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Westminster Hall

Volume 722: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2022

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 8 November 2022

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

[Relevant document: e-petition 560539, Increase investment in Pancreatic Cancer research.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered pancreatic cancer awareness month.

It is good to see everyone here. I thank Members for attending and look forward to their contributions, especially those from the shadow Ministers. In particular, I look forward to the contribution from the Minister, who is back in post again. I wish her well and look forward to her summing up of the debate.

It is a pleasure to speak on the subject and I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on pancreatic cancer. I am pleased that my application to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate was successful, and I have a number of asks. I pay special tribute to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan), who is sitting to my right. She was chair of the APPG, and when her health was not the best, she asked me whether I would take it over. That seemed to be the unanimous opinion of the members of the group, so I was pleased to do so.

I owe the hon. Lady a special thanks. She is the lady, as she always is, who presented the issue and pushed it, and I just follow in her footsteps. That is a fact. I am pleased to see her getting back to health and strength, and look forward to her contribution, which I am sure will be factual and helpful to the debate.

With pancreatic cancer, silence is deadly. That is where we are—very much conscious of pancreatic cancer and what it does. It is a disease that gets too little attention and too little funding. That is one of my asks of the Minister, and I prepare her for it in advance. Later, I will refer to some stats and figures, which will reinforce the issue. Thousands of people die of pancreatic cancer every year, so it is critical that we secure early diagnosis and ensure that the funding for research is there. Ultimately, we must raise awareness of the disease—for example, through today’s debate.

Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest common cancer of all, which underlines the importance of the debate, and the stats surrounding it are truly shocking: 10,000 people across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are diagnosed with the disease every year, and half the people diagnosed die within three months of their diagnosis. That is alarming, and I want to present some evidence about how the disease affects people, particularly those in my constituency.

Sadly, only 7% of those who are diagnosed survive five years, and even fewer survive longer than that. The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer in Northern Ireland is one of the worst in the world at 4.9%, and it puts us 32nd out of 36 countries in the survival charts. That tells us all about where we are. The Minister is not responsible for health in Northern Ireland because health is a devolved matter, but I want to use the debate to highlight the issue and to show where we can push for the improvements that we would like to see and wish we could have. Back home, I have been pushing the Minister of Health on that for a long time, and I want us to have such a strategy on the UK mainland in the hope that we can do the same in turn in Northern Ireland.

When I am in my constituency office, my heart sinks when people come in for help with their personal independence payment form and inform me that their illness is pancreatic cancer. I feel my stomach sinking and my heart dropping, and I take a deep breath, because I know that I am looking across the counter at someone—man or woman—who, unfortunately, has limited time left in this world. Much more often than not, pancreatic cancer is a death sentence. My office helps people with benefits, PIP forms and universal credit, which eases them through the financial issues. There is a health burden, but the other burden is finance—when someone can no longer earn the money that they need to pay the bills and get through.

November is many things, but we are here because it is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. All around the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, people have been lighting up their homes and local landmarks purple, holding fundraising events for charities such as Pancreatic Cancer UK, and having conversations. It is so important to have conversations to raise awareness of the deadliest common cancer of all.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on the work that he is doing in the all-party parliamentary group. He is highlighting the importance of November being Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Does he agree that early detection is key? Unfortunately, at the moment pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all common cancers. Awareness is critical in assisting people, moving toward early detection and trying to get those figures down.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. I will give an example and mention a lady’s name; I have her permission to do so. I am pretty sure that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire knows this lady, and others may also know her story, which illustrates where early detection and diagnosis can make all the difference. We need to focus on the three symptoms to look out for, which can lead to the early detection and diagnosis that are so important.

Pancreatic cancer is a brutal illness, and there is no better way of understanding how brutal it is than by hearing how it impacts an individual and their family. To that end, I will take the opportunity to share the story of Rebecca Buggs, who is the face of the Pancreatic Cancer UK campaign this Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. She is a nurse, who looked after pancreatic cancer patients and was well aware of the symptoms. Ultimately, her awareness of those symptoms saved her life.

The Pancreatic Cancer UK campaign is called “No Time to Wait”, and there is no time to wait. There must be an instantaneous response to symptoms—my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) mentioned the importance of that—because for patients with pancreatic cancer, delay means disaster. Rebecca, who is 43, knows that all too well. She has been a nurse for 21 years, and over the course of her career she has prepared many patients for the Whipple procedure—the only operation that provides a possible cure for pancreatic cancer. When Members hear her story, they will understand the importance of that.

On Christmas day last year, almost 11 months ago, Rebecca began to feel very unwell. She believed it was just a covid-19 infection, as many do; if someone is not well, they think it must be covid, because covid has been prevalent for the last two and a half years. Three days later, her husband noticed that she was jaundiced and said, “Becki, you look like a Minion”—not because that is a derogatory term, but because Minions all have yellow faces. After contacting the on-call registrar, whom she fortunately knew because of her role as a nurse, she was told to head straight to her hospital for blood tests and scans.

On 4 January this year, 10 days after her symptoms began, Rebecca was told the devastating news that she had pancreatic cancer. Luckily, her cancer was caught early enough for her to have the Whipple procedure, for which she had prepared many patients over all those years in her job. For most patients, it is far too late; only 10% of people are able to access that surgery. One of the things I will ask the Minister about is access to surgery; I know that she will have an answer to our queries, as she always does.

In the campaign, Rebecca talks incredibly powerfully about how this time was for her and her family. It is not just about the impact on the person who has the disease; it is about the impact, in this case, on her husband, her children, her mum and dad, and everyone else. She talks about how scary it was to be the one on the operating table after preparing so many for the procedure herself, highlighting the experience of so many with this devastating cancer. She said:

“These were the hardest 11 days of my life. I was away from my children, Jacob who’s 9 and Georgia who’s 8, and they couldn’t come and visit me because of COVID.”

It is vital that we drive improvements so that more people like Rebecca can get access to life-saving treatment for this cancer. That is why Pancreatic Cancer UK’s “No Time to Wait” campaign is vital. We need to ensure that people can get a diagnosis and treatment or surgery—whichever is the case—as soon as possible in order to give them the best chance of survival. I share Rebecca’s concern that so many people are struggling to get GP appointments or referrals for the right tests when they have concerning symptoms such as stomach ache, backache and indigestion. As Rebecca says,

“they become so ill and jaundiced that they get admitted to A&E and by then it’s too late.”

When the symptoms and the diagnosis are there and the tests are done, access to surgeons and surgery is so important.

Rebecca’s point about people with pancreatic cancer being diagnosed in A&E is particularly important. We often think in this day and age that if someone receives a cancer diagnosis, that will happen in a quiet consultation room in a hospital or perhaps in their local GP surgery, but more often than not it happens in a crowded room. More often than not—I say this with respect to doctors and GPs—it may become repetitive for GPs to tell patients that they have a diagnosis of whatever it may be, but that is a life-changing statement for the patient.

A person came to see me this week and told me that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer, albeit not pancreatic cancer. The doctor had told her very matter-of-factly that she had it, and she was absolutely devastated. What the doctor perhaps could have done was told her husband, who could then have conveyed the news to his wife in a way that would not have been such a shock.

People might expect that the doctor will give them their diagnosis and follow that up with a clear treatment plan for how they will treat and beat their cancer. In 2022, we expect that there will be a clear path to a cure and a good chance that, eventually, the person will be given the all-clear. But with pancreatic cancer, that just is not the case. More than 60% of patients with pancreatic cancer get diagnosed only in an emergency setting. I think that if anything at all indicates pancreatic cancer, the doctors and those who are aware of it need to prioritise it immediately, because speed is of the essence. Some 70% of people do not receive any active treatment at all, because they are too unwell by the time they are diagnosed; it is almost too late for them. Let that sink in. Imagine receiving a pancreatic cancer diagnosis and then immediately being told, “By the way, there is no possible treatment plan or cure.” That is devastating.

We have to improve; we have to make the situation better. We have to try to respond in such a way that we add comfort, compassion and understanding—and, more importantly, the opportunity for surgery. It bears repeating that more than half of people who receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis will die within three months. Wow—that is another blinder of a statement. It really underlines the seriousness of the matter. For people with pancreatic cancer, there really is no time to wait.

What is the reason behind my saying all this? Primarily, it is that people with pancreatic cancer are being diagnosed far too late. We are all familiar with the fact that the earlier someone is diagnosed, the better their chances of survival. But some things are needed before people can get that crucial early diagnosis. I will outline some of them, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond in a way that is helpful.

First, we all need to spread awareness of the symptoms of this cancer, which are stomach and back pain, indigestion, unexplained weight loss, and jaundice. The colour caused by jaundice would obviously be noticeable right away, but all the other things are more difficult. Someone might have a bit of backache and a bit of indigestion now and again. People should always look out for any weight loss, and sometimes even weight gain. Of course, it is striking how common the symptoms on that list are. We would not naturally associate them with pancreatic cancer, but it is vital that people get checks if they experience those symptoms with no explanation. It might not be just backache or a bit of indigestion; it might be more.

Secondly and simply, there needs to be a test. It is all well and good going to the GP with these types of symptoms, but we also need to equip GPs with the tools that they need to start ruling things out. Will the Minister tell us how we can help our GPs to have all the equipment in place to make early diagnoses, and to refer people for the right test as soon as possible if they have even a minute suspicion that a person might be facing pancreatic cancer? Currently, there is no such test, but research is ongoing to try to create one, which could make a huge difference by allowing people to be diagnosed at an early stage.

We often speak about research and development. I probably mention it in every health debate—not to be repetitive, but because it is a real issue. Research and development is so important to find a cure and a way to help patients. Will the Minister tell us what can be done to increase research and development in this area? I will give a shocking figure that underlines the importance of research, which is the third key to unlocking earlier diagnosis. Currently, pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death, but it receives just 1.4% of cancer research funding in the UK. Without sustained investment in innovative research, we will not be able to improve survival rates at the pace that we must.

To date, Pancreatic Cancer UK has invested over £10 million in pancreatic cancer research, including research that aims to develop a simple test for the cancer, but it is a charity, so its funds are limited. Will the Minister tell us what can be done to help pancreatic cancer research and development? It is sometimes easy to say this, but I genuinely believe in my heart that the Government have to step in and help, because pancreatic cancer is so brutal and singular, and it ends life very quickly. Can we please have some direction on what can be done to help?

To achieve major breakthroughs, we need the research and development upgraded. We need extra money spent, well above the 1.4% of cancer research funding that pancreatic cancer receives at the moment. I say with respect that if Pancreatic Cancer UK can raise some £10 million, which is quite a bit for a small charity, the Government need to match that and do a wee bit better. Despite everything we have heard today, we need the charity’s ambition and spend to be matched by the Government and other national research funders.

In addition to driving crucial research breakthroughs, the Government must ensure that they take action to improve outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer. I know that lots of cancers are deadly, but pancreatic cancer is the deadliest. Because of that, it needs a wee bit of extra assistance. That is particularly important at the moment, as we are heading into what will be a very challenging winter for the NHS, with the pandemic, staff shortages and underfunding pushing it to breaking point. By its very nature, the press is quite negative, and it is sometimes hard to be positive about all the different news that we hear in the media, on TV and in the papers, but we need to have pancreatic cancer research and development, and response, at the centre of our cancer strategy.

Without action, there is a risk that things will get even worse for people with pancreatic cancer, as any additional delays to vital appointments, tests and treatments—the three things we need, along with an assurance on the speed of response—will have an adverse impact on people who have no time to wait. There has been inaction on pancreatic cancer for too long, but together we can change that. Indeed, I believe it is our duty to push for better for those who are faced with this deadly cancer.

We need to see urgent action, and there are things that the Government could do now to start shifting the dial. First, they must publish the 10-year cancer plan as soon as possible. Back in January, the then Health and Social Care Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), committed to publishing a 10-year cancer plan that would transform this country into a world-leading force for cancer care and treatment. Our previous Prime Minister recommitted to doing that, but we have since had silence—I say this with respect—from the new Prime Minister, who has had plenty on his plate, and the new Health and Social Care Secretary. Pancreatic cancer has been neglected by successive Governments, as have cancer plans. As a result, survival rates have not improved in decades. There has been a lack of action over time on pancreatic cancer, and we really need to ensure that work is put in place.

A funded and ambitious cancer plan would be a real step in the right direction, demonstrating our national ambition. I am proud to be British and proud to have a Government that lead. We need to lead on this, and we need to do so very quickly. That will give us something to aim for in driving up outcomes and survival, and it will help us to give people hope. That hope has not been there for years, and it needs to be there now. I say this very politely but sincerely and firmly: currently, we are a rudderless ship, and a cancer plan would give us direction and hope. The World Health Organisation advises that all nations need a cancer strategy to give this killer disease the attention it deserves. Through this debate, through our Minister and through our Government, let us become a country that can do better and does not fail to meet that standard.

To make a real difference, the cancer plan must have a specific focus on less survivable cancers, including pancreatic cancer—the ones that kill the most and kill the earliest. Unfortunately, it is possible to receive a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and, within three months, to be no longer in this world. The plan must include investment in the workforce so that everyone can have a diagnosis and treatment plan within 21 days. That is the best practice that Pancreatic Cancer UK and clinical experts believe should be the reality everywhere. I make a special request for the Minister to address that. I say this often, but it does not lessen the issue, because it is important: I am proud of being in this Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but we need to share what we have done regionally in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England in order to do things better. There may even be a necessity for a UK-wide policy and strategy.

Getting a diagnosis quickly is crucial in ensuring people can get the treatment they need as soon as possible. In addition, the cancer plan must deliver the funding needed to enable specialist cancer nurses to support everyone with pancreatic cancer as soon as possible after their diagnosis, helping them manage their symptoms and maintain a good quality of life. We must ensure that, when the family and financial pressures are gathering around someone and they sometimes feel like it is just them fighting the disease, that is not the case. We need to wrap our arms around people and tell them that they are not on their own.

I hope the Government will commit today to publishing the cancer plan. That is critical; it is at the core of the issue, and we need it. I encourage the Minister to meet Pancreatic Cancer UK and people affected by this awful disease to find out more about the “No Time to Wait” campaign and how the 10-year cancer plan can finally shift the dial. I know the answer will be yes but, for the purpose of having it in Hansard, will she commit to having that meeting, which I think will enable Pancreatic Cancer UK to press, push, emphasise and raise awareness of the matter?

There has been silence around pancreatic cancer for too long, but through this debate, together—collectively as MPs, with the Minister and regionally—we can change that attitude. We need to speak up and demand immediate change on behalf of those who have already lost their lives and the families left to grieve, those who are living with pancreatic cancer right now, and those who face a diagnosis in the coming months. We want to give them hope. We want them to know that if they get the disease, their treatment will be prioritised through A&E, their diagnosis will be quick, the response will be equally quick, and surgery will follow.

We have work to do in Northern Ireland, and I understand that—the figures I gave earlier emphasise it only too well—but we also have work to do across this great United Kingdom. I am asking for attention to be paid UK-wide in the form of a pancreatic cancer strategy, with information and guidance shared in every area of this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I am conscious that others want to contribute and I very much look forward to their contributions, including those of the shadow Ministers and, in particular, the Minister. I know that she, along with all of us, will want to do all she can to save lives. I look forward to her response, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving me the opportunity to speak on this subject.

In Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month we have a duty as elected representatives in this House to deliver a message. With respect, we hope that the Minister and the Government will respond centrally, with a pancreatic cancer strategy that we can all look up to, so that when people with pancreatic cancer come to my office, as they often do, to fill in PIP forms, I can then tell them that there is some hope and show them what they need to do.

Order. The debate can last until 11 am. I am obliged to call the first of the Front Benchers no later than 10.27 am. Guideline limits are 10 minutes for the SNP, 10 minutes for His Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. Jim Shannon will have three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. The next 30 minutes are Back-Bench time. There are three Members seeking to speak, the first of whom is Siobhan Baillie.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing the debate in an important awareness-raising month for pancreatic cancer. I meet hundreds of people each month as Stroud’s MP, and I am asked to take up thousands of issues and causes. Sometimes people demand that I take up causes, and my team get fed up with me, because I want to help everybody, and they say I generate work whenever I leave the house. I know that many MPs across all political parties will share the same experience.

When constituents come with very clear asks and a constructive approach, it makes it easier for us as MPs. I have found over time in my still relatively new role in the past three years that everybody who comes to talk to me about pancreatic cancer comes with that constructive approach and a clear set of asks about what they want to happen. It does not matter how personal it has been for them, or whether they have had loss or are cancer survivors themselves. Pancreatic cancer is something that people want to see changed. They are going about it the right way, by bringing matters to us, so that we can raise issues with Ministers. I thank them for that, as well as the charities, Pancreatic Cancer UK and others.

The more I have looked into the subject, the more I have understood why it needs to be addressed. Campaigners and families affected by pancreatic cancer talk about the failure in our NHS medical system. As wonderful as the NHS is, there is a failure to detect this cancer earlier. They raise the failure to get people properly to understand the symptoms of this cancer. One of my constituents says, “The clue is in the loo,” which I like as a slogan. They also raise the failure to prescribe medicine that will help people, which I will come to separately.

If there are clear asks in this area of medicine, people are confused why they are not being met. The medical healthcare system is failing our constituents at the moment on pancreatic cancer. I know that Stroud people, whom I love dearly, will die of this most deadly common cancer, if the health care system does not change.

I want to talk about one of my constituents: a young woman, my age, a mum, businesswoman, super-bright cancer survivor. She is a young woman with what was thought of as an elderly person’s cancer. For about five years, she went to her GP with fatigue, bloating and general lethargy, but a further investigation into cancer was not done. She went backwards and forwards with a list of symptoms, but it was not picked up. Her tumour was the size of a walnut and internal, so that it could not be felt. We have got used to checking our bits and bobbins, as my wonderful hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) tells us to do, but where there is an internal walnut-sized lump—not lumps on breasts or testicles—we are stuck, and people are not detecting it. If our medical system is not detecting it, we are in difficulties.

My constituent’s experience highlights the need for people and health care professionals to be alert to smaller symptoms that could be a sign of pancreatic cancer. We need to talk about poo—the clue is in the loo. We need to raise awareness of this silent cancer. If the general population is not aware of symptoms, we will miss it and will get further into difficulties with that devastating loss.

My constituent also asked me to campaign on the issue of PERT—pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy. There has been a push from cancer charities to try to get PERT prescribed more frequently, because three in four people with pancreatic cancer reported that PERT improved their quality of life. It is about 60 tablets a day and not an easy thing for people to take, but it improves their quality of life. It reduces the weight loss, the appetite loss, the abdominal pain and the bloating or wind. It reduces pale, oily and floating poo, and it reduces diarrhoea. All of that enables patients to regain some normality in their day to day lives, and it helps food to be digested and absorbed by the body. That means they gain strength to undergo potentially life-saving treatment. Given that we know about that treatment, why is it not prescribed as frequently as campaigners suggest it should be?

We understand there is a lack of awareness among healthcare professionals about what PERT can do, and that the levels of nutritional expertise among healthcare professionals are quite low, particularly in general hospitals. We know, as the hon. Member for Strangford has set out, that the stage that people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is incredibly late.

I have six key asks: to raise awareness among healthcare professionals; to place PERT at the heart of pancreatic cancer treatment improvements; a top-down prioritisation and approach that tackles the entire pathway of treatment and care; to make PERT a UK-wide priority in pancreatic cancer care; national targets for the use of PERT; and local health bodies to ensure the effective prescription of PERT.

I want to hear from the Minister today in relation to PERT and the prescription—or lack—of it. I also want to draw her attention to a study into pancreatic cancer —there is not enough time to go into it today—by Oxford University and Pancreatic Cancer Action, which was released last week. I read it last night and it is excellent. The founder and CEO, Ali Stunt, is an incredible woman. In fact, we are surrounded by incredible women campaigners, and we should pay homage to the late, great Dame Deborah James. I am sure all of us have been moved by seeing what she managed to achieve on social media. I know her family are continuing with the campaign.

All of my Stroud constituents who brought these issues to me want to see action and they want to hear from the Minister. I am really pleased we are having this debate, and I thank the hon. Member for Strangford for securing it. I hope that we can all come together to reach agreement about what should happen.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this important debate today, and on all the work he does in raising awareness of pancreatic cancer.

I do not need to tell anyone here how cruel an illness pancreatic cancer is. We know it from experience, whether that be personal or from hearing the tragic stories of our constituents. My parents lost one of their closest friends to the disease 20 years ago, and yet we are nowhere near as far forward in treating and, crucially, diagnosing it as we could be in 2022.

I see the purpose of today’s debate as awareness raising. Too many lives are lost to pancreatic cancer, so let us try to save some by getting people diagnosed earlier. There are numerous ways of doing that. People need to be more aware of the signs and symptoms, which I will come to shortly and which other hon. Members have outlined. GPs and other healthcare professionals need to be able to recognise the symptoms once presented, and we need incredibly speedy action if pancreatic cancer is suspected; there must be urgent access at the point of diagnosis.

That is not happening right now. Only 16% of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed at an early stage, and emergency presentation remains the most common route to diagnosing it. There is still too low an awareness of it across our communities: 76% of people in the UK are unable to name a single symptom of this terrible disease. Worse still, it is not easily recognised when presented to our healthcare professionals.

The story of my constituent Barbara sadly emphasises that point. She was 65 years old when she first experienced pains in her abdomen—the first symptoms of her pancreatic cancer. She had not long retired, having been a PE teacher for 40 years. She played hockey for Scotland. She was fit, active and not overweight; she ate healthily, did not smoke, drank in moderation and walked her dog every morning.

Barbara saw her GP within a week of first having pain. They prescribed an indigestion remedy and suggested paracetamol for the pain. She saw her GP at least once a month over the next year as the pain intensified and spread to her back. Her GP referred her for blood texts, X-rays, ultrasound, a colonoscopy and an endoscopy, but all tests were negative. None of the NHS practitioners who performed the tests recognised the symptoms.

After a year, the GP put in a referral for Barbara to be seen by a consultant. By that time, the pains were almost so unbearable that she was more or less confined to her house. She arranged to see a private health consultant and paid to have a scan. Within two weeks, she was told that she had a cyst in her pancreas, and further investigation three weeks later diagnosed a cancerous tumour on her pancreas, and she was told immediately that there was no cure.

Barbara received chemotherapy for six months. At first, the treatment caused the tumour to shrink a little, but it soon began to grow again. The treatment made her feel very ill. Barbara made the decision to discontinue the chemotherapy. It took almost 18 months for Barbara to have her condition diagnosed, and that happened only after a private healthcare consultation. She died two years and two months after experiencing her first symptoms. I thank her family for allowing me to share her story today to help raise this crucial awareness.

By raising awareness, we can help people get diagnosed earlier and live longer lives. For those diagnosed in time for life-saving surgery, five-year survival increases significantly. Raising awareness of an issue or illness comes in a multitude of ways. I congratulate my constituent Lesley Irving on the power of work she has done to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer since losing her mum to the illness on 6 June 2020. Lesley has got public and private buildings across Scotland to light up purple, and she assures me that this year will be the best one yet. I look forward to meeting her next week to recognise her achievements and celebrate the memory of her mum.

If anyone watching this debate is experiencing a loss of appetite, upper abdominal or mid-back pain, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, jaundice, nausea and vomiting, they should please see their GP and explain that they think it could be pancreatic cancer. It could just save their life.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing the debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) and the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) for their contributions. I am delighted to be taking part in this debate, not just because I am the new chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer, but because my borough is home to the excellent Royal Marsden Hospital, the Institute of Cancer Research and the London Cancer Hub.

Colleagues have set out the key issues very well indeed, but they are worth repeating. Out of all the common forms of cancer, pancreatic cancer remains the deadliest. More than half of all patients die within just three months, and only 7% live beyond five years. It is always difficult for an individual to go through a cancer diagnosis, but the statistics make a pancreatic cancer diagnosis particularly hard on the individual, their friends and family, so it is right that Government redouble their efforts to work with the NHS and the third sector, particularly with Pancreatic Cancer UK, in order to improve survival rates.

I join colleagues who have reiterated key calls made by Pancreatic Cancer UK. They include providing a clear and urgent national-level focus on pancreatic cancer and other less survivable cancers, investment in targeted innovative pancreatic cancer research, producing more and better data, publishing the 10-year cancer plan and improving access to PERT. However, I would like to focus on an additional call in my speech today.

I acknowledge the good work the Government have done in this space already, including trying to raise awareness of PERT, conducting better data audits, looking to see how we can improve diagnosis and providing a commitment to look at that in the 10-year cancer plan. I hope the Minister can provide us with some assurances about the publication of that plan. We know that health disparities exist across the country and between people with different protected characteristics, but I hope we can learn from an example of best practice in my own constituency.

In Carshalton and Wallington, we are lucky to have the Royal Marsden on our doorstep, along with the Institute of Cancer Research, where world class research is happening, and the London Cancer Hub, which I would be delighted to invite the Minister to come and visit whenever she is free. That site is truly a world leader in cancer research, second only to those in the United States. The Royal Marsden is currently being refurbished, and it is looking to increase its capacity and work with partners to deliver new and innovative treatments.

One of the most exciting projects coming down the line is the partnership with the Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust. That project plans to invest in the existing two hospitals and build a third acute hospital, which will be a specialist emergency care hospital, on the old Sutton hospital site, next to the Royal Marsden. As well as providing state-of-the-art acute services, that will also help the Royal Marsden with capacity to provide cancer surgery on the Sutton site, rather than sending people covered by that catchment area up to Chelsea, which can sometimes be difficult. That means local cancer patients, and cancer patients from across south London, Surrey and parts of Sussex, will be able to conduct most, if not all, their cancer journey right on their doorsteps.

I welcome the work the Government have done to increase investment in the NHS and develop strategies in this area, but a major barrier that prevents optimal care, not just for pancreatic cancer but across the NHS and social care sector, is workforce. I know the Minister knows that already. Yesterday, I had the honour of chairing a roundtable event with the Westminster Health Forum to discuss how we tackle cancer backlogs and how we optimise cancer care in the UK. Again and again, workforce was brought up as the major barrier to improvement. We can invest as much money as we like, develop new strategies and, of course, find efficiencies and better ways to do things, for example by investing in digital and information technology, but without the workforce on the ground to deliver it, much of what we do will not create an impact, at least from a patient perspective, for a long time.

It must be stressed that workforce does not just mean doctors. Of course we need more doctors, and I am glad to see the progress the Government are making on our manifesto commitment to recruit more doctors, but it must also include nurses and allied health professionals, such as oncologists, pathologists, data scientists and all the specialists involved in the cancer pathway. I appreciate that creates a massive challenge, because we cannot magic a skilled workforce out of nowhere: it takes years to train the staff required. There are a few things the Government can do in the short term to encourage recruitment and retention—I reiterate calls to look again at NHS pensions, which are incentivising early retirement—but workforce options are few and far between, without training the next generation of the NHS workforce.

As the Minister may have guessed, my fifth call to Government is that a specific NHS and social care workforce plan is developed, alongside the cancer plan, in order to take advantage of the measures available in the short term and to increase the number of people in that highly trained workforce. That will help to fill the vacancies that it is necessary to fill and deliver first class, nationwide cancer care, including for pancreatic cancer patients.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the calls from colleagues and from Pancreatic Cancer UK, because as has been set out so well, a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer can be truly devastating for people. I hope the Government can offer some assurance and some hope to patients today, and to future cancer patients, about the work they are undertaking to improve patient experiences.

Thank you for your indulgence in allowing me to speak, Mr Hollobone. I commend the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this debate; he is a tireless champion for his constituents and for many issues that impact the lives of people across the United Kingdom.

The words pancreatic cancer strike fear into us all, as it is widely recognised to be the most deadly form of this terrible disease. We all know of people in our own lives who, when faced with that diagnosis, have fought valiantly, but ultimately have succumbed to this aggressive form of cancer. Sadly, I know of some who are no longer with us, who were diagnosed during the pandemic and so received the devastating news alone. They were not allowed to have anyone there to comfort them, offer spiritual support or bring someone with them on their treatment journey. That is cruel in the aftermath of such a cruel diagnosis.

As with all cancers, early detection of the disease and the resumption of treatment is of fundamental importance. It is when considering this aspect that we must look closely at access to GPs. As Members across the House have said, over the last two years we have seen how obtaining any appointment, even by telephone, is increasingly difficult. Face-to-face appointments are almost impossible to secure for many people. The vague symptoms that often present for those with pancreatic cancer are unlikely to trigger any form of consultation, particularly face to face. They are also most likely to lead to a patient giving up the fight to see their GP, given the barriers to consultation.

We have rightly spoken today about the awareness of symptoms and the importance of early detection. My concern is the pathway to investigation of symptoms; detection is blocked off at that first point of community healthcare. We need to focus on GP services and ensure GPs are resourced and then willing to return to pre-pandemic practices. Colleagues have rightly spoken about research and the importance of increasing funding. We have seen encouraging developments in recent years, including in the research led by Queen’s University Belfast. I join others in asking for increased funding towards treatments to help save lives.

I will finish by commending some of the charities in my own constituency and in Northern Ireland, which are so forward thinking in raising funds to support those who receive a diagnosis, as well as the families who have to live with that diagnosis. They also help to fund research. I commend NIPANC, a charity headed up by Mr Mark Taylor and supported by a family in my constituency, Mrs Susan McLaughlin and her two sons, Aaron and Adam. They lost a father and a husband, Colin. Adam was just three when Colin died very suddenly from pancreatic cancer. I want to commend Mrs Victoria Poole, who volunteers with Pancreatic Cancer UK and who also lives in my constituency. They are all strong advocates who want to see change and to see the Government stepping up to the mark with regards to pancreatic cancer research.

I am reminded of a lady I met when I was a Member of the Assembly between 1998 to 2010. Her name was Una Crudden, and she brought the issue to my attention. She was a great advocate of how to deal with pancreatic cancer; she was raising awareness, even back at that time. I often think of her because she was a determined lady and a great supporter of her family. They were a family who were very much together. I am minded that she struggled with that disease for four or five years and ultimately passed away, but it is the Una Cruddens of this world—my hon. Friend referred to some of her constituents—who bring this matter to the fore.

Absolutely. I knew Una from my Stormont days as well—she was a courageous lady who deserves to be mentioned in this debate.

I pay tribute to all those who are involved in charities. They support our healthcare system and I commend them today because they are the true heroes. The NIPANC motto for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month is “Time Matters”, and the message today is that time matters: understand the symptoms and seek urgent, early diagnosis.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate on Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and setting out matters in such great detail for us. We have heard from hon. Members about a wide range of issues faced by constituents across the nations of the UK in dealing with this type of cancer. The hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) spoke of how well informed her constituents are and the asks they have of the Government in this area. My hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) spoke of her constituent Barbara and her experience of NHS services failing to identify and diagnose her cancer in time. We also heard from the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), and I thank all Members for their contributions.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and 17 November is World Pancreatic Cancer Day 2022. It is so important to raise awareness through these days and through our debates to improve early diagnosis by ensuring that more people know the early symptoms of pancreatic cancer. It has the lowest survival rate of all common cancers and is the deadliest common cancer in Scotland and across the United Kingdom. There are around 10,500 new cases in the UK each year. That equates to 29 cases every single day. It is the 10th most common cancer in the United Kingdom, accounting for 3% of all new cases, and the fifth biggest cancer killer with 9,000 deaths each year. In Scotland, there are around 900 new cases per year, with an incidence rate of 15.5 per 100,000 people.

Pancreatic cancer is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas—a large gland that is part of our digestive system. In the early stages, a tumour in the pancreas does not cause any symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose, as we have heard. Symptoms can vary from person to person and may include jaundice, indigestion, stomach or gut pain, back pain, diarrhoea, constipation or weight loