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Westminster Hall

Volume 685: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2020

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 1 December 2020

[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Cancer in Teenagers and Young Adults

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of raising awareness of signs and symptoms of cancer in teenagers and young adults.

It is a pleasure to have this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for making it possible. I have a number of debates lined up with the Committee, and it asked me the week before last which debated I wanted to do. That is a very difficult question, because there are others that have been lined up since April or May, so I said, “I can’t make my mind up. I will leave it to you.” The Committee chose this subject, and I am very happy to speak on it.

I am my party’s health spokesperson, and this issue is very close to my heart. That is perhaps because, over the years, as an elected representative, I have had the opportunity to speak to constituents who are very clear about what the issues are for them. Cancer in teenagers and young adults is very important because sometimes children have been healed, and sometimes they have not.

Far too often, young people are forgotten when it comes to the conversation around cancer. Today’s debate offers a great opportunity to highlight the issues young cancer patients face, helping us all to explore how we can increase the understanding of signs and symptoms of cancer in their age group, and how to support their specific needs, experience, survival and recovery from cancer.

The importance of the debate was made clear to me the Teenage Cancer Trust, a charity that is very close to my heart and that I have supported frequently over the years. The Teenage Cancer Trust is the only UK charity dedicated entirely to improving the quality of life for 13 to 24-year-olds with cancer. It helps the seven young people who are diagnosed with cancer every day of the year, supporting them through treatment and beyond. The Teenage Cancer Trust has specialist units in NHS hospitals and provides dedicated staff, including specialist nurses and youth support co-ordinators. It is important to have specialist nurses and youth support co-ordinators in place to offer that umbrella of support when it is needed. The charity has 28 units across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and uses the charitable funds it raises to provide over 90 specialist staff posts.

This year, after noticing the worrying drop in cancer referrals across the first lockdown, the Teenage Cancer Trust ran the “best to check” campaign, which was supported by a large number of MPs, on social media. Many MPs in this House and many Members of the devolved Administrations were involved in that social media campaign. The aim of the campaign was to highlight the specific signs and symptoms of cancer in young people and, importantly, to encourage young people to speak to their GPs or other healthcare professionals if they were concerned, with the message that, if in doubt, it is best to check. It is a good campaign, because it highlights the issues well.

An important point to raise today is that young people with cancer are different from children and older adults. While, fortunately, cancer in teenagers and young adults is rare, compared with cancer in older adults, it is still the biggest killer of young people by disease. This week in Westminster Hall and in the Chamber, we will have a number of debates about cancer, which is something we have highlighted over the last period.

It is always a pleasure to see the Minister in her place, because she has personal experience, but also a knowledge of the subject matter, and I look forward to her response. I also look forward to hearing from the shadow Ministers and from other hon. Members today.

It is always important to remember that cancer is still the biggest killer of young people by disease, because we focus very much on older people in our constituencies who come to see us. My father had cancer on three occasions; the first time, the specialist told my mother, “Go home and get your affairs in order,” yet he survived that. I have a similar outlook in life, both spiritually and in understanding, to my hon. Friend from the Scottish National party, the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden). We believe in prayer. At that time, prayer was a big thing, and I believe it changed the outcome for my father. It was the skill of the surgeon and the care of nurses along with the prayers of God’s people and others that brought him through. He lived 34 years after he was first diagnosed. For a man who was told that his life was over, it is clear what happened. He had two more bouts of cancer and survived them too.

Young people experience a pattern of cancer types distinct from those faced by children and older adults. Typically they are the types of cancer that are considered rarer than those we are most used to hearing about in older adults. It is important that we focus on that. These cancers include the lipomas, the leukaemias, the sarcomas and the germ-cell tumours that are often harder to diagnose than the cancers faced by those in older age groups. We regularly see on television adverts from Great Ormond Street children’s hospital, and when I see young children suffering from cancer at a very early age, it always make me focus on the young people who have to deal with the disease. For example, a couple on television this morning told a very personal story. The case of children who have not had the chance to see all of life resonates very much with us and is close to our hearts.

Alongside that, it is important to recognise that young people with cancer have a distinct and highly significant set of social and emotional needs. Perhaps they do not always understand what has happened to them. They depend on the love of their parents and their families, and the skill of the nurses and their love as well. The normal challenges facing all adolescents and emerging adults still have to be faced by a young person with cancer. Along with the changes that they face, they have to deal with some of the bigger issues.

Young people are at a stage when their brain is still developing. That means that they will interpret and manage their diagnosis and the treatment of cancer differently. Experiencing cancer at the same time as puberty can have an effect on the physical transformations that are taking place. Cancer can have a number of unique physical and social impacts on a young person, and that can affect their identity, sense of self and body image. As the father of three young boys growing up, I was very aware of the difficulties and changes in children. Now I have the pleasure of having grandchildren and watching them growing up. All the things that I did not do right for the children I can perhaps get right for the grandchildren. My wife might say, “That’ll be a big thing for you,” so we will see how it goes.

Cancer can disrupt young people’s attendance at school, their romantic relationships and their interactions with peers at a crucial time in their development. The Teenage Cancer Trust funds youth support co-ordinators who are specialists, who help young people through all aspects of their care.

Young people with cancer face many barriers when needing a swift and accurate diagnosis. An issue both before and during the coronavirus pandemic is the challenge of getting age-specific data on cancer referrals. That is one of the things that we perhaps have not been able to do accurately. I understand the pressures that Ministers and Departments face, but data are not just figures. Data enable us to look at trends and to focus on them. It is important that we have age-specific data.

Statistics on cancer waiting times are broken down by trust and cancer type, but not by age, which is rather unfortunate. When the Minister replies, perhaps she will give us an indication of how improvements can take place. If we had such improvements for age data, we could focus our efforts on how best to address the issue. It is difficult to understand the full impact of coronavirus on access to the system for young people with cancer, but there is no benchmark for comparison in the first place. We cannot even compare with what happened before because the statistics are not in place. It is important that we get them.

Data from the national cancer patient experience survey in 2018 showed that young people were the group most likely to sit on concerns about their body for more than 12 months before presenting to a doctor. We have to address that. If young people are not sure what is wrong and what the changes in their bodies are, they need to be encouraged to speak to their parents and their GP and to feel free to do that, just to check and be sure. I will shortly give one example or perhaps a couple of examples of where doing things that way probably saved people’s lives.

Data from the national cancer patient experience survey and surveys conducted by the Teenage Cancer Trust also show that, compared with older adults, young people with cancer are the group most likely to have to present to GPs or healthcare professionals three or more times before they end up getting a referral and a diagnosis. How many times have we heard that people have gone to see their GP and presented their case, but the GP—I am not being critical—has never been able to indicate exactly what is wrong at an early stage, when the symptoms are perhaps clearly saying it? That is why people go back perhaps two or three times.

As I said, I will give an example of one young person, and I will give just her first name. The Teenage Cancer Trust hears these stories frequently. In June 2019, a young person named Alex was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. She was 13 years old. Her symptoms started as back pain. When she presented her symptoms to the GP, she was told to take paracetamol and ibuprofen and to keep an eye on it. A week later, she was still having persistent severe back pain, but she had also developed a rash and unusual bruising. Luckily, her GP told her to go to the A&E department for a test, and that was probably what saved her life. Following that, Alex was told that she had cancer.

Alex is now on maintenance treatment and wants to share with other young people the message that if they go to their doctor once and something still feels wrong afterwards, it is important to keep going and asking for help. It might seem silly to do that, but it is essential. If someone has a persistent pain or problem, they must go back to their doctor. What made young Alex persevere was knowing that she would be able to stop guessing once she found out what was wrong. Alex’s story is one of many with a similar message.

Studies such as that by Herbert et al in 2018 have shown that GPs are often not familiar with cancer in teenagers and young adults because of its relative rareness, so their suspicion is low. I know that GPs are confronted every day with different issues, and I understand that, sometimes, with the rapidity of issues, it might not always be possible to know exactly what the problem is. It is often thought that young people are too young to get cancer. No, they are not. It is important that that is said today.

Interestingly, the BRIGHTLIGHT cohort study has highlighted that sociodemographic factors and tumour type significantly influenced primary care referral rates and time to diagnosis. BRIGHTLIGHT has done excellent work, and it is good to have that on the record.

Following on from that, it is timely to raise the issues that coronavirus has caused for teenagers and young adults with cancer. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, around the time of the first national lockdown, cancer referrals from GPs dramatically reduced for all age groups. It would be great to think that that was just because cancer problems and the need for diagnosis had dropped, but that was not the reason. Cancer referrals were down by as much as 75% across all age groups—adults, young adults and children—as people stayed at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus. People were obviously afraid. They would think, “If I have a chronic disease and I go to the hospital or my GP, I might find that I have coronavirus as a result of that.”

There are potentially thousands of undiagnosed people who otherwise would have been diagnosed, and I think that other debates this week will indicate that as well. There is concern, too, about the particular challenges from the increased demand during the winter period. We cannot ignore that, because the winter period will bring its own problems as it always does. As one who had the flu jab back in September, I understand how important that is. I was never convinced at the beginning that it was really important, but as a type 2 diabetic, I now understand that there is a purpose to it. I have no doubt at all that the flu jab has helped me and many others.

As I said, there is concern about the particular challenges from the increased demand during the winter period. We also have to look at wider access to services for young people with cancer and at how that can work and how we can do it better, because it is important that we do so. Much of the support for young people with cancer has had to move online during the pandemic. That suits some people, but not everyone. While there has been some excellent adaptation and innovation, it cannot fully replace one-to-one support. While online is important, it is not the answer to it all.

It is encouraging to see the pick-up in referral rates across age groups in the latter part of the year. The NHS Help Us, Help You public awareness campaign is welcome. Some of these campaigns are really important, and we have to thank the Minister and the Health Department for campaigns that raise awareness. It is important that that happens.

During the first lockdown, the Teenage Cancer Trust found that young people with cancer found that accessing members of their treatment team much more challenging, particularly for rehabilitation and emotional support. We often say this—there are not many debates when we do not—but the issue is not always the physical part; it is also the mental and emotional wellbeing, the social interaction and the help of families. My goodness, how much we depend on our families for support as well. The trust’s findings show that 69% of young people were seeing their physiotherapist less frequently than usual, and 53% of young people were seeing their psychologist less often than normal. Those figures tell their own story of the fall-downs.

For many of these young people, the impacts of covid-19 and cancer are a massive double whammy. For those in treatment, coronavirus has exacerbated what is already a horrible situation and made it even more isolating and scary. Those young people who do not have the support of family and friends find it a very lonely road to chart a way down. I hope the Minister will give us some ideas in her response about how we can help these young people with their emotional and wellbeing.

For those at the end of treatment, coronavirus has extended some of the most difficult pressures of cancer treatment, which they thought they were finally breaking clear from, such as missing friends, family work and education. I support the Government’s campaign here and in Northern Ireland, where the issue is devolved, to have children at school. It is really important to do that where possible. We can probably do education at home and online by Zoom, but there is not the contact. I watched a TV programme last week where four children from a school back home were asked how important interaction in class was to them. They all said the same thing: they need that social contact. That is very important to have a normal life.

Another young person, Darcy, was diagnosed with skin cancer in February this year, at the age of 21. Her diagnosis came after her mum noticed a mole on her collar bone that was growing and getting darker. Like Alex, Darcy was originally turned away by her GP, who thought the changes were nothing to worry about. That is not a criticism; it is a reality. Luckily, because Darcy knew that something was not right, she decided to go back. She was persistent, and her mother was persistent as well. Her mole was removed and tested, and Darcy was diagnosed with skin cancer.

Coronavirus changed Darcy’s experience of cancer, as the UK entered lockdown soon after her diagnosis. She was one of the fortunate ones who had a diagnosis early and was treated before coronavirus came in. Coronavirus has amplified the issue of young people being forgotten in the conversation about cancer. Due to infection control restrictions as a result of coronavirus, many young people with cancer have to face treatment without someone there with them.

We have had many such debates in Westminster Hall and in the main Chamber. We had a Westminster Hall debate about month ago about miscarriages and losing young babies and children. It was a very emotional debate, full of raw emotion from all those who participated with personal stories. One person in particular—I do not think I will ever forget her contribution—told her story for the first time. Her story was that she had lost her child during the coronavirus pandemic, and it had happened only three months previously. She told the story, from that chair, not so long ago. It told me how important it is to have someone there. Because of the coronavirus, she had not seen her mother since she lost the baby. The special contact that mothers have with daughters was lost for a period of time, so it is important to have that in place. The restrictions are there, of course, in the interests of safety and stopping the spread of virus, but young people with cancer report that they are increasingly struggling with the impact of having to face some of that treatment alone. I underline that again, as it is really important.

It is important to raise several other issues faced by young people with cancer, one of which is access to clinical trials. Perhaps the Minister will agree that we should be trying to address that. Access to clinical trials can improve survival rates, outcomes and quality of life. Teenagers and young adults are, however, significantly under-represented in cancer research. We do need to do something in that department, and it is important that we do that. If young people are involved in clinical trials, we can improve cancer research, thereby improving the results. Recruitment rates in the UK among 15 to 24-year-olds are between 14% and 30%, compared with a rate of 50% to 70% in paediatrics. That tells me something. Those facts are stark, and we need to address that.

Another key issue is the impact that cancer can have on the mental health of a young person. I said it earlier on and I say it again. CLIC Sargent’s 2017 “Hidden Costs” report on young cancer patients showed that 70% had experienced depression, 90% had experienced anxiety and 42% had experienced panic attacks during treatment. Despite that, many young people with cancer cannot access the psychological support that they need. Research by the Teenage Cancer Trust in 2018 showed that only 61% of young people said they had access to a psychologist or a counsellor throughout their cancer treatment. That figure fell to 44% after the treatment had finished. We really need to do something with that sector. It is crucial that every young person with cancer who needs it gets support from a mental health professional, from diagnosis through treatment to aftercare: from the beginning of the process to its end.

Cancer in young people may be rare when compared to cancer in adulthood, but it is still the biggest killer of young people by disease. Cancer awareness now forms part of the health education curriculum in schools in England. That is welcome, but education about lifestyle choices to prevent cancer in adulthood does not go far enough to help young people to understand the signs and symptoms of cancer in their own age group that are not down to lifestyle. It is important that we realise that. Cancer can come and strike hard when it is least expected. Young people with cancer need to be equipped with knowledge about the signs and symptoms of cancer in their age group, and empowered to visit a doctor when they think that something is wrong. Perhaps the Minister can give a follow-up in her response on how that education programme is going. It is a good idea, by the way. It is fantastic, and I highly welcome it, but I think, ever more mindful of the difficulties in education due to coronavirus, that the follow-on is important. Hopefully life will change in the new year, when the vaccine is more available and we have a better opportunity to take advantage of it. I am not quite sure what the new normal will be, but we do look for some sort of normality for the future. More widely, young people with cancer are consistently forgotten in the cancer conversation, so it is important that awareness of the issues faced by young people with cancer is raised. If data on referrals and diagnosis risks by age is not publicly available, however, difficulties in knowing where to effectively target interventions will continue. The specific needs of young people with cancer must be considered. Public awareness activity on cancer needs to include reference to the specific types of cancer that are more prevalent in young people. If we can focus on cancers that are more prevalent, we can give advice, raise awareness and encourage young people to act at an early stage.

Finally, general practitioners and healthcare professionals should be encouraged to refer young people who present possible cancer symptoms for tests, even if the suspicion is on the lower side. If they are in any doubt whatsoever, it is always better to check this to just sit on it. Thank you for this opportunity, Sir Christopher. I look forward to hearing contributions from right hon. and hon. Members, who have plenty of time to do so.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank my friend—for he is one—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing today’s important debate, and I hope it raises further awareness of this important issue. As my friend so poignantly illustrated, we have all sacrificed a great deal in the fight against coronavirus. Lockdown and the ensuing restrictions, which we continue to endure, have had a seismic impact on the services that the NHS can provide, none more so than cancer services.

Cancer is sadly the leading cause of death from disease for those aged between 13 and 24. Every day, seven young people between these ages in the United Kingdom receive the devastating news that they have cancer. I remember all too well a young family friend, Daniel Illias, a son and brother, who died from cancer as a teenager. It was particularly difficult as he received treatment at the same time, in the same hospital and with the same medical team as my own father. My father was 59 at the time, with prostate cancer. I remember going in and often seeing them, despite the age difference, playing chess or chatting about theology and other issues; the bond between the two was particularly strong. The day that his father telephoned to let me know that Daniel had died, and I had to go up to my father, in his bed, to let him know, was an awful, difficult day indeed.

My dearest friend, Will James, died of bowel cancer at just 26, only months after marrying his new, beloved wife Jen. We had just been celebrating his wedding. I think of Will every day.

It is only through early diagnosis that lives can be saved and complications can be prevented. Young people have been profoundly hit by the lack of cancer treatment as a consequence of the response to covid-19, whether in diagnosis, operations, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy. Cancer Research UK has highlighted that thousands fewer people are being referred for hospital tests, especially for lung and prostate cancer. According to Dr Louise Soanes, director of services for Teenage Cancer Trust, cancer referrals were down by as much as 75% in England, across all age groups, during this coronavirus pandemic.

Cancer can be effectively caught early and acted upon only if we ensure that the symptoms of cancer are fully understood and that people can see doctors. No one should have to suffer the physical or mental ordeal, or have their lives put at risk, from having their treatments delayed.

Covid-19 is certainly one of the greatest health emergencies we have had to fight, but at what cost? I, and a number of colleagues, have said in this House that we must ensure the treatment is not worse than the disease. Nothing brings this into sharper relief than the provision of cancer treatments.

In closing, I pay tribute to the heart-breaking story of young constituent of mine, Ellis Price, who lived with his mother and step-father, Laura and Ashley Pearman. Last year, Ellis’s mother noticed that he was falling over a lot. She took him to the doctor, but they raised no issues. Two days later, Ellis began to vomit violently and Laura took him back to the doctors. He was subsequently sent to Leeds General Infirmary, where it was discovered that Ellis had a brain tumour. Ellis underwent brain surgery, and the horrific ordeal of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Sadly, on 20 July this year, Ellis’s family were told that the treatment did not work. The tumour had spread to Ellis’s spine, and was now terminal. Ellis died on 20 September. He was three years old. How many families have to suffer through the heartbreak of watching their child fight and, like Ellis, tragically lose to cancer?

I applaud the efforts of charities such as Teenage Cancer Trust and Cancer Research UK for raising the vital message of early recognition of symptoms. As we emerge from the current health emergency, more must be done to ensure that young people are educated on the symptoms of cancer, so that fewer families like Ellis’s have to suffer.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this very important debate.

I will use my time today to highlight the work of a charity in my constituency, based in Cupar, that is focused on childhood and teenage cancers, called Toby’s Magical Journey. The “Toby” in Toby’s Magical Journey is Toby Etheridge, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia as a child, back in 2014. Together with his parents, Richie and Alison, he raised over £50,000 for charity during the two years of his treatment: £50,000 that would help provide toys, games, gifts and experiences to children and young people who were being treated for cancer and their families, both at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh—which is where 90% of child and teenage cancer sufferers are treated in Scotland—and to families across Fife.

After Toby’s treatment was, thankfully, successfully completed in 2018, which was fantastic news, Toby, Richie and Alison decided to keep going with that amazing work, and set up Toby’s Magical Journey as a result. I have seen first hand the support that Toby’s Magical Journey provides, both to those being treated and to their siblings and parents. It is doing absolutely amazing work, helping people at what is an incredibly difficult time. When restrictions were eased earlier this year, I spent a morning sorting toys and craft gifts for Halloween, and saw the consideration and co-ordination that goes into the purchases it makes. I am looking forward to hopefully joining its team again in the run-up to Christmas.

One of the key issues that Alison, Richie and Toby have raised again and again—indeed, all Members so far have highlighted this—is the challenges that children and young people face in getting a diagnosis in the first place. This was not actually the case with Toby, but for many parents of children and young people with cancer, achieving diagnosis is often an arduous first step. The pandemic has created added difficulties: coronavirus is now a complicating factor, and that is why debates such as this are so important. Thirteen children and young people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK every single day, and of those 13, three will sadly die. That is a huge number of families every year, and it is therefore so important that we as a society do all we can to raise awareness of the symptoms of cancer, and to support those families who have children and young people being treated for cancer.

We have had Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we have just finished Movember. These campaigns do a great job of raising awareness of the symptoms of breast cancer and testicular cancer. We need to better promote Childhood Cancer Awareness Month each September, in order to raise similar awareness of the symptoms of childhood cancer—symptoms that are not well known, which means that diagnosis can sometimes come too late. That means for many children, the chance of survival is greatly reduced, and as the hon. Member for Strangford has said, cancers in young adults and their symptoms are even less understood.

As I touched on earlier, this problem has definitely been exacerbated by coronavirus. In Scotland, general practitioners’ surgeries are still not seeing patients, which means diagnosis over the phone. As we have heard, that is a real problem when it comes to the often obscure symptoms of childhood and teenage cancer. It is important that these young people can have a face-to-face session with a doctor. I hope the UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments will commit to this as an absolute priority, especially given the mass expansion of testing we are seeing and the prospect of future vaccinations. Thankfully, at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, those crucial treatments are still going ahead. Children are being covid tested, and one parent is allowed in—usually, that would be two. I pay tribute to the team there, who do such important, life-saving work.

I also pay tribute to Alison, Richie, Toby and their wider family, because childhood and young people cancer impacts the whole family, and to all at Toby’s Magical Journey—volunteers, etc.—for the support they provide to children and families, but also for the way they have adapted the support they provide during the period of restrictions. Where they would be holding craft activities for family groups, they are now buying the same supplies and posting them to families, and doing sessions remotely. They are still sending gifts to children in the ward at the Royal Hospital, and I am pleased to say that Father Christmas will be doing socially distanced visits and meetings.

It is a very challenging time and as with many other charities, fundraising has been limited by covid. There are a number of factors, but one that I want to highlight is that people are using cash far less than they were at the beginning of 2020—I know that certainly I am. We need to think about how we can enable charities to continue to best collect donations in an increasingly cashless society.

Without child and teenage cancer charities such as Toby’s Magical Journey, the experiences of families being treated for cancer would be far worse than it is. They provide vital support, but equally important is the voice that they provide to families and parents. Without parents like Alison and Richie, who have direct lived experience, child and teenage cancer services would be much the poorer.

Like the hon. Member for Strangford, I commend the work of the Teenage Cancer Trust. In Scotland, it contacts all children weekly by text, and young people can respond via coloured love heart emoji, depending on how they are currently feeling.

We should be aspiring for a system far better than the one we have: one in which parents not have to fight for their child or young person to receive a diagnosis or treatment. We can do much better than this. The work that people such as Toby, Alison and Richie are doing has hugely improved services and will continue to improve those services in the future. They are amazing, but they should not have to be amazing in some respects. They should not have to step in to advocate; we should be getting the system right in the first place. I am sure all Members here aspire to that.

