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Westminster Hall

Volume 664: debated on Wednesday 4 September 2019

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 4 September 2019

[James Gray in the Chair]

Artist Visas

I beg to move,

That this House has considered artist visas.

As always, Mr Gray, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairship.

In Edinburgh, we have the best festivals in the world; not even Donald Trump could claim to have better festivals. They include the world’s biggest arts festival, the Edinburgh festival fringe, and the wonderful book festival, which takes place in my own constituency of Edinburgh North and Leith, as well as the international festival, the film festival, the storytelling festival, the science festival, the jazz and blues festival, the art festival, the children’s festival, the Hogmanay winter festival and, of course, the Edinburgh Tattoo. There is also the festival of politics, but that is not allowed to join the cool gang of festivals—not yet, anyway.

Those festivals grew out of a desire to rebuild international cultural co-operation after the second world war. Conceived in 1945 by Rudolf Bing, an Austrian who had fled the Nazis, the first festival was in 1947 and it reunited Bruno Walter with the Vienna Philharmonic. So much for the official festival. However, the spirit of rebellion that marks Edinburgh in August started in the same year, when six Scottish theatre companies and two English ones rocked up to stage their own shows and began what became the fringe. They were not alone. Forsyth Hardy and John Grierson added the film festival, too, showing 75 films from 18 countries in the Cameo cinema, which was not a bad result in 1947. All three festivals still run in Scotland’s capital city and they have been joined by quite a few others, many of which I have already noted.

Figures for this year’s festivals are not yet finalised, but the initial trawl suggests that the August festivals alone had more than 5,000 international participants. The actual number is closer to 5,500, according to figures provided by the festivals. Of course, that is only the performers. Many tens of thousands of international visitors also flock to Edinburgh every year. Of those international performers, 1,500—some 28%—were European economic area nationals, people who currently need no visa to travel to the UK. Just over half were non-EEA nationals who did not need visas. However, one in five were non-EEA nationals who required visas. Next year, we may have a whole different category of performers who will need visas and a whole set of hoops for the festivals to jump through to get them to Edinburgh to perform.

I have a fairly regular stream of immigration cases, as I know other Members do, but I also have an additional task every year, as the festivals find themselves struggling to get visas for their headline performers and ask for a bit of help. These are performers at the peak of their profession who are world-renowned and very successful. They are being refused visas because they do not match up to a flowchart somewhere in the Home Office, or because some poor decision maker with a massive workload has to make very quick decisions on very complicated cases, which is one way to end up with poor decisions. Other Members representing Edinburgh and other areas that receive visiting artists may have similar stories.

I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to the civil servants in the UK Visas and Immigration team who answer the calls and emails from my office. They are professional and helpful, and they do what they can to help with these as well as many other cases. They are a credit to the service. However, they operate within a broken system and the fault for that lies with politicians.

The decisions made in Government create the systems that the civil servants have to work in and they are the decisions that create the ethos of the Departments. It is the political decisions that create the problems and it will be political decisions that can construct the solutions.

We need those solutions, because the damage done to the festivals and to our reputation is not limited to the individual performer thinking that it is a bit of a pain getting to Edinburgh in a particular year. The bigger damage comes from the impression being formed that it is a hassle getting to Edinburgh to appear in the festivals, and when performers start thinking that it might be too much hassle getting to Edinburgh. The damage comes when that consideration becomes part of the consideration that weighs in the balance against coming to Edinburgh, and when those considerations outweigh the considerations of benefits that might accrue from performing at the festivals.

When authors think, “The Edinburgh book festival would be good to appear at, but Cork would be okay, too, and there’s less hassle getting to west Cork,” we have a problem. The same would go for the Hay festival, the Cheltenham festival or the Beyond the Border festival. By the way, I have nothing against Cork. I could easily have mentioned instead Parisot or Charroux in France; the three festivals that take place in Barcelona; Fitzroy, Fremantle, Sydney, Alice Springs, Adelaide or several others in Australia; or Calgary, Vancouver or even New Westminster in Canada. There is no imperative for authors to come to the UK, and if we put barriers in their way we reduce the appeal of our festivals.

I would like Edinburgh to compete on a level playing field; it is the only way in which we will stay ahead of the competition. Of course, the same goes for arts festivals such as the international festival and the fringe. There are other festivals all around the world and the prestige of Edinburgh will not keep us ahead of them if the disincentives begin to outnumber the positives. That possible reluctance on the part of performers to come to Edinburgh might be mirrored by festival organisers deciding that the effort they have to put in to get performers to the stage is becoming burdensome. When they have so much to do to put the shows on in the first place, any extra burden becomes a serious consideration.

The statistics, too, seem to suggest there is a problem. Four years ago, more than one third of international performers at the fringe were visa nationals; this year, the figure was down to one quarter. In this year’s book festival, four authors’ events were put at risk by visa problems, and in the international festival a renowned choreographer and his dance troupe had major inconveniences. Some of Serge Aimé Coulibaly’s dancers had to travel from Burkina Faso to Ghana for their visa appointments—a 32-hour round trip—and then they had to pay for a courier service to get their passports back, to avoid having to repeat the journey. One of them, who is resident in Germany, had to return to Berlin from Burkina Faso to pick up his visa within the allotted timescale when it was granted more quickly than expected. The troupe had already performed at the Barbican in May and they will come back to the UK in November—if they get visas.

These people tour the world performing. Applying for visas through an appointment system, leaving their passports and returning to the visa centre to collect visas is, as we would say in Scotland, a right pain in the bahookey for them. From what I have heard from other areas around the world, these difficulties would appear to be easily surmountable with the right political will, and I imagine that they are difficulties faced by other would-be visitors as well.

I am grateful to Festivals Edinburgh for providing me with much of the information for this debate. It tells me that this dance troupe’s difficulties are indicative of the kinds of problems faced by performers regularly; these are not exceptional circumstances. Freelance performers face problems in demonstrating income and reserves in cash terms, because the nature of their work means that their income comes in bursts. Then we have the slow decisions that endanger appearances; the refusals that are overturned on appeal, often with an MP’s help; and the sheer uncertainty that the whole thing creates.

As I have said, these are political problems and political solutions can be found. I have to say that the festivals were cheered somewhat by the engagement of the previous Immigration Minister, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), and I am sure that the current Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy)—has a record of that engagement. May I tell her, though, that the festivals are heartened by some of the actions taken, in particular the UKVI guidance for creative event managers, published in March, and the direct named contacts at UKVI and the Home Office? The festivals appear to be as impressed as I am with the civil servants.

That is a start, but we have to move far more quickly to get ahead of the game. In a couple of months, EEA citizens could be required to have visas to travel, adding a huge number of festival performers to the processes—if they still want to come. None of that takes account of the international visitors coming to watch events at the festivals or to see other things while they are here. There is also the parallel issue in the other direction, with the probability that the EU will require additional efforts from UK artists heading there.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. Is it not the case that in the music industry, for example, many UK touring artists are not very wealthy? Often they are, in effect, a one-person band, travelling on budget airlines and taking their own instruments to their fan base around the European Union. Is there not a real danger that those people’s livelihoods will be directly affected if we do not do something before Brexit?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. As former performers, he and I know exactly how precarious that lifestyle can be. I met the chief executive officer of the Incorporated Society of Musicians yesterday. She indicated that she already knows of performers who have gigs in November and December in Europe that are already being called into question. They cannot get insurance to cover those gigs if they need to cancel. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the probability that the EU will require additional efforts from UK artists heading there could limit our artists’ ability to make a living.

Equity tells me that actors are regularly employed across the EU, often because they are English speakers, and that employment could be under threat after Brexit. Dancers are already seeing auditions for European companies drying up. These artists need freedom of movement so they can keep getting work. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, musicians currently tour across the visa-free area in a way that will simply be impossible if freedom of movement ends without some sort of deal.

I will give the Minister a series of quotes that I have been given by a variety of organisations that deal with this matter. The Royal African Society—I know my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) will speak later about African visitor issues—has told me that it is

“increasingly coming across writers and filmmakers who have decided to boycott the UK, rather than go through the dehumanising process of applying for a visa”.

Literary Europe Live said that

“the time-consuming and humiliating visa application process damages UK’s reputation and ultimately results in more and more artists turning down invitations to the UK”.

The Shambala festival said:

“If we do not change this system and make it more welcoming, Britain risks becoming increasingly culturally barren”.

English PEN said that writers have told it that

“they would not return to the UK with the current visa system”.

The Index on Censorship said that granting visas helps to address oppression and persecution. The British arts council said that problems with the visa process

“have the potential to have significant impact on our soft power standing and the ability to showcase a diverse range of international work in the UK”.

The Africa Centre said, rather pointedly:

“We grow as a society because of the development of culture and if we do not allow artists to share their stories with us, how do we grow?”

I pay tribute to the Shubbak festival, and to Nick Barley at the Edinburgh book festival and Julia Amour, the director of the Festivals Edinburgh group, for all their hard work. The Shubbak festival said:

“The Home Office’s temporary visa application process is so administratively burdensome that it has become a deterrent, denying the British public access to some of the world’s most compelling artists, performers, writers, musicians and thinkers.”

StAnza poetry festival spoke of poets missing festivals here and elsewhere in the EU because their passports had been lost by the Home Office or retained for far longer than expected. Tandem Collective and Oxford Contemporary Music said:

“Restrictions on artist visas undermine the efficacy of our work, severely reducing the diversity of cultures represented in our exchange programme, Ethno England.”

The Poetry Translation Centre team said that the visa system

“weakens the potential of the UK arts as artists here miss out on the opportunity to meet, experience, interact and collaborate with their counterparts around the world”.

Finally, the London international festival of theatre said:

“Countless artists are telling festivals and venues they are reluctant to accept invitations to come to the UK due to draconian visa process”.

I thank Parliament’s digital engagement team for gathering those opinions and the organisations for sharing their expertise and knowledge.

I am more than willing to share the full comments and quotations from those experts, and I certainly hope the Minister will listen to them. I will be following up on the issues with her, and the representatives of the artists and festivals have a range of things they want to talk about, but the visa system needs to be reviewed. In a digital information age, there should be far less necessity for applicants to travel hundreds of miles and surrender their passports for weeks or months at a time, especially when they are making repeated visits and have a record of obeying the conditions of their visas. We know that the passport pass-back service works in some centres, and it must be possible to roll that out. It must also be possible to extend the permit-free festivals route and the permitted paid engagement route. Surely we can reduce the costs, particularly for repeat travellers.

The festivals have a list of requests that they will be making of Ministers, and I am happy to speak to the Minister about any aspects. I would be delighted to facilitate a meeting for her with the festivals, Equity, UK Music and other interested parties that have been lobbying me, if that would be of help. I will do whatever I can to assist. I hope she will take me up on that. I urge her to act now and to act quickly. The damage may already be being done to Edinburgh’s festivals and to the reputation of our creatives around the world. Their prestige may be getting undermined through no fault of their own.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. It is a particular delight to see an east end boy in the Chair.

There is only one east end, Mr Gray. I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), who secured this debate and has for quite some time been pursuing this issue, which is clearly significant for Edinburgh, where the festival has just finished.

On a cross-party note, I congratulate the Minister on taking up her new role. Since I came to this place in 2017, I have always found her to be incredibly helpful in my dealings with her. It is encouraging to have someone in the Home Office who we can hopefully work with, because for many Members, including those from Scotland, immigration makes up a huge part of our case load. It is clear that there are ideological problems in the Home Office in how that policy is pursued, but a lot of it seems to be cock-ups. It is good to have the Minister in her role, and I look forward to hearing what she has to say.

Once again we find ourselves in the frustrating position of coming to Westminster Hall to discuss visas and how cumbersome they are. Only a couple of months ago I led a debate about religious worker visas, and during the recess I spoke to a lot of Catholic priests in my constituency who are incredibly frustrated by the UK Government’s approach to religious worker visas. I appreciate that that is another issue for another day, but I certainly hope that the Minister will be able to look at that again.

One of the things that is incredibly frustrating about the situation with artist visas is that it is just another manifestation of the hostile environment from the UK Government. That is particularly frustrating for us in Scotland, because we do not view immigration policy as somehow being a negative issue. Our problem has never been immigration; our problem has been emigration. I get incredibly frustrated that we have a UK Government who are pursuing this ideological policy of pulling up the drawbridge, shutting off the border and stopping people from coming here.

There is an economic problem with that, and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith outlined some of that. The Scottish Government in particular have problems with the policy. The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, said:

“The Scottish Government has long-standing concerns about how easily artists and performers can come to Scotland for the Edinburgh international festivals, and about the problems that delayed visa processes...and refusals that are then overturned—

on appeal—

“can cause organisers of festivals of all sizes.”

My hon. Friend outlined the difficulty with the number of people who decide not to come, which is clearly distressing. As I would expect her to do, she talked about the situation in Edinburgh, which is of course Scotland’s lesser city. I will turn now to Glasgow.

Glasgow is already an innovative creative leader in Europe. With artists travelling on a visa, it allows art and talent to come and be shared with us in Glasgow. If anybody here has not taken part in or not come along to see Celtic Connections, I encourage them to do so. Celtic Connections is one of Scotland’s biggest creative events. It attracts and has hosted 2,000 artists from 25 countries taking part on 35 stages across the city. To give an idea of how economically significant that is, in Scotland we have more than 15,000 businesses employing more than 70,000 people, contributing more than £5 billion to the Scottish economy. I get frustrated because we clearly have initiatives to try to get people to come to Scotland—homecoming, Celtic Connections, the Edinburgh festival—but the Scottish Government have one hand tied behind their back because of the ridiculous visa problems that emanate from the UK Government.

There are two solutions. Unionists thinking slightly more longer term might say, “Let us have a form of regional immigration policy where aspects of the policy can be devolved and decided by the Scottish Government. We can tailor that to our needs”, as has been outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith. If the UK Government are so intransigent and do not want to look at regional immigration policy and devolving certain immigration powers—for example, for visas—the only solution left is to go on our own path towards independence. It is telling that last night there was a poll in The Times that showed that if a general election takes place, which we in the SNP would certainly relish, we will find that not only do we have a hostile environment from the Home Office, but ultimately Scotland will be a hostile environment for Tory policies that have a negative and devastating impact on our economy. I very much look forward to the day when we can have that general election and indeed independence to sort out these issues for ourselves.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) claims you as one of his own, but I believe we once had a conversation that established that your place of birth was in fact the west end of Glasgow, in the constituency of Glasgow North.

Order. The hon. Gentleman might be at risk of misleading the House inadvertently. I was in fact born in Rottenrow, which is in Dennistoun in the east end of Glasgow.

This is not of direct relevance to the debate, but just for clarity I was born and brought up in Dennistoun in the east end of Glasgow. When I was four years old, I moved to Great Western Road in the west end of Glasgow. I went to school and university there.

There we are. It has been established. I apologise for inadvertently misleading the House, Mr Gray, but I am glad that I now have the privilege of representing an area where, once upon a time, you bestrode the streets of the west end of Glasgow, which is of course the site of much of Glasgow’s creative industry and vibrant cultural scene, which is why the issue of artists’ visas is so important.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) on securing the debate. This is not the first time that difficulties with the visa system have been raised in Westminster Hall, and it will not be the last. It might not be the last time that the Minister has to respond to debates on such topics, although we live in turbulent times. I welcome her to her post. She will have quite a heavy in-tray in the coming weeks and months, but the issue of visas will dominate it, and the speeches and contributions that we have heard from Members explain why.

I want to look briefly at the importance of the creative sector to the UK and Scotland’s economy. The reports that we have heard about illustrate a massive contradiction in Government policy. I want to dwell a little on the specifics of artists travelling from Africa because I have a personal interest and some experience there, and it speaks to the broader policy issue in general. I also want to look at the question of Brexit and its consequences for travel across the European Union.

The creative sector is, as we have heard, hugely important to the economy of the UK as a whole. We are just coming to the end of the festival season. Great cultural festivals include the Edinburgh festival, which is hugely significant and well appreciated and enjoyed. I am happy to continue the rivalry between whether bigger is necessarily better when we consider what Glasgow has on offer compared with Edinburgh. There are other festivals across the UK such as Womad and the festivals that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith cited. I pay tribute to the digital engagement team for the way in which it reached out to other organisations and allowed their voices to be heard. I thoroughly recommend that all of the statements be made available to Members, perhaps through the Library, and that the Minister pays particular attention. My hon. Friend quoted from most of them, but I will draw the House’s attention to one or two comments from the various people who contributed.

The music director of the Shambala festival, an international festival of music and art, talked about the multi-faceted nature of the issues and the costs:

“We are often seeking performances from acts that may only have one or two shows in the UK. The costs for Visas for a large band are...spread over very few shows...Secondly, the application is a bureaucratic nightmare that takes a very long time to process and...includes the applicants having to hand over their passports for weeks”,

which, as was suggested in interventions, makes it difficult for the artists to do their jobs anywhere else. The artistic director of the Shubbak festival said:

“The current visa system is unsustainable for the artists we work with. Shubbak’s producers spent a significant amount of time, effort and costs to support artists in their process of visa applications. The forms are overlong and advice is often contradictory.”

Shubbak is one of the largest celebrations of Arab culture that takes place in the UK, particularly here in London.

It appears from the briefing that the quotes from the London international festival of theatre have been endorsed by a significant number of other people from the creative industries. As my hon. Friend said, countless artists are telling festivals and venues that they are reluctant even to accept invitations to come because of the draconian visa process, but they also suggest solutions:

“While we recognise the need for scrutiny...we suggest a number of key developments which...will help alleviate this situation.”

They include reducing the costs, faster processes, clearer information to applicants and opening more application centres. I will come back to that, but it is certainly true of the findings of the all-party groups on Africa, migration and Malawi.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East spoke about Celtic Connections, a festival very close to my heart. I have taken part in its events for many years and I have good friends who perform in it almost every year. At this time last year, the director of the festival, Donald Shaw, a highly regarded musician and creative talent in Scotland and a real driving force behind the festival, expressed his frustration about artists who are not even willing to consider coming to the festival now because they know of the barriers that will face them. He said:

“These are top-class musicians who have been travelling around the world for over 20 years. Britain now has a very solidly-locked gate, certainly in terms of African visas. The whole thing undermines us as a Scottish festival with an international outlook.”

That is the contradiction: the United Kingdom says it is open for business—that that is the great thing about Brexit, which will take us back on to the world stage. They spend millions, if not tens and hundreds of millions of pounds on “Britain is GREAT” posters, which we see all over the place. Whenever we go overseas and visit UK embassies or see adverts taken out in aircraft brochures, we see “Britain is GREAT”, “Britain is open for business”, but then as soon as somebody applies to come here they are told Britain is not open for business; it is closed. There is a massive contradiction in policy and it is a huge act of self-harm to the economy, society and culture.

What the hon. Gentleman says is absolutely right. Is it not also the case that not only are the restrictions draconian, but the Home Office deliberately runs its visa programme as a money-making racket? That is what it is.

Absolutely. It is particularly important to the creative sector when the operating margin for visas is so small. Most people go into the creative sector out of a love for their art, and to contribute to society and culture as much as to the economy, but if they are successful the margins can have a positive economic input as well. Yet the visa policy is driving that down and making it more difficult for people to make that economic, as well as cultural and social, contribution.

I am reminded of testimony from a very senior official in the African Union—a trade commissioner who came to speak to us at an event in the House of Lords. He was invited by the Lord Mayor of London, yet had to jump through hoops. He was asked for his wedding licence and for proof of his income, despite being effectively a diplomat. To be fair, he got his visa and managed to get here, which is better than some. He says that every time he flies out of Addis, he sees business class sections of planes going into Brussels that are full and business class sections of planes going into London that are half empty. That is a pretty stark demonstration of the visa policy’s impact.

I saw the impact myself recently, when I was in Malawi with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and we visited the UK high commission. The first thing that we saw when we came in was a great pop-up banner saying, “Come to the UK and study on the Chevening scholarship.” Yet the night before, when we had met with local stakeholders, campaign groups and so on, we had heard stories of people who had applied for—and been granted—Chevening scholarships but were not getting visas, were being made to jump through hoops, or found that the visas were far too expensive.

Such stories are borne out by the joint report from the all-party parliamentary group on Malawi, the APPG for Africa and the APPG on diasporas, development and migration, which found that

“September 2018 Home Office quarterly statistics show that while 12% of all visit visa applications made between September 2016 and September 2018 were refused, the refusal rate for African visitors was over double this, at 27% of applications.”

There is therefore a particular challenge regarding visas for African musicians, business people, religious ministers and so on, much of which is down to the system, to the creation of a hub and spoke model, and to the attempt to outsource the applications to private companies and then to drive the decision-making process on to some kind of online, algorithm-based system, often based here in the United Kingdom.

Another story emerged from the same visit. The Information Minister from the Malawian Government could not get his fast-track visa approved in time; he was supposed to be in the UK while we were in Malawi. His visit was cancelled in the end because his visa did not come through in time, even though presumably the Malawian Government and Malawian taxpayers—or, indeed, Department for International Development money that helps to support the Malawian Government—financed his fast-track visa application, which was no such thing. Such incidents cause nothing but embarrassment for officials in the high commissions and embassies, who cannot do anything because the left hand seemingly does not know what the right hand is doing, and all the decisions are outsourced to Pretoria. At the same time, I echo the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith made about the incredibly hard-working staff both in the embassies and high commissions and in the visa inquiry teams, who are massively overburdened. That simply increases the expense, bureaucracy and contradiction.

Ultimately, if we want the visas, we have to make inquiries or get up and ask questions of Ministers, and the House of Commons Chamber becomes a kind of court of appeal for visas that should simply have been granted in the first place. None of these artists are coming here to abscond or so that they can live on the British welfare state or get jobs as Uber drivers. They are world-class musicians. They are travelling all around the world and are welcomed to other countries with open arms. Only in the United Kingdom—only in “Britain is GREAT” and “Britain is open for business”—are they told that they cannot come.

A number of us have been pursuing this matter for some time. It is interesting that every time we have asked Ministers to set out how many folk in the creative industries who have come to the UK have absconded, they cannot answer. I think the last time, they suggested that it would take too much time, and money perhaps, to find that information, but if the Government are so worried that people will abscond, why do they not know exactly how many people have absconded in the past?

Exactly—that is part of the issue. Perhaps the Minister can answer that question. People are counted into the country but very rarely counted out, so the statistics do not exist, but all the anecdotal evidence suggests that such people go back. It is pretty easy to tell whether a musician has absconded because if they do not turn up to their next gig in Germany, France or wherever they were going next on their tour, it is pretty obvious.

I suppose that brings us to the consequences of Brexit and the specific issue of visas for travel in Europe. At the moment, freedom of movement means that artists from anywhere in the European Union can travel to anywhere else in the EU without any hassle. That makes it cheaper, easier and better for reasons that we have already discussed, but if freedom of movement comes to an end—and especially if it comes crashing to an end on 31 October—everybody will be left in a state of chaos and cataclysm.

It is very important that the Government are working on that issue. A lot of organisations—we heard about the Musicians’ Union and the Incorporated Society of Musicians—have done a significant amount of work on both identifying what the challenges will be and suggesting some solutions. The ISM, for example, said clearly that

“the music workforce depends on EU27/EEA countries for professional work”.

It also said that

“the music workforce relies on UK-EU mechanisms to support and enable them to work”

and travel, and that already

“the impact of Brexit on musicians’ work has been widespread and negative”.

It therefore made a series of recommendations about what can be done. One of the most significant is:

“If freedom of movement rights cease, the Government must introduce a two-year, cheap and admin-light, multi-entry touring visa”

so that musicians, and indeed their musical instruments, can get in and out of the country as freely as possible, and the creative industry’s important contribution can continue.

As I said at the start, the Minister will have to get used to such debates. Many Members feel passionately about this matter, because our constituents and economies are affected, and in many cases we have personal connections to people who are affected as well. The visa policies and the experiences of artists, creatives and those in wider parts of society completely contradict the Government’s rhetoric on global Britain. In fact, what we are seeing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East said, is a continuation of the hostile environment.

It is all well and good for the Government to say, “We’ve changed. The hostile environment is a thing of the past.” The lived daily experience of people who want to come to this country and share their creative talents and passions is that the hostile environment is still in place. That will change only when the policy starts to change and the administrative burdens are changed. That means easier processing, cheaper visas and a much more straightforward way of people applying and having their sponsors taken seriously. We hope the appointment of the new Minister will lead to some change, and we look forward to hearing what she has to say.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) for securing the debate and all those who have contributed to it.

There is no doubt that the UK’s thriving creative sector is of huge economic and cultural importance. Taken together, the creative industries contribute more than £100 billion to the economy and account for one in 10 jobs across the UK. Last year, an estimated 29.1 million people attended festivals and concerts across the country. Beyond the statistics, the creative industry is also an essential part of our national identity and a crucial instrument of the UK’s soft power on the world stage.

The temporary movement of talent across borders is crucial to the continued economic success of this world-leading sector. Within the music industry, 13% of the workforce are European nationals and, with a disastrous no-deal Brexit looming, they are understandably concerned for their future. This prosperous industry is able to flourish thanks to the diverse, global talent that contributes to all its sectors. It is therefore vital that that talent does not become yet another victim of the Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit.

Back in 2017, Labour made it clear that we were committed to putting the needs of the creative sector at the heart of any Brexit negotiation, but instead of listening to our call the Government have run down the clock on our negotiating time and unashamedly ignored the needs of the creative sector. A large proportion of artists’ income is reliant on their ability to freelance and tour cheaply and easily. Doing so also allows them to reach new audiences across borders and cultures. Does the Minister recognise that many artists will not meet the £30,000 income threshold due to the nature of their work, and that this will further limit access to new creative talent in the UK?

Today’s debate has raised three interconnected problems. The first is that, as a result of this Government’s chaotic Brexit strategy and the increasing likelihood of a no-deal Brexit, UK artists have an uncertain future in the EU. Movement across European borders is vital for the continued success of the UK’s creative sector. Currently, artists from across the EU do not need permission to perform in venues across the UK, and vice-versa. That means that an artist can perform in Amsterdam one night and Manchester the next without incurring any associated costs or red tape. Changes to that ease of movement will affect all those involved in the music industry, from large orchestras to up-and-coming musicians touring on a bootstrap.

As we look set to leave the EU, European artists will also now have to consider their ability to travel and tour in the UK. European artists due to perform in the UK in the coming months are now facing grave uncertainty, thanks to the situation that this Government have created as we head towards exit day. What is the Minister doing to reassure British and European artists that they will be able to continue to contribute to the creative sector in a post-Brexit world?

I will put Brexit aside for a moment to touch on the issue of non-EEA artists who come and tour here in the UK. As it stands, those artists are eligible for tier 5 temporary creative worker visas, permitted paid engagement visas and standard visitor visas. Big festivals and events such as the Edinburgh international festival and the Manchester international festival use those routes to bring thousands of foreign artists to the UK each year. In Edinburgh alone, the participation of those artists helps to attract an audience of 4.7 million to the city each year and generates over £300 million in cultural tourism.

Sadly, however, those artists are too often being turned away by the Home Office due to delays and poor decisions. Just last year, the prominent Palestinian writer Nayrouz Qarmout was refused entry three times before the Home Office eventually relented. In a similar case, the first showcase of Arab artists at the Edinburgh fringe festival was forced to cancel several of its productions after nearly a quarter of visas for performers were refused. From my own experience in Manchester, an internationally renowned artist who was due to perform at the festival was refused a visa and faced long delays in dealing with the Home Office. As a result of those issues, my team and I stepped in at the last minute and worked to ensure that artist was able to perform at the festival. Those artists are vital to the cultural enrichment of British society and should be welcomed by the Home Office, not turned away. Has the Minister considered the impact of the Government’s hostile environment on the creative sector, and will she engage with the industry to consider reforming the tier 5 visa application?

As we are all too aware, the hostile environment policies pursued by the Government have had an untold effect on migrants travelling to, working in, and creating a home in the UK. It is high time that the Government put an end to those policies. Labour has committed to dismantling this Government’s immigration regime and building a new system that is fair, open and welcoming.

I know I have touched on only a few of the issues raised in this debate, but I hope the Minister will provide answers to the questions I and colleagues have raised today. I will finish by saying this: if the Government continue to ignore the needs of the creative sector, they will wreak havoc on the UK’s cultural exports, our international soft power and our economy. It is vital that the UK’s creative sector does not continue to suffer under the Government’s irresponsible Brexit strategy or their hostile environment. The Government need to act now.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) on having secured this important debate, and I am grateful to her and to all other hon. Members who have spoken, one of whom has left his place. I also pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), for the work she has done on this issue. I have had a meeting with her and discussed it, and I know that she took it very seriously.

The hon. Lady has rightly praised the magnificent Edinburgh festivals; of course, there is a great range of them. I was very lucky to speak at one of the fringe events in 2018. It was an amazing atmosphere, and it is a world-leading festival. The creative sector is a hugely important part of the UK’s economy; as the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) has touched on, it generates over £100 billion per annum, and those creative industries are growing.

Importantly, as I have said before in this Chamber when speaking from the Back Benches, this exchange of people and ideas is not just an economic issue, but very important socially and culturally. The Government are committed to that and recognise the role that international collaboration plays in our social, economic and cultural life. I am happy to meet with the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, the festival organisers or Equity to discuss these matters, and also to hear at more length the contributions that the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) referred to in his letters. Perhaps he could expand on those.

Under the existing immigration system for non-EEA nationals, there are dedicated arrangements for creative individuals. Hon. Members have raised several points, which I will try to address. Artists, entertainers and musicians who come here as visitors to perform at events, take part in competitions or perhaps have auditions can come for up to six months. There is, of course, the permit-free festival list: several, although not all, of the festivals that have been referred to are on that list. It enables festivals to showcase international artists, entertainers and musicians such as the ones we have heard about. Exceptionally, those visiting performers can come to the UK for up to six months and be paid for their participation without needing formal sponsorship.

Celtic Connections, the Cheltenham festivals, the Edinburgh fringe festival, the Edinburgh international festival, the Edinburgh jazz and blues festival, the Hay festival, the Edinburgh tattoo, and WOMAD are all part of the permit-free festival list, which shows that the Government have listened and things have changed.

I appreciate that many of those festivals are part of that group, but does the Minister acknowledge that the list disadvantages much smaller festivals that do not have the capacity or funds to participate to the same extent as larger ones?

Of course, in all areas of life smaller organisations are always disadvantaged. However, because I am quite new to this role, I am not entirely sure whether an artist going to, for example, Celtic Connections could then go to a smaller festival in the ambit of those six months. Because I am not entirely sure, I will not give an answer; I will clarify by writing to the hon. Lady.

The current tier 5 creative and sporting route can be used by musicians, actors or artists. Some of those nationals can benefit from visa-free travel to the UK for up to three months if they get a certificate of sponsorship, and a 12-month working visa is also available. However, that generous offer must be balanced against the need to keep the country safe and secure.

We have visas for a reason: so that we can see who is coming in and out of the country. Last year, more than 2.3 million visitor visas were granted, which is an 8% increase on the previous year. People came for leisure, study or business visits. The service standard for processing a visit visa is 15 working days, and last year UK Visas and Immigration processed 97% within that target. Over the recess, I had the great pleasure of visiting UKVI and speaking to several colleagues who work there. I, too, pay tribute to them for their work.

The onus of a system of this scale is on the applicant to demonstrate that they satisfy the rules, but we want to carry on working as closely as we can with stakeholders to make sure that we are delivering an excellent service. This debate and the subsequent meetings that we will have are part of that. We need to preserve the integrity of our immigration controls.

The Minister talks about 2.3 million visas having been granted. On protecting the integrity of the system, does the Home Office have statistics on how many people have absconded? Is it willing to put that into the public domain?

I will come to that point later.

Last year, we published new guidance for UK creative event managers that provided an overview of what to consider in terms of planning for visas. We now have dedicated points of UKVI contact for those UK organisations organising UK events, which the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith referred to. I am sure that people organising major creative events or international conferences will be able to take advantage of that. I bear in mind her point about smaller groups.

The Minister talked about achieving 97% in 15 working days. Is she willing to give us a breakdown of the different countries?

I am not entirely sure, but I imagine that such things are in the public domain. I am almost positive that they are available, because of our great transparency, but I will not say from the Dispatch Box where they are when I do not actually know. I would never want to mislead the House.

We are working closely with other Government Departments, particularly the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Officials have met sector representatives to understand the requirements of the creative sector. We have listened to stakeholders to ensure that our systems strike the right balance in terms of customer use and the integrity of our controls.

We want people to apply for their visas as early as possible. We published guidance for UK event managers that provides an overview of what to consider in terms of planning for visas and we also now have dedicated events. On what the Home Office and UKVI are doing, in May we published new guidance for our decision makers, including escalation procedures, to ensure that when they are assessing and making decisions on visitor visa cases, they consider all the evidence in the round, particularly UK sponsorship.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West, who is no longer in his place, referred to fees. I wholeheartedly disagree that they are a racket. The Immigration Act 2014 set out the governing factors that must be given regard to when fee levels are set: they include the cost of administering the service, the benefits likely to accrue to the applicant on a successful outcome, the costs of operating other parts of the immigration system, the promotion of economic growth, the fees charged by or on behalf of the Governments of other countries for comparable functions, and any international agreement. Having said that, we keep all visa, immigration and nationality fees under review.

I apologise for not having been able to be present at the start of the debate.

On the point about fees, I have many cases where people’s visa applications are rejected for minor points, because a document has gone missing or they did not provide something with the right date. If it is rejected, they have no right of appeal, so they have to start all over again, not quite knowing what they did wrong. Would it not be easier if officials could just phone people up and say, “You haven’t sent in a copy of your landlord’s agreement”, or whatever is required? It would save so much money.

Due to the nature and the great volume of visa applications, there are obviously cases where documents go missing at either end or where there is not clarity. If the hon. Lady has specific examples—

My pile of letters is like the magic porridge pot—it never gets to the bottom. I am very happy to look at them.

I am aware of some of the problems experienced by international artists coming to the UK, to which we have heard reference today. There have been some refusals. I realise that delays or errors can have serious personal consequences for the individual, and reputational and economic consequences for the UK organisers of events. As I have said on several occasions, however, I am committed to making the visitor system as simple and straightforward as possible, and to ensuring that decisions are right first time. That is important. We want to continue to deliver an excellent service for our customers.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith referred to passports being lost. Everybody has the option to use the “Keep My Passport When Applying” service, but if she writes to me with a specific example of a lost passport, I will happily look into it.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North is a great champion of issues relating to Africa in this place. My predecessor met the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), who is the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Africa. We are keen to look at that issue. Visa applications from African nationals are at their highest level since 2013. The percentage of African nationals whose applications were granted is up by 4% on 10 years ago. The average issue rate for non-settlement visa applications submitted in the Africa region is consistent with the average issue rate for the last three years, which is 75%. There are problems in some cases, however; the hon. Gentleman referred to the difficulties that some of the people with whom he is engaged in Malawi have encountered with the new hub-and-spoke configuration of the system. I will keep that under review.

The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) talked about an immigration system with regional variations. We are clear that our future immigration system must work for every nation, region and community in the UK. We remain invested in fully engaging with the devolved Administrations. A regional immigration system is clearly problematic because we do not have internal controls. The Department considers that, given the complexity and scale of the effort, distortions or unintended consequences could result from divergent approaches in the nations of the UK. The Migration Advisory Committee has noted that it does

“not consider that there is a strong economic case for regional differentiation in migration policy”.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about people who have absconded, I am afraid that we cannot reveal numbers. If an individual claims asylum, we cannot reveal it, because it could have an impact on his or her case. It is also difficult to quantify the number of people who are here illegally and have not brought themselves to the attention of Immigration Enforcement.

I turn to the future. The Prime Minister has been clear that we are leaving the European Union on 31 October, which will mean that freedom of movement as it stands will end when the UK leaves the EU. EU citizens will still be able to come to the UK on holiday and for short trips, but the arrangements for people coming to the UK for longer periods of time and for work and study will change. Details of other changes immediately after 31 October, and improvements for the new immigration system, are being developed.

I finish by paying tribute to all hon. Members who have spoken today. They take the issue of our cultural life, the free exchange of ideas and the contribution of artists to our economy very seriously, as do the Government. In the Home Office, on visas, we have to balance that against keeping our borders safe and secure. I look forward to engaging with hon. Members on this issue in the future.

This has been an excellent debate. I really appreciate everyone’s contributions, including those of my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow East (David Linden) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). They gave excellent SNP support for the issue, although we will leave to one side their fantastical belief in the superiority of Scotland’s second city.

I also commend the hon. Members for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) for their contributions. I welcome the Minister to her place. Her appointment is a relief, as there was a bit of delay between the previous Minister leaving and the present Minister arriving, to the dismay of a number of organisations that are anxiously waiting for developments in the brief. I welcome her offer of a meeting, and I will immediately set about co-ordinating that with a variety of the many interested parties straightaway.

As the Minister has heard from hon. Members, and from the many comments I mentioned from a wide range of organisations, despite the small amount of movement that we have seen, which is to be welcomed, numerous bodies are continuing to experience considerable difficulties. There must be improvement as soon as possible. I look forward to that meeting. I also very much hope that the Minister will take up the invitation from the Cabinet Secretary for Culture in the Scottish Government to the forthcoming summit on the issue, and particularly on visas for festival performers. I hope she will look out for the invitation in her mailbox. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions; this has been a very useful debate.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered artist visas.

Sitting suspended.

Vessel Emissions: River Thames

I beg to move,

That this House has considered emissions from vessels on the River Thames.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Gray, and I am pleased that amid the current political turmoil time has been found to debate this important issue, which is of real concern to large numbers of my constituents. I have been seeking the debate for some time, and I am grateful to the Minister who will respond to it on what has been short notice.

The Minister is well aware, not least because of the numerous times I have raised this in the main Chamber, of the historical proposal to construct a cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf in east Greenwich, in my constituency. That proposal was extremely contentious locally, not because large numbers of my constituents were implacably opposed to the siting of a terminal in the area or did not recognise that it had the potential to make a positive contribution to Greenwich in tourism, jobs and revenue for local business, but because residents would not accept—I count myself as one of them—the negative impact that the terminal as proposed would have had on local amenities and, in particular, on the quality of the air we breathe.

For that reason, I fought alongside local community and amenity groups to secure a clean, green terminal at Enderby Wharf—one that would have met the highest, not just the most basic, environmental and air quality standards—or, if one could not be secured, for the proposal to be scrapped altogether. In the end, after a sustained effort over several years to bring home to the developer the reputational cost of seeking to proceed with plans for a terminal that was not environmentally sustainable, we won: the then owner, investment bank Morgan Stanley, announced that it was scrapping its plans. On Friday 5 July, Criterion Capital, a property company that I understand owns and manages a £2 billion portfolio across London and the south-east of England and that has acquired the Enderby Wharf site from Morgan Stanley, confirmed that it would not revive plans for a cruise liner terminal on the site.

I commend my hon. Friend for securing this debate and congratulate him on his campaign to protect his residents against emissions from the Thames. My constituency is right across the Thames from his, and I was happy and proud to support his campaign. He has used the words “we won”, but is it not a shame that we were not able to secure the investment, jobs and all the rest of it to support London, the Thames and tourism because of the inability to agree a sustainably environmental project, which everyone would have welcomed had it been achieved?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It was a great frustration to him, as it was to me, that the developer would not listen and commit to plans for a clean, green terminal and shore-to-ship power.

Nevertheless, it was right that the proposals as set out were scrapped, and residents very much welcomed that. I also welcomed Criterion Capital’s confirmation that the proposals had been scrapped. However, the final demise of the terminal does not mean that the problem of toxic emissions relating to activity on the River Thames has been solved for those living in my constituency. The issue remains of emissions from other vessels using the river and, in particular for my constituents who live in west Greenwich, the emissions from the large number of cruise liners that dock at Greenwich pier each year.

In the time available I will argue that the Government must do more to address that problem and that the best means of doing so is by overhauling the fragmented arrangements in place for regulating the Thames and by establishing a coherent and effective emissions control framework for the river that will improve air quality for those communities that live beside it.

The problem of emissions in London and on the Thames in particular is clear, but emissions throughout the United Kingdom are an important issue as well. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that it is important for the Lord Mayor of London, the Port of London Authority, and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to come together to set emission reduction targets and to ensure that they are achieved?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that a huge number of organisations have some regulatory role or other with regards to the river. As I will come on to argue, we need to bring some coherence and simplification to that by means of a single regulator for the Thames.

I do not need to spend much time outlining why air pollution is such a serious problem. There is growing awareness among the public about the fact that the toxic and illegal levels of air pollution across our country are an invisible hazard that contributes to the ill health and premature deaths of tens of thousands of people each year, including thousands of Londoners. There is a growing realisation that air pollution constitutes a public health crisis. The public are perhaps less aware of the fact that shipping emissions, in the form of nitrogen oxide and dioxide, as well as sulphur, are a major source of that pollution. Indeed, if concerted action is not taken, by 2020 shipping will be the biggest single emitter of air pollution in Europe.

As things stand, emissions from vessels on the River Thames are not the most significant contributor to air pollution in London, but their contribution is still significant. In the absence of concerted action, as road and other emissions sources are steadily reduced—for a variety of reasons—emissions from the river will account for a steadily higher proportion of London’s total. Crucially, emissions from the River Thames are necessarily concentrated in riparian parts of London such as Greenwich and Woolwich, which already suffer from incredibly poor air quality, in particular in hotspots such as east Greenwich or Charlton in the vicinity of the A102. That is why more must be done to bear down on emissions generated by vessels using the river, a huge variety of which do so, each and every day.

I have already mentioned that the primary concern in the corner of south-east London that I represent is the extremely large cruise liners that berth at Greenwich ship pier. According to the Port of London Authority, the body responsible for vessels mooring at the pier, 12 cruise liners berthed at Greenwich last year and a total of 14 are set to do so this year. The Minister probably has some sense of the size of vessel in question. They are huge. When berthed, such liners are, in essence, floating hotels and are required—in the absence of the shore-to-ship power for which my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and I were campaigning—to run their engines in order to serve their onboard guests.

I am no shipping expert, but my understanding is that an average cruise liner running its auxiliary engines while berthed burns approximately 700 litres of diesel fuel an hour, the equivalent of 688 idling heavy goods vehicles. By any account, the emissions they generate are considerable.

All such ships must of course comply with international emissions standards. Those are complex, with different standards for nitrogen oxides and sulphur, as well as with greenhouse gases at different tiers, but in general terms they require emissions from vessels to be equivalent to burning 0.1% sulphur fuel or less. That sounds stringent, but those standards need to be set in context. A limit of 0.1% sulphur fuel or less is more than 100 times the amount of sulphur permitted in road diesel.

It is true that river vessels are subject to progressively tightening emissions standards internationally, but it is also the case that new or forthcoming regulatory measures, such as the introduction of the North sea emissions control area from 1 January 2021, are not particularly ambitious. They will not apply to onboard generators used when a vessel is berthed; to vessels built before the date that the area comes into force; or to existing vessels that replace their engines with non-identical ones or that install additional ones. Given that vessels tend to have significantly longer lifespans than road vehicles, the impact of such measures on fleet renewal is likely to be minimal.

Personally, I do not believe that the solution to this problem is to ban all cruise liners from entering London. However, I am convinced that we require more stringent emissions standards for vessels using the River Thames, including cruise liners of the kind that berth at Greenwich Pier, than what is required now or will be required in future years by way of international shipping standards, so that the problem does not exacerbate already poor local air quality and adversely impact on the health of Londoners, in particular those living in developments close to the shoreline.

The barrier to more effective emission standards for vessels on the Thames is the fact that responsibility for regulation of the river is utterly fragmented—that was alluded to by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—and no existing regulator has a clear responsibility for improving air quality or reducing emissions overall. At present, a wide range of organisations either have responsibility for regulating different classes and uses of vessels on the Thames or have commercial influence on them through ownership or tendering. They include the Port of London Authority, the Environment Agency, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, riparian boroughs with boundaries that lie in the river itself, such as Greenwich, and Transport for London. By my calculation, there are more than 20 such organisations with some type of regulatory function.

The inherent conflicts of interest further complicate the problem of regulatory fragmentation. The Port of London Authority, for example, is under pressure to play its part in improving air quality in London and has developed a groundbreaking air quality strategy to that end. It is investing in a comprehensive air quality monitoring programme around Greenwich ship tier and is looking into the practicalities, costs and benefits that shore power might bring to its London moorings. Yet it receives income for the duration of each vessel’s stay at its moorings, including the large cruise liners that berth at Greenwich pier, and it has no formal responsibility to regulate the emissions generated by the vessels to which it issues licences.

That is not a criticism of the PLA or any other organisation with some form of regulatory role on the Thames or commercial influence. In fact, I am confident that each of them is doing as much as it feasibly can within the current framework. For example, Transport for London is developing a pier strategy that could incentivise the use of vessels with high emissions standards, and has led by example by ensuring that the Woolwich ferry service now has upgraded stage V, hybrid vessels, fitted with additional post-exhaust treatment to reduce emissions and an innovative docking system whereby new vehicles do not have to run their engines at berth.

Another example is the Mayor of London, who has allocated £500,000 from his air quality fund to retrofit 11 vessels, and commits in his transport strategy to support proposals to ensure that new and refurbished wharves, piers and canal moorings generate renewable power onsite.

The efforts undertaken by individual organisations, however, are necessarily piecemeal. They are not enough to adequately bear down on harmful emissions generated by vessels across the river as a whole, and they are not an adequate response to the issue of the most concern to those I represent: emissions from cruise liners berthing at Greenwich pier.

Two things are needed to tackle air pollution on the River Thames, alongside the Government’s wider measures for the UK as a whole. I hope the Minister, her officials and her colleagues in other Departments will give them serious consideration. The first is the establishment of a single overarching regulator for the Thames and London waterways, to replace the present fragmented regime. The second is the introduction of a coherent and effective London-wide emissions control framework on the river, to replace the patchwork of diffuse and overlapping responsibilities currently in place.

The current regulatory set-up for vessels on the river is not only complex and opaque but simply inadequate to reduce shipping emissions at the scale and pace required. Let me give a practical example of why that is the case. The various organisations that have responsibility for regulating different classes and uses of vessels on the river must accept each other’s licences in certain circumstances. That means that any positive action by one organisation with regulatory responsibility can easily be undermined by another. It is a classic collective action problem. The PLA’s green tariff, which has been moderately successful at places such as Tilbury, will never work as effectively as a coherent London-wide framework for emissions standards on the river, because its impact can easily be undermined by the behaviour of less proactive organisations.

The situation cries out for a coherent and consistent approach. Replacing the current multi-regulator system with a single overarching one, either by creating a new regulator or by empowering an existing one such as the Port of London Authority, would increase transparency and accountability. It would ensure the consistent application of standards that we do not have at present and, for that reason, it would increase investment in emissions reductions technologies and infrastructure, and in cleaner vessels by operators. It would also reduce bureaucracy as it would necessarily entail a reduction in the number of enforcement and licensing authorities. That new system would require primary legislation but, assuming that the Government are still committed to introducing an environment Bill in the next Session of Parliament, it could easily be achieved by means of that proposed legislation.

I do not pretend to have a detailed blueprint of precisely what powers such a regulator would have; it might simply be authorised to set minimum emissions limits for the Thames that differ from those set internationally by the International Maritime Organisation. It could oversee and enforce a system much like the ultra low emission zone, where standards are set and non-complaint vessels are not banned but simply deterred from using the Thames or incentivised to upgrade by means of appropriate charging structures.

It is important that the Government recognise the case for reform and act. It is right that plans for a polluting Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal have been scrapped for good. However, the demise of the terminal proposal does not mean that the problem of toxic emissions generated by vessels on the Thames has been solved. In the current situation, Londoners who live near, travel on, or work on or close to the river are not adequately protected. My constituents are not protected from air pollution generated by vessels on the Thames, particularly those living in west Greenwich, who must live with emissions from the scores of cruise liners that berth at Greenwich pier each year.

I recognise that the Government’s focus to date has been on tackling shipping emissions at an international level. However, I urge the Minister to work in partnership with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Assembly to give London the means to solve this problem by overhauling the fragmented regulatory arrangements that are currently in place, and by working to introduce a single regulator for the Thames that can oversee and enforce stringent emissions standards. Improving the air quality on and around our capital’s river is an essential part of addressing the public health crisis we face. When it comes to tackling air pollution in London, the River Thames cannot be an afterthought.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) on his perseverance in securing this debate. I read on his blog that he had been putting in for it for some time, and I congratulate him on his tenacity. I welcomed the interventions from the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and our very good friend from Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is right to suggest that, although this debate is about the Thames, there may be similar issues in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Improving air quality and reducing emissions is a top priority for the Government. I assure hon. Members that we are committed to reducing emissions from ships and river transport, to reduce their impact on the environment and subsequently improve public health. While it is important that we continue to improve air quality on the Thames, it is also important to remember that the river has contemporary importance as a transport route and plays a role in reducing congestion and pollution on London roads. For example, the Battersea power station project is using the Thames to transport materials, avoiding road transport, and hon. Members will have seen the barges going past the House of Commons that take a lot of waste out towards east London and beyond.

Unusually, I am assisted today by officials from another Department, as a lot of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich relate to the Department for Transport. Although it is for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to respond to this debate, given the mention of emissions and vessels, I emphasise that our Departments are working together on this issue. I am pleased to be supported by high-level officials from the Department for Transport, who have supplied some helpful notes—and may need to supply a few more if there are further interventions.

Air quality is improving nationally. We published our clean air strategy earlier this year, which the World Health Organisation welcomed as an

“example for the rest of the world to follow”.

I am proud that it is the most ambitious air quality strategy in a generation, which aims to cut air pollution and save lives. It sets out how we will work towards some ambitious targets, working closely across all parts of Government and society to meet those goals. The broad scope of actions outlined in the strategy reflects the fact that if we are to fully address poor air quality, we need to look beyond roadside emissions to the full range of pollution sources that contribute to the problem in a systemic way.

We have new and ambitious goals, intended legislation, investment and policies to help us to clean up our air faster and more effectively. In line with that approach, the clean air strategy identifies shipping and river transport as a potentially significant source of local public exposure to harmful pollutants that we must address. When preparing with officials for the debate, I was under the impression that approximately 1% of London’s emissions are considered to come from the river, and I have more to say on the further work we intend to undertake on that.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the complexity of the regulation of vessels on the River Thames, and the impact on air quality. It is true that there are multiple agencies and authorities with responsibility for regulating the different classes and uses of vessels, including those on the Thames, and for driving efforts to improve air quality in London. He suggests that the system is fragmented. I recognise that it has complexity, which is due to the need to appropriately regulate a diverse group of international, inland and domestic vessels. The intricacy is a barrier to understanding emissions from vessels, and it is increasingly a barrier to identifying where further supportive or regulatory action could be necessary.

The Government recognise that, to tackle emissions from shipping effectively, we need first to have a better understanding of the emissions, and then to review the technical, operational and regulatory options that are available. In July, the Government launched a wide-ranging call for evidence, seeking to close this evidence gap. The call is open until 11 January 2020. The time provided for the call is deliberately lengthy, so that we can maximise participation from groups such as operators of smaller vessels, which tend to be busiest in the warmer summer months.

Let me set out the action that the Government have already taken, and are planning to take in the future, to control emissions from vessels in UK waters and on our waterways. The Government are keen to ensure that air pollution from ships is reduced, with a long-term goal set out in the clean maritime plan to achieve a zero-emissions domestic shipping sector by 2050. Significant action has already been taken to tackle this important issue in a number of key areas.

At UN level, with the International Maritime Organisation, we have consistently pressed for the most stringent international controls in high-risk areas such as the North sea and the English channel, with the result that they are internationally recognised as sulphur emission control areas. In 2015, a sulphur cap of 0.1% was introduced in the North sea emission control area, including the Thames, entailing a tenfold reduction from the previous sulphur limit of 1%. The IMO has further agreed a 0.5% sulphur limit for global shipping outside emission control areas from 1 January 2020—a reduction of 3 percentage points from the current limit.

Importantly for the UK and the Thames region, the IMO has also agreed to the introduction of a NOx emission control area for the North sea from 1 January 2021. As the hon. Gentleman identified, this will reduce NOx emissions from new ships operating in this area by around three quarters. I asked exactly the same question that he did: why does this apply only to new ships? It is because this is the agreed approach on IMO rules. They are applied to new ships only and do not apply retrospectively.

Furthermore, the UK has been at the forefront of pushing for an ambitious strategy at the IMO to reduce greenhouse gases from shipping. Member states have committed to phasing out greenhouse gas emissions from shipping as soon as possible in this century, and by at least 50% by 2050. As part of this work, we have secured mandatory energy efficiency requirements for new ships entering the fleet, with a resulting reduction in fuel consumption and associated air pollution from such vessels.

All these controls have delivered and will continue to deliver major emissions reductions and benefits to air quality. They have also stimulated the development and uptake of alternative fuels, innovative green technologies and new ship designs that offer a long-term route to zero-emissions shipping. The Government intend to introduce the Environment Bill when parliamentary time allows. The principal aim of the air quality provisions in the Bill is to enable stronger, more effective action to be taken on addressing the health impacts associated with poor air quality.

More specifically for shipping, the clean maritime plan that was launched in July establishes the Government’s environmental route map for shipping and builds on the vision found in our “Maritime 2050: navigating the future” publication, which aims to shape up the future of the maritime sector and includes a long-term vision of zero-emissions shipping. The core commitments in the clean maritime plan include a call in 2020 for evidence on non-tax incentives to support the transition to zero-emissions shipping, a consultation on how the renewable transport fuel obligation could be used to encourage the uptake of low-carbon fuels in the maritime sector, and a green finance initiative that will be launched next week during London international shipping week. As the DFT has written this part of the speech, I hope I have not done an unscheduled release of that information—I am sure the Department is being careful.

We have set up a working group and study to identify and support potential UK zero-emissions shipping clusters, which could include the Thames. There is also Government support for clean maritime innovation in the United Kingdom, including funding of £1.3 million to support clean maritime innovation through Maritime Research and Innovation UK—MarRI-UK. There is grant support for early-stage research projects related to clean maritime, and a Clean Maritime Award to celebrate leaders in the field of emissions reduction. A maritime emissions regulation advisory service—MERAS—will be in place by 2020 to provide dedicated support to innovators using zero-emissions propulsion technologies. The clean maritime plan also contains a number of zero-emissions shipping ambitions and outlines the Government’s vision for the future of zero-emissions shipping and the milestones that will need to be achieved to reach it.

The clean maritime plan was launched on the Thames, with the port of London’s first hybrid tug alongside, and it is intended to be the first step in a journey to deliver zero-emissions shipping in the UK. The Government welcome and encourage Thames stakeholders to engage with the MarRI-UK innovation fund, and to consider how our plans for green finance could support emissions reductions on the river. As I highlighted at the start of my response, the call for evidence is currently open and seeks to gather information on emissions from vessels operating domestically in UK waters, including inland waterways such as the Thames. The outcome will play a key role in formulating future policies.

The hon. Gentleman specifically asked about what could be done to have a London-wide framework for emissions standards. It is interesting to consider how we can make that work together—particularly with the Mayor for London, but also with the Department for Transport. My understanding is that, with all the different bodies to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, the Government do not deem it appropriate to have a single body undertake such work in the future. I appreciate that it might appear complex, but once we have the information to understand the source of emissions, it will allow the bodies that already work together rather effectively to do that even more, with the evidence to support that work.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to existing cruise liners. I recognise that the proposals for Enderby wharf have been dropped, but it is important to stress that we need to make changes at the IMO, which is an international organisation, and to the international nature of shipping, so that, as an island nation, we can continue to make sensible progress as we go forward.

By sharing some of the detail of the clean maritime plan—the hon. Gentleman referred to aspects of technology that he hopes will come along further—I hope I have addressed many of the points that he raised. I can assure him that the Government are committed to addressing emissions from shipping, including both our international and domestic fleets.

Before the Minister brings her remarks to a close—I appreciate the complexity and cross-departmental nature of this issue, so I am happy for her to write to me—it would be good to have some idea about what dialogue is happening between her Department, DFT, the Mayor of London and the Deputy Mayor on the issue of a single regulator. I note what she says about the Government’s position, but they are convinced that this is the way forward.

Well, I will not commit to write to the hon. Gentleman personally, but I will share his request with the Maritime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani). I know she is a responsive Minister and will do her best to work on that.

We have taken concerted action internationally to tackle emissions from ships. We are working actively to better understand the domestic issues in order to inform future policy decisions. I invite the hon. Gentleman and his constituents, and indeed all hon. Members who represent constituencies along the Thames, to participate in the call for evidence that will shape our next steps.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

LGBT Community and Acceptance Teaching

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered teaching on LGBT community and acceptance in schools.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I am glad to be able to highlight lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender tolerance and education and acceptance in schools. I called for the debate for two main reasons. The first is the protests at schools in Birmingham that I have seen on television recently. My constituency is in that region, and in the past few months an increasing number of protests have been held outside Birmingham schools, with parents protesting vociferously against any form of LGBT teaching. The second is that my House of Commons researcher came to see me the other day to highlight a situation in which a friend of his had come out to him, crying, very upset and vulnerable. He did not know how he was going to broach the subject with his family. It is clearly worrying that even in 2019 there are still young people who are fearful of broaching with their most intimate and closest friends and family members the subject of who they are falling in love with and their sexuality.

I was born in communist Poland. I believe I am the only Conservative Member of Parliament to have been born in a communist country—[Interruption.] I am; I have checked it out. I assure you, Sir Roger, that the society of communist Poland was highly intolerant of LGBT people. The Catholic Church in Poland—and I speak as a Roman Catholic—was at the forefront of teaching young people and society at large that being gay was a sin, that it should be punished and that people who had the temerity to fall in love with a same-sex partner would ultimately go to hell. They would be condemned to purgatory and hell because they happened to be gay.

That had a huge impact on a generation of children in communist Poland as they evaluated their self-worth and how they felt about themselves, given that the Church and state were so homophobic. The irony—again, I speak as a Roman Catholic—is that we have subsequently come across so many cases and prosecutions of Catholic priests, whether in Ireland, America or many other countries around the world. Catholic priests have been informing us from the pulpit what a sin homosexuality is, but in their spare time, when mass is over, they have been going out and sexually abusing young boys on an industrial scale. I do not believe that the Roman Catholic Church has apologised enough, either in this country or around the world, for the appalling abuses that Roman Catholic priests carried out over decades against young, vulnerable and innocent boys. Many will inevitably suffer mental angst and torture as a consequence of those vile acts of abuse against young children.

We face different situations. I think that because I was brought up in such a homophobic society, as a young person I was inevitably conditioned—I used that word in an interview with Radio Shropshire today—to think that homosexuality was bad and a sin, and that you should feel ashamed of being gay. What do you do? Some young people have the confidence and conviction to set that aside. They will say, from a very young age, “No, I am gay and I am proud.” Other people do not have that confidence, so they hide what and who they are. They will hide under rocks or under stones and not peek out because they are fearful of the consequences for them and their families of showing that they are proud in being gay.

I have to say that when I was a young person, I actually went as far as to try to trick my own brain into thinking I was straight. You do it over and over again. You pray to God, “Please, could I be a heterosexual and be interested only in women?” so that he will change you somehow and you will not have these strange feelings. You try to trick the brain. The most important thing I have learned in my 47 years is that you cannot trick the brain. You can do almost anything, but you cannot reprogramme your mind and your brain to be something sexually that you are not.

When it was time to come out, I had to go back to Shrewsbury to inform the Shrewsbury Conservative association that, having been married to a lady for 10 years, I was now in a same-sex relationship. I was so fearful, given the conditioning I had gone through as a child, that I had to go and talk to the House of Commons health and wellbeing service. They are, as you know, Sir Roger, great people who help Members of Parliament through periods of stress and strain and mental problems. I pay tribute to the wonderful men and women who work in the health and wellbeing service who helped me so much to have the confidence and courage to go back to Shrewsbury to announce to my local association that I was now in a same-sex partnership. I have to say that, although they had coaxed me into it, when I was on the train from London to Shrewsbury, I prayed on, I think, three separate occasions for the train to break down. I still could not quite face it. I hoped that there would be some sort of godly intervention—something would happen and a tree would fall on the track—or the train would be delayed and I would miss my connection and not have to deal with it. The train arrived at Shrewsbury train station on time, unusually, and I went to see my local association.

