Tuesday 23 March 2021
[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]
Live Events: Government-backed Insurance
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 25 February).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
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I beg to move,
That this House has considered Government-backed insurance for live events.
Everybody here today will be aware that live performance production is an inherently risky economic activity, as the majority of capital is expended on pre-production and rehearsal prior to any income returns retrieved at the performance stage. In other words, as a business, it needs to invest money before it can take money back again. And therein lies the problem: for all the glorious music and theatre that live events offer, behind the scenes it is all about money and the integrity of the business. Organisers simply cannot get the ball rolling—by sourcing locations, paying performers, hiring equipment and so on—if they are not guaranteed that the show will go ahead.
I have heard the Government say many times that it would be too expensive to create an insurance scheme. I beg to disagree with that. I think there needs to be a perspective shift inside Government. Government must stop seeing our calls for an insurance scheme as expenditure and see this instead as an investment opportunity. I say that because ultimately, if they help facilitate the return of live events, the economic and cultural returns will end up paying for the initial investment—it will pay for itself.
We know the economic potential of the industry. The creative industry contributes—can you believe it?—£13 million every hour to the British economy, with the live events industry adding £70 billion to the UK economy every year. However, the significance of live events is not limited to the UK-wide economy. When events take place, local economies benefit, not only in direct revenue but through the increased use of hospitality or transport services. For example, and as I have said many times, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe generates no less than £500 million in direct spending, and a further £560 million goes into the Scottish economy indirectly.
Up in my own patch in the far north of Scotland, my beloved Highland games are worth an estimated £25 million. The House can imagine what that means to rural areas. With 25% of the people attending those games, they provide a much-needed economic boost to my constituency and to other Scottish constituencies. But they also allow us to share Scottish culture with people all around the world.
At a time when this nation needs to recover, and aligned to employment opportunities, increasing the consumption of hospitality and bringing tourism to every nook and cranny of the country will help us not only build back better, but build back together. As the House can imagine, I do not want to see my constituency being left behind in this regard, but that is exactly what is happening. I am hearing now that Highland games are being cancelled all over the highlands and Scotland because of uncertainty as to what the Government advice is.
I am asking for a scheme to be arranged whereby the Government would back insurance and underwrite it. I am asking our Government to underwrite their own policy. If the Government are confident enough about their handling of the pandemic to ease restrictions, and if they have promised an irreversible road map, meaning the industry should not have to worry about further lockdowns, why are they so reluctant to put their money where their promises are?
If all the things that insurers are worried about never come to be, the Treasury will never have to make a payment. What this really demonstrates is the Government’s lack of confidence in their own policies; either that or they have a different definition of what their responsibilities are.
I think every hon. Member here today must have expertise in the industry. I am no expert, but I listen to experts such as Tim Thornhill from Tysers Insurance Brokers when they tell me that insurance is the key to unlock the festival and live events door. On discussions with industry experts, the Minister promised my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) last week that she would release documents relating to her discussion with industry experts and insurers. I am grateful that she has agreed to come and respond to our debate.
There is a precedent, with the Government underwriting insurance in the face of terrorism, and they make a lot of money on that—over £200 million in each of the two previous years. There is a precedent. I beg the Minister to listen to my plea.
It is nice to see you in the Chair, Mr Rosindell. I thank the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) for opening the debate today. I am co-sponsoring this debate with the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), with whom I serve on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
I want to focus again on the festival industry. I say “again” because I spoke about it in the DCMS estimates day debate a couple of weeks ago. The risks to events taking place this year revolve around three things: uncertainty, even with the road map; lack of working capital for our festivals; and the ongoing absence of the insurance solution.
There are, believe it or not, around 975 festivals in the UK every year—an incredible number. We reckon they generate around £1.75 billion to £1.8 billion for the UK economy every year and support around 85,000 jobs. According to the excellent UK Music, more than 5 million people attended a festival in 2019—including me. It was a Boomtown Fair in my Winchester constituency, and, for the record, Pattishall—a small community music festival in Northamptonshire. That really shows the difference between a very big event of tens of thousands of people and a very small village affair.
I would attest that a Government-backed insurance scheme is essential to the festival industry. I am not saying that insurance is the sole barrier to kickstarting festivals, and it is a leap of faith, in some respects, with taxpayers’ money. However, organisers cannot enter into the usual planning for 2021 without an insurance solution in place. It is simply the key that unlocks the process. As the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said, it is unfortunate that we have not yet managed to persuade the Government of the case. I have to say that it is almost too late for 2021, but we must try, and we will. That is the purpose of today.
The sector is not churlish; it very much welcomes the Prime Minister’s road map out of lockdown, that it has “no earlier than” dates, and the news that many festivals may be able to go ahead in some capacity later this year. However, we must understand that this is surrounded by caveats, and the problem is the planning cycle. There will be no more than a week’s notice of step 4 being brought in. If all factors line up and 21 June is possible, festivals may not get the go-ahead until 14 June. The Government’s event research programme—which I welcome very much—including the pilots, will need to be successfully completed by 21 June to enable step 4. Yet this does not start until 12 April. Clearly, that has a significant impact on whether some festivals can proceed with planning for July and August this year, given the timeline without an insurance solution and the average go/no-go cut-off point being the end of this month. That is why I say it is almost too late.
The insurance we are talking about does not exist in the commercial market, which is unlikely to mobilise this until at least 2022, so there is a market failure, or a market gap. Even if festivals sell out well ahead of time, many organisers cannot draw down the revenue from the ticketing companies, as it remains ring-fenced to be paid out, rightly, post event or refunded to customers if necessary. It remains an enormous risk for any independent festival to proceed with costs up to 14 June, without insurance and many just will not take it. Major festivals such as Reading and Leeds have said that they will go ahead this year—Glastonbury, of course, has not—but it is important to say that they are not the barometer for the entire festival industry.
Members of the DCMS Committee wrote to the Treasury on 6 January. We reminded the Government that they have backed insurance for the film and television industry to the tune of some £500 million. It is now time to do this for other creative industries. That could take a number of forms: one requires no up-front contribution from the Government and utilises the existing Pool Re structure, developed in response to unpredictable and devastating acts of terrorism. That would leave the Treasury with a maximum liability, we think, of £1.5 billion and could be adapted to cover a range of sectors, including hospitality, sports and leisure, as well as festivals and live performances and events. The point is that none of this need ever be needed. As the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said on opening the debate, all the Government need to do is back their own road map. In his reply on 8 February, my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury said:
“My officials are working with DCMS officials to understand what a viable roadmap would be for the reopening of the events sector and therefore the right point to consider potential support options which could unlock a reopening of the sector, including insurance-based solutions.”
That sounded positive, but it was obviously over a month ago. Please will the Minister update us on that today?
The key question put by UK Music ahead of today’s debate is: do the Government believe that festivals should start planning for post-21 June without insurance in place? It made Government-backed insurance a key plank of its excellent “Let the Music Play: Save Our Summer 2021” report, which made it clear that it was welcome that the Government delivered on so many points in the report—an indicative date and extending financial support, to name but two. But without insurance, UK Music feels—and we agree—that the benefits to the sector are restricted.
The live sector desperately needs to return to work. The Minister is a great champion of that sector and she knows this. The Government have stated that they will do “whatever it takes” to support the economy and jobs and boy, have we done that. Seventy per cent. of musicians have seen their work fall by at least 75%; grassroots music venues, such as the Railway Inn in my constituency, have lost an average 75%—two thirds—of their income. Arenas are in the same position and technical companies have lost on average 95% of their income. This is devastation across the sector. The longer the live music sector is shut, the greater the damage and the more difficult the recovery. Therefore, quickly clearing this insurance barrier is key to guaranteeing recovery. UK Music has calculated that a £680 million Government-backed insurance scheme for music could underwrite £2 billion in activity.
The Government have stated that they are not intervening because insurance is not “the only barrier” to events taking place and has pointed to other interventions they have made, such as the job retention scheme, the self-employed scheme and the cultural recovery fund—all excellent schemes. The music sector is very grateful for those and other interventions, but they do not negate the need for insurance, and their utility in supporting reopening is less than it would be without an insurance solution.
It is unclear what the Government mean by “the only barrier”. If reopening goes ahead on 21 June, the only reason for live music events not to go ahead would be this inability to get the insurance—we keep coming back to that. If public health in defence of delaying reopening is the other barrier referred to, the industry is—let’s face it—in a Catch-22, because it is the possibility of that intervention that is distorting the commercial music market and raising the need for Government intervention in the first place.
In conclusion, this matters for all the reasons that I have touched on this morning, but it matters right now when events, short of insurance, short of certainty and short of cashflow, are selling tickets to young people desperate for something to look forward to.
We cannot have events that do not have a licence in place, as sometimes happens. I found one the other day that had not even contacted the safety advisory group of the respective local authority and was selling tickets—often at £100-plus a go—on the promise of hope alone. That will do the vast majority of this well-run and professional industry no favours whatsoever, but in many ways it is a symptom of the situation that we are in.
I appreciate that the insurance situation is difficult. It is not the only issue in play here and we do not pretend that it is, but it is the key that can unlock the door.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and it is also a pleasure to be part of this cross-party supergroup this morning, which has got together to work across party lines and to argue for proper insurance indemnity for events this year from the Government.
I thank the Minister for her attendance, although, as the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine)—who, like me, is on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee—has just said, we would really like to hear from the Treasury, because we would like to know what it has made of all the representations that have been made to it by the industries that we are talking about today. For fronting up for the Government time and again, the Minister deserves some kind of award, but we need to know the answers, and one wonders whether they are currently locked away in a vault somewhere across the road in the Treasury. We want to know what the Treasury really thinks.
As the hon. Member for Winchester did, I will focus today on festivals and live music events, but I will also say a little bit about theatre. I will not go through the whole set of statistics, as the hon. Members for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) and for Winchester have already done. Suffice it to say that one statistic for Cardiff is that across the river from my constituency, in the Principality Stadium, Ed Sheeran played four nights in a row in June 2018 to 60,000 people a night, which is nearly a quarter of a million people over the course of just a few nights. I do not need to spell out to hon. Members and to people watching this debate the economic impact of such events, and their importance to the economy of Cardiff and to the wider economy of south Wales.
In talking about festivals this morning, we want the Government to provide some clarity. If it is the case that it is not going to be possible for them to underwrite events and if it is going to be the case that they do not think that they will stick to their irreversible timetable and will probably have to impose further restrictions in the future, they should say so, because at the moment the sector is being led along on a string effectively and is unable to progress appropriately.
I have heard it said that the Government think that because festivals and live music events are selling tickets they do not need insurance, but of course normally—in a normal year—that ticket revenue would be used to do the build and provide the infrastructure to put on things such as festivals. However, this year is not a normal year, because festivals cannot get any cancellation insurance; they cannot get insurance against not being able to proceed, which would normally be available in the market, as the hon. Member for Winchester said. As a result, that money would have to be returned to ticket purchasers if the event was unable to go ahead and there would be a huge impact on those trying to put on festivals and also further down the supply chain.
That is why the hon. Gentleman—who, as I have said, is on the DCMS Committee, like me—was quite right to draw the attention of that Committee and of the Minister to the possibility of money being taken from people that will never be returned to them, and potentially fraudulent activity taking place around the festival scene this year without the kind of certainty that insurance provides. So we need either insurance to be underwritten for the sector to be able to restart or a clear indication that festivals will not be able to take place and financial support to allow the sector to survive into 2022.
Other countries are doing things about this situation.
The hon. Gentleman is making a splendid contribution to the debate, which I really appreciate. Does he agree that the longer we delay in getting these events up and running, the more danger there is of people losing momentum and even deskilling, in terms of performance and generating public enthusiasm?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I have praised the investment in the culture recovery fund, which the Minister will mention in her remarks at the end of the debate—she has to do that; it is an important riff for her as the Minister. There are criticisms, however. In the 1980s, we had the concept of the neutron bomb, which was developed so that it would kill the enemy but not destroy the buildings all around. In a way, the culture recovery fund is a wonderful thing, but if it just saves the buildings and some infrastructure, but does not protect the people in the sector and the skills that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, that will be an additional cost. He is right to make that point.
I was going to mention what is happening in other countries. The Danish Government have announced an event cancellation fund of €67.2 million. The Dutch Government have just announced an insurance fund of €385 million. Finland’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is working on a Government-backed insurance scheme for summer events, to be finalised by the end of the month. The Estonian Government have a scheme. The Germans have a similar fund, of €2.5 billion, to cover promoter risk. I could also mention schemes proposed by the Austrian, Belgian and Norwegian Governments. Such a scheme is not without precedent, because there is a precedent in the creative industries in this country, in the film and television sector. All that many people in the industry are asking for is a similar scheme. It is vital for live music events and festivals that action is taken.
I want to speak briefly about theatre. The theatre sector, and UK Theatre, have been lobbying Government hard for months. Many people involved in theatre production are also involved in film and television production, and they do not understand why the Treasury could provide an insurance indemnity scheme for the film and television industry, but could not provide an identical scheme for the theatre sector, as UK Theatre is asking for. Without a return to normal for theatre production, there will be a huge negative impact on the total economy, including loss of tax revenues and economic activity. That will be felt particularly badly in city centres and some towns.
The insurance market is not offering a scheme of this kind, and it is clear that it will not offer one for the foreseeable future—into 2022 at the very least. The risk exposure figures have been provided to Her Majesty’s Government by, for example, UK Theatre and the new umbrella body for the live sector. The Treasury has not publicly said what is wrong with those figures, and that is what we need to know—if it does not agree with what the sector is saying, it should say so.
We need to hear from the Minister not only about the culture recovery fund, although we understand how important it has been, but about the discussions between her and the Secretary of State and the Treasury. What have the discussions been like, and what is the Treasury saying? If it will not be possible to provide an underwriting insurance scheme, the Government should come clean with the creative industries, so that they can plan accordingly, and Ministers should offer support to help them through to the next stage of this dreadful pandemic.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) for securing this valuable debate. I share with him direct experience of involvement with the live events sector, and know how close it is to his heart, as a former performer. Although my hon. Friend and I represent the same party in Parliament, we represent very different constituencies. In both our constituencies—his in the far north, in the rural highlands, and mine on the outskirts of London—live events are an important part of the cultural experience. I am sure that that is the same for every constituency in the country and that live events, particularly in the summer, are part of the lifeblood of the community.
Other Members have talked about events in their constituencies. We have some fabulous events in Richmond Park. Kew Gardens, which I am privileged to represent, holds a wonderful live music concert called Kew the Music. We also have lots of little events going on. There is open-air cinema in Canbury Gardens, and there are fairs in all our neighbourhoods every year, but much of that is being put at risk this year.
There is so much pent-up demand, with people stuck at home all year. They have been staring at their laptops, as I am now, or their television screens. Live events are such an important part of the cultural and economic life of the country because nothing can replace that personal experience of theatre or live music. There is nothing like it. I am sure we can all remember our favourite gig, our best experience of live music, whether that is the Proms, Glastonbury, Glyndebourne or just a band in the local park. We will all remember that as an exciting experience that we long for more than ever after the terrible year we have had, which we are commemorating today.
That is why I wanted to be in this debate and to speak up for live events. I have had experience of appearing in theatre and putting on theatrical productions. I know that, above all, live events are risky—you have to take a chance. Planning will start in January or February, tickets will start to be sold, notice will be given of what will happen in June and the acts will be booked. Anything could go wrong in that time: the headline act could fall ill or encounter some other obstacle, or the weather might not be what was hoped for—any number of things could go wrong.
Paying for insurance is already a large part of the cost of putting on a live event. This year we have the additional massive uncertainty of whether the Government will allow live events to go ahead in the summer. I support the Government’s road map; I think it is right to be cautious, to take things slowly and not to make a decision until June on whether live events can go ahead. The frustration and tragedy is that we have great pent-up demand for live events. We have a huge number of people who are ready, able and willing to get out there and start performing again and putting on events. We just need to be able to bridge the risk gap, which is why I support calls for a Government-backed insurance scheme and think it is so important.
The sector supports a huge number of jobs. Obviously, a lot of that is unskilled seasonal work, but that is an important part of our economy, not just for students but for young people leaving school and those constrained from entering the regular workforce. The live events industry also gives opportunities to entrepreneurs, particularly in food and retail. There are lots of easy-to-access opportunities to sell directly to the general public, without some of the cost barriers that might be experienced in other retail.
There is also skilled work for technicians of all types in lighting, sound, logistics and freight. To pick up on the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, there is a risk that we will lose some of those skills. Once people find that they cannot earn a living doing what they trained for, they will do something else. Even more importantly, I am concerned that we will lose the pipeline, particularly in our creative industries. I am concerned for musicians, actors, set designers and costume designers, many of whom have been without work for 12 months.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, who has done fantastic work as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on gaps in support. We must not forget that a lot of those people who are waiting to hear whether they have work this summer have not had any financial support all year. They have often worked on a contract basis. As we all know, contractors have lost out on furlough and the self-employment income support scheme. Many of them have really had no support at all, so I urge the Treasury to look at what it can do to try to get the live events sector back up and running this summer, particularly to support those people.
I am very concerned for the creative sector in particular. It is such a strategic sector for our country in terms of what we export abroad. Our cultural products are among the best in the world, and it is absolutely essential that the Government maintain this pipeline. There will be young people leaving school or university this summer—talented musicians and aspiring actors—who will look at our cultural sector at the moment and think to themselves, “It’s too risky to try to earn a living. There isn’t enough economic support out there for musicians or actors.” Then they will go off and seek employment in other sectors. That will lead to the weakening of our cultural sector. I just want to reiterate that it is such an important sector for us in terms of projecting our values and our soft power around the world, and there is no more important time than now for us to be doing so.
I know that the Treasury is not present in this debate, but I take this opportunity to call on it to think strategically about supporting the cultural sector. I really value the work of many of those present in identifying the need for a Government-backed insurance scheme; it is a straightforward solution that can really help to kickstart things and remove some of the risks and barriers to getting live events back up and running this summer. That will be so important to so many people—both those working in these industries and those of us who have been stuck at home for a year and who just want to get back out there. It will be a massive boost to the mental health of the nation if live music events can take place again this summer.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney). I agree with one of the critical points that she made, which is about people involved in the arts, and support to the arts, having fared particularly badly in this pandemic. That has been an issue of real regret.
I thank the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) and the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for leading this debate, and I agree very strongly with the points they made. I will not speak for too long, because I just want to echo some of those points, specifically in relation to festivals on the Isle of Wight.
The Isle of Wight is effectively Britain’s festival island; we are home to a new festival almost every weekend, over and above the significant, major festivals that we have hosted, such as the Isle of Wight festival and Cowes Week, which is the biggest sailing event in the world. Festivals contribute significant value to the island’s economy, although their value is wider than just economic. They support extensive supply chains, local businesses, equipment hire and similar areas of the economy. They also support the island’s visitor economy, such as shops, bars, restaurants and accommodation, and they also help local farmers to diversify their incomes. The funding and spend of almost all the smaller independent festivals also go directly into the local economy, employing hundreds, if not thousands, of people. As well as an economic impact, they also have a significant cultural impact on the island.