On the issue of charitable giving, the Government have made it possible through gift aid that for every pound given, they will give an extra 25%. Does the hon. Lady agree that this could be raised better, to ensure charities receive that extra bit of money? Sometimes when giving money, if a person knows they will get more for it, it is a bit like investing money for the future as one pound is actually worth £1.25.

I agree that is arguably one of the opportunities of a more cashless society. If people are making a payment, the gift aid opportunities are potentially easier to access than with putting money in a box.

I appreciate that healthcare is a devolved matter, but I am still looking forward to hearing the Minister’s response because I am sure these challenges exist throughout the UK. Indeed, that is why the hon. Member for Strangford is the person who has secured this debate. We can also achieve much by pooling our healthcare expertise across the four nations. We should be making sure that in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England that we are following the best possible practice, which means raising awareness of symptoms, enabling swift diagnosis and ensuring that children, young people and their families are properly supported.

It is, as always, a pleasure to see you in the chair, Sir Christopher. I very much miss serving on the Procedure Committee with you all those years ago, but it is a pleasure none the less to see you this morning.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing and opening the debate, and to see him back in his place after his period of self-isolation last week. He was very much missed last week in the debate that he had secured on the persecution of religious minorities. It is good to see him back in that seat—which I am sure he has probably got title deeds for now given that he is there so often.

This has been a very short but very enjoyable debate. The hon. Member for Strangford opened with a very passionate speech, as we would always expect from him, but in particular he spoke about that very poignant testimony from Alex. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) spoke about young Daniel and that relationship that was struck by his father in hospital. I think hearing about three-year-old Ellis really moved us all. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it must be for Ellis’s family as they work through losing a loved one. The hon. Gentleman has spoken very eloquently on behalf of his constituents and they should be incredibly proud to have him in here to be raising those issues, as he sits alongside the Minister.

Finally, the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) talked about Toby’s Magical Journey in Cupar. I, too, pay tribute to Richie, Alison and Toby for that remarkable figure of raising £50,000 pounds, and it was great to hear that Toby got the all-clear in 2018. She raised an important point about the impact that the transition to a cashless society will have on charities. I hope that is something that we can tease out in the debate in Westminster Hall on Thursday afternoon about transitioning to a cashless society, particularly in the light of the covid pandemic.

On that point, covid-19 has dominated so many aspects of our lives. Much of the discussion around public health shows that it is still so vital to look after other aspects of our health and wellbeing during this time. That very much includes checking for symptoms and signs of cancer.

With your forbearance, Sir Christopher, I want to pay tribute to my colleague and my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan), who has been a tireless campaigner on the subject of cancer and young people. She is not just one of my colleagues in this place and my constituency; she is one of my closest friends. I congratulate her on her election as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on children, teenagers and young adults with cancer. I also pay tribute to this young woman who has survived cancer twice. As has been well documented this year, she has also been through other health challenges. This House is stronger for having the experience of people like her. I look forward to her coming back and, arguably, making a much better speech than I could ever do. I hope to do this justice on her behalf.

I also want to pay tribute more broadly to the work of the APPG. It has done fantastic work in raising awareness of the issues affecting young people with cancer and their families. The 2018 report published by the APPG, “Listen Up! What Matters to Young Cancer Patients”, looked into cancer patient experience for children and young people across the UK. That report found that 64% of respondents did not think enough was being done to create a positive experience for children, teenagers and young adults with cancer. It also discovered that 82% of young people and parents responding to the survey did not think that Government listened enough to the experiences of young people with cancer and their families.

The report offered several recommendations for helping teenagers and young people understand the symptoms of cancer, as well as for those facing cancer treatment. Those include compulsory lessons in secondary school on spotting the signs of cancer; designated hospital parking for children and young people with cancer; an agreement by the Government to meet yearly with young cancer patients to discuss their experiences; and offering access to free fertility treatment to survivors of childhood cancer, who are not offered fertility preservation before receiving cancer treatment. That report highlights that not enough has been done to support young people and their families through a challenging diagnosis.

It is important that young people know the signs and symptoms of cancer, although they may differ from person to person. The common symptoms are lumps, unexplained tiredness, mole changes, pain and significant weight change. For more information about the different symptoms and where to seek help, I advise people to go the NHS website, the CLIC Sargent website and that of the Teenage Cancer Trust.

A lot of young people have expressed worry that they are wasting doctors’ and nurses’ time, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. I get incredibly frustrated, as a constituency MP, when people say, “I don’t want to bother the NHS or go to my GP, because they are really busy.” One of our privileges in this place is to have the voice to get this message out to our constituents: “If you are experiencing any of those symptoms, please do not worry about bothering your GP or the health service, but go and get it checked out.”

I want to reassure young people that if they have any of those symptoms or if they are worried about their health, they will be listened to and taken seriously. The NHS, in whatever part of the United Kingdom, is and always will be there for everyone. That is something we have certainly learned during the course of the pandemic. Despite the pandemic, the NHS continues actively to encourage people to contact their GP if they are worried about possible cancer symptoms. If the symptoms lead to a diagnosis, early diagnosis and treatment are really important and can improve the outcome for many young people.

I want to highlight the fantastic work of CLIC Sargent and the Teenage Cancer Trust, both of whom act jointly as the APPG’s secretariat. Understandably, for many families, when a young person receives a cancer diagnosis, it can be a very scary and confusing time. From doctor’s appointments to new treatments, the process can be overwhelming for young people. Those organisations offer advice to help young people and families to adjust to the cancer diagnosis and the treatment that follows. The Teenage Cancer Trust offers people advice on how to speak to doctors if they are feeling nervous, details of the different symptoms and case studies of teenagers and young people who have experienced treatment during the pandemic. CLIC Sargent is also a great resource, providing guidance for navigating clinical care, granting financial support and helping young people with the emotional impact of illness. Both organisations have new information around how to manage cancer during the covid-19 pandemic. Clearly, the public health crisis creates new challenges for patients, but there is still support available to help young people through this challenging time.

This year, the covid-19 pandemic has thrown unprecedented challenges at us all. From facing the virus itself to the huge financial insecurity that many people have experienced, to the restrictions and lockdowns taking us away from our loved ones, it has undoubtedly been a tough year for many of us. I say that after my grandfather was cremated yesterday. One of the hardest things that I have experienced during this pandemic was limiting the number of people at his funeral to 20. It has been incredibly, incredibly cruel from a public health point of view, and I think we would all agree that this has been such a difficult year for us.

This debate has highlighted that the teenagers and young people facing a cancer diagnosis and treatment during this time are facing even more challenges, but support is out there. Whether it be from the APPG, the NHS, CLIC Sargent or the Teenage Cancer Trust, there are people out there to offer information and guidance. It is vital that all young people check for the signs and symptoms of cancer. To reiterate, they are: lumps, unexplained tiredness, mole changes, pain and significant weight change. If a young person is experiencing these symptoms, I urge them to contact their GP. An early diagnosis will lead to the best outcome. Facing cancer as a young person can be incredibly scary and overwhelming and I pay tribute, above all, to all the young people undergoing treatment for cancer diagnoses. I thank their families, their carers and the NHS, who are working so hard to support them.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this important debate. He works hard through the Backbench Business process to get important debates either on the Floor of the main Chamber or here in Westminster Hall. I think he has chosen very wisely in this one.

I know that all Members in the room have a personal commitment to this issue. My childhood experience of cancer was the death of my father just before my third birthday, and that stays with me and my family, 33 years on. I am here to speak up for my community, but also to fight on this issue so that across the country, there might be fewer families like mine. We are well served in that regard with the Minister, and her personal commitment to this issue is something that we all look to.

Similarly, when it comes to the Scottish National party, it always great to see the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) in his place. We always learn from his contributions, and also from those of his colleagues, such as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford); with her enormous professional experience, she always adds to the debate. The hon. Gentleman mentioned his colleague and friend the hon Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan). I am sure she is watching, and I know the hon. Member for Glasgow East will pass our best wishes on to her. We can see that across this Chamber, there is a high level of commonality in our views about what must be done for young people. Between us, I am sure we can move forward on this important issue and make an impact.

I agree with so much of what the hon. Member for Strangford has said that throughout my speech, I will be reiterating the points that he made. Unlike him, I did not have a point to make on schooling, which is very important. Whatever challenges our children face in their lives—because of their socioeconomic background, their health, or whatever makes them different from their peers; everything makes a child different in some way—we must ensure that we are no less ambitious about their educational outcomes. We must meet their health needs in the short term, and then be ambitious about their futures so they can reach their potential. That is a cross-party theme; no one has ownership of it. It is important that we remain ambitious about the broader outcomes of children and young people who are suffering from cancer, so that—fingers crossed, and all that wonderful support willing—we can help them to resolve their health challenges and they can go on to live really full lives.

I refer to the poignant personal experiences described by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan). If he is still in touch with Daniel’s family, I hope that they can take comfort from the fact that Daniel’s story has been heard and his life recognised. The hon. Gentleman’s moving contribution will stand as a testament to Daniel in Hansard for centuries, and I hope that the family get to see it. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about early diagnosis, and I will refer to that theme shortly.

On covid-19, the hon. Gentleman said that the cure must not be worse than the disease. I understand that, but if we do not put restrictions in place and we do not control the virus to the degree to which we are able, our NHS will not be able to do anything else because it will be overwhelmed. I do not think that treating cancer and treating covid are in tension, and I hope we do not lose sight of that in the debate that we will have later today.

The hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) made points about cashlessness. We are all looking at how covid will change British life and our own lives. I was thinking about cashlessness only this morning as I beeped on to the tube. I have had the same £10 note in my wallet for months, and it is hard to think when we will use cash again. I have to say that such change makes me a little anxious—that might just be something in me—especially when I think about my constituents. For me, beeping in is great and doing stuff on apps on my phone while watching the telly is brilliant, but for lots of people in my community, cashlessness would be their worst nightmare. We tend to think about it in those terms, but the hon. Lady talked about how we might embrace the opportunity to get better outcomes, and how we might all take into these new times the spirit of putting money into charities’ collection boxes. Those points were well made. Importantly, I am sure that those whom she works with at Toby’s Magical Journey will have seen that their contributions and their wonderful work have been recognised today. I will come back shortly to the point about getting an early diagnosis.

I have spent eight months as shadow public health Minister, and it has has been a non-stop procession of virtual calls. The fact that it has been eight months may remind you that it feels simultaneously as though this pandemic has been going on forever, and as though it only started yesterday. The sense of time and space is strange. Sometimes, the virtual meetings can blend in together—I think I can say that without that sounding rude—but one really stood out, and that was when I was lucky enough to meet the Teenage Cancer Trust youth advisory group. I heard from four incredible people who had all experienced cancer at a young age, and they shared with me their unique and personal experience of this horrific disease. What they said was eye-opening and quite hard to hear at times. It was so inspiring that those four young people, who have fought or are fighting cancer, have chosen to use their experiences to fight the greater fight for others like them. That has had a great effect on me and informed my work.

Those young people talked about the scale of the problem that we are dealing with. We know that every year, 2,200 15 to 24-year-olds will be diagnosed with cancer. Lymphoma will be the most common—about a third—the next most common will be carcinoma of the thyroid, cervix, ovary, bowel or breast, at a little bit less than that. Survival rates are improving. That is something we should recognise, and we should be pleased and optimistic about it. We know that 82% to 85% of teens or young adults diagnosed with cancer will now survive for at least five years, but that is still in the context of the fact that nearly once a day a young person will pass away from cancer. That is the level of seriousness of this debate. Cancer in young people is rare, thankfully, but it is the biggest killer by disease, and the 2,200 15 to 24-year-olds diagnosed each year face mammoth challenges. We in this place cannot make that go away, although we wish that we could, but we have a responsibility to make sure that the best services are in place to meet their health needs directly and to provide support. I know that we are all committed to that.

The hon. Member for Strangford talked about the wide variety of challenges our young people face; everyone goes through them, even if they do not have to deal with this disease. I am just about young enough to remember some of them, whether social, emotional or physical. The idea of combining them with the physical and mental burdens of dealing with cancer is quite unimaginable. As we know, the normal challenges faced by young people are not sidelined in that situation; dealing with cancer just adds to and compounds them.

The experience that the TCT youth advisory group shared with me highlighted one of the biggest issues that young people with cancer face, and that is diagnosis. As multiple hon. Members have said, that is something that those young people face before they even know they have cancer. Cancer is often not the first, second or even third suggestion for what their healthcare challenges might be, and we know that young people are the most likely age group to present three or more times before they are diagnosed. That is backed up by studies that show that rarity can lead to doctors being unfamiliar with some of the symptoms that are presenting. A compounding factor is that, as the hon. Member for Strangford said, this age group is the least likely to take to a doctor concerns about their bodies. That can often go on for more than a year. Although the challenges that we face are understandable, we should not accept them. Rarity is not an excuse for us to not be really focused on the issue, and to want to do something about it.

I know the Minister will want to do that, and I look forward to hearing her contribution. I hope she can address a couple of issues. I am particularly keen to understand what steps the Government can take differently to increase awareness of cancer, not just among young people, but also among healthcare professionals, doctors and the wider healthcare system. We know those people are doing their best, so what can we do better to make sure they have the right information and awareness to recognise it more quickly? The hon. Member for North East Fife mentioned Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and I think we could all do more during that month.

I am keen to hear the response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Strangford about what can be done to get waiting time statistics broken down by age, and I will explain in a second why that is particularly personal. The current situation masks the true extend of the problem and restricts our ability to understand it.

That leads on to my point about the impact of the coronavirus. I have raised this at three of the last four Health questions. Dealing with the cancer bubble of delayed diagnosis and delayed care is critical to improving our health services and making sure we do not add to the terrible loss of life from covid a series of other lives lost to cancer. Young people are particularly at risk in that regard.

In the short term, I cannot even imagine how scary it must be to deal with cancer at a young age during this period of time, because all the support systems that would normally be there are more difficult to access, and they must be accessed virtually rather than person to person. That is really challenging. The long-term issue is around waiting times. In the first lockdown, referrals dropped dramatically, as people stayed home to protect themselves and others. That means that lots of undiagnosed cases of cancer are out there, many of which will be among young people, who were already less likely to seek medical attention or be diagnosed quickly. That is a potential added factor that may make outcomes for young people worse. As cancer services are restored, we really need a sense of what we are doing differently to deal with the bubble for young people in relation to those extra factors.

The hon. Gentleman is making some important points. There is a build-up of young people, children and young adults who have not had a diagnosis or the chance to get treatment because of covid-19. Does he think that in the Government’s policy and strategy decisions, resources must to be set aside to address the long list of people who need diagnosis and treatment, and that resources must be in place for staffing as well?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We will have to do something differently to catch up. When we talk about restoring cancer services, that does not mean restoring them to how they were in January. I know there will be a debate tomorrow morning on ways in which we can make those treatment pathways better. I think the wise thing to do is to focus on those groups on whom the impact is worse, and young people are one of those groups. Before I finish, I ask the Minister for her assessment of what the second lockdown has done to referrals and waiting times. When that was discussed at Health questions the week before last she was relatively optimistic about it, but I would be keen to know more. Particularly, we had a period between lockdowns where services will have been getting back to normal. Do the Government feel that we have learned any lessons from that about restoration of services, particularly for young people?

I want to conclude by saying, as have all Members who have taken part: if any young person, or indeed anyone at all, who is watching this is worried about possible symptoms, such as hacking cough, blood in the stool, or a lump or bump that they do not recognise—whatever it is—they should please not think that we are distracted by fighting the coronavirus and that they should therefore not present in the normal way to the health services. Do it—ideally this morning, or, if not, this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Whatever the earliest opportunity is, please do it, because the services will be there for you.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I congratulate him on securing the debate and on the sensitive way in which he always approaches these subjects.

Someone once said to me, “You don’t choose it. It chooses you.” That is the challenge with cancer. People have very little control over when or if they have to make that journey. However, it is a matter of making sure that we have the services in place and can have early diagnosis, and that we never take our foot off the pedal in getting the right workforce and making the pathways simple. People are understandably discombobulated when they are told; it is a tsunami of emotions. I would gently say that in the case of someone’s child, the wave is even higher. I could not imagine the pain of being told that.

On that point, I thank the hon. Member for Strangford for talking about Alex. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Imran Ahmad Khan) for his tribute to Daniel and to Ellis Price. I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) for giving us a little hope and showing us that Toby’s Magical Journey was a way those parents, through the most appalling circumstances, could turn their love of their child into something incredibly productive that is now helping parents who are going through the same thing.

As many hon. Members have said, the issue is a cross-party one. I was so pleased that the title of the debate was about raising awareness, because that is something that we can do in this place no matter what divides us about our other politics. We can raise awareness, and the issue of health is very much one that joins us, although the delivery of it is separate in the devolved nations that we belong to.

I thank those who have made contributions and want to add my good wishes to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan). When I noticed that she had become the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on children, teenagers and young adults with cancer, I looked forward to perhaps being able to discuss things with her. As hon. Members have said, the ability to bring personal experience to this place—in the sphere of health, business or anything else—gives debates a power that is sometimes otherwise lacking. In these covid-tinged times, debates in this place have changed, but our ability to do things together—to raise awareness and make sure that people’s voices are heard—is still very much in our control.

We have discussed the fact that cancer is no respecter of anyone. I have two young friends who have been through the challenge of teenage cancer—and it is challenging. One was just a teenager and the other was just exiting that period of life, which, as everyone has said, is one with an awful lot going on, emotionally and in a person’s maturity. We have not talked about ensuring we get the transition right, but speaking to people from the Teenage Cancer Trust or young people who have had cancer, we know that ensuring we get them in the right place in the system is important, so that as they move into adulthood they are not on a ward with very young children and vice-versa.

We have talked about the challenges posed by covid-19. In phase one of the pandemic we stopped services, but as soon as we could push the recovery button, we did. I have focused, along with those leading the drive in the NHS—Cally Palmer and Peter Johnson—to ensure we do not do that again. It is important that people can access other treatments. As the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) said, if covid-19 overwhelms the system, all the other areas we so passionately debate will become secondary and access to those services will become more difficult. We should all be aware, however, of the ambition to be tough on this disease.

We will get into calmer waters. When we do, we need that long-term plan and personalised care interventions, including a holistic needs assessment, health and wellbeing information and support, and end-of-treatment summaries. We need to identify and address the more psychological, psycho-social and emotional needs from diagnosis onwards, and to inform GPs about what is happening to a patient and their ongoing needs. A patient’s journey in hospital is often quite short, so those other medical professionals need help and assistance to access the information they need in their training.

As several hon. Members pointed out, childhood cancer is thankfully rare. That offers professional challenges in ensuring the diagnosis is as early as we would like. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield about the short window between Ellis’s exhibiting symptoms and being in hospital. We often find that in young children; it feels as if the change happens in a week or so. That is a challenge for the profession, but one it is up for. It is incumbent on me to outline to everyone that, thankfully, these cases are rare, but that makes it challenging for doctors when they are looking at a set of symptoms.

In the light of phase one, we have set up the cancer recovery taskforce, which includes children and young people’s cancer charities, to ensure that their voice is heard. It is important that, as we are recovering, we ensure that individuals from across the cancer family have their voice heard, because no two journeys and no two individuals’ needs are the same. That is a challenge. We are focusing on early diagnosis, workforce, treatment pathways, data and support. We are addressing system recovery, urgent referrals and screening, and ensuring the right communication is in place.

I know personally—like all of us—of the devastation this disease causes and the pain it brings to individuals and their families, but the impact on a young person is particularly heartbreaking. We know that cancer is rare among teenagers and young adults, who account for less than 1% of all diagnoses. Approximately 2,200 cancers are currently diagnosed for patients between 15 and 24. However, today’s debate has provided an important opportunity to raise awareness and shine a light on young people’s specific needs, experiences and recovery from cancer.

One of the positives of covid is that many more cancer treatments have become more patient-friendly and less impactful on the individual; that relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield about the treatment not being worse than the disease. Therefore, as treatments progress and with genomic testing coming along, it is important to make sure that we target the disease and not the healthy part of the body, so that we get the most positive outcomes for individuals that we can.

In my speech, I referred to clinical trials and the need for young people to be part of them. That will improve the data and the end results. Perhaps the Minister is about to come to that point and I apologise if she is, but has she any thoughts on how we can do that?

I thank the hon. Gentleman; if he will give me a second, I will come to that. Like him, I believe that research is the way to unlocking some the problems.

Awareness of teenage cancers in schools is important. Education from an early age on the causes and symptoms of cancer has been mentioned. I was pleased to see that this year’s curriculum for religious, sex and health education means that children are being taught about some of the signs and symptoms of cancer. In particular, that includes skin cancer, the link between smoking and lung cancer and ensuring that people keep a healthy weight. All these things help young people to become more aware of themselves, their bodies and their health outcomes. I hope that will encourage someone to pick up the phone and take steps towards discussing their health if they are worried about it.

As the mum of four daughters and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, as the friend of parents who have been in this situation, raising awareness in a sensitive manner especially when the risks are low is something that we should all work on. Cancer is a frightening subject at any age and I pay tribute to the cancer charities that specifically deal with young people. As many Members have said, they do an amazing job not only to support people but to promote cancer awareness. For example, the charity HeadSmart helps to improve the understanding and awareness of the symptoms of brain cancer. The Teenage Cancer Trust, CLIC Sargent and Teenage and Young Adults with Cancer are also in this space, and the hon. Member for North East Fife pointed out that many local charities, such as Toby’s Magical Journey, do good work right across the country.

There is another debate in the conversation about moving to a cashless society and understanding how charities will probably have to reframe their work. In my constituency only last month, a small team of three raised more than £400,000 in an online auction. Things will have to move in a different direction when traditional collections cannot take place. We saw that with the Royal British Legion’s poppy collection, which was severely impacted. Like the hon. Member for Nottingham North, I am aware that if we are not careful, we will create a two-tier society because many people in all our constituencies still want to use cash. We could probably be smarter, but that is an issue for another day.

On the learning in school guidelines, we will keep an eye on how the research develops and feed that in. I will have further conversations with my colleagues at the Department for Education to understand how we look at the curriculum and what more we can do.

I turn to research. Only by understanding the data can we understand the treatment pathways and cohorts. I want to make a point about those carrying the BRCA gene, who tend to be much more at risk. A young friend with BRCA in their family recently had a double mastectomy. She wrote to me about the support that she had had from a charity and she mentioned raising awareness.

Understanding the data is really important. The National Institute for Health Research is leading a multi-stakeholder strategy with NHS England and NHS Improvement, cancer charities, teenage and young adult cancer patients and clinicians, focused on increasing the participation of teenage and young adult patients in research, as set out in the recommendations of the independent cancer taskforce in 2015 to improve outcomes. I regularly meet Cally Palmer. Our focus last week was on teenage cancers, because it is a challenging area where we know we have to do better. The collection of data is very important, as is the participation in clinical trials.