I gave my monthly report to the 50 most senior members of Shrewsbury Conservative association, who were sitting in front of me in the room. I went through what was happening here in the House of Commons, politics and some of our achievements in securing investment for Shrewsbury in the last quarter. I looked at the 50 faces in front of me. As I am sure everyone will agree, members of political parties—Conservatives and Labour—are marvellous men and women. They are the hard workers who go out there in the rain, delivering leaflets, organising campaigns and taking abuse on the doorstep. We get paid, but they do it for free. I always say that these men and women are the salt of the earth. They believe in their nation, whatever their politics, whether they be Labour or Conservative. As you know, Sir Roger, a Member of Parliament relies on members of the executive council and senior members of the association. We could not do the job that we do if it were not for those people.

When I announced to them that I was in a same-sex partnership, I looked at the 50 faces. A gentleman in the front row who was a traditional Conservative party member—he was wearing a striped jacket and was a brigadier-general-type figure—immediately stood up straight, like a military man, and said, “Well, I think that’s marvellous. Well done.” He started to clap, and then it was as if a sea of people in front of me all stood up and started to clap. They were coming up to me and giving me hugs. We were in the bar area and they wanted to buy me whisky. Rather than a double whisky, I went away with a tumbler of whisky because all the men were trying to buy me double Scotches.

That will stay with me forever. It is in those moments in life when you throw yourself into a situation where you do not know what is going to happen or how people are going to react, that you see raw humanity in operation. The love, kindness and sincerity with which my Shrewsbury Conservative association treated me will stay with me forever, and it will also empower me for the rest of my life.

I want to mention a lovely gentleman from Shrewsbury Conservatives called Ray Mitchell, who has now passed away. He ran election campaigns as if they were the battle of Tobruk, with hardcore military precision. He knew every road and ensured that people had the correct number of bundled leaflets for every person in every street. He ran a military operation to get my campaign literature across the whole constituency every time a general election was called. He came up to me at the end of my speech, when everyone was hugging and cheering, and said, “I would like a word with you alone, outside, please.” I thought, “Oh no. Here we go. Somebody is really upset with what I’ve said and now I’m going to get it with both barrels.” He said, “Just come outside for a minute. I want a private word with you.” As you know, Sir Roger, an association is divided into different wards. He said, “I hear that you have given one of the other wards a bottle of House of Commons Scotch from the Prime Minister. Can we have one?” He said, “I couldn’t give a monkeys about your sexuality. I’m upset that you’ve given them a bottle of House of Commons Scotch but you haven’t got one for us. Would you mind terribly getting us one?” I wanted to share that story because it meant so much to me at the time.

In 2017 I went to 10 Downing Street for the premiere of an LGBT film marking the 50th anniversary of the rescinding of jail sentences for LGBT people. In the audience there were many senior citizens who had faced prison sentences in the 1950s and whose friends had been incarcerated. They themselves had had to live their whole lives in fear and worry about being exposed as gay and, ultimately, being sent to prison. Seeing those people at that film was an important event in my life.

I pay tribute to Mr Geoffrey Hardy, who has campaigned for LGBT issues in Shrewsbury for many decades. In 2005, thanks to the Labour Administration, he was able to undertake a civil partnership. He and his partner Peter had been together for 25 years, and were the first couple in Shropshire to have a civil partnership. He wrote to me to say:

“BBC Radio Shropshire broadcast the cheer from the Registry Office and the Shropshire Star put it on the front page. The reaction we had when driving through Shrewsbury, pink ribbons on the front of a vintage Bentley, was overwhelmingly positive, an emotional time for us. Civil Partnerships were a huge step change in acceptance of our lives and relationships.”

I pay tribute to the Labour Government for introducing civil partnerships and reiterate this sentence:

“Civil Partnerships were a huge step change in acceptance of our lives and relationships.”

Of course, the subsequent Conservative Government introduced equal marriage; I will come to that later.

Mr Hardy has been at the forefront of creating the Shropshire Rainbow Film Festival, which started in 2006 and has gone from strength to strength. He writes:

“In 2011, we advertised with banners across the streets—a huge step forward. Year upon year, the Festival has become very successful and more heterosexual people have attended, realising that our lives and experiences are not separate.”

He has written the words “banners across the streets” in bold and underlined them. This is about being proud to be gay and proud that there is a film festival promoting LGBT rights and experiences. This is not in metropolitan London, but in quiet, sleepy Shrewsbury. The huge enthusiasm for LGBT rights in Shrewsbury comes to the fore in everything that Mr Hardy has been telling me over the years. He is a staunch socialist and a strong Jeremy Corbyn supporter, so Members can imagine how little he and I have in common when it comes to politics, but we are kindred spirits when it comes to promoting LGBT rights and sharing our experiences.

Mr Hardy goes on to talk about the campaign for equal marriage. The Roman Catholic bishop was often on the front page of the Shropshire Star opposing it. He says:

“We distributed fliers, wristbands and encouraged people to write to their local Members of Parliament.”

That is an important issue to highlight. I remember the debate we had on equal marriage. It was a difficult issue for me: at that stage, I had not come out and many constituents wrote to me, angry and furious that we could even be contemplating equal marriage. Same-sex partnerships were one thing and civil partnerships were another, but hon. Members will remember the anger, antagonism and frustration about equal marriage. People felt it was a step too far—that marriage was only between men and women, and that we should not be pursuing it. It was difficult for me at that time, but I voted for equal marriage and I am proud to have done so. I am even more proud that a Conservative Government put it on the statute book.

A very religious couple from the village of Condover—I will not mention their names—spent the day with me on the day we were passing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. They and their two children had lunch with me in the House of Commons. Their son had been at Shrewsbury School and was now a doctor in Manchester. The mother, who was a strong Protestant, turned to me and said something that will stay with me forever. She said, “You have to vote for equal marriage because I don’t want my son living in sin.” Just remember that for a moment: it came from a devout Protestant lady.

Lastly from Mr Hardy, there is Shrewsbury carnival Pride. LGBT Shrewsbury has joined with the Shrewsbury town carnival; we have a wonderful town carnival that goes through the whole of Shrewsbury and the Quarry every year, and we have massive floats. We are not quite Rio de Janeiro in Shrewsbury, but we do our best. We have all these floats going through the town, and for many years now we have had an LGBT float. I stood there watching one year, with my partner of eight years, and to see the applause and cheering from all young people in Shrewsbury for that float was something very powerful for me. I am very grateful for that. Of course, the LGBT float has received many prizes over the years.

Getting back to specifically the schools element on this, I wanted to read out something that Stonewall sent me. It is a quote from Joshua, 19, from Scotland. He says:

“I think there needs to be a fundamental rethink about how we teach young people about sex, love and relationships. LGBT issues need to be an important part of our curriculum in order for us to truly feel we are part of an equal society.”

Stonewall sent me a lot of evidence, and another quote that struck me was this—I would like hon. Members to really listen and remember it:

“A growing number of faith schools”—

not ordinary schools, but faith schools—

“are delivering LGBT-inclusive teaching. They are doing this not in spite of their faith ethos, but because of it—by recognising the values of love, tolerance and acceptance that lie at the heart of their faith.”

That is such an important quote because—I have said this from my own experiences of Roman Catholicism, but it also applies to certain Muslim groups and others—the intolerance toward homosexuality, I would argue, goes squarely against the teachings of those religions, especially my religion of Catholicism, which seeks to promote love, tolerance and acceptance. That is very important to remember.

Ahead of this debate, the House of Commons decided to post on Facebook to ask for people’s views and experiences of teaching on LGBT community and acceptance in schools. There are two quotes that I think are relevant and that I wanted to share. One is from somebody at Lacuna magazine, a magazine that promotes human rights. This person writes:

“When I think of how the knot in my teenage heart could have been loosened if I had even one lesson at school telling me I wasn’t broken or put together wrong...I realise that this isn’t a religious or even spiritual debate. It’s a matter of human rights.”

There was also a quote from the National Secular Society:

“We agree wholeheartedly with Daniel Kawczynski MP that it is important to make sure all children, from an early age, are taught that there is nothing wrong with being gay. We also agree that doing so would help to improve mental health and reduce bullying and abuse. We fully support efforts to make education in the UK inclusive for all. We urge the government to ensure every child, regardless of their religious background, leaves school in the knowledge that LGBT+ people are equal and that it’s perfectly OK to be gay.”

I am going to wrap up shortly, but I want to ask the Minister about the LGBT action plan that the Government have put in place. Of course, it has not received sufficient attention because of the merry-go-round that is Brexit and the focus on that, but I ask the Minister about one thing that particularly appals me: conversion therapy. I think of conversion therapy as some sort of Frankenstein’s monster of abuse—not only physical abuse, but mental torture. I could not imagine anybody possibly wanting to send their child to have it.

As I have said, it is impossible to recalibrate the mind. It is impossible to trick the mind. It is impossible to turn somebody from being gay to being straight. The mental angst and torture that children would go through in conversion therapy deeply troubles me. I call on the Minister to explain to us when the practice will be outlawed in the United Kingdom and to give me an update on the matter.

On the one hand, I respect the rights of the parents outside schools in Birmingham to demonstrate. Nobody wants our children to have overtly sexual things in schools at an inappropriately young age. This is a delicate matter and it must be treated with a huge amount of sensitivity. However, I appeal to those protestors: what sort of a message does it send out to young LGBT people when we see the anger, the rage and the vitriol emanating from them on LGBT issues?

By all means, if they have concerns about LGBT acceptance and education in schools, they ought to be coming to see the Minister, lobbying Government and questioning and probing all the time about how it will be implemented and what the sensitivities are, but I appeal to them to show some tolerance and some civility, given how vulnerable young people are at that stage, and not to do anything that sets young people thinking that they are not worthy and somehow unequal. I went through that as a young person, and I do not want young people to go through that again.

I will take an intervention from the right hon. and learned Lady, somebody from the Labour Benches whom I respect enormously—that has probably done her career no good whatever, but she is.

I was finding it difficult to know when to intervene on the hon. Gentleman’s speech, because it has been so powerful and heartfelt that I have no words, except to say how much I applaud absolutely everything he has said. I want him to know that I think his words here today will mean that the knot in many teenage hearts will have been loosened. I feel so proud that he is a Member of our House and that he has used his own personal experience, as well as his analysis, to make this speech. It has been very important and I thank him for doing it.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady and I pay tribute to her. She has been a stalwart of campaigning for equality on LGBT issues—and not just today, when it is easier so to do; she was at the forefront of campaigning on LGBT issues back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, when it was not so easy. She is not part of the LGBT community herself, so her empathy on this issue just shows how pioneering and visionary she is, and the integrity and honour that she has always displayed as a Member of the House of Commons.

I end on this point. I am not really a football fan so I do not follow football, but recently a famous footballer was apparently going to come out, but he decided not to. It was all over the radio that he was going to announce that he was out and start raising LGBT issues, and then he decided to back off. I say to him, publicly and on television, and to anyone who has a position of responsibility or a public profile, whether they are footballers, play for England’s rugby team, are television presenters or are a Member of Parliament, if someone is gay and they have come out, it is extremely important to do what I am doing today—to carry on talking and giving assurance to young people that, if they go through this process, 99 out of every 100 people will show them love, tolerance and understanding.

I took my beloved mother on holiday to our favourite Polish seaside resort with my partner, Fernando, and I would like to inform hon. Members that after eight years of being together, Fernando and I are going to have a civil partnership ceremony in the House of Commons on 9 November. It is on a Saturday and even if we have an election I will abandon campaigning to come back for my civil partnership; I am not going to leave my hubby at the altar just because of the general election—I can tell you that for nothing!

We have a duty and a responsibility to carry on talking and to give people confidence in the extraordinary, positive experiences that we have had with our fellow men and women in society and to demonstrate how loving and tolerant they are to us.

I took my mother on holiday and she gave me one example of prejudice. My mother lives in Gloucestershire, but every election time, she comes to Shrewsbury. Nobody works harder than my mum when it comes to handing out leaflets on doorsteps and canvassing. I was talking to her about this debate, and she told me a story. Two men in Shrewsbury—I will not mention where—looked at her in horror when she told them that she was campaigning for Daniel Kawczynski and that she was his mum. They looked at her with disgust and said to her, “Of course we are not going to vote for that deviant.” It is a shame, is it not, that we can never reason with prejudice? There are always going to be prejudiced people in our society. She was upset, of course, that they would say that to her. I would hope that they would assess me and any other gay Member of Parliament on our politics and what party we stand for, rather than on whom we love and want to be with.

I remember watching Margaret Thatcher in 1979, when she was asked on television how she could be Prime Minister when she was a woman. In 1979, many people were fearful and questioned the ability of a woman to be Prime Minister. I will never forget that Margaret Thatcher said that it was as well that those people did not live in the period of Elizabeth I. What would have happened to our great nation if it was not for great women such as Elizabeth I and what they did for our country? Margaret Thatcher fought against prejudice when it came to women standing in politics and achieving the highest office. Today, in a different way, we are standing against the prejudice that still exists in our country.

I have been to more than 90 countries in the world through business and politics. This is one of the most, if not the most, tolerant and welcoming of societies that I have come across in any country in the world. Sometimes, I think because we are British, we tend to hide our light under a bushel. We ought to be extraordinarily proud, despite our huge political differences over Brexit and other issues, of the beacon of tolerance that this country is, compared with other countries around the world— 16 of which still have the death penalty for someone who happens to love a person of the same sex. We need to promote and celebrate tolerance, not only in our own country, but as a beacon for other countries around the world that are on the path towards where we are today.

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I particularly want to thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing this debate. His personal reflections bring so much to the debate. It is genuinely inspiring. I know that young LGBT children and adults will be listening, and to see that someone is able to speak out in this place and be proud to speak out is so inspiring.

I want to reflect on the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks about young people internalising the perceived shame of being gay, and his closing remarks about the intolerance in society and how that can impact on young LGBT children’s lives. For me, relationship education is about keeping all children safe. We have to be aware that four in five young trans children and three in five young LGB children self-harm, and that two in five trans children and one in five LGB children contemplate taking their own lives because of the pressure put on them by an intolerant society. That is why, along with colleagues and charities, I campaigned so hard for relationship education, particularly at primary school age. I firmly believe that its introduction will have a transformational effect on the next generation, supporting them to form healthy relationships, be tolerant, recognise harms and have safe sex.

We know that LGBT young people are often more vulnerable, face greater risks and have lower levels of wellbeing than their peers. Robust, age-appropriate relationships and sex education that is inclusive of LGBT young people and integrates them fully into the curriculum can help to reduce those risks. Research has shown that LGB young people are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour, including unprotected sex. Sex education at secondary school will give pupils information about safe sex and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Young people need to be aware of the facts. They need to appreciate the importance of condoms and know how to use them properly. They need to be aware of post-exposure prophylaxis, pre-exposure prophylaxis—anti-HIV medications—and where they can find out more information.

LGB young people are also at risk online, being more likely than non-LGB peers to experience online victimisation and have online sexual conversations with people five years older or more. Studies have shown that gay and bisexual boys are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by those of the same sex. RSE will support young people to recognise the dangers of grooming and educate them to spot dangers online. RSE can support all young people to make sensible decisions about meeting up with strangers and using relationship apps intended for adults such as Tinder or Grindr, and, importantly, can teach them about consent, particularly informed consent.

RSE is not a silver bullet, but my hope is that it will help to address some of the wider issues LGBT young people also face, such as mental health issues and bullying. The evidence tells us that adolescence is the most difficult period for people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. While attitudes have improved in the UK, it is still very difficult for young people to come out and access information from support services. LGBT pupils and their families will see their existence validated by RSE lessons. Young people will see LGBT people represented alongside non-LGBT people in educational materials. They will hear that in modern Britain, our families come in all shapes and sizes—single parents, adoptive parents, same-sex parents. They will learn, alongside their peers, of the joys of relationships as well as how to avoid the harms. Slowly and surely, we may begin to see some of the differences in outcomes that I mentioned shrink, and—hopefully in the not too distant future—disappear entirely.

I ask the Minister to ensure that teachers have the training and resources needed to deliver high quality LGBT-inclusive education. I urge the Government to hold firm and continue to publicly encourage primary schools to deliver LGBT-inclusive education.

I want to mention some of the myths and the excitement brewing around relationships education in primary schools. The main message in relation to children in primary schools being taught relationships education is that it is up to the parent to teach it; it is the parent’s choice to teach it. Of course it is, and we are looking at the parent doing that teaching every evening and every weekend. However, I campaigned for relationships education because I want to prevent harm to children. We must acknowledge that 90% of child abuse happens within the extended family. With the best will in the world, if a child has an abusive parent or close family member, how exactly are they meant to know that what is happening to them is wrong unless they get that one lesson where a teacher explains to them what abuse is and how to report it? It does not undermine the parents teaching whatever they want to teach in the other hours of the day, but that one lesson could save a child from harm and the lifelong impact of abuse.

Relationships education and sex and relationships education are about safeguarding and preventing abuse. I congratulate the Minister on all his work. He worked extensively to listen to all parties and all sides of the debate, and he has come up with a solution that is genuinely focused on preventing harm to the child, but, more importantly, creating a more tolerant and accepting society, which we all want.

I join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on initiating this debate and on his moving and inspiring speech in which he explained the importance of the subject.

I am pleased to be able to take part in the debate both as an ordinary Member of this House and as chair of the all-party group on global LGBT rights—one of the largest APPGs in this Parliament. Much of our work focuses on the need to ensure that the terrible abuses of LGBT+ people around the world do not happen and on pressing for action to deal with it. In doing that, we have to ensure that we uphold the highest standards in our own country. After the conclusion of equal marriage legislation in England and Wales, which was followed rapidly by Scotland, it was easy to think that the legislative journey was largely complete in most of the United Kingdom and that we could lift our sights and look at what was happening globally. Of course, there is unfinished business in our own country: equal marriage in Northern Ireland, for a start.

There are also continuing concerns about the bullying of young people and discrimination in the workplace, and particular concerns about the lack of role models in certain sports and the need to ensure that young people and their heroes fully reflect the diversity of today’s society. So much work still needs to be done, particularly in schools.

We know from Stonewall’s school survey that there has been an absence of the kind of sex and relationships education that children need to ensure that they can be safe and that they understand that relationships can be different but are just as valid, and that if they themselves are different it is nothing to worry about. All that is immensely important, so I welcome the guidance that the Government issued this year. It was intended to strengthen sex and relationships education guidance in secondary schools and relationships education in primary schools.

However, there are issues that we need to consider. The first has been brought into sharp relief by the protests outside Birmingham schools. I attended a meeting of representatives of Parkfield school in Birmingham that was organised in this House a month or two ago.

I had already been pretty horrified by the film that we all watched on the news of the protests that took place outside the schools. I was even more alarmed when I listened to the evidence of the leaders of the schools and heard about the pressures that they felt they had been put under by the parents. They raised an issue that I want to put to the Minister; I do this in as neutral a way as I can, but I want to understand what the Government’s view is. Although relationships education has effectively been made discretionary for primary schools, the view of the headteachers was that it should not be. They felt that the fact that it was discretionary placed a huge burden of responsibility on them and made them the targets of parental protest.

It would be easier for those leaders if it was very clear to every school what it was required to teach. There might be good reasons why the policy was framed in such a way by the Government, so I am not criticising them, but I want to understand what the rationale is, and I question whether the guidance offered to schools needs to be more explicit or whether more effort needs to be made to ensure that the guidance can be implemented by schools without their fearing any kind of repercussion.

The second issue concerns protests outside schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said much that I agreed with, but I did not agree when he said that he respected the right to demonstrate outside schools. I question whether it is ever right to have protests, particularly of the kind that we have seen, outside school gates. I note that the new Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson), said that there was no place for protests outside schools, and I agree—particularly when it comes to primary schools.