As has been pointed out, festivals are year-long endeavours; as soon as one festival is finished, those involved are already planning next year. A year’s worth of effort goes into something that is mostly only a weekend long. While other elements of the hospitality industry, such as pubs and restaurants, can turn off and on during lockdown—however inconvenient that is—it has been very difficult for the festival and arts industries to do that.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West eloquently explained why Government-backed insurance—pooled reinsurance, to use the term that was used in the IRA days—is a very good idea, and I fully support it. Given the long lead times, we need to help, and we need to give confidence to festival organisers, so that they know that their work will not be wasted. It is likely that festivals will be able to go ahead this summer, with all the new mitigations in place around testing and the vaccination process, so I do not quite understand why we cannot have a pooled reinsurance scheme, which could be relatively cheap but help to kickstart this element of our arts and entertainment industry.
What concerns me is that every day we are in lockdown, it costs us a minimum of half a billion pounds in lost economic output and cost to the Treasury. If we can come out of lockdown only a few days earlier, we could be billions of pounds better off. A very small percentage of that money could be used to provide a scheme of pooled reinsurance for festivals—not only on the Isle of Wight, but across Britain. As everybody who has spoken in the debate has said, we need those festivals for people’s mental health and for the enjoyment of arts, culture and music, including the music festivals that we have on the Island. We badly need those in our lives again, because we have missed them in the last year. As well as helping our economy, they enrich our souls.
I hope very much that the Minister, who I know is absolutely passionate about her role, can see her way to working on the Treasury a bit harder, so that we can have some kind of pooled reinsurance scheme to support all the great festival businesses and all the jobs that they support on the Isle of Wight and throughout the United Kingdom.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. It is also a real pleasure to sum up the debate for the Scottish National party, and I congratulate our trio of trusty troubadours, led by the choirmaster, the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), on bringing this important issue to the House. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
This is yet another instalment of the ongoing travails of our live music industry and the artists who are involved on the frontline of it—the next verse in the song entitled “The Worst of Times”. Live music is vulnerable, like no other sector, to the strictures and conditions of covid. It suffers probably more than any other sector under the requirement to keep people socially distanced as we get on top of this pandemic. Music is a social business: it involves people coming together, and it involves performance. It is all about community and coming together, and it is obvious that music will suffer as a result of people being restricted in coming together. Whereas other sectors can now look forward with a degree of optimism to the possibility of getting back to work and back to normal, live music can only surveil its future with continuing anxiety and concern, underpinned by the lack of clarity at the heart of the planning.
Everybody just wants to get back to gigs. We have heard from hon. Members about how imperative that is and what it does, not just for the economy of this nation, but for our wellbeing, our sense of ourselves and our enjoyment of the things that we like to get out and do that make us feel normal. A YouGov survey that really struck me a couple of weeks ago showed that half the UK population want to go to live events this summer and that 75% believe that live events are a critical part of our culture. We know that the demand is there and that people are just waiting for the green light to go out and see their favourite bands once again.
Hon. Members are right to remind us of the contribution that live music brings to the economy and of the sense of joy that music gives us all. The Government can help unlock this boost to the economy, at no real cost to themselves, by giving a commitment to help underwrite the costs in case of any cancellations that might occur—cancellations that have nothing to do with the festivals, but that result from obeying the requirements set by the Government.
We recognise what the Government are doing, and we welcome the measures that have already been outlined—I am sure the Minister will tell us about them again, and there is no question about the fact that they have been thoroughly good. The expanded support for freelancers and the self-employed is a step in the right direction for an industry in which three quarters of the 200,000 workforce are self-employed. We welcome the £300 million boost to the culture recovery fund, but I still do not understand why it cannot be extended to include freelancers, which is how we operate our schemes in Scotland and Wales.
All of that is welcome and will help, but for live music, and particularly for our festivals, as we heard from hon. Members who discussed the festivals in their constituencies, there have to be guarantees and assurances so that events can go ahead, secure in the knowledge that, if there are covid events beyond their control, there will be somebody there to step in. There is only a period of weeks for staging live music events this summer. Organisers will have to make decisions in the next few days and weeks about whether they can proceed or whether they will be forced to cancel. It is all about having the confidence to proceed and the security to go ahead. The live music industry urgently needs this Government-backed insurance scheme to protect against the risk of losses if a festival or concert is forced to cancel due to covid.
Already, as we have heard, it is too late for some great music festivals across the UK. Some have decided that they just cannot take the risk; Glastonbury will not be going ahead for a second year this year. Others have decided that the risk is still worth taking, and are still planning to put on their festival events. Reading and Leeds festivals have been mentioned, and I really hope they are able to go ahead this year. Some are still assessing the risk. Festivals such as Latitude, Wireless and Download say that everything hangs in the balance, with the final choice dependent on whether an insurance scheme is in place.
It is worth recognising that, even without covid, festivals are already a risky business, and that risk could be of the order of millions of pounds. The fields of the UK are littered with failed festival enterprises. Every year, the margins get tighter and it gets tougher and tougher for festivals to prosper and succeed. The festival experience is variously a holiday, a rite of passage and an opportunity to participate in a little weekend of all-consuming hedonism. The general rule is that if you remember it, you were not really there.
I have been pretty lucky: I have seen festivals from both sides. I have played in most of the big festivals around Europe, and I know exactly what they mean to people—not just the people who go to see it, great as it is for them, but for the artists. I think it is only me and the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) who have appeared live on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury, though I think I am the only one who appeared there with a musical instrument. For the artist, it is the highlight of the live performance calendar, and for so many it is an essential source of income. If a new band is invited along to a festival such as T in the Park, Reading or Glastonbury, they share a stage with legends—people who have been in the business for decades. It is such an immense thrill and opportunity. Sometimes, they get the opportunity to play to tens of thousands of people, maybe after just performing in the local pub. They are tipped as being the next big thing, and it is a real opportunity to test their talents. For musicians, it is immense; it is such an important feature of the development of their career and the progression of what they have to offer.
It is not just about the musicians; it is also about the crew, the stage constructors, the security staff and the hundreds of members of the public recruited to ensure the success of the event. In fact, building a festival is like constructing a temporary large town or small city, with all the infrastructure that is required. I had T in the Park just next door to me in the Ochil and South Perthshire constituency, and for one weekend per year when T in the Park was on the go, it was the eighth-largest settlement in Scotland.
It is more than that; it is about what it delivers for the community in Perthshire. T in the Park was the second-biggest festival in the UK, and throughout the weekend when it was on, every single hotel and restaurant in Perth in my constituency was full. The communities of Kinross and Milnathort, which were a sort of base camp for T in the Park, were practically part of the festival. We need reassurance that these festivals can go ahead, not just for the artists, the musicians and the industry but for the communities we serve. They need to know that the festivals can go ahead with security. People need the confidence to put on festivals again.
I think it was the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan)—it was certainly one of our trio—who said that other countries are able to do this. They think it is valuable. Last week, Denmark became the latest country to introduce Government-backed insurance for events. I know Danish festivals really well. Festivals are an intrinsic part of the music offer in Denmark. Every single town and city has a festival, so the Danish Government have moved in to protect their industry, and I congratulate them on that. It is not just Denmark; festival organisers have been supported in Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium. If all those countries right across Europe can do it, why cannot the UK?
It all starts with the UK Government engaging with the industry on how best to ensure that we get an insurance scheme that works for our live music sector. As we have heard, the Government have already backed the film industry with a bespoke insurance scheme. That is great: it is required and it needed to happen, but it needs to happen for music too. There is a proposal on the table. We know that several live events organisations have got together and worked to produce a scheme that is probably sitting on the Minister’s desk: all she needs to do is sign it off, and we are there.
Tysers is calling for the UK to support a £650 million insurance scheme to get our live sector back on its feet. This proposal could support the whole of the live events sector—promoters, venues and artists—and prevent job losses and economic inactivity. As an insurance fund, it has the added benefit that it may not even be used, making it even more cost effective than grants. The Government have absolutely nothing to lose from getting involved with the live music sector and going along with this. This package of support will be targeted directly at UK beneficiaries, providing them with the support and confidence they need to put on shows and events, and unleashing over £2 billion of economic potential. The Minister has nothing to lose, so I ask her to look at the scheme, and give it her backing and the green light.
The proposed scheme would have a timeframe only up to the end of 2022, and it would be available only to companies putting on shows in line with guidance. It would not cover non-coronavirus issues, and claims would be capped at a certain budget and must be justified. This is all in the Government’s hands—it is all there, ready to go, if there is the political will—and the benefit for the Minister is that this time around, she does not have to deal with the invidious EU. This is nothing to do with it; it is not a constraining feature or factor. She does not have to sit around the table to negotiate a visa arrangement with it: it is all about her and her Department. The only door she needs to knock on is that of the Treasury, to unlock this fund, give the assurance, the confidence and the backing, and get this unleashed. People want to go to gigs; let them go. The artists just cannot wait to get back to performing live. I have tried every week to watch a live show online, just to make sure that our artists are supported, but believe me, they want to play in front of audiences again. They have been deprived of that for a year, and they need to have that contact. They need to get those guitars, keyboards, drums, basses, or whatever in front of an audience and play them.
People want to get back to gigs. Live music is important to all the communities we represent, and live music and music tourism give a real boost to our economy. This is in the Government’s hands; they can give the reassurance that is required. Let us bring the music back.
It is a pleasure to serve virtually under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) on having brought forward this important debate this morning.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has spoken extensively on the importance of live music; in fact, listening to him talk about Glastonbury made me feel quite unambitious in life, in comparison with the passion that many people feel about their opportunities to perform. I understand that because, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) mentioned, nothing can replace live events. Most of us knew that before; we certainly know it after the past year of hell without them.
I also thank all members of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), who have spoken expertly on the issue of an insurance scheme. The Select Committee has done very good work on this, and I am sure the Minister will be looking very closely at what its members have said this morning, in addition to the extensive evidence that it has provided to the Government.
I want to ask one further thing on that, and then make two more brief points before we hear from the Minister. It does seem that the Treasury is the decision maker here, so I wonder why we have a Minister from DCMS before us this morning, not a Treasury Minister. It feels as though, on a number of issues, DCMS is essentially communicating messages from the Treasury, and it would be good to hear directly from the horse’s mouth.
On other support, Members also mentioned the way in which some Treasury schemes have not suited well those in the creative and cultural industries. I really hope that point has been heard and understood, not only by DCMS Ministers but by those in the Treasury; it would be good to hear directly from them on that.
Secondly, we know that events are crucial to our economy. Members also spoke this morning on the size, scale and centrality of creative industries generally, and the events industry specifically, in the UK. We currently have trial events taking place, and it would be good if the Minister could say a little bit more about the process for those, particularly as, again, some of the issues there will not necessarily be handled completely by DCMS; there will obviously be input from the Cabinet Office and potentially the Department of Health and Social Care. Will she talk about the process for reviewing those, who will be involved and who will be the decision makers in Government on the steps to move forward? Will the Minister also commit to an open-book approach? Will we be able to see and review evidence that the Government collect, because that would be helpful in building confidence in the process? A huge number of uncertainties face the events industry—as Members already covered; I will not go over them again—so making sure that we are all able to work together will be helpful.
Finally, we need to make sure that the current economic turbulence driven by covid does not reinforce any of the pre-existing structural inequalities that exist in the United Kingdom, whether that is labour force inequalities—unemployment statistics out today show the hugely disproportionate impact of covid on jobs for younger people—or places in our country that previously experienced deindustrialisation or other economic disadvantage. Several Members highlighted the important role that the live events sector plays in those places; many of the jobs that we are talking about are good jobs in areas that really need them. It would be terrible if the virus exacerbated any of the structural inequalities that previously held our country back, particularly over the past 10 years. What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Work and Pensions and others to make sure that it is not only the Treasury that understands that its schemes and programmes need to better fit the creative industries?
I look forward to hearing from the Minister. I hope she listened carefully to all that those Select Committee members have said and will let us know how decisions on this will be taken from here.
It is such a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mr Rosindell, and to respond on behalf of the Government to this important debate. I start by heaping praise on to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) for securing this vital debate and enabling this discussion on a subject that is so important to such a vast number of our sectors. It is quite poignant that this debate comes a year since the lockdown started. What a horrible year it has been. So many speakers highlighted just what a huge loss it has been to so many of us to have live events missing from our lives.
The hon. Gentleman spoke with great passion about events in his part of Scotland, including the highland games, of course, which as well as being wonderful for local morale, spirit and wellbeing are a huge contributor to the local economy and a global phenomenon that really puts Scotland on the map; they are well known all around the world. I completely understand his desire to see them back up and running again as soon as possible. In fact, the strength of sentiment shown across the room demonstrates how desperately important the digital, culture, media and sport sectors are not just to our economy and our heritage, but to our sense of wellbeing as a nation. We are desperate to be able to return to live events.
As if to taunt me, we have had representatives from some of the areas where I was due to have seen live events last year. I was due to go to Kew the Music to see the Gipsy Kings. I was due to have been at Boomtown and at the Isle of Wight festival. All of that was taken away so I can completely understand people’s frustration from a personal perspective as well as a professional one. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) spoke about the pent-up demand and she hit the nail on the head. We are all desperate to be able to return to live events from festivals, gigs and theatre to business and sporting events, and we want to do that as soon as it is safe to do so.
Many hon. Members have highlighted the vast contribution that DCMS sectors make to the UK’s international standing, to all our lives and specifically to the economy—in 2019, £116 billion from the creative industries, £17 billion from sport, £151 billion from digital, and £75 billion from tourism. These sectors together support a total of around 6.9 million jobs. We have an economic imperative as well as a cultural one to stand by those industries.
We have our differences but I am grateful to have this conversation. I know the Minister’s personal support for the sector and she has rightly emphasised its economic value. Have the Government looked at the schemes in other European countries that I highlighted in my remarks, which are being put in place to underwrite the possibility of having events go ahead? What is her assessment of what other countries are doing and whether the UK could mirror that?
I am really pleased that the hon. Gentleman raised this because, of course, we are looking at all the schemes. I was coming on to say that the hon. Member for Richmond Park talked about that as a straightforward solution and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said how we have nothing to lose, but the person who hit the nail on the head was my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), who said this is a leap of faith for the Government.
There have been different schemes announced around the world, but most recently the German scheme has now been stalled. The €2.5 billion that the Germans promised has been stalled in light of the public health situation as they have announced a third lockdown in Germany over Easter. That is the worst possible situation—to announce a package of support and then withdraw it. That is the situation that we want to avoid, which is why we are looking at this so carefully.
I understand more than anything the urgency of the situation when it comes to a decision on indemnity, and the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said it is key that this decision is made soon. Like so many of the tough decisions that have been made over the last year, it is a really difficult one, and ultimately it is a decision for the Treasury because it is a financial one, as he pointed out. In DCMS, our job is to work very closely with the sector, as we have been doing right the way through this crisis, to figure out exactly what is needed, to gather all the evidence together and to present that to our colleagues in the Treasury.
As many colleagues have said today, the circumstances of the pandemic have left so many of the sectors that DCMS is proud to represent without the certainty they need to confidently reopen. Our engagement started from day one. Almost on a weekly basis, I am talking to one group or another from across our sectors. We have working groups and those that are bringing together guidance. I have met individually with representatives from various sectors. I met with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) along with all the festivals on the Island. I met with all the festivals in Edinburgh, for example. We are continually engaging with stakeholders throughout this period to understand what they need, what the barriers are to reopening, and what the challenges are, and that will, of course, include indemnity cover.
What I am saying is that the decision is with the Treasury right now. We are working very closely with the Treasury to provide the evidence it needs to make a financial decision on this, and it is a big financial decision. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester hit the nail on the head when he said it is a leap of faith. It is obviously a big financial decision that the Treasury has to make. I am trying to articulate the background within which that decision will be made. But it is absolutely still on the table, and it is absolutely still a decision being looked at right now. In DCMS we are really keen to gather all the evidence that is needed to make that case.
I want to stiffen the argument that the Minister is making to the Treasury. It is about the supply chain, which the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) touched on. It is not simply the case that they are going to have another rotten year; for many in the supply chain, two years of this will end their business, and then they will fall into other support schemes. The calculation that the Department can make to Her Majesty’s Treasury, therefore, is of a reduction in other areas if it saves here. I think that there is very much an argument about investing to save that the Department can make to Treasury colleagues.
I understand exactly what my hon. Friend is saying. Another Member—I cannot remember who it was—said that this is, by definition, quite a precarious industry anyway. My eldest son was due to go to the Boardmasters festival down in Newquay the year before, which was tragically cancelled because of the weather. The festival organisers have had to put up with two years of cancellations already before 2021, so Members can see what a huge pressure has been put on them.
However, hon. Members will recognise that the bar for considering Government intervention is set extremely high, as of course it has to be, especially in light of the considerable extension to so many financial packages that have already been helping our sectors—the furlough scheme, the business rate relief, the VAT cuts and local business support. The key thing that will give us much more certainty as we move forward is our world-class vaccination roll-out, along with all the steps we have been taking to beat the virus. This, along with reopening when we are confident that it is safe to do so, will reduce the chance of cancellation and interruptions due to covid-19, creating a much more predictable and secure opening context for all sorts of events to take place. Hopefully that will de-risk the sector as well.
In that context, we are continuing to engage with organisations to work through all the barriers to staging events, and indemnity insurance is of course one of those. It is part of our wider drive to reopen our crucial sectors as quickly as it is safe to do so. We are also working with other Departments. The Opposition spokeswoman, the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), asked me about that. We do meet regularly with other Departments. I met with representatives from a number of Departments last week, and we worked very closely with them to talk about the public health context and ensure that we are in a good position. In an ideal world, the insurance sector itself would step up to the plate and support this vital part of our economy, but in the absence of that, any decision on a sponsor package rests with the Treasury.
The Government recognise the challenges that have been faced by organisations and individuals alike and have ensured that support is available. The hon. Member for Cardiff West trailed this, but I will now talk about some of the specific things that have taken place across the wider economy. A number of Members have spoken about freelancers, and we know that so many of our live events depend upon an army of really talented freelancers, who do a whole range of really skilled jobs. Our sectors rely on freelance work more than any other, and I am keenly aware of the financial needs that many have found themselves in. That is why I was really pleased that in his Budget speech the Chancellor extended the self-employed income support scheme, which means an additional 600,000 people can access support on top of those who have already received it. In addition, Arts Council England has so far awarded £51 million to individuals needing support. Those things are important as well, as we try to work our way back.
The Chancellor also announced that the 100% business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure in England has been extended by an additional three months. He has also extended the 5% VAT reduction until 30 September, before then tapering it for the rest of the financial year. It is worth saying that the VAT cut alone is forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility to be worth around £4.7 billion for hospitality and tourism and visitor attractions. A new recovery loan scheme will also be launched to replace the existing Government guarantee schemes that close at the end of March, which have supported £73 billion of lending to date. This will help businesses of all sizes, including in our vital DCMS sectors and numerous live events, to take the next stage of recovery.
A total of £700 million of extra funding to support our world-leading arts, culture and sporting institutions was announced in the Budget, all serving to protect what makes the UK a world-leading destination. The levelling-up fund—45 new town deals and city growth deals in Scotland and Wales—shows how the Government are investing right across our Union.
The Minister is being generous in giving way; I am grateful. I understand that she has to outline the other things that the Government are doing—in another debate, many of us would argue that there are still a lot of gaps and that a lot of people are missing out—but the subject of today’s debate is Government-backed insurance for live events. Just to take her back to that for a moment, I listened to what she said earlier. Some in the creative industries feel that the Government might be delaying an announcement on this because they are going to cherry-pick which sectors they will be prepared to provide some insurance indemnity for eventually, and that the major victim of that will be live music and the festivals sector. That will just be filed in the drawer at the Treasury marked “Too difficult.” Are they wrong in thinking that?
