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Westminster Hall

Volume 718: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2022

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 13 July 2022

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

150th Open Championship

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the contribution of the 150th Open Championship to culture and sport in the UK.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I will try to keep the puns to a minimum. I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight the fact that golf’s most prestigious event has reached a significant milestone—the 150th playing of the Open is taking place this week at the home of golf in my constituency of North East Fife. As Member of Parliament for North East Fife, I have to declare an interest, and I refer Members to the register: not only is the Open happening in my constituency, but, as a result of the St Andrews Links Order Confirmation Act 1974—private legislation passed by the House of Commons—the local MP is designated one of the eight trustees of the St Andrews Links Trust, which manages the courses in the town, including the Old Course, where the Open is taking place. As Members will see, the Act is a culmination of the interlinked relationship between golf and the town of St Andrews, which I am proud to represent.

The 150th Open is a significant milestone, and St Andrews is very much alive to the historical significance of the championship. On Monday, the Celebration of Champions exhibition match took place to celebrate the occasion of the 150th Open, and big names from the world of golf, older and newer, including players such as Tom Watson and Dame Laura Davies, took part. I hope that many saw the picture of previous Open winners, including Jack Nicklaus, appearing on the Swilcan bridge. I have appeared on the Swilcan bridge myself with my dog, and one of the great things about St Andrews is that it is public land and open to use. On a Sunday, people can walk their dog, walk on the courses and get their picture taken in what is probably one of the most iconic places in golf history.

Jack Nicklaus won the Open twice at St Andrews, but this week he was looking on from a golf buggy and his landmark moment came yesterday. It was an honour for me to attend and see him being granted honorary citizenship of St Andrews by the St Andrews Community Council in recognition of all he has given to the sport. Jack Nicklaus is the third American to be receive that distinction, following in the footsteps of Bobby Jones—another great golfer—and, interestingly, Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States.

I am in St Andrews often in my work as an MP, and in some ways, Members take the place they represent not for granted, but as what they see all the time. However, what came through strongly for me was the emotion that Jack Nicklaus and others displayed not only about the honour of receiving the award, but with respect to St Andrews as a place and what it means to golf. I am grateful to St Andrews Community Council, and to Mr John Devlin in particular, for nominating Jack Nicklaus for the award.

Yesterday, prior to the honorary citizenship event, the University of St Andrews gave honorary doctorates to a number of golfers, including Sandy Lyle, Catriona Matthew, Bob Charles, José María Olazábal and Lee Trevino. It really was a significant event for golf fans.

The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech, and I congratulate her on securing the debate.

Next year, the Open will head back to Wirral—specifically to my constituency of Wirral West—and the Royal Liverpool golf club in Hoylake, which is situated on the Dee estuary. As well as coverage of arguably the biggest and best golf event in the world, the many millions of television spectators are treated to stunning views of Hilbre Island and across to north Wales.

When the tournament was last in Hoylake in 2014, it delivered an economic benefit of £76.3 million across the Wirral Council area and to the wider economy of the north-west. Wirral businesses—particularly the restaurants, hotels, guest houses, pubs and shops of Hoylake and West Kirby—did a fantastic job and got into the Open spirit. Does the hon. Lady agree that it is massively important that visitors from around the world see the best of what we have to offer, and will she pay tribute to all those people who provide such a warm welcome?

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, and I agree absolutely. She has demonstrated not only the economic impact that the Open has on the venues that host it, but the community aspect, which is so important.

The last thing I want to say about yesterday’s event is that it was open to the public. People could apply online for tickets, and afterwards the university hosted people in a marquee; the event was treated like a graduation. There were Americans and other tourists there who had applied for tickets, but there were local people there too, and it really felt like something that people could take in and participate in. There was a procession around the town afterwards.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that the first ever Open was held not in St Andrews but in Prestwick. I am sure that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) would have something to say if I did not mention that. That was all the way back in 1860, but golfing originated in Scotland in the first part of the second millennium, with players attempting to hit pebbles over sand dunes using a bent stick or club. Little is known about those early games, but we know that the sport grew so much in popularity that, by 1457, King James II had banned it in order to encourage Scots to focus on military activities such as archery and ensure the defence of the realm from the English. Luckily, that only lasted 45 years, and from 1502 golf was being played widely and spreading from Scotland to the rest of Europe, and from there to the world.

The events of 1860 all came about because a competition was arranged to determine the best golfer after the widely accepted champion golfer, Allan Robertson, sadly passed away. He was a legend of the golfing world. His family had lived and breathed the sport for decades, a mantle that he took on and perfected. Living in St Andrews, with a business making and selling the best golf balls, he caddied and competed in the game. Old Tom Morris, whose bicentennial the Open is marking this year, was his apprentice, and they were unbeaten when playing together. Allan Robertson made his mark in other ways, too, redesigning the Old Course and being the first to use an iron club.

The loss of that legend, Allan Robertson, led to the first competition of what is now the Open. Although it was then an invitational between eight top golfers, including his apprentice, with the winner taking home the challenge belt, it later became more widely accessible, hence the name the Open. The first winner of the challenge belt was Willie Park. The following year, the competition became open, with amateurs also invited. Amateurs can still apply, through the qualifying rounds, to take part today.

The competition changed in 1870, when Young Tom Morris won the championship three years in a row, entitling him to keep the challenge belt. That is where St Andrews comes back into play. Left without a prize, the whole competition was cancelled in 1871, before Prestwick joined forces with the Royal and Ancient golf club in St Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers to find a solution. Each club gave £10 towards a silver claret jug, which, as I hope we all know—we are all here, interested in golf—is still used today. I would argue that it is the most iconic trophy in the game.

The story is not over, though. The jug was not ready for the 1872 competition, so instead of cancelling it, the organisers gave the winner—again, Young Tom Morris—a gold medal. On Sunday, when the winners are presented, hon. Members will still hear both awards mentioned, as the gold medal is still given alongside the jug, as well as a silver medal for best scoring amateur.

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire is not here today, but I hope that she will forgive me for saying that it is particularly meaningful that the 150th Open is being held at the home of golf, as Prestwick has not hosted it since 1925. St Andrews is so tightly wound up in the history of the game that, for many, the R&A and the Old Course are synonymous with it. The R&A first held the Open at St Andrews in 1873; in 1894, the Open was first held in England, at St George’s; and in 1951, Portrush in Northern Ireland hosted it for the first time. The competition returned there with great success in 2019. Interestingly, the Open has never been held in Wales. The R&A says that it is happy with its current list of 10 courses, but it would be lovely to see a British Open truly representative of all four nations. Hopefully the R&A can find a course in Wales to suit.

Returning to the history, the first evidence of golf being played in St Andrews is a charter from Archbishop Hamilton permitting golf in the town, in the area that is now the Old Course. What is incredible about the course is that it has always been public land. That came through very strongly to me during the pandemic. In Scotland, we were able to play golf more than in other parts of the UK, given the restrictions, and it was good to see the land in St Andrews being widely used by many people. The public nature of the land is really important. At a time when sport was often reserved for gentlemen, that a young Allan Robertson was allowed to play on the greens outside his window arguably shaped the world of golf forever. That is why the links trust is so important. I sit on the trust as an elected representative, with others. It is focused on balancing the needs of the sport with the needs of the town, ensuring it benefits the people of St Andrews.

It is not just the rules of the game or the modern 18-hole course that originate from the Old Course, although both do, but the equipment itself, which is another reason why St Andrews is so synonymous with the sport. Allan Robertson made golf balls and alongside Hugh Philip, a local club maker, formed the Society of St Andrews Golfers, later Forgan of St Andrews. It is now the oldest golf manufacturer in the world. The craftsmanship has been perfected and passed down through generations, and we see that in the worldwide demand for equipment today.

The R&A has a responsibility for standards. I visited its Kingsbarns equipment standards facility; some of the tests they do look like really good fun, to be honest! Every club is tested on behalf of the 152 affiliated organisations, and every ball is approved, every year. There is a library full of weird and wonderful clubs and golf balls.

I am proud to say that more recently our golfing tournaments have become more diverse. St Andrews hosted the women’s Open for the first time in 2007 and then in 2013. It will return in 2024, alongside the Phoenix cup, disability golf’s equivalent of the Ryder cup. Scottish Disability Golf & Curling is based in North East Fife and I have attended several events to speak with participants and discuss equipment and access needs and requirements. I am grateful to the all-party parliamentary group for golf, which hosted a SDGC session.

I think I have made it clear that the Open taking place in St Andrews is a big deal, but I will be the first to acknowledge that it has not been without issues. There is no doubt that the train strikes in Scotland and the inability to reach an agreement on pay with the trade unions until this week has had an impact. To anybody listening, I remind them that the recommendation is not to travel by train this week and to make use of park-and-ride facilities to attend. St Andrews is in a rural part of Scotland and it is difficult to get there, so get there by car early and use park and ride.

I also acknowledge that not every resident of St Andrews loves having their town full of tourists. There is definitely scope to work more closely with local communities, especially in maintaining facilities such as cycle lanes for future events, and I will certainly push for that engagement in both my roles in the future.

None the less, after the two years of the pandemic where golf tourists stayed away, hosting the Open is a significant event. It is a major employer in North East Fife. In 2016, it was found to support nearly 2,000 jobs directly. If we take into account local hospitality and other ventures, that number is far higher. Golf clubs, hotels, restaurants, shops and local attractions are the obvious local beneficiaries of the arrival of golf fans to North East Fife, but the golf tourism industry is much more than that. I spoke in this place many times during the pandemic about the lack of support for golfing-specific parts of hospitality tourism. Companies such as coach businesses, drivers taking golfers from course to course and smaller and private golf courses who benefit from golf fans but struggled to attract them as a result of the pandemic missed out on some of the support that was offered. We expect more than 250,000 golf fans this weekend and very much hope they will bring those businesses back to life.

Golf is not just about St Andrews. It is alive and well across North East Fife and beyond. That is not just member-based clubs. The Fife Golf Trust and courses such as Scoonie and Leven in my constituency are publicly run and ensure wide participation.

For a community that thrives on summer tourists even once the Open has gone, the value of being broadcast worldwide is invaluable—although that is not quite true. The value is estimated as worth up to £50 million to the local economy, which is the same amount estimated that Royal Liverpool brings to the Wirral.

Anyone who knows me—in fact, anyone who has walked through the atrium of Portcullis House recently—will know that I am more of a fan of picking up a shinty stick than a golf one. I have had a lesson and I admittedly did find that the skills of hitting a ball with a stick are transferable, but I have still not been able to find a passion for playing the sport. It is potentially too late for me or, more likely, the demands of this place keep me too busy to pick up a second sport that takes four hours to play a round. I think the family would go off their rockers at that.

Golf takes time in its traditional format and I am glad to hear that different ways of attracting people to play and different formats such as nine-hole competitions are being looked at. With golfing on everyone’s lips in North East Fife and beyond, and with so much investment in and celebration of the sport, I hope we see more young people playing. I am pleased that this is the most accessible Open we have seen for families and young people: 20% of general admission tickets have been allocated to under-25s, including to 20,000 under-16s who are able to go free of charge. That makes it clear to the next generation that golf is not just for their dad, uncle, mum or anyone else. It is a sport for everyone to get involved with.

There are other modernisations this year, such as an area filled with massive bean bags, where people can lounge and watch the big screen, which I am looking forward to. There will also be a kids’ soft-play area, and a swing zone for children to try out golfing themselves. That will ensure that golf gets a new lease of life for future generations. There is snowball effect, with the Open growing in visitor interest. This is the first year where tickets have had to be balloted, and there is already a huge demand for tickets for next year’s event in Liverpool. The ballot is open now for those who are interested.

Although I have been talking about how important the Open is to St Andrews as the home of golf, I know it is also vital further afield. I am one of 10 MPs who represent constituencies that host the Open via the current rota, some of whom are here. As with any sporting event, the Open has a ripple effect in many ways across the country. It promotes sport domestically, boosts demand for golf-related goods and services from tourists and leads to more investment and facilities.

Sheffield Hallam University did a major piece of research in 2016, supported by the R&A, looking at the value of golf to the UK economy. The results were astounding. In 2014, there were 3.883 million adult golfers, of whom more than a million and a half played at least once every four weeks. Those figures will inevitably now be higher, with population growth and the switch to outdoor sports during the pandemic. Social prescribing is also beginning to be used for those suffering mental health challenges, since playing sport is good for them. Golf has been involved in that, which is something the all-party parliamentary group on golf has looked at.

In 2014, the gross value added to the UK economy was a little over £2 billion, with almost £1 million raised in taxes. One in 500 jobs is linked to golfing in some way. KPMG broke that down further in an older report in 2011, showing that golfing leads to spending and investment in equipment, manufacturing, training and hospitality. The courses need building and maintaining by companies that need accountants and lawyers, representatives from marketing and human resources.

Through direct spending on clubs and balls, maintaining grass, and running clubs, through indirect spending on hospitality and construction and through the multiplier effect, when all those people go out and spend their income, golf is worth billions to our economy. That will only grow as participation in golf grows. I have mentioned the growth in women’s and disability golf in recent years. Golfing is for everyone. It can be enjoyed alone, with or without friends.

More and more golf clubs are ensuring that they are accessible to their local communities, clubs such as Scoonie, which I mentioned. It is a sport for all ages and abilities. It is good for the body and for the mind. The Open plays a part in that; I am so proud that North East Fife and St Andrews are hosting the 150th Open at the Old Course this year. I am hoping it stays windy, as I experienced yesterday, because that will make for a more challenging outing for professional golfers. It is an incredibly historic event, which brings huge benefits to St Andrews and the wider community. I am equally looking forward to a future of women’s Opens and the British Masters for disabled players, because St Andrews is the home of golf. It continues to welcome those who are playing, participating or spectating, and I hope it continues to do so for years to come.

The debate can last until 11 o’clock. We find ourselves already on the back nine, because we are going straight to the Front-Bench speeches and Gavin Newlands for the SNP.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. You have certainly aced it thus far with your puns. I have not planned many puns, but I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) on securing the debate and highlighting the role the Open championship and golf more generally play in our society, particularly in Scotland, North East Fife and St Andrews.

It is a shame that, as you said, Mr Hollobone, there are not more Members here for such an important, interesting and enjoyable debate. We have lots of debates in this place in which we shout at each other, but this is one in which we would reach a fair level of consensus. It is apt that the debate is happening today, not because the 150th Open is being played this weekend at St Andrews but because my first new set of golf clubs in 25 years is due for delivery today. I am hoping to see how much they improve my game—I suspect not very much.

In opening the debate, the hon. Lady spoke very well and passionately about the subject. She is lucky to have St Andrews in her constituency, and even luckier to be a member of the links trust. I hope she can arrange a round on the course for all of us who have spoken in the debate. I very much look forward to attending St Andrews this weekend for the event. She mentioned a host of big names from the history of the game, all of whom are fantastic, but she included my favourite, Tom Watson. Who can forget Tom, at the age of 59, nearly winning the Open in 2009? It was very nearly an incredible achievement.

The hon. Lady mentioned the claret jug, one of the most iconic trophies in the game—I would argue that it is one of the most iconic trophies in world sport. She also mentioned the growth in participation. At least 1.5 million people play the game at least once every four weeks. The pandemic was very difficult for all of us, and for sport in the round, but golf and tennis bucked the trend and may have seen a growth in participation.

The hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), who is no longer in her place, rightly advertised next year’s event in her constituency at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, which is another excellent course. I look forward to that. In preparation for the debate, I researched the courses of Strangford, but sadly the Member for Westminster Hall, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), did not attend today, so that research has gone to waste.

I mentioned that I have new clubs arriving today. I have a love-hate relationship with the game, it must be said. I can just as easily hit 79 as 109, although recently I am much closer to the latter, mainly because of my slice. I said to my friend Michael Somerville, who I will be attending the Open with this weekend, that I would mention in my speech that the last time out I beat him seven and six. Hopefully that is now on the record for all eternity, and he will surely be buying me a pint at the weekend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) is not here either, so I can say that St Andrews is indisputably the home of golf. It is fitting that, for its 150th edition, the Open returns home to the Old Course—just one of seven courses in what is not a huge town. As the hon. Member for North East Fife said, there are many, many other courses around Fife. The Old Course is one of the few courses used for majors—indeed, for the major championship—where anyone can book a round without being a member of a club.

Aside from St Andrews, every part of Scotland has influenced the development and history of golf. The size of the hole is based on tools used at Musselburgh Old Course, itself a six-time host of the Open. Leith provided the earliest surviving rules of the game, published by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers before its flit to Muirfield. Its rulebook still sits in the National Library of Scotland.

It was a challenge match in 1681 between the future James VII, John Paterson and two English guests of the then duke that settled once and for all Scotland’s role as the cradle of golf. The two guests of the duke maintained that golf belonged to England. To settle matters, the duke arranged a challenge match and enlisted the help of Paterson to play alongside him. After seeing off the visitors handily, the duke gave his winnings to Paterson, giving him the resources to build his own house on the Royal Mile, in an area that is still known today as Golfers Land.

It was St Andrews that standardised the 18 hole round in 1764, without which golfers today would be sipping a libation on the 23rd hole after carding a score of 130. Some of us can easily get close to that in 18 holes, let alone 23. The early forms of golf were so popular in Scotland that successive King Jameses outlawed them, such was the time they took up compared with militarily more useful pastimes, such as archery.

This year marks the first time the R&A’s three major championships—the men’s Open, the women’s Open and the men’s senior Open—will take place in Scotland in the same year. That is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of the team at VisitScotland, who have supported golf across the country this year, selling Scotland to the world and, in turn, delivering millions of pounds into our national economy. Clearly, though, not everything is rosy. In my view, the ownership of the Turnberry course is still a stain, and some poorer families are discouraged from participation in what is still—despite the sport’s best efforts—perceived as a middle-class sport.

I grew up playing at what we colloquially call the Royal Barshaw, the local public course where it is still only £10 a round, and I have played there recently. The work done by Scottish Golf and the R&A over the years has made great strides in dispelling the perception of the sport, but there is always more to do to ensure that we do not miss out on the next generation of Sandy Lyles, Colin Montgomeries and Catriona Matthews over the coming years. As the hon. Member for North East Fife said, golf is truly for everyone. Scotland has shown over the years that we can produce world-class talent across the sporting arena, whether that is Andy Murray, Laura Muir or Katie Archibald. Although we may be going through a temporary barren patch in golf right now, I know that with the work going on at grassroots level, success is just around the corner.

Golf accounts for around £300 million of value to the Scottish economy and more than 5,000 jobs, and it is one of the best shop windows for Scotland overseas. The eyes of the world will be on Fife this week, and while the chances of a home-grown victor this time may be a little smaller than before—although I would keep my eye on Bob MacIntyre; if I were a betting man, that is where I would put some money each way—those watching will be in no doubt that, to borrow a phrase, golf is coming home.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) on securing the debate. She gave a really interesting speech about Scotland’s proud golfing history and the importance of golf in her constituency. I would never have imagined the link between Jack Nicklaus and Benjamin Franklin—I will know that for future pub quizzes.

