Tuesday 6 October 2020
[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]
Before we start this debate, may I remind Members that only those on the call list are able to participate? We have five right hon. and hon. Members in Westminster Hall at the moment, and that will be the maximum number who can participate in this debate. That means that even if the debate looks as though it is going short, others who are not on the call list will not be able to join us.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered gang-associated girls.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and to be back in Westminster Hall to debate such an important topic. Youth violence is a very serious issue across our four nations in the UK, and it has a devastating impact on families—mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers—as well as on the wider community in our towns and cities. Here in London, it has almost become a daily occurrence on news bulletins. In the last two months alone, I have had to speak to three inconsolable mothers who have lost their children as a result of knife crime. These children were murdered by their peers. As a mother of two young children myself, that is not something that I can live with, ignore or accept.
However, today I want to talk about something different—another aspect of youth violence, and one that is hidden and often under-reported. It is the role played by girls and young women, whose activities and exploits, both in and around gangs, so often fly below the radar. I will also touch on the emerging issues and evidence that gang members are using the uncertainty caused by covid-19 to recruit vulnerable girls, as they adapt their business to the models of the new normal following lockdown.
I am sure that we all want to see an end to violence, exploitation and abuse, but if we want to understand this whole complex picture, we must understand that gang violence and abuse is a gendered and intersectional issue that requires a different approach. Even the word “gang” can be problematic when discussing the risks faced by girls and women. A youth worker who I spoke to recently highlighted to me that the language used to identify this issue sometimes fails to communicate the impact suffered by girls and young women. As she put it to me:
“Girls running county lines are not in a gang. They are victims of gangs.”
Girls and young women face different risks from those faced by males. Girls and young women may experience rape and other forms of sexual abuse, physical abuse, online grooming in the form of job offers, and direct threats of violence to themselves or their families to make them move or store drugs, weapons or even cash.
Some of these girls start off as girlfriends and get emotionally drawn into a relationship with an exploiter, and they face the additional emotional obstacle of trying to escape from that relationship as well as other forms of exploitation. Young women often carry the emotional burden for gang members and their wider crew, because they are often relied on for emotional support and counsel. Unfortunately, some girls are forced into criminal activity, such as county lines—moving drugs between cities and rural areas. There have been press reports recently of young women dressing as key workers to avoid being stopped and searched while travelling during lockdown.
The perception that girls work only in low-key roles in county lines is now starting to be challenged, with professionals reporting that, increasingly, young women work in the same roles as young men. That highlights the full scale of the exploitation that is taking place. Also, because young women and girls often go under the radar, their associations are much harder to track than those of males, but that does not mean that we should not offer them support. These are some of the most vulnerable young women and girls.
In February, in my role as London Assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark, I released a report entitled “Gang Associated Girls: Supporting young women at risk”. One key issue that I identified was a lack of data. There was no reliable information about the number of girls associated with gangs. For example, here in London, the Metropolitan Police Service’s records as of last year highlighted on its gangs matrix only six females, in contrast to 2,492 males. However, also in February, the Children’s Commissioner estimated that about 2,290 girls were associated with gangs in England; that is about 34% of all gang-associated children. When I sent a freedom of information request to all London boroughs, I found that more than 1,000 young women and girls had gang associations identified as a factor in their assessments by children’s social services. Therefore, we know that the data is patchy at best.
The invisibility of gangs’ association with girls has dire consequences. Abianda, a social enterprise that works with young women, highlighted that and the problems that it causes. A report from the crisis support charity Hestia in July found that girls were being deployed in county lines operations specifically because they were less likely to be stopped and searched by the police, and that exploitative romantic relationships were being used to lure young girls and women into carrying out that dangerous activity. Therefore, while we as the policy makers fail to truly appreciate the role that girls are playing in gangs, the same gangs are deliberately using that exploitation—that gendered advantage—to pursue their criminal activities. They are evading the law and, because girls on the periphery of gang violence who may need support are not being identified, funding is being disproportionately channelled into supporting young men.
A lot of good work is going on to rehabilitate young men away from this criminality, but there is little support for young women and girls. The issue of gangs’ association with girls is largely absent from the public discourse about violent crime, with both media reporting and funding concentrating on young men who are involved with gangs. Unfortunately, that means that public agencies risk missing the signs of gang-associated girls and do not offer the right support services to help them. If we do not offer adequate support to young women and girls at risk of gang association, we miss a vital opportunity to tackle violent crime.
The Minister shares my passion to end the exploitation of county lines, so will she ensure that resources are put in to disrupt county lines, working on the principle of taking a gendered approach to ensure that those working to prevent county lines activity are always aware of the role of young women and girls in these operations? If we accept that the cause of gang-associated violence has a gender dimension, it follows that the solution should also adopt a gendered approach rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Young women and girls experience the trauma of gang-related violence in a different way and, as a result, they present differently in hospital settings. Redthread, a charity whose workers operate in hospitals across London and the midlands, has reported that when they talk to young women, they are less likely to present with a physical injury, such as knife wounds, and are more likely to present with psychological issues related to trauma, such as self-harm, suicidal ideation and overdoses. In response, that charity has placed a number of young female workers in accident and emergency departments specifically to support these young women and girls.
The St Giles Trust is another charity that helps young people who are caught up in gangs. It has found that when it works in a hospital and its staff are given flexible access to a range of departments, they can identify these females at risk of exploitation and criminal and sexual abuse. If staff can get to them earlier, it will save costs down the line and get better results for the young women and girls.
Gender-based support works, but we know that our local councils up and down the country are struggling to provide that tailored support because of severe budget cuts. Given the potentially life-changing benefits that will be produced by programmes such as these, run by charities, will the Minister lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that councils have the funding available to provide that bespoke care? The reality is that gang-associated girls are part of a bigger system that not only harms the young women and girls directly involved, but contributes to the wider criminal activities of gangs and their exploitation of children and vulnerable young adults.
We cannot address gang violence without taking a gendered and intersectional approach. We need a better understanding of the role that girls and young women face so that support services can be there for them. We need to look at targeted interventions to help the girls who are being exploited, groomed and abused. We need to continue to raise awareness with the authorities around the use of girls in county lines and other gang-related activities, and we need policy makers to change the language that they use in highlighting the issue. Most importantly, we need to continue to listen to what young women and girls tell us.
When we talk about youth violence, knife crime or gangs, young people are too often labelled as criminals and perpetrators, but evidence shows that the young people themselves have been victims of crimes. We need to remember that when we talk about them. We are all here today because we want an end to the criminal exploitation of all vulnerable young people. To do that, we need to recognise and understand the gender dimension of gang association and violence, and invest in solutions based on that reality. It is a difficult reality, but one that we need to face up to, otherwise we risk dealing with only part of the problem. If we do that, the girls and young women who we all care about, and will carry on advocating for, will continue to suffer and end up in prison, or, even worse, continue to lose their lives.
It is a pleasure to speak in my first ever Westminster Hall debate under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), my neighbour. A river splits us, but I know we are at one on this subject. I am pleased to speak in this debate because the subject has always been close to my heart.
Westminster, which I represent as part of the Cities of London and Westminster seat, has never really been considered a borough where there could be gang violence. In 2012, I became Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for community protection; up to that point, I had been the children’s services cabinet member. When the two posts were put together, we were able to understand, for the first time, the gang issue that Westminster was experiencing. We had gone from 19th in the Met’s serious youth violence table to third, and we were higher than Hackney. That focused my mind, because, as I said, Westminster is not a place that is associated with serious youth violence and gang activity.
I remember going to see the then deputy mayor for policing—he is now my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse)—and saying, “What do I do? How do I tackle this?” His advice was to tackle it straight away, to be firm and to put all our powers and services behind it, because it would only get worse. We did, and I established the first gangs unit in Westminster. We went and spoke to Hackney, because it had a brilliant gangs unit. We set one up, and it allowed us to understand the issues facing our young people.
The problem was drug-related, and there were pockets of it in Pimlico, in the south of my constituency, as well as in the Westminster North constituency. In Pimlico, it was more of a business, with young people using violence to secure their clients and their areas. It culminated in the horrific murder of a young man called Hani, who was hacked to death in Pimlico on a Sunday afternoon when people and families were going about their business. The boys who were eventually found guilty—and sentenced, rightly, to many years in prison—were from my own ward in Pimlico, which is considered a very safe and affluent part of Westminster. Citizens, local people, councillors and MPs have to recognise that this is going on all around us. We in this Chamber may live in very safe environments, but our young people walk very different streets.
I welcome this debate on girls in gangs. As part of my preparation, I spoke to the head of the gangs unit at Westminster, Matt Watson, about girls. His view—it is one that I share, given my experience—is that girls in gangs, or girls who are victims of gangs, are hidden. What the hon. Member for Vauxhall said about the data is absolutely right. If there is one thing that we want the police to do, it is this: when they stop groups of boys or young men and there are girls present, take the girls’ details. The girls are usually ignored.
From my experience with the Met, it absolutely wants to work with local authorities and charities that are involved in work on gangs. If we can ask the Met to introduce best practice in taking data from young girls, that will help. The sooner we know about the involvement of young women and girls in gangs—whether as perpetrators or victims—the better. They are often used as weapons or to send a message to members of an opposing gang. As the hon. Member for Vauxhall said, we often do not know about them until they are at the most traumatic time of their lives in hospital.
I would like us to consider some other issues as a country. I am sure the Home Office has already considered this, because there is some funding for it, but I think there should be more funding and encouragement for relationship programmes. It is not fair to keep burdening schools, which are often seen as the place for such things because we know—or hope—that children go to them every day, but there needs to be a lot more education about what healthy relationships are for girls as well as boys. I have two teenagers, a 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, and I know it is equally important to teach them what a healthy relationship is.
In 2020, we cannot get away from the fact that boys, in particular, will access horrendous porn images on the internet from a very young age. Their first experience in a sexual relationship is often based on what they have seen on the internet. We need to build up more substantial programmes on healthy relationships, and we need to help parents. I have had too many experiences with victims’ families where the mum and dad never expected their child—their son, who is now dead—to be involved in a gang.
We all know that our teenagers live secret lives, and we did the same as teenagers. We often did not want our parents to know what we were involved in. That is part of growing up, but I think parents, grandparents, carers and young people need to understand what a healthy relationship is and have signposting when they know that something is not right. I am convinced that young women realise in the bottom of their stomach when something is not right, but they do not know where to go for help.
I also reiterate what the hon. Member for Vauxhall said about exploitation and abuse, which is very much gender related. I worry about the music industry. I do not want to be seen as a middle-aged woman telling young people that they should not be listening to drill music—that is not my position—but we need to explain to young people how we should view women and relationships and how men should see themselves. The music industry, and elements of it within drill and rap in particular, has questions to answer on what it allows to be published. I have been appalled by the misogyny and utter glorification of violence in some of the videos I have been shown, and it makes an awful lot of money on the back of that. We must take that on and hold the industry to account. I do not believe in censorship; this is about standards, and these are our young people.
I welcome the debate, which is on a cross-party concern. We need to take the politics out of it. Our young people, no matter what age they are, but particularly those aged under 18, whether boy or girl, must be considered victims if they are mixed up in a gang. No child of 15 should be peddling drugs. There will be a reason why they are doing so, and the story behind it is usually not a good one. I would love to see the Home Office take the great work it has already done to the next level.
I also welcome the debate brought by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi). Vulnerable young people are coerced into county lines and gangs on a daily basis, attracted by the draw of money and a route out of poverty and deprivation. County lines offenders use sexual exploitation to recruit vulnerable women to their gangs, with male gang members grooming vulnerable women through sexual relationships. The National Crime Agency says that women may not acknowledge that they are victims due to the nature of their grooming—they will often believe that they are in relationships—and those exploited are subjected to sexual violence control as part of county lines offending.
Liverpool is the most prolific county lines area outside of London, with drug dealers and gangsters exploiting children and young people to sell their drugs, using the rail network on Merseyside to run their county lines drug operations. Children and young people, including girls and young women, are manipulated and exploited to transport drugs around the country. Poverty and social and economic inequality have a disproportionate impact on black young girls and women, who are experiencing a widening of the educational attainment gap and affected by systemic and deeply entrenched institutional racism.
Social and criminal justice go hand in hand. Crime disproportionately affects poorer communities and those who commit crime are more likely to suffer from the causes of social breakdown. Gangs thrive when communities experience low employment, high family breakdown, addiction and poor educational attainment. We know that gang and youth violence has become a serious problem, which is witnessed with high numbers of lives lost as a result of these crimes.
Sadly, there is no reliable information about the number of girls associated with gangs. According to some data, the number of young women involved in gangs appears small. For example, on 2 July 2020, 0.2% of individuals on the Metropolitan police’s gangs matrix were females—six were listed on the matrix. However, estimates do vary. The Children’s Commissioner estimated in February 2019 that about 2,290 girls were associated with gangs in England—34% of all gang-associated children. The data on girls and young women associated with gangs are often marginalised in discussions about gang violence. Girls and young women often become involved as a result of relationships with male gang members. A lack of positive role models and low self-esteem can push girls into the arms of gang members, but there is still little empirical evidence about how many girls are involved in the gangs, the extent of the problems that they face, or how best to tackle the issues.
Gang life takes a toll on young girls’ lives. That includes the effect on their education, sexual exploitation, and an increase in criminal activity. London’s Rescue and Response county lines project has identified the fact that women face particular challenges in county lines. The Government say that they are targeting funding to support women and girls affected by gang activity, but more evidence should be collected about women and girls involved in gangs. More funding should be made available, so that gender-specific services can be provided to women and girls affected by gangs, and police officers should be trained to identify women and girls involved in gangs. That training should be developed in partnership with specialist organisations.
More funding should be made available for early intervention and preventive projects to support girls and young women, and to provide greater opportunities and more hope to disaffected and disenfranchised young women, encouraging them away from gangs and county lines.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) on securing this important debate. She made many profound points and was right to highlight the imbalanced focus on the harms experienced by boys in gangs, versus those experienced by gang-associated girls. That has led to disproportionate funding of support for girls to deal with that trauma.
The National Crime Agency believes that girls are under-represented in its data both as offenders and as victims of exploitation. A clear picture is not available, as there are intelligence gaps, but it is well known by the police and service providers that girls are used for county lines operations as they are less likely to get caught. That issue was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) in describing her experience of what is happening in Liverpool. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall referred to the example of young women being coerced into dressing as emergency workers to escape detection when carrying drugs through the national lockdown earlier this year. That shows the seriousness of the situation.
The NCA gives details of sexual violence being used to control those who are exploited, and of children and females being offered between county lines offenders for sexual activity. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said:
“Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination. Let us not forget that the gender inequalities that fuel rape culture are essentially a question of power imbalances.”
It is important that we focus on that because, as other Members have said today, the exploitation of women and girls is greatly under-represented, as it is not easily identified. The imbalance is clear in gang culture. As we have learned from speeches today, young and vulnerable girls are routinely targeted for grooming and exploitation by gangs, and girls are often lost in the narrative around child criminal exploitation. That is another point eloquently highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside.
That violence and exploitation is a devastating human rights violation and it is largely under-reported because there is impunity, and because of the silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. We must redress that imbalance by raising awareness of the issue so that girls are no longer ignored, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) pointed out in her eloquent and passionate speech. The psychological, sexual and reproductive health consequences that the girls in question will experience at different stages of their lives must be prevented through early interventions.
One reason why there is such under-representation of the issue in relation to girls and young women is that the damage is often hidden and psychological, whereas boys and young men present to hospitals with serious injuries, thus alerting various authorities. The Public Health England report, “The mental health needs of gang-affiliated young people” states:
“Girls involved with gangs can be particularly vulnerable to mental health problems resulting from sexual and intimate partner violence”.
The report also says:
“Trauma-based mental health services may be particularly important for female gang members, along with gender-sensitive responses that acknowledge the importance of positive relationships and improved self-esteem as an exit from crime and violence.”
Again, that point was made in all the speeches we have heard so far. It is something that we need to focus on.
More action needs to be taken by the Government to support services that can help girls get out of gangs through CAMHS and Public Health England, and by investing in local government. People in positions of power must understand the problem and work tirelessly to address it. Although we must ensure that gang-associated girls are given the support they need to recognise unhealthy and abusive relationships so that they can get away from exploitation and get the right care in order to recover, we must also empower such girls. Girls should not feel that they are at fault for not recognising abuse, or that it is their sole responsibility to prevent such crimes. They must know that it is always the perpetrator’s responsibility and that the abuse is not inevitable. Again, that is a point that has been made in the debate: girls and all young people involved in county lines and gang violence are victims. That is something that needs to be at the heart of any solution.
A number of organisations are doing exceptional work in these areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall has already mentioned Redthread and St Giles Trust, but I also want to highlight the work of two organisations from the north-east that are funded by Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness’s budget. One is called SCARPA. Through its work with vulnerable children, it has identified and worked with more than 30 girls who are at risk of harm and exploitation due to their association with gang members. Another organisation, Edge North East, mentors girls and young women involved in gangs. Young women have reported being victims of physical and sexual violence and being forced to do drug runs, to carry and store weapons, and to drive vehicles for drug deals. They have even allowed their bank accounts to be used to stash money.
Although I appreciate the complex nature of gangs and the many life experiences and events that can lead individuals down the wrong path, the best way that society and Government can support girls at risk of such crimes is to prevent crime and remove the threat. It is the responsibility of society to teach young boys and men that we have zero tolerance of abuse and exploitation of any kind, and that abuse and exploitation of gang-associated girls will no longer be ignored or hidden away.
I firmly believe that prevention is better than cure, but I note with concern that in a February 2019 report titled “Keeping kids safe: Improving safeguarding responses to gang violence and criminal exploitation”, Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, said:
“Tackling gang exploitation needs a paradigm change in thinking, which stops treating these children as criminals responsible for their own situation and instead sets out to protect them.”
New local safeguarding arrangements with a focus on contextualising safeguarding have the potential to make that happen, yet there are few signs that any adequate plans are in place.