The NIHR clinical research network has funded specific teenage and young adult research and also nurse posts in its 15 local clinical networks, and has instituted measures to identify all teenage and young adult cancer patients participating in the NIHR portfolio research. It is also taking a lead role in an international initiative to remove artificial age barriers that prevent adolescents and young patients from accessing clinical trials.

There are some challenges around data protection and various other things that make the collection of age data a little problematic, but my offer to the hon. Member for Strangford is to take that away and further discuss with colleagues how we can do it. Although things often seem simple, they sometimes are not, and we have to consider the unintended consequences of collecting vast amounts of data. For example, who do we allow the data to be shared with? We can depersonalise it for research purposes, but very often people want it personalised because they think that perhaps the school should know or whatever. All these things are very sensitive and need handling in the correct way.

The long-term plans states that we will

“actively support children and young people to take part in clinical trials, so that participation among children remains high”

and rises to the 50% that the hon. Gentleman mentioned by 2025. However, it is a challenge. Clinical trials need to be more representative across the board. We often find that they are particularly skewed towards males, but that is for another debate. Pharmacology and treatments act differently across genders and age boundaries, so making sure we have the right participants is important.

More effective consent processes for using data and tissue samples will contribute to improving survival outcomes. We will seek the views of patients aged under 16 to ensure that the NHS continues to offer the very best services for young people, which is where the cancer patient survey is most important. That will be used alongside other data to inform service design and transformation.

It is a given that we all want to do more, but making sure that the ambition for the future of cancer diagnosis and care is foremost is something that I am particularly focused on.

I am pleased that we have delivered on our commitment of September 2019 and that all boys aged 12 and 13 are being offered the vaccination against human papillomavirus-related diseases such as oral, throat and anal cancer. That builds on the success of the girls’ programme, which has already reduced the prevalence of the main cancer-causing types of HPV, 16 and 18, by more than 80%. There is also prevention here, which is very important. Ultimately, that will reduce cervical cancers and other cancers as people go through their lives.

Our aim is to drive more personalised treatments for patients, but particularly children. From last year, we have targeted the use of whole genome sequencing, which will enable more comprehensive and precise diagnosis and access to personalised and less invasive treatment. Cancer treatment is often challenging, and the personal approach reduces medications and interventions that may be harmful to healthy parts of the body.

We also support increased access to clinical trials, making sure we have diverse participation across age, genders and ethnicities. Following from that commitment, we made available treatments targeting neurotrophic tyrosine receptor kinase gene fusion solid tumours earlier this year, following the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence appraisal. Further guidance that has been issued by NHS England and NHS Improvement prioritises the delivery of the long-term plan commitments that support the recovery of services.

The ambitions include improving survival rates and early diagnosis. In March, we had 17 live rapid diagnostic centres. However, since October we now have 45, and I hope the fact that, even during the pandemic, the cancer workforce have stood up a further—I will do my maths very quickly—28 rapid diagnostic centres shows that commitment. Continuing the accelerated roll-out of places where people can be swiftly diagnosed is vital to getting on top of this disease.

I know hon. Members have raised concerns about the impacts on services through the second wave. As I said at the start, we must protect NHS capacity for non-covid services such as cancer. We expect cancer services to be maintained, with the redeployment of staff or blanket decisions to postpone services made only as a last resort and only at the behest of the clinicians involved in the treatment of others in their local area.

I have been meeting regularly with the national cancer director, Cally Palmer, and this week NHS England issued its latest guidance on maintaining cancer recovery throughout the second wave. It is important to continue to advise children and young people and their parents, as several hon. Members have done, to contact their GPs if they are worried about any sign of cancer. It is far better to pick up the phone and ask and to have their worries allayed than to think that maybe they could have rung before.

Referrals in September were running at 102% against referrals last year, but we do have a backlog to make up, and we still have some challenges in some of the pathways, which I know the workforce are addressing as swiftly as they can. We saw 199,801 urgent referrals, which, as I say, was 102% of the normal rate year on year; in April it was at 40%. That gives hon. Members some idea of the differential that we have to drive forward. We intend to ensure that we get education right for professionals and that we maintain a patient-centred approach.

I would like to conclude by wishing all those young people the best for their treatment and a fervent hope that they get to ring the bell. At the end of treatment, in most wards, there is a bell that young people get to toll, which marks out that they have finished what is a pretty gruelling episode of their life. I would like to hear that bell ring out for every family. While I know in reality that that is not possible, with good attention to research, by ensuring that we collect the data appropriately, and with all of us focused on raising awareness, I hope we will hear those bells ring out much more regularly.

I thank the Minister for the wee reminder of that TV programme. We have seen the adverts for Great Ormond Street Hospital—and other hospitals as well—where, when the child has finished their treatment, they ring the bell. That is an incredible finale. It is a wee salient reminder to us all that we have a wonderful NHS—a wonderful health service—and that it can make changes in the lives of young people.

I thank all hon. Members for their contributions and personal stories. Everyone has a personal story and everyone has shared their story with us today. It reminds us all of the heartache that others go through, even though we, personally, are fortunate not to have travelled that road. I believe that we, as elected representatives, have a responsibility and a duty to deliver on behalf of those people. I thank each and every Member for sharing their wonderful stories—what a reminder for us all.

I also thank Members for raising awareness, which we will continue to do. The Minister and every hon. Member is right to continue to do that. The hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) is absolutely on the ball on the issue of charities and how we can help them.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to the review of clinical tests. I understand the reasons in relation to personal data. I also welcome her other comment on being able to pick up the phone and get reassurance—it is so important that people do that.

I look forward to working together. I have said often, and I think we all agree, that the House always shines better when we agree on the subject matter. This morning, we have all agreed on the matter and are all very pleased at the Minister’s response. I am not just saying that; I really think that her response was excellent.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of raising awareness of signs and symptoms of cancer in teenagers and young adults.

Sitting suspended.

Hare Coursing

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of hare coursing.

I am very fortunate to represent a constituency that has both urban and rural communities. In Sittingbourne and Sheppey, we are privileged to have access to lots of green space where we can enjoy our wonderful rural natural environment. We are also privileged to be surrounded by many acres of good quality agricultural land, where our local farmers produce fruit, vegetables and cereals that are as good as any found in any other part of the garden of England.

I am conscious that those privileges come with the great responsibility of ensuring that we properly protect our land, its wild animals and the habitats that they call home. That protection extends to our population of native hares, which is why I applied for this debate. I want to highlight the damage caused by the barbaric practice of hare coursing. That, for those who do not know, is defined as the sport of hunting hares using sight rather than scent.

I beg to differ. Hare coursing is as far removed from sport as you can possibly get. It is nothing more or less than the cruel use of live hares to train dogs to hunt them down and kill them just to make money. Increasingly, the so-called training events are organised on a competitive basis and used as an opportunity for hare coursing supporters to take part in illegal betting.

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s bringing to the House this important subject, which is of extreme concern to my constituents in Huntingdon and to people in wider Cambridgeshire. On the point that he raises, is he aware that those events are being streamed not just locally but nationally for gambling purposes, and that therefore this problem goes beyond all our constituencies and is a national problem that must be dealt with as such by the Government?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. The betting generates thousands of pounds for the greedy and unscrupulous organisers of the events, who truly have the blood of hares on their hands.

Hare coursing is having an adverse effect on our native hare population, which in turn has an effect on biodiversity. That is why hares are included in the UK biodiversity action plan.

Sir Christopher, I sought the hon. Gentleman’s permission to intervene. I suspect that he is coming to the game laws. Section 4 of the Game Laws (Amendment) Act 1960 makes provision for “seizure and forfeiture”, but those powers do not extend to the aggravated offence in section 32 of the Game Act 1831. Therefore, does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that the older game law should be amended to create consistent seizure and forfeiture powers for all poaching offences, including those involving dogs and vehicles, and that that would act as a deterrent, assist the police and enable the courts to impose penalties that reflect the seriousness of the offence?

My hon. Friend will be delighted to learn that I am about to come to that in my speech; he has pre-empted me somewhat.

In addition to the adverse effect of hare coursing on the hare population, there is a negative impact on the lives of farmers and landowners, who have to put up with all sorts of illegal acts, such as vandalism of property, theft, intimidation and the destruction of crops, with the consequential loss of income. Of course, those who take part in illegal hare coursing are also guilty of other crimes, such as road traffic offences—including the driving of unlicensed and uninsured vehicles—drug taking, the possession of firearms, and the illegal betting that I mentioned earlier.

I would like to tell the experience of one of my local farmers, a friend of mine. In October, just before harvest time, my friend discovered that vehicles had been driven on to one of his fields, leaving wheel marks and scuffs on the turns. He said that although the marks left by the wheels largely faded away, the scuff marks did not, and he lost crops at harvest, which meant a loss of income and earnings. It was not the first time that that had happened. My friend is not alone: many of my local farmers experience similar problems.

Other hon. Members have made the point that the old game laws need to be reformed to increase fines and the money that the courts can reclaim from those criminals. My hon. Friend mentions the impact of the damage on farmers. Farmers also have to invest quite significantly in defences against hare coursing, such as digging ditches and putting locks and bars on gates. Does he agree that it should be possible for councils or the police to recompense farmers for some of the costs that they incur in defending against illegal hare coursing if, as I hope he will mention, the courts can reclaim far more money from the criminals?

My hon. Friend must have been reading my speech, because my very next paragraph explains that my farmer friend decided to dig ditches around his fields and install locked metal gates wherever he could. Even those sensible actions did not deter the criminals because, as my hon. Friend explained, they now come prepared with battery-powered disc cutters to cut off the padlocks or cut through the metal barriers to get to the fields and continue their hare coursing. How on earth are our hard-working farmers meant to earn a living in the face of these determined thugs who break down barriers to trespass on their land?

The behaviour described by that farmer is not that of opportunists, but well planned acts by people who are motivated by nothing more than greed and money. That is clear from the equipment they carry with them. They are prepared for breaking and entering, invading other people’s land, and causing long-term damage while they are there. That behaviour needs to be stamped out, but the available sentencing powers are insufficient to be a deterrent.

As Members of Parliament, we have a duty to our constituents and hard-working business owners to ensure that their firms are protected. Farmers are businesspeople. These callous acts of criminal damage would not be tolerated against any other business. Why should it be any different for farmers and landowners?

This year has proved challenging for lots of rural businesses, including farms, which have not escaped the pandemic and the resulting economic impact. Farms have also faced the worrying possibility of a no-deal Brexit. They do not need the additional threat posed by criminal gangs, who are increasingly targeting rural communities.

What can be done about hare coursing? The Crown Prosecution Service website admits that

“Hare coursing can cause significant disturbance in the countryside”,

as well as causing a lot of concern to people living in the wider rural community where the activity takes place. Those words are small comfort to farmers who believe that the “significant disturbance” is being ignored, as are the laws that have been put in place to protect them. As hon. Members have pointed out, three pieces of legislation cover the problems that farmers face.

First, section 30 of the Game Act 1831 includes two separate offences for trespassing during the day in search of game. Fines depend on the number of people involved: up to £1,000, or up to £2,500 if a group contains five or more people. Secondly, Section 1 of the Night Poaching Act 1828 sets out two separate offences: the first makes it illegal to go on someone else’s land unlawfully at night to take or destroy game, while the second makes it illegal to enter land unlawfully

“with any gun, net, engine, or other instrument, for the purpose of taking or destroying game”.

Someone caught committing those offences could be liable for a fine of up to £1,000. Finally, the Hunting Act 2004 outlaws activities associated with organised hunts.

Hare coursing, however, was an offence of its own long before the Hunting Act 2004 came into force. I share the view of the Nation Farmers Union and see no reason why the Hunting Act 2004 should have to be used to sort out this problem. Hare coursing is a much wider issue that should be treated in isolation, not in conjunction with the Act. Legal guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service says that more effective tools for prosecuting are either the Game Act 1831 or Night Poaching Act 1828, both of which I mentioned earlier. We have enough legislation to tackle hare coursing, but the problem is how the maximum penalties in those Acts are implemented: the truth is, not very well.

Rural crime, including hare coursing, has escalated in Kent in recent years and policing methods have had to adapt and change with the growing threat this now presents to rural communities. Officers in the Kent police rural taskforce do excellent work in tracking down the perpetrators of rural crime and building cases against them. However, they do not always receive the support they deserve because they are not always backed up by the rest of the justice system. For instance, the Crown Prosecution Service decides whether a crime is worth prosecuting and the courts decide what punishment should be meted out once prosecution goes ahead and somebody is found guilty.

Farmers and other people living in rural areas in my constituency want to see a toughening of the penalties imposed on those found guilty of rural crimes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) said, because the current penalties are simply not enough to discourage hare coursing criminals. The NFU released some research a couple of months ago that looked at the level of fines imposed on those found guilty of hare coursing. Between 2014 and 2018, the average fine under the Game Act 1831 was £227, when the maximum fine for offences under the Act is £1,000, or £2,500 if five or more offenders are involved. It cannot be right that the average fine imposed by the courts was just £227, and I am sure you would agree, Sir Christopher, that such a penalty is derisory.

As I mentioned, a lot of money is made from hare coursing. Sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds is involved; surely nobody believes that such a small fine is going to put perpetrators off. Frankly, it is tantamount to a slap on the wrist. How can such risible fines be justified to farmers who, due to biosecurity concerns, may have to scrap tens of thousands of pounds worth of crops damaged by hare coursing? It is just adding insult to injury.

When the victims are brave enough to confront the trespassers—as some of the farmers in my constituency have in the past—they are met with threats of violence and untold amounts of verbal abuse, and it has to stop. We are a civilised nation that relies on its farmers, and we have to protect them from these thugs. They need Government support that they are currently not getting.

In the absence of that support, the NFU has this year worked with other farming business and rural wildlife organisations to create an alliance that aims to produce an action plan to end illegal hare coursing. This coalition believes that some simple changes to the Game Act 1831, together with better guidance for the judiciary when passing fines, would go some way to mitigate the worry, the disruption and the intimidation experienced. For instance, it has been suggested that the most powerful way to get through to the people committing those crimes is to seize their dogs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford mentioned earlier. Currently, police forces are deterred from taking such action because the cost of keeping animals in kennels cannot be recovered from the offenders in the same way as it would be if dogs were seized for their own protection under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

I understand that police fully support an amendment to the Game Act 1813 and Night Poaching Act 1828 along those lines. These are not controversial proposals, and, unusually, there is widespread agreement and an acknowledgement that something needs to be done as soon as possible. Why, then, have campaign groups been met with reluctance and hesitation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to take any of this forward?

These are issues that have been raised for many years and, sadly, these types of attacks on farming communities are nothing new. I have raised this subject before in a Westminster Hall debate. On that occasion, I read this letter from a constituent:

“Dear Sir,

The Isle of Sheppey has a population of over 36,000. During the summer this number is more than doubled. We have read in the local newspaper about yet another reorganisation, but the fact remains that police presence on the Island is inadequate.

On Saturday 2nd November…we had cause to phone 999 as there were four men with dogs coursing hares on our farm. Only one patrol was available. No criticism is intended or implied of the individual officer, but he had no realistic chance of apprehending four experienced criminals who were playing ‘cat and mouse’. With assistance from my husband they were caught, but yet again have got away with it.

This incident was not an isolated one. There have been six incidents here since September…We have witnessed them all and found numerous gates open on all six occasions. This is done deliberately so that the dogs have an unimpeded chase after the hares… we had twenty four incidents of this kind, all of which were reported. Some incidents were attended by the police and some were not. Of the twenty four incidents, arrests were made on only two occasions. In the first case the culprits received £250 fines and we are still waiting for the £15 victim cost.

In the second case the CPS abandoned the case only informing us the day before the hearing. This cost us money as we had already made arrangements for someone to care for our animals during our absence. The CPS claim there was insufficient evidence for the charge that was brought. Our view is that the case was dropped to save money. (It has been reported that the CPS drop 500 cases a week)…We are now in despair and have reached the stage where we may as well let these people have their fun without interruption.”—[Official Report, 9 April 2014; Vol. 579, c. 99WH.]

That Westminster Hall debate took place on Wednesday 9 April 2014. If my calculation is correct, that is six years and eight months ago, give or take a few days. Sadly, the woman who wrote that letter is no longer with us. She died a couple of years ago. The scandal of hare coursing, which filled her with such despair, remains.

I do not want to have to come back for a Westminster Hall debate on hare coursing in another six years, so I urge the Government to listen to my farming community, make the necessary changes to the law and, at the same time, vastly increase the maximum fines for what is a truly barbaric crime. The time for such action is long overdue.

It is a pleasure to be here with you this morning, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson). I think he said he started raising this issue six and a half years ago, which was just before I arrived here. I did look up whether he had raised it before. It is an issue that has grown and expanded and I applaud him for returning today to raise it again.

Given what a short time we have for the debate, a surprising number of colleagues have come along to intervene, which demonstrates the strength of feeling, including my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger), my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Quite a number of hon. Friends and hon. Members have also written to me on this subject.

Hare coursing is a vile and despicable activity. When I was a news reporter years ago back at HTV in Bristol, when I first started as a young girl, badger baiting was rife. Hare coursing is not unlike that terrible activity, which certain people thought was an acceptable thing to take part in. It is vile and it is ghastly.

I point out, unequivocally, that hare coursing is illegal. The brown hare—the Lepus europaeus—is a naturalised species listed as a conservation priority in the UK’s biodiversity action plan. It is a much-loved creature and its core habitat is arable farmland, with some improved grassland. As I was discussing with a colleague earlier, people tend to like pursuing this activity in the open fields, where there is lots of space to get around.

The hare is not endangered, but we are a nation of animal lovers, are we not? I, for one, think this is a dreadful activity.

Is the Minister aware that for some farmers, one of the answers to this is to go out—quite legally—and shoot all the hares on their land, to stop people coming in to course them?

I am actually fairly horrified by that. I hope that is hearsay; I hope it is not true. I was raised and brought up on a farm, and to see a hare out in its natural habitat is a great thing. Certainly, my brother has hares on his farm, and I do not think they have had any incidents of this, but that is not anything that one wants to hear.

This is not just about the harm to the creature, of course. This activity causes real harm to rural communities, which is why we are determined to continue our efforts to prevent it, and my Department is working very closely with the Home Office on this. We have heard some very compelling accounts this morning from my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey about the serious harm in his constituency; harm to farming families and to others in the community. We have also heard stories of property theft—the joint is cased while the activity is happening, and often the stealing happens later—dangerous driving, and even arson, assaults and intimidation. Only recently in Cambridgeshire, for example, a man engaged in hare coursing was convicted of dangerous driving and criminal damage and jailed for two months, having driven at speeds of nearly 100 mph across the farmer’s field to try to evade the police. It is also fairly horrifying to hear that these events are now being streamed, which is further expanding the audience.

However, I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that a lot of progress has been made, certainly over these past six and a half years. I commend the work of the police, because they are doing a great deal in many areas to deter hare coursing. The Government support the police’s efforts to tackle this through the National Police Chiefs’ Council rural and wildlife crime policing strategy—that is a big mouthful, but it is definitely there to help, and it aims to target the problem through better preventative action, improved intelligence and enforcement activity. We are now seeing a much more co-ordinated approach across many police forces.

I particularly pay tribute to Chief Inspector Phil Vickers of Lincolnshire Police, who is the national lead for colleagues and other forces on something called Operation Galileo. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has heard of that, but it focuses on the prevention of hare coursing, and it now joins together 21 police forces, sharing information and intelligence from across the whole of the UK to target offenders. It is supported by other, more sophisticated prosecution capabilities, bringing them to justice; it has also invested in drones, which I believe will be very helpful in something like this, and other technologies so that they can track and monitor hare coursers, as well as gather evidence, which of course is one of the key things. It is bearing fruit: for example, the last two seasons have seen the smallest number of incidents on record in Lincolnshire. What they have learned there is something that others can also learn from and share.

Poaching, which includes hare coursing, is one of the UK’s six wildlife crime priorities. Those priorities are set by the UK Wildlife Crime Tasking and Co-ordination Group and the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which I am very pleased is working well and remains in existence; it has just had its next year’s funding confirmed by DEFRA. It is a joint operation between the Home Office and DEFRA; lots of other interested bodies take part in it, and it also gets funding from the Scottish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the National Police Chiefs’ Council. They all put money into the pot, and hare coursing is definitely on their radar.

I must just say that this Government are committed to providing more police officers, and recruitment is well under way, with 4,000 already in place and more on their way. That should also make a difference, particularly in our rural areas.

Does the Minister share my concern that the increase in police numbers, while extremely welcome, is still being done according to the old formula, which privileges urban police forces over rural ones? We have to get more police officers into our rural constabularies.

It is about priorities, obviously. I urge my hon. Friend to engage with his local police force. They understand rural crime and its big knock-on effects—it is not a one-off thing; it can spread to all these other things. Hare coursing has knock-on effects, from stealing to arson to other issues. That is definitely being highlighted in rural areas.

I have highlighted lots of good work, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey that there is more to do. My Department recently convened a roundtable meeting with a range of rural partners, the police and the Home Office to consider what further action could be taken to strengthen the response to hare coursing. Those discussions will continue. The Minister for Crime and Policing and I really value the insights that those meetings provide us with, and the input that we have had from other hon. Members who have written to us. For example, south Cambridgeshire MPs recently sent a letter about the issues in their area.

I am aware of suggestions that the police should be given greater powers to seize the dogs used in hare coursing, and that the courts could possibly confiscate the dogs permanently on conviction. At the moment, they can seize the dogs, and they look after them in kennels—often at vast expense—but when the person is prosecuted or fined, the dogs get handed back, which could allow for further illegal activities. That has definitely been raised, and we are exploring it further. Similarly, it is up to the courts to decide how to hand out fines and how much to fine, and valid points have been raised that some of the fines are not high enough. Sentencing guidance could potentially help with that, especially for these rural areas.

I accept that the courts interpret the level of penalties. However, is for us to decide what the maximum penalty should be. If we increase the maximum penalty from £1,000 to £100,000, for argument’s sake, the courts would have to take that into account and would be less likely to fine somebody £100.

I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I get the message about the exasperation. Those messages are being heard. Going forward, consideration will be given to some of the other options that have been raised.

As I said, we will keep up those regular discussions with the Home Office and the hare coursing coalition, which my hon. Friend referenced and which brings a wide range of bodies to the table, including the Country Land and Business Association, the NFU, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Kennel Club and others. A diverse group of people have been brought together by this frankly horrific activity.

I thank all those who have taken part today, but particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey for keeping his eye on the ball, albeit after waiting for six and a half years. He was right to open up this discussion, and I thank him for it. I am fully aware of the impact of hare coursing on our farmers, who we so value in our countryside and who work so hard to make their operations viable.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

North Staffordshire Potteries Towns: Levelling Up

[Peter Dowd in the Chair]

I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice to support the new covid system and to ensure that social distancing can be respected. Members should sanitise their microphones before they use them, using the cleaning materials provided, which should be disposed of as they leave the room. Members are also asked to respect the one-way system; please exit by the door on the left.

Members should speak only from the horseshoe. Members can speak only if they are on the call lists. That applies even if debates are under-subscribed. Members cannot join the debate if they are not on the call list. I remind Members that they must arrive for the start of debates in Westminster Hall. Members are not expected to remain for the wind-ups.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Government’s levelling-up agenda and post covid-19 economic recovery in North Staffordshire Potteries towns.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. Covid-19 has hit the world hard, particularly north Staffordshire. I want to thank all the health and care workers, who have done, and continue to do, so much to care for those who have fallen victim to covid, often at considerable personal risk. They have our enduring gratitude—our key worker heroes in the fight against covid-19. I also thank those who have been working throughout the pandemic, keeping vital services going. They are heroes, too. Teachers, lecturers and classroom assistants are keeping schools open, ensuring our children continue to be supported and to receive the education they need.

Coronavirus has impacted our economy, particularly sectors such as hospitality, as well as many supply chains, such as tableware manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent. We must look to the future and hope in confidence that we can defeat this virus and return to a path of economic growth, greater opportunity and increased prosperity. Stoke-on-Trent is on the up and we must keep it on the up, redoubling the efforts that were long overdue even before covid struck. With the incredible scientific progress on vaccines and more rapid testing, we live with hope that the post covid-19 era is just months away.

We know from the end of the first lockdown that Stoke-on-Trent was one of the quickest to return to normal footfall and sale levels, second only to Derby in the midlands. We want to see that again, as soon as it is safe to do so. We have seen one of the highest covid rates in November. Thankfully, it has now already started to reduce significantly, and is down by 21%. Hopefully, by continuing these efforts, we will be able to leave tier 3 very soon; we hope at the first review on 16 December.

Stoke-on-Trent is a city made up of six historic pottery towns, each of which has its own high street to revive and support in the months and years ahead. Similarly, across the whole of north Staffordshire, from the moorlands to Newcastle, myriad communities in towns and villages form a total catchment of nearly half a million people. I deliberately called today’s debate on the towns, because they all need levelling up as a whole area. I recognise that might sound challenging.

In July 2013, the BBC News website ran an article by Matt Lee, entitled, “Is Stoke-on-Trent’s ‘six towns mentality’ holding it back?”. My answer to that question, then and now, is firmly, “No”, but it is always good to remind the Government that Stoke-on-Trent is a city of six pottery towns. Although it is, of course, vital to have a strong city centre—something that the city centre business improvement district and other key partners are working hard to deliver—it is essential that the character of our historic pottery towns, of which people are rightly proud, does not disappear.

The six towns mentality that the BBC reported on with such curiosity in 2013 is not something we are ashamed of. Indeed, it partly resulted in the Labour administration that the BBC reported on at the time being swept from power, because of its blatant attempts to downgrade our towns to mere suburbs. All our towns across north Staffordshire play a key role in building a stronger post-covid recovery. I am particularly focused today on the two pottery towns in my constituency, Longton and Fenton, but I will start with cross-city issues that impact the whole of the Potteries.

While recovering from covid is important, unfortunately many of the challenges we face predate it. We are one of the most regionally imbalanced countries, and I am delighted that the Government have recognised the necessity of levelling up our country with the announcement last week of the £4 billion levelling-up fund. I assure the Minister that there is no greater case for investment than locally in Stoke-on-Trent.

Across Stoke-on-Trent, seven wards have been identified as left behind by the all-party group for “left behind” neighbourhoods and Local Trust, three of them in my constituency. Stoke-on-Trent now has the 12th highest proportion of deprived neighbourhoods on multiple measures out of 317 council districts in England, up one place since 2015. We are not even level on a regional basis, let alone nationally. Health comparators put Stoke-on-Trent as worst in the region in terms of life expectancy and a number of other health indicators. Gross value added per head in Stoke-on-Trent trails behind the regional and national averages considerably. Earnings, likewise, are lower by some margin. Gross weekly pay for full-time workers in the city averages £501.20 whereas it is £550.80 across the west midlands and £587 nationally. As a recent levelling-up report by Onward showed, gross disposable household income declined between 1997 and 2018, but less so than in most other deprived areas because of gains in productivity.

One factor influencing wages is that levels of academic qualification in Stoke-on-Trent are significantly worse than in other parts of the country. It is vital that more is done to improve access and to push up aspirations. Only 22.5% of people in Stoke-on-Trent have a qualification of NVQ level 4 or above, lagging considerably behind the national average of 40.3%. This is despite an excellent higher education offer in north Staffordshire, including at the University of Keele and Staffordshire University. These are challenges we must overcome if we are to recover stronger and to truly level up.

While there are challenges, there is much potential for improvement. Prior to the pandemic, we had seen some of the strongest economic growth of any city in the UK, with high new business start-up rates and retention rates. We also have a strong focus on growth sectors where we have great potential to succeed owing to our natural strengths, including advanced manufacturing and creative and digital industries.

For advanced manufacturing, it is vital that the bid for wave 2 of the Strength in Places fund for midlands advanced ceramics is successful. It would develop an advanced ceramics centre in north Staffordshire to create the high-skilled jobs that we need. The bid is led by Lucideon in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and the Midlands Industrial Ceramics Group, a consortium that includes companies such as Mantec Technical Ceramics in Longton in my constituency. A commitment from UK Research and Innovation will help catalyse private investment and level up opportunities.

In digital, we have huge potential to strengthen and attract new-tech firms. We already have the largest number of students in gaming and computer sciences in the country at Staffordshire University. Massive investment in fibre broadband that is being plugged directly into homes and businesses as we speak will see Stoke-on-Trent become the first gigabit-connected city in the country. This is an exciting opportunity to attract digital and tech companies to locate in our area, bringing skilled and well-paid jobs.

The key factor will be continuing to improve educational standards, and we need to support all our schools to continue to improve. I strongly believe that a proposed wave 14 free school for my constituency is part of this improvement and needs to be granted the support of the Government. The Florence MacWilliams Academy, which is named after a local mathematician and coding pioneer of worldwide renown, will boost local ambition and help more local pupils embark on academic and technical careers.

For some across north Staffordshire, the barrier is literally an issue in being able to get to college or work. The public transport network is woefully inadequate. There is heavy dependence locally on the car, which accounts for about 80% of journeys. This car dependency to access work, skills and leisure opportunities comes despite 30% of the city’s population having no access at all to a private vehicle. For those with no car and few public transport options, dreams and ambitions are severely limited. Indeed, the A500/A50, which we call locally the D road, is a classic piece of urban splintering for those without a car. The strategic network operates at around 110% of capacity and resembles a car park, with poor reliability at peak times.

Sadly, this congestion is mirrored on a local road network that has lacked real investment for decades, with three parts of the network now under ministerial direction due to air quality breaches. We face the unthinkable reality of having to implement harsh measures to improve air quality, which threatens jobs and livelihoods, when the focus should instead be on improving public transport.

Congestion is the main reason identified by local bus operators for the decline in our public transport. Even before covid, over the past decade bus journeys declined locally by a third. The combination of road congestion, lack of connectivity and the poor reliability of local buses inhibits businesses and housing investment, a compounded barrier to employment for people who already struggle to access employment opportunities and housing. The lack of cross-city transport options, even where there are bus routes, means that passengers are required to use multiple services, with unreliable journey times and no guarantee of connection. In addition, despite growth in rail nationally, this modal shift has been held back locally by a lack of infrastructure, not least the closure of much of the local rail network under Beeching, including the Stoke to Leek line.

North Staffordshire has not seen a single station reopen since the Beeching axe. In part, this has been due to the methodology for prioritising infrastructure spend. While large cities have seen stations reopen since Beeching, in north Staffordshire local services have got worse. As part of the west coast upgrade in 2005, Etruria was removed altogether, and services to Wedgwood and Barlaston were suspended indefinitely, never to return. Local services have been sacrificed for the benefit of slightly improved fast inter-city services. Such was the legacy of a city in decline under the Blair and Brown Governments.

What is needed is a transport revolution: a step change in our relationship with the car, and a properly integrated public transport system. The Government must commit to our bid for the Transforming Cities fund. We also need investment from the Restoring Your Railway programme, and the delivery of levelling-up funding that enhances public transport. The Transforming Cities fund will be the start of a journey towards more effective local public transport systems across north Staffordshire, where we see bus prioritisation and better integration of bus and rail. Feeder services into a multi-modal hub at Stoke station will ensure the greatest return on the Government’s investment in bringing High Speed 2 to Stoke-on-Trent. Already, one of our plans for Meir station has been given Government backing as part of the Restoring Your Railway programme. We want to see the Stoke to Leek line advancing, too, as well as the restoration of services at Wedgwood and a study into the options for light rail and restoring Etruria.

It is vital to ensure that all communities are connected to economic opportunities, and now is the time to invest in transport infrastructure, level up connectivity and access opportunities. Improved local public transport would support wider development in the area, unlocking unviable sites for housing and economic regeneration. We are keen to embrace the Ministry’s housing targets, and a new round of the Housing Infrastructure fund would help us mitigate substantial brownfield sites that are currently uneconomic due to remediation costs. To be effective, any community infrastructure levy must reflect the varied nature of housing markets across the country.

I very much thank the Minister, and welcome the support being given by the Government to areas such as Stoke-on-Trent through last week’s announcement of a £100 million brownfield fund. Funding is essential to remediate sites and get development off the ground, particularly where values are challenging. We need to realise the growth and the economic successes witnessed through the hugely successful ceramic valley enterprise zone. That success has seen brownfield sites transformed, supporting businesses and jobs, and this needs to be echoed on our high streets and in our town centres.

However, there is a huge potential stumbling block to levelling up in many Government funding programmes, which is the 25% local contribution requirement, as well as the lack of resources at a council level to make schemes shovel-ready. My heart drops whenever I see local contribution levels I know we do not have the money for or will struggle to meet. Frequently, the city council resources relied upon to do this work will be limited to one or two officers. The council tax base is the second lowest in the country after Hull, and many resources were reprioritised over a decade ago to meet the costs of social care.

We cannot level ourselves up, and I ask the Government to please look again at the implications of hefty local contribution levels and the lack of revenue support for left-behind areas. The most disadvantaged areas need a new formula where support is provided to make schemes shovel-ready and the expected local contribution is reduced or waived, otherwise there will be no point in bidding for levelling-up programmes in the first place. The National Audit Office has already made this point in relation to certain bus funds that required a substantial local contribution and therefore did not reach the communities that needed them most.

In Stoke-on-Trent South, Fenton is undergoing several improvements, with new housing and a better public realm in the historic Albert Square. The city council has invested £28.7 million in Fenton, bringing forward derelict brownfield sites for new housing and restoring the iconic square.

I am delighted that the Cultural Recovery fund was able to offer support to Fenton town hall. Significant work is being done to bring the important historic building back into use following a huge local campaign by the community. It now houses a whole range of businesses and organisations that are helping to bring life back into Fenton. Restoke, a local performing arts organisation, is bidding for Arts Council funding to bring the historic town hall ballroom back into use for the creative enjoyment of the whole community and to bring together people from all backgrounds. It is essential that we secure this funding.

I am keen to see the station reopen at Fenton Manor, with the reopening of the Stoke to Leek line. Fenton is sometimes called the forgotten town, not least because Arnold Bennett excluded it from his “Stories from the Five Towns”. I will continue to ensure that Fenton gets the attention it deserves—lobbying to get Fenton Manor station reopened is part of that.

In Longton, which has the biggest high street in my constituency and the second largest in Stoke-on-Trent, significant support is needed to get the town thriving again. Longton has a proud history as a centre of fine china within the Potteries, and there has been a recent renaissance in ceramic design and manufacture locally, especially the recent successful rejuvenation of Duchess China 1888.

However, Longton is also an area of multiple deprivation and the conservation area is rated very bad on the at-risk register. Many of the industries the town once relied on have closed or moved, and competition from out-of-town and online has hit the high street very hard. Even pre-covid, Longton suffered from very high vacancy levels—double the national average—and many properties are in a very poor state of repair. Thankfully, Longton town hall was saved by the community from the threat of demolition in the mid-1980s and has recently seen investment by the city council and now has a sustainable future as a local centre and hireable space. The upper floor will also receive funding through the Getting Building fund to be converted into a shared workspace.

Longton as a whole has not yet received the level of attention needed to restore it to its former glory, yet its potential for growth as an authentic and liveable town is obvious, even after decades of decline. In 2017, we secured a pioneering heritage action zone from Historic England to cover Longton and the bottle ovens of the Potteries. While this has started to make progress, the original HAZ seems to have been slightly eclipsed by the later high street HAZs across the country in getting the job of town centre restoration done.

The Longton HAZ needs a new boost of investment and the city council has secured Partnership Schemes in Conservation Areas funding totalling £900,000, in partnership with Historic England and property owners. This is a positive step, but greater ambition for securing investment must deliver a much greater scale of change. It was a huge disappointment when we missed out previously on high street and town funding. We want to attract new residential and economic uses, whether digital and tech firms or creative studios. Attracting these new uses can provide a strong future for Longton and help better sustain the retail offer.

There is huge potential to convert empty high street space, with converted historic buildings providing quirky spaces in which to live and work, but incentives are needed for these conversions to happen when costs to owners often outweigh the return. Similarly, brownfield town centre and former factory sites would be great spaces for new commercial and residential use, but we need support to address the deliverability challenges.

Like in Fenton, where public realm work has been delivered, we need to invest in making the physical environment in Longton more appealing, which would boost footfall and better stitch the town together. Gladstone is the finest single site of bottle ovens that survives in the UK and is the greatest driver of tourism footfall in Longton. Covid has hit museums very hard indeed, and it is vital that significant community assets should be supported and that our bid for covid emergency funding should succeed. It is by preserving our unique industrial heritage that we will continue to attract today’s leading international ceramicists—practitioners who could base themselves anywhere in the world—to Stoke-on-Trent as the authentic world capital of ceramics.

I hope we will see a wider deal to level up Longton—a deal that will help to integrate the town centre better, with investment in public spaces and the bringing back into use of empty historic buildings. Together, that will encourage footfall, helping to get our fantastic market traders and retailers back on track. Improvements to Longton could be part of a wider towns deal, through the levelling-up fund, that invests in improvements for a number of our towns across north Staffordshire that need support. Properly restored, Longton will attract new residents, visitors, shoppers and businesses, as the finest preserved example of a Potteries town, with the authentic skyline of chimneys and bottle ovens.

We continue to face more short-term sacrifices to control the pandemic, and work to get Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire out of tier 3. We should be under no illusions about the huge hits to our economy and mental health. I firmly believe in delivering funding now for projects that will give the Potteries a brighter future and will mean that we can recover to be stronger than before. That involves some tough asks of Government—that they deliver on their promise to level up opportunities across the entire country. The Government must invest in the areas that need it most, and not just cement the position of those that already have. There is so much optimism for the future, and after decades in which we have been ignored last week’s spending statement has renewed our hope that Stoke-on-Trent’s time has finally come.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I think it is the first time that you have chaired a sitting I have taken part in, so it is an honour. It is also an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) who secured this important debate.

As can be seen from the level of attendance by Members representing north Staffordshire constituencies, we care about it desperately. We are also extremely pleased that, despite the billing on the call list, the Minister is also a Staffordshire MP. It is wonderful to see him in his place, and it will be a lot easier for us to explain many of the things we will say about north Staffordshire. Despite not being a north Staffordshire MP he will, I know, appreciate as a Staffordshire MP the many unique aspects of the life of north Staffordshire.

I am not being too much of a fraud, but I do not represent a pottery town if they are truly defined as Arnold Bennett defined them, as the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent. However, I represent the town that he called Axe, which is Leek in Staffordshire Moorlands, and the town of Biddulph and numerous villages. It was our villages and towns that helped the Potteries to succeed. The flint mill in Cheddleton, the village where I was born, was where the flint was ground before being taken on the canal. The canals were created by James Brindley who lived in the Staffordshire moorlands and created the Rudyard lake that Rudyard Kipling was named after, and which fed the canals. Those canals enabled the flint to be taken from the Staffordshire moorlands to Stoke-on-Trent where, in Burslem, Fenton, Longton, Hanley, Stoke and Tunstall—I got all six—it was used in making the most fantastic pottery.

I had the great pleasure and privilege—using my birthday present from March, which I could do only at October half term because of the various restrictions of the past few months—of visiting World of Wedgwood and enjoying afternoon tea. I saw the fantastic museum setting out the Potteries and how they came about. Anyone visiting the museum will see just what a powerhouse north Staffordshire was. It was at the forefront of developments in science, technology and manufacturing that transformed the way pottery is manufactured around the world; and it still manufactures the very best pottery today.

This debate is about the levelling-up and post-covid-19 economic agendas. We cannot start that debate without recognising that we have to get through covid first. I have great fears about the economy that will be left for us to recover post-covid. I received more messages last weekend from businesses in my constituency that are concerned about the impact of the measures that are currently being debated in the main Chamber. I have incredible sympathy for those businesses, with what they are going through.

It is a shame that we, as Members of Parliament, are presented with the Hobson’s choice of voting for restrictions. In many cases, they are necessary to save lives—to be clear, north Staffordshire does need to be in tier 3 at the moment, as our hospital desperately needs to get on a sustainable footing before we can move out of those restrictions—but it is a shame that the only option presented to us by the Government is to vote for the measures, on which we will not get another say for a couple of months. I have great reservations about some of the things included in those measures.

I think about the businesses that have been in touch with me, particularly hospitality businesses. Hospitality is such an important part of the community. In fact, there was a time when Leek, which I referred to earlier as Axe, had more pubs per head of population than anywhere else locally, and possibly across the country—it had a phenomenal number of pubs. They are all drinkers’ pubs—the wet pubs we talk about—not food pubs. They will be grateful for what the Prime Minister said about support, but £1,000 will simply not get those businesses through if they cannot reopen and start serving. To be clear, what they want is to trade, serve their customers and make money. They do not want Government handouts; they want to be able to work and trade. I urge the Government to think really carefully about how we can help support those businesses, because there is no point in us having these discussions if we have no economy to come back to.

On Saturday, I visited Heaton House Farm, which I have mentioned in other debates. As a dedicated wedding venue, it is suffering incredibly. It could not benefit from the eat out to help out scheme, and it cannot benefit from VAT cuts because it has no turnover on which to have one. I went because the farm is selling Christmas trees—Mick Heath, who runs Heaton House Farm, is very resourceful and a great seller of Christmas trees. He provides trees for the whole of Leek and the town centre. He pointed out to me that he had to spend his own money to buy those Christmas trees in November, but when he put the order in, he did not know whether he would actually be allowed to sell them.

Business needs certainty and to know what is coming. My right hon. Friend the Minister, who is not only a savvy and experienced Minister, but experienced in the world of business, knows that business needs certainty and, for example, more than 24 hours’ notice to be able to connect the beer to the pumps to sell it the following day. They need time and certainty. Will the Government think carefully about that?

To go back to levelling up and post-covid, one of the most critical things for north Staffordshire is transport, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South touched on. The Staffordshire Moorlands constituency—I have to be clear, because it is not the same as Staffordshire Moorlands District Council—is one of the very few in England in which there is no mainline railway station and no dual carriageway. We are home, however, to one of the UK’s biggest tourist attractions in Alton Towers. We desperately need alternative forms of transport.

Just pointing out that there is no railway station and no dual carriageway indicates the kind of roads that we are dealing with. In fact, we are saddened to be home to some of the most dangerous roads in the country in terms of fatalities and accidents, which feature regularly in the top 10—particularly the road from Leek to Buxton, the A53. We desperately need some alternative transport. 

We have made a bid to the Restoring Your Railway fund and the Minister will know from his ministerial experience how important such matters are. I beg him to work with us to help convince the Department for Transport that it is a worthwhile investment to reopen the train line between Stoke-on-Trent and Leek. It would make an incredible difference to the lives of so many people. It would enable us to get visitors in—we rely on tourism. It would enable us to get visitors into the moorlands in a much more environmentally friendly way. It would make journey times better for all, including for those who have to commute.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South talked about the dependency on cars in the area. We do not have buses. We simply have to rely on our own cars to get about, and it can take an hour and a half to two hours at times to go just 12 miles between Leek and Stoke-on-Trent, so we really need alternatives. We need money in buses. We need to make sure our villages are connected, and the train line would make an incredible difference.

My hon. Friend touched on skills. As the Minister will know, Staffordshire has been historically underfunded in education. It is one of the worst-funded authorities in the country, sitting at, I think, the third worst at the moment in per head funding—I stand to be corrected on that. Staffordshire desperately needs more money per pupil to be able to compete and to invest in skills. I know I am preaching to the converted in the Minister on that topic, but we need to see investment in skills, and in the right skills, so that we can make sure that our young people are working in the industries of the future.

Broadband has already been discussed. All connectivity is an issue in a constituency where a third of its geographical area sits within a national park: the Peak District national park. We are always going to have problems with making sure that there is connectivity, but proper investment is needed.

I had a really interesting conversation last week with Hollinsclough Church of England Academy, one of the schools in one of the most isolated villages in my constituency. It is trying to find some way of getting fibre broadband to the premises in Hollinsclough, but the current estimated cost is £63,000, which is simply unaffordable for the school. Without proper fibre broadband to the premises, the school cannot serve its community. It serves a wide community, because it offers flexi-learning and deals with children who find it harder to be in more mainstream education. It is a very nurturing, loving village school that enables children through flexi-learning, in a way that works for them.

I also feel passionately that another way we could help north Staffordshire level up is through culture. Stoke-on-Trent bid to be the 2021 city of culture—the bid was won by Coventry, and well done to Coventry. I was the Culture Secretary at the time and had to recuse myself from all the decisions, because everyone could see quite clearly that if Stoke-on-Trent won, my constituency would do very well out of it.

The bid that came in was excellent. Stoke-on-Trent worked with neighbouring authorities to come up with a really innovative, diverse and unusual bid. It showed the value that culture can have. We are talking about the Potteries—the cultural history in the area is absolutely incredible. Support could be given through a cultural investment fund, where local cultural institutions could get bid for support to enable them to invest in capital or skills—something that would enable them to really work.

Culture is not a “nice to have”—it is essential. If we want businesses to invest in an area, they are only going to put their business, their headquarters or their factory there if their employees have something to do when they leave work. Those employees want cultural activities when they leave work, and sporting activities—they want to be able to participate in those things that make us happy.

We have the wonderful New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme. This will be the first Christmas for a long time that I will not be able to go to the Christmas play at the New Vic—we all know and understand why. It is a fantastic institution. It benefited from some funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and was grateful for that. We need to see that and other cultural institutions thrive.

