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Westminster Hall

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 20 October 2022

Westminster Hall

Thursday 20 October 2022

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]


Homes and Buildings: Levelling Up Health and Wellbeing

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the role of homes and buildings in levelling up health and wellbeing.

As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. This is a very important issue. I understand from others that some other statements are being made at this moment in time, or thereabouts—well, people cannot always be in this Chamber when other things are perhaps more engaging.

We have not had a debate on this issue in Westminster Hall or, indeed, in Westminster for a year and a half, maybe even two. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on healthy homes and buildings and we wanted to refresh the House’s awareness of the issue, so Westminster Hall seemed the obvious place to come to do just that. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to my application and I am delighted to have secured a debate to discuss the very important role homes and buildings play in levelling up health and wellbeing.

I came into the House in 2010, when the independent Marmot review was taking place. Let me set the scene with a quote from a House of Commons Library paper:

“The causal link between poor housing conditions and poor health outcomes is long established. The independent Marmot Review (2010) said housing is a ‘social determinant of health’ meaning it can affect physical and mental health inequalities throughout life. The Marmot Review 10 Years On—Health Equity in England, recorded an expansion in research on the relationship between poor housing and health”.

We cannot divorce the two. Quite simply, wellbeing, health and housing are intertwined. Today’s debate is important because, as the Government move forward with their policies and strategies, we need a clear strategy that takes up the issue of housing and health. The 10-year review of Marmot said:

“Poor-quality housing harms health and evidence shows that exposure to poor housing conditions (including damp, cold, mould, noise) is strongly associated with poor health, both physical and mental. The longer the exposure to poor conditions, including cold, the greater the impact on mental and physical health. Specific physical effects are morbidity including respiratory conditions, cardiovascular disease and communicable disease transmission, and increased mortality. In terms of mental health impacts, living in non-decent, cold or overcrowded housing and in unaffordable housing has been associated with increased stress and a reduction in a sense of empowerment and control over one’s life and with depression and anxiety. Children living in overcrowded homes are more likely to be stressed, anxious and depressed, have poorer physical health, attain less well at school and have a greater risk of behavioural problems than those in uncrowded homes.”

I also chair the all-party parliamentary group on respiratory health—I am wearing my two chairs’ hats. Furthermore, of the many all-party parliamentary groups on which we all serve, I also chair the all-party parliamentary group on vascular and venous disease. Again, these issues are key. That is why the debate is so important.

Let me spend some time on the hazards. Across England, Yorkshire and the Humber are the regions with the highest proportion of homes with category 1 hazards, at 15%. The east had pretty damning figures as well. The figure for Northern Ireland, which concerned me greatly, was that 9% of homes had a problem. The midlands was at 13%, the north-west 12% and the south-east and London had the lowest proportion. I find that hard to believe, considering some of the information I am aware of. I see that the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) is present to speak on behalf of the Labour party, and some figures from others’ constituencies may contradict what is being said. An estimated 18% of homes in Wales had a category 1 hazard. Given the busy job that I do in my office as an elected MP, I know that mould growth in houses—be they Housing Executive houses back home, housing associations or private rentals—affects people’s health.

The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) asked how the Government’s levelling-up policy planned to tackle

“illnesses directly linked to living in cold, damp and dangerous conditions.”

The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), replied that it was an important issue and that a

“decent home can promote good health and protect from illness and harm.”—[Official Report, 19 April 2022; Vol. 712, c. 12.]

All those things set the scene for where we are today and why it is so important that we move forward in a constructive and positive fashion. Most of us spend over 90% of our time indoors, so the nation’s homes and buildings should positively contribute to our physical and mental health and wellbeing, and not in any way diminish it.

The covid-19 pandemic highlighted prevailing health inequalities in our society. The most vulnerable are more likely to live in unhealthy homes that are damp, energy-inefficient, noisy, poorly ventilated and crowded. The inextricable link between our health and wellbeing, and the homes and buildings where we work, rest and play, is clear—never more so than during the pandemic. There were a great many negatives to the pandemic, and it emphasised some of the areas where improvement can take place. Having to spend more time in our homes, with many more people working remotely, emphasised the impact that our homes and buildings have on our health. Unhealthy housing impacts on economic growth, business performance, educational attainment, life chances, climate change and our nation’s health and wellbeing. Therefore, it makes sense to join up policy thinking, frameworks and standards and to ensure that all future housing, net zero and health policies do not contribute to, cause or exacerbate poor health and wellbeing.

The current energy and cost of living crises will only increase the problems caused by unhealthy homes and buildings. It is like a double whammy, because as the energy crisis hits and prices increase, that puts pressure on landlords, tenants and families from sides that they were perhaps not expecting. Many charities and other bodies across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland predict—I hope they are wrong—a record number of excess winter deaths this year linked to thermal inefficiency in the housing stock. We must try to prevent deaths and ensure that they do not become a critical issue, although all the pointers seem to indicate that that will happen. There is strong evidence to support the idea that poor-quality and unhealthy homes cause or exacerbate poor health, thereby placing more pressure on our NHS.

Like others in this Chamber, I believe that if we can have early diagnosis and stop things happening in homes, we can improve further down the line when we do not have the major health problems that come off the back of poor housing. The Building Research Establishment, or BRE, estimated that in 2010 poor housing cost the NHS £2.5 billion in first-year treatment costs—it is a big figure. Again, that indicates exactly where the issues are and why it is so important that every step is taken to address them. Building design, the retrofitting of buildings and the renovation of the current housing stock should adopt a holistic approach.

I thank the hon. Member for securing this important debate. I agree with him that the places we call home can have a huge impact on our health and wellbeing, particularly given the amount of time that we spend in them. In rural areas such as my part of Devon, that is even more pronounced, as buildings tend to be older, which means that they are often less energy-efficient and lack modern insulation. Does the hon. Member agree that the key to protecting people’s health and wellbeing is to ensure that buildings, and particularly our homes, are properly insulated?

I fully support that. I am probably of a greater age than nearly everybody in this Chamber, and I remember when we had not heard of insulation. We know about it today, and it is clearly part of having healthy homes. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which sets the scene for what we need to do. I look to the Minister for a positive response.

Energy efficiency, indoor air quality, ventilation, lighting and acoustics are all clearly big issues, and the health, comfort and wellbeing of residents should be placed at the heart of good building and infrastructure planning. I understand that the Government have a policy to ensure that new builds adhere to those conditions to ensure the betterment that we want to see, but we must also address the question of homes that do not have those things, which brings me to insulation. There must be a plan of action. Will the Minister give us some indication of what the Government are doing to help buildings that do not come up to that standard?

I am very pleased to see the shadow Minister in her place, and I look forward to her contribution. I also look forward to the Minister’s contribution, and I wish him well in his new role.

UK Green Building Council research found that 75% of new developments have poor thermal quality and performance—the very issue that the hon. Gentleman raised. To level up and reduce health inequalities, the Government must commit to deliver higher standards, and performance must be measured rather than just designed. It is very easy—I say this respectfully—to have a plan of action, but we also need the action. Again, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

We need to futureproof the built environment. New building and planning law must be designed and reformed to be fit for our long-term future. Some 85% of our homes will still exist in 2050. It is a sobering thought that the homes that are built today are there for a long time, so let us make sure energy efficiency, wellbeing and health implications are all part of an intricate system.

To level up, we need a national retrofitting strategy focused on delivering health and wellbeing. The Building Research Establishment estimates that poor housing in England costs £18.6 billion per annum. That affects the health of thousands of people. Again, that is really worrying.

The subject of the debate is critical for people’s health. Health and wellbeing must now be placed at the heart of Government housing, environment, skills, planning and energy policy in order to level up and reduce the UK’s health inequalities. There is a collateral burden on our healthcare, education and public services.

I thank the Library staff for their background notes, which greatly enhance my knowledge of the subject and add to the debate. They refer to a number of things, including housing and covid-19, which we all, as elected representatives, know about. We must also look at housing and dementia. I am sure it is no different for other Members, but I have more constituents than ever being diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The population is living longer. That does not always mean that people with Alzheimer’s or dementia are of a certain age, of course, but the fact is that most of them are. There are some things that we need to do about housing and dementia. I have also never seen so many people with mental health issues. Covid-19, dementia and mental health are three things that need to be correlated with housing and health.

The all-party parliamentary group for healthy homes and buildings is calling on the Government and the Minister to take forward its recommendations in its “Building our Future: Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings” white paper, to adopt a more holistic and joined-up approach to tackle the problem of unhealthy homes and buildings in Britain, and to adopt Lord Crisp’s Healthy Homes Bill. I am sure that the Minister is very aware of that. He might wish to comment now. The white paper sets a clear direction and has a clear focus, which is helpful. I always make my comments in a constructive fashion; I am in the business, as we all are, of solutions, not negativity. If we highlight the issues, we can highlight the solutions.

Lord Crisp has called for a joined-up, holistic approach to healthy homes, health and wellbeing in the context of the Government’s levelling-up agenda—which I know the Government are committed to and which I welcome—the Government’s heat and buildings strategy, the decent homes standard review, the Building Safety Act 2022 and updated planning reforms. Those are five things into which the Government have a direct input.

We must also recognise the cost benefits of improving and levelling up our homes and communities, to remove health inequalities and positively contribute to the climate agenda. We cannot ignore climate change; it is a reality. When we build our homes, we must recognise that we need more energy efficiency. We want to meet the Government’s net zero 2050 target, to which this United Kingdom is committed.

We also want to commit to introduce legislation that addresses the growing health problems caused or exacerbated by the UK’s unhealthy homes and buildings. I watched a news story on flats in London. I just could not believe that anybody could ever live healthily in some of those properties, with the decay and mould growth. The danger to people was quite real.

We must also act to reduce health inequalities right across this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—I am ever mindful that the Minister is directly responsible only for England—and ensure that Britain’s homes and buildings do not cause or exacerbate poor health and wellbeing. The cost to society and the NHS is far too vast, and it is the poorest in our society who are particularly affected; it always is. I have a duty—we all do—to help those who need help most, and those are often the poorest in our society.

We must also enshrine a clear definition of health and wellbeing in future legislation. The healthy homes and buildings APPG white paper referenced the World Health Organisation’s definition of health as

“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”.

A healthy home is a safe home. However, at present, many homes are unsafe. I have some information from a group that I work with back home, Electrical Safety First, which gave me some stats for England. In England alone, there are five fires every week caused by electrical installations in homes. Electricity causes the majority of house fires, accounting for 53.4% of all accidental dwelling fires. I have also worked with a good friend, a fella called Michael Hilland, who was an electrical contractor. He no longer has his business, but he advises. I thank him and his organisation for the information.

Electrical Safety First believes that house fires can be reduced by mandating periodic electrical safety checks in homes across the United Kingdom. That is already the case for the private rented sector, and it should be for all housing associations, and indeed for the Housing Executive, which we have back home. However, enforcement measures do not go far enough. In the social rented sector, tenants will soon be protected. However, clarity is needed about whether electrical safety checks will cover installations and appliances, and also whether landlords will be given statutory powers to undertake electrical safety checks. I look to the Minister for some direction on that.

In the owner-occupier sector, there are currently no electrical safety protections. That is concerning, given that owner-occupied housing is likely to have the most dated electrical wiring, and houses a greater proportion of the elderly population, who are more vulnerable to electrical safety risks. The fact is, our mobility decreases as we get older. If we are living in a house that may be outdated or, indeed, where it takes time to get up and down the stairs or time to get out of the house, then, when it comes to electrical safety, more action needs to be taken.

The issue is particularly concerning because the owner-occupier sector makes up the largest housing tenure, accounting for some 65% of all households in England. As a result, the majority of households have no statutory protections from electrical safety risks. Again, I ask the Minister: what can be done? I know he will be positive in his response, and I appreciate that in advance, but I need to have the assurance in Hansard that the Government will take on board the things we are outlining. In total, across England, that means that some 15 million households have no statutory protection from electrical safety risks. That is a concerning figure. Data from the London Fire Brigade found that a greater number of owner-occupiers had experienced a fire than social and private renters combined. Again, that indicates a greater onus to try to sort out owner-occupiers and give them some guidance over what can be done to ensure they are safe and in no danger.

Separately, while there are provisions for vulnerable customers to receive free gas safety checks, no analogous provisions exist for electrical safety checks. I suggest that it is time to put electrical safety checks on the same level as gas safety checks for the simple reason of the number of fires and the dangers that are caused. I believe this must all be taken into consideration.

Health and housing are and always have been linked. That is why this debate is important. If we are to move forward and improve the health of our nation—which, as my party’s health spokesperson, I am happy to promote—housing must be an integral part of that. I do not think we can divorce the two issues; they come intertwined, hand in hand, together. If one defines a person’s basic needs, the right to a healthy home is surely fundamental.

Healthy homes and buildings are not simply those where there is a lack of ill health; a healthy home should mean homes and buildings that maximise the occupants’ physical, mental and social wellbeing. In a nation where mental health, anxiety, covid and advancing diseases have all grown in number, the focus of future housing policy must now shift to health creation. That is why this is an important debate. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance. We must not look at ill health prevention alone. Ill health prevention must become part of the strategy.

Delivering healthy homes and places is vital to levelling up our communities, towns and cities. This must be integrated together. Health and Housing—the two Departments must work constructively together in a positive fashion. Healthy homes and buildings will make Britain healthier, save money and contribute to increased educational attainment and wealth creation.

In conclusion, I urge the Minister to support the White Paper and the recommendations put forward by the APPG on healthy homes and buildings, and to place healthy housing at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. I know that the Minister will have had a chance to look at the recommendations made back in 2018; they are as relevant today as they were then. Those recommendations show a strategy and a way forward. I look forward to hearing from the Minister, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Luton North, and others contributing.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this important debate and for his excellent speech. I could not agree more. The Departments for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and of Health and Social Care—health and home—need to work more closely together.

This debate is about an important issue that affects many of my constituents in Coventry North West. In my city, a recent study showed that high air pollution contributed to one in 18 deaths of people over 30 in 2019. That equates to more than 150 deaths in a single year. It is totally unacceptable. We know how damaging pollution is to children and their long-term health, but not enough is being done to improve air quality. The evidence is unambiguous. Those exposed to high levels of pollution are at a much greater risk of respiratory disease, learning disabilities and brain damage. It is inexcusable.

Despite that, homes are being built alongside the busy Tamworth Road in my constituency, with more families moving in every day. As lorries and cars block up the road at all times, children are forced to play in spaces where they are constantly inhaling toxins and fumes. The Government must set high standards, and set councils free to build social housing within communities on brownfield sites. It cannot be right that children with their entire lives ahead of them are constantly exposed to such dangerous chemicals.

Giving developers too much power means they often fail to establish the risk of developments, which can become incredibly dangerous for the safety of our young people. Two years ago, an 11-year-old was killed on Tamworth Road after a car struck her. Such tragic events are preventable. When building homes, the safety and health of our young children must be prioritised. Whether we use pavement barriers, bollards or slower speed limits, it is vital that we find ways to protect those who live alongside busy roads.

Tamworth Road is not the only part of my constituency with new homes that are exposed to high levels of pollution. A new development in Spon End will see 750 homes built next to an extremely busy dual carriageway. Those homes will be occupied by families from across my constituency. I will always fight to make sure that no child grows up with avoidable health problems. The Government and the developers know how dangerous this is, yet they are failing children on their watch. I urge the Government to legislate to bolster the chances of young children across the country. Every child deserves an equal chance in life. Inadequate housing is taking that chance away from them, and it needs to end.

