House of Commons
Tuesday 29 March 2022
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The Secretary of State was asked—
Energy Price Increase in April 2022
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the energy price cap continues to protect consumers in a world where gas prices have more than quintupled in a year, and I strongly expect that it will continue to do so.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Given the pressure that families are facing in this cost of living crisis, does he agree that the best way to help families to pay their bills is through a windfall tax on oil and gas producers in the North sea to give the poorest up to £600 off their bills?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we believe that a windfall tax in this situation would be a tax on jobs, destroy investment and add to the uncertainty in oil markets. It would send completely the wrong message to investors, as well as to people who are invested in markets. Every one of us, anyone with a pension, would be adversely affected by such a tax.
My right hon. Friend is keen to ensure that householders and landlords improve the energy performance of properties. Will he consider the effectiveness of the current energy performance certificate system and whether that genuinely reflects the energy performance of a property? In addition, will he recognise the additional costs incurred in calling for improvements in off-grid properties, where people do not have the opportunity to invest in the same technologies as those in on-grid properties?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. As he knows, the current EPC system is not perfect, but it does capture the significant improvement that has happened over the past few years. I am happy to consider people off grid and the challenges that they face from oil prices, and I would be happy to speak to him about that.
In recent years, the UK Government have printed and borrowed hundreds of billions of pounds, which have been gathered—I emphasise the word “gathered”—not earned by billionaires and the already wealthy. As a result, we have a cost of living crisis that makes energy price rises an acute crisis. Kerosene central heating oil has seen some of the biggest price differences, which especially hits rural and island areas where there is no mains gas. Do the Government have any plan to give people in such places a hand, which would cost a damn sight less than the bailout money that the billionaires have raked in from the Treasury?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an extensive package of support only a few weeks ago worth £9.1 billion—that included a £150 council tax rebate for bands A to D and £144 million in discretionary funding for local authorities—which affects everybody in this country. I am also very happy to engage with him on the specific issue of oil prices.
I have been contacted by many pensioners across Hyndburn and Haslingden who are concerned about the cost of their energy bills. Will the Secretary of State set out what measures are in place to support my residents, and will he continue to work with other Departments to keep those measures under review?
As I said, the Chancellor announced a £9.1 billion package of support only a few weeks ago. That included the £150 council tax rebate for bands A to D and £144 million in discretionary funding added for local authorities—spending to help the most vulnerable. We announced a £500 million extension of the household support fund last week, but I would be happy to engage with my hon. Friend on what more we can do in the next few months to assuage the burden.
Well, we know what measures the Government have in place to assist customers to manage the sky-high energy price increases now due in April, and frankly pretty miserable they are. They will not remotely cover the bulk of the increases, and we still do not know how some of them are to be delivered—the “lend you your own money” scheme, for example, as it relates to the 7 million customers on prepaid meters.
I am concerned about how the Government will respond to what we now know will be an equally steep additional price rise in October under the price cap, with authoritative sources calculating that we are likely to see the average energy bill rise by a further £700 to £2,900 or £3,000. What serious additional measures is the Secretary of State planning to help customers to face that further enormous rise? Might he after all be interested in a windfall tax against those companies that continue to profit enormously from escalating gas prices, which could fund substantial assistance to cope with the next price hike?
I am very happy to answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions. He will know that the next price cap period will be set in August. Even he, with his gifts of prophecy, does not know what the price cap level will be in August. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, we are continually reviewing actual spot markets and what is happening in the market.
The hon. Gentleman will know that nothing could be more damaging to the sector, to people employed in the sector and to the hundreds of thousands of jobs and families dependent on the sector than an arbitrary windfall tax, which would also impoverish many of the people exposed to those companies through their pensions. It is a regressive, retro measure that completely does not understand what business is all about.
Aside from saying that he drives an ageing VW Golf, the Secretary of State is using every excuse possible to try to defend the indefensible. In just a matter of days, the energy price cap will increase by some 700 quid; in just a matter of months, it is anticipated that it will increase by a further £1,000. The Government’s response is 150 quid off council tax and £200 that they say is not a loan, but that is indeed a loan. Energy bills are anticipated to increase 14 times faster than wage increases. How on earth are people supposed to get by?
As I have said, we have a £9.1 billion support package, which was announced only four weeks ago. On top of that, we allocated £500 million of additional relief only last week to help people through this difficult time. One way in which I am afraid bills would go up is if we adopted the insane SNP policy of essentially shutting down North sea oil and having no intention at all to develop nuclear. That would be an utterly irresponsible and highly expensive way of dealing with the current problem.
The Secretary of State does himself no favours by attempting to invent policies that are simply not reflective of the SNP’s position at this moment in time—but this discussion is about energy bills. If someone lives in the north of Scotland, their energy bill standing charge will increase by some 83%; if they live in the south of Scotland, it will increase by 100%; but if they live here in Westminster, in London, it will increase by just 38%. Scotland is energy-rich—oil and gas, wave, wind, tidal, hydro pumped storage. How on earth can the Secretary of State justify the inequity in such pricing?
The hon. Gentleman is indeed correct: Scotland is extremely wealthy in its range of energy sources. That is why we have sought to encourage it through things like the £27 million Aberdeen energy transition zone and the North sea transition deal. We have constantly supported the Scottish energy industry. The hon. Gentleman refers to a report by Ofgem. I speak to it regularly, and we always try to see what we can do to justify and to equalise bills across the UK.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has announced that he will publish an energy supply strategy to deal with the UK’s energy requirements for the short, medium and long term. Can the Secretary of the State update the House on when we can expect the strategy to be published?
Renewable Energy Sector
As the hon. Lady will know, few countries have done as well as we have in respect of offshore wind. We are backing a range of other technologies through our strategy, and also through the 10-point plan.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made clear how crucial it is for the UK to press on with the push to roll out renewables and strengthen its energy security. Almost three weeks ago, the Prime Minister said that an energy independence plan would be unveiled in the next few days and there was speculation about a renewed push for onshore wind, but that plan has been delayed again, apparently because the Chancellor is blocking it. Will the Secretary of State explain why the Chancellor is now deciding energy policy?
The hon. Lady will understand that, when such publications are issued, a range of cross-Government “write-rounds” is required. We are constantly talking to colleagues across Government, not just in the Treasury, so that we can land the energy strategy as quickly as possible.
Getting on top of energy issues, particularly those relating to renewable energy, is the most difficult challenge in rural areas such as mine. How will the Secretary of State’s strategy—to be launched soon—enable the renewable energy sector to grow from the grassroots up, so that people in fuel-poor homes, who may not have the money to buy the necessary equipment at the outset, have an opportunity to install solar panels and battery storage which will help them to deal with the rising cost of energy?
Forced Labour of Uyghurs: UK Supply Chains
In January 2021, we announced a robust package of measures to help to ensure that no UK organisations are complicit in the human rights violations being perpetrated in Xinjiang. We have also supplied detailed guidance to UK businesses, and will continue to engage with them.
I have lost count of the number of times I have urged the Government to take stronger, more robust action against China’s ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was spot on when he said that UK organisations must immediately sever their commercial ties with Russia to ensure that public money is not funding Putin’s war machine. In the light of a genocide that is happening on our watch, is it not high time that the Government applied the same rules and ensured that public organisations sever their contracts with Xinjiang? Will they also support amendments to the Health and Care Bill to prevent the NHS from being complicit in forced Uyghur labour?
Evidence of the scale and severity of the human rights situation in Xinjiang paints a harrowing picture. The British Government will not stand for forced labour, wherever it takes place. We require businesses to report on how they are tackling modern slavery and forced labour in their operations and supply chains, and we plan to extend that to certain public bodies and to introduce financial penalties for organisations which do not comply. That will require legislative change, and legislation will be introduced when parliamentary time allows.
That was a pretty strong-sounding answer from the Minister, but let us see whether those fine words are put into practice. An audit undertaken two years ago found that 17% of organisations—more than 2,500—that should have published a modern slavery statement had failed to do so. Can the Minister tell us what action has been taken since then to ensure that they do?
On 11 March 2021, the Government launched an online modern slavery statement registry, and we are now encouraging all organisations within the scope of the legislation to submit their statements to it. More than 7,000 statements have been submitted, covering more than 23,350 organisations on that voluntary basis.