Public services have been slashed in recent years, and we urgently need reinvestment in order to protect young people from the risk of gang violence and exploitation. Again, I heard what the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said about her experience when she was a councillor in Westminster, and about the joined-up services and setting up the gangs unit. That is something I would like to see mirrored in all our boroughs. Services should be improved and made secure.
We need to mention that until we catch people higher up the food chain—those who keep their hands clean while reaping the profits of drug dealing carried out by the unfortunate foot soldiers on the frontline, or on the county line—we will allow the constant repetition of the cycle of exploitation and abuse. That is an issue we seriously must address.
I want to ask the Minister four questions. Will she commit to raising greater awareness of the hidden experiences of gang-associated girls among the public servants who encounter them as well as the general public? Will she press for greater public sector funding for support for youth services, mental health services and early intervention work, including areas of healthy relationships and family support? Will she ensure that there is a targeted approach to deal with gang violence and exploitation against girls? Lastly, will she confirm that there is a robust strategy in place to go after the middlemen and those higher up, who are directly responsible for drug dealing, gang exploitation and violence but who act with impunity?
Any Government’s first responsibility is to keep their citizens safe. The fact that girls in this country are not safe in their own communities means that the Government have much more work to do to fulfil their first duty. I know the Minister will take this issue very seriously.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate and thank the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) for bringing this debate to the House. It is an incredibly important and emotive subject and one that I do not think is discussed often enough: indeed, we all agreed this during the debate today. All Members who have contributed today have referred to the hidden aspect of these crimes. Much of what happens in gangs is hidden from view by definition—it is the modus operandi of gang leaders—but this is a particularly hidden and pernicious aspect of gangs’ ways of operating, as we have all acknowledged, so I am grateful to hon. Members for raising the subject today.
I note also, with some regret, that although there are only five of us in the Chamber, two of the three largest exporting areas for county lines are represented—London and Merseyside—so hon. Members have brought their own personal constituency experience and expertise to the debate. I want to reassure colleagues that tackling serious violence and the exploitation of girls and women is an absolute priority for the Government. I do not use these words lightly. Hon. Members have been kind enough to indicate the interest and the attention that I have paid to it personally, but this goes across Government. I hope that, in a moment, I will be able to lay out some of the steps we are taking to tackle serious violence, but particularly the victimisation of girls and young women in gangs.
By way of demonstration, we have invested £119 million this year alone to provide extra police resources to drive down the scale of violent crime that we are seeing on our streets, to fund violence reduction units in the 18 force areas most affected by crime and violence, and to fund specialist county line operations. We have also spent over £200 million on early intervention to ensure that those most at risk are given the opportunity to turn away from violence and lead positive, safe lives. But it is, of course, critical that the investment works for girls and young women. We are, after all, half the population.
When hon. Members refer to the different experiences of girls and young women in gangs, I could not agree more. We know that girls and young women are subject to serious and appalling harms, ranging from threats to themselves and their families to sexual exploitation and abuse. Their experiences are often different from those of boys and young men in the very same gangs. The hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to evidence from Redthread, an organisation that the Government are pleased to support and work with. Girls present with different injuries when they come into hospital from those with which boys tend to present, which shows the nature of the harms faced by girls and young women in gangs.
There is evidence that girls and young women are playing a more active role in the drug markets, mirroring the operations of their male counterparts not just in London but across the country. We are hearing reports of that, and it has been referred to during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) used a line that sums up the experiences of these young people on our streets: these young people in gangs “walk different streets” from us. As a Minister but also as a Government, we are keen to try to get the message across to our constituents that it is a matter for all of us to have open eyes, to watch and listen, and to see if the young people we live next to in our communities are safe and well, or if in fact they are being groomed in the ways described this morning.
On 3 June, I held a virtual meeting with a number of charities and organisations that provide vital support to young people affected by county lines exploitation. That is part of our day-to-day business. Frontline workers at the meeting, including those from Abianda, reflected on the specific challenges faced by girls and young women who are drawn into county lines activity. One very powerful advocate told me that young women were being used not just for their physical capabilities in terms of moving drugs around, but also to launder the proceeds of those crimes. Those young women’s bank accounts are being used by gang leaders and that has huge repercussions, not just in the short, immediate term, but also in the longer term. Once those women have escaped the gangs, their credit ratings, for example, may well still be affected by the activities. We know that those young people face terrible harms, but we must understand that there are long-term implications for their experiences as well. I wish to assure the House that those insights and those of all the organisations we work with—St Giles Trust and Redthread, to name just two—inform our policy response to those issues.
Rightly, there has been attention on Government investment. We have invested some £176 million through the serious violence fund to address the drivers of serious violence at local level. That includes the vital investment in violence reduction units. The point of those units is to provide a localised understanding to reduce and prevent serious violence within local communities and to tackle its root causes. We have been very keen to ensure that the units have the freedom to develop policies that work in their local areas. As such, what may work in a particular part of London—not even across London—such as Westminster may not be appropriate for Vauxhall and similarly, may not be appropriate for Liverpool, Riverside, so we are keen that the units have freedom and flexibility. However, the objective of those units is to drive down serious violence. The role of the violence reduction unit, as pointed out by the hon. Member for Vauxhall in her report, for which I thank her, is critical in identifying the local risks and drivers of that violence, as well as the local response to those drivers.
We are beginning to see violence reduction units taking important steps to commission the support and interventions that people at risk need, including girls and women. For example, the West Midlands violence reduction unit is working with the St Giles Trust to embed a senior youth violence and exploitation worker in Birmingham women’s and children’s hospital to provide guidance and support to girls and young women who have experienced violent crime or potential gang exploitation. Violence reduction units are also delivering interventions to support healthy relationships and to prevent domestic abuse.
In my work on the Domestic Abuse Bill, I hope I have made it clear that, if we can tackle domestic abuse, that will have many ramifications outside the home, including violence on the streets. For example, the Northumbria violence reduction unit is delivering interventions targeted at women and children experiencing domestic abuse during the covid-19 pandemic. The South Yorkshire violence reduction unit is using cutting-edge technology to role-play challenging scenarios to assist frontline practitioners in their response to domestic abuse. I think that line means that we are trying to help frontline practitioners get a practical grasp on how they deal with situations in cases as they arise.
In addition to local action, my Department is funding gender-specific, tailored services to support girls and young women experiencing exploitation related to gangs and county lines. Young people’s advocates in London, Manchester and the west midlands provide dedicated, one-to-one support directly to gang-affected women and girls, especially those who have been victims of, or are at risk of, sexual violence. With Home Office investment of up to £860,000 this year, the St Giles Trust will be delivering one-to-one support in London, Merseyside and the west midlands—the three largest county lines-exporting areas—which will help over 200 vulnerable children and young people who are criminally exploited by county lines gangs, including with specialist support for girls. We continue to fund Missing People’s SafeCall service, which is a specialist helpline providing advice and support to children, young people and families who are concerned about county lines, criminal exploitation and gangs. In addition, we are investing more in rape and sexual abuse support services, with £24 million being made available over the next three years to provide advice, support and counselling.
The hon. Members for Vauxhall, for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), and for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) all referred to the grooming of girls and young women, particularly the classic grooming example—if I may call it that—of the boyfriend-girlfriend model, whereby the boy or young man draws the girl or young woman into his world by forming a relationship, and she is then much more vulnerable to him when he suggests that she does things that she feels utterly uncomfortable with, or indeed scared by. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster called for relationship education for girls and boys, which is really important: we want young women and girls to be resilient and to have the confidence to say no, but we must also ensure that boys and young men have a good understanding of what a healthy relationship is. I remember meeting a harmful sexual behaviours youth worker—just having to have someone with that job title is incredibly depressing, but that very good youth worker recounted to me that a young man he was working with at the time thought that it was normal for girls and young women to cry during sex. We need to take a step back and think about what has gone wrong, not just in that young man’s life but in the lives of those girls, and why some of our young people believe that that is an acceptable way in which to conduct themselves.
We are very conscious of the importance for girls and boys, young women and young men, of understanding and building healthy relationships. That is why we have made relationship education compulsory for all primary-school pupils, and relationship and sex education compulsory for secondary school pupils. Health education has been compulsory in all schools since last month, September 2020. These subjects will ensure that children understand that violence and abuse is never acceptable, and know what positive, healthy and respectful relationships should look like, which in turn will help to prevent abuse. We want girls to know that it is important to report abuse and share concerns that they have about themselves or others, both online and offline. To help them do so, we have provided £6 million to develop a programme of support for schools, which will include tools to help schools improve their teaching practice, training support and high-quality resources. That programme will also include information on parents’ rights and involvement in the curriculum.
However, we can do more, and we are doing more. We have introduced new knife crime prevention orders as an additional tool to help the police to steer young people and adults away from knife crime and serious violence, and we have launched an eight-week public consultation on the design of new serious violence reduction orders, which will make it easier for the police to stop and search those previously convicted of knife-crime offences, but we also need longer-term action to prevent vulnerable young people from being drawn into crime. That is why, as I said at the beginning of my speech, we have invested £200 million in the 10-year Youth Endowment Fund to ensure that those most at risk are given the opportunity to turn away from violence and to lead positive lives. Importantly, that helps in evaluating schemes across the country to see what works and what does not, so that we can help local commissioners understand where their money is best invested.
All hon. Members raised the point about data—it is a fair point. I spoke at the beginning of my speech about the hidden nature of girls and young women’s involvement in gangs. Following today’s debate, I will engage further with the violence reduction unit network to ensure that all VRUs are actively considering gang-affected girls and young women when identifying the drivers of serious violence acting in their local area and ensuring an effective response. We are already working on that, but I will very much take that point forward. VRUs are doing really good work in bringing together local partners to tackle violence and the drivers of violence together. We will very much use our learning from the progress to date, including those units that are already delivering support to girls and young women in their areas, to make sure that no young people affected by violence are forgotten.
I thank the hon. Member for Vauxhall for raising the issues in this debate, and all hon. Members for their contributions. As always, I pass on my sincere thanks to those who are working right now to protect and support victims of serious violence. We know that serious violence is evolving and there is a threat from county lines activities and from sexual exploitation and abuse—much of that leads to serious violence. That evolution requires us to be flexible and to keep looking for new responses to the changing dynamics. We are absolutely doing all we can to support victims of serious violence and abuse, including young women and girls, but we understand that, although we have made some progress in setting up VRUs and so on, we are absolutely committed to a truly comprehensive response to protect our young people from these horrific crimes and to help end the harm that they cause.
I thank all hon. Members for their attendance this morning. I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for highlighting her experience of dealing with this issue on the frontline as a councillor. Dealing with some of the things that have come across her desk in children’s social services in an inner-London borough such as Westminster will have been very difficult and challenging. I thank her for her work highlighting these issues with the police, and for touching on the important role of relationships with our young people, both boys and girls. I remember my relationship discussions in school, when it was something that only girls had to talk about. It is important that we are now making sure that our young boys and men understand what it is to be in a healthy relationship, and that we are teaching our girls about saying no and why it is okay to say no. Teaching our girls and boys to respect their bodies is something really important that parents, teachers and youth workers should be working on.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) for highlighting the fact that this is not just an issue in London, but across the country; we must make sure that we have solutions to address that. What is happening in Vauxhall will be different from what is happening in Liverpool, Riverside. My hon. Friend also highlighted the fact that the basis of the issue is poverty and deprivation. We need to look at how we make sure some of our most vulnerable citizens in society have opportunities and access to jobs, housing, employment, training—all things that have now been made a lot harder on the back of the pandemic. It is important that we think about next steps, once we have helped these young women and girls, into a life that is better for themselves and their families.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) for raising the important role that CAMHS plays through early intervention. Funding for the service, which is often overstretched, is important. We know that the case loads of some of our social workers continue to grow. Again, it is about making sure that they get funding and support, putting aside party politics and working across the country to make sure that that happens.
I thank the Minister for highlighting some of the initiatives and funding that have already gone in. It is important to ensure that VRUs across the country have a localised approach and that funding is targeted at a local level to address local issues. We must continue to acknowledge that this issue will not disappear overnight. The issue cannot be resolved just with funding. It requires a different approach.
I am happy that the Minister said that she will take away the idea of looking at the data. We cannot deal with something unless we understand the data behind it. We could be throwing money at a problem when we do not know its real cause. The commitment to VRUs looking at the data specifically on girls associated with gangs is really important.
Lastly, politics aside, all of us want to see our young people flourish. No child is born with the intention of holding a knife, carrying drugs or carrying guns. We have to let children be children. Our young children are being forced to grow up too early. We have to ensure there are positive activities for our young children to engage with, and that they have schooling opportunities and access to safe homes. I hope the Government will continue to invest in those things, continue to work with local councils who know their local areas, and, when we are talking about criminality, continue to remember that these are young children.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered gang-associated girls.
Cultural Attractions: Contribution to Local Economy
[Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the contribution of theatres, live music venues and other cultural attractions to the local economy.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, and I am delighted to have been able to secure this, my first lead Westminster Hall debate, on such an important topic. As the covid pandemic continues to threaten people’s health and livelihoods, hon. Members across the House have rightly been highlighting sectors of the economy that remain at particular risk. I applied for this debate to highlight one such sector—arts and culture. In March, theatres closed their doors. Gig venues and clubs across the country turned off their sound systems, and museums and galleries turned off the lights. Some have reopened, with social distancing measures and other restrictions in place. Many in my own constituency, including the commercial theatres, remain unable to reopen because of the simple fact that it is not financially viable to operate within current restrictions. I hope that over the course of the debate, other hon. Members and I will be able to convince the Government and the public of the reasons why those businesses are vital to our communities and worthy of ongoing support.
I am keen for other hon. Members to play their part in the debate, as I am acutely aware that when I speak on these issues, representing the Cities of London and Westminster, I am often—and easily—accused of being London-centric. I hope, however, that through our contributions we will be able to show that the arts and cultural sector contributes massively to local economies up and down the country. I am incredibly proud of the vibrant arts and culture offer in my constituency, from theatreland to iconic live music venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, the 100 Club and Heaven, as well as the Barbican centre, the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Opera House and the Coliseum.
I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I reel off some statistics to support the argument that arts and culture are vital to the economy. In 2019, 18,000 performances across west end theatres attracted more than 15 million audience members, providing a gross revenue of £800 million. In 2018, the gross value added of arts, museums and galleries in the west end alone was more than £1 billion. It is estimated that across London there are 97,000 jobs in music, performance and visual arts, and more than 17,000 in museums, galleries and libraries. VisitBritain research suggests that a quarter of tourists who come to London come specifically for its cultural offer. Those statistics show, I hope, the direct impact of the arts and culture in supporting the wider local economy. Modelling shows that for every £1 spent in theatres, for example, £5 is spent in the wider local economy—in bars, restaurants and shops.
Theatres, live music and cultural venues play a vital role in the ecosystem of the west end, and it is the same across the UK. Figures provided by UK Music suggest that every £10 spent on a ticket for a live music venue is worth £17 to the local economy. One Ed Sheeran gig in Ipswich last year brought in £58 for every £1 spent by the council to put on the concert. The net value to the local economy was more than £9 million.
What impact has covid-19 had, and what impact will it continue to have? The Heart of London Business Alliance, a business improvement district in my constituency, is about to publish a report on the economic benefits of the west end and the heart of London arts and cultural sector for the wider economy, and the case for covid-19 support. It has been kind enough to provide me with an advance copy. The report models four scenarios and the predicted impact for the economic output of arts and culture in the west end. Scenario one is repeated lockdowns, scenario two is strict rules and social distancing in place, scenario three is seasonal covid with occasional softer social distancing remaining, and finally, scenario four, which is a return to normality—something I think we all wish for. For the arts and culture sector, scenarios one and two are modelled to have very similar outcomes. Employment in the sector in the west end would fall by 95% by 2024. Even in the best circumstances of a return to normality, the arts and culture sector is projected to produce 10% less in 2024 than in 2019. Those models make for challenging reading and I strongly encourage the Minister and her officials to read the report in detail.
Venues in my constituency have worked incredibly hard to find solutions to open under current social distancing measures. The Barbican centre in the City of London has been trialling a new approach to concerts with the Live from the Barbican series, involving 300 socially- distanced audience members in the hall alongside a pay-per-view live stream that enables audiences to watch from wherever they want. I am delighted to report that those concerts have sold out, with encouraging interest and early sales for live streaming.
In the west end, Andrew Lloyd Webber has undertaken heroic action to introduce measures to prove that theatres can be socially distancing-friendly at a capacity that works for safety and for his theatres’ commercial viability. What can we do in this place and what can the Government do to support the sector in the return to normality scenario?
I pledge huge gratitude to the Culture Secretary and his team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, including my hon. Friend the Minister for Digital and Culture, who is responding to this debate. I know they have worked tirelessly since lockdown to support the arts and culture sector. I recognise their huge achievement in securing £1.5 billion in support for the arts. However, there is more to be done if we are to secure our arts and culture sector once we have beaten this dreadful virus.
I encourage the Government to continue funding jobs in sectors that remain unable to recover because of restrictions that are in place. As those businesses remain closed through no fault of their own, they will likely lose all access to current support measures when the furlough scheme ends. The sector has been hugely grateful for the support so far, but that support needs to continue. I ask the Minister to persuade the Treasury once again to reassess the support it offers the self-employed, as many in the sector are freelance and work in a mixture of self-employed and employed roles, depending on their contract and the employer. Too many have gone without any support at all. Current Government support has been more focused on salaried staff, and there is a worry that freelancers will drop out of their profession, leading to a shortage of expertise when we are back up and running.
I think all of us in this hall accept that theatres, live music and cultural venues need clear signposting as to when they will be able to open. Theatre productions, for example, have lead times often in excess of six months before opening, so require as much notice as possible. I urge the Government to extend the 5% VAT reduction for at least three years, in line with recommendations from the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I support the introduction of a Government-backed insurance scheme for live music, theatre and performance to allow venues, producers and creators to proceed with developing projects in confidence that, should they not be able to do so, the Government will support them. We have launched a similar and very successful scheme for the film industry and, knowing how much it costs to put on a commercial theatre production, such an insurance scheme would prove beneficial for the whole industry. With that, I thank hon. Members for joining me to take part in the debate and I look forward to hearing their contributions and the Minister’s reply.