To reduce the levels of pollution in our towns and cities, all new homes must be built as efficiently and sustainably as possible. In practice, that means electrical charging points built into homes to make it as easy as possible to have an electric car. Solar panels must be standard in all newly built homes. That is how we can increase air quality to make sure the next generation of young people do not develop the same ailments that plague so many across the country.

Although pollution is a serious risk, poor-quality homes are equally damaging to health. When I speak to medical professionals across my community, they tell me that the health impact of poor housing is clear. Children who live in damp and mouldy homes are more likely to develop or experience trigger symptoms of asthma and adult respiratory problems than children who live in homes without those issues. We know the solution: warm and dry homes improve general health outcomes, and reduce the risk of respiratory, cardiovascular and other health conditions.

The Government must legislate to make sure that developers are held responsible. The current planning free-for-all gives big developers too much power, and too often they do not know what type of housing is required in what parts of our towns and cities. Housing has a huge influence on the mental health and wellbeing of so many families in my constituency. They are made to live in crowded homes far outside their communities, with limited access to shops, GP surgeries and other facilities. It is no wonder that we have a mental health crisis.

The Government must empower local authorities and build sustainable homes to reduce generational health inequalities in a way that will have a real impact for decades to come. I hope that the Minister is able to comment on some of my points in his response.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this valuable debate on an area of importance to all our constituents, and one that too often flies under the radar. He speaks with compassion and experience about the link between health and housing. I also thank the other speakers this afternoon, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi), for their reasoned and insightful comments.

Whatever melodrama is happening outside, this issue matters to the people we represent. When it comes to the nation’s health, we know that prevention is unequivocally better than cure, in terms of the human cost and the toll on individuals, but also in terms of the sound management of public finances.

We see the impact of under-investment in social and primary care settings on our acute hospitals. We know that investment to tackle the scourges of public health, such as smoking and obesity, ultimately pays for itself in the long run, as well as helping people to live happier, healthier and longer lives. It should not be controversial to aspire to want that for our constituents. It is common sense, not nanny-statism, as some would have it. It is no different from other factors that impact public health and wellbeing, which are many, varied and not always immediately obvious, as we have heard today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West spoke eloquently and passionately, from her considerable experience in the public health field. We know that diseases such as cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease cause around 89% of deaths in the UK. The House of Lords Select Committee on the Long-term Sustainability of the NHS concluded that:

“These conditions are also, to a significant extent, preventable and the costs, in human, social and economic terms, are largely avoidable.”

The World Health Organisation has made it clear that poverty is closely linked with these diseases. Vulnerable and socially disadvantaged people get sicker and die sooner than people of higher social positions. As the hon. Member for Strangford rightly said, we saw that play out starkly with the covid-19 pandemic. We need to see action taken to close those health inequalities.

Risk factors associated with poverty and deprivation include tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol. Economic and social conditions contribute significantly to levels of preventable ill health. The levels of health inequality in the UK were already too great but, shamefully, they are just getting worse. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2018 to 2020, males living in the most deprived areas were living almost 10 years less than males living in the least deprived areas, with the gap at around eight years for females. Both sexes have seen statistically significant increases in inequality and life expectancy at birth since 2015 to 2017.

This is not necessarily about regions, or differences from one end of the country to the other. In my constituency of Luton North, we see the difference in life expectancy from one end of the town to the other, and that is to say nothing of the consequences of poverty and deprivation for mental health. Being deprived is not just about a lack of money. It is a lack of quality of life. It is community insecurity and a lack of resources overall, whether that is about exposure to stressor such as violence and crime, or a lack of public green space.

Public Health England has stated that:

“Insecure, poor quality and overcrowded houses cause stress, anxiety and depression, and exacerbates existing mental health conditions. 19% of adults living in poor quality housing in England have poor mental health outcomes.”

I feel that figure might be a gross under-representation. We also know that the research shows that people with a mental health problem are much more likely to have preventable physical health conditions as well.

What can be done? It would be disingenuous of me to stand here and say that poor mental and physical public health could be remedied by action on housing alone, but it is a key part of the puzzle of reducing the UK’s entrenched geographic, ethnic and demographic inequalities. That being said, there are things that the Government can and should do now, which have the potential to have a rapid and significant impact on ending the creation of unhealthy homes.

In the longer term, we need to overhaul the complex, fragmented system that allows new homes and places to be built that do not guarantee that all new homes provide for residents’ basic human needs, such as access to green space and local services, and clean air. We need developments that are guided by communities, with input from public health professionals on design, and proper infrastructure to support them, whether that is about encouraging active travel, access to green space, public leisure facilities or even allotments and communal vegetable gardens—although do not let me anywhere near those, because I am not green-fingered.

We need to do much better in setting standards for developments across the country and looking at methods for how they can be delivered. Research by Public Health England in 2017 clearly demonstrated the relationship between the built environment and health and the positive impact provision of these basic amenities can have.

A matter of more immediate concern is the liberalisation of permitted development rights by the Government in 2013, which has had a significant detrimental effect on the quality of dwellings produced as a result. Ministers both past and present have claimed—and future ones possibly will—that liberalisation of planning and permitted development rights removes unnecessary impediments to development. However, the evidence overwhelming shows that the impact of extending permitted development rights to convert office, commercial and industrial units into supposedly residential spaces—although I think very few of them could be described as such—is negative.

We have seen a huge increase in poor-quality housing that lacks space and natural light, and there are accompanying implications for public health and wellbeing as a result. The Government’s own research has shown that schemes created through permitted development projects are far less likely to meet national space standards and far more likely to have reduced access to natural daylight and sunlight. Space and daylight are the very basics. The former Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s housing and safety rating system states that

“lack of space has been linked to psychological distress and various mental disorders”

and problems such as

“accidents and spread of contagious disease.”

Some residential conversions are as small as 13 square metres, which is a third of the minimum space standard recommended by Government. Terminus House in Harlow, a former office block converted into hundreds of dwellings, was described as a “human warehouse”. That sounds like something from the Victorian era, not 2022. The Government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s final report also concluded that:

“In some instances, we have inadvertently permissioned future slums.”

The 2018 Raynsford review of planning also concluded in a reference to the liberalisation of permitted development rights that:

“Government policy has led directly to the creation of slum housing. Such slums will require immense public investment, either to refurbish them to a proper standard or to demolish them. Morally, economically and environmentally it is a failed policy.”

That is a damning indictment of this policy and the Government’s approach to housing. In the light of all we have heard in this debate and the examples I have outlined from reports commissioned by the Government themselves, I would be particularly keen to hear from the Minister what possible justification there is for retaining these liberalised permitted development rights in their current form.

Reducing socioeconomic and health disparities in this country cannot happen without serious consideration of the role of housing and planning in creating buildings and communities that promote healthy lifestyles. We owe it to communities up and down this country to make positive changes a reality. They will not be achieved by the proposed deregulation in planning in investment zones. We have seen from the experience of permitted developments that further liberalisation is a cowboy developers’ charter for poor-quality, profit-maximising estates. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how we will approach the issue of promoting health and wellbeing in new developments in these zones.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate and pay tribute to his tireless work and that of the healthy homes and buildings APPG in improving the conditions of those living or working in poor-quality, unhealthy environments.

We can all agree that the past two years have brought into sharp focus just how integral our homes and communities are to our physical and mental wellbeing. It has underscored the imperative of the APPG’s mission to tackle poor-quality housing and our collective endeavour to ensure that everyone in our society lives somewhere decent, warm, safe and secure. That mission is only becoming more pertinent as winter fast approaches and as we act to help people struggling with the rising cost of living. I understand that the Healthy Homes Bill had its Second Reading in July, and today I hope to outline how the Government are already dealing with many of the issues highlighted in that Bill.

Before I turn to levelling up, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), for making two excellent speeches. Both their contributions were fantastic. There was very little I would disagree with in either of their speeches. That demonstrates the broad consensus across this House for dealing with the challenges we face.

I want to reiterate the Government’s commitment to levelling up, which remains a key priority for the UK Government. We know that the UK’s economic challenges are hitting some places harder than others. As well as the immediate Government help that we need to therefore provide to those communities, we need to build places up to help them become stronger and more economically resilient. With that in mind, the Government have set out a UK-wide aim to boost our GDP growth.

We recognise that the UK economy is made up of many different local economies with different characteristics, opportunities and challenges. We therefore aim to achieve and sustain strong economic growth by unleashing the untapped potential of places around the UK. That does not mean we want to dampen down the success of London or the growth of the south-east. We want to grow the whole economy, focusing on every part of the country. We want to ensure that we support growing parts of the economy—for example, life sciences in the north-west of England, advanced manufacturing in the midlands, semiconductors in Wales, renewable energy in East Anglia and fintech in Northern Ireland.

It goes without saying that everybody deserves to live in a safe and secure home. As hon. Members know, the decent homes standard has been in place since 2001. It set the minimum standard of quality to be met for all dwellings provided by registered providers of social housing. The decent homes standard sets out four criteria for evaluating decency. It requires that homes are free of serious hazards, are in a reasonable state of repair, have reasonably modern facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms, and have efficient heating and effective insulation to provide a minimum degree of thermal comfort.

The regulator of social housing requires that social rented homes are maintained by landlords to at least the quality set out in the decent homes standard. Good progress has been made on ensuring that social rented sector homes meet the standard, with non-decency in the sector at around 11% in 2020, although I acknowledge the regional disparities in those rates, which was highlighted by the hon. Member for Strangford.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Department published the social housing Green Paper. During the consultation, we heard that the decent homes standard was no longer fully effective. That is why in the social housing White Paper we committed to review the decent homes standard to ensure that it works for residents and landlords. Part 1 of the DHS review concluded in September 2021 and established that there is a case for change. Further details on taking forward the review will be set out in due course.

The Government are equally committed to ensuring a fair deal for private renters. Over the past two years, we have introduced regulations that will make privately rented homes safer in respect of their electrical installations —again, a point focused on extensively and eloquently by the hon. Member for Strangford—and through the provision of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

We have also reviewed the housing health and safety rating system—the tool used to assess conditions in all homes. That will enable local authorities to take more effective, targeted enforcement when they discover health and safety hazards. Last week, our current Prime Minister re-committed to the ban on section 21 no-fault evictions to protect tenants. We are, of course, carefully considering the next steps to support the rental market.

Several hon. Members talked about the importance of energy efficiency and decarbonisation, including the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) in his intervention. As I said, we will make sure that rented homes are warm and dry. To meet that aim, we will deliver our net zero target, requiring all of our housing stock to become more energy-efficient. My Department is working closely on that with colleagues from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Improving the energy performance of our buildings presents an opportunity to provide warm, well ventilated spaces and healthy environments in which people can live and work. That will avoid physical illnesses such as heart and lung conditions—again, issues that were spoken about passionately by the hon. Member for Coventry North West and the shadow Minister.

The journey to net zero buildings starts with better energy performance and improving the energy efficiency of homes and buildings. It is a no-regrets action. That is why we are committed to upgrading as many homes as possible to energy performance certificate band C by 2035, as a cost-effective, practical and affordable step. Building on this, we have committed to consider setting a long-term regulatory standard to improve social housing to EPC band C, and we will consult on this in 2023.

Improving the energy efficiency of homes is also the best long-term method of reducing energy costs for vulnerable households and those living in fuel poverty. Our target is to ensure that as many fuel-poor homes as is reasonably practicable achieve a minimum energy rating of band C by 2030. To this end, we are investing £12 billion in Help to Heat schemes to make people’s homes warmer and cheaper to heat. We will deliver upgrades to more than half a million homes in the coming years through our social housing decarbonisation fund, the home upgrade grant scheme and the energy company obligation scheme. To future proof buildings, the heat and building strategy also commits us to considering overheating risk and indoor air quality when developing future decarbonisation policies.

Further to this, from 2025, the future homes standard will ensure that new homes produce at least 75% less CO2 emissions than those built to the 2013 standards. That represents a considerable improvement in energy efficiency standards for new homes. In December 2021, we introduced an uplift in energy efficiency standards that delivers a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions and provides a stepping stone to the future homes standard in 2025.

Looking towards health and safety, the Building Safety Act 2022 established a more stringent regulatory regime in design and construction, strengthening building regulations requirements and their oversight. The Act introduces a Building Safety Regulator, which will make buildings safer by enforcing a stringent new regulatory regime for high-rise residential and other in-scope buildings. The regulator will oversee the safety and performance of all buildings and increase the competence of those working across the built environment.

The Building Safety Regulator was established in shadow form in January 2020, and it is intended that the new regime will come fully into force in April 2024, with interim steps, such as requiring accountable people to register their buildings, coming in the meantime. Residents can be confident that their safety is a critical objective of the new regulator. The regime also introduces new oversight requirements during the build phase. This means that before proceeding to the next stage, the developer must satisfy the Building Safety Regulator that they have met the relevant requirements in the building regulations. Between these stages, the Building Safety Regulator can carry out on-site inspections or request information about the building work.

On planning, our policy and decisions should promote an effective use of land in meeting the need for homes and other uses, while safeguarding and improving the environment and ensuring safe and healthy living conditions. Through reforming the planning system, we will champion how beautiful design can enhance health and wellbeing, and encourage sustainable development accompanied by infrastructure that communities will truly benefit from. Building more homes is a fundamental task for the Government and local leaders. The measures we are already delivering—for example, those set out in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill—are a significant step in improving the way planning operates, but we want to go further in specific areas of potential through investment zones, for example, to deliver the attractive, well-designed new communities we all want to see.

I am pleased by the Minister’s comprehensive response; it is very helpful. I will ask two questions. I said in my speech that landlords need to be incentivised, if there is a methodology to make that happen, to improve their homes. I appreciate what will happen going forward, but we have so many homes in the United Kingdom—18.5 million—that need to be retrofitted. I am ever mindful that this issue crosses different Departments and may not be the direct responsibility of the Minister when it comes to skills and a national training scheme.

The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) could not be here today because he had to return to his constituency. He said to me the other day that those who are in construction are getting older, and as they get older we need a new group of young workers coming through who have the skills to retrofit. Those are two questions. I am not sure if they are the direct responsibility of the Minister, but I know that he will deliver them to the person who has that responsibility.

I thank the hon. Member for that important point. It is not directly my responsibility, but it is the kind of thing that we must work to address collectively across Government.

In a former role, I was the Minister with responsibility for construction, and we looked at the contribution that modern methods of construction and off-site construction can deliver, both in speeding up the delivery of the extra new, nice affordable homes for families that we need, and in freeing up skilled labourers to retrofit the older housing stock and to do some of the other work that we need to be done, because skills are in short supply. It is therefore important that we have a solid skills strategy. That is something that my Department and Ministers in BEIS are particularly keen to look at and work together on to ensure that we have a consistent approach that helps to deliver what we both want to see in this area.

Turning to one of the final areas, design and placemaking, the Government seek to ensure that new homes and places are designed to support the health and wellbeing of residents and communities. The national planning policy framework, which local planning authorities must adhere to as a matter of law, is clear that planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places. Those should support healthy lifestyles, especially where that would address identified local health and wellbeing needs. That could be through the provision of safe and accessible green infrastructure, local shops, and layouts that encourage walking and cycling.

The framework also refers to the nationally described space standard. That means that local councils have the option to set minimum space standards for new homes within their areas. The national model design code asks that local councils give consideration to the internal layouts within new homes, aiming to maximise access to natural daylight.

Through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, we are introducing a duty for all local councils to produce a design code at the spatial scale of their authority area. The measure will empower communities to have their say on what their area will look like through working with local planning authorities and neighbourhood planning groups to set clear design standards through design codes. We have also set up the Office for Place within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which will support councils and communities to turn their vision of what they like into local standards that all new developments should meet, helping to create beautiful, healthy, successful and enduring places.

I thank all hon. Members for their contributions, and particularly the hon. Member for Strangford for securing today’s important debate. There is a huge amount of consensus from all parties on the need to address the issues that have been highlighted today. I speak not just for my Department but for the wider Government in reiterating our commitment to building the sustainable green homes and communities of the future. That is a vision that I know is shared by all.

I make these interventions in a constructive fashion, because I want to have the answers—I think we all do; that is why we are asking. So far, the Minister has done brilliantly. I understand that 75% of new homes are not thermally efficient. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case, and say what steps will be taken to change that? The reason I ask the question is simply that it all links into the energy crisis, which has become a fact of life for all of us. I say that in a very constructive fashion. I am not trying to catch the Minister out—that is not my purpose. I would just like a wee bit of clarity on that matter.

I do not have the exact statistics to hand, but, as I said in my remarks, we are working on updating building regulations and standards. Putting energy efficiency at the heart of those standards is an important priority. This is something that my ministerial colleague in the Department leads on, but I will ensure that the hon. Member’s views are fed back to him and taken into account in our discussions.

We all realise that the challenges identified by the APPG are real, and they are priorities that the Government will address. I am keen to continue to work with the hon. Gentleman, his colleagues in the APPG and others across the House to address those challenges. Even if I am not in this role in a few weeks’ time, I am sure that my successor would be delighted to continue working with them. These are real challenges that are recognised across Government; I know that myself and my current ministerial colleagues are very keen to see them addressed.

Do not tempt me, Mr Hollobone. I am very pleased to have heard excellent contributions. The hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) has a deep interest in the issue, and very kindly came along to support the debate. The hon. Member referred to children; that is an issue for us all. I am a grandfather now; my boys have grown up and we have the next generation coming through. I am conscious about what we are building for those children and the grandchildren who come after them. I know the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) has a young child, so she will better understand what that means.

The hon. Member for Coventry North West said that no child should have a health problem and that every child needs an equal start in life. A society is judged by how it looks after the poor and the less well off. Those are the key issues of this debate. We have all grasped that. We understand from the Minister that there is a deep interest from Government in making that happen.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) referred to insulation and upgrading homes. It is retrofitting homes that do not have the insulation that a new home would have—that is the key issue. We have to have a programme of not only new homes coming in but older homes being upgraded.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Luton North, gave a very knowledgeable, factual and evidence-based contribution that I thought was very helpful. She referred to respiratory health problems that are preventable; if someone has a good house it reduces the risk of those. That is what we are aiming for. We are trying to reach the stage where those problems do not occur, because we have taken the precautions and preventive measures beforehand.

The hon. Member for Luton North referred to preventable health issues and life expectancy. I thought it was interesting that she referred to her own constituency, where in one town there can be people in one set of houses who have respiratory issues and health problems, and people in a different set of houses who do not. “A Tale of Two Cities” came to mind. The hon. Member referred to communities helped by the council. She said she was not green fingered; I cannot say I am, but I can usually turn my hand to anything. I live on a farm, so maybe it is more of a factor for me. She also referred to the lack of space and the distress, and the impact that has on children and families as a whole.

I am pleased that the Minister gave such a substantial response, for which I thank him greatly. I think every one of us will be encouraged by his knowledgeable responses to the questions we asked about the direction in which the Government are going. He said that the decent homes standard would be reviewed and talked about change, but what is the timescale for that change? Whenever I take things forward on behalf of constituents, I always ask the Department to give me a timescale. I hope that the Minister or whoever it may be—I hope he will still be there—will be able to come back to us on that.

On a fair deal for private renters, the Minister referred to the rating system to target enforcement. That is really good in the context of those who, for whatever reason, decline or respond slower than they should. He talked about people being “warm, safe and secure”. If we had to pick three words to sum up this debate and the targets we are all trying to achieve, they would be warm, safe and secure. He also referred to net zero and better energy efficiency, which are all things we would like to see.

With that conclusion, I thank all who have participated. We very much appreciate the opportunity of today’s debate and the statements that have been made, and we will follow that up through the APPG. As always, I thank you, Mr Hollobone, for the way you chair meetings. We do not often say it, but we appreciate what you do. We also thank your Hansard staff—well, not your Hansard staff but our Hansard staff—for their contribution and those in the APPG who are here in the Gallery for their contributions and for supporting us in securing this debate. It did not last as long as we perhaps thought it might, but there are so many other things happening—I do not know whether people follow it, but I saw a wee PARLYapp message that said: “Jim Shannon for PM”. Well, I don’t think so, but there we are.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the role of homes and buildings in levelling up health and wellbeing.

Sitting suspended.

FIFA World Cup 2022

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the UK’s plans and preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.

The World cup is the biggest of global events and it will take place in just a few weeks’ time, so I thank the Backbench Business Committee for selecting this debate and for recognising its importance and status in terms of both international relations and supporting our fans from England and Wales who choose to attend the World cup. I hope to answer any questions and concerns that any fans may have. It is an extremely busy day here in Parliament. Normally this debate might well have been held in the main Chamber, but of course recent restrictions on parliamentary time have made that more difficult, so as I say, I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for recognising the importance and timeliness of this debate, and for scheduling it here in Westminster Hall.

I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and remind colleagues that I have the privilege of being the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar.

The fact that two UK nations will compete in a global event is a cause for great celebration by the whole country. This is the first time since 1958 that Wales has qualified for the World cup finals. We have been waiting 68 years for this occasion and I cannot overstate the enthusiasm with which Welsh fans are looking forward to the tournament. It was with regret that in the last qualifying game we had to knock out Ukraine, even though we felt the world supporting Ukraine in that contest. Ukraine had already beaten another home nation, Scotland. It would have been great if all four home nations had been at the World cup finals. We look forward to the next tournament in four years’ time and hope they all qualify. However, before we do that, let us try to ensure that we play our full part in securing the success of this tournament.

In Wales, we have 68 years’ worth of built-up passion. Our time has come and I would say that Qatar’s time has come, too. We are two small nations punching well above our weight in our respective fields of expertise. The Minister here today, the Minister for the Americas and the Overseas Territories, represents a border constituency, so he will fully understand where my loyalties lie. Whereas we agree on almost everything else, this is one area where we will definitely differ. I look forward to Wales’s victory on 18 December, and who knows? It is not impossible that England may well join Wales in the final.

This tournament is also noteworthy because it is the first World cup to be held in a Muslim state. The significance of that should not be underestimated. Sport has the capacity to bring people together, to share and to help us all to better understand nations and cultures, to challenge perceptions and to bring about positive change for all stakeholders. It was Nelson Mandela who said:

“Sport has the power to change the world.”

This is a World cup for the whole of the middle east. It is an opportunity for nations to come together and for cultures to share each other’s successes. Many fans will stay in nations that neighbour Qatar, meaning that World cup fever will extend well beyond Qatar. The FIFA Arab cup last year was a great success and influencer, and an excellent precursor to this year’s tournament.

The state of Qatar and the United Kingdom have a strategic relationship that goes back over centuries covering a range of policy areas. It was a privilege to attend the opening of the South Hook terminal in Pembrokeshire in 2009, when His Highness the Father Emir of Qatar and our late Queen opened Britain’s first liquefied natural gas terminal. This terminal now has the capacity to supply 25% of the UK’s gas needs. Some might say, “What great foresight those planners had!”

More recently, demonstrating a further deepening of relations, the annual Qatar-UK strategic dialogue has been central to our partnership. The last one was held in May, when further commitments were made on energy, education, regional security, humanitarian and development co-operation, science and innovation, trade and investment, and so much more. The breadth of the subjects under consideration demonstrates the strength of our relationship and how important each nation is to the other.

I want to use this opportunity to put on record and pay tribute to the support Qatar gave the UK and other nations in evacuating Afghan refugees just over 12 months ago, which to my mind has not been recognised as much as it should. Qatar’s support was of significant strategic importance to so many nations around the world seeking to support Afghan refugees.

The communiqué to the dialogue highlights that the World cup also played a part in those discussions. UK military capabilities are providing support on security and counter-terrorism and against any malign activity. In August, it was good to hear the Qatar ambassador to the UK announce that it will be British Typhoons, flown by UK and Qatar pilots, that will be ready to respond to any threat to the tournament from the skies.

Of course, as with any major event of this type, there is rightly considerable press interest in a range of challenges, particularly as so many people from so many cultures will come together in this global celebration. Everything from travel and accommodation through to treatment of fans, human rights, policing, LGBTQ+ issues and alcohol consumption is being questioned.

I declare my own entry on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Obviously, concerns about attitudes towards LGBT+ issues in Qatar have been raised. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that holding the World cup in Qatar, thereby bringing together many people from around the world, from different cultures and different backgrounds, is actually an opportunity to move forward issues and attitudes there? Does he agree that many of the people who have voiced opinions on this issue should also focus their energies on the handling of LGBT issues in professional football in the UK? The number of footballers who are out is relatively small compared with the wider population. It is quite clear that there is still a major issue with homophobia in professional football in the UK. Rather than simply point out issues that might arise in other countries, we still need to focus on issues at home.

My right hon. Friend makes some extremely important points and I wholeheartedly agree with him. It goes back to comments I made earlier. I touched on what Nelson Mandela said—that sport can change the world—but I also highlighted, as my right hon. Friend underlined, the importance of bringing together cultures to better understand, influence and progress all stakeholders, so that that greater understanding and clarity move the agenda forward so that each nation respects, sees and supports human rights.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) and I recognise the part he is playing. He rightly makes an important point about UK sport and UK football in particular. It is alarming that so few players have come out, which leading football commentators have commented on recently. It would be helpful to create momentum in the UK that would lead to the recognition and understanding of the fantastic diversity that people who actively participate in sport share and enjoy.

The APPG has taken these issues very seriously, as you would rightly expect, Mr Hollobone, and as my right hon. Friend, who is deputy chairman of the all-party parliamentary group, will recognise. We have organised and participated in a series of meetings and engagements with relevant and interested parties. I pay tribute to His Excellency Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah, Qatar’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, and his team for their open approach in seeking to answer the questions and concerns that we have raised. Whenever reports appear, the matters are raised with the ambassador and his political team—in a positive spirit, I underline. Our dialogue always continues so that we can better understand and influence each other’s thinking and background understanding, and develop a way forward.

In March, the all-party parliamentary group hosted a meeting in Parliament with His Excellency Hassan Al Thawadi—the secretary general of the supreme committee for delivery and legacy, which is responsible for bringing the World cup together—and the ambassador to the United Kingdom. Some 53 people attended. Members from all parties and both Houses, asked the most searching questions about some of the subjects that have been mentioned so far.

In May, the all-party parliamentary group on football, chaired by the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), hosted a meeting with the independent body FIFA Ethics and Regulations Watch. The group’s report on human rights, including LGBTQ+ and workers’ rights, was interrogated similarly by colleagues. In June, the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar and the all-party parliamentary group for sport, modern slavery and human rights held a joint session with the UN- sponsored International Labour Organisation. Its evidence, gathered from 2017 up to the present, was scrutinised in detail, and changes and progress since 2017 on those subjects that I have underlined was recognised.

Each of those sessions offered different perspectives and evidence, and reassured colleagues on many of the issues that have been raised. The International Labour Organisation in particular, with its wider remit, commented that Qatar is a major reforming nation within the region. That should be recognised as we have a constructive dialogue about other changes that we would like to see in the region, and about how the region would seek to influence the UK in terms of its understanding. I am aware of further speculation in the press and media, and look to the Minister and the Qatar authorities to offer further information and clarity on some of the issues that have been raised. Hosting an event such as the World cup is a fantastic privilege and it brings with it global attention. With that come further demands from the public and commentators alike.

On specific operational matters, it is good to see that the authorities have given reassurances that anyone with a ticket will have the right to accommodation. That is welcome, but fans seek further information on costs and available options. Many will travel with organised tour groups, and some from neighbouring countries, which will ensure that this is a World cup for the region. Fans will travel on shuttle flights between those nations. That will provide an additional complexity, but is a great way of bringing the region together to celebrate the hosting of the games. Cultural diversity in the region is also a relevant factor on which we must advise visiting fans.

Any movement into Qatar will require a negative covid test. Because of movement within the region during the group stages in particular, that could be a significant challenge for the host nation, wherever fans are staying. Further clarity on that would be helpful, because the host nation will face additional pressures in ensuring that fans can travel easily and freely within the restrictions that covid demands.

Alcohol is an interesting dimension of any tournament, and the World cup is no different. It will be even more complicated in a nation where the consumption of alcohol is more restricted than in many other countries. We are advised that supporters will be encouraged to visit the fan zones if they wish to consume alcohol. The policing and management of that will require a delicate balance. This is a challenge for whichever nation hosts such a major tournament, but police authorities in the western world are obviously more experienced in managing this type of situation. Any information from the Minister on how that will be managed would be helpful. I will, with the rest of the all-party parliamentary group, continue my dialogue with the Qatari authorities to bring better understanding, but the Government will of course have a distinct role in communicating and sharing the UK’s experience of managing the challenges that come naturally with the organisation of any such large event.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am also vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Qatar. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that, as well as alcohol, mental health issues are taken into consideration? When large groups of people travel anywhere, some of those individuals will have mental health issues, so the ability to understand and provide adequate support, should it be needed, is important. Sport is fantastic for both physical and mental well- being, but some individuals who have mental health difficulties will need support. There has for a long time been stigma around mental health issues in the UK, but I think understanding of them is progressing right across the world, including in Qatar, and we would like to know a bit more about the types of support that may be provided.

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for raising those questions, which I know she has raised with the Qatari authorities, among others. It is also fair to say that the UK’s approach to and understanding of mental health has progressed significantly in recent times. I remember from a debate in the main Chamber that there was once an old rule whereby any parliamentary colleague with a mental health challenge was effectively debarred from contributing to debates. That highlights how the UK has progressed in our time—although that rule could theoretically still exist in statute.

As we have already said, given our different cultures, there will be different pressures on different travelling fans, and perhaps, if a team is knocked out earlier than expected, on different supporting groups. That may well be a challenge, but I do not mean to be flippant about the serious issues raised by the hon. Lady. Her points go along with the delicate balance in managing a difficult situation—be it because of alcohol consumption or personal challenges—and how best to share our experience, learn from the experiences of others, and ensure that those sorts of issues do not become dominant because of a lack of understanding by those running events. She is ahead of the curve by highlighting the importance of mental health support.

My right hon. Friend raises the issue of alcohol consumption. It is obviously very important that we understand how fan zones will work and how alcohol will be consumed, but another related issue is the cost of alcohol. There were some undertakings on a maximum price that could be charged for a pint of beer. Is the Minister—or, perhaps, my right hon. Friend—aware of that cost and whether it will be enforced? Although it pains me that Scotland are not participating in these World cup finals, I would not want Welsh and English friends to be deprived of a pint of beer because of cost alone.

My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point—he may as well have read the next line of my speech. The cost of alcohol and the cost of accommodation really matter and will be a concern for the many people who will travel. The more information that can be provided, the more people will be able to plan, budget and recognise how long they can stay based on the relevant costs. He underlines his regret that Scotland will not be there, but I am confident that, when it comes to the home nations, all Scottish supporters will be supporting Wales at the World cup.

Policing is also relevant, particularly for public displays of affection, which I recognise are not part of the local culture. However, managing that will be a challenge, and it builds on the sensitivities I touched on earlier. It is worth underlining that managing the challenge is of particular concern to the LGBTQ+ community, as my right hon. Friend mentioned earlier. I believe that how delicate situations are policed needs considerable thought, experience and expertise.

The all-party parliamentary group was reassured by the Secretary-General at our meeting in March. He said that everyone was welcome and that it was their responsibility—meaning that of the authorities—to ensure that everyone feels safe. Any information on how that will be achieved will be welcome. From conversations with the ambassador and other officials, I am grateful for their reassurances. However, I underline that policing support will be provided from a number of nations. That is entirely normal for large-scale tournaments, but communicating the strategic aims and wishes to officers on the ground will also be relevant. If an officer on the ground comes from a different culture but has not fully understood the strategic decisions taken to be sensitive and supportive and manage the issues around alcohol, mental health challenges and the real concerns of the LGBTQ+ community, the response will take a lot of skilled action. It would be helpful to know if the UK has provided any support and intelligence to help Qatar achieve the great success that it wants.

From the start, Qatar has opened up its plans to so many nations, and the UK has played a significant part in that planning, from architecture to supporting policing, counter-terrorism and construction. We all want to see this being a great success and not only on the pitch, as I am sure it will be when highlighting the potential of an England-Wales final. This really matters to the region and the best influence it can have there is to celebrate different cultures, recognise diversity and move understanding in all quarters in a positive direction.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I wish to thank the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) for securing this very important debate. I know that people in Enfield, Southgate and across the country are looking forward to next month’s World cup and I am no different. I will be cheering on England and hoping that Wales do well too. I live in hope that the tournament is as successful—if not more—for the three lions as in 2018, when we reached the semi-finals and the Southgate tube station in my constituency was temporarily renamed to pay tribute to Gareth Southgate. I will be the first to lobby Transport for London for the same treatment if we bring football home in December.

Of course, this is no ordinary tournament. It cannot be business as usual for the UK Government as we prepare for the tournament next month. We cannot avert our eyes from the problems in Qatar and the controversies surrounding its bid to host the 2022 World cup. On this side of the House, we will not be attending the tournament in person. I have received invitations, as I know other colleagues have, but to be clear, we will watch the World cup but will not be going. Dozens of construction workers have been killed putting this tournament on, and it is our view that we would be doing them a huge disservice if we turned a blind eye and did not use the World cup to campaign for stronger workers’ rights internationally, especially for migrant workers.

The eyes of the world will be firmly fixed on Qatar over the next few months and that provides us all with an opportunity to shine a light on the situation in the country and across the region. It is right that Qatar has faced intense criticism from human rights groups, international trade unions and labour organisations over the treatment of migrant workers. The Guardian newspaper reported in 2021 that 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since 2010. The International Labour Organisation has said that 50 workers died and 500 were severely injured during 2020. There are also serious concerns about the kafala system, which requires workers to have the permission of their employers to change jobs, leave the country and renew residency permits allowing them to work and live in Qatar. By its nature, it gives employers substantial power and clearly leads to the exploitation of workers.

There are other issues surrounding delayed or reduced salaries, which put workers at risk of forced labour. There are barriers to obtaining justice for abuses, and the prohibition of migrant workers from trade unions. However, it is true that Qatar has made progress and we welcome the improvements that have been made on workers’ rights, including steps to dismantle the kafala system in 2020 with the introduction of new labour laws, meaning migrant workers no longer need their employer’s permission before changing jobs.

In 2021, Qatar became the first country in the Gulf to implement a minimum wage for workers, regardless of nationality or occupation. Reforms have also ensured protection from heat stress, and there have been efforts to enable the right to organise and discuss grievances with employers, but we remain concerned about the implementation of those reforms. Human rights organisations are still worried about the imbalance between employers and workers in Qatar, with reports that many migrant workers still fear lodging complaints.

Although steps have been taken to dismantle the kafala system, workers continue to face challenges in changing jobs, with 100,000 requests to change jobs between October 2020 and October 2021 rejected. It is clear that while progress has been made, the work cannot stop here. Indeed, as the tournament nears and there is less construction work, the wellbeing of workers in other areas of the economy is also of concern, including the hospitality and service industries, such as those working in hotels, security workers, cleaners, drivers and cooks.

More widely, we know that migrant workers have faced exploitation in Qatar, and there is real fear that the situation will worsen significantly as the world and the World cup move on. Progress cannot stop when the spotlight of the World cup ends in December. Next month’s World cup means that the LGBTQ+ fans in my constituency and across England and Wales face the grim prospect of putting up with the tournament being played in a country where their sexuality is criminalised.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but does he not agree with me that there are serious issues with professional football here in the United Kingdom in respect of accepting people like me from the LGBT+ community? There are many issues to be dealt with in football more widely, rather than simply just the situation in Qatar.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There are issues within our own game with footballers coming out as gay or LGBTQ+. That is an issue for sport across the UK and beyond. However, the point I am making is about supporters and the experience that they might have in Qatar, where it is a criminal offence to be gay. There are nuances in that, but I take the point and we need to do a lot more with the UK game to make sure that professional footballers and other sportsmen and women feel confident and able to come out.

On sexuality being criminalised, it is not fair and it is not right. Football is for everyone and fans should not fear that they cannot support their team freely and be who they are. We should show pride in making that point at the World cup. As previously, it will be our footballers leading from the front. In Qatar they face a tournament underscored by human rights. It is great that England and Wales, alongside the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and Switzerland will join together and support the OneLove campaign during the World cup, symbolised by a distinctive OneLove armband worn by the team captains during the tournament.

For LGBTQ+ fans, the Foreign Office must continue to engage with Qatari officials to ensure that their safety is of paramount importance and that there are clear reassurances that it is safe for LGBTQ+ fans to visit the World cup. Unfortunately, I know that the majority of England and Wales LGBTQ+ fans will simply stay away from the tournament due to serious concerns about their safety.

More widely, it is vital that the UK continues to push for human rights to be upheld for all citizens, irrespective of their gender, sexuality, religion or other belief. That is not just an issue in Qatar; it is an issue across the region and it is important that we continue to raise concerns where possible. Standing up for human rights should be a fundamental tenet of our foreign policy. The UK and Qatar continue to enjoy a longstanding and productive relationship in defence, gas and other industries, as the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan eloquently described in his speech. We must use that relationship to ensure that difficult questions are asked and those important issues are always on the agenda.

I ask the Minister what efforts the UK has taken, and continues to take, to hold the Qatari Government to account following the deaths and ill treatment of migrant workers in Qatar? Will the Minister commit to ensure the progress that has been made in Qatar is not forgotten when the tournament ends in December? There must be a legacy of scrutiny from the World cup. Finally, on the issue of LGBTQ+ rights, will the Minister outline the support that has been provided for fans travelling to Qatar for the World cup? Will he ensure that the concerns of the LGBTQ+ fans are raised with his counterparts in Qatar?

Football has unique way of bringing people together. We saw that over the summer with the lionesses and the Euro championships in England. I am sure that we will see that again during the World cup in Qatar. Amid all the football that will come our way next month, we cannot pretend it is a typical tournament. We must continue to raise our concerns; they are the things that we cannot celebrate in Qatar.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) for securing this debate. I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), who I know is a keen football fan, for his contribution—I hope we have cause to put into practice his suggestion for Enfield, Southgate.

I start by doing something that I am sure we will all agree with, but we have not done yet, which is to pay tribute to Sir David Amess as we pass the first anniversary of his absolutely tragic death—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] He was a corridor friend of mine for a long period as neighbours, and a friend throughout my parliamentary career; I absolutely cherish his memory—I know everyone in this Chamber who knew him does too. I also cherish the tireless dedication that he showed to his constituents and his country. He was a passionate advocate for UK-Qatar relations. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan, and the entire APPG, carry on his ethos. I thank them for pressing the issues constructively, but not unsparingly, with an ally. These are very important matters.

We have covered a gamut of matters, and I am going to talk about all of them. In the two contributions we have had so far we have had the question of the treatment of LGBT+ people, as well as the question of mental health, raised by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). There have been issues raised about the price of alcohol, public displays of affection and the level of UK support.

When I had the opportunity to travel to Qatar with Sir David Amess, he was at the forefront of raising those issues. The points that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) has made about the Guardian article and the concerns about the LGBT+ people—Sir David was raising those issues at the highest level. There was no holding back; he wanted to be a critical friend because we want Qatar to move forward on those issues, not sweep them under the carpet.

That is exactly right. It was very much in his nature to be warm and friendly, but also to tell people hard messages that they did not necessarily want to hear—albeit in his extremely engaging way.

This debate is timely for two reasons, and it demonstrates the cross-party interest there is in the forthcoming World cup. In the Foreign Office, our lead Minister for the middle east is Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. I am acting as his proxy, but it is a great pleasure for me to respond on behalf of the Government and pick up all of the points that have been raised.

Of course, our priority is the safety and security of all British nationals who will be travelling to the tournament. I weep that the Scots are not involved and I am very sad that the Northern Irish are not involved, but I am thrilled and delighted that the Welsh are after 68 years. What a moment; it is absolutely fantastic. That safety and security emphasis includes, of course, working closely with the Qatari authorities that are ultimately responsible for that, and for ensuring British nationals know what to expect, what is expected of them when they visit and how to get assistance. Of course, there is a lot of good practice already in place from previous major tournaments, particularly Russia in 2018. That includes the importance of close co-operation with partners, such as the football associations and supporters’ representatives.

Every event is unique, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan is right to say that this will be the first-ever World cup held in the middle east. It is also the first-ever hosted by a Muslim nation and the first to be largely city based—in what is our winter but a more temperate time for them—so the Government have adapted our plans accordingly.

There has been close engagement on security with Qatari authorities, as the House might imagine, on various aspects of the preparation—particularly in supporting the delivery of a safe and secure championship. The UK police are offering support and advice in relation to fans, and have travelled to Qatar to build relationships and share their professional experience and knowledge. Many Members will be aware that the UK has a lot of experience in football-related policing, and our police typically deploy to overseas tournaments for that reason. At the same time, the Ministry of Defence will be supporting Qatar with military capabilities in relation not just to the much-travelled and advertised joint Typhoon squadron but to counter-terrorism, even more relevantly, which remains a threat—particularly at an event of this magnitude and profile.

Consular preparations are going on, as one might expect. The UK Government recognise that aspects of such tournaments can pose problems for fans—we have had several mentioned already, such as public displays of affection—from local laws and customs to geography and travel requirements. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is therefore implementing a range of targeted communications to provide England and Wales fans with practical advice and keep problems to a minimum. There is a dedicated World cup section in the travel advice we offer for Qatar, and the Government advise anyone attending to read that and sign up for email alerts so they can stay on top of developments.

Hon. Friends and colleagues will be pleased to know that the UK Government have today announced their six top tips for travelling fans to follow, supported by both the England and Wales managers. At the same time, there has been close engagement with Qatar on topics relating to the fans themselves. The one that has been first and foremost in the comments of all those who have spoken is the issue of LGBT+ visitors. I reassure colleagues that Ministers and senior officials have raised those issues at all levels, and continue to do so. The authorities are quite clear that their commitment is that everybody is welcome, and that they will respect that, but on our side we need to continue to encourage and press for the equal treatment of all fans and respect for individual rights not just in words, but in the action and the specific context of the matches as they take place, so that anyone of any background can go out and enjoy themselves.

When it comes to consular assistance, the FCDO will be offering an enhanced consular presence in Qatar throughout the tournament, and British nationals will have a 24/7 capacity to call the FCDO if they need help or advice. Of course, there are appropriate parallel plans in place for the wider region, because the Government are aware that many fans hope to base themselves elsewhere and travel into Qatar for matchdays. That is an important further preparation.

In terms of the legacy, which was raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, the World cup has allowed the UK Government to engage across much wider bilateral areas in recent years—on trade and culture, but also rights. One would expect engagement not merely in the more historically relevant areas of trade and culture, but in the one that is so salient now, which is rights. Qatar is a close partner and we must use this opportunity to strengthen that bilateral relationship, to broaden it in the way that has been described, and to make it more enduring. Lots of British companies on the trade side have played a notable role in World cup preparations, including in relation to football stadiums and many other aspects of them, and NGOs have been collaborating on legacy and inclusion themes. Only last week, Street Child United successfully hosted the fourth street child world cup in Doha. There will likewise be opportunities during the event to showcase what the UK has to offer.

As I say, I am rooting at one remove—and, tragically, only after the three lions— for Wales. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan can tell me whether “Ymlaen, Cymru!” is the correct Welsh for saying, “Come on, Wales!” But I can say that we will be pressing this on behalf of the nation as a whole, provided that the matches do not yield any kind of contest between England and Wales until the final.

Of course, the other thing that has been rightly mentioned is workers’ rights, which must continue to be an important part of the picture. As I think colleagues will know, the UK absolutely welcomes the concrete steps rightly highlighted by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate hitherto, including the introduction of a non-discriminatory minimum wage. But the priority, as he rightly says, must be the implementation and enforcement of those reforms—not just when the attention of the world is on Qatar, but even once those workers move off the radar and in future years to come. He may be aware that the UK’s migration and modern slavery envoy visited earlier this month for a range of meetings to discuss precisely how the UK can partner with Qatar and the International Labour Organisation to support further progress in 2023 as part of the legacy of the World cup.

In conclusion, we are in regular dialogue with host authorities and continue to ramp up the plans that have been set out. I hope, and I know all colleagues will hope, that come 18 December we will celebrate a safe and successful World cup, with a home nation picking up that trophy.

I, too, pay tribute to hon. and right hon. Members for all their valued comments. It is extremely important to highlight and recognise the issues, and to look forward with optimism not only to the World cup, but to the legacy that it will leave. I will comment a bit more on the legacy in a moment.

My right hon. Friend the Minister was absolutely right: “Ymlaen, Cymru!” could be “Come on, Wales!”, as he described it. It could be “Forward, Wales!” or “Go, Wales!”, but I do not care how we translate it, as long as it results in a victory. The Red Wall has had a major influence on the optimistic spirit in Wales and the pent-up passion that we have been holding all these years since the last time we attended a World cup.

I am grateful to hon. and right hon. Members for their contributions, and there are a couple of points that I want to pick up on. Many commentators have mentioned the rights of migrant workers. I deliberately pointed to the ILO and its evidence, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), but I also encourage hon. and right hon. Members to look at the progress. That is not to say that we have arrived at a destination—nor has any other developed economy—because it is an ever-evolving situation.

There have been some press reports giving data and numbers that have not always been reconciled with an independent body, such as the ILO or FIFA Ethics and Regulations Watch. Therefore, to continue the positive momentum and an intelligent debate, it is always helpful to look at the data, rather than repeat historical data that may or may not be accurate because the evidence is not as obvious.

I encourage colleagues to participate actively in the APPG on Qatar so that we can continue to raise these issues in the positive spirit that both the Minister and I have mentioned. Because of our deep relationship, we can ask tough questions and receive strong answers, and that works in a positive way.

Finally, let me reflect on the comments on legacy. On sustainability, this World cup will be a model for international tournaments on such a scale. The sustainability efforts within it will set the new standard. Qatar has the resources, and has made them available, to make it the greenest tournament possible. There are also the stadiums, to which the UK will have contributed through various architectural design and construction efforts. My right hon. Friend the Minister highlighted the legacy that they will leave, as the stadiums can be rebuilt in some developing nations, and commitments have been made towards supporting football in developing nations as well. That draws attention to the ongoing momentum that sport can bring to the whole region within the middle east.

Qatar has been recognised by the ILO as having made some of the most significant steps and progress in some of the areas that it has been called up on. I hope that the momentum will continue in that way, as well as in developing the sport in Wales, the rest of the UK, the developing nations and everywhere else that values what sport can bring. That brings us back to where I started: Nelson Mandela’s quote that sport can change the world. Let us ensure that the World cup plays its part.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the UK’s plans and preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Sitting adjourned.