Canadian Solar wants to build a solar plant in my constituency the size of 1,400 football pitches. In 2021, four of its shipments were seized owing to its links with Uyghur blood labour, and its subsidiary GCL-Poly has been sanctioned by the United States Government because of its complicity in genocide. Will my hon. Friend assure me that we will blacklist from nationally significant infrastructure projects all those companies that are complicit in genocide, and confirm that we will not allow blood labour to stain our green and pleasant lands?
As I have said, we have strong procedures to vet suppliers, and we have been given repeated written assurances from people who supply that they proactively monitor supply chains to ensure that forced labour is not used. We will of course ensure that the company to which my hon. Friend has referred comes within that robust supervision.
Standing Charges on Energy Bills
As the hon. Lady knows, the standing charge is designed to reflect the costs of connectivity and usually covers the fixed costs that the suppliers incur. If it was removed, that cost would simply be passed on to consumers. Standing charges are a matter for Ofgem, which has launched a call for evidence. The Government are focused on helping consumers through the £9 billion package of relief announced by the Chancellor a few weeks ago and the £5 billion announced last week to help families and households with the cost of fuel.
From this Friday, households will face an average 80% increase in standing charges for electricity. Negligent policy making and bad practice in the industry will be paid for by the poorest and most vulnerable consumers, who will pay the highest standing charges, with those in Scotland amongst the hardest hit. Will the Minister consider capping or even scrapping these standing charges on the basis that they are discriminatory to the poorest and most vulnerable consumers?
If it was as straightforward as that, the answer might be simple, but it is not—[Hon. Members: “Yes it is!”] No, it is not. The energy market is extremely complex, and there is a whole raft of charges. It is not true to say that Scottish consumers are hit particularly hard, as Scotland is also a net exporter and English and Welsh consumers are paying for it. The Government are absolutely focused on helping consumers with the cost of energy through the £9 billion relief announced in February, the £5 billion announced last week, the extra money for the warm home bonus and all the support mechanisms for the vulnerable. It is not simply a case of constantly tinkering with market price.
Energy Security: Nuclear Power
Nuclear energy is crucial in providing low-carbon baseload power, which, over the long term, assists in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and our exposure to volatile global prices. We will continue to emphasise the vital role of the nuclear sector, including in the forthcoming energy supply strategy.
Our very own atomic kitten, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), and I are going on a road trip to Hinkley Point C. When I did my research for the visit, I noticed that £5 million-worth of business opportunities had been realised by 36 companies in the west midlands, including three in my constituency, on the back of Hinkley Point C. Does the Minister agree that our investment in nuclear energy is not just about clean energy but about the supply chain opportunities that it will bring to small and medium-sized enterprises and manufacturing in my constituency?
My hon. Friend is right to emphasise not only the importance of nuclear in concept but the huge significance of the supply chain, which is estimated to support more than 60,000 jobs across the whole of the United Kingdom, including in SMEs in Stourbridge and Ynys Môn. And if I may shove in my knowledge of early 2000s pop music, we are working hard to make the nuclear industry whole again. [Laughter.]
That was written by a member of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, so we will give the Minister that.
Energy security is of vital significance, particularly at the moment, and nuclear is part of the clean energy mix. Does the Minister understand that the United Kingdom, which has the second highest tidal range on planet Earth after Canada, is not making anything like sufficient use of that permanent tidal energy? Will he look again at his Government’s policies on tidal, marine and hydro energy and give a boost not only to Cumbria and its energy coast but to the whole country?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the importance of a diversified and secure energy supply. This is one of the reasons that the Government are looking at all forms, including tidal, and it is why we would encourage people from across the House to agree not just with tidal but with nuclear as well.
In the 2018 nuclear sector deal, £20 million was pledged towards Britain’s first thermal hydraulic testing facility, in north Wales. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that the UK establish world-leading capabilities in thermal hydraulics, and can he provide an update on the next steps for this vital investment?
Contracts for Difference: Environmental Performance of Holders
The contracts for difference scheme is a flagship scheme that has contributed to our fivefold increase in renewables since 2010. High environmental performance is a prerequisite for contracts for difference applications, and the next CFD round will require even more ambition from applicants.
I, like many people, have difficulty understanding how burning trees on an industrial scale and pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere can be any part of a low-carbon solution, or indeed why the British taxpayer subsidises private companies to do this. Given the Glasgow declaration and the new COP26 standards, is it not time to review whether the British taxpayer should remain the world’s largest subsidiser of tree burning and, in particular, whether contracts for difference on biomass awarded before 2015 would now be awarded were they to meet the new standards and targets?
As a condition of receiving payment under the contracts for difference scheme, generators must demonstrate that they meet our biomass sustainability criteria, irrespective of where that biomass is sourced. There is no evidence that deforestation has occurred in the areas from where UK electricity generators source their biomass, but we must make sure biomass is sourced from areas that are managed consistently with sustainable forest management practices.
Investment in UK Manufacturing
The UK remains one of the world’s largest manufacturing nations, and the Government agree that manufacturing plays a vital role in the health of the UK economy. It is ultimately for British manufacturers to make decisions on their own strategies, but the Government continue to support them through a range of initiatives on productivity, costs, innovation and investment, ranging from Made Smarter to the catapults and the global Britain investment fund.
I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s response last week to my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) that energy-intensive manufacturers such as ceramics will be covered by the upcoming British energy security strategy. These sectors are more important than ever, particularly for future technology, and they need support to address high energy costs now. Will my hon. Friend the Minister do more to support ceramic manufacturers to invest in new technologies and increased energy efficiency?
There is no bigger champion of the ceramics industry than my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Stoke, who work as an excellent team in supporting the industry as a whole. The Government have worked with industry for many years to mitigate the costs of energy, including an aggregate of £2 billion-worth of subsidy since 2013. From our multitude of conversations on the ceramics industry with him and his colleagues, I know he will encourage manufacturers in his constituency to consider other opportunities such as the industrial energy transformation fund.
Earlier this month, bosses triggered a consultation on redundancies at Liberty Pressing Solutions, a business in my constituency that produces high-quality products for the automotive industry. Financial difficulties at its parent company, the Gupta Family Group Alliance, have put its future in doubt, and with it the jobs of more than 200 people. I visited the factory and met the company’s skilled, dedicated workers, who risk being plunged into unemployment just as the cost of living crisis intensifies. What is the Minister doing to protect skilled jobs such as these, which are vital in transitioning to a green and sustainable economy? Will he meet me to discuss how we can save these jobs?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight the importance of a strong manufacturing base, which is one reason why we have spent so much time supporting and having active discussions with manufacturing. The challenges around Liberty are well known, and I have also visited Liberty sites in recent weeks and months. I am happy to meet her to talk further.
Manufacturers will open their factory doors on 7 July in a UK-wide open house, which is an opportunity to showcase the diversity of the sector, the range of highly skilled jobs on offer and the amazing opportunities for reskilling and career development within UK manufacturing. Will the Minister join me in supporting National Manufacturing Day 2022?
The Government are well aware of the crisis they have created for energy-intensive industries such as those on Teesside. Now that the EU has set aside €50 million to help its firms with energy costs, British firms such as CF Fertilisers, which have no such support, face even tougher competition. I know the Minister is visiting the company tomorrow, but what will the Government do to address the impact of this EU funding on UK fertiliser production? Can he advise on when a decision will be taken about renewing the electricity compensation scheme for energy-intensive industries, which runs out on Thursday?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. He will be aware of the substantial support we have given manufacturers over many years, including more than £2 billion to mitigate energy prices. I note that in Teesside there have been recent announcements that demonstrate the confidence people have within manufacturing as a whole.
My hon. Friend will know that small and medium-sized manufacturers make up the core of the manufacturing base in the Black Country, but many of mine in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton will be slightly concerned that they have missed out on investment because of their size. Will he meet me and manufacturers from the Black Country to discuss how we can ensure that they make the most of the packages on offer for them to succeed?
In the past, the Nigg oil fabrication facility in Easter Ross built some of the mightiest production platforms for the UK—I worked in that yard. Today, wind turbines for both onshore and offshore power seem to be built anywhere but in Scotland. The firm that owns the Nigg yard announced plans almost four months to get into fabrication, but since then we have not heard a lot. I do not expect the Minister to have the answer at his fingertips, but will he ask his Department to see how progress is- coming along on that front, because it is crucial for the local workforce?
Investment is attracted to areas that have agile, pro-growth regulatory environments. In this country, we delegate a lot of the implementation of regulation to agencies, but the oversight and assessment of regulatory agency performance is weak. Will the Minister look at ways in which we can improve how we regulate the regulators?
