Skip to main content

Westminster Hall

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 16 September 2021

Westminster Hall

Thursday 16 September 2021

[Sir George Howarth in the Chair]

Backbench Business

UK Maritime Sector

Before we begin, can I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking? This is line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering or leaving the room.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the UK’s maritime sector.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir George. May I first draw the House’s attention to my declaration of interests? I am also chair of the all-party parliamentary group for shipbuilding and ship repair. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for the debate, and the 16 Members from across all parties in the House who supported the application.

It is right that we meet today, in London International Shipping Week 2021. This is an opportunity to discuss the maritime sector, which is worth some £46 billion to the UK economy, ranging from shipbuilding and ship repair to ship brokerage in insurance, in which we are world leaders. It is an opportunity to speak up for the sector, which we need to do. I am a passionate believer in a bright future for this country, and the sector supports 1 million more jobs than air and rail. Further, 95% of UK imports and exports are transported by ship.

During the pandemic, we took it for granted that we could order on Amazon or similar sites, and that the package would arrive, but few people consider how that package actually comes to their doorstep. I know Mrs Jones certainly does not give much thought to that. However, it is important, and other aspects are in play—48% of our food supplies come through the maritime sector, as does 25% of our energy needs.

The sector is vital to the resilience of our economy and is also a wide-ranging industry. Ports, for example, generate £600 million in private sector capital each year. It is a source of highly skilled, well-paid jobs. There is an important issue here across the industry, which is mentioned in the briefing note I received from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers: we must invest in those skills and ensure that we have not only individuals with the right set of skills, but the right numbers of workers. As the RMT quite rightly points out, its membership is an ageing population. It is important that we focus on that and make the sector attractive to young people as an industry to come into.

Internationally, the sector will be worth around £3 trillion by 2030 and it is a great source of exports from the UK. Indeed, many businesses throughout the UK are providing not only products for the marine sector around the world, but services. My own region, the north-east, has a long tradition of service industries working around the world. When the Dubai flight from Newcastle recommences at the end of November, marine engineers will be flying all round the world to service ships, but their companies are based in the north-east. It is important that we recognise that fact.

The sector’s problem, certainly in shipbuilding and in other areas, is that there is a view among the public that this is a smokestack industry—an industry of yesteryear. It is quaint that we are involved, but the sector is not the future. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. I do not know how we can do this—the debate obviously allows Members to highlight the issues—but we must promote the sector and say that it is not only important to our economy in the present but can be more important in growing our economy in the future. That is where the Government come in; they have a key role to play in.

Let me turn to the shipbuilding and ship repair sector, where there have been welcome moves by the Government, such as the national shipbuilding programme. We have a shipbuilding tsar—the Defence Secretary—and to be fair to him, I think he is committed to this, but does he actually believe that we can be a world-leading shipbuilding nation again? I think we can, with the right support.

It is a mistake to think that there is any shipbuilding industry around the world that is not reliant on the state—either directly owned by the state or provided with huge subsidies. We should not get into the mindset that if we have to put money into the shipbuilding and ship repair industry or help it with finance, that is somehow a bad thing. It is a good thing if we can grow the industry. The Koreans do not bat an eyelid at putting in huge amounts of money, nor do our European neighbours—the Norwegians, the French, the Germans or anyone else.

The other key issues are port infrastructure, which will be important, and skills. I will talk later about research and development, because the next thing that will change radically in this area is the green agenda. This country has an opportunity to get ahead and be world leaders there.

I welcome the national shipbuilding strategy, but we are still waiting for the refresh, which was promised in August. Its main emphasis—this is self-evident to anybody who knows the industry—is that the industry needs a drumbeat of work running through it. The strategy committed to a 30-year drumbeat of work, but we must ensure that that is a reality, and the Ministry of Defence, which is obviously constrained by the Treasury, is still not laying out that clear pathway for the industry. We saw that with fleet solid support ships, which I will refer to later.

There have been some welcome moves in defence and elsewhere, whereby people are looking at how the UK shipbuilding industry underpins prosperity. The Royal United Services Institute study of aircraft carriers said that 36% of the money that went in came directly back to the UK taxpayer in tax and national insurance, and that is not counting the knock-on effect of the local economic boost generated in those areas. We should not just look at the top line when we are considering contracts; we should look not just at the price, but at how that money comes directly back to the Exchequer.

We need a whole-Government approach to ensure that, when we procure ships, we look to the UK. There was an announcement last week or the week before about Border Force’s new cutters. The existing ones were built in Holland, and I think one was built in Finland or Estonia. That is a £200 million contract, and the default mechanism should be to get them built in the UK. If 30-odd per cent. comes straight back to the Exchequer, that is an opportunity.

A throughput of work is important because that allows industry and business to invest. It is a way to draw in capital to the industry. The problem is that the Ministry of Defence is still in competition mode, which no other country in the world is into, so we have a farcical situation with a fake competition going on between four consortia for the FSS contract. We had a great example of how to do it when we procured the aircraft carriers. Yes, there was a shotgun marriage between various UK yards to provide them, but it worked.

Let us look at those contracts. There was a lot of controversy about the cost, but the build was on time, on budget and world beating. There is nothing like it. We should be proud of that. That was an opportunity to get a consortium of companies together to produce world-beating ships, but what did we do? We broke up the alliance afterwards, which was absolutely shocking. It should have continued.

From the point of view of the taxpayer, should we give out contracts to various companies no questions asked? No, we should not, but we should have a partnership approach rather than competition. The partnership approach should ensure that we have a skills agenda and that we get value for money. Also, the partners put their own shareholder capital into the business. I was speaking to businesses this week at DSEI, the defence and security equipment international exhibition. They do that, but they want certainty. We have the strategy in a nice glossy document, but there is an old mindset of false competition. If we can get that drumbeat of work running through the industry, we will be world beating not only in providing great first-rate ships for our Royal Navy, but in being able to compete for work regarding other vessels. That will be key.

I am not talking about only the bigger yards. The Wight Shipyard Company, which recently won a Queen’s award for international trade, is a small company on the Isle of Wight that produces great vessels. Companies such as that should be the first call, rather than throwing contracts open to international competition, because no other country would do that. There is certainly an opportunity to look at that sector for Border Force ships. Again, that would give security to individuals.

We need some joined-up thinking. We need to ensure that the Treasury not only looks at every single contract, but that the work is there for the long term. The easiest thing in terms of the build programme would be to get on and order the FSS vessels. If we did that, we would have a throughput of work in Rosyth and other places, and we would retain skills. An important thing in the shipbuilding report is that if we are to retain skills or get an influx of new skills into the industry, we need a continuation of work. What we do not want is stopgap areas where we are not employing new apprentices and the workforce get older and older. That point was made by the RMT about its members who work on ships. Oversight is needed. What other skills do we need and in what areas? That is a role for Government as well.

I am sorry to interrupt. The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about the skills that we need to create a workforce who can work in the sector. I am interested in his thoughts on retrofitting, because a lot of merchant vessels out there need to be retrofitted with modern technology that allows us to meet our green ambitions. That goes hand in hand with the way in which we want to train a new generation of skilled workers, especially on tackling climate change.

The hon. Gentleman speaks with a great deal of knowledge, and he raises an interesting point. I think the understanding is that we cannot ever compete with the Koreans or others in the far east, because they will do the work cheaper. He knows as well as I do that the country that is doing more retrofitting than anywhere else is Norway. Let us be honest: Norway is not paying poverty wages to its workforce, and it has different overheads from other countries, so if Norway can do it, we can do it, but we need a strategy for that. I will come to green shipping in a minute, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a huge market. New green technology will come in, but a lot of it will be retrofitted to existing vessels.

That brings me to research and development. What we need from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is an R&D fund that is ringfenced for the industry, because that would ensure that we got the innovation we need. One area that I have spoken to several Members about is hydrogen, which will need a large amount of R&D. Some good companies are already doing that type of work, but we perhaps need to provide them with Government assistance and access to capital.

We have some great brains thinking about green technology in shipping, but I fear that we will get foreign investment coming in to buy out some of those companies and to provide the capital, but they will then take all that abroad. What we need to do—it can be done by the Government—is give support to the new technology here in the UK, so that we can retain not just the technology, but the jobs that will be done now and in the future in a host of areas in green shipping, as well as the new technologies that will come through. I accept that some of those might not work, but we should be brave enough to invest. It is not a great scandal if, at the end of the day, something does not work. It is important that that is done, which is why marine research and innovation need to be at the forefront of any initiative we undertake.

We have the maritime enterprise working group, but it remains on a non-permanent basis. I do not wish to criticise the Minister, because he is passionate about the sector, and about aviation as well. If I remember correctly, he is a bit of a plane spotter when it comes to knowing different types of aircraft. He announced the £20 million investment in the clean maritime demonstration competition, which he described as a turning point. That was welcome, and it is great that he did it, but he must get more money out of the Treasury for the sector. If we do not get more money to the sector, we will be at a disadvantage.

The opportunities are there. We talk about the carbon targets that we want to meet, which are good. If we do this right, however, we can get jobs out of it as well, so it is important that we invest now and that we ensure that the talk about net zero and so forth has some real teeth. It would be sad if we had new and innovative companies working in the sector, but the technology went abroad, and we ended up importing it or allowing other countries to develop it. That technology will be very important.

Within this new agenda, we must take a legislative stance as well. We are a world leader in working with the International Maritime Organisation and others on standards and regulations for the future. Those will be new concepts, so ensuring that we have regulations and international governance that are in our favour, not that of the Chinese and others, will be important. I do not underestimate the Chinese in particular, in terms of their wanting to have international rules that favour their industries rather than ours, so it is important that we play a key part in that process.

I will finish where I started. This is an industry of the future. We need to talk more about it, and we need to invest in it. Yes, the private sector involvement is hugely important, but if Government money and strategies can be put in place at the key point, they could be huge levers, not only to lever in more private sector capital, but to grow the sector. Perhaps we just need to say to people, “Just think when you are ordering things—how do they get to your doorstep?” That is the basis of it.

I am a passionate advocate for the sector. It is not yesterday’s industry; this is the industry of tomorrow. What it needs is a direct and clear strategy, and money behind it. Now is the time to provide those things.

It is a pleasure to see you back in your place, Sir George. I congratulate both the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on securing the debate and the Backbench Business Committee on listening to his passionate request for it.

Notwithstanding the UK’s rich and proud maritime history, there is a concern at times that the sector is overlooked and that the lead role that it can play in delivering the Government’s key objectives of levelling up, building back better and decarbonisation is not as centre stage as it should be.

This debate provides the opportunity to showcase the sector and its various facets, such as ports all around the UK, including, in my own area, Lowestoft, the UK’s most easterly port. It serves the southern North sea, which includes one of the largest clusters of offshore windfarms in the world, rich fishing grounds and gas fields in which to store carbon.

Lowestoft has an illustrious maritime past, being the former fishing capital of the southern North sea—a title that it wishes to regain—and the home of two great shipbuilders, Richards and Brooke Marine, although both are sadly long gone. That said, Lowestoft’s dry dock, which is run by SMS Marine, is increasingly busy. In fact, it got the contract for the refurbishment of the UK Border Force vessels. That in itself was welcome, but the point that the right hon. Gentleman made—namely that we really want the actual building of the boats in the first place, which is the important bit—was correct.

New businesses are moving into Lowestoft, such as SSE and ScottishPower Renewables, with operations and maintenance bases in the port. Associated British Ports has exciting plans for the future, and it is vital that national Government provide the right policy framework so that those plans can be realised.

ABP’s plans are focused on the Lowestoft Eastern Energy Facility, or LEEF, which over the next five years should bring significant upgrades to facilities in the outer harbour, creating key capabilities to support the UK’s journey towards achieving net zero. This project will deliver infrastructure that will ensure the port can accommodate the next generation of offshore support vessels. The facility will provide a site that is suitable for operations and maintenance activities, in addition to a quayside suitable for construction support. This is an investment estimated at around £25 million, which will enable the port of Lowestoft to add to the £30 million per annum that it already contributes to the local economy. In doing so, the project will help us to reach net zero, and it complements well the Government’s levelling-up ambitions.

From LEEF, it is appropriate for me to move on to REAF, which is the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries. In 2018, the local fishing industry came together with local councils, the New Anglia local enterprise partnership and Seafish to produce a report on how to revive the local fishing industry as the UK left the European Union. The report was launched here in the House of Commons in October 2019.

Following the trade and co-operation agreement reached with the European Union at the turn of the year, which, frankly, was a let-down for so many, the strategy has been revised to take into account the setting and policies within which the fishing industry now has to work. Initial funding has been secured to implement the strategy and, while I will not go through the 11 recommendations in full, I will highlight the following features, which complement the aspirations of other maritime sectors and fit in well with the Government’s levelling-up and decarbonisation agendas.

The first is the need to embrace the industry’s whole supply chain, from the net to the plate. The second is the importance of ensuring that it is local communities, local people and local businesses that benefit from a revived industry. The third is the importance of reducing CO2 emissions. The report recommends that all offshore demersal vessels fishing in the southern North sea part of the UK’s exclusive economic zone should, in due course, be restricted to 500 hp. The fourth is the need to invest in supporting port, marketing and processing infrastructure. Finally, there is the importance of attracting and training new entrants to the industry, which East Coast College in Lowestoft will be doing. It has set up a new course.

As I go on about fishing, I see the Minister’s eyes may be glazing over because he is saying, “What has this got to do with me? This is for the fisheries Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.” That highlights the particular challenge that the maritime sector faces, in that it touches on the work of a large number of Departments. The Minister himself is from the Department for Transport. We also have the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is overseeing the levelling-up agenda, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with the fisheries Minister and, as we have heard, the Ministry of Defence when it comes to contracts for the Navy. That is five. That emphasises the need for joined-up and co-ordinated Government, and I hope that in his summing up the Minister will confirm that that is happening.

I welcome the freeport initiative, which I sense the Minister will refer to in his summing up and, in particular, I welcome Freeport East at Felixstowe and Harwich, which is 50 miles down the coast from Lowestoft. However, I express a note of caution and emphasise the importance for Government of not jumping from one intervention to the next catchy initiative, but continuing to see through proven strategies that are already up and running. Like other enterprise zones around the country, the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth enterprise zone, which was set up in 2012, has been very successful. It has an energy focus and is firmly in line with the levelling-up and net zero strategies. It now needs reigniting and that can be done by reallocating the existing footprint of the enterprise zone around Lowestoft port and the adjoining PowerPark. That could create more than 300 jobs, support 40 new businesses and generate between £1 million and £3 million of retained rates.

Earlier in my speech, I mentioned the need for the Government to provide the right policy framework for the maritime sector to realise its full potential. The framework that I would urge the Government to adopt is broadly Maritime UK’s spending review bid. Time does not permit me to go through that in detail, but I believe it is compelling. It will create a large number of well paid, exciting and innovative new jobs right through the supply chain. Those jobs will be in coastal communities where they are much needed and will fuel the levelling-up agenda. Moreover, the strategy will set the UK firmly on a course to meeting its net zero maritime obligation.

In conclusion, it is important to re-emphasise the lead role that the maritime sector can play in the post-Brexit economy, particularly in terms of levelling up and decarbonisation. There is, as I have mentioned, a requirement for joined-up Government and also, I sense a need for maritime-proofing of economic policy. I say that having just read the Salvation Army’s report on the levelling-up agenda, which concludes that coastal communities have not been properly recognised in the place prioritisation that has accompanied both the levelling-up fund and the community renewal fund. I hope the Minister will allay any concerns I have in this respect in his summing-up.

It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Sir George. I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on securing the debate, and thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it.

Such debates are all too rare. That, in itself, is an illustration of what the briefing from Nautilus calls “sea blindness”. One of the biggest difficulties the maritime industry faces is getting the political attention it needs in just about every respect—whether for its own development, for health and safety on vessels, or for minimum wage implementation. It all happens far from sight at sea. This debate is a welcome opportunity for those of us with an interest in the maritime industry to put some of those concerns on the record.

It has been a difficult couple of years for those working in our maritime industry. During lockdown, many seafarers found themselves in difficult situations, caught between different lockdown regulations—testing, tracing, self-isolating—in different countries. In its briefing, Nautilus highlights its survey, which shows that about 11,000 maritime professionals fell through all the gaps in the safety nets; none was able to get assistance from the job retention scheme or the self-employment income support scheme. That statistic illustrates the different way in which the maritime industries work compared to those based onshore.

Both the right hon. Member for North Durham and the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) believe that this is an industry with a future, and I endorse that sentiment. However, I would say that there is nothing inevitable about the UK maritime sector having a bright future; it will require a determined and driven strategic agenda from the Government to ensure that that actually happens.

We have seen the issue at different times over the years. Going back 15 or 20 years, the Blair Government introduced the tonnage tax—a really good, welcome initiative. However, it never really achieved its full potential, beyond getting tonnage to flag under the red ensign, because it was difficult for the Government to get the conditionality attached to it: getting the number of officers trained under the tonnage tax, and then getting the shipping companies that had trained them to keep them on. There was a commitment to train officers in order to qualify under the tonnage tax. After that box was ticked, there was a commitment to retain them for a year, but after that, there was a cliff edge. There was a glut of one-year post-qualification officers.

That is the challenge facing the Government, and I do not envy them. It is difficult for any individual country to take on companies operating in an effectively global environment. This is probably the best working definition of a global industry. In its briefing, the RMT illustrates some of the challenges affecting the enforcement of minimum wage legislation. This was something of particular concern a few years ago, when I discovered that many of those working on the freight ships going from Aberdeen to Shetland, in my constituency, were deemed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs not to be in its remit for enforcing the minimum wage because the boats operated in international waters. Its definition of international water is being outside the 12-mile limit.

I give credit to HMRC and the Government for having closed some of the loopholes, but we know that many of the jobs advertised will come nowhere near the level of minimum wage protection. The RMT briefing for today quotes some examples of that:

“The expansion of Irish Ferries into Dover is a case in point. Irish ferries pay below the National Minimum Wage to its Cypriot registered ships”.

That is Irish Ferries coming into Dover in Cypriot registered ships—seeing that, one begins to understand the complexity of international shipping. It continues:

“as revealed by recent inspection of the WB Yeats by the Inspector for International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) in France (Irish Ferries have blocked ITF access in UK and Irish ports)”.

It then quotes the pay rates on the W. B. Yeats, Rosslare to Cherbourg, in June 2021. A bar and galley steward gets an hourly rate of £6.47; an able seafarer has an hourly rate of £6.89; both a cook and a plumber had an hourly rate of £7.42; a receptionist earned £7.69; and a bosun earned £9.39. In fact, going back a few years, some of the ships that were operating in the North sea were paying figures that were less than half the lowest figures in the RMT briefing. It shows that, because of the way the industry is structured and operates, enforcement of conditions is a game of regulatory whack-a-mole.

I am grateful to my good friend for giving way. I congratulate him on the work that he has done in the last couple of years to ensure that national minimum wage rates are paid to seafarers. Does he agree that what we would like to hear about from the Minister is a proactive approach to ensuring the enforcement of the national minimum wage?

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is characteristically generous. Others in the House, him included, have been working on the issue as well. It comes back to the first point I made: as a former Prime Minister used to say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. People like us, talking about issues like that, on occasions like this, do allow pressure to be brought bear, which ultimately leads to progress being made.

The right hon. Member for North Durham spoke about the need for a more proactive, and less competition based, approach to the awarding of contracts. In principle I agree with him, and I understand what he is saying when offering comparators from Europe and around the world.

To sound one note of caution, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) knows, we have a difficult recent history of this north of the border. Two ferries are being procured from a shipyard owned by the Scottish Government: the replacement for the Glen Sannox and Hull 802—so called because, although it is now heading towards five years overdue, it still does not have a name. Partnership between Government and industry of the sort that the right hon. Member for North Durham is talking about worked very effectively with the procurement of the aircraft carriers and is something we should be taking seriously. However, the rigours of private sector involvement are needed to ensure that these ferries are obtained on time and give value to the taxpayer, as well as giving longer-term security for the workforce in the domestic shipyards we have left.

We saw this week that, in the tender for the construction of the two ferries to serve Islay and Jura, two of the shipyards tendering are in Turkey, one is Romanian, and one is in Poland. Not a single shipyard in Scotland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom is now being invited to tender by the Scottish Government. That shows that we need to have the strategy that everyone else has spoken about. If we have a gesture here on a difficult news day there, we do not do any favours for the people who work in these shipyards, never mind island communities such as Islay and Jura.

Order. I will call the Front Benchers at 2.30. The right hon. Gentleman has already taken up more time than will be allowed to a Front-Bench spokesman, and there are other speakers trying to get in. There is no time limit, but I would ask him to bear that in mind.

I have effectively, Sir George, covered the material that I intended to cover. With your restrictions in mind, I am happy to conclude.

I now feel obliged to impose a time limit of seven minutes on Back-Bench speeches. That should enable everybody who wants to speak to get in.

It is good to see you in your place, Sir George. I will endeavour to meet your time limit, although as hon. Members know I can talk about the maritime sector till the cows come home.

I would very much like to associate myself with the remarks made by the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who has set out as good an exposition as any of why we need to prioritise shipbuilding and the maritime sector. I agree that we often do not celebrate the sector enough. It is very telling that, through the horrendous couple of years of the pandemic, the supermarket shelves stayed full. That is because our maritime sector kept going. I suspect that it is only when things start to go wrong that people start to realise its importance. In that respect, we had something of a stay of execution when there was a slight difficulty in the Suez canal; I do feel that we are perhaps still yet to see the out-turn of the difficulties created by that.

It is great pleasure to contribute to this debate as chairman of the all-party parliamentary maritime and ports group and during London International Shipping Week. We have had a lot to celebrate in the ports sector this week: only yesterday, we heard confirmation from DP World that it is investing a further £400 million in a new berth at London Gateway, and Forth Ports are due to invest a further £1.2 billion in new port facilities at Tilbury3, following hot on the heels of Tilbury2, which I can tell the House took just under a year between planning permission and the ships arriving. That shows how dynamic the sector is. If only our public sector procurement could deliver things as quickly.

That success is very rarely celebrated. I know that I am preaching to the converted when I address all this to the Minister, who has taken on the brief with characteristic ambition and gusto; he is much respected in the sector, and we hope he continues to do the job for quite some time. Could I just ask him to switch his phone off, perhaps?

The right hon. Member for North Durham referred to the fact that maritime is seen as a smokestack industry. When it comes to how public policy makers see the sector, I could agree with him more. They generally do not see it as part of the future, yet it is an intrinsic part of our present. We cannot talk about global Britain or the importance of trade if we do not actually value the means by which we secure that trade. We really do need to make sure that we champion the sector more.

I lose the will to live when I have meetings with public policy makers in my constituency, which is, as I often call it, the port capital of the UK. It is the fastest growing port in the country, yet I still have to tell them that the ports are our future and ask why they are wasting time prattling on about spending money on creative industries, which frankly are never going to contribute as much to the wealth of this country as the maritime sector does.

As Great Britain, it is part of our DNA that we are a maritime nation, but sometimes we say these things and then realise there is not very much to back them up at all. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) put it very well when he talked about how the sector touches on various Departments, because one of the tragedies in how we get things wrong in government and policy making is that so many of these things are siloed. We plonk maritime in the Department for Transport, which has to deal with providing infrastructure for how we get around the country, but maritime is at the heart of how our economy functions in an international way, as well as of employment. We need to get better at making sure that we deal with all those things.

I will make just a couple of final points. First, I totally endorse what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) said about seafarers. I also say gently to the Government that we are very good at lecturing other countries around the world about poor working conditions, but we look the other way when they exist in our sphere of influence; there are many complex reasons why that might be the case, but we must value seafaring and make sure it is adequately compensated. I give my personal thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister for finally getting the cruise sector moving, a sector that has obviously been hit very badly during the pandemic.

I have one final ask before I sit down. I endorse the comments made by the right hon. Member for North Durham about the need to foster investment in new technologies, particularly if net zero is going to mean anything, so I particularly encourage the Minister to look at Windship Technology, which I am hugely excited about. I think it could offer such a big future to this industry, but that technology and innovation is in every danger of going elsewhere if we do not do our bit to support it. I could go on for much longer, but I will sit down now.

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and to add a Northern Irish perspective to the contributions that have already been made. First, I thank my friend the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) for his contribution, and for setting the scene for us so very well.

Northern Ireland can be proud of its maritime heritage and excited about its maritime future: from the construction of ocean-going liners to fighting ships for our armed forces, facilities to build offshore wind farms, cutting-edge technologies designed to secure carbon-neutral status for the United Kingdom’s maritime sector, and the tradition in my own constituency of Strangford of a sustainable fishing industry, providing fresh, healthy seafood and, importantly, good jobs.

Companies such as Harland & Wolff are synonymous with the maritime sector in Northern Ireland. The shipyard’s huge cranes continue to dominate the Belfast skyline as the company celebrates 160 years of marine manufacturing. I well remember, as an 18-year-old in the mid-1970s, guarding Samson and Goliath as a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. That was one of the roles we had to do, because it was so important to ensure that there was no terrorist attack on those cranes. It is superb to see Harland & Wolff exhibiting at this week’s Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition here in London. I very much look forward to the Ministry of Defence rewarding that shipyard and its partners with future contracts for new ships for the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which as well as delivering the finest ships for the nation would help achieve the Government’s goal of levelling up the UK’s economy, as the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) mentioned. It is very important to remember that this would provide a much-needed boost to the entire economy of Northern Ireland.

In many ways, Northern Ireland and Belfast share a special bond with Scotland and the shipyards of the Clyde, but surely—I say this very gently to my colleague and friend the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens)—there is something not quite right when the latest HMS Belfast is being built in Glasgow. Artemis Technologies is a relatively new company on the maritime scene in Northern Ireland, but last year it was awarded a significant UK grant to research and develop zero-emission ferries that will revolutionise the future of maritime transport, so we need to be efficient in moving forward and be visionary in what we foresee for the future.

Artemis leads a Belfast maritime consortium that brings together the best in Northern Ireland’s academia and other partners, including Belfast Harbour port authority. This kind of consortium is not unique to Northern Ireland. The Kilkeel Harbour network works collaboratively, based—as the name suggests—around Kilkeel harbour in my neighbouring constituency of South Down. That network brings together boat builders, marine engineers, ship painters and various other ancillary businesses. Over the past 18 months, it has created new employment against a background of what we know have been very challenging circumstances.

G. Smyth Boats is one of the companies in the network with an order book stretching for several years. It supplies small fishing vessels to customers throughout the UK, Ireland and beyond. The hon. Member for Waveney is absolutely right to say that the maritime sector stretches further than the big ships and container ships—it goes as far as local fishing communities, such as mine in Portavogie and Kilkeel, where this development will happen in a bigger way. Indeed, the latest new-build from G. Smyth Boats will be launched this week.

The network has the fishing industry at its core, and the fishing industry is at the core of my constituency of Strangford. In May, my party colleague and Northern Ireland Executive Minister Edwin Poots MLA published the “Fisheries and Seafood Development Programme”, which is probably the most extensive review of the sector carried out in the United Kingdom in recent times. It is very important to us. The Minister recognises the importance of it, and so do I. The FSDP does not hide the challenges facing the fishing industry: an ageing fishing fleet, and the need to build new ships and recruit fishing crew. Nevertheless, the opportunities more than outweigh the challenges. The report advocates investing £100 million in fishing harbour infrastructure to help create a place where we can build those boats, not only for Northern Ireland but for the United Kingdom, Ireland and far beyond. The predicted timeframe for the delivery of that infrastructure fits neatly with the future negotiations between the United Kingdom and the EU, whose stated aim is to secure enhancements to the UK’s share of fishing resources within UK waters.

Delivery of the FSDP’s recommendations needs support from central Government, and I am keen to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that. I suspect he does not have direct responsibility for it, but have the discussions that the hon. Member for Waveney referred to taken place? That is important, as there are different sections and Ministers have different roles to play.

The first part of the £100 million UK seafood fund was revealed last week, with £24 million of investment for cutting-edge science and fisheries research—the two together. It is important that those overseeing the fund and applicants to it consider the practical application of the projects to ensure we cover all the necessary maritime requirements. Too often, we see such funding being taken up by academic projects that might be important but have no practical application to the industry. They just have a visual impact on the maritime sector and the fishing sector in particular, for which they have allegedly been designed.

Competition in the marine space is growing. The maintenance of a sustainable and economically viable fishing industry is important to me, as it is to all my constituents. Marine protected areas and their highly protected cousins can also displace the fishing effort. Again, we are looking at the impact on the fishing sector of the central Government’s priority for more wind energy from offshore sites.

Recent headlines about a national shortage of haulage drivers struck a chord with me, as I have lobbied the Government over many years on recruitment and retention. I asked a question at business questions today and, to be fair, I was fairly encouraged by the Leader of the House’s response on what the Government are doing on that.

As an island nation, we depend on the sea for trade. It would be remiss of me not to refer briefly to the United Kingdom’s vital maritime trade lines—namely between Northern Ireland, Scotland and England—and the impact on them of the protocol that the Government negotiated with the EU as part of the Brexit deal. Much has been promised to resolve the issues relating to the sea border created by the protocol, but actions speak louder than words. I was encouraged by the Prime Minister’s answer yesterday to the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood), but I would like to see actions, not just words. There should be no restriction on maritime trade on any trade between the islands of this great nation.

Our maritime heritage is important. We have much to look forward to, be proud of and learn from. It provides us with a tremendous foundation to ensure that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can once again resume a role at the pinnacle of the global maritime community, where we were in the past and can be in the future.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on securing the debate. It is curiously unique that we have not had many of these debates, but, going back through Hansard, we find that, all too often during London International Shipping Week, the topic is ignored. As a former shipbroker who worked in Singapore, then London and Nigeria, I really do believe I have seen some of the finer sides of the UK shipping industry and what it means to our economy.

I must start by saying what a fantastic opportunity this is to get together in this Chamber and see the common-sense agreement across the House about the value of the maritime sector—in coastal communities, ports, infrastructure and pay—and what needs to be done across the country to see it thrive.

I pay particular tribute and attention to the shipping services of this country. Although a significant proportion are based in London, I hope that colleagues will also reflect that across all four corners of the UK there are burgeoning businesses benefiting from the UK’s leading shipping services, whether that be in accountancy, arbitration, classification, consultancy, education, finance, insurance or legal—it is all based here. Be it in Singapore, Nigeria, Geneva or the middle east, people always talk of the UK as the capital of the shipping industry. This is something that we need to protect, not be complacent about; we must reflect on that and recognise that if we do not compete, if we do not challenge those around the world, we will lose our status.

I hope my hon. Friend the Minister recognises that this is a debate not for us to have a go at him, but for us to encourage him. We know him to be a highly energetic Minister to whom we offer a great deal of support to take this issue up. We also have what I believe to be a very ambitious maritime strategy, the 2050 strategy, which touches on several of the right points that have been raised in the debate. The third or fourth point in that report states that if we are not turbocharged and are not active in supporting and securing businesses in the UK, they will move abroad. Singapore and Geneva are competing every day to take businesses away from this country to be based in theirs.

Therefore, we must recognise the need to point out our failures, where necessary, to support our successes where available, and to look for opportunities that Government policy can support. The right hon. Member for North Durham talked about research and development, and I am so pleased that he did. We have rightly committed 2.4% of GDP to research and development in our manifesto, as Government policy. We talk about the invention of the telephone; I think now about the inventions we can put hand in hand into shipping services to allow us to tackle climate change, to look at the new inventions that will help us create a truly 21st century and green maritime sector that can be traded not just across the UK and our coastal communities, but across the world to be used by others.

I am particularly delighted that the right hon. Gentleman also talked about Norway. We are not necessarily expecting the UK to be building oil tankers and container ships, but we must look to try to retrofit vessels with new, high-end technology that allows us to capitalise on the work of the International Maritime Organisation and its ambitions for carbon neutrality by 2040. It is eminently possible and should go hand in hand with our levelling-up agenda.

We are home to companies such as Lloyd’s, the Baltic Exchange, Platts and numerous brokerages, two of which I have served with. I think they were probably rather pleased to see the back of me. However, there is a sense that this is an industry that is open to people from all walks of life. In some cases, there is no requirement for a degree, it can be entered into at any stage. When we talk about the levelling-up agenda, it is something that we must recognise as eminently achievable and that allows us to attract more people.

I have a few pleas to the Minister. We need to look at tax regulation and incentive schemes. We need to look at how our maritime flag is used both in the UK and abroad. We need to look at how we can champion maritime security. We need to talk more about supply chain resilience. We also need to think about how to get more people into maritime colleges. I am very pleased to say—and there will be an invitation to follow—that Noss on Dart in my constituency is setting up a maritime college within South Devon College, with the express purpose of getting people into the maritime sector at every level. There are opportunities coming up, and I would say there is broad thinking in further education colleges about how we can support this sector.

We have the history of being a very strong, globally leading trading nation with an extraordinary maritime history. We must return to that thinking, because it will help us in our ambitions of global Britain. It will help us in our ambitions as we join new organisations like the comprehensive and progressive agreement for transpacific partnership, which I hope we will be doing next year. It is perfectly fair to think of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) as Helen of Troy—she could launch a thousand ships. That is what we should be aspiring to do in the years to come.

The motto of the Baltic Exchange is, “Dictum meum pactum”—my word is my bond—and we must be very conscious that there is huge opportunity for us to develop the sector, to support it, to grow it and to encourage people to enter it. We can, once again, rule the waves.

As always, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir George. I think you are the first Chair in a Westminster Hall debate taking place during a reshuffle who is not of the governing party, so I do not need to send you good wishes for the reshuffle. I see that the Minister is still in his place, which I think we will take as good news for now.

I thank the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and everyone who has contributed to this excellent debate. It has been very enjoyable listening to everyone. Of course, a debate such as this would not be the same if I did not mention that I am still proud to represent the Govan shipyards and the workers there, who are the undisputed greatest shipbuilders in the world. I am pleased that BAE Systems is now looking at shipyard investment and at ensuring that it can build ships more efficiently at the Govan site. That is something that I hope the Minister will take cognisance of, because many of us believe that the Government have a role to play in providing finance and helping companies to invest in their shipyards so that they can compete—not just for defence contracts, but for contracts elsewhere.

I very much agree with the right hon. Member for North Durham about the fleet solid support ship contracts. A number of us in the APPG have been chipping away at the issue for a while. I have always found it quite fascinating that we were told they were not defence ships, because I have tabled parliamentary questions to ask what weaponry there would be on fleet solid support ships. I have received a long list, so I am bewildered as to why they are not designated as defence ships, but it seems that progress is being made.

I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for his charitable interpretation of the CalMac ferries situation, because my personal view on that is probably not repeatable in Hansard. Those of us who advocated remaining in the EU, such as the right hon. Member and me, have always felt—I certainly have, as someone from a public sector background —that one of the weaknesses of the case was the EU public procurement rules. It would help if the Minister outlined whether the Government are looking at the procurement rules and perhaps making it easier for local authorities and public bodies to provide contracts to local suppliers in various situations.

I want to associate myself with the comments made about seafarers, because it really is important that the national minimum wage is now enforced. Many of us were grateful that the Government changed the rules so that the national minimum wage would apply. It is now important that that is enforced, because the RMT, in its excellent briefing, has already given us examples of where it is not being enforced, and where seafarers are not being paid the national minimum wage. I recognise that the Government produce a list every year, and it certainly would not surprise me if some of the shipping companies appear on that, but perhaps the Minister could outline what work his Department and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are doing to ensure that there is real enforcement.

The maritime economy is very important both to the Scottish economy and that of these islands. It is estimated that the direct value of the maritime economy to the UK’s gross value added was £46.1 billion in 2017, supporting 200,000 jobs directly and 1 million jobs both directly and directly. Shipping alone contributed £6 billion to the economy in 2020, representing 19% of all transportation, and the UK’s shipping fleet is the 24th largest in the world. Some £9.9 billion of the GVA is added to Scotland, with 41,000 jobs directly supported. Apart from the seafarers’ situation, workers in the maritime sector are usually highly skilled and well paid. According to Maritime UK, they are 42% more productive than the average worker. Pre pandemic, the sector was predicted to grow by 15% between 2018 and 2023, but obviously that has been disrupted, and the true level of growth remains to be seen.

It is also important that we should recognise the value of Scotland’s maritime economy and marine environment, and protect the environment while growing that economy in a sustainable way. Scotland has 60% of the UK’s fishing waters and an abundance of marine resources. It is important to treat those as national assets, to be protected, developed and enhanced, not just for this generation but for future generations.

Scotland included shipping, defence and marine tourism in its previous national marine plan. That will be developed into a maritime strategy, and a dedicated agency will be established to put Scotland’s marine assets at the heart of the blue economy. The Scottish Government have pledged support for the growth of sustainable marine tourism to turnover of more than £0.5 billion by 2025.

There are great opportunities to explore greater maritime trade with the UK, and we should be ambitious to increase direct trade with the European Union. I want to see that 102% rise in direct shipping to France since the Brexit barriers were put in place, because the EU sees it as harder to ship through England to Scotland. Brexit has led to direct shipping and ferry routes to Spain and Calais.

We ask the UK Government to commit to serious and sufficient investment in the maritime sector. Historically, the UK Government have not included international aviation and shipping in their carbon budgeting—although they have changed that now, which is important, as I am sure the Minister agrees. It is important to include shipping emissions, as they can make up 3% of carbon emissions every year. Decarbonisation should be a key part of investment in the maritime sector going forward.

I congratulate all hon. Members on their fine contributions today on the maritime sector. As someone who represents a great shipyard community, I will support other hon. Members in ensuring that we have a thriving maritime sector going forward.

It is terrific to see you in the Chair, Sir George. I am sure all hon. Members echo that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) is one of the most effective operators in this Parliament at holding the Government to account, but he also always keeps his eyes on the horizon and has vision in what he talks about. The maritime industry does indeed have a very bright future for our country, and I congratulate him on leading the debate.

I was going to make some remarks about the reshuffle, but the hon. Members for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) have stolen all my lines. I will just say to Government Members, “Hope to God that your phone batteries last the day for you all.”

To be discussing the maritime sector in London International Shipping Week is a great honour. I pay tribute to everyone in the maritime sector, which played such a crucial role in getting this country through the pandemic and will continue to do so in the months ahead. We have had an inspiring and enjoyable debate—the House at its best.

The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) always sticks up for the people of Suffolk, for Lowestoft port, for fishing and for the technology to come. I wish his beloved Ipswich Town all the best—I think things will pick up for him this season.

For the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), Orcadians may be crofters who can fish, and Shetland Islanders may be fishermen who can croft, so he has a lot to say, and he says it well. However, I want to make the serious point, in relation to Nautilus, that we do not discuss the maritime sector enough in Parliament. As for the RMT and the Irish Ferries ship, the W. B. Yeats, I remind hon. Members that Yeats wrote a poem called “The Indian to his Love”:

“Here we will moor our lonely ship… how far away the unquiet lands”.

We will make unquiet lands for Irish Ferries while it pays its workers below the minimum wage. All of us in this House should agree on that and highlight it every time, as the RMT does. It is not right not to treat its workers with dignity and respect. The right hon. Gentleman will be happy to know that I have just booked my summer holiday in his village—I let him know so he can go on holiday, too.

The hon. Member for Thurrock is a proud champion of the all-party group and could launch a thousand ships from her constituency alone. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is not in his place, talked about Belfast and its maritime heritage, but also its future—zero emissions, ferries, ships, and the fishing industry in his constituency. I will put in a bid for the port of Foyle as well. It is underutilised, and we could see more cruise ships stopping there.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) talked about education and the leaders of the future. We need the agglomeration in our ports, getting people into well-paid jobs that can be equivalent to level 5 without the debt of a degree. He used his experience in brokerage to highlight that really well.

Seafarers and the maritime industry have kept this nation fed, fuelled and supplied, often at great personal cost. I spoke to the industry this week. Mareel at Holyhead crews vessels across the world, and then there are Holyhead Towing crews as well. They have operatives across the planet who have not been able to get home. They have stood by their posts to make sure the British shipping industry works.

Revitalising our maritime sector would unlock tens of thousands of green jobs across the UK. That could be the stimulus to regenerating our often overlooked coastal communities and provide the opportunity to renew the many towns and villages dotted along the coastline. I speak frequently to those in the sector. They tell me how keen they are to make the changes needed to develop, innovate and change for the greener. However, the Government need to fund and support that radical transformation.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham mentioned the £20 million for the competition—that is great, and we welcome it—but that must be a vanguard for what we need to do in future to ensure that we have good strategies to turn what we have got into what we need, to get what we want. That is what we have to do with the agglomeration of our maritime industry around our coasts and our component islands.

Another thing I call on the Government to do is turn the tide on, so to speak—if you will pardon the pun, Sir George—with financial backing for the shipbuilding industry. What all the biggest shipbuilding nations today have in common is either financial support for the industry or Government subsidies. We have heard some fantastic contributions, but why do the Government provide backing to the car industry and not the maritime sector, which had just £3 million committed this year, in one competition? Government must do more to attract investment by backing home shipbuilding credit guarantees and loans.

Decarbonisation and rebalancing of the economy are possible, and UK maritime, with its wealth of talent and expertise, has shown time and again its ability to generate enormous value. Shipping will be key to the journey to net zero by 2050. We cannot get there without decarbonising our shipping. The Government recognise that and have put maritime in their “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” as an industry difficult to decarbonise.

I am sure the Minister will make much of the clean maritime demonstration programme today, but while the investment is welcome, as I have said, we need more. This could be a fantastic opportunity for our country, as currently there is no clear global leader setting the pace to develop these technologies. If we are prepared to act fast and invest in the UK, we can become a scientific and green technological superpower—the hon. Member for Totnes said a 21st-century superpower—bringing jobs and prosperity to our neglected seaside communities and once again making our maritime industry world leading.

There is no time to lose. We have a moral duty and an environmental obligation to control pollution and reduce emissions. We must make a fair transition to green technology and to automation, but this must also be a just transition, ensuring that our seafarers and maritime professionals can avail themselves of the new opportunities. Government must do more to develop the sector, support the creation of new training and employment opportunities, and incentivise shipowners to commit to providing opportunities for employment for UK seafarers. I will always be an advocate for more investment in our maritime sector, which will enable us to become the vanguard of the green maritime industry.

It is very good to see you in the Chair, Sir George. It is also a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), who always manages to quote poetry in his speeches and make me feel a very flat speaker in contrast.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) on securing this truly timely debate on the UK maritime sector. He speaks with enormous enthusiasm, experience and expertise on the matter, and I am grateful to him for everything that he has put before us today. I entirely share his passionate enthusiasm for the sector and agree that it has a very bright future. I thank him for his comments. As it happens, I agree with a great deal of what he said—not quite everything, but a great deal.

That is a good and timely point. The Government will be relieved to know that we do not agree on quite everything.

I can think of no better moment to discuss this issue than during London International Shipping Week. The right hon. Member is absolutely right that, to quote another of his phrases, the maritime sector is not some “quaint” industry that plays a historic role in our past. This is very much an issue of the present, as we see in London International Shipping Week, which is the second-biggest international gathering this year, I understand, after COP26. It is the highlight of the maritime year and shows that not just the capital but the whole of the UK is the best place in the world to do maritime business.

Maritime business is very varied. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) rightly pointed out, services are a major part of it as well. It is, of course, seafarers and shipbuilding, but it is also the much wider services side of things. He is quite right to draw attention to that.

I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) that he need not fear: the maritime sector is not overlooked and never will be, certainly for as long as I am in this position. I appreciate that I do not know how long that will be, as everyone would say. Perhaps the greater reassurance is that, for as long as the Prime Minister, for whom this is also a major priority, is here, the sector will not be overlooked.

I start with the issue of decarbonisation, which has clearly been a major part of the debate today. I would suggest that this country is leading the way on this. We have announced the winners of the clean maritime demonstration competition, a £20-million fund to develop novel zero-emission technologies. It is the biggest competition of its type that the Department for Transport has run, so I ask hon. Members to bear that in mind. The right hon. Member for North Durham mentioned hydrogen; my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) mentioned Windship. They have asked for demonstrators, essentially. That is what we are seeking to do: to decide and demonstrate what the likely technology is going to be.

We can disagree—we will have to agree to disagree—on whether this is turning point, but I suggest that it is a welcome way forward. I know that hon. Members all accept that, and London International Shipping Week is a great time to showcase the competition. It shows the innovation that is required and that exists, and it also the investment that we are putting into it from both industry and Government—it is key that it is a partnership. We hope that the demonstrators will be a springboard for bolder projects that are yet to come.

It is absolutely clear that there is no shortage of ambition in the sector with regards to greening the sector. That is important for the two reasons that hon. Members have stated: for emissions, clearly, but also, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) said, for protecting the environment—cleaner in both senses. He is quite right to draw attention to that, and I am grateful to him for doing so.

I will spend a little bit longer talking about shipbuilding, which has been a major part of today’s debate. Shipbuilding will very much be a part of our next chapter. The UK has a long, illustrious shipbuilding heritage. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is no longer in his place, spoke movingly and vividly of Harland & Wolff, and the hon. Member for Glasgow South West spoke passionately for Govan, one of the great shipyards of the UK. Together, we have built some of the greatest, most iconic vessels that have ever graced the waves. Shipbuilding remains an integral part of our manufacturing sector, sustains thousands of jobs across the UK and brings millions into the economy, as we have heard.

Once I have agreed with the right hon. Gentleman one more time, if I may. He asks whether we believe that we will become a world-leading shipbuilder. Yes, we will.

Will the Minister inform the House whether he has any indication of when the refresh of the national shipbuilding strategy will be produced? I know that is in the hands of the Ministry of Defence, and the MOD’s idea of summer—or any season, frankly—bears no relevance to anything that we would think, but I would appreciate some indication because the industry is keen to get on with it.

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the precision he would like, but it will be before the end of the year. I hope that provides some indication of going forward.

The industry has historically suffered around productivity and under-investment, and we need to become more competitive on the international stage. Government support is, of course, vital to achieving that aim. It is key that we work in partnership with the sector to reinvigorate its fortunes and those of the wider supply chain, which we have heard so much about today. With that in mind, the new post of shipbuilding tsar—who is, of course, the Secretary of State for Defence, as the right hon. Member for North Durham knows—has been created. That is to support UK industry to enable it to step up and become more productive and innovative. As part of that, a vital step forward has been announced this week: the creation of the National Shipbuilding Office.

The right hon. Member for North Durham spoke of the Carrier Alliance. He is quite right that it has been a fantastic project and that it showcases the best of the UK, but I would suggest that it is also slightly different, given that it is a once-in-a-generation major product. We are looking at something that requires ongoing, routine investment in shipyards and that leaves a legacy, because we need to build on the legacy of the shipyards to have that drumbeat of ships that we all wish to see and to provide that for the future.

That is what the National Shipbuilding Office is looking to do. It will be the strategic centre driving this change across Government and the industry. In other words, it will do precisely what my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney rightly asked for—as, indeed, did the hon. Member for Strangford—and avoid the siloing that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock rightly referred to.

That is what the National Shipbuilding Office is intended to do. It is to bring together all the Departments that hon. Members have referred to, but then add industry to ensure that it is a key team effort. That will, of course, support innovation—to ensure that skills are also aligned—and the supply chain. It will outline the vision for the UK’s shipbuilding enterprise, and the strategy that I referred to in answer to the intervention from the right hon. Member for North Durham.

A good example of the way the country can showcase its real innovation is the new national flagship, which is a sign of the Government’s determination to support prosperity, jobs and skills in the UK shipbuilding sector. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Wights, the shipyard company on the Isle of Wight. I was at the boat show in Southampton yesterday, and met with RS Sailing, which is developing a green, electrically powered, rigid inflatable boat, and with the marine division of Barrus and Bruntons Propellers—highly efficient propeller technology—to give a few examples. The Society of Maritime Industries event, earlier this week on HMS Albion, brought together all those industries, and others.

Companies such as that, with technology such as that, could be showcased in this new national flagship, which is a sign of the Government looking to provide a showcase for technology, and be part of the drumbeat of ships, so they would understand when the Government were procuring new vessels. A major part of that is the MOD’s Type 31s and Type 26s, all the way through to our naval support vessels. However, we also have civilian vessels—ice patrol, ocean surveillance, and, of course, research. The RRS Sir David Attenborough is the latest example of those very high-quality ships being produced by the UK. A new fleet of Home Office cutters is also being considered, should funding be confirmed, with the intention of securing UK value for that.

I will talk about the DFT’s fleet for a moment, too. That fleet is often overlooked, although it is one of the largest civilian fleets. It is operated by our general lighthouse authorities to ensure that navigational aids remain operational in all circumstances, and that seafarers are made aware of dangers such as wrecks. That role is often understated, but it is terribly important, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) might agree; I am sure it is important in his constituency. I will take the opportunity to thank everyone who works for Trinity House, the Northern Lighthouse Board, and Irish Lights, for their professionalism in extremely difficult times, and for keeping people safe. We are also commencing projects to build new vessels for Trinity House and the Northern Lighthouse Board. Both will go out to formal tender shortly.

A great deal of vessels, in terms of number and breadth, are available in the Government’s pipeline, and there is no reason for that not to include fishing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney rightly pointed out.

I will say a word or two about skills. Skills are clearly part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda and a massive part of the industry. Today, as we also heard from my hon. Friend, the Maritime UK coastal powerhouse event takes place. Coastal communities are very much part of levelling up and of the industry we are discussing today. We need to ensure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes rightly pointed out, that we have the skills we need not just to recover from covid-19, but to look to the future and to ensure we have the skills we need for the industry. That is a key part of the Maritime 2050 strategy, which the Department produced about two years ago. It brings together, in conjunction and consultation with industry, the plan for the future.

A key part of that plan is the Maritime Skills Commission. Professor Graham Baldwin was appointed as chair, alongside 18 commissioners, and it has £300,000 in funding. One of its recent focuses has been green skills, to which my hon. Friend also drew attention. The Seafarer Cadet Review was also published in June.

I am grateful that hon. Members mentioned East Coast College and South Devon College, which are looking at STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—skills in their own ways in their parts of the world. That is critically important work, close to all our hearts.

My comments must be slightly constrained by the fact that a spending review has been announced recently. The Government will announce how we will continue to invest in public services, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working up a business case for a home shipbuilding credit guarantee, which is part of the spending review considerations. We continue to look at what other financial support might be available to work jointly with industry.

The hon. Member for Glasgow South West asked me about public procurement. There was a Green Paper, and those responses are being considered by the Cabinet Office. The DFT will continue to review the tonnage tax regime.

I am conscious that my speaking time is running out, although there are a great many other things I would like to talk about. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes rattled off a list of things, each of which could make for a great debate in its own right—flag, tax, supply chain. I would love to have debates on those subjects; maybe he will apply for some. I do not suppose it is my job to encourage the holding of debates, but I just have.

I should also give a plug to the debate on the cruise industry scheduled for next week, which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock will attend if she possibly can. I appreciate the support of and constructive criticism from all Members. We have had an interesting, helpful and constructive debate.