When the protests are vociferous and bullying, they must be intimidating to parents, and if they are intimidating to parents, what can their children—their young children—be thinking? Most of us who saw the film and the way in which the parents conducted themselves outside the schools—the manner in which they hectored—found it disturbing. We are, of course, all proud of living in a country where peaceful protest is permitted. The fundamental nature of our democracy allows that, but we have always understood that where protest spills over into harassment, it is not acceptable. It becomes criminal. Good policing relies on the ability to exercise a judgment about where the line has been crossed. There is a real question about whether such protests should be allowed right outside the school gate because they are harassing, so it is important that that issue is looked at.

The third issue I want to raise concerns resources. The new guidance is, as I said, welcome, but a question has been raised by Stonewall, which does excellent work in this and other areas, about whether there is sufficient resource to ensure that schools can receive the training and information that they need to implement the new guidance. The Government’s estimate of the amount of money needed was a sum considerably in excess of the £6 million being made available. Today the Chancellor has made the immensely welcome announcement of a spending uplift for our schools. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to say whether he thinks more resource will be available to schools, to ensure that that important new guidance can be implemented effectively.

I was heartened by the statement of the new Education Secretary that headteachers should be

“able to teach about Britain as it is today.”

I think that headteachers, school governors, chairs of governors and teachers need to know that the strongest possible lead is being given by Ministers and this place about the importance of same-sex relationships education. I question the extent to which we should license any suggestion that it is right to prevent teaching that same-sex relationships are valid. We have, I think, got past the point where we believe it is acceptable to sell goods on a discriminatory basis. We have outlawed that.

We have outlawed discriminating against people in the workplace. In many areas of public life now, we are absolutely clear that discrimination on the grounds of sexuality is simply unacceptable, so I question why it might be acceptable to prevent a school from teaching children even of a relatively young age that same-sex relationships are valid. I am not sure that we should be tolerant about those who try to prevent that, if we are going to uphold the values that we hold dear in this country. To allow the importance of that kind of teaching to be swept aside seems to me potentially to be subjecting young children to understanding the wrong thing at a formative age.

We should be resolute about universal values of equality, right from the top, and transmit those values to every school. I am afraid that if there are those who say they do not want that validity to be taught, we have to face that down, just as we do if people say they would like to be able to exclude gay couples from their bed and breakfasts, or to be able not to employ a gay person, or to be able not to offer a service to gay couples. We do not tolerate that any more. Why should we tolerate what I have described? We have to be clear about that precisely because the age in question is such an important one, at which children should be taught about our common values.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham mentioned the Catholic Church. A few months ago, I attended a meeting in the Vatican with my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), who is the secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. It was intended to be a meeting with the Pope but in the end it was with the Cardinal Secretary of State. It was to discuss with Baroness Helena Kennedy, the International Bar Council and others the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality.

Our proposal was that the Church could and should at least condemn violence against LGBT people. It has immense influence and importance in many regions of the world—particularly south America and southern Africa. It is a shame that there is not a stronger stance on the part of leaders of the Catholic Church against something that, whatever our views on homosexuality and the validity of homosexual relationships, we should all be able to agree on: that violence against anyone is wrong. The Catholic Church should be able to say that, and it would be immensely powerful if it could.

In my work as chair of the new Global Equality Caucus, tying up parliamentarians from across the world to promote LGBT+ rights, I go to many different countries to talk to parliamentarians about those issues. Next week I will be talking to Czech parliamentarians about same-sex marriage. The following week I will be in Tokyo talking to Japanese politicians and others from the Asia-Pacific region about equality issues. We have to be able to hold our heads up high in doing that, and I think for the most part we can, but this is unfinished business in our schools. I am grateful for the robust stance that the Government have taken, but they must see it through with the clearest possible guidance, leadership and support for the teachers who are being oppressed in Birmingham and elsewhere, and with the resources to match.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who spoke with such passion, honesty and authenticity. In these debates we often talk about what happens to LGBT young people and tell their coming out stories. Sometimes we neglect those who come out a little later in life and their difficulties with the norms that have been built around them, especially if they come from a more overtly heterosexual relationship into discovering who they are and being honest about it. It is harder, and the courage of the hon. Gentleman’s speech today is to his credit. I thank him for tabling the debate.

I am pleased to see that the Minister is still in his place after the reshuffle. He and I have spent much time talking about schools in Plymouth, and I shall try to include some relevant experiences in my remarks today.

It is right that every child in our schools should know about the world—both about the difficulties in the world, and about the things that are amazing in it. They should be taught about families, communities and about right and wrong. That is not exclusively the role of teachers and teaching assistants. Parents, communities, grandparents and friends have a role as well, but we must make sure that every child knows that they have worth and are loved, and that they have rights. They have the right not to be abused and the right to make decisions about what happens to their own bodies. That type of education must be provided universally—to all our children—which is why teaching sex and relationships education is so important.

The Minister and I have spoken about that a few times. I should be grateful if he would talk about how we are to make such provision for children who are home-schooled. In Plymouth there has been a great rise in the number of home-schooled children, and sometimes that is because they have been excluded. I am concerned about the increase in the number of exclusions, in relation to Government policy, and what it will mean for kids, particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities or mental health problems, who are unable to cope and get the support they need in mainstream education, and who are taught outside those environments. How are we making sure that all the home-schooled kids get the understanding that kids in more traditional education settings get?

It is right that we say there is nothing wrong with being LGBT. The right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said that we should not tolerate anyone who discriminates. That is right, but the key to not tolerating things is the recognition that the hate has not gone away. That is important because there is a belief, now that we have legislative barriers to prevent discrimination, that we have crossed the Rubicon and are suddenly in an age of equality with no discrimination. However, those legislative barriers do not mean that hostility to equality—that uncomfortableness based on traditional values, religious views or misapprehensions or misunderstandings—has not gone away; people have just felt unable to voice it.

That is the type of anger that was sometimes articulated in the Brexit debates—people had views that they did not feel they could express. The key to dealing with discrimination in the matters in question is not just to call out hate and bigotry—although we must do that. It is also about education. It is about helping people understand what their neighbours are like and why it matters that we celebrate our diversity in all our communication. That is why education is key and why the debate about SRE in schools has been so powerful. Instead of being a debate about negatives, it has been about positives. It is about saying, “Look what can be achieved if we show every single child that they have value and worth and that diversity matters.” It is something positive.

There are fantastic spokespeople. The right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs mentioned Stonewall, which has fantastic advocates, but they are not the only ones. There are many more besides. I want in particular to pay tribute to one of my heroes, whom I met recently, Olly Pike, the LGBT author. Writing LGBT children’s books can have a profound effect on young people.

I gave my young nephew the book “And Tango Makes Three”, which I have spoken about in the main Chamber. It is about a pair of gay penguins who adopt a baby penguin, and it is a wonderful, beautiful story that fits well on his little bookshelf. The thing that makes it so perfect is that it makes no difference to my nephew whether they are two boy penguins or a man and a woman—it is just normal. We teach discrimination into children; if we do not do that, they will not have it. I am proud of that, and people such as Olly Pike and the authors of “And Tango Makes Three” make such a big contribution.

When speaking about LGBT education, it is important not to say “LGBT” as if it is one word that covers one type of person. As someone who is proud to be gay, I fit into the “G” bit, which frequently dominates much of the debate because much of it is made up of white men, who tend to dominate lots of discussions—they just do. That frequently means that the “L” voices—the lesbian community—get drowned out and do not have that self-worth. Certainly—this is discrimination even within the gay community—if someone is a “B”, or bisexual, there is still no validity in that. There is still a concern—“Oh, they haven’t made their mind up yet.” We have heard it time and again, including in our LGBT culture, and it reduces the validity of people who are bisexual.

Then we have trans people, and especially young trans people, which is where, to borrow the phrase of the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, we have huge unfinished business to deal with. The stats presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) show that far too many of our young trans kids are harming themselves. According to figures from Stonewall, 27% of our trans kids have attempted suicide, nine in 10 have thought about it, 72% have attempted self-harm, and four in five say that they have been verbally abused because of who they are. That is not good enough. As a culture, society and country we must set an objective to eliminate that type of abuse, and we can do that only if we put effort into educating not just our children but society as a whole. It is amazing what powerful teachers children can be when teaching friends and family about what they learned in school that day, or teaching others that something is not right.

Pride events are a powerful form of teaching. This year, sadly, Plymouth Pride was called off due to high winds, and because the 60 mph gusts could have lifted the rather fabulous stage into the crowd. That was probably a good reason for the organisers to cancel it. The passion generated by such events, however, has refocused people’s dedication to make Plymouth Pride 2020 even bigger, and hopefully it will involve more of our armed forces. Next year is the 20th anniversary of members of the armed forces being able to serve openly as LGBT members. We should celebrate that, and I hope the Government and Defence Ministers will provide a steer. We should be proud of everyone who serves in uniform, whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, lesbian or trans. At a time when our biggest ally, America, is not pursuing such policies towards trans members of its own military, we should be proud to make a distinction and say that trans members are welcome and valued in our military.

Hate is on the rise, and education in our schools is one way of challenging that. I spoke to some young kids about an incident that happened during a match between Northampton Town and Plymouth Argyle at the weekend. A young person was concerned by what they had read in the local paper about homophobic abuse that was shouted by a member of the green army—Plymouth Argyle’s travelling fans—at a Northampton Town home fan. They described the initial chants of, “Who’s the queer in the pink?”, which was aimed at a fan, and shouts of “faggot”. This young person was disturbed by that, because they did not want that hate in their game. That was really powerful.

In the past, as a gay football supporter, I have not always felt that football has done enough to promote equality. However, for young people in Plymouth who are growing up gay, or who recognise that they live in a diverse society, this statement from Plymouth Argyle is immensely warming:

“Plymouth Argyle Football Club is a community-focused, values-driven organisation…It is our legal duty to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the basis of age; disability; gender reassignment; pregnancy and maternity; marriage and civil partnership; ethnicity; religion and belief; gender; and sexual orientation.”

How many times have we heard a football club state so clearly the values that we all hold dear? The club should be praised for its quick and speedy response, as should the Argyle fans’ trust, and particularly its chair, Andy Symons, for saying that we will not accept hate in our game. It needs to be kicked out, just as we attempt to kick out racism. The rainbow laces promoted by the Football Association and Stonewall should contribute to kicking out from our game discrimination against LGBT people.

As a football fan, growing up with an entire set of straight models, without a single gay role model in football, affected my idea that I was associated with it. Young people growing up at the moment need role models from different societies. In the 1980s, if someone was out in the media, they were a flamboyant queen; that was how they protected themselves against discrimination and they made it part of their act. They were colourful, loud and brash, which is how they coped with people calling them “queer” or “faggot”. That is great for a small part of the LGBTQ community, but the vast majority of us need a range of role models from different workplaces and walks of life, and that can directly contribute to teaching diversity in our schools.

There is rising hate in society. After the “defend democracy” protest, someone came up to me and asked why I spoke about there not being enough diversity in our politics. I said that in politics there are far too many straight, white, round, middle-aged men. He said, “Why did you mention the straight bit?”, which for me was an interesting learning experience to reflect on. There are a lot of straight, middle-aged, white, round men in politics, both here in Parliament and in local government. There is something uncomfortable in talking about sexuality that I think we need to address, because if we are truly to deal with discrimination, we must empower all young people to feel that they have a value. We must empower parents and communities to recognise that diversity is a good thing, not a threat.

Sometimes the debate about sex and relationships education in our schools has been flipped. We trust a teacher to teach our children maths or history every day, and we do not suddenly think that by teaching history, teachers will turn every child into a murderous dictator from the past, or a bloodthirsty pirate. We think that our children are learning, and that is what age-appropriate SRE means. Children are being taught something age appropriate for who they are, so that they can value it and recognise it in their friends and family and in who they are. Whether those kids are straight, gay, bi or trans, that message is important. We must recognise the rising hate in our society and do our best to invest in education.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham spoke about conversion therapy, because there are prominent political figures who say words in and around that, and who suggest that science may “yet produce an answer” to homosexuality at some stage. Conversion therapy is cruel and wrong, and it starts from a place that does not value every individual for who they are. We must not accept that in our society, just as Plymouth Argyle said that there is no place for bigotry, racism, discrimination or homophobia. And it is not homo “phobia”—people are not scared of gays; they are just bigots. We must be clear that we must value every person in every walk of life. I am grateful that the Government have listened to cross-party concerns about SRE in schools and done something about it.

What happens when we do not teach SRE? If people are not taught about who they are, where do they find that information? As a young gay man I wanted to know what these feelings were and what was going on in my head. Like the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, I had conversations with myself—perhaps with a bit less God, but similar conversations none the less. If someone is not taught SRE, where do they get information about healthy relationships and safe sex and who people sleep with? Is it from their mates, parents and teachers? No, it is from pornography, and that creates a skewed impression of what a healthy relationship is and of what someone’s role is in any sexual relationship. It creates a skewed impression about safe sex, and about the propensity of bareback sex, abuse, violence or intimidation, which is not healthy for anyone.

In particular I am concerned about the rise of the instafamous culture that is recognised by our young people—about people who are famous for nothing other than being attractive on Instagram. I have seen, and parents have told me about, the progression from being instafamous to self-publishing pornography. Young people increasingly feel that they must post pictures of themselves without their tops on, or wearing low-cut dresses, or with perfect abs and six packs, or provocative images of other parts.

Rather than be abused by a publishing house elsewhere, some young people use platforms such as OnlyFans as an avenue to transition from being instafamous to publishing their own pornography. In some cases those kids create a business model when they turn 18—being young is attractive, so good on them—but in other cases there is a risk that they will be pushed into doing something that they might not otherwise do. We can get out of that with decent, age-appropriate education in our schools.

Like comrades and colleagues from across the House, I support Stonewall’s call for greater funding for teaching, and the training of our teachers, in this space. We have achieved a lot, but there is still a lot of unfinished business. I will be grateful if the Minister will reflect particularly on how we deal with instafame and the self-publishing of pornography.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to follow that inspirational speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), who spoke with real passion about how hate in society is rising, rather than decreasing. As a fellow football fan, I pay tribute to my football team, Manchester City—I seem to be mentioning them quite a lot this week—for all they do for the LGBT community in Manchester through getting rid of discrimination on the football terraces and promoting proper integration. My hon. Friend gave a really powerful speech.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this important debate and on such powerful testimony. I am sure every Member here wishes his researcher and his researcher’s friend well. We should all echo the thanks he gave to the health and wellbeing team here in the House, which helped him and which help other Members through a variety of issues.

Before I get into the bones of the debate, I have to say that, based on the hon. Gentleman’s inspirational speech, I will have to come out here as well: I am a Roman Catholic, which a gay friend of mine teased me about not so long ago. Honestly, we do not need collars to tell us that someone cannot partake in liturgy or sacrament, or believe in solidarity, subsidiarity, the preferential option for the poor or the universal destination of goods if they do not believe in the heart of the faith, which is human dignity. Someone who does not believe in the heart of the faith should not be able to partake in the rest of it.

We have seen much better direction under the new Pontiff, for he asked: “who are we to judge” anybody who is gay? For the record, I am the convenor of the Catholic Legislators’ network here in Westminster. The pontiff went on to say that a homosexual man or woman has the right to a family—to a father, to a mother, to a son—and their parents have the right to a son or daughter, and that no son or daughter should be cast out because of their sexuality. I think he was right to say that.

As a Mancunian, I had the great honour of delaying my departure to down here a few weeks ago, just before the recess, because the Governor of the Bank of England was launching the new £50 note at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. It has Alan Turing on it, who was obviously professor of mathematics at Manchester University, which is why that location was chosen. He is one of the greatest heroes in this country’s history. He cracked the enigma code at Bletchley, which led to the defeat of Nazi tyranny and ended the war early, saving countless millions of lives. How did we, as a society, go on to treat him—when he was living in Manchester and elsewhere—absolutely appallingly?

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham mentioned what we did to gay people in the ’40s and ’50s and way before that. I think we were all proud—I was not a Member at the time—when the then Prime Minister Brown offered a posthumous pardon to Alan Turing. If anybody has a chance and a few minutes to spare, they should read the speech of Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, at the launch of that note. It was a powerful, moving testimony.

There is cross-party consensus on the need for inclusive RSE. This will not do my career any good, but I have to concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) that the Minister has shown some incredible personal and political leadership on this. That is the last time I will say anything like that around the Minister. I think he has probably felt the love from some of us on the Opposition Benches, including the shadow Secretary of State—my boss—my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), because of this. I have said that now, so I will move on. There will be some criticisms later.

Figures from the “School Report 2017” show that 40% of LGBT pupils are never taught anything about the issue at school. We must provide comprehensive support for our teachers. Compulsory RSE was championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham, who is sat behind me, and was included in the Children and Social Work Act 2017 following her amendment. A huge debt of honour goes to her. I have issues with the Minister about how we get things on the curriculum in this country, and I am not sure my hon. Friend’s way is the best, but it is through her personal endeavour and tenaciousness over a long time that we are in the place that we are. It was also reflected in the proposals of the then Secretary of State for Education—the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), who also worked very well on this—to make elements of personal, social, health and economic education mandatory in schools.

High-quality RSE will help to create safe communities—that is essentially what we are saying. Inadequate RSE leaves pupils vulnerable, particularly to abuse. I take up what the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said about the Church and the priests. A famous Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, said that power is a gift from God. Abuse of minors has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, as some people have said. It is an abuse of power. There are two types of power in our land—relational and coercive. That was all about coercive power. That point needs making strenuously.

The Government’s draft guidance clearly sets out the rights of parents and carers to withdraw children from sex education, but not relationships education. It also notes the role of parents in the development of their children’s understanding of relationships. For primary schools, the draft guidance states that headteachers will automatically grant a request to withdraw a pupil from any sex education, other than when in parts of the science curriculum. In secondary schools, parents will still have a right to request withdrawal from some or all sex education delivered as part of statutory RSE, which will be granted in all but exceptional circumstances. This will apply up until three terms before the child turns 16, at which point the child would be able to opt into sex education if they so chose.

This might seem like a small point, but I never got clarification on it— [Interruption.] Sorry; I was confused by the Minister. Will parents be told if their child decides to have that education in those last terms?

Okay. I taught RSE to year 5 in primary school for many years, and we had stringent policies. People withdrawing their children would be automatically put on our safeguarding alerts. We need to think about that really seriously.

There is a danger that, without a clear steer from Government, there will be big variations between schools. We need resources going into those schools. This new framework has to be adequately funded, and it is on that that we will hold the Minister’s feet to the fire, now that he has survived another regime change and is one of the longest-serving Ministers ever. I made a Bee Gees joke yesterday; I will not repeat it today.

Children must know their rights if they are to exercise them throughout their lives. Relationships and sex education is effective when it sits as part of a whole-school approach, is embedded across the curriculum and is delivered by well trained staff. The Government must now ensure that schools have the resources to deliver that.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. Let me start by welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and congratulating him on a very passionate and moving speech. We are all very grateful to him for organising and securing the debate and for the way he introduced it today. We are also grateful for the very moving and powerful speeches from the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard).

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said that he was the first Conservative MP, the only Conservative MP, to have been born in a communist country—it was in Poland, in 1972. Let us hope that the forthcoming general election does not lead to a Corbyn-led Labour Government, lest in 20 years’ time we have many more MPs who have been born in a communist country.

My hon. Friend asked about conversion therapy. He is right to point out that in the Government’s 2018 “LGBT Action Plan”, we committed to bringing forward proposals to end the unacceptable and abusive practice of conversion therapy in the UK. We are currently engaging with stakeholders and will set out further steps in due course, but my hon. Friend can rest assured that we take that issue very seriously and will be taking action.

Schools play a critical role in promoting integration and widening opportunities for all communities, including LGBT young people. Many schools already do that successfully, creating inclusive environments in which children are able to learn the values that underpin our society. Through education, we can ensure that the next generation learns about those values of fairness, tolerance and respect.

The Government are clear that every pupil, regardless of their sexuality, deserves the opportunity to progress and fulfil their potential and to do so in an environment free from prejudice and discrimination. I am personally committed and determined to stop, for example, the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative term in our schools, as that can often cause anxiety to LGBT pupils—in fact, to all pupils. The Department for Education is providing more than £2.8 million of funding, between September 2016 and March 2020, to four anti-bullying organisations to support schools to tackle bullying effectively. The Government Equalities Office is also providing £3 million, between 2016 and 2019, to help to prevent and respond to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, and has invested a further £1 million to extend that funding to March of next year.

