Wednesday 16 June 2021
[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]
Transport Decarbonisation Plan
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 25 February).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
I apologise for the late start. I am just filling in for a few minutes—I deny all responsibility for the delay. I need to 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 be suspensions between debates. I remind Members participating, physically and virtually, that they must arrive for the start of a debate in Westminster Hall and are expected to remain for the entire debate. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before using them and before leaving the room. I remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall other than when you are speaking.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the transport decarbonisation plan.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson, even if only for a few minutes. There is no question but that the UK has been an international leader in combating climate change, and I am proud of that record. Since 1990, we have decarbonised at the fastest rate of any G20 country, and of course we were the first of the major countries to legislate for net zero by 2050. In December 2020, we went even further and said that we would get to a 68% reduction by 2030. That is an ambitious target.
To get to that target, there is no question that we need a radical and comprehensive transport decarbonisation plan, because transport is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the UK and currently accounts for approximately 30% of total emissions. As a percentage of emissions, if we leave out the fluctuations because of coronavirus, it is going up, and is scheduled to go up further by 2035. Transport is therefore key to meeting our objectives to be net zero by 2050 and to achieve our intermediate objective by 2030.
[Caroline Nokes in the Chair]
Some 55% of transport emissions come from cars, and almost two thirds of total emissions come from cars and light vans, so I will focus my remarks on electric vehicles, but there is no question but that we need a comprehensive strategy across buses, rail, freight and aviation, and we need clear targets. It is easy to say, “Net zero by 2050, and down 68% by 2030”, but we need a clear and firm plan as to how we will get there, and we need to constantly measure our progress against that plan.
Apart from the sectors that I have mentioned, we also need a modal shift towards more walking and cycling, which will be important for the health of the nation and to meet our transport decarbonisation goals.
Yes, we need policies, and, when money needs to be made available, it should be. I personally think that there are private sector solutions, but I am glad to see that with electric vehicles, which I will go on to talk about, the Government are making available £2.8 billion.
Electric vehicles will be critical because, as I said, cars account for 55% of emissions. I am glad that the Government have brought forward the date to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2030. That is a huge achievement. The investment of £2.8 billion in electric vehicle technology, infrastructure and plug-in grants is hugely important. I am lucky to represent a borough, Kensington and Chelsea, that is very focused on electric vehicles. We have the highest number of electric vehicles per capita of any London borough, and probably the highest number nationally.
London is very good in not having much car usage. Only 27% of journeys are by car. Nationally, it is 68%. Clearly, rural areas will be more dependent on cars than cities such as London, but electric vehicles are important to my constituency. I hosted a seminar a few weeks ago in my constituency on the roll-out of electric vehicles. It was great to see so many of the major south Kensington institutions participating. I had Professor Richard Herrington, the Natural History Museum’s head of earth sciences, which is very important in electric vehicle batteries. I had Dr Billy Wu from Imperial College, who is one of the leaders in battery research, and Dr Rachel Boon from the Science Museum. We had a tremendous attendance from Kensington residents, and it is great to see that they are so focused on electric vehicles.
However, it was striking that the residents’ questions were repeatedly about having confidence that the electric charging infrastructure would work. There was a lot of concern about range anxiety. In my constituency, there is not much off-street parking; it is all on-street parking by the pavement. That clearly leads to challenges for electric vehicle charging. Of course, this is anecdotal, but I took away a huge willingness to embrace electric vehicle technology, but real concerns about the practicalities. If we are going to get there by 2030, we need to resolve these practicalities as quickly as possible.
I essentially have five key asks on electric vehicles. First, we need a comprehensive strategic network of electric vehicle charging points. I see this almost like the electricity national grid. I am a great free market capitalist, but I do not think in this instance that we can just leave it to the free market. We are not in the mid-19th century building railway lines randomly all over the place. We need a comprehensive network that gives people confidence, because they will not want to give up their cars that they have confidence in if they do not have confidence in the electric vehicle charging network. It needs to be Government led and top-down, as opposed to bottom-up.
Leading on from that, it is important that we focus on the customer experience of electric vehicle charging. I too often hear stories about the unreliability of chargers and the lack of interoperability between different charging points. We and the Government need to work on these issues, because confidence is critical.
I would also like the Government to mandate that all new houses, buildings and office blocks have electric vehicle charging points. I know the Government have consulted on this, but it should be standard. In the same way as, when you build a house you put in electric sockets, you should put in an electric charging point.
Moving on from the consumer element, it will be important to have more battery capacity in the UK. I feel strongly that we need more recycling of battery capacity and capability in the UK. In my discussions with Professor Herrington, there is no question that we need to extract very precious and rare metals to make electric batteries and these have to be recycled. We cannot just use up our stock of lithium and cobalt.
Finally, I would ask the Government to consider a zero emission mandate. This has worked very well in California. For those who do not know how that works, it requires manufacturers of cars to produce an increasing percentage of electric cars as part of their output. If they do not meet those percentage sales targets, they need to buy carbon offsets. I would like the Government to consider that. It has worked well in California and the increased supply of electric vehicles could achieve a number of ends.
First, while the price of electric vehicles over their lifetime is now equal to petrol and diesel cars, because the operating costs are lower, the up-front cost is still high. We are expecting price parity in 2023, but a zero emission mandate is a way to increase supply and accelerate price parity.
The second reason it could help is that I understand from leasing experts that it continues to be more expensive to lease an electric car, because leasing models look at the future value of the car in two years’ or five years’ time. As there is no developed second-hand market for electric vehicles, they put a discount on to that value. The more supply we can get, the better the secondary market for electric vehicles.
I thank all Members for participating in the debate. I am looking forward to hearing the Minister’s reply. There is no question but that the transport sector is a big challenge when it comes to emissions, as the biggest emitter in the UK at the moment, but that means that it also offers the biggest opportunity.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) on bringing forward the debate. She is maybe a bit hasty in thanking Members for their contributions before she has heard me speak—she should wait with bated breath.
I was talking about the debate with my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) last night. When we saw the debate title, we were hoping that the hon. Member for Kensington had an inside track and that the transport decarbonisation plan was going to be launched just in time for the debate. Alas, that was not to be. In many ways, the debate could be called “the lack of a transport decarbonisation plan”.
As the hon. Member for Kensington said, the UK Government are hosting COP26 and claim to be leading the way and talk of a green recovery. The reality is there are still no coherent interlinked strategies and policies to achieve net zero. Given that the transport sector is the biggest contributor of greenhouse gas, the lack of a transport decarbonisation plan is basically a dereliction of duty. Why are the UK Government so behind in the publication of the plan, which was initially promised last year? Given that transport decarbonisation is so interlinked with energy policy, which is itself interlinked with the decarbonisation of our fossil fuel heating systems, it is imperative that these policies are complementary to each other and are interlinked. They all go hand in hand.
When we focus on transport, it should of course come as no surprise that the Scottish Government lead the way, being the first to include international shipping and aviation emissions within their overall net zero target, The Scottish Government have published their rail decarbonisation strategy with an end date of 2035. Meanwhile, Network Rail have only published an interim programme with a business case for a 2050 date. Will the Minister confirm that they will get a grip of the final programme, with the suitable ambition that is needed to achieve net zero?
The Scottish Government’s rail decarbonisation plan means increased electrification and the introduction of battery or hydrogen-powered trains. Hydrogen is clearly a plan for the UK Government, and I welcome the ongoing trials of hydrogen-powered trains. However, we are still awaiting a hydrogen strategy, which will be critical if we are going to rely on hydrogen-powered trains. The Government’s 5 GW hydrogen target is, frankly, too weak. The Scottish Government have already got their own 5 GW target and hydrogen strategy in place, so will the UK Government’s eventual strategy be more ambitious? Will they set a target for green hydrogen production? Will the Minister explain how extensive a role hydrogen will play for trains in the decarbonisation process? Will the UK Government address the lack of electrification of railways, which is partly due to the previous Transport Secretary’s obsession with hybrid diesel trains?
Hydrogen is an obvious solution for heavy goods vehicles, but it is part of the mix for buses too. Again, that underlines the need for a hydrogen production strategy. Blue hydrogen with carbon capture and storage is an interim step on the way to net zero, so when will the Acorn project at Peterhead be given the go-ahead?
Aberdeen has led the way on hydrogen-powered buses, with the introduction of 15 of the world’s first hydrogen double-decker buses. The Scottish Government have invested more than £3 million in that project, but £8.3 million also came from the EU, so what will the replacement funding be for those types of schemes? The Scottish Government will have phased out the majority of fossil fuel buses by 2023, thanks to investment of £120 million in zero emission buses. More importantly, those buses are being manufactured by Alexander Dennis Ltd, making the investment circular for the economy. That is what the green recovery is all about: combining manufacturing with the net zero transition. What are the updates on the manufacturing strategy from the UK Government’s perspective in that regard?
On flying, decarbonising the aviation sector means that some radical thoughts are required. That will be sensitive, given the fragility of aviation post covid, but a proper green recovery also means supporting the aviation sector. Although talk of air passenger duty might be welcomed in some quarters, that is too blunt an instrument. What discussions has the Minister had with the Treasury on that? What does she think of the call from the citizen’s assembly to have a frequent-flyer surcharge—a policy that would affect only those who can afford to pay for frequent flying, while allowing others still to fly? Any moneys raised from such a policy could be reinvested into the decarbonisation of the aviation sector.
There are also opportunities for the production of sustainable aviation fuels, so when will the UK Government finally provide the support needed to pump-prime the private investment required to create a number of sustainable aviation fuel production plants? It makes no sense that aviation gasoline is duty-free, when domestic petrol for drivers is taxed to the hilt. That disparity should have been resolved years ago, but it will need to be addressed to incentivise decarbonisation and the switch to other aviation fuels.
On domestic electric vehicles, we heard a lot from the hon. Member for Kensington. I agree with the five goals that she set out at the end of her speech. We have heard a lot of talk about being world leading, without that being delivered. I welcome the fact that the Government are bringing forward the phase-out date for new diesel and petrol cars to 2030, but there need to be joined-up policies, properly funded, to match that ambition.
According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the UK will need to spend at least £16.7 billion to get its public charging network ready for the mass EV market. In March, it estimated that 700 new electric charging points need to be installed every single day until 2030 to give the right market coverage for the 2030 implementation date. At the moment, installations average 42 per day, so what will the Minister do to resolve that? Will the decarbonisation plan tackle that disparity?
It will be no surprise that Scotland leads the way on the roll-out of charge points in the UK. It has 40 public charge points per 100,000 people, compared with fewer than 30 in England and fewer than 20 in Wales and Northern Ireland. That is, of course, because the Scottish Government invested directly in that. Scotland also has the shortest average distance to travel to reach a public charge point. Will the UK Government up their game and tackle that in the decarbonisation plan, which will hopefully mean more Barnett consequentials for Scotland?
Many motor manufacturers are already starting to phase out fossil fuel cars. However, the transport decarbonisation plan will need to allow for extra interventions. What assessment has the Minister made of Climate Assembly UK’s recommendations, such as a car scrappage scheme, which I have long called for, and larger grants to assist businesses and people in purchasing electric vehicles? Will the UK Government copy the Scottish Government by providing interest-free loans for individuals and businesses to purchase electric vehicles? The Scottish Government have now extended that to the second-hand market to stimulate it as well.
Another key point regarding energy as we move towards the electrification of domestic travel is grid charging. Scotland faces the highest grid charges in the whole of Europe, so if we are to have joined-up thinking for electrification of the domestic vehicle market, that means overhauling the grid charging system to allow renewables to be developed at the best locations, incorporating investment in storage such as pumped hydro storage and moving away from the nuclear obsession.
The future can be bright and green and include a revitalised manufacturing sector, but we need to see actions, not words, and clearly we need much more than a transport decarbonisation plan. We need cross-Government departmental co-ordination and leadership from the very top. Those are matters that, frankly, at the moment, are sadly lacking, but the transport decarbonisation plan would be a first step.
It is a pleasure to serve under you, Ms Nokes. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) for bringing the debate forward at this moment. I am pleased that over the years most of us have come to accept that humans are having an impact on our environment. That said, I can understand why some people may be sceptical about the extent to which the UK can lead the global fight against climate change. After all, we contribute a mere 1% of the greenhouse gases produced globally, and naturally some may ask, “Why should we take such a lead?” That is a question that I have asked myself, but I believe that, with our standing in the world being as great as it is, we must lead rather than follow. We can set an example to our international partners on the merits and necessity of reducing emissions. However, it is local pollution—the pollution on our streets—that I want to speak about today.
The fumes that we breathe as we walk down the street are mainly from cars, yet in Doncaster, where the bus fleet is old, vast clouds of black smoke from the buses also fill the air. In recent months, I have said much about electric cars with regard to the need to introduce a zero emission vehicle mandate and increase the number of charging points. Such moves would help the speed at which we make the transition to electric vehicles and reduce emissions. However, many more individuals in urban centres mainly use buses rather than cars to get about.
As part of the Sheffield city region—now the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority—Doncaster has had to cope with second-hand buses for many years. Meanwhile, the newer buses are predominantly located in Sheffield. Apparently that is due to the topography of South Yorkshire. In speaking to stakeholders, I have been informed that it is better to give the new buses to Sheffield, where it is very hilly, and use the older buses in relatively flat Doncaster. My constituents rightly believe that this state of affairs is unfair, and I long for the day when Doncaster residents can also benefit from the clean air that results from having electric buses on the roads. For too long, Doncaster’s children, on their way to school, have had to breathe in particulates, which can cause lifelong illnesses. If we are to embark on a green industrial revolution, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to work with the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority, Doncaster Council and private enterprise to get polluting buses off my constituency’s roads.
We often hear how China is the main contributor to global carbon emissions. That is true and something that I am sure is raised by our representatives abroad with its Government. However, China is also a leader in electric transportation and buses as a whole. It is also one of the largest investors in grid renewables. Shenzhen, a city of more than 12.5 million people, has electrified its entire bus system.
I see no reason why that could not be replicated right here in the UK. After all, the UK is one of the greatest innovators in and utilisers of grid renewables. I therefore hope that, with the Government’s plan to build back better, we can move quickly to complete electrification of our public transport. Electric buses reap the same benefits as electric cars: reduced servicing, increased ease of driving, reduced noise pollution and smoother journeys.
However, if we are to roll out more electric buses, infrastructure is needed. I am talking about huge charging depots, which will inevitably require a lot of power. However, if we are truly going through with building back better, the Department for Transport must prepare for that. Furthermore, we must press forward quickly in rolling out electric buses in places such as Doncaster, as that would work well and be a great example of levelling up.
To conclude, if we are ever to end the love affair we have with our cars, we must create frequent, reliable, safe, clean and easily accessible electric buses.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) for raising this important issue. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I rise today to speak on an issue on which I feel strongly. My hon. Friends will know that much of my work in the House has focused on bringing the green revolution to left-behind areas across the United Kingdom, including Rother Valley, and that green transport has been a focus for me. In fact, I sponsored the first two debates on hydrogen and the first debate on critical minerals in the UK Parliament, and I shall speak about those topics today, as I firmly believe that they are vital in the context of our transport decarbonisation plan.
Critical minerals are incredibly important to our green energy and low-carbon transport needs. On average, each electric car uses 100 kg of copper, rare earth for the magnets, and lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese and graphite for the batteries. To meet the Prime Minister’s vision for wind power, we also need more than 26,000 tonnes of rare earths and more than 4 tonnes of copper. Importantly, seven points in the Government’s 10-point plan for the green recovery are dependent on a secure green supply of critical minerals. The UK Government must acknowledge that the construction of renewable energy technology and low-carbon electric vehicles is inextricably linked to the supply of our critical minerals. We must take action accordingly to protect our energy sector, the generation of clean power and the future transport technology for low-carbon vehicles.
The challenge to the UK is not just that rocketing demand will leave shortages, but that our suppliers of critical minerals—namely the People’s Republic of China—are unsustainable and unreliable. More than 75% of the world’s lithium-ion component manufacturers are located in China, resulting in more than 72% of lithium-ion batteries and 45% of all global electric vehicles already being produced there. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) mentioned Shenzhen and other areas in China with huge electric vehicle networks. That is a positive in some ways, but also a concern, as they are almost hoovering up the critical minerals that we need to decarbonise here in the UK and across the globe. In December 2020—only a few months ago—the Chinese legislature passed a law on export control allowing the Chinese Government to ban exports of strategic minerals and advanced technology whenever they wished, so they have a stranglehold on the supply of essential minerals.
I have been active in persistently calling on the Government to adopt a comprehensive critical minerals strategy and to collaborate with the Five Eyes and Commonwealth partners on a unified supply network. I am pleased to hear that my call has been heeded and that Ministers and Whitehall are waking up to the urgency of this policy sector. Time is of the essence, and we must move now.
Furthermore, I submitted questions to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the role of assured data in mineral supply chains and the role of the Government in the stimulus and advancement of deployment of technology, including distributed ledger technology, used in the distribution system for critical minerals. I was a bit disappointed that the Department chose to group its responses together and provide, frankly, a very short and unresponsive answer. I hope the Minister can speak to her colleagues in BEIS and get them to commit to look at the questions again, because they are essential to our future critical mineral needs.
I wish to devote the rest of my speech to hydrogen. Some great work has already been undertaken by the Government on this issue, and I have spoken a lot about it in the House. However, with COP26 coming up in the UK, we must seize the opportunity to steal a march on the competition and become a pre-eminent world leader in hydrogen technology. I would like us to go further by introducing a vehicle capital financial support mechanism that applies to vehicle types where hydrogen has the potential to significantly reduce emissions. We should also introduce a financial support mechanism per kilo of hydrogen sold. That can be achieved quickly through the liberalisation of the renewable transport fuel obligation, which has recently gone out for public consultation. Further, we hope the hydrogen strategy will enable the development of a more refined scheme, such as, potentially, contracts for difference.
In addition, we should urgently develop hydrogen train schemes and use the 4,000-strong zero emission bus scheme to buy a large number of hydrogen buses to help kickstart investment in UK-made buses, as well as hydrogen production. We must modernise the bus service operators’ grant to align with the UK’s net zero ambitions and favour zero emission fuels over and above fossil fuels. We must commit to an explicit medium-term, zero emission freight deployment programme with vehicle deployment targets, and relax and clarify the conditions for hydrogen projects to qualify for the renewable transport fuels obligation, which will support the entire production and supply chain infrastructure needed for full hydrogen mobility. Combined, those policies have the ability to accelerate progress to net zero, stimulate private investment and create jobs across the Union, all with minimal taxpayer spend.
One other small point I want to touch on in relation to the low-carbon transport strategy is the nature of our technology and the batteries. Let me talk briefly about oil, as someone who used to work for Shell in the oil industry. Many people do not know the amount of oil that goes into an electric car. It is a huge amount, mainly for cooling the batteries, because at the moment that is the best way to cool them down. As battery range increases, batteries will get hotter and will need more cooling, therefore needing more oil. We cannot get away from the fact that, even in a low-carbon future, we will still need oil in the engine. It is not burned; it is first fill, so it is sealed in the engine, but when the engine battery is recycled or destroyed, that carbon will be released.
In future strategies, the Government need to acknowledge that there is carbon that we will have to get rid of at some point, and there needs to be a true way of recycling it. They also need to realise that some of that oil will get lost and carbon will be released, so we need to invest in offsetting that carbon usage. We will never get to zero carbon—net zero, but not zero carbon. In the strategy that is hopefully coming up, we need nature-based solutions and, potentially, carbon capture and storage. That needs to be at the heart of the strategy. We cannot ignore the elephant in the room: there is oil still in electric vehicles.
I commend the Minister for the work the Government have already done on critical minerals and hydrogen. However, without further decisive steps in both sectors, we risk losing out to the rest of the world, putting our net zero, energy security and economic growth at risk. We must see the rapid publication of the transport decarbonisation plan and the hydrogen strategy, which I think we are still waiting on. Every time I raise that with the Government, they say it will come soon. I hope it is sooner rather than later. We also need the critical mineral strategy. Industry, politicians and international partners are waiting. Now is the time to rise to the challenge and set the gold standard for transport decarbonisation.
I did not expect to be called quite so early, but it is a pleasure to speak, Ms Nokes. I thank the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) for setting the scene so well. Where we can, we must make changes. Many people want to change their carbon footprint, because it is the right thing to do. I do not think I have met anyone who thinks it is not the right thing to do, but we have to all agree whether we are prepared to pay the price to move from where we are to where we should be. I am not convinced that everyone is in a position where they want to or are able to pay that price. Others will make the change because their Government instruct them to do so. The legislation on the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be a case where we are following instructions.
I am excited by the opportunities for the electric vehicle market. But those who wish to jump on the train, to use a pun, and buy in early to start the change now are undoubtedly hampered by the lack of infrastructure to support it. In Northern Ireland, electric charging points are few and far between. I have had some correspondence with the Infrastructure Minister in Northern Ireland about that. I get contacted every week by constituents who want to buy or have bought diesel cars and vans, because they do not know how long they will last. Constituents also tell me that they buy an electric vehicle and set off to their destination, having checked the route to make sure there is an electric charging point. They see that there is one, but when they get there, 10 people are waiting in the queue. That is a real problem.
We need a good frequency of extra charging points. For someone who wants to buy an electric car, there is a very limited number of charging points in Northern Ireland. I wrote to the Minister, Nichola Mallon, about my constituency, and she gave me a clear response. She said that, in Northern Ireland, the
“electric vehicle public charge point network is owned, operated and maintained by the Electricity Supply Board…It is responsible for the operation, maintenance and development of its network. There are currently 320 22kWh (Fast) charge points at 160 locations and a further 17 50kWh DC (Rapid) public charge points in the North.”