As always, it is an honour to appear under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. This is an important discussion and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for securing the debate. Theatres, live music and cultural venues are an essential part of what we are as an island nation. It is what sells Britain plc to the rest of the world and I have been heavily involved in it for years.
According to the Creative Industries Council, our industry is estimated to generate £48 billion in turnover and to support nearly 400,000 jobs. The building blocks of this national contribution are, of course, individual local economies. In Clacton, our local economy is hugely dependent on tourism; it represents some 17.4% of all employment in the area. We have wonderful venues, such as the Prince’s theatre, the West Cliff theatre and my own Frinton summer theatre, which I used to run years ago. We also have 19th-century Martello towers, our two famous piers, the beautiful Walton backwaters, the sunshine coast and amazing beaches, all of which bring many people to our wonderful coastal area. Those people take advantage of our tourism offer and they come to our cultural centres.
Tourism in Tendring is worth some £392 million, and for a district such as Clacton that is vital. Without strong tourism in Clacton, we would be in real trouble, but that is what we could face if we lose the venues and attractions that bring people to our area. Yes, we have the culture recovery fund to keep these establishments open, but we now need to create domestic demand. We need to get people from the UK to come to UK resorts and keep us going.
We need to find a way to bring people safely back to the theatre. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster mentioned Andrew Lloyd Webber. What a wonderful example—he fogs the Palladium, fills it with an alcohol gas and cleans everything up. The Palladium has self-cleaning handles. We must be creative; we are the creative industries, after all.
We need to get people back into theatres, but as my hon. Friend mentioned, that is also about the restaurants, the bars, the taxis and all the surrounding ecosystem. Those have to be supported too. Like the eat out to help out scheme, I envisage a voucher scheme that would help people to get back into the theatres, and I put that proposal to the Minister now. There must be some means whereby theatres, which would have to operate on a lower percentage in order to keep people safely spaced, could be helped to open with a voucher scheme. I am sure that it is not beyond the wit of man to come up with that. There could also be something to help with the food offer in our local restaurants around the theatres.
We need to begin to focus on returning people to these establishments in a safe way, because if we do not do that, when Government support for theatres ends we will be in real trouble. We have a global gold standard in our theatres and we must protect them. Finally, I have to say something about freelancers, such as actors and musicians. We must ensure that they are protected, so I say to the Minister, “Look after the freelancers too”.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) on securing this debate, and I will also say how proud I am to see her leading the debate today. Not all hon. Members will know that I used to teach her at Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff. It is wonderful to see her leading our debate today and it is a privilege for me to participate in the debate with her. I am sorry that she ended up the way she did, Mr Walker. [Laughter.] It was despite my best efforts, but there we are.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) who, like me, is a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, on his speech. As ever, he made his constituency sound like a wonderful place, although he was unable to establish, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster did with her constituency, that we can literally find heaven within it.
I always like to stress the importance of the value of the arts and culture in and of themselves, as well as their economic benefits. In and of themselves, they are valuable and we should encourage them. Nevertheless, it is important to note that places such as the Sherman theatre in Cardiff, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens), make a wonderful contribution—and an important economic contribution too. Cultural and creative industries contribute £10.8 billion a year to the UK economy and £2.8 billion in taxation, and they support over 360,000 jobs. This was also the fastest growing sector of the economy; we should not forget that.
In Cardiff, we have wonderful cultural facilities too. Recently, the Womanby Street campaign tried to protect our music venues—my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) was very much involved in that. We have the wonderful Millennium centre in Cardiff, which is also in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and the Chapter arts centre, a world-leading contemporary arts centre in my own constituency. All of these places are wonderful, but they have all been very badly affected by coronavirus and the lockdown.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the Womanby Street campaign; I was proud to work with him on it. Does he agree that Eluned Morgan, our Welsh culture Minister, has been doing an excellent job in securing a package to support our industries, including freelancers, crucially?
I agree. She is another of my protégés, and is doing a marvellous job as arts Minister in Cardiff.
Through the Minister, I say to the Chancellor that he must stop the talk about people in the creative industries going on to do something else. In a report today on the ITV website, the Chancellor suggests that musicians and others in the arts industry—actors, creatives and so on—may need to retrain and find new jobs. When asked whether he was suggesting that some of the UK’s fabulous musicians, artists and actors should get other jobs, the Chancellor said that although there is still work available in the creative industries,
“as in all walks of life everyone’s having to adapt.”
That is true and all very well, but he is in danger of becoming the Aunt Mimi of Government if he is not careful. For those who do not know, Aunt Mimi was John Lennon’s aunt, who brought him up and told him to get a proper job rather than going into the music industry. Those are proper jobs! Roles that are involved in our creative industries—actors, such as my brother or the hon. Member for Clacton; musicians; directors; or whatever freelance or employed role—are proper jobs in the fastest growing sector of our economy. It is about time that the Government acknowledged that.
In all fairness, some parts of the Government do, and I welcome the package that they have brought forward—although that money needs to be distributed now—but the view that those are not proper jobs has got to go. The Chancellor has to stop saying that. The Minister may not feel free or at ease to say so in the debate, but will she say privately in the halls of Government that that kind of talk has to stop? The Government’s job is to provide a bridge to the future for what is a very viable creative sector. There is a bright future for it and for those who work in it. We need to acknowledge that and provide more support to enable it.
In the early 1970s, when I was seven or eight, I was taken to a performance of Bach’s St John Passion because my mum was singing in it. It was electrifying and magical, and it changed the course of my life. Eight years later, Bob Dylan had a similar effect. That is because great music, art and live performances change lives. As the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) rightly said, it is about not just the economic cost, but the social cost, particularly and ironically when, in a time of so much fear, uncertainty and loneliness, live performances and venues are so important to society.
Just outside my constituency sits the site of the Glastonbury festival—some of the far-flung campsites are in my patch—which brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors a year; supports gazillions of businesses such as pubs, hotels, restaurants, catering, transport, you name it; and brings in about £45 million a year to Somerset. Businesses are devastated. Many of them are really struggling because this year there was no Glastonbury festival.
This is not just about the big festivals, however; smaller venues are also affected. The Cheese & Grain in Frome is a member-owned social enterprise and registered charity that provides a huge boost to the cultural, economic and social life of Frome. It is now looking at making 40 of its 53 staff redundant and, having been closed for eight months, it may become insolvent. I know that the Chancellor is being held upside down so that people can steal money out of his pockets all the time, but if we do not help those businesses, they will go under and be devastated. I wrote to him and suggested a tourism and cultural resilience fund, with targeted support and grants to carry those businesses through the winter, and I urge the Minister and the Government to consider that carefully.
I have also said that the furlough scheme should be extended for businesses that are unable to open, and again, I hope that my words are being heard. In the west country, it is particularly important because the incidence of covid is very low, but the economic cost is very high. We must keep changing lives and supporting those whose businesses change lives.
It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, and to take part in this debate instigated by my fellow west London MP, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken).
For one of the smallest London boroughs, Hammersmith and Fulham packs a big punch creatively in the arts, theatre, live music and exhibitions. These institutions are the lifeblood of our cultural life, but also a main driver of the local economy. We have lost some iconic venues in the last few years, such as Hammersmith Palais and the Earls Court exhibition centre, but we have Olympia, which is undergoing a major renaissance, the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo and Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and three fantastic theatres—the Lyric, the Bush and the Riverside—all of which were thriving before covid hit and had new or substantially enlarged premises.
We have a lot of good smaller venues, such as Bush Hall, which has provided live music for 20 years. They are particularly vulnerable, because they do not have good income streams or reserves of finance, and many of them are in danger of closing down as we speak. The Lyric is consulting on losing about 20% of its staff. None of these theatres can stage productions, because on a 30% capacity they cannot make productions commercially viable.
They all do excellent community work, which does not appear to be reflected in the Government’s funding. Notably, the arts fund was directed to prioritise institutions of national or international significance, but that does not cover the whole body of good work that the institutions do. For example, there would have been 45,000 visitors to Christmas shows at the Lyric on Hammersmith Broadway. The Bush theatre is in one of the most deprived parts of my constituency and it drives a large part of the local economy. That is all suffering at the moment.
What do we need? We need a payment support scheme—either grants or loans, as applicable to the type of institution—to keep those institutions above the water line for the next year; it probably will be a year. We need support for freelancers—70% of people who work in this area are freelancers—and that has not been in place throughout the crisis. We need insurance, because without proper insurance schemes it will not be possible to put together productions and put them on at the risk of another lockdown. We need clarity, because it takes at least three months to put together such exhibitions or productions. We need the Government to say: “We will support you until lockdown has ended”. That is the only way we will achieve something. Without that, I fear for the cultural sector across my borough, which I care for deeply, and across the country. I hope the Minister will respond to this.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank my neighbouring colleague, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), for securing this important debate and for her important work on this issue over the last few months.
My constituency in Vauxhall is close to Westminster and we have a fantastic cultural centre. It contains many of Britain’s iconic cultural institutions—familiar landmarks to many people around the world—including the London Eye, the National Theatre, the BFI on the south bank and the South Bank centre. The origins of the South Bank centre date back to the festival of Britain, and it houses the Hayward Gallery and the Royal Festival Hall, which is home to the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
The south bank area of my constituency not only contributes to our culture’s enormous identity, but generates so much income and employment. My constituents work in a number of these organisations, and in the many auxiliary bars, hotels, restaurants and shops that support millions of tourists and visitors every year. These people are skilled freelancers—the backstage workers—and they need our support. Without them, these organisations would not be able to function.
Alongside those big, hard-hitting cultural heritage sites, we have smaller but no less important sites: live music venues and theatres, such as the Young Vic theatre and the historic Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Aside from their cultural importance, what makes them so special is that they are embedded in the communities where they are located. They bring a cultural, economic and social enrichment to the lives of our residents in the form of employment, and artistic and creative support programmes.
Last month, I had the honour of attending a socially distanced 50th anniversary celebration for the Young Vic theatre. The Young Vic is an incredible, innovative theatre that is embedded in schools and the community. Under the leadership of the inspiring playwright and director Kwame Kwei-Armah, it runs a year-round programme for residents, championing diversity. For those people who are traditionally under-represented in arts and culture, that is so important.
These organisations, from the smaller theatres to the big ones, will continue to suffer under the financial challenges of covid. We have seen a dramatic fall in audiences—and, in some cases, no audiences whatsoever. Many of my constituents who work in the sector will not return to business as usual, even as the lockdown eases. They will continue to be hit hard. In July, I welcomed the Government’s financial support, but it is now October and we have not seen that money come through. Will the Minister confirm when theatres will finally see the money, and will she lobby the Chancellor to ensure that our amazing culture sector gets the targeted support that it needs?
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), a fellow former council leader, for securing the debate. When I was first elected as the Member for Northampton South, one of my hopes and aims was regeneration of the town centre, both physically and in what it had to offer those who seek a cultural experience. Northampton has a lot to offer, from the iconic Royal & Derngate theatre, which I have visited many times, to the host of historical, archaeological and artistic treasures found at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. We look forward to that development. There are also a large number of community-run drama projects, historical attractions and music venues that add to the cultural tapestry in Northampton.
I thank the Government for the £1.57 billion support package for the sector. Many businesses have been in touch thanking me for that support, but my worry, which is shared by many, is that a further support package will be needed to keep many of our local theatres and attractions open. As a vice-president of the Local Government Association, I know that local councils would like the Government to adopt a place-based approach to recovery by ensuring that councils are at the table for discussions, including at the new cultural renewal taskforce and the Tourism Industry Council. Councils are one of the biggest investors in cultural activity, spending around £1.1 billion a year, so they should be part of future discussions.
One often overlooked part of the culture and leisure sector is betting and gaming organisations. I have visited both Aspers and Grosvenor casinos in my constituency and, as the lockdown eased, I was invited to look at the covid-safe measures being implemented at considerable cost, including limits on capacity, perspex screens, hand sanitisers and social distancing. I was impressed by their efforts to comply with Government guidance, but the 10 pm curfew has put at even greater risk what has been, in these changed times, a precarious survival. I hope the Government will look at the 10 pm issue urgently. Otherwise, I am afraid that many casinos, including those in my constituency, will not survive. That is not to say I am a great fan of gambling; I just think it is better in a regulated environment for reasons of taxation and supporting the vulnerable.
I am grateful for the previous Government support, but, as we approach Christmas, the Government must look at how we can safely reopen this vibrant and vital sector, and focus on this. Although many economic sectors will suffer downturns and huge disruption as a result of the crisis, other distinct sectors either cannot operate at all, or cannot operate for practical purposes as a direct result of specific Government rules, sectorally or locally. They have an especial claim for direct compensation or support.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) on securing the debate. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests with support from the Musicians’ Union.
I start with a message to all who work in the creative industries, and to musicians in particular: you are viable, you do matter and you deserve better, because you are the lifeblood of my constituency and our country, not just economically but for our soul. Everyone in the Chamber knows that. I think of the Wales millennium centre, the Glee Club’s stand-up comedy, the theatre and events sector and the amazing film and TV that goes on in my constituency. I think of dance, live music and so much more, which is crucial for our economy and crucial for our soul. All of this is devastating for me personally, as a singer and performer—I know that many others in this room who have come from the industry, whether professionally or semi-professionally, will be feeling the same—and it is devastating for my constituents in Cardiff South and Penarth.
Yes, some are adapting. BBC Studios has adapted in a covid-safe way in Cardiff South and Penarth, and the world-leading Iris Prize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender film festival is starting tonight virtually, online. That is fantastic, but many others simply cannot adapt in a way that is economically sustainable for them and those who work in their industries, and unfortunately the response of the UK Government has been too slow and too little, and too many are falling through the gaps. One major local music body has told me in the past two days that the Chancellor’s declarations about viable jobs are meaningless and insensitive in this context. I want to draw attention to the demands by the Musicians’ Union and many others in this sector, who have said that not only do we need to get musicians back to work safely as soon as possible—70% of them are currently unable to do more than a quarter of their usual work, in order to get the income that they normally rely on—but we need to expand the self-employment scheme, because 38% of musicians are ineligible for the schemes the Chancellor has set out. We also need individual support.
Did my hon. Friend see the protest outside Parliament today by the Let Music Live group, where musicians came together to play some of Gustav Holst’s music? I join him in congratulating the Musicians’ Union on their work, including that of Horace, the general secretary, and Naomi Pohl, the wonderful assistant general secretary. I declare my own interest as a member of that union.
I totally endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. The scenes outside Parliament today were incredibly powerful; I was not able to be there in person, but I saw them online. They show the scale of devastation in the sector, but also those people’s wish to be able to perform and earn their livelihoods as they otherwise would.
We are well aware of the concerns that are affecting individual freelancers in Wales. The Welsh Government have announced a specific fund for freelancers; I am told that Arts Council England has been told that the money cannot be used to support individual freelancers in England, and I wonder if the Minister can explain why that is the case.
I am aware that over the past 24 hours, there have been some concerns and frustrations in my own constituency about being able to get funding from the freelancers’ scheme in Wales, which shows the huge demand and desperation that is affecting so many people. I want to reassure those who have raised concerns that I have been speaking to Ministers, as have others, and we have been assured that a second phase will be opening very soon, because the Welsh Government recognise that the demand is there. However, that scheme does not even operate in England. In Wales, a total fund of £53 million has been announced for the arts and culture sector; that is the most significant fund across the UK, and £7 million of it is ring-fenced for freelancers.
I will end by reflecting on a couple of the heart-rending messages I have received from constituents, showing the human cost of this crisis. One constituent, who is a friend and a musician, wrote to me saying, “I know many fully professional musicians who are in utter panic. It is their sole livelihood, and it is devastating to see them with distress etched on their faces.” He is thinking of leaving this country. We will lose this talent; it will go elsewhere. Another writes, “I am leaving the profession. There is no hope.”
We need to see better from the Chancellor and from Ministers. I was deeply concerned by the Chancellor’s comments today, when he said,
“It’s a very sad time…I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job”.
We all need to do better. We need to do better as a country, and we need to support these people through this crisis; otherwise, the cost will not only be to our economy but, crucially, to our country’s soul.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Charles, and to see the Minister in her place. Like many others, I express my thanks for the package the Government have put in place for the arts sector, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). She is right that as London MPs, we are extraordinarily proud of our city’s cultural offering and the economic benefit it gives to this nation. It would be remiss of me to not point out that this cultural offering is not just in central London. In Wimbledon, we have the New Wimbledon theatre, the home of panto; the Polka theatre, which is the best children’s theatre in the country; the Lantern arts centre, of which I am a patron; and many other small venues.
I will focus my remarks on the events industry. Back in March, I first mentioned in the House the problems that the supply chain into the hospitality industry and the live events industry was likely to have if support packages were not in place. The people who work in that industry—caterers, photographers, event planners, exhibition organisers, audio-visual engineers, musicians, actors, and more—simply have not been able to work at all, because events and exhibitions have all been stopped by the pandemic. I would suggest that it has affected this industry more than most others, and perhaps most of all. The Chancellor has put in place an extensive package, but there is a good case for looking at the industry.
In Wimbledon, as in so many parts of the country, we have extraordinary businesses—viable businesses—such as White Light and Oxygen Event Services. Only yesterday, the managing director of another events company—Nineteen Group—wrote to me saying that the sector does not want to go into hibernation; the exact opposite is true.
Like everybody, those businesses would like certainty. Like everybody, they want more help with money for jobs. I rarely agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), but he is right to say that one of the things the Government could do would be to put in place a guarantee package that would allow the industry to start having some certainty for planning for events for when we finish covid, hopefully at some stage next year. At the moment that certainty is not there, and a Government guarantee would work.
I had a Zoom meeting with my constituents Mark and Judy Faithfull last week. They pointed out that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and other Government Departments have been involved in test events. There was a test business trade exhibition, a test trade event at the Hilton in Canary Wharf in September and a test banqueting event. The industry does not understand why other parts of Europe and the world are looking opening up test events. Will the Government look again at the test events they attended, which proved that such events could be covid-secure? Will they look to open those up, so that the industry can thrive?
It is a pleasure, once again, to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for securing this important debate.