The spring statement did not
“address the complex challenges facing the manufacturing sector”.
It just is not
“tenable for thousands of businesses”
and it is
“kicking the can down the road”.
Those are the words of three businesses that are asking for help. So how about this: first, cancel the 10% increase in national insurance payroll tax; secondly, cut energy bills by up to £600 per household; and, thirdly, set up a £600 million energy-intensive industries contingency fund? Our plan is following the evidence from the business community of what is needed. Why will this Government not help businesses that are crying out for support?
The hon. Gentleman highlights the importance of manufacturing, which we have already talked about in these questions. This Government are a champion of manufacturing—[Interruption.] I am so glad that all Opposition Members agree with me. If they really do, they would recognise that ensuring a strong manufacturing base is incredibly important. The Labour party can provide no lessons, on the basis that it decimated manufacturing before 2010.
I am glad now to know who the Minister’s favourite in Stoke-on-Trent is. Steelite, based in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, received funding from the regional growth fund, but it is being asked to pay back £685,000 plus interest due to capital underspend. The reason for that is simple: a global pandemic came across in March 2020, so it was not viable for Steelite to invest in capital when it did not even know whether it was going to continue to exist or how long the pandemic was going to last. Will my hon. Friend meet me and representatives of Steelite to discuss how that funding can continue to stay, so that Steelite can add to its factory and therefore employ more people locally?
Small Businesses’ Rising Costs
The Government are cutting fuel duty, at a cost of £5 billion over the next 12 months; raising the employment allowance to £5,000; and zero-rating VAT on energy-saving materials. That builds on existing support, including business rates relief worth £7 billion over five years.
Businesses such as Sidhu’s chippies in my constituency had pinned their hopes on the Chancellor reducing VAT to 12.5%. They are now going to be pushed to the brink as energy costs are set to almost triple this financial year. What hope can the Minister offer Sidhu’s and other businesses that have served their local communities for decades but now cannot guarantee jobs and services into the future?
Our hospitality strategy, which includes fish and chip shops and other restaurants around the country, has a number of workstreams to co-create solutions with businesses rather than the Government having all the answers. The hon. Lady needs to consider the issue in the round, including the business rates relief and other support that we have given of £408 billion over the past two years.
Supporting businesses to manage their costs must not come at the expense of employment rights. The P&O ferry scandal is not about fire and rehire, but it puts the issue back in the spotlight because it exposes how vulnerable workers can be when faced with an exploitative employer who is willing to trample over their statutory rights to slash wages. At the Dispatch Box last week, my hon. Friend the Minister intimated that the Government would make further announcements on the issue. May I press him to tell the House today whether the Government are prepared to act definitively on fire and rehire?
I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a doughty champion on the issue. The Government have always been clear that it is completely unacceptable for any sized business to use threats of fire and rehire simply as a negotiation tactic. We have already taken action. In November last year, we commissioned ACAS, which published guidance. I promised to take further steps, as she rightly said, and I am pleased to announce that we will bring forward a statutory code later this year under section 203 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. We will introduce that as soon as parliamentary time allows. The code will have legal teeth; it will be admissible in evidence before courts and employment tribunals in England, Scotland and Wales.
Businesses face a barrage of rising costs: inflation at a 30-year high, taxation at an 80-year high, and rocketing prices for materials, energy, food and fuel that are hitting businesses and consumers hard. This is a Government of photo ops but shuttered shops, with no clear plan to support businesses and workers, and their spring statement does not go far enough. Does that not make Labour’s call for an increase to the small business rates relief threshold even more urgent? Or is the truth not plain to see that small businesses can no longer afford the Conservatives?
Nobody—whether in a domestic or business setting—can afford Labour. We have put £408 billion of support into wrapping our arms around jobs, livelihoods and businesses. We have 408 billion reasons to get this next bit right. The Labour party can talk about scrapping business rates, but it has not made any suggestion of what to replace them with. Fine words, but we will act.
Investment in Renewables: Household Energy Bills
Achieving the UK’s ambitious net zero target to prevent global warming and climate emergency beyond 1.5° and protect consumers from global price volatility will require significant extra investment in renewable electricity generation. We have seen the cost of renewable technologies, most notably offshore wind, reduce fast and as more renewables are added to the system, household electricity bills will be less affected by fluctuations in volatile global gas prices.
An effective way for household energy bills in Lincoln and across the UK to be cut by 25% right now is through the removal of the renewables surcharge on everyone’s bills, even temporarily. Have the Minister and his colleagues put that simple idea to their Treasury colleagues?
I can assure my hon. Friend that lots of ideas have been put to Treasury colleagues. The truth is that the falling cost of UK renewables, with offshore wind now down 60% through the contract for difference, is the best protection against global supply chain volatility. This country has led the way. In the past 30 years, we have grown the economy by 78% and reduced emissions by 44%. The Government focused on helping consumers, households and businesses with direct support and that is why the Chancellor announced £9 billion of relief in his February package, £5 billion last week, contrary to the claim from the Opposition that nothing was done, and extra funding for the warm home scheme and winter fuel levy.
Constituents in Bosworth are concerned about three things: the cost of their energy bills, the environmental impact and the security of our energy supply. While being mindful of those three things, does my hon. Friend agree that a transition period is paramount while we deal with the fallout of a war, with rising energy prices and, of course, with meeting our net zero targets?
My hon. Friend makes an important point that has not been picked up by the Opposition. We are emerging from a global pandemic and experiencing a war in Europe. Those are two unprecedented shocks to the global energy system. The Government have done everything necessary through the pandemic and we are doing it again on energy, but in the end we are in a global energy market and the best strategy, as my hon. Friend sets out, is the transition plan we have put in place, with strong support for renewables and help with the cost of energy in the short term for consumers, businesses and households.
For Norway to feed energy into our national grid it costs £1.36 per MWh, for Belgium it is 77p per MWh, for France, 17p and for Germany, Luxembourg and The Netherlands it costs not a penny. Can the Minister explain how Scotland can exploit its renewable potential when it costs £7.36 per MWh to feed into the grid?
I am delighted to explain how Scotland can benefit from our renewables programme: the North sea transition deal, the net zero hydrogen fund, the industrial energy transformation fund, £20 million ringfenced for Scottish tidal, £40 million for carbon capture and storage, and £27 million for the Aberdeen energy transition zone. Frankly, we need fewer complaints from the Scottish nationalists and more support for the Scottish energy sector.
It is a little disappointing that the Minister could not just give a straightforward no to the question from the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney). Moving on, however, there are more than 600 wind and solar projects in the UK that already have planning permission. Will the Government admit they made a mistake in stopping the development of onshore wind, and fast-track those projects? They already have planning permission and are ready to go ahead. They are the answer to meeting our energy needs in the future.
The evidence suggests that the UK is the fastest economy in the G7 in deploying renewables. Offshore wind costs have fallen by 60%. Of course, everyone can do more, but I do not accept the criticism that we have not been in the vanguard; we have been, and we are, and offshore wind and solar have been fundamental to reducing the cost of renewables. That is the best support against rising energy prices.
Energy Transition Projects in Scotland
I am delighted to assure hon. Members that Scotland is at the heart of the UK’s transition to net zero—something I hope they will welcome. In November last year, we committed £20 million to the funding for tidal stream projects through the contracts for difference, giving Scotland’s significant marine energy sector a chance to develop its expertise. We have also allocated £40 million in carbon capture development funding for the Acorn Project and £27 million for the Aberdeen energy transition zone.
I am sure the rest of the UK welcomes that contribution to renewable energy as well, but local communities up and down the country, such as Partick in Glasgow North, want to champion the just transition by generating their own local renewable electricity. If the Local Electricity Bill, which has cross-party support on both sides of the House, is brought back in the next Session, will the Government make time and support it?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which I will pass on to my hon. Friend the Energy Minister, who is currently suffering from covid. We have put money into the community energy fund. We are supporting community energy and we are passionate not just about the big infrastructure but, as the hon. Gentleman says, about community energy schemes.
The University of Stirling has cut its carbon emissions by 43.8% since 2007. It has an ambitious target to achieve net zero by 2040, with fantastic plans for a solar farm, geothermal developments, the repurposing of an existing combined heat and power plant, and hydro. However, it is finding that those developments are held back by a lack of UK Government support and the rhetoric is often not matched by the reality. Will the Minister, in a constructive spirit, meet me to see whether we can crack through the paperwork and support those great projects?
As Minister for Science, Research and Innovation I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. The university is doing great work. We have just announced and made the allocation of the biggest increase for a generation in science, research and innovation funding for universities, and I would be very happy to meet him and see what we can do to support that cluster.
I thank the Minister for reminding the House that this is a transition, not an extinction. Can he confirm that, as part of the North sea transition deal, we need to keep extracting hydrocarbons for the ongoing, albeit declining, demand that we have in this country and to support investment and jobs in that industry? Finally, does he agree that the companies on which the Opposition parties, including the SNP, want to slap an arbitrary windfall tax are precisely those companies that have the skills, the knowledge, the expertise, the technology and the capital to invest in the energy transition that this country desperately needs, and that we can show the world how it is done?
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. It is surprising not to hear the Scottish nationalists welcoming the North sea transition deal a bit more. To remind the House, it is a programme that will draw on the expertise in Scotland’s offshore North sea oil and gas sector and help it to lead the transition to carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, offshore wind and tidal, and it is set to create over 40,000 jobs and attract £14 billion of investment. That is the best way—and frankly, the best thing the SNP here could do is to help their colleagues in Scotland to support it.
Net Zero Targets: Synthetic Fuels
The net zero strategy highlighted the potential importance of sustainable and synthetic fuels as part of the transition to net zero and committed to additional strategies. In aviation, the Government have already announced their ambition to deliver 10% sustainable aviation fuels by 2030.
In our inquiry, “Fuelling the future”, the Transport Committee has heard significant evidence of the role that synthetic fuels can play as drop-in fuels that mean that vehicles, aircraft, ships, cars and plant do not have to be changed—the fuel just works in them. Given this, will my hon. Friend commit to ensure that synthetic fuels and their development are given equal billing with other energy sources?
My hon. Friend makes two crucial points: first, that technological innovation—the ingenuity of human endeavour—is crucially important in helping us to get to net zero in the first place; and secondly, that it is very important that we let a multitude of technologies and innovations grow and develop, working in conjunction with private enterprise, to help to solve society’s challenges.
Oil and Gas Authority: Change of Name
The North Sea Transition Authority decided to change its name to reflect its important role in the energy transition, driving the UK upstream oil and gas industry towards net zero. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was consulted on and supported this change.
No amount of greenwash can hide the fact that the Oil and Gas Authority’s primary purpose is to pump every last drop of oil and gas from the North sea, but the International Energy Agency report that was commissioned by this Government is clear that there can be no new exploration for fossil fuels. Let me pre-empt the Minister’s response by saying that no one is suggesting turning off the taps tomorrow, as he regularly claims. We absolutely need a transition that is fair to workers; what we do not need is a so-called climate pass to allow the Government to ignore climate consequences and license more explorations supposedly on the grounds of national security. Can he assure us that he recognises that climate change is itself an issue of national security, and that if we are serious about our net zero commitments there can be no exemptions from the climate compatibility checkpoints?
If the hon. Lady accepts the principle of transition, then she needs to accept the principle that we will need oil and gas for a number of years yet. That is logical, simple and understood. The only greenwashing that is going on is the Green party pretending that it is interested in green issues when it is only interested in socialism.
Since we last met, my Department has been focused on three central strands. First, we are pleased to announce the passing of the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022. Secondly, we have worked with Ukrainian colleagues to make sure that generators are arriving in Ukraine so that their public services can be powered and delivered. Thirdly, I am pleased to announce that we are phasing out imports of Russian oil over a nine-month period to make sure, with our allies, that the Kremlin does not benefit from its sale of hydrocarbons.
Small businesses across my constituency are struggling, like households, with spiralling energy costs. The British Chambers of Commerce reports that three out of four firms it surveyed will be passing on these costs to customers through higher prices, thus further fuelling the cost of living crisis for many people in Twickenham and across the country. What will the Secretary of State do to alleviate the pressure on small and medium-sized enterprises that are facing rising energy bills?
The hon. Lady will know that not only did my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announce a £9 billion package particularly for the most vulnerable, but for all our citizens, a few weeks ago, but last week we announced a support package, again, for vulnerable customers. In relation to small business, she will know that over the past two years this Government have spent £405 billion in supporting businesses of all sizes through a very difficult pandemic and, again, through the heightened crisis that has been brought on by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It is great that my hon. Friend is supporting Rodale and other companies in her area. We know that this is a worrying time for business, which is facing significant increases in global gas prices. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary is in regular contact with the energy industry and Ofgem to manage the impact of price increases on businesses. Clearly, we need to look at this in the round, and in the context of the £408 billion that we provided throughout covid to allow businesses such as Rodale to survive.
Last October the Secretary of State promised support for energy-intensive industries such as steel, glass and ceramics. His exact words were that it was his
“priority…to ensure costs are managed and supplies of energy are maintained.”
Yet six months later there is still no action, and there was nothing in last week’s spring statement, so when will this promised support be presented?
The hon. Gentleman will know that support is ongoing. We have the industrial energy transformation fund, which has allocated more than £50 million. We have also supported EIIs—energy-intensive industries—to the tune of £2 billion since 2013, so support is always there and has been ongoing.
A chemicals manufacturer in Grimsby has been in touch with me this week. Its energy bill last year was £10 million; it has now gone up to £50 million a year. And it gets worse, because as we have heard in questions today, in two days’ time, compensation for the UK emissions trading scheme and the carbon price support mechanism comes to an end, so support is actually decreasing. Will the Secretary of State at least do the bare minimum and reassure firms today that that support fund will be extended?
I will reassure businesses that I engage with that we are constantly engaging in conversations with our Treasury colleagues and across Government to see how best we can use the existing schemes to support industries—the steel industry, ceramics industry and chemicals industry—in this difficult time.
It was a pleasure to speak to the Staffordshire chamber of commerce. The Department for Work and Pensions’ “Way to Work” campaign is a drive to help employers to fill vacancies faster by streamlining recruitment processes and offering employers a named adviser. The Department is also supporting people to upskill through skills boot camps and sector-based work academies.
As former Minister for life science and Minister for research, I would be very happy to meet with the hon. Member to talk that through. We have just made the biggest allocation for science, research and innovation, which included £9 billion for health research.
That is an excellent question. We can be very proud: UK scientists at Harwell recently demonstrated the ability to generate temperatures equivalent to those on the sun at the flick of a switch, and Rolls-Royce is ready to roll out and industrialise small nuclear reactors over the next 10 to 15 years. We are looking to accelerate their deployment to help tackle the global energy crisis.
As the hon. Lady is aware, we have made a number of interventions that have gone some way to lightening the burden. There is the £9 billion that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a few weeks ago, and £150 off council tax for those in bands A to D. I have reassured the House that we are looking at a range of measures to see how best we can meet the challenge of the next few months. Nobody knows where the price cap will be in October.
In Chopwell in my constituency, over 200 homes were due to benefit from cladding under the green homes grant local authority delivery scheme, but due to escalating costs, that work has been cancelled. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can ensure that the work is carried out?
South Yorkshire is home to some extraordinary research and development assets, including the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Advanced Wellbeing and Research Centre. It was great to meet the Minister recently to discuss the issue. Will he continue to work with me and others on unlocking the undoubtedly huge potential in South Yorkshire?
We are, absolutely, excited about the prospects for geothermal. I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this. I was happy, also, to talk to my Cornish colleagues about this exciting new technology; it is something on which we are focused.
The pupils of Boroughmuir High School’s climate change society in my constituency have impressed on me that their generation is relying on us to take action right now, because by the time they are old enough to do so it will be too late for systemic change. Can the Secretary of State reassure school students in my constituency that his plans for transition have the requisite urgency?
They do. I was very pleased to take up my office as Minister of State for Energy a month after the net zero legislation was passed, and for the last three years we have been resolutely focused on living up to the letter of the law, fulfilling our bargain and making sure we reach net zero in 2050.
The Secretary of State is well aware of the opportunities for further developing the renewables sector in my Cleethorpes constituency and the wider Humber region. However, as he is also aware, there have been one or two setbacks of late. Will he meet me and neighbouring colleagues to discuss how we can move forward and maximise such opportunities?
Unscrupulous company directors make use of the compulsory strike-off process to avoid paying debts to both private and public sector creditors. In considering reform of Companies House, what can Ministers do to tackle this practice?
We are looking at a range of methods of reforming Companies House, including unscrupulous behaviour by directors. It will be the biggest upheaval of companies law for the last 150 years, and we will legislate for new powers in the economic crime Bill when parliamentary time allows.
My right hon. Friend will know that there is a distinct difference between the current energy price spikes and the long-standing unfairness that UK steel makers face when it comes to the charges and levies they pay on their energy costs. Does he agree that, when the energy strategy that the Prime Minister promised comes out, it must address both these distinct and separate issues?
I would be happy to talk to my hon. Friend about those issues. I would like to point out that we had a significant victory in extending the safeguards last summer, and there has been some very good news on trade talks about the quotas that steel companies in this country are allowed by the US.
The energy crisis is leaving some people in my constituency struggling to pay their bills, and the situation is even worse for those whose heating is paid for centrally and is not protected by the energy price cap. In some cases, many have seen their bills go up by more than 500%, so when will the Secretary of State bring forward legislation that will give Ofgem the powers to regulate these prices and end these excessive energy price increases?
There is great concern in North West Durham among constituents affected by Storm Arwen about the prospect of being left without a landline as well as without power during a storm, due to the switch to the voice over internet protocol. Given that, does the Secretary of State, like me, welcome the announcement from BT today that this forced switch will now be paused and be on request only, as BT looks to ensure that proper back-up systems are in place during power cuts before returning to the broader roll-out?
Returning to off grid, Ofgem’s mission statement says that it aims
“to make a positive difference for all energy consumers, both now and in the future”,
yet off-gas grid consumers using electricity, oil and liquid gas face price rises in April four times that of Ofgem’s average consumer. Will the Secretary of State support my calls to regulate this for off-gas grid customers through Ofgem, and indeed support my Energy Pricing (Off Gas Grid Households) Bill?
Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is that we need to have a more robust offer for people who are off grid. This issue has been raised continually in these exceptional times, and I look forward to speaking to Ofgem—and perhaps him—about these issues.
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Review
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about our mission to level up opportunities for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities in England. Before I do, I want to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), the fantastic Minister for Children and Families, who has been supported by my hon. Friends the Members for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) and for Wantage (David Johnston). I thank them for the level of engagement they have had with Members across the House, as well as with many wonderful people from across the SEND and alternative provision system. I also thank all those working in early years, schools and colleges, including specialist and alternative provision, for their dedication to service in the face of ongoing covid difficulties. I am sure my gratitude will be echoed across the House.
This review has been shaped by children with special educational needs and disabilities and in alternative provision, by their families and teachers, and by the committed workforce across education, health and care sharing their experiences and stories. I send them huge thanks for their openness in sharing emotional, and sometimes difficult experiences with us. We have listened, and in response today I am publishing for public consultation the Government’s “Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and Alternative Provision Green Paper.”
In schools in England alone there are 1.4 million pupils with a diverse range of special educational needs, and too often they do not get the support they need. In 2014 we made far-reaching changes to support children with special educational needs and disabilities, and their families—indeed, in 2016 I was the Minister for Children and Families. Those reforms gave critical support to more children, but in reality the system is not working as it should. Too often decisions about support are based on where a child lives, not on what they need, and many have lost confidence in the system. On top of that, the alternative provision system is increasingly used to support children with special educational needs, but the outcomes for many of those children remain shockingly poor. We have therefore considered alternative provision within this review.
Despite unprecedented investment through a £1 billion increase in high needs funding, taking total funding to £9.1 billion in the coming financial year on top of the £1.5 billion increase over the last two years, the system has become financially unsustainable. Local authorities are in deficit and overspending on their dedicated schools grant, with total deficits now standing at more than £1 billion. The publication of the Green Paper is long-awaited, and I am proud to announce that our proposals will build a more inclusive and financially sustainable system, where every child and young person will have access to the right support, in the right place, at the right time.
To meet our ambitions, and the ambitions of so many children and their families, we propose to establish a new single, national special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision system across education, health and care, setting clear standards for how children and young people’s needs are identified and met. To enable effective local delivery, we propose establishing new statutory SEND partnerships, bringing together education, health and care partners with local government, to create a local inclusion plan. That plan will set out how each local area will meet the needs of children in line with national standards. We will also clarify the roles and responsibilities of every partner in the system, with robust accountabilities to build confidence and transparency.
Locally and nationally published inclusion dashboards will capture and track metrics to drive system performance, and mean that areas respond quickly to emerging local needs. Data and transparency are our allies on this journey. Parents should not need to fight the system; the system should be working and fighting for them. The proposed changes will help parents to know exactly what their child is entitled to, removing their need to fight and guaranteeing them access to mediation, leading to better, earlier and more effective interventions for their child.
I will always be on the side of children and parents. Wherever possible, I want our children to be educated close to home, near to friends and within local communities. Frustratingly for families, that is not happening consistently enough. Today, building on the schools White Paper published yesterday, we are committing to improve mainstream education through early and accurate identification of need, through high-quality teaching of a knowledge-rich curriculum, and through timely access to specialist support, where needed. Change will be underpinned by the increase in our total investment in the national schools budget. As set out in last year’s spending review, we will invest an additional £7 billion by 2024-25, compared with 2021-22, including an additional £1 billion in 2022-23 for children and young people with high needs.
I recognise the importance of a confident and empowered workforce with access to the best training to support this cohort of children, and many of my colleagues have made representations to me on that. We will consult on the introduction of a new special educational needs co-ordinator national professional qualification for schools and increase the number of staff with an accredited level 3 SENCO qualification in early years settings.
For some children and young people, specialist provision will be the most appropriate place for them to be able to learn and succeed. For those requiring specialist provision, whether in a mainstream or special school, we propose a simplified process. We will support parents to make informed choices by providing them with a list of appropriate placements tailored to their child’s needs, meaning less time spent researching the right school. To prevent needs from escalating, for children with challenging behaviour we want to use the best practice of alternative provision to intervene earlier so that children and young people are supported to thrive, and that the risk of these vulnerable children and young people being exploited or, sadly, involved in serious criminal activities is minimised.
At last year’s spending review, we announced an investment of £2.6 billion over three years, delivering tens of thousands more specialist places and improving existing specialist and alternative provision. Today, I can confirm that £1.4 billion of that funding will be capital spending for high needs for academic years 2023-24 and 2024-25, to help local authorities deliver new places quickly. We cannot wait for the Green Paper consultation; we need to do that now for those with additional needs. That means up to 40 new alternative provision and specialist settings. Taken together, these proposals will improve the special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision system, delivering the right support in the right place at the right time for children and young people.
Today, I am launching a 13-week consultation on the proposals set out in my Green Paper. This is the opportunity for children and young people, their families, and those working across the special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision sector to help shape the next stage. We will pay close attention to implementation so that the mistakes of past reforms are not repeated. These reforms are about outcomes, but they are also about fairness: fairness to families who have struggled to get support for their children, to the sector which has gone above and beyond for years, and to children and young people who deserve excellent support to achieve their ambitions. I commend this statement to the House.
I start by thanking the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Children with special educational needs and disabilities and how we support them are subjects close to my heart, as they are to so many of us across the House. I had sincerely hoped to speak today with optimism and enthusiasm about the review the Secretary of State has set out today, because one in six children in England have a special educational need or disability—five in every class.
Supporting children and learners with special educational needs or disabilities is at the heart of our education system and the work that teachers and school staff are doing every day, and it should be central to the work of Government too. But right now children are being let down. Needs are going unmet. Children are stuck on waiting lists, for occupation therapy to speech and language support. Thousands of families are waiting months for education health and care plans. Children and families are facing a postcode lottery in availability and quality of specialist provision, and parents are increasingly turning to the courts to get the support that is their children’s right.
The system is broken. Parents know it, teachers know it, children know it and the Government know it, too. But we have not got here by accident. The Secretary of State says he is ambitious for young people, but where has that ambition been for the past 12 years? Where was that ambition when he was Minister for Children and Families? The Secretary of State cannot disown the legacy of 12 years of Conservative Governments which has left us with a broken, adversarial and aggressive system that is letting down young people and leaving families in despair.
Against that backdrop, it is hard not to be optimistic about any changes to the system. Early intervention, support in mainstream settings, changing culture, supporting families and making the system financially sustainable—who could object to those ambitions? However, just as we saw yesterday, those ambitions remain sadly hollow: hollow because there is no plan to deliver; hollow because other Government policies are working against those aims; and hollow because children and families are still waiting on a pandemic recovery plan. Too many parents told us that during the pandemic support for their children was removed, was not available and to this day has not been restored.
When Labour says it is ambitious for children, it means every child. Labour’s children’s recovery plan sets out the support it would put in place for children and young people now: mental health support in every school, wraparound activities that support every child’s development, and targeted learning support for the children who need it most. The pandemic was hard on us all, but for children with SEND and their families it was harder still. The long shadow of those months in lockdown is holding children back, so I ask the Secretary of State again when will he finally give children and families the recovery plan they need and deserve? At every school I visit, teachers and staff raise as one of their biggest concerns the broken system facing children with SEND. That is why we all want reforms to succeed: intervention earlier, children’s needs identified sooner and support provided more quickly.
Under the previous Labour Government, children’s centres were also crucial. With millions of families accessing those services, children’s needs were identified quickly and support put in place, but more than 1,000 children’s centres have closed. The family hubs that the Secretary of State announced are a pale imitation of that network of services, yet the evidence is even clearer now than it was then that early intervention and co-ordinated support for families transforms children’s lives. As the Minister is keen to consider the evidence—I know he is—will he not look again at the much wider support and services that families across our country are so desperate to see? Many parents who have had to fight for their children’s support will today also want assurances from him that there will be no compromising on care to cut costs. Can he say when he expects promised additional educational psychologists to be in place supporting children and schools?
Families have had to wait almost 1,000 days since the SEND review was announced for the Government to launch the consultation. Families will wait another 13 weeks for that consultation to close. They will wait longer for a Government response and then again before changes are seen on the frontline. Years have passed since reform was needed and children’s time in the education system is slipping away. Nothing we do in this place can be more important than giving children support to thrive and opportunities for the future, but over the past two years of the pandemic, and the past 12 years of Conservative Governments, all too often our children have been an afterthought. When staff across our schools have been asked to do more with less, they have stepped in and stepped up. They have plugged gaps, taken on more, delivered time and again for the children they are desperate to see succeed. They have put children first and done everything they could. It is long past time the Government did the same.
The hon. Lady talked about recovery; she will know about the £5 billion announced for education recovery. We have consistently prioritised children and young people with SEND, including through additional weighting for specialist settings. The £1 billion of funding that was announced at the spending review to extend the recovery premium over the next two academic years—2022-23 and 2023-24—should be used by schools to prioritise support for children and young people with SEND.
The hon. Lady also spoke about family hubs. I am disappointed that she is not at least giving herself the opportunity to look at the evidence, which is clear, whether in respect of the Harlow family hub that I visited or the one not far from here in Westminster, where she can go—it is probably within walking distance—to see the great work of multiple agencies that are coming together to deliver the most important must-have services to the families towards whom we need to target help. That contrasts with the Labour plan, which sounded great on paper but did not work implementation-wise because it was obsessed with bricks and mortar rather than helping families.
I do not recall any other question from the statement that the hon. Lady made. Suffice it to say that, yet again, as she demonstrated yesterday, there is no plan from Labour.
My father, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s, was an immigrant who came here with very little. He worked hard to send me to private school, but I spent much of my childhood having operations and not being in school. I know very well what it is like to be a child with special educational needs and to have a disability, and I care about this issue very deeply.
I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is getting a grip on this issue, but it is wrong that it has taken almost three years for this Green Paper to come to fruition. It is wrong that for so long parents have had to wade through a treacle of unkind bureaucracy and that, as the Secretary of State has acknowledged, they have been subject to this awful postcode-lottery provision, whereby they wait for months on end to get the EHCP that they should have. There are not enough trained staff—an issue that I recognise the White Paper looks at.
Our Education Committee report made two key recommendations: that there should be a neutral advocate for parents to help them to wade through the bureaucracy—an idea that I urge the Secretary of State to look at again, so that everyone has a fair chance—and that the powers of the social care ombudsman should be extended beyond the school gates, to make sure that children are properly looked after.
The test for us all will be whether parents soon come to our constituency surgeries—I wish it did not have to take more months of consultation—and we no longer hear the awful stories of the struggles they face, and they no longer have to appeal to their MP to try to navigate their way through the system. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to get this done as soon as possible and to sort it out once and for all, because it is a major social injustice in our education system that children with special educational needs do not have a level playing field.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Education Committee; I will always listen to what he and his Committee have to say, because his Committee follows the evidence and works on a cross-party basis.
My right hon. Friend raised a number of important points that the Green Paper attempts to address, although there is of course a consultation. One of his points was about clarity for parents. Our proposal to establish a single national integrated SEND and AP system in England will help to inform parents wherever they live. If they move house, they will be able to find out what they should expect from the system for their child. It will help them to make informed choices from a tailored list of settings. It will strengthen mediation arrangements so that they do not feel they have to go to tribunal and line the pockets of expensive consultants or lawyers. All these things are addressed in the important Green Paper. Part of the work is to ensure excellent provision from the early years to adulthood and to build inclusivity into the system. We will always listen to what my right hon. Friend has to say.
Following a number of emotional meetings with desperate families in Batley and Spen, I can confirm that the Secretary of State was absolutely right to say that people have lost faith in the system. Demand for EHCPs has soared, rising by 480% in the past five years, and almost half of all plans are issued outside the statutory 20-week period, which in my view is too long in itself. Why has increasing capacity and ending delays not been a focus of the review?
Increasing capacity came before the Green Paper, deliberately. I did not want to publish the Green Paper and come to the House and say we were going to wait another 13 weeks. Today’s announcement of that first tranche of funding—the £1.4 billion—is all about increasing capacity. There is also, of course, the safety valve that we introduced at the spending review to help local authorities to cope. Over the past three years, the SEND and high-needs budget has increased by 40%, including the £1 billion that we announced at the SR. It needs to be put on a sustainable footing and that is what the Green Paper will do. We will of course always listen to parents, families and those who work so hard in the sector.
I welcome the Green Paper, the new educational psychologists and the new SENCO qualification, but I was concerned to read that just 41% of regular teachers think they have adequate understanding to support young people with special educational needs. We need to make sure that every teacher has a base level of understanding of all types of learning disabilities and of how different brains work differently—as I know as somebody who is dyslexic and dyspraxic and generally a bit eccentric.
I welcome the fact that Ofsted will have a role in looking at the new local inclusion plans, but will the Secretary of State promise me that he will monitor the new Ofsted framework to make sure that it properly holds schools to account, and that if schools fail kids with special needs, that is reflected in their inspection reports?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of those with dyslexia and dyspraxia and has been a great advocate for the need to make sure that every teacher has the required knowledge. I visited Monega school yesterday; a school can be outstanding only if it is outstanding in all areas, including its SEND provision. I will always listen to what my hon. Friend has to say on that.
The White Paper that I published yesterday includes the parent pledge, which is that teachers will identify students’ gaps in reading and English language and share that with parents. That should get us to the place where my hon. Friend wants us to be: one where every teacher feels confident that they have the training to identify dyslexia and dyspraxia and deal with them in the appropriate way.
I thank the Secretary of State for finally publishing the Green Paper, which is long overdue. How will he ensure that when the system is standardised and simplified, standards improve and are not reduced and truly recognise the unique needs of children with complex disabilities?
My mailbag—much like, I suspect, the mailbags of many other Members—is full of tales from parents who have had difficulty accessing the right care for their children. They say that the process has taken too long and often reaches an unsatisfactory conclusion. Some parents have been pushed into home education to try to meet their children’s needs. Will the Secretary of State reassure me and the House that such things will not happen again once his plan is in place?
I had a similar experience with a parent in my constituency who got so frustrated that they chose to home-school. They do it very well, but nevertheless that should not happen. The single integrated vision for SEND and AP, the greater focus on the mainstream and the emphasis on early intervention should allow us to regain the confidence of parents. I hope that the ability of parents to navigate the system in a much clearer way, without having to research for themselves which provision is most appropriate for their child, will make that difference. Of course, the consultation means that we will continue to focus on parental rights, including through making sure that parents and carers will continue to express a preference as to which school—from a tailored list of settings, across mainstream, specialist and independent schools—they would like their child to attend.
The Green Paper is welcome; it is better late than never. The Secretary of State will know about my great interest as chair of the Westminster Commission on Autism and because a family member has still not had a proper assessment after 15 years. Families need action now and they need resources, because provision is expensive for local councils and schools. It is expensive, but we have to be willing to pay for it. We will work with the Secretary of State to make his proposals into the finest piece of legislation in this policy area for a generation.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he has always been a champion for those with special educational needs and disabilities, not just in his constituency, but around the country. We have continued to provide funding for autism training and professional development in schools and colleges throughout last year and this year. We provided a further £8.6 million to strengthen the participation of parents and young people, including those who are autistic. We are strengthening and promoting the pathways to employment. Supported internships have been a great programme—Premier Inn in my constituency does a brilliant job—with £18 million of investment over the spending review period to increase the number of those who are participating to 4,500 from about 2,500 at the moment.
If we were to read through the SEND reforms in the Children and Families Act 2014 and the accompanying code of practice, we would see that that is a blueprint for the system that we all want. This review seeks to address the issues with the implementation of the Act and the code of practice. To that end, I suggest that the national standards, which I welcome, should be based around quality rather than a de minimis principle. On alternative provision, will my right hon. Friend say more about how he will use the excellence within alternative provision so that early intervention, which we want to see more of in mainstream schools, can work more effectively?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, we considered very carefully the recommendations from the Timpson review in regard to our recommendations for the AP system and, from that review, we developed our ambitious programme of reforms. The Green Paper sets out how we will improve early intervention and quality AP and learn from what is happening around the country, whether that is in mainstream schools, such as in Dixons City Academy in Bradford, or in some of the excellent work and case studies from the Green Paper of specialist AP that makes a real difference when it is identified early, and the help can therefore be put in early.
I put on record my thanks to the Secretary of State for briefing me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey) last week on today’s Green Paper and yesterday’s White Paper.
The Green Paper mentions that the SEND system is “bureaucratic and adversarial”, “not equally accessible”, and takes a
“heavy emotional—and sometimes financial—”
toll on parents. Parents in my constituency would very much identify with that. People have been waiting three long years for this Green Paper, which is a welcome step forward, but parents, school staff and children alike are dismayed that there will be a further 13-week consultation, with legislation some time after that. The Secretary of State has said that the review has been shaped by parents and teachers, so when will parents in Twickenham and across the country see the impact of the changes?
It was good to brief the hon. Lady and the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. The Green Paper has had a warm welcome from the unions the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Association of Head Teachers, with some challenges around implementation and how we do this well on the ground from the Local Government Association. Our work in early years and post-16 education has also been welcomed.
The hon. Lady asks when people will see the difference. The reason why I went to the Chancellor during the spending review and got the £2.6 billion, the additional £1 billion and the safety valve money is that I do not think we can wait until we have a consultation and get to a place where the whole Green Paper is a reality on the ground. That is why we are today announcing £1.4 billion—the first tranche of the £2.6 billion—for up to 40 new settings, which will see additional provision going into the system so that parents have the confidence that the provision will be there for their child.[Official Report, 31 March 2022, Vol. 711, c. 7MC.] However, she is right: this has been a long time coming, and I will make sure that we move at pace on the further reforms that are outlined in the Green Paper.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which builds on the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) and others in the Children and Families Act, in which I know the Secretary of State took a close interest when he was Children and Families Minister. However, is not the key point that without health in the room, everything falls down? Despite the best attempts to make that happen under EHCPs, that has not been happening enough, so I welcome statutory provision. Is not the other test that if the Secretary of State achieves anything, it must be a reduction in school exclusions? Too many young people with vulnerabilities and susceptibilities are exploited and end up in the system that I stewarded for a number of years. Can he make this as much an issue of justice as it is of education and health?
I know that my right hon. and learned Friend is passionate about this issue. It is important to remind ourselves that the co-signatories on today’s Green Paper are myself and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and his ministerial team is here on the Front Bench with us. His pledge is that health will look at the local provision and local resources, and of course, we will publish the dashboard. I spoke about data and transparency, and the best way to reform complex systems is through data and transparency. However, we are going further by simplifying the EHCP process, because there is no consistency in that. That also needs to be identified and dealt with, and we will do that. My right hon. and learned Friend is also right to point out that we need to ensure that every school—this is what my schools White Paper dealt with yesterday—is a great SEND school, because we have an equal ambition for children with special educational needs and disabilities as for all the children in our school system.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State is slightly divorced from reality and is seeing the school system for what he wishes it was, rather than what it is. In many schools, SENCOs are also full-time teachers, deputy heads, subject leads and, often, the safeguarding leads in their schools. Although the additional training and qualification is welcome, if the SENCOs do not have the time, they are not able to do justice to the role in the way it deserves. Where is the additional funding, resourcing and support to give SENCOs the time to focus as much as they need to on that crucial role?
I respectfully remind the hon. Lady that, in my opening remarks, I mentioned that, in early years, up to 5,000 new SENCOs will go into the school system to be able to do that work, and there is the support that we are putting in, including the £7 billion that is going into the school system, the £5 billion for recovery and the £2.6 billion in certain places. I also remind the House that change and change management are difficult. One area that I looked at, where we perhaps fell over in implementing the very good reforms that were introduced with the EHCPs, is how we deliver that change. I have £70 million going into change management to ensure that we have the resources in place, and I am confident that we can do this well.
I welcome the statement, and I have two points to make. First, the fight—time and again, parents talk about the fight that they have had to have with the system. Will the Secretary of State explain how these changes will bring transparency? Secondly, he mentioned that we cannot wait for the Green Paper process to finish, and I have read that he would like to build a further tranche of new special and alternative provision free schools. When will that take place and when can Leicestershire have its fair share?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The changes that I spoke about include the single national integrated SEND and AP system; excellent provision from early years to adulthood; building an inclusive system; a single integrated vision for AP; setting out clear roles and responsibilities; and accountability, because the fight begins when parents are confused, when they do not know who is accountable or where to go, and they feel alone. That is not the way it will be, because they will be able to see—we will co-create this with the sector—what they should be entitled to anywhere in the country. I will wipe out the postcode lottery, which is part of the issue relating to the fight, and set out plans to support effective implementation. One of the lessons that I learned in vaccine deployment is that however ambitious we are, if we do not have the team and have not thought through how we are going to succeed on the ground operationally, we will fall over, and I promise to think that through.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but as Members across the House have highlighted, this is an issue right across the country. I am contacted about it by Vauxhall parents, carers and teachers on an almost weekly basis. Just two weeks ago, a constituent contacted me about his two sons, who are 10 and 12 and have muscular dystrophy, physical disabilities and autism. They have been waiting for over 12 weeks to get support from the local authority. Many local authorities such as Lambeth are without funding.
The Secretary of State outlined in his statement that he is launching a consultation and wants the very same families, teachers and carers to engage with him. Does he appreciate that they are tired? I do not think that they have the energy to engage in yet another consultation, because they are still trying to provide a service for the very children we want to see flourish. How is the Secretary of State confident that he will get the right views to make sure that this works?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who I know is passionate about the issue and whose constituency I have promised to visit. She is absolutely right that parents are tired. My promise to them is that what we are doing here, and the consultation, mean that we will get this right—and get it right with them.
I urge the hon. Lady’s local authority to look around. Areas in London such as Barnet and Islington are doing incredibly well in local provision and in the ability to co-create with families what they need. Where the hon. Lady has a point is that that is not uniformly delivered across the country. That is what the Green Paper will do, but we are not waiting for it: in the meantime, we are investing £2.6 billion in thousands of additional places, both specialist and mainstream.
Publishing this Green Paper within six months of his taking office as Secretary of State demonstrates, alongside the resources that he won in the spending review, my right hon. Friend’s drive and determination in this critical area. I welcome the Green Paper’s focus on early identification of neurodiverse conditions and on the need for more initial teacher training, continuous professional development and support, but will he confirm that he believes that to get that early identification we need universal screening to get the data? It is only by basing decisions on data as well as on teacher observation that we can get the early identification that is so critical and is at the heart of the new Green Paper.
My right hon. Friend and I share a passion for data and transparency. I know that he is looking at the evidence of what really works in the early identification of and screening for dyslexia, about which he is passionate.
The Green Paper is about a whole system review and, together with yesterday’s White Paper and our parent pledge that teachers will identify the gaps in English language, reading and writing and share them with parents, it is our greatest lever to begin to look at how we do this well. I am looking forward to working with my right hon. Friend on the evidence of best practice around the world.
The request for diagnosis of special educational needs is the beginning of a long battle for far too many families. Local authorities with stretched resources are often pushing in the opposite direction; parents can wait years for EHCPs, and requests for specific schools are often denied by local authorities for financial reasons. That all points to the need for independent advocacy from the very beginning for parents of children with special educational needs. We cannot assume that every parent starts with the same capacity to deal with the minefield of taking their child through EHCPs, and requests for support in the classroom and other support with educational needs. Will the Secretary of State commit to creating an independent advocacy service that supports parents from the very beginning and holds their hand all the way through the process?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s thoughtful question, which the Chair of the Education Committee also raised. Essentially, the Green Paper will make sure that we hold local authorities to account through the new funding agreements, through the local inclusion dashboard, which will provide transparency so that people can see how areas are performing locally, and through the new area inspection. As well as making sure that we do as the Minister for Children and Families did with the written statement of action in Birmingham, we want to learn from the best. Manchester is doing well; Dixons City Academy in Bradford is an excellent example of how this works well; Passmores Academy, a mainstream academy in Harlow, is doing incredible work. We learn from the best and scale it across the system.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his commitment to ensure that every child with SEND has the best opportunities and chances in education. Does he agree that many of those children’s needs are met well in mainstream schools by SENCOs and family support workers, but we have to go further and faster to ensure that every teacher has the opportunity, the skills, the support and everything they need to be brilliant teachers of all children with special educational needs?
I could not have put it better myself—my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our proposals include the national professional qualification, up to 5,000 SENCOs in early years, and getting early identification in place. The schools White Paper and the parent pledge will also drive the thirst for knowledge to ensure that every teacher is confident in identifying the needs of their students.
While this is a welcome move, I think that there is an issue with the maths. It does not seem that much newer money is coming in as a result of the Secretary of State’s announcement today. We know that there is an in-built cost to supporting our young people, so perhaps he could be very specific about the money for SENCOs and particularly for one-to-one support workers. Will more one-to-one support workers be recruited? They are critical for many children in making sure that their EHCP is properly implemented.
I know that the hon. Lady is passionate about maths. She will know that over the past three years the overall budget has risen by 40% to £9.1 billion—a pretty big increase. She talks about SENCOs; today we have announced training for up to 5,000 more SENCOs in early years. The important thing to remember is that much of what is in the Green Paper has been produced through consultation with those in the system, with parents and with practitioners. All I ask is that colleagues read it carefully and engage with us on the consultation. It is a true consultation, because I want to get this right.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. Having been a special adviser in the Department when the SEND review was launched, I remember it well. I am really glad that the public consultation is happening. It has also been great to see extra funding in the past couple of years.
I recently visited Villa Real School, a special school in my constituency. One issue that the school faces is that it was built for a smaller number of pupils than it now has because of the rising need for special school places. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the school? Will he also look at the capital building programme? It is essential that as part of the review we deliver the places needed for children in the environment they wish to be educated in.
Parents and carers find it extremely stressful when there is a lack of school places, and a lack of choice of places, for children with special educational needs. In the meantime, it is the children who really suffer. It has been brought again to my attention that the exclusion rate for children with SEND is disproportionately high. That is just not acceptable. Can the Secretary of State say how that will be addressed in his review and what he will do?
The hon. Lady’s final point is absolutely right. The plans for supporting parents will lead to much greater transparency and improved choice through more local inclusive mainstream provision. The combination of the schools White Paper, the Green Paper and the children’s social care review that Josh MacAlister is carrying out for me will allow me for the first time, working with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to knit together a system that really delivers for parents and delivers clarity on what they should be getting for their child, wherever in England they live.
I am losing my voice—I apologise for that—but I wanted to contribute because these proposals are so important for parents in my constituency who have been battling for this, and also because our schools are so committed to children with special educational needs. I welcome the news that there is to be a new special school in Stroud.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he will work to eradicate the various financial penalties that schools suffer when they take on more SEND children? Some of them constitute very strange and up-front costs. Will he look into the way in which the league tables are communicated, to ensure that schools that are looking after children with more complex needs are not treated unfairly for doing so?
I thank my hon. Friend for making it here today, and I am glad that her voice is holding up. I can absolutely reassure her. A couple of weeks ago, I visited Highfurlong SEN school in Blackpool, a brilliant specialist school which is doing incredible work. Some of the children there have end-of-life EHCPs. Some came in unable to walk and are now walking, and, of course, learning as well. We will learn from the best, but we also want to ensure that schools are not penalised for doing the right thing.
A quick read through the Green Paper did not reveal much reference to higher education. I hope that that does not reflect a lack of ambition for these children. May I ask the Secretary of State specifically about the current procurement exercise relating to the disabled students allowance? How can he assure the House that it will not lead to a loss of expertise and understanding of the equipment and services needs of disabled students?
I hope to be able to write to the hon. Lady giving her those details about the Green Paper, but suffice it to say that we have tried to look not just at early years provision but at the whole system, including further and higher education. The increased investment in supported internships has worked very well. When I was Minister for Children and Families, I visited West London College, which was doing brilliant work with L’Oreal, and I spoke about my own constituency and the work that was being done there with Premier Inn. I want to see the number of enrolments rise from 2,250 to 4,500. Supported internships give young people a fulfilling career, and give employers great employees who are loyal and strongly committed to their businesses.
I thank the Secretary of State and his ministerial team for the emphasis that they place on this vital area. In Sevenoaks and Swanley—and in the rest of the country—EHCP referrals shot up during the pandemic, and the extra money will help greatly in that regard, but can the Secretary of State confirm that where backlogs remain he will consider providing extra resources, and that he will monitor the position centrally, so that I can go back and say to the families in my constituency that these agonising waits are over?
Part of the reason why the Chancellor was so committed to this area and made £2.6 billion available—as well as the £1 billion that took the budget up to £9.1 billion—is that we knew we needed to put additional capacity into the system now, rather than waiting until after the consultation and the Green Paper. We are also providing £300 million for a “safety valve” to help local authorities with a deficit of about £1 billion.
After 12 years of Conservative government, we are seeing what is almost a scorecard of failure. Nevertheless, I will give the Secretary of State and his team the benefit of the doubt. What guarantees can he give that, for instance, a child with dyslexia who requires specialist equipment will be given that equipment quickly, that it will be fully funded and that it will not be about ability to pay?
The drive behind the Green Paper is to ensure that we deliver across the board for every child with dyslexia, dyspraxia or autism, and that the system is sustainable and works for both the family and the child. The national SEND and AP single system will enable parents to see what they will get if their child has dyslexia. That will, I hope, give them a much better experience than what they are having today—which, as we have heard from many Members, is a big fight.
Not surprisingly, there are some excellent proposals of real substance in the Green Paper. I think they will give people hope. I also think it important that the Secretary of State said people should not need to fight the system, but the truth is that, when it comes to access to child and adolescent mental health services in my area, people would love to be able to get hold of the system, let alone fight it. As a result, early diagnosis is often missing and children are falling further down the list, which means that the need for intervention becomes significantly more acute.
I am pleased to see that Health Ministers are present. The Government recently announced the My Planned Care website to keep patients up to date on their wait for NHS treatment. Many parents tell me that they are often instructed not even to ask about the wait that they face. Should not parity of esteem between physical and other conditions demand the inclusion of the wait for CAMHS on that site, not just so that parents can see what the national standard is, but so that they can see exactly where their child stands and how long they will have to wait?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his characteristically thoughtful and well-evidenced question. The Green Paper contains a commitment from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to local inclusion dashboards, providing transparency so that parents can see the position locally. It is all well and good having a national view, but parents want to know how they and their child, and the rest of the family, are affected. This transparency will mean reform of the system, and CAMHS delivering what parents and children really need. Early identification is important. The long wait is adding cost to the system in many ways, and disadvantaging children in doing so. The Health Secretary has also given a commitment that those in the health system will look at resources and provision to ensure that we deliver consistency throughout the country.
I know from my own experience how important it is to receive the right support at the right time, and I hope that when the Secretary of State is carrying out his consultation he will make a special effort to engage with parents and families of children who are blind and partially sighted. Surely, however, the purpose should be to ensure that we get the decision right in the first instance. We know that, in 95% of cases that go to tribunals, the finding is in favour of the parents. The Secretary of State referred to a new system of local dispute resolution through mediation, but how will adding a new process make the experience of families simpler?