I say facetiously that I think she refers to Northern Ireland, as opposed to the north part of Northern Ireland, but that is by the way. She goes on to say that the Government have
“made £20 million in grant funding available to local authorities/councils in GB-NI for 20/22”.
I know from my discussions with the Minister in this place and others who have been involved that that will provide some charge points for residents without off-street parking.
To quote the Northern Ireland Minister again:
“My Department has engaged with local councils in relation to the need for more electric vehicle charge points, including more recently with regard to the On-street residential charge Point scheme”.
Many of those who want to buy electric vehicles and electric vans need to make sure there is a charge point in their street. They need to make sure their vehicle can go the distance that they want it to go. She goes on:
“Therefore, the installation of on-street residential charge points, in urban residential areas, is essential going forward. My officials will continue to make themselves available to local councils to provide assistance, advice and guidance… ESB have advised that they plan to replace approx. 60 charge points i.e. 30 charge posts and a further 5 Rapid charge points to upgrade and improve the reliability of the existing public network.”
Nothing is as frustrating as going to the charging point and finding that it cannot be accessed or does not work for whatever reason. I declare an interest in that my son bought a hybrid car a short time ago, ultimately, probably because he thinks it is cheaper, but also because it helps him and shows his commitment to moving forward to what we all want to do.
Many of us are not yet convinced that it is possible to take that step if we do not have the charging points in place. A lot of work needs to be done and it appears that the driver of the work must be the Government from this place, going out to the regions, Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Perhaps the Minister in her summing up will give some indication or advance notice of what contacts, relationships and discussions she has had with the Northern Ireland Assembly, and in particular with the Minister responsible, Nichola Mallon—a good Minister, by the way, who works very hard.
The allocation of funding for councils should provide charging points that meet the need and allow those who want to buy a new car now to be sure that if they need to make a long journey, they can do so confidently throughout Northern Ireland without worrying that there will be a queue of 10 cars waiting to get home at the one charging point—that has happened—or whether their car charge will not get them to where they want to be and ultimately get them home as well.
I support these targets, but it is up to the Government to put the infrastructure in place quickly to enable change to take place. I look for more information about funding streams, incentives and encouragements being made available to private bodies, such as major supermarkets. I think that is one of the things that people wish to see. I am conscious that some of my constituents say to me, “It’s okay to have them at supermarkets, but we’d like to see them in the centre of town as well”. I am not saying this is wrong, but we need an equal playing pitch. They need to be in the main streets as well to attract people there, and not just at the supermarkets.
I want to make a wee plug for Green biofuels. Coincidentally, I had a meeting yesterday with some representatives and friends who took the opportunity to make me aware of some of the points. These refer mostly to London, and I know the hon. Member for Kensington will be very aware of them. They informed me that out of a bus fleet of some 9,112 vehicles, only 318 are electric or fuel cell. There are 3,773 diesel hybrids, but the principal fuel source is still diesel. There are 5,011 diesel vehicles. They also informed me that the company Green Biofuels has recently entered into partnership with Thames tugs and barges and that some of them are now running on green biofuels. The point I am making is that there are other methods of decarbonisation, and we need to be considering green biofuels as one of those. I understand that green diesel and biofuels are used in generators at Glastonbury and the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland event.
There are many things that can be done to reduce carbon and have a positive impact. I think there needs to be a commitment by train companies as well, such as on some of the freight and diesel locomotives that go from King’s Cross to the north of England. At present, trains are a major source of pollution. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for respiratory health, I am aware that this issue has been brought to our attention. It is clear that we need to improve air quality and respiratory health across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Trains that sit under a main station canopy run their engines for about 30 minutes, and the amount of pollution they generate in that time, before they even pull out of the station, is very large.
I know that this is a bit last minute, so the Minister might not able to respond today, but I am quite happy to get a response further down the line. It would be very helpful for me to go back to the people I have spoken to and tell them that. There are many people out there who have good ideas, who are very committed to reducing carbon, and all of us want that to happen.
We can make a huge difference, but until the infrastructure is in place for us to do so, there will be substantially fewer people who be confident in taking that eco step now. We want to encourage them. I believe that the Government want to do that; I believe we should work together in partnership, positively and constructively. If we do, then we will achieve the goals we need for our children and our grandchildren.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I thank the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) for bringing such an important debate to the Chamber this morning.
The Government’s rhetoric on this is fantastic, with their 10-point plan and 4,000 electric buses. The UK was the first G7 country to legislate for net zero, although of course that was after Scotland had already done so. However, the Government’s actions simply do not follow the rhetoric, from the much-delayed investment in those electric buses, which I have spoken about many times in this place, through onshore wind, carbon capture and storage, rail electrification, and reductions in electric vehicle grants—without notice, I have to say—to the obscene grid charges levied on Scottish renewable projects mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown).
The Government’s track record is poor. In the last debate in this Chamber, I asked the Minister when they would publish the long-awaited transport decarbonisation plan and I was told “shortly”. However, I think “shortly” has been the answer for quite a long time now, so I hope that when the Minister sums up she can give us an actual date for the publication of that plan, because it is needed as soon as possible.
By 2023, Scotland will see the majority of fossil fuel buses removed from our roads. That is in sharp contrast to the UK’s ambition—if we can even use that word in this context—of just one tenth of fossil fuel buses. We are getting on with that now. While the UK Government have prevaricated, the equivalent of 2,720 buses are already on order in Scotland. Scotland’s plans mean not just green buses but renewed fleets around the country at a time when, post-covid, the offer to potential passengers has to step up a gear.
Buses are the unsung heroes of the public transport network. Over twice as many commuter journeys use bus versus rail, but there is no doubt —as the hon. Members hear from their own local bus companies and I hear from mine—that bus patronage is dropping and putting the future of routes at risk. Many have already gone in areas outside London, I would imagine.
Clean buses are one way to bring patronage back and show off what technology can do on our roads. We have also committed to decarbonise our rail network by 2035. As I speak, that work is ongoing with the East Kilbride to Glasgow railway line which is set to be electrified, with a subsequent boost in services to meet the growth in passenger demand. That is just the latest in the roll-out of electrification across Scotland’s railways, which has been in place for two decades. Airdrie to Bathgate, Stirling to Alloa, Larkhall and the Borders Railway have all been reopened since the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament. Just yesterday, my colleague Graeme Dey MSP, Minister for Transport, confirmed the Levenmouth line reopening in Fife will be double-tracked and electrified from day one. Communities cut off from the mainline railway network for more than five decades will now have speedy, zero emission rail travel, linking with jobs and opportunities across Fife, the Lothians and the rest of Scotland.
Over the last couple of decades, nearly all main routes in the central belt have been electrified, with plans to fill the gaps over coming years and with work to continue heading north to Perth and Dundee. Those years have seen a near continuous process of upgrading, electrification and future-proofing, at the same time as investing in rolling stock and making journeys more attractive to get people out of their cars.
This has not been a party political process. Progress has been supported across the parties at Holyrood, which is a recognition that for too long rail investment lagged behind when the sole responsibility was Westminster’s. Those roles have now been reversed, with Westminster lagging far behind Scotland when it comes to equipping our rail infrastructure for the 21st century and the challenge of decarbonisation. Over the last 20 years, Scotland’s rail network has been electrified at twice the pace of England’s rail network.
I was proud that the SNP’s manifesto at last month’s election included pledges on extending free bus travel, support for zero carbon bike travel and reducing car kilometres by 20% by the end of the decade. Of the cars remaining, we want as many as possible to be zero emission cars. That is why we have enhanced funding in Scotland for drivers switching to electric vehicles. We have enhanced home charge point funding of up to £350 over and above the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles funding. We also have interest-free car loans of up to £28,000 for new zero emission cars and up to £20,000 for used models.
There is still a significant gap between the price of regular combustion engine cars and electric cars, so as well as the various sticks that people talk of, we still need a significant carrot when we talk about electric and zero emission cars to make it easier for people to switch. It cannot just be the preserve of the well-off to switch to electric cars. I should declare at this point that I have made use of the schemes just mentioned of late. We have bought our first electric car and ditched two diesel cars in doing so.
The investment follows years and years of sustained investment in charging points and the infrastructure we need to drive demand for electric vehicles, to ensure that early adopters are not discouraged by a lack of support and, more importantly, electricity. We all know—not least, in part, because my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun has told us all—that the UK charging network, outside London at least, is lagging well behind Scotland. Further to the stats that my hon. Friend outlined, here is another: there are currently double the number of rapid charging points per head of population in Scotland compared with England. Even London’s rapid charging network is almost half of Scotland’s.
According to the excellent report, “Pain points” by DevicePilot, the plans for 2021 are not particularly encouraging and are not going to change things too much, with a new charging point planned for every 2,741 people in London. The figure for the rest of England is one for every 19,159. In the east of England, the figure goes up to 38,000 people. Where is the levelling up or the building back greener for the rest of England? It simply does not exist. I hope the decarbonisation plan, when it is eventually published, will address that.
There is huge innovation in public charging in Scotland, because there can often be difficulties in identifying sites and installing the infrastructure because of the various parties involved. Project PACE, a collaboration of both Lanarkshire local authorities, the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland and Scottish Power Energy Networks, explored the benefits of having the distribution network operator involved at all stages of the planning and delivery of charging infrastructure. It increased capacity in Lanarkshire by 360% and achieved savings of up to £60,000 per site, which aggregated over the project across Lanarkshire amounted to £3.5 million of savings. I would like to see a lot more of that, not just across Scotland but across the rest of the country, and I hope the Minister can look at that project for down here.
On e-bikes, the Scottish Government are taking up the slack with yet more interest-free loans for electric bikes, while Cycle to Work, overall a very worthy scheme, is unfortunately letting some fall through the cracks. Again, Scotland is taking the lead while the rest of the UK outside of London is stuck in the slow lane, and that should not be the case. The UK authorities and the Department for Transport should speak to their counterparts in the Scottish Government to learn from the experience and ambition there and use those lessons to up their game across the board.
The Scottish Government have also pledged to increase active travel spending up to 10% of the transport capital budget over the lifetime of this Parliament. That should be transformational spending that could revolutionise how our towns and cities function and how people can connect. We have heard much more over recent months about 20-minute communities, where Governments and communities ensure that for most people services and shopping are within 10 minutes of homes without using a car. My colleague, Tom Arthur MSP, with whom I share some of my constituency, has been appointed Minister with responsibility for that in the Scottish Government. Tom will make sure that the drive towards 20-minute communities will have decarbonisation and a net zero future at the heart of each development across the country, working with communities to make sure that our high streets and centres are places with people rather than vehicles at their heart.
Combining those measures has the potential to revitalise town centres that have been hit hard in recent years by regional shopping centres, the growth in car ownership, and most recently covid. By increasing the active travel budget, as the Scottish Government are doing, we can not only reboot our towns and neighbourhoods, but ensure a more sustainable economy on the ground. We are also boosting zero carbon travel and keeping more of our money in the local economy.
Decarbonisation is not and should not be just about tackling emissions and climate change. It should also be about making changes to our transport networks that rebalance our economy and naturally regenerate communities that for too long have suffered as carbon-based transport has dominated. Moving to net zero is also a move to greater fairness. It is the poor who are disproportionately affected by air pollution and climate change, the poor who are excluded from accessing services for want of private transport, and the poor who are disproportionately hit by poor quality or highly priced public transport.
Investing in decarbonised and sustainable transport is not just the right thing to do environmentally. It is fundamentally the right thing to do economically and socially if we are serious about social justice and building a fairer society and—dare I say it?—levelling up. Change will not come tomorrow and we will no doubt have many bumps along the way, but if we are to meet the challenges of a net zero country by the target of 2045, Scotland has to make that commitment and take those risks. I urge the Minister and the rest of the UK Government to learn from that and show the ambition that has the potential to transform the lives of people here in England for the better, too.
It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Ms Nokes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) on securing this important debate. She made an excellent speech and I agreed with almost everything that she said. I say “almost everything” in case there was something in it that I did not spot and will come to regret. Certainly on the key points, she was very much on the same page as the Labour Front Bench. One of the most important things that she said was that too often there are very ambitious end goals, but they are far into the future, and unless we have clear interim targets and ways of monitoring and scrutinising progress towards those targets, and a plan as to how we will get there, there is a danger that everything will get pushed into the long grass, as we have seen with the 25-year environment plan. As the Environment Bill goes through Parliament, there is a real concern that with a 25-year plan, how do we make sure that we do ambitious things in the next five years and not just put things off?
It was really interesting to hear the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), and also the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), talk about the progress that Scotland is making. There is a lot we can learn from that. The point was made about how many more EV charging points we need to get to where we need to be. I speak as an EV driver, and what the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said resonated with me. I have learnt not to travel on a bank holiday because of queues at the service station. I cannot charge at home, so I rely on public charging points and have learnt to make trips in the wee small hours because I know I can get to the charging point then.
Also interesting was what the SNP spokesperson said about how this needs to be part of the planning system. Another speaker talked about new housing developments and how important it was to have charging points built in. This cannot be left to the market; it cannot be left to chance. It is something that we have to plan for.
I agree with what the hon. Members for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) and for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) said about the importance of electric buses, hydrogen, and the sourcing and manufacturing of batteries. These are real issues that we have to grapple with now. As has been said, decarbonising our transport sector is one of the most pressing challenges that we face as a nation, and we need more ambition and more action from this Government if we are to meet net zero. At the moment, whether it is the lack of a green recovery plan for our post-pandemic recovery or carbon budgets that will not be met through current policies, we are not seeing enough ambition or action from this Government. As the Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, said, the rhetoric is great—we cannot disagree with that—but where is the road map? Instead, we have a Prime Minister who talks green but then flies to the G7 in Cornwall, where climate change is high on the agenda, in a private jet rather than taking the train. What kind of signal does that send to world leaders ahead of COP26?
As has been said, transport is now the largest contributor to UK emissions. There has been real progress in areas such as energy, but we have not seen similar progress on transport. There has been a decade of inaction by this Government. According to the Climate Change Committee, surface transport contributed 24% of UK emissions in 2019, with aviation accounting for 8% and shipping 3%. I am glad that the Government have now said that they will look at including international aviation and shipping emissions when measuring our carbon footprint and on the agenda for COP.
I am also glad that one speaker in this debate has withdrawn and the other speakers, if anything, came in under time, because there will be lots of time for the Minister to answer questions, and I have quite a lot of questions for her. Obviously, the first one is, “Where is the transport decarbonisation plan?” We expected it to be published last year, and then we were told throughout this year that it would be published in spring. This Sunday marks the start of the summer solstice, so unless the Minister has a very big surprise up her sleeve for us in a few minutes’ time, it looks like that is another missed deadline. The hon. Member for Rother Valley talked about his frustration at constantly being told, “Soon, soon, soon.” That is something that we have come to expect from this Government: “Soon, shortly, spring.” When are we going to see the plan? I hope that it is very soon. Could the Minister also say whether, when the plan is published, there will be an oral statement in the House to accompany it? I certainly hope that there will be, so that MPs have a chance to ask questions.
We know that we urgently need to get polluting vehicles off our roads, get more people into zero emission vehicles, and get people back on public transport once it is safe to do so. Importantly—we have not heard very much about this so far this morning—we need to get people to engage more in active travel, whether that is cycling on conventional bicycles, e-bikes or e-cargo bikes, or walking. All of that will improve air quality, help lower emissions, reduce congestion, and improve physical health. With all the focus on technological developments, sustainable fuels and so on, I hope that people-powered travel—active travel—will not be overlooked.
Unfortunately, what we have seen from the Government recently does not inspire confidence. Subsidies for EV plug-in grants have been slashed yet again, and although the Government have tried to say that that is because they want more people to benefit—that was the answer I got when I challenged the most recent cut—based on the figures we have seen from the Government, the overall pot for plug-in grants has reduced too. Leaving it to the market, as has been said by the hon. Member for Kensington and others, will not get us to where we need to be by 2030. Funding for public charging infrastructure has so far been piecemeal, to put it mildly. There are at least four different pots that councils can apply for, but lots of local councils have not had anything from the Government.
When I have asked the Government which local authorities have not had any public funding at all, I have not had an answer; what I have had is a list of councils that have had money, and I have tried to extrapolate from that how many have not. It is a very significant number. That might be because of a lack of political will on councils’ part: maybe they do not feel the need for public charging infrastructure, and assume that people can charge at home, or that it can be left to the market. It might be because they have not been successful in putting together bids, but there are really significant gaps, and that needs to be addressed. We need a strategy to ensure consistent coverage throughout the country.
We also need to deal with grid connection costs, because the private sector has told me that there is an expense to putting in public charging points, and it could take quite a long while to recoup the costs before ownership reaches critical mass. In rural areas or tourist destinations in particular, it would take a while to recoup those costs. The actual cost of connecting to the grid is the thing that really deters companies from doing so.
On funding for local councils, the £2 billion for active travel that was announced last year—in fact, it was announced several times last year—is being released far too slowly. We have had a couple of tranches but I understand that there will be no more money until the next spending review, so we have missed the crucial window to embed the positive behavioural change that we saw during the lockdowns, when people were wary of using public transport but were quite keen to take advantage of the reduced traffic on our roads to take up cycling.
I also challenge the Minister on the £27 billion that has been pledged to road building by this Government, and on the fact that the Transport Secretary overruled the advice of his own civil servants to conduct an environmental review of the policy. I hope that the transport decarbonisation plan sheds some light on how and if such carbon-intensive construction projects can be made compatible with our net zero emissions target.
We need the environmental impact assessment from the Department so that we can assess the carbon footprint of road building, and look at whether more sustainable materials can be used and whether the extent of the road building programme proposed by the Government is compatible with reaching net zero, or whether other decisions need to be made.
We desperately need a comprehensive strategy to guide the Government’s approach. We do not want to see in this plan only platitudes and declarations of intent; we need clarity about how the Government intend to boost zero emission vehicle sales, speed up the transition to sustainable fuels, including for aviation and maritime, and encourage more people to use public transport, which we must ensure involves clean, greener vehicles.
We need a bold vision, linked to planning, housing and economic policy, on what role transport will play in the future, with post-pandemic adjustments to the way we live, move around, buy goods and access services—for example, the idea of the 15-minute city, which has been championed in Paris, and the role of the logistics sector. Many more people have resorted to online deliveries during the pandemic. I believe that pattern of behaviour will continue, so what is the strategy to keep heavy polluting vehicles out of urban centres wherever possible and rely on more sustainable forms of transport, whether electric vans, e-cargo bikes or other alternatives? The other day I visited Magway, a company that is looking at an underground delivery system, which it will be trialling in west London soon; that is really quite exciting stuff. Will we see ambition on that sort of thing in the plan?
I would welcome any insight from the Minister as to what concrete measures we can expect to see. Are the Government considering a zero emission vehicle mandate, as recommended by the Green Alliance and Policy Exchange, to ease the transition to 100% new zero emission vehicle sales by 2030? Are they considering a sustainable aviation fuel blending mandate to incentivise production and the adoption of stable fuels derived from waste? Will we finally see the timeframe for the production and roll-out of the 4,000 zero emission buses promised by the Government? How does the Government’s consultation on cutting air passenger duty for domestic flights square with all of this?
There is huge potential for jobs, and for the UK to lead the way in technological development. What we really want to hear from the Minister is a real strategy to get us there.
It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) on securing this landmark debate on the forthcoming transport decarbonisation plan. I welcome the opportunity to provide an update and set out the Government’s position on all matters raised.
I warmly thank all Members who have taken part for their contributions, which displayed their extensive knowledge of this vital topic, including my hon. Friends the Members for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) and for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) and the hon. Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands).
Before I move on to the main body of my remarks, I want to reassure the hon. Member for Strangford that I am shortly to meet Minister Nicola Mallon to discuss many of the matters that he raised. Northern Ireland is always close to our thoughts and we want to ensure that our transition is taking place at speed.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington started by saying, in 2019 we became the first major global economy to set a 2050 target to end our contribution to climate change and to achieve that net zero of carbon emissions. Our ambitious target to reduce our emissions by at least 68% by 2030, our nationally determined contribution under the Paris climate agreement, is among the highest in the world. It commits the UK to cutting emissions at the fastest rate of any major economy so far.
I will answer head on the question put to me by Opposition and Government Members—when are we going to publish the transport decarbonisation plan? We have done a huge amount of work on the plan, as I have said in this House many times, and we have a final draft. I am not satisfied with the draft because it does not meet the ambition we need in order to reach those incredibly challenging targets. It is my desire that, when we publish the plan, hon. Members will not be disappointed, and we will be able to ensure that we have taken into account the Climate Change Committee’s sixth carbon budget advice. I cannot give a date, I am afraid, so I cannot meet hon. Members’ challenges head on, but we are working through that at pace and intend to publish soon.
It is right at this point to counter some, though not all, of the narrative that we are not doing enough and it is all rhetoric. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me focus on a few highlights. We already have half a million ultra low emission vehicles registered on UK roads. That is backed by £1.3 billion of Government grants, also available in Scotland, as the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North updated us.
Nearly one in seven cars sold so far in 2021 has a plug. A driver is never more than 25 miles away from a rapid charge point anywhere along England’s motorways and A roads. We have 4,450 rapid charge points and 24,000 public charge points. We are providing up to £120 million for zero emission buses, adding to the £50 million already awarded to Coventry under all the all-electric bus city scheme. We will commit to spend £3 billion rolling out 4,000 zero emission buses during this Parliament. On active travel, we have committed—
Forgive me; will the hon. Gentleman allow me to complete my speech, because I am sure I am going to answer his questions in it? I have a lot of points to cover, but I will take interventions later if he is still not satisfied.
We have committed £2 billion to active travel over five years. That is the largest amount of funding ever committed to cycling and walking by any Government.
Let me turn to electric vehicles, which were the focus of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington. The key to decarbonising transport will be to roll out cleaner modes of travel that are affordable and accessible to all. I am delighted to see all the hard work she is doing in her constituency. It is by local engagement that Members of Parliament can play a vital role in ensuring that their local authorities are engaged in this. Many of these initiatives are delivered through local government funding.