I am delighted that Coventry is set to become the UK city of culture in 2021. In the run-up to that event, however, our theatres, live music industry and other cultural attractions have been hard hit by the pandemic, with too little support promised far too later. Concerns raised by people in the arts and culture sector have been ignored by the Government. The arts and culture sector in Coventry enriches lives and employs hundreds of my constituents. Venues have rightly closed their doors to the public because of the pandemic but have, unforgivably, not been supported enough financially by the Government to ensure their viability once they open their doors again. Our theatres, live music venues and other cultural attractions play a big role in our local economy. Not only do they provide jobs to my constituents, but they ensure that other local businesses surrounding them benefit from increased footfall.
I want to pay tribute to community institutions such as Imagine theatre and Belgrade theatre, which have brought tears of laughter and joy to adults and children alike across Coventry. It is what they do best, but there is no such joy for them now. Without urgent care and consideration from the Government, my constituents might not have access to theatres to look forward to once the pandemic ends. Both of those prestigious theatres are confronted with potentially 22 months with no income whatever, with their productions postponed to 2021. They have no income, but the Government expect them to take back staff from 1 November through the job retention scheme.
Can the Minister tell me how the Government expect our theatre businesses to survive? The sector is facing mass redundancies, and many businesses will be bankrupt. How can we expect such industries to thrive post covid, or to be part of rebuilding our society, if the Government are not investing in them now to ensure the viability to safeguard jobs? If a better package is not delivered soon, up to 800 jobs could be lost from those two theatres in Coventry alone. That is 800 jobs too many.
We must do everything we can to support businesses in our arts and culture sector, both in Coventry and across Britain. Venues are a shining source of entertainment and culture, showcasing the very best of our country. The post-pandemic viability of the industry will depend on action—not taken later, not taken if or when it folds, but taken now. I am willing to work with partners, including the Government, to safeguard the sector.
It is a pleasure to appear before you, Sir Charles, for my first Westminster Hall debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for securing it.
My son’s realisation that we were not living in normal times came about two weeks ago. We were talking about what we will do for Christmas, and he said to me, “We’re not going to be able to go the pantomime this year, are we?” That is something that really struck me. Going to the theatre to watch a live show, especially with children, not only brings families together; it makes everything great about being in Britain.
We all know why difficult decisions to pause performances have been taken, but we must not underestimate the wider, long-term impacts of those decisions. Understandably, a lot of the discussion around the theatre world is focused on the west end and major regional theatres such as the opera house in Manchester or the Liverpool Empire. This debate, however, is also about the contribution to the local economy. Just for a second, I want to highlight the contribution that live events make to our sense of community, such as the amateur dramatics society that uses the village hall to put on a run just for three or four nights. Those am-drams are the training grounds for future performers and technicians; everything that will make our vibrant theatre sector just as vibrant for years to come.
I want to highlight the impact for Warrington’s local economy of the closure of our local theatres. I am grateful to the team at Culture Warrington, which has provided me with some detailed insight into what has happened in the sector. The Pyramid arts centre and the Parr Hall stayed empty since mid-March. Losses for Culture Warrington are likely to top £1 million. I know they have been able to use some of the Government schemes but, sadly, redundancies are following. It is not just that performances are not going ahead, it is that the pre-theatre dinners, the after-show drinks and the wider impact also are not happening.
I am grateful to the Minister and the Secretary of State for the £1.5 billion package the sector has benefited from. In recent weeks, however, I have been particularly struck by conversations with my constituents Dale and Adam Wilson from Great Sankey, a father and son who own sound and lighting company WH Leisure, which, in normal times, would be distributing and setting up equipment all over the country right now. They need additional support through the months when, frankly, they would have been making the money that keeps them afloat through the slower periods next year. With venues closed, we know that thousands of highly skilled technicians who work behind the scenes and put on the shows cannot return to work. Those are the people we need to offer additional support to. Their jobs will return once the Government allow performances to return.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I have the honour to represent Liverpool, Riverside, covering the city centre and the waterfront, with its world heritage status, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors in a normal year. There are five art galleries and four museums, including the International Slavery Museum, which is the only one in the country dedicated to the history of the transatlantic slave trade. People will have seen our streets and listed buildings in shows and films. In 2017, 289 films and TV shows were shot, contributing over £11 million to our local economy. We have five theatres, including the Everyman and Playhouse, two large arenas and music venues—too many to count. Liverpool is not a UNESCO city of music for nothing.
We might be synonymous with The Beatles, but the city has a rich and diverse music history that reaches back to the 18th century. Our Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is the UK’s oldest continuing professional symphony orchestra, and it marks its 180th anniversary this year. We are a city that leads culturally, from the Merseybeat sound to Eric’s and the punk scene in the 1970s and 1980s to the global clubbing brand Cream. We are home to the annual Africa Oye, the largest festival of African music in the UK, and the Liverpool International Music Festival, which was the largest European music festival in 2018.
Liverpool has gone from strength to strength since its capital of culture days in 2008, doubling its visitor numbers and becoming synonymous with cultural innovation and creative excellence. We have a thriving independent sector and when our city does culture, it does it big, it does it loud and it draws people in. We only have to view the numbers who have visited our Giants spectacular. Liverpool boasts around 68 million visitors annually, bringing more than £5 billion to the city region and creating 57,000 related jobs—or it did, until covid-19. What was a booming sector is now facing a serious threat to its existence. While the additional culture recovery grant funding announced earlier this year by the Chancellor was very welcome, it is short term, a stop gap, a sticking plaster on a gaping wound: it does not address the looming funding crisis for many of our arts and cultural venues.
Liverpool is now under further local restrictions, which will severely limit visitor numbers and will pose a significant threat to the sustainability of our venues. At the heart of our famous and rightly celebrated scouse culture are people—performers, actors, musicians, producers, technicians and support staff. They are what makes Liverpool’s cultural sector punch above its weight. I will end with a quote:
“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”
That means financially supporting all of our artists.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) on securing this debate. She represents the west end—the national showcase for the world-leading UK theatre industry. However, it is an industry that extends throughout our four countries, and it is important that the roots are nurtured so as to ensure that the industry does not wither away.
In Waveney, there are five main theatres, which complement each other well and are deeply embedded in their communities—the Marina, in the centre of Lowestoft, with its 800-seat auditorium, the Players Theatre at the nearby former Bethel church run by the Lowestoft Players—one of East Anglia’s premier amateur theatre groups, for whom I am an ambassador—and the Seagull theatre in Pakefield, the Fisher theatre in Bungay and Beccles Public Hall, which are all run by volunteers. I shall briefly outline why those theatres are so vital in the area.
First, they are crucial to the future of our town centres, which are facing enormous pressures and undergoing dramatic change, not only as a result of covid but also due to the fast-changing face of retail. Secondly, the theatres are doing so much great work in the community. The Seagull runs dementia classes and engages with care homes and schools, as does the Marina, which, in 2019, in addition to performances, clocked up more than 5,000 engagements through its community outreach work. Thirdly, theatres nurture talent and enable people of all ages and all backgrounds to fulfil their dreams and realise their full potential. In 1953-54, Sir Michael Caine spent a year in Lowestoft in rep at the Arcadia, which is now the Hollywood cinema.
Finally, we must not forget what goes on back- stage. UK theatre has a well-established world-leading supply chain, which cannot function when there are no performances. In Lowestoft, Scenic Projects designs and builds sets and scenery, which it transports around the country.
The theatres in Waveney are getting out and helping themselves. The Marina has launched its survival fund and the Fisher theatre and Beccles Public Hall will be putting on special socially distant pantomimes, “Raiders of the Lost Panto” and “Inside the Snowglobe”. However, covid-19 has stopped them all in their tracks. The cultural recovery fund is welcome, but the money needs to get out quicker and get right across the country. Moreover, more support is required, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) has articulated in his role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for theatre.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for securing this important debate.
The Minister will have heard me speak last week when I was very proud to have an Adjournment debate on grassroots arts and culture in my home town of Luton, which I am proud to represent. Our creative sector promotes community cohesion, develops social capital and fosters happier, healthier lives. As many others who have spoken have said, so much of our culture takes place in our town centres, and that is why it is so important that we must secure the vibrancy of our cultural sector once more. I am proud that Luton town centre has had its purple flag status since 2018, which means it is safe, diverse and enjoyable for a night out in arts and culture. Like others today, I was infuriated by the display by the Chancellor of apparent contempt for those working in the creative sector, saying that musicians and artists should get another job if they are struggling due to coronavirus. Yesterday, I was contacted by many local pubs and music venues who say that there is demand for live music and that they want to operate safely. We must try to do what we can to save them.
We all enjoy and consume arts every day, as they have numerous social and economic benefits. People working in the creative sector should not be left excluded and their role in society deemed unviable. Last week I was proud to take part in the WeMakeEvents demonstration outside Parliament, supported by BECTU and Equity, because the sector is so vibrant and important in all our lives. The sectors are viable. They will be important after the pandemic and will play a crucial part in building back better. They must receive support. We cannot afford the skills to be lost.
This weekend I had the best and the worst of it. The best was that I went back to the Hat Factory in Luton and watched live theatre. In a 100-seat theatre there were 21 of us. We were socially distanced and covid-secure, and it was great to see the staff so proud to open their venue again. The same weekend I had the worst of it with Cineworld announcing tens of thousands of jobs being lost, including those in the Cineworld in my town centre. That is terrible news, and I have already had constituents getting in touch because they have been laid off with such little notice.
I have mentioned before to the Minister that Luton is a brilliant case study of how embedding culture in a local area’s growth strategy could provide a basis for building back better. Last year, our programme of culture, “people, power, passion”, employed 84 artists and trained 13 young people from diverse backgrounds. That is something to be proud of in our town. I will make sure I write to the Minister to invite her to visit Luton and our cultural offer.
It is great to see you in the Chair, Sir Charles. I am going to speak up for Glasgow Central and our renowned cultural offer. We are also a UNESCO city of music. I want to talk about the many people that work in the communicative sectors, both in the limelight and behind the scenes. The band Ash tweeted earlier:
“Not just musicians though is it? It’s our technicians, our engineers, our management, our agent, our promoter. It’s the venues, their staff, the production companies, transport, storage. It’s roughly one million people you’re throwing on the job market”,
by not supporting the industry further. I would add to that the restaurants, bars and hotels and all of the people that work in them. An entire local ecosystem is at risk without further support in a sector that is worth £111 billion to the UK economy.
Some of the comments from the Chancellor and the Treasury have been quite hurtful to many people in terms of their role within the sectors. I will read a comment from one of my constituents, Jazz Hutsby. He writes,
“My partner and I are freelancers within Live Events and The Arts. To call this a career would not describe what our jobs mean to us. We have dedicated our lives to our practice, we trained specifically for this role. We are specialists in our field, make no doubt that we do not need to “get better jobs”, or to “upskill”. What we need is effective support. The rhetoric from Westminster over the last week has been, quite frankly, disgusting. Our vocation, our lives, have been deemed unviable. This was, as I’m sure you are aware, quite literally what the Chancellor suggested.”
I can tell the Minister that that was written before the comments on ITV earlier today. There is so much more that Jazz points out that needs to be done to support the sector by all Governments and by local government, and I will seek to pursue those issues with whoever can help.
I want to talk about the events and conferences sector because the Scottish Events Campus in my constituency of Glasgow Central employs more than 200 people, with additional people that come in for events. Exhibitions are worth more than £11 billion to the UK economy, but they and their suppliers have little or no support, and the ending of furlough could mean unemployment for around 114,000 people in the exhibitions sector, which is completely avoidable if the Government choose to support the sector. It is and will be viable. It just needs bridging to get to that point. Further job losses have been announced in Cineworld, and potentially the Odeon, which will affect my constituency.
Lastly, I want to talk about the museums sector. Museums Galleries Scotland has pointed out that as of last week only 160 of Scotland’s 423 museums and galleries are open. That is 38%. That might be a high point for the year as we go into winter and some have to close down for that. Some museums cannot open because they do not have the capacity to do so safely, social distancing makes their business model unviable, and their staff have been redeployed, or their volunteers are too vulnerable to come back in. The Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions found that only 28% of attractions that have reopened are opening at an economically sustainable level.
We need such sectors. We need them to survive for all our health and wellbeing, and for the cultural joy that we draw from these things. The Government need to get their finger out to provide the extra support to see them through the winter.
There has been great self-discipline from Back-Bench colleagues and we have had two no-shows, so the Front-Bench speakers each have at most 11 minutes, which leaves the mover of our debate two minutes at the end. I call Gavin Newlands.
I do not intend to take up 11 minutes, Sir Charles, unless I am intervened on several times. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair. I congratulate the local MP, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), on securing this important debate. She set out the stark statistics, and the real issues facing the creative sectors, very well.
There have been some fantastic speeches this afternoon. I do not have time to touch on them all, but the point made by both hon. Members for Cardiff, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who is no longer in his place—[Interruption.] Apologies: he is lurking behind me—we can do the panto bit now. The point about the Chancellor’s attitude to those who work in the creative sector was very well made and one with which I very much concur.
I also agreed with the hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) when he mentioned the importance of panto. My children would ordinarily be very much looking forward to Paisley’s PACE Youth Theatre panto this Christmas, but sadly that will no longer take place.
Of course, in the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), that great Renfrewshire commuter town that lies to the east of my constituency, we heard some fantastic points, particularly about the Scottish Event Campus in hers, which I frequent often.
As we enter the fag end, as I like to call it, of 2020—it has been that sort of year—we are looking to put this pretty desperate year behind us. If there were any justice in the world, we should be looking forward to Paisley celebrating its tenure as UK city of culture 2021. I have never spoken again to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury since he, as a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Minister, announced Coventry as the winner of that competition—but in all seriousness, I wish Coventry well in 2021. I am sure that, despite the difficulties presented by the situation that we all face at the moment, it will deliver a fantastic and impactful programme and secure a great cultural, economic and social legacy from that.
The word “culture” still elicits a curious response from many. Culture is for everyone, but many still instinctively think of highbrow sophistication, snobbery and elitism at the opera or theatre. That is a long-held but unfair reputation. People are just as likely to sit next to a snob at a stand-up comedy act—as I did at the Stand in Glasgow last time I was there—as at the opera. In case anyone thinks that I am doing opera down, I should say that in my stint as the branch fundraiser, one of the more risky events—that ended up being one of the most successful and enjoyable events that Renfrew SNP ever held—was an opera concert at Renfrew town hall.
The truth is that culture, in whatever form, enriches us all, individually and collectively. That is the case whether it is live music in stadiums, village halls or the pub; theatre, including panto, and opera and theatre productions big and small; stand-up comedy; or, of course, museums and galleries.
Missing from my hon. Friend’s long list is ballet, of course, and Scottish Ballet is based in my constituency. Does he share my sadness that its Christmas productions will not be going ahead as normal this year? And unless there is further support from the Government, there might not be theatres for it to host its productions in in the future?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course—how remiss of me to forget ballet, particularly as my daughters are both dancers themselves. My hon. Friend made a very good point, and I hope that the Minister was listening to it.
In many of these sectors, the people who derive a livelihood from them, be they performers or staff who facilitate and assist the performers, are in severe financial peril. Of course, the Scottish Government have acted when the UK Government would not, or before the UK Government when they did. The Scottish Government were proactive and announced a £30-million creative, tourism and hospitality enterprises hardship fund, and £10 million has been provided to protect vital performing arts venues, with an additional £59 million announced in August.
We need the UK Government to step up. One has just to look, as others have mentioned, at the announcement by Cineworld of 5,500 people losing their jobs as the chain mothballs itself until the spring. That decision just proves the utter inadequacy of the so-called job support scheme. The Chancellor says that the scheme exists to provide support for viable jobs, so does the Minister think that cinema and the jobs that support it are no longer viable? Of course they are. These are the sorts of jobs that any job support scheme worth its salt should be protecting.
There are also the 125,000 jobs supported by concerts in the audio-visual and events sector, with companies such as Adlib and FE Live in my constituency, without which concerts just could not be delivered.
While we are on the subject of supporting those who earn their livelihood from this sector, let us turn to the self-employed, whom many have mentioned and who constitute a large number of workers in the creative industry because of the preponderance of freelance actors, performers, technicians and so on. We have heard today from Members across the Chamber that the Chancellor’s support for the self-employed is simply not enough. Not only is the level of financial support not enough, but not enough people qualify for support. Whereas the UK Government have failed to help those people, the Scottish Government have provided £185 million of targeted support for SMEs and the self-employed, and £5 million for creative freelancers specifically. The Chancellor must rethink his approach or a great many people across the UK will face a long, difficult winter.
Creative industries in Scotland account for 70,000 workers and 15,000 businesses, and are estimated to support about £9 billion of activity within the wider Scottish economy, contributing £5.5 billion to Scotland’s GDP. Edinburgh of course, has its world-renowned festival and fringe. The fringe alone provides 3,000 jobs and £173 million to the Scottish economy. We absolutely recognise the vital role played by creative businesses, which employ tens of thousands in Scotland. As others have said, the UK Government’s focus on financial viability alone ignores industries’ true value. Local live music venues provide meeting places and community hubs, and cultural events such as the Edinburgh fringe elevate global awareness of Scottish and British arts and culture. Not only that, but they bring culture and entertainment from all over the world to our doorstep.
The cultural sector is vital for preserving our national heritage, and connecting people. Its preservation is more important than mere economics. However, of course, the vast majority of Scots’ cultural engagement and entertainment is found not at the Edinburgh festival but in communities, towns and cities the length of the country. Ninety-three per cent. of the grassroots venue network faces permanent closure, and 34% of musicians are considering abandoning the industry completely. Those are stark figures, so I am glad that the £2 million-plus grassroots music venue stabilisation fund was announced by the Scottish Government. One of the recipients of that lifeline grant was the Bungalow in Paisley, a well-known venue and community interest company, which, for the past 40 years or so, has put on its stage every musical genre of up-and-coming-talent, spanning punk to big band jazz. Bungalow co-director Tommy McGrory said:
“This money is our lifeline. Without this money, we would find ourselves in a very serious position. We have just been limping on.”
