is significantly worse than it was previously, when the roads around stadiums were often deemed to be under the control of the football club, and policing costs were therefore recoverable.
The three combined problems of severe police cuts, a rise in match day disorder and legal rulings that are unfavourable to the police mean that both the safety of fans and the sustainability of policing are under threat. It is hardly for me to talk in detail about just how much money is in football, but a few figures will illustrate the resources available, and therefore the ability of clubs to pay a higher percentage of policing costs. In 2017-18, the 20 Premier League clubs alone had combined revenues of over £4.8 billion—almost double the entire budget of the Metropolitan police. One particularly stark fact, which comes from analysis undertaken by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, is that the £211 million paid to football agents last year is more than the annual budgets of 27 of the 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales. We should be in no doubt that there is far more money available to top football clubs than to local police forces.
What might be done to create a better situation? I would not want to be too prescriptive in suggesting to the Minister how the situation could be resolved. However, I ask whether he agrees that action needs to be taken. I also ask whether he agrees that any such action needs to be proportionate in how it targets clubs. We need to be aware of those clubs that may suffer incidents of disorder but do not have the financial resources of the top leagues. Full cost recovery could be damaging for many local league clubs, which leads me to support a suggestion by the police that a levy on football TV rights might be the fairest way for police to receive additional funding. The Premier League’s total TV rights are now expected to exceed £3 billion a year. To illustrate, a 1% levy could recover enough money to cover a substantial portion of football policing costs and relieve clubs and the police of expensive and time-consuming arguments about the extent of payments.
In public policy today, there is often cross-party support for policies that ensure the costs of dealing with a problem for society are borne by the organisation responsible for the activity causing the issue. We see that with recycling levies for packaging firms and carbon taxes for power companies. Does the Minister agree that the taxes paid by football clubs or footballers cannot be used as an argument against clubs contributing properly to policing costs? Taxes pay for the benefits we all share as a society; football clubs should bear a more representative fraction of the burden for the costs incurred in keeping fans safe.
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. She is making a strongly argued case. The problem is that football clubs are their own worst enemies. They say, “No spectators on the pitch,” but they blatantly ignore that when spectators do come on the pitch, as they do when fans bring pyrotechnics or provocative signs into the ground. Clubs owe a responsibility to the vast majority of fans to stamp that out. Does my hon. Friend agree that they could do much more on that?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which makes exactly the point that I am raising. Being a lifelong Wednesday fan builds character, as my nana used to say, but it also helped me realise that football is wonderful. I am in no way anti-football. We love football; we are a footballing country. I am seeking fair play and a level playing field for police and football clubs. The clubs absolutely can do more. We do not want to go back to the bad old days of 30 or 40 years ago, which some of us will remember, when football was not the family game we have now successfully made it. That is really what I want to get over to the Minister today.
To conclude, I will not let up campaigning for police funding to tackle knife crime and to better protect our communities, but I hope that today’s debate raises some important issues for us to consider. Will the Minister outline what the Government will do to share the costs more reasonably between the large clubs and our police forces? In that way, we can not only ensure that football events are properly policed, but support our local police services and ensure that they have sufficient resources to meet all the demands that are placed upon them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am most grateful to you, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) and the Minister for allowing me to say a few words. At the outset I must declare an interest, in that I am a lifelong supporter of Ipswich Town. I am a season ticket holder and a shareholder, although those shares are worthless following the club’s administration and the subsequent sale of a controlling interest in the club to the Marcus Evans Group in 2007.
The 2018-19 season goes down as the worst in the club’s history, as we finished rock bottom of the championship. Next season, we shall play outside the top two divisions for the first time in 62 years. In that period, we have achieved a great deal. Under the management of two football knights—Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson—we won the league championship, the FA cup and the UEFA cup. We are the only British club never to lose a home tie in a mainstream European club competition—a record, I sense, we may well retain in perpetuity.
Ipswich’s 2018-19 annus horribilis is not the only recent stain on the club’s reputation. I am afraid we are one of the reasons for the hon. Lady having to secure a debate on this matter. It was Ipswich Town, under the ownership of Marcus Evans, that took Suffolk constabulary to court, and in so doing overturned the principle whereby police forces were able to charge for the deployment of officers on land “owned, leased or controlled” by football clubs. That ruling changed the interpretation of the word “controlled”. Land outside the stadium that is used by a football club, such as to facilitate the entrance and exit of supporters, for granting concessions, such as to burger vans, or for restricting vehicle access by way of temporary road restriction orders, is now defined as “public land”. Police forces are unable to charge full cost recovery on such areas.
I should briefly explain what happens at Ipswich on match days. A few hours before the match until a few hours afterwards, two public roads—Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way—that immediately adjoin the ground are closed to traffic. They, in effect, become part of the stadium. In the court case, Suffolk constabulary’s contention was that policing the roads during those periods is inseparably linked to activities taking place inside the stadium, and thus they fall within Ipswich Town’s responsibility. To me, that seems a logical conclusion. While in many ways I am not qualified to question the court’s ruling, its decision appears perverse.
At Ipswich, the away supporters are seated in the Cobbold stand, which is on Portman Road. A potential trouble hotspot for policing is the junction between Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way, where home and away fans mingle. That risk was heightened in the matches with Leeds United in the past two seasons. Season ticket holders were moved from their seats in the Cobbold stand so that the whole upper tier could be used by away fans, which generated additional income for Ipswich Town.
In that context, it is wrong that Suffolk police are currently not able to recover in full the cost of policing Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey Way. For the two matches against Leeds United, it was necessary for them to deploy additional resources, including mounted police from a neighbouring force. The system before the court case, which had operated since 2012, worked well and thus I urge the Government to bring forward legislation as soon as practically possible. I think there would be strong support from all parts of the House for embedding the previous 2012 framework in statute as soon as possible.