I have talked about tourism, which is such an important part of the constituency, and I have a plea from Alton Towers, my biggest employer, which is suffering, having lost an incredible amount of the season—particularly the school trips, which are so important for any theme park. They fill the park during the week outside the school holidays, which is traditionally when we all visit such things with our children. The school trips are during the week when everyone else is at work, and the theme parks have lost that. The VAT cut was very helpful, but they need that to be extended. We cannot just assume that we will go back next year, hope there is a vaccine in place and hope we can have some normality and that Alton Towers will just thrive. It needs support and the VAT cut made an incredible difference.

I have two final points. The first is working with others. We are very proud of our local authority structures in Staffordshire, our two-tier system in the county and our unitary in Stoke-on-Trent, and we do not want that to change in any way. We want to ensure that decisions are taken at the right local level, but that does not mean that we cannot all work together. That does not mean just working together in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, but working across those counties that share very similar economic challenges to us—the A50 corridor.

The A50, for anyone who is unfamiliar with it—some of us use it more often than others—runs from East Midlands airport across Derbyshire and Staffordshire and into the A500, joining the M6 at either Stoke-on-Trent or Keele. It is an incredibly important road, because along that route we start with the East Midlands airport junction with the M1 and we come to things such as Rolls-Royce, Bombardier and Toyota. We then come to Burton, with its historic brewing industry. Then we have JCB, Stoke-on-Trent with the historic Potteries, and areas such as mine that are more rural. Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire all have that rural aspect to them, as well as a unitary authority in the middle of the county.

We have fantastic universities, from Keele and Staffordshire to Derby and on to Nottingham and even Leicester; we could extend it beyond that. I know there is work being done to see what more can be done to help that Mercian stretch of the of the country to work together and get some real benefits—not just road, but rail, which I know my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South will care about.

However, my final point is that in order to do that, we are going to need help with how the Treasury calculates value for money. I know the Chancellor has said he is looking at the Treasury formula; can my right hon. Friend the Minister put any pressure on him to ensure that for counties such as Staffordshire—in particular north Staffordshire, although I know he will want to put pressure on for the Tamworth area of Staffordshire as well—we can have a funding formula that works, so that investment can be made?

On the face of it, looking at the cost-benefit analysis compared with what might be the same spend in a city—perhaps even in Liverpool, Mr Dowd—it may well appear that spending that money in my constituency is not such good value for money, but it will make such an incredible difference to the people who live in Staffordshire Moorlands and north Staffordshire. If the Government are genuine about levelling up, they must ensure that areas such as north Staffordshire really see the benefit of their fantastic policies.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this important and timely debate. It is great to see such a united and robust representation from my constituency neighbours, friends and colleagues here from the Potteries towns of Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire.

Stoke-on-Trent has great ambitions; the city is so much more than its history, yet it is undeniable that the potters of Stoke-on-Trent are our city’s beating heart and have been for more than 250 years. The pottery industry in Stoke-on-Trent accounts for a significant element of our city’s economic output. Our renowned ceramics can be found all over the world. However, none of that would be possible without the 8,700 employees working in the ceramics industry in Stoke-on-Trent.

We all know that, sadly, during the pandemic, hospitality, tourism and non-essential retail have been really badly hit. In Stoke-on-Trent, we have a heavy reliance on manufacturing and technical industries, so we entered the pandemic in a weaker position than parts of the UK with industries and services that are more adaptable to the new requirements of working from home and social distancing. With many manufacturers in the Potteries using heavy machinery as part of line production, it is a tall order to require them to operate from home, or with significantly reduced staff in order to abide by social distancing. Because of the nature of our workforce, we have had a higher redundancy rate generally in the west midlands—about 16% between July and September—compared with the national average of 11.3%.

The stark reality of the situation facing us is that between March and October this year, the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits in Stoke-on-Trent Central increased by more than 2,000 to roughly 5,000 people, from 4.7% to 8.5% of residents of working age. In my maiden speech in the House of Commons, I committed to a renewed focus on the economy and jobs in Stoke-on-Trent Central. That means investing time, resources and finances in skills—not just building on and expanding from our industrial heritage but looking to the jobs of the future, which will require new skills. Only 25% of adults in Stoke-on-Trent have qualifications above A-level, compared with a national average of 40.3%, which is why I welcome the Government’s investment in further education colleges and the commitment of £2.5 billion for a national skills fund to improve adult skills. However, more must be done to equip our workforce to face the challenges of a competitive and evolving economy.

The city-wide roll-out of full fibre across Stoke-on-Trent will have enormous advantages for our workforce. There are clear economic benefits associated with network build, such as the positioning of our city to gain early mover advantage in achieving 5G coverage. I will leave it to my colleagues to speak about Silicon Stoke and 5G in more detail. Further Government investment, such as the £250,000 received by Stoke on Trent College for its creative industries project, and a further £120,000 for a digital and construction skills project, are hugely welcome in our city. These projects alone will directly create 2,440 jobs and safeguard another 110, with 440 construction jobs also set to be created. To sustain this economic advantage, I will work with the Government and the city council to support a full fibre academy, in partnership with Stoke on Trent College and our secondary schools. It will train young people wishing to get involved in the field, giving them installation skills and hands-on field experience.

As our focus turns to creating higher-skilled, higher-paid employment in higher-value industries, post-industrial communities such as Stoke-on-Trent will need more support from the Government to help nurture and develop our large community of advanced manufacturing businesses, digital specialists, agritech companies and more. That is why I have lobbied relentlessly for the project backed by a major consortium of manufacturers, universities and research institutes to establish an advanced ceramics campus in Stoke-on-Trent, to encourage the fusion of education, research and public sector innovation with leading private sector partners such as Lucideon.

I am proud of our local businesses and how they have stepped up during recent difficult months. Businesses such as the Slamwich Club in Hanley, which recently won an award in the Staffordshire chamber of commerce business awards, embody the truly inspiring resilience of our city. Having been required to close the doors of the sandwich shop in March, Nicole and Steph, owners of the Slamwich Club, not only pivoted their entire offer to focus on food delivery services but decided to do so while leading the charge on the green revolution in our city, opting to use e-bikes to deliver their products across Stoke. It is precisely that innovative and entrepreneurial spirit that makes Stoke-on-Trent Central the perfect place to invest in and to be considered for allocations of funding for green technologies, such as green vehicle charging infrastructure, e-bike rental schemes and carbon capture technologies.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to providing £275 million of support for the installation of home and workplace charge points for electric vehicles, and £582 million for the plug-in car grant, both of which will help make it more affordable to own and drive an electric vehicle. Those are welcome investments in new technologies, which will ultimately consign our current air pollution problems to the past. However, it would not be an exaggeration to say, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) has done, that Stoke-on-Trent needs a transport revolution that will focus on improving our air quality while also supporting the city’s continued economic growth. To do that, we absolutely have to secure the £29 million investment from the Transforming Cities fund.

Bus use in Stoke-on-Trent has fallen by a third in 10 years. To reverse the decline, it is vital that we receive the tens of millions of pounds of investment promised in the Red Book to transform the city’s relationship with non-car transport. We cannot allow the absence of reliable public transport to damage our local economy and risk jobs. With my fellow Stoke-on-Trent colleagues, I have repeatedly made that point to the Government. Delivering the Transforming Cities fund deal is not only extremely important for providing better and more sustainable public transport in Stoke-on-Trent, but it is integral to supporting our local economy in the recovery from covid-19. I understand that a final decision will come shortly, so we all look forward to what we hope will be good news.

In Stoke-on-Trent, the legacy of our industrial heritage provides significant scope to create employment through the redevelopment of our city’s abundant brownfield sites. I want to see the heart of Hanley and Stoke reinvigorated with quality homes built with good-sized gardens, electric charging points, great connectivity and space for home working, as well as commercial developments that reflect the changing way we will operate our businesses post-covid. However, as the Minister is aware, because of the city’s status outside the West Midlands Combined Authority, we did not qualify for the £400 million of brownfield funding in July. That was hugely disappointing, because we have shown that with remediation support, such sites are an excellent opportunity for thousands of new homes, including Help to Buy homes. There is also massive potential for commercial investment on legacy land, as we have seen at both Festival Park, which is a former steelworks, and the Ceramic Valley enterprise zone. Our city is in the best position for brownfield regeneration with green space preservation. I hope the Minister will take into consideration Stoke-on-Trent’s unique situation during the bid process for the next round of funding.

Another challenge that we faced in Stoke-on-Trent was the definition of eligibility in applying for the Towns fund deal. We are a city of six towns, each of which has its own challenges, and yet it will be as one city that we grow and prosper. That requires significant work to redesign elements of the city, taking a holistic view. I ask the Minister to allow for a Stoke deal featuring three of our towns—Hanley, Longton and Tunstall—and to recognise the importance of investment in our towns in the future vision of levelling up our city as a whole.

Levelling up was always going to be a difficult challenge, and the unfortunate reality is that the pandemic has made it even harder. It has shone a light on what is so important by highlighting the inequalities that we all seek to tackle. Our city has a big heart and great people who care about each other and the future of our young people. In conclusion, I want to put in a plea for investment in our people—in the charity, voluntary and community sector and public services—who work with those who are furthest away from the workplace to ensure that no one is left behind in our mission to level up.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. As my colleagues have done, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) on securing this important debate. I begin, as he did, by praising everybody across north Staffordshire and in my constituency for their role in helping us to combat this pandemic. I praise the health and care workers, the leadership in the various hospitals and all the key workers helping us get through this period. I particularly want to praise the scientists for the scientific progress that we have made. The news about the vaccine is fantastic.

The Prime Minister visited a vaccine manufacturer in Wrexham yesterday. I am afraid I beat him to it, because I visited Cobra Biologics at Keele science park on 30 April, where I saw the first of the batch of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine being generated before it had even got into the bioreactor—a really small reactor with some of the first of that viral vector vaccine.

That example from Keele shows what we can do to help levelling up. The science and innovation park there and the investment that we are putting into Keele University are making a huge difference to my constituency. That is not spread across all of my constituency yet, and I will talk about that as I move through this speech, but I would just like to praise the work that all the scientists have done in getting us to the point at which we really have some hope. I think the fact that we now have hope should inform our votes later today in the House about how we combat the next few months. I think that it makes the case for continuing with restrictions, but I will speak more about that later.

I also echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) said about the need for more support. I will make that case to my right hon. Friend the Minister here and I know that he will speak to his Treasury colleagues and others about that.

The market town of Newcastle-under-Lyme, as I said in my maiden speech, is also full of mining villages, and it is only because of those mining villages and the quality of the coal that they produced that these pottery towns are where they are at all. That is why they sprang up—because of the quality of the coal that was mined from the North Staffordshire coalfield. We do not actually have potteries ourselves; we do not have pottery kilns in Newcastle-under-Lyme, but we very much feel part of the wider north Staffordshire area.

We have a strong sense of identity and community across the area. I work incredibly well with all four of my colleagues in this debate. I will also point out that there is a friendly rivalry between Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent in particular, and there is a desire to maintain our own identities in the way that my right hon. Friend described. We want to work together. We have worked together. We are working together on covid; the directors of public health speak together about that. But we are very firm about our own identities.

We are the loyal and ancient borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme. We have been sending people to this place for far longer than Stoke-on-Trent has done, and long may that continue—but I do not wish to spend the debate winding up my colleagues, because my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) is speaking next and I fear that he may get his own back.

If I may, I will reminisce for a minute, with apologies to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah). A year ago, we were out on the doorsteps in the election campaign, and I do not know about my colleagues in the other seats that we gained, but it was around that time that people were firmly coming over to us. In the early part of the election campaign, people were waiting and seeing, but as we moved to the last couple of weeks, people were making up their minds, and there were reasons why people voted for us in north Staffordshire last year. There were obviously the reasons around Brexit and the reasons around the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), but the third thing that I heard on the doorstep a lot was that people really bought into what we were saying about the need to revitalise market towns, mining villages and places that had felt left behind.

Newcastle is incredibly proud of its market, and people would repeatedly say, “The town is not what it was.” Covid has exacerbated the retail issues in the town centre, and that is why I am so grateful that we were included in the Future High Streets programme. There are certain key elements of the bid that is currently with the Minister or with the Ministry. I am really keen that we hear back soon, because the last I heard was that it would be the last week of November and my watch informs me that today is 1 December. We need to find out how we are getting on with that Future High Streets bid, but the redevelopment of the long-vacant Ryecroft site in the centre of town will be a huge step forward for us. At the moment, that is being used as a testing centre, which is actually a particularly innovative use of the space, but it has otherwise been for too long an eyesore in the centre of Newcastle-under-Lyme. It will be used for a mix of employment and residential uses. There will be a new multi-storey car park, so we can knock down the Midway one, which is not fit for purpose. There will be more public space. There will be more direct pedestrian and cycle connections to residential areas north of the town centre. We will have linked plazas, we will have public spaces and there will be ways to complement the improving offer from the street market by creating a community events space in the heart of the town that speaks to the cultural aspect.

Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council has worked hard to develop the bid. It is ambitious and forward thinking, and it will help us to create the vibrant town centre that my constituents are desperate to see. This funding bid is a real opportunity for Newcastle. I really hope that we secure it, and that we hear very soon from the Ministry about where that is going.

I also look forward to the submission of our town deal bid. I should draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I am a member of the town deal board for Newcastle-under-Lyme. We have another meeting on Thursday. That is another reason why we would like to know about the Future High Streets submission—so that we can build on that in our town deal submission. I have been contributing to the development of that bid. It has been very ably chaired by Trevor McMillan, vice-chancellor of Keele University. It will also bring real change to the town centre—areas that were not covered by the Future High Streets bid. There will be a new skills and enterprise centre in Lancaster Buildings, the iconic buildings in the centre, where Ironmarket meets High Street in Newcastle. For too long they have been empty because of, frankly, overly high business rates. The reason why I could not put my office—my shop—there, where I wanted to, was because the business rates were too high, so I had to go a little bit further afield where the small business rate relief applied in full. We need to look at small business rate relief when we look at high streets.

There is going to be a repurposing of the former Zanzibar nightclub, which pre-dates my time in nightclubs, I am afraid. It is going to be used for mixed use and social housing. There is going to be more connectivity with a town-centre wi-fi and there is also going to be a focus on disadvantaged former mining villages, especially Knutton. We need to put the heart back into Knutton, and Chesterton, and that is what we are proposing to do. That is what levelling up from the public sector is about.

This is not just about the public sector, however. I am struck by how hard the town centre has been hit by covid. First, in the retail element, covid has probably accelerated things that were already there. In recent months, we have lost lots of shops and restaurants, including Laura Ashley, Dorothy Perkins, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Pizza Hut. Some of them were probably in a bad way before covid, and that has been accelerated. We need to look at repurposing, and I know the Ministry is making it easier to turn former shops into residential or commercial use.

This is also about the hospitality sector. In Newcastle-under-Lyme we have purple flag status, which recognises the quality of our early evening and night-time economy: the pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafés. We have many entrepreneurs investing in our town and bringing jobs to our area, and they are struggling. Levelling up is not just a public-sector activity. I was on a call yesterday with Mr Leon Burton, the chief executive of the Staffordshire and Cheshire Leisure Group. He runs a place called the Milehouse, which is up in Cross Heath—again, an area that really needs levelling up. His business invested £700,000 in making the Milehouse a desirable location, in a spot that used not to be so desirable. He feels that we have not gone far enough in our support for hospitality, and I have to say that I agree. I welcome what the Prime Minister said today about giving wet pubs £1,000. The Milehouse is getting £2,000 a month in grants, but it is spending £1,620 on national insurance contributions and pension contributions, so Mr Burton is getting a net £380 a month to cover everything, including his rent. He makes the reasonable point that he is not clear how much longer he can survive like that. He has £100,000 of VAT debt, and I assume—I make this plea now—that we will roll over the deferrals on that. However, we need to find a way to make sure that people from the private sector who have invested and are helping to level up are not left behind.

My hon. Friend will appreciate that the VAT cut on hospitality does not apply to alcohol, so businesses that are able to open are struggling. If they are open, their fixed costs are the same whether single households or multiple households are allowed to visit, and when they are closed, they have fixed costs that they have to cover. We need to make sure they are there when we get through this, and they need support.

As usual, my right hon. Friend is right. We need to find a proportionate measure. There are lots and lots of hard choices; the pandemic has meant choosing between one bad option and another throughout. I do not envy the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary the choices they have had to make, and I will be supporting the Government today. I will not get to give my speech in the main Chamber, because I am No. 105 on the call list and I think they have reached about No. 30, so I will make that point now.

I recognise that the Chancellor of the Exchequer also has hard choices to make. It is not as simple as saying that we should give everybody a turnover and make them whole, because that is taxpayers’ money, too, and we need to be realistic about how we use it. However, the support has to be proportionate to the damage that those places are suffering.

I will briefly talk about a couple of other areas in which we could level up. I want to hear more from the Minister, when he sums up, about what the new £4 billion levelling-up fund will do. I welcome that, and I would like it to be extended to local areas. I do not know what “local areas” means in the guidance. Does it go down as low as parish or town councils? I spoke to Audley Rotary Club last week. Audley is a mining village and it is not included in the Future High Streets fund because it is not part of the town centre, but the mining villages further out, such as Audley and Bignall End, need levelling up, too.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) mentioned the potential 5G pilot, and I want to put a word in for that. All 12 Staffordshire MPs wrote to the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about that. Most of all, I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South about public transport. Newcastle-under-Lyme is one of the largest towns in the country without a railway station of its own. We would like a lot more to be done about buses, as we said in this place at the start of this year in my first ever Westminster Hall debate.

In the longer term, we would love to put a metro proposition together, and we would like some help with that from either the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government or the Department for Transport. Too many local authorities that need levelling up do not have the experience necessary to put the bids together, because they have not had this funding for years. We need help so that we can put the best-quality bids together and get the levelling up that our communities deserve.

I want to briefly mention culture. Newcastle-under-Lyme is proud of its culture and history. We are the birthplace of Philip Astley, the founder of the modern circus, and hopefully our town deal will do some work around that. The New Vic, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central was kind enough to mention, had a fantastic restoration during covid, which turned out to be exceptionally well timed. I went along to the relaunch event, “Ghostlight”, which was socially distanced and very good, although I have so much sympathy for the theatre, which cannot put on its Christmas performance this year.

I had better wrap up, otherwise I will be talking my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North out of this debate altogether. Thank you very much, Mr Dowd, for letting me make these points about the importance of levelling up for north Staffordshire and all our communities.

Before I call Jonathan Gullis, may I ask you to finish by 3.38 pm if possible, to give the Minister, the Opposition spokesperson and Mr Brereton an opportunity to respond briefly?

I will do my best to rattle through my long list of asks, although I am sure I will be repeating many of the same messages of my colleagues across north Staffordshire.

I represent the fine towns of Burslem and Tunstall, two of the original six in the Potteries, but ultimately I am unique in this debate, because my constituency also covers the town of Kidsgrove and the village of Talke, which are in the Staffordshire county area. I therefore understand the challenges and the difficulties, but also the nuances between the county of Staffordshire and the city of Stoke-on-Trent. I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) for securing this important debate.

It is quite clear that the Government have to take risks, and that means looking at areas such as Stoke-on-Trent. Yes, we will not get the massive returns on our buck that we would in parts of the south-east and London, but ultimately we will be substantially changing and improving the quality of people’s lives in those areas, and it is about time we finally got a fair share of funding. I totally agree that we are stuck between a rock and a hard place in making decisions on covid. I have every sympathy with the businesses across Stoke-on-Trent, north Kidsgrove and Talke, but when we see the Royal Stoke having to go to level 4 for critical care and north Staffordshire having among the highest numbers of covid cases per 100,000 in the country, then ultimately it is only proper that I back the Government to ensure that the tier restrictions remain in place for now. However, I will obviously be pushing for tier 2 at the earliest opportunity that arises.

I suppose the key thing would be education, as my hon. Friend has already mentioned. Stoke-on-Trent is in the bottom 20% for take-up at levels 3 and 4. We have some of the worst results, in terms of national comparisons, for GCSE passes in English and maths, and when we look at the destinations of our students, we see very few going on to higher education or quality apprenticeships. We therefore need a proper free school programme, not just in my hon. Friend’s constituency in wave 14, but a wave 15 announcement, to enable my constituency to get a disruptor free school, shake things up and ensure the Michaela-style education that I have signed up to and firmly believe in: high standards leading to high achievement.

We also need major investment in ceramics, through the Advanced Ceramics Campus, which was mentioned in the wave 2 Strength in Places bid, which is being led by Lucideon. That can bring a huge economic drive back to Stoke-on-Trent and put us back on the map, not just nationally but globally, in terms of ceramics. Let us not forget that those aeroplanes would not fly if not for the ceramics sprayed on the internal combustion engines. Nor should we forget the ceramics that we all have in our mobile phones or the ceramics being used in healthcare today, which can help the health service get to net zero.

However, Churchill China, Steelite and Burleigh—these great companies of ceramic tableware; these giants of the world—need our help at this time, because they are reliant on hospitality and are part of the supply chain in the sector. While they have been grateful for the furlough scheme, which has certainly meant that they can survive, they have not seen the VAT cuts or the business rate reductions that others in their industry have, so please can we have that discussion? That should also include the brewers, such as Titanic Brewery, because without the brewers, we would not have the pubs. I fully empathise with my colleagues; the pubs are under strain, and while that £1,000 is welcome, it certainly will not cover the cost of Christmas trade lost. However, if the brewers go down, then ultimately so will the pubs, so we need to look further.

Silicon Stoke, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) alluded to, is an amazing opportunity. Some 104 km of gigabit is installed across the city already, which is about to plug into 100,000 homes and businesses across the city of Stoke-on-Trent, making us a UK leader. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to become the heart of the video games industry, linking in with the skills produced at Staffordshire University, making us a real beacon. If we can be an enterprise zone for video games, it will incentivise those businesses and potential start-up grants across the city, pushed by the Independent Game Developers’ Association—the trade association body of the video games industry. That will be an exciting opportunity for Stoke-on-Trent.

As the Minister also oversees housing, I do not want to miss the opportunity to plug the opportunity of brownfields. There are over 20 brownfield sites, totalling more than 80 acres, which are ripe for development. They are held back by the viability of the land, with low land values and high remediation costs. Meanwhile, there are other former factory sites of national importance, such as Price and Kensington Teapot Works in Longport, just outside the mother town of Burslem, which could be a catalyst for economic growth, but instead are being left to rot by absentee landowners.

Those areas have been forgotten by levelling up. There has not been forceful action against those who seek to bring an area down. I ask the Minister to back my ten-minute rule Bill for the proper maintenance of land, which will remove the level 3 fine for absentee and rogue landowners, and instead allow the judge to make a decision about how seriously the owner has disregarded the local community and area and the local authority’s call to do more. It is a simple change to the wording of the legislation. It would cost the Government absolutely nothing, but it would mean that we could finally take these rogue owners to court. It is not just Price and Kensington; places in Burslem are affected too.