When we think about the great British sporting events, we think about Wimbledon, the FA cup final, the grand national, the Ashes and the Open—especially the Open at St Andrews, the home of golf. We look forward to this weekend’s 150th edition of arguably the world’s greatest golf tournament.

Research estimates that last year’s 149th Open at Royal St George’s brought a £113 million economic boost to Kent, the host county. Kent also gained an additional £94 million in gross advertising revenue thanks to the thousands of hours of global television coverage, traditional TV and online news coverage, digital streaming and social media content. That is in a year hit by covid challenges, so the Open is a real economic opportunity.

This year, we are set to have the highest attendance yet, so the Open could be even more of an economic boost for Fife. A record-breaking 290,000 fans are expected to attend, and the R&A says it received more than 1.3 million requests for tickets. Hosting such an event is fantastic for an area, bringing thousands of people to spend their money while enjoying the scenery, cafes, pubs, restaurants, arts and crafts, and independent shops.

St Andrews is a seaside town with a population of under 20,000, and it is expecting 250,000 visitors. Even if the trains were running smoothly, accommodating that number of people is always a challenge, but the Scottish National party’s ScotRail cuts and the temporary timetable have caused real problems on Scotland’s trains in recent months. A pay deal may have been agreed, but that may well have come too late for some of the thousands of visitors heading to St Andrews this weekend.

I echo the plea of the hon. Member for North East Fife for people to go early and use the park and ride. That is sensible advice for visitors. A ScotRail spokesman has said that the operator expects to run a quarter of the trains that it had planned for the Open, and the R&A has warned that fans who travel to the Open by train may find that there are no services to get them home. That it is a real worry. The lack of trains is likely to lead to thousands of fans filling the roads, and we hope it does not lead to problematic congestion for local residents. The problems on the trains have certainly hit businesses, tourist destinations and passengers for weeks, and the Government really need to get the basics right.

The last couple of years have been difficult for businesses, especially those such as golf that rely heavily on inbound visitors. Pre-pandemic, Scotland attracted around 17.5 million overnight visitors every year, which generated £5.9 billion in visitor spend, and an additional 134 million day trips were taken, with visitors spending £5.8 billion. In Scotland, spending by tourists generates around £12 billion of economic activity for the wider tourism supply chain and contributes around £6 billion—about 5%—to Scottish GDP.

Office for National Statistics figures suggest that accommodation and food services—the services most strongly linked to tourism—were affected worse in Scotland than in any other of the four nations by the pandemic restrictions. Even now, with the majority of restrictions lifted, a recent survey by the Scottish Tourism Alliance found that half of businesses have fewer bookings than normal for the summer period, compared with the same timeframe in 2019, and 40% reported a fall in spend since May 2021. The recovery is difficult and slow.

Scottish Labour has called for a new national plan for tourism to build a sustainable recovery and ensure that key tourist destinations have the infrastructure and investment to support demand. Scotland’s tourism sector can at least be happy that the Scottish Government are investing more generously in it than the UK Government are in English tourism. A recent Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee oral evidence session revealed that the finances devolved to VisitScotland are, in relative terms, something like six or seven times the core funding available to VisitEngland.

As a United Kingdom, our sporting culture is one of the biggest draws for visitors. In 2017, more than 2 million visitors went to a live sport event as part of their trip to the UK, which is 6% of all visits that year; more than 350,000 inbound visitors played golf during their trip to the UK, spending about £418 million; and 18,000 international visitors watched a live golf event during their stay, spending at least £30 million. Scottish tourism is still on a shaky road to recovery but, after a difficult few years, golf appears to be on the up and can play a key role in driving that tourism. As we know, when people come to play golf, it is not just the golf courses that profit but the tour operators, local accommodation, local restaurants, pubs and bars, taxi drivers, golf equipment shops, and everybody in the various supply chains.

Importantly, the nature of golf means that it is played in wide open spaces and is often naturally socially distanced. Back in the days when I used to hack around the public courses in Manchester, I was always socially distanced from my fellow players—and from the fairway. That aspect of the sport means that many people have been able to enjoy it as a form of entertainment and exercise with a low covid risk. In most places, golf courses reopened sooner than other sports facilities after the covid restrictions ended.

The rise of the sport’s profile appears to have further boosted participation. A survey of 99 UK golf clubs found that four in five members’ clubs and nine in 10 proprietary venues reported growth last year. According to research by the R&A and Sports Marketing Surveys, the total number of people who played a round of golf in the British Isles nearly doubled from 2.9 million in 2019 to 5.2 million in 2020. It is also fantastic that women are increasingly embracing the sport. The number of women players grew from just over 400,000 in 2019 to 1.46 million—28% of all golfers—in 2020. There is still a long way to go, but professional women’s golf is also enjoying a significant rise.

Meanwhile, the first Disabled Golf Week will take place across Scotland this year to coincide with the 150th Open at St Andrews. Organised by Scottish Disability Golf and Curling, the programme of events will aim to introduce people of all ages, with any kind of disability or serious health issue, to golf with training and tuition. It is good to see golf taking those strides towards greater accessibility and inclusion to enrich the sport further. Not only is the 150th Open championship set to provide a fantastic sporting event and a cultural and economic boost to Fife, Scotland and the rest of the UK, but it will help to inspire a diverse range of people to pick up a club—perhaps for the first time—and to get more physically active.

Last week, a report by the National Audit Office concluded that the Government had essentially squandered much of the legacy of the 2012 Olympics by failing to make meaningful inroads in boosting people’s physical activity levels. Let us hope that the legacy of the 150th Open championship has a different fate and that the event inspires people to get involved in sport and physical activity. Let us also hope for a fantastic few days of golf ahead of us.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Hollobone, particularly in these rather pleasant surroundings, it being rather cooler in the Chamber than outside.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) on securing the debate and on her compelling, passionate contribution. I learned quite a lot from it. She is sincerely passionate about golf, and it was fascinating to hear how an Act of Parliament requires her to be so. That part of history shows, as she said, how closely linked golf is to her local community.

I also thank the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) and my Front-Bench colleagues, the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), for their contributions. As is often the case with sport, I think that there will be a fair degree of agreement and consensus.

I am aware of the huge interest in golf. There has rightly been recognition of the value that it brings far and wide across the United Kingdom. From the grassroots right the way up to elite competition, the sport’s impact on local communities should not be underestimated. It has a social impact, an impact on physical and mental health and, as we have heard—I will come to this—a considerable economic impact. We talked about some of that before the debate—in particular how golf’s impact is disproportionately large in Scotland, and how the sport is widely recognised and respected.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife on her commitment to drive the conversations forward in many areas as a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary groups for golf and for hospitality and tourism. We should acknowledge that those are active APPGs with many members, and that certain other activities and events taking place today may mean that colleagues who wanted to contribute to the debate are otherwise engaged.

This is a really timely moment, on the eve of the event’s 150th anniversary, to reflect on the noteworthy contribution of the world-renowned Open championship. I am thrilled that this year the Open is returning to St Andrews—it is, as was said many times, the home of golf—in the hon. Member’s constituency.

Golf has a long heritage in this country. with the Open championship first played in 1860 at Prestwick in Scotland, predating many other major sporting events that make up the British sporting calendar. The first FA cup final did not kick off until 1872, and it was not until 1877 that we had the first tennis at Wimbledon—at a different location from the current tournament, which had its 100th anniversary just last week.

The Open is golf’s oldest championship and the original of the four majors. It is only right that on the occasion of the 150th Open championship we will see the largest event in its long history, with a record-breaking 290,000 fans due to attend the world-renowned Old Course. I am extremely excited to see crowds return in all their glory after such a difficult period for spectator sport.

Last year’s championship was a brilliant success. At the other end of the country, the organising committee did a truly fantastic job to co-ordinate the tournament safely as part of the Government’s events research programme. That enabled 32,000 golf enthusiasts to attend each day of the four-day event, and I was fortunate enough to see one of them. I reiterate my congratulations on the delivery of last year’s Open at Royal St George’s with such professionalism and sensitivity as the country continued to navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

As the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North mentioned, golf did a fantastic job of engaging with Government and stakeholders, taking its responsibilities, in order to reopen safely. In the process, it managed to attract many new golf enthusiasts, many of whom have stayed with it. It has done a good job of recovering from the pandemic. Importantly, that has contributed not only to economic activity, but to people’s physical and mental health. The many benefits of golf that we all recognise are now known more widely than ever.

This historic anniversary has clearly created a renewed excitement and unprecedented demand among golf fans wishing to attend the Open championship, resulting in the highest ever number of general admission tickets being issued. We will certainly have quite an atmosphere at the Open over the next few days.

The Open follows the excitement of last week’s Genesis Scottish Open, where Xander Schauffele survived a nail-biting final round scare in East Lothian, winning the tournament with a one-shot victory. It was another fantastic sporting occasion on British soil. Another brilliant couple of golfing events will take place this summer, which I am looking forward to, with the women’s Open next month, hosted by Muirfield, and the PGA Championship in September, at the Wentworth Club in Surrey.

I applaud golf the game, as the hon. Member for North East Fife and all contributors have done, for the progress and investment made in ensuring that golf is inclusive and accessible for all, in particular the progress with women’s golf and disability golf. That is really important and is supported by the whole House.

First, I apologise for being late for the debate, Mr Hollobone—when the planes are delayed, it is beyond my control. Hon. Members will be able to tell from the sweat on my brow that it was quite frantic to get here. I apologise to everyone, including the Minister, and especially to the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), who I wanted to support.

The Minister is outlining the case for golf across in Scotland, which I fully support, but I am ever mindful of golf across all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is really good in Northern Ireland as well. My council, Ards and North Down Borough Council, sponsored the PGA EuroPro Tour just last year. It was a wonderful occasion to highlight our council’s area. Across Northern Ireland we have some of the most fantastic gold tournaments, which promote Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am sure that the hon. Member for North East Fife has talked about the benefits of golf a thousand times, but I endorse and support that, and put in a plug for us in Northern Ireland. We have some star players, including Rory McIlroy—he is the star who goes above and beyond—among many others. I just wanted to make that point, and apologies again for not being here in time for the start of the debate.

I was wondering when Rory McIlroy would be mentioned. We missed the hon. Gentleman earlier; if he reads Hansard, he will see that he was mentioned. He is absolutely right about golf’s contribution, which is what I will come on to now.

Golf has huge economic impact and importance across the UK, which is disproportionately large in the devolved areas because of the additional contribution of sport and its knock-on impact on tourism. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is right to highlight that importance. He mentioned the advocacy and support of councils, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, as well as the importance of golf at an appropriate price point. It is not a sport for posh people; it is genuinely a sport for all. I applaud many of the public and low-cost provisions in golf, which ensure it is accessible to many people.

Many local authorities and other institutions across the country are genuinely trying to make an effort to ensure that everyone can participate, no matter their income level. That is important for golf, because the sport recognises the perception that it is a bit posh, even though, looking at the demographics of the people who play golf, that is absolutely not the case. Again, I applaud the APPG for its work trying to get this point across. We all want golf, and all sport, to be for everybody.

Just to correct the record, and on the point the Minister is making about affordability, I said that the price for a round of golf at Royal Barshaw, as we call it, in Paisley is £10. It is £10, but it is £5 for those who are unemployed, for children and for the over-65s. That is £5 for a round of golf, which shows that it can be affordable.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which again makes the point about the creativity and effort being made to ensure that golf is truly inclusive, which I applaud.

I will spend a little more time highlighting the valuable contribution that golf makes to the UK tourism sector, alongside sport overall. The sporting calendar is one of this country’s many tourism assets. Our sporting events not only act as a springboard for promoting the UK at home and abroad, allowing us to celebrate the diverse range of destinations across the country that we have to offer, but also serve as a catalyst for the wider sports economy. Every year more than 2 million visitors attend a live sporting event as part of their trip to the UK. In 2019, the last year for which complete figures are available, 61,000 of those visitors watched a live golf event during their stay, spending a total of £129 million. That is export revenue from inbound tourism. They stay longer than any other sports fan—an average of 16 nights per visit.

Visitors come not just to watch live golf at prestigious events such as the Open, but to play it. In 2019, more than 360,000 people embarked on a journey to the UK to play golf in some of our nation’s most scenic destinations. Those inbound visitors spent £525 million—a huge amount for local businesses and communities.

Golf continues to be an incredibly popular sport to play domestically across the UK, with 3,000 golf clubs on offer. Two new participation reports show that 5.3 million on-course adult golfers enjoyed playing on full-length courses in Great Britain and Ireland in 2021. That is the second highest number since monitoring began more than 30 years ago.

An independent forecast by the Sports Industry Research Centre, commissioned by the R&A, VisitScotland and Fife Council, indicated that the total economic impact of staging the 150th Open at St Andrews, with 290,000 fans in attendance, will reach £100 million or more. There is added value to be gained from broadcasting and digital marketing, and an estimated £100 million to St Andrews and Scotland as a result of the significant and ever increasing global media exposure. That increases the forecast total economic benefit of this year’s Open alone to more than £200 million, for the first time in history. That is a truly remarkable figure.

I am ever mindful that men might sometimes feel that they can play golf better than ladies. But about a month ago the Swedish golfer Linn Grant beat the gentlemen in a final. Does the Minister agree that that is an example of how golf equalises everyone? They are all on the same page. It is good to see ladies excel and beat men on many occasions—or all the time, probably. In golf, they do it well.

The hon. Gentleman, as always, makes an important point that I dare not disagree with. He is absolutely right. It is important that we showcase, support and encourage our women golfers and disability sports. We need them on television, too, because that inspires people to take part, and for those participating at elite level it is important for getting sponsorship and other support. I encourage broadcasters to seek opportunities to showcase golf on television as broadly as possible, because that will have an impact.

The legacy of these games is huge. The economic impact, which we just talked about, is important, but some people could be watching these golf events for the first time, get inspired and be sports stars of the future. I am always proud to reflect on the success and outreach of the many sporting events that we host in the UK. Whether the upcoming Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth games, the ongoing women’s Euros or the Open championship, sport has the power to unit, inspire and generate a better future for the nation. The positive contribution of golf to not only the UK economy but UK society as a whole is clear and emphatic, as we have discussed. I am excited to see the sport continue to grow in popularity and impact across its grassroots foundation and the elite fanbase.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington made the important point about the economic contribution of sport, particularly to help the recovery of the tourism sector. I gently remind him, though, that the tourism, hospitality and leisure sector was not neglected during the recovery. In fact, £37 billion of Government support was provided to the sector as part of the recovery, and it is bounding back very strongly.

A couple of Members mentioned the impact of the train strikes that we are unfortunately facing at the moment. All the politics aside, if an event is impacted by train or other strikes, it is important that people plan ahead, because they could be inconvenienced. However, I am pleased to say that at the Open, and indeed as we saw a couple of weeks ago with Glastonbury, the organisers are trying to communicate the challenges, encourage people to plan ahead, and put alternative measures in place, including park and ride, additional bus services, earlier or later trains, where possible, and so on. Again, with good communication, some of the challenges can be overcome.

However, I also appeal to all stakeholders, including the unions: please do not target sport; please ensure that people who have been planning these events, in many cases for years, can go ahead and deliver them as effectively and efficiently as possible. For the hundreds of thousands of people who are looking forward to sporting and music events and so on over the next few months—particularly as we recover from the pandemic—it is important that those go ahead and they can enjoy them.

Of course, if there is an impact, alternative plans and mitigation measures are being put in place by organisers. However, it is important that we do everything we can to enable the recovery of our sporting and tourism economies. Everybody has sympathy for the cost of living challenges that many people face, but there is a way to do things, and deliberately targeting events that people have been looking forward to may well not achieve the public support that is perhaps hoped for. I respectfully appeal to all stakeholders to work together so that we can overcome the challenges.

Our trains, in particular, are a really important part of the overall sports ecosystem. Many people going to sporting events rely on the trains. Similarly, tourism right across the country—for both domestic and inbound travel—relies heavily on trains. I think that we all want to ensure that people have long-term confidence in using our train services, and that trains can play their important role in the overall economic recovery. We understand the circumstances and the cost of living challenges, but let us all be sensible about how we achieve our goals.

I once again say a huge thank you to everybody who has contributed to this incredibly timely debate. I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife for securing it. I now look ahead to what I know will be a captivating few days of true golfing excellence at this historic 150th anniversary.

Thank you, Mr Hollobone. Before we retire to the clubhouse, I think—[Interruption.] Yes, my round—it sounds like it. We have had a very positive debate. Although I have had apologies from other APPG members, it is good that everybody who has attended has contributed so well and given us all a history lesson. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), who is no longer in her place, for rightly noting next year’s event, when the Open goes to England, to Royal Liverpool.

I am also grateful to the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). I got more history—Paterson is my maiden name, so I will now go and do some research. He highlighted Bob MacIntyre—probably Scotland’s greatest hope this weekend—who is left-handed, famously, as a result of shinty. I will always bring it back to shinty if I can.

On shinty, I will say one other thing. We have talked about participation by people with disabilities and women, and that participation in sport is important. However, it is also really important that we start to see women operate in different positions in the governance of games as well. Since my election in December 2019, I have been encouraged to see an increased number of trustees from more diverse backgrounds in the links trust. As for myself, I was the first female director of the Camanachd Association between 2017 and 2019. It is also important for people to see that.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), highlighted the pandemic’s impact on golf and the fact that, for all that golf was really impacted, it has been seen to buck the trend by increasing and widening its participation. That has been really positive. The Minister talked about the APPG for golf, which is a very positive APPG. The reason for that is not just the participation of Members—from this place and the other place—but the engagement we have had from the national sporting unions and others such as the R&A. There is a real passion to drive forward and work productively with Government and parliamentarians.

All Members were right to highlight the importance of sporting tourism. We are all looking forward to welcoming visitors. I was in St Andrews yesterday, and lots of visitors are there already. I know people who are planning to be there for the whole week. We have had the events to mark the 150th Open, and there are events into next week. There is no doubt that people can come to sporting events and make that part of their visit, as opposed to that being the reason for their visit.

It has been a really positive debate. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford for getting here in the end and making a contribution. He rightly mentioned Rory McIlroy and the importance of Northern Ireland from a sporting perspective.

This has probably been mentioned—I know the Minister mentions it regularly. For us back home, golf featured greatly in our wellbeing during the covid-19 outbreak—indeed, that applies to all sports. It is good for both our physical and mental wellbeing. Back home, the impact mentally, socially and emotionally has been great. Golf has been almost a release valve. The hon. Lady deserves great credit for securing the debate, because golf can do really good stuff for everyone.

I thank the hon. Member for that contribution. In my opening remarks, I mentioned social prescribing and, increasingly, golf and other sports are looking to participate in that.

This has been a very positive debate. However, I feel it would be remiss of me if, having mentioned Rory McIlroy, I did not mention the fact that golf, from a media perspective, has not been in the most positive light lately, given some of the developments in the game. I agree with Rory and Tiger Woods, who have both spoken on this matter, that we all have a responsibility in sport. We have talked widely this morning about the real positives, such as participation and how we look up to our sporting greats, and it is for all who participate in all sports—golf included—to ensure that they always have that at the forefront of their minds.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the contribution of the 150th Open Championship to culture and sport in the UK.

Sitting suspended.

Global Vaccine Disparities

[Relevant documents: e-petition 605158, Ensure global and equitable access to vaccines, tests, treatments, and PPE, e-petition 565462, Donate surplus Covid-19 vaccine doses to poorer countries and e-petition 596403, Increase donations of and funding for COVID 19 vaccines to developing countries.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered disparities in the global distribution of vaccines.

I submitted a request for this morning’s debate because I want to draw attention to the grotesque inequalities in the distribution of vaccines to tackle the covid crisis. When we convene for these debates, often it is to seek more information from the Government or to make a request for changes in policy. Now that there will be a change of Prime Minister and potentially a rearrangement of the Government, including of Ministers responsible for this area in particular, this is a particularly opportune moment to place all the issues on the agenda and hopefully see some change. It is also worth using these debates to record one’s position, because when our children and grandchildren look back in decades to come on the Government’s performance, I think they will ask why we did so little to intervene effectively when there was such a huge scale of human suffering across the globe.

The global vaccine story is one of gross inequality. I heard the Prime Minister when he made the statement that it was greed that brought us the vaccine. It was not greed; it was public money. Very significant public resources went into all the vaccines. However, greed was certainly responsible for the obscene inequality that followed.

Over the last year, the richer an economy was, the more likely that country was to have vaccines. At the top end, it would likely have had far more than it needed, and at the bottom of the scale, many countries had almost none at all. Still today, just under 20% of people across the African continent as a whole are fully vaccinated, and only 16% of people in low-income and poor countries are vaccinated. The Prime Minister has talked about vaccine hesitancy being the main factor accounting for that. That is simply untrue. Studies have shown that there is far more vaccine hesitancy in the United States than in most African countries. However, the way that the giant pharmaceutical corporations—big pharma—and richer countries have behaved has certainly fuelled that scepticism, which should worry us all.

The problem is not simply a lack of solidarity or generosity, although that is shocking in itself. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), the shadow Minister for international development, recently uncovered, a year ago the Prime Minister promised to share 100 million surplus vaccines with the world’s poorest countries. That is a very small amount, but at least it is something; yet a year later, barely a third have been delivered.

Those are the doses that we had already bought and were otherwise going spare. They would have been thrown away if they had not been distributed, yet they counted against the aid budget. In fact, it gets worse: we charged the aid budget double what the UK was widely reported to have paid for those doses. The Government had charged around £4.50 per dose versus the £2.30 per dose that they paid, as reported by The British Medical Journal. Yesterday, we discovered that over 1 billion doses are believed to have been wasted around the world. That would have been sufficient to vaccinate everyone in the poorer countries.

I commend the right hon. Member for securing a debate on this issue, which has concerned me as well; indeed, it concerns us all across this House. Is he aware that Eswatini, a little country that borders Mozambique and South Africa and one of our Commonwealth family members, was hit hard by coronavirus? I have to say that whenever I raised this matter with the Government, and with the Minister in particular, they did respond. It is a country that I have a particular interest in because of the churches and the missionary groups there, and the Government deserve our thanks.

Does the right hon. Member agree that one of the difficulties—he has already outlined some of them—is that smaller countries have no one to advocate for them internationally? We need to be more proactive in our responsibilities, first to Commonwealth countries and then to those that have no one to advocate for them. I think he is also saying that we need someone to advocate for them and ensure they get the vaccines that are available. We should be doing that.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for his dogged pursuit of the issue in Parliament and with Ministers. There is an issue about the strength of the voices of individual Commonwealth countries, and a real concern about some not being listened to. As a result of that, interventions are not taking place effectively in those countries, but it is invaluable that the hon. Gentleman has consistently raised individual issues with regard to particular countries in which he has an interest through the Christian movement. That adds to the pressure on Government for more effective action, and I am grateful for that.

The situation is worse than just failure to donate at scale. We did not donate as we promised on the scale that we promised, but we also worked to stop others producing the vaccines in their own countries. Around the world, factories offered to produce the vaccines, and one factory in Bangladesh said at the start of the pandemic that it could turn out 600 million doses a year. Compare that to the 35 million doses that the British Government have donated. More than 100 factories around the world could have been safely producing mRNA—messenger ribonucleic acid—vaccines, but were unable to do so because the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, or TRIPS, agreement locks that knowledge, which is often publicly produced, behind a wall.

The TRIPS agreement allows huge corporations and their shareholders to profit while preventing us from taking the action that we need to take to protect our own society, as well as people around the world. It is good for the big pharmaceutical companies, and Pfizer predicts $50 billion revenue for its covid vaccine—an anti-viral pill—in 2022 alone. These are the most lucrative drugs in history, and more than one Moderna executive has become a billionaire off its publicly funded and publicly created vaccines, but this situation is bad for us because it has not only created massive inequality, but allowed the virus to go unchecked in many parts of the world, mutating in a way that risks undermining the medicines we already have.

I know how passionate the right hon. Gentleman is about the subject as he supported my Westminster Hall debate on global vaccine access. He is talking powerfully about coronavirus vaccines, but does he agree that there has been a loss of progress on vaccines more generally? A good example is the polio vaccine budget, which the Government have pretty much obliterated. As a result, we are beginning to see wild poliovirus circulating again in some developing parts of the world. It is not just coronavirus; we are failing in our responsibilities on other fronts.

There is a lesson I thought we had learned decades ago, which is that when we have viruses such as this, whether it is polio, covid or others, unless we treat the world, eventually we will become vulnerable again. That is exactly the experience we are going through now. Even with covid, we are going through it again. As we know from information from the past month, a new covid variant has arisen, and from what we hear, that variant is more transmissible than anything we have experienced. On all those issues, unless we have a global strategy to vaccinate the world, unfortunately we will not be able to isolate ourselves from future infections and future tragedies.

Let me return to the issue of the TRIPS waiver, which a number of hon. Members present have raised in various debates. It is worth reminding the House that there was a call from most countries to waive the rules during the pandemic. The tragedy for us was that the British Government were implacably opposed to the waiver. Britain was one of the last countries standing, and only on the last day did Britain sign up to the World Trade Organisation’s very poor compromise on the waiver. I will be frank: I think that is disgraceful. It is disgraceful for a Government of a country that had all the vaccines we needed. The onus was on us to do everything we could to prevent this infection from spreading, and to do all we could to assist poorer countries.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his important contribution to the debate. On the one hand, the Government are currently negotiating a free trade agreement with India. On the other hand, they blocked the proposal from India and South Africa for a TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organisation. Does my right hon. Friend think that is the right approach to take to the issue of fair distribution of vaccines, and to our relationship with India?

The issue that my hon. Friend raises is something that we have raised before. I commend India and South Africa for the work they did in lobbying so hard to try to get international agreement on the TRIPS waiver. We need to learn some lessons from this period, and one of them is that when the Government act unilaterally in this way, they contaminate future relationships—whether they are over trade or other matters of co-operation. I think that is the anxiety that many of us have. It is a disgrace that we actually sought to prevent others from making the drugs that they needed.

Many countries around the world are shocked at the way they have been treated by this country, and they want to start to do things differently. South Africa has set up an mRNA hub to try to crack this revolutionary technology, which we think can be used not just to prevent severe cases of covid, but potentially to create treatments for a wide range of diseases, such as HIV, malaria and certain types of cancer. The big corporations still refuse to share their know-how, but South Africa has worked out how to make mRNA vaccines and—even better—is sharing this know-how with other countries patent-free. A couple of weeks ago, President Biden’s Administration announced that they would work with the hub to help it. Many European Governments have offered funds, but Britain has done nothing. The Government must support those efforts and protect them from the pressure that will come from the industry. This is a new model of how medicines can be developed, and it deserves our support.

It is not just about covid. I believe that the way we produce medicines is broken. I ask the Minister to talk to Lord Jim O’Neill, who has been trying to get the pharmaceutical corporations to produce the antibiotics that our medical establishment has depended on for many years. He has been trying to engage in a dialogue to change practices within the pharmaceutical industry, but the corporations have done nearly nothing. Look at HIV/AIDs. We now have the means to wipe out HIV through pills that stop transmission. New injectables have just come online. Again, the countries that most need them are being overcharged or shut out of the market altogether. It goes on and on.

We have an industry committed to making huge amounts of money, but not to making and sharing the medicines that humanity needs. We have to change that, and conversations are happening across the world about how to do it—except here, where the Government’s commitment to shareholder return appears sacrosanct and is prioritised above saving lives and reducing human suffering. My warning is this: it is not only ethically obscene; it is bad for us, too. It means that the British taxpayer is getting a terrible return on their investment in new medicines, that the NHS is overpaying for medicines such as covid vaccines, and that we are not developing the medicines we need to prevent the next health epidemic.

There are huge healthcare disparities, because many people still lack adequate public, universal healthcare systems. Sadly, however, the UK Government, like the World Bank, is still pushing a deeply inadequate private, market-based healthcare model in many countries. It is telling that some of the hospitals that were supported with British development funds refused to treat covid-19 patients in the first wave of the pandemic. Many died, and many were left destitute by this model. It is time for the Government to stop pushing that failed model and start helping to build national health services for all.

Let me come to the specific requests for the Government. A coalition of different organisations, which includes Just Treatment, Global Justice Now, Oxfam, STOPAIDS and many others, is calling on the Government to demonstrate support for the World Health Organisation’s mRNA technology hub initiatives. The hubs will help to end the covid-19 pandemic for all by increasing manufacturing capacity for treatments and technologies.

More broadly, the hubs will support self-reliance, independence and health equity in lower income countries. They will ensure that we are adequately prepared for the next pandemic. The UK Government must provide financial support to the hubs and ensure that pharmaceutical companies share their manufacturing know-how and refrain from undermining the success of the hubs with intellectual property barriers.

As the new Administration is formed under a new Prime Minister, will the Minister, first, now back the coalition’s request that the Government use their influence to encourage Pfizer, Moderna and BioNTech to share their technology and know-how, and urge companies to remove intellectual property barriers to the production of mRNA products and related technologies? Specifically, the UK Government should call on Moderna to revoke the patents they hold in South Africa and prevent other pharmaceutical companies from similarly undermining the work of the new mRNA hubs.

Secondly, will the Government make a public commitment to support and finance the €92 million that mRNA hubs need to fund the initiative over the next five years? Some 59% has been raised so far from other countries, but not this country.

Thirdly, will the UK stop blocking the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights waiver at the World Trade Organisation? Will the Government ensure that the TRIPS waiver has a minimal duration of five years and includes all forms of intellectual property, including medical tools beyond vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics?

I hope that, with a change of Prime Minister and Administration, there is a window of opportunity for the Government to think again on the vital issue of how to prevent the loss of life and human suffering that has taken place on a global scale, which we have done so little to assist in tackling.

I expect the Minister will repeat the Government’s response to the petition that was lodged on this issue by many members of the general public, restate the various contributions and donations that have been made and compare us to others. The reality is that the financial contributions do not go anywhere near what is necessary. More importantly, the issue that must be addressed is the blocking of the local production in lower income countries of the means by which we can tackle the pandemic. If it is not, that will be a stain on this Administration.

It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for securing this debate and to all hon. Members who have contributed. I will try to respond to some of the right hon. Gentleman’s points.

According to recent research by Imperial College London, the global roll-out of covid vaccines has averted up to 20 million deaths, but progress has been uneven. Hon. Members are absolutely right to want the global roll-out to go further and faster, because too many people remain unvaccinated, particularly in lower income countries and marginalised communities and among those in the grip of humanitarian crises.

The Government’s priority is to end the acute phase of the pandemic by ensuring that those most at risk are fully vaccinated and enabling societies to live with covid. Everyone in this House and throughout the country can be proud of the role the UK has played in developing and rolling out covid vaccinations. UK scientific excellence and co-operation has made a huge contribution to collective knowledge about the virus, including how to treat it and vaccinate against it. Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert and her team created and developed the game-changing Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, backed by the UK Government. The Government also backed research into several other successful vaccines that were produced at unprecedented speed, including through our £250 million support to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, otherwise known as CEPI.

We have also played a big role in the global vaccine roll-out, which has been the fastest ever against a single disease. Furthermore, we are a founder and one of the largest donors to COVAX, with our commitment of £548 million to its advance market commitment. That has helped COVAX to deliver more than 1.5 billion vaccine doses to 146 countries and territories worldwide, including 87 low and middle-income countries.

To help to address the supply shortages last year, we used our presidency of the G7 to make a collective commitment to provide 870 million doses to poorer countries by the end of 2022. Collectively, the G7 has exceeded that commitment by making more than 1 billion doses available. Nationally, we have donated more than 85 million doses to nearly 40 countries and made a further 15 million available. We have done all we can to meet our commitment to share 100 million doses. In 2021, the UK donated 30.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, all of which were charged at cost. The OECD Development Assistance Committee will issue guidelines on the reporting of vaccine donations in 2022 later this year.

Through this immense collaborative effort, the world now has enough vaccine supply to enable countries to meet their immunisation goals; indeed, global vaccine supply now far outstrips demand. The key challenge is ensuring that developing countries can effectively administer the vaccines they have. We are working with the covid-19 vaccine delivery partnership and other international partners to tackle delivery bottlenecks and improve vaccine uptake to ensure that covid-19 vaccines reach the most vulnerable. Since January, the vaccine delivery partnership has accelerated progress towards national vaccination targets in more than half of the 34 countries with the lowest vaccination rates, with a strong focus on priority groups.

Community confidence and easy access are critical to successful roll-outs. We are using our development budget to encourage uptake and improve delivery. For example, our Nigeria health programme is supporting delivery and using evidence to build vaccine confidence in five of the poorest states. We have also provided £20 million to the Hygiene and Behaviour Change Coalition, which builds vaccine confidence through community engagement, working with health workers, religious leaders and other influential and trusted voices.

Just as the UK’s scientists and Government made a huge contribution to the first wave of vaccines, we are now working with partners such as COVAX and CEPI to ensure affordable and effective second-generation vaccines and make them available to low and middle-income countries, so that the world can respond rapidly to any new variant of concern. As part of this work, CEPI is supporting the Cambridge-based company DIOSynVax to develop a new pan-coronavirus vaccine to offer broader protection.

This year, we hosted the global pandemic preparedness summit, which raised more than £1.2 billion for CEPI’s work, including a UK Government pledge of £160 million. That money will fund the development of vaccines against new health threats—including possible new covid variants—in 100 days from any outbreak.

Rolling out covid vaccines puts huge pressure on weak and overstretched systems, so we are working with COVAX, the WHO, UNICEF and other partners to support countries in developing sustainable approaches to managing covid and other diseases. For the long-term control of the virus, it is critical to integrate covid-19 vaccination tests and treatments into primary healthcare systems, supported by strong and resilient health systems. The UK Government use our development budget to support countries to strengthen their health systems and work towards universal health coverage. We are also a leading supporter of Gavi’s work on restoring and strengthening immunisation and health systems for the 2.7 million children in the poorest countries who missed out on vaccinations in 2020 because the pandemic prevented them from getting their jabs.

Covid-19 has caused more than 6.3 million reported deaths, and the WHO estimates that there have been up to 15 million excess deaths in total around the world. It has had hard, far-reaching economic, social and health consequences, so stopping the next potential pandemic is vital. That will require a concerted and co-ordinated international effort. In addition to our investment in CEPI, the UK Government have pledged £25 million to a new World Bank-hosted fund for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. That will help to ensure more equitable access to vaccines, tests and treatments when a future threat to global health emerges.

On TRIPS, the UK Government continue to recognise the importance of the intellectual property system in incentivising innovation, research and the development of new medicines, vaccines and medical technologies. We welcome the consensus-based outcome on the TRIPS agreement reached at the WTO ministerial conference. We believe that decision will make it easier for developed countries to choose to export life-saving covid vaccines while preserving the incentive that intellectual property rights provide to invest in innovation.

The Minister will soon run out of time, so will she address the issue of support for the WHO’s strategy of rolling out hubs? Will the Government think again?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting his case forward, but I have been clear about the UK’s position.

The global vaccine roll-out is pivotal to ending the acute phase of the pandemic and transitioning to living with covid. The points that have been made about delivery and distribution are live issues, and we are working hard with our international partners to resolve them. The Government are also investing in the development of second-generation vaccines, pandemic preparedness and the strengthening of global health systems. That comprehensive approach is the only way to strengthen global resilience to covid and other future health threats.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered disparities in the global distribution of vaccines.

Sitting suspended.

Careers Guidance in Schools

[Christina Rees in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the provision of careers guidance in schools.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Ms Rees, and I welcome the new Minister to her place.

In 1985, I left school. I was living in a mining community at the time, right at the end of the miners strike. At the end of my school year, a careers officer told me—I stress, told me—that I should either go down the mines, go down the pit, or join the Army, one of the two. It was not so much advice as an instruction; those were the only two options open to me, according to the careers officer. I was not that politically switched on at the time, but I was definitely aware, at the end of a year-long strike, that the pits were not exactly the industry of the future, so I did not do as I was told.

Instead, I went on to become the first in my family to get a degree. Later, I became a careers adviser myself. Eventually, I became a manager of career services, as well as an assessor for those becoming and training to be professional careers advisers. It was a vocational choice grounded in that experience of receiving poor careers advice and being told that my options were limited. I did not—I still do not—want anyone trying to decide on a career or a change in career to have the experience that I had.

I am pleased to say that things have progressed since my school days. Barriers to good-quality careers provision remain in place and the quality of careers advice varies hugely from school to school. When good careers advice is not provided, that often hits the pupils from poorer backgrounds the hardest. It costs individuals and, as a nation, it certainly costs us our economic wellbeing.

“Levelling up” is a term whose future is unclear all of a sudden, but some young people are still not getting the impartial information that they need about the opportunities open to them. The Social Market Foundation, in its recent report on careers advice, argues that levelling up careers provision would make the country fairer. As parliamentarians, we all desire the country to be a fairer place. Careers advice was named as part of the northern powerhouse strategy, but it has not been named as part of the levelling-up agenda. When the Minister responds, will he say whether careers guidance should form part of any upskilling strategy for left-behind places?

Between the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022, the Education (Careers Guidance in Schools) Act 2022, which will shortly come into force, and the new statutory guidance, there has been much greater effort to ensure that careers advice is open to all pupils throughout secondary school. As someone who worked in the field, I welcome the extension of careers advice from year 7 to the age of 18 or, for those with additional need, to 25. However, may I ask the Minister whether there are plans to ensure that all schools are subject to the statutory guidance, rather than just maintained schools, some academies and some free schools? If we are serious about all pupils being given first-class careers guidance, we must ensure that all schools are governed by the statutory guidance.