It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to respond to a debate secured by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss). I was delighted to be shadowed by her when I was Minister with responsibility for industry. I know she is passionate about steel and Sheffield, but we now learn that she has long had the character-forming habit of supporting Sheffield Wednesday. There was a whiff of nostalgia in the air during the debate, which has taken us back to the glory days of Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town. I declare an interest: I am a proud but disappointed Spurs fan. I am ably supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), who is a proud and exhilarated Scouser.
Three issues underlie this important debate. First, are the public more or less safe than they were at football matches? That matters. Secondly, are we in the right place with regard to the role of the police and how they recover their costs for their work at football games? Thirdly, there is the much bigger issue of whether the police have the support they need to do difficult and invaluable work on our behalf. I hope to address all three issues in the time I have.
First, are the public more or less safe in attending a football match now? The answer has to be yes, they are safer. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough alluded to that when she harked back to the bad old days of the ’70s and ’80s, when the beautiful game was marred by what we saw and heard in our football stadiums and arenas. They are a completely different place now. The number of football-related arrests has reduced steadily since 2000 and is down 50% since 2010. We now have a combination of preventive football banning orders, targeting, public order policing, stadium ejections and modern in-stadium security. Frankly, there have also been changes in supporter attitudes. We are in a different place, as a result of very good work over the years by the Government, football authorities, football clubs, the police and fans. Everyone has played their part.
We must keep this in perspective, but a minority of supporters will always be prepared to organise violence, engage in disorder and, as the hon. Lady rightly pointed out, indulge in racism, homophobia and hate crime. That is where we are, so of course the police need to continue to be involved in keeping the peace around big football games. I will now address how that works, and how they recover costs.
As the hon. Lady pointed out, the police can charge for special police services under section 25 of the Police Act 1996. Legislation and case law—a point raised powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous)—means that the police can claim back only those preventive policing costs that were incurred on land owned by football clubs, which in practice normally means inside the grounds, and they must be asked to do such policing by the club. The result is that football clubs often rely on stewards inside the grounds, with the police waiting outside, ready to be called in. That means that the cost of the police is borne by the taxpayer.
What does that mean for costs? The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough rightly reported the costs relayed to us by the police. I pay tribute to the work of Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, who was passionate and assiduous in pressing Ministers at the Home Office on the issue, and in making the case for rethinking how the partnership between police and football works. The numbers presented to us are exactly those presented by the hon. Lady. The police estimate a cost of around £48 million a year, of which they feel they can recover just over £5 million, leaving a £42 million shortfall. That is a significant number when broken down into the number of police officers, for example, and as the Minister with responsibility for the police, I am concerned about that.
The hon. Lady made a point that I think everyone will understand about the enormous amounts of money in the game or, more specifically, at the top of the game. People will rightly wonder why on earth rich football clubs do not do more to contribute to the costs of policing their games, given how much money they earn from them. The hon. Lady was typically thoughtful in her approach. She did not have much time for the arguments of the Premier League in this context, but we should recognise and place on the record that my colleagues at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport negotiate with the football leagues a very significant—£100 million a year—contribution to grassroots projects.
The Premier League pays a great deal of tax. Football supporters are taxpayers—indeed, they will argue that they are entitled to a service—and the Premier League will ask why football should be singled out in this context. Those are all arguments to be had and to be made. I give a commitment to the hon. Lady, and to other interested colleagues, that I will meet the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), next week to talk specifically and exclusively about how we can structure a better, fairer partnership between police and football and, in doing so, reduce the demand on police resources. I am open-minded about how we do that, including about looking at all current frameworks and arrangements.
My third and final point is that we have to put this conversation into the much bigger picture of the funding and resources available to the police. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough referred to this directly and made political points about it. The £42 million shortfall, if the number from the police is accurate, sits in the context of the £14 billion a year that we taxpayers invest in our police system. The honest truth is that we are asking more and more of our police. The police are extremely stretched. Yes, there continues to be scope to improve their efficiency, but I have been persuaded, almost since I started as Minister with responsibility for the police almost two years ago, that they are too stretched, and that we as a society and as a Government need to give them more support. That has been my priority ever since I have been in the job.
As a result of that work, and the support of successive Home Secretaries and senior colleagues, we as a country are investing over £2 billion more in our police system this year than three years ago. I agreed with almost everything that the hon. Lady said, but I am afraid that she was playing some old tunes from the Labour jukebox around cuts to policing. The music has changed; the Government have recognised the pressure on the police. The demand on the police has risen and become increasingly complex, and they are too stretched and need more support from us and from the taxpayer.
Overall, crime is stable. Some crime is rising, but police work is becoming increasingly complex and resource intensive. They need more support, and we absolutely get that. I have been very clear on that as the Policing Minister. There will be an additional £1 billion this year—£2 billion more than three years ago. For South Yorkshire Police, that is an additional £16 million this year, on top of three years of special grant funding of £24 million, and an additional £2.5 million this year to support the work against serious violence to which the hon. Lady referred. I am sure that she will welcome the fact that the chief constable is recruiting more officers in South Yorkshire, though she will argue that more needs to be done. For what it is worth, I agree.
Although we have made considerable progress in securing more resource for the police, looking forward to the comprehensive spending review and considering what is likely to happen in terms of the demand on the police, I am clear that we need to go further. I am delighted to have the support of the Home Secretary, who has made it crystal clear, explicitly and in public, that should he remain Home Secretary, which is not the summit of his ambitions at the moment, he will prioritise police funding in the Home Office bid for the comprehensive spending review.
I reassure the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough that we are working more closely than ever with the police on building a credible bid to secure additional resources, so that they can: increase their capacity and capabilities, which is necessary; do more crime prevention, which is necessary; upgrade their technology, which is necessary; and give better support to frontline officers—the most important assets in the police system—which is necessary. Those are all necessary conditions if the police are to improve the service that they deliver to our constituents and the public. That improvement is necessary given the rapidly shifting picture of rising demand on the police. I am committed, as I know the Home Secretary is, to doing more to support the police in that way.