Respect for all is fundamental to the reforms that we have made to the curriculum. We are making relationships and health education compulsory in all primary schools and relationships, sex and health education compulsory in all secondary schools. We are encouraging as many schools as possible to start teaching the new subjects from September 2019; they will be required to do so from September 2020. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rotherham for the huge part that she played in campaigning for relationships education and in helping the Government to develop and then implement their policy so successfully.

Let us remember what these subjects actually address and why their introduction gained the overwhelming support of the House. At the heart of relationships and health education in primary schools is a focus on putting in place the key building blocks of healthy, respectful relationships, focusing on family and friendships, in all contexts, including online. At secondary level, teaching will build on the knowledge acquired at primary level and further develop pupils’ understanding of health, with an increased focus on risk areas such as drugs and alcohol, as well as introducing knowledge about intimate relationships and sex.

These subjects also represent a significant step forward in terms of equality by ensuring that young LGBT people will receive teaching relevant to their lives, preparing them for the adult world and supporting them to form positive, healthy, nurturing relationships. In the statutory guidance, we are clear that all pupils should receive during their school years teaching on LGBT relationships. Secondary schools should include LGBT content in their teaching, and primary schools are strongly encouraged and enabled, when teaching about different types of families, to include families with same-sex parents. Of course, the reality of that will be reflected at the school gates of many primary schools, with some children being dropped off and picked up by two mums or two dads. It is right that pupils understand that these families in which their classmates are growing up are characterised by love and care, just like any other family, and are equally deserving of respect.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs asked about the discretion that we have given primary schools for teaching about LGBT. We think that it is right for schools to decide their curriculum, based on the needs of their particular cohort of pupils. We have been clear that, for the majority of primary schools, teaching about LGBT people and relationships will be age-appropriate for their pupils and we strongly encourage them to do that. But we have been at pains to ensure that this groundbreaking policy carries as much support as possible and achieves a broad consensus. That has been generally achieved.

We have applied the requirement to teach RSE not only to the schools in the state sector; we have applied that requirement also to schools in the independent sector, including independent orthodox faith schools. The law applies to those schools as well, and we have managed to achieve consensus with many of the religious organisations. That is why we have had that discretion in relation to teaching.

The hon. Member for Rotherham asked about training material to enable teachers to teach RSE, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs raised the same issue. The Department is committed to supporting schools to deliver high-quality teaching of relationships education. To support schools, we are investing up to £6 million, in this financial year, for the Department to develop a programme of support for schools. The funding will not be distributed to schools; it is about preparing the materials.

Further funding, beyond the next financial year, is, of course, a matter for the spending review that has just been announced. The programme of support will focus on tools that improve schools’ practice, such as the implementation guide that my right hon. Friend referred to, easy access to high-quality resources and support for staff training. The Department is currently working with schools and teachers to develop a programme of support suited to their needs. To support that, we are also setting up a new working group, and it will provide insight into how the guidance is working in practice. That is chaired by Ian Bauckham CBE, who is our education adviser and a senior headteacher.

We are very clear that parents from all faiths and none do not want their children to feel bullied or excluded at school or to feel that their family is not equally valued. Through our call for evidence and the consultation on the content for these subjects, there was an absolute consensus that all pupils should be taught, as a minimum, about respect for themselves and for others.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for his passionate speech. I hope we can all agree that children are never too young to learn about love, kindness, tolerance, difference, compassion and empathy, as part of creating a cohesive school community and in building a tolerant society. We need to do all we can to loosen the knot in the hearts of LGBT young people with relationships lessons and with role models, such as some of the hon. Members who have spoken in this important debate with such eloquence, passion and honesty.

I thank the hon. Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), who all spoke so eloquently and with such great passion. I must admit that my interaction with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport has been relatively limited since he joined the House. I will certainly look forward to getting to know him better and working together in the coming years on promoting LGBT rights across our country.

We did not see as many Members as expected attending this debate because of the Brexit debate in the main Chamber, but I am sure that a lot of young people around the country have been listening to what we have had to say today and have heard how we support them being supported over LGBT issues in schools.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs mentioned that he felt that parents protesting outside schools on these sorts of issues was something that the Government ought to be looking at. I could not agree with him more. I was trying to be a little bit more circumspect in my comments, but he has given me the courage and conviction to think about this issue more and I would strongly reiterate to the Minister the sentiment that has been conveyed.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered teaching on LGBT community and acceptance in schools.

Suicide Risk Assessment Tools in the NHS

[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the use of suicide risk assessment tools in the NHS.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.

According to a detailed study carried out by Manchester University, in one year alone 636 people who were deemed by clinicians to be at low or no immediate risk of suicide went on to take their lives within the next three months. Of course, 636 is just a fleeting fact, one of myriad statistics about the NHS that we can cite every minute of the day, but every one of those 636 deaths is a tragedy—it is a brother, a friend, a partner, a child. One of those 636 people whose lives were lost in that year was the son of two of my constituents, a young man called Andrew Bellerby.

It may break the heart of any parent in this Chamber to see this photograph of young Andrew in his blazer as he went to school some years earlier. As one who proudly took my own children to their new school only this week, it is shocking to think that at some point one might lose one’s child in such circumstances. On 10 July 2015, many years after the photograph was taken, and in the same year as the study that I just mentioned, Andrew took his own life. The loss of Andrew’s life and the devastating impact that it had on his loved ones was, in all likelihood, totally needless. According to an expert witness who represented the Bellerby family, on a balance of probabilities Andrew would be alive today had the NHS trust that was entrusted with his care looked after him properly.

At this point, I would like to play tribute to Andrew’s family, particularly his father, Richard Bellerby. I understand that Richard’s brother is with us today in the Public Gallery; Richard could not be here himself, but I think that he is watching this debate via a parliamentary link. It was only due to his tireless efforts, his determination and his commitment to make sure that others do not suffer the same fate that we are debating this issue today.

Not only did the Bellerby family have to cope with unimaginable grief and loss, but they then had to fight a two-year battle with the Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust to establish the truth. The truth, which the trust finally and begrudgingly apologised for, was that there had been a simple but fatal series of errors. Andrew’s state of mind was assessed by untrained nurses using an assessment tool—a checklist, for want of a better word—that was not fit for purpose. As a direct consequence, they made an incorrect diagnosis, without even taking into account his past behaviour.

First of all, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter forward. In Northern Ireland, the figure for suicide is 20% higher than for the rest of the United Kingdom. Does he agree that it has come to the point that all frontline medical staff, from pharmacists to treatment room nurses, should be trained in appropriate suicide risk assessment, especially taking into consideration the high rate of suicide across the whole of the United Kingdom, and in particular in Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is one key component of three: training nurses; using a proper, validated tool; and taking into account the past behaviour of the individual and the context of the situation. None of those three things was in place for Andrew. As a consequence, 48 hours after being admitted to hospital in an ambulance, Andrew took his own life.

I am happy to give way to the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on suicide and self-harm prevention.

The hon. Gentleman is raising a very serious issue. I am grateful to Samaritans for a briefing on it ahead of this debate. It is absolutely clear that these risk assessment tools are not in themselves complete. They must be supported by consideration of the context, including previous history, and by a professional assessment of what is happening. Does he agree that it is absolutely essential that all trusts ensure that that happens?

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. I know that the Bellerby family would very much like to meet the Minister here today—the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries)—to see what can be done to make sure these situations do not happen again, and I think they would be very pleased to meet the hon. Lady, too, because I know that she does tremendous work in the all-party parliamentary group.

I will just add my point, from Scotland. In emergency departments, the staff have not been trained up to the level that we are hearing about today. Suicide is a big risk, especially among young people, and all we are asking for is that people look at this situation and give emergency staff the proper tools and training. If that had happened before, Andrew would be with us today.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I am grateful to him for his very kind contribution. I know that Andrew’s family will also be grateful to him.

The fact is that the Sheffield trust had been treating Andrew for many years; it knew him well and knew that he was a serious suicide risk, yet none of this was taken into account when he was admitted to hospital for that fateful final time. The untrained nurses carried out the assessment using a crisis triage rating scale, CTRS, and deemed Andrew fit to be discharged. They rated Andrew 14 on a scale of zero to 15, where 15 means that there is no serious or immediate risk of suicide, despite the fact that Andrew had a history of suicide attempts and also threatened to jump out of a fifth floor window while he was being assessed.

The insult to fatal injury in this case is that Mr Richard Bellerby has had to fight for justice and answers for years. He describes the trust’s role in this process as a campaign of dirty tricks—dirty tricks, denial and deceit. In February 2018, the trust finally admitted its wrongdoing, apologised and agreed to settle out of court, but before doing so it had persistently and gratuitously maintained that it was not at fault. For instance, the trust had said that it had an expert witness whose opinion was that whatever the trust would or could have done, Andrew would still have taken his own life. However, the trust refused to supply that expert witness’s evidence and it appears that such an expert never even existed.

The inquest established that the trust was guilty of missing numerous opportunities to provide help. The trust’s own internal investigation revealed that the nurses who had seen Andrew had no training in this area, which directly contravenes national guidelines. At the inquest, there was an embarrassing blame game between Andrew’s GP and the trust, with each pointing the finger at the other. As Mr Bellerby has said, it was like musicians in an orchestra playing from a different sheet of music, with no conductor.

There appears to be a complete lack of accountability; nobody has been properly held to account for these errors. The trust admitted in its internal investigation that it had failed to carry out adequate risk assessments. In Richard Bellerby’s profession, which is construction, failure to carry out proper risk assessment or failure to train people properly can lead to a charge of criminal responsibility for manslaughter in the event of a fatality.

Instead of being open and honest about the circumstances surrounding Andrew’s death, the trust only corresponded when it was forced do so. There were no responses to Mr Bellerby’s letters unless they were sent by recorded delivery, and even then the only responses came from corporate affairs managers rather than from clinicians, and they still failed to provide answers. The trust has not even responded to my letters, other than to send a holding response. I wrote to the trust on 28 January asking for answers to questions and I chased things up on 6 March, but there was still no full response. When the trust finally agreed to meet Andrew’s father, Mr Bellerby, it was of course a meeting with the corporate affairs director. When Mr Bellerby insisted on a clinician being present, the meeting was cancelled.

The trust refused simple requests for information, such as how long the nurses who saw Andrew had worked at the trust and what their qualifications were. The two-year battle cost the NHS around £40,000 just to reimburse the Bellerby family’s legal costs, in addition to any costs that the trust itself and NHS Resolution would have incurred. The total bill is likely to be in excess of £100,000—all for £9,000 in compensation. Critically, there was no compassion, no condolences and no remorse. Instead, there was contempt, denial and disregard.

To say the Bellerby family won is a travesty. They lost their son, a grandson, a brother, but they did defeat the trust. With the help of their solicitors, Irwin Mitchell, whose efforts were instrumental to their success, they won their case, they received their grudging apology and the trust has now stopped using the CTRS. All the family wanted was recognition of the failures and an apology. Given that, everything could have been sorted on day one. Instead the family had to fight against our own bureaucracy. It beggars belief that we tolerate a system that behaves in this manner.

Surprisingly, given the facts of the case and its role in the two-year cover-up of the truth, NHS Resolutions agrees with having a position of openness. In its 2018 report, “Learning from suicide-related claims”, it states:

“Where compensation is due it should be given willingly and in a timely manner to prevent further distress and suffering to distraught families.”

It is time we lived up to those fine words.

The Bellerby family have worked closely with Manchester University on the inquiry I mentioned earlier, which is called, “The assessment of clinical risk in mental health services”. It has helped to establish the extent of the problem of inappropriate use of suicide risk assessment tools in the NHS and the figure of 636 deaths per annum. It has also established that today, 33 out of 85 trusts use a tool that has not been independently validated and 29% of trusts use it with untrained staff. The national inquiry into safety in mental health recently raised issues of the

“inconsistency across mental health trusts in the length and content of risk assessment tools”

and a

“variation in how tools are used and examples of use contrary to national guidelines”.

Everyone seems to agree that the incorrect use of such tools is wholly wrong. Mental health charity Mind is clear that the Government should standardise tools across the service, improve training and support in their usage and follow-up within 48 hours with those who have received assessments. The Royal College of Psychiatrists said that we should

“move away from a risk assessment model to a risk reduction model”.

I know the Minister will be appalled by the full details of the case and will be determined to help drive change in the system, and I have some questions for her. What has changed since Andrew’s death? Specifically, what action will she take to ensure that mental health trusts are only using risk assessment tools that have been independently validated as safe? What action is she taking to ensure that staff in mental health services receive training in risk assessment? What action is being taken to support staff to be able to talk to people about suicidal thoughts? Will she implement a process so that the Care Quality Commission or another body can check that best practice is adopted? Will she commit to an ambition for zero suicides among all those under the care of mental health services? Will she look at the behaviour of the trust and drive through a new policy of openness and honesty in our health services? Finally, will she meet me and my constituents to hear Andrew’s story and possible solutions at first hand, to ensure that Andrew did not die in vain?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. After 10 years of being a Chair myself, I hope I do not incur your wrath today.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) for securing this important debate. It is an honour for me to take up the position as Minister with responsibility for suicide prevention. My predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), did a commendable job when she held this position and I am determined that we continue to do whatever we can to reduce the devastating impact of suicide.

I offer my sincere and heartfelt condolences to the family of my hon. Friend’s constituent. I welcome Robert Bellerby to Westminster Hall and thank him for coming today. These will continue to be difficult times for the Bellerby family. I know from personal experience how devastating it is to lose someone you love and someone who is close to you through suicide. It is inspirational for me to see the courage and determination of those, such as Mr Bellerby, who manage to bring about positive action from such tragic circumstances. By their actions, Mr Bellerby and others like him will help to prevent others from going through the same deep and lasting loss.

I will now turn to the specifics raised by my hon. Friend about the use of risk assessment tools for patients at risk of suicide. He raised the specific case of Andrew Bellerby, who sadly died in 2015. I understand that at the time of Andrew’s attendance at hospital, it was practice at the Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust to use a crisis triage rating scale tool. It was used to assess Andrew before he was discharged. Sadly, he took his own life shortly after. The trust conducted a serious incident review to learn the lessons from this tragic case.

It is clear that the care Andrew received leading up to his death was not satisfactory, and I understand that a comprehensive action plan was developed and fully implemented by the trust following the serious incident review. I have also been reassured that the trust has stopped using the crisis triage rating scale tool, following a report published by the national confidential inquiry into suicide and safety in mental health in 2018, which recommended that the risk assessment tools should not be used as a way of predicting future suicidal behaviour.

I recognise and share my hon. Friend’s concerns about the use of risk assessment tools across the wider NHS. He is right that guidelines published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence make clear recommendations that NHS professionals should not use risk assessment tools and scales to predict future suicide or repetition of self-harm, or to determine who should be offered treatment and who should be discharged. Each NHS trust is responsible for the care it delivers and the safety of its patients. but NICE guidelines are clear on the use of risk assessment tools, and we expect the NHS to implement the guidelines. Clinical guidelines represent best practice and should be taken fully into account by clinicians.

The national confidential inquiry into suicide and safety in mental health has published “Safer services: a toolkit for specialist mental health services and primary care”, which presents 10 ways to improve safety. NHS England has supported all mental health trusts to access the toolkit, which includes guidance for trusts on the use of risk assessment tools and highlights NICE guidance. The toolkit specifically states:

“All patients’ management plans should be based on the assessment of individual risk and not on the completion of a checklist.”

The hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) was absolutely right that the situation should be put in its context as it presents at that moment. Everything, including the history of physical and mental health, should be considered when assessing and evaluating a patient when they present with a potential suicide.

I am pleased to hear that the Minister is focused on ensuring that NHS trusts apply the guidance. What steps will she take to ensure that that happens across the board?

I am delighted to inform the hon. Lady that just this week, NHS England has written to all mental health trusts to make clear that they should be adhering to NICE guidelines on the use of risk assessment tools. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton mentioned a trust that is still using the old method. As a result of this debate, we have ensured that the letter is going out to tell NHS trusts that they should not be using the tools any longer and should be implementing the NHS guidelines.

I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. When intervening on the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), I referred to the 20% increase in suicides in Northern Ireland. I did so because it is factually correct, and because in Northern Ireland we have a policy and strategy in place to address those issues. Has the Minister, in her short time in her role, had the opportunity to discuss those matters with, for instance, the Northern Ireland Department of Health?

I am afraid I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman. This is my third day in, and I have not yet had a chance to discuss Northern Ireland in detail, but as a result of his intervention I will ensure that we do that, and it will be on tomorrow’s agenda.

The letter that NHS England sent out highlights the report from the University of Manchester on “The assessment of clinical risk in mental health services”, and asks trusts to ensure that their risk assessment policies reflect the latest evidence from the university, as well as best practice. I am pleased that NHS England and NHS Improvement have committed to working with trusts to improve risk assessment and safety planning as part of future quality and safety work on crisis care and suicide prevention.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton asked specifically about the role of the Care Quality Commission in ensuring that trusts are adopting best practice in respect of risk management processes. The CQC has assured me that risk management processes are a key feature of every CQC inspection. I hope that that assurance from the CQC, along with the letter that NHS England sent out this week, will go some way to reassure my hon. Friend.

I am sure that the work that the Minister has already done to raise the issue with trusts is very positive news for the family. On the basis that people do not do what is expected but what is inspected, it is good to hear that some processes are already in place in the CQC. Will new processes be added? Presumably checks were happening when the situation occurred, so we need something else to ensure that best practice is properly adopted.

If I may continue my speech, I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend on that point.

The Government are committed to a culture of openness, honesty and transparency in the NHS. The legal duty of candour means that trusts need to be open and transparent with patients or their families when something appears to have caused, or could lead to, significant harm. Trusts could face action from the CQC if they are seen to be failing to comply with that duty. I think that some good news will come out later in the year that will hopefully reassure my hon. Friend regarding a new culture that will develop within the NHS to encourage staff and clinicians to be more open about incidents as they happen, so that they share information and we can learn from such incidents.

Our national learning from deaths policy has introduced a more standardised approach to the way that trusts review, investigate and learn from deaths. The national guidance on learning from deaths, published in 2017, is about supporting trusts to become more willing to admit to and learn from mistakes, so that they reduce risks to future patients and prevent tragedies from happening in the first place. The guidance is clear that trusts must engage meaningfully and sensitively with bereaved families and carers as part of that process. I hope that, as a result of those measures, what the Bellerby family went through in 2015 will never be experienced by another family. To support our national policy, the CQC has strengthened its assessment of learning from deaths by trusts.

I will talk about what we are doing to reduce suicides across the NHS more widely. People in contact with mental health services account for around a third of all suicides in England, and arguably some of the more preventable ones. The overall suicide rate among people in contact with mental health services has reduced significantly over the last decade, but numbers remain too high. We must not lose sight of the fact that nobody under the care of NHS services should ever lose their life as a result of suicide. At the start of 2018, we therefore launched a zero suicide ambition, starting with mental health in-patients, but asking the NHS to be more ambitious and look to expand it to include all mental health patients.

I know it is only the Minister’s third day, but the thing that we ask for more than anything else in a Minister is for somebody who cares about their portfolio. It is clear that my hon. Friend really cares about this issue. I am not unique in this, but as one of the few Members who has used NHS mental health services, I can attest to the real value and life-saving contribution that they make. I commend her decision to have that aspiration for zero deaths from suicide in the NHS.

In my constituency, there were 10 suicides last year. That is 10 families ripped apart and hundreds of lives broken as a result of those tragic decisions. Key to a brilliant service is the number of NHS nurses out in the community. Will the Minister, as she develops in her role, look at the numbers on the ground, so that we can be sure that everybody in our constituencies has access to mental health nurses, who can save lives?

I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend on some of those points as I whizz forward. We have asked all mental health trusts to put zero suicide ambition plans in place. As already outlined, NHS England is providing funding for suicide prevention to every local area, which includes investment in a national quality improvement programme to improve safety and suicide prevention in mental health services across the NHS.

We are also investing £2 million in the Zero Suicide Alliance, which aims to deliver an NHS with zero suicides across the system and in local communities. It is doing that through improved suicide awareness and prevention training, and developing a better culture of learning from deaths by suicide across the NHS. In June, the then Prime Minister announced that we would encourage all NHS staff to undertake the Zero Suicide Alliance training, which makes all NHS staff more aware and gives them a basic understanding of how to recognise when somebody may be in the space of wanting to take their own life.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton may be aware that yesterday the Office for National Statistics published the final suicide registrations data for 2018. Concerningly, there were substantial increases in the suicide rate amongst the general population, following three consecutive years of decreases. The latest figures are disappointing, but reinforce why suicide prevention continues to be a priority for the Government and for me personally.

Experts are clear that we need more data to draw firm conclusions from the latest data, and we will continue to work closely with academics and other experts to consider the data in more detail. There has also been an issue over the past two accounting periods surrounding coroners and the way the reporting of suicides takes place. We continue to take action to reduce the devastating impact of suicide. Every local area has a suicide prevention plan in place, and we are working with the local government sector to ensure the effectiveness of those plans. NHS England is also continuing to roll out funding to every local area to support suicide prevention planning.

We are continuing to improve mental health services. Under the NHS long-term plan published in January, there will be a comprehensive expansion of mental health services, with an additional £2.3 billion in real terms by 2023-24. Crisis care is a key element of the plan, which commits to ensuring that by 2023-24 anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call NHS 111 and have 24/7 access to the mental health support that they need in their community.

We will set clear standards for access to urgent and emergency specialist mental health care. That will be supported by further mental health crisis care services by 2023-24, including 100% coverage of 24/7 crisis provision for children and young people, 100% coverage of 24/7 crisis resolution, and home treatment teams operating with best practice by 2021 and maintaining coverage to 2023-24. We are also investing £249 million to roll out liaison mental health teams in every acute hospital by 2020, which I hope addresses the question my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton asked earlier, to ensure that people who present at hospital with mental health needs get the appropriate care and treatment that they need.

To conclude, I again extend my sincere and heartfelt sympathies to the Bellerby family and friends. I assure them that we are doing everything that we can to prevent further suicides, as we understand their devastating impact on families and the communities affected. I thank my hon. Friend again for raising this very important issue. I would be happy to meet him, and Mr Bellerby and his family, to discuss their concerns in more detail.

Question put and agreed to.

Policing: Staffordshire

I beg to move,

That this House has considered policing in Staffordshire.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. Given the nature of the debate we are about to have, I want to make it clear to everybody listening, especially my constituents, that I believe Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove is a wonderful place to live. In spite of all the crime that I am about to touch on, nobody should be scared or worried about where we live. We are safe and secure; my issue is quite how safe and secure we are.

Before I move on to the debate, I will take a moment to touch on the life of PC Andrew Harper, and pay the respects of everybody in the House to someone who was so brave and who gave his life in defending his community. We all have police officers in our constituencies who, every day, stand up for us and protect our community. He was a brave man, and my thoughts and prayers go to his young wife, as I am sure do everyone else’s.

I am blessed—I think we are all blessed—by some of our local police officers. I have been lucky to work with three chief inspectors since I got elected—Ade Roberts, John Owen and Mark Barlow—all of whom have served my community well. I could not have asked more of their professionalism and support, especially when I was a brand new Member. They exposed me to different parts of my constituency and made sure that when I was dealing with terror arrests or more complicated, not straightforward crime, they were there to support me as a local politician, to ensure that I did not make things worse but helped to make things better. Their professionalism is reflected every day by their staff, and last month I had the privilege of spending a day with my local officers on shift.

This is where we start talking about some of the challenges in our community. I was briefed on how we are working on local gang crime, meaning gang crime involving young people as well as organised crime. I spent time with the police when they were helping run a food kitchen as part of an initiative to help the homeless and get them off the streets, because one of our local churches does not work in August and there had been a spike in the number of homeless people on our streets. I was then taken around the local hotspots, working with the police and seeing how they engage with some of the most challenged members of my community.

What made it so difficult for me, and for them, is that one of the roles that police officers have to play all too regularly is that of social work. Their job is becoming more and more about tackling mental health issues and working with those who are struggling most. To be candid, they are not resourced to do so. They do it with such passion and provide so much support because they care about the local community, but my concern is that they just do not have enough resources.

Although crime across my constituency is down by 6% over the past 12 months, serious and violent crime is increasing, and people are scared. Some of that is because of a lack of tolerance of crime; some parts of my constituency have never experienced knife crime before, and it causes concern when they do. Other parts have experienced some very difficult crime. None of this is the fault of the police, but last year we were the centre of the country for Monkey Dust, which led to huge spates of crime. People who were high on drugs were trying to get into older people’s houses or turning up at community events, with the police having to act as security guards rather than as police officers, which they are not resourced to do. This summer, there was a spike in antisocial behaviour in Clough Hall Park. It became clear that there is only one warranted police officer and one police community support officer per shift for one third of my constituency. Across the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, we have 10 police officers and 10 PCSOs per shift. It is not enough for the population.

My hon. Friend has touched on an interesting point. Does she agree that one of the most disappointing things, not just in Staffordshire but across the country, is that although the Government claim to have protected neighbourhood policing, they have actually made neighbourhood policing areas much larger? Although some places have the same number of PCSOs and police constables, they now cover such a great terrain that the impact felt in certain parts of the community is virtually nil.

I absolutely agree, and will touch on that later in my speech.

In my constituency, especially in Kidsgrove, we have never seen this level of crime before. One of my concerns is that a lot of the burden is falling on the police, when in fact it is cuts to local government budgets that have led to Clough Hall Park becoming a hotspot. Maintenance has not been done, so as soon as the first example of graffiti happened—as soon as investment in the park was lacking—that park became a crime hotspot, because young people did not think anyone cared about it. We have seen that time after time because of cuts to our local government.

There has also been a spike in knife crime in our wonderful, great city. One of our concerns about that—I think I speak on behalf of the three Members from the great city of Stoke-on-Trent—is that we had been blessed by not having previously experienced very much knife crime. We were lucky that it was not normal on our streets, yet it is now becoming a factor. I thank the Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), for working with our police and crime commissioner and, more importantly, some of our local teachers, as well as for providing additional support to the three Members of Parliament from Stoke-on-Trent on how to tackle knife crime.

The reality, however, is that our police force is struggling. The demands on it are higher, and the briefings we have received from the Staffordshire Police Federation and Unison have made it clear quite how difficult things are within our force. We are told that morale is at rock bottom, especially among the support staff; our dialogue in this place is always about police officers, not police staff, but the ongoing rationalisation programme means that people are working more hours at a less senior level, doing the same job and getting paid less for it. The 101 waiting times in our city have regularly gone up to more than 20 minutes, and according to a freedom of information request from the Daily Mirror, a 999 call took eight minutes to be answered by Staffordshire police force. That is not the fault of the police; it is the fault of a lack of resourcing.

At its peak, Staffordshire had nearly 2,400 police officers. Now, we are told that the figure is somewhere in the region of 1,600. Since 2010, we are down 468 warranted police officers plus dozens of PCSOs. Kidsgrove police station has been closed, as has Tunstall police station. Burslem police station is no longer open to the public. In fact, if any of my constituents actively want to speak to a police officer, they have to get on two buses for an hour in order to walk into a police station, because we no longer have access. That police station is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), and as delightful as I am sure it is, it is not convenient for any of my constituents. We are the 13th biggest city in England, but we have no 24/7 police station access. I say this as someone who wishes I were still a young woman: if I were out and about at the weekend, there is no safe sanctuary in my city. If I felt vulnerable, the only safe place would be the hospital, which would require a taxi. That is a cut too far.

I have already touched on the issue of council cuts, but I think this gives the Minister an opportunity. There have been cuts not only to maintenance—which is wooden dollars, in my opinion, because cutting local government grants does not help the police budget when it then costs the police more money to make interventions—but to youth provision. There has also been no clear guidance on ensuring that local authorities work together to provide CCTV infrastructure, which would save them money and help Staffordshire police force.

I will now ask my questions to the Minister so that everybody else may participate in this debate; I am delighted to see colleagues present from across the House. How much of today’s announcement of £700 million is going to come to Staffordshire police force? Will there be any new police officers for Staffordshire police? When will we get them, given that we are so short now? What can the Minister do to encourage partnership working from other statutory agencies, not the third sector, to ensure that everybody is not leaning on the police budget? Our police serve us day in, day out. They put themselves at risk. They ensure that we, especially in this place, are safe and secure. At the moment, however, it does not feel like we have their backs.

I am delighted to add my voice to this important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) on securing it. Stoke-on-Trent is a city on the up, but it has its challenges that must be met. It is a city of six towns and many communities, each with its own character and policing challenges. It is the authentic urban heart of an historic county and is very much distinct, as a unitary authority of considerable urban density, from the more rural nature of the rest of the county. That is reflected in the types of policing and challenges often faced by our police officers.

I applaud our local police and crime commissioner, Matthew Ellis, for recognising the importance of localised policing within a county-wide force. We experienced that together on his recent working visit to Longton police station and the walkabout with local officers in Stoke-on-Trent South over the summer. After a decade of hard work, the public finances have successfully been pulled back from the brink of disaster, so we can confidently step up the funding available to the police. I greatly support the new Prime Minister’s commitment to an extra 20,000 new officers and an increase in the visibility of police patrols over the next three years.

Sadly, what has been all too visible to my constituents recently is antisocial behaviour, particularly linked to gangs and drugs. I spoke previously in this Chamber in a debate tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) about the impact of drugs, especially Monkey Dust, which has been a significant challenge in Stoke-on-Trent, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North. I am pleased to say that the huge efforts of Staffordshire police have cut off the supply of that horrific drug and have resulted in a significant decline in reported cases.

Last week, I was impressed to witness officers conduct a raid on a property in my constituency suspected of being connected to drugs-related crimes. It was part of a day of action under Operation Disrupt, during which about 25 properties suspected of being connected to drugs, organised crime and violence across the south of the city were raided. Of course, the root causes of gangs and drugs are many and complex. Drugs and gang behaviour are the blight of some working-class communities.

I thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) for organising the debate. Like my hon. Friend, I joined my local police on Operation Disrupt a few weeks ago. It was fantastic to see the force bringing together resources from across the county to put the criminal on the back foot. As the police went in with their chainsaw, called “Nige the Chainsaw”, which destroyed the door of the house where drug dealing was going on, the neighbours who came out cheered, and they cheered again as the criminals were led away. Does my hon. Friend agree that that kind of proactive policing not only puts the criminal on the back foot but gives great confidence to the general public that we take such things seriously and are prepared to take action as a police force and a Government?

I absolutely agree. I witnessed the same thing. In seconds, the door was ripped off. As my hon. Friend suggests, those communities—people who have been terrorised by those activities for a long time—are relieved by the police’s actions.

As I was saying, drugs and gang behaviour are the blight of some working-class communities but they are not the preserve of those communities by any means. In fact, all too often it is the demand for drugs from metropolitan middle-class gangs—dinner parties and social circles, as they prefer to call them—that fuels and sustains the horror of drug and gang-related behaviour in working-class areas.

There is huge concern and anguish in areas such as Meir and Fenton in my constituency that drugs gangs, and gangs that have nothing to do with drugs, have been seen to get away with criminal behaviour, unchallenged by, and unafraid of, the police. The police do not enforce the law by consent; they enforce the law by the force of the rule of law as decided by this House. My constituents have a deep sense that justice is served when the law is enforced without fear or favour.

I was grateful to be involved, with law enforcement, in securing eight civil injunctions against local individuals who have time and again, provocatively and shamelessly, broken the law and made life a misery for the law-abiding majority of decent people who just want to secure a peaceful life, get on with their jobs or enjoy a well-earned retirement after years of hard work. I congratulate the authorities, the police, the council and everybody else who has contributed to ensuring that we have secured those injunctions.

In Stoke-on-Trent South, the local police have ramped up their efforts over the past 12 months by more than doubling the number of stop-and-searches. Only a year ago, Meir had the highest number of antisocial behaviour incidents in Staffordshire, but thankfully those actions have massively reduced that number. We must do all we can to help to reform those offenders, but the overriding priority must always be to protect the law-abiding majority against the criminal few.

Of course, a very small number of young people enter a life of crime. Most importantly, we must do much more preventative work locally to stop young people being led into antisocial behaviour and crime. I pay warm tribute to the Staffordshire police cadets. I have met the active local group in Longton and was delighted to welcome it to the Palace of Westminster recently. It has focused on giving public service and community spirit back to our local area in a scheme initiated by Commissioner Ellis. It is a great legacy of his years in office.

As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North has mentioned, Home Office Ministers have been extremely supportive, for which I thank them. I am especially delighted by the £612,000 being invested by the Government, which will be shared between the city council and Staffordshire police to help to deliver more preventative work to reduce youth violence and gangs. I have also been working with local schools, Ormiston Meridian Academy and Trentham Academy, to deliver new 3G sports pitches at both sites to help to improve facilities for young people. In addition, I have supported the YMCA to set up new youth groups across the south of the city. Those actions will help to ensure that young people have the facilities they deserve and are not drawn into ASB and a life of crime.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s assurance that stop-and-search will be part of a reassuring visible policing solution. The police know that they must conduct searches with professionalism and courtesy and make it clear that, for those with nothing to hide, there is really nothing to fear. I trust them to do just that and I respect their judgment. As I have said, I saw only last week the brave work that our outstanding Staffordshire police officers are undertaking in Operation Disrupt, and I am hugely proud to represent many of those officers in this House. I am delighted by the increase in the number of police officers, for which I thank the Government and the Prime Minister. I back them wholeheartedly in their fight against the misery of crime.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and to follow two excellent speeches from my neighbours, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton). I do not intend to repeat much of what has been said, because the stark numbers speak for themselves.

The number of officers that we have lost across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire demonstrates that the police force is stretched. It has told us publicly that it feels that it is not giving our constituents the service that it would like to. It worries about being able to respond to crimes in a timely fashion or to do the important preventative work and high-visibility policing that reduces fear of crime and makes people feel safer, even though there may not have been anything to fear in the first place. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North referred to the number of police officers lost.

I misspoke. In fact, we have lost 568 or 571 police officers—it depends on reports—not 468. I was being far too generous to the Government.

As my hon. Friend points out, we have lost 571 police officers across the county. We have also lost a number of auxiliary support staff in forensics, criminal investigation and the detective arenas.

In fact, the figures provided by my friends in the Unison branch at Staffordshire police show that the number of forensic investigators is being cut from 24 to 12, which they have said will mean they will be unable to provide the level of support to the frontline police officers needed to gather the evidence to provide for CPS considerations on whether prosecutions are available. Those 12 places are being replaced with nine lower-skilled, lower-paid and lower-graded roles that do not have the necessary technical qualifications to provide support. The forensic investigators have made it quite clear that they want to be able to do their job, to help keep people safe. It is not just about frontline policing, but about the policy family and the public sector family around the police force that can allow for crime to be detected and criminals to be prosecuted.

My hon. Friend has also mentioned the current closure of police stations across Staffordshire. Chief inspectors and assistant chief constables have said to me that the demand for face-to-face interaction with the police is going down, and I fully accept that that is the case. Younger generations now wish to interact digitally through electronics, the telephone system and social media. That is a perfectly reasonable way to interact with the police force, but it should not be an either/or. It should not be that elderly people in my constituency living in Bentilee or Sneyd Green have to, as my hon. Friend pointed out, travel on two buses to the other end of the city to see a police officer.

Although I am grateful that we still have one open police station in Stoke-on-Trent, it is open only between 9 and 5—office hours. If people simply need to interact with the police for a non-crime or non-emergency-related issue, they cannot access the station at the weekend or in the evening. To me, that seems a perverse arrangement that does not make policing feel accessible, even though it might well be. Across the county of Staffordshire, with somewhere between 950,000 and 1 million people, only three police stations remain publicly open between the hours of 9 and 5. I do not care what people’s politics are—I cannot believe that anybody would justify to me that that is, for accessible policing, an appropriate access level for that many people dispersed across a county that is geographically quite different, depending on where one goes.

I represent arguably the most urban part of Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. I have the city centre of Stoke-on-Trent and the council estate. If one travels down to the rural villages in the constituency of the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), which has no public transport infrastructure and where there is little ability to travel, suddenly there is no access to policing. Yes, there are PCSOs who do their best, but they are now stretched so thin. The PCSO who regularly visits my office to talk to me about the activity happening in the area will tell me that she will have to walk miles in the course of a day to respond to jobs. On several occasions, she has simply been told, “Don’t respond to that—it is not a priority,” because there are not enough people to respond to crimes.

Over the last couple of months, I have seen a change in the crime that we are dealing with in my constituency. As my hon. Friend pointed out, there has been an increase in knife crime in Stoke-on-Trent. Five years ago, knife crime there was so rare that I doubt whether we had even one or two instances. I have had three stabbings in my constituency in the last six weeks.

I know the Government take this issue seriously—as my hon. Friend pointed out, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), has met us and is acutely aware of our problems—but those leading on this in our constituencies are not the police, but the colleges, the schools and the third-sector groups that interact with young people. That is not because the police are not interested, but because the resource available to the police, and the capacity within the force, is simply not there to deal with something else on top of all the other parts that they are asked to do.

Although I am grateful that people such as Claire Gagan at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College are taking such an active interest in the safety of our young people, that is not her job—her job is not to ensure that gang violence is dealt with on the streets of Stoke-on-Trent. She is not there to ensure that parents take responsibility for what their children bring into colleges on a day-to-day basis or to regulate gang activity across Stoke-on-Trent. She is doing it because she knows it has to be done, and the police are supporting that, but it is something that an old-fashioned police service should do.

The story of Stoke-on-Trent is that we are actually a safe place. I know that the testimony that has come out of this debate might suggest that we have problems, but, like all cities, we have our bad places and good places. I have been fortunate enough to work with some wonderful police officers, including Karen Stevenson, who looks after the southern part of my constituency, and Mark Barlow and John Owen, who look after the northern part with Superintendent Geoff Moore. They are wonderful people who are genuinely committed to neighbour policing in Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, but they make it clear to us that there is so much more that they want to do. They can just about manage with what they are doing now, but they know there are things that they are simply not doing, and that—with the right resource, support and impetus from Government—they could do to make Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire a much safer place.

It is clear that part of this is about money. Some £38 million has been taken out of the Staffordshire police budget since 2010. The police and crime commissioner has tried to recoup some of that by raising the precept, but the precept goes only so far. When we have mainly band A council tax payers having to fund the 2% levy for adult social care and the 2.9% increase in council tax, and also having to try to pay for policing, the available pool of money to fund all this in Staffordshire simply does not exist, because of the demography and house type that we have in our city.

The Government will have to ask themselves: what more can they directly do? I know the Minister will respond by talking about the extra investment going into policing. More money for the police is welcome, but I ask the Minister to bear in mind that it is not just about more money for more police. One of the problems raised with me when I was out with the police on Operation Disrupt with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South—we very much enjoyed the chainsaw—was the question of where we would put more police officers coming into Stoke-on-Trent.

The police stations are no longer functioning and the police have moved into fire stations, so the fire stations are now at capacity. The community spaces in private finance initiative fire stations have been taken over. The chief inspector mentioned that she does not have the money to buy lockers for police to put their equipment in. It is all well and good having police officers, but we are not dealing with the long-term problems around police numbers if we cannot give them the resources, locker space, equipment, uniform and the training that they need to develop in their own careers.

It is not just the police numbers. Perhaps the Minister could explain how much of this new money will go into extra forensic investigators, extra detective support activity, digital crime prevention and the people who go out and tidy up crime scenes in homes after police have had to do raids. I recently had an incident in which, after one of the stabbings, the police had to follow a suspect into a private residence by kicking the back door down. The police had to pick up the bill for fixing that door and find the resources to replace it. These sorts of things have an impact on policing budgets and activity but are not simply sorted by having more police officers.

Of course, there is also the age-old problem of the magistrates and court system, which I know is outside the Minister’s immediate responsibility—I am sure he will be given that responsibility one day, as he demonstrates his brilliance in his Department. More police arresting more criminals means we need bigger custody suites, more custody sergeants and more space at magistrates courts to process those individuals who have been caught in crime.

I was told by a custody visitor only last week that police now spend more time waiting at the custody suite in Etruria in my constituency, because there are not enough custody sergeants to process all the people whom the police are rightly picking up for the crimes they commit. It means that they are not out on the street picking up the next lag who has done something wrong or providing the security that my older and vulnerable residents, and my communities, feel that they need.

I wonder whether I can tempt the Minister to comment on the fact that, out of every police and crime commissioner in the country, Matthew Ellis has the largest percentage office cost of them all—bigger than the West Midlands, Northumbria or South Yorkshire? It is a huge police force, and bigger than the Met. He spends £1.4 million, which, as a percentage of the money available to him, is almost 10% of his total. I wish the Minister would take that up.

I know the commissioner has said he is retiring at the next election, and I wish him well. I assume he is trying to get into this place—again, I wish him well—but surely every penny should be spent on trying to get more police, more frontline support and more officers out on the street, and not on public relations people sitting in a commissioner’s office.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) on securing this incredibly important debate in the first week back after the recess, and on her exceptional speech.

I welcome the Minister to his place and look forward to, as his predecessor said, keeping him on his toes with the new funding promised. It is good to see that the Government finally recognise that police funding should be a priority, and that they should abandon the dangerous delusion of police funding and crime being completely separate. I add to the remarks expressed by my hon. Friends by offering my condolences to the family and loved ones of PC Andrew Harper, who tragically lost his life over the summer. I also offer our best wishes for a speedy recovery to PC Stuart Outten, who was stabbed in Leyton, and PC Gareth Phillips, who was run over in Birmingham—tragic reminders of the dangers that our police officers face every day they put on their uniforms.

We have heard the consequences of the cuts to police funding and to our public sector over the past nine years across the city of Stoke-on-Trent. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North about the impacts that gang crime, organised crime, serious crime and violent crime has had on her constituency—[Interruption.]

Order. There is a Division in the House, so the sitting is suspended for 15 minutes until a quarter past 5 o’clock.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship as well, Mr Bone.

As I was saying before the Division, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North spoke about the changing nature of policing and about how demand on policing has changed so much in the past several years—the police now do what we would expect social workers, mental health professionals and care organisations to do. She made the point that the police are insufficiently resourced to undertake those roles, nor are they the correct agency to do so. It is completely unacceptable that in our society, someone having a mental health crisis could receive a police response—someone turning up with handcuffs and, potentially, a Taser—rather than a health response.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) mentioned that the police are really struggling to provide the proactive and preventive policing that forms the basis of our country’s policing model and enables our police officers to police by consent. The police are not there simply to respond to crime, but to be out in communities, developing relationships, gathering intelligence and preventing crime from happening in the first place. He made an important point about the wider police family and staff.

It is shocking to hear that the Staffordshire police have lost half of their forensic investigators when crime is becoming more complex and particularly when so much crime has a digital footprint. Investment in digital forensics is nowhere near sufficient to bear down on crime. That is exactly why there has been a rise in certain types of crime and a disastrous number of prosecutions and convictions. We know that crime is one of the public’s biggest concerns and, sadly, we know exactly why that is. Some 285 people were stabbed to death last year—the highest ever rate in figures dating back to 1977. Charges for crimes are now at a record low and police recorded violent crime has more than doubled to a record level in recent years.

The police cannot solve everything, but it is common sense that if police numbers are cut, crime will rise. The current Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was until recently Home Secretary, said so himself during the Tory leadership campaign this summer. He said:

“More police on the beat means less crime on our streets. Not exactly rocket science is it?”

No, it is not exactly rocket science, and it is what the Labour party, the Police Federation, the Superintendents’ Association, police staff unions and the public have told the Government for the last nine years. Yet the Government cut 21,000 police officers, 16,000 police staff—those who keep the police service functioning, go to the scene to help with investigations and put the evidence in a fit state for trial—and nearly 7,000 police community support officers, who are the eyes and ears of community policing.

The consequence of those decisions is rising crime across Stoke-on-Trent and nationwide. The damage caused by those broken promises cannot be reversed, and the know-how that experienced police officers and staff brought to the job is gone for good, harming the fight against serious crime. Demand is soaring and continues to rise exponentially.

That brings us neatly to the Prime Minister’s pledge to recruit 20,000 police officers. He clearly thinks, perhaps sincerely, that in one month-long pre-election blitz he can try to reverse the damage that his party has done over the last 10 years. The chief constable of West Midlands Police—a force on the frontline of the fight against violent crime—recently said that that force

“accounts for six per cent of the grant Government allocated to policing. If that was the means to allocate the officers it would be a lift of 1,200 officers over three years.”

However, according to the most recent Home Office figures, West Midlands Police has lost over 2,000 officers since 2010, so the chief constable expects to receive 931 short of the total number of officers that he has lost.

What is more, we understand from leaked letters that the National Crime Agency is reportedly set to receive approximately 6,000 of the 20,000 officers pledged. That is much needed, but it cannot be at the expense of local forces that need to bolster their response. Will the Minister confirm that the allocation of officers to local forces is actually about 14,000—far below the number lost since 2010? The lofty promises made on the steps of Downing Street come apart when exposed to scrutiny. Perhaps that will be the mark of the Prime Minister’s premiership.

For Staffordshire, what would it mean to apply the funding formula? Staffordshire has lost 27% of its police officers since 2010—nearly 600 officers. If the formula assumed by the chief of West Midlands police is applied, 320 officers would return—little over half what has been lost. That is if we assume that all 20,000 go to local forces, which is far from confirmed. I would appreciate if the Minister confirmed whether that is how the numbers of police officers in each force will be determined, based on the funding formula that determines the central grant in each force. How many will that mean for Staffordshire? How much of the additional money announced today by the Home Office will come from central Government funding, and how much will be raised by the local precept? How is the 20,000 being allocated between territorial, counter-terror and national security policing? Will all the officers recruited be fully warranted? Is there any commitment to the uplift to police staff? Does the Minister plan to review the funding formula to ensure that funding is genuinely allocated according to need?

Proroguing Parliament next week means that now is likely the only opportunity that we will have to scrutinise the important promises made to the British people by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. We absolutely must have answers to those questions.

It is a great pleasure to speak with you in the chair, Mr Bone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) on securing this important and timely debate. Before I begin my response, I thank her and other hon. Members for their comments about PC Andrew Harper and the other officers who have been injured recently. The death of PC Harper in the first couple of weeks of my tenure in this job was a shocking reminder of something that I learned in my four years as deputy mayor for policing in London: police officers go to work each day not knowing what they will face. It takes extraordinary courage for them to do so, and causes incredible worry and anxiety to their families, who often are not taken into account. That was thrown into very sad relief by the death of PC Harper, who left behind his new wife. Our condolences are with his family and friends. I take this opportunity to thank police officers across the country for their tireless work fighting crime and keeping us all safe, not least in Staffordshire.

The role of Government is first and foremost to protect the public, but the demands on the police are changing and becoming more complex, as hon. Members outlined. We recognise that the police are under pressure from that change, which is why this Government have acted quickly to rectify that. Policing was the subject of one of our Prime Minister’s first announcements on his first day in the job, and it is at the heart of what this Government will deliver. That is why we have announced plans for the recruitment of 20,000 additional officers over the course of the next three years. That is an unprecedented increase, and probably the largest expansion in policing ever. I am pleased to say that the recruitment campaign for those additional officers will be launched tomorrow morning, following the announcement made by the Chancellor this afternoon setting out the funding envelope for 2021, including £750 million extra for policing budgets to support the delivery of this commitment and associated costs.

That is just the first step in delivering on the Prime Minister’s commitment to put more officers back on our streets. It builds on the 2019-20 police funding settlement, which provided the largest increase in police funding since 2010. Police funding has increased by more than £1 billion this year, including the precept, extra funding for pension costs and the serious violence fund, allowing PCCs to start filling gaps in capacity this year as well. For Staffordshire police, this year that meant total funding of £196 million—an increase of £13.3 million on 2018-19, including council tax.

I understand that when the previous Policing Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), spoke to the police and crime commissioner for Staffordshire, he was determined to use this year’s settlement to move 100 more people into neighbourhood policing by year end, and to get behind proactive policing to disrupt crime, including drug dealing in hotspots. I am sure that following the excellent outcome of the spending round for policing, we will now go on to even greater achievements, delivering on the Government’s pledge of 20,000 extra police officers, with 6,000 for territorial policing in the first year alone. I hope hon. Members will welcome this plan.

I turn to some specifics mentioned by hon. Members. I acknowledge that too often, police officers step in where other organisations should shoulder their share of the responsibility, and a key area is mental health. The police deal with a very high number of mental health incidents, but we are working with our health and social care partners to relieve the burden on officers and to ensure that people receive the support they need. The Government recently announced an additional £2.3 billion to enhance mental health services by 2023-24 to relieve exactly this sort of pressure. I recently visited Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire police, and both emphasised the amount of capacity absorbed by hunting for missing people, who are often suffering from mental health problems. That is one of the areas on which I hope to focus in the months to come.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North rightly raised the issue of violence, much of it drug-related. I was appalled to learn of the recent incident in her constituency in which a taxi driver was attacked at knifepoint and the incidents in Clough Hall park. We are clear that we have to bear down on the scourge of violent crime, in particular knife crime, which is afflicting communities up and down the country. At the spring statement earlier this year, the then Home Secretary, now the Chancellor, secured £100 million for the serious violence fund. Since taking up this post, I have announced further detail of the split of that funding: £65 million has been allocated to surge funding for police activity and £35 million will support the establishment of violence reduction units and other preventive activity across the country. The Government are determined to see an end to these horrific cases; that is why the Chancellor committed today to extend that funding for serious violence next year so those newly established VRUs have certainty over the coming year. This is about prevention as well as enforcement.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the closure of police stations in her constituency and across the county. Although, obviously, that is a matter for PCCs, it is clear that the effectiveness of a force cannot and should not be measured by the total number of buildings it owns or staff it employs, how many police stations it has, or when front counters are open. Rather, a force’s effectiveness depends very much on how well the PCC and chief constable use their available resources to protect the local community.

I am reminded of an incident when I was London Assembly Member for West Central. We had a particularly horrible street murder in Shepherd’s Bush, and the then borough commander, the famous—well, possibly infamous—Kevin Hurley, who went on to be PCC in Surrey, held a community meeting. The one thing people all complained about was the fact that Shepherd’s Bush police station was not open 24 hours a day. Chief Inspector Hurley said, “That’s fine. I will open it 24 hours a day if you tell me which police officers you’d like me to pull off patrol to man the front desk during the night.” They all said, “No, no, no, we don’t want that.” He then said, “Well I’ll tell you what. Why don’t I leave the lights on overnight so it looks like it’s open?” They all said, “Oh yes, that’s a terribly good idea!”

That illustrated to me that police stations very often are a proxy for presence. People do not necessarily want to visit them. Very few people ever visit their police station, and we know from footfall counts that their use is decreasing, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) mentioned, but they nevertheless speak to something about presence. We hope that the increase in the number of police officers—in particular the first-year increase of 6,000, which will all be territorial uniformed policing—will increase the sense of presence and decrease anxiety about bricks and mortar, very much of which is often inefficient.

I appreciate the Minister’s comments about the role of police stations in communities even if they are not open, although I wish they were. One of the issues that compounds this, though, is that more than 20% of my constituents have not accessed the internet in the past six months, so they cannot use the online service. They wait on hold for more than 20 minutes, and in some cases up to two hours—in the longest case, I think someone held on for eight hours—trying to get through to 101, and for eight minutes trying to reach 999. Accessing the police is becoming increasingly difficult for my constituents.

The hon. Lady raises a good point. In many ways, the police, like lots of other organisations, need to modernise the way we contact them. If there are issues with 101 and 999 in her area, I am more than happy to look at the performance data. Lots of PCCs assess their local force on those kinds of performance metrics, and it is fundamentally for the PCC to decide. I was technically the first PCC in the country when I was deputy mayor for policing in London, and we were very hot on those kinds of performance metrics. As well as presence, people want a sense of responsiveness from the police—they want to know that they are going to get some kind of efficient response that makes them feel they are in good hands—so I am more than happy to look at that.

I accept the Minister’s point that bricks and mortar do not make a police force, but how many publicly accessible police stations does he have in his constituency? I have zero in mine. Would he be happy to have zero in his?

I have one police station in my constituency, but the difference is that my constituency is 230 square miles. I am happy to have one, in the town of Andover. Most of my constituents would have to travel quite some distance to get to it, although they could travel across the border into Basingstoke, where there are others. My custody suite is in Basingstoke—I do not have one in my constituency—but my area has relatively low crime. We have our issues, in particular with rural crime, but I have to say that I have no complaints from my constituents about access to the police, albeit people are naturally concerned about a sense of presence, and that is what I am trying to illustrate: we need to work on presence overall.

In the old days, presence was often reflected in the “Doctor Who” police box. A police box was in effect a mini police station. When we were going through the inevitable station closures in London during the eight years when the now Prime Minister was Mayor of London, one of the issues that we looked at was whether we could produce that sense of presence by having the modern equivalent of a police box. Is there some way to have access to the police on the street? I do not know whether people have seen the screens and little pods on Victoria Street for accessing all sorts of information, but is there some way for the police to use those as a way for people to contact them? Technology can assist in access in lots of modern ways used by many other organisations, and the police will want to think about them.

Moving on to Members’ specific questions, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North asked how much of today’s announcement was in Staffordshire, whether there would be new offices and when, and whether we could encourage partnership working. The allocation of the £750 million will be agreed over the next few weeks. Obviously, we have the police funding formula announcement to make—normally that is in early December—and there will a conversation with the policing family about what the allocation looks like over the period. One of today’s announcements is that we secured £45 million for in-year funding, to allow recruitment to begin immediately. Some of that will go into the bricks and mortar, if you like, of the campaign itself—advertising and building capacity—but it should result in about an extra 2,000 police officers being recruited across the country, on top of the 3,500 baked in as a result of the settlement last year. Over the next couple of weeks, we will agree with PCCs and forces what the allocation looks like, but it will allow us to get going straight away and means that there will be new officers for Staffordshire. Subject to the force’s capacity to recruit, I hope that that will be pretty immediate.

I am keen to encourage partnership working. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central—Stoke is a lovely place, I have been a couple of times—also mentioned that other organisations were happy to take responsibility for gang violence. In truth, the solution to the problem of youth violence in particular relies on everyone sitting around the table to solve it together, and that includes schools and colleges as well as the police. An element of information sharing and a shared sense of mission, especially with local authorities, are needed in particular areas to map the gang activities taking place and then to take steps—hard and soft—to solve the problem. I will look at how I can work with PCCs to stimulate them to be more assertive about bringing organisations together to do exactly that. That might be through local criminal justice boards, some of which perform extremely well—others do not—but we will look at exactly that.

The Minister laid out that the allocation of the 6,000 territorial officers will be decided over the coming weeks and that the funding formula, which we expect to be announced in December, will be how we decide further recruitment. Will he confirm that the amount allocated for further recruitment will not necessarily all come from central Government, but might yet come from an increase in the precept?

I was coming on to the hon. Lady’s questions, but no, the money is exclusive of precept—it is on top of the precept. However, I cannot yet confirm the method of allocation. That will be subject to discussion and to announcement in the normal course for next year. We will try to reach an early agreement on the allocation of the £45 million so that people can get going straight away, on top of the recruitment that they are already putting into place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) interestingly mentioned police cadets. I am a great fan of the police cadets. I remember that when I was doing the job in London, the police cadets would actively go and try to recruit young people who had been through the justice system, who had been in trouble. They had a 100% success rate; not a single police cadet would reoffend. Something about the discipline and self-respect found through being part of an organisation like that helps. That is the kind of theme we need to look at in much of the long-term work that we need to do with young people.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central mentioned space for police officers. He is absolutely right. When I did the first media round after the initial 20,000 announcement, there was much hilarity at the mention on the radio that one constraint might be locker space. Police officers carry a lot of kit, and 20,000 lockers is quite a lot of space. Where are we going to put them all? Interestingly, immediately after that, I had calls from a couple of local authority leaders saying that they would like to help. Local authorities have an estate and spare space, and there are lots of ways that we can get the public sector to work together to try to find accommodation. One thing included in the £750 million for next year is that ancillary costs—for training, equipment, space and all that kind of stuff—are essentially factored in as well.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right that 20,000 more police officers might, one would hope, be more productive in arresting people, which means that there will be criminal justice on-costs. He will today have seen the announcement in the spending round of another £80 million for the Crown Prosecution Service and more money for the Ministry of Justice to look at prisons and their capacity. We are looking at the whole system.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the central costs of the PCC in Staffordshire. I gently point out to him that the PCC is also the fire commissioner, and one would therefore expect the central costs to be a little higher, because he is handling two organisations rather than just one.

For clarity, the figure I quoted was from before Commissioner Ellis took on fire responsibility. I understand that, since he has taken on that responsibility, that figure has grown, but I do not have the up-to-date figure.

Obviously, a police and crime commissioner has to face the electorate every four years, just as we do every now and again, and will have to justify that central cost. As I understand it, the Staffordshire PCC has done a pretty good job and has been pretty well praised, certainly by colleagues on this side of the House, for the work he has done over his two terms. It sounds to me like he no doubt has a pretty productive relationship with the hon. Gentleman as well, which is good to see. Finally, I think I have answered most questions from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) on allocation exclusive of precept; finally, yes, those 20,000 officers will all be fully warranted.

Before I conclude, I will address the constant challenge about the number of police officers being related to the amount of crime. The hon. Lady may remember that, back in 2008, when I started my job as deputy mayor for policing in London, we faced exactly the same kind of spike in violent youth crime that we face now. That was at a time when police officer numbers were at an all-time high and money was being spent liberally on policing, so it is not necessarily the case that the link is direct. The causes of crime are significant and complex, and they change. It is key that the Government, and the police, which the Government fund, assist and support, remain agile in the face of changing crime. We heard about exactly that today, with the advent of “monkey dust”, which seems to have bubbled up and become a problem in just a matter of weeks. Giving the police the ability to be agile, through both technology and capacity, is a key part of our plans in the weeks to come.

As a special constable for the Metropolitan police in the borough of Lambeth in the immediate aftermath of that serious violent crime spike, I was part of the response to that spike. The then Mayor of London was able to respond and bear down on that spike because he had record numbers of police available to him. That has not been the case for police forces up and down the country over the last nine years. I will push the Minister on one question he has not been able to answer so far, on the division in the expected 20,000 officers between territorial, counter-terror and national security policing.

As I say, that is also yet to be decided. Thus far, for the first year—that is where we have got to in the spending round—we have agreed that the first 6,000 will be all territorial. I think the profile is then for 8,000 and a further 6,000, and we will be in discussion with the policing family about the allocation for that across the board. Part of the announcement today is a serious and organised crime review, and its conclusions will obviously inform the work we do in the future, not least because I am keen that the NCA and serious and organised crime work dovetails as much as possible with the work we will do with neighbourhood forces on county lines and other cross-border issues, where the NCA can bring its expertise to bear.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North for raising these important issues. As I said, the policing landscape is ever changing. The Chancellor’s announcement this afternoon clearly demonstrates the Government’s commitment to providing police forces with extra resources to protect the public and tackle crime head on. I look forward to working with the policing sector in the coming months and years to deliver this unprecedented uplift in officers and support what I believe to be the best police service in the world.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank everyone who contributed to the debate, and in particular the two Members who are still here—my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). I understand that other business in the House is occupying everyone else.

It is clear that policing will be an ongoing issue for the Government and this Parliament. This has been a good opportunity to air some of the issues and our concerns about our own police force, not least about the number of police officers we have lost and the rationalisation of the estate and its effect on community faith in policing. My concern, which is the one thing I want to leave with the Minister, is that we have lost nearly 600 police officers. Based on the proposed investment and assuming that all 20,000 go into territorial policing, that will give my force 96 officers in the first year and 320 over the three years, so police numbers will still be down by 15% on 2010. Minister, my police force is struggling. It needs more support and double the investment that is currently being promised.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered policing in Staffordshire.

Sitting adjourned.