Additionally, does the Department have plans to introduce a new careers strategy, given that the previous strategy lapsed in 2020? Given the legislation that has been implemented since then and the huge challenges to schools brought about by covid, it is clear that we need an up-to-date strategy to respond to the challenges that we face now, that pupils face now.

I am greatly enjoying my hon. Friend’s contribution and he brings his experience to bear. He made a point about the statutory guidance and to whom it refers. Does he agree with me that, although the guidance is in statute, evidence shows that at least 25% of schools are failing to achieve the minimum standards of careers guidance, and that guidance is only one part of it? The other part concerns enforcement and assessment regimes, to ensure that the good intentions that the Government put forward are delivered on the ground.

I agree with my hon. Friend the shadow Minister. Resources will have to follow statutory guidance. The pandemic has had a significant impact on schools’ ability to deliver careers advice. According to recent research by the Sutton Trust, 75% of teachers in state schools said it had a negative impact, far more than the proportion of similar results returned from private schools.

There is an increasing concern that we have arrived out of the pandemic to a different world, one that students are not being prepared for. With the jobs market evolving faster than ever, Teach First has found that nearly 80% of teachers believe their students to be less ready for the world of work than in previous years. Again, more disadvantaged students will be disproportionately impacted by that, with more than half of teachers saying that they feel the pandemic has impacted disadvantaged students’ perceptions of their potential careers.

Well informed and realistic careers decisions cannot be made if careers provision is socially patterned, as evidenced by the Social Market Foundation. Essentially, pupils from schools in affluent areas opt for university while those in less affluent areas take vocational options. That needs levelling up.

The Baker clause strengthened the legislative framework, stating that schools must allow colleges and training providers access to help pupils make informed choices. If careers provision is resourced to the tune of £2 per student—less than a cup of coffee—quality will be found wanting, as argued by Careers England. Ensuring that schools, teachers and employers feel supported to meet the needs of students will be vital for improving the quality of guidance given. With only 17% of year 13 telling the Sutton Trust that they have learned about careers opportunities in their local area, there is considerably more to do to connect businesses and schools.

Although the Careers and Enterprise Company has done some excellent work connecting schools and businesses in some areas, including schools in my own, only half of heads report that their schools are part of the CEC careers hub. That clearly needs to be scaled up. Since the abolition of Connexions in 2011, 2 million children and young people have not had access to independent careers professionals.

I would argue that we need massively to improve access to work experience, with only a third of pupils having completed work experience by the age of 18. A statutory duty, with resources to support a two-week placement, should be put in place. Where possible, we need to ensure that the work experience that a young person undertakes is relevant to their future ambitions. Beyond giving the important experience of the work environment, work experience should help those students better frame their future ambitions and make informed careers decisions.

That was brought home to me recently by a year 10 work experience student called Kevin, who chose to work in my constituency office because he felt it would be more interesting than the other opportunities on offer, but it was pretty clear that he wanted to be a firefighter. I have now put him in touch with our local fire service, and he used his experience to do a bit of research in my office when he was on placement there.

It is essential that any new Government strategy on careers advice focuses on work experience and ensures connections between schools, local authorities and local businesses. That will mean that pupils get more opportunities for their two-week work experience, which will help them make informed decisions. It will also help us, as legislators and politicians, to ensure we have a growing economy.

A new strategy must also deliver on one of the areas that we most need to change when it comes to careers guidance, which is apprenticeships. Although most students feel that they get plenty of guidance about university courses, only 10% feel the same way about apprenticeships. Too often, support for students considering apprenticeships or vocational education is much weaker than for those considering academic education. In some schools, every student creates a UCAS account by default, cementing the idea that higher education is the default option. We need to ensure that within careers advice apprenticeships and further education are put on the same footing as university education. We cannot continue with the disparity in information, advice and therefore access that we see all too often.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an opportunity to link local economies, the labour market and businesses with apprenticeships if schools can organise that before people leave education? No one should be heading out of education not into the labour market, higher education or a traineeship. Does he see an opportunity to enact that via schools?

I agree. In my constituency, Tata Chemicals Europe offers some brilliant apprenticeships, and at times it has really struggled to achieve the connection between the local school community and the apprenticeships on offer. I totally agree with that very good point.

As I have said previously, I was the first person in my family to go to university. I do not want a system that disadvantages students from working-class backgrounds and excludes higher education as a pathway if it is right for them. We must absolutely ensure that they are given the information and support they need to go to university and aspire to be the best they can be, but we should also ensure that people from all backgrounds make informed choices about the other brilliant opportunities on offer, such as apprenticeships, including those at levels 4 and 5, and those with a mixture of university and in-work training.

Students recognise that the situation with apprenticeships prevents them from properly considering them as an option. Some 31% think that having better information would have encouraged them, their friends and their classmates to choose an apprenticeship. It was also found that a number of people, including parents, reinforce the stigma associated with apprenticeships. We need to challenge parents and carers on that.

More funding and training for teachers is absolutely key if we are to reach parity of esteem between university and apprenticeship options. We must remove the idea that apprenticeships are not as valuable and almost second rate. To do that, we need a practical system to promote them. Having a central UCAS system means that universities can do active outreach around it. Teachers and other support staff, and generations of parents and carers, are also familiar with it. Students seeking apprenticeships deserve a system that is just as clear and effective and that is funded and supported.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about the potential stigma about apprenticeships compared with university, but that is not a question of funding—it is a question of attitude. It is about changing the mindset, rather than resources. There are resources. There is careers advice. We have created 5 million apprenticeships since 2010. It is people’s attitudes that need to change.

On the question of resourcing, if good quality, professional and impartial careers advice and guidance is not given in schools as part of education, then the stigma will remain, and there is an issue of resources there. The hon. Member is right to argue that it is not the only issue, but it is part of it.

UCAS currently advertises around 4,000 apprenticeships, and I think there are some 10,000 on the Government’s system. That is a tiny proportion of what is available. The Social Market Foundation’s recent research advocated for UCAS to be expanded to list all apprenticeship opportunities, in order to combat a system of university by default for many schools. Will the Minister outline what the Government plan to do to improve the provision of apprenticeships information and advice in schools? What assessment have they made of the value of creating a clearer system for apprenticeships information and applications, similar to that for university applications?

Although the statutory framework for careers guidance has been strengthened and the promotion of Gatsby quality benchmarks is good, resources for schools, after being drastically cut, have not been scaled up again. We will all be aware of some good practice in our local schools. Helsby High School in my patch has just won the pledge award through Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership for its careers programme, but there are far too many schools where the quality is seriously wanting. The careers provision landscape is fragmented and piecemeal, with the Careers and Enterprise Company and a National Careers Service largely targeted at adults, schools employing their own careers advisers, with some not employing any at all.

I conclude with my asks of the Minister. An independent, all-age careers guidance service should be established. Rather than fragmentation, we should bring things together, including Jobcentre Plus. Ofsted inspections should be strengthened around impartial careers provision. A two-week work experience programme should be a statutory requirement and UCAS should be required to promote level 4 apprenticeships.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees.

The push by both parties over many years to get children to university has been a huge step in the right direction for many people and for social mobility. Now, a record 37.9% of young people go to university, but I believe we need to focus more on the careers guidance young people are given, especially the 60% of them who will not go to university. I have been hosting students from my constituency all summer—indeed, I have one sitting behind me—and it has given me a real insight into how they are taught at school. Not a single one of my holiday students thinks there is credible path to a good career other than going to university. Clearly, then, although university is the right path for many, we are not focusing enough on the 60% who do not go to university. Because the university “brand” has become so established and embedded, careers advice has to start as early as primary school if it is to be effective and to change hearts and minds.

One of the best schemes developed under the Conservatives has been apprenticeships, which allow people to gain qualifications and training on the job and to equip themselves with the skills they need to succeed in jobs across all sectors. I am proud to say that in Southend West, we have 830 young people undertaking apprenticeships, and 290 started a new apprenticeship this academic year. I applaud the local businesses that support these schemes, and I am delighted that Southend airport is to welcome two brand-new apprenticeships in the coming weeks.

Now, however, there are brilliant degree apprenticeships, which enable people not only to gain a full undergraduate or masters degree, but to earn while they do it and of course have a job at the end of it. Degree apprenticeships take between three and six years to complete, depending on the course level, with people spending most of their time working. They might attend university for one or two days a week, or in short blocks of, say, a week at a time, but overall people spend about 20% of their time studying and 80% working.

People leave a completed degree apprenticeship with no debt, having gained huge transferable skills, and with a good job to walk straight into. It really is a win-win-win for our young people, but sadly they are not being directed toward degree apprenticeships. According to the Centre for Social Justice, only 41% of 11 to 16-year-olds said that a teacher had discussed apprenticeships with them, and just 21% of teachers were reported to advise high-performing students to take an apprenticeship rather than a university place. That is backed up clearly by my experience of touring schools and talking to students across my constituency. This needs to change.

Many jobs vital to our economy require skills in science, technology, engineering, manufacturing and maths —skills that could be taught better and more effectively through apprenticeships. I am sure the Minister agrees with me that careers advisers in schools must do better on encouraging pupils to consider apprenticeships, particularly degree apprenticeships.

For many years, the only option at 16 was A-levels. I am pleased that the Conservatives have been working hard to change that, and we have made excellent progress. The Education Committee is reviewing and working on a huge report on the subject. Another option now is T-levels, which provide an excellent way for students to gain a high-quality technical qualification with the same prestige as A-levels. Sadly though, hardly any young people know about T-levels—none of my work experience students had even heard of them. That is simply not good enough. I am sure the Government want to improve the situation. Careers advisers in schools must ensure that students understand the full gamut of opportunities available to them, and that they abide by the Baker clause in the Technical and Further Education Act 2017, which requires schools to discuss technical education options with pupils.

Our children deserve the best-quality education, which must include the best-quality advice to achieve their dreams. Southend West is blessed with many high-tech industries that already, as I always tell the Chancellor, contribute more than £3 billion to the UK economy each year. Our children must be given the right careers advice to enable them to achieve their potential, whatever form that takes.

I welcome the Minister to her place. Until last week, she was my Whip, so there may be a degree of Stockholm syndrome in my coming here to support her today. Even if she was not the Minister, however, I would be keen to take part in this important debate, because change has been afoot in our economy over the last 10 to 15 years. When I was at school, I was not asked, “the Army or the pit?”, but the choice was similarly limited. It is noticeable that, even at my school, there was no mention of going into business. It was just not expected, which is pretty devastating, and may explain some of the issues in the economy.

There is now a bewildering array of opportunities for the transition from secondary education to the next stage of life. I have never been more optimistic for the future of children and young people coming up through secondary education. There is a wealth of opportunity that did not exist even five years ago.

Let us look at my constituency, which is made up of largely rural farming communities in Norfolk. In the last few weeks, I visited a rocket company that specialises in testing satellites in microgravity conditions. Fischer Farms is building the world’s—or certainly Europe’s—largest vertical farm, which is wholly reliant on robotics and artificial intelligence. Some 17 GW of offshore renewable wind will be located in the southern North sea between now and 2030, a large chunk of which will come to shore in Norfolk, with all the attendant jobs and careers. There is not just one film studio; a second, and arguably a third, is being proposed. They are all exciting new opportunities.

I have not even mentioned the research going on in Norwich at the John Innes Centre, which employs 250 scientists at the cutting edge of gene editing, gene therapy and biosciences. There is also specialist engineering at Lotus in Hethersett. I could go on—and that is before we get anywhere near Cambridge, which is a huge hotbed of exciting developments.

School leavers have the world at their feet, but because that is so exciting, because there are so many opportunities, and because it is so different and new, it is daunting, and there is a correspondingly enormous need for support. When I was starting out, I had no idea what I wanted to do in life. If any young person is unfortunate enough to be listening to this debate, I reassure them that that is absolutely normal. In fact, the number of people who know clearly what they want to do in life is vanishingly small. Finding out is a process. As we develop through our experiences, our aspirations and ambitions develop as well.

The Government are right to have moved away from Labour’s 1999 target of funnelling 50% of all school leavers into tertiary education—into universities. In my experience, that was damaging, because many people were shoehorned into an educational environment that simply did not suit their academic inclinations or the line of career development that they would later take. At the same time, there was a proliferation of unsuitable courses, as academic institutions tried to maximise their fees. It is not surprising that 6% of all those funnelled into tertiary education ended up dropping out in the first year, which was a huge loss of their time, energy and money.

A very large chunk—not a majority, I am pleased to say, but up to a third—of graduates did not get the benefit of their tertiary education within the next three, five or even 10 years. Fully a third of them were not in graduate employment five to 10 years after their graduation. That illustrates a philosophical difference between the approach of Labour and that of the Conservative party. Labour’s go-to approach is one of social engineering via targets, whereas we in the Conservatives want to give people choices. We want to open up the world, and we trust people to make up their mind. We see that this very week in the Conservative party leadership election. The Labour party talks about diversity—they want targets—but they are led by a middle-aged white male. I have nothing against them, but look at the Conservative party—the most diverse group of people. I think we are about to have the third female Conservative Prime Minister, and if we do not, we are highly likely to have our first ethnic minority Prime Minister. Is that not wonderful? And it is achieved not through targets, not through telling people, but by providing choice, opportunity and personal responsibility.

Also in the Conservative leadership contest, there have been promises of tax cuts totalling over £300 billion so far. Those cuts would have consequences for public services providing the advice and guidance that schools and pupils need in communities up and down the country. Some of those promises are folly, to be frank.

I believe that the figure of £300 billion could come about if we had eight Prime Ministers all at once, rather than one at a time. If we take them sequentially, the offers range between £13 billion in tax cuts over the course of the Parliament, and £39 billion in tax cuts if my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) is elected.

I have talked about the opportunities in my constituency, but I also welcome the growth of apprenticeships as a viable alternative to tertiary education. It has already been mentioned in the debate, but it is worth mentioning again, that under Conservative-led Governments since 2010, more than 5 million apprenticeships have been undertaken—and the number is growing. Last year, there was an 8.1% growth in the adoption of apprenticeships, and that is an accelerating trend.

Earlier, someone mentioned—I cannot remember who—the problems with attitudes. It is parental attitudes primarily, not those of children, that need to be addressed. However, the data appears to suggest that that barrier is beginning to be broken down, which I heartily welcome. I also heartily welcome the universal technical colleges that have sprung up as a result of our innovative education programme, and the success through diversity in our educational provision. We have a UTC in Norwich; I am sorry to say that it is just outside my constituency, but we provide students to it. I visited it about six months ago and I was amazed by the links, and the dissolution of the barrier, between formal education and employment. Technical courses, on which there is a lot of work experience, are leading directly to employment.

Students are achieving T-levels, which are an excellent qualification that we need to build on. In some cases, the courses lead on to very well paid tertiary apprenticeships; but—there is quite a big “but” with universal technical colleges—pupils are drawn into the educational framework at the age of 14. I welcome the Government’s proposal to increase the age range during which careers advice is supplied, because some decisions have to be taken remarkably early. That applies particularly to those who are more capable of following the UTC route than other routes. We should think about that and build on it.

There are huge opportunities right now for people as they leave secondary education. Unemployment is at record lows—there is effectively full employment. In my constituency, the last time I checked, the unemployment rate was at just 2.1%; that is full functional employment. In fact, we have a need for more people. That creates opportunities.

Technical training through the UTCs and elsewhere is leading to the new industries that I have talked about. There is an increase in apprenticeships, whether they are tertiary apprenticeships or more technical ones. These are great; they are real opportunities. They are more diverse and complex, but I am really glad that the Government are getting behind them through careers advice.

Education does not stop when we leave school, and it does not stop at an apprenticeship. I particularly welcome the Government’s commitment to lifelong learning through the lifelong loan scheme and the lifelong learning entitlement. The modern economy requires that we develop and change our careers. I am on my third significant career, which may be one career too many for those on the Opposition Benches, but it is the modern way. It is exciting and a bit more nerve-wracking. We need to reskill, re-energise and go for additional careers. I am on the side of working people throughout their varied careers, and I am very pleased to be part of a party that supports that.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) on opening the debate, and on a very well reasoned and well argued speech, and I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to her place. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew), I am excited about the opportunities for young people in my constituency, and I want to make sure that careers advice in our schools engages with the breadth and richness of the opportunities.

As the hon. Member for Weaver Vale said in his opening remarks, we all have to accept that there was never really a golden age for careers advice. He gave a good example of bad careers advice and limited options being presented. During my time at the Department for Education, I was pleased to contribute to a White Paper that took forward the argument for having careers advice in all our schools, but particularly in primary schools, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) mentioned. It is very important to set those aspirations and open up opportunities for people earlier.

The hon. Member for Weaver Vale directly addressed the challenge of people being presented with too limited opportunities. Something that I have seen done really well in some schools, but that could be done in many more of them, is opening up to young children a range of opportunities and different places where they could work, and I want to talk about a few of those opportunities in my constituency. There is a wonderful school in one of the most deprived areas of my constituency of Worcester called Cranham Primary, where the excellent headteacher Mr Cale—I think he was the deputy head when I used to go in and support him in his careers lessons—holds a “careers with Cale” session. He gets different people in, such as policemen, postmen or the local MP—most famously, he held one session just before Christmas with Father Christmas, which is an unusual career to get people to aspire to—to talk about what they do, and to raise aspirations by discussing the range of activities that people can do.

Perry Wood Primary School in my constituency also holds primary careers fairs, and gets a whole range of people—from engineers to police officers and farmers—to talk about the span of opportunities. We should support that. The schools White Paper says:

“We want all children to be inspired by the options available to them when they leave school or college. We will launch a new careers programme for primary schools in areas of disadvantage and are extending the legal requirement to provide independent careers guidance to all secondary school children, as well as increasing the opportunities for them to meet providers of apprenticeships and technical education.”

My hon. Friends the Members for Southend West, and for Broadland, pressed that point hard, and it is essential that we deliver on that. I hope that we can ensure that the programme supporting primary schools in areas of deprivation is backed not just in education investment areas, and areas in which we are setting out additional policy initiatives, but in pockets of deprivation in every constituency in the country, because we all have schools in areas where there are greater challenges, and where career aspirations are perhaps more limited.

Ahead of the debate—this is one reason why I was keen to speak in it—I was fortunate to talk to the organisation Primary Futures, which is engaging with schools up and down the country. I heard about the work it has done at Hollymount School in my constituency. I happen to be very familiar with the school, because before I became an MP, when I was a parliamentary candidate, I used to volunteer to read with the children. Primary Futures describes the school as “a non-selective state primary school serving an area of severe social deprivation in the Tolladine area of Worcester”. It has been doing some research with the University of Warwick, talking to the children about their aspirations, and there are some welcome findings. The vast majority of pupils surveyed—37 out of 44—believed that:

“English, Maths and Science can help me when I grow up”.

A similar number believed that:

“Learning at school is important for my future job”,

and a significant majority—nearly 30 out of the 44— agreed with the proposition that:

“There are lots of different jobs for me to do when I grow up”.

So far, so good.

Particularly pleasing is that, on the question whether

“Girls and boys can do the same job”,

more than 90% said yes, and not a single pupil said no. I was pleased because one of the last things I did as Minister for School Standards was give evidence to the Science and Technology Committee about girls in STEM. It is clear that there are no barriers to girls succeeding in STEM—succeeding in maths or physics—barring those that are artificially placed in front of them. We must keep on challenging those artificial barriers and encouraging people to pursue those careers.

In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale made many very good points. I absolutely agree with him about encouraging more employers to provide work experience placements. Where I perhaps disagree with him, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland, is on the need for centralisation in this space. I think that the Careers and Enterprise Company has done some very good work; it has encouraged businesses from across the private sector to engage with schools in a way that they perhaps were not doing a few years ago. Organisations such as Primary Futures also do great work.

I happen to know—from my own patch but also from speaking to people in the Department for Education about it—that we have a fantastically well-functioning careers hub in Worcestershire, which is successfully getting that connectivity between schools and the private sector. It is bringing businesses in to talk to primary and secondary schools. If we can do it in Worcestershire, I am pretty sure that it can be done in other areas of the country, with the right support from organisations such as local enterprise partnerships, chambers of commerce, businesses and councils. I would like to see that happening much more widely.

I, too, have seen some excellent provision through careers hubs, but the hon. Member is right that it is inconsistent. Does he know whether those hubs are actually leading to different work experiences for young people? Far too often, I see a form sent home with the child: “Find your own work experience and write the name here. We’ll make sure that you’re not going to die while you’re there.” That is basically all that schools want to know. What we really need to see is not the milkman’s son going to work with his dad, and the politician’s son going with his, but people getting experiences that are different from what they are already used to. Is he aware of those kinds of experiences in his hub?

I do not disagree at all with what the hon. Gentleman has said. Absolutely, we want to give people those experiences. I talk to a lot of my engineering companies in Worcester, and one of their frustrations is that they feel that the image that people have of engineering is of where it was 30 or 40 years ago, with the traditional, metal-bashing image. What they are doing now is much more exciting, and much more engaging for young people visiting from schools. The working environment is also much better than it was.

Absolutely, getting people into a workplace that they might not necessarily know about must be part of this. That is something that our careers hub in Worcestershire does very well, and we have seen that, in particular, in the cyber-security sector. Nobody learns that at school, but they can learn the maths, computing and skills that can take them in that direction. Those companies are getting into schools to run code clubs, and they are getting children from the schools to come and do work experience. They tend to be the small businesses that, traditionally, careers advice did not look at.

I absolutely recognise that the box-ticking approach that the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) described was sometimes a problem in the past, but I think it is actually more likely to be a problem in a centralised system than in one that encourages direct engagement between schools and employers.

I very much welcome this debate and am grateful for the chance to contribute to it. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take forward the opportunity for work in the White Paper, to continue to engage with apprenticeships and employers, and to ensure that we also take the opportunity to raise aspirations in primary schools.

Thank you, Ms Rees, for calling me to speak in this really interesting debate. I also thank the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) for approaching it in exactly the right way.

My earlier intervention, about tracking where our young people go next after leaving school, still stands, and it is a point that I am pleased to be able to expand on. We know when people are not going to achieve their desired outcomes or pass their exams: when they go AWOL and fall off the radar. I know from my previous role as employment Minister that the next time we pick them up, in a jobcentre and on to the next stage in their careers, is quite often after they have had a stay at the Ministry of Justice, or developed health conditions, addictions or other challenges that need to be unpicked. I strongly believe that, with the right interventions in the mid-teenage years, we can ensure that everybody can go into a fulfilling career. If exams and university are not the route, that really matters—as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), that applies to 60% of our young people.

I would like us to talk, in schools and more broadly, about the reality of a life of jobs. Unless people are very lucky, they do not go into a career or get a job for life—career-wise, we all live in insecure times in this place. We need to speak about jobs, roles and sectors, and about things changing, to inspire and enable our kids to take the opportunity of education into the world of work and not feel that education and learning happens only in schools, colleges or universities, or that it always has a label, like T-levels or indeed A-levels. Rather, it is absolutely part of working life. Some of us might have been in a very different job five years ago, and we might not even know about the job that we could have in five years’ time.

We need to empower our young people not to think that studying happens purely at school, college or university, but to understand that it is never over and that what they get from a good education—learning and having the confidence to take on new skills and abilities—is what they need to take them into a long-term career. We need to build an agile mindset into our young people. We need to help people to be ready to join the labour market at any age or any stage.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to the Front Bench—it is good to see her there. With my former employment Minister hat on, let me say that we should also absolutely tackle job snobbery. There is no such thing as good or bad work. We have all done jobs that we did not generally enjoy quite so much—they are less lucrative and “valuable” in people’s minds. But let us be honest that during the pandemic we started to understand who and what really meant everything to our lives. Many of those people were performing roles that, coming into the pandemic, we simply did not understand or fully appreciate. The mantra should be ABC—any job, better job, career—because guess what: people are never more attractive than when they are in a job. That is wrong, but it is a fact, because those soft skills and that confidence—I wish I had a penny for every time I heard the word “confidence” when it comes to changing or transitioning roles because of the pandemic—are absolutely key.

We need to instil that confidence through good careers advice in our schools and allow them to open up and spend time with their local economies. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) about that. People could live right next to the Cadbury factory or the theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, but have never been inside. People can feel very locked out, even in their own communities. Schools should not just be unlocking careers or education, but should be unlocking opportunity that is right on the doorstep. No one should need to move to find opportunity.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend that schools should be the ones to give this advice. I raised the issue this morning with the headmaster of Westcliff High School for Boys, which is in my patch, and he said that one size does not fit all. The funding for careers advice must go to schools, because they know their local area and the different opportunities that are available. Does my hon. Friend agree that we absolutely must put schools in charge of this funding and this advice?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend, but I am conscious of the need not to overburden schools. Let us find the bridge here—the career services and the links to the local labour market. There are good ways to assist schools with this work—Jobcentre Plus, LEPs, growth funds and Mayors—but schools also have to be absolutely determined to look at careers and long-term outcomes for young people and not solely at exam results. We have to make sure that we do not judge whether a school is good based solely on exam results; it is about where young people come from and where they get to—their progression—and some people’s progression is not simply about exam results.

That leads me to the work of the kickstart programme. Despite the pandemic, we got 163,000 young people under 25, who were those most at risk of long-term unemployment, into their first jobs. How did we do that? We got the employers into the jobcentres and we put people together. We threw out CVs, because no one has experience until they have experience—of course they do not, particularly in a pandemic. That work provided life-changing opportunities for young people, but above all it stopped people asking for the finished article. Who here has gone into a role—this role, any role—as the finished article? We have to help employers to stop looking for the finished article and to think about how they were mentored when they went into that sector. We should take them back to where they were before they came into their grand or great role.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the full functional employment we have now, with many companies facing a dearth of staff—I refer to my former entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in that I was an employer and often struggled to find staff—will help to change employers’ attitudes, so that they work with what they have, bring people on and help to develop people’s careers in situ?

I say to my hon. Friend that there is nothing wrong with being an employer. We need people to take those risks, opportunities and leadership roles, but they have to have the experience and the start-up to get there.

I genuinely think we are seeing a sea change with careers and employers, and that lets me explain a little more about the kickstart roles that were created. We have heard anecdotally that around seven in 10 people have stayed with their existing employer, but we also found that many other people had undiagnosed health conditions, challenges at home or other issues that meant going into the wider labour market was simply never going to happen for them, and that was exacerbated by the pandemic.

When I was at the Department for Work and Pensions, we therefore opened over 150 youth hubs. Those were locally led, and included the careers service, local authorities, jobcentres and employers. People could go into a safer, more relaxed and more comfortable space to have a one-to-one conversation along the lines of, “What can you do, and what are you interested in?” If employers can spark that interest in our young people, or in anybody at any age or any career stage, rather than talking about what people cannot do, they can take a chance on people. With near full employment—employment is at almost 80% in some parts of the country—employers are having to do that. They are throwing out the usual way of doing things and putting time and training into people, and I do not think anybody really regrets that, do they?

On universities—my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) and others put this brilliantly—we really have to help those who perhaps feel that there is a stigma about not going to university. We are sending people to university who are potentially wasting their time there and who could be doing something much more productive and beneficial in the local labour market. However, that can be done only based on really strong, good reading skills and digital skills, and while many young people and many of us generally can hide behind our mobile phones and feel that we have digital skills, we simply do not.

We need to tackle the STEM challenge strongly, talking about the skills needed for different sectors and jobs and what is transferable, but we cannot do that without face-to-face support. We know that works in jobcentres and with training. Online courses do not equip people with enough to get into those sectors and areas, so they can do some of that training, but they also need practical, individual human support. It is vital that we give them that and tackle the STEM issue as a result.

In Mid Sussex, we recently had a STEM event, chaired by Phil Todd and linked to the Burgess Hill Business Park Association, where schools came to spend a wonderful day building bridges, weighing things, creating things, working on projects and working with local businesses that they simply would not have known were there. In fact, 70% of jobs in Mid Sussex are not on the high street; they are in small industrial areas, back bedrooms, villages and areas that are not seen, and they are exporting globally. People do not need to work in a big building to have big opportunities; it is important that young people see that.

On good careers advice, the main thing is to give people confidence that it is not about where they start but where they end up. I have enjoyed yoghurt making, selling kitchens, working in Little Chef and selling mobile phones and pagers—remember them? I want to return to the issue of job snobbery, because pubs, restaurants and hospitality are places that we love, and we miss them when they are not open and cannot serve us. When we go on holiday and go abroad, we see how those places are revered. People can progress quickly in that sector. So let us talk about careers as a whole. I will conclude, Ms Rees, as I am sure that time is against us.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) on securing this crucial debate and on the way in which he presented it, bringing his considerable experience to benefit the House. The debate is particularly timely, given that pupils across the country will be undertaking exams and turning their attention to their future careers. Indeed, many year 10 students are doing work experience as we speak.

I welcome the Minister to her position and congratulate her on her appointment. The speed of change in the Government in recent weeks has been bewildering for us all and, if we have had trouble keeping up with who is in and who is out, imagine what it has been like for the poor civil servants. It is fair to say that while it can sometimes be hard to be seen in a crowded field, her appointment and the very particular charm offensive with which she attempted to win over hearts and minds has certainly not gone unnoticed.

The debate is vital. The Labour party has long been of the view that the Government’s lack of commitment to work experience and careers guidance has been a damaging failure. In recent months, the Government have been at pains to prove that their attitude to work experience and careers guidance has changed. It could be coming true—who knows? Proving that their words can match their deeds, under the Prime Minister we now have Ministers themselves trying out work experience. The right hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) got to try out being Secretary of State for a day—Labour prefers two weeks, but at least a day was better than nothing—and the Minister is on an extended two-month work trial that she hopes will go from temp to perm. Of course, unlike the traineeships that the Government are so keen to trumpet, that work experience is very much not unpaid, with the right hon. Member for Chippenham racking up generous severance pay for her 24 hours of labour. [Interruption.] Indeed.

On a more serious note, I would like to reflect on some of the valuable contributions made by hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale brought tremendous experience to bear, focused particularly on the funding and the inconsistency of service across the country. The points he made were knowledgeable and very much matched the experience that I had. The hon. Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) said that we need to change attitudes to apprenticeships and trumpet their success. He is absolutely right: I want every school to declare not only the numbers of students going to university but how many attained apprenticeships. If we were trumpeting and saluting students who got apprenticeships alongside those who went into universities, maybe parents would get the message that apprenticeships are a positive step for young people.

The hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) reflected on something that I have heard so many times: every one of the students who she had through her office had only been introduced to the idea of going to university. That is something that we hear so much. The hon. Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) reflected that, in his area, opportunities were so plentiful that support is needed because the array of careers is so daunting. I have to say that does not reflect the message I hear from many students; the message they get at school is to first go into sixth form and then to university. The sense of an array of options is far too often missing.

I particularly enjoyed the speech from the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies) who said, very accurately, something we all recognise: we have all had jobs that we do not enjoy much—whether she was referring to being a Conservative Member of Parliament in recent weeks or to her previous employment, she did not say. The hon. Member also said that new starters will not be the finished article. That is an important point for any Conservative Members going to hustings in future weeks to reflect on.

At the heart of the debate is the aim of equipping young people with the right tools to ensure they are ready for work and life. In 2010, the coalition Government axed Connexions, which led to the demise of universal provision for careers guidance. The reality is that we had five years where the provision was absolutely pitiful. There have been improvements since then; it is only fair to reflect that. However, whatever the faults of the Connexions service, it was a colossal failure to leave young people and adults, particularly from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, without the access to advice and support that children with wealthier and better connected parents are able to take for granted.

On work experience, like the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) I have witnessed some excellent provision. I visited a really good careers hub in the Black Country in recent months. However, even The Careers and Enterprise company itself would concede that the quality of those hubs and the shared best practice are inconsistent across different areas. The hon. Gentleman said that good practice needs to be much more widely available, and I certainly agree with that. I still think it is highly questionable whether leaving schools in charge of their pupils’ careers guidance will ever work. It is the Opposition’s view that careers guidance is a profession; it is not an add-on to a deputy headteacher’s job.

The awful legacy of the lack of careers guidance has been far too many young people leaving school without adequate careers advice. It has been a shameful failure of education and skills policy that will have left a lasting legacy on some of those affected—now in adulthood, without having had access to that advice. It is worth reminding ourselves that, even pre-pandemic, almost 800,000 young people were not in education, employment or training. That illustrates why it is essential that school leavers exit full-time education fully aware of the local labour market and the opportunities on offer.

That is why, during the passage of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, Labour backed the Baker clause, which proposed that schools must allow colleges and training providers to access every student in years 8 to 13 to discuss non-academic routes available to them, and that each student should have three meaningful interactions with different providers at each stage of their educational journey. It is hugely regrettable that the Government did not adopt that recommendation in full, as their lordships had supported. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister, if she remains in post, whether the Government would be minded to allow the full Baker clause to be adopted. In my experience, schools will often have a primary focus on ensuring that the majority of their year 11 students are pushed toward the school’s own sixth form. If there is a financial need to ensure that there are x number of students at a sixth form, it is hard to see how schools will be genuinely independent in the message they are passing on to young people, as the hon. Member for Mid Sussex reflected on earlier.

Parents naturally want to see their children succeed with high attainment in subject-based learning. However, many are increasingly concerned that their children should leave school as well-rounded individuals too, with the skills to succeed in the wider world. Currently, the availability and quality of careers advice remains patchy. The Government must move further and faster to equip children with the skills they require and ensure that there is a greater consistency across all areas.

The hon. Member for Worcester said that the service does not necessarily need to be the same in all areas, but what we do need is a minimum standard that is not only legislated for—we have legislation—but monitored and assessed against, whether that be through provision that the schools have to book or through an independent service. The sentiment that the availability and quality of careers advice is patchy and needs to improve is echoed by teachers, parents, children, employers and, indeed, by many of the contributions we have heard today.

According to Parentkind’s 2021 “Parent Voice” report, just half of parents said that their child’s school offered good careers advice. The Centre for Education and Youth’s “Enriching Education Recovery” report makes clear that the vast majority of teachers, parents and children agree that there should be improved access. This is echoed by the business community. In 2019, a Confederation of British Industry survey said that 44% of employers felt that young people leaving education were not work-ready. The hon. Member for Mid Sussex reflected similar sentiments about ensuring that being well-educated in school subjects also reflected the work-readiness of young people leaving our statutory education system. The CBI survey also highlighted the geographic variation in engagement with employers and educational settings. As the hon. Member for Broadland said, it is so important that local economies are reflected in terms of the experiences that young people have.

Students in rural and coastal areas often face a postcode lottery on access to joined-up support. The Sutton Trust has concluded that all pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice. A recent Careers England survey revealed that three quarters of schools have insufficient, limited or no funding with which to deliver what is needed. About a third of secondary schools say that they receive the equivalent of £5 per student, with 5% receiving as little as £2 per student, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale reflected earlier.

The inclusion of the Gatsby benchmarks as part of the Department for Education’s statutory guidance on careers education represents welcome, though modest, progress. There has been a long history of Government statute failing to be implemented on the ground. Labour is backing pupils, parents, business and educators with its pledge to give every child access to quality face-to-face careers advice in their schools. Our proposal, set out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) at last year’s Labour party conference, would provide face-to-face, professional and independent careers advice for every school pupil.

It is also vital that young people have a thorough knowledge and understanding of their local labour market. That is why the next Labour Government will reintroduce two weeks of compulsory work experience for every child. As I said to the hon. Member for Worcester, it is important that that reflects the breadth of opportunities and is not narrowed down to a self-selected form sent home with children.

We will reverse that removal from the curriculum by the coalition Government to equip young people with the skills that they need, so that there is work experience in the school curriculum. In addition to support for schools, we will work with business communities to ensure that they offer the placements needed. Once again, Labour is committed to restoring a skills-led agenda for our children. It is crucial that that is addressed at the earliest possible opportunity.

In responding for the Government, will the Minister say whether they will allow every child to receive three independent options of careers at each stage of their school journey, as proposed by the Baker clause? If not, why does she consider that not the right direction to go in? Does she recognise the criticism that some schools are so determined to get all their top students into their own sixth forms that they deliberately reduce the number of alternative options presented to children? If she does, what does she propose to do about it? Does she believe that a school with substandard careers guidance should still be able to be ranked as outstanding? Does she agree with Labour’s plan—as the hon. Member for Mid Sussex sensibly does—to ensure that every child receives at least one face-to-face careers guidance appointment? If not, what does the Minister think is an appropriate standard?

This is a crucial debate on a subject that has the potential to be life-changing for young learners. It is an area for which Labour, under my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras, has already made concrete proposals, and one that the Government must begin to take more seriously for the sake of the next generation of workers and for our nation’s economy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) on securing this important debate. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to talk about the importance of careers guidance. Like the hon. Member, I was the first in my family to go to university, as a mature student. I agree with him that all schoolchildren should be made aware of the vast array of options available to them, including FE, HE, apprenticeships, the new T-levels and the work environment. I hope he feels that, as I delve deeper into my speech, I answer some of the questions and respond to some of the points made.

Careers guidance in schools is a fascinating part of my new brief at the Department for Education, and it has never been more significant. High-quality careers guidance is an essential underpinning of the Government’s schools, skills and levelling-up reforms. I may not agree with the hon. Member for Weaver Vale on everything, but today’s debate underlines the shared commitment to ensuring that all young people get the advice and help they need to pursue their chosen path in life. I pay tribute to his excellent work during his many years in the careers service. We are fortunate to have the benefit of his experience and knowledge of this most important issue.

I will talk about our vision for careers guidance in schools and set out three key ways in which we are realising that vision: first, a world-class careers framework for schools; secondly, our significant investment in support to help schools and colleges to improve their careers offer; and thirdly, our innovative plans to improve the quality of information and data that will help young people to navigate their career choices. In our vision, careers guidance will connect our young people to opportunity and will equip them with the support that they need to succeed. That is a critical point for unlocking individual potential and for boosting the long-term economic prosperity of our great country.

Our skills reforms are transforming opportunities for young people. High-quality careers guidance is crucial if we are to capitalise on the skills revolution. It is important not only that we seek to provide better choices, but that we give clarity to young people and their parents about what those choices might offer. A few people in the Chamber touched on that point today. Our mission is to drive the quality of careers guidance in schools. That begins with a framework to guarantee access to independent careers guidance for every pupil. It offers a clear sense of what good looks like, and it will hold schools accountable for progress.

This September, new legislation to extend the legal entitlement to independent careers guidance to all secondary school-aged pupils in all types of schools will be implemented. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson)—who is not present, I am afraid—for sponsoring that legislation. The implementation of that careers guidance Act will be followed swiftly, in January, by a significant strengthening of provider access legislation: the duty on schools to invite the providers of technical education or apprenticeships to talk to pupils. Again, we have touched on that today.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment, and say how thrilled and proud I am? Does she agree that apprenticeships are a fantastic way not only to enhance social mobility, but to increase the skills level in order to maintain our sovereign defence manufacturing capability? That will not only enable us to defend our country better in the decades to come, but create lots of jobs.

I thank my honourable husband, or should I say my hon. Friend? I obviously agree with him—although I don’t usually—that we are not only defending our country and the people of Ukraine, but benefiting from that capability.

In January, there was a significant strengthening of provider access legislation, with the duty on schools to invite providers of technical education or apprenticeships to talk to pupils. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) said, there will be at least six opportunities for pupils to have high-quality encounters with different providers throughout school years 8 to 13, so that they can understand and explore technical choices before making vital decisions about their next steps.

Our adoption of the Gatsby benchmarks as a career framework has been a great success. From a standing start in 2018, more than 4,200 secondary schools and colleges are using them to develop and improve their careers programmes. The benchmarks are based on international best practice and describe all the crucial components of a world-class careers programme for young people. Since the launch of the Government’s careers strategy in 2017, we have seen improvements across every dimension of careers guidance, with a particularly strong performance by schools in disadvantaged areas. There was a question about the strategy, which I will touch on later.

It is incredibly valuable to be able to measure the inputs of schools into careers guidance and to see that outcomes are improving. Early analysis shows a positive link between careers education, as assessed by the Gatsby benchmarks, and young people going into sustained education, employment and training after leaving school. A recent study based on data from nearly 2,400 schools shows that when Gatsby benchmarks are achieved by a school, that increases the likelihood of a student being in education, employment or training after year 11. It amounts to a 10% reduction in the proportion of students who are not in education, employment or training post-16 if schools meet all eight benchmarks, compared to schools that achieve none. Importantly, the reduction is twice as great, at 20%, in schools with the most disadvantaged students. We know what is working well and we know where schools are finding it difficult to implement the benchmarks, and that allows us to target our support more effectively.

To realise the maximum value from our investment in careers guidance, we are strengthening the accountability framework for secondary schools. On all graded inspections, Ofsted inspectors assess the quality of careers education, information, advice and guidance on how much it benefits pupils in deciding on their next steps. It is important that pupils feel they are at the centre of that journey. If a school is not meeting the requirements of the provider access legislation, inspectors will state it in the published inspection report and consider what impact it has on the quality of careers provision, and the subsequent judgment for personal development.

We have developed a model to support schools in improving their careers offer.

The Minister spoke about the importance of the Gatsby benchmarks and the evidence that they improve outcomes, and said that careers guidance will now be checked by Ofsted. Does she think it should be possible for a school that does not meet the benchmarks to be assessed as outstanding, despite having inadequate careers guidance?

The hon. Gentleman has touched on an important point. It is important not only to give support to the schools in question but to note that in the Ofsted inspection report.

On support for schools to improve their careers offer, we have developed a model that is proven to accelerate improvements in careers guidance. Schools do better if they are part of networks of regional careers hubs—as we see in our local areas—and enterprise advisers. Careers hubs are local partnerships among schools, colleges, businesses, providers and the voluntary sector that enable the sharing of best practice to enhance careers provision. Enterprise advisers are business professionals who work with schools and colleges to strengthen careers strategies and employment engagement plans.

By linking such networks, schools work much more closely with employers and the local enterprise partnerships. This model is crucial to drive the quality of careers provision locally. It promotes the sharing of best practice and economic information and intelligence. Alongside that, we encourage every secondary school to have a trained careers leader, to make the most of the connections and co-ordinate and integrate the careers programme throughout the school, with the backing of their headteacher.

To underpin the delivery of this excellent model, we are investing £29 million this year in the Careers and Enterprise Company. With that funding, the CEC is supporting schools and colleges to implement the Gatsby benchmarks by extending the careers hubs, the enterprise adviser network, the careers leaders training and digital support. I am delighted that all secondary schools and colleges across Weaver Vale are now benefiting from that support; we intend to replicate that throughout the country.

Allow me to share some of the numbers behind our investment. More than 2,200 careers leaders have engaged in funded training since the scheme was launched in 2018. To touch on the question that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale asked, two thirds of schools and colleges in England were part of a careers hub by September 2021. As we work towards the full roll-out, that proportion will increase to approximately 90%, which will mean 4,500 schools and colleges will benefit from a careers hub by August next year. Around 3,750 business professionals work as enterprise advisers with schools and colleges to develop their careers strategies and employment engagement plans.

I am sure everybody here will agree that more important than the numbers is the impact of our investment on young people. The engagement of employers at scale is crucial to the improvements in careers guidance that we are seeing. Employers provide inspiration and insight to young people, deliver hands-on experience of the workplace, highlight pathways into work, and are increasingly helping to integrate careers learning into the curriculum.

Let me give a few examples. Thomas Dudley, a 100-year-old manufacturing company in the west midlands, has worked with local schools to develop mini challenges in history, business, design, English and maths that link those topics with jobs in the local economy. Pupils then visit the business and experience how the skills they have learned can translate into their future career.

Let me share a couple of examples of the excellent work in the area of the hon. Member for Weaver Vale. Greenbank School has helped employers to be more confident in supporting people with autism. Supported by the CEC’s Cheshire and Warrington enterprise adviser network, the school adapted its autism training to better meet the needs of employers and give them an insight in the challenges that young people with autism face. The training was delivered to numerous local employers, including Bentley, Siemens and the NHS.

Sir John Deane’s College has secured prestigious degree apprenticeships for its pupils with major companies including Rolls-Royce, Deloitte and Unilever. The college has established an aspiring apprenticeships programme for year 13 students that includes CV workshops, mentoring, university visits, employer encounters and vacancy-search support.

All schools in the area of the hon. Member for Chesterfield have been part of the careers hub since the start of the academic year, and four out of the nine secondary schools have done careers leader training. That provision will be extended further. Local employers—including KPMG and Dalton HR Solutions—are providing senior business volunteers and enterprise admissions to his local schools.

On improving careers information, another important area of focus is to provide young people with clear and consistent information about the full range of careers options and relevant education and training courses. We established a National Careers Service a decade ago and continue to provide personalised careers information and advice to all aged 13 and over. We are improving the NCS digital offer to allow greater personalisation, but we want to go further. The levelling-up White Paper announced the unit for future skills, which will help to ensure that comprehensive and relevant labour market information and data related to occupations, skills and careers are made available to support effective careers guidance at a national and local level.

I have only a couple minutes left, so I will answer some questions. On improving information in schools about apprenticeships, we already deliver information and outreach work to schools on apprenticeships via the apprenticeship support and knowledge programme. My predecessor wrote to all pupils aged 11 to 13 to promote apprenticeship opportunities, and strengthened provider access legislation to ensure that all pupils have six encounters with different providers, as I said.

On the point about £2 of careers funding per pupil, we are routing investment through the NCS and the CEC so that we can target money where it is most needed to secure better value for money. More than £92 million has been invested in 2022-23.

On the careers strategy, we appointed Sir John Holman as a strategic adviser on careers information, advice and guidance. We will respond to his recommendations in due course, so watch this space.

I am running out of time so will finish by thanking everyone who has taken part in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) spoke about T-levels and the importance of career guidance. My hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) described the opportunity to set up your own business and discussed choice, opportunity and personal responsibility.

The former Department for Work and Pensions Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), is passionate about young people’s education. She touched on the important point of tackling job snobbery. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), the former Minister of State for Education, demonstrated his continued commitment to education by taking part in the debate. Some of his work includes the “Opportunity for all” White Paper, which includes a programme targeting primary schools in 55 education investment areas and adopts benchmarks for good careers guidance. I thank him for his great work on that.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) for his commitment to apprenticeships, as a former co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on apprenticeships.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield made some valid points about the importance of work experience. My own work experience during college—I am sure everybody has a couple of horror stories—was with an interior designer. The lady, who worked from home, got me ironing her husband’s underwear. I am sure work experience has improved drastically since then. I can reassure hon. Members that I have had 60 work experience students through my office since I was elected, so I am fully committed to it.

Finally, our mission is to level up opportunity and give every young person the chance to go as far as their talents take them. I am enormously grateful for the support that Members have given on this important issue. We have built the foundations for a career system based on employer engagement, dynamic career leaders and local collaboration, and we encourage the use of evidence for improvement. We will continue to target investment at the changes that make the most difference on the ground, so that every young person in this great country has the chance to reach their full potential.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the provision of careers guidance in schools.

Badger Culling

[Peter Dowd in the Chair]

[Relevant documents: e-petition 333693, Ban the shooting of badgers immediately; and e-petition 310307, Stop culling immediately and start widespread vaccination of badgers now.]

I will call Tracey Crouch to move the motion and then the Minister to respond. As is the convention for 30-minute debates, there will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government policy on badger culling.

As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. After many years of debate in this place, colleagues will be well aware of my views on the badger cull. My primary motivation for speaking out against the cull was and always will be the tragic and indiscriminate killing of more than 150,000 badgers since the first two operational culling zones opened in 2014. My view is often reflected in national polling, which continues to show opposition among the general public to the cull—not least in the two e-petitions that have been attached to this debate, respectively signed by 106,000 and 35,000 people, including from my constituency of Chatham and Aylesford.

Since first becoming involved in this debate through the lens of wildlife protection, I have often heard with great sadness about the immense financial and emotional pain that bovine tuberculosis causes farmers up and down the country. The devastation for a farmer when a skin test comes back positive, virtually condemning their herd of cattle, is utterly heartbreaking. The fight has therefore become just as much about protecting badgers—an iconic species in the UK—as ensuring that farmers are supported by the Government in implementing the wide array of countermeasures to prevent TB that help to target transmission within species, which has been shown to lead to far higher prevalence of the disease than transmission from one species to another—in this case, badger to cattle.

I sincerely thank Ministers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and their officials for the work they have done over the past few years to explore other ways to tackle this devastating disease. I welcomed the Government’s response to the Godfray review and the subsequent strategy, and I welcome the more humane approach against TB in targeting vaccination for both cattle and badgers, increased testing frequency and—most welcome—the gradual phasing-out of intensive badger culls.

To that end, I am pleased that no new intensive badger culling licences will be issued after this year, although I remain concerned that culling will remain an option and continue to be licensed by Natural England. As we have seen with the Government’s authorisation of emergency applications of neonicotinoid insecticides, despite their ban via EU retained law, it seems that the announced end is not always the actual end. I am sure the Minister will therefore understand the scepticism among those of us who want culling to cease.

The hon. Lady is a champion on this issue and I congratulate her on securing the debate. Does she agree that it is absolutely key that the Government fund both more cattle vaccination and a much larger programme of badger vaccination, to provide farmers with the evidence that badger vaccination can actually work at scale? That will give them the confidence to embrace it. Ministers have a real role to show leadership in getting farmers on board.

I agree. I appreciate that it is very easy for us as Back Benchers, without the controls of the Treasury, to always call for extra funding, but I do think there is real merit in ensuring that we fund these things exceptionally well.

On vaccination specifically, in their response to the Godfray review the Government announced a move to vaccinate both cattle and badgers. With a large-scale badger vaccination trial currently taking place in East Sussex—the hon. Lady’s area, I believe—the Vaccinating East Sussex Badgers, or VESBA, project will vaccinate badgers across 250 sq km of east Sussex every year for four years, with an annual vaccination target of 675 badgers. Although East Sussex is in the edge area, the Cuckmere valley in the county has long been a TB hotspot; I understand that the first vaccination waves have primarily been focused there. I hope that such a Government-backed study can independently determine whether the vaccination of the wildlife reservoir will in turn reduce TB numbers in cattle. I would be grateful if the Minister indicated whether the Department has already seen evidence of movement in the early stages of the trial.

From an animal welfare perspective, I would much rather see badgers vaccinated than shot. However, the process of identifying badger setts, laying bait, setting traps and then vaccinating the badgers is an exercise that is not only costly and time-consuming but cannot effectively be expanded throughout the country. May I impress on the Minister that if we are going to vaccinate, let us vaccinate the cattle? By contrast to the wildlife, we know how many cows we have and where they are. Will the Minister update us on where we currently are regarding the research studies announced in response to the Godfray review of the candidate cattle vaccine and subsequent improved skin test, with the ambition of introduction within the next five years?

Back in 2019, I spoke in a similar debate in Westminster Hall on the badger cull. That was before more positive announcements from the Government that were welcomed by animal welfare organisations and charities alike. In that debate, I spoke about the success of the Gatcombe strategy used at a farm in south Devon, where the farmer Dick Sibley has worked with the animal welfare group the Save Me Trust to change a farm rife with TB into one with an official TB-free status in just three years. The core element of the strategy is based on identifying and cutting off the roots of infection in the herd through enhanced testing, which is much more sensitive than the notorious skin test. This allows the farm to identify the infected cow and remove it before the disease takes hold of the herd.

Such tests are, of course, more expensive for famers than a traditional skin test, which I believe costs around £5 a cow. Can we look at supporting farmers with the cost of administering the most reliable tests available? That makes much more economic and scientific sense in the long run and would help to identify the hidden reservoir in the English cattle herd. The improved testing techniques used by the farm both on cattle and on their immediate environment pointed to slurry in the farm harbouring harmful levels of TB and contributing to the cycle of transmission within the herd.

In response to these points about testing and improved husbandry in cattle in farms, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), told me that he had met Dick Sibley and that from 2015 the Department had had

“a biosecurity plan that included slurry management”.—[Official Report, 23 October 2019; Vol. 666, c. 22WH.]

However, at that point the data was “mixed” in confirming the links between slurry and TB in cattle. My right hon. Friend confirmed that the Department was still in “dialogue with Dick Sibley” at Gatcombe Farm and the Department was “keen” to look at evidence that could show a link between slurry and cattle. Will the Minister confirm whether such work is still being carried out by the Department and whether guidelines for farms will be updated to try to minimise TB outbreaks through measures on farms?

As I have made clear, I welcome the move to gradually withdraw from culling, although I remain concerned that high-intensity culls will continue to be allowed in the already approved areas. I am encouraged by data in Wales, which has ended its badger cull and seen similar levels of TB reduction to cull areas in England.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way and I offer my support for her work in this important area. She is speaking eloquently about this ongoing and serious problem that affects one of our largest land animals, a species that makes such an important contribution to biodiversity in the wider environment and is under enormous pressure. Her point about the culls, in particular, is very well made. I understand from former civil service colleagues who have worked at DEFRA—I was a civil servant myself, albeit not in that Department—that the debate around culling has been very contested for some time, that many scientists have had deep concerns about culling for a long time, and that it is seen as quite cruel to badgers.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. One of the sad things about the badger cull debate is that it has been quite divisive: two groups have been pitted against each other rather than working together. We have moved forward significantly since the start of the badger cull debate, with those who care passionately about wildlife respecting the challenges of bovine TB in herds and, equally, farmers being keen to move forward and not be seen as people who do not care about wildlife, which they do enormously.

We have come together much better and converged on a much more congenial atmosphere and conversation, but the badger cull still continues. The whole point of today’s debate, I hope, is to stress the importance of bringing the cull to an end and starting work on a whole variety of different measures. I know that the Minister will refer to the proverbial toolbox; it is clear that there is a whole host of ways of dealing with bovine TB. I am sure she will make those points in her speech.

The data from Wales is really encouraging. The devolved Government have announced a new approach and are targeting cattle as the victims and main transmission source of the disease. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether the UK Government are in dialogue with the devolved Administration and whether they are monitoring data from that strategy to support the fight against TB in England.

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill is going through Parliament at the moment. I intervened on the Secretary of State on Second Reading and spoke about how gene editing may improve disease resistance in livestock. He said that there is already work going on to breed natural resistance and select, for instance, dairy cattle with a higher resistance to bovine TB. I hope the Bill will enable scientific advances to be made far faster so that cattle and farmers can be protected without harming our wildlife.

Despite the announcement in May 2021 of the phased end of culling, Natural England issued 11 new supplementary badger culling licences the following month, and announced seven new intensive cull areas in September. I am concerned that, despite DEFRA’s mantra, new areas will continue to be approved. Will the Minister outline how many new supplementary intensive culling areas have been approved this year?

Will the Minister assure me and the many other Members who care passionately about this issue that the Government are serious about phasing out the cull and are investing in a diverse armoury to tackle the disease, including accelerating work to develop an effective cattle vaccine, improving husbandry measures such as herd health plans, restricting cattle movements, and ultimately enabling financial incentives so that farmers can use improved and reliable testing to remove infected cows at source?

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd, and to participate in this important debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). She is extremely well supported in her long-running campaigns on these issues by the Badger Trust and the Save Me Trust, which are the sources of much of the information she shared. I agree that we have moved forward. The tone of the debate has become far more measured, and indeed better for tackling the problem.

This is a very personal problem for me. My grandfather died from TB, and I gave up my Longhorn cattle 10 years ago because of the prevalence of TB up our valley. I was keeping cattle for pleasure rather than serious business purposes, and I really did not want to infect next door’s precious Jersey herd. For me, TB has very personal connotations, and I know well that it is a very dangerous disease in all species—human, bovine or badger.

Bovine TB definitely represents a threat to the cattle industry. Over the past 12 months, we have compulsorily slaughtered 26,000 cattle in England to control the disease. We all agree that badgers are implicated in the spread and persistence of bovine TB. We know, and we have seen the evidence in the Downs study—although not all agree—that the badger cull has led to a significant reduction in BTB in the areas in which it has been carried out. We also know that many people hate the idea of culling badgers, and of course nobody wants to see a protected species culled more than necessary.

As my hon. Friend said, there is no single answer to the problem of bovine TB. It is a very costly problem for the taxpayer: we spend about £100 million a year on testing, compensation and culling cattle. We are open-minded in DEFRA about how we should continue to tackle the problem, and of course we work closely with the devolved Administrations and scientists further afield to look at what solutions are available to us. It is important that we retain that open-minded view as we look to the new stages of this dreadful disease.

I am pleased to hear that the Minister and DEFRA are working with the Welsh Labour Government and that there can be a process of learning from how they have moved on from culling. I appreciate the economic pressures that farmers are under at this very difficult time. I hope there can be consensus so that we can move forward, and I am grateful to the Minister for working on that basis.

It is important that we continue to work with our partners in the devolved Administrations wherever we can. There has been a certain amount of angst up the border between England and Wales as a result of the difference in policy—it is a very high-incidence neighbourhood—so it is very important that we work together wherever possible.

The tools available to us include culling where necessary—I have no doubt that it will be necessary during outbreaks; I make no secret of the fact that, where there is an outbreak, culling may be the only answer for both badgers and cattle—and vaccinating cattle, which for me is the goal. Many of us received the vaccination in school; it is not that different in humans. What we need to do is develop a test that does not give a false positive reading if a cow has received a vaccine. The test is currently being trialled and worked on. We started field trials in June last year and hope to have them completed this winter. The results are not yet published. We are still hopeful, though, and we are very much working towards 2025 as the date for having a real vaccine for cattle that can be rolled out widely. For me, that will be the game changer.

Vaccinating badgers is also a solution. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said that the Government need to put some welly into this, if I may put it like that. I say politely that the Animal and Plant Health Agency now has 28 full-time vaccinators working hard to vaccinate badgers in the vaccination window, although not all badgers need to be vaccinated. We need to be clever about this.

As hon. Members can imagine, vaccinating badgers is a very difficult process. Initially at least, it has to be done annually, to make sure that the vaccination is effective. If there has been a significant cull, the badgers that are left can be vaccinated in a targeted way. We vaccinated about 1,500 badgers last year and expect that figure to be higher this year. We have introduced a simplified licence to cut the administrative burden for those who wish to vaccinate badgers.

Vaccinating badgers is definitely one of the tools in the toolbox, but is not a simple thing to do, nor is it entirely great from an animal welfare perspective, because badgers need to be attracted, trapped, vaccinated and then released, and then trapped again, which is not without its difficulties.

I appreciate the Minister’s points about vaccination. I appreciate that there are no silver bullets, but vaccination is probably a lot better than culling. Could she clarify one point? The Government have promised an end to badger culling post 2025 but reserved the right to cull beyond 2025 in certain epidemiologically important conditions. What are the criteria for those conditions? My concern is that that is a very big loophole and that, when there are Ministers in post who are perhaps less concerned than she is, it could be used to continue the cull in a rather more indiscriminate way than I think she intends.

I do not think I am able or indeed qualified to give the hon. Lady the reassurance she seeks. If a cull were to be licensed, that would be done with the chief veterinary officer, who would be able to advise the Minister at all stages of that process. What I would say is that, certainly as I see it, we are currently experiencing a decline in bovine TB in high-incidence areas and we are pleased by the way the graph is going, although we are by no means happy with the situation. TB remains a real scourge for our cattle farmers, but things are going in the right direction.

If there is an outbreak, it seems right that the Minister, whoever that is, or the chief veterinary officer, depending on the circumstances, is able to take the decision to cull cattle, badgers or other species where necessary, as is the case with other prevalent and harmful diseases. I know from my family experience that TB is a peculiar illness that can manifest itself in different species, at different times, at different speeds and in different ways. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to set out what would cause angst to the chief veterinary officer at any one time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford referred to husbandry, which is also important. We have worked on strengthening cattle testing and movement controls. We have worked to improve biosecurity on farms and when trading, as well as simply keeping badgers away from food and water troughs where we can. We have looked at different forms of double fencing, to ensure that there is not cross-holding contamination. The ibTB website enables farmers to look at the history of the cattle they are buying, and at the disease status of nearby farms.

We have all learned a great deal from the covid pandemic, probably not voluntarily. We have learned to use a range of measures to control disease. It is not all about washing our hands thoroughly and “hands, face, space”; it is about vaccines, lockdowns, antivirals and treatment methods. We need to retain our learning from the pandemic when considering the scourge of bovine TB. I am pleased with the reductions we have seen in high-risk areas, but this remains a difficult disease for the farming industry to cope with. I am determined that we continue to work on all fronts to come up with the right solutions.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Non-proliferation Treaty: 50th Anniversary Review

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the 50th anniversary review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. In her absence, I congratulate the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) on securing the debate. I am sorry that she is unwell and I hope that she feels better soon.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty had its 50th anniversary earlier this year and has long been regarded as the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. The Government, such as they are, continue to argue that the best approach to multilateral disarmament is a step-by-step approach based on existing instruments—above all, the NPT. At the same time, however, they consistently refuse to provide specific numbers on the size of the UK’s current stockpile or the timetable for their reduction programme.

In the context of the appalling war in Ukraine, the UK has been added to a list of NATO nuclear weapon storage locations in Europe. Ministers have not come clean about that either and are refusing to confirm or deny whether a green light has been given to the ramping up of nuclear capacity at Lakenheath, for example. I believe that we should be told.

It is also worrying that the UK Government have not yet decided which Ministers will attend the 10th review conference to coincide with the 50th anniversary. Given that the UK has said that it

“looks forward to working with all states to strengthen”

the NPT at the upcoming review conference, I trust that the Foreign Secretary will be present to engage meaningfully in not just the NPT process but the wider process of eradicating all nuclear weapons from our planet.

The review conference is an opportunity to call on Russia and all nuclear weapon states to declare that they will not threaten to use or use nuclear weapons under any circumstances. We need to know that the UK will make that call and that the Secretary of State will be there in person to underscore the importance of that message. Our aim surely has to be to prevent nuclear war and the use of nuclear weapons. Indeed, that is one of the most powerful reasons why many of us have campaigned for the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons.

A successful first meeting of the treaty states parties in Vienna adopted a strong declaration and action plan to make prohibition a reality. The UK needs to support that, as well as to engage constructively in making the NPT work better. That prohibition treaty is accepted by the UN as part of the wider non-proliferation and disarmament regime. I was in New York for the UN negotiations in 2017 and I saw the seriousness with which many states participated, but I also saw the UK’s empty seat and felt frankly ashamed that our Government had behaved so irresponsibly by boycotting the process.

If that prohibition treaty is now part of the multilateral regime alongside the NPT, it is an important UN process that the UK needs to participate in from now on, precisely to strengthen Britain’s defence and security. It has one clear goal: to stigmatise and prohibit nuclear weapons. Some 63 nations have ratified it, 66 have acceded and a further 23 have signed. Article 4 provides a process for nuclear weapon states to engage prior to disarmament through a legally binding time-bound plan for the verified and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapon programmes.

That is an important route for our Government to engage with the treaty and take the first steps towards signing and ratification. If the UK is genuine when it says that it is committed to multilateral disarmament, it is entirely inconsistent to do anything else, let alone to oppose the global prohibition treaty, as is its current position. Likewise, the refusal to commit to never using nuclear weapons first is inconsistent with showing leadership on nuclear disarmament and proliferation.

Some 50 years after the world agreed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology, and to achieve nuclear disarmament and a general and complete disarmament, too many countries are still pursuing aggressive models of national security that create conflict. Real human security is about using our resources and our diplomacy together to tackle and reverse those wider causes of insecurity, such as climate breakdown. It is about ensuring that everyone has enough food, water and shelter to meet the world’s needs and that people have peace and education. That is the kind of security that should be at the heart of national Governments’ decision making, not a stubborn ideological adherence to the nuclear doctrines of the past or to the myth of deterrence, and it also needs to be the basis for international agreement.

As the 10th review conference approaches, I call on Ministers to demonstrate real global leadership, real ambition and bold thinking. A nuclear-free world is possible if we are prepared to challenge and then shift moral, political and legal norms. That kind of security is not something that we can or should wait another 50 years to achieve.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on opening the debate. The review conference will bring together over 190 signatory states to discuss progress in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology since the last review conference in 2015 and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament.

The original treaty was negotiated by Labour’s Minister for Disarmament, the MP, later Lord, Fred Mulley, under Harold Wilson’s 1964 to 1970 Government, but it has been a formal commitment of all Governments—Labour and Conservative—since 1970. Nuclear disarmament is a priority of humanitarian politics, given the function of nuclear arms to wipe out mass civilian populations, as occurred tragically and appallingly in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with smaller weapons than those that exist today, and their use by all sides to assert foreign policy priorities throughout the cold war and since.

The text of the non-proliferation treaty sets out the aims of

“strengthening of trust between States in order to facilitate the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery pursuant to a Treaty on general and complete disarmament”.

A clear goal of the treaty is to end the existence of nuclear weapons in states that possess them, alongside preventing their further proliferation. Therefore, it is truly regrettable that both Labour and Conservative Governments have retained nuclear weapons and failed to progress to the complete disarmament of the UK’s nuclear weapons, which we have agreed to.

Over 60 years, the UK has replaced Polaris with Trident warheads and missiles, and replaced the Resolution-class submarines first with the Vanguard class and now with the Dreadnought class. Furthermore, the Government announced in 2021, in their integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, that alongside the new submarines the ceiling on the number of nuclear warheads held by the UK will increase by 40%, in a reversal of the downward trend seen in recent decades. The proposed changes in warhead numbers are a reversal of the UK statement by Baroness Anelay at the 2015 review conference and run counter to international momentum towards global nuclear abolition.

The repeated failure of the nuclear weapons powers to make progress on taking steps towards disarmament and to carry out disarmament at repeated NPT review conferences since the first one in 1975 has made it necessary for disarmament-committed states in the New Agenda Coalition to work with civil society to drive the process forward. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion referred to, that has resulted in the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, which 86 states have signed up to and 66 states have ratified, and which has now entered into force. That is the right step forward.

However, the UK remains outside that treaty, which is dominated by nations from the global south but, critically, also includes forward-thinking countries such as New Zealand and Ireland. It really is regrettable that the UK national report on the NPT, which was published in November 2021, says nothing about the UK’s planned increase in the warhead ceiling or about engagement with the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, and that its reference to the P5 process has no timetable for warhead reduction.

The war in Ukraine has resurrected ghosts of the cold war and brought home to all of us again the threat from nuclear weapons and nuclear accidents, at a time when both Russia and the USA have been modernising their weapons of mass destruction and the UK is also proposing to increase its nuclear arsenal, contrary to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

We need strong civil society movements in the UK and elsewhere to push the UK Government and others to join the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, and I am proud of the leadership being given by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Wales, of which I am a member. This year marks 40 years since all the then county councils in Wales declared themselves to be nuclear-free zones, which meant that nuclear weapons could not be stationed in Wales. That landmark decision is being celebrated this summer with a travelling exhibition across Wales—including a visit to my constituency during the week of 8 August—that commemorates the horrific bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945.

The hon. Lady is making some powerful points. I note her point about nuclear weapons not being stationed in Wales, and I want to put on record that I am very envious of that. I wish that they were not stationed in Scotland, where they are located a stone’s throw from our largest population centre—despite the opposition of most elected politicians in the Scottish Parliament and Scottish politicians here, and against the will of civil society.

I agree, and I hope that one day we will have a nuclear-free United Kingdom and indeed a nuclear-free world. The horrific consequences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain in our memories. Let us not forget that it was women from south Wales who had the courage and vision to march to and surround the US cruise missile base at Greenham Common, and I am proud of the fact that I was there as a child with my family.

As part of the work around the touring exhibition, CND Cymru is urging support for the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. CND Cymru says that while nuclear weapons exist we all live under the threat of such weapons being used. It is vital that there is support for the global abolition of nuclear weapons and that the UK Government start to engage with the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons and eventually become a signatory to it, so that the world can be free from all nuclear weapons. I am pleased to say that the Welsh Senedd—our Welsh Parliament—voted to back the treaty in March, calling on all states to ratify it. I also welcome the fact that a number of local authorities in Wales have signed resolutions to the same effect.

We need action now more than ever. The world continues to be an extremely dangerous place, and I am sure that everybody in this room shares my desire for a future for our children, grandchildren and beyond. Unless we have a nuclear-free world, that is unlikely to happen.

It is an absolute pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. I thank the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for what she said and for the work she has done over many years on peace and nuclear disarmament issues. We have been at many rallies, meetings and demonstrations together, and I am sure we shall be at many more in the future. I also absolutely endorse everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) said.

This is an extremely important and timely debate, because it means that the Government have an opportunity, which they have not always had, to set out ahead of the non-proliferation treaty review conference their position and aims for the conference. I do not remember them ever doing that before, and I hope the Minister is able to help us with what the Government’s aims and plans will be.

I attended the last NPT review conference, which was held in New York in 2015, as a representative of peace organisations in Britain. It was, as such events always are, extremely interesting. A large number of peace organisations were present, as were Governments from around the world. In this country, our media protect us from the anger of many people around the world who see Britain and the other five declared nuclear weapons states as insular, uncommunicative and not very interested in discussing peace issues. Our media do not report that.

You do not have to spend long at an NPT review conference to understand that a large number of Governments around the world take non-proliferation extremely seriously and support all sections of the NPT. I have also attended a large number of non-proliferation treaty prep conferences, which take place every year, so I have seen the great efforts made to build alliances to improve things, and when people say, “Well, the NPT hasn’t achieved anything,” I beg to differ—it has achieved a great deal.

The NPT was a landmark policy in the 1960s, and we should give credit to Harold Wilson and the Government of that time for bringing it about. It requires the declared nuclear weapons states to take steps towards disarmament, and its other signatories not to share, accept or develop nuclear weapons technology. It is easy to say that it has not worked because other countries, such as North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel, have clearly developed nuclear weapons, but many other countries have not. South Africa, for example, specifically renounced the development of nuclear weapons, which helped to bring about an Africa nuclear weapons-free zone. We also have such zones in Latin America and central Asia, so the steps have been enormous.

The significance of the 2010 and 2015 review conferences was in the discussion about the middle east weapons of mass destruction-free zone. That is a bit of a mouthful, but the point was for it to cover the whole middle east and therefore to include both Iran and Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia. That would mean negotiated talks including both Israel and Iran. I do not expect them to agree on everything, and they may well disagree on many things, but everyone must see that taking a step towards a nuclear weapons-free zone in the middle east is a huge opportunity. The issue was pushed forward in 2010 and discussed again in 2015, and that step forward has not totally happened by any means, but we did get the weapons agreement with Iran, and that is now back on the agenda.

Together with the all-party parliamentary group on Iran, I have been on visits to Iran and indeed to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to push that agenda forward, and we have a great opportunity to do that again. I hope the Minister will tell us that the Government are serious about resurrecting the deal that Donald Trump did so much to sink—by the way, that is an international agreement, not a bilateral agreement between the US and anybody else, as Donald Trump probably thought it was. I think that that is a positive development.

There are two other positive points about the global ban on nuclear weapons, as mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Brighton, Pavilion and for Cynon Valley. The ban is widely supported around the world, with 60 countries—a large number—having endorsed, signed and ratified it, so the idea that Britain cannot engage in any way is going against the wishes of the vast majority of the world’s nations, which have very different political views and aspirations. Instead, we are expanding our number of nuclear warheads and we have signed the AUKUS pact with the US and Australia. While that is not specifically a nuclear agreement, two nuclear-armed countries are involved in it, and Australia is apparently willing to host whatever the US wishes to place there. We should therefore pause for a moment and think.

This is not an academic debate; it is a matter of enormous seriousness. I totally condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There has to be a ceasefire and a long-term settlement of some sort that will give peace to the people of Ukraine, Russia and, in particular, the Donbas. But it must be obvious to anyone in the world that a nuclear-armed state—Russia—is directly involved in the conflict and that NATO, which is obviously nuclear-armed to a huge degree, is supplying large amounts of weapons to Ukraine. So there is a serious danger—obviously, I hope this never happens—that this thing proliferates into a nuclear war. That should at least give us some pause for thought and concentrate our minds on where we go on this.

I hope the Government can play a positive role in New York, and perhaps explain to the rest of the world why at this time we are increasing the number of nuclear warheads we have. The others of the five declared nuclear weapon states—China, Russia, France and the US—are also apparently increasing their number of nuclear warheads, despite a period in the 1990s when that number reduced. I hope that we will be serious about the negotiations and our participation.

Those who attended the Vienna conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons—my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) attended it, for example—listened to the victims of nuclear war. The victims were elderly people in Japan who survived but lost family or have suffered cancers ever since, because of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki—very small compared with the nuclear weapons now available—or, with harrowing stories, nuclear-test victims from all around the world. They include British, American and French servicemen, and peoples of the Marshall Islands and so many places around the world who have suffered the effects of nuclear testing. We should think carefully about that.

I will conclude with this point: we have a whole generation now who do not really appreciate what a nuclear weapon does. It is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, completely indiscriminate in who it affects. There is no such thing as a targeted nuclear attack or a battlefield nuclear weapon; a nuclear weapon kills everything within its reach, in the area surrounding a nuclear explosion, and it leaves behind a residue of cancerous materials, there for decades and decades to come, polluting the atmosphere and the oceans.

Anyone who would seriously contemplate using a nuclear weapon, knowing that millions will die as a result, with the potential for a further disaster after that, needs to think very seriously about what humanity is about and what we are about. On 6 August we commemorate Hiroshima Day, and 9 August is Nagasaki Day. Those were the only times that nuclear weapons have been used in war, but they have been used in tests and threats ever since.

Please, let us be serious about the non-proliferation treaty review conference and about how we can help to bring about, seriously, a nuclear-free world. It is within our grasp. As a country that has nuclear weapons—we developed them after the second world war and maintain them—we are in a strong position to say, “We will take a lead. We want to follow the NPT in its words, its letter and its spirit, and help to bring about that change.” We have to talk peace at some point; and while there is a war going on, this is the most ideal time to talk about peace. That is really what we are all striving for.

I had not put my name down to speak in this debate, but I am happy to make a brief contribution to reinforce what I said to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter). The key point that I want to make is that nuclear weapons are located in Scotland, although the elected representatives of our country in our own Parliament and in this Parliament oppose them. That is a democratically unsustainable position. They are weapons of mass destruction that are morally and economically inappropriate to any of the threats that we face today. I am grateful to you, Mr Dowd, for giving me the chance to put that position on the record. That is all I would like to say for now.

It is a pleasure to see you in your place, Mr Dowd, and to follow my good friend from Eastwood, my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald)—remember, no one ever criticised a speech for being too short. Those were excellent points well made. I also welcome the Minister to his place. This is our first debate together, and I look forward to many happy adventures at the Dispatch Box together.

It is a pleasure to wind up for the SNP in this consensual debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on securing it, because it is important that we take stock in advance of the review conference in the treaty’s 50th anniversary year. Opposition to nuclear weapons and the cause of nuclear disarmament are, for my party—not just for part of my party, but for all of my party—matters of deep, deep principle.

It is worth explaining to colleagues present that the modern SNP sprang in large part out of the anti-nuclear movement and the Stop the War Coalition. Opposition to nuclear weapons is in the SNP’s DNA, and I am deeply proud to walk alongside friends and colleagues on marches and protests in opposition to nuclear weapons. I am proud to be a member of a party with such a clear ambition and stance.

We aspire to be an independent state and an enthusiastic non-nuclear member of the EU, the UN, international fora and NATO. The vast majority of NATO states—27 out of 30—are non-nuclear, and Scotland aspires to that status, so it is logical that we are an enthusiastic supporter of the non-proliferation treaty. We have high hopes for the 50th review conference, and we have hopes, at least—I hope they are not dashed—for the UK Government’s participation in it.

The treaty’s importance was arguably set out best by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in the last review conference in 2018:

“The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is an essential pillar of international peace and security, and the heart of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime. Its unique status is based on its near universal membership, legally-binding obligations on disarmament, verifiable non-proliferation safeguards regime, and commitment to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

That principle was echoed recently by NATO at the Madrid conference last month, when it endorsed the NPT in the strategic concept. The conclusions of the Madrid conference state:

“The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is the essential bulwark against the spread of nuclear weapons, and we remain strongly committed to its full implementation, including Article VI. NATO’s goal is to create the security environment for a world without nuclear weapons, consistent with the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

We are all signed up. The UK is a signatory to the treaty and has ratified it, so I call for more action from the Minister. I would be the first to support and applaud more action if we see it, and I say that with a clear conscience and in good faith. I have two main questions for the Minister. We need to see what the UK’s stance is going into the August conference, so will he publish something so that we can hold the Government to account? Will he commit to making a statement in the House after the conference so that we can likewise hold the Government to account for what they said at the time? Those are two concrete questions.

I extend a hand of friendship to the Minister and the Government. We are all signed up to these aims, but signing up to stuff is easy; making it happen is what makes the difference in the world. The UK is in a position to lead, but we have not seen much leadership to date. Scotland wants to be a nuclear-free independent state, but I would work with anybody to see the UK take a lead in nuclear disarmament for the better future of us all.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. Thank you for being here this afternoon.

I thank the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for stepping in at the last minute and opening this debate on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), who secured it. It could not come at a more important time, as all Members said, especially as Russia continues to recklessly wage an unjustified and illegal war in Ukraine.

We have had a very interesting set of speeches, and there has been a lot of unanimity. I hope the Minister’s response will continue the unanimity, because this is one of the most important treaties ever signed in the history of human society—certainly the history of the United Nations.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion opened the debate by saying that the specific number of warheads in the UK stockpile is not published anywhere. Will the Minister correct that? The hon. Lady said, and I agree, that there is no transparency, in line with our obligations to the non-proliferation treaty. Importantly, she said—again, I hope the Minister will put us right on this—that no Minister has yet been allocated to attend the NPT review conference in New York. It should be the Foreign Secretary, or at least the Foreign Secretary should be there for part of it. I am hoping to be there myself as an observer.

The aim of the NPT is to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. An inconsistent approach to multilateral nuclear disarmament seems to be emerging from the British Government, although I hope that is not the case. We want to be consistent. We want all parties in the country and the Government to agree on this.

The hon. Lady said that the security of a nation is about more than simply the weapons we hold. She is absolutely right. It is vital, it seems to me and to the Labour party, that we look at food security, energy security and the terrible inequality from which many nations in the world suffer, as I saw recently on my visit to Colombia. That is what brings security: if we reduce inequality and ensure the security of food, energy and housing, we can have a more sustainable and much more secure human society and planet. She said that a nuclear-free world is possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) spoke about the horrors of the use of nuclear weapons, quoting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and was echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). The NPT demands, eventually, the elimination of all nuclear weapons. Are we going down that path at the moment? We have to conclude that that is not happening. We are increasing stockpiles not just in the UK but across the world.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley said that the Ukraine war has resurrected fears of a nuclear war. I remember from my campaigning youth as a student the fears we had of living under the threat of nuclear war. It seems that many generations have lived under that fear, and the NPT offers the hope that we can reverse that position. She said that she deplores the 40% increase in the number of warheads in the UK stockpile. We need an answer as to why that is necessary. I cannot understand it either. We all live under the threat of nuclear weapons being used.

We then heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North. He said that this is an opportunity for the Government to set out their plans for what they will do at the NPT review conference. He is absolutely right: we would like to know. Here is an issue where we can all agree on a policy put forward by the British Government—there are not many of those right now. It would be a really good gain for this Parliament and this country if we could do that.

My right hon. Friend said that a large number of Governments across the world treat this issue with great seriousness, and so should we. The non-proliferation treaty has achieved a great deal in its 50 years. He mentioned the JCPOA—the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran—which should be resurrected. I hope we will hear more about that from the Minister. There is a serious danger—we all feel this, don’t we?—that the Ukraine war could escalate into a nuclear war. That would be the end.

We heard briefly from the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), who more or less said that she would like to see nuclear weapons removed from Scottish soil. I think we would all like to see nuclear weapons—

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for indulging me. I want to be very clear: I would like to see nuclear weapons removed from all shores across the world. There is no place for nuclear weapons in the world. They resolve none of the challenges the world faces today. He has set that out very clearly himself.

The hon. Lady interrupted me in saying exactly that. We want to see the non-proliferation treaty taken to its logical conclusion, which is the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons. That seems a vain hope that the moment, but we know as politicians that unless we have those hopes and aims, unless we look to the future and have a vision for a better world, we will certainly never achieve it. We may fail in our lifetimes, but we must have that vision and hope—that determination —to aim for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

As we have heard, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is the most successful international treaty in history. It has prevented the proliferation of nuclear weapons across the world and has almost certainly deterred some rogue states from easily accessing the materials needed for nuclear weapons programmes. It is therefore vital that the review conference in New York in August provides fresh impetus towards further nuclear non-proliferation. As a nuclear power, it is really important that the UK acts responsibly and throws its entire diplomatic weight behind this review conference in the NPT’s 50th year. We need to play our part alongside other nuclear powers to ensure that a nuclear conflict can never take place, because we all know that if it did, the destruction would reach every corner of our world and kill millions and millions—not only human beings, but all living creatures.

Non-signatories to the NPT and those who continually flout its obligations should also form an important part of the review conference. Given regional tensions, it is vital that we put as much diplomatic pressure as we can on India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and indeed South Sudan to finally sign and ratify this historic treaty. As far as we know, South Sudan has no nuclear weapons, but it has not signed the treaty.

It is also important to hold to account countries such as Iran that continue to pursue nuclear weapons programmes—that, of course, flies in the face of its commitments within the NPT. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what recent discussions the Government have had with those countries about signing up to the NPT, even if they refuse to attend the review conference. Of course, North Korea was once signed up and then withdrew from it. Can it be persuaded to sign up to the NPT again?

My party has a long and proud history of action on nuclear non-proliferation. While we are clear that the Labour party is steadfastly committed to our nuclear deterrent, we also understand that, as a nuclear power, we must act responsibly. That is why Labour Governments signed the NPT in 1968—as hon. and right hon. Members have mentioned today—signed the comprehensive test ban treaty, and phased out tactical nuclear weapons in 1998. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North said, there is no such thing as a tactical nuclear weapon; it destroys every living being and creature in its path.

Oh, gosh. I am sorry; I didn’t realise that.

Continuing that rich history of multilateral non-proliferation is the right thing to do—to act now and use Britain’s position as a nuclear-armed state to convene a nuclear forum to discuss the next generation of arms control, including on hypersonic missiles. The non-proliferation treaty review conference is just around the corner and is the perfect opportunity for the UK to put non-proliferation back on the global political agenda at such a vital time.

With that in mind, it is worrying that the Government have, as part of their integrated review, decided to increase the cap on the amount of nuclear weapons the UK can hold. We in the Opposition all believe that sends the wrong message to our international partners. It also came without justification. Does the Minister have any update on the justification for that increase? How does he believe it will impact on our participation at the NPT review conference?

We must also look to the NPT review conference to hold discussions on the other important non-proliferation treaties, especially the comprehensive test ban treaty, because the United States has still not ratified it. Does the Minister have any plans to discuss that with his US counterpart? Beyond the political and diplomatic process, it is vital that we remember the human consequences of nuclear testing. We must honour those who risked their wellbeing in nuclear testing on behalf of this country, but also encourage other Governments to do the same in areas such as Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, where significant cancer clusters have been linked to previous nuclear tests. The horrific consequences of nuclear testing for those communities exposed to nuclear test fallout should be a driving force in bringing Governments to the negotiating table. Our country can be a force for good for a more secure world, and it is about time that we reclaimed that moral duty.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) for securing the debate ahead of the NPT review conference in August, and to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for stepping in and leading it.

I completely agree with the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) on the quality of the debate that we have enjoyed this afternoon. I will try to respond to as many of the points raised as possible in the perhaps eight minutes before we vote.

We had a mention of RAF Lakenheath. It remains long-standing UK and NATO policy neither to confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons at a given location. The UK does not have a policy of no first use because—this goes to the heart of much of what we are discussing—the credibility of the deterrent rests on the conviction that we would bring all means to bear to ensure the security of the UK and our allies.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion referred to the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. The TPNW fails to address the obstacles that must be overcome to achieve lasting global disarmament and offers no solutions to the challenges posed by what is, as hon. Members suggested and with which I agree, a deteriorating security environment. The TPNW will not lead us closer to a world without nuclear weapons and risks creating division within the international community, at a time when we need to focus on building consensus and strengthening the NPT to make progress on disarmament together.

What I have picked up, enjoyed and appreciated in the debate—the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) was particularly fluent on the point, but hon. Members across the Chamber picked it up—is the recognition of the importance of the NPT. It is a remarkably successful treaty. Over the last 52 years, the NPT has been the cornerstone of global nuclear security and civil nuclear prosperity.

In 1960, as the right hon. Member for Islington North mentioned, President Kennedy predicted that there could be up to 20 nations with nuclear weapons as soon as 1964. Yet today the number of nuclear-armed states remains in single figures, thanks to the NPT. It is important that we recognise that and cement that progress, although I recognise people will want other initiatives. The NPT has extended access to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It has prevented the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It has provided a framework for significant levels of disarmament since the cold war peak. It has been remarkably successful.

Now, after two years of delay, we are delighted that states will be able to come together next month in New York to review implementation and take forward the objectives of the treaty. The UK remains committed to full implementation of the NPT in all its aspects. We are a nuclear weapons state that takes its responsibilities seriously. We are committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons, where all states share in the peaceful uses of nuclear technologies.

At the review conference, the UK will work constructively with states parties for a successful outcome. We will mark the progress of the past 50 years and call on all states to reaffirm their commitment to the three pillars of the treaty—disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

Celebrating success does not mean ignoring reality. Since the last conference in 2015, we have seen a significant deterioration in the security environment and the treaty faces a number of challenges. We have previously identified risks to the UK from major nuclear-armed states and emerging nuclear states. Those risks have not gone away, and some states are now significantly increasing and diversifying their nuclear arsenals. They are investing in novel nuclear technologies and developing new warfighting nuclear systems, which they are integrating into their military strategies and doctrines, and into their political rhetoric, to seek to coerce others. The increase in global competition and the proliferation of potentially disruptive technologies mean there are new threats to strategic stability.

Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which the right hon. Member for Islington North rightly and fully condemned, is a dramatic demonstration of the risks we face. We do not underestimate the challenges. They make strengthening the NPT more important. The treaty is not an academic document. It must live in the real world and adapt to address modern challenges. We believe the NPT provides the only credible route to nuclear disarmament.

The UK Government are proud of our contribution to the NPT’s success and of our own track record. We set out the steps we have taken since 2015 in the UK’s national report, published last November. I refer those asking for clarity on the UK’s views and objectives to that report. It sets them out. Our views have not changed since that report. If people have already read it, they should look again. We share the aspirations of all states parties to the NPT for a world without nuclear weapons. Disarmament cannot be done unilaterally or in a single leap. It requires a series of incremental, mutually reinforcing steps.

Building such a framework requires the active participation of the entire international community. Rallying their many disparate interests presents a huge diplomatic challenge, but it is one in which the United Kingdom has already played a significant role. We have pioneered work in nuclear disarmament verification, championed transparency and advanced understanding on irreversibility. In December we published a food for thought paper, outlining one vision for how to get to a world without nuclear weapons in support of the forthcoming review conference that hon. Members have mentioned.

We have pressed for significant steps towards multilateral disarmament, including the entry into force of the comprehensive test ban treaty and successful negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty. It is the comprehensive test ban treaty that deals with the testing issues, which have been referred to by hon. Members, as opposed to the NPT. We possess the smallest stockpile. That is worth noting, given the impression that in some way the UK has not been stepping up: we possess the smallest stockpile of any of the nuclear weapon states recognised by the NPT, and we are the only one to maintain a single delivery system—

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming

Order. I apologise to the Minister for rudely interrupting him earlier on. He can carry on where he left off.

Thank you, Mr Dowd. It is a pleasure to be back. I am grateful to Members for returning to the debate.

We remain committed to our article 6 obligation to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament. Reducing the risk of nuclear conflict remains a priority and we believe that short-term progress, in line with many of the contributions we have had, is achievable. We should seek to foster dialogue, which many Members have mentioned, both among states possessing nuclear weapons and between states possessing nuclear weapons and non-nuclear weapon states in order to increase understanding and reduce the risk of misinterpretation and miscalculation.

Although we recognise that work on risk reduction does not replace disarmament obligations, we see it as a complementary and necessary step to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict and enhance mutual trust and security. We will continue to work with international partners, civil society and academia to build mutual trust and create the environment for further progress on disarmament.

The UK works to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. We have sought to strengthen the international nuclear safeguard system and the International Atomic Energy Agency through our diplomatic efforts and through direct assistance from our nuclear safeguards programme. We will encourage all states that have not yet done so to sign, ratify and implement safeguards agreements. We will promote the ratification of security conventions and seek universal commitment to the additional protocol and a comprehensive safeguards agreement, which together provide credible assurances of the absence of undeclared nuclear activities and will strengthen the non-proliferation architecture. Nevertheless, the UK recognises that significant regional risks remain, particularly from Iran and North Korea. They have been highlighted in the debate. We are working hard to combat the risk of proliferation and remain firmly committed to ensuring coherence to the NPT and the IAEA safeguards regime to ensure global safety and stability.

Finally, the UK has encouraged and will continue to encourage the development and exchange of peaceful nuclear technologies, enabled by the NPT. Nuclear technologies have a critical part to play in tackling climate change, for instance, not only in helping to achieve net zero, but also through nuclear applications such as helping to improve food security and agricultural resilience. The technologies can help countries to adapt and become more resilient to climate change. They are also vital to global health, as they are used to treat cancer and prevent the spread of insect-borne disease. We want the review conference to highlight the significant global contribution that the peaceful use of nuclear technology makes to improving people’s lives and advancing progress to the UN sustainable development goals.

I am interested in the outline that the Minister is giving us of what will happen in New York. Could he assure us—I think a number of my colleagues raised the question—that Britain will be represented by a suitably empowered delegation that can take part in serious discussions about building alliances for the future? These conferences do not normally come to a huge conclusion themselves, but they often point to a direction for the future. I would like assurance that this country will be adequately represented, so that we can go forward on this. Also, can we possibly offer up at least a reduction in nuclear stockpiles as part of our negotiations?

It is not our practice to announce in advance who will be attending. What I can tell him is that we are very much looking forward to it. It has already been delayed. I hope that the rest of my speech has made clear that we take this as a serious opportunity and aim to make the most of it.

We have published a working paper on a new sustained dialogue on peaceful uses, which aims to help overcome barriers to accessing the benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear technologies. We continue to urge all non-NPT states to sign and ratify the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states as soon as possible.

There are a number of issues, and I will try to deal with some that have been raised. The spokesman for Her Majesty’s Opposition, the hon. Member for Leeds North East, raised the point that the UK supports the universalisation of the NPT. Though we cannot force any state to join, we discuss the importance of the NPT with all states at all levels, and whenever we engage with states. We regularly seek to encourage India and Pakistan, for example, to join the NPT.

On Scotland hosting nuclear weapons, the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent is a national endeavour benefiting the whole of the UK, and it underpins the security of this nation and that of our allies. By way of information, I note that recent opinion polls show that Trident enjoys 58% support among young Scots, even though the SNP and Green Ministers in the Scottish Government wish to see us remove it and even leave NATO altogether—[Interruption.] I do not think the SNP can have it both ways. It wants to have an independent Scotland and join NATO, which is perhaps what the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) will say, while also removing part of its nuclear deterrent.

I wonder if I can point the Minister back to the speech that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) made only a few minutes ago. He set out our policy position very clearly, and I do not think that it is helpful for the Minister to represent what has been said in an entirely different way. It is not for the Minister to determine what happens to people in Scotland and whether nuclear weapons are situated there. That is something that rightly and properly should be for those who are democratically elected by the Scottish people.

As the hon. Lady will be aware, that is a matter for the UK Government, and this Parliament of the Union reflects the whole of the United Kingdom, including the people of Scotland.

The hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) requested that we should put on paper our position on the New York conference. I have already directed him to our November 2021 national report, and I am confident that the Government will update the House after the rev con in due course.

On the point made by the right hon. Member for Islington North about having a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the middle east, we remain committed to that and firmly believe it can be achieved only by consensus of all the states of the region. I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we continue to push for that.

I hope that has addressed most of the points that right hon. and hon. Members have made. The right hon. Member for Islington North also made a point about the humanitarian impact. The UK recognises the importance of engaging with the humanitarian consequences debate and listening to the views of non-nuclear weapon states. However, we believe that that conference was co-opted by civil society organisations to press for unilateral disarmament, which obviously is not the policy of this country. It was on that basis that the UK decided not to attend.

I hope that I have dealt reasonably with right hon. and hon. Members’ points. We will be able to discuss any further ones following the New York conference, and I look forward to working with Members of different parties in doing so.

In response to what the Minister just said and what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) said earlier, after the NPT conference will the Minister be in a position to make a statement or ensure there is a debate, so that Members of the House can raise in discussion what actually happened at the conference? Too often, these conferences have huge energy put into them but there is not much parliamentary discussion afterwards. If the Minister was prepared to guarantee that there will be some kind of statement, that would be very helpful.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that fresh in my post as I am, I am not yet briefed as to whether I am in a position to guarantee that, but I am quite sure that Members in this Chamber are more than capable of ensuring that we follow up on that conference, whether in this format or another. In common with the right hon. Gentleman, I would hope that would occur, given the seriousness of the issue and the fact that it must not disappear from parliamentary debate or drift out of sight.

To conclude, the NPT remains essential to the maintenance of a safe and secure world, and I am delighted to have such cross-party support for that. At the 10th review conference, the UK is ready to work with all states parties and partners from across the international community and civil society to achieve a meaningful outcome that contributes to the preservation, universal adoption and, of course, full, ultimate implementation of that treaty, which had such foresight so many decades ago.

I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. It has been constructive, even though there is obviously a vast gulf between the position of the Minister and that of most of the rest of the Members in the Chamber. I still wonder how on earth he could look himself in the mirror if he really was going to give the green light to using nuclear weapons first. Sometimes we do not necessarily think through the impacts of the positions Governments take and what they would mean in humanitarian terms; I would encourage all of us to do that.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the 50th anniversary review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Sitting adjourned.