I have one final plug for the heartbeat of my constituency that is always being forgotten, the sleeping giant that is Chatterley Whitfield colliery. It was the first mine to produce 1 million tonnes of coal a year, in 1937 and 1939. This is a daunting site, which will cost lots of money. I appreciate that, but if we take a step-by-step approach to break down the site and turn it into a proper business park mixed with a heritage centre, that sleeping giant can become a beacon of hope and opportunity. It could also potentially supply geothermal energy—my hon. Friend and I recently had a call with the Coal Authority—that could help produce the new green industrial revolution, providing cleaner, greener and more affordable heating and electricity to the homes of north Staffordshire, which I know would go a long way.

The Minister has had lots of asks made of him. The town deal for Kidsgrove is in with his Department. I hope that will get the sign-off for the £25 million. Next, I will be coming for a share of money for Tunstall. I will be demanding that Burslem finally be made a pilot for high street regeneration and rejuvenation, because it is a ghost town. It has the most closed high-street shops of anywhere in the UK, and it is about time the mother town is no longer forgotten.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I thank the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) for initiating this important debate. Only last week I was in this Chamber speaking on a debate about levelling up. That, too, was about areas in the north. The stark reality is that the north has faced decades of underfunding, which has only been exacerbated during this pandemic. All hon. Members spoke passionately about that underfunding.

In times like these, those years of failing to fund statutory services show their actual cracks. Sadly, the results have been deadly. People in the north have been more likely to have their working hours reduced or to have lost their jobs altogether. As the shadow Chancellor put it, bluntly and tragically, they have been more likely to die of covid-19.

Years of underfunding means that investment per person in the Staffordshire pottery towns is less than half of that seen in London. Over the past decade in the region we have seen a decrease in both health and education investment per head. The north simply does not have enough beds and hospitals. The toll on hospitals in the north, therefore, is far more severe than those with capacity in the south. The impact on schools means that after years of underfunding, 75 out of 86 schools in Stoke-on-Trent are still in crisis, with an estimated £6.7 million shortfall in 2020 and £174 lost per pupil even before the effects of the pandemic.

At the beginning of this pandemic, I am sure Conservative Members will remember, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government promised to fund councils with whatever was needed. Councils are facing an estimated £1 billion funding gap this year. That estimate was made prior to the introduction of the national lockdown, so the gap could now grow to be in the region of £2 billion. We have already seen the Chancellor pursue a public sector pay freeze for those who worked day and night, the public sector workers putting themselves at risk to deliver for this nation during the hard times. If councils, including Stoke-on-Trent, do not receive the funding they need, those same people may also face job losses.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) recently raised the unfair formula from Government on pothole funding for Stoke-on-Trent. I share those concerns, though I would like to add it is not just in Stoke-on-Trent; our nation’s roads are plagued by a pothole epidemic and the road maintenance backlog is valued at more than £10 billion.

Important investment projects were axed in 2010, only to resurface at greater cost later. Consecutive Governments have failed to provide the funding needed and now, when our public finances are already stretched with the pandemic, we are forced to accept a price we would not have needed to accept.

I want to follow up on the welcome, if slightly belated, announcement of the Government’s plans for the UK Shared Prosperity fund and the levelling-up fund, both of which have the potential to provide much-needed funds to our communities. I hope the Minister can provide further clarity on both those funds. I understood from the Chancellor’s statement last week that next year would see the launch of pilots of the types of scheme that the UK SPF will fund when it is eventually launched.

Will the Minister provide further details on how communities and local authorities will be able to access those pilots, and what form they might take? I am particularly interested, for example, whether he could confirm if partnerships of community organisations, local businesses and local authorities will be able to access this preparatory UK SPF funding next year. We have seen this year the value of local authorities and metro Mayors to their communities. Will any of the UK SPF be devolved to local or regional government to be distributed by them, working in their local communities?

The Chancellor also said in his statement last week that the whole of the UK will benefit from the UK SPF and, over time, we will ramp up funding, so that local domestic UK-wide funding would at least match EU receipts on average, reaching around £1.5 billion per year. The total funding, however, from EU receipts has been, on average, £2.1 billion per year, according to the House of Commons Library. Will the Minister clarify why there is that stark difference?

Finally on the UK SPF, will the Minister clarify why, given that the fund was first announced in the Conservative manifesto of the 2017 general election, we are only now trialling the fund? It is a shame, given the three years since that election, that we have not seen the design of the fund launched and consulted on, as was originally promised.

I would like to move on to the levelling-up fund, announced for the first time last week. I understand it is to be jointly administered by the Minister’s Department, the Treasury and the Department for Transport from Whitehall. As with the towns fund, we welcome any investment into held-back towns across the country after a decade of neglect by this Government. There has, however, been much debate, both in Parliament and the press, about the way the towns fund was designed, with a host of deserving towns inexplicably losing out. Has the Minister taken any lessons from that into the design of the levelling-up fund, so that those bidding can be reassured that they will not be excluded from receiving investment at the whim of Ministers?

Will the Minister also tell us who will be able to submit bids to the fund, and who they will need to support bids? It would be helpful to understand, for example, how the value of an MP’s support would be weighed against the support of a local council. I am sure that the Minister would not want to see deserving bids for funding submitted by councils fail because of the intransigence of a local MP. I am making a particular reference. We would not like to see another situation where one Minister signs off another Minister’s £25 million for their local town when those are marginal seats. That would be a travesty.

We gather from the Chancellor’s statement that the fund will be based on competitive bids, so will the Minister clarify what steps his Department will take to ensure that all of our communities are able to put bids together, and that the poorest are not disadvantaged? Finally, I hope he will also confirm if the focus of the fund on growth and regeneration outcomes encompasses social values, community wealth building and inclusive economic development.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. It is a great pleasure to respond to the eloquent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) and by those colleagues from around Staffordshire. It is a particular pleasure to supplant my hon, Friend the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, who was gazetted to respond to the debate. Because he was not able to be here, it gives me the rare opportunity of a journey home on a Tuesday afternoon and to be among friends and colleagues who are among some of the best Members of Parliament in our House of Commons. They represent the most dynamic, most determined and most go-ahead county in the country. I should, of course, declare an interest: I am a Member of Parliament for Staffordshire.

It was pleasing to hear the fine speeches of my colleagues and of the commitment of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South to securing the best possible future for Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire. I assure him it is entirely the ambition of the Government to achieve his ends. Levelling up is central to our agenda. That is why we have set out a clear commitment to unlocking economic prosperity across all areas of our country. Levelling up is about providing the momentum to address the sorts of long-standing regional inequalities that we have heard mentioned by colleagues around the Chamber and to provide the means to pursue life chances that have been previously out of touch for so many.

Last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a new £4 billion levelling-up fund that has been discussed today. That will supersede the existing local growth fund streams with something like £600 million being available next year across England. I will say a word or two about that in a moment.

To help people to prepare for the introduction of the UK Shared Prosperity fund—a point raised by Members across the Chamber and, by the way, we are a big-hearted county and are pleased to welcome interlopers from West Yorkshire such as the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah) and to hear their points about northern counties—we will next year provide £220 million to support communities across the UK to pilot programmes and new approaches. The UK-wide investment framework will be announced in 2021 and that will confirm the multi-year funding profiles in the next spending review. These deliverables are hugely important in Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire to address the barriers to growth and to harness the energy and enthusiasm that local leaders and Members of Parliament have to unlock the ambitious opportunities for the local area and ensure a strong economic recovery from covid-19.

I am pleased that two towns in north Staffordshire were invited to submit proposals for town deals as part of our £3.6 billion towns fund. It is key to our levelling-up agenda and those landmark deals will see millions invested in projects across the country. Kidsgrove submitted its town investment plan in October; it is currently being assessed by officials. Newcastle-under-Lyme is due to submit its town investment plan in January next year. If that is successful, those areas will have the opportunity to invest in their local economies at this critical time. I wish all power to their elbow in those endeavours.

I am particularly pleased that the town deal boards in Kidsgrove and Newcastle-under-Lyme are working closely with members of their local community, alongside businesses, investors and local government, to achieve that end. They will bring forward a competitive round of the Towns fund in due course, and will also welcome further proposals from all local authorities to transform our towns and high streets.

On the issue of high streets, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell), the need for regeneration is particularly evident. High streets in our country have seen considerable declines in the last decade, and have certainly been affected by covid-19. Our Future High Streets fund is designed to revitalise and reimagine the important roles these places have. We want to help high streets to adapt and evolve, and also to remain vibrant and safe places at the heart of our local communities. We hope to make announcements of the successful submissions before the end of the year, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme will be eagerly awaiting that announcement.

A number of hon. and right hon. Members raised the issue of the levelling-up fund, which was announced at the spending review by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) mentioned the fund with all his usual enthusiasm and determination, but I caution him for being occasionally just a little too modest. To describe investment in Stoke-on-Trent as a risk is overly modest. We regard investment in Stoke-on-Trent as an opportunity—an opportunity to be harnessed. I hope that, through the levelling-up fund and the six hundred millions that will be made available through it, there will be opportunities to be had for cities such as Stoke-on-Trent.

This is a cross-departmental fund that will invest in local infrastructure. It will have a visible effect on people and their communities, and will support local recovery in high-value projects such as bypasses, road schemes and railway station upgrades—the sorts of things mentioned by a number of colleagues—as well as upgrades to town centres, community infrastructure and also local arts and culture. The fund will be open to all local areas in England and will prioritise bids to drive growth and regeneration in places that need it: the sorts of places that have seen particular challenges, and areas that have received less Government investment in recent and past years. I hope that my colleagues around north Staffordshire will be pricking up their ears at those points.

The £100 million brownfield regeneration fund that we are making available was also mentioned. We have already invested £400 million in mayoral combined authorities, which will unlock something like 26,000 new homes. I rather hope that the £100 million that we are making available—which will be spread in places other than mayoral combined authorities—will also have the same salutary effect. I certainly heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North and others said about the 20 sites and 80 acres of available land in Stoke-on-Trent North. I will be keeping my eye on Stoke and north Staffordshire to that end.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) made the important point about business certainty. That is on the mind of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and all Ministers, as we look to emerge from the pandemic crisis. They will want to look carefully to give businesses as much notice as possible of changes to the tiering system, but they will of course also want to look at the most up-to-date evidence available on which to base their decisions. They have to balance the data with the lead time, to give businesses the right sort of notice. I am sure that they will have both considerations on their minds.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands also encouraged me to lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to speak favourably of the funding formula and the way value for money is considered. I say to her, and to hon. Members around the Chamber, that not all good ideas start in the Treasury, but good ideas can end there if the Treasury do not like them. However, to the best of my ability, I will always endeavour to represent to the Chancellor my local interest and that of my colleagues and friends in Staffordshire, in order to make sure the right and best decisions are made in the interests of our constituents, as well as the interests of all hon. Members’ constituents around the country.

It is probably worth me saying a word about the business support we have provided to Stoke-on-Trent during the pandemic. Something like £13.9 million has gone to support businesses that closed between 5 November and 2 December, on top of the £120 billion of funding that has been made available to businesses. I probably do not have enough time to go through this topic in detail, but let me say that the Government are committed to doing whatever it takes to support businesses big and small around our country to get through and recover from this pandemic. The sooner a business can get back to work, the sooner people can get back to their normal lives, and the sooner we can recover from this pandemic and get our economy back on the road.

I was particularly struck by what all colleagues said about the ceramic valley. I am aware of the fantastic progress being made in the ceramic valley enterprise zone. The successful regeneration of long-abandoned sites such as Tunstall Arrow, Highgate and Ravensdale is a great success story and has created something like 900 new jobs. I know that local councils, the local enterprise partnership and Members of Parliament have been working in harmony to maximise the potential of that enterprise zone, and I certainly hope to play my part in encouraging that still further. I am also conscious that, as this century develops, we want to make sure that places such as Staffordshire and Stoke are tech hubs. Stoke might not be in a valley, but it is certainly a city that can be on a hill, as an exemplar of what can be done with technological advancement. We started 100 years ago as anthracite Staffordshire; now we are becoming silicon, with silicon Stoke at the heart of that great advance, and the Government will continue to support those advances to the best of their energies and endeavours.

My hon. Friends also mentioned transport. The Department for Transport is responsible for the Transforming Cities fund: a crucial £29 million’s worth of investment, which can do so much to change the way in which the transport infrastructure of Stoke and, indeed, north Staffordshire is designed. I believe that an announcement on that is imminent. It would be entirely wrong of me to speak for my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), but I am sure he will be looking closely and favourably at that bid, and I trust that my hon. Friends and colleagues from Staffordshire will hear more about it soon.

I should also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South on his doughty campaign in favour of Fenton. I hear entirely what he says about its importance, and I will carry his remarks to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Transport. It may be that Fenton was forgotten by Arnold Bennett, but my hon. Friend has certainly not forgotten it, and nor have I.

In conclusion, British prosperity will be sustained by those who capture and capitalise on those opportunities to level up their communities, deliver enduring change, and develop sustainability. The pottery towns of Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire are places where such people exist, and we must capitalise on their resources and revitalise their area.

It is a delight to have a Staffordshire colleague responding as the Minister, and it is fantastic to hear his support for Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire. We have heard some fantastic contributions from neighbouring colleagues from across north Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. I can assure the Minister that we will be putting in some very strong bids for the Levelling-Up fund. We want some of that funding to come to Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire, so we will be putting in strong bids that will ensure we can recover strongly from covid, better than we were before, and get our economy back on track. We will get our country and Stoke-on-Trent levelled up, so that we can get those opportunities into the city and into north Staffordshire.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the Government’s levelling-up agenda and post covid-19 economic recovery in North Staffordshire Potteries towns.

Sitting suspended.

Covid-19: Hospital Parking Charges for NHS Staff

I beg to move,

That this House has considered parking charges for NHS staff at hospitals during the covid-19 outbreak.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker. The pandemic has made many things clear: it has exposed the deep inequalities in our society and highlighted that it is the labour of working people that keeps society going. Perhaps more than anything else, it has shown the value of our NHS and its staff. NHS doctors, nurses, cleaners and porters have been incredible throughout the pandemic, working tirelessly on behalf of us all to defeat the virus. They deserve huge thanks and recognition for their courage and determination, so I begin by paying tribute to NHS staff at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire and across the country. I thank them for all that they do.

Thanks alone are not enough; NHS staff deserve much more than that. In the spring, in response to the public outpouring of support for the NHS, the Government announced that parking would be made free for staff during the pandemic. The Government said that NHS staff should be able to

“carry out their vital work without worrying about paying for car parking”

and that they would provide

“the financial backing NHS Trusts need to make this a reality”.

That pledge was, of course, welcomed by NHS staff across the country. So far, so good.

The pledge has been regularly repeated by the Government since. On 8 July, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that

“hospital car parks are free for NHS staff for this pandemic”.—[Official Report, 8 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 966.]

Last month, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care repeated that, telling “Good Morning Britain” viewers that

“We don’t have parking charges in English hospitals and we’re not going to for the course of this pandemic.”

That all sounds well and good. The only problem is that it is not true, and has not been for many months.

As far back as June, parking charges were reintroduced for NHS staff at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire. Ever since, staff have been made to pay for parking. Similar things have happened at NHS trusts across the country. Charges were brought back at the nearby University Hospitals Birmingham and at the South Warwickshire NHS Trust, as well as in places as far afield as the Harrogate District Hospital and Wye Valley NHS Trust. Even now, as the second wave puts renewed pressure on NHS staff, charges are being reintroduced.

As I said to the hon. Lady and the Minister outside, during the first wave of coronavirus, trusts and the health board in Northern Ireland did away with the charges, but restarted them after the covid wave had passed. Now that the second wave has come, they are considering stopping the charges again. Does she feel that the example from Northern Ireland and elsewhere indicate a need to subsidise staff during the covid-19 outbreak? Clearly, their work, which saves us all, is a priority.

I agree. We see in Scotland and Wales that staff parking is free, because parking is free for everyone. Northern Ireland has also shown leadership in this field, and I hope that our Government here in Westminster follow suit.

As of today, it is reported that staff at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust will have to pay for parking. Quite simply, I and many others can see that the Government have promised free parking for NHS staff throughout the pandemic and funding for NHS trusts to make this possible, but they have unfortunately broken that promise. Parking charges have been reintroduced for NHS staff, during a global pandemic. From clapping for carers, we are now clamping carers. Frankly, that is scandalous and no way to thank our incredible NHS staff.

Does my hon. Friend agree that our hard-working NHS staff, who put their lives on the line every day and are currently suffering from anxiety and mental health issues, need to be supported in a better way than clapping and need to have free parking reintroduced? I have heard that charges are going up by 200%. Does she believe that this should be stopped?

I will touch on the mental health of NHS staff later, but my hon. Friend makes the point that some trusts are introducing parking charges, in some cases with a 200% increase, which is absolutely scandalous. The Government should provide enough funding to cover the gaps from a decade of cuts to the NHS. I will talk later about increasing NHS pay so that actual rewards and recognition are given to our NHS staff.

When I asked the Prime Minister about this in the Chamber, he promised to look into it and get back to me. I have heard nothing since and would be very interested to hear the Minister’s update today. It appears that the Prime Minister and Health Secretary are so out of touch that they do not even know that this has happened.

This is not just about the Government failing to keep their word; it is about public safety and basic fairness. Working on the frontline, NHS staff are already more exposed to the virus. As the Royal College of Nursing and UNISON highlight, travelling to work by car reduces the risk of NHS staff catching or spreading the virus. Reintroducing parking charges makes that safer option more expensive. It also makes it more unaffordable for some workers. To ensure public safety, parking charges must be abolished throughout the pandemic.

But it is not just that; NHS staff are battling the virus day in, day out. Some tell me how exhausted they feel, pushed to breaking point by the pandemic. One nurse at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle told me:

“We are exhausted, we are on our knees”.

She told me that staff are acting outside their roles, working overtime for free and being redeployed across wards and positions to try to cover the gaps. Another told me how frightening battling covid has been, with consistent failures to provide NHS staff with proper PPE. A Sunday Mirror investigation found that healthcare workers needed almost 2 million days off for mental illness in the first wave, with doctors and nurses suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and more than 2,000 doctors quitting the profession since March. Tragically, we know that more than 200 health and care workers have lost their lives to the virus.

Even now, staff are being forced to use repurposed bin bags as official PPE at some hospitals in the UK. It is not a surprise that a British Medical Association study found that nearly three-quarters of its members fear that they will be overwhelmed this winter. Nurses in Coventry tell me that morale is at rock bottom, but the stress and overwork that NHS staff experience are not new. They did not begin with the pandemic. Instead, a decade of NHS underfunding and privatisation has left NHS staff underpaid and overworked. Nurses’ and doctors’ pay has fallen by more than 8% and 9% respectively since 2010. Many cleaners and porters are on less than the real living wage.

Underfunding means that we now spend 22% less per head on health than France and 47% less than Germany. It is in this context that NHS staff are being battered by a Government that have overworked and overstretched them for 10 years. A deadly second wave is hitting our hospitals and we see the Government have let parking charges be introduced. Can the Minister tell me how this is fair? One member of staff at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire told me that the move has felt like a kick in the teeth. She said:

“Staff feel totally undervalued and unappreciated.”

What will the Minister say to them? At another hospital, a student nurse has spoken out about how demoralising it felt to get a parking fine after she worked a 13-hour shift. Another told me:

“Staff give and give and give and get nothing in return, not even a free place to park our car.”

Another described how he is,

“incensed that we are expected to pay to park in the middle of a global pandemic. This is happening while nurses are using food banks and are leaving the profession in their thousands.”

Such problems with parking are not new. I have been told how low pay and high parking charges have forced staff to quit the jobs they love. There are reports that parking charges could dramatically rise, with recent revelations showing that one NHS trust plans to raise charges for staff by 200%.

Some NHS trusts are under such financial strain that they feel they have no choice but to reintroduce charges. Staff tell me that that underfunding has become so extreme that parking charges are used to subsidise frontline care costs, meaning that NHS staff are victims of what one healthcare worker described as a stealth tax, paying for the NHS twice: once through taxation and again through parking at work. In Coventry, a private company runs hospital parking, lining its pockets from the hard work of NHS staff.

In the past, hospital parking charges have been justified on the grounds that abolishing than is not feasible. Tell that to the people of Wales, where charges for staff, patients and visitors were abolished more than a decade ago. If anyone thinks that there is something different or unique about England; that here we somehow cannot abolish charges, that has been thoroughly debunked by the simple fact that for three months at the start of the pandemic, charges were abolished. It is not a question of feasibility; it is simply a question of political will. The Government just need to find the will to intervene, to provide the funds for trusts and to guarantee free parking, just like they said they would.

In the spring, Ministers clapped for NHS staff. Instead of more empty gestures, I call on them today to give our NHS staff the recognition they deserve. Start off by guaranteeing free parking for all NHS staff, and this time make it permanent. That is the very least they can do. It should not stop there—parking charges are an unfair second tax on staff, but they are also a tax on patients and on visitors seeing loved ones. Parking charges should also be abolished for patients and visitors.

NHS staff have faced a decade of falling pay, for which the current pay deal does not compensate. The French Government have stepped in to give their healthcare workers a pay rise totalling £7.2 billion. Our Government need to do the same, so I call on them to give NHS staff a fair pay rise of 15% to make up for a decade of lost pay, and to end the creeping privatisation of the NHS, which has seen resources taken away from frontline services and channelled to private healthcare companies. If the Minister says there is no money for this, I say to him that the Government have just found £16 billion for the military. Let us fund the NHS instead. Our priority should be welfare, not warfare.

I will finish with a series of questions for the Minister. Does the Minister acknowledge that the Government have broken their promise and allowed parking charges to be reintroduced during the global pandemic? Will he apologise to NHS staff for this broken promise? Will he urgently work to reverse this situation, and bring back free parking for NHS staff in Coventry and across the country? Will he move on from empty gestures for the NHS and instead commit to permanent free parking, a fair pay rise, and the funding the NHS needs for the future?

It has always been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, not least on the Procedure Committee, which you chaired when I was first elected to this House.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) on securing this important debate. I know that this is an issue that she in particular, with other hon. Members, has taken a very close interest in, and it is a timely debate. Before I turn to the specifics of the issue and the hon. Lady’s points, like her, I would like once again to put on record my gratitude and thanks to our NHS and care workers, including those at her local hospital trust. They, as always, continue to do an amazing job in the face of this incredibly challenging pandemic.

To address one of the hon. Lady’s points, I know she will very much welcome and be encouraged by the fact that the Government have put in place a £33.9 billion increase in investment in the NHS, the biggest increase in investment by any Government of recent years. I know she will welcome that very clear investment by this Government in our NHS. However, as she said, it is important that, in the face of this pandemic, as well as thanking our NHS workers, we have taken practical steps as a country and as a Government to further support them. One of those steps has been funding the provision of free parking for NHS staff at work during the pandemic since the spring, as she set out.