It must be said that the Scottish grassroots music fund is, in relative terms, six and a half times the size of the UK Government’s comparable scheme for England. They must do more for this vital sector.
I have, despite what my colleagues may think, relatively broad cultural taste, but, to be honest, it is grassroots venues, be they live music or stand-up comedy, that I really miss—even some that are outwith my constituency, such as the 180-year-old Gellions bar in Inverness, the city’s oldest venue, which has bands such as Schiehallion featuring among the 650 gigs played there in a normal year. Live music is critical to venues like the Bungalow and Gellions bar, and as long as clinical advice continues to ensure that no indoor live music or comedy can be performed, the venues and performers must be supported.
I mentioned in my opening remarks that Paisley was robbed of the city of culture award, and it should be warming up to embark on its 2021 programme with the ninth year of the Spree festival, an extremely popular and growing celebration of music, arts and comedy, which should have kicked off this very Thursday. Sadly, it is just another event that has been cancelled because of the pandemic. It is fair to say that the bid itself will leave a legacy in the town for years to come, with £22 million being spent on plans to preserve Paisley town hall’s place at the heart of life in the area and turn it into a landmark performance venue, and £42 million on the transformation of Paisley museum into an international-class destination telling the story of the town’s pattern, heritage and people. I very much look forward to those great venues reopening, but I sincerely hope that, when they do, Renfrewshire will not have lost many of its grassroots and small venues, for that would amount to a pyrrhic legacy.
The SNP Scottish Government have supported the Scottish creative industries, but would like to do more. To do so, they need the financial powers and funding. The UK Government have tools at their disposal. As others have mooted, they could extend the 5% cultural VAT rate on tickets, in line with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. They could also provide a Government-backed insurance scheme to provide the music industry with the necessary confidence to reopen. Whatever they choose to do to support reopening they need to act now to deliver fuller support for those vital businesses, so that the Scottish Government can use the consequentials to support the Scottish creative and cultural industry. The UK Government must act now, or the damage of collapsed businesses and lost talent may be irreparable.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for securing this important debate. No one is a more passionate advocate for the west end than the hon. Lady.
Is it not delightful to be back in Westminster Hall, having proper debates? I cannot say how grateful I am to everyone who spoke in this debate. We have seen, across all parties, how everyone in the debate really cares about the cultural sector and the cultural industry. That includes people who worked in the industry, such as the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), or as I did for three decades as a freelance actor and writer; musicians such as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), who is a fantastic musician, and I urge everyone to buy his album; or people whose children are interested in the arts. We all know, too, the impact that the arts have on our own communities, for wellbeing, tourism and so on.
Obviously, we are in a difficult time. I will go through some areas on which great points have been made. On the events sector, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) talked about tests being done—can we see those tests being rolled out to open the sector up? The events sector feels absolutely abandoned and left to one side.
On community and how mental health is supported by work done in communities, my hon. Friends the Members for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) talked about the work in their constituencies. In Hammersmith, I know that work is being done on equality, inclusion and diversity. My concern is that, as we get our sector back on its feet, such work will be the low-hanging fruit that we will lose across the piece—that work with communities and schools, and on bringing on new writers from diverse communities. It is vital for such work not to be cut as we try to survive.
Pantomime is the first chance that most young working-class kids have to go to a theatre. The concern for pantomime was mentioned by the hon. Members for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for Warrington South (Andy Carter). Last week, in a great demonstration, in the panto parade we saw a lot of the freelancers in their pantomime dame costumes. The dedication they give to their sector is really a joy to behold.
In Vauxhall, we have the Young Vic. I am so excited about the work being done there, and about its anniversary. On our museum sector, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) said, when we go to Liverpool we all know about the vibrancy and energy we get just from being on the streets, because the music-based passion for culture is at every corner.
Concerns were expressed about the involvement of councils and how we should support them. Theatres and music venues are civic centres. The hon. Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) said that the council is one of the biggest investors, and that is absolutely true.
With tourism, we cannot get away from this—in the majority of our communities, tourism is held up by our cultural offer. My friend from the all-party parliamentary group for theatre, the hon. Member for Clacton, talked about his constituency and about the voucher suggestion—the seat out to help out. Any support for our regional theatres to open would be welcome.
Let us not forget the issue of freelancers. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) knows this perhaps more than others, because the BBC is in his constituency, but the BBC is held up by limited companies, freelancers, PAYE freelancers and creative freelancers, who come in and out for shows. They really need our support. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) has done so much to raising the issue of the excluded and freelancers.
The Minister has shown great dedication in this area. While the Chancellor clarified his statements to ITV by saying that they were not specifically about musicians, there is a sense that the creative industries feel misunderstood, as we heard this afternoon. They will be the last to come back and the least supported. There is a sense that they are not viable or that the people in them could retrain. As we know, musicians spend all their lives, day in day out, learning their musical instruments. To be told to become a care worker instead will only lead to poor mental health and depression because they are not doing the thing they have trained for. The Minister is assiduous and I am sure she will take that point back to the Chancellor. What was said on ITV has impacted us all and deeply upset the industry, which does not feel that the Government understand its value.
We all want to see our venues get back to normality. We have heard today about their financial impact. We have also heard about the cultural hub of a community in terms of visitors, support for local restaurants, taxi firms, employment and our local economies more widely. During the summer months when restrictions were easing, we had a sense of positivity and excitement, but with local restrictions it is unfortunately unlikely that those activities will flourish.
The Government’s furlough scheme and self-employed income support scheme are very welcome. I am very grateful and I know other hon. Members are also grateful that that has been extended. However, it has been extended in a way that makes it impossible to use. How does a venue that cannot open contribute to a workforce’s salary? Sadly, we heard today about the RSC potentially laying off hundreds of its staff, which will be devasting for them and their communities. We have also heard from the sector that delays in the cultural recovery fund have brought great anxiety.
I thank the Minister for her letter, which I received today, regarding my concern around the “crown jewels”. In my mind, the crown jewels are our community offer as well as the west end—the ecosystem of regional and community theatres that the west end needs. We are all intertwined—push over one domino and the rest of the dominoes will fall. It is really important that the money does not only go to the crown jewels.
When I put a call-out on social media for freelancers to tell me their experiences of what is happening—perhaps slightly foolishly—my inbox exploded and I received over 4,000 responses from people I know and care about. Couples have lost a year’s work and still have childcare costs and a mortgage, and they are leaving the sector. We have heard from the Musicians Union that one third of musicians are thinking of leaving the sector. The support for freelancers could not be more needed. Cineworld’s 5,500 workforce is a tsunami of job losses. The training is not there for people who want to retrain. We have to put support in as fast as possible.
In the time I have left, I have a number of questions for the Minister that I hope she will address in her response. I work with a culture committee of people in the sector and we had a meeting this morning. My understanding is that there is still no news of who has the money. Will the Minister explain the delay? On what date will the successful organisations receive their funding? A number of organisations did not apply for funding, because of the restrictions. For example, to show that they have tried everything to stay afloat, they have fired all their staff, or they were unable to show that they could spend all the money from the Government by 31 March. With stage 5 now kicked further into the year, have those criteria changed? Does that mean that those organisations that originally did not apply because they did not fit the criteria will now have an opportunity to apply? Clarity on that would be extremely helpful. What was the total number of organisations that applied and what was the total amount of funding applied for?
For concerts and theatre to return with confidence, we really need an answer about insurance. I asked the Minister a question about insurance in DCMS questions, but she was unable to give me an answer. I am sure that there are lots of conversations going on with the Treasury. We have insurance for film and TV, and that is why they are back up and running. What does she know about the negotiations that are happening around insurance? Can she at least give us a chink of hope around that issue?
Have the applications for loan supports been greater than expected? If so, will the cost of additional loans be taken from other funding pots? Would the Minister explain the 10 pm curfew that applies to music venues but not to theatres? What evidence can she share with us that the 10 pm curfew will save lives? In order for venues to reopen, they have to spend money on covid safety costs. Will they get that money back, even if they do not get money from the ACE funding? Is there a contingency fund in place to help venues that reopen but have to close again? What framework is in place to support local authorities and metropolitan Mayors to work together to support those who need support? Finally, I was surprised to learn that the cultural taskforce has been wound up for now. Can she elaborate as to why that is? Is there a feeling that its job is now done? I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
It is a great pleasure, Sir Charles, to serve under your fantastic stewardship, and to be back in Westminster Hall.
I will begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) on securing this really vital debate and on presenting her case so articulately. I also congratulate everyone else who has taken part. I feel like I have been on a whistle-stop tour up and down this country of some of the marvellous and magnificent arts and cultural venues that we have from Liverpool to Lowestoft, and from Clacton to Glasgow. We are world-renowned for our incredible arts and cultural sector, and we are very lucky to have great champions up and down our nations to support it here.
I thank the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) for her contribution. I must put on the record the fact that she is always very pragmatic and supportive in the way in which she approaches her role, and she asks legitimate questions; I will try to answer most of those she asked, but if there are any that I do not manage to answer today, I will, of course, write to her with the answers. This is a terrible time and it is really important to work as constructively and co-operatively as we can to support this sector, which we care so passionately about.
It has been evidenced today by what people have said that our cultural and creative sectors are one of the UK’s greatest success stories; in this regard, I think that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster speaks on behalf of a London constituency, as did many other speakers, but up and down the country the attractions that we are discussing are the heart of an ecosystem.
My hon. Friend talked about the co-dependence of west end theatres and live music venues, museums and galleries, and the health of the hospitality sector, including hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, taxis and, of course, the night-time economy. That situation is reflected up and down the country, with a theatre or gallery offering a cultural heart to a community. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who I think is no longer here in Westminster, said that in many cases cultural institutions were embedded in the heart of a community and driving economic prosperity in a range of other sectors that support or surround them.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) very kindly invited me to articulate my commitment to those who work in this sector and of course I am very proud to do so, as I am committed to them. These are proper jobs; these are jobs that are vital. Indeed, the people doing these jobs can do something that very few other people in this world can do. They can not only entertain but educate, they can lift spirits, they can improve mental health and wellbeing, they can take us to places that we have never been to before and open our eyes to the world around us, and they can genuinely offer young people from some of the most difficult and disadvantaged backgrounds a glimmer of hope as to what they can be, where they can go and what the world can potentially offer them.
I recognise the devastating impact that covid-19 has had across the arts and culture sector, on businesses and their staff, on freelancers, on those who rely on the sector and on many other people who helped to make it such a success.
As many hon. Members have articulated, the Government stand with the culture sector. We are making the biggest ever one-off investment of £1.57 billion, with hundreds of millions in loans and grants due to be allocated in the days ahead. That is in addition to the £160 million emergency fund that Arts Council England made available at the outset of the pandemic to venues that were struggling over the summer.
I will leave the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) to pick a fight with the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) about which city was the most deserving of the city of culture. I am looking forward to coming to Coventry to celebrate with her in the year ahead. She said nothing had been done, but Coventry alone has had £2,123,690 in support from Arts Council England this year. Of that, over £730,000 was emergency funding for support through the covid crisis. That is before we have started finally allocating the rest of the culture recovery fund.
We are doing everything we can. The funds will be used to help support the performing arts, theatres, museums, heritage, galleries, independent cinemas and live music venues across the country, and we are determined that every region of the UK should benefit. It is also vital that the work of the Department is able to continue to support and celebrate people who are so vital to the cultural life of the nation and the communities that they work in. We want the money to go right across England. We want to ensure they get that funding, as well as the funding from the Barnett formula. That money will help the levelling-up agenda, and that is why we included the geographical balancing criteria in the fund. I am pleased that the first funds to be allocated went to grassroots live music through the emergency grassroots music venues fund, and to independent cinemas through the £30 million British Film Institute fund.
Of course, our world-beating cultural and creative industries are absolutely nothing without the people who work in them. Without such people, they are just buildings. We know the importance of protecting jobs and livelihoods in the creative arts sector. Through the furlough scheme we have protected 303,000 jobs, with claims totalling £1.47 billion. The self-employed income support scheme was taken up by 64% of eligible arts and entertainment workers, with grants totalling £153 million. The Chancellor has announced that the scheme will be extended. The universal credit system has been extended and made more generous, but we know that so many people are still falling through the gaps and are not being supported.
The situation is heartbreaking. My father has been in broadcasting for what feels like many hundreds of years, but I think it is about 55. He was a freelancer for all of my childhood. I know how stressful it is for a family—now more than ever. The one thing that such people want to do, more than anything, is to get back to work. The £1.57 billion culture recovery fund will help to do that. It will help to secure the future of the performing arts and live events sector, and it will help to protect jobs. However, the sector needs money in the meantime. That is why, to complement the Government funding, ACE has announced £95 million of additional support for individuals and freelancers. It is also opening another round of “Developing your Creative Practice”, which is an £18 million project to help individuals in the arts to develop new creative skills.
I understand that operating with reduced seating capacity is just not viable for some venues at the moment. I want to see such institutions reopen their doors as soon as it is safe for them do so, and we are working extensively with the sector on how to achieve that. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen asked about what sorts of committees and cultural hubs are working on this issue. We have various working groups that sit under the main cultural board. In some cases, the working groups have been meeting weekly since February, and they continue to do so. The work on this issue is by no means done, and it continues regularly.
Last week, I visited the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the Lighthouse in Poole. It shows that the dedication and passion of such cultural institutions is bringing our arts back to life. The stage has been enlarged so that the whole orchestra can fit on it and play in a socially distanced way. By doing that, it has ensured that the orchestra’s weekly Wednesday night performances have now restarted, with a mixture of live—socially distanced—and livestreaming audiences, courtesy of the venue’s incredible first-class digital team. They have already sold 11,500 tickets for performances between now and Christmas. That is an absolute credit to their tenacity, talent and overwhelming determination to bring their magic back to the audiences who utterly depend on them. I give credit to them and to others up and down the country who are doing the same.
A number of west end theatres have made steps towards reopening: Nimax Theatres, which owns the Apollo, Duchess, Garrick, Lyric, Palace and Vaudeville theatres, is planning to welcome audiences back with a combination of some previously running shows, as well as some new stuff. The National Theatre is preparing the Olivier auditorium for some socially distanced in-the-round performances.
We are aware that many in the sector would like greater clarity on the potential transition to stage 5, given the planning that they need to do to remobilise and the lead-in time required for programming, casting and rehearsing. We have always said that, of course, further openings will depend on the public health context. We have a venue-steering group, including representatives from leading sector organisations, as well as Public Health England and other experts, to develop an action plan for maximising activity under stage 4 and for how we proceed to stage 5, which is the silver bullet—opening everything up. DCMS will continue to work with the sector to establish an appropriate pilot process for testing and return to stage 5 activity when appropriate, and we are working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care on its Moonshot project.
Many hon. Members have asked me about an insurance scheme. We are aware that there are many calls for something similar to the one that we have produced for film and TV production. Of course, Members must understand that there is a high bar for intervention in the insurance market. The film and TV restart scheme that we introduced worked because it was the absolute last barrier. We were 100% clear that access to insurance was the final remaining obstacle to them being able to reopen. We are looking at that for theatres, but to intervene, I need evidence that insurance is the only obstacle to opening the doors again. I am really grateful for the evidence that has been provided and am keen for Members and their constituents to keep it coming. I know that DCMS and Treasury colleagues are working closely together and are monitoring the situation in the sector.
We want to see full audiences return as soon as possible, but we have always been clear that moving to stage 5 will ultimately be determined by the public health context. We are working at pace with the sector on innovative proposals for how full audiences can return when it is safe to do so. I really hope that hon. Members across the House are reassured that my ministerial colleagues and I are absolutely dedicated to doing everything that we can to support this incredibly important sector, which not only makes a difference to people’s lives but, in some cases, saves lives. We are acutely aware of the harm that covid-19 has done across the whole of the country, and we understand its significance to the people and organisations who make up our globally recognised sectors.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster and other hon. Members that we are doing everything that we can to help, so that when we emerge from the pandemic, our cultural organisations will once again be ready to welcome international tourists, visitors from across the UK and those who live and work here.
I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, and thank the Minister for her words. It is obvious that she is passionate about the arts and culture sector, and I take her assurance that she will look into the insurance scheme—we will provide more evidence to her—and that DCMS is keen to get to stage 5 as soon as it is safe.
Although I am a central London MP, the reason I wanted to secure this debate is because this issue affects every single one of us in the House—that was clear from everybody who spoke. It really hit me when my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) mentioned that his son said that he cannot go to pantomime this year. The speeches today brought back so many memories: going to my first pantomime at the New Theatre in Cardiff with my nan; taking my kids to their first pantomimes at the Lyric Hammersmith and the New Wimbledon Theatre; taking them to Liverpool to see the fantastic offer there last summer; taking them to the Tate; and taking my daughter to her first production of Shakespeare at the National Theatre.
It has been a real delight for me to hear hon. Members’ speeches, but it has also been very sad. We have talked about the local economy, but this is also about health and wellbeing and the memories that arts and culture leave us, our families and our constituents. It is so vital that we continue to campaign to ensure that we can open our arts and culture venues as soon as it is safe to do so.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
IHRA Definition of Antisemitism: Universities
[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]
Before we begin, I remind hon. Members as they take their seats that, with the new rules, they should make sure to wipe their microphones and everything else. That is part of the arrangements that we have all agreed to. I have just done mine. Welcome to the debate. Four Members have indicated that they would like to make speeches—please keep speeches very short as the Minister needs to have time to reply. I call Christian Wakeford to move the motion.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the adoption by universities of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, I am grateful to be leading my first Westminster Hall debate on such an important and timely subject, which has been widely publicised in recent days. It is extremely important not only to the Jewish community in my constituency, but to Jewish communities, students and their families across the country.
I wish to start by saying that this debate is not a means of attacking the Government.
In fact, I wish to put on record my thanks to the Government for their efforts on this issue, which go back over three years. The former hon. Member for Orpington, the soon to be Lord Johnson, first wrote to all universities in February 2018 to encourage them to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. In May 2019, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), as Universities Minister, again wrote to all universities, urging them in stronger terms to adopt the definition. More recently, in January this year, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) wrote to all universities demanding that they adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism or face funding cuts.