The hon. Gentleman is slightly over-complicating this. I do not think that is the case at all. The film and TV restart scheme was something that many thought would be too difficult, but we were able to do that at pace last year, and by the last quarter of last year we were seeing more film and TV production than virtually any other quarter, so we know that these things can be done despite obstacles.
Also, the hon. Member for Cardiff West must be careful not to brush away the £65 billion-worth of measures announced in the Budget for this year and next, which will support the economy through the pandemic. Those things are literally saving livelihoods every single day, and of course that builds on the existing support already committed, which totalled £353 billion across the economy. The support that has been put in place is world leading and has been vital to the continued survival and recovery of our DCMS sectors. I meet parts of our sectors every week, and they have seen measures such as the furlough scheme and the business support measures as a lifeline allowing their survival.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West talks about bricks and mortar, but it is also about individuals, and there has been a lot of direct support for individuals. At the end of the day, however, the one thing that so many of our great performers, artists and professionals in these sectors want to do is get back to work as quickly as possible. They need to have venues in which to be able to do that. That is why it is important that that support is across the board and why the culture recovery fund has been so successful, with an additional £300 million dedicated to that in the Budget. That is an extension of the original £1.57 billion fund, which is unprecedented. That will safeguard our cultural and heritage organisations, while it also helps support supply chain organisations, which rely so much on them, with supply chain organisations able to apply for both of the rounds so far.
I want to talk a little about the road map and the reopening. The Prime Minister announced the scientific events research programme and a number of hon. Members have asked me about that. It is an integral part of the road map, which will explore how larger events across the cultural and entertainment sectors can reopen safely. Over the spring this will include a series of pilots that will use enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events with larger crowd sizes and reduced social distancing and evaluate the outcomes. The road map sets out the planned caps on capacity for events when they reopen at stage 3, but the findings will come from all different sectors and settings to determine a consistent approach to lifting the restrictions when the time is right.
I am sure I speak for all of us when I say that I cannot wait to have our theatre, sport, festivals, live music venues and events open as soon as possible. As the Chancellor said in his Budget speech, the Government stand ready to do whatever it takes to help our country and our economy recover from the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic.
I rather fancied that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) was hinting, perhaps with tongue in cheek, at my role in events and festivals in the past. I therefore rise to my feet as a former panto dame—I have waited many years to utter those words. When I was in costume, I would have said that it was madness to suggest that I would ever be in the House of Commons to say that.
I thank all who have contributed to this debate. I am more grateful than I can say for their thoughtful contributions, and I am grateful to the Minister, who, within her role, has given us the best answer that she can, but I think it is a moving situation.
I want to touch on several points. In an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, the Minister indicated that she might share the documentation of reasoning with my hon. Friend. May I appeal to her to share it with Members present here today? I say this not as an effort to try to score points, but to see whether we can work together constructively to see how we can get the industry back on its feet. I emphasise the point again that it is an investment that we seek. Money injected into an industry that desperately needs it will be a shot in the arm, and that money will in turn be recycled into not only the national economy, but local economies—a point made eloquently by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely). The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) pointed out that other countries are putting into place such schemes, so I hope that we are on a road map to doing something similar as and when we can, or as soon as possible.
I want to end with this point: at the end of the day, we are all talking about something that is terribly important to the way we live our lives in the UK, because events and festivals brighten up people’s lives and they are fun. God only knows, after the horrific time we have had with the pandemic, we need some fun in this country, and it would make an enormous difference to everyone’s lives.
Finally, Mr Rosindell, apart from thanking your good self—it is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship—I say to the Minister that when we have the Tain highland gathering again, it will be my pleasure to buy her a glass of our excellent local beverage called Glenmorangie.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Government-backed insurance for live events.
Smoke-free Society by 2030
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. I remind hon. Members participating virtually that they are visible at all times to each other and to us here in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered reduced-risk smoking products and proposals for a smoke-free society by 2030.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, albeit from such a long distance. I am pleased to see the Minister there too. At the outset, I declare my interest as an honorary life fellow of Cancer Research UK.
This is not the first occasion on which I have raised the need to pursue the goal of a smoke-free society. I raised it previously in a Westminster Hall debate in 2019. I continue to pursue this issue because the ills of smoking continue to persist and they will continue to trouble our society for many years to come unless we take action now.
Today, I speak with hope. This year, we have an opportunity that we must embrace. Our exit from the European Union has provided us with the opportunity to take control of our own policy to improve public health, to contribute to the Government’s levelling-up agenda and to enhance the United Kingdom’s reputation as a world leader on tobacco harm reduction. The Minister’s Department is currently reviewing the regulations that have in recent years transposed the EU’s tobacco products directive into UK law and the Minister has committed to producing a new tobacco control plan this summer. I hope that in her remarks today she will set out what progress the Department has made in the process and confirm the plan’s anticipated publication date.
Since the last Westminster Hall debate that I secured on this issue in June 2019, the Government have committed to delivering a smoke-free society by 2030. There is no time to waste, and nor should we waste the opportunities that we have this year. The needs of the 7 million people in the UK who, sadly, still smoke must remain at the forefront of our minds. If my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is listening, I am sure he will be pleased to hear, especially in these difficult times, that nothing I propose this morning will require any expenditure by Her Majesty’s Treasury.
It should, of course, go without saying that smoking kills. While the number of people who smoke has fallen in recent years, the problem is still real, and it is a problem that reflects inequalities. We might not all see it in our constituencies, but there are large parts of the country where smoking rates remain troublingly high. The health costs of tobacco consumption fall disproportionately on the poor, ethnic minorities and those suffering from mental health conditions. Disadvantaged communities across the country are being left behind and the inequalities gap is getting worse.
In addition, statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that intention to quit has gone down almost year on year since 2015. Analysis by Cancer Research UK indicates that the Government are not on track to meet the new smoke-free 2030 target. In fact, its modelling predicts that adult smoking prevalence in England will not reach 5% until 2037. The pace of change needs to be around 40% faster than projected to deliver the ambitious target, so now is the time to act. It is time to make use of our newly restored policy making freedoms to make a difference with the forthcoming tobacco control plan.
The Minister’s predecessor closed the last Westminster Hall debate on this issue by saying:
“We will continue to be driven by the evidence.”—[Official Report, 26 June 2019; Vol. 662, c. 335WH.]
I am sure that approach is something that the Minister will be happy to endorse now, and it is something that I believe will set us on the right course to make the difference. Making a difference starts, first, with understanding that the fundamental problem with smoking is the smoke—the combustion. Acknowledging that should be the core principle under which we regulate. While it will always remain the case that smokers should aim to quit completely, if they are unable to do so, there are now many non-combustible alternatives that they can try, which will be less harmful to them.
Secondly, making a difference means that we cannot take our foot off the pedal in introducing further barriers to cigarettes and other combustible tobacco products. I am not generally an advocate for high taxes, but I can see the benefit of using taxation to increase the price gap between combustible and non-combustible products. We must do more to secure our borders to ensure that smugglers from abroad do not profit from health inequalities here.
Thirdly, and most importantly, making a difference means helping smokers who cannot quit smoking to change to something that is less harmful for them than cigarettes—products that are not combustible. The forthcoming tobacco control plan gives us the opportunity to take a fresh look at the new products and innovations in the UK, as well as those that we could have now that we have left the European Union. To make the most of that range of products in a sensible and controlled way calls for the creation of a new, reduced-risk smoking products category, to provide a robust regulatory framework.
It is important that products be regulated and controlled to ensure that they are used in the right way, but they will not be sufficiently effective if we do not get the information about them out to smokers. We have made great progress on tobacco harm reduction over recent years, but both those elements—regulation and information—should be addressed if we are to give ourselves the best chance of reaching the smoke-free 2030 goal.
We have seen great results from e-cigarettes, and Public Health England recently found that in every region of England quit rates involving a vaping product were higher than those for any other method. However, while they have worked for many smokers, e-cigarettes are not a panacea. In fact, nearly half the smokers in Britain have tried vaping, but did not continue. Now the number of vapers is falling, which should be a cause for concern for us all.
There are two measures that the Government can take to address the issue. The first concerns communications. Existing communications are not cutting through. When it published its annual vaping report last month, PHE said:
“Thousands more could have quit except for unfounded safety fears about e-cigarettes.”
Does the Minister agree that we could do better at communicating directly and clearly to smokers the harm reduction benefits of e-cigarettes and, indeed, all reduced-risk alternatives? The Government could, for example, allow the use of cigarette pack inserts or even online communications as ways to reach smokers directly.
The second measure concerns the nicotine level in e-cigarettes. The EU imposed a seemingly arbitrary 20 mg per ml limit on e-cigarettes, under its directive. The fact is that many smokers do not find that sufficiently satisfying to lead them to make a permanent switch away from combustible cigarettes. Now that we have the freedom to do so, we should look at setting our own limit at a level that would make the products more effective.
E-cigarettes will, however, never be the answer for all smokers. Nicotine pouches, which have been on sale in the UK for only a year or so, have rapidly grown in popularity. Around 100,000 people already use them. I understand that a reason for that is the success of point-of-sale advertising and the ability to advertise online. At present the products are not regulated beyond our general consumer protection laws, so they could benefit from being part of a sensible framework.
The use of heated tobacco in the UK continues to grow. Sales increased by 270% in the past year alone. The benefit is that there is still tobacco in the product, but it is not combustible. As I mentioned in the previous debate, 70% of heated tobacco users give up smoking altogether, but at the moment smokers cannot hear about those products, as they can hear about others. That is where smokers could benefit even more from receiving the targeted information that I mentioned earlier, online or from shopkeepers.
Finally, snus is another tobacco product and is currently not legal in the UK owing to a ban imposed by the EU. In Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, which are exempt from the EU ban, the availability of snus has had an enormous positive impact on smoking levels. Lifting the ban would show that our policy is driven by evidence, making the UK the true global leader in tobacco harm reduction. If all these smoke-free products were part of the controlled framework, with the same regulations, we would give smokers the best possible chance of moving away from cigarettes and we would give the country as a whole the best possible chance of achieving a smoke-free 2030.
Before concluding, I must touch on the opportunities that Brexit offers us in tobacco harm reduction. Every two years, we send officials from the Minister’s Department to the conference of parties to the World Health Organisation’s framework convention on tobacco control, a body that has taken positions that run completely counter to our own. Worryingly, just last month the WHO proposed a ban on vaping. The Minister will undoubtedly have noted the remarks of Clive Bates, an expert and the former director of the anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health, who said that that proposal was “irresponsible and bizarre”.
When we have attended the COP before, we have had to conform to the views of the EU grouping. This year, we will be attending, albeit perhaps only virtually, in our own right. This is the opportunity that I urge the Minister to consider. We have a strong story to tell on tobacco harm reduction at home, and we now have the freedom and ability to embrace bold, innovative new policies, such as those I have suggested this morning; so will we simply go along to get along at the COP, or will we do what is right by taking a bold and progressive stance in favour of tobacco harm reduction and proudly defend our own domestic position? I believe there is much that the world can learn from our approach, and I therefore urge the Minister to make the tobacco control plan one that will help us to deliver a smoke-free 2030, and one that we can showcase to the world later this year.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) on the way in which he brought this motion to the House; it is very timely and was very well introduced. I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am the chairman of the Gallaher Trust, a job creation and skills development charity in my constituency, set up after the last tobacco manufacturing plant sadly closed there some years ago.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the point that tobacco harm reduction is a strong story for the United Kingdom to tell. That is a very solid line on which the Minister should listen and respond. I am sure other Members will talk about the opportunities of vaping for small companies, whether they be retail outlets or manufacturing companies in the United Kingdom, and for helping to reduce the harm associated with tobacco. That is a strong piece, and it needs to be looked at. It is challenging, because people just want tobacco usage to end. Of course, anyone who has been a smoker knows that it is just not that simple, and that there have to be harm reduction programmes in place.
I also refer briefly to security and criminality. I have encouraged the Government and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to continue to work closely with the companies at the heart of producing these products. Whether it is the tobacco manufacturers or spin-off companies that develop these products, it is important that we work with credible, accountable companies that can be held to account.
Last year, The House magazine and Dods very kindly helped to sponsor a programme to put out a report called “The Gathering Storm”, published by Japan Tobacco International. It looked at the issues to do with criminality around this entire sector and how the criminals are alive to every opportunity to bite into this, to seize these opportunities and pollute this area. It is absolutely important that the Government are alert to the opportunities that criminals see and face them down bit by bit. The only way they can do that is in conjunction with the large companies that know exactly what they are talking about, that work in and understand this sector and have an interest in protecting legitimate trade, not in promoting illegitimate activity. I hope the Government will put resources in place to assist with that.
Finally, my comments would not be complete if I did not mention the Northern Ireland protocol. You may ask, Mr Rosindell, “How can you bring that into this debate?” Put simply, it is about consumer choice. Companies have already indicated that they cannot bring to Northern Ireland the same products as they can bring to, and make in, the United Kingdom. Consumer choice is not available to the consumer in Northern Ireland, whether it be for actual tobacco products or for spin-off vaping products. They are not going to be available in Northern Ireland because of EU regulations pertaining to, and chaining down, one part of this United Kingdom. It is a disgrace. My message to the Government after every meeting I have with them is to please fix the protocol—fix it and fix it fast, because it is permeating every aspect of life in Northern Ireland.
I will be very brief, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) on securing this debate and on his excellent speech. I fear that it is going to be incredibly difficult to achieve a smoke-free society by 2030. It could be achievable, however, if we embraced vaping far more than we do at present and if we promoted those products as being 95% risk free, as stated by Public Health England, and as being substantially safer than smoking. It is not risk free and people who do not smoke should not vape, but it is absolutely right that we encourage smokers to take up vaping. There are a variety of different, innovative ways to do that, including my right hon. Friend’s suggestion of inserting in cigarette packets a card encouraging the smoker to use a particular vaping product.
Brexit gives us the opportunity to ensure that vaping regulations pertain to vaping. That is not the case at present: they are lumped together with tobacco products, which creates and radiates the fear that vaping is as dangerous as smoking. Too many people in this country feel that there are greater dangers with vaping than actually is the case. Through Government changes to regulations, we can change that and ensure that people who smoke are made aware of the comparative benefits of vaping. Post Brexit, there is a great opportunity to ensure that that happens.
I just want to add a few comments. It is all very well to say that smokers should transfer from cigarettes to vaping, but I have a concern. Although I am encouraged that the number of people quitting cigarettes and turning to vaping products shows that they are more successful than nicotine-replacement therapy, does the Minister agree that we need to ensure that people are not, to use an Ulsterism, jumping from the frying pan into the fire? Does she believe that this has been looked at robustly enough to reach a determination? If cigarettes are harmful, we have to be absolutely sure that vaping is safe as an alternative.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) for securing the debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for their comments. What joins us together is the passion shared across the House. Everyone wants to tackle the harms of smoking. Smoking kills.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West that we have a good story to tell and should not be afraid to tell it. As he is aware, some good work has been done over the past couple of decades to drive smoking rates down. Rates are now at their lowest level, at just over 13% in England. It is one of the public health success stories. However, we have to do more. We cannot be complacent. There is wide variation, and smoking rates remain too high in certain areas of the country.
Like my right hon. Friend, I would look specifically at the levelling-up agenda in deprived areas, among the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and among pregnant women and people with mental health conditions. Our focus on driving down rates across the country must be relentless. We must ensure that they are levelled where they are lowest and that no community gets left behind. The differential between good and poor areas is almost 10 times greater.
Fantastic work is being done to tackle health inequalities in different areas, including recently through the NHS long-term plan with regard to smoking in pregnancy. Its commitment to the maternity transformation fund has provided additional training to give midwives the knowledge, skills and confidence to offer brief advice to women during antenatal appointments, and upskilled practitioners to deliver stop- smoking interventions to those who need help.
The Minister has spoken about having a good story to tell. Is not the take-up of vaping in this country a good story? She will know that we have a very active all-party parliamentary group on vaping. We are about to send her a report—it is currently in draft form—relating to the WHO conference of the parties in November. We took evidence and I wonder whether she agrees that the WHO’s negative view of vaping has been counterproductive. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) said in his excellent speech, its attitude is partly responsible for the downturn in the number of people vaping. Given the level of interest in this debate, does the Minister think we ought to have a longer debate in order to consider these issues more fully?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Given that this is a 30-minute debate and there is a lot of interest in it, I agree that a longer debate might allow us to explore these things. I will comment on COP and the variety of products. We need to use everything in our armoury to encourage people to quit smoking.
We need to help people give up. We are working to ensure that no communities are left behind, as part of the bold ambition to be smoke-free in England by 2030. I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West talk about how we pack a punch in this area, but things will need to be evidence led. We will set out how we will deliver this later in the year, when we publish the new tobacco control plan for England in the summer. He asked me to reconfirm that we are on track for doing that, and I agree with him that it is a stretch to reach our target by 2030.
We know that the best thing a smoker can do is quit altogether. Covid-19 has brought into clearer focus the need for us to care for our health. PHE has issued guidance on the impact of covid-19 on vaping and smoking, and we know that if people smoke, they have an increased risk of contracting a respiratory infection. With covid-19, symptoms can be more severe if people smoke, but the evidence base is mixed.
As I have said, the best thing people can do to improve their health is to quit. However, it remains the goal of the Government to maximise the public health opportunities presented by e-cigarettes to reduce smoking. UK-regulated e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking, but I reiterate that they are not risk free, which I think plays to the comments made by the hon. Member for Strangford.
Research shows that e-cigarettes are effective in helping some smokers to quit, and therefore we need to support them. We will continue to discourage non-smokers from using them, monitor youth uptake and consider tougher regulatory proposals if we see an increase in youth rates.
There are about 3 million people currently using e-cigarettes in Great Britain. Half of those have quit smoking, which indicates that the other half are using them as part of a strategy. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West said, and others have alluded to, it is not a panacea. The UK’s approach to the regulation of e-cigarettes has been, and will remain, pragmatic and evidence based. The current regulatory framework aims to reduce the risk of harm to children, protect against the re-normalisation of tobacco use, provide assurance on safety for users, and provide legal certainty for businesses. We are committed to ensuring that our regulatory framework enables this to continue but does not encourage non-smokers and young people to start taking up the habit.
We made a commitment through the 2017 tobacco control plan to monitor the safety, uptake and impact of the effectiveness of e-cigarettes and other novel nicotine delivery systems—and we have done just that. Public Health England has published a series of evidence reviews which further our understanding of their effectiveness in helping smokers to quit. The latest evidence review was published last month.
In our future tobacco control plan, we will consider further research on other emerging nicotine products that have the potential to help people quit—because there is no such thing as a safe tobacco product and all tobacco is harmful, including smokeless tobacco and other tobacco products that we have discussed today.
No assessment has yet been made of the safety of tobacco-free nicotine pouches. These products are not covered under the tobacco regulatory regulations, but rather the General Product Safety Regulations 2005, and the current numbers are from industry and therefore will need a degree of validation.
There are no plans to go further on snus at the moment because all tobacco products can cause harm. However, we are currently undertaking a post-implementation review on the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 and this is an opportunity for people to feed in and present new evidence for the Department to consider.