I thank the Minister, who has a real passion for the sector and for aviation. We have had a good, well-informed debate. The main point is clear: this is about people and the skills we need for those people. We cannot take those for granted and we must invest in them. As was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), we must ensure that people are not only well trained, but properly remunerated.

The other side of the issue is procurement, where the default position in the sector should be to procure and buy from UK yards—I make no bones about it. There is no excuse for not doing that; no other country in the world does not do it. The idea that we are considering buying ferries from Turkey is nonsensical.

That has to be the default position, and the Treasury should remember that the money comes back into the UK economy. We must ensure that the Treasury gets the fact that money spent in UK shipbuilding and in the UK maritime sector is money that will not only grow the sector, but procure jobs for the future.

I shall finish where I started, with a point on which I think we all agreed today: this is not an industry of yesterday; it is an industry of the future. We must make sure it is, and make sure it is attractive for young people to come in to, so that we not only get the well-paid jobs and skills, but benefit the broader UK economy.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the UK’s maritime sector.

Timpson Review of School Exclusion

[Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Before we begin, can I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking? This is line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the implementation of the recommendations of the Timpson Review of School Exclusion.

I am delighted to have secured the debate. This is the first time I have led a Westminster Hall debate and I am pleased it is on a topic that many hon. Members care about deeply. I am also delighted, and we are fortunate, that we have the opportunity to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) who conducted the review for Government. This vital review of the use of school exclusion found that more needed to be done to ensure exclusions are used fairly and consistently, so that every child has access to the high-quality education they deserve.

As a former trustee of an alternative provision multi-academy trust and a chair of governors at a pupil referral unit, I have seen how high-quality education within alternative provision can turn young people’s lives around. Indeed, as an employer leading a business in the creative sector, I worked with AP schools to find career opportunities for young people who thought differently but had creative flair. However, often, because of either an underlying special educational need or challenges in their home life, they had not quite managed to fit into mainstream schooling. With that in mind, I established the all-party parliamentary group for school exclusions and alternative provision when I came to the House to look at ways in which we could reduce the number of preventable exclusions and promote best-quality education for pupils who are excluded.

I thank all those working in the sector, particularly over recent months during the pandemic, who, because of the children, stayed open all the way through. I pay particular tribute to two individuals who have helped me to understand the sector: Seamus Oates, London regional director for the Ormiston Academies Trust, and Karen Thomson, my first head when I became a governor at a school in Warrington.

Through the APPG, we have met many pupils and parents, as well as teachers and local authority inclusion needs experts, all of whom work day in, day out with pupils excluded from school. They continue to urge the Government to implement the important recommendations of the Timpson review. While some progress has been made in implementing those proposals, a lot more still needs to be made, so I am delighted the Minister is in Westminster Hall today to give a progress update.

Our collective determination should be to ensure that every child being educated in alternative provision obtains better outcomes than they would have achieved in a mainstream school. With better models of AP working effectively with the sector, as well as more funding, we will be a few steps closer to making that aim a reality.

Therefore, these recommendations have never been more important, as pupils return to school from a year of immense disruption. Even prior to the pandemic, we were starting to see a dangerous uptick in the number of permanent and fixed-term exclusions. I say again that the most vulnerable children—those known to social services and those with special educational needs—are most likely to disappear from school rolls, and I am afraid the pandemic has only further entrenched what is a barrage of disadvantage.

One of the most worrying conversations I had during the summer recess was with a mainstream headteacher at a school in Warrington who highlighted the number of children now appearing on the local authority’s at-risk register. Those children were becoming involved with county lines drugs gangs and entering the criminal justice system owing to schools being closed, and they are now at risk of permanent exclusion from their mainstream school.

The Government have rightly been concerned about the learning that pupils have lost over the last year. We should also be concerned that that disruption to learning might well reverse progress that the Government have made since 2011 in closing the attainment gap. However, a growing cohort of pupils are not returning to school, and consequently they cannot access the support in which the Government have rightly invested.

As schools reopened, we found that pupils were disengaging from school at a frightening pace. Nearly 100,000 pupils were severely absent last year, missing more than half their education through non-attendance. We also face an increase in mental health issues in our classroom, with the rate of children with probable mental health disorders rising from one child in nine in 2017 to one child in six in 2020. All those factors point to an increased need for upstream support, by which I mean that if we are to avoid permanent exclusions, we need to intervene earlier.

Teachers and parents—those who have been through the exclusion process with their children—as well as inclusion leads told us during sessions held by the APPG that we need to invest in a system that offers both high standards and high support for our most vulnerable learners, securing every pupil’s right to high-quality education. One of the first steps to achieving that would be recognising the importance of alternative provision in the education landscape and enshrining the role of giving support to pupils at risk of exclusion.

As was found by the review undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury, the best AP across the country offers some of the greatest expertise in working with children who have challenging behaviours and additional needs. Those providers are seen not as a last-chance saloon, but as a place where life chances can be transformed. That is where we need to be with every alternative provision school in the country.

As the APPG has heard, the very best APs work along a continuum of support, offering outreach and advice to schools and pupils upstream to ensure that as many children as possible can stay in mainstream classes while accessing the support they need. They do not want children to go into AP; they want to support them in mainstream schools. That is what great AP schools are doing.

One brilliant example is the Pears Family School, an AP that not only supports pupils excluded from school but draws on its expertise as an AP with a reputation for exceptional parental engagement to build the capacity of mainstream teachers to support those learners in their classrooms. It does that by offering continuous professional development focused on parental engagement, supporting teachers with strategies to engage with parents. Its approach has been found to re-engage disaffected pupils, and it offers holistic support to vulnerable pupils and their families.

Although that is an admirable example of the potential of great AP, I am afraid that it is not yet the norm across the country. Far too many pupils can only to access the support of an AP if they have experienced a school exclusion; it is the last chance they get. As pupils return to school, we need to think about how we build this capacity to elevate the status of APs as respected experts in the education ecosystem.

We cannot, however, elevate the status of AP if we do not invest in it further. I am afraid it is unacceptable that schools for excluded pupils are often totally unsuitable buildings passed down by local authorities—schools that are no longer used for mainstream education. They have all the hallmarks of the last chance saloon. Before coming here, and more recently through the APPG, I have heard and, sadly, seen some horror stories about the buildings the schools are operating out of. I specifically recall visiting buildings on the Wirral when I was a governor in Warrington and seeing smashed windows, walls painted black, and furniture that was around 40 years old. That is not a suitable educational environment for children who have been excluded from mainstream schools.

Some alternative providers are offering education in neglected commercial premises and old converted houses that are simply unfit for purpose. Four in five respondents to the Centre for Social Justice’s AP capital survey said that the facilities in AP were simply not on a par with mainstream schools, and we have heard from parents who say that turning up to AP schools that look like dumping grounds, rather than schools, further raises anxiety about being placed in an AP, not just for parents but for children too. That only serves to reinforce the stigma and anxiety felt by pupils and their families following their AP referral. The review by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury suggested prioritising AP in any upcoming capital funding. Like many Members, I welcome the Government’s significant investment in improving the quality of the schools estate over the next 10 years, and I will take the opportunity to ask the Minister whether we can please prioritise these settings in the next round of capital funding, and invest significantly in expanding buildings and facilities for pupils who need AP.

I also ask the Minister for some clarity on when the special educational needs and disability review will be published. Although it is essential that the Government take the time to understand the scale and complexity of the changes needed, every delay extends the time in which those children and families are not getting the help they require. We also need some assurances that the SEND review will focus on AP reforms and how to create a system that enshrines APs as experts in the education landscape.

I am aware that the Government have made some progress in some areas, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments rightly recognise that many of the recommendations have been taken forward, but there are many on which we still need urgent action. As such, can the Minister tell us when she expects the AP workforce programme to be published, and what plans there are to establish a practice programme that embeds partnerships, allowing them to intervene earlier through the introduction of a practice improvement fund? Finally, can she tell us what steps have been taken to introduce more substantive training on behaviour issues into initial teacher training and the early career framework? I look forward to hearing her responses, and thank her in advance for addressing Members.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, for what I think is the first time—I apologise if we have crossed swords in this place before. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate to take place, as well as my near neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), who in the short time he has served in this place has already become a great champion for children who are at risk of school exclusion, highlighting the consequences of it. His chairmanship of the APPG is already reaping benefits for the profile of this important subject and the work and collaboration that are taking place on it, both inside and outside Parliament.

Despite my now being back in this place, the review I carried out was an independent review at the behest of the then Secretary of State, which was commissioned in March 2018 and published in May 2019. The last time we debated the review was on 2 March 2020: it was essentially an almost-one-year-on review of the review to check against progress. Of course, that was pre-pandemic, so we were still looking at the review through the lens of the world as it was then.

From memory, it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb) who responded to that debate. I will take a moment to pay tribute to his incredibly long and fruitful service at the Department for Education as Minister for School Standards; I was there with him from 2012 until 2017, apart from a short period when he was allowed a breather. Many Members across the House recognise that he has shown a great deal of commitment, dedication and perseverance, to the benefit of many children in this country, and I wanted to put that on the record.

When we look at the response then and the position we are in now, we have to factor in that many children have had to endure a very different environment over the last 18 months. I want to explore how that may impact not only on the range of responses we have to the prevalence of school exclusion, but how it may bring about new opportunities to improve the way that we work more upstream, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South said, to prevent as much disruption to education as possible.

Although exclusion will have a severe impact on any child, the analysis in my review showed that it affects only 0.1% of all children. However, that is 40 children a day. We need to make sure that we make the best of that situation for every child. Similarly, there are around 2,000 suspensions every day—I believe that is what they are being called; we used to call them fixed term exclusions—so there is a lot of disruption in the education system daily.

When I conducted my review, I understandably had to encompass a whole spectrum of different views and senses of what is right and wrong in the management of behaviour in schools. That was sometimes quite tricky territory. However, the consensus I found was that everyone understood the need for the headteacher to have some autonomy and discretion to use exclusion where appropriate, and very much as a last resort where nothing else will do, and that there have to be high standards in schools around values of respect and good behaviour. However, people also recognised that there are children who, for whatever reason—from what I called “in-school” or “out-of-school” factors in the review—find it difficult to meet that level of behaviour and interaction in school. That gets to the nub of how we need to respond and intervene earlier when we recognise that there may be a problem in that child’s life.

I remain of the view that exclusion is an important tool in the headteacher’s toolbox. We should not be looking for some artificial figure of how many exclusions there should be—what we need are the right reasons for exclusions and, as a consequence, the right number at the right time. However, that would be less of a concern if we knew that was true in every case: one finding of my review was that there was not always an appropriate use of exclusion. That is particularly worrying as we know that vulnerable pupils are most likely to fall foul of exclusion, as we have heard already, in particular those who have been diagnosed with special educational needs or come into contact with social care.

We look at the impact that exclusion has on their life prospects: on their educational attainment, their employment, the aggravation of mental health issues and the correlation with the criminal justice system. All the evidence is there. We know that we can do much more for these children and young people if we work at a more preventative level and ensure a greater continuum of support through some difficult times by involving all those who work with children, not only in schools, but in the agencies that support schools, including pupil referral units and those working in alternative provision.

We are looking at the overlaying of the pandemic and still trying to come to terms with how that will manifest in the longer term. We are already seeing reports of heightened anxiety for some children, with social disconnection problems that have been bottled up at home. That has led to some disengagement from education for those who were not able to get online every day and to get into each lesson when they were at home. All that has an impact on their ability to progress and reach their potential.

Although we do not have any data beyond the autumn of 2019—before the pandemic—Cheshire West and Chester Council, the authority in which my Eddisbury constituency falls, has published a report with Social Finance. The report shows a rising level of pupil absence and a rising use of exclusion by schools in the first term after lockdown restrictions ended last year, in an area that has a lower-than-average exclusion rate. That finding may not be the same across the country, but it is certainly an indicator that there may be some fallout and additional issues for children who have gone through that experience.

Indeed, the number of suspensions in the Chester West and Chester area went up from 62 to 93, and the proportion of children being suspended for the first time rose from 40% to 54%. That is just one snapshot in one part of the country, but that is why it is important that we look at the matter carefully and consider, as more data comes out, whether it is an aberration or a deeper problem caused by the disruption over the last 18 months.

Unfortunately, that could also point to the risk of rising persistent absence and exclusion. The children most at risk of slipping out of education—and not only those who live in poverty, but those who may have a social worker because life outside school is unsafe—are more prone to exclusion. On the face of it, covid makes the risk of exclusion more likely rather than less, but at the same time, the conclusions of my review, and its recommendations, still hold water. In fact, in many respects, it is even more important to implement them in a timely manner.