Following those ministerial interventions and successive freedom of information requests undertaken by the Union of Jewish Students, we are now in a position where 29 out of 133 higher education institutions have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, with half of the Russell Group of universities among that number. Although that number is low, at 21% of higher education institutions, it is a marked increase on where we were three years ago. I thank my right hon. Friends for their part in making that progress. While I am heartened to see that a further 17 higher education institutions are to discuss the IHRA definition and its adoption in the coming months, it is extremely concerning that 80 institutions have confirmed that they have not adopted the IHRA definition, nor do they plan to do so. For those doing the maths, seven institutions failed to respond to freedom of information requests, which is of further concern.
I completely agree. All universities have not just a moral obligation but a duty to ensure that our Jewish students are safe on campus.
The main reason that those institutions gave was that they believed their current policies were sufficient. I do not agree. The IHRA definition sets out clear examples of what is or is not antisemitic to defuse any conflation with anti-Zionism and anti-Israel sentiment. Their second reason was that there is no need for a specific definition of antisemitism. Again, I disagree, with my thoughts in line with those on the first reason: it is for Jewish students and the wider Jewish community to define what antisemitism is. With IHRA now having universal acceptance, they have my support in pushing for that definition to be adopted as soon as possible.
The third and perhaps most disturbing reason given for not adopting the IHRA definition is that institutions consider it a threat to academic freedom of speech. That is of particular concern as, where the IHRA definition of antisemitism has not been adopted, that has given academic staff more influence in defining what is and is not antisemitic. Prior to its adoption at the University of Bristol, we saw in July 2019 it refuse first to open any disciplinary action against controversial lecturer David Miller and then to use the IHRA definition once the case was opened. That said, the university has since adopted the definition, for which I am grateful.
The University of Warwick has refused to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism and has no plans to change its view. In August, it found that a lecturer who said
“The idea that the Labour party is antisemitic is very much an Israeli lobby kind of idea”
had not been antisemitic, despite that being contrary to the IHRA definition.
This debate—and, indeed, previous requests by Members to universities—is intended not to be a stick with which to beat the higher education sector or its institutions but as a first step in ensuring that our many world-leading institutions across the sector take accusations of antisemitism seriously and do their utmost to protect all Jewish students and staff members. The IHRA definition and its clear examples are indeed a cornerstone in combating antisemitism in a manner in which Jewish students and the wider Jewish community can be confident. Those universities that have not adopted the definition need only to look to their peers to see what benefits there are from doing so. As we approach a point at which we have a greater proportion of football clubs adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism than higher education institutions, now is the time to act.
To make universities safe for Jewish students, why stop at adopting IHRA? We must go much further, ensuring that no-platforming, whether overtly or through the back door by imposing unreasonable security and higher charges, is brought to an end. When a university has effectively boycotted the Israeli ambassador, stopping him attending and speaking at an event, that is not right.
I have heard further concerning evidence of this nature where pro-Israeli speakers and, indeed, the ambassador have been turned away due to security concerns. Several Jewish students have been in contact about the issues they face just by being a member of a Jewish society, whether that be casual racism along the lines of, “I don’t mean to be Jewish but you owe me money” or having to provide their own security for events because the university refuses to support them. Although I have nothing but praise for the work that the Community Security Trust performs in the community, students should not be put in a position where they have to keep event locations secret or provide security for themselves because their university refuses to support them.
I put on record my thanks to the CST for all the work it does. I certainly hope that, with the work that the Government are doing and what my hon. Friend is saying, we can build a future where our children can go and pray freely and we can speak about these issues without fear.
My hon. Friend makes another excellent point. I am extremely fortunate that the Community Security Trust is based in the neighbouring constituency to mine, and that I have a very good relationship with its directors.
To return to the fact that universities are not supporting their students, I will use this forum right now to speak to my old university, the University of Lancaster: if they expect an alumnus who is pro-Israel to stay away, they should think again. I welcome the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) in her role as Minister for Universities, in ensuring that Jewish students are not discriminated against as timetables are extended to cover Fridays and even Saturdays, so that no student is forced to attend a lecture or seminar if they are observing shabbat.
Public opinion and the views of the Jewish community show that there is a demand for change and swift action to be taken. I call on our world-class higher education institutions to take note before future students vote with their feet.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) on securing this important debate. It is not a theoretical debate about a definition and which words are just about right; it is a real issue. Antisemitism is a very real problem on our campuses.
I will talk about my experience when I was at the University of Manchester between 2005 and 2008. It was just after the Iraq war. A group of students from the Socialist Workers party had seized control of the students union. The atmosphere on campus was absolutely horrendous. A friend who was Jewish and had the temerity to be elected to the students union was subject to death threats. The incident that sticks out most in my mind was back in 2007, when the union voted to twin with the An Najah University on the west bank, a university that is repeatedly linked to Hamas, a terrorist organisation that is openly committed to the genocide of the Jewish people.
Following the union’s successful vote to twin with that organisation, I was standing with a small group of Jewish students while hundreds and hundreds of students stood on the union steps chanting, “2, 4, 6, 8, let’s destroy the Zionist state; 3, 5, 7, 9, death to Jews in Palestine.” That happened in the centre of Manchester, one of our major cities, on our streets, in our lifetime. That was an absolute disgrace.
The situation was so bad that groups of Conservative students, Labour students and LibDem students worked together with a local Jewish society to try to take down the cabal that was running the students union. The irony is that many of those who fought together against antisemitism on the campus have since left the Labour party, and many of the members of Socialist Workers party have found themselves to be big supporters of the previous Leader of the Opposition.
I am pleased to see that the University of Manchester has now adopted the IHRA definition, but I am disappointed that the University of Derby, which I partly represent with the Buxton campus, has so far not done so. I call on it, and other universities, to adopt the definition. Failure to do so is a dereliction of duty and lets our students down.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for securing this important debate.
I am disgusted that we stand here today, in 2020, to condemn the ways in which universities have not only refused to engage with or listen to students, but, as in the instance of the University of Warwick, have been gaslighting Jewish students and the wider Jewish community. The institutional hijacking of freedom of speech that is currently being used as a façade for universities and professors to scurry behind is appalling.
In May 2019, a previous Minister for Universities sent a letter to all universities in the United Kingdom to encourage them to adopt the IHRA definition. Hot on the heels of the letter was the president of the Jewish/Israeli society at the University of Warwick, who sent his own letter, as a representative of Jewish students at Warwick, further imploring the vice-chancellor Stuart Croft to heed the advice of the Government and adopt the definition. The Jewish/Israeli society president was met with nothing but silence for over six months. When a copy of this letter was hand-delivered to Stuart Croft’s office, the response that came one week later was that the definition offered “no added value.”
Two inconclusive meetings were held, and a promised third in March was delayed initially, but never rescheduled. A further letter was sent in mid-July by Jewish community leaders, which has also gone unanswered.
In November 2019, a lecturer became the epicentre of the university’s apathy when academic Dr Goldie Osuri declared that antisemitism in the Labour party was
“an Israeli lobby kind of idea”,
evoking the age-old trope of malign Jewish power. When a formal complaint was made, Osuri emailed all students on the module to say that they should look at the work of Jewish Voice for Labour which, in her words, believed Labour’s antisemitism problem was “orchestrated”. The investigation was spearheaded by the head of sociology, Professor Virinder Kalra, who had previously expressed public opposition to the IHRA definition. He concluded that Osuri’s comments remained
“within the principles and values of tolerance and free speech”.
An appeal was rejected, and students were left feeling unsafe, attacked and gaslit. The process of complaint has now been exhausted. It is unimaginable and unacceptable, and such people should be removed from our university sector.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for securing today’s debate. It is important that we keep pressing universities to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and I am proud that our Government have been helping the Union of Jewish Students and others such as the Jewish Leadership Council, the Antisemitism Policy Trust, the Community Security Trust, and local champions such as Ruth Jacobs in the west midlands who work really hard to get councils and universities to adopt the definition.
However, I am deeply saddened when the argument is made that in order to protect freedom of speech, the IHRA definition cannot be accepted. What world are we living in where we are more concerned about protecting our right to be racist than the right of minorities to live without fear or intimidation on our university campuses? Too often that argument is made by those concerned about the consequences of their own language. I ask those people to learn, engage, and understand why it is so important to adopt this definition, so that institutions can have the tools genuinely and fairly to distinguish between what constitutes antisemitism and what does not. Adopting the definition harms no decent person, but allows communities to trust that these institutions are doing what is right.
I want to use this opportunity to briefly highlight what more universities can do to tackle this age-old hate crime, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South has acknowledged. So many universities are going above and beyond, and I am proud that the Government have provided another three years’ funding for the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Union of Jewish Students to continue their joint venture, educating students about the Holocaust and the consequences of antisemitism. So far, 30 senior leaders and 95 sabbatical officers from 47 English universities have attended the project. As a result, at least 24 universities marked Holocaust Memorial Day in 2019, reaching over 6,000 people. As well as holding commemorative events, participants in the project invited survivors to speak and share their testimony on campus, brought forward motions to combat antisemitism at their student union, and hosted events with speakers highlighting the dangers of antisemitism and hatred.
Thanks to support from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Union of Jewish Students will be expanding the “Lessons from Auschwitz” universities project for student unions and campus leaders. That will bring together almost 450 student leaders from across English universities through education on the Holocaust, anti-racism work, British values and faith values. I pay tribute to all that HET and UJS do to tackle antisemitism wherever it may appear.
Adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism is just the start. It is the beginning of universities’ efforts to prevent this age-old hate crime from having a safe space on our university campuses. Universities should be places where all should thrive, and no one should fear not belonging because of who they are or where they are from.
Order. I think we are just about to have a vote, so rather than interrupt the Minister as she is responding, it is probably best if we suspend the sitting for 15 minutes. I will certainly not resume the sitting until the Minister and the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) get back, and then hopefully we can get down in the queue and move forward.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) on securing this important debate, as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Saqib Bhatti) and for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) for their contributions. I also acknowledge the very personal contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan), who recalled his own experiences of religious hatred during his student days.
It is very good to be back in Westminster Hall, where views can be aired openly. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this topic as I stand in for my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, who has been self-isolating today awaiting a covid-19 test, which I am glad to report has come back negative.
The Government are clear that there is no place for religious hatred in our society. Racism of any kind should not be tolerated anywhere, including in our higher education institutions. Higher education providers should be at the forefront of tackling the challenge of antisemitism and, indeed, all racism and religious hatred, making sure that the higher education experience is a genuinely fulfilling one and a welcoming experience for everyone. Higher education providers have obligations, in particular under the Equality Act 2010, and their policies and procedures must be appropriate to ensure that they are complying with the law.
In 2016, the Government adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. We were the first country to adopt that definition and it is an important tool in tackling antisemitism. Universities have a big role to play. We expect them to be welcoming and inclusive to students of all backgrounds, and the Government continue strongly to encourage all higher education providers to adopt the IHRA definition, which would send a strong signal that higher education providers take those issues seriously. However, they are autonomous institutions and that is also set out in law. As such, the decision on whether to adopt the definition rests with individual providers.
The Government have taken action, however. In 2019, the then Universities Minister and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government wrote to 130 institution heads to outline the importance of the definition and to strongly encourage the providers to consider adopting it. On Holocaust Memorial Day this year, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced new funding of £500,000 over three years for a programme supporting universities in tackling antisemitism on campus. The Government will continue to call on providers to adopt that important definition. It is a decision for vice-chancellors, but I urge them all to listen to their staff and students, as well as to the wider community and, indeed, our proceedings.
Without doubt, the university experience of many Jewish students is overwhelmingly positive. However, the number of antisemitic incidents in the UK remains a cause for concern, including in our universities. The Community Security Trust statistics for 2019 show record numbers of antisemitic incidents. Furthermore, in the first six months of this year, the number of incidents of antisemitism involving universities rose by an alarming 34%, compared with the same period in 2019. That is absolutely unacceptable and shows how much further the sector has to go to tackle the issue. Recent statistics also show that the way in which antisemitism is manifesting itself is changing—for example, there are increased reports of online incidents. I am concerned at the way in which religious harassment has evolved at this time of global crisis.
Throughout the pandemic, the Government have made it clear that higher education providers have a responsibility to their students to ensure that they continue to be able to access support and the complaints procedures. As universities begin to teach the autumn term, it is more important than ever that students feel able to report incidents of antisemitism and other hatred. We expect higher education providers to have a zero-tolerance approach to all racial harassment and religious hatred and to act to stamp it out, whether it is on campus or online.
I call on all leaders to step up their efforts to address this issue within their institutions. Adopting the IHRA definition is one way of showing that antisemitism is not welcome, although adoption alone does not mean that our work is done. Hon. Members are no doubt aware of activity to tackle antisemitism that has already happened across the higher education sector. For example, in 2015, the Government asked Universities UK to set up a taskforce to address harassment and hate crime. That taskforce resulted in the “Changing the culture” framework, which was published in 2016. Much of that has shaped work across the sector.
In 2019, Universities UK published a report on the impact of “Changing the culture”, and it showed that progress had been made, especially in certain areas of focus, particularly student-to-student sexual harassment, but work remained underdeveloped in other areas, including hate crime. In particular, the report emphasised the requirement for further senior leadership buy-in and investment to enable culture change. UUK then committed to convening an advisory group on racial harassment in higher education, which would include vice-chancellors. That group is soon to publish guidance for the sector.
The Government have worked with partners, including UUK and the Office for Students. Through ministerial guidance, the Government have tasked the Office for Students with supporting efforts to tackle harassment and hate crime in higher education. As a result, the OFS has provided £4.7 million for a range of projects over four years.
In conclusion, we will continue to work across Government to ensure that racism and religious hatred of any kind are not tolerated anywhere, particularly our world-leading universities. We call on leaders across the sector to do more to ensure that a zero-tolerance approach is taken. As a Government, we have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism and have encouraged universities to do so. We will ask them to do this again and we will be clear that there is much more progress to be made. Our universities should be inclusive and tolerant environments. They have such potential to change lives and society for the better. I am sure that our universities are serious in their commitment to tackle racism and hatred, but much more work remains to be done.
Question put and agreed to.
Alternative Fuelled Vehicles: Energy Provision
I beg to move,
That this House has considered energy provision and alternative-fuelled vehicles.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts; it is very good to see you in the Chair. I thank all those who were involved in granting me this debate today.
Let me start with an uncomfortable, some would say inconvenient, truth:
“Each one of us is a cause of global warming, but each one of us can make choices to change that with the things we buy, the electricity we use, the cars we drive; we can make choices to bring our individual carbon emissions to zero. The solutions are in our hands, we just have to have the determination to make it happen. We have everything that we need to reduce carbon emissions, everything but political will.”
Those were the words of Al Gore some 14 years ago. The real truth, however, is that while we have some, possibly many, of the solutions, we are perhaps showing insufficient will.
In that same year, Lord Stern produced his climate change report. Fortunately, those calls were heard by the last Labour Government and they acted fast. In a global first, Labour legislated, with the Climate Change Act 2008 establishing the Committee on Climate Change, which has been responsible for recommending carbon budgets and a series of rolling targets for greenhouse gas emissions, to take the UK on a path to reduce emissions by 80%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2050.
Gore said that we must have the determination to bring about change. The inconvenient truth is that if we do not have it, and if the Government do not lead the way with the necessary determination and conviction, we will all be the victims of permanent climate change. He said that it is about making choices, both as individuals and as Governments. Labour’s Climate Change Act was a turning point. The carbon targets or budgets have been met primarily through addressing power generation, but transport remains an issue.
For the past decade or more, the contribution of carbon dioxide emissions from surface transport has remained broadly flat, at around 27%, having fallen just 3% between 2008 and 2018, according to a Committee on Climate Change report. That is the context in which we must view the importance of challenging the sector. It cannot be left to the vehicle manufacturers or the energy providers to take financial risks in the absence of certainty from Government. Nor should consumers, who rightly want to do the right thing, be penalised or disadvantaged by being first movers, only to find that the Government fail to match their ambition.
Certainly, the industry strongly supports the decarbonisation of road transport, recognising the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, both today and on the pathway to achieving net zero. Across the sector, it is investing significantly to deliver smart and sustainable mobility, and it is rightly calling for the right eco- system and for enablers to support consumers with their transition to ultra-low or zero-emission vehicles. As such, a comprehensive, multi-sector strategy is needed, including key elements of energy decarbonisation, investment in infrastructure and transitional consumer incentives to enable it to happen.
Let me consider in turn the strategies required for the market, industry, energy and skills, for each of which the role of Government is fundamental. It would be easy to leave it to the market and say, “Well, it’s not working. The upfront investments are too great to choose the wrong product or technology.” Manufacturers certainly cannot transform the market alone. Market frameworks and certainties are required to give consumers and businesses confidence to take the leap into these technologies and to power our transition towards alternative fuels. Understandably, until these vehicles are as affordable to buy and as easy to own and to operate as conventional cars or other vehicles, the consumer or business will not travel with the technologies. In the first half of the 2010s, fewer than 25,000 new plug-in cars and vans were sold in total. Last month, battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars made up one in 10 registrations of new models, which is a substantial amount.
It would be easy to compare and contrast with countries such as Norway, but it has a very different industrial base, and very different consumers and energy provision. It is far better to look at our peers, such as France and Germany, and see what is going on there. We need to avoid over-deliberating about technologies and make a decision—not a UK-only decision, but one that reflects where other primary markets and tech developers are moving. We need to decide the appropriate energy power unit for passenger vehicles, both solo and multiple occupancy, as well as for commercial vehicles, both autonomous and manned. The same applies to buses and mini-vans; heavy goods vehicles and specialist industrial, commercial and military vehicles, including refuse vehicles, such as those produced by Dennis Eagle in my constituency; and earth movers and others such as JCBs and those produced by businesses such as Thwaites, just outside my constituency in Warwickshire.