Non-nicotine vapes are regulated under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005, and we will review feedback from the post-implementation review if this area needs to be strengthened, including if the products are a health concern. We have paused a further evidence review due to the impact of covid on resources. However, we are looking for people to come forward, and Public Health England will publish its final evidence review, including a chapter on heated tobacco, later this year. The evidence suggests that these products still pose a risk to users, and, compared with e-cigarettes, we know far less about them. As such, we will be following the principle of ensuring that we have a full evidence base.
Under the Northern Ireland protocol, which the hon. Member for North Antrim referred to, things are in equilibrium at the moment. There is no difference. However, under the protocol, Northern Ireland is required to adhere to the EU’s tobacco products directive. We will work in collaboration with the devolved Administrations on matters that are reserved, and, along with that firm evidence, and in the interests of public health, put that forward.
As part of the regulatory review, the Government are undertaking post-implementation reviews. These will assess whether the regulations are meeting their objectives, and if there are gaps that need to be addressed. We have held a public consultation and we will review the responses.
The UK is a global leader and was very grateful to receive an award from the WHO for being instrumental in helping lower middle-income countries to tackle tobacco use. We are determined to tackle smoking and health inequalities both at home and abroad. We will take targeted action to support communities where rates may remain high. I would like to extend my thanks to hon. Members for debating this important subject.
Question put and agreed to.
Outer London Congestion Charge
[Ms Christina Rees in the Chair]
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements.
Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will also be suspensions between each debate. I remind Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive for the start of debates in Westminster Hall. Members are expected to remain for the entire debate. I must also remind Members participating virtually that they will remain visible at all times, both to each other and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerk’s email address. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room. I would also like to remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the proposal for an outer London congestion charge.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I am very grateful to have secured the debate. The Mayor of London’s proposal to charge drivers to enter Greater London would have a catastrophic impact on places like Dartford and all the areas surrounding London. It would also have a detrimental impact on outer London boroughs. Businesses located in outer London boroughs would suffer from people being reluctant to travel the—often short—distance across the border to use that particular business.
That would have an impact on drycleaners, pubs, takeaways, shops, hairdressers and more. Those are the exact same businesses that have been hardest hit as a consequence of covid. The Mayor of London’s financial stability plan, which was published in January, proposes a seven-days-a-week charge of £3.50 for all motorists using a vehicle registered outside Greater London, rising to £5.50 for the most polluting vehicles.
Sadiq Khan is looking at building a literal financial wall between London and its neighbours. The proposal would divide communities and set London against all others. It is a border tax that has been called various things: Checkpoint Chigwell, Labour’s Dartford car tax, and many other things that are unrepeatable in this Chamber.
More than 26,000 people have signed a petition against Labour’s Dartford car tax, and I pay tribute to Tom Oliver and Kyle Stealey in my constituency who have organised that. The Mayor of London claims he needs to do this to offset the fact that Londoners cannot keep the £500 million per year they pay in road tax. However, no other area gets to keep the road tax they pay either. Although it is true that Highways England does not own a great number of roads in London, it does not have many roads in some other areas too; London is not alone in that.
Is the Mayor of London claiming that Londoners do not drive on motorways? Of course they do, and of course those have to be paid for. It is as if the Mayor of London is saying, with this proposal, “Give me even more money, or look what I can do. I can ruin you. I can hit you financially and make you pay if I don’t get my way.” That is effectively what the Mayor of London is saying. This proposal sends out the clear message that far from London being open, as the Mayor claims, it will be very much closed for motorists entering the capital.
It is laudable for any mayor to lobby for more funding, and I fully understand why Sadiq Khan wants to raise more finances. Every mayor around the country is trying to do the same thing, but it should not be attempted on the back of blackmail that says, “Give me money, or I will ruin you.” He is saying, “I will charge you to visit loved ones. I will charge you to drop somebody off at the local railway station. I will charge you to use London’s small businesses, and I will charge you just for driving out of your road.” That is not laudable; it is an abuse of power.
The border around London is not neat, and does not run along major routes. Instead, it straddles residential roads. In Dartford, for example, there are residential roads that are located in Kent and it is not possible to drive out of them without entering the London Borough of Bexley. We have a number of roads like that and there are also roads where the border literally goes down the middle of the road, so someone drives out of the road in Kent and back into it in London. We have a park home situated in Kent, and the only exit from it is in the London Borough of Bexley. Each of those journeys by a motorist would, of course, incur the proposed charge.
Many of my constituents would therefore face paying at least £3.50 a day just to drive out of their own roads. The proposal is for the charge to apply seven days a week, so hundreds of my constituents will pay over £1,200 a year just to be able to drive out of the road where they live: £1,200 a year just to get out of the house. For thousands of others, it would mean a £3.50 charge just to visit loved ones, to drop a child off at school, to visit a hospital, or to go to work. So many frontline workers in London live in neighbouring counties. These are the people who keep London functioning. They too will be hit with this charge.
I would argue that integration along the border between Kent and London is currently excellent, but the Mayor of London wants to change that. He wants to levy a charge on people, yet he is unaccountable to those people. The people who would have to pay the daily charge cannot vote him out or do anything to stop the charge, and he knows it. It is taxation without representation, taxation without accountability, and it needs to be stopped.
Dartford is not part of London. We are proud of our Kentish heritage. Yet many people who are now Dartfordians used to live in London. Many of us commute to London—obviously, I am one of those people. There is a good relationship with London and with the neighbouring counties, but the Mayor of London wants to change that. He wants to set London against its neighbours, but in doing so he damages not just the people who live outside London, but the people who live in London.
Businesses in outer London will see so many of their customers put off spending money at their establishments because it will be too expensive to travel to them. No wonder YouGov found that the majority of Londoners—Londoners—oppose the proposed charge. It is claimed that the opposition to the proposal is timed to marry up with the London mayoral elections. Actually, the proposal’s timing is completely down to the Mayor of London. He decided when to announce the proposal; he is responsible for the timing and he published it in a document just the month before last. So it is hardly surprising that we are having the debate at this time. It is hardly surprising that, come March, we are now talking about the issue.
If the proposal goes ahead, it will have the most profound impact on Dartford of any governmental action. It will be taken by somebody who Dartfordians have absolutely no control over. The London Mayor knows that the ring of seats around London, with the exception of Slough, are Conservative. He also knows that, generally, outer London areas—there are some exceptions—are more likely to vote Conservative than inner London seats. He knows who he is hitting with this idea. It is the most divisive issue ever conceived by a London Mayor and it needs to be stopped. It will have a profound impact, not just on the counties around London, but on the outer London boroughs. It is an abuse of power and it needs to end.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for a superb speech. My constituency is neighbouring his. Although we do not have as extreme a situation, his point that the borders of London are not neat is very apt. That really does reflect the position of many of my constituents. I will read a couple of quotes from emails I have received:
“I have elderly grandparents who reside within Greater London… I often go to their aid, bringing shopping or medication or (before covid) visiting to keep them company.”
“I have relatives in the London Borough of Bexley. I also visit my mother’s grave in Hither Green.”
“Would it also be possible for Adam—
to talk to Kent County Council to charge London motorists to drive on Kent roads?”
As I said, although we do not have the same situation as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford, we have large numbers of people who work in hospitals and travel to large retail in Bexley. We have plenty of people who, as their families have expanded, have moved out of south London into towns such as Gravesend. We have large numbers of building contractors who have no choice but to drive their vans into town. Many of my neighbours work in the hospitality industry and have suffered so badly commercially over the past few months. They drive in and out because they have antisocial hours.
Please will the Minister ask my old friend the Mayor to think again on this? It will cause massive inconvenience and cost huge amounts of money to lots of people here, who are just trying to live their lives and do their jobs.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. Ms Rees. I apologise that I have not been able to log in in the usual manner, so I am using my telephone. Sorry for the sub-optimal reception.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway), I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for raising this issue, and for the leadership he has shown in the strength of the petition that has raised, in Dartford alone, more than 26,000 signatures, as I understand it.
All I want to do is echo the points my two hon. Friends have made. I particularly emphasise the divisive nature of the charge for the community I represent. Banstead, Chipstead, Hooley, Netherne and Woodmansterne tend not to look to the centre of the Borough of Reigate and Banstead, to the towns of Redhill and Reigate. Quite naturally, they tend to look north, to Sutton and Croydon. Indeed, many people in that part of the constituency have grown up with their family and work being located in those boroughs, and have then moved out as time and opportunity have presented themselves, to get out of the centre of Sutton or Croydon. However, their lives and connections very much remain across the London boundary. I have received letters from people whose children’s schools or jobs are affected. In one family, the mother has to cross the boundary every day to take children to school and the father has to cross it every day to go to his job in in Wallington.
People have tended to look to those town centres to shop, or their GP, pharmacy or dentist may be there, and given the pattern of people’s lives many of their relatives are there as well. One family has written to me, having now been alerted to this issue. It is not a charge of £3.50 for the odd day of the year; it is £22.50 every week for both of them. So it is in the order of nearly £45 for them every week, which is an enormous cost to put on people’s lives, simply because they suddenly find themselves adjacent to a boundary. This measure will do profound long-term damage to the relationships of the people who find themselves living just outside the London boundary and it will also do grave damage to the businesses just inside the Greater London boundary that are used by those people.
I urge the Mayor not to proceed down this road and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that he does not do so. This is a singularly bad idea. I realise that the Mayor is in deep trouble because of the nature of the Budget, but that should not be visited in this reckless way on those people who live in the communities neighbouring Greater London.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Rees.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for securing this timely and important debate, and I speak in it as a Member whose constituency is right on the edge of outer London, just inside the boundary.
The proposal by Sadiq Khan to impose an outer London boundary tax is one of the silliest ideas that he has come up with in the past five years. Some of his defenders have said that it is about improving air quality, but that is nonsense. This proposal has absolutely nothing to do with improving air quality.
Transport for London knows where the bad air is in London; indeed, it has published the analysis it made when considering the creation of the ultra-low emission zone some years ago and it is still available for anyone who wishes to see it. That analysis is in the form of a heat map, which shows the bad areas for air quality inside Greater London. Unsurprisingly, they are around central London, around Heathrow airport and on some of the trunk roads into and out of London. Where the bad air demonstrably is not is in outer London.
This proposal is, purely and simply, a revenue-raising exercise. Since the Mayor will aim it squarely at people who do not live inside Greater London and who therefore have no say or vote in the matter, it is—as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford has said—effectively “taxation without representation”. There is a huge democratic deficit here.
However, just because the people forced to pay this charge do not live in Greater London does not mean that it will not have an impact on those who do live inside Greater London. As other hon. Members have said, this proposal would deliver a hammer blow to outer London’s businesses. They rely on suppliers and customers driving in from outside the local area to shop and work, and this measure would jeopardise people’s livelihoods and our recovery from the pandemic.
It is not just those working in or using our local businesses who will be impacted. Those who provide our public services will also be hit; 51% of Metropolitan police officers and 52% of London firefighters live outside the Greater London boundary. They work shifts and often have to drive to work, as do almost 3,000—more than one in five—of the employees of my local NHS trust.
A few weeks ago, I wrote to headteachers in all the schools in my Orpington constituency, to seek their views on the charge and to find out how many of their staff and pupils would be impacted by it. A great many have written back to me, all of them expressing serious concerns about the detrimental impact it would have. A common concern has been the impact it would have on teacher recruitment and retention. One headteacher commented: “For us as a school this equates to 40% of our teaching and leadership staff and 33% of our administrative staff. To penalise staff by imposing a £3.50 daily charge would undoubtedly add financial pressure to individuals, but would also negatively affect recruitment from Greater London boroughs such as Bromley. I honestly believe that if this proposal is to go ahead, it will have a profound effect on recruiting and retaining staff in Greater London boroughs. Some of these staff are young, who took advantage of relatively lower housing costs to purchase outside the Greater London area. For them and others, this additional daily cost will be particularly hard. There is no serious public transport alternative to use, and therefore this will be a severe blow to those who are impacted. It will feel like a tax on work.”
Another observed: “For our full-time staff the additional cost will be like a salary reduction of £1,000 per annum. This will make us less competitive in terms of recruitment relative to schools in Kent and Surrey, or those who have public transport close by. This potentially would result in some families not being able to afford to bring their children into school, some of whom are deemed vulnerable children.”
Finally, I had a letter unprompted from another constituent. It is worth quoting this at length: “I am a teacher. I have taught in Orpington for 22 years. This charge will affect me and other workers every single day. This charge might be appropriate for inner London, where there are alternative means of transport, but that is not true here. We do not have a good, reliable bus service. We do not have the tube. With a newly unemployed husband and a family, this is a cost I just can’t bear and one that is grossly unfair, given the lack of available alternative public transport. I doubt Orpington High Street and the Nugent retail park will survive if shoppers from Swanley, Dartford and other surrounding areas put off by the charge cease to come.”
Sadiq Khan has been Mayor of London for five years, and for most of that time City Hall has been an achievement-free zone. There has been lots of virtue signalling, a good deal of showboating, and lots of finger pointing and blame shifting, but in terms of the core deliverables—building houses, running a transport system and keeping people safe—the past five years have been marked by ignominious failure. One thing that he has said has struck a chord, however. His “London is open” slogan is a sentiment that previously united Londoners and the surrounding areas, but introducing such a proposal shows how empty that slogan is. London is not open if people are taxed whenever they attempt to enter it.
There is no denying that under Sadiq Khan’s leadership, TfL’s debt has risen to record levels, key infrastructure projects have been delayed or cancelled, the delivery of Crossrail has been bungled, and hundreds of millions of pounds of potential income have been thrown away on pet projects. It is simply not acceptable for him to look to recover his losses by imposing a damaging border tax. He should drop this silly proposal immediately. If he refuses, I will call on the Government, in common with colleagues, to remove his power to impose it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on initiating a much-needed debate on the proposed outer London tax. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) on laying out London MPs’ concerns about the impact of any proposed tax being imposed in such a way.
We should be clear about why the tax is being proposed. It is not to clean up the air in London or to make travelling around London any easier—far from it. It has come as a direct result of the Mayor of London’s failure to control TfL’s spending and to balance its books. It is fair to say that TfL’s finances have of course dropped as a result of covid. When TfL’s finances are dependent on fares income, which has fallen by 90%, gaps emerge. It is also fair that the Government have provided grants to enable TfL to continue during the pandemic. As we come out of the pandemic, we will then have to look at what happens going forward.
I and most of my constituents live on the outskirts of London, and we have enjoyed a position whereby waves of immigration have taken place from inner London, to the suburbs and beyond, so families are stretched out across the south-east of England. The reality is that those families want to come together, and not only for family celebrations but for jobs, schooling and other opportunities to get together, and equally for business.
The harsh reality is that over the past few years, businesses in the outer London areas have tended to migrate outside Greater London and set up around the M25. Those businesses have already migrated. If an outer London tax were to be introduced on crossing the Greater London area boundary, the impact would be to encourage even more businesses currently based in outer London to transfer out of London completely. That would have a knock-on effect on business rates income, where business rates continue, and on the number of people coming into London in any case to work. So clearly that would have an impact.
There is another impact. I have Stanmore station in my constituency, which is the terminus of the Jubilee line, and more than 350 vehicles from all over the area use the station car park on a daily basis. Drivers from Bushey, Radlett and other parts of outer London start their journeys into central London from the station. As we know, during the pandemic the view has been that people should work from home where possible, and I predict that in future more people will work from home more often. Preventing people driving to the terminus of the tube network will reduce TfL’s finances still further as we emerge from the pandemic. It is a short-sighted approach. There are, of course, termini outside the Greater London area. The likelihood is that people will drive to those areas in order to get on the tube network and get into central London if they have to, so this is a self-defeating proposition.
We also have those who come to celebrate with their relatives and their religious communities, for example at festival times. They would all be disadvantaged—charged —for the privilege of driving their car into the outskirts of London. All in all, this is a bad idea and one that needs to be roundly defeated.
Of course, the suggestion is that the Mayor of London would love to have the vehicle excise duty retained in London. Just imagine if the west midlands, the north-west of England or any other part of the country said the same thing. Would we then have taxes for London drivers driving outside London, and taxes for those driving into London? It would eventually end up as a cash cow for local authorities. It would not advantage anyone in relation to improving air quality or connectivity.
It is a good idea to have this debate and I hope that the proposal will be dismissed. I hope that the Minister will make it clear in her response that the Government will not allow this tax to be introduced under any circumstances.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on securing this important debate.
As we have heard, the Labour Mayor of London’s plans to charge people to enter the Greater London area by car would be a disaster felt both by those who live just outside the boundary and those who live in communities such as mine, just within it. The Greater London boundary is not a great and obvious spectacle. London is not Las Vegas; there are not roads covering great expanses of nothingness. Motorists do not go through deserts or deserted countryside and suddenly drive up to some great metropolis—suddenly, there they are; they have arrived in London. I am afraid that crossing the border is, frankly, quite underwhelming. Very few people would know or care that they have crossed an arbitrary line that was drawn in 1965.
Carshalton and Wallington sits on the border with Surrey. The two roads leading directly out of my constituency into places such as Woodmansterne and Banstead, and beyond into Reigate, Redhill and Epsom, are not great thoroughfares. There is nothing about them that signals that some great line has been crossed. Indeed, Carshalton Road to the south is fairly narrow, with a few houses dotted along the way down to Woodmansterne, with home on one side of the border and a country lane on the other. It is fairly unassuming.
Under the Mayor of London’s plans, that quiet little spot would suddenly become some kind of outer London checkpoint or toll road. Residents living just on the wrong side of the line would be charged up to £5.50 a day for driving across it. While I am on the subject of the charge, whether we are talking about £3.50 or £5.50 is a moot point, frankly. TfL’s estimate is that up to 82% of the expected revenue would be lost in the overhead and implementation, so there is likely to be pressure to increase the charge from day one in order to make the scheme worthwhile.
Although residents living inside the boundary, such as my constituents, might not be the ones facing the charge, the impact could be equally damaging, not least on family life, as many hon. Friends have said. Like many families, my dad and several of my relatives live just outside the Greater London boundary. Suddenly, they will be charged for crossing the boundary to come and visit. We also need to think about families who rely on another family member for childcare, who could be charged up to £1,000 a year. That is not to mention the hit that it could have on the economy and our public services. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon), 51% of Metropolitan police officers live outside London. Who on earth would pay to cross the border to go shopping in constituencies such as mine when they could look elsewhere in Surrey without being charged at all?
One of the issues that this proposal could end up having the greatest impact on is health. It is fantastic news that the Government have given the go-ahead to a £500 million investment to improve Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals, and to build a new third hospital in Sutton, which will benefit patients not just from Sutton and Merton but from Surrey. However, patients, NHS staff and visitors coming to the new Sutton hospital from Surrey would face a daily charge to cross the boundary. It is no good saying that people will find alternative methods of transport. Public transport between outer London and the home counties is notoriously poor, because TfL and the county councils do not have good working relationships with one another. Bus services from Sutton into Surrey are not nearly frequent enough, and there is absolutely no discussion of funds being used to address that.
There is another weakness shown up in the plans. As my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington pointed out, this is purely a money-making scheme; it is not a green initiative. The idea came from a financial sustainability plan, not an environmental policy announcement. Even if people could afford to go on to a purely electric vehicle, they would not escape the charge. As many colleagues have said, the Mayor of London has said that he will drop the idea if he can retain the £500 million of vehicle excise duty. That demonstrates once again that this is about money, not the environment.