As the hon. Lady will know, parking is determined at trust level. While I appreciate she is critical of trust decisions in this space, and that of course is her right, in acknowledging that, I also express gratitude to the trusts that did, following the Government’s clear statement, provide free parking, and to local councils whose provision of free parking space for NHS staff made that possible. As the Prime Minister stated in the House on 8 July:

“The hospital car parks are free for NHS staff for this pandemic—they are free now—and we are going to get on with our manifesto commitment to make them free for patients who need them as well.”—[Official Report, 8 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 966.]

That remains the policy of Her Majesty’s Government.

I am conscious that the hon. Lady has previously raised a specific question about her own trust, which she also asked today, and which I will seek to address. NHS trusts have control of their parking policies. We, the Government, have made it very clear that we expect individual trusts to follow the approach that I have just outlined and that the Prime Minister set out. To her specific point, trusts have received and continue to receive additional funding to do so, to ensure that they do not lose income. I hope that her trust and others will recognise that, but if it is helpful to her, I will write to her after the debate with more specific information about her local trust and the specific points she raised about its income and funding and the position it has taken on this.

It is, however, also important to set out the broader context, while not losing sight of the clear expectation that trusts will fulfil that policy position. As I say, as the hon. Lady knows, the decision rests with trusts.

What I hear from the conversations I have had at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire is that the money has not continued to come; it has stopped. The Minister makes the point that NHS trusts have decision-making powers around parking, and I want to clarify that point, because I find that it then becomes a decision on whether to fund parking or frontline services, and it should not be a choice between those two. There should be enough funding for frontline services and additional funding for parking, so that trusts do not have to make a decision between those.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I will come on to the specific point about funding for this commitment in probably about a page or so’s time in my notes, but I go back to the £33.9 billion increase by 2023-24. The Government have given the NHS the money it said it wanted and needed to fund its services and, in addition, we have funded covid costs over and above that settlement.

Turning to the broader context, which is not just about funding, during the first wave of the pandemic, not only were hospital car parks largely empty of patients and visitors, but high streets are empty and so were council and commercial car parks, which local authorities were able to make available to NHS workers for free. That helped to address the fundamental challenge, which is not primarily funding, but capacity in hospital car parks.

While some trusts have significant capacity in their car parks, a very large number, even before the current situation, saw demand for spaces significantly exceed a limited capacity. By way of a little statistical context, overall, the NHS has around 440,000 spaces on its estate. That is set against over 1.3 million staff, and that is even before visitors or patients are factored into the demand side of the equation.

In recent months, we have seen patient and visitor usage of commercial car parks return. As activity has returned to shops and high streets since the summer, we have seen increased demand for those parking spaces that were available during the height of the first wave. This all means a return to significant demand exceeding a finite supply of available parking spaces. As set out in our manifesto, it is important that the patients and visitors who most need parking can access it, alongside our amazing NHS staff.

I will briefly address the issue of funding that the hon. Lady raised, and the concerns about a potential loss of trust income or trust funding. During the pandemic, we have provided trusts with specific funding for free parking for NHS staff. They continue to receive funding for that, currently as part of the overall system of funding allocation we have put in place. However, as I said, I will look into the hon. Lady’s specific point about her trust and how the allocation of the funding coming through that system is done, to reassure her that her trust continues to be supported through that overall pot.

Alongside the Prime Minister’s clearly stated commitment on NHS staff parking, he referenced our manifesto commitment, the context of which I will touch upon, including what we are doing to increase capacity to address that fundamental, underlying challenge. Some trusts began implementing the manifesto commitment earlier in the year. However, we fully recognise—and did recognise—the need for trusts, given the pandemic, to focus both on implementing the staff parking measures and on their operational response to the pandemic and ensuring they were there for all patients who needed them. We understand that, for reasons that I am sure all reasonable people would understand, many trusts delayed the planned phased roll-out due to take place over the course of this year, reflecting that external context.

The commitment will ensure that, in the course of this Parliament, disabled blue badge holders, frequent outpatient attendees, parents of children staying overnight, as well as night shift NHS staff, will be given free parking at hospitals. This will be the first time that hospital car parking has been completely free in this country for those groups who need it most. It will be mandated by NHS England and NHS Improvement on trusts from 1 January 2021. That mandating process, which takes considerable time, is the only lever by which trusts can be compelled to do this. That is why I say that the decision rests with trusts.

However, we recognise that in the midst of a second wave, flexibility is required. To have both policies operating at the same time will be a challenge for some sites, particularly in urban areas where capacity is limited. As we face this second wave, trusts’ clear focus is on operationally tackling the pandemic and responding to it. I am sure that all reasonable people will recognise the need for roll-out flexibility in the context of the mandating, and given the focus of our NHS on their responsibilities in tackling the pandemic.

On the capacity issues, the Government are committed to increasing hospital car parking capacity. I set out the challenge earlier, but we have set aside over £200 million of capital funding for the financial year to do this. This money is available to trusts to modernise and expand their car parking facilities, and to utilise technology, such as automatic number plate recognition systems, to make parking easier for patients. Trusts will be invited to bid for this funding in the usual way, and we will ensure that they have full details of how they can do that.

The Government have been clear on their commitment on staff parking. We have adhered to that commitment, and continued to provide the funding for it. I will give the hon. Lady more detailed granular information for her trust. We have made significant progress since the announcement of our manifesto commitment. We remain committed to providing free car parking for NHS staff during the pandemic, as the Prime Minister made very clear, and to ensuring that NHS hospital parking is free for those who need it the most, in line with our manifesto commitment that we are clear we will deliver. We must do that while ensuring that the NHS has the necessary resources to deliver the commitment successfully, both in terms of capacity and meeting the revenue funding cost.

Again, I thank the hon. Member for Coventry South for securing the debate and for the tone, by and large, that she adopted. I know she feels passionately about this matter, and it is right that she brings that passion, her knowledge and her constituents’ specific concerns to the House. I hope I have answered her points from the Dispatch Box, but I will of course come back to her about any that I have not been able to provide specific detail on in due course.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Defence Procurement and Supply Chains

I beg to move,

That this House has considered defence procurement and supply chains.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I am most grateful to hon. Members for participating in this important debate. I especially want to thank the Minister for Defence Procurement for being here today. I look forward to working closely with him on this issue in future and would welcome the opportunity to meet him to discuss the matter further.

The question before the House is broad and multifaceted, with profound implications not only for the UK’s national security, but for the domestic industry and the many left-behind towns that are home to Ministry of Defence suppliers. I hope that, in the short time available to us, we will have a suitable and wide-ranging discussion.

I warmly welcome the breadth of experience that hon. Members bring to today’s proceedings, whether they have served in our armed forces or come, as I do, from a trade union background or have experience in Government.

Today’s debate could not be more timely. It takes place amid an economic crisis unlike any in recent memory. Across the country, joblessness continues to soar and unemployment might hit more than 3 million by spring 2021. British industry has been especially hit badly by covid-19 and the resulting lockdown. Already we see a haemorrhaging of jobs across the sector, with left-behind towns in the north and midlands bearing the brunt.

Thousands of workers at companies such as Bentley, Airbus and Safran Nacelles now find their jobs under threat. The scale of the crisis has been starkly illustrated by the situation of Rolls-Royce, Barnoldswick, where operations have been offshored and striking workers locked out of the plant just before Christmas.

The job losses are not confined to plant manufacturing sites. Wider supply chains have been devastated as well, with 5,000 lost in aerospace alone. As the Institute for Public Policy Research has demonstrated, redundancies in this sector have a disproportionate impact on local economies, compounding the already high levels of deprivation and joblessness found in towns such as Birkenhead.

Meanwhile, the UK is struggling to adapt to a fast-changing and volatile global situation. Our departure from the European Union risks leaving us more isolated on the world stage, while the threat posed by non-state actors and cyber-terrorism continues to grow. My argument is simple: defence procurement has a vital role to play in helping British industry to survive the current crisis. The demand for British manufacturing has slumped, but the need for high-tech cutting-edge defence projects remains as pressing as ever, and British suppliers are well placed to meet the demand.

The Chancellor stated in the spending review that there would be additional funding of more than £24 billion in cash terms for defence in the next four years, including more than £6 billion for research and development. The Government say that they are serious about levelling up the UK and building back better. If that is the case, it is imperative that the additional funding goes towards projects that sustain high-skilled employment and provide quality training opportunities to young people across the country.

The argument is not just an economic one; it is also about national security. When the pandemic first struck, it exposed dangerous vulnerabilities in international supply chains. If we are to keep Britain safe in an uncertain world, we must maintain sovereign capabilities and build up our onshore defence industry. We have heard a great deal in recent years about the supposedly draconian restrictions placed on the UK by the European Union, but where our European neighbours rightly exploit the freedom afforded to them on defence procurement, the UK all too regularly buys off the shelf and undermines British industry by opening up defence contracts to international competition. It is not just British manufacturers that lose out, but the British people through the loss of taxes, GDP growth and high-skilled jobs, which are already all too rare in a modern economy. That is why the public overwhelmingly support prioritising British manufacturers for defence projects.

There have been promising developments in recent years. In fact, there is a growing consensus that defence procurement has a vital role to play in supporting domestic industries, and making the UK more secure by improving sovereign capabilities. That was recognised in the 2015 strategic defence and security review, which called for promoting prosperity to be recognised as a core national security objective. It is similarly reflected in the national shipbuilding strategy proposal that defence vessels should only be open to UK competition and the incorporation of a national value framework into the combat air strategy.

There remains much more to be done. My party has called for a new defence industrial strategy that expands the definition of good value to include support for British manufacturers, small to medium-sized enterprises, and the high-skilled jobs that they create. I want to talk about what that would mean for the shipbuilding industry.

British shipbuilding and ship repair is a £2 billion industry that regularly employs 32,000 people in the UK and supports 20,000 jobs in the wider supply chain. Shipbuilding also accounts for 60% of defence spending in the north-west, and of course I have the great privilege of my constituency being home to the historic Cammell Laird shipyard. Despite significant challenges in recent decades, Cammell Laird has continued to provide high-skilled jobs and meaningful training opportunities to 700 people in Birkenhead. It is staying ahead of the curve. Just last month, it launched the RRS Sir David Attenborough, perhaps the most technologically sophisticated vessel produced in this country in the past three decades. As a passionate advocate of vocational training, I am delighted that it continues to provide opportunities for young people in my constituency. More than 300 young people have been offered apprenticeships in the past decade, with 51 starting this year.

Now Cammell Laird stands to benefit from the construction of the new fleet solid support ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Along with Babcock International, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems, Cammell Laird is part of a team UK consortium that was shortlisted for the contract before the competition was suspended last November. Those companies represent the very best of British manufacturing and the benefits of building those ships in the UK are obvious. It would create or secure at least 6,500 jobs across the country, including hundreds at Cammell Laird. Of the £800 million spent on the new support vessels, at least £250,000 would be returned to Treasury coffers through income tax, national insurance and lower welfare payments. That is why I welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State for Defence that the vessels will be classified as warships, guaranteeing that they will be built in Britain.

That is in line with the recommendations contained in Sir John Parker’s inquiry into the national shipbuilding strategy, but I am now hearing concerns that the Ministry of Defence could accept bids from consortiums including and even led by foreign companies. I echo the calls of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar), the vice-chair of the Defence Committee. The Government must provide cast-iron guarantees that the ships will be built in British shipyards. I hope the Minister will be able to provide us with that assurance today.

Building the ships in Britain will not just benefit the hundreds of workers who will be guaranteed gainful employment for another decade or the young people whose horizons will be expanded through the provision of quality apprenticeships; it also means more work for the countless suppliers who provide the shipyards with parts and logistical support. It will mean more money spent in our town’s shops, restaurants and hospitality venues, which have been so devastated by the national lockdown, and it will mean more revenue for our local council, which is working tirelessly to support some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country. In short, it will mean hope for the town of Birkenhead.

The fleet solid support ships are not the only defence project that has a role to play in kick-starting the economy. There are many others, perched on the slipway and ready to launch. This includes the new tranche of Typhoon combat aircraft, the Merlin Mk 2 helicopters and the Boxer armoured fighting vehicles, which are all ready to go into production. By placing an order for the new Type 26 frigates now, the Ministry of Defence could get the supply chain for long-lead items running. The Government should also consider bringing in phase 2 of the Tempest project, which has been scheduled for 2022 and 2023. Those are the kind of shovel-ready projects the Prime Minister has spoken about so often.

In short, this is not a plea for little England-style nationalism; it is about providing a practical and effective way of rebuilding British industry so that it can address the needs of people in this country in the face of years of neglect and decline. By ensuring that these projects are built in Britain, the Government have the opportunity to prove that they mean what they say about levelling up and building back better. It is in their gift to provide towns such as Birkenhead, Barnoldswick and Barrow-in-Furness with the jobs and training opportunities they deserve.

Last month, Remembrance Sunday provided us with an opportunity to honour not only those who have served in previous conflicts, but all those who continue to keep Britain safe. It is incumbent on us, in turn, to ensure that they are as safe as they can possibly be, and that means ensuring that they are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, all built in Britain.

Thank you, Sir Charles. I will try to be quicker than that. I thank the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing this important and timely debate. We keep hearing the phrase “levelling up” and the hon. Gentleman mentioned it. The Prime Minister tells us that it is his mission to level up the country, and for communities such as mine in the north that is a welcome prospect. We need to recognise just how important the defence supply chain is to that agenda.

In my constituency, we build the nuclear deterrent, and when I say we, I mean 10,000 of the most skilled, world-leading workers imaginable building submarines with a complexity rivalled perhaps only by what NASA does. That work—the completion of the Astute-class boats and the delivery of the four Dreadnought-class boats—is the beating heart of Barrow and Furness and our local economy.

Not to labour that metaphor, but if the work in the yard is the heart, then the supply chain is the blood that runs through our communities, keeping our businesses alive through Cumbria and beyond. The supply-chain spend alone was £1 billion in 2019 from the submarine programme. That supports 80-plus businesses in Cumbria, but it does far more than that. It trains apprentices and creates skills clusters that attract even more businesses and further investment. Used well—don’t get me wrong, I would far rather see more supply-chain spend in Cumbria—defence procurement can be transformative.

BAE in Barrow has recognised what it needs to do to invest in our communities to do its job well. To produce boats to a steady and reliable drumbeat, it needs to invest in our towns to make sure we can stand on our own two feet and that we are creating the people with the skills to keep fuel in that machine. I applaud it for acting in that way. It backed our local schools and college, it led Barrow’s successful town deal—I especially give credit to Steve Cole from BAE on that—and it is championing a learning quarter in our town, which will bring a university campus into Barrow and address the fundamental problem that towns such as mine have, where there is a brain drain of young people leaving to the bright lights of big cities like Manchester and Liverpool.

In Furness, defence spending is not just about submarines; it is about backing education and skills, backing local businesses and providing resilience for our local economy in these troubled times. I welcome the upcoming defence and security industrial strategy, which I hope will lead to much more of this in communities like mine; frankly, it is very badly needed.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing this debate.

Aerospace and defence are inextricably linked, and are a cornerstone of the Welsh economy. Last year in Wales, the sector had a turnover of £6 billion, which is 10% of the UK total, and it employed 23,000 people before covid-19. In Wales, we have Raytheon Technologies’ airborne surveillance aircraft division at Broughton, BAE Systems at Glascoed, General Dynamics at Oakdale and Merthyr, Airbus Defence and Space at Newport, Thales at the National Digital Exploitation Centre in Ebbw Vale and West Wales airport in Aberporth. I welcome today’s news that the Ministry of Defence has announced that BAE has secured a new £2.4 billion next generation munitions solution contract, which will sustain 4,000 jobs in the UK over 15 years, with 550 of those at Glascoed.

The Welsh Government have provided support mechanisms for innovation and manufacturing in the defence sector. I will mention just two. The advanced manufacturing and research institute at MOD Sealand in Flintshire is unique in providing the UK with a defence-led R&D centre of excellence, which will create a technology and innovation cluster aligned to emerging technologies and capabilities, with long-term commercial opportunities.

The second project is Thales’ NDEC, which was opened in Ebbw Vale at the beginning of the year, supported by Welsh Government funding and in partnership with the University of South Wales. It will increase the cyber and digital knowledge base across business, education and academia, and will focus on protecting critical national infrastructure. There are opportunities for Thales in Tempest, as well.

Those two projects are examples of the Welsh Government working with the private sector, in partnership with the MOD. I call on the Minister to maintain and enhance this relationship to develop Britain’s sovereign capability, support economic growth across the UK’s nations and regions, and promote a levelling-up agenda that includes a positive weighting for British-based and Welsh companies for MOD procurement.

I call Grahame Morris. You have four minutes, although you do not need to take four minutes if you do not need them.

Thank you, Sir Charles. I thank my good and hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing this important debate, which is particularly timely given the extra £16 billion of defence funding that was announced in last week’s spending review.

Defence contracts represent an excellent opportunity for the UK economy and for job creation and retention in Britain. It is vital—I am addressing these remarks to the Minister in particular—that defence projects have a domestic focus, with a particular emphasis on maintaining jobs and the skills base in the UK.

Unite members at the Rolls-Royce site in Barnoldswick are currently being forced to take industrial action, because Rolls-Royce is cutting 350 highly-skilled jobs and offshoring them to Singapore. Workers at the plant fear that this latest round of job cuts will spell the end of the site itself, as it will likely become unviable as a result. The Barnoldswick workforce actually helped to set up the Singapore site, having been given promises that it would never put the home site at risk—a gross betrayal of loyal staff.

Unite the union understands that this work will remain at the site in Barnoldswick, at least for now, due to international arms trafficking regulations. However, the latest job cuts at Barnoldswick call into question the very viability of the site, and whether work on the joint strike fighter lift fan blade will transferred to Singapore.

While Singapore may be a safe and secure country at the moment, there are concerns that this technology needs to be protected. On the 80th anniversary of the battle of Britain, the striking workers rightly believe that it is a disgrace that the Barnoldswick site is under threat, given its heritage and the important role that it played in supplying the components for Merlin engines, which kept the Spitfires flying in the battle of Britain.

As part of its long-standing history in supporting British defence, Rolls-Royce has benefited from vast amounts of UK taxpayer money, not only in loans, grants, tax breaks and R&D, but in the form of defence contracts. Rolls-Royce will no doubt be keen to secure a large slice of the £16 billion extra defence funding budget announced by the Chancellor, but the situation at Rolls-Royce is one that must be avoided elsewhere. I still hope that the Government will intervene with Rolls-Royce. Workers at Barnoldswick are highly skilled. The jobs at Barnoldswick are exactly the type we need to create and retain in the United Kingdom. Defence projects must have a defence focus. It is vital for the short-term and long-term health of the UK economy.

I had the privilege of joining striking workers, Unite union reps, union officials and Labour colleagues on a virtual picket line last Friday. Striking workers are still there now, as I speak. I would like, once again, to express my unwavering solidarity with those workers, who are striking to save their jobs, not just for themselves and their families, but for future generations and for their community.

It is an honour to be called to speak in this important debate, Sir Charles. Having served in uniform for many years, I know a bit about defence procurement. I am also privileged to have used some of the best British-made equipment in the world.

In 2018-19, the Ministry of Defence spent £19.2 billion with UK industry and commerce, deliberately supporting 119,000 jobs. It is jobs that we are talking about today. In 2020, our commitment under the spending review is to spend an extra £16 billion, on top of the extra £8 billion that was promised in last year’s manifesto. That is exactly what the Ministry of Defence and our defence industry have been waiting for. Keeping people safe is the primary role of Government, but it is also about providing the commitment, the certainty and the spending guarantees that allow our nascent defence industry to plan ahead, at what is now well over 2% of GDP.

In the time I have today, I want to emphasise three key things. First, we have fantastic equipment in the UK. I am confident that, in the main, our forces have what they need. Secondly, I am proud to serve under a Conservative Government that get defence. Thirdly, we must spend responsibly and flexibly to secure what we need and to keep our British defence industry at the forefront of R&D, and to be able to produce competitive exports.

What do we have to be proud of right now? Lightning II, the F-35B aircraft, is an advanced, fifth generation aircraft, but it is American. Typhoon is another fantastic aircraft, and almost British. The Dreadnought to come is British, and is being built in Barrow. Our Astute boats are again British and being built in Barrow. The QE2 carriers—two of them—are British. Ajax is integrated in the UK, although it is not a UK platform. Type 26 frigates are British, Type 31 frigates are British, and the fleet solid support ships are British.

That is all good so far, but there is a note of caution. The message for post-Brexit UK is that we need to export our way out of trouble. To do that, we must showcase what we make and build. When we have a UK-based product or project with export potential we must back it, even if it involves some security compromise. We must also lower production costs to make it fit for the export market. We must develop a longer-term strategy to design and build UK equipment. That will avoid often substandard commercial off-the-shelf solutions. The UK must also design with export in mind. Expensive platforms are all very well, but we need to be able to sell them to those who do not have a huge amount of money in comparison, particularly to our emerging allies. As for legacy EU competition rules, the simple answer is no.

It is time now for liberal freedom of choice in public money to be over. For example, I do not want to see Hyundai police cars in Thames valley. The point extends across the whole of government. Let us invest in our British defence industry; let us relinquish these ridiculous EU competition rules; let us plan ahead, design for export and sell ourselves out of our financial woes with the most cost-effective kit that money can buy. Above all, we must build British, buy British and sell British to put us back on the map.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing the debate. He listed a number of criteria for people to be here. I tick two of the boxes: as a former union national officer and as a Minister. Indeed, I have been campaigning on this issue for many years, including when I was a Minister. I think colleagues need to understand that, underlying the debate, is a deep sickness within our civil service, which disregards, and even has a contempt for, manufacturing. It is laughable that we are having a debate with the EU over state aid when the Government refused to use the powers that they already have under European regulations. Quite frankly, other countries do not have to do that.

Let us take the example of the fleet solid support ships. France and Italy have ordered ships and prescribed that they be made in their own yards, and the same is true of the Germans. They use, interestingly enough, a foreign design, but they stipulate that the ships have to be built in German yards. There should never have been a question about this. There should have been a lot of work for our shipyards that would maintain a flow of work for the supply industries and, in particular, for the steel industry. Now there has been a welcome development in that the Secretary of State, who previously said that he would be putting out the invitation to bid in the spring, told a recent hearing of the Select Committee that that would happen shortly. I hope that that means that we are bringing that work forward. The Minister will be pleased to learn that I have been drawn to take part in Defence questions next week, when I shall be pursuing this issue.

We need to press on and do what would be taken as read in other countries. Companies understand that. They understand that if they are to sell in those other countries, they have to have substantial manufacturing bases there. Here they believe they can get away without having that. Furthermore, in its assessment of contracts, the Treasury refuses to consider the 30-odd per cent. that will come back to the Treasury directly in the form of the taxes paid by the workforce.