I turn to the industrial strategy that is required. Naturally, we all want to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of any new technologies. Of course, the UK should have the ambition to take a lead in the ultra-low emission vehicle market and be a leader in manufacturing. We need to attract new investment, including upskilling the workforce, which I will come back to. We need battery factory investment, with the supply chain development to go with it, and strategic research and development investment at a globally competitive level, such as that at the Advanced Propulsion Centre at Warwick University. We also need the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, which is currently being built just outside Coventry and is due to open later this year. The Government supported the collaboration by Coventry City Council, the local enterprise partnership and Warwick Manufacturing Group, which were awarded £80 million.
Developing the technology is one thing; commercialising it is another. We presently have zero gigafactories, while other countries already have them or are establishing them. Sadly, we missed out on Tesla, which decided to invest in Germany, in a factory just outside Berlin, to produce batteries, battery packs, powertrains for use in Tesla vehicles, and to manufacture the new Tesla Model Y. It will produce 500,000 units a year, employing 7,000 people. The company was attracted to the UK, so Elon Musk says. However, it wanted to be at the centre of Europe, so, sadly, the Brexit decision meant that it was a safer bet for Tesla to invest elsewhere.
As Tesla shows, an industrial strategy needs to be underpinned by a super-low-carbon energy strategy. The energy needs of manufacturing must be supplied by renewables and low-carbon sources, particularly given that the manufacturing processes demanded in EV production cost up to one-third higher than those for an internal combustion engine vehicle.
Energy strategy is a crunch area for the UK and, ultimately, a deal breaker. UK electricity prices are 68% above the EU average, according to data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in 2018, having risen by 55% since 2010. It is a seriously burdensome premium that the manufacturing sector has to pay. A 2018 University College London report found that our European neighbours had reaped the benefits of better interconnections, more cross-border trading and long-term supply contracts. Although the Prime Minister announced in the last 24 hours more offshore wind-generation capacity, we need to embrace more onshore wind, to seriously drive down energy costs.
I turn to network and planning and the importance of delivering energy locally to manufacturing and to the consumer. The present infrastructure is far from adequate. Significant and urgent investment is required to create an accessible, ubiquitous and interoperable network of public electric charging—likewise for natural gas and hydrogen refuelling points—so that consumers find it as easy as filling up from a petrol pump.
National Grid says that net zero will require significantly higher levels of electricity generation. In one scenario, it forecasts that by 2050 we will require almost three times more capacity than we have today. Even in the slowest decarbonising scenario, it foresees a 75% reduction in total energy demand for road transport, which is really positive. Although hydrogen will play a role, electrification is key to the decarbonising of transport, with at least 60% of all road transport being electrified in National Grid’s forecasted scenarios.
Critical to this is a massive increase in the number of charge points, which will require a strategic national plan, delivered locally. I appreciate that the Government announced Project Rapid 12 months ago, with a £500 million investment. According to Frost & Sullivan’s analysis for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, however, a total of 7 million charge points will be needed by 2030, of which just under 2 million would be public. By 2035, the requirement will increase to a total of just under 12 million.
For motorway travel, 7,000 150 kW charge points will be needed in motorway service areas. According to the electric vehicle charging app Zap-Map, the UK currently has only 19,000 on-street charge points. That means we will need to install more than 500 chargers across the UK every day to meet our 2035 target. Although those numbers seem huge, they are what is needed if we are to address consumer perceptions and recharging fears. According to a recent Savanta ComRes survey on behalf of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, 44% of car owners are discouraged from buying an EV because of a perceived lack of local chargers. If we are to meet this challenge, Governments at every level need to work with the private sector and the local energy distribution networks, and in partnership with charge point providers such as Tesla, BP Chargemaster and others, to deliver the EV charging infrastructure.
According to the Renewable Energy Association, the number of companies developing charging networks in the UK has increased significantly in the past 24 months. Few of the UK networks—major or minor—are members of interoperability platforms, which stands in contrast to other countries, where that is rapidly becoming the norm. The Netherlands is probably one of the best examples. One of the solutions is interoperability or roaming platforms, which would allow the consumers of individual charge point operators to charge on other networks that are also associated with that hub. The hub would monitor EVSE—electronic vehicle supply equipment—usage and could settle payments between operators. The roaming platform does that for a small fee.
A second solution is peer-to-peer arrangements, which involve the negotiation of direct commercial relationships and agreements between chief procurement officers, to allow for a consumer to use multiple networks while using a single app or account without the involvement of a roaming platform.
We also need to ensure that we deliver smart charging. National Grid has estimated that 80% of electric vehicle drivers will use smart charging by 2050, which will help balance almost half of the UK’s energy demands brought on by the move to zero-emissions driving. Imperial College has done a huge amount of work with Nissan looking at this issue, and there is a massive opportunity for the parking of electric vehicles to be a huge energy storage for the grid.
Let me turn to the strategy for heavy goods vehicles and large vehicles, because it is very easy to talk simply about passenger vehicles. I appreciate that the Prime Minister has talked about massively investing in hydrogen, but we are falling behind other nations on hydrogen mobility. In Germany and elsewhere, a number of buses are being run on hydrogen. I appreciate that plans are afoot in certain parts of the UK for this to be introduced, but we need to get it behind it urgently. I know there is news of a hydrogen hub in the Tees valley, which is really welcome, but the South Korean Government have set a target of 200,000 hydrogen vehicles and 450 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2025. Why can the UK not set similar ambitions?
Let me finally turn to education and skills, because while we need strategies, we also need to ensure that we have the skillset to deliver them. That will involve not just higher education, which is always highly regarded, but the development and supply of skills through our further education colleges, which is critical, as is developing science, technology, engineering and maths subjects through our schools. That applies not just to the research and development of new technologies; it also means providing training for those who will maintain and service the huge number of vehicles that will come on to the UK’s streets, whether they be passenger cars, commercial vehicles or heavy goods vehicles.
This is a really important sector for the UK economy. It is worth £82 billion in turnover and £20 billion in additional value to the UK economy. It is the UK’s largest exporter of goods, accounting for 13% of all UK goods exported. It employs 168,000 people in manufacturing, supporting 820,000 people across the wider automotive sector. It is critical that we invest heavily in this incredibly precious industry, and show support and direction.
The Government have made great progress in encouraging EV ownership, through VAT exemptions and the plug-in car grant, but more needs to be done in the rapid development of charging infrastructure, as well as in encouraging consumers to consider switching over to electric vehicles. We should consider tax breaks; free or reduced parking costs; generous, long-term plug-in grants; and readily available, reliable, fast EV charging on streets and in shopping centres and at places of work. We need better battery tech and more ambition from the Government to secure the giga-manufacturing plants in the UK. I and other west Midlands MPs wrote to the Government to see if we could secure investment in a gigafactory in Coventry, to support companies such as Jaguar Land Rover and, of course, Aston Martin.
The grid and direct district network operators need a clear road map from the Government for the transition in electricity use. We need a joined-up, multi-sector strategy and road map that targets long-term, positive consumer messages on all technology choices. It is Labour’s policy to end the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans by 2030. We talked about the electric car revolution at the last general election, with our plans to invest £3.6 billion in EV charging networks and £2.5 million in interest-free loans for the purchase of electric vehicles, saving buyers up to £5,000. The Government need to get behind the agenda urgently.
We need new cleaner diesel as part of the mix, because without that, we will not ensure a managed transition. Diesel, together with plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles and hydrogen-powered vehicles are, as Al Gore said, the solutions that are there. We need a managed transition, which is critical in ensuring that manufacturers and consumers are not left high and dry by legislation, and Government policies that impact on the value of their investments or purchases. A willingness and, above all, an ability to invest is premised on the immediate profitability and future returns, but the sector needs a coherent industrial strategy, conjoined with the market strategy, underpinned by major public investment in infrastructure, in parallel with the private sector. Together, we can achieve that ambition of delivering zero-carbon vehicles by 2030 or 2035.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) on securing this debate. I will focus my remarks mainly on electric vehicles, a concept whose time has well and truly come.
I consider myself to be a relatively young man whose childhood was not very long ago, but when I was a child, the epitome of an electric vehicle was the Sinclair C5 —a low-volume, hopelessly impractical vehicle that could only ever appeal to the eccentric. Only a short few decades later, the exemplar of an electric vehicle, as the hon. Gentleman has outlined, is the Tesla, a car which has made manufacturers
“sit up and take notice.”
Those are not my words; they are the words of Top Gear magazine.
I am grateful to Malcolm and Mark of Vehicle Procurements in Mapperley in my constituency for building my knowledge of electric vehicles. They run a vehicle leasing business and have been champions of electric car use. They even offer one of their electric charging points to any local business free of charge, and that is a fantastic example of corporate social responsibility.
I do appreciate that there are barriers to the market. Price is an obvious one, but, as with any consumer good, that is falling and will fall over time as more are produced. There are also fears about batteries. We have mobile phones and we worry that their batteries will run out. A car battery running out is an even bigger fear, because that causes more problems. I understand that that is a worry, but most journeys, such as commuting to work or shopping, are local, and there are now more and more electric cars with longer ranges. I saw some in Mapperley with ranges of up to 200 miles that could do significant long journeys.
Electric vehicles are therefore becoming increasingly like so-called ordinary motorcars. That confidence will be reinforced by Government funding alongside private sector investment that has provided 24,000 public charging points—one of the largest networks in Europe. I appreciate, however, as the Member for Warwick and Leamington said, that more needs to be done to expand that provision. I further understand that charging points will be made compulsory in homes, and I welcome that.
We are 14 years on from the release of the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?”—a film that has not aged well. Electric cars are now part of our everyday conversation. Noah and Ethan, pupils at Arnold Mill Primary School in my constituency, wrote to me about the need to protect the environment, and both cited the need for electric car production. I completely agree. The electric car is not dead, and long may it flourish.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) on securing this important debate. Recent news on the hydrogen front has been heartening, with the recent pilot of the first hydrogen train. We can all congratulate the scientists and engineers behind that important stepping stone on our hydrogen pathway, yet within the wider hydrogen economy it is clear that the UK needs to make further progress in certain key regards. As the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington mentioned, when we compare ourselves with countries such as South Korea, which has set a target of 200,000 hydrogen vehicles and 450 refuelling stations by 2025, we see that the UK lacks a clear hydrogen industrial strategy. I therefore add my voice to those calling for a clear and ambitious hydrogen strategy that works for all, and with all four nations of the UK.
I will concentrate my remarks on hydrogen-fuelled personal vehicles and the need for a balanced approach towards both the supply and demand sides of the hydrogen economic equation if we are to make significant and swift progress along the pathway. In case the clock gets the better of me, I contend that a local approach offers the best way forward. People may be surprised to learn that hydrogen—a fuel of the future—has a long association with Wales, a country that is perhaps best renowned the world over for its coal deposits. Indeed, the first ever hydrogen fuel cell was developed way back in 1842 in Swansea by a lawyer and physicist called Sir William Robert Grove. Perhaps I may cheekily suggest that, when he sums up, the Minister could be tempted to consider the idea of establishing a specific industrial strategy challenge fund on hydrogen fuel, perhaps named after Sir William Grove.
Returning to the present, it is easy to see why it is suggested that hydrogen as an energy source had in mind Wales—an energy-rich nation with an abundance of water—at its very inception. Wales is also blessed with a world-leading hydrogen sector, from the hydrogen centre in Baglan Park to Riversimple, a hydrogen vehicle manufacturer. However, a supply-side focus risks missing the opportunity offered by Wales’s strategic depth in hydrogen.
I urge the Government to consider how they can support the development of small and commercially viable markets based around individual hydrogen refuelling stations. That could involve exploring different models, such as leasing personal and commercial hydrogen vehicles around individual stations, and encouraging hydrogen vehicle use for shorter, more local journeys, thereby stimulating manufacturing demand for those vehicles in the local area. Such an approach could work for Wales, addressing our often hyper-local use of transport, while allowing for more a geographically distributed manufacturing and infrastructure base for the hydrogen economy.
We have a golden opportunity to rebalance the way we fuel our economy and protect the environment. Let us not miss it.
Once again, I commend the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) for giving me the opportunity to support him. He has been a proud champion of this subject for many years, and I am proud to join him in this debate.
For me, the issue is a no-brainer. It is about the environment, cost and pollution. Embracing this important issue is the right thing to do. It is also a huge opportunity for the UK. It is what I call non-discretionary; we have to act, and we have to act quickly. It pleases me that both the major parties are aligned on this. Last year’s Labour manifesto aspired to end
“new sales of combustion engine vehicles”
by 2030. I agree with that. The Conservative manifesto wanted to invest £1 billion in
“a fast-charging network to ensure that everyone is within 30 miles”
of a charger. Again, I commend both.
I want to talk briefly about electric cars and charging, and then I will make some recommendations. First, the electric car market is growing quickly, with more than 142,000 pure electric cars on the road as of today, and 339,000 plug-in models, or so-called hybrids. Electric models accounted for 6.4% of all new registrations this year and hybrid 10%. In August 2020, notwithstanding covid-19, there was a 78% increase in pure electric registrations compared with the same month last year. This is happening whether we like it or not. It will be consumer-driven to the point where the Government might follow suit rather than lead it.
Charging is a major issue. As of 2019, there were just over 8,000 petrol stations in the UK that could fill up more than one car at one time. Some 50% of the charging points are fast, but it still takes three hours to charge each vehicle. Changes are therefore needed rapidly to expand the number of charging points across the UK.
I will finish with some recommendations. The roads are good in the UK, so, ultimately, this is about improved charging points. The rapid charging fund of £500 million should be expanded. I agree that there should be an expanded role for local government. Let us invest in it the power to make changes locally. Motorsport, of which I am a huge fan, needs to race in this area. At Pikes Peak, two records were broken in successive years with electric vehicles. Formula E is also an exemplar. The lessons from motorsport can certainly drive this issue.
I want the UK to be a world leader. Why not? We did it with McLaren and ventilators, and other car manufacturers. It is something we have to do. We have an opportunity post Brexit to lead the world on this, and I commend that idea.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Betts. The last time I spoke on this issue, I cautiously welcomed the Government’s consultation on the acceleration of the phasing out of new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2035, with the important caveat that it still lagged behind the Scottish Government’s target. There has been no confirmation yet of that, but it was progress, as was the doubling of investment in EV charging infrastructure, which was absolutely necessary as England lags considerably behind Scotland in charging points per head of population.
In the year to March this year, ultra-low emission vehicle sales in Scotland grew by 46%—40% faster than in England. That is thanks not only to the better charging network that I have described, but to the more generous support provided by the Scottish Government in the form of interest-free loans to purchase electric plug-in hybrid cars to the value of £35,000, which is over and above the UK Government’s plug-in grant. More than £85 million has been provided by the fund to help to drive the behavioural change that we want to see. We are not yet Norway, where roughly half the cars that are bought are ULEVs. We have a lot more to do, but we are heading in the right direction and taking bold action within the parameters of the fiscal envelope that devolution allows. Perhaps if the UK Government were to show more urgency in this area, we could ramp up our own ambition and help to deliver carbon neutrality even earlier.
Although the cost of electrics are coming down, they can still be prohibitively high for many, particularly for family-sized cars. In the used market, which perhaps is not yet fully mature owing to availability, cost remains high, with no support offered to those who purchase new vehicles—until last Monday. Last week, used ULEVs in Scotland became eligible for an interest-free loan of up to £20,000. That is fantastic news, particularly for those who are priced out of the new market. I am sure that as the availability of used ULEVs improves, the take-up will accelerate. I urge the Minister to convince colleagues to incentivise the purchase of used ULEVs, perhaps by extending the reduced plug-in grant to the used market.
I do not have time to discuss the advances in rail and aviation, although I was pleased to see the ambitious plans outlined by Airbus in the past fortnight, and I am forever hopeful that Rolls-Royce will continue to expand its excellent work in this area, and utilise its expertise and space at its Inchinnan plant in my constituency. However, nearly 400 million bus journeys a year are made in Scotland—four times the number of ScotRail journeys—so getting some of our older, more polluting vehicles off the road, to be replaced by electric or hydrogen buses, is one of the easiest fixes available to us, and that must be accelerated.
The £3 billion bus fund is welcome. We have not seen hide nor hair of it yet, but since then thousands of tonnes of carbon have been emitted, and hundreds of bus manufacturing jobs have gone. To summarise, the Government’s intentions and rhetoric on climate change issues have improved, but our generation and the Government will be judged by their actions, not their slogans.
I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I thank the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) for introducing the debate.
Members may or may not know that until December last year I worked on exactly the subject of the debate, for Shell oil, looking at the future of fuel and of transport. One thing that is clear from all the work that has been done is that there is no one future—no one size fits all. We have heard great advocates for electric and for hydrogen, although we have yet to hear anyone talking about biofuels. I am trying to say that there is no one solution. There may be someone here with an electric car, and someone with a hydrogen car, but we must look at the issue in the round. It is important that we, and the Government, consider all options. There is no single track that leads forward in the right direction. We need to look at everything.
My concern about the debate generally is that there is a lot of talk about electric. I agree that the future for most passenger vehicles will be electric; that is undeniable. However, I also care about UK plc and our economy, and I fear that if we—the Government and the nation—put all our eggs in the electric basket, we will miss the boat. Germany, China and even south America are doing so much great work with battery technology. Can this country get the financial dividends from investing heavily in electric? I say, “Not necessarily.” We need to invest in it for the good of the climate and the country, but for the good of the economy I argue that we need to try to steal a march on areas of transport that have not yet fully taken off. Hydrogen is incredibly important for heavier vehicles—HGVs, trains, planes and boats, which cannot electrify. We have to stop kidding ourselves. For large chunks of the sector, electricity is not the answer. Heavy haulage will not be electrified. We cannot talk about that; we have to be realistic.
Aviation is also relevant. When coronavirus is over, people will go back to flying. Batteries are not going to be the answer for planes—not for 50, 60 or 70 years. We need to look at alternatives—hydrogen—but also at sustainable aviation fuel and biofuels. We need to look at the whole thing in the round. Once again, not that much work has been done internationally on sustainable aviation fuels, so the Government need to look at those options. If we get the formula right, whether for aviation fuels or hydrogen, we can develop those things in this country—in my constituency, I hope—and export that technology and those fuel supplies to the wider world. Not only can we then get to a low-carbon future, which we all want, but we can make money for the country, and financial dividends.
We have only a short window in which to do that—I would say five to 10 years—before other countries steal a march on us; but if we invest heavily in those new technologies, while also using electric vehicles, we can bolster our economy. I want to use this opportunity to implore the Government to look at the whole range of options. Do not just go down the electrification route, which is important for passengers and consumers, but look at the technologies that we can develop as British technology—good Sheffield and south Yorkshire technology —and export across the world once again. This can be the industrial revolution of the next 150 years.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Betts. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) on an excellent and comprehensive speech. As he said, fuelling vehicles through alternative means will be vital if we are to meet net zero, and there are exciting developments in the field.
I confess that I was a sceptic about the role that alternative fuels would play in significantly reducing carbon emissions from aviation. It seemed that often they were put forward to deflect discussion of the demand for flights. However, since taking up my current role as shadow Minister for green transport I have spoken to a lot of firms in the sector, such as Velocys, which will be producing sustainable aviation fuel sourced from waste in the UK, and the Electric Aviation Group, which hopes to have hybrid electric planes operating in UK skies by the end of the decade. It is not the only answer to rising aviation emissions, but it is part of the mix. I have discussed alternative fuels with Maritime UK, and we are closely watching ongoing and planned trials of battery-fuelled and ammonia-fuelled shipping in Scandinavia.
Electric and waste biofuel buses are already on our roads, including the biogas buses in Bristol. However, they need additional support, particularly now that the bus industry is struggling with collapsing revenues because of the pandemic. The same is true for rail firms, which want to move away from dirty diesel rolling stock. However, they have been failed by the Government on electrification and need support to develop or purchase trains fuelled by renewable alternatives. We also need sectoral support for aviation, conditional on climate action. Many others have spoken about hydrogen, and I do not have time to go into that now.
On electric vehicles, recently, along with my colleagues from the shadow Business team, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), who is replying to the debate today, and my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), I wrote to the Transport Secretary calling on the Government to bring forward the planned phase-out of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans to 2030—at the moment, the manifesto commitment is 2040—and plans to make that transition smooth and feasible. That is important not just to meet our carbon objectives, but to support our car manufacturing sector. I do not quite agree with the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) that we have missed the opportunity to develop electric vehicle production in the UK. We also need to think about electric bikes and electric cargo bikes. We used to be so good at producing bicycles in this country, and I think we need to do more of that.
We have only 5% of the charge points that we need if we are to stick to the 2040 target and have half of all new car sales represented by zero-emission vehicles by 2030. If we bring that date forward to between 2030 and 2032, we will have to accelerate installation of those charging points. I hope the Minister can reassure us on that point.
Thank you, Chair. I thank the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) for securing a debate on this important issue. We are all committed to combating climate change and getting down to net zero. As chair of the all-party parliamentary environment group, I spend a lot of time pushing for that. When I was environment editor of The Observer and The Times more than a decade ago, electric cars were just a pipe dream. I drove some early models, but they are now a reality. I have long seen the internal combustion engine as a dirty, smelly and polluting Victorian technology. The sooner we see the back of it, the better.
I only have two and a half minutes, and there are eight things I think the Government should do. I will have to keep this brief. First, we should commit to 2035 rather than 2040. It is the minimum under the Committee on Climate Change recommendations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommendations for meeting net zero by 2050. Indeed, we should consider whether we can bring it even further forward. There is huge industry support for that, from a wide range of different people, and it will probably be cheaper for motorists in the long run.
Secondly, we should continue the subsidies for the schemes. They are not self-sufficient yet, and we definitely need to carry on providing the money to help people to buy them, install charging points and so on. I know the Government are doing that, but we should not turn off the taps just yet.
Thirdly, the Government should provide real clarity, certainty and absolute conviction to industry that this is the direction we are going in. For the big investment decisions from energy companies on charging points and so on, there has to be a real sense of national mission that we can all buy into.
Fourthly, we must make sure that charging is provided for all properties. Consultation is taking place about requiring charging points in new build, and that should be mandatory. Huge numbers of houses are being built in my constituency of South Cambridgeshire, and they should all have charging points, otherwise they will be outdated within a decade or so. How do people living in flats access charging points? Some 30% of homes do not have driveways. Are we saying that people in those homes should carry on driving petrol cars? Clearly not.
Fifthly, we need to get from 18,000 charging points to more than 200,000. That must be done in a way that is as consumer-friendly as possible; we must make sure that they are interoperable and put them in supermarket car parks, or in all car parks. Sixthly, we must unleash the private sector. That is happening already, but I have followed very closely the roll-out of cable, mobile and 4G. That was done by unleashing the dynamism and investment of the private sector, and we should carry on doing the same here.
Seventhly, do not make us an island that is incompatible with the rest of the world. We have different electrical sockets from everywhere else, which is an accident of history, but let us make sure that when drivers leave the UK and drive over to France, they can still use their electric cars.
Eighthly, as the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington said, smart charging is the way to go. I know that we are doing that but it should be key. It improves energy efficiency, reduces costs and is good for our energy resilience.
I hope that I will not disappoint given that you were so keen to get to me earlier, Mr Betts.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) on securing the debate, as well as those who have contributed to it. It is quite clear that topic is important and needs a lot more time than the hour we have today.
We keep hearing about a green recovery in the UK being “world leading”, but for that to be a reality, we need coherent, interlinked strategies, and the policies to achieve them. That means the publication of the overdue energy White Paper, the national infrastructure plan, a heat decarbonisation plan, and a possible update to the transport decarbonisation plan. I hope that the Minister will provide an update on those and how they will be implemented, now that the Budget and spending review have been cancelled.
Although I will concentrate my speech on land transport, there are, as Members have said, opportunities for the production of sustainable aviation fuels—SAF—so will the UK Government provide the support that is needed to top up the private investment that is actually available so that we get a number of production plants up and running in the UK? Will the Government look at the renewable transport fuel obligation to further incentivise the use of SAF?
With road and rail, the main choices are electricity and hydrogen. Hydrogen is an obvious solution for HGVs, and it is part of the mix for trains and buses. That requires coherent hydrogen production policies. The Prime Minister’s announcement today about increasing the deployment of offshore wind is welcome, but that needs to be aligned with the production of green hydrogen. Blue hydrogen also needs to be part of the mix in the short term, which requires the implementation of carbon capture and storage. Will the Minister tell us when Peterhead will finally be given the proper backing to get up and running?
In the north-east of Scotland, Aberdeen has led the way with the introduction of 15 of the world’s first hydrogen-powered double-decker buses. The Scottish Government invested more than £3 million in that project, but another £8.3 million actually came from the EU. Where will the replacement funding come from for that type of scheme? For Aberdeen, another 10 hydrogen-fuelled buses will be procured, and they will be constructed by Wrightbus, protecting jobs in the UK. The Transport Secretary promised hydrogen bus-only town trials, but we are still waiting for the outcome. Where has he been, and when will the UK Government catch up with what is happening in Scotland? Will there be alignment with the manufacturers of hydrogen buses in the UK?
The Scottish Government have awarded £7.4 million to bus operators through the Scottish ultra low emission bus scheme. That will result in the manufacture of 35 electric buses by Alexander Dennis Ltd. Again, the UK is lagging behind on a proposed electric bus town. When will that go live, and will it result in orders for Alexander Dennis Ltd, too?
I welcome the fact that the UK Government are trialling the first hydrogen train in the world. That might make up for their dereliction of duty on electrification and the previous Transport Secretary’s obsession with hybrid diesel trains. The Scottish Government have published a real decarbonisation strategy with an end date of 2035, but Network Rail has only an interim programme in the UK targeting 2050. When will we get a final determination that is ambitious enough?
One simple ask on a hydrogen strategy is a starting point of £11.4 million for a clean fuel metrology centre in East Kilbride. Although we do not think about it, we actually need a measurement and calibration centre. That East Kilbride proposal would be a world first. Will the Minister update us on when BEIS will give the go-ahead for that centre?
We have heard about the UK being world leading on domestic electric vehicles but, in fact, it is not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) said, the UK needs to match the Scottish Government’s ambition. We really need to move on this. We need large investment. As hon. Members have said, we need a greater roll-out of the charging infrastructure network. I will tell the Minister how that can be paid for: cancel the plan for two nuclear power stations that is going to cost £40 billion. That will allow the upgrade in infrastructure, greater investment in renewables and a bright and green future, with a proper green industrial revolution.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) on not only securing the debate, but proceeding in such a thoughtful way that has allowed us to hold a genuine, wide-ranging debate, rather than just scoring a few points. That was an excellent approach, because when we debate this issue, we have to proceed without scoring points.
We are moving together on what we need to do about vehicles for drivers and passengers in the future: phase out the internal combustion engine by 2030 or 2035—the date does not actually stand in the way of the key points that need to be made about how we get to that point. At the moment, we have 170,000 or 180,000 EVs and 30 million petrol and diesel vehicles; by the early 2030s, that will be reversed. An enormous change will therefore have to take place in our vehicle fleets, and we not only have to make that change, but need to ensure that the infrastructure that goes with it is there before that change takes place, not after, because if we leave it that long, we will not actually get change in the first place.
Hon. Members have been pretty united in talking about the need for turbocharging, or hypercharging, the roll-out of infrastructure for electric vehicles. The grid reckons that it can cope with the changes, but of course the national grid is a national grid. It is not a grid that extends down, through the distributed networks, into localities, and there are serious difficulties in various parts of the country with not only the roll-out of charging points, but the structure of distributed grid systems and how they will deal with those issues.
The need for an overall strategy, which my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington mentioned in his opening remarks, is therefore tremendously important. It needs to be not only a strategy with the right numbers nationally, but one that actually percolates down to ensure that everywhere in the country is properly served by charging points for electric vehicles. We are currently very far from that.
Various statistics can be cited regarding what percentage of the overall charging points we need are already in place. Some commentators say that we have only about 5% of what we will need by the early 2030s. And that percentage is not properly distributed across the country, as I know to my cost. I tried to drive from Southampton to Penzance this summer, in an area of fast-charging deserts, and ended up parking my car overnight in a Tesco’s car park—hoping that it would not be clamped—so that it could be properly charged.
On fast charging, we need to get our skates on urgently, and I do not think the market is going to come to the rescue by getting fast chargers in. There needs to be a plan—Government backed, and based on Government funding—that is rolled out nationally, with an absolute assurance that we will get those charging points out in the right place, with the right levels of charge, for the motorists whom we know are going to come forward.
Hon. Members quite rightly mentioned the fact that we also need to look at other renewable, low-carbon fuels. I particularly agree that electric is not likely to be the fuel of the heavy transport and logistics of the future; that will probably be hydrogen and biomethane. We need to take steps to get hydrogen charging points in as early as possible for that sector of our transport fleet.
My ask of the Minister this afternoon—not in any partisan way—is a forward plan to get fast chargers in place as quickly as possible, well in advance of the changeover, so that we can make that change in the secure knowledge that we can get where we want to go, and how we want to go there, in the best and most environmentally sustainable way possible.
It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mr Betts. I thank the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) for initiating this important debate, as well as other colleagues present: my hon. Friends the Members for Gedling (Tom Randall), for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford), and the hon. Members for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). Of course, I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) for his eight-point plan. I also thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), for the collegiate way in which he tackles this important national endeavour.
The transport sector is a vital part of our future prosperity. As we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, we have an outstanding opportunity to speed up the development of clean technology, which I guess is the theme of today’s debate. For decades, we have talked about the phasing out of fossil fuels from motoring, and now that is actually happening as we make the transition to alternative-fuel vehicles. This country has led the way in developing clean growth. Between 1990 and 2018, our economy grew by 75% while carbon emissions fell by 43%, faster than any other G7 nation, so anyone who says that it cannot be done is wrong. We followed that by making an ambitious commitment in 2019 to end our contribution to global warming by 2050, making that the law of the land, and countries around the world then began to follow suit. Of course, none of us here underestimates the scale of that challenge. Although battery electric vehicles represent nearly 5% of the new car market in the year to date, transport is still the sector in the UK that emits the largest amount of greenhouse gases, accounting for 28% of emissions in 2018.
It is clear to me that we need to go much further and faster to decarbonise transport. Throughout 2020, we have been working on a new, overarching transport decarbonisation plan, covering all modes of transport, which we expect to publish by the end of this year. That plan will set out the path that we need to take to deliver our net-zero objectives, together with our partners across the transport sector. The need for rapid renewal of the road vehicle fleet with zero-emission vehicles is well understood and will deliver substantial emissions reductions over the long term. We are already investing £2.5 billion to support the transition to zero-emission vehicles, with grants for plug-in vehicles and funding to support charge point infrastructure, which many colleagues from across the country have mentioned today.
If we are to meet our targets, there is no time to lose. That is why we have consulted on bringing forward the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 to 2035, or earlier if a fast transition appears feasible, as well as including hybrids for the first time. As part of that consultation, we asked for views on what package of support will be required to enable the transition and to minimise the impact on both consumers and, of course, manufacturers—businesses that have invested so much in the United Kingdom. The consultation closed on 31 July, and we will announce its outcome in due course.
Our approach to delivering our transport decarbonisation ambitions is technology-neutral—my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley quite rightly reminded us of the need to remain technology-neutral. As the market develops, it is becoming clear that it may be favouring different technologies for different applications. Today, electric vehicles are a small but fast-growing percentage of cars and vans on the road. Such vehicles are being adopted as a key technology for decarbonising road transport, particularly light vehicles, and over 300,000 ultra low emission vehicles are now registered in the UK. A fit-for-purpose infrastructure network is required for the mass uptake of electric vehicles—that is the message I will take away from today’s debate. Many more charge points will be needed, and we want improvements to the consumer experience when using the network.
In fact, our vision is to have one of the best electric vehicle infrastructure networks in the world. That means a network for current and prospective electric vehicle drivers that is affordable, reliable, accessible and secure. The Government and industry have supported the installation of more than 18,000 publicly available charging devices, as colleagues mentioned, including more than 3,200 rapid charging devices, giving us one of the largest networks in Europe. Our home, workplace and on-street charging schemes, and the £400 million charging infrastructure investment fund, will see thousands more electric vehicle charge points installed across the UK.
I do not have the time; I have so much to try to get through and to share with the hon. Gentleman. I apologise.
In May, we announced our vision for a rapid charging network. Today, a driver is never more than 25 miles away from a rapid charging point anywhere along England’s motorways and major A roads. By 2023, we aim to have at least six high-powered open-access charge points at motorway service areas—open access is an important aspect of this in England—with some larger sites having as many as 10 to 12 charge points by 2035, which was the challenge that the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington gave to us. We expect the number to increase to around 6,000 high-powered chargers across the network. This vision will be supported by the rapid charging fund, announced in the March Budget by our excellent Chancellor, as part of a £500 million investment over the next five years.
It is vital that consumers can charge efficiently and safely. We will consult on using powers under the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 to mandate minimum standards, such as requiring contactless payment for rapid charge points, to improve the consumer experience. While the electrification of transport will increase demand for electricity, we are confident that energy networks will support this transformation. Hon. Members heard from the Prime Minister today about our ambitions for offshore wind. The Government are working with the energy industry to plan for future electric vehicle uptake, to ensure that the energy system can meet future demand efficiently and sustainably. We have set a clear ambition for almost all cars and vans to be zero emission by 2050, in combination with the recent consultation on bringing forward the end-of-sale date. Setting long-term targets ensures that there is enough time to ready the electricity system for the mass transition towards cleaner, more efficient vehicles.
Colleagues mentioned the opportunities of hydrogen. We see a real opportunity, so we will follow up the energy White Paper with an ambitious hydrogen strategy, because hydrogen is a game changer. Hon. Members have referred to the Prime Minister talking about the Tees Valley announcement today. We have a much bigger ambition for both blue and green hydrogen going forward. The role of green hydrogen in transport will be set out in full in the transport decarbonisation plan, which is due for publication at the end of the year.
On low-carbon fuels, which are important to colleagues, we are clear that our transition to zero-emission vehicles does not mean that we can ignore measures to reduce emissions from conventional road vehicles in use today. Increasing the supply of low-carbon fuel will continue to help us to reduce the environmental impact of every journey. It is equally clear that we should not ignore the potential for low-carbon fuels to decarbonise those transport modes that are harder to reach through electrification. Low-carbon fuels have played an important role in reducing emissions already. Through the renewable transport fuel obligation—the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) asked about this—we have seen average greenhouse gas savings through biofuels increase from 46% in 2008-09 to 83% in the latest available statistics.
The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington asked about incentives for electric vehicle drivers. We are considering long-term future incentives for zero-emission vehicles alongside our consultation on bringing forward the end-of-sale date. In the meantime, the Chancellor announced in the Budget a further £530 million of extra funding to keep the plug-in vehicle grant for another three years.
The hon. Gentleman also asked what we are doing to ensure that people can access and pay for public charging points. That is a big focus for this Government. The system that we deliver—the system of systems, if I can describe it that way, as someone who was an engineer in a previous life—is important and will ultimately deliver on something that we both want to see happen rapidly.
I thank the Minister and all Members who have participated in the debate. We have had a healthy discussion and there is lot of consensus.
Some interesting points have been raised. As the hon. Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) said, this is not discretionary—we have to do this. We are all very excited about the prospect and there is a huge challenge. The hon. Gentleman cited Formula 1, and the great research and development that has been happening in the UK has been driven by Formula 1. We lead much of that sector. McLaren and others are developing so much in the electric vehicle sector, which is being used in bicycles as well as cars, buses and trains.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) was right when he made his interesting point about the hydrogen pathway and the development of the first such energy cell. I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) about expertise on the breadth of sectors and how we need to look at them all, particularly HGVs, as they are big drivers of the emissions that we need to bring down.
I agree with the point about the barriers to market that was raised by the hon. Member for Gedling (Tom Randall). With consumers, we have to overcome concerns about price, fear about access to charging points, range anxiety and so on. There is a lot that needs to be done through Government communications to bring that about.
The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) made an important point about renewables. I welcome what is going on in Scotland and have a long-held admiration for the renewables sector there. The work that is being done on used vehicles is very interesting as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) talked about biogas buses in Bristol—Bristol is doing so much great work.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).