I note that some local authority areas are not taking advantage of our on-street residential charge point scheme. I encourage any Member of Parliament to come to me, so I can provide them with an update about if their local authority is engaging in this, because that is how we are going to get charging points rolled out to people who do not have off-street parking. We need to move further and faster, and I fully agree with everybody who has posed that challenge to the Government.
We have an ambitious phase-out date to end the sale of all petrol and diesel cars by 2030. That is the most ambitious date of any country in the world. All new cars and vans must be zero emission at the tailpipe by 2030. We will be the fastest country to decarbonise cars and vans. There is no sign of buyer’s remorse.
On that ambition of before 2030, does the Minister accept that that means that energy policy has to align with that to get the electrification? That means that Ofgem must be mandated to deliver net zero and it means an overhaul of how energy is delivered. Is she discussing that with other Ministers? Does the transport decarbonisation plan interlink on that basis?
I am absolutely discussing that with fellow Ministers. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be coming forward shortly with its net zero strategy, which will answer many of those issues about the electricity network.
Over 90% of EV drivers say they will not go back to petrol or diesel. I am one of them because I drive an electric car, including on bank holidays, so I experience these issues first hand. We are determined to make it as easy to charge up an electric vehicle as it currently is to fill a tank with petrol or diesel. The private sector has already installed 24,000 public charging devices, but the process is changing and accelerating all the time. In two years’ time every motorway service station will have at least six high-powered chargers, so that people can charge up in the time it takes to have a coffee.
To underpin our ambitious phase-out dates and to help achieve them, in November we committed to developing three key policy documents over the course of 2021. Those policy documents will specifically answer many of the questions that hon. Members have rightly posed to me. The first is a delivery plan that will set out key Government commitments, funding and milestones. That is for the 2030 and 2035 phase-out dates. It will deal with the question whether we will have a zero emission vehicle mandate. We are having that discussion inside Government at the moment.
We will set out an infrastructure strategy. That will set out the vision and action plan for the charging infrastructure roll-out that is needed to achieve our ambitious phase-out date successfully, and to accelerate the transition to a zero emission fleet. As part of this strategy we are working with local authorities, charge point operators and other stakeholders to ensure that our future charging infrastructure is practical, accessible, reliable and achievable, alongside outlining all the key roles and responsibilities for all actors in the EV charging sectors. It is clear that we need more charge points everywhere and this Government will set out how that will take place.
The Green Paper on our UK future CO2 emissions regulatory framework, now we are no longer a member of the European Union, will set out how we will phase out petrol and diesel cars and vans, and support those interim carbon budgets, including consulting on which vehicles exactly can be sold between 2030 and 2035.
Let me go through the key points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington. On her first priority, the need to combat range anxiety, she is absolutely right and every Member has mentioned that. We need to increase not only the reality but the perception of the adequacy of the infrastructure for electric vehicles. I keep reminding people that in England they are never more than 25 miles away from the nearest charge point and we have committed, and are already investing, £1.3 billion to accelerate the roll-out of charging infrastructure in rural and urban areas across the UK.
The charge point market has evolved over the past decade. Like my hon. Friend, I am a free-market capitalist, but of course Government has a role to play, hand in hand with the private sector, which is stepping up in an incredibly impressive way. They have a growing role in charge point funding, with areas such as home charging showing signs of maturity. We need to keep working hand in hand with the private sector, so we have committed to invest £950 million in future-proofing grid capacity along the strategic road network, to prepare for 100% uptake of zero emission cars and vans. We expect to increase the number of high-powered chargers across the network by 2035 to 6,000.
We also have a £90 million local EV infrastructure fund that will support large on-street charging schemes and potentially local rapid charging hub schemes in England, as well as the £20 million already referred to, which is the on-street residential charging scheme. We are working closely with stakeholders to inform the design and delivery of the fund. We aim to launch it in spring next year. We must continue, however, as a Government—that is our responsibility—to monitor the market.
On charge points, those plans sound fantastic and what have you, but will the Minister comment on the massive discrepancy in the numbers of planned charge points in England? In London, which already has an extensive network compared with the rest of England, this year there is one charge point for every 2,700 people, whereas in the east of England there is one for every 38,500 people. Why is there such huge discrepancy across England?
I thank the hon. Member for his comments, but I have addressed them already with the roles that local authorities, the private sector and Government have to play. I also point him back to what I said about our delivery plan, which will, absolutely, set out how we intend to ensure that every resident of the United Kingdom, no matter where they live, has equal access to this electric and low emission revolution. We will continue to monitor the market, and where it is not delivering, it is right for central Government to step into those areas of market failure.
Members mentioned the experience of public charging. We have consulted recently on measures to improve that experience, including opening up public charge point data, improving reliability and streamlining the payment methods for drivers—they should not have to have multiple active apps and accounts on their phone. We want to increase pricing transparency. I have done a huge amount of work with charge point operators as part of that vital work. We also plan to lay legislation later this year.
We want people across the country to have the opportunity to move to being electric vehicle drivers.
Absolutely right, it is that. We already have those powers in legislation, and we intend to use them.
The vast majority of electric vehicle drivers choose to charge their cars at home overnight or, increasingly, at the workplace. We plan to support people to charge their cars at home, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington said. We are working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government at the moment and we have consulted on plans to introduce a requirement for every new home to have a charge point, where there is an associated parking space. We will publish our response soon. We aim to lay regulations in Parliament in 2021—this year. That will make England the first country in the world to introduce mandatory charge points in new homes, again cementing our position as the global leader in the race to net zero.
My hon. Friend spoke about R&D, and we are world-leading in the automotive manufacturing sector. We have prioritised securing investment in battery cell gigafactories. That is key to anchoring the mass manufacture of electric vehicles in the UK, safeguarding green jobs and driving emissions to net zero by 2050. We must also create a circular economy for electric vehicle batteries to maximise the economic and environmental opportunities of the transition to zero emission vehicles. That is why we support innovation, infrastructure and a regulatory environment for the UK battery recycling industry. The £318 million Faraday battery challenge is about tackling those technical challenges of reusing and recycling battery components with the aim of making them 95% recyclable by 2035—up from 10% to 50% today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley mentioned many of the critical minerals. He will have to forgive me, that topic is not my direct brief, but I assure him that a lot of the work on the Faraday battery challenge is to address such critical challenges, of which Ministers are well aware.
We must also continue to support public transport as one of the most sustainable ways around. On rail, we are building on our Williams-Shapps plan for rail to decarbonise the rail network. We have already completed 700 miles of rail electrification in England and Wales, and we will continue to electrify more of the network in the years ahead. In the past year, there has been a meteoric rise in cycling and walking, and all of our policy development is aimed at embedding that shift. As I said, we are investing £2 billion to enable half of all travel in towns and cities to be cycled or walked by 2030.
I asked the Minister earlier—if she is coming to it, that is dead on, but if she is not, perhaps she will reply to me—about how green biofuels can improve rail and public transport in the UK. Does she have a response to that? If she does not, I am happy for her to get back to me.
We refer to that in the transport decarbonisation plan, but I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with a lot more detail. Synthetic fuels are an important part of our thinking on decarbonising the entire transport network.
In the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, he announced £20 million of funding for pioneering UK freight trials. The hon. Member for Bristol East rightly mentioned freight. We want to test and develop primary candidate technologies for zero emission long-haul HGVs this year, and the role of hydrogen will be crucial as we aim to decarbonise the transport sector and put UK industry and technology at its forefront. Although it is in its infancy, in the UK we have one of the largest publicly accessible hydrogen refuelling station networks in Europe.
I seek your guidance, Ms Nokes. What time does the debate end?
I will certainly do that. Thank you very much, Ms Nokes. I will bring my remarks to a close and thank everybody who has contributed.
Our transport decarbonisation plan must not just change transport to be greener; it must make transport better for everyone, because transport is what connects people to opportunity, prosperity and each other. Our resolve in tackling climate change and ending the UK’s contribution to it could not be stronger.
I thank the Minister for that informative and ambitious update. I thank all Members, including the Opposition Front-Bench spokespeople, for their contributions. I am glad to hear that the transport decarbonisation plan is in its final phase and that the Minister wants to make it more ambitious. I am looking forward to that.
I was also glad to hear that we will be introducing legislation on the reliability of chargers, because that is something that I hear a lot about anecdotally. I am glad we are making progress on mandating chargers in new homes. There is clearly a lot of legislation to come. The Minister also mentioned the consultation on vehicle sales between 2030 and 2035. I am looking forward to seeing and scrutinising all that because, as I said, this is a huge challenge but also a huge opportunity. We collectively need to get this absolutely spot on.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the transport decarbonisation plan.
Reform of the Mental Health Act: White Paper
[Caroline Nokes in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the “Reforming the Mental Health Act” White Paper.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair today, Ms Nokes. I am grateful for this opportunity to bring to the Minister the concerns and aspirations of my constituents about the “Reforming the Mental Health Act” White Paper.
I appreciate that the consultation on the White Paper closed only recently and that the Government will be considering their response ahead of bringing forward legislation. My intention in securing this debate is to emphasise many of the concerns and priorities of my constituents on reform of the Mental Health Act 1983, to put those concerns on record and to seek assurances from the Minister that they will be addressed in the Government’s response and in forthcoming legislation. Although I draw on the experience of my constituents, I am confident that these issues apply equally to communities up and down the country.
I am grateful to Lambeth and Southwark Mind for the work it has done to engage with local residents in Lambeth and Southwark, including many with lived experience of accessing mental health services. That work has informed its submission to the consultation, which I will draw on today. I am also grateful to national Mind, for its research and analysis of the experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic residents of mental health services.
Being sectioned is one of the most serious things that can happen to somebody experiencing a mental health problem. It involves the deprivation of liberty, removal to an institutional facility, multiple interactions with professionals, who are most likely to be strangers, and medical interventions, sometimes involving the use of chemical or physical restraint. For far too many people, the experience of being sectioned is itself an additional trauma.
That reality was brought home to me when, as a teenager, I had a regular summer job in a firm of legal aid solicitors in Liverpool who represented people at the mental health review tribunal. It was my job to open the post and, day after day, I read handwritten accounts of the pain and distress suffered by people detained due to their mental health. The overall impression from the weight of correspondence over many weeks and months was of desperation and a system that was so often not listening to the patients in its care. Reform of the Mental Health Act is long overdue. Many of the proposals for reform set out in the review chaired by Sir Simon Wessely are very welcome.
The boroughs that my constituency covers, Lambeth and Southwark, have among the highest rates of mental ill health anywhere in the country. They are also among the most diverse communities in the country, with a significant proportion of residents from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. It is therefore a top priority for me and my constituents to ensure that the forthcoming reform of the Mental Health Act delivers services that work for our diverse communities, in terms of both sustaining good mental health and delivering equitable access to services that are culturally appropriate and free from racial discrimination.
Mental health research points to a relationship between the experience of racism and mental ill health and to racial inequality within mental health services. There is ethnic disparity in the diagnosis of mental illness. For example, for every one white person diagnosed with schizophrenia, 4.7 black people and 2.4 Asian people are diagnosed with the disorder. Incidence is highest among UK residents of black Caribbean heritage, but that disparity is particular to the UK and is not replicated in the Caribbean, which points strongly to social determinants of mental ill health, including poverty, unemployment, poor housing and school exclusion.
Growing evidence, cited by Mind, suggests that discrimination and, in particular, experiences of racism, both personal and institutional, contribute to increased likelihood of developing mental health problems. Experiences of racism have been linked to an increased likelihood of developing depression, hallucinations and delusions and post-traumatic stress. Routine experiences of racism and discrimination, and the associated prolonged exposure to stress and distress, have been found to have a toxic wear-and-tear effect on the body over time.
There is also evidence of some racial discrimination within mental health services, particularly with regard to racial stereotyping and the perceived risk of violence contributing to increased rates of detention. That translates into significant racial inequalities in the use of the Mental Health Act. Black people are more likely than white people to be referred to mental health services through the criminal justice route, four times more likely to be sectioned, more likely to be detained more than once, three times more likely to be the subject of physical restraint, and eight times more likely to be given a community treatment order.
The Government’s support for the Sewell report, with its denial of institutional racism, gives rise to grave concerns among many of my constituents about whether the reforms will address racial inequality in mental health. It is absolutely vital that reform of the Mental Health Act addresses those stark and unacceptable inequalities. I hope the Minister will understand why I am anxious to emphasise this matter before the Government publish a response to the consultation.
Lambeth and Southwark Mind has identified three ways in which racial and ethnic disparity and discrimination can be addressed in mental health services. The first is greater community engagement directly with black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, working with existing, often dynamic, community structures, rather than expecting communities to engage proactively with NHS structures. Such structures can seem distant and opaque and which often reflect services that have been the source of painful experiences in the past, and in which trust is sometimes low. There are many grassroots organisations and NHS services that engage very well with communities. It is vital that best practice is understood and embedded across all services as part of those reforms.
The second is investment to support more culturally focused peer support groups and counselling as part of much wider investment in improved community care. There is concern that, although increasing the threshold for sectioning is the right thing to do, without a step change in the level of investment in community-based mental health services—specifically those that are culturally appropriate and competent—some people could experience a delay in accessing services until they are much more unwell.
Thirdly, Lambeth and Southwark Mind recommends a significant change in language to reduce stigma and improve access to mental health services. That type of change is modelled exceptionally well by organisations such as Black Thrive, whose language focuses not on the stigma of illness but on the changes that are required to keep people well and thriving. Lambeth and Southwark Mind also emphasises the need for practical changes, including the introduction of discreet mental health vehicles to transport people suffering a mental health crisis, which are more appropriate, less traumatising and less stigmatising than ambulances and police cars.
There is widespread support for the proposal to move to an opt-out system for mental health advocacy services. It is important that training and funding are put in place to ensure that advocacy services are always delivered in a culturally appropriate way. The introduction of a nominated person is a significant improvement over the current nearest relative provision, but in a consultation meeting held by Lambeth and Southwark Mind, which I attended, some of the contributors flagged concerns that there should be robust safeguards against coercion and exploitation, since it is possible for people to be subject to abuse and exploitation from non-relatives, which may result in pressure to designate them a nominated person.
Lambeth and Southwark Mind raises some questions about the lack of clarity in the White Paper on the time limit for temporary detention. As it stands, section 5 of the Act places a 72-hour time limit for an in-patient to be temporarily detained in hospital pending assessment. It is unclear whether the limit extends to out-patients in A&E. Provision of a 72-hour time limit for temporary detention in A&E reflects the horrific experience of far too many mental health patients in A&E departments across the country, due to the acute shortage of in-patient beds. Long wait times in A&E are unacceptable. They should not be enshrined in law; rather, investment should be made in services to ensure that they are available in a timely manner.
Nationally, Mind has raised particular concerns about community treatment orders, given the appalling racial disparity in their use. Black people are 10 times more likely to be put on a CTO than white people. CTOs can involve very significant coercion and intrusion, and there is no evidence that they reduce the number of black people being sectioned. The Government have committed to ensure that any reduction in the use and duration of CTOs is matched by a reduction in disparities surrounding their application, but that is not a sufficient response to the level of racial disparity in the use of CTOs, and will not help to build trust and confidence of black communities in mental health services. I urge the Minister to look again and to ensure that reforms are fit for purpose, by removing racial disparity from the use of CTOs in mental health services.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed) for his work to introduce the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018 known as Seni’s law, in honour of Seni Lewis, who died while being restrained. It was passed in 2018 but has not yet been implemented. Will the Minister commit to expedite the implementation of Seni’s law, which is so important in reducing the use of restraint?
Finally, I want to raise two important issues on the reform of the Mental Health Act for children and young people. First, the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition raised important concerns about the lack of data on children and young people admitted informally to inpatient facilities. There is currently no legal requirement for advocacy for informal patients. Although the White Paper recognises the importance of extending that right to them, it also states that
“this will create an additional burden for local authorities, and advocacy providers”,
“therefore be subject to future funding decisions.”
Advocacy is rightly recognised as important enough to make it a statutory requirement. It is surely therefore important enough for the Government to fund it properly. Will the Minister make a commitment today to fund advocacy services for children and young people who are admitted as mental health in-patients, whether by a formal or informal route?
Secondly, it is absolutely vital that these reforms remove the routine use of out-of-area placements and placements in private hospitals for children and young people. Out-of-area placements are distressing for young patients and their families, limit access to vital support networks, make services less transparent, and are not conducive to good outcomes. Will the Minister confirm that there is a commitment to ensure that children and young people who need to be admitted to hospital for their mental health will be able to access a bed close to home?
These reforms are vital and long overdue. They are also complex and far reaching, and it is vital that the Government get this right. Reform of the Mental Health Act must work for everyone in our diverse communities, and it must work for children and young people. Involving and engaging a wide range of community stakeholders and people with lived experience of in-patient treatment and care in developing the reforms further and in the future design of services will help to ensure that these reforms are fit for purpose.
I thank the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) for bringing this debate to the House and for raising important concerns on behalf of her constituents in what was a truly constituency oriented speech. We both come from Liverpool, which is an incredibly diverse city. I recognise many of the points she raised in her speech and thank her for that.
The hon. Lady spoke about the consultation, which was wide reaching and had a huge response, including from Mind, which she spoke about. Mind has worked very closely with us throughout the development of the mental health White Paper and contributed strongly to the consultation process. It is a very important stakeholder and we work very closely with it.
The Mental Health Act exists so that people with severe mental illness who present a risk to themselves or others can be detained in hospital and treated, which, I am sure the hon. Lady will agree, is necessary at times, unfortunately. Outside the cases where we know that people are safest in hospital and require hospital treatment, no mental health treatment is better delivered in a hospital than in the community. Our goal is for people to receive community mental health treatment close to where they live and to their families and work, in order to prevent them from having to be admitted as hospital in-patients. There are times, however, when detention is, unfortunately, necessary. We are taking steps because it is time to modernise the Act so that it works better for people.
In 2018, the Government asked Professor Sir Simon Wessely to review the Mental Health Act. I thank the hon. Lady for her comments about him. We asked him to review the Act because we were concerned about the rising rates and numbers of people being detained under the Act and the racial disparities in those detention rates. Sir Simon’s independent review of the Act clearly shows that it does not always work as well as it should for patients, their families and communities. It goes too far in removing people’s autonomy and it does not give them enough control over their own care.
In response to Sir Simon’s review, in January the Government published the White Paper on reforming the Mental Health Act, setting out our proposals to make the Act work better for people. These are once-in-a-generation reforms that will give people greater control over their treatment and let them have the dignity and respect they deserve. Through these reforms, we will give patients a voice in their own care, which we know leads to better engagement in treatment. We will put care and treatment plans, and advance choice documents, into statute for the first time. I will address in a moment some of the individual points made by the hon. Lady.
Patients will be more closely involved in the development of their own care and can have confidence that if they lose capacity because of illness, their preferences on drug treatment, named next of kin and choices for the future will be properly considered. We will also make it easier—this is incredibly important—for patients to challenge decisions about their care. We are creating a new right for patients to choose a nominated person who will best look after their interests. I am sure the hon. Lady knows that, until the reform of the Act, it was still the case that if a woman was detained in hospital, it was her husband, father or next male relative who—regardless of how remote that person was to her life or experience—was nominated to make decisions on her behalf. That is one of the reasons why I personally think that this new provision is so important—it is so that that anyone can choose their nominated person, regardless of whether they are a relative, next of kin or someone in their family. That person is nominated during a time of wellness and remains the nominated person in the future. That can lead to patients having a far greater degree of control over their treatment, and a feeling of control over decisions taken on their behalf.
We are increasing patients’ access to the independent mental health tribunal to provide vital independent scrutiny of detention. The reforms also seek to address the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic groups detained under the Act. Black people are currently four times more likely than white people to be detained under the Act, and 10 times more likely to be placed on a community treatment order, as mentioned by the hon. Lady. Our plans to enhance patient choice, increase scrutiny of decisions and improve a patient’s right to challenge aim to address those concerning disparities.
On the criminal justice system, our proposals include key improvements to how we manage offenders with acute mental disorders and support them to access the care they need as quickly and as early as possible. We will improve the timeliness of transfers from prisons to mental health hospitals where individuals become well when in custody—I am sure that the hon. Lady is familiar with that situation from her previous experience—so that people in the criminal justice system get the right care, in the right place, at the right time, while continuing to fulfil our duty to keep the public safe.
Finally, we want to improve how people with a learning disability and autistic people are treated under the Act. The right community services would prevent needs from escalating. In future, the Act should be used only where there is a treatable mental health condition and admission is therapeutic, close to home and for the shortest time possible. There have been far too many examples of poor practice and quality failings in in-patient care for people with learning disabilities and autistic people. Therefore, we are proposing reforms to limit the scope to detain people under the Act where their needs are due to their learning disability or autism alone. We are firmly committed to developing community based services to support people with learning disabilities and autistic people, and to reduce reliance on specialist in-patient services. We have put forward proposals to ensure that that is available. These once-in-a-generation reforms will be instrumental in bringing the Mental Health Act into the 21st century.
On the points raised by the hon. Lady, CTOs are incredibly important and we are increasing the scrutiny of when they are used—and the frequency of that scrutiny—so that they are used only when appropriate and for no longer than necessary. That has been one of the failings so far, and it needs to be addressed. They will now be monitored and kept in place for no longer than is necessary. We are taking action to address racial disparities across the use of the Mental Health Act. Those CTO disparities are, of course, happening in the communities represented by the hon. Lady.
The hon. Lady mentioned Seni’s law. We are clear that restrictive intervention and restraint should only ever be used as a last resort, when all attempts to de-escalate a situation have already been employed. The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act, also known as Seni’s law, received Royal Assent in November 2018. The purpose of the Act is to increase the oversight and management of the use of force and acts of restraint in mental health units, so that force is only ever used as a last resort. We published the draft statutory guidance to the Act for public consultation in spring, and are committed to publishing the final guidance and commencing the Act in November.
We have made a huge amount of progress, but unfortunately, and sadly, we have been delayed by covid. The Department’s resources have all been focused on covid over the last 15 months. I met Seni’s family and the hon. Member for Croydon North (Steve Reed) only a few weeks ago to discuss this. They were absolutely delighted to hear that we will make huge progress from September to November, and that by November the Act will hopefully be live. I commend them for the work and the campaigning that they have done—they are still campaigning.
The disparity in the use of force and restraint speaks to the communities that the hon. Lady represents. The Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act will be instrumental, along with reform of the Mental Health Act 1983, in improving her constituents’ mental health experiences of detention and in-patient treatment.
On the next steps, public consultation on the White Paper has ended. I note that the hon. Lady said that she would like her comments to be considered, and they will be—they have been heard and duly noted. I reassure her that the stakeholders, many of whom represent her community and interface both with the Department of Health and Social Care and with other organisations and arm’s length bodies, have been fully engaged in the White Paper for the reform of the 1983 Act and in the consultation. I stand to be corrected, but I think we have accepted 124 of Sir Simon Wessely’s 127 recommendations. We meet him regularly to look at how we can enhance and implement those recommendations.[Official Report, 17 June 2021, Vol. 697, c. 4MC.]
I want to thank and reassure the hon. Lady. I absolutely understand why we are reforming the Mental Health Act and the reason why we supported and assisted the enactment of Seni’s law. It is because we are absolutely committed to improving the experience of mental health in-patient detention for all, and especially the communities she represents. We are very aware of the fact that black men are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act, and we very much want to change that. That is why we have accepted so many of Sir Simon Wessely’s recommendations.
I thank you, Ms Nokes, and I thank the hon. Lady for securing this debate. I always look forward to an opportunity to speak about mental health, particularly the reform of the Mental Health Act, which I very much look forward to championing later in the year.
Question put and agreed to.
Children and Young People’s Mental Health
[Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. The timing of debates has been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will also be suspensions between each debate.
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I beg to move,
That this House has considered children and young people’s mental health.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I am very grateful to be given the opportunity to lead a debate on this critical issue. Eighteen months ago in my maiden speech, I pledged that children and young people’s mental health would be an issue that I champion in this place. It is a cause for which I will fight relentlessly, because children and young people are our future. Their hopes and dreams depend upon us doing the right thing by them.
Those who are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing, whether those suffering mild anxiety to those young people attempting to take their own life, deserve the very best care and support. Yet children and young people do not have a voice in the political system and are too often overlooked. In fact, the former Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, said in her final speech earlier this year that in Government there was an “institutional bias against children”—never more so than during the pandemic when, frankly, they have been an afterthought at every turn. From new born babies to schoolchildren to university students, the Government have let them down in planning and providing for their social and educational needs, and again in their announcements about children’s recovery.
Teenagers and young people in my constituency who are ambassadors for the fantastic local charity Off The Record tell me that uncertainty over exams, combined with the social isolation of being stuck at home away from their peers, worries about loved ones and now concerns about their future job prospects have all taken their toll. But this crisis in children and young people’s mental health started long before the pandemic. One reason why I made it my priority at the start of last year was because following my election, I was astounded week in, week out by the emails from parents or conversations at my surgeries, of stories of battles with child and adolescent mental health services to access treatment for children who are considering suicide, self-harming or withdrawing themselves from school. Yet they were having to wait six months or sometimes a year for treatment.
At a lower level, support in schools is patchy, with only some having access to a counsellor or mental health support team. Community-based support to intervene early can be dependent on voluntary sector provision in any given area. The pandemic has only served to highlight and exacerbate the existing lack of access and inequalities within children and young people’s mental health. In 2017, one in nine children had a diagnosable mental health condition. That rose to one in six at the height of the pandemic. The Government need to use this moment to renew their focus on mental health and overhaul the support available.
I want to focus on three elements within the system and what needs to be done: CAMHS, schools and community services. Turning first to CAMHS, referrals are at their highest ever level, with over 65,500 referrals for 0 to 18-year-olds received in March 2021. That is more than double the number in March 2020 and almost 70% higher than in March 2019. Behind the staggering numbers is a child or a younger person in turmoil, often left in limbo waiting for treatment, and a carer beside themselves with worry. From talking to NHS leaders in my area, I know that unplanned admissions for children suffering a mental health crisis are at extremely high levels with services struggling to cope.
While it must be acknowledged that the Government have increased spending in this area, resulting in the NHS slightly exceeding its 2019-20 target of community mental health support for 34% of children needing support, there is still a long way to go. Last week, a local GP said she is increasingly finding that children she refers to CAMHS are being knocked back, and she is routinely requesting schools make a supporting referral to secure therapy. When referrals succeed, the wait can seem interminable. I heard from the adoptive father of a seven-year-old who suffered significant trauma and abuse within her birth family. She was referred to treatment, the initial assessment took several months to secure, and then the family were told that there would be a year’s wait—yes, a year’s wait for a seven-year-old for an eight-session course of treatment, only if deemed necessary.
There is a postcode lottery of spending across the country. Eight local areas spend less than £40 per child on mental health services, while 21 areas spend more than £100 per child. That brings me to an important point about data and reporting, which is so important for accountability. Inconsistencies in financial reporting across clinical commission groups makes it difficult to interrogate the data to check they are meeting NHS England guidance to increase year-on-year the proportion of spending on children and young people’s mental health. This measure should be included in the mental health investment standard.
The other issue with data collection and publication is that it is impossible to judge whether different areas are meeting access targets, as the percentage of young people with a diagnosable mental health condition is only available nationally, not on a local basis. The Children’s Commissioner should not have to request this comprehensive data on waiting times and referrals every year. The Minister will know that I tabled an amendment during the passage of the NHS Funding Act 2020 to improve transparency in operational expenditure and performance at a local level. I discussed this with her ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), a few months ago. He assured me that the Minister is taking this forward, and I hope she can update us on when this local data might be routinely available.
However much money is pumped into CAMHS, improving access to it is contingent on plugging big holes in the workforce. The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ 2019 workforce census found that the rate of unfilled NHS consultant psychiatrist posts in England has doubled in the last six years, with one in eight CAMHS psychiatrist posts vacant. We urgently need a proper long-term work- force strategy, adequately resourced and with an annual report to Parliament. The forthcoming heath and care Bill is the ideal opportunity to hardwire this provision.
Turning to the role of schools in tackling mental health concerns, they are key to early intervention, and step in where children do not meet the CAMHS threshold. Provision of counselling and other mental health support services in schools can be variable and dependent on already massively overstretched school budgets. Mental health support teams can fill the gap. However, the current roll-out rate is very slow. The Government are aiming to reach a fifth to a quarter of the country by 2022-23, and have recently provided more funding to accelerate the roll-out, but I urge the Minster to be more ambitious.
On children’s recovery from the pandemic, most of the education catch-up funding announced by the Government has been largely focused on academic catch-up, with little focus on emotional wellbeing and mental health support. All the research shows that it is difficult for children to learn if they are struggling with their mental wellbeing. Liberal Democrats supported YoungMinds’ call for a £178 million ring-fenced resilience fund to allow schools to provide bespoke mental health and wellbeing support packages, as appropriate to their pupils and context. So far the Government have committed just £17 million of dedicated mental health support for schools as part of the recovery. A recent Ipsos MORI poll showed that parents put increased wellbeing support at the top of their priority list as part of any education recovery plan.
Finally, I will touch on the importance of community support services. We know that half of all mental health conditions present themselves by the age of 14 and three quarters by the age of 24. That is why prevention and early intervention are so critical. We know that some children and young people do not want, or are unable, to access mental health support in schools, but community-based services can be a lifeline.
Waiting until children reach crisis point is far too late. For younger children, family-based interventions, such as those offered by Kids Matter, are an effective approach. The Purple Elephant Project in Twickenham, founded by the inspirational Jenny Haylock, who has built a team of art and play therapists, works with children and their families from a very young age. Coram is also doing some incredibly important work on boosting children’s self-esteem and resilience.
For teenagers and young adults, I warmly welcome the campaign launched by a range of children’s and young people’s mental health charities, called “Fund the Hubs”. It calls for early-support hubs, offering easy-access, drop-in support on a self-referral basis for young people up to the age of 25, who do not meet the threshold of CAMHS.
The hubs would offer a mix of clinical staff, counsellors, young workers and volunteers, providing a range of support services. Additional services could be co-located under one roof, such as sexual health services or employment advice. The hubs could be delivered in partnership with the NHS, through local authorities or working with the voluntary sector, depending on the local area. Such an approach has already been tried in Manchester, Ireland and Australia, and has been shown to relieve pressure on and deliver cost savings to the health service. I hope the Minister will look at that innovative model.
In conclusion, we owe it to our children and young people to offer them the very best start in life. As a Liberal, I am passionate that every child gets the maximum opportunity to reach their full potential. With spiralling figures of children suffering anxiety, who are self-harming or struggling with eating disorders, as well as many more who are grappling with low confidence and self-esteem, we need to use this moment as we emerge from the pandemic to hit the reset button.
I urge the Minister, who I know shares my passion on this issue, to develop a proper cross-departmental strategy to tackle this growing crisis. Let us re-envision what support looks like for children and young people. Let us break down the silos between schools, local authorities and the NHS. Let us make sure that we prevent and intervene early to stem the tide, while also investing in training the mental health workforce.
I have heard too many times, from too many parents sick with worry, that CAMHS is simply not fit for purpose. I have yet to see much evidence to disagree with them. I hope the Minister will make it her mission to fix it, and work cross-party, if she is willing. I stand ready to do so for the sake of our children and their future, and I hope my Labour counterpart will, too. Not only is it morally the right thing to do, but our country’s recovery depends on their success.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. As we know, the Timpson review was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education in March 2018 and published in May 2019. There is no need today to go into the detail of that excellent document, which is on public record, but I will highlight some key factors.
From 1998 to 2013, there was a downward trend of school exclusions. They dropped to a rate of 0.06% for the 2012-13 school year. However, that level has increased in recent years. For example, in 2017-18, there were almost 8,000 permanent exclusions in state-funded schools across all levels, a rate of 0.1%. The reasons are multifarious, including persistent disruptive behaviour and physical assaults against pupils and adults. Most intriguingly, the exclusion rates for children with special educational needs are much higher than average. With overall permanent exclusion set at 0.1% in 2016-17, it was 0.35% over the same period—three and half times the problem. So, indeed, Houston, we have a problem.
We are not here today to admire our challenges, but to solve them, so what do we need to do? The SEND review is expected imminently, but it is a matter for DFE and DHSC. First, we need to invest in our SEN children as never before. Yes, many are disruptive, hard to handle and come with a range of issues, but what about their energy, skills and strengths? If we can harness them to best effect, just think of the rewards.
Why might that work? By getting to the root cause of the issues, providing focused intervention and allowing children to fulfil their potential in the right environment, rather simply be excluded because it is all too difficult, we can get the best out of them. By providing the right care in the right settings, we can give them the focus they need to be productive, employable, law-abiding and responsible citizens, because we have addressed the root causes.
Our prisons are sadly full of people who have made the wrong decisions or acted impulsively, because they were not diagnosed at an early age, so let’s invest in all our kids to give them the best possible chance.
I want every single local authority in the UK to comprehensively review their SEN provision, so that it becomes available in every area. In other words, every authority should provide specialist in-house provision. Specialist and dedicated settings are the way forward, and I want more dedicated schools established for SEN. Why? It is because it is not fair on the 95% of children in a class if 5% are disruptive, nor is it fair on the 5% to be constantly out on a limb, feeling the odd one out or being excluded. Let us separate the children, where we need to, but also be free to adopt hybrid models where access to the mainstream will still be beneficial. It is about a needs-must basis—individually streamlined to each child.
Why is it necessary for local authorities to do that? It is because it is the right thing to do. Our children are closer to home and enjoy the normality that they crave. It would also save on the exorbitant cost of providing taxi fares to schools a long distance away and perhaps even save the huge school fees of private education, when this should be provided in the state sector.
We must also give our teachers better training in identifying special needs and processing the education, health and care plans. I know of many families who are simply swept under the carpet, waiting for years for someone to take them seriously and for the EHCP to be authorised. This cannot be a golden ticket for the lucky few, but a rightful passport for every child to get what they need. Please, let’s speed up the EHCP process and hold headteachers and councils to account. And please don’t get me started on local councils that fail to acknowledge hidden disabilities or autism in applications for blue badges—a whole different issue.
Lastly, our child and adolescent mental health services across the UK need 20,000 volts put straight through them. For families to be waiting up to two and a half years for a consultation, it is not only immoral, it is also, frankly, inept. The irony will not have escaped anybody that a GP cannot prescribe medication for autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, Asperger’s or any other mental health condition without a diagnosis from CAMHS. Therein lies a vicious circle: children desperate to escape their symptoms, parents and teachers desperate for solace, GPs unable to prescribe without a diagnosis and CAMHS unable to see these children, in some cases, for up to two and a half years. It is a national disgrace, but we can now solve it.
To conclude, I commend the Timpson review. Let’s get diagnosing, treating and spending and give all our children the future that they deserve in specialist educational settings that give them the chance.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Positive Youth Foundation in my constituency. I had the best time, as videos on my social media show. It is a fantastic organisation providing young people in Coventry with a huge range of activities and opportunities. Visiting the centre, I saw the bonds that had been formed between the staff, volunteers and young people and the confidence and support that gave them. I want to begin by paying tribute to everyone at Positive Youth Foundation from its founder and CEO Rashid Bhayat to all the staff and volunteers.
As staff and volunteers made clear to me, this is an incredibly challenging time for young people, with more than half of safeguarding reports at the centre being about children’s and young people’s emotional wellbeing and mental health. The pandemic, and the new stresses, strains and isolation it has brought, has added to what was already a mental health crisis for children and young people. Before coronavirus hit, one in five young people aged between 16 and 24 suffered mental ill-health, and for school-aged children the figure was one in six. That has only got worse in the last 12 months. University students have been trapped in accommodation, away from friends and family, and have missed out on what should be the most exciting time of their lives. Almost two thirds of the people who have lost jobs during the pandemic are under 25. Schoolchildren have been missing out on vital education and have often been stuck in overcrowded homes with overstretched parents.
Things have got even worse for oppressed groups. Nearly three in four children with autism have a mental health condition, but in Coventry waiting times for autism assessments have been growing, and were doing so even before the pandemic. Working-class and LGBT+ young people, and children from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities all have greater rates of mental ill- health. What makes this not just a crisis but a scandal is the totally inadequate support for children and young people’s mental health.
More than a decade of austerity has cut away the support that was once provided, while deepening the problems that give rise to mental ill-health. Since 2011, mental health trusts have faced a real-terms cut of more than 8%. Huge cuts to school funding have put even greater pressure on budgets, forcing schools to have bigger classes while cutting mental health services. Nearly half of young people with moderate to severe mental health needs have to wait more than 18 weeks to start treatment. That is a cruel failure for children and young people. Mental health support needs the funding across the board that it deserves—for services such as NHS services and school counsellors—to guarantee that every single young person who needs support can get it when they need it.
Although funding for support is vital, the mental health crisis cannot be tackled with funding alone. It is getting worse, and more and more young people face mental ill-health. It is estimated that depression has tripled for those aged between 16 and 39. We cannot look just at the consequences; we have to look at the causes, too. Asthma, for example, is a health condition, but people do not suffer from it totally at random. If someone lives in an area of high air pollution, they are more likely to suffer from asthma. It is an individual problem, but it has social and political causes. The same is true for many mental health issues. The more stress, anxiety and trauma there is in people’s lives, the more likely they are to experience mental ill-health. For children and young people who have grown up under austerity, life is getting more stressful and less secure. That is what is driving this mental health crisis, so although funding is vital, so is building a society that nurtures people, gives them security and safety, and truly values and cherishes them.
A report presented to the United Nations in 2019 argued that the best way to tackle the global mental health crisis is to build a supportive environment, including everything from the building of good homes to secure and well-paid work. If we are to solve the mental health crisis faced by children and young people, we must build a society where basic needs are met, where young people find decent and secure employment, where housing is both affordable and liveable, where education is understood to be a right and a good in itself, and where people do not have to work every hour of the day, but instead have time to live their lives to the fullest.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. The issue of children and adolescent mental health is mission critical. It is the next tsunami—the challenge that will follow the covid pandemic. Now is the time not only to right historical wrongs—they are not as simple as underfunding; it is about truly looking at parity of esteem—but to look at the increasing needs that young people, and adolescents in particular, face and need to be satisfied.
We sometimes forget that mental ill-health is as much of a killer as physical ill-health. Life expectancy for those with mental health problems is usually reduced by some 10 years. Clearly, that can get worse in some areas and mildly improve in others. One of the real challenges is that it is those in deprived areas and lower-income families who suffer the most. Sir Gary, you will be aware of the huge deprivation in our rural areas, which is sadly hidden and therefore not properly addressed.
To get this right, we need properly to monitor it. We need to be clear what we mean by mental health. We need to be clear what illness means. We measure diagnosis, but there are many problems that come before it. We heard earlier from hon. Members that the time gap between someone putting themselves forward with a potential problem and diagnosis can be significant. We need to recognise that both have to be addressed.
The point that has been made about data is right. If we do not understand who is coming forward within the three systems—education, health and local government—what hope do we have of really understanding the scope of the problem? We need to collect, measure and keep consistent data across the country about diagnosis, waiting times, treatment and recovery. It is not just about what we put in to address mental health; what happens at the end of it—whether people get better—is equally important. Unless we do that, this promise of parity of esteem is never going to be delivered.
Some of the existing targets, which in my view are not adequate, are distinctly unambitious. The access target for children and young people is 35%. That seems the wrong way around—surely it should be the larger part, not the smaller part.
We must remember when we talk about youngsters that children are the most vulnerable to mental health problems, and an earlier contribution set out exactly what the statistics look like. I pay tribute to Devonshire Partnership NHS Trust in my area, which has done a fantastic job of providing support against all odds, but the numbers are growing. The eating disorder challenge is going exponentially upwards. Quarantined children are showing acute stress disorder and acute adjustment disorder.
Addressing the waiting time issue is just the start of solving the problem, but let us at least look at it and try to find a proper target to collect data for and monitor, with some sanctions if it is not met. In 2017, a four-week waiting time was piloted, but it was only a pilot and has not been rolled out across the country. We know from our own experience around the country that the actual waiting time can be significantly greater. My call today is for a national access and waiting time standard. It is much needed and would be the start of our journey towards true parity of esteem.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on youngsters. Many—up to 25%, it is estimated—are not getting the treatment that they have been given historically. We also know that the numbers have grown enormously. They will just add to the burden. Although the Government have provided support, it is not yet enough.
My ask is this. We need to look again at the health and care Bill, and at specific provision for mental health. We need to look at specific provision for how it is commissioned, and at proper measurement to deliver parity of esteem. We need national access and waiting time standards. The five year forward view for mental health has not been met; it must be. Mental health matters. Young people matter. What gets measured gets done.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. We have talked a lot about self-isolation over the past year but less about the impact of being isolated on our mental health. Many children and young people have faced the disruption, hardship and heartbreak of this pandemic largely away from their friends and school support networks.
Last week, I visited a breakfast club at a primary school in Camden, where I had some really uplifting conversations with young children. Most were absolutely delighted to be back in school, around their classmates and teachers once again. We know that the attainment gap has widened substantially during school closures, in part due to the Government’s failure to deliver laptops to disadvantaged children. Many of the children I have spoken to, however, found that their wellbeing and mental health took the biggest hit in lockdown. Most have been able to do classes on Zoom and to get on with their homework remotely, but they said that the wellbeing support which can only be delivered properly by teachers in person is what they have missed out on the most. The teachers I spoke to at the school expressed their frustration that they were not able to do more to help with mental health issues during school closures.
Children with special educational needs and disabilities have suffered particularly badly, with three quarters of parents saying that their disabled child is socially isolated and often unhappy, downhearted or tearful, and that there is a real risk that that could translate into serious long-term mental health issues without better support. That is also something I have picked up in my role as the governor of a primary school in my constituency. Remote learning also stifled the role that teachers often play in spotting problems that are emerging, intervening with assistance or, in serious cases, with referrals to other services.
The number of children and young people receiving support through the NHS for mental health difficulties halved in April and May last year, as did the number of referrals to CAMHS, compared with the previous year. Sadly, the number of current referrals does not make up that shortfall or address the worsening problems caused by the pandemic. That means that many children are still suffering in silence and without the support that they desperately need.
I heard that message loud and clear last summer when I met a group of inspiring children—the meeting was organised by Barnardo’s—who told me about the isolation and other difficulties they had faced as a result of the pandemic. They also spoke about how difficult it can be to access basic mental health assistance and how there is almost no joined-up thinking between different but related support services in some areas of the country. The reality is that young people are far too often unable to access mental health support until it is too late and they have, sadly, started to harm themselves.
It is a source of great sadness and shame that one in six young people in the UK could now have a mental health disorder, up from one in nine in 2017. We must turn that around, which requires a laser-like focus on improving access to mental health support, and giving schools and other bodies the resources to provide direct targeted help and to join up children’s services properly. The children and young people I have spoken to over the past year simply cannot afford to wait for the snail’s pace of change that this Government are overseeing in prioritising and investing in mental health support. We have to act, and we have to act now.
It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Sir Gary, and I thank the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for securing this important discussion. This debate on young people and mental health is important to my constituents, many of whom have contacted me about it. As many other hon. Members have said, people come to explain their experiences and their difficulties in accessing services.
To provide some context, according to NHS Digital, in 2017 one in nine children was estimated to have a diagnosable mental health condition. That number has increased to one in six because of the covid-19 pandemic, but it is important to emphasise that the crisis existed before the pandemic. Research by University College London shows that in 2018-19, almost a quarter of 17-year-olds had self-harmed in the previous year and 7% had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2017 suicide was the most common cause of death for boys and girls aged between five and 19. The figure for boys was 16.2% of all deaths, and for girls 13.3%. That is a sobering thought.
I have the pleasure of chairing the all-party parliamentary group on suicide and self-harm prevention. We have been looking at this area over the past year, including hearing evidence from organisations such as YoungMinds and from young people themselves. We received evidence that many young people who self-harm still struggle to access the support that they need in an acceptable time- frame. In fact, the NHS dashboard shows that 37% of young people—just over a third—with a diagnosable mental health condition can access NHS specialist support.
Respondents to our inquiry made it clear that the single most impactful change to improve the support available to young people who self-harm would be a system shift away from the current reliance on crisis interventions and towards a preventive model of support. However, budgets for preventive interventions have markedly reduced in recent years. Demands for specialist NHS mental health services such as CAMHS and improving access to psychological therapies has therefore increased exponentially, outstripping investment and exacerbating workforce issues. This has led to longer waiting lists, higher thresholds, and refused referrals of young people who self-harm. Even before the pandemic, people who self-harmed could struggle to access the support they needed.
There are also clear inequalities when it comes to children and young people’s mental health, with higher rates of mental health problems among young women than young men, and among LGBTQ+ young people, young people with autism and young carers. There are also clear links between mental health and race, and between mental health and financial insecurity. Experiencing mental health difficulties in childhood or adolescence can have a significant impact across the life course, and can affect young people’s educational outcomes, earnings, employment and ability to maintain relationships, as well as increase their likelihood of engaging in risk- seeking behaviour.
I want to talk about early support hubs. We need a shift towards preventive community-based interventions to urgently address the wider drivers of self-harm. That is why I support the call by the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, including YoungMinds and the Children’s Society, for the national roll-out of the early support hubs model, which would ensure that young people in every area across England can access early support for their mental health. We know that the earlier young people get support, the more effective that support will be, and the better the outcomes. Early support hubs offer easy-to-access drop-in support, on a self-referral basis, for young people who need urgent help but do not meet the threshold for children and young people’s mental health services or who have emerging mental health needs up to the age of 25. These hubs can be delivered through the NHS, in partnership with local authorities and the voluntary sector, and would offer support across areas of need. Services would include psychological therapies, employment advice, youth services and sexual health services. Finally, I stress the need for security of funding for organisations providing these services.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary, and I thank the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for having secured this incredibly important debate. We know that half of mental health illnesses develop before the age of 14, and it is therefore essential that everyone has access to mental health services from an early age. I have spoken many times in this House about the inadequacies of CAMHS provision, including unacceptably long waiting times for referrals and the incredibly high threshold for treatment. However, today, I want to focus my remarks on infant mental health.
Worryingly, reports have demonstrated that there is a baby blind spot in our mental health service when it comes to the very youngest, and while children and young people’s mental health services are aimed at those aged 0 to 19, research has shown that there is inadequate provision for our youngest children. In 2019, 42% of clinical commissioning groups in England reported that their mental health services would not take a referral for a child aged two or under. The Parent-Infant Foundation recently surveyed professionals working in children’s mental health, and found that only 9% of those surveyed believed that sufficient provision was available for infants whose mental health was at risk.
Just like us, babies and toddlers can experience stress, anxiety and trauma. This impacts on their emotional wellbeing and development, but by failing to provide infants with access to mental health support, we enable mental health problems to build up. Given that thousands of babies have been born during lockdown with limited access to health visitors, peer support, playgroups and children’s centres, it is really urgent that we tackle these issues. Early intervention can have long-lasting benefits for mental wellbeing, benefiting not only the infant, but also reducing demands on mental health services in the future if it is tackled early on.
It is clear that we need action to address this blind spot. We need to invest in the provision of infant mental health services. We must also develop a strategy to ensure that there are enough qualified professionals to deliver it, so I urge the Government to address this baby blind spot and ensure that babies are not forgotten in mental health policies, strategies and services.
More widely, I am concerned by reports that find that one in six children now have a probable mental health condition. Demand for support is rising; there was a 35% increase in referrals to children’s mental health services in 2019-20. The Children’s Commissioner has warned that the pandemic will have a profound impact on children’s mental health going forward, putting already struggling mental health services under more pressure.
It is clear that urgent action is needed to support CAMHS. The postcode lottery in service provision has only worsened during the pandemic. There is huge disparity in the length of waiting lists, in the number of children accessing treatment and in the number of children being turned away. It is not acceptable that the availability of support can be based on where someone lives. The ability to access mental health services is so important, and this needs to be addressed.
I am concerned that the current expansion of mental health services is not fast enough to meet increased demand, and the Government must urgently address this. We need full and sustainable funding to support expansion, and we need a plan to address the shortage of specialist staff in the sector. Greater emphasis needs to be put on prevention and early intervention to ease demand, with properly funded mental health support in every single school across the country. After the extremely difficult year that our children, infants and young people have had, we owe it to them to put their mental health at the top of the agenda.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for securing this important debate. We have a long way to go to properly respond to our growing mental health crisis, especially for young people.
Eating disorders are a serious mental health issue, affecting many thousands of young people. They are complex and potentially life-threatening. They have no single cause, and they have the highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders. Recovery from an eating disorder takes, on average, three times as long as having the disorder itself. The fact that, all too often, an eating disorder goes undiagnosed and untreated for years adds to the problem.
Access to help continues to be a postcode lottery. NHS data on eating disorders show a fourfold increase in the number of children and young people waiting for urgent care. Behind these awful statistics hide thousands of real-life tragedies, not just for the sufferers themselves, but also for the friends and relatives who watch loved ones suffering from this awful illness virtually disappear before their eyes. With face-to-face appointments not going ahead, it has been much easier for sufferers to say that they are fine and not to ask for help until they reach crisis point. Like many forms of mental illness, eating disorders thrive in isolation. Some people have described their eating disorder as the only thing they have felt able to control during lockdown.
The demand for children and young people’s community services was already rising before the pandemic, but now these services are backlogged. The news that CCGs in England would increase their funding for eating disorders by an additional £11 million to help them cope with increased referrals was extremely welcome. However, this funding is not reaching the frontlines. Research commissioned by the all-party parliamentary group on eating disorders, which I chair, and carried out by the eating disorder charity Beat, shows that CCGs in England increased their spending on children and young people’s community eating disorder services by just £1.1 million in 2019-20. Only 15% of CCGs increased their spending in line with the increase in additional funding; 21% spent less. On behalf of the APPG and Beat, I ask the Minister and the Government to hold NHS leaders to account, because they must make sure that every penny that the Government have made available goes to frontline services.
The impact of the pandemic on the mental health of disabled children and young people has been considerable. Research from the Disabled Children’s Partnership consistently shows that disabled children have been more isolated than the rest of the population. Its latest survey shows that 90% of disabled children are socially isolated, and 72% of parents said their children are
“often unhappy, downhearted or tearful.”
Disabled children are at risk of being forgotten in the national recovery from the pandemic. It is deeply disappointing that the Government’s recently announced education recovery plan provides no tailored support for disabled children to meet their complex needs. I urge the Minister to back calls for immediate dedicated catch-up funding and services for disabled children and their families. In the autumn spending review the Government must go further. They should commit to proper funding to tackle the pre-pandemic gap in disabled children’s social care services.
Childhood trauma is at the bottom of a very large number of mental illnesses. Many children take their traumatic experiences into later life and it affects their life chances in every aspect, from educational achievement and professional qualifications, to health and wellbeing, to the risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system. We still lack a proper understanding of the effects of childhood trauma and how to prevent it. Trauma-informed services across the board, in schools, the NHS, the police and our prisons, would have a transformative impact on the whole of our society. As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the prevention of adverse childhood experiences, I hope very much that we can engage with the Minister on the work we are doing in that field.
Our children’s mental health is deteriorating. We must do all we can to improve it.
I thank the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for not just securing the debate but superbly setting the scene.
I want to reinforce the message that has just come so eloquently from the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) with regard to eating disorders. I saw the recent paper by Dame Til Wykes and other scientists and campaigners, supported by the Government’s national adviser, Chris Whitty. They discussed the end goals for mental health research. The first end goal was halving the number of children and young people experiencing persistent mental health problems.
Eating disorders are just one of the serious persistent problems that start early and often persist into adulthood. As the paper sets out, they are associated with extremely poor outcomes, so it is appropriate to try and stop these disorders persisting from an early age. It makes sense for the individuals and their families, but also for the NHS, in terms of reducing costs, and for the economy overall, because people can contribute so much more fully to society.
What came out of that paper is the decision that we need to implement what we know already, but also support more research to improve recovery. As the hon. Member for Bath said, we already know that eating disorders are a growing problem. Some of the statistics are startling. The NHS 2019 health survey for England found that 16% of adults aged 16 and over screened positive for a possible eating disorder. In recent years, we have seen a fourfold increase in eating disorder hospital admissions, and waiting lists are at an all-time high. Hon. Member after hon. Member is finding this in their constituency, particularly when they are approached by distressed parents.
It is estimated that one in three young people experiences an eating disorder. Because these disorders occur among so many young people, they are still sometimes viewed as almost a teenage girls’ illness—a diet, a lifestyle choice or something a person grows out of. Yet, the statistics on their severity are shocking. It is reported that eating disorders have the highest death rates among all mental health disorders, and the rate of suicide is 23 times higher in people with eating disorders, compared with the general population—one in five deaths in eating disorder patients is reported to take place because of suicide, and I pay tribute to the work my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and her all-party parliamentary group on suicide and self-harm prevention are doing. According to the reports that we receive as constituency MPs, these serious consequences result from eating disorders partly because of the lack of access to psychiatrists who are fully trained in eating disorders and who specialise in eating disorder treatments.
As the hon. Member for Bath said, evidence is emerging that there has been a significant rise in people with eating disorders during the covid pandemic. Those in recovery have been set back, and new eating disorders have developed among a wider range of the population. From what I hear from my constituents, there is a vicious cycle of a lack of awareness, a lack of training and a lack of research funding at the scale needed. Let me just quote the parents from one family, who said: “Tell them right now the support, the treatment and the understanding is just not out there for us.”
Concerns have also been expressed about what some people consider unhealthy messages being pushed by the Government’s obesity strategy, which is being developed at the moment. I hope that more consideration will be given to consulting organisations that represent people with eating disorders in the development of that strategy.
I want to pay tribute to Hope Virgo. Many will have heard of her campaign “Dump the Scales”, which has been calling so effectively through the media for proper investment in eating disorder treatments. Just this week, Hope told me she has received numerous letters from parents whose children have been naso-gastric-fed on general wards, with no psychological support in some health settings.
F.E.A.S.T., a global website campaign, is reporting thousands of people contacting it through Eating Disorders Support UK, and 5,000 have signed up for its 30-day support scheme. Hope Virgo is the founder of the Hearts, Minds and Genes eating disorder coalition, which is the first coalition to declare a state of emergency around eating disorder treatment, and I am pleased that it is now meeting the Department of Health and Social Care. This serious issue needs ministerial support to drive through the new programme, and I hope that pathways and support will be developed within a timescale that recognises its urgency and seriousness.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Sir Gary. I thank the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for setting the scene so well. She obviously has a passion for the subject. I love to engage with the debates that she is involved in, because I usually find I am on the same page, so I thank her for securing this debate.
I like quotations, and John F Kennedy had one that is appropriate for this debate. He once said:
“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”
I think that sentence captures this debate. The years march on, and for those of us of a certain vintage, they march terribly quickly—at least, they seem to. But that’s the way it is. I understand these things more than ever. My mum is 89 years old. In four weeks’ time, almost to the day, she will be 90, and she is very fit in mind and body. She reads the Minister’s novels, by the way—the Minister knows that—and she finds them very enjoyable. That is the sort of mind she has, but she is the first to tell me that she does not know how young people are coping at present. Long gone are the very simple times. Our children live in an age where the world is at their fingers, which sounds great. It also means that when they are at home, in a place that should be safe from the world, the cyber-bullies are still at play, information is still at hand, and the anxieties of the world are never too far away.
I am always amazed when I look at my two oldest grandchildren—Katie, who is 12, and Mia, who is seven. They are so active and so capable on their iPads and laptops. Their grandfather, unfortunately, has not caught up with them at all. I am thankful for the wonders of the internet and all the possibility it brings, yet it also brings a world of uncertainty and fear. Information is truly available, but so too is information that is false and that could really harm, corrupt and do a great deal to the health of our young people.
During home schooling, we told our children to access school online and do more on the iPad and the computer than ever before. At the same time, young children were scared and frightened by the seismic shift in their lives because of covid, watching informational programming that was not designed for them and that caused fear and upset. We were isolating them from their support systems at school, from their friends at church and even from their neighbours. Little wonder our young ones are struggling now, fearful of this bug and not sure what that normal is any more. I am not sure what the normal is any more either—it might be what we used to have.
YoungMinds, a charity that the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and others referred to, is doing tremendous work. In its recent survey, which I quote for the record and to focus our minds, 75% of respondents agreed that they found the current lockdown harder to cope with than the previous ones, with 44% saying it was much harder, while 14% said it was easier and 11% said it was the same. Some 67% believed that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health. That includes young people who have been bereaved or who have undergone traumatic experiences during the pandemic, who were concerned whether friendships would recover or who were worried about the loss of education or their prospects of finding work. Some 19% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 14% disagreed, but the figures we need to focus on are the 67%, the 75% and the 44%. Some 79% of respondents agreed that their mental health would start to improve when most of the restrictions were lifted, but some expressed caution about restrictions being lifted too quickly and about the prospect of future lockdowns.
The statistics speak volumes, yet the issue is the silent, solemn children who carry burdens that their wee shoulders were never designed to carry. How heartbreaking it is to imagine that one of my precious grandchildren could be feeling that; it is a feeling felt by too many children. I know that from speaking to parents, teachers and ministers back home in Northern Ireland. The question on our lips is, what can we do?
As a grandparent, I know that Katie and Mia are old enough to understand much of this. They have perhaps observed loss and watched their parents and grandparents grieve. As a Christian—I always say this if I get the opportunity, and I know it is something that resonates with you, Sir Gary—I will be seeking that the perfect peace that comes from God descends on our young people. But as a parliamentarian, I ask my Minister and my Government to put in place funding to enhance the counselling available, to encourage schools to carry out Mental Health Day events, and to work with churches to enable them to signpost children to help. We must act, lest the message that we send to the future be nothing other than an apology for our failings.
I begin by echoing the thanks to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for securing this debate and for her excellent exposition of the challenges that we face. Maintaining the good health of our children and young people is a challenge, and much more so in the wake of covid-19, with all the destruction and disruption it has wreaked on young lives, plaguing children with fear and uncertainty during their formative years. Tackling that has to be a public priority, and it is for the Scottish Government. I hope the Minister will agree that it will be a public priority in England as well.
Scotland was the first nation of the UK to create the post of a dedicated Minister for mental health. It is true that young people’s mental health was a challenge even before the covid pandemic, but we all need to try to more fully understand the mental health and wellbeing impact of lockdown and school closures for children and young people, in order to be better informed about how to support them and what support can be offered as lockdown eases.
It is perhaps obvious that feelings of anxiety have developed in many young people throughout lockdown, especially for those children whose parents are key workers. We often forget that the children of key workers will undoubtedly have been worried about their parents, and perhaps other family members, being on the frontline during the pandemic. While young people are off school, their worry is likely to be magnified and exacerbated, as their key worker parents could be working longer hours than usual on the frontline, to benefit wider society.
Those living in disadvantaged communities are more likely to have had negative impacts on their mental health during lockdown, but many young people across the board have been concerned about returning to school and missing out on school, and worrying about the future. We know that lockdown has been particularly difficult for young people who face challenges with digital access, physical space or insufficient support with their home learning, and lack of contact with peers, which is particularly important for children and young people.
There is no denying the link between poverty and poor mental health, as well as poor physical health. That is as true for young people as it is for adults. Tackling inequality must be part of any long-term strategy to improve mental health. The Scottish Government have established a range of measures to reduce inequality. The real levers to tackle the ingrained inequality, of which we are all aware, are reserved to the UK Government.
Local authorities have reported increased self-harming and suicidal feelings, with an increased number of suicide attempts among care leavers. Recent studies show that 6% to 7% of young people surveyed believe that the pandemic will have a long-term negative effect on their mental health. That is pretty shocking, but I do not think the long-term mental health adverse effects are inevitable—I sincerely hope that they are not. Hope, sadly, is not enough. There has to be a determined, decisive political will to tackle this problem.
The Scottish Government’s approach is to focus on further investment in and redesign of child and adult mental health services. The mental health transition and recovery plan is supported by an additional £120 million to transform services, with a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention. The additional demand for mental health support in the wake of covid poses challenges across the UK, but they are challenges that we have to meet. There is no dressing it up; there is no getting away from it.
We know that the waiting lists for mental health support in Scotland and across the UK are simply too long. That is why the Scottish Government are redoubling their efforts to ensure that waiting lists come down, and they are working closely with health boards to that end. The Scottish Government are also working hard to ensure that schools are as equipped as they can be to support children. That is why the £20 million additional investment in the pupil equity fund, bringing it to almost £147 million, is so important for supporting children and young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
That fund resources educational psychologists, home school link workers and mental health counsellors. In addition, the investment in raising attainment and supporting the wellbeing of pupils is complemented by a £20 million summer programme, alongside a range of other investments in youth work, outdoor learning and education in Scotland, to support schools with the resources they need to strengthen mental health support. The Scottish Government’s £262.2 million budget for mental health and autism in 2021-22 is over and above the NHS spending, and more than double the previous year. Suicide prevention spending has also been doubled.
The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) is correct. Psychiatrists are warning of a “tsunami of eating disorders”, thought to be a direct consequence of the isolation and feeling out of control engendered during the pandemic. The mental health pandemic that has followed so hard on the heels of the health pandemic will require ongoing determined action across the UK. The explosion of mental health challenges created by the health pandemic will take time to treat, and it will take time for those suffering to recover. As long as we have the political will to do that and give it the priority it needs, that is what matters.
The reality is that we still do not yet know the full picture of the mental health impact of covid-19. We may not know that full picture for some time to come. However, a glimmer of hope can be found in the fact that now people are more willing and able to talk openly about their mental health, which is a real culture change, even from as recently as a decade ago. That means that young people today are more likely to ask for help or talk to someone they trust if they are struggling, and that has to be welcomed.
We know that talk is not enough; we need action. The focus we now have on the importance of mental health must not be lost. Young people and children who have mental health needs require and deserve our support and we have a duty to provide it. The Scottish Government are working hard to do this, and I hope to hear that the Minister will be doing the same in her role.
It is such a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I thank the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for securing extremely important debate and all hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions.
My speech is full of stats. We have heard stats and real-life stories. We know what has been unfolding in our communities. Today, we have a choice to do something about it. The Government have a choice to do something about it. What are we going to do? We are going to make our interventions, state our cases, speak the numbers. The Government will respond and then we will go back to normal, with children attempting to throw themselves off bridges; a reality where parents have to take time off work or give up work because they are so worried about their children who are self-harming. We are going to go back to teachers who would walk over broken glass for their students, desperately telling me that they cannot get their children on to CAMHS waiting lists. Even if they are lucky enough to tick those boxes and get on a list, it is far too long until they are seen.
Today, we have the choice to do something about this. Demand for mental health support is at an all-time high, yet access to services is simply not keeping up. For over a year, Labour has warned that children’s mental health should not be forgotten in this crisis, but it is easy to blame the coronavirus pandemic for what we are seeing playing out in our communities—every single community. This issue cuts across the class and socio-economic divide. It can affect any child or young person. Prior to the pandemic, access thresholds in many places were so high that they created unacceptable waits and led to children having their referrals cancelled without treatment.
The former Children’s Commissioner outlined in her 2021 annual report that over half a million children and young children were referred to CAMHS in 2019 and 2020. Of those, approximately 3,500 either had their referral closed or were still on the waiting list by the end of the reporting period. This simply is not good enough.
The pandemic has pushed services that were once stretched to breaking point over the edge. The Minister does not need to take my word for that, but she should certainly heed the warning from the NHS mental health trust leaders surveyed in May this year. The survey, carried out by NHS Providers, found that two thirds of trust leaders said they were unable to meet demand for CAMHS. Every leader surveyed stated that demand for children’s and young people’s services is higher now compared with last year. Some 78% said they were extremely or moderately concerned about their local system’s ability to meet the level of demand over the next 12 to 18 months, and 84% of trust leaders said children were waiting longer for treatment than they were six months ago.
The Government know all these stats. The Minister knows all these stats. What is she going to do about it? Is she going to recycle yet more money in a new announcement? Is she going to spend £2.3 billion over and over again in every debate that we have, depending on exactly which mental health topic we are talking about? The NHS does an incredible job with limited resources. However, it needs the political will to close the gap, now more than ever, and workforce capacity is often cited as the biggest barrier to scaling up provision.
That has been known for some time, with not enough being done to rectify it. Failure to resolve the issue before the pandemic is now having disastrous consequences. Mental health trusts had to give money to local hospital trusts to plug gaps, leaving them with even less of the money that they needed. This, on top of 11 years of an austerity-driven agenda, means the money is simply not in the system, and anything put back into the system will simply not cut it.
Staff have been grappling with a health emergency for more than a year, under enormous pressure, resulting in the acceleration of burnout and exhaustion. They are in desperate need of a reprieve, but the mental health fallout from covid means that waiting lists continue to pile up. Without urgent action, that gap in access will only continue to grow, leaving thousands of children to fall through the cracks.
National and crisis provision are extremely important, but more must be done to ensure that support is proactive, holistic and community-led. The biggest driver of poor mental health in children is adverse childhood experiences —I can see colleagues nodding. That is a well-known fact. When I do a shift in accident and emergency, and a child comes in with mental health issues—a child I have seen multiple times in the previous year, living in mouldy housing, in multi-occupancy homes, with parents who cannot access jobs—it is no surprise to me that they are suffering with their mental health.
What will the Government do about that? In areas of deprivation, it is not uncommon for parents to resist answering calls from withheld numbers or opening letters labelled private and confidential, but that is the main way in which CAHMS appointments are communicated to parents. Many miss the appointments, despite them and local advocates having pushed for treatment for many months and even years. Those children, the poorest and the hardest hit by other Government measures, then get dropped, which unfairly creates the impression that parents simply do not care. Those same parents are often grappling with many children suffering with mental ill health as a result of their life experiences.
Advocates out there would give the shirts off their back and, as I said, walk across broken glass to get those children to appointments. A fully holistic approach would include in a child’s referral the GP and school, where necessary. In areas where mental health is less understood, or cultural or language barriers exist, many children will attend a CAMHS appointment with mum and dad after the school has referred them, but because of a lack of understanding, mum and dad cannot explain the issues that their child is facing, so no course of treatment is started and the child is taken off the list.
These are our most vulnerable children, and often the children who need our help the most. What will the Government do to make services accessible for such children and their families? The scars that children live with forever means that those with the best English and a better understanding get the treatment they need, while others fall through the cracks. Many of us serve communities where that is the case, and it is no surprise that, despite being four times more likely to have a mental health problem than their affluent peers, children from the poorest backgrounds are much less likely to access services. A more joined-up, proactive approach between education, health and local authorities is needed, with greater focus on prevention and early intervention.
Talent is everywhere, but sadly opportunity is not. That is why the Labour party announced a children’s recovery plan to ensure that children can continue to play, learn and develop in the post-covid period, no matter where they are from, or what school they go to. That programme is meant to support children and young people throughout their education, and to recognise that positive mental health and wellbeing can be pivotal for children to reach their fullest potential. By tackling food poverty in schools, guaranteeing quality mental health support for pupils and fully funding extracurricular clubs and tutoring, each child would have an equal chance to succeed.
The Government know we are facing a mental health crisis. That is not news. We have whole communities full of people who are desperate for support—parents, teachers, families, children, desperate for support. They are counting on us to use the debating time today to make real, effective change. They do not want just rhetoric—just empty words and gestures, the same old recycled announcements time and again—but an acknowledgement that the Minister has today listened: listened to the pleas from those with eating disorders; listened to those who are suicidal; listened to those unable to access CAMHS services; listened to those who have waited far too long for the help they need and deserve; and listened to people who are unable to reach their fullest potential because they have a Government that do not understand the scale of the issue.
The time for dither and delay is over. I look forward to the Government announcing some real, tangible change.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I thank the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for bringing forward this important debate. We have had a number of interactions and I know how genuinely important the issue is to her. I am aware of the meeting she had with the Minister for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar). I will give some information, but also reassure her that we are continually working on these issues. More has happened as a result of her meeting. I know she is genuinely very concerned about this issue and has been since the day she arrived in Parliament.
As the Minister, I speak to all stakeholders, trusts, organisations and just about everyone involved in the area of mental health, particularly among children and young people. It is incredibly important that we keep our language and our comments about children and young people both proportionate and responsible. There is not a mental health pandemic. I will go on to explain what I mean by that.
It is very important that we divide wellbeing from mental illness, not least because we do not want mental illness to fall by the wayside in people’s awareness and understanding of mental health, because the conversation is dominated by mental health and an overarching title that is not appropriate. Mental health is divided—it is not just a catch-all title. We have people who suffer with serious mental illness and childhood mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, psychosis and eating disorders. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on her speech; we have discussed eating disorders many times, and she is compassionate and is compelled to improve eating disorder services for children and young people in the UK. I thank her for her commitment to the issue.
It is incorrect to describe 140,000 children as having been turned away. The measurement of progress against the five-year forward target is based on two contacts with NHS services—this is an important point. Many children and young people have one session. After that, it is jointly decided to close their referral. To quote the 140,000 figure is misleading. One session is thought enough to provide them with the help they need or, more importantly, to provide pathways to their carers, parents and those who accompany them to the appointment. The expansion of Every Mind Matters, which was developed by Public Health England, to include children and young people under the age of 18 has been a huge boost. It is wrong to say—to misquote—that 140,000 children have been turned away. It is important to look at the reasons why.
I began by saying that I speak to stakeholders, trusts and others. I would like to quote from a letter a trust sent to MPs, following a debate on the issue only days ago. The trust said: “Partner organisations work incredibly closely to ensure children and young people receive the services they need.” It was referring to the narrative used by parliamentarians. It said that frontline staff had worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and had taken the additional investment that the Government had provided to increase their workforce, and that to describe their services as failing had an impact on the morale and wellbeing of dedicated frontline staff and those who are delivering services to children and young people. It went on to say that the statements that were being made caused concern and alarm to children and young people and their families at an anxious time.
We have a responsibility in Parliament when we are talking about mental health, particularly of children and young people, to keep language proportionate. For me, talking in a debate about children throwing themselves off a bridge is completely beyond the mark and I am afraid that I think that that type of language is exactly what the trust was referring to—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) is commenting from a sedentary position. I reiterate my comments, Sir Gary. It is important that we consider the families and the people that we are representing and do not make inflammatory statements.
I have heard first hand from NHS staff that thousands of children and young people have had to adapt to the challenges of covid-19. It has been an incredibly tough year for everybody, and many children and young people have felt anxiety, apprehension and a gamut of emotions that adults also felt when faced with the unknown, sudden and rapid change to routines as well as a lack of understanding of what would happen and how life was to continue. However, many people are resilient, and many of those children and young people, who at stages reported they felt all those emotions and were included in that statistic of one in six, came through once there was a greater understanding of what was happening and how it was going to work. They were incredibly resilient, and we should be proud of those children and how they helped others too.
We take the pandemic and the mental health of children and young people extremely seriously. I work seven days a week on what this Government do, what we provide and how we assist. Although I have been criticised by the hon. Member for Tooting for talking about the investment we provide, we cannot provide services without the money for them. We cannot increase our mental health workforce if we do not provide the money to train people and to provide those services and that is exactly what we have done. I have no shame in quoting the figure of £2.3 billion a year that is going into mental health services—more than any Government has ever ploughed in, plus an additional £500 million to a mental health recovery plan for the pandemic this year, of which £79 million has gone into eating disorder services based in the community. We hope that that funding will allow around 22,500 more children and young people to access community health services.
It is a constant pressure for me to ensure that. NHS England has worked incredibly hard to establish community-based services. It is important to say that the uptick in eating disorders came before the pandemic—it was spotted before it struck. We can have another debate on why we were beginning to see that rise in eating disorders, and the hon. Member for Twickenham and I have had that discussion. I am proud of how the NHS has rapidly looked at how we can deal with this exponential rise in eating disorders, because that is where our problem is.
We know exactly who has been affected by the pandemic, in terms of mental health services. We know from the referrals that have gone to our partners across the board and to local services. I am saddened to say that eating disorders are our toughest problem at the moment because of the exponential rise—over 22% over the past year.
NHS England is using that money. As I said a moment ago, having the workforce to provide services is really important, so we have accelerated the number of mental health support teams that we are putting in. The first question I asked when I took up my ministerial post was: “Can we have more mental health support teams in schools faster? Can we accelerate the long-term plan so that we get more areas covered quicker?” It took the pandemic to make that happen, but now—I have not even used my speaking notes; I have gone completely off piste—I think we have another 112 school areas covered. I will write to Members attending today to give them the figures on mental health support teams. We have managed to accelerate the programme by over a year as a result of the £500 million of funding that we put in.
Something that we can really shout about is that we have people coming forward. Mental health was never an area where people really wanted to work. I remember during my nurse training that we were given the option to take 12 weeks’ maternity or 12 weeks’ mental health, and my entire cohort took 12 weeks’ maternity. Nobody went to do the mental health training. Now—the pandemic has highlighted this—we have 100 applications for every place in university for people to train in mental health. That means mental health support teams to go into schools, deal with eating disorders and work with children and young people. When we put that kind of money in, run those kinds of courses and have the commitment to accelerate mental health workers, we do not see those results overnight, but that work is being done now to ensure we have the results. We want to ensure that people come out of universities and go into mental health support teams in schools. I have seen the work they do and how they work with children and young people.
Time has whizzed on, and I would just like to make a few points. The hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) spoke about young mums and infant mental health. I am totally with her. That is why I worked so hard during the lockdowns to ensure that we kept support groups open for mums and young babies, and particularly those that give mental health support to mums. That included all sorts of groups, such as playgroups—Monkey Music is one that somebody used—where mums could meet together with their young babies. I argued for that and made the case for supporting their mental health. During the pandemic, those groups were kept open for young mums because I felt it was so important that they were supported.
I have not got time, I am so sorry. There is only one minute left.
The hon. Member for Twickenham asked about data. That data is produced on the mental health dashboard every quarter. There is work ongoing, but I will come back to her on the details of it. I do not know whether she has access to the dashboard and the data, but I will make sure she does. If the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) would like to speak to me when the debate is over, I will come back to her on the points she raised. I will sit down now to give her a chance to respond.
I thank all hon. Members who contributed in such a knowledgeable and passionate way to this debate. I hope the Minister has seen that there is cross-party support for greater support for and investment in mental health services. I recognise that the Government have put more money in, but one of the themes has been whether it is getting through to the local level and the frontline. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) and I keep picking up the point about data, and the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) did the same. I am grateful to hon. Members for picking up points that I was not able to cover, such as the baby blind spot, eating disorders and disabled children. There are so many issues; this is multifaceted.
The Minister talked about definitions and said that we are conflating mental health and wellbeing, but it is all part of a continuum. That is why it is so important, as part of the prevention agenda, to focus on wellbeing as much as the serious mental health concerns. That is why I was trying to cover that vast spectrum in my speech. I reiterate that I stand ready to work with the Minister.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) quoted JFK. Well, I will quote Mandela back at him:
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.”
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
European Union Settlement Scheme
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements— welcome to those on the screen. I also remind Members participating virtually that they must leave their camera on for the duration of the debate, and that they will be 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 either throw something at the screen or email the Westminster Hall Clerks at firstname.lastname@example.org. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room. I also 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 future of the EU Settlement Scheme.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. With the 30 June deadline for applications for the EU settlement scheme fast approaching, I am pleased to have the opportunity to open this debate. I also wish to give my colleagues time to speak, and therefore I will use only some of my time today, not only to remind EU nationals living in the UK to apply for settled status if they have not already done so, but to highlight to the Minister that this scheme is already causing disruption in people’s lives and that this may be the last chance to prevent another Windrush scandal.
The EU settlement scheme was launched in March 2019 as part of the withdrawal agreement. The scheme was trailed by the Department for Exiting the European Union as the method for EU nationals to secure their rights post-Brexit, and to continue to live their lives broadly as they did under freedom of movement. The reality is that being forced to register for rights in the country they call home has caused a great deal of upset and anxiety among many of our European friends, neighbours and constituents. People have been left feeling unwanted, unwelcome, humiliated and angry due to this Government’s heavy-handed approach. For many, it has broken their sense of belonging and eroded their trust in this Government; for others, it has been the final straw, and they have left the UK altogether. This is a sorry state of affairs, considering the benefits that EU nationals bring to the UK: to our economy, our workforce, the NHS, and—most importantly—our culture.
As of the start of this month, there have been 5.6 million applications to the EU settlement scheme. The majority of those applicants, around 4.9 million, have been granted settled or pre-settled status. Settled status guarantees the right to live, work, and remain indefinitely, free of immigration controls, and is available to those who have lived in the UK for more than five years. Pre-settled status offers less definite security, giving permission for five years that will expire, with the expectation that the person will later apply for settled status. The onus for converting pre-settled status to settled status falls on the applicant. There is the potential for people to forget to reapply or to miss that reminder, and in this instance, someone could easily find themselves working illegally and have to go without income while applying to update their status. Will the Minister give consideration to a system of automatic conversion to settled status for those who are pre-settled?
Right now, there is a backlog of more than 300,000 applications still waiting to be cleared by the Home Office. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has raised concerns that if these applications are still live after the deadline, that will create a legal ambiguity for applicants. Will they be in the country unlawfully while they are waiting on this decision? Can the Minister offer clear guidance on the rights of the tens of thousands of people waiting for a decision, and give his assurances that those will not be affected after the deadline? Perhaps the Minister could allow applicants to avoid this pitfall altogether by taking the advice of the Scottish Government’s Europe Minister, Jenny Gilruth, to extend the deadline.
As of midnight on 30 June, those who have not applied to the scheme will feel the full effect of this Government’s hostile immigration system. That means that people who have lived and worked in the UK legally for years will be criminalised and potentially face a dramatic change in their rights. They will be unable to work or rent; they will be unable to receive NHS treatment free at the point of need; they will be unable to receive welfare benefits or access to other public services, such as housing; and they will be liable to criminal prosecution, detention and removal from the UK.
The Home Office has confirmed that it is aware of those people who are still due to apply to the scheme and will miss the deadline. According to the Home Office guidance, those groups include children, people with care or support needs, victims of domestic abuse, people in poverty, homeless people and rough sleepers, and, in particular, minority groups such as the Roma community. Could the Minister outline in his answers what steps are being taken to support those vulnerable people who his Department already knows will miss the deadline?
The campaign organisation the3million, which has been at the forefront of being a voice for so many people, has reported that even though the application process is still open, EU nationals are already being asked to prove their settled status in a wide range of contexts, contrary to Government guidance. Those asking them to do so include landlords, estate agents, housing agencies, employers, banks, councils, GPs, hospitals, schools, international airports, prior to their boarding a flight, and UK border staff. Those are just some of the many examples. I mention this because it is clear that the people asking for proof of status are unlikely to be specialists in the immigration field and may be unfamiliar with the settled scheme terminology, creating situations ripe for discrimination. As the Minister will be aware, the Court of Appeal ruled in December that those with pre-settled status must be treated on an equal basis with all other claimants when applying for welfare benefits, so will the Minister put it on the record that that must be the case in relation to employers, landlords and all services?
Successful applicants are not given physical proof of their status. Instead, every time someone needs to prove their status, they will have to go through a complex process, involving at least 14 steps, in order to show an online document. The Government’s implementation of covid certification allows people to show their status simply on their phone or to download and print a PDF document. Alternatively, if someone is not digitally literate, they can request a printed version. Allowing a similar physical status document would make life so much easier for those granted settled or pre-settled status. Can the Minister offer a convincing reason why that has not been built into the EU settlement scheme, and will he consider building physical documentation into the system going forward?
The Minister will be aware of the correspondence on behalf of my constituent Jenny Condie. According to her settled status documentation, she is called by her maiden name, Serraf. This is the case for many married European women whose passports list both their married and their maiden names. I understand that it is due to the Home Office taking details from the machine-readable zone of the passport. However, it may raise suspicions when the status documentation does not match any other form of identification. When I asked the Home Office how many women were issued with documentation in their maiden name, the information was not available. I am concerned that women will discover that their documentation is misleading only when they face awkward questions, delays or discrimination when trying to prove their status.
Initially, Jenny was advised by the Home Office to approach the French authorities to have her passport amended, so I am grateful to the Minister for his letter outlining that a process for changing maiden names to married names has been created at the Home Office since I first contacted him about this case. However, Jenny has been unable to have the change carried out. The Home Office requires her to send her physical passport, but she is reluctant to do so, because she is worried that she may need to travel to France if there is an emergency. Should the document get lost in the post, she would need to travel to London for a passport replacement. Those concerns will be replicated for most EU nationals in the same position. When making the application, Jenny only had to send a picture of the document. Will the Minister review the process and either make the change to married names automatic or streamline the process by accepting photographed documents?
In 2016, as part of the Vote Leave campaign, the current Prime Minister and the current Home Secretary issued a commitment that there would be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK; those EU citizens would automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and would be treated no less favourably than they were at present. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary respectively not only have failed to uphold that commitment on all counts, but have caused confusion, upset, anxiety and fear, and allowed the dignity of EU citizens to be trampled, through the faulty EU settlement scheme. It was evident when the scheme opened in 2019 that people would fall through the cracks; and now, two weeks before the deadline, the reality could not be clearer.
The Minister today has the opportunity to extend the deadline and avoid a Windrush-style scandal. I wish to allow time for parliamentary colleagues to speak. Therefore I will conclude here: I urge him to take this consideration very seriously.
Thank you, Sir Gary. I thank my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for securing the debate, and I thank her and the Minister for allowing me to speak. I will be quick—I would like to raise just three issues.
First, I am really concerned that certain groups of EU nationals may be forgotten about in all this: the older people and children in the care system who rely on their local authority to act on their behalf and ensure that their claims for settled status are being processed. I and many of my colleagues have written to our local authorities to find out what they are doing to ensure that people in their care have applied. Most are working to ensure that that is done, but inevitably some people will fall through the gaps and lose their right to remain.
Will the Minister tell us what will happen in those cases? If the lack of status means that an EU national is unable to receive NHS treatment, benefits or access to public services, does that mean that people in our care system will be effectively thrown on to the streets? Obviously, as they are in care settings, they are by their very nature vulnerable people who need our help.
I also echo the calls of Jenny Gilruth MSP, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, for the deadline to be extended. If the UK Government cannot see fit to extend the deadline for all EU nationals, they must really seriously consider extending it for those vulnerable people whom I have just mentioned.
Secondly, on the lack of physical evidence and the requirement for people to prove their status digitally, which my hon. Friend mentioned, I have been told that the system is already crumbling under the pressure, meaning that websites are crashing and people are simply unable to prove their right to live and work here. It is hardly any wonder given that there are 14 steps to go through. Why not just do what we do with everyone else and give them a piece of paper and a card that they can show to employers?
Aside from the terrible toll that it takes on individuals who are now made to feel like second-class citizens, have the UK Government seriously considered the impact that this system will have on our economy? We are already hearing about how Brexit is affecting access to labour markets for some sectors. Even arch-Brexiteer Tim Martin of Wetherspoon is now moaning that he does not have enough staff, and he is calling for a special dispensation for his industry—or maybe just his pubs. If he of all people is saying that, we know what a terrible impact Brexit must be having. If EU nationals who live and are entitled to work here are unable to prove it quickly or easily, what does that do for the availability of labour?
Finally, I will mention some EU citizens who approached me recently—they were Portuguese, but this could apply to any country. In the last year, they have been having terrible trouble getting in touch with the consulate in the UK to access the essential documentation required to apply for the settlement scheme, and indeed to travel. That appears to have a disproportionate impact on EU citizens living in Scotland. Certainly, in the case of those Portuguese citizens, there is no Portuguese consulate in Scotland; they have to travel to London or Manchester, but for a very long time no cross-border travel was allowed. That and other restrictions have put Portuguese nationals in Scotland in a challenging and stressful position.
I want the Minister to take cognisance of the fact that Portuguese people and those of other nationalities in Scotland may, because of circumstances beyond their control, have some difficulty that those in England do not. If he cannot assist with those issues, will he at least give reassurance that people who have not applied by 30 June for any of the reasons that I have mentioned will not simply be thrown out of the country? I suppose what I am really asking is this: will he do everything in his power to ensure that we do not experience another Windrush?
I thank the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for securing this important debate, and I thank the Minister for granting me permission to take part.
EU citizens have for decades been tightly woven into the fabric of our society—they are our friends, colleagues, neighbours and families—but for many, their future in this country, which they call home, is at risk. Covid has, as we have heard, exposed and compounded the flaws in the system. One of my constituents wrote to me just this week worried that she will not have any way to prove her status in the country where she has lived for decades. Can the Minister tell my constituent what she can do to prove her status when we have heard so many stories of landlords and employers refusing digital proof? Please, the Government must allow applicants to register for physical proof of status, as we have already heard. Another constituent does not have a smartphone. She needs a scan of her passport, but the scanning centre has been closed for the past 14 months. What is my constituent meant to do?
I pay tribute to the In Limbo Project, which was co-founded by one of my constituents, for its incredible efforts. It has helped many people navigate the pitfalls of the EU settlement scheme. Let us say this again: over 320,000 EU citizens are still facing the cruel anxiety of hoping that the Home Office will grant applications before the cliff edge of the end of this month. That is just two weeks to go. I urge the Minister to extend the 30 June deadline, in line with other countries. The deadline for UK citizens in the Netherlands is 30 September. The UK must show the same understanding. The Government cannot afford to get this wrong; the human cost is far too great.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I hope Members realise that, in the short time I have, I will not be able to cover every issue that has been raised.
I start by thanking the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for securing the debate. Before I respond to the points that have been made, I want to emphasise at the outset that the Government are fully committed to ensuring that everybody eligible for the EU settlement scheme—EUSS for short—gets the help they need to apply and that they can apply, with extra support provided to the most vulnerable.
My message is twofold. The first is to encourage everyone who is eligible for the scheme and has not yet applied to do so by 30 June. The second part is to reflect on the huge success of the scheme so far, notwithstanding some of the doubts expressed today. By 31 May 2021, more than 5.6 million applications had been received since the scheme’s launch in March 2019. It is continuing to receive and process thousands of applications every day, including all the way through the covid-19 pandemic.
I am delighted that so far the scheme has already given assurance and secure legal status to millions of people who have chosen to make our United Kingdom their home. We are delighted that so many will do so.
I thank the Government for all that they have done. What discussions has the Minister had with the Northern Ireland Assembly, which will have some responsibility for raising awareness, to ensure that people in Northern Ireland can access the scheme as quickly as possible?
Only yesterday, I was in Northern Ireland talking to two of our grant-funded organisations: the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme, whose chief executive Bernadette Devlin, as people may know, is a former Member of this House; and Advice NI. We talked about the work that they have been doing. We have been directly funding adverts. We are grateful for the support we have received from the devolved Administrations, both in Northern Ireland and, as has been referred to already, in Scotland, with the Stay in Scotland campaign, which the Scottish Government have been running.
I want to make clear a couple of core elements of the scheme. We made the application process simple and straightforward, including the introduction of a digital app to confirm identity, and automated checks of Government data, reducing the need for applicants to provide evidence of residence. We also made it simple by making the criterion residence, not exercising particular free-movement rights. People did not have to prove, for example, that they were working or studying here—just residence was enough. Those familiar with the EEA free-movement regulations will know that they are more complex. We wanted to make it simple and easy, so that it lent itself to quick and simple decision making.
We looked at the EUSS to provide us with a template for how we manage immigration applications and immigration status going forward: fewer physical visits to a visa application centre, less need for physical documents or sending information to the Government that they already have, such as tax records. That enables more simplicity in getting a decision, allowing us to focus resources on supporting and helping the most vulnerable.
Given that there is still debate on the point, I want to be absolutely clear. A person who applies by 30 June 2021 deadline will have their existing rights protected, pending the outcome of the application and any subsequent appeal, if it is not successful. That is achieved by the Citizens’ Rights (Application Deadline and Temporary Protection) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. That is quite firm. From 1 July, they will be able to rely on their certificate of application as proof to access the right to work or rent, when verified by the relevant Home Office checking service. In essence, that is a process similar to that for those who have been granted status. I want to make that very clear.
Similarly, the scope to make a late application based on reasonable grounds for missing the relevant deadline is indefinite. There is no set time for how long lateness can be deemed reasonable. The example I regularly use is of someone who turns 18 and applies for a job, and discovers that 10 or even 13 years ago the local authority looking after them at the time did not make the application for settled status. We consider that a reasonable ground, even though that may happen 10 or 13 years in the future if they are a young child in the care of a local authority today, or if their parents have not applied for them. The guidance states that for those under 18 at the time the deadline applied. I hope that gives reassurance on that matter.
We are working through a large number of applications, but the vast majority are cleared within less than three months. In many cases, those that have been outstanding for longer are more complex, such as those based on derivative rights that apply to non-EEA nationals as well as EEA nationals, or where there are matters of a relevant history of criminal offending or outstanding prosecutions, where the Home Office cannot proceed to decide the application until those matters have been brought to a conclusion, given that the offence involved would inevitably affect their status here in the UK.
In terms of supporting the most vulnerable, £4.5 million in grant funding was announced on 11 February for 72 organisations across our United Kingdom, who are providing invaluable support and help to vulnerable and hard-to-reach individuals in groups applying to the EU settlement scheme. That was on top of the £17 million already provided, and will ensure the continued delivery of support until at least the end of September 2021. We were keen that there would be funding and support available in the first three months of using digital identity and for those making late applications.
We are really pleased that over 310,000 individuals have been directly supported by these organisations to apply to the scheme to get the status they deserve. This includes a range of people with complex or chaotic lifestyles, and those who are not able to make an application themselves, due to their health. That is in addition to other support that is more generally available, such as the EU Settlement Resolution Centre, We Are Digital, the assisted digital service for applications, and the support available on gov.uk.
Thank you for the reminder, Sir Gary, which I greatly appreciate. Perhaps it is appropriate to come to the subject of children in care.
Across Government, we are looking to ensure that all eligible looked-after children and care leavers are supported to secure their status under the EUSS, through an application made by 30 June 2021; as I have touched on, we have already made it clear that if the application is not made by someone else who is responsible, then we will accept a late application.
The total number of looked-after children and care leavers eligible to apply for the EUSS, identified by a survey of 210 local government bodies UK-wide, was 3,600. As of 23 April, 2,440 applications from looked-after children and care leavers have been received, which was 67% of the total identified and an increase from 15,020—46%— back in November. We are now starting to see these applications coming through. To reassure Members, 72% of these applications have been decided, of which 1,365 resulted in a grant of settled status and 235 in a grant of pre-settled status.
I turn now to some specific points raised during the debate. It is worth touching on the issue of digital status. We are developing a border and immigration system that is digital by default. That means that over time we will increasingly replace physical and paper-based documents, some of which can be many years old, with easy-to-use, accessible online and digital services. We are building on this work based on the experience of counties like Australia, which has had fully digital systems for some time. That was highlighted by a letter from the3million to all Members of Parliament last year.
Individuals will still receive a written notification of immigration status, by email or letter, which they can retain for their own records, but they we will be given access to the digital version of their immigration status information, which can be accessed and shared at any time by the online view-and-prove service. Unlike a physical document, this cannot be lost or stolen and, it is also worth bearing in mind, it cannot be retained by someone who is seeking to exploit or abuse it. That status cannot be taken away; it is retained and it can be accessed by public services. It is not a document that someone can physically keep from someone else’s possession.
We are already seeing employers and landlords successfully using our online checking services, not least in the context of the pandemic, where performing physical checks on people’s rights to work may be a lot more difficult than it would normally have been. We are updating our guidance and communicating to ensure they are clear on the steps they should take at the end of the grace period. That will include additional safeguards for existing EEA employers and tenants who may have missed the deadline, which will include a period of time for people to make a late application to the EUSS. We genuinely believe that will provide a balance, ensuring that those who have taken up employment after the 1 July show status and their right to work. However, we will not require any employer to take retrospective checks on their staff who they have employed previously as EEA nationals, who have passed previous right-to-work checks using a passport or national identity card. We are not requiring anyone to do checks on 1 July retrospectively. There is absolutely no requirement for any employer to do that.
In terms of looking at how the system is working, as some hon. Members commented, between October 2019 and March 2021 the service had over 3.9 million views by individuals and over 330,000 views by organisations checking immigration status. Between January 2019, when the service was launched for employers, and March 2021, there were over 390,000 views by employers. A similar service to enable right-to-rent checks, which only apply in England, went live in November 2020; between then and March 2021, there have been over 6,500 views by landlords and agents on the online right to rent service. No one should be required to show status under the EUSS until after 30 June, but it can provide a convenient and useful way of proving status to a bank, landlord or employer, hence why people are already taking the opportunity to use it.
When it comes to conversion from pre-settled to settled, we will take a proactive approach of seeking to remind people when that is due. People will start to be required to convert in 2023. It would be difficult to go to an automatic conversion, given the reality that somebody may not be intending to settle in the UK, or may not have stayed in the UK having been initially granted pre-settled status. But we will look to proactively remind people. To be clear, it is a free-of-charge application and there are similar criteria for reasonable grounds for a late application to convert as well; unsurprisingly, they will be similar to the non-exhaustive guidance that we have published in relation to those making a late application at this stage, as we feel that is a reasonable and proportionate approach.
On looking at the issue of names in passports, I take on board the point that sometimes people discover what is in the machine-readable zone of their national passport when they apply for a status with the Home Office. That is not something that affects only the EUSS; it also affects wider immigration statuses. Members will appreciate why we put quite a lot of store into making sure we have secure identity and that we link people clearly to the identity status that they use to apply to the scheme. I appreciate that can produce some issues in countries where it is less easy to convert a passport so that it shows a married name rather than a maiden name than under the system we have here in the UK, but it is an important part of how our system operates that we have that security.
On having a digital system that allows people to apply from home, we are increasingly moving towards systems that will read someone’s passport rather than require them to go to an application centre to prove their status—the British nationals overseas route is a good example, where many apply from home using their BNO or their HKSAR passport to prove their identity to the Home Office. We will consider whether improvements can be made, but there is the basis of real security that we need to maintain, so that we do not have opportunities for different identities in applications being submitted.
The EU settlement scheme has been a success. It has given security and certainty to millions of people and is a genuine success of which we can be proud as a nation. I encourage all who are eligible who have not yet applied to do so as soon as possible. Support is available online, on the phone and in person through grant-funded organisations to help them apply
Question put and agreed to.
Road Connectivity: Teesside to Scotland
I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practice to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There are also 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. We have no Members participating virtually, so I do not need to say the next bit. Members attending physically, however, should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room. I 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 A68 and road connectivity from Teesside to Scotland.
Left behind, ignored, forgotten, neglected, overlooked, the rust belt—those are the synonymous phrases often used to describe the communities that make up the towns and villages for whom the A68 is their key artery. There are many different descriptions but, politically speaking, the phrase I heard most often is that Labour had taken their community and their vote for granted forever. I am sure that that is felt on the streets of the towns and villages not only of North West Durham, from Crook to Castleside, from Willington to Wearhead, but of my neighbours in Bishop Auckland, Sedgefield and Darlington.
Running from Darlington through Sedgefield to Bishop Auckland, up through my constituency, before dropping into Northumberland and over the Scottish border, the constituencies along the A68 have names synonymous with new Labour—Tony Blair, Alan Milburn, Hilary Armstrong—seats referred to as the red wall, now the blue wall. However, that is a mythical construct of political scientists and commentators. The A68 is very much real-world hardcore, a real rather than a metaphorical construction. The A68 is now the blue road.
The Prime Minister, on his visit to Sedgefield in December 2019, following the general election, understood that: the pencil hovering over the ballot paper before breaking the voting habit of generations. I want the people of the north-east to know that I will repay their trust—and trust is the key word. The Prime Minister had recognised that the trust between their previous MPs and their constituents had been broken. We can see why around the A68.
I have with me the County Durham plan of 1951—thanks to the Library of the House of Commons, which was able to source it for me from a research library. It was produced the year after my constituency of North West Durham was created. In it, my constituency had three railway lines to Consett alone, along with others to the south, and new plans for roads and bypasses, including on the A68. When I was elected, the big improvements on the A68, including the Toft Hill bypass, marked in 1951, still had not been done. Seventy years on, it still has not. Seven decades on, there are now no railway lines or stations at all in my constituency. The road improvements have not been done. Is it any surprise that people felt that trust had been broken?
In that time, we switched the rest of our railway network from coal to diesel and, increasingly, electric. Seventy years ago, Winston Churchill was Prime Minister. We had not even had the Suez crisis. The treaty of Rome was still a glint in the eye of European leaders. King George VI was on the throne. Labour have, for 70 years, taken North West Durham, much of the rest of the north-east of England, the north of England, Wales, Scotland and the midlands for granted. Only last month, in County Durham we saw Labour finally lose control of the council after 102 years. Things are changing.
I am pleased to say that, with the restoring your railway funding, I have submitted plans for enhanced cycling and walking, better disabled access and examination of options for a new public transport route between Consett and the Tyne. In the south of my constituency, alongside my hon. Friends the Members for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), for Darlington (Peter Gibson) and for Sedgefield (Paul Howell), backed up by Ben Houchen, the Mayor of Tees Valley, I am leading the support for the new restoring your railway bid for the Darlington and Durham dales railway line.
When I was elected, the Shotley Bridge Community Hospital, which a couple of decades ago was a maternity hospital, was going to be rebuilt with no beds—a hospital with no beds. Thanks to the campaign, I have now ensured that we will get 16 beds, which is double the number in the current facility.
I am campaigning for bus routes to Weardale and Burnhope, to bring those physical connections back to cut-off communities. I am campaigning for broadband for places such as Muggleswick and Maiden Law, so that they have the connections that will allow our businesses to compete and individuals to connect in the 21st century.
What we have not yet seen enough movement on is the A68. For the communities of Crook and Weardale to be able to make the most of the opportunities being created in Teesside—from the freeport to the excellent new jobs coming at the Treasury and other Departments—the Toft Hill bypass and the Darlington bypass need to be prioritised. At firms such as Elddis Transport, a fourth generation family firm run by Nigel Cook, whom I met recently, drivers are still having to make difficult journeys on an A68 suitable for previous generations.
For people in Castleside, it is clear that the long-term siting of a major road through the centre of their village is no longer an option. It is time for the A68 to be put on the strategic road network because it is an arterial route. It carries a far greater proportion of its traffic as heavy goods vehicles than most other roads in a similar category. It is the third route to Scotland between the M1 and the A1.
Whether it is upgrading the A1 or the east coast main line or getting the Leamside line up and running, we north MPs here today are all supportive, and are all backing each other up. The A68 is the clear next step. We want our communities to be able to thrive and for our local private sectors not to be hemmed in, so that good jobs can be created and, in turn, help fund our great public services.
Our communities are already seeing the difference Conservative MPs make. In his speech in Sedgefield, the Prime Minister said:
“Our country has now embarked on a wonderful new adventure and we are going to recover our national self-confidence… and we are going to do things differently and better.”
Seventy years on from the initial plans, it is now time to do things better. It is time to cement the foundations and the economic bonds and to enhance those community ties with a road like the A68, which is strategically so important, to help unite our Union.
Order. It may help if I set out the timings for this 60-minute debate. The Front-Bench speeches will take 20 minutes in total, and therefore wind-ups will begin at roughly 5.30 pm. That is better news than I indicated previously. Colleagues do not have to take their full time, but each speech can now be between seven and 10 minutes.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Gary, and to be called to speak in today’s debate, which has been so ably led by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden). He has been a tireless campaigner for infrastructure in the north. I congratulate him on securing this important debate.
Improving connectivity in areas that have been left behind for too long must be central to our goal of levelling up. The A68 is not just a central artery of northern transport infrastructure and connectivity. While it links Darlington with Edinburgh, more than 128 miles away, it is also vital to our cultural connectivity, linking the communities of Darlington, Sedgefield, Bishop Auckland and Hexham.
At its southern tip in the heart of my constituency, the A68 provides access to the A1(M) at junction 58. Much of the northbound traffic has to snake its way through residential areas such as Cockerton and Faverdale, causing congestion and emissions. Much of the traffic could be directed on to the A1 at junction 57, if it only had a northbound entry slip road.
At the northern end of my constituency, our outer ring road is incomplete. The A1(M) and the A66, which was recently awarded long overdue upgrading, form three quarters of the ring road, but the section between Great Burdon and junction 59 of the A1(M) does not exist. Although the entirety of the route falls in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell), he knows the benefits it will have for Darlington.
The missing section causes traffic to snake through residential parts of north Darlington such as Whinfield and Harrowgate Hill, causing congestion and emissions. My campaign for this long overdue piece of infrastructure is essential to the success of the County Durham economy and its connectivity, and will be key to accessing our new freeport located throughout the Tees valley. Delivering the bypass will be the last piece in our ring road jigsaw. My two key asks for road infrastructure feed into the improvements to the A68 itself and access to it.
Over the past 18 months, the Government have committed to revolutionising the north-east by giving targeted money to make the biggest impact, from £105 million being invested in Darlington’s Bank Top station to £23.3 million being invested in Darlington through the towns fund, or the delivery of “Treasury North” and a freeport on Teesside, the Government are delivering on their levelling-up agenda. However, much more is needed to equal the investment that others have so heavily benefited from and to revitalise our road network, improve connectivity, reduce emissions and deliver on our region’s full potential.
As we build back better, seeking to cut congestion and the consequent waste emissions, road improvements must be central to our recovery. The new road will cut gridlock and the nightmare that has been caused to my constituents in Darlington. I know I am not alone in wanting to cut gridlock and reduce emissions for my constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) is also campaigning for her own bypass on the A68 to cut gridlock and improve road safety at Toft Hill. Likewise, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield is campaigning for rail improvements. Collectively, along with my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham, we are all campaigning for the reintroduction of services from Darlington to the Durham dales.
With the opening of the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund in March this year and the upcoming independent Union connectivity review, I look forward to working with my hon. Friends from across the region to explore the opportunities for investment that that will bring. I know, and the people of Darlington know, that the Government are serious about delivering on their ambitious levelling-up agenda, and I will continue to press the Government to deliver for the north-east.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on securing this important debate.
Colleagues will know that I regularly appear when the matter of regional connectivity and levelling up are pertinent to the debate, so here I am. Today I want to talk about how improving the A68 and connectivity from Durham and Teesside to Scotland is important in the levelling-up agenda.
A great deal of investment in transport infrastructure is needed to realise the Government’s levelling-up agenda. I have spoken in this place before about bus, coaches and trains strategies. All of those initiatives rely on adequate physical foundations being put in place. The A68 is currently not an adequate physical foundation. As it currently exists, the A68 is a single carriageway, save for two small sections where it meets larger roads such as the A1(M) and the A69. Ultimately, if someone gets stuck behind a slow driver and there is too much traffic, bottlenecking occurs and the whole journey speed is compromised and/or dangerous risks are taken. I know that all too well, as in a previous life I regularly commuted between Durham and Edinburgh. It is dangerous, and has been for many years.
Durham County Council has simply not given the road the work that it needs to be maintained or improved. As far back as 1951, it was suggested that a bypass be installed at Toft Hill, yet no move was made to erect it and ease congestion. The A68 is not just a regional road; it is nationally significant and an artery that requires investment and managing in that context. Although the A68 serves west County Durham in the main, the whole of the county would benefit from improvements to the road. To the south of my constituency, the A68 crosses the A1 close to Aycliffe business park, which has a great many businesses. The business park is deliberately located near the A1, which is a main commuter artery to London, but also to Newcastle and Scotland. Any blockage on the A1, however, means that my constituents and their businesses are wholly reliant on the A68. As the A1 is single-carriageway further north too, its own congestion problems can easily arise.
When it comes to congestion problems, there are significant issues in Darlington, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) just outlined, relating to the transport links between the A1(M) and Teesside with traffic from the north, and, in particular, from the 10,000-job industrial estate in Newton Aycliffe and the freeport scheduled in Teesside. The Darlington northern bypass, which is in my Sedgefield constituency but would massively impact on efficient connectivity and congestion, is another critical artery that needs delivery. Businesses such as Hitachi in Newton Aycliffe need to make significant diversions to avoid Darlington, which adds both cost and carbon to everything they do.
Should the A68 be better managed, my constituents would not rely on the A1 and would have much better road links to Scotland, for both tourist and commercial journeys, making northerly business ventures faster and more reliable. That would serve to make northern towns and cities better connected. I have already put my name to three bids to improve the rail transport in and around the constituency—namely Ferryhill, Leamside and the Durham dales line, which connects Bishop and Weardale, through Darlington, on the edge of my Sedgefield constituency.
Today, I am asserting that the road infrastructure must complement any improvements in rail, because currently County Durham is very car reliant. Out of 228,000 people found to work in County Durham, only 2,000 use the train to commute. Buses are slightly better at 13,000, but the car is the main mode of transport, with 164,000 people opting to use one to get to work.
Although I would clearly like to see a shift in the number of people using the railway, and we need to drive the “Bus Back Better” plans to get road infrastructure that is fit for purpose, the fact remains that there are many cars on the road in County Durham, and they need catering for. Those who own a car are reliant on it. Those without one find leaving the local area and expanding their opportunities very difficult. To realise their potential, people and businesses in south Durham and Teesside must be able to reach Scotland in a decent journey time in order to reach new markets and customers.
Infrastructure investment is undoubtedly a key economic driver, helping both the national economy and regional and county economies attract and retain businesses and jobs. This investment has been acknowledged to be needed most critically away from London and the south-east. The Government’s industrial strategy states that the UK has a greater disparity in regional productivity than other European countries, which in turn causes disparity regionally in people’s pay, opportunities and life chances.
Nationally, it is recognised that our transport infra- structure needs to support UK business growth, not only in terms of supporting the movement of people and goods but in respect of providing more efficient means of transport and reducing journey times, which is precisely what we are discussing today. It is therefore imperative that improvements be made on these roads in the north-east as the Government deliver on their commitment to level up and improve the micro-economies and opportunities in the north of the country. Taking ownership and delivering critical arteries is fundamental, and I ask the Minister to keep this at the top of his agenda.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) and I have many things in common and many common interests, but the one that really united us from the get-go—it was not pints of lager anywhere near the Red Lion—was in fact our passion for the A68 and our joint commitment to making it the monolithic structure it should be: a proper road that is part of the strategic road network. I have been working with him since we were elected to try to make that happen, and the campaign continues. I see the Minister’s ears pricking up. I hope he has heard us, but we will continue remind him until it is done.
In a past life, before I became a Member of this place, I used to drive the A68 every day to go to work, from High Etherley, just near Toft Hill—hon. Members will hear me mention it a few times, so I thought I would get started early—right up towards Annfield Plain. Every day, I faced absolute torment trying to drive through Toft Hill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) mentioned the disaster when the A68 goes right through those residential zones, the congestion and the issues it causes for local residents and their quality of life. As a commuter, it used to add 15 to 20 minutes on to my journey time to drive a mile-long stretch. It was absolutely disastrous and something has to be done about it.
During the general election, I went out around Toft Hill and High Etherley with some surveys and asked local residents about the key concern on their mind. Universally, across the board, the issue that came back on 90% of all surveys from those who did bother to respond, was building the bypass in Toft Hill finally.
We have heard today from all three of my colleagues from the County Durham area—my hon. Friends the Members for North West Durham, for Darlington and for Sedgefield—about how the Toft Hill bypass was in and promised by the County Durham plan back in 1951. We are 70 years down the line and it has still not been delivered. It is an absolute disgrace, but I have some good news, which will come up later in this speech.
Residents told me in the survey that they wanted a bypass. The local parish council has been campaigning fiercely for a bypass for decades. My predecessor even presented a petition to this place in 2018, calling for a bypass to be built, and yet it was not done. I made building the Toft Hill bypass a key part of my general election pledges. It was one of my five pledges and I have worked on it non-stop since I was elected.
The issues for residents of Toft Hill and Etherley are vast. It is not just cars whizzing by; it is parking on both sides of the street, heavy goods vehicles and other heavy vehicles trying to get through, right next to a primary school that is just feet away from the road, with a school crossing. The congestion can be absolutely crippling. The road safety aspect cannot be understated. A few years ago, one of my constituents, as was raised by my predecessor, was sitting at home in her living room when a van came speeding down the road, ran straight into her living room and completely destroyed her property. She was out of her home for months waiting for it to rebuilt. That shows just how much of a road safety priority it is to get the Toft Hill bypass built.
The local parish council has been pushing for this for years. I have only been in post for a year and a half, but I have been non-stop nagging the Transport Secretary and basically anyone else who will listen about this bypass. In the national scheme of things, it may seem small and insignificant, but for residents of Toft Hill, High Etherley and the surrounding areas it is absolutely crucial. I have raised it with the council and the director of regeneration, Amy Harhoff, at our very first meeting. She asked me what my local priorities were and I think she expected me to talk about all sorts of job creation measures, which we got on to later, but the very first thing I raised was the Toft Hill bypass. I told her that, working with her in partnership, that was the key project I wanted to get completed in my first term as a Member of Parliament.
I raised it with the chief exec of the council, who I think is absolutely sick of hearing me utter the words “Toft Hill bypass”, but he has been fantastic in helping me to facilitate the campaign. I have also raised it with Government, the Transport Secretary, the Leader of the House, in the Chamber and privately with countless Ministers, including the Communities Secretary and the Chancellor. I really hope they are listening, because this is crucial for Toft Hill.
We had our local elections a few short months ago and I am delighted to say that, going from one Conservative and one Labour ward, we took the ward in which Toft Hill sits, with two Conservative councillors, and one of their key election pledges was getting the Toft Hill bypass built. The good news that I promised earlier is that, thanks to the incredibly hard work of Amy Harhoff and Dave Wafer at Durham County Council, and countless other officers and campaigners from Toft Hill parish council and Etherley parish council, we now have a bid that will be going in to the levelling-up fund in the next few days calling for the bypass finally to be built. We have a plan and are asking the Government for the money, so Minister, please tell me you are listening and please put a good word in for me with the powers that be.
Finally, after decades of inaction and, I am afraid to say, of Labour promising and not delivering, I hope, after 18 months in this place, to get some good news and get the Toft Hill bypass approved and delivered in my first term as an MP.
I know West Auckland residents of in my constituency are concerned about the proposed bypass. They want a bigger bypass that would go past both Toft Hill and West Auckland. We believe that was discussed in earlier plans, 20 or 30 years ago—I think before I was born. I think there are concerns that the bypass will bring new congestion into West Auckland. I want to reassure any residents of West Auckland that that will not be the case. It will be the same traffic that is already coming into the village. There will be no worsening. I certainly agree with local residents, however, that the next phase has to be completing the bypass around West Auckland. Unfortunately, given the amount of time we had for the levelling-up fund bid, the hoops we have to jump through and the amount of funding available, it is not possible at this stage.
I hope he will forgive me but I say to the Transport Secretary—I hope he is listening—that I am coming to you at the moment for the Toft Hill bypass, but as soon as the ink is dry I will be nagging you once more for the next bypass, the West Auckland bypass. I hope that local residents of West Auckland hear me loud and clear when I say that that will be my next major transport priority. Mum always said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” so I figured I would throw it in early.
I am delighted that we have had this debate on the importance of the A68, and that I have had the opportunity to discuss the importance of completing the Toft Hill bypass. The levelling-up bid will be going in this week, and I hope that any Ministers present and any who happen to be reading Hansard in the middle of the night this evening will take that bid on board, and grant us the bypass for which local residents have been calling for so long.
I thank the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) for having secured today’s debate and for raising some very fair concerns about the A68. Having driven up and down it several times in the past, I can certainly attest to sometimes being caught behind slow-moving vehicles. The connections between Teesside and Scotland are critical, and as a Scottish MP I am not going to comment on the details of what needs to be done by way of road improvements for the south. Those improvements would undoubtedly benefit my constituents as they travel southwards, but there are clearly others in the room far more qualified than me to discuss the details of issues in their own constituencies. However, I certainly understand the need to improve connectivity and the importance of an arterial route to boost economic growth for the south—I know most Members here would refer to it as the north, but it is the south—and to help folk get out to our marvellous country more easily.
These days, in terms of traffic flow the A68 border route plays second fiddle to the A1 in the east and the M6 and M74 in the west, but it is a central route. It remains one of the most beautiful and important routes between our nations, not least the section through my own Midlothian constituency, where it terminates—not Edinburgh but Midlothian: a wee technical point for locals. It might not be the most timely or efficient route, but it makes for a beautiful, hilly, dramatic meander through Northumberland’s forests into the historic border town of Jedburgh and up that way to our finest of counties, Midlothian. The border itself is worthy of a pit stop and picnic—that is if drivers do not take time out for a toastie at the Camien Cafe, which I understand is the last café in England, and a fine pit stop.
The A68 is, of course, a route steeped in history, passed by many a king, a queen, and a border reiver over the centuries. Portions of it follow the Roman road, Dere Street, and it takes us to the site of the largest outpost of the Roman empire north of Hadrian’s Wall, the Trimontium fort near Melrose. It was established around 80 AD, and for most of its existence it was the main forward base for the continued yet unsuccessful attempts by Rome to invade and occupy Scotland. Drivers who were lucky enough to have been on the A68 last Friday might have spotted yet another relic, with legendary Hollywood actor Harrison Ford on site making the latest “Indiana Jones” film in the shadow of the Leaderfoot viaduct.
Of course, the A68 lost much of the bustle in my part of the world when the Dalkeith bypass opened in 2008. This took custom from one of the famous coaching inns serving the route, the Old Meal Market, which had many a tale to tell of hauntings and highwayman. The A68 also lost its final run into the city of Edinburgh: it now finishes at the city bypass, the A720. Incidentally, if we are looking at other priorities for investment, that would be right at the top of my list, although that is a matter for another day and, dare I say, another Parliament.
Historical importance is one thing, but we also have to recognise the historical underspend there has been on this creaking network, particularly in the north. We are playing catch-up in so many areas, and lots of improvements are needed to cut the risk of accidents and make the A68 a much safer route for all who use it. Indeed, many of those points have already been made by other Members in this debate. The hilly parts of the route make it all the more challenging to maintain and improve, and just last year we were very lucky that there was not a major accident when thunderstorms and heavy rain caused the A68 to collapse at the Fala embankment, near the town of Pathhead in my constituency. I have huge respect for the massive effort that went in, and for the speedy and efficient repairs carried out by the engineers at BEAR Scotland, who managed to get the route back up and running in a phenomenally short period of time. Having visited the site and seen the extent of the damage after the incident, I was astonished when the timeline they had presented was actually achieved—all credit to them.
I am genuinely supportive of calls for improvements to the A68 and better connectivity with all our friends, trading partners and neighbours across the border. We are no longer supposed to be living in the dark ages of Tory-rule diktat, however, and it is important that decisions on cross-border road improvements are taken with full respect for the democratically elected Governments of each nation. For that reason, I have some difficulty with the Union connectivity review, which assesses transport connectivity between nations of the United Kingdom in a unilateral fashion.
The Scottish Government have robust evidence and the insight to make better informed decisions on transport spending and priorities in Scotland. As I mentioned, we have already had a Dalkeith bypass approved, and it did not take us 70 years to achieve that—it took devolution. The focus needs to be on projects to improve lives, boost the economy, support communities, and work towards net zero. That is how the Scottish Government are planning Scotland’s future transport infrastructure investment. They are doing so much through the second strategic transport projects review, not the Union connectivity review.
Sadly, that review was established without meaningful discussion with the devolved Administrations, and it seems like another attempt to directly encroach into areas in which funding should be devolved. Existing joint working groups of the Scottish and UK Governments, such as on the border growth deal, are far more meaningful frameworks for bilateral relationships between the two Governments. As Friday’s match will no doubt show, the rivalries between Scotland and England can be fierce, but they can also be the best of friends, and it is important that we can engage constructively when it matters. A bit of respect must be shown on both sides.
I am proud that Scotland will show solidarity with England on Friday by taking the knee against racism. Similarly, I hope that our Governments can engage meaningfully over mutually beneficial projects, such as road infrastructure connectivity, through proper channels. I offer a friendly warning to the UK Government that any attempt to undermine the Scottish Government and to claw back powers that have already been devolved will be strongly resisted and—dare I say?—they will be sent homeward to think again.
It is, as always, a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Gary. I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on securing the debate. I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response to so many of his colleagues’ passionate pleas for investment in their constituencies, so I do not intend to speak for too long.
It is incredibly important that we improve connectivity between the UK’s regions and nations. That should be absolutely at the heart of Government policy, whether in the south-west of England, where the seat I represent is, or in the north-east. I was slightly baffled by some of what the hon. Gentleman said about the 1951 county plan. I was not quite around in those days, but I am pretty sure that there was an election that year that was won by the Conservatives, and that in the 70 years since then, as much as I wish it were not so, the Conservatives have won far more elections than Labour—they were in Government for 46 years out of 70, by my rough calculations.
The things about which the hon. Gentleman spoke—investment in roads and rail, and he mentioned a local hospital and broadband—are by and large the responsibility of national Government. They are certainly reliant on central Government funding. I am not quite sure, then, why he is pointing the finger. Well, I am sure. I know why he is pointing the finger at a Labour-led council rather than the Government, but that does not reflect the true picture of why the area has not received the investment it needs.
I do not think it very helpful to dwell on that point. We should focus more on what we have in common than on what divides us, as my very sadly missed colleague Jo Cox would have said. We all have a desire to improve transport links to reduce congestion and to improve road safety, and I hope that we also share a commitment to environmental objectives. That is not to say that the Labour party would oppose all the road provisions, but we very much want to see them within the framework of tackling air pollution and reducing carbon emissions.
We had a debate in this room this morning on the much-awaited and long-delayed transport decarbonisation plan. I made the point that the Government are committed to that huge £27 billion-worth of spending on road infrastructure but the Transport Secretary ignored the advice of his civil servants to carry out an environmental impact assessment. It is not my role to take a view on what local projects are needed. That is for locally elected representatives, and I would not want them to do that in my patch. However, I hope that we measure things against the impact on the natural environment and overall contribution to getting to net zero, because that cannot be done just by a shift to electric vehicles. We have to discourage road travel and give people alternatives, whether that is investment in rail or buses, as has been mentioned, or other means.
There is also something to be said about spending on basic road maintenance, the budget for which has been slashed. There is now a £11 billion backlog for pothole repairs. Those sorts of things really matter to people in the villages that Members have talked about. [Interruption.] I thought the Minister was leaving—when I mentioned potholes, he put on his jacket and I thought he had had enough and was off. Those things really matter to local people, as well as flagship new bypasses.
On the A68, I am not familiar with that part of the world, although I did once go for a night out at Trimdon Colliery social club in the constituency of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell), so I may have travelled on that road. Needless to say, it was when the then local Member of Parliament was also the Prime Minister and I was a constituency member of Labour’s national policy forum. We had a night out and I remember that lots of pies were delivered, which, being vegan, I could not eat, and then we went down the chip shop. Phil Wilson, the former MP for Sedgefield, delights in saying that the shop still talks about these strange out-of-towners and southerners descending on Trimdon Colliery chip shop, asking what the chips were cooked in. But I digress. Actually, I looked at a map and noticed that Toft Hill is very close to Barnard Castle, which is the other interesting fact I have to share about the area.
On the issue of road safety, I spoke to my Teesside colleagues, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), who said that the A68 is well known for the number of blind summits on route, and the statistics show that it is one of the most dangerous A roads in Britain, with an accident rate of 2.7 for every 1 million vehicles. I would welcome the Minster setting out what can be done to tackle that issue. People do not want to be stuck in the queues that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) spoke about, but road safety is absolutely imperative.
I will conclude by saying again that we all want to see investment and levelling up, no matter where we represent. The Government could do more, however, including by making rail affordable and creating the rail connectivity that we do not have. I am sure my former colleague Andrew Burnham in Greater Manchester bends Ministers’ ears very frequently—perhaps even more often than the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland. We all want to see improvements, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary, and to respond to the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on securing this debate on a topic that I know is very close to his heart and to those of all who have spoken today about the vital route connecting communities through County Durham, Northumbria and onwards to Scotland.
Like many, this year I will have a staycation rather than a vacation. I already have it booked in Durham and in Scotland, so I look forward to sampling for myself the A68 and the picnics and cafés in what is a very beautiful part of the world.
I will bear that in mind.
Some colleagues may not be aware that, while I firmly hail from the north-west of England, my family on my father’s side come very firmly from the north-east of England. My father grew up in Shildon, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison). My grandmother was from Ferryhill—
In my hon. Friend’s constituency. My grandfather worked as a bus driver in Darlington, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson). So I have connections and many family members living across the north-east of England. I am delighted to have listened to the speeches from my colleagues in the north-east, who represent that part of the world so well.
As has been said, the A68 is not a strategic road, and therefore decisions will be reserved to the local highways authorities it passes through. But I assure Members that the Department for Transport works constructively with all partners to ensure that our road infrastructure is fit for purpose and funded appropriately, investing in a road network that maximises economic growth and supports thriving local communities.
To that end, the Government are wholeheartedly committed to delivering on their vision of levelling up the British economy and strengthening the bonds of our Union. Improved transport connectivity is fundamental to that vision, unlocking the economic potential of the northern powerhouse, building back better following this awful pandemic, and ensuring that the north of England plays a key role in a resurgent UK economy. That is why my Department, led by the Secretary of State, who is also the Cabinet Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse, is at the forefront of making this vision a reality.
Since 2010, more than £29 billion has been invested in transport infrastructure in the north, but at the Department for Transport we want to go further and faster. Levelling up all parts of the United Kingdom is at the centre of the Government’s agenda, with a White Paper in development, led by the Prime Minister himself. Transport will be a fundamental part of that vision. While the White Paper is being developed, we are already making strides on investment and strengthening the voice of the north. Significant progress has already been made: over 60% of the north of England is now covered by metro Mayors, offering a strong voice to the people, as well as access to new funding opportunities, particularly for transport.
As part of the devolution deal for the Tees Valley Combined Authority, £126 million was secured, including local growth funds, an investment fund and local transport funding, and there is more to come. The intercity transport settlements announced in the 2020 budget will deliver £4.2 billion to mayoral city regions over the next five years, from 2022-23. That is on top of the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund, underlining our commitment to a robust UK economy firing on all cylinders and maximising economic opportunities for all parts of the country.
The levelling-up fund can be used to support projects such as the A68, so I am delighted to hear that a bid is going in, and I look forward to seeing that bid alongside what I am sure will be many other bids from across the country. That funding will help to level up the region, supporting Mayors who have the powers and the ambition to help their city regions prosper. Indeed, the Government welcome the hard work of the Mayor of Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, who has worked constructively with the Department on a range of transport initiatives, from securing the future of Teesside International airport to delivering improvements to Darlington and Middlesbrough stations and accelerating upgrades to a range of road projects. The Government look forward to receiving proposals from other local authorities in the north-east for a new devolution deal, establishing a Mayor with additional transport powers for the area.
With the right investment, the north-east of England can truly be the cornerstone of a thriving northern powerhouse. Tees Valley received £76 million from the transforming cities fund to improve intercity connectivity. The restoring your railways initiative, which was mentioned by a number of Members, has seen a new station secured for Ferryhill. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham should be commended for his work on campaigning for the opening of the Weardale line and the Consett-Tyne rail link. But we should not forget the basics, either. Over £80 million will be spent across the north-east to support highways maintenance, pothole repairs and local transport measures, through 2021-22, meaning smoother, safer and more reliable journeys for not just motorists but bus passengers and cyclists.
We should not consider the north-east of England in isolation. We want the regions to be joined up, with strong north-south connections, especially to Scotland, enabling unencumbered movement of people and goods between our nations. When we work together UK-wide, we are safer, stronger and more prosperous. Together, we are better able to tackle the big problems, from defending our borders and fighting national security threats, to delivering the furlough scheme or the world-beating vaccination roll-out.
The Government are already taking huge strides to strengthen our Union and level up every single part of the country. We are determined to build back better in a way that brings every corner of the UK closer together, making it easier to reach friends, family and businesses from different parts of the UK. I must admit, as the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) mentioned, that our close bonds of friendship with those north of the border may be tested somewhat for 90 minutes on Friday, but, whatever the result, that will not shake the Government’s commitment to strengthen the Union.
We are working to ensure that the institutions of the United Kingdom are used in a way that benefits everybody from Aberdeen to Aylesbury, from Belfast to Brecon. The independent Union connectivity review is key to realising these ambitions. I hear what the hon. Member for Midlothian says, and I can assure him that we intend to work collaboratively and in partnership with the Scottish Government to ensure that the proposals that are brought forward by Sir Peter are ones that we can all get behind and support.
While we eagerly await Sir Peter’s review, the Government are far from resting on our laurels. We are acting now to strengthen the links between England and Scotland. The borderlands growth deal will realise a new era of regeneration opportunity, as we build back better from the pandemic, bringing £452 million of fresh investment into the borderlands area, driving economic growth and strengthening cross-border links.
Making stronger links between Scotland and England a reality requires investment and delivery on the ground. Roads such as the A68 are the lifeblood of the north-east’s economy, and fundamental to getting people and goods to Scotland. That is why the Department is investing £700 million in the strategic road network in the north-east between 2020 and 2025.
I am sure that my hon. Friends from the Tees Valley will share my joy that the A19 is one of the chief recipients of the road investment in the region, with up to £70 million secured to upgrade that road. We are also improving the A69 Bridge End junction in Hexham, to reduce congestion and improve journey times and safety for all road users. The scheme will improve connectivity within the region, including some journeys that use both the A68 and the A69.
The energy we are devoting to delivering transformative transport projects now is matched by our ambitions for further improvements in the future. The Department is starting work to develop the third road investment strategy, known as RIS3, which will set Highways England’s objectives and funding for the period 2025 to 2030. RIS3 decision making will be underpinned by a strong evidence base that will be assessed over the next couple of years. We want to understand people’s priorities for the strategic road network over the RIS3 period and beyond, recognising that people will have a variety of views, whether as road users or as neighbours to the network.
Highways England has a central role to play in this evidence-gathering process. It has recently written to key stakeholders, including parliamentarians, mayors and local authorities across the country, inviting them to get involved in its work to refresh our route strategies. Route strategies assess the current performance and future pressures on every part of the strategic network, identifying the priority locations for future improvements. They are one of the principal ways for people to inform our decisions for RIS3, and I encourage colleagues here today to get involved and to reiterate the points they have all made about the significance of the A68.
In the meantime, we are getting on with improvements, such as investing in the A1. In recent years, we have extended motorway conditions along the A1 to Newcastle, so there is a continuous motorway link south, all the way through the midlands and to London, for the first time. We are extending the dual carriageway northwards to Ellingham, with work planned to start next year. A total of 13 miles of road will be upgraded between Morpeth, Felton, Alnwick and Ellingham. As we develop our next road investment strategy, we will consider the case for further work improving the road onward to Berwick-upon-Tweed.
However, our attention should not focus just on those schemes that have commanded the largest price tags. As many of my hon. Friends have done today, we must also shine a spotlight on the smaller schemes, which nevertheless are of huge importance to local communities and businesses. That is why I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland, who, ever since her election, has been pressing hard for the Toft Hill bypass. As the road in question, the A68, is a local road, it is for Durham County Council to promote such a scheme. I advise her to maintain her pressure on the county council, but I will certainly look with interest at the bid that is coming in as part of the levelling-up fund and is supported by the council.
Other local schemes also need consideration. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington talked eloquently about the Darlington northern bypass. I fully appreciate the benefits that the scheme could bring in bringing better connectivity between Newton Aycliffe and Tees Valley, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his campaigning on this issue. I know that my noble Friend Baroness Vere, the Roads Minister, would be happy to meet him, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell), to discuss the scheme.
As important as these local connections are in the region, we should recognise that Tees Valley can play a real role in the global economy as well. That is why I was pleased to see Teesside announced at the Budget as one of the eight successful freeport bids in England. That will establish the region as a national hub for international trade, innovation and commerce, while regenerating our local communities. Freeports will play a significant role in boosting trade, attracting inward investment and driving productivity across the UK. That will level up communities through increased employment opportunities. That is more important than ever as we begin the recovery from the ongoing economic crisis that we have been left in by covid-19.
I am grateful to all my colleagues for today’s very insightful debate. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham welcomes the updates that I have provided, which make it clear that the Department and the Government at large are committed to levelling up transport infrastructure in the north and strengthening the bonds of our Union.
As every other hon. Member has said today, it is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. Thank you for everything that you have done for us today.
I say to my hon. Friend the Minister, as bids have been made by my fellow County Durham and Darlington colleagues for a visit during your break, that you are more than welcome to pop along with me to Frosterley fish bar or Craven’s in Wolsingham. They are two of my favourites, although I have to say to the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) that they do specialise in frying their stuff in beef dripping, so I do not think it would tick her box, unfortunately.
I welcome the support from the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) for general transport schemes. I just hope that he still supports the schemes we are proposing after Friday—whatever happens. I would also just like to point out that there are some parts of my constituency in which we could refer to Scotland as being part of the south, because we do go quite a way north, really, on the other side of the country.
I welcome the hon. Member for Bristol East and thank her for some of the points she mentioned. I am also, obviously, grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Darlington (Peter Gibson), for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) and for Sedgefield (Paul Howell), who have raised really important issues, particularly on the need for road infrastructure to be there in order for our bus infrastructure to come and to support that as well. In particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland raised issues about road safety and how important that is. Perhaps now we should share our second passion, aside from the A68, and go and have a pint of lager somewhere.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the A68 and road connectivity from Teesside to Scotland.