I know you are a great fan of googling the word “Timpson”, Mr Stringer, so I am sure that you are aware of the Timpson tracker, which is on the IntegratED website. When I first saw it, I thought it was something that would track me doing the marathon a few weeks later, which was clearly not the case—it would have been a very long viewing period if it had been. The tracker sets out the progress on the recommendations in my review, from those that are still in progress to those on which we have not made any progress at all. At this juncture I want to thank the Minister, because I have had a number of opportunities to engage with her on that progress since the last time we debated the matter in Parliament. We had a discussion with officials on 25 May, and that provided me with some reassurance that further work was going on, although because of the pandemic, it had perhaps been done differently from how we had anticipated. None the less, the will and the determination to make progress were clearly there. In the time I have left, I will refer to just some of the recommendations, to push them forward again and ask the Minister what progress has been made in the intervening period.

Recommendation 8 is to establish a practice improvement fund. I have highlighted that on a regular basis because, although I fully accept that there is a spending review to come and that sometimes funds have to be found within existing budgets—or even within slightly smaller existing budgets after a spending review—that part of the overall package of recommendations is crucial because it homes in on what we know from the evidence our review collected on what actually works on the ground and which tools professionals need to have a strong response to any difficulties children have at school, so that exclusions can be avoided.

The recommendation considers the transition points from primary to secondary school, and in-school units, as well as how many children have attachment and trauma issues. In that respect, I pray in aid the Attachment Research Community, which, along with the National Association of Virtual School Heads, has produced a call to action to help raise awareness of attachment and trauma needs in schools across England. The recommendation also looks at teaching, learning and emotional wellbeing in schools, and really aims to complement and extend some of the existing Department for Education guidance on supporting mental health in schools.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to tell us more about the work on mental health in schools, particularly on having a trained lead in each school, and on how attachment and trauma could be fused into that work so that every school’s workforce has some basic knowledge of how attachment and trauma manifest, and how staff might be able to respond in a way that really helps to keep children on the right path.

There has also been interest in the behaviour hubs that have been announced by the Government. Twenty-two schools and trusts have signed up, including six that have a relationship with alternative and specialist provision, which is an important step forward. It would be good to hear from the Minister about how that is starting to have an influence on pushing out the good practice, and what steps will be taken in the future.

Recommendation 11 may, on the face of it, seem a synthetic recommendation compared with others, but I still see it as an important part of how we change the conversation around alternative provision, particularly pupil referral units. The recommendation deals with the stigma that is often attached to PRUs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South said, they can seem like a dead-end place where pupils are put to be kept out of sight. We know there are PRUs all over the country that are not like that at all. We have seen some tremendously impressive examples where they are turning lives around, working directly in mainstream schools, and helping with the work they do. Renaming PRUs in a way that reflects their role both as schools—places of learning—and as places that support children to overcome barriers to engaging with education seems to be one way of making people view their role within the system more positively and constructively.

Recommendation 10 draws on the excellent opening speech given by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South, particularly about alternative provision and the need to have a strong workforce. We are starting, particularly post-lockdown, to hear some APs report difficulties with recruiting subject specialist teachers. There are shortages in many professions at the moment, but fortunately for APs, there is a route to quality within their workforce. Recently, I was lucky to be able to thank the founding cohort of the Difference Leadership programme, led by Kiran Gill, who graduated after their first two-year placement programme in good and outstanding APs. They are already having a profound impact on the ground. Within the first months of the course, leaders reported a 65% reduction in internal and external exclusions, and an 80% improvement in de-escalation incidents. That is not just a single improvement; for example, the Pendlebury Centre pupil referral unit works on the continuum of need that we have heard about, and very closely with the mainstream schools around it. This work is starting to see a real culture change in the way that schools and PRUs are working together to resolve problems as soon as they possibly can.

I want to touch upon the illegal practice of off-rolling, which is in my report. Off the back of my recommendation —I do not have the number to hand, it may be recommendation 26—the Education Committee were looking at how Ofsted might make sure that where they have found off-rolling during an inspection, they make that clear on the face of the inspection report. The consequences of that, in my judgement and review, should be that the leadership and management aspect of the school’s inspection be deemed inadequate in all but exceptional circumstances. That still has some time to cement itself within the inspection regime, but it is important that we call out the extremely sharp practice of off-rolling, which is ultimately illegal, and squeeze it out of the school system.

I am realistic. Having been Children’s Minister, I know that there are often principles that one agrees with and accepts, as is the case with the Government’s response to this review, but that is not always then ad idem with one’s ability to bring them into practice. There may be some need to nuance them and fashion them slightly differently as circumstances shift, and of course the pandemic is one such circumstance.

I am clear that the will is still there in Government, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister says at the two-year—it is over two years now—review point to establish how much progress we have made. We know there is a lot of knowledge and understanding in the school system, and a commitment to do better and learn from the best, and many of my recommendations point to achieving that, as well as having a much more cohesive and transparent system where we can track children more easily, we do not lose them to the system, and we can respond more efficiently and effectively in providing the support they need to make the best of their education.

We have some fantastic schools all over this country and children who want to learn. We just need to make sure we do not leave any of them behind, and this review provides a great opportunity to do just that.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Stringer. I am grateful to speak in this important debate, and I thank the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) for his review, which I have studied at length. I concur with some of the recommendations and certainly with his speech today, but I think some of the recommendations need to go further.

What I have tried to do in preparation for today’s debate is to take a bigger view of what happens in the journey of a child and to look at how we can give a far better experience to that child. I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for adoption and permanence, which this week published its report “Strengthening families”, and I thank the hon. Member for his part in that. I have also looked at children who experience extreme trauma and at the impact that has on then, and talked to parents, young people, agencies and schools in my constituency. Rather than looking just at the behaviour of a child, my conclusion is that a child does not reach the point where their school determines that exclusion is necessary, without first being on a trajectory that takes them to that place. Therefore, we have to look at the life course of a young person, identify early indicators and invest in the stability that that child needs to take them down a different path and to know they are secure, safe and have worth.

The work being doing in this place around 1,001 critical days is critical in ensuring we get the right foundations not only for the child, but for the whole family. Parenting is the most important role anyone plays in our society. Yet, the investment in parenting is scant. Of course, that starts before a child is born. We need to invest in the vital skills of a parent to build that security around the child. Also, as a state, we need to think about the instruments we need to put in place to help parents too. It is a difficult journey, but the more investment we put in, the greater the likelihood that we will see the fruits of that investment later on.

A child may have multiple challenges. They may be neurodiverse, have underlying heath conditions, have experienced trauma or not formed good attachments. At any point along the journey, the system, instead of pushing them away, must draw them close. That is perhaps why I do not fall in line with the hon. Member’s report—I believe that more needs to be done to draw children in rather than push them away. That is the experience of many of these children: they are pushed away from so many places, which escalates and spirals their lack of attachment and identity, and makes them so insecure.

Exclusion reinforces harm to many children and pushes them further into risk, as the hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) so ably said in opening the debate. It destroys the threads of security that a child may have and is ultimately costly both to the child and financially over a lifetime.

Children who experience adoption are 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded, and five times more likely to be excluded for a fixed period. In fact, they are 16 times more likely to be suspended at key stage 1. Those children already have the challenge of processing their identity, security, trust and attachments. More often than not, they have layers of significant trauma, and are often excluded far earlier than other children. The trauma of exclusion builds on that trauma, and therefore does not achieve the outcome of security, which is why we have to make that early investment.

The all-party parliamentary group has looked at the value of the adoption support fund. We must ensure it is there at the right quantum to provide the services and support that are needed. If security and stability are wrapped around a child’s education, with continuous relationships, that can help build stability for them. The transition points, which hon. Members have referred to, can be very challenging and confusing for a child. It is therefore vital that we have relationships to bridge those transition points. A system in which everything changes in those relationships every year for a child can be very disruptive, so we need to look at continuums in a child’s life that can take them through their schooling.

If a child is taken to their safe place in a school—a place that is calming, caring and engaging and that invests in them—we will see different outcomes. It is therefore right that we build schools that have those spaces where children can go. As we have heard, and as we know from our constituencies, many children are experiencing real mental trauma at this time. Mental health challenges are starting in younger and younger children, and we are all experiencing from our constituencies children who are in a place of distress at such a young age. It is therefore important to create safe spaces that any child can go to when they are feeling insecure in class.

The challenge I want to set the Minister today is to create therapeutic schools. We should see schools not just as educational environments but as places that support the whole needs of a child. The rise in exclusion demands that. We need not isolation, but engagement; not exclusion, but inclusion. If an excluded child is pushed into rejection, they are pushed into further risk and harm. We have heard about county lines and people who prey on vulnerable children. They give children the rewards that they are seeking—not the right rewards, of course—and draw children into a different space that is unsafe for them. Ensuring that we have safe spaces is therefore absolutely crucial.

Children today are exposed to mental health challenges, trauma and harm—let us face it, none of us experienced this when we were younger—thanks to the scale and pace of social media and so many other things that they have to navigate their way through. We have to find a better space for our young people. As I have said many times in this place, many intergenerational challenges are replicated through children. We therefore need to break some of those cycles with a trauma-informed process. We must look at the child’s holistic needs—their home, their school environment—and understand them far better. If a child is not secure, they will not learn and attain, and inequality will grow. Therefore, that is absolutely crucial.

I have also said many times in this place that we need to look at what children are learning and the environment they are in. My sister, who works in early years with children with many challenges in their lives, last night pointed me to a YouTube clip by Prince EA, called “I Sued the School System”. I recommend it to all hon. Members; it is really worth six minutes of their time. I see hon. Members nodding—I do not know whether they have seen it. It talks about the way we need to develop a different kind of curriculum for children. Of course, it will be about inclusion. It will draw on children’s skills, and draw them into the system more and more. That is how we stop the rejection—the feeling of being pushed away—that so many children feel.

My city of York has a high standard of education and a high standard of caring for young people who are very challenged. It gives children an opportunity for a fresh start, so that if children find their school environment challenging, it will move them to a different school in the city. Many schools engage with that, so that children are kept within the school education system. Of course, alternative provision is also available for children. Within that, however, I note what is happening statistically. We saw a real drop in the number of permanently excluded children in the city—it is now about three or four children a year, which I would say is three or four children too many—but the number of suspensions and permanent exclusions has started going up. That was with the introduction of isolation units in schools, which are incredibly harmful for children.

Looking at the figures for 2018-19, 472 children in York were suspended for disruptive behaviour, 192 for threatening behaviour, and 123 for verbal behaviour. We must therefore find alternative solutions to keep those children in school, because many of them would have been pushed further into risk outside school. I also think that we have to take a safeguarding approach. I have raised this issue with the Minister in questions, and we are due to meet to discuss school-age children outside the school environment and the risks that they are exposed to. We therefore need to look at harm reduction in the school environment, where safeguarding is strong, but also outside. Of course, when children are suspended or excluded, they are outside that safe environment. We have to do a lot more on that.

In conclusion, I want to say to this to the Minister: let us draw children into safe places, and not push them away. Let us invest, not deprive a child of perhaps the only hope they have—the only safe place they go. I know that the Government have yet to get on this path, but the whole education system needs reform. With a refreshed Department, perhaps there is an opportunity to once again look at the curriculum, the environment and the purpose of education. Let us not escalate, but de-escalate, risk for these young people.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) for securing this important and timely debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) for the work that he did on the review. I agree with the vast majority of the recommendations, and I think the Government should implement them fully at the next possible opportunity.

I could not agree more with the points made by the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) about therapy and the importance of a therapeutic approach. I am very fortunate to be an associate governor at a special school for pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs in my constituency. The school has only been going for just over a year, but it has done an absolutely fantastic job so far in supporting some of the most vulnerable young people in my constituency, who are slowly but surely turning their lives around—not long ago, many people had given up hope. They have got that hope back again because of the fantastic work going on at the school.

With regards to alternative provision and PRUs, I am in complete agreement with the points that have been made today. From the perspective of society, there should be nothing more noble and important than working in these institutions, which are often the last opportunity and the last hope that these young people have. They should not be places where people give up hope, both from a staff perspective and from the perspective of the people there. They should be good buildings—they should be our best buildings—and they should have our best teachers and our best educators. Frankly, the stakes could not be higher for society in terms of us getting it right at that point—often the last opportunity for us to make a positive intervention.

I also align myself strongly with the points made about the transition points between primary and secondary schools. It is often those with special educational needs who struggle with the transitions. Those transitions can be in relation to everything in life—transitions from education into the workplace, from primary school into secondary school, from A-levels into university. They will be made much harder by covid-19 and the destruction that that is introducing to education settings. I am talking about off-rolling, which I plan to come to later in my speech.

As the Minister knows, I am fortunate enough to sit on the Education Committee, and I have done so since I was elected to this place 20-odd months ago. I am a bit of a dead record when it comes to special educational needs. I always find a way of getting it in, at any sitting, whatever the subject, whether that is exam results, Ofsted or mental health. I always try to find a way of introducing the perspective of, and how it impacts, children with learning disabilities.