On the points about funding and football, I make the following commitment: I will sit down with the Minister with responsibility for sport next week to discuss further what we can do as a Government to get a better balance in this relationship, to make the partnership between police and football work more effectively, and to reduce the cost on policing. We should keep things in perspective; going to a football match is a lot safer than it was many years ago, and it is a much more enjoyable environment. The police do extremely important work in that area, and will continue to do so.
We must get the structure right. I am not persuaded that we are in the right place at the moment, and I value the debate, and the contribution made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough and other Members. She has my full undertaking that I will follow this matter up next week. Critically, when it comes to the comprehensive spending review, I fully intend to build on the work of the last two years in ensuring that our police officers and police system have the support that they need to do such incredibly important work on our behalf.
Question put and agreed to.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered education funding.
It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As hon. Members know, there are lies, damned lies and statistics, but following the letter I received in April from the Secretary of State for Education about school results and resourcing, nationally and in Kent, I am tempted to add Department for Education briefings on school funding to that list.
To begin with a positive reaction to that three-page letter, my constituency is in Kent, so mention of our county was an encouraging start. To be fair, the letter contained information that was, on the face of it, good news. For example, 91% of children in Kent attend schools rated good or outstanding, compared with just 64% in 2010. In addition, 67% of Kent pupils reached the expected standard of reading, writing and maths at key stage 2, compared with 65% nationally. So far, so good. Except that when we consider what is happening on the ground in my constituency, those county-wide figure hide an inconvenient truth.
Let us take the standard of reading. A ward in my constituency is in the bottom 100 of 10,000 local council wards in England for adult literacy. That is an historical, long-term problem that will be solved only by targeted intervention and extra funding for adult education. A couple of years ago, I decided to try to do something about it, so as a first step I approached a local housing association to see if we could identify adults in our area who needed help. Our plan was to set up local clubs that would allow volunteer mentors to teach illiterate adults how to read and write. The stumbling block, as always, was the lack of funds. When I wrote to the Department for help, I was told that no grant funding was available. Those illiterate people in my constituency had been let down by the education system when they were at school as children, and they are still being let down by the system as adults.
Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that per-pupil funding has been squeezed, particularly for 16 to 18-year-olds. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should make that a priority, especially to enhance social mobility in the areas he is discussing?
I agree; I will come to the national funding formula later, if my hon. Friend will bear with me.
I will continue my thread about illiteracy, which is a huge problem in my constituency. We had several skills companies in my area, which taught adults basic literacy in preparation for the vocational training that they provided. Because of the new funding system for skills providers, however, which discriminates against constituencies such as mine, one of those companies has had to close and another is struggling financially.
The Secretary of State’s letter boasted that in Kent, an extra 27,300 school places have been added since 2010, including the establishment of 10 free schools, and that a further 13 new schools have been cleared to be created in coming years. Again, however, that statistic hides an inconvenient truth, which is that many schools in my constituency are bursting at the seams, particularly the secondary schools in Sittingbourne, where an already dire situation is being made worse by the ludicrous independent appeals procedure.
One of my local schools has a published admission number of 285 pupils, but because of the shortage of places in Sittingbourne secondary schools, and following a request from Kent County Council, the head agreed to increase this year’s intake to 330. In turn, Kent County Council committed to fund the building of a new classroom block to accommodate the extra 45 children. During the building work, which is due to start in the summer, four classrooms will have to be decommissioned, but despite that, the school was confident that it would be able to accommodate the additional pupils.
Then the independent appeals panel stepped in. It heard appeals from 53 parents who wanted to send their children to that school. Bizarrely, it upheld all 53 appeals, so the school is faced with finding accommodation for a total intake of 383 pupils. The knock-on effect of such a dramatic increase is horrendous. The head’s first question is, if there was room to build additional accommodation—which, incidentally, there is not—who would fund it? Nobody has been able to answer that question yet. Kent County Council has made it clear that it will not borrow any more money to fund the building of additional schools or buildings. Quite rightly, it believes that the Government should fund those schools via the basic need grant system.
Other secondary schools in Sittingbourne face a similar situation of demand outstripping the number of available places. That problem was brought about by the rapid population increase in my constituency, which was driven by Government housing targets that were imposed without any additional Government funds being allocated to ensure that the necessary infrastructure was put in place first. It is all very well for the Department to claim that 27,340 additional school places have been created in Kent, but few of those places are in the areas of most need. Frankly, without the funding to provide more schools where places are needed, the statistic is meaningless.
On funding, the Secretary of State talks in his letter about the 2019-20 national funding formula allocation to Kent and explains that the county will get £3,793 per primary pupil and £4,941 per secondary pupil. Those figures graphically illustrate the historical underfunding of Kent schools, which is put into sharp relief by the comparable funding figures in Greenwich, which are £4,907 per primary pupil and £6,698 per secondary pupil. Hon. Members might point out that Greenwich is an outer London borough with areas of deep social deprivation, but I have news for them: Kent is not entirely made up of affluent areas such as Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells. Many areas, particularly in Thanet and Swale where my constituency is, have council wards with social deprivation as deep as any found in outer London.
To take another example, I am sure that hon. Members agree that Essex is a comparable county to Kent; indeed, we are neighbours, albeit separated by the Thames estuary. Essex is due to receive £3,843 per primary pupil and £5,018 per secondary pupil. I appreciate that they are not huge differences individually, but they make a big difference to school budgets collectively. Why does the Department think that Kent pupils cost less to teach than those in Essex? They do not—indeed, the reverse is often the case—but the difference highlights a long-standing funding deficiency for Kent schools. The figures speak for themselves.
My hon. Friend is talking so much truth there. It is not just in Kent; it is not just in Essex; it is in Cheshire, and across the country. We are crying out for more funding for our schools. We had £1.3 billion, and that was good. That is why I pledge the £4 billion more that we need for our schools, so that the education standards that my hon. Friend is talking about are the same for everybody throughout the country.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. As a proud man of Kent, and a Kent MP who is doing the best for my constituency, I want to focus on Kent, but I understand that she will have problems in her constituency as well.
The figures speak for themselves. In terms of schools block funding, Kent is ranked 139 out of 152 local authorities. How can that be right or fair, particularly when we consider Kent’s location, so close to London, with all the cost pressures that that entails? As we move towards implementation of the national funding formula, Kent will still be 7% below the national average, while inner London boroughs will be 32% above the national average, which means that per pupil funding in inner London will be £1,774 more than in Kent.
That leads me on to another problem that faces many Kent schools, including those in my own area—one that I have raised before in this House and will no doubt raise again and again, until something is done about it. London boroughs are buying up or renting homes in our area into which they place homeless families, many of whom have special social and educational needs. Although the London boroughs pay the housing costs for the families, it is Kent social services and Kent schools that are expected to meet the costs of providing the social and educational help that they need. London boroughs are also increasingly placing cared-for children into Kent, once again without providing the financial support needed to look after and educate those children.
Let me make it very clear that schools in Kent willingly accept their responsibility and meet the financial commitment needed to educate those children. However, their benevolence is putting an additional strain on already stretched school budgets. The strain is particularly acute when it comes to providing special educational needs support. There is already severe pressure on the high needs funding block, and that is being made worse by the ever-increasing number of children in Kent who require SEN support.
The letter from the Secretary of State presented a rosy picture of education funding that simply does not reflect what is actually happening in our schools, nor the problems they face.
The chief executive of a multi-academy trust in my constituency, Gary Lewis, says that next year there will be no A-level French or German in three of its sixth forms because the schools are no longer able to fund small class sizes. We have to look at education as more than just per pupil funding. We have to look at what we can deliver on the ground. We are not just making our schools poorer; we are making our country poorer. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me?
I do agree. I sympathise with the hon. Lady when it comes to schools losing the opportunity to teach their children German. I want to get my schools teaching proper English. That is one of the problems we face. We face illiteracy not because people cannot speak German in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, but because they cannot read and write English.
I have teachers in Brighton who are absolutely desperate because they can no longer provide the kind of SEN support they used to be able to. There was a wonderful programme called “Every Child a Reader”, and one of the teachers from Brighton came up to the House of Lords to celebrate taking part in that project. They have now been sacked, and the project no longer works, because they cannot fund it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a particular irony in that? When there are good projects like that, and we see that they are doing good work, it is an absolute tragedy that they cannot continue.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me that one of the problems is that the special schools in all our constituencies are having to contend with a level of demand and complexity that simply was not there 10 years ago? We need to make sure that the funding is there to meet the need that exists.
I agree, but I do so hesitantly, as I have a very good special school in my area, which teaches children with acute physical disabilities. We have now been told by the DFE that my constituency is to get funding for another special school for people with learning difficulties. I am immensely grateful for that, because currently 70 children from my constituency have to travel to the other side of Maidstone every day—some get up at half past 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning and do not get home until half past 5 in the evening—to attend a special school there. I agree, but I do so slightly reluctantly because I am going to get some funds for a special school in my constituency.
I would like to list some of the other problems that headteachers in my constituency say they face, in no particular order. First, they tell me that there is a need for an increase in the overall funding for schools, which should be coupled with a long-term plan that would ensure that the growth in our population is properly addressed. That is very pertinent to my constituency. Secondly, they want to scrap the current system of requesting a three-year forecast from schools without providing any firm information about likely costs and incomes. Thirdly, we need to find a solution to the growing problem of poor mental health among students and staff, which is coupled with a lack of funding to help those who suffer. Fourthly, headteachers in my constituency are frustrated when they see the DFE focusing on workload reduction while insisting on schools cutting their costs, which inevitably reduces the workforce and increases workloads for the remaining staff. Fifthly, they feel pressurised by the funding arrangements into replacing experienced teachers in order to save money.
Sixthly, headteachers have to manage the impact on school budgets of unfunded mandatory costs, such as the increase in the pay level of support staff brought about by an increase in the living wage. Seventhly, headteachers often struggle to fund the £6,000 needed for each education, health and care plan, and to find the additional money involved in preparing those plans. Eighthly, inflationary pressures continue to undermine any increases to school funding under the new national funding formula. The so-called fair funding formula is simply not fair.
Ninthly, schools are having to divert scarce resources to cover services that were previously supplied by either local authorities or the NHS, and no longer are. Finally, research has found that Kent schools have lost £149.5 million between 2015 and 2019, which averages out at £270 per pupil. Some 510 out of 535 schools in Kent have experienced cuts. One secondary school in my constituency has lost £780,000.
I am lucky in Sittingbourne and Sheppey to have some fantastic, committed school leaders and teachers. However, I fear that without a real boost in investment and funding better targeted to areas where it is most needed such as mine, we are going to lose our best educators to better resourced areas, which would be to the detriment of the children in my constituency.
I know the Education Minister, and I am sure that, in their heart of hearts, he and his colleagues understand the financial challenges faced by schools and that they are lobbying the Treasury hard. I just hope the Chancellor —whoever that turns out to be in November—listens and delivers more money for education in this year’s Budget.
Order. The debate can last until 7.30 pm. I am obliged to call the Front Benchers no later than 7.12 pm. The guideline limits are five minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister, and then Mr Henderson has two or three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. Until 7.12 pm, we are in Back-Bench time. There are six Members seeking to contribute—I have a galaxy of talent before me—and I am determined that everybody should have the chance to speak, so there will have to be a time limit of three and a half minutes. That way, everybody will get in. The first contributor will be Kate Green.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing the debate; I agreed with much of what he said.
In the spring term, I conducted a survey of headteachers in my constituency to ask about funding pressures in their schools, and the majority were very pessimistic about their prospects over the coming three years. They spoke of having to cut support for vulnerable learners, of the impact of having to make support staff redundant, of having to cut classes—for example, music and swimming lessons—or having to ask parents to pay for lessons, and of the impact that that is having on staff morale. What is worse is that it is the schools serving the most disadvantaged and deprived intakes that are suffering some of the greatest funding pressures, in part for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman rightly raised. The local newspaper, the Messenger, reported that four of the five worst affected schools in Trafford, in terms of losing funding, are in my constituency. Those include Broadoak School and Lostock College, which serve particularly disadvantaged intakes and have suffered a real-terms loss in funding of almost £1,000 per pupil since 2015.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Trafford—I know this is true for other colleagues—is one of the f40 authorities, which have particularly suffered under the new national funding formula. Although previous Secretaries of State for Education have made efforts to address the inequities that existed, it cannot be right that schools in my constituency in Old Trafford, which serve very similar demographics to those in Salford or Manchester just across the road, should be so poorly funded. That is not to decry the very real need for funding of schools in those boroughs. We must address the fact that the funding formula is still not delivering for poorer and more disadvantaged communities in overall wealthier authorities, or for some of the schools that the hon. Gentleman spoke about.
My hon. Friend obviously shares my concern about reports that vulnerable children are being denied access to education because schools are not being given adequate resources. Does she agree that the recent demonstrations—the protests by young people and parents—highlight the enormous strength of feeling about this issue?
The feeling is shared by teachers, students, parents, governors and, indeed, the wider community; my hon. Friend is absolutely right.
My final point in the very short time I have left is that the situation in my borough is even further exacerbated by our selective secondary system. The House is well aware that I am deeply opposed to it, but this is not a debate about the merits or demerits of a selective education approach. However, it cannot be right that the additional funding that the Secretary of State announced last year for grammar schools to expand has in no way benefited the poorest and most disadvantaged children in my constituency. Indeed, the funding that has been secured for Trafford has gone not to schools in my constituency, but to the constituency next door. All the evidence I have seen shows that grammar schools educate a lower proportion of children with special educational needs or children on free school meals—children who need the very best education if they are to achieve their full potential. I strongly urge the Minister to look again at whether putting funding into the grammar system is the best way of improving the life chances of our poorest and most high-need kids.
On the Wednesday before the recess, I submitted a petition to the House that had been signed by just under 1,000 residents of Henley. I will not read it out, but I hope the Minister will agree that it is a friendly petition. I am concerned about the gap between the enormous figures that are increasingly being put into education and what is actually happening on the ground in schools. The petition asked for a review in advance of the comprehensive spending review to settle once and for all what it costs to run education and how we can get that money to schools.
We have tackled a number of issues separately—we have tackled teachers’ pay and pensions, and agreed to fund them—but we need to know in what other areas funding is falling short in the squeeze that has occurred between keeping the budgets more or less as they are and inflation. Every year, the Minister makes the honest claim that we are spending more on the revenue budget for schools than we were the previous year. That is a very laudable thing to have done, provided the money actually gets to the schools themselves.
One of the things that will help is to bring out the difference between a soft formula and a hard formula. We have a soft formula at the moment, and local authorities have a role in distributing and, indeed, top-slicing the funds before they get to the school. It might be thought that they do not top-slice very much, but they do, and it can make a big difference to the schools. That also applies to schools that are part of multi-academy trusts. We must ensure that, in creating such trusts, we are not just creating another local authority equivalent that is able to top-slice more and more funds, resulting in schools getting less and less. A review and a move to a hard funding formula would be a very good way forward.
I will finish on a completely different matter. Apprenticeships form a large part of further education colleges’ income. In the Henley constituency, I am organising an evening to bring together schools and businesses in order to see what apprenticeships they want to fund and how they can be funded.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on raising this issue. Although I realise that this is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland—the Minister knows that—I want to add to the debate to show how far these issues go in the United Kingdom. Indeed, they go as far as Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is recognised worldwide as having one of the best education systems. I have said many times over the years that I take great pride in that, but we are in danger of losing our wonderful education system due to the budgetary issues. The money is there, but it is not being allocated in the way that it should be.
I see a budgetary allocation that leads to parent teacher associations fundraising to pay for classroom assistants’ wages, rather than buy additional extras that enhance the children’s education. I see primary and post-primary schools being forced to take classes up to the statutory maximum without adequate support, as they need every penny of funding for children to make ends meet. I see staffing issues, such as staff being instructed by their unions not to organise after-hours meetings or run after-school clubs, or staff having to cross the picket line—such is their love for their children. I see qualified teachers working as classroom assistants or subbing for two days. When older teachers on the top pay band retire and are replaced by a new teacher, the savings should go to the school, not to the board that is negotiating the exit package. I see education authorities and boards with sufficient funds to send staff on team-building days. At the same time, I see headteachers attempting to teach classes as well as run their school. I see P1 parents being asked to bring in baby wipes and toilet rolls, as the school is no longer in a position to supply them.
I thank God for the parent teacher associations, the teachers and classroom assistants who work well beyond their paid hours, and the music volunteers who teach at no cost to the school. That does not make me less ashamed of the predicament of our education system because of the unwise and reduced allocation of funding. The stress on headteachers who are trying to balance the books is a disgrace. Only love for their school and their pupils would allow anyone to do that work.
We need to allocate an acceptable level of funding per child, as determined by their school’s area. I am concerned about the strain on teachers and schools to provide a world-class education that they can provide only with a decent budget. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has conducted an inquiry into the education system in Northern Ireland because the Assembly is not functioning correctly. I know that it is not the Minister’s responsibility to answer to those things, but they tell us about the crisis in education across the United Kingdom.
Let the PTA fundraise for school outings or for the latest gadget for the school. Let the Education Authority do its job by paying for the heating, lights, teachers, classroom assistants, cleaners and dinner staff, and the pens and paper. It was not too much for the Government to provide for my education during my time in the education system in Northern Ireland, so why does it seem so far out of the grasp of the Education Authority right now?
The spring statement came and went, and I am still here making the plea for the worst-funded schools in the country, which are in York. We cannot go on like this; we have had many debates about funding for schools in this Chamber, but the situation does not improve. Schools are struggling more and more every week, which I experience as I talk to schools across York.
There are particular things that need urgent attention, such as the capital funding of many of our schools. Some schools are crumbling, such as Tang Hall Primary, where the children are so cold as they study, or Carr Junior School, which desperately needs building upgrades but is unable to access the funding it needs. All Saints Roman Catholic School, a secondary school, is on a split site and needs a new location in which to educate its children.
I want to focus on disadvantage. In my constituency, Tang Hall Primary, which as I mentioned needs infrastructure upgrades, saw a spending drop of £559 per pupil, whereas in more affluent areas of the city, the drop was smaller. The Government funding formula is therefore punishing disadvantage and the children who most need resources to advance their education. That is driving inequality into the system for the long term.
In York, we already have real issues, with an attainment gap of 31 points—the largest attainment gap in the country—as well as the worst funding. I say again to the Minister that the two are correlated. I still wait for a response and for recognition of that fact. The cuts across the city are resulting in some of the largest increases in class sizes in the country and the biggest reduction in staff numbers. Those facts cannot be denied.
It is the wider impact that that is having on children’s opportunities and on their health and wellbeing that causes me the most concern. A secondary school in my constituency wants to employ more mental health staff to support the children. I recognise that schools might not have had to deal with those challenges a decade ago, but they do have to deal with them now. It is therefore incumbent on the Minister to ensure that schools are properly resourced to ensure the holistic wellbeing of the children. Only when that is in place will children be able to learn as best they can.
I will turn to my secondary schools. Archbishop Holgate’s School, for instance, will not have the capacity to teach children next year, because of the expansion of class sizes and the demands on space. South Bank Academy is also struggling for space, yet the Government have just refused to build a new school in York.
We are struggling and it is time that the Minister recognised the challenges faced by different places in the country, instead of hiding behind figures and saying, “More money is going into schools.” We recognise that they can talk about headline figures, but the money is not going to the right places. Per pupil funding is falling, which is evidenced by the statistics that we continue to churn out, and the money is not going towards building the school system that we desperately need for our children in the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) for securing this important debate.
The issue of general funding is beginning to sound a bit like a broken record. The Government claim to spend record amounts on education, but claiming to spend a pound more this year than last year is irrelevant, because it is meaningless in real terms. That is the basis of the debate; per pupil funding is falling in real terms. It is widely known that it has fallen by 8.8%.
The Government have succeeded in delegating the risk and responsibility entirely to schools. Warwickshire is 120th of 140 in the funding per pupil rankings and is one of the worst-off areas in the country. Although Warwickshire does not have it as tough as what my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) illustrated, it has it tough none the less, and is a member of the f40.
I do not want to dwell on other areas of education—we have recently had debates about nursery education and further education, which have also suffered severe cuts—but will illustrate some of the challenges in our primary, secondary and special needs education sectors. Just 10 days ago, I visited one of the best primary schools in Warwickshire. The headteacher just sat there frustrated, saying, “This afternoon I will have to decide how to cut £50,000 from our budget. That is a further £50,000 and I am not sure who I will have to let go.” Those are the real challenges faced by the headteachers and leadership teams across our schools.
I spoke to one of my secondary schools a couple of months ago and it said that in the past three years it has had to cut 11 full-time teachers, leading to larger class sizes. The remaining teachers have to cover their colleagues who are off sick. The school has had to make cuts in associate staff in the back office and in frontline services, such as teaching assistants.
Schools face the consequences of austerity because of cuts to wider public services. Just this week, one school said that because of the cuts to the council’s children’s services, it has closed yet another case. The responsibility to pick up the pieces of a very challenging situation will now fall to that school, bringing ever greater pressures. It had to lose its school counsellor last term. It is faced with a dilemma: does it replace that counsellor or invest in support for students with the most complex needs?
One of our fine special needs schools in south Warwick has had to lose its comfort dog, half its playground and its minibus, which it cannot afford to replace, because of the cuts that it faces. Those are some of the most vulnerable children in our society, and they are being hurt the hardest. That is just not right.
Our sixth forms have seen cuts of 24% to their budgets and a reduction in their choices. One of my sixth forms has had to close. Education is an investment not just in our young people, but in our future. It is time that we invested in them, stopped the cuts and held a review of the fair funding formula.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this important debate. My experience in Brighton and Hove echoes the many stories that we have heard from around the country. It is quite clear that our schools are buckling under the pressure to do more with less. With their general budgets savaged by more than 8% in real terms, it is not surprising that they have to make devastating cuts.
As the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, we have this debate time and again. The Government tell us that austerity is supposed to be over, so let us see that in our schools. Right now, our schools know that Ministers are not being straight when they say that they are spending more per pupil or in real terms; actually, less is being spent per pupil and in real terms, and any attempt to say otherwise glosses over a serious and damaging crisis.
Headteachers in Brighton write to me regularly and in desperate terms about the sleepless nights that they face because of the impact of the funding crisis on their ability to support pupils, particularly those with complex needs. The Local Government Association identified a potential £1.6 billion deficit in special needs education funding, but the Government responded with an inadequate £350 million. Headteachers say that that is obviously too little, too late.
These are the kinds of things that headteachers have said:
“We have less support staff than we need to run the school effectively and give the children the support they need”,
“We will have to drop our counsellor service”.
“having sleepless nights trying…to make the budget work”,
and another said:
“We have already closed our nursery, reduced staffing through redundancies and not replacing those who have moved on to save money. The support we have for children with special needs is now at a basic level particularly for those who struggle socially and emotionally.”
I have many more quotes from our teachers, who are struggling so much to make ends meet. The Minister needs to listen far more closely to them.
I want to say a word about sixth-form funding. Sixth forms, too, are in a difficult position, with huge funding pressures. I have two fantastic sixth-form colleges in my constituency: BHASVIC, the Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College; and Varndean College. Funding for 16 to 18-year-olds has also been savagely cut: according to research by London Economics, in real terms, sixth-form colleges received about £1,300 less per student in 2016-17 than they did in 2010-11. That is a 22% decline in funding. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said:
“Funding per student aged 16–18 has seen the biggest squeeze of all stages of education for young people in recent years.”
At the same time, costs have risen, the needs of students have become more complex, and Government are asking more of school and colleges. The purchasing power of sixth-form funding has been hugely diminished as a result. I am sure that the Minister has seen the powerful funding impact survey by the Sixth Form Colleges Association, which makes genuinely shocking reading. It reports that 50% of schools and colleges are dropping modern foreign languages, and 34% are dropping STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects. The only way to address that funding crisis in 16-to-18 education is to raise the rate per student. I implore the Minister to do that, and to listen to the many people who say exactly the same.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this timely and important debate. I thank everyone else for contributing, including my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). To make a parochial point, at least Trafford now has a majority Labour council, under the superb leadership of Councillor Andrew Western; that will mitigate some of the pressures on schools in our borough. I also thank the hon. Members for Henley (John Howell), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), and my hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell), and for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western).
In a moment, the Minister will say that more money is going into education than ever before, but Members—not just in this Chamber, but Conservative party leadership candidates—are saying that it is not enough. The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) said that all schools should “level up”, that there should be no differentiation in funding formulas, and that school funding should be protected “in real terms”. There are no facts or figures behind that statement, but he obviously does not want the truth to get in the way of a good story on education.
The right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), a former Education Secretary, said that he wants £1 billion extra, but this Government took £5 billion out of the system. He plucked another figure out of the air, just as he threw this country’s education system up in the air in 2010 and let it shatter. We are still trying to reassemble the pieces.
The right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) said that some of that £20 billion extra going into our NHS should be used for our schools, which is robbing Peter to pay Paul. This is my favourite: the right hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Dominic Raab) wants private companies to run schools for a profit—so it will not just be the NHS that is open to trade negotiations. The right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) made a spending pledge that the Minister will like: he pledged an extra £3 billion a year, in a spending spree that would go on for five years. I make that £15 billion. I can see the Minister smiling, but that gets us towards where we need to be.
We can be in no doubt that schools are in crisis. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Education Secretary have both stated in the main Chamber that every school in England will see a cash-terms increase in their funding, but that flies in the face of reality. Our schools have experienced cuts across the board. Since 2015, the Government have cut £2.7 billion from school budgets in England. Only last week, concerned parents and teachers protested in their thousands about cuts to special educational needs provision. According to research by the National Education Union, such provision in England is down by £1.2 billion, because of shortfalls in funding increases from the Government since 2015. The Government’s own data show that 4,000 children or young people with an education, health and care plan or statement were awaiting provision in January 2018. In other words, they were waiting for a place in education.
As we have heard in Members’ stories today, the cuts mean that teachers are buying essential supplies, bringing in breakfast cereals for food-hungry children, and having to source shoes, uniforms and coats for children whose parents can no longer afford to provide them. Schools are starting late or closing early to save money, and the curriculum is narrowing. There is a crisis in our schools and this Government are turning a blind eye to it. They have made a concerted effort to fudge the figures, and to deflect attention from the school funding cuts over which they have presided. Across the country, schools are having to write to parents to ask for money to buy basic resources. They need money not for little extras, but for essentials.
If funding per pupil had been maintained in value since 2015, school funding overall would be £5.1 billion higher now, so 91% of schools face real-terms cuts. People in this Chamber know all too well the impact on the ground. The average shortfall is more than £67,000 in primary school budgets, and more than £273,000 in secondary school budgets. Our schools have 137,000 more pupils, but 5,400 fewer teachers, 2,800 fewer teaching assistants, 1,400 fewer support staff and 1,200 fewer auxiliary staff. The Government need to stop their sticking-plaster approach to school finances and give schools the funding that they really need.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this debate and on his excellent opening speech.
The Government are determined to create a world-class education system that offers opportunities to everyone, no matter their circumstances or where they live. That is why we are investing in our education system, to ensure that schools have the resources that they need to make that happen. The point of our investment is to help children to achieve, and I will first emphasise the significant progress we are already making towards creating a world-class education system.
Thanks in part to our reforms, the proportion of pupils in good or outstanding schools has increased from 66% in 2010 to 85% in 2018. My hon. Friend cited the figures in his local area as well. In primary schools, our more rigorous curriculum—now on a par with the highest-performing ones in the world—has been taught since September 2014. Since it was first tested in 2016, the proportion of primary school pupils reaching the expected standard in the maths test has risen from 70% to 76% in 2018; and in reading, which is dear to my hon. Friend’s heart, from 66% to 75% in 2018.
In secondary schools, the more rigorous academic curriculum and qualifications support social mobility by ensuring that disadvantaged children have the same opportunities for a knowledge-rich curriculum, and the same career and life opportunities as their peers. In primary schools, the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged pupils and their peers, measured by the disadvantage gap index, has narrowed by 13.2% since 2011.
To support such improvements, the Government prioritised education funding while having to take some difficult decisions in other areas of public spending. We have been able to do that because of our balanced approach to the public finances and our stewardship of the economy, which has reduced the annual deficit from an unsustainable 10% of GDP, or some £150 billion a year, to 2% by 2018. The economic stability that that has provided has resulted in employment rising to record levels and unemployment being at its lowest level since the 1970s, halving youth unemployment and giving young people leaving school more opportunities to have jobs and start their careers.
It is that balanced approach that allows us to invest in public services and education. Core funding for schools and high needs has risen from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion this year. That includes the extra £1.3 billion for schools and high needs announced in 2017, which we invested across 2018-19 and 2019-20, over and above plans set out in 2015. That means that, while we do recognise the budgeting challenges that schools have faced, funding remains high by historical standards. Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that real-terms per-pupil funding for five to 16-year-olds in 2020 will be more than 50% higher than it was in 2000. However, that does not mean that we do not understand the pressures that schools face.
We are committed to direct school funding where it is needed most. This is why, since April last year, we have started to distribute funding to schools through the national funding formula. The formula is a fairer way to distribute school funding because each area’s allocation takes into account the individual needs and characteristics of its schools and pupils. That means that, as indicated by my hon. Friend, Kent’s allocation will not be the same as that of an area where pupils have a greater amount of additional needs. It is right that schools with a higher proportion of pupils with additional needs, such as those indicated by deprivation or low prior attainment, should get extra funding.
My hon. Friend cited the overall average funding per pupil in Kent compared with Greenwich. Those figures are averages and reflect overall numbers of children with additional needs in those two local authority areas. In each authority, Greenwich and Kent, a child with particular additional needs will be funded on the same basis. The only difference between the funding that the pupils will attract will be the area cost adjustment, reflecting salary costs in the two areas. That represents about £831 million in overall funding out of the £34 billion school funding total. Areas will not receive the same amount, but they receive per pupil on the same basis.
I refer my hon. Friend and other hon. Members to the schedules that show how the national funding formula is made up. Local authorities will attract the same figure for every primary school pupil in 2019-20, regardless of where they are in the country, and the same figure for secondary and key stage 4. That represents about 73% of the total funding per pupil. The remaining 27% is made up of additional needs. For example, a pupil who has qualified for free school meals in the last six years will attract £540 in primary and £785 in secondary. If that secondary school pupil is in band D of the income deprivation affecting children index, they will attract another £515. If that secondary school pupil has low prior attainment based on primary school results, they will attract an additional £1,550. If that secondary school child has English as an additional language, they will attract an additional £1,385. That applies whether that pupil lives in Sheppey, Greenwich or York. The only difference will be that those figures are multiplied by the percentage area cost adjustment.[Official Report, 15 July 2019, Vol. 663, c. 6MC.]
Schools are already benefiting from the gains delivered by the national funding formula. Since 2017, we have given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school, while allocating the biggest increases to the schools that the previous system left most underfunded. This year, all schools have attracted an increase of at least 1% per pupil compared with their 2017-18 baselines and the most underfunded schools have attracted up to 6% more per pupil compared with 2017-18. A caveat to that is the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell): the local authorities will receive that on the basis of the national funding formula, but we are still using the local formula to allocate that funding to schools. That is why there is a discrepancy between the national funding formula allocations and the actual amounts allocated to the schools. At the moment, we are allowing some discretion and flexibility in the system, so that local authorities can decide how that money is allocated to local authority areas.
Under the national formula, schools in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey will attract an extra 4.8% per pupil in 2019-20 compared with 2017-18. That is what Kent will receive for schools in his constituency. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), schools will attract 2.6% more per pupil in 2019-20 compared with 2017-18. In York Central, schools will attract 5.4% more per pupil in 2019-20 compared with the baseline of 2017-18. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) mentioned Tang Hall Primary School. I add my congratulations to that school, where last year 77% of pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared with 64% nationally. They are above average in reading and well above average in writing.
I appreciate that the Minister praises the hard work of the teachers in supporting children’s learning in that school; however, it is the 23% that I am most concerned about. That we have the largest attainment gap in the country while our funding is the lowest is of great concern.
I am concerned about that too. I want that 64% nationally to be significantly higher. That is the drive of this Government. Since 2010, standards have been rising. I am particularly proud of what we have achieved in reading in primary schools. Our nine-year-olds have achieved their highest ever score in the progress in international reading literacy study test—we rose from joint 10th to joint eighth between 2011 and 2016. I hope that, in the long term, that will address the real concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey.
My hon. Friend raised the issue of capital funding. Government funding for school places is based on local authorities’ own data; we fund the places that they report are needed. Local authorities can use that grant funding to provide places in new schools or through expansions of existing schools, and can work with any school in their local area in doing so. Kent has been allocated £328 million to provide new school places between 2011 and 2021. It is for Kent County Council to decide how to allocate that capital. Nationally, the Government have already committed £7 billion to create new school places between 2015 and 2021, which is on top of investment in the free schools programme. We are on track to create 1 million more school places this decade—the largest increase in school capacity in at least two generations.
As important as the funding that schools receive is how they spend those resources. It is essential that we do all that we can to help schools to make the most of every pound. That is why we have set out a strategy to support schools to make savings on the more than £10 billion they spend each year on non-staffing costs. That strategy provides schools with practical advice on how to identify potential savings, including deals to buy energy, computers and so on.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. I intend to be brief, so the Minister could probably have finished his speech. I would like to thank all the Members who have taken the trouble to come along to the debate. Westminster Hall debates are often difficult if only the Minister is present. I am delighted that more people have shown an interest.
I thank the Minister for his response. He gave us a lot of statistics—I refer to my opening speech, in which I talked about lies, damned lies and statistics—and I will read Hansard with great interest to take them in more fully. I do not think there is anything he could have said or did say that will convince me that it is right that a secondary school in Greenwich should get so much more—£1,700 more—on average than secondary schools in my constituency.
I failed to mention that, in addition to the funding formula, there is a transition—a minimum floor standard whereby we protect schools that would have received less under the formula. That will be another reason for the discrepancy between Greenwich and my hon. Friend’s constituency.
I appreciate that, and I hope that my schools will feel the benefit. I would be very surprised if they are as grateful as some might expect them to be. I reiterate that education is the most important gift that we can give people. Sadly, historically, too many people living in my constituency—I am talking about people in their 40s, 50s and 60s—are still unable to read the language of their nation. I think it is shameful that we are not able to find a way through our education system to enable those people to write and read the English language.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).