As the hon. Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) pointed out, the problem goes across the board and includes police cars, fire engines, trains and, recently, hydrogen buses. We are putting lots of money into green hydrogen buses, and there is a nice picture of one in Tyne and Wear that clearly shows that it was made in China. The UK and the Scottish Governments are putting a lot of money into wind turbines, but a huge amount of the work is going overseas. As I said, no one else behaves like that.

I also draw attention to and praise the document from the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions on shovel-ready defence programmes. It argues that we should do what Germany and France are doing and bring work forward. We already know that we need the kit and have already contracted for it, so we can help those companies and, in particular, their long supply chains to keep their workforce and to continue investing in equipment if we bring forward orders for equipment that we already know about. That is also important for aerospace. The civil aerospace industry is flat on its back as a result of the aviation crisis. Helping the supply chain through help to military aerospace is enormously important. As the hon. Member for Bracknell said, the issue is also important for exports. People will come to our companies and say, “If it is not good enough for the British armed forces, why do you say it is good enough for us?”

It is not just about the companies but about the apprentices who are the skilled workforce of the future and the backbone of engineering. It is about good skilled jobs, often in communities that are at the centre of the levelling-up agenda across the country. Many of the companies depend on major plants that have satellite plants around them. They have served us well for many generations. We should back them now.

Thank you, Sir Charles. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing this timely and important debate. I welcome the opportunity to speak during this debate and to call on the Government to provide a multibillion pound boost to British jobs and to back British manufacturing by placing the defence orders that they have delayed over the last five years.

The UK is right now staring down the barrel of the biggest recession of any G7 country, on top of a decade of austerity and several more decades of disinvestment in manufacturing and industry in this country. We have been promised time and again that this Government will level up the economy by investing in our manufacturing sector. Protecting jobs and creating new ones will be the quickest way to get the country out of the economic crisis. Spending by the Ministry of Defence supports 119,000 jobs in the UK and nearly 4,500 apprenticeships—that is one in 220 jobs.

Strategic investment in our industrial and manufacturing infrastructure will play a vital role in ensuring that the British economy is able to weather the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. It will focus investment outside London and the south-east in areas that have suffered from a historic lack of investment and that are in desperate need of support to get through this crisis, particularly in the north-west.

The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, representing over 100,000 skilled industrial and manufacturing workers, has called for the prioritisation of nine major shovel-ready defence projects to directly safeguard nearly 13,000 jobs during the recession. This investment will benefit the wider economy, cascading into supply chains, including thousands of small businesses across the country that supply components and software. I ask the Minister to commit today to protect all north-west defence jobs and to stimulate domestic industry at a crucial turning point in our economy by bringing forward spending for defence jobs, such as the fleet solid support ship, Type 26 frigate and phase 2 of the Tempest project. Lastly, I ask the Minister to intervene to stop Rolls-Royce from offshoring to Japan, Singapore and Spain and to protect all 350 jobs at the Barnoldswick site.

Thank you. I was waiting for it to drop to two minutes. Other have not attended and I will do my best, indeed, I will keep within the five minutes as instructed. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley). I have been in two Westminster Hall debates with him and he always goes with good and important subjects. That there are so many members present indicates how important it is for all of us to be here.

There have been some fantastic contributions, but I want to make a big play if I can, as hon. Members would expect, for Northern Ireland. I look forward to the Minister’s response. He is always very helpful in his responses, and I look forward to what he will be able to do to encourage me and my constituents to buy British, to sell British and see that everything British is better, as the hon. Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) said. I concur with that comment because I am as British as the hon. Gentleman and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I want to see those benefits coming to us as well.

Defence procurement must be based on a holistic view of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, ensuring that each region’s manufacturing or supply networks benefit from defence contracts. I welcome the Prime Minister and the Chancellor’s commitment to the £16.5 billion spend on defence, shipbuilding, space and cyber research and other sectors over a four period. That was a real commitment, a real shot in the arm, and we are all very pleased to see that.

Many independent aerospace manufacturers have capacity to build other products to a high standard and should be made aware of procurement opportunities. What work has been done with, for instance, Bombardier in Northern Ireland to ensure that we can take advantage of these projects as well? It is always great to read, as in the recent award of contract for 200 armoured vehicles in Telford, that the MIV programme aims to source 60% by value of the contract from within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. To achieve that, the team have engaged with suppliers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that breakdowns of supply would be useful to ensure that there is a spread of British money across every part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? I just want to ensure that we are all part of and benefit from this strategic overplay. It is good news.

The right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) referred to apprenticeships, and I want to make a quick play for them as well. I have been on to the Minister responsible—not this Minister, by the way—and made a play for apprenticeships to be available in Northern Ireland. Bombardier offers apprenticeships, and many other companies in this sector offer opportunities. I very much concur with the comments about the need to ensure that apprenticeship opportunities through this procurement programme will be available for each and every person.

The questions put to the Secretary of State back in June still stand today. I implored him to work with colleagues in defence to ensure that Northern Ireland skills were used in defence contracts, with special reference—I say this quite unashamedly—to the second-to-none aerospace manufacturing skills in Northern Ireland. I implore the defence team to recognise and deploy the skills in Northern Ireland—and, indeed, in all regions. I am not looking to take anything away from anybody else; that would be grossly unfair. All I want to do is ensure that we get our share of the pie, so to speak, when it comes to the opportunities from the defence budget and how that is disbursed across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I recognise the importance of defence spending and highlight the fact that availability of procurement contracts for the small independent manufacturers or suppliers could be the post-covid-19 lifeline for small and medium-sized firms. That is exactly the point that the hon. Member for Bracknell made in his contribution. It would be a very positive thing, and let us be positive about what we can do; there is positivity in where we are at this moment.

I will finish with this point. A written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) showed that the MOD spends per head per year approximately £60 in Northern Ireland as opposed to £850 in areas in the south of England. I will say it again: I am not taking the bread from anybody else’s mouth. I am just saying: can we have a share of that for Northern Ireland? I believe that if we can do that, we all benefit in this great country of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Charles. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on securing this important debate about defence procurement and supply chains.

This debate is set in challenging times. We not only are living through the second wave of a global pandemic but are on course to leave the single market and the customs union by the end of this year. Therefore, I want to take a slightly different approach to the debate from that taken so far and highlight the fact that this problem is faced not only by this Government but by the many Governments around the world who are grappling with the self-inflicted harm that we are potentially causing and the unnecessary damage to people’s livelihoods and to our economy through Brexit.

The defence industry and those who work in that industry are not immune from the Brexit effect, and the end of the transition period is just a month away. This will undoubtedly have a damaging impact on the sector in the long term. The industry body, ADS, has reported that almost 30,000 jobs are already at risk as a result of covid-19. That will be compounded by leaving the world’s largest trading bloc without a deal.

The movement of skilled labour and the collaborative spending programmes of the EU allies will be negatively impacted by the decision to leave the European Union. That is summed up frankly, with the chief executive of ADS outlining the following:

“The UK’s aerospace, defence, space and security industries will face major disruption without a deal, through delays to cross-border trade, costly administrative requirements and a new regulatory system”.

Although defence supply chains are less intense, in terms of volume and complexity, than those of some commercial sectors, new processes at the borders and ports will ultimately create delays and additional logistical challenges for this sector.

Of course, much of this debate so far has rightly focused on the skills of the workforce, the essential role that that will play in the future and the significant contribution of the defence industry to the north and in Scotland. The announcement of £16.5 billion is welcome, of course, and it is necessary that that backing will go into the defence manufacturing industry as a whole as a vital means of support. We can do nothing but welcome that announcement.

As has been outlined, however, further jobs announcements by BAE, and the concerns raised by Rolls-Royce and others about the levelling-up agenda, deserve to be heard in further detail. I want to take this opportunity to highlight concerns on the Clyde about the future maritime support programme, its competition element, the potential fragmentation of contracts and the race to the bottom that could come of that. I would like the Minister to address those concerns directly.

I am conscious of time, so I will bring my speech to an end. It has been demonstrated that the lack of understanding of the strategic and logistical planning required—both for the pandemic and in the coming months with Brexit—needs to be considered in greater detail. The definition of “defence” should perhaps have been widened in this debate, to cover pandemic resilience and wider concerns with respect to climate change, but I do not have enough time to address that.

It is important that we consider the weaknesses in the defence supply chain—across many of our industries—that have been exposed by covid. We must learn the lessons of the pandemic, and whatever happens in the next few months, the UK Government must prepare for the impact of this critical economic change on the defence industry.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) for securing the debate on this important issue. As has been said, it is a timely debate—I absolutely agree—and I thank everyone for taking part. A number of excellent points have been made by colleagues on both sides of the House on the value of defence procurement and its wider economic benefits. I acknowledge those comments and will make a few broader points about the importance of defence procurement and personnel to the security and prosperity of our country.

I welcome the four-year funding settlement for defence announced by the Prime Minister last month. It is a long overdue upgrade to Britain’s defences after a decade of decline since 2010. The extra investment in R&D is important, not just for defence and security, but because, if managed correctly, it will have a positive multiplier effect in areas such as aerospace, maritime, higher education and the wider supply chain across the UK. I was particularly pleased to hear that, at such a difficult time for our economy, the funding is set to create 10,000 jobs a year and 40,000 jobs in total. We of course welcome that, and will hold the Government to account on it.

Labour wants to ensure that new jobs are created in all parts of the UK, which brings me to my central point. While the Prime Minister’s announcement of cash was welcome, the spending review figures confirm that the £16.5 billion injection is all capital spend, with day-to-day revenue funding for defence expected to flatline at around £31.5 billion per year. That equates to a 2.4% real-terms cut through to 2024-25. Inevitably, that will mean further cuts to our armed forces and armed forces jobs. What we saw from the Prime Minister was an announcement without a strategy. Capital investment is vital and long overdue, but it is nothing without personnel and staff to support it.

Labour stands squarely behind our armed forces, including everyone from squaddies to engineers, from caterers to staff at bases. Although the Government have made important commitments to infrastructure, the Ministry of Defence seems to have a blind spot for staff and service personnel. After the last defence review in 2015, the Government fudged the funding figures with efficiency savings and invest-to-saves, opening up a £13 billion budget black hole. They failed to recruit the troops that the UK needs, leaving the military 1,200 troops short of strength.

As we heard earlier, there is also continued concern about the splitting up of service contracts at our bases—the ongoing dispute at Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Clyde is an example. Over the last few years, some services have been subcontracted, leading to a downgrade in terms and conditions. Cleaners transferred from Babcock to ISS, for example, have seen their pensions decline and their sick pay reduced. Managed incorrectly, those contracts pit team members against each other and begin a race to the bottom on standards and working conditions for staff who are indispensable for day-to-day defence and security operations. When the Minister responds, I shall be keen to hear what he can do to reassure workers at Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Clyde.

The Clyde example is particularly important because, of course, Faslane is home to the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent—an essential part of our nation’s defence infrastructure. I was fortunate enough to visit HMS Astute while she was alongside at Faslane in 2018, where we saw the expertise and dedication of service personnel aboard. It was during the week that Carillion collapsed, and as such was particularly instructive about the perils of mismanaging Government service contracts and the devastating impact this can have on vital services. Ministers must avoid the mistakes of the past, and place service personnel at the heart of defence and security operations. They must also use their significant buying power to drive up standards, and reinforce the high standards and working conditions that our personnel’s service and expertise deserves.

More broadly, this Government have an important opportunity to use defence procurement as a powerful lever to unleash prosperity in every region and every nation of the UK, including many areas that the Government claim they would like to level up. As ADS Group notes, the UK defence industry had a turnover of £22.7 billion in 2019, and directly supported 132,000 jobs, including 5,000 apprentices. Sadly, for five years Ministers dragged their feet on whether the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s new fleet solid support ships would be built, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead has pointed out and my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) tirelessly campaigns on and has reminded us of today.

There are concerns that the MOD may still accept bids from consortiums, including—even led by—foreign companies. As I have said previously, there are enormous benefits to rewarding defence contracts to British companies, outside of the obvious security benefits. From the revenue generated for the Exchequer to the higher national insurance contributions, building British is a no-brainer, so I say to the Government that what can be built in Britain must be built in Britain. The defence and security industrial strategy must also involve plans to develop the UK’s future capability to build in Britain. This will be one of the tests by which we will judge the Government’s long-awaited integrated review.

I have several asks of the Minister, and would be grateful if he could provide some clarity on these issues. First, when will the Government publish the defence and security industrial strategy and the associated integrated review? Will the new defence and security industrial strategy place the rights of staff, who are indispensable to day-to-day defence and security operations, at the very centre of Government procurement, or will it continue the trend of undercutting them, threatening to undermine the operation of vital defence and security assets? Finally, will the strategy make an unambiguous commitment to spending on, and building, all platforms and assets in the UK to help built British jobs? I look forward to the response from the Minister.

Today, we have heard a positive consensus from all sides about the new funding. Ministers must now make sure that they put that new money to best use. They must close the £13 billion black hole in the defence budget, recruit and properly value our service personnel, and build new military equipment here in Britain.

Due to a rash of good behaviour, the Minister has acres of time in which to expand an argument and answer questions. However, would he please leave Mr Whitley two minutes at the end to wind up in his own way?

I welcome this important debate, and congratulate the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on having secured it. This debate is particularly timely, as several hon. Members have reminded us, as it comes in the wake of an extremely positive bit of news. It is wonderful to see the Chamber united, with the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan) welcoming last week’s announcement. Even my friends from the Scottish National party have welcomed this investment in the defence of the United Kingdom, and I welcome the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) having done so. It is a £24 billion increase and, as has been suggested, that is a massive boost to the defence of the United Kingdom. It is the largest investment in 30 years—the largest since the end of the cold war—and I am so pleased that it has generated support in this Chamber this afternoon.

This is a timely debate not only because of that announcement, but because it comes at a point when “team defence” has done so much and performed so brilliantly in confronting the coronavirus pandemic. I begin by thanking the defence industry at every level for its positive and collaborative response to this once-in-a-hundred-years event.

At the heart of defence is a critical task of delivering equipment and support to our armed forces to enable them to continue their vital work. We were reminded of that by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) who served himself—it is the kit that our people need to do the job that they are called upon to do. Our partners in industry have risen to that challenge. They have done just that in providing support throughout the pandemic.

To assist them, the Department has actively supported the defence sector through the use of prepayments to maintain business continuity. Some £138 million has been paid on this basis to maintain that flow of cash right through the sector. That has been alongside our drumbeat of orders. I was grateful to hear the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) mention the munitions contract with BAE. I hope that will benefit those employees. It is one of a number of contracts throughout Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom that have continued to be delivered through the course of this pandemic.

Just as we have been monitoring the health of 600 of our suppliers, we make clear to the clients their responsibility to actively engage and support the supply chain. We have engaged directly with ADS, which has been referred to, and with other trade bodies and it has been good to hear of the productive relationships that companies have enjoyed in supporting each other during this period.

As hon. Members have mentioned, the way in which the workforce has been throughout this has been particularly positive. I thank them for how they have adopted and adapted to necessarily different working practices to continue to supply our defence forces, pulling together in a common endeavour to support our forces. How everyone has stepped up to deliver this has been extremely welcome.

The Minister’s rhetoric is excellent, but in terms of the practicalities for fleet solid support ships, for Rolls-Royce, and the supply chain and the lift-fan blades for the STOL engines for the F-35 Lightning fighter, will the Minister recognise the important role of Government in giving direction to companies such as Rolls-Royce to ensure that that work is carried out here in the United Kingdom? It is part of our sovereign defence plan to ensure that we have security of supply over these vital components.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I recognise the passion with which he addresses the issue of the Rolls-Royce concerns at Barnoldswick and the current action there. I hope that can be brought to a conclusion. I know my colleagues have said much the same. I am not aware of any long-term plans to remove the F-35 components from outside the United Kingdom. I am not aware of them and I hope we can continue and maintain a productive relationship with Rolls-Royce.

We all know what a dreadful situation is confronted by the aerospace industry in general. In practice, in defence, we continue to invest and provide that lifeblood of support to our companies that I hope will enable them to remain and prosper inside the UK. I will come on to the FSS point made by the hon. Gentleman later in my remarks.

The proposer of this debate, the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley), mentioned Cammell Laird, which is in his constituency, and I congratulate the company on its work through the pandemic. It has done sterling work on the Type 45 power improvement programme, and it is great to see HMS Dauntless re-floated with key equipment installed and back on to trials. The company has also been working with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary—currently RFA Wave Knight and RFA Tidesurge. With them, and the work of other companies in the marine sector, Birkenhead continues to provide invaluable contributions to the defence and the UK’s wider prosperity.

More broadly, the north-west has one of the highest per capita defence equipment spends of any region in the country. These figures might upset the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). The spend is £270 per head per year in the north-west, some way behind Scotland and indeed, Wales, but way ahead of Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Strangford is absolutely right that we need to lift up and level up the economy.

We have an excellent MOD contractor in Thales in Belfast, which I know the Minister is aware of. It is very much involved in cyber-security. I encourage the Minister, when looking towards cyber-security contracts and procurement for the future, to note that Thales could perhaps very much feature in that.

I have the gift of foresight. Only very recently, I was on a call with the First Minister of Northern Ireland with Northern Ireland defence contractors, talking about the opportunities that may come up. I know that the Chief of the Air Staff will be in the Province to talk about opportunities in aerospace, and we are minded to see how we can support all parts of the United Kingdom, absolutely including Northern Ireland.

To go back to the north-west, the Typhoon programme makes a significant contribution to the UK economy, generating billions of pounds through exports. That is an important issue, which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bracknell raised. That will be enhanced not only by the recent radar development, which has secured in excess of 600 jobs, including 120 jobs at BAE Systems Warton in Lancashire, but also by the recently signed Quadriga contract, which secures further skilled manufacturing work to build parts of 38 new aircraft at BAE Systems Samlesbury, including engineering roles that are central to the UK’s future combat air ambitions.

We can be positive about the future for defence across the UK. The four-year settlement provides the financial certainty needed to pursue a radical modernisation programme to meet today’s threats and prepare for the future.

I urge the hon. Member for Portsmouth South to be a little patient. We have the funding envelope and we are looking forward to producing the integrated review and the defence and security industrial strategy. These are three important parts of the stool that will take us forward for the next few years. It is a platform for the future. I recognise the hon. Member’s eagerness to see those things announced. I would ask him to be patient a little longer. He is obviously happy with the first part of the stool—we have the other two legs to produce, and I hope to bring them forward as soon as practical. As he appreciates, these are cross-Government reports. We will bring them forward when we can.

The four-year settlement ensures that the armed forces will be able to adapt to the threat with cutting-edge technology, compete effectively in the information age and fight decisively when required. It will position the UK as a global leader in the new domains of cyber and space and transform the UK’s capabilities across sea, land and air.

As has been stated, it is underpinned by record investment of at least £6.6 billion on military research and development. I hope to encourage the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), who is keen to see us committing to programmes. The announcement that the Prime Minister made confirmed our order of eight Type 26 and five Type 35 frigates.[Official Report, 7 December 2020, Vol. 685, c. 6MC.] It also supports a subject close to the heart of a number of people in this Chamber—the future of the fleet solid support ship programme, which will supply our carrier strike group, and which I know is of direct interest to the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar), as it is to the hon. Member for Birkenhead, among many Members. That is an ongoing process, as the right hon. Member for Warley knows; I look forward to his Defence question next week. The competition will be launched next year. I was going to say in the spring, which is but a short step away. We are looking forward to spring dawning.

This is absurd. We know what the requirement is. It has already been out to one tender. The only argument was about whether it was a warship. Why are the Government still dithering? Why do they not get the order there, let companies bid in and let their suppliers know and start tooling up and getting supply chains working? Why can they not get a move on?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that these are warships, which I know he regards as a great step forward in our thinking, as we have learned more about how they will operate in the carrier strike group. He will just have to be a little more patient. We are getting on with the procurement. Come the spring, he will see that competition launched.

Why the delay? Quite frankly, they could always have been designated as warships, because they always had guns on them. What is holding it up now?

First of all, we have had a delay in this programme for quite some time—I do not know if it goes quite back as far as the previous Administration, but it might well have done. For a long period, people have been thinking about the FSS and how exactly it should be incorporated. All I can say is that I am delighted that, very soon, the right hon. Gentleman’s pain will be over, with the competition being launched. I am pleased that we have reached that point. It is critical, as the right hon. Gentleman will agree, that the next competition is extremely well founded, well based and successful, and we are putting in place the basis to ensure that that is the case.

I must move on. Another major project of direct importance is the future combat air system, which is a truly strategic endeavour. It will build on the success of Typhoon and F-35 to again promote great jobs in engineering in our high engineering base in the north-west of England and throughout the UK. On land, our exciting £2.8 billion commitments to Boxer at Telford is now feeding through supply chain orders throughout the sector. All these programmes, whether at the cutting edge of maritime combat, air or land capabilities support jobs not only at tier 1, but throughout the supply chain, as has been said, with 119,000 directly employed and a further 80,000 or so employed through the defence supply chain. While decisions on the allocation of funding across the breadth of our capabilities will be made and announced in due course, this settlement will support skills and jobs, and apprenticeships, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell), throughout the UK.

In order to ensure a strategic approach, I announced earlier this year that we are leading a cross-Government review of the UK’s defence and security sectors. It will identify how we can ensure that we have competitive, innovative and world-class defence and security industries that drive research and investment. We recently launched the social value in procurement model which, to the hon. Member for Portsmouth South’s point, will provide another tool to ensure our major procurement projects evaluate priority social value themes and outcomes linked to prosperity. As part of the defence prosperity programme, we are working with industry and Government colleagues to develop a joint economic data hub within the UK Defence Solutions Centre to collect and aggregate economic data from across the sector. It will provide a better understanding of the economic contribution of the defence sector at a UK, national and regional level that can inform our decision-making process.

Throughout defence, we are committed to ensuring that we seize the opportunities provided by smaller companies. We are targeting a 25% spend with such companies. We have already hit 19%, up from 13% a couple of years prior to that. We are extremely mindful of the need to maintain a clear vision of our supply chain, and we are working through a Department-wide supply chain resilience and risk programme. Defence has some of the most complex supply chains and challenging procurement programmes across government. However, they contribute to the UK’s proud history of providing the skills, capabilities and equipment that keeps us and our allies safe, and I am convinced that, given the Government’s commitment, the UK will have an equally proud future.

I thank all hon. Members for their contributions, which have been fantastic. The debate has greatly benefited from the depth of their experience, insight and expertise. I am glad that we have achieved consensus on the important role that defence procurement has to play in supporting domestic industry, and I look forward to continuing this conversation in the weeks and months ahead. I especially thank the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan), and the Minister for giving up their time to contribute. As I said before, I hope that this is an issue on which we can collaborate in the future. I also thank you very much, Sir Charles.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered defence procurement and supply chains.

Sitting adjourned.