From the data provided, we know that those with special educational needs are very much at risk of being excluded. Some data I saw said. I think, that more than two out of five of those permanently excluded had special educational needs. The stakes could not be any higher when it comes to getting the provision right for those with special educational needs, so we need to get it right.

We have a number of remarkable people who are unconventional thinkers—creative thinkers—who do not think in the same way or process information in the same way. If we get the support right for those individuals, funding and organising it properly, so that it is not just about them treading water and being average achievers, they could be far from average achievers and be some of the most creative people in society. A lot of this is about not losing their talents to society. Yes, it is about them, their families and what is morally right, but it is also about not losing their talents, which is an incredibly important point to make.

There is a very fine line between a lot of those individuals getting the support that they need and flying, and not getting their needs met and turning against the system. Sadly, so often, they then end up in our criminal justice system, which we are seeing right now, as the Education Committee is conducting an inquiry into prison education. The fact is that more than 30% of those in prison have some kind of learning disability, although I think it is far higher than that. A lot of people, when they get into the criminal justice system, have their learning needs meeting, where they talk about the kind of support that they might get in prison. The Government have introduced some screening, but that is not the kind of intensive diagnosis that I would like. I would like each person who goes into prison to meet an educational psychologist to get diagnosed properly, so we have a clear picture of whether they have disabilities and, if they do, what kind of disabilities they have. Even at that late stage, we can hope to turn their lives around and to give them the educational support that they need.

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. Is it not right to have those diagnostic opportunities in schools? So many children in school, in particular the neurodiverse, wait years and years before they have a diagnosis.

I thank the hon. Lady for making that point, which I was about to come on to. It is important that we get that intervention right, that we ensure that each person, when they go into prison, meets an educational psychologist for diagnosis, for two principal reasons.

First, yes, it is about the individuals and, even at that late stage, about hopefully being able to make positive interventions in the education provided. Secondly, I think we are a bit blind at the moment: we think that 30% of those in prison might have learning disabilities, but it might be as high as 50%. We just do not know, and we need to understand the scale of the problem. If it is 50%, not 30%, surely that just increases the argument for why the stakes are so high and why we need to fund special educational needs properly right from the start, as the hon. Member for York Central said—getting diagnosis as early as possible, putting the resources in and making these things possible. I could not agree more. I have dyslexia and dyspraxia. When I was 12, I had the reading and writing age of an eight-year-old, and it was only when I was diagnosed at 12 that I got the package of support that I needed to turn it around from an academic point of view. I could not agree with the hon. Lady more on that point.

The stakes could not be higher. I speak as somebody who has been in that situation where I am in a large class, my eyes glazed over, not understanding why I cannot process information in the same way other people do, sometimes feeling as though I am thicker than other people, sometimes feeling that there is something wrong with me. The teachers in the classroom do not always have as full an understanding about different types of learning disability as possible, so of course we go back to teacher training, and why it is so important that every person going through teacher training has that as a fundamental part of their training, so they can understand the different needs: that not all young people think and process in the same way, and that not thinking in a conventional way does not mean that you are thicker than anybody else. Sometimes it can actually mean that you are more creative, and I have said to a bunch of autistic kids in my constituency, “Weaponise your disability. You think differently; you can be creative.”

However, the impact of covid—the disruption we have seen to the education system over the last 20 months —may make this harder, and may increase the likelihood that some young people with learning disabilities get excluded. It comes back to that point about transitions. It has not been easy for any young person over the last 20 months, because of the disruption—not knowing how they are going to be assessed, not knowing whether they are going to be at school or not—but we know that people with learning disabilities particularly need certainty and structure, and they have not had that for the last 20 months. My concern is that that could impact behaviour; my concern is that the disruption over the last 20 months might have particularly impacted those with special educational needs, and we might see more risk that a lot of these individuals could be excluded.

I want to make a final point before I sit down. I do think that exclusion needs to be an option. It needs to be there; we need to balance trying to do the right thing for all children with the disruption that can be caused by disruptive pupils to other pupils in the classroom. It can absolutely have a detrimental impact on the education of an entire school, but of course, we need funding into alternative provision; we need to have no stigma; and we need to have a good number of special schools, which as I have seen—and, as an associate governor, continue to see—can literally transform the lives of many young people.

However, when we come to this point about off-rolling and the sense that this may be happening, perhaps subtly, a lot of it comes back to Ofsted and the way that we assess schools and the framework. Sadly, from the conversations I have had with a number of teachers, they often feel that there is a conflict between doing what they believe to be morally right, in terms of the education that they are part of providing and supporting the most vulnerable children, and actually—not unreasonably—wanting to be professionally successful. If there is the sense that there is a conflict there, we need to work to take it away, and there is a new Ofsted framework in place, but what are school assessments ultimately about? Surely, they are about the positive difference made. That should be the key thing: to what extent has a school made a positive difference to the lives of the children that it works with, acknowledging that not all schools have the same proportion of those with learning disabilities and those without, and not all schools operate in the same area and some pupils can have more challenging backgrounds? We should not be in a situation where a school can sometimes feel that it is punished for being good when it comes to providing for special educational needs. We have got to have an Ofsted framework that encourages and incentivises schools to put the extra effort into supporting those with learning disabilities.

I guess it has been a slightly sprawling speech, but my point is that my concern about exclusions is that there are too many occasions where sadly, those with learning disabilities are at risk of exclusion because their behaviour can be unconventional, and often when they are excluded and go somewhere else, that final chance for them—whether it is alternative provision or something else—is not as good as it should be. There is this bigger point about how high the stakes are. Exclusion should be an option: it should be something that we consider, but we have got to have an Ofsted framework that encourages first-class SEND provision. I know I have only spoken about special educational needs today, but as I warned you, Mr Stringer, I can be a bit of a broken record when it comes to that topic, and I make no apologies for it. Thank you very much.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington South (Andy Carter) and for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) on securing this crucial debate.

School exclusions have a negative impact on children’s lives and educational outcomes, and therefore have a negative effect on their adult lives and outcomes. It takes a lot of support and determination for a person who has been excluded from school, often many times, to decide that they do not want to be a victim of their negative school experience for the rest of their life, and it often takes a huge effort to turn that around.

Excluding children has an impact on a child’s mental health; a recent study found that exclusion can lead to new-onset mental health conditions. Research also suggests that better access to mental health support for pupils who struggle at school could prevent future mental disorders and exclusion from school. I know the Minister is very aware of that.

I spent many years as a magistrate before coming to this place, and I have witnessed a correlation between previous school exclusions and involvement in the criminal justice system. Early intervention and prevention and supporting parents in their parenting skills to break the cycle is key. Investment is much needed here, as in the family hubs that I know the Minister supports fully.

The Ministry of Justice has found that 85% of young offenders received at least one fixed-term exclusion, and a study looking at the background of adult prisoners found that 63% of prisoners had experienced a fixed-term exclusion at school, and 42% were permanently excluded. Government statistics show that the number of permanent exclusions has increased in the UK.

It is worth noting that exclusion rates vary widely between schools. A 2019 study by England’s Children’s Commissioner found that 88% of exclusions take place in only 10% of schools. That means that most schools do not exclude children, but try to help them and keep them in school. In the autumn term of 2019, the only term of 2019-20 for which we have comparable data, there were 3,200 permanent exclusions, up by 5% from 2018-19, and 178,400 fixed-term exclusions, up by 14%.

The Timpson review, which I absolutely commend, found that some cohorts of pupils are more likely to be permanently excluded, such as those with special educational needs and disabilities. Many Members today have discussed that. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) is right that more than two in five of all permanently excluded pupils have some form of special educational need. Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities have had a disproportionately high exclusion rate since records began. As a member of the APPG for SEND, I find that quite concerning.

Pupils supported by social care also have some of the highest chances of being excluded. Pupils with a child in need plan are around four times more likely to be permanently excluded compared with their peers; pupils with a child protection plan are 3.5 times more likely, and looked-after children 2.3 times more likely to be excluded. Pupils eligible for free school meals are four times more likely to be permanently excluded, and ethnicity also plays a role in school exclusions.

Many of our children who are persistently excluded are some of the most disadvantaged and often neglected children. We cannot allow these most vulnerable children to be overlooked by our education system. Giving every child the best start in life is a guiding principle of the Government’s approach to education here in England. We Conservatives believe that no matter the background of a child, the wealth of their parents, their race, their needs, their gender or sexual orientation, every child deserves a fantastic education or at the very least a suitable one, and the opportunity to build the foundations they need to thrive in the world of work and become functioning members of our communities. That must include those children who are failed by the system.

I pay tribute to Carole Dixon, chief executive of the Education Futures Trust, which supports vulnerable children, families and adults across Hastings, St Leonards and Rye by removing barriers, providing one-to-one support, developing their resilience and improving their life chances through education.

Many children have complex needs and struggle in mainstream school. Alternative provision must be considered a major part of a child’s education in those circumstances. It can provide for those children’s needs. Alternative provision should also be seen as an integral part of any local authority’s core offer. I am a member of the all-party group for school exclusions and alternative provision, and we have heard that alternative provision should be properly monitored and registered, and should focus on the child’s interests and needs, which help them build trust, confidence and resilience. I support the Timpson recommendations and commend them to the Minister, particularly those relevant to the upcoming SEND review.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. Let me also pay tribute to the outgoing Minister for School Standards, the right hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb). I have shadowed him since I took on this role and know him to be a decent, communicative and respectful opponent. I am grateful for that. Last night, I passed on my personal respects and gratitude to him, and I am happy to do so today on the record. He is also the Member of Parliament for the area I grew up and went to school in, which has been another great source of conversation between the two of us because I ended up going back to secondary school at the age of 25, so I had a lot to talk to him about.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter). He, with the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson), not only triggered the debate and gave us the opportunity to have this conversation today, but set the tone in a thoughtful and wide-ranging way. For that, I think hon. Members across the House are grateful.

I will start my remarks in the way the hon. Member for Warrington South and the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) did, by paying tribute to the teaching profession and all those who support students in schools. As the hon. Lady pointed out, most schools successfully support students to make the right decisions on behaviour, learning and delivering outcomes that are successful for them, their families and our community. We should be entirely grateful for that. However, today’s debate focuses on the areas where we do not succeed, and we need to do much better overall.

Most teachers do a tremendous job. Despite the considerable challenges they face, they work tirelessly to deliver high-quality learning to all children, regardless of background. They face mounting workloads, coupled with cuts to real-terms budgets, and they have adapted to the unique circumstances of the pandemic. However, where teachers exclude too easily, honest conversations need to be had about why. They are working against a system with high incentives to exclude and too few incentives to include. Moreover, they face a Government who are reticent to address the vulnerabilities underlying exclusions, which their policies have sometimes fostered.

The impact of austerity fell directly on schools, but it also fell indirectly on young people. Cuts were made to children’s services and the wider network of partners designed to support children and to keep them healthy and safe. That has led to a rise in vulnerability. Between 2014 and 2018, the numbers of children being looked after, subject to child protection plans and becoming homeless or living in temporary accommodation, all increased. We know that vulnerability is a key driver of behaviour that leads to exclusions, so it is no wonder the rate of permanent and fixed exclusions rose dramatically over the same period.

Economic vulnerability is a key factor behind exclusions, but other characteristics matter too. According to analysis by the Centre for Social Justice, pupils eligible for free school meals are four times more likely to be permanently excluded than others and more than two in five of all permanently excluded pupils have some form of SEND, a matter particularly close to my heart. Concerningly, the rise in school exclusions shows no sign of ending and more and more pupils are getting stuck in a vicious cycle of exclusions, unsettling for them and unsettling for the school at large.

The historian and critic R.H. Tawney once said:

“What a wise parent would wish for their children, so the state must wish for all its children.”

I doubt that any parent would desire a system in which exclusion is used so readily, especially when we know the consequences of exclusion are so severe. They are felt in education, where only 7% of permanently excluded children receive GCSEs in maths and English. They are felt in work, where only 54% of pupils in alternative provision are in education, employment or training six months after leaving key stage 4. They are felt in the criminal justice system, with an NSPCC analysis of serious case reviews showing that 31% of serious violence victims had received a fixed-term exclusion.

Where no other options are available, exclusion should of course be open to schools, teachers and leaders. I have been involved in establishing two schools, both in areas of quite extreme deprivation. I became chair of governors of one of those schools at the very beginning. In the previous year, the predecessor school had permanently excluded 12 children. That was unacceptable to me. As chair of governors, at the beginning of the new school, I set the target of getting to zero in one year, while increasing student outcomes and attainment.

We managed to get it down to one. In that one case, the child had stabbed six other children with a hypodermic needle. In such circumstances, we cannot allow other students to feel so unsafe. The line cannot be crossed. In those circumstances, exclusion should of course be used, but with a very heavy heart.

We reduced permanent exclusions down to one. At the same time, in one year, we managed to achieve a 100% increase in children with five GCSEs including maths and English. The link between permanent exclusions and the use of exclusion and de facto increasing exam results is simply not there. By never writing off a young person and making sure that the right support is there at the right time, an atmosphere is created that sends a message to every student, whether they face challenges making the right choices in life or not, which ultimately fosters an environment that is conducive to learning for all students.