The policy has generated a lot of concern from my constituents. The outer London boundary charge would hit families, the economy and our public services, and would punish not just Londoners this time but those who live just outside the capital too. I am really pleased that our Conservative London Assembly candidate, Neil Garratt, has been supporting Shaun Bailey in opposing this move. I urge the Minister to do all she can to ensure that the Mayor scraps the plan and does not punish Londoners for the cost of Khan.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Rees. We are here today because of the failure to give Transport for London the long-term support it needs to keep London’s public transport financially viable. If it cannot survive financially, public transport in London will grind to a halt, and frankly so will London. The Government’s failure to support the finances is yet another sign that they are ignoring both the needs of hard-working Londoners and the role that London plays in the UK economy.
From scrapping the Government grants in 2015, to trying to scrap free travel for under-18s last year, refusing to devolve train travel to London because the then Transport Secretary did not want it in “the clutches of” a Labour Mayor, or sitting on their hands over Hammersmith bridge, successive Conservative Governments have a long record of simply refusing to give the UK’s capital city the support it needs to keep moving.
London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has not only been standing up for London; he has also been cleaning up the mess left behind by his predecessor, who is now Prime Minister. Because of this funding history created by Conservative Governments, TfL is almost totally reliant on fare sales. I am proud of Sadiq Khan’s record on public transport over the past five years. He not only opposed efforts to cut free travel for under-18s, but has worked to introduce new, cleaner, low-emission buses, to cut the deficit at TfL, and to support much-needed action to clean up toxic air pollution, including here in my constituency.
By the start of 2020, the Sadiq Khan had fixed the financial mess left by his predecessor, who had raised fares in London by 42%. He also inherited a TfL that was making a loss of £1.5 billion on a like-for-like business. He reduced TfL’s operating deficit by 71% and increased its cash balance by 13%, ensuring that it was in a strong financial position prior to the pandemic. That is despite the fact that London was one of the only major cities in the world without a Government grant for day-to-day transport operation. For instance, Madrid gets 47% of its operating income from national and regional subsidies; Singapore gets 56% from Government grants; and Paris gets 16%. As with all the world’s major cities, London’s transport network is vital for key workers and business. It has kept our NHS workers going into work, it has kept supermarkets staffed, and it has kept our city moving.
The pandemic has had the same devastating effect on TfL’s finances as it has had on the failing privatised rail companies, yet the Government immediately bailed out those companies, handing out 18-month support packages to keep rail moving, with next to no strings attached. The same was not done for London, and there is simply no reason why that could not have happened. The Mayor has asked the Government to consider another option for funding London’s transport: to let London keep the £500 million in annual vehicle excise duty, which is spent almost exclusively outside London, but the Government will not countenance that.
Because of the lack of any alternative option, Mayor Khan is proposing a Greater London boundary charge for non-residents, which would apply only to vehicles registered outside Greater London that are driven into the capital. The charge would apply only once a day, when vehicles are driven across the Greater London boundary, and Londoners would not pay. A thorough public consultation process and impact assessment would be required before any charge could be introduced. This would take at least two years, meaning that any new charge would not be levied until after the capital’s recovery from the pandemic.
I accept that this proposal is not ideal and that it is quite a crude measure, but it is better than the impact of public transport in London grinding to a halt; an impact that would be felt not only by all Londoners, but by commuters from the constituencies of the hon. Members who have already spoken. London does not get any income from drivers from outside London who drive into the city. That is despite 1.3 million vehicle trips being made every weekday from outside London into the capital, which is about 25% of all journeys. Around 1 million of these trips are into outer London alone; 80% of car trips from outside London into the capital terminate in outer-London. The majority of those journeys are made by vehicles registered to addresses outside the London boundary, which highlights that drivers from outside London greatly benefit from using the capital’s roads, but without having to contribute to their upkeep.
Initial estimates suggest that such a boundary charge for non-residents, if levied at £3 50 a day and applied only to non-Londoners, could reduce the total number of weekday car trips across the Greater London area by 10% to 15%, and the vast majority would switch to more sustainable modes of transport. You could charge more. For example, £5.50 for the more polluting vehicles—those that do not meet the ultra low emission standard—is a possibility, although I am not proposing that. However, assuming two-way journeys in and out of London, total traffic coming off the road each weekday could reduce trips by around 250,000 to 400,000 vehicles, with the amazing associated air-quality benefits.
In conclusion, all of the UK deserves and should expect decent transport and decent public transport. The more good quality, affordable public transport there is, the less we need to be dependent on the private car, leaving the space available for those for whom a private car journey is the only option.
Public transport has to be paid for somehow. If this scheme goes ahead, I do not think that asking those drivers not paying the London council tax precept to pay a bit more towards the costs of running London’s transport network and contribute to the cost of the congestion and pollution they cause is unreasonable.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Rees. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), who is the first Labour Member of Parliament who has been willing to speak on this issue on behalf of the Mayor of London to give us an alternative perspective. I thank her for that.
I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for bringing this debate this afternoon. It is welcome because many of the issues surrounding the Greater London Authority and, indeed, the Mayor of London are devolved issues. We are often told on the Floor of the House of Commons that we cannot discuss them because they are devolved and that the London Assembly is the place to scrutinise and hold the Mayor accountable. We have seen in places such as Scotland, a one-party state, in Wales, where failure is abject, and now in London that devolution has simply failed. This is another example of that failure. First, the whole system of the GLA is set up so that it is rigged, so that the Labour party has an in-built majority, and secondly, the budget can never go through on a simple vote. The Mayor always gets their own way. It is good that we have the opportunity to raise such issues this afternoon.
Ever since the Mayor was elected five years ago, he has persistently and consistently said, “I need more money,” and has put his hand out to central Government on every single occasion. Threatening to blackmail Londoners, particularly in the outer London boroughs, has been the way he gets his own way. Seeking to have the vehicle excise duty is just crazy. He says he needs £500 million a year, but VED is not a hypothecated tax; it is a tax that pays for the whole country. The point has already been made that many Londoners, including myself and other hon. Members here, drive in other parts of the country. How long is it before we are being asked to pay to drive on motorways outside London?
The whole proposal sets a dangerous precedent, and it is divisive. It has also been said that this is taxation without representation for people outside central London. It is an open secret that Mr Khan does not care about the outer London boroughs. However, he knows that this border tax would fall entirely upon those who live and work on the periphery of the capital; people who, as it has been said, traditionally do not vote for the Labour party or, indeed, for the Labour Mayor. These are the people who will end up paying for the Mayor’s failings and that is simply not fair. Any proposal would be a tax based on a person’s geographical location and not on their ability to pay or as a choice over what they buy. I do not think that this is the progressive taxation that we heard of in the past when Tony Blair was Prime Minister. It is simply an opportunity to grab as much money as possible.
It also is not fair because it discriminates against businesses that are on the other side of a border, rather than competing on an open playing field. They would be unfairly discriminated against and it is simply not fair. Many of my constituents have children who cannot afford to buy properties in the Hendon constituency. That could be attributed to the Mayor and his inability to construct affordable housing in the area, but that is a debate for another day. Many of those people return to their parents, particularly those in the Jewish community, who visit their parents for the Shabbat meal and will, no doubt, be responsible for paying an additional tax to visit their parents. A tax on visiting friends and relatives is unfair and unacceptable.
Those in public services have also been discussed, and teachers are one group that particularly comes to my mind. Many of my teachers actually do not live in the Hendon constituency because of the prohibitive cost of housing, and many live outside the London borough of Barnet. These people, who are on starting salaries of about £25,000, would find that they have to pay this additional tax just to enter their place of work each day. It is simply not fair.
In the past five years, as I have said, the Mayor has consistently said that he wants more money and that he wants the Government to pay for it. The fundamental problem with the tube and TfL is that it needs an alternative funding method. The way that it currently operates does not work. We can look at countries such as France, with the Paris metro, or Singapore, as has been mentioned, and indeed Tokyo, and we can recognise that they have mechanisms in place that allow them to raise revenue to provide services without a disproportionate effect on passengers and without disproportionate costs on people who do not use those same passenger services. We will continue to oppose this. I would certainly join some of my colleagues in calling on the Government to stop the Mayor from implementing such a measure.
I am pleased to be working with colleagues at the London borough of Barnet such as Roberto Weeden-Sanz, who is working to oppose this charge. I hope that in Roberto we have a GLA representative who actually holds the Mayor to account, because thus far we have not had one, and we do need to do that.
It is a pleasure for me to serve under your chairship for the first time, Ms Rees, and I am grateful to the Chairman of Ways and Means for enabling my participation in this important debate this afternoon. I thought the hon. Members for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) and for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) struck the right tone in opening the debate. They engaged constructively, if critically in their case, with the proposals put forward by the Mayor, raising a range of concerns that ought to be taken into account. Indeed, were this measure to be put forward by the Mayor as a formal proposal, it would be subject to extensive consultation, no doubt taking years, rather than weeks and months. Hopefully, if the proposal were to go ahead, it would take into account some of the specific challenges they mention regarding smaller communities, access to which relies on crossing borders between London and neighbouring counties, and the issue of key workers, for whom there would surely have to be some subsidy.
I am afraid that London Conservative colleagues rather gave the game away with their contributions that struck a far more party-political tone. Hats off, though, to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), who managed to remember the name of the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London. I noticed the other London Conservative colleagues did not mention him, presumably because they got the memo that the Conservative party have dropped funding and are not really supporting the dead horse in the two-horse race.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) launched quite a partisan attack on the Mayor of London, asking what he had achieved. I will not try your patience, Chair, by listing all of his achievements, but they include reducing air pollution by a third, starting to build more council homes than any Administration since 1983, putting 1,000 more police officers on the streets to replace those cut by the Conservative Government, and actually investing more in fighting crime than any other Mayor.
The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) decided to flog another dead horse, which was this ridiculous claim that somehow the reason TfL’s finances are in trouble is because of the Mayor’s administration of the finances. In fact, in his first term as Mayor up to 2020, Sadiq Khan reduced the operating deficit of TfL by 71% and increased cash reserves by 13%, while at the same time introducing the popular hopper fare and managing to freeze fares run by TfL. Contrast that with his predecessor, our current Prime Minister, who raised fares by 42%, yet handed over a TfL loss of £1.5 billion a year. So let us not pretend that the financial challenges facing TfL are not mostly as a direct result of the pandemic, where we saw costs to TfL of up to £600 million a month during the height of the pandemic, fare income falling by 90%, and we will see ongoing long-tail challenges as a result of the pandemic. That is really what is going on here. The ludicrous charge that somehow this is because of decisions taken by the current mayor, and that is why TfL is facing financial difficulty, is just nonsensical.
We heard from the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) the bizarre idea that decision making is rigged. It should not have to be explained to politicians: if they do not like the fact that we have a Labour Mayor and a Labour-dominated Assembly, they should be better and win elections. Goodness knows from the Opposition Benches that we are having to learn that lesson the hard way nationally. I am afraid that really is the case: if politicians want to run London, they should win elections by putting forward better candidates and making better arguments.
I am afraid that appeals to the Minister that if London Conservatives or neighbouring Conservatives do not get their way, the Government should intervene and stop the decision of the Mayor of London, are not the way to go. Again, we cannot devolve power. That cuts both ways: there are plenty of places where there are Conservatives in Government, or the SNP north of the border, and where they make decisions all the time that we do not necessarily agree with, but I would absolutely defend the right of people in local government or devolved Governments to make decisions on behalf of their communities.
In my remaining minute or so, I want to make a broader appeal, which is a hard thing to achieve when there are elections looming. As MPs across London and the south-east, we need to have a better-quality conversation about what we do about the finances of Transport for London and the relationship between London and the south-east and the rest of the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) mentioned, London is one of the only major cities in the world that does not have any kind of direct operating grant from central Government. We recognise that the Government have provided some funding and support to TfL during the pandemic, but we should all recognise that there are significant strings attached. It was a genuine mistake by the previous Mayor of London to negotiate away TfL’s direct operating grant. That left £700 million out of TfL’s finances—a 40% reduction in external funding. That decision ought to be revisited, if nothing else but for the period in the years immediately after the pandemic, because it is clearly going to take TfL’s finances some time to recover.
The final point I want to make by way of appeal—I am sure hon. Members have heard this in debates in the Chamber and Westminster Hall—is that there is an increasing anti-London and the south-east sentiment. Often it is characterised as an anti-London sentiment, but I think Members from across the south-east would recognise this too. If we are going to level up in this country, and I absolutely believe that we must and should, that means levelling up, not doing down, the beating heart of the UK economy, which is London and the south-east. If our economy is going to bounce back, it relies on the economic strength of London and the south-east.
Of course we want to see prosperity shared, of course we want to see opportunity enjoyed right across the country, and of course we need to make sure that communities across the rest of the south, the midlands, the north and, indeed, Scotland and Wales also receive their fair share of support and investment and are equipped to grow their economies in order to make a greater net contribution to UK plc overall. If levelling up for others means levelling down for London and the south-east, however, that would be an extraordinary act of self-harm to the UK’s economy on the part of the UK Government. It would be a terrible mistake.
We have to view some of the challenges in that national context, recognising that it is not always easy when we have a Mayor from one party and a Government of a different party, but if we are going to genuinely build back better, and build back a fairer, more prosperous country in the aftermath of this pandemic, the national success will be heavily reliant on the success of London and the south-east. That is why I appeal directly to the Minister in the hope that we can have a more constructive discussion between central Government and the Mayor of London, so that we can avoid some of the challenges that colleagues, particularly those from Kent, have raised this afternoon, but also make sure that we are building a stronger and fairer United Kingdom in the aftermath of the pandemic—driven by London, but with London not being the sole beneficiary.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Rees, and I thank the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) for securing this timely debate. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), who exposed the real situation and raised genuine concerns about air cleanliness and air quality, and my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who laid bare the facts of what is really a Tory transport delusion.
I note that the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) said that London’s electoral system is rigged in favour of Labour. The two terms served there by our current Prime Minister might point in the opposite direction. Indeed, TfL’s financial woes began under that previous Mayor of London. Perhaps the issue is that the current Tory candidate is about to get crushed in the upcoming election.
I would like to thank the hon. Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) who showed his fantastic choice of tie and Windsor knot skills. Unfortunately, he shed very little light on the facts of the debate. The hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), as a military man, will surely see this debacle from the Department for Transport and the Government for what it is: a political improvised explosive device designed to blow up the Mayor of London.
What we have heard today is nothing more than a highly politicised attack on the Mayor of London, just weeks before the mayoral election. Far from being wasteful, the Mayor has been held over a barrel by the Government and forced to consider any and every option left available in order to keep afloat one of the world’s greatest transport networks. The fact that it has reached this point is frankly shameful.
I hope we will hear from the Minister whether the Government will finally give a long-term funding commitment to TfL, or keep stringing it along with piecemeal funding that serves only to kick the can down the road until a meaningful agreement is reached. Perhaps that is why so many Conservative MPs are here today. Perhaps they, too, would like to see the Government do the right thing, rather than simply using the Government’s chronic underfunding of TfL in the middle of a pandemic as a stick to beat the London Mayor with.
I will address some of the fundamentally misleading statements that we have heard today. First, the proposal for an outer London congestion charge is far from set in stone. TfL is currently in the process of carrying out an early feasibility study; no decisions have yet been taken to implement the charge. If a decision were taken to pursue the idea, clearly an extensive public consultation and detailed economic and environmental impact assessments would have to be undertaken.
It is clear at the moment that the key issue we want to focus on is a long-term funding deal for TfL, which would mean such options would not need to be considered. That is perhaps something on which we could all agree. I again point out that there would be no need whatsoever for a Greater London boundary charge if the Government supported the calls from the Mayor of London to allow the capital to keep its share of the vehicle excise duty, which is roughly £500 million a year.
If we gave TfL the level of revenue in capital funding it had for the first 20 years of its existence, that would be a game changer. Let us not forget that it is the current Prime Minister, the previous Mayor of London, who negotiated away the direct operating subsidy in 2015. That ensured that the brutal austerity measures of the then Chancellor George Osborne, inflicted on councils and the rest of the public sector from 2010, were also applied to Transport for London, literally robbing our country’s transport Crown jewels in front of the eyes of Londoners.
Let us focus on vehicle excise duty for a moment. Every year, Londoners pay £500 million in VED, money which is spent almost exclusively on roads outside of London. We, therefore, have the nonsensical situation whereby road maintenance in London is in effect subsidised by people using public transport. To put that another way, tube users pay for car drivers. I would like to know if the Minister agrees that City Hall should be allowed to keep the VED.
Will the hon. Gentleman concede that people do not just use one mode of transport? Car drivers also walk, cycle and use public transport, so they pay into the public transport system. The idea that car drivers are being subsidised by public transport users is further undermined by more than a £1 billion of subsidy that Transport for London puts into the bus system and the other concessionary fares. Would he concede that that statement, which is often used and comes directly from City Hall, is misleading and wrong?
I think of lot of Londoners will disagree. Their money is spent elsewhere in the country. As I have said in the Chamber before, it would be good to see an agenda not of levelling down London, but genuinely levelling up the rest of the country’s transport networks, as needs to happen. As I was saying, I would like to hear whether the Minister agrees that City Hall should be allowed to keep that VED, which is paid by Londoners, so that it can be spent on their transport system. That seems only fair, given that London contributes over £40 billion net to Treasury coffers every single year.
Does the Minister agree that allowing London to keep its share of VED, so that TfL can invest in London’s roads and public transport services, is actually a very reasonable request, not least given the fact that the Conservative party at City Hall has supported that very position in a cross-party letter? Indeed, the hon. Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon is on the record as having previously supported that position.
The letter to which the hon. Gentleman refers was written before this proposal was put in place, and this is not an either/or question. The Mayor of London is throwing up smoke and mirrors by saying that either vehicle excise duty is devolved or there is an outer-London charge. That is not the case at all. As chairman of the cross-party budget committee, I was obliged to sign that letter because the majority of the committee said that they wanted vehicle excise duty to be devolved, but that was before the Mayor of London called for this, so the two things are not related at all.
The point still stands that vehicle excise duty could be an answer to TfL’s financial woes; or, indeed, the Government could reach into their pockets and give our country support, bearing in mind what we have said about that £40 billion. When London does well, the entire country does well. If we can boost our economy and come out of this awful pandemic, London succeeding will also help millions of other people across the country to succeed as well.
As I have already made clear, no decisions have been taken on this scheme. In fact, no scheme has even been designed. Let us be clear: no scheme whatsoever has been designed and no decisions have been taken on the charge level, exemptions or hours of operation. As we all know, with the election just weeks away, Conservative Members here today are doing their best to whip up this issue and spread fake news. Londoners—in fact, their own constituents—deserve far better.
Let us talk about the facts. Every weekday, 1.3 million vehicle trips are made from outside London to the capital, burdening local communities with traffic and emissions. Of those 1.3 million vehicle trips, around 1 million are made to outer London. TfL informs me that prior to the pandemic, car journeys made by residents within outer London had been in decline in recent years, whereas car journeys to outer London from outside the boundary—in other words, by non-London residents—had been increasing over the same period.
What this all comes down to is the more fundamental choices about what has to be done. Do we all want a well-funded public transport system, with a diverse range of income streams so that it is not entirely reliant on fares, or do we think that it is acceptable to cut services, because otherwise that is where we are headed? Cutting services at a time when we are trying to incentivise people back to using public transport, as they return to work after having their vaccination and the economy begins to move again, would be completely and utterly counterproductive.
When it is safe to do so, we want people to enjoy everything that our capital has to offer. However, if they think that they will be packed in like sardines and that passengers will be rammed in—perhaps from Newbury Park in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North, as I have experienced many times—they will not want to get on tubes or buses. They did not like that pre-pandemic and they certainly will not like it now.
I have also heard the argument that if fewer people are travelling because they are working from home, we should put up fares. That is clearly the preference of the Transport Secretary, who forced the Mayor of London to increase fares this year in order to access emergency financial support. The rest of us know, however, that if we price people off the public transport network, we run the risk of forcing them to use cars.
I also find it interesting to hear Tory MPs express outrage today, given what their own Transport Secretary said just last September, in a letter he sent to the Mayor of London:
“Given the significant rise in congestion in inner London, we also propose the extension of the central London congestion charging zone to cover the same area as the Ultra Low Emission Zone…and at the same time, October 2021.”
That would have been an extreme and unacceptable proposal, on the basis of what colleagues have said here today. It would also have meant that every journey within the huge area bounded by the north and south circular roads would have cost £15, in addition to the expanded ULEZ charge coming in from October this year, and all at a time when families and small businesses are still reeling from the covid crisis.
It was clearly totally wrong to suggest hitting Londoners with such an increase in charges, just as we are, hopefully, recovering from a pandemic. That is why the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was right to reject it and right to stand up for Londoners. I stress again that even if a decision were taken to proceed with a Greater London boundary charge for non-London residents, it would take at least two years to implement. It is a last-ditch option, forced on TfL by the Government’s failure to provide long-term funding, which is the key issue.
Let me turn to a point I made earlier on the real reason for TfL’s current predicament. It was a Conservative Government under Chancellor George Osborne and the current Prime Minister, when he was Mayor of London, who agreed to the withdrawal of the direct operating grant. The then Mayor’s decision meant that the network became almost completely reliant on fare revenue, unlike comparable transport authorities in any other global city across the western world. When fares subsequently slumped because the covid lockdown meant no one was travelling, TfL’s income collapsed almost overnight. It is thanks to Conservative decisions in the past that TfL is left between a rock and a hard place, with no easy choices for the Mayor and TfL, having to fix the Tories’ mess and raise the vast amount of money required to make up that shortfall.
To add insult to injury, it is yet again a Conservative Government who are more determined than ever to force through a new era of cuts and the retrenchment of transport in the capital. That is unacceptable. The Mayor, TfL and businesses are united in knowing that would be completely counterproductive. Our capital city, whose economic contribution benefits the rest of the country immensely, is so much more dependent on public transport than elsewhere in the country.
The Government hold all the cards here. On behalf of all Londoners, I urge them to once and for all stop the politicking, put their hands in their pockets, properly fund our capital’s public transport network and allow London to keep its share of VED. If the Government fail to act, my advice to Conservative MPs here today and colleagues across London, including those who have spoken, is to direct their anger to the Transport Secretary and this Government. It is they alone who should carry the can. I have not heard one single word from them about an alternative. Their silence speaks volumes. London deserves better; indeed, Britain deserves an awful lot better.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I heartily congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) on securing this important debate. He and many other hon. Friends have put on the record their concerns at the Mayor of London’s plans to introduce a border tax for people and businesses travelling into the capital. We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Gravesham (Adam Holloway), for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), for Orpington (Gareth Bacon), for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and for Hendon (Dr Offord), so we have a very good sense of the widespread impact of the concerns about this proposal.
The debate, rightly, has focused on the Mayor’s border tax. I will come to that in a moment, but behind this question lies a deeper concern that has been highlighted by many contributors, about the state of TfL’s finances, which brought us to this predicament. Let me say straight away that I do not doubt the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on TfL’s finances over the last year. I doubt any transport system in the world has emerged from the last 12 months unscathed, as people rightly heeded the Government’s calls to stay at home and the capital’s streets emptied. That is precisely why the Government have stepped in to help.
In May 2020, the Government agreed to support TfL with a funding settlement worth up to £1.6 billion. Following that, we agreed another settlement in October 2020, bringing the total value of financial support for TfL to more than £3 billion since the pandemic began.
It is worth pausing on that figure of £3 billion. The hon. Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry) bemoaned the lack of a sustainable, long-term strategy. Three billion pounds has been provided to support TfL. It was confirmed in a statement to the House on Monday that this support would, once again, be extended, until May. I remind the hon. Gentleman that discussions are ongoing, to meet the exact call that he made—to put TfL’s finances on a sustainable footing for the long term. When we know how passengers are responding to the Prime Minister’s road map to safely unlock our economy, we can continue to work with TfL, as we have been doing throughout the pandemic, to once again explore what support it needs.
The issue, however, is that even before the pandemic, TfL’s finances were in a perilous state. As many of my hon. Friends have rightly said, years of mismanagement under the current Mayor left TfL completely unable to cope when the pandemic hit. By April this year, TfL expects its debt to reach £13.1 billion. The Mayor pursued ill-conceived policies designed to re-elect him, not to do what was right by Londoners. His fare freeze, which he was warned would have a devastating impact, has cost at least £640 million. The Mayor has failed to get a grip on pensions or excessive salaries. In short, TfL’s finances are out of control and we must tackle that, because people living outside the capital cannot be expected to keep picking up the tab for Sadiq Khan’s mistakes.
Unfortunately, rather than facing up to some of the difficult choices that need to be made to get TfL back on the path to financial sustainability, the Mayor has responded with politicking and measures that will punish working Londoners and their closest neighbours alike. Mayor Khan is increasing council tax by almost 10%. That means that the average band D property is now facing a council tax bill that is £31 more expensive than a year ago.
The other deeply concerning suggestion from the Mayor is that he might seek to introduce the so-called border tax that we have heard about today, which is a charge of at least £3.50 for every single vehicle that crosses into London. The Mayor seems to believe that London exists as an island, disconnected from the rest of the country. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Just as London is critical to the success of the country, so the success of London is fed by countless thousands of individuals who commute to London from outside its boundaries.
An estimated 1.3 million vehicle journeys are made into London every weekday. Critical workers travel into the capital from the constituencies mentioned today, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford, to work in London’s hospitals, supermarkets and schools. These are the people who the Mayor proposes to punish for his financial ineptitude during his time in office. It is important not to underestimate the impact that such a border tax could have. A driver who travels into London every weekday could face a bill of almost £1,000 a year—devastating at a time when people and businesses are trying to recover from one of the worst economic downturns of the past century.
This would be a border tax levied on people outside London by a Mayor they were not able to vote for or, indeed, vote out. I am a firm believer that there should be no taxation without representation, as such a move would fly in the face of the Mayor’s supposed mantra that London is open. For that reason, I put it on the record that this is an idea that the Government do not support.
Under Sadiq Khan’s leadership, TfL’s debt has risen, projects have been delayed and income has been thrown away on pet projects. It is unacceptable that the Mayor will now seek to recover the money that these failures have lost by introducing a deeply damaging border tax on families and businesses surrounding London. I once again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford for securing this debate and giving his constituents a voice in this House. As families and businesses rebuild, we need a Mayor of London who will support them by getting London’s finances back on the path of sustainability and who will stop threatening measures that could set London and, indeed, the rest of the UK back by decades.
My thanks to you, Ms Rees, for chairing this debate. May I also thank everybody who has contributed? It has been a constructive debate, with much of it centring on whether or not TfL and the Mayor of London are properly financed. Even if one concedes—which I do not—that they are not properly financed, this is not the right route to go down in order to raise funding. It is hugely divisive. It sets community against community and sets London against the others. It will create a literal financial wall right around London’s border. It is totally wrong.
If this policy is implemented, I wish businesses and public sector organisations in the outer London boroughs good luck in recruiting staff. We need to do everything we can to prevent it from being implemented. Raising revenue from people whom to whom the Mayor is totally unaccountably is the wrong way to raise taxation. It is taxation without representation; it is taxation without accountability.
That is why it is a fundamentally poor policy that has been ill thought through and will be devastating to my constituents and to ordinary people in Dartford and around the south-east who are just going about their daily business, going into London to visit friends and loved ones and to work and shop. Those are the people who will be hardest hit by this proposed charge, and that is why it is fundamentally wrong.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the proposal for an outer London congestion charge.
Battle of Barnet: 550th Anniversary
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the 550th anniversary of the Battle of Barnet 1471.
Before turning to the subject of the debate, I want to acknowledge that this is a very difficult and sad day for our country. My support and sympathy go to everyone who has lost loved ones, suffered illness or had their livelihood damaged by this yearlong health emergency. Let us hope that the vaccination programme means that better days lie ahead.
At around 5 am on 14 April 1471, battle was joined between the forces of York and Lancaster just north of the village of Barnet, in one of the most decisive battles of the 30-year conflict that later became known as the wars of the roses. At the head of the Yorkist army was King Edward IV. Over six feet tall, handsome, athletic and astute, Edward had assumed the leadership of the Yorkist cause at just 18 years old when his father was killed in a skirmish outside Wakefield. The teenage warrior emerged victorious at Towton in one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on English soil, and he successfully established a new dynasty. Leading for Lancaster was Edward’s former friend and mentor, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick—a man so powerful in the dynastic struggles of the time that he earned the name kingmaker. Warwick had displaced Edward from his throne the previous year.
Three kings were on the field that day, the last of a 300-year line of Plantagenet monarchs: first, Edward IV; secondly, his prisoner, the deposed Henry VI; and thirdly, Edward’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who would one day seize power and provoke 500 years of debate on his character and alleged crimes. The stakes could not have been higher for the men peering through the mist at one another that Easter Sunday morning 550 years ago. George R. R. Martin’s character, Cersei Lannister, once said, “If you play the game of thrones and lose, you die.” Well, as the banner created by Barnet Museum aptly put it, the battle of Barnet was part of “the real game of thrones”.
Defeat almost certainly meant death for those leading the armies facing off against one another that day back in 1471. The two sides were relatively evenly matched in numbers. Initially, neither seemed to have the upper hand. Because of the thick fog, however, the two sides were not directly aligned in front of one another at the start of the battle, as would normally be the case. Lancastrian forces under the Earl of Oxford stretched further to the east than the Yorkist troops at Edward’s left, led by Lord Hastings. That enabled Oxford’s forces to attack from the side, partly encircling the Yorkist left flank and forcing them back down the road to Barnet.
When Oxford and his troops returned to the battle, the two sides had shifted around from a north-south to an east-west axis. Unknowingly, he therefore arrived behind the rest of the Lancastrian army rather than alongside them. Mistaking their allies for the enemy, possibly because the fog made it hard to distinguish Oxford’s star banner from Edward’s sun in splendour, or perhaps because they assumed Oxford had switched sides, as so many did in that conflict, the Lancastrian archers fired on Oxford’s men. Believing they had been betrayed, they fled the field. By 8 am, Warwick was dead and the victory belonged to York.
There are many reasons why it is worth remembering these events as we approach the 550th anniversary of the battle on 14 April; not only because as many as 4,000 might have lost their lives that day, but because this was a significant turning point. It was probably the first battle in Britain to see extensive use of handguns. More importantly, it is worth considering what might have happened if the result had gone the other way. Defeat in Barnet and the consequent early demise of the house of York could have seen progress stopped or reversed on Edward IV’s efforts to build a modern state and curb the power of magnates. Although the reforms are generally credited to the Tudors, the transition began under Edward of York. If the difference between the middle ages and the modern era is reining in the power of the nobility and banning their private armies, there could be few more important turning points for achieving that than defeating Warwick—the most overmighty subject of them all—on the battlefield.
However, I am pleased to say that the most important reason to mark the anniversary is to promote my constituency of Chipping Barnet and encourage people to visit our local town centre. This is the only registered battlefield that people can get to by tube; the only one within the Greater London area. Between 2015 and 2017, Glenn Foard and Sam Wilson ran a project for the University of Huddersfield to try to identify the exact location of the battle. Dr Foard found the real site of Bosworth and the burial place of the King under the car park. His theory is that the battle may have taken place slightly further north, towards the Wrotham Park estate, rather than in the Hadley Green, Old Fold and Hadley Highstone area, which is the registered site.
The Huddersfield University work was made possible by the Hadley Trust, a local charity, for which I am very grateful. It included metal detecting, test pitting, geophysical surveys and landscape archaeology. Many local volunteers got involved and gave a hand. The results of the project were inconclusive, but I have to acknowledge that there is some anxiety that the eventual outcome might be that London loses its only registered battlefield. However, even if the main centre of the fighting turns out to have been not in my constituency but in that of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden), further up the road to Potters Bar, contemporary accounts confirm that fighting extended back towards Barnet, so my constituency is likely to remain the site of at least part of the battlefield, even if these latest theories on location ultimately prove to be correct.
Once life returns to normal, I warmly encourage people to walk around what is traditionally recognised as the battle site. I am less sure of the extent of public access to the Wrotham Park alternative. Hopefully, in doing so, visitors will take the time to stop off at some of Barnet’s excellent hospitality businesses, as indeed some of the victorious Yorkist troops apparently did after the battle. I very much hope that Barnet’s pubs, restaurants and cafés will soon be allowed to open once again, as planned in the road map. Even before covid, our local town centres across the country had had a tough time, as competition from online retail giants intensified. But high streets, as all of us in the House know, are a crucial part of our communities and we must find ways to ensure that they survive. That is one reason why I have campaigned for many years for a reduction in and reform of business rates. I welcome the continuation of the business rates holiday confirmed in the Budget.
Heritage-related tourism can also play an important part in helping our high streets thrive. I am delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund gave a grant of £98,600 to the Battle of Barnet project in 2015. This was run by the Barnet Museum, the Barnet Society and the Battlefields Trust. The Chipping Barnet Town Team was also very supportive and got involved. I thank all those groups for their excellent work. The project included a range of activities that have generated local interest in history and heritage.
There was extensive engagement with local schools. For example, Barnet Museum created a loan box full of medieval replicas, maps, pictures and a teacher’s pack telling the story of the battle and suggesting activities and events to inspire an interest in our town’s medieval past. Museum volunteers also painted copies of the family banners of the people who fought at Barnet. Following the lead set by Tewkesbury, the site of the battle to which Edward IV hastened after winning at Barnet, these banners were hung on lamp posts in Barnet High Street and are due to be back up soon to mark the anniversary. Such efforts can make a real difference to bringing people to their local town centre and I thank all the volunteers at the Barnet Museum and local history society for creating them. Thanks must also go to Bouygues, which owns the street lights and put up the banners.
However, the biggest and best event hosted by the Battle of Barnet project was the 2018 Barnet medieval festival. Around 6,500 attended the festival during the two days it ran, and over 100 took part in re-enactments of the second battle of St Albans and, of course, the battle of Barnet. There were tents and stalls that enabled people to understand more about how ordinary people lived in medieval England. The festival’s activities for children were especially popular, although I have to say that BBC London’s TV coverage did feature some rather alarmingly bloodthirsty comments from some of the younger participants in the mock battles that day. I was excited to be allowed to fire off a replica cannon as part of the opening ceremony—it was very, very loud. It was one of the best days out I have ever had in my constituency, and it was a brilliant way to bring people together.
Sadly, last year’s festival was cancelled because of covid, but I hope that this year’s will go ahead on 11 and 12 September. I strongly urge anyone who wants to make it happen to donate to the festival’s Spacehive appeal, at www.spacehive.com/battle-barnet-550. If the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has any spare resources, it is a great cause to support. I make the same appeal to the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Its grant for the 2018 event was a massive success, and I am sure that it would be replicated if further funding were forthcoming for this year’s festival.
I will also take this opportunity to reiterate my call for Government support for pandemic insurance for festivals and events, which I gather was discussed here this morning. Many of those trying to put on events and festivals are finding it difficult or impossible to get insured. We risk a further summer of cancellations if the problem is not solved, so I urge the Minister—as I have done many times already—to offer the same kind of support to festivals and events as her Department has already given to the TV sector. For the sake of economic recovery, to signal that the UK is open for business again this summer, and to enable families to have some fun and memorable days out after the toughest 12 months any of us can remember, will the Government please say yes to a pandemic insurance scheme?
In conclusion, I will return to the battle itself. As well as its historic importance, the 550th anniversary of the battle is an opportunity to reflect on its cultural significance. I have already referred to the influence of the wars of the roses on “Game of Thrones”, in which the struggle between Stark and Lannister bears a number of striking similarities to the 15th century contest between York and Lancaster. Philippa Gregory has also brought the story of the brief tenure of the charismatic Yorkist dynasty vividly to life in her remarkable historical novels, which have enjoyed such massive success. One of my personal favourites is “The White Queen”, which tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville, who waited anxiously back in London just a few miles away for news of whether her husband had triumphed or perished in Barnet.
It is Shakespeare, of course, who gives the battle of Barnet its most enduring place in our literature and culture, so I will close my remarks today with words that our nation’s greatest poet placed in the mouth of a man dying in a field near Barnet 550 years ago; one who is memorialised in Hadley Highstone in my constituency and is forever known to history as the kingmaker:
“These eyes, that now are dimmed with death’s black veil,
Have been as piercing as the midday sun,
To search the secret treasons of the world:
The wrinkles in my brows, now fill’d with blood,
Were likened oft to kingly sepulchres;
For who liv’d king, but I could dig his grave?
And who durst smile when Warwick bent his brow?
Lo! Now my glory smear’d in dust and blood;
My parks, my walks, my manors that I had,
Even now forsake me; and, of all my lands
Is nothing left me but my body’s length.
Why, what is pomp, rule, reign, but earth and dust?
And, live we how we can, yet die we must.”
It is a great pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Ms Rees. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) for securing this fascinating debate. We have been all over the place, from “Game of Thrones” to Shakespeare, and she has entertained and educated us.
As my right hon. Friend says, we should recognise that this is a very sad anniversary. It is one year since the lockdown started. So many lives have been lost, and so many of us over the period have lost the things we hold dear—the chance to see our friends and loved ones, and to attend the events that we love. This year has also driven us to appreciate more than ever the things that we appreciate in life and the things that bring us together as a community—our sense of togetherness, and our shared history and heritage. Those are the things that unite us.
As the Minister responsible for heritage, I am heartened to see the passion and vigour that our nation’s history evokes. There is absolutely no disputing that the battle of Barnet was one of the most significant and important battles of the wars of the roses. It was a very important moment in English history, when King Edward IV was restored to the throne. I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for bringing it to life for us today with so much vigour and passion.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that such events have shaped our national story. The 550th anniversary of the battle of Barnet serves as a perfect opportunity to reflect on our past and engage our communities in a way that fosters a sense of pride, shared history and belonging. As she said, it is a way to reinvigorate our towns and village centres, which have suffered so much over the past year. It is an opportunity to inspire our youngsters in our schools and colleges, and it will potentially inspire some historians of the future.
Barnet’s medieval festival is a perfect example of that, and I am sure it will deliver on those aims. It will mark the prestigious anniversary with a special programme of battle re-enactments, gunnery and archery displays, living history encampments, music, dance, a medieval market and children’s activities. I cannot think of a better way to spend an afternoon—I quite fancy having a go at firing a cannon myself, I have to say. Having been delayed by the coronavirus, the festival is now due to take place in September, and I think it will be an absolutely resounding success. It is the sort of event that we have all be desperate for over these past months.
The Battle of Barnet project, as my right hon. Friend says, serves as a shining example of how, more than half a millennium later, our nation’s history can really be used to enrich the lives of the local community. Running from 2015 to 2019, managed by the Barnet Museum, the Barnet Society and the Battlefields Trust, it sought to improve knowledge and understanding through archaeological surveys of the battlefield, in conjunction with the University of Huddersfield. It is such fascinating work.
The National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of more than £98,000, awarded in 2016, also helped to engage audiences of all ages across the local community, as my right hon. Friend pointed out. It developed a wide range of initiatives. Barnet High Street was enriched with information boards about the battle. My right hon. Friend talked about the heraldic banners, which must have been quite a sight. It is so important to have a greater understanding of the past, and that was fostered through the school activity packs, the medieval replicas, the maps, the pictures, the teachers’ pack, and the publication of a free leaflet, highlighting locations around Barnet relating to the battlefield. That brings it all to life in a spectacular way. The medieval festival attracted several thousand attendees and proved to be a huge success. The festival has been repeated in subsequent years independently of Lottery funding, such was its success.
This anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of our historical environment. Battlefields such as that in Barnet provide such an important anchor to the evolution of our country and they provide an important reminder of our past as well. Their conservation is therefore integral, for research purposes, to improving our understanding and appreciation of our heritage. The significance of these sites is highlighted by the inclusion of some of the most significant examples in Historic England’s register of historic battlefields. There are currently 47 registered battlefields, including the site of the battle of Barnet, and these sites are conserved through the planning system. I am pleased to see that the overwhelming majority of our registered battlefields, Barnet included, are still in excellent condition.
Like my right hon. Friend, I eagerly await the return of public events such as Barnet’s medieval festival, which contribute so much to our lives through celebrating our culture and heritage. We know that our first priority at the moment must be public safety. However, in February the Government published a road map that aims to provide some clarity to event organisers as restrictions are eased, and that seeks to balance that key social and economic priority while preserving the health and safety of our country.
Crucially, the road map focuses on data, not dates. Alongside this, and to back it up and help move it forward, the Prime Minister has announced some scientific events research programmes, which are an integral part of the road map and will explore how these kinds of events, across the culture and entertainment sectors, can reopen safely. Over the spring, to support this, we will be including a series of pilots using the enhanced testing approach as another measure to run events with large crowd sizes and reduced social distancing, to really prove the fact that they can return. My sincere hope is that, come September, the Barnet medieval festival and similar events right across the country will be able to go ahead as planned. With infection rates falling and now well over 27 million people vaccinated, there is cause for great optimism in our country.
My right hon. Friend spoke about indemnity. The Government acknowledge that the circumstances of the pandemic have left many unable to have the confidence and certainty they need to plan for events. We have been engaging with stakeholders in my office right throughout the period to understand the issues. The potential challenges around indemnity are a very big part of that.
We know that progress on the vaccine and beating the virus are crucial and this, combined with reopening only when we know it is safe to do so, will reduce the chances of cancellations and interruption. That will create a much more predictable and secure operating context for these sorts of events. Any decision about indemnity alongside that will be taken by the Treasury, which I know is keeping the situation under review, and we are working with it to determine the most effective response to the sector within the public health context.
On that note, I again congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the debate and for entertaining and educating us this afternoon. I have every faith that the 550th anniversary of the battle of Barnet will serve as a fantastic opportunity for the local community to come together again, to engage with our fantastic national heritage and to really begin to foster and rebuild that sense of community pride, shared history and belonging.
Question put and agreed to.
Education After Covid-19
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will also be suspensions between each debate. I remind Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive for the start of debates in Westminster Hall. Members are expected to remain for the entire debate. I must also remind Members participating virtually that they are visible at all times both to each other and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems they should email the Westminster Hall Clerk’s email address. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room. I would also like to remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered improving the education system after the covid-19 outbreak.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I understand it is your first chairmanship, so many congratulations if that is the case. I thank Members, and most of all the Minister, for taking time to participate in the debate. Frankly, all debates on education are important. I pay tribute to the work that the Minister has done. He is a long-standing Minister and is much respected in his field.
I will start off with a couple of other thank yous that are relevant to the Isle of Wight. I know how hard the headteachers, teachers and pupils on the island have worked, and I thank them all. It has been a difficult year and I think the Isle of Wight has done pretty well overall, especially compared with the national average. It has not been easy and we are grateful to everyone for the efforts that they have made. I thank our education team at the council: Brian Pope and Steve Crocker, and Councillor Paul Brading. I thank them for their dedication to the wellbeing of the island.
One of the worst of many damaging aspects of covid has been the effect on the education of children and young people. Even with our best efforts, it will now take years to repair the damage. Significant events such as pandemics and, indeed, world wars, often serve as disruptors, but they can be positive disruptors. Not only do we now have an opportunity to learn from the past year with its virtual as opposed to real, in-person education, but such situations provide a window of opportunity for sometimes radical change. I want to look at two or three ideas to suggest potential changes to the education system that could benefit not only folk on the Isle of Wight but everyone in the UK.
As I said, the pandemic is no different from significant disruptor episodes, and has identified some important issues such as, in the healthcare context, the link between the health and care home sectors—or lack of it—and how that worked during the pandemic. I want to take this opportunity to ask some big questions about how things can be done differently in education. The Minister has been in his post for some years so I am trying to frame the debate as questions to him, because he has significantly more expertise than I do in the matter. There are three things I want to look at, and the first is term time. The Secretary of State has spoken about that recently. The second is the use of technology to improve education, and the third is Government working in a more integrated and coherent way. I shall refer to my constituency too.
The three-term school year has absolutely had its day. We have not lived in an agrarian society for the best part of 150 years, if not 200 years. Children, teenagers and young people no longer need to go and help with the harvests for a six or seven-week period over the summer. That has not had to happen for decades, if not a century or two. We know that long holidays can damage kids’ learning. I remember going back to school in September pretty much having forgotten everything that I learned the previous year, because in the seven weeks over summer people simply swich off. Research shows that the poorer the children, the worse the damage. Additionally, poorer children are less likely to take part in enriching activities in summer, such as travel abroad, and they are sadly more likely to be malnourished and are more vulnerable to isolation and periods of inactivity. This is a social and mental health problem, as well as an educational problem.
The Secretary of State said that we should look to move to a five-term year, and I completely agree. We should be doing so permanently, and perhaps a royal commission could look at whether it is a four-term or five-term year. We need to split up the term time in order to have shorter but more consistent terms throughout the year. Yes, we still need summer holidays, but they can be staggered depending on the exact school term for any academy or county, with changes in term time. Holidays do not have to be crammed into six or seven weeks in summer; they could be taken in June, July, August or September, depending on when the exact term time falls for any given school.
Why do we have a school year that runs from September to July? Why not from January to December? Why should we have exams in summer, which is full of disruption? Summer is fun—people want to be outside, and it is a very distracting time of year. Why not have exams in March or April, over a winter period in which it is easier to encourage kids to work at home and to study because it is raining outside or it is cold? There is an argument that if we think it is right to do something, let us get on and do it.
My second point is about using technology to improve education. We need to implement the best learnings that we can to enhance education, and I thank the Academies Enterprise Trust, Julian Drinkall and his team for their excellent work at Ryde Academy—some really ground-breaking stuff. Although some schools have struggled with virtual learning, most have not. The Isle of Wight has done very well by comparison and, again, I thank everyone involved, but we need to take the lessons from the pandemic and find the best balance between in-person teaching and virtual learning, because kids need to learn to react with screens as well as in person. I know there is an issue with people saying that sometimes children are watching too much TV at home, but screens can be a great way to encourage engagement with technology at school. Everyone will be living virtually online and in person now, and this is not an option.
Every child should have a tablet or laptop for the duration of their schooling, in the same way that they would have had a pencil and notebook 50 years ago. Certainly when it comes to exams and testing, screens can be almost a non-stressful way to encourage testing at the end of a lesson, at the end of the day or at the end of a week. Testing can become part of the support for children, and indeed for teachers, rather than painful occasional hurdles that need to be overcome. For some children, virtual learning has enhanced their education. For some, it has not worked, and vulnerable children need to be in the classroom, either with in-person teaching or with tablets. For some kids, however—as far as the teachers to whom I have spoken say—more at-home learning has actually been of real benefit, as has been more interaction with technologists. For example, I understand that some children with autism have benefited from being able to work at home with a more flexible timetable. This is about an important duty of care as well as education.
That links to the critical national infrastructure that we actually need, which is not a railway between London and Birmingham; it is fibre to premises for homes, schools and businesses throughout the country. That is the critical piece of infrastructure that we cannot do without in future and that we should prioritise.
My third point is about coherent and integrated working. Talking to educational experts—I like to talk to them anyway, but I wanted to make sure that I had some valid points to make in my speech—there is a sense from some of them, and from some teachers, that although the Department for Education is doing excellent work, it could work more effectively and coherently with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on skills, and with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on kit and support for schools in a virtual world, in order to improve education and work experience. I am sure the Minister will let us know his thoughts on this issue.
Finally, I want to talk a bit about improving education on the Isle of Wight. We have an improving school system on the Island, for which I am very grateful. The officers we have had from Hampshire, who now work on the Island, have helped us drive up standards.
We have had an issue with higher education, only because we have not had it and not had enough of it. My huge frustration has been that for 30 years, while higher education in Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Southampton and Brighton have driven not only education in those cities but student life and the prosperity it brings to those city centres, that education revolution has completely passed by the Isle of Wight, which is painful for us.
The worst thing is that, if someone is young and smart and wants to get a degree, they would pretty much have to leave the island. That inability to keep our most talented people has been a problem for us. Once kids leave, they might not come back until they are 50, 60 or 70. They might come back to retire, but getting them back has been a problem. I would very much like to do more to develop higher education, specifically with a higher education campus in Newport.
We have the Isle of Wight College, under the excellent leadership of Debbie Lavin. Anything the Minister could do, not only with the DFE but also the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, working with me to develop more degree level courses, which people can take on the island, perhaps doing that through the Isle of Wight College or virtually, or with other people setting up a campus here, would be incredibly valuable for us.
I want others to have time to talk, so I will wrap up there. I will be grateful to hear what the Minister has to say to those critical points. To sum up: on term times, can we change the school year and potentially the times we do exams, to enable kids to learn better and more consistently throughout the year? Can we use technology better, with that interaction between the best of in-person learning and learning virtually on screen? We need that for the future, because kids will need to be able to adjust to the real life that they are going to find once they leave school. Thirdly, what can the DFE do to work more coherently with other Departments, to ensure that we drive forward a skills and learning agenda, which is critical for the future of the country?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. Provision and support for children with special educational needs and disability was broken before the pandemic. During the pandemic, those children have been forgotten. My plea to the Minister is, now that we are looking at how to improve education, let us put those children back at its heart.
The Select Committee on Education report of October 2019 took 18 months, heard more than 70 witnesses and received 700 pieces of written evidence. To quote from the document, these were the problems found pre-pandemic:
“There is too much tension between a child’s needs and the provision available…a general lack of accountability within the system…Parents and carers have to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, full of conflict, missed appointments and despair…many local authorities are struggling with the reforms, and in some cases this has led to unlawful practice…struggling against the tide of unintended consequences of policy decisions.”
The report states:
“This generation is being let down—the reforms have not done enough to join the dots, to bring people together and to create opportunities for all young people to thrive in adulthood.”
“We are seeing serious gaps in therapy provision.”
The summary concludes by saying:
“Special educational needs and disabilities must be seen as part of the whole approach of the Department’s remit, not just an add-on.”
During the pandemic, they have not even been an add-on; they have been an afterthought.
The Government’s response to the report was to commission their own review, which they promised would be published in January 2021. After I submitted a written question to the Department, I was told that it would be published in spring 2021. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us when we can expect to see that document.
That report led me to set up the all-party parliamentary group for special educational needs and disabilities, now chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake), which is looking particularly at the impact of covid on these children. The situation during covid has got worse for these families, with many families pushed to breaking point, because the children have been an afterthought. As the Government and the Minister were promoting the use of technology and laptops for school pupils, no thought was given to assisted technology for our pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.
Although all those children were allowed to attend school, because they had their education, health and care plans, little thought was given to what would happen when more than 90% of children in a special school attend at the same time; or to when we introduce a policy saying that these children have to be tested, knowing that some of them have serious sensory conditions and cannot administer the tests themselves, leading to many parents feeling extremely worried about the idea of a teacher having to forcibly test their child. That left headteachers in the impossible situation of wondering what to do if all the children decided that they could not take the test because they find it too distressing. Again, the children were an afterthought. No thought was given either to the staff working in these special schools, who need to be prioritised for vaccination to keep these pupils safe.
Families have been desperately worried. I am so worried about, and hope the Minister will look into, the number of parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities who have started home schooling and who now inform me that they have no intention of sending their children back to school when the risks of the pandemic have eased. It is not only the parents and the children, but the special educational needs co-ordinators, three quarters of whom say they are experiencing challenges in providing support for children and young people with EHCPs during lockdown. Any question or debate about improving the education system after covid-19 has to put these children back at the heart of the conversation, because a system that delivers for these children is a system that can deliver for all. I still believe that every child matters.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) on securing this timely debate. I will concentrate, in the time I have, on two things. On the face of it, they are quite different, but I believe that they are related and speak to two of the major challenges that we face in education post pandemic.
We have long known it to be the case, although the pandemic has emphasised it, that education is about not only those tangible outputs such as exams but the whole self and preparing young people for the world. It is often measured in the absence of things that only become tangible when they go wrong. We are seeing the fruit of that dropping from the tree now—lost learning, and young people with deep mental health concerns, issues with socialising and increasing anxiety. For some, perhaps even many, being away from formalised school during the crisis has left deep scars that we really need to address right now.
The pandemic has taught us some lessons about ourselves too. In my constituency, we suffered disproportionately poor outcomes from covid due to underlying health conditions. We have also seen young people becoming even more reliant on devices and social media for schooling and for their friendships. We have to ask ourselves how we can learn from these things and how we can change them for the better. I do not for a second believe that we can put the genie back in the bottle on using the internet, and nor should we ever want to, but we can challenge ourselves to ensure that this fantastic tool is used better. Similarly, we can re-emphasise the importance of outdoor education and start to head off now some of those issues that will impact young people later in life.
To touch on online skills and political literacy, we are at a time when, like it or lump it, politics is everywhere— politicians have made a disproportionate number of decisions about how people live their lives, earn a living and how they learn—so interest and frustration with politics is at an all-time high, but are we equipping young people with the skills they need to engage and to see the wood for the trees? In 2018, the National Literacy Foundation found that only 2% of children in the UK have the skills needed to determine whether a piece of information is real or fake. If the last year has shown us anything, it is that misinformation and low levels of media literacy pose serious threats to societies across the globe. It has been common to speak of a crisis in democracy for years, but in the past 12 months it has been brought into sharp focus. Our education system is at risk of being out of date. We must ensure that resources are there to prepare students for life in a 21st century democracy. The covid-19 pandemic has brought challenges that most of us could not imagine over a year ago, and the education system and teachers have been hit incredibly hard, but they have more than risen to these challenges. Even with that adversity comes an opportunity—an opportunity to have some conversations like this debate, and to open up about how we can improve and what rebuilding looks like.
Outdoor education is one subject that we should be focusing on. In Cumbria, we are blessed with many excellent centres and I have greatly enjoyed visits to a few of them recently, such as Kepplewray. However, that sector is on its knees. Outdoor education is not just about exercise or getting outdoors. It is about teaching valuable life skills, such as teamwork, resilience and communication. It is already a vital part of the British education system, but without it schools, children and communities will permanently lose important formulative educational experiences.
If we are genuinely looking—to coin a phrase—to build back to a better education system after this pandemic, we cannot only look to protect this sector but must utilise it more and head off some of those underlying issues that I mentioned before. We owe it to the next generation to equip them with the tools they need to navigate the world around them, whether that is online or outdoors. The pandemic provides an opportunity; I really hope the Minister and his team will seize that opportunity.
The covid pandemic has taught us to revalue many things that we simply took for granted. Top of that list is the importance of teaching and learning, especially the value of quality teaching. The pandemic has also shone a bright light on the high levels of inequality that exist in our country. The pandemic has made them worse. There is a lot we can do to make our education system fairer for young people and mature students alike. The lessons we are learning from the pandemic can be a driver for real positive change.
We talk about schools and universities, but all too often we leave out the further education sector. Yet it is the worst-funded sector in the education system. It is also at the heart of addressing the hard-wired inequalities in this country. At the end of last year, the Government announced that colleges and sixth forms would benefit from an extra £400 million investment, and that funding would be maintained in real terms for 2021-22. That was welcome and long overdue, but not nearly enough to fill the £1.1 billion funding gap that has opened up for 16 to 19-year-olds since 2010. As funding is based on previous student numbers, an increase in students could still result in a fall in funding per student in real terms.
For adult learners, funding is yet more unpredictable. Total spending on adult skills has fallen by about 45% in the last decade. As our economy and workforce prepare to adapt to the new challenges after the pandemic, there is no better time to talk about the vital role of further education. The CBI predicts that nine in 10 employees will have to reskill by 2030. Investing in reskilling our adult workforce is financially clever and imperative for individual and collective wellbeing. Our further education colleges are at the forefront of those efforts.
In Bath, we are lucky that Bath College has formed a partnership with Bath Spa University and the Institute of Coding to create a groundbreaking plan to reskill and upskill our local workforce. The project is called I-START and it delivers across innovation, technology, arts, research and teaching in flexible blended modules that fit easily around busy lives. At the core of the project is supporting learners to build and develop skills in resilience, problem solving, creativity and communication, which will be much sought after by businesses after covid. I hope this unique initiative starting in Bath will serve as an inspiration and a useful model for other parts of the country.
Having met secondary heads in northern Devon last week, they clearly articulated how they see this as a watershed moment for education, and a chance we should not miss to revisit how the education system works and the outcomes it delivers for our young people. I was a newly qualified maths teacher just before my election in 2019, so I speak with some insight into what is going on in our schools in northern Devon. I take the opportunity to thank everyone who works in them, and for everything they have done throughout the pandemic. I also thank all the parents who have been home-educating, which will have ensured this generation of schoolchildren have learnt many more life skills than perhaps previous generations, given the very difficult year we have all endured.
Northern Devon consists of my constituency of North Devon and neighbouring Torridge. As the head of the school where I taught described it, it is located at the top of the country’s longest cul-de-sac. The area is remote, rural and coastal and presents unique challenges that, to date, have not been reflected in education policies, nationally or regionally.
For me, levelling up starts with education and skills. One measure that highlights that there is work to be done in northern Devon is the social mobility index. Of the 324 local authority district areas, in the south of Devon, South Hams is ranked at 49 and Exeter 81, yet my constituency ranks 238th and Torridge is at 283. The pandemic has shown how our schools deliver much more than just the three Rs to our young people and their families. Our headteachers talk of a holistic egality strategy for North Devon and Torridge that comprises education, special educational needs, social services and child support. The headteachers are uniquely placed to feed into that long-overdue strategy, and also to manage the resources that they need to deliver it within northern Devon, more specifically than just Devon.
As we look into education and building back better, I very much hope that the next generation will be inspired by the work delivered by our world-leading scientists in developing treatments and vaccines for covid-19. I know that, locally to me in North Devon, the children at the primary school in Tawstock are keen to become broadband engineers after seeing at first hand how Openreach connects their school and having had the chance to splice fibres and better understand how fibre broadband works and is delivered.
For our levelling-up agenda to be realised we need to better integrate schools with local employers, and embed at a far younger age what it means to be an engineer or a scientist. This might at last be my opportunity to inspire more youngsters to pass their maths GCSE, as a ticket to achieving an exciting career near home in lovely North Devon.
We also need to devise policies that are effective in remote rural locations and use the expertise of the teaching profession in those locations to really build back better. I very much look forward to working with the Minister and the team of fantastic heads in northern Devon to begin to move the agenda forward.
One year on from the first lockdown marks an entire year since schools first closed, so perhaps it is time for the Department for Education’s performance review. We could reflect on the exam results fiasco or the free school meals U-turns, or even the utterly irresponsible decision to allow schools to open for just 24 hours in January, enabling the post-Christmas virus to circulate far and wide, driving up infection rates. However, I will instead focus on the remote education support scheme, which will be of vital importance for the topic of today’s debate —improving the education system after the pandemic.
After the uncertainty of the opening months it quickly became clear that the pandemic would have a long-term impact on education, and that connectivity would be vital to continue learning. So, back in June, MPs, charities, unions, past Education Secretaries and even a former Prime Minister all joined me in writing to the Secretary of State to call on his Department to ensure that no child would be left behind because they could not access the internet or a device at home.
Ten months on, this week’s results in the National Audit Office report are damning. The Department did not even aim to provide equipment to all children who lacked it. How does the Minister think that children on the wrong side of the digital divide have been able to log in and learn from home? The answer is simple: they have not. Every click has widened the attainment gap. The Government pledged 1.3 million devices, without connectivity, but there are still 300,000 missing. Where are they?
It is now March 2021 and I am still driving around Mitcham and Morden, dropping donated devices to my local schools. Although I am very grateful to all the individuals and organisations who are donating devices, stepping in where the Government have failed, there is still far to go. St Mark’s Academy needs 303 devices, Harris Academy Morden needs 100, William Morris Primary School needs 50, Stanford Primary School needs 15, Liberty Primary School needs 50 and St Teresa’s RC Primary School needs 52.
Before the pandemic, children on free school meals were leaving school 18 months behind other children and the gap was getting worse. How far behind will those on the wrong side of the digital divide have fallen now? This is no problem for the past; we are now well and truly a digital society and there is no going back. The focus has to be on how these children will catch up, and closing the digital divide is an imperative first step.
I will start my remarks by focusing upon the plight of our outdoor education centres. I am deeply concerned about them. We know that of the 15,000 people who worked in the sector at the beginning of the pandemic, 6,000 have already lost their jobs, and there will be many more who are freelance workers and who have not been taken on again for the seasons that have been missed.
There has been a complete drying-up of the market for these outdoor education centres and of course there is no direct bespoke financial package for them either. We should remember that in Scotland and Northern Ireland there has been a specific financial package to help outdoor education centres. The fact that there has not been one in England is a reason why we are losing thousands of staff and beginning to see the closure of such centres.
On 22 February, which is now more than a month ago, the Prime Minister read out his road map for the unlocking of the country. Lots of things are on that road map—an opening date for nightclubs was on it. That is very good; I am glad it is there. However, there was nothing for outdoor education centres. If, as I do, the Minister speaks to the heads and teachers of primary and secondary schools, he will discover that those heads and teachers throughout primary and secondary education are desperate to be able to confirm, or indeed to book, day sessions and residential sessions at our outdoor education centres, many dozens of which are in Cumbria, especially in my constituency. So, I ask the Minister this: why have he and the Government not added outdoor education centres and their reopening to that road map?
Will the Minister today do three things? First, will he announce the road map for the reopening of outdoor education centres? Secondly, will he provide a bespoke financial package to keep our outdoor education centres going and the outdoor education industry’s head above water, as Scotland and Northern Ireland have done? Thirdly, will he do something truly radical and positive, which is to deploy the talent within our outdoor education centres within schools, to help reconnect our young people with a love of learning, building up the confidence they may have lost during the pandemic and connecting them to education again? Outdoor education centres contain people with exactly the set of skills that we need at this time; the tragedy is that that is exactly the time when this Government are allowing those skills to wither on the vine.
So, will the Minister do those three things? Will he also pay tribute to the teachers who have made such an outstanding contribution in every part of education over the last 12 months? Many people are reflecting—indeed, we all are—that 12 months has passed since the start of this pandemic. It is right to pay tribute to so many different people who have been public servants throughout that time, but it is also right to focus in particular today on the service provided by our teachers.
Thinking about what teachers did at the drop of a hat last March—teach remotely from scratch—we see that, throughout the time since, they have cared for the vulnerable and the most needy, very often providing food for them directly out of their own pockets. We have also seen how, at short notice, they provided ways of ensuring that assessments were made when exams were cancelled; we have seen how they went through their school holidays without taking any break whatsoever, in order to get ready for new arrangements, such as covid testing; and we have seen how schools have reopened again, and how they have done so seamlessly and with attendance maintained at such a high level. Teachers have ensured that our young people get the best possible education, in school if they are the children of key workers, and at home by remote teaching.
Teachers’ performance has been outstanding; they are national treasures. On behalf of every parent in my constituency—indeed, I think every parent in the country—I pay tribute to every single one of them.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) for setting the scene so very well —we appreciate that. It is good to see the Minister in his place. I think he has always been there—at least it seems like it. That is not a bad thing, by the way. We very much look forward to his response.
Obviously, education is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, so the Minister does not have any responsibility for it, but I wanted to feed in to this debate and give the perspective of what it is like in Northern Ireland. I know that what we have experienced in Northern Ireland is the same as what other hon. Members have experienced across the whole of the United Kingdom.
I have had many fears for our children during the outbreak. I think education probably features fairly high on the constituency problems page. I have fears for children’s paths of learning, fears for those who have not been able to learn online, fears for their mental health, fears for their social skills—so many fears. The question is: what will we in this House do to support them through those fears?
Today’s papers, which I read on the way over—the local and provincial press—were full of photographs of the Education Minister back home meeting some pupils in schools. There were also pictures of the pupils with absolutely glorious smiles. In some cases, they had ice-creams—I am not quite sure if it was 9 o’clock in the morning. The teachers, principals and classroom assistants were all responding very positively, and the hugs that they were giving the children told the story.
We have seen that online learning has a role, but there is nothing that beats physical presence in schools. I have spoken to GCSE teachers recently, and they are very concerned that many children will not go on camera, and they do not know whether they understand the work. They have said that there is nothing like walking around the room to see the children working through, and checking for understanding. That underlines my view that we can incorporate more online, but we cannot and must not imagine that it can replace what teachers are gifted at doing. Teachers get to know their pupils and what works for them. The personal, face-to-face contact really motivates the child individually whenever they are falling behind.
I am given to understand that parents have been given access to teaching staff during the pandemic, allowing greater communication. It has been wonderful to build up relationships. That, I believe, should continue when we get out of the pandemic, but with appropriate guidelines that allow teachers to have their evenings off without being bombarded. All staff in every job, when they finish their day’s work, should have a balance with their home life. There is pressure on pupils, teachers and classroom assistants.
The lessons that we can learn are clear: there is a role for technology and for face-to-face, and there is also a place for greater home-school co-operation. In all this, there is a need for real investment in our education system to ensure that children have access to technology, and that parents are aware of what is happening in their children’s lives. I understand that some parents may not have as big a role in their child’s life, but they need to do that.
I again thank the teaching staff, the pupils, the teachers, the classroom assistants, and everyone in schools who went above and beyond, and who have sourced technology and contacted parents with concerns above and beyond their hours. We are determined to do all we can to get our children back to where they should be, with no one left behind.
That is very kind; I appreciate it. It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees—even more, now I know that you are feeling benevolent. I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) on securing the debate, and thank him for sight of his speech in advance. I was expecting to have to express my admiration for his optimism that we might, in one hour, address the many areas of improvement required in our educational system. However, as he made clear, he did not propose to have all the answers in his speech or even to address all the questions. He very sensibly identified some of the issues that a royal commission might look at, and he made some practical suggestions for consideration.
This debate is timely, and the need for substantial action is acute, as we heard from many contributors. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight understandably spent some time on the specifics of the education challenges on the Island. He also identified three national areas for consideration—term and holiday periods, the use of technology, and the coherence of the DFE’s wider approach to education. On term times, he raised some interesting issues. There are many challenges that come with the kind of approaches that he outlined, but I agree that it is useful to discuss them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) spoke passionately about the remote support scheme and the digital divide. She said that each click had increased the attainment gap. Notwithstanding the number of schools that have struggled to access devices and the number of colleges that have been completely left out, on technology, I echo the endorsement that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight made of the fine work done by many schools and colleges to address the academic vacuum that existed in the first lockdown and ensure that things were much improved in subsequent ones. I agree that, at a time when we need young people to leave our educational establishments totally tech savvy, this crisis has opened opportunities that must not simply be set aside in a return to business as usual, post covid.
On the coherence of the current system, I could not agree more on schools, further education, the closing of Sure Start, the huge growth in different apprenticeship standards, and the extent to which so many academies leave parents feeling they have no voice. We feel strongly that this Government have removed the sense of a systematic approach to education. I go further than the hon. Member for Isle of Wight and say that, while there are good providers in all areas of our educational system, there has to be a more systematic approach that empowers learners and their parents, supports educators, and involves employers and local decision makers. I am afraid to say that the skills White Paper offers little hope that the Government’s approach is likely to become much more systematic in the future.
I would like to touch on the contributions of many hon. Friends and Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) spoke passionately about the forgotten children with special educational needs and posed a challenge that we look forward to the Minister responding to. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) was right about the pressures on our further education system and the need for a more holistic approach that recognises the need for FE and HE to work together. The hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) described this as a watershed moment for education and spoke of the need, which a lot of us feel, for a Government response that matches the scale of the moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden was excoriating in her analysis of the Government’s education record over the covid crisis. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) focused on the challenges facing our outdoor education centres, and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about the number of children falling behind, the pressure throughout the education system and the need to recognise that in the response post covid.
The Labour Party recognises that a decade of underinvestment in our educational system in general—and, as the shadow skills Minister, I would say in further education and skills in particular—has left our nation less well prepared for the challenges of the next decade. Covid has simply exposed many of those challenges more graphically. Labour also recognises the need for an evidence-based response to these challenges post covid and recently launched the Bright Future taskforce, with a dazzling array of contributors who have agreed to take part. I think they will provide an excellent piece of work to address this area.
The taskforce aims to identify the causes of the academic attainment gap, as it pertains to poverty, economic disadvantage, race, and many other areas. It will identify measures that a future Labour Government could take to address those causes. Specifically, the Government must acknowledge that there is a race attainment gap, which goes wider than class disparities, and set specific targets and positive steps to address the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic students who go from outperforming white students at level 2 to getting worse university and work offers and outcomes at level 3 and beyond.
We also identify many systematic failings with the Government’s approach to skills. Many of these have been caused by the missteps of the last 10 years, but we are anxious that the skills White Paper will continue to envisage an approach to education and skills that is far too corporate, and continues to leave thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises and young people on the side lines.
Apprenticeships must be the gold standard, and the Government should recognise that their failure on apprenticeship incentives and on Kickstart means that they need a fresh approach. I urge the Minister to look again at Labour’s apprenticeship wage subsidy proposal.
This has been a welcome debate, Ms Rees, and I share the view of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight that the Government need to move with real urgency and at scale if, after all their hard work, our educators are not to be left facing an uphill challenge in giving English youngsters the opportunity to compete in the global race with the very best in the world.
It is a pleasure to serve for the first time under your chairing of a debate, Ms Rees. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Bob Seely) on securing this short debate, albeit one on a very important subject matter, and the passionate way in which he opened it.
Covid-19 has presented the education system with the educational challenge of the decade. I take this opportunity to thank, once again, all the teachers and support staff for the truly remarkable things they have achieved over the last year, and to echo my hon. Friend’s thanks to the teachers and support staff on the Isle of Wight. I also add my thanks to Brian Pope and Steve Crocker, who have both been working tirelessly with the Department for Education as we tackle the consequences of the pandemic on the island, and, of course, elsewhere in the country.
Our response to this unprecedented situation must be to build on the successful reforms this Government have introduced since coming to power in 2010. Over the last decade, we have worked tirelessly to drive up academic standards for all pupils, especially the most disadvantaged. We want every child to have access to a great school, where they can gain the knowledge, skills and qualifications they need for a prosperous future.
My hon. Friend raised the issue of higher education, and I would be happy to talk further to him about higher education courses on the island, and how they can and should be provided. He also raised digital technology, together with my hon. Friends the Members for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) and for North Devon (Selaine Saxby).
Digital technology has been essential in supporting high-quality remote education during the coronavirus outbreak. In the long term, it also has the potential, as my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight pointed out, to support teacher workload and flexible working, and to improve pupil outcomes. We are building on the Department’s significant investment in laptops, tablets, training, and digital services, to create a lasting legacy from that investment.
My hon. Friend also asked about teaching school hubs on the Isle of Wight. These are large-scale organisations operating in areas covering, on average, about 250 schools. The Isle of Wight is therefore covered by the hub area that also covers the districts of Eastleigh, Fareham, Gosport, Havant, and Portsmouth, and the teaching school hub lead is Thornden School in Eastleigh, which is an outstanding school.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) raised the important issue of children with special educational needs, and she will know, as she pointed out in her speech, that we have prioritised the most vulnerable children throughout the pandemic, including those with education, health and care plans, and special schools have remained open during that period for vulnerable children.
The hon. Member will also know that the Government have increased high needs funding by £780 million this year and by £730 million next year, so, over the course of two years, we will have raised high needs funding by 24%. The SEND review, which she referred to, is important, and we will publish it in due course. The delay has been caused by the challenges of the pandemic, and we want to get this very important review absolutely right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) raised the important issue of outdoor education and the importance of such activities for a child’s education, development, mental health and wellbeing. The Government continue to work with industry bodies and sector representatives to address the issues arising from the pandemic, and we will help outdoor education centres plan for the safe reintroduction of educational visits and outdoor education in line with the Prime Minister’s road map.
The covid pandemic has presented one of the greatest challenges to our society in recent times. It is undoubtedly true that extended school and college restrictions have had a substantial impact on the education of children and young people, and we are committed to helping pupils make up the education that they missed during the pandemic. In February, the Prime Minister outlined the road map out of lockdown, and reopening schools was one of the first steps on that road map.
We have evidence of the extent of education lost during the covid-19 pandemic, which shows that there is an impact on all children and young people, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight pointed out, those from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds are among the hardest hit. As part of the Renaissance Learning data, on 24 February, we published interim findings based on more than 400,000 assessments taken in the autumn of 2020, which show that in reading, pupils in years 3 to 9 were, on average, between 1.6 months and two months behind where we would have expected them to be.
I have a quick question: has the Department done any analysis of how many children are now choosing to home educate, and have not returned to either mainstream or special educational needs schools? It is of considerable concern to me, especially when considering parents of children with SEND.
The hon. Member will be pleased to know that attendance is very high in primary and secondary schools since we returned to school on 8 March, and of course, attendance in secondary schools increased over the course of that first week. I will write to her with the details of special schools’ attendance rates, and about the proportion of children with ECHPs and children with a social worker—we have attendance rates for those children as well. Again, the figures are good, but of course, they could always be improved. I will write to her, and we can then discuss further her views about that.
In January 2021, the Prime Minister committed to working with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan to help schools support pupils to make up their education over the course of this Parliament. As part of this, we appointed Sir Kevan Collins as education recovery commissioner in February to advise on the approach for education recovery and the development of a long-term plan to help pupils make up their education. Last June, we announced a £1 billion catch-up package, including a national tutoring programme and a catch-up premium for the current academic year, and in February 2021, we committed to further funding of £700 million to fund summer schools, expansion of our tutoring programmes, and a recovery premium for the next academic year. That funding will support pupils in early years, in schools and in colleges.
The £1 billion catch-up package for 2020-21 includes a £650 million catch-up premium to support state primary and secondary schools in making up for lost teaching time. The package includes £350 million for the national tutoring programme to deliver one-to-one and small group tuition to hundreds of thousands of pupils, which the evidence says is an effective way of helping disadvantaged children, in particular, to catch up. Building on this £1 billion catch-up package, a further £700 million for the 2021-22 academic year was announced in February, and that includes a one-off £302 million recovery premium and £22 million to scale up well-evidenced programmes, building on the pupil premium. That funding also includes an additional £83 million for the national tutoring programme, and a £102 million extension to the 16 to 19 fund.
The Minister has announced many different pots of money. One of the things that really concerns us is that he will allocate money, but these chunks of money will not end up getting spent because the mechanisms, or systems, to get them utilised will end up with those funds not being used. What assurances can he give us that the amounts he is announcing will actually be spent on the things he is announcing they will be spent on?
The £650 million, of course, is allocated to schools on a per pupil basis—£80 per pupil—and most of that money has now been distributed. For the £300 million that we announced as part of the £700 million, again, the recovery premium is being allocated to schools on the basis of the pupil premium eligibility in those schools, so that will be allocated to schools to use at their discretion. The national tutoring programme is run by the Education Endowment Foundation, and we have approved 33 tutoring companies: we wanted to make sure that the quality of tutoring was there. So far, 130,000 pupils have been signed up for the programme, but we envisage reaching significantly more—something like three quarters of a million students—in this coming academic year.
Through the get help with technology programme, the Government are investing over £400 million to support access to remote education and online social care services, including making 1.3 million laptops and tablets available for disadvantaged children. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) raised this issue today, as she has done in other debates. She will be aware that we are procuring 1.3 million laptops that have to be built from scratch. They have to be ordered, shipped in, checked and have software added. On top of the 1.3 million that we have acquired and procured, there are the 2.9 million devices in schools ready to be lent to pupils that schools had before the pandemic.
The Minister will know that 1 million of those laptops have been distributed. Where is the balance of the 300,000? Where are they right now? How does he address the matter of the 880,000 households that do not have any internet connection, given that only 45,000 MiFis or other routers were provided?
Actually, 1.2 million of those computers have already been delivered and the remainder will be delivered before the end of March. The hon. Member will also be aware that we have worked with mobile operator companies to provide free uplift data to disadvantaged families who do not have access to wi-fi in their homes. They can use their mobile phones to get some educational material without paying the hefty charges for data use. We have partnered with the UK’s leading mobile operators, as I said, to offer free data, as well as delivering over 70,000 4G wireless routers for pupils without connection at home. The programmes I have outlined are focused on helping the most disadvantaged pupils, targeting them for support.
Alongside those catch-up programmes, we also continue to learn and understand what more is needed to help recover students’ lost education over the course of this Parliament, and we will ensure that support is delivered in a way that works for both young people and the sector.
We are also concentrating on the quality of teaching and making sure that teachers are supported in the early years of their careers through the early career framework. We are transforming the training and professional development that teachers receive at every stage of their careers to create a world-class teacher development curriculum and career offer for our teachers. That is one of the most important things we can do as we support schools in recovering.
Ultimately, the Government want all pupils to make up for the education they lost as a result of the pandemic. We are doing everything in our power to ensure that pupils get the opportunity they deserve to redress the balance. We are absolutely determined as a Government that no child will suffer any damage to their long-term prospects as a consequence of this terrible pandemic that we are all fighting to defeat.
Thank you very much, Ms Rees. I can sum up in a sentence. I absolutely share the Minister’s sentiments when he says that we must do our best to make sure that nobody suffers a long-term disadvantage. It is clear that long-term debate about delivering the best education system we can will continue, so I thank you for your chairmanship, Ms Rees, Members for their contributions, and the Minister for attending and listening.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered improving the education system after the covid-19 outbreak.