We must fix the underlying problems that drive problematic behaviour first. As schools balance the desire to keep children in schools with accountability for the performance of others, we must act to introduce sensible safeguards to prevent overuse, not least when—as I saw in my period as shadow Minister for youth justice—children are often excluded while being criminally exploited. That is utterly heartbreaking. Some are even trained by gangs in how to become excluded in the first place, to free up time for drug running and more.

A few years ago, with the serious violence epidemic reaching its peak, the Government seemed to recognise this. They commissioned the hon. Member for Eddisbury to lead a review into school exclusion, attempting to understand how the system could be sensibly rebalanced to allow more children to remain within mainstream provision.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on that report, as the Opposition did at the time. We welcomed his findings and recommendations. The Government did too, “in principle”. Two years on, only six out of 30 of the recommendations have been implemented. Like the Lammy review, when it comes to tough action to tackle unfairness in public systems, the Government must do better to walk the walk. It is not just rhetoric—it means something.

The recommendations ignored by the Government to date include a practice improvement fund to disseminate best ideas on tackling exclusions across the country, and empowering local authorities to lead on partnership working, thus ensuring a truly joined-up approach between all parties involved in the process. Critically, that includes making schools accountable for the results of excluded children. That would ensure that pupils were never dismissed as a problem to be got rid of but were subject to proper tailored interventions that gave them the education that they so sorely need.

The Prime Minister took office on a platform of cracking down on crime, yet his Administration have shown no interest in cutting off the pipeline into crime or tackling child criminal exploitation. I am afraid that Conservative Members were even whipped to vote against my amendments to the recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Without shutting off this pipeline, no amount of police action will succeed.

I close by asking the Minister the following questions. What is her rationale for failing to implement the remaining recommendations in the Timpson review? What plans does she have to evaluate the success of the exclusions process as part of the Department’s forthcoming review into the statutory guidance? Along with the hon. Member for Warrington South, I ask the Minister: when will the review into tackling racial and SEND disparities be published? Will she commit to making sure that new exclusions guidance provides specific protections for children subject to criminal exploitation?

There have been too many wasted opportunities. We need to act now to make sure that the school exclusion process is rigorous and fair. If we fail, it will not just be other people’s children who suffer; it will be us all.

In calling the Minister, I ask her to leave a couple of minutes at the end for the Member who introduced the debate to make a winding-up speech.

As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington South (Andy Carter) and for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) on securing this important debate. I apologise that I needed to step out for a couple of minutes earlier.

I also thank the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) and so many other Members for their kind and personal words about my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb). I saw how, as Minister of State for School Standards for so many years, he worked tirelessly to make sure that children all across our country had access to first-class education. He always put the most disadvantaged children first, and in the past 18 months I have learned a huge amount from him. I wish him the very best, and I join you all in sending him our thanks for everything that he has done for children.

The Timpson review was a very positive and comprehensive report that has influenced the Government’s approach to exclusions and behaviour. All children deserve the best start in life and, as the Timpson review states, every child has a right to

“a high-quality education that supports them to fulfil their potential.”

The review also recognises, however, the right of every headteacher

“to enable their staff to teach in a calm and safe school”

environment. The Timpson review shone a really important spotlight on how certain cohorts of children were more likely to become excluded than others and how that can affect their outcomes. We are really grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury both for his work on this really important report and for acting as an advocate on this issue more widely.

We are taking forward the vast majority of the report’s recommendations. I would like to reassure all those listening today or following this debate that the Government are pursuing an ambitious programme of work to improve our understanding of behaviour and wellbeing, as well as putting in place additional support for children who have been excluded or are at risk of exclusion.

That work is a combination of concrete actions that we have taken through the pandemic, the behaviour programme of the Department and the SEND review, which I have broadened to include reforms to alternative provision. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) spoke so passionately about special educational needs and disabilities. I reassure him and all those present that a key aim of the SEND review is to make it easier for children with special educational needs to access support in good time.

As we are all aware, children and young people have experienced substantial disruption in the past 18 months. Excluded children, and those at risk of exclusion, are some of the most vulnerable in the country, which is why it was so important that we not only kept schools open for vulnerable children, but kept our alternative provision open for all who attend such institutions.

We also provided AP with additional support. As part of our £3 billion education recovery package, we provided additional support of £1.7 billion for all schools, including AP. We also ran the really important AP transition fund, which provided targeted support to around 6,500 year 11s, to help them move on and remain engaged in post-16 education and training, including apprenticeships and FE courses. Last term, I visited an AP setting in Hyndburn, and I heard from the school that all bar one of the year 11s who had left in the summer term of 2020 were still in education, employment or training nearly a year later. The extra support for transition at the end of the summer of 2020 made a huge difference, which is why we are continuing it for that same cohort—the year 11s—into FE next year.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we set up an AP stakeholder group, which brings together some of the best leaders of alternative provision in the country. They have helped to guide us on the best way to support vulnerable children through the pandemic and beyond. They are helping us to shape the AP reforms through the SEND review. In line with the recommendations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury for a practice improvement fund, and as part of the AP reforms, we are looking to codify and boost the quality of AP, so that all children and young people can access the best in-class provision and all mainstream schools can draw on specialist support upstream, to get in the early intervention. That is part of the work that we are doing with our AP stakeholder group and will be bringing in through the SEND review.

We know that our engagement in education is a key protective factor against many harms. Vulnerable young people can be at risk of being drawn into crime or gangs, and they will benefit from specialist support if they can stay engaged with their education and out of harm. Therefore, we are not waiting for the SEND review before putting in more specialist support to help such children. We have recently launched two really exciting new projects, focusing on areas with serious violence hotspots.

From early next year, the DFE will be establishing 10 SAFE taskforces—SAFE stands for support, attend, fulfil and exceed. They will be led by mainstream schools in order to protect and re-engage children who are truanting, who are at risk of permanent exclusion or who are at risk of being involved in serious violence. That will include £30 million of new funding over three years and will enable additional support and interventions, to reduce the probability of such children and young people being excluded.

That will complement the pilot that we are doing in 21 alternative provision specialist taskforces, which is launching in November. It will draw specialists from across health, education, social care, youth services, youth justice and mental health, as well as family workers and speech and language workers. Where necessary, the pilot will enable the specialists to be co-located in the AP setting. That will help deliver targeted wraparound support to pupils in order to reduce truancy, improve rates of employment, education and training, reduce the NEET risk, and reduce the risk of involvement in serious violence. It will also improve mental health and wellbeing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South made a number of good points and spoke about the importance of capital. We are investing £300 million in this financial year to support local authorities to deliver new places and improve existing provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities, or for those children who require alternative provision—almost four times as much as the Government provided to local authorities in the previous financial year. Spending for future years will be determined as part of the spending review.

The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) spoke about the importance of really early support for families and parents when children are very young, and I so agree. That is why the Government have worked with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) on her review of those 1,001 days—the very early years—and how to give children the best start in life. It is also why I and the Government are so committed to championing the family hub approach.

I come back to the issue of exclusion. We know that exclusion is an essential tool for headteachers to use when a serious incident has occurred, for example, or when there is persistent disruption. However, we are very clear that it should be used only as a very last resort. Longer-term trends show that the rate of permanent exclusions across all schools followed a downward trajectory from 2006-07, when the rate was 0.12%, until 2012-13. It then rose a little, but has remained stable since 2016-17. Permanent exclusions remain a rare event; there are roughly six exclusions for every 10,000 pupils. As expected, the number of exclusions decreased during the pandemic, but according to the data that we receive from schools, in the last summer term there were only 40 permanent exclusions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich mentioned off-rolling. Let me be very clear: off-rolling is unlawful and is never acceptable. Ofsted will hold schools to account for how they use exclusions, under its behaviour and attitudes judgments, and its new revised education inspection framework considers the rates, patterns and reasons for exclusions: differences between different pupils; whether any types of pupils are repeatedly excluded; and any evidence of off-rolling. The revised framework in 2019 strengthened the focus on this issue. Of course, Ofsted needed to stop its inspections for some time during the pandemic, but where inspectors find off-rolling it will always be addressed in the inspection report and, where appropriate, it could lead to a school’s leadership being judged inadequate.

One of the Timpson recommendations was to update the guidance on suspensions and permanent exclusions. We have committed to revising our statutory guidance on exclusions so that headteachers are able to have further clarity when using exclusions, and we will be consulting on this guidance and the non-statutory guidance on behaviour and discipline later this year.

The Timpson report also recommended that the Government reviewed the number of days that a pupil could be suspended from school. Currently, the number is 45 days in an academic year, although it is rare for children to reach that limit. In 2019-20, just 27 pupils received that type of temporary exclusion from schools in England for 45 days in a single academic year. However, the Government are considering these arrangements and we will update our plans in due course.

The Timpson review also recognised that certain groups of children with particular characteristics were more likely to be excluded, which includes pupils who were eligible for free school meals, pupils with a child in need plan, and pupils with black Caribbean or Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) spoke about looked-after children and exclusions. However, there is good news. I am delighted to say that since we introduced the virtual school heads into local authorities, looked-after children now have some of the lowest rates of exclusion compared with their peers. The virtual school head role has been so successful that we are now expanding it so that virtual school heads can support all children who have a social worker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South mentioned the need to upstream support for children’s mental health and wellbeing, which is so important. We are putting considerable investment into mental health in the education system. The additional £79 million announced by the NHS in May will support the roll-out of mental health support teams to an estimated 3 million children and young people, which is around 35% of pupils in England, by 2023.

We are also progressing with the training of a mental health lead in every state-funded school and college in England. Our £9.5 million investment this year is expected to train up to 7,808 mental health leads this year. That training will include how to support children with attachment problems and trauma. Our new relationships, sex and health education curriculum also plays a part here; I am thinking especially of the mental health and wellbeing modules. We rolled those out, advanced the roll-out of those, early on in the pandemic—in the summer term of that school year—alongside extra training for staff.

We know that there is a real shortage of clinicians with expertise in paediatric mental health. I wonder, with the work that the Minister is doing, whether she is talking to the Department of Health and Social Care about the need to really increase the number. What we find is that although teachers, as mental health leads, can provide certain support, they do not have the clinical skills and experience to supply the expertise needed.

I thank the hon. Member for that very good point. It is true and it is one of the things that I have spoken about at length over the past year and a half with the former mental health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), who is now Culture Secretary.

Improving the paediatric mental health support for children in the health service is also a very important part of the Government investment here. The mental health support teams, which wrap around our schools and can bring together different levels of support, depending on what the child needs, have also been extremely helpful in different areas. That is why it is so good to see those being rolled out. We do not expect teachers to be mental health experts, but we do think that training a mental health lead in every school can help them to identify the children who need more support, and to promote wellbeing, which is so important. Goodness—I saw so many children having a great time with their wellbeing over the summer during our holiday activities and food project.

We have also talked about children and young people with autism. The Government have updated the autism strategy over the summer. For the first time, that includes specific references to supporting children and young people.

We want to better understand the link between wellbeing and behaviour, so we are developing a pilot for a pupil survey to understand their perception of wellbeing and behaviour in mainstream secondary schools. Behaviour does matter. We know that behaviour can have an impact on teacher wellbeing and retention and on young people’s life chances. The Government recognise that we need to understand the drivers of behaviour and what the barriers to learning, engagement and attendance are, so we are pursuing a programme of work to do more to improve behaviour and discipline in schools, in recognition that good behaviour and strong discipline are key parts of school improvement. The behaviour hubs programme will mean that schools with exemplary behaviour cultures can work one on one with schools that need to turn around their approach to behaviour management. We expect that to help at least 500 schools over the next three years.

This goes alongside a golden thread of high-quality support, training and development that will run through the entirety of a teacher’s career. It begins in initial teacher training and goes through the implementation of the early career reforms for early career teachers and on to the introduction of new and reformed national professional qualifications for more experienced teachers and leaders. Also, in April, we announced plans to launch a national behaviour survey. That survey will provide a more accurate, timely and authoritative picture of behaviour across all schools. It will cover topics ranging from low-level disruption, to bullying. That will also help us to understand what more needs to be done.

I am really grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington South and for Eddisbury for raising their concerns on this issue. I would like to assure them that, throughout the pandemic and going forward, the Government have had and will have a laser focus on supporting vulnerable children, targeting support at those at risk of exclusion and improving support for those who have been excluded. I know that the hon. Members will all be looking forward to receiving the SEND review and the AP reforms in the months ahead.

I thank the Minister for that very full response. I want to conclude by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson), the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) and for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), and the Opposition Front Bencher, the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), for their comments.

I will finish by saying that the reason we are talking about exclusion is that it impacts the life prospects of young children. That is the purpose of this debate—what we can do to influence that—and I thank all hon. Members for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the implementation of the recommendations of the Timpson Review of School Exclusion.

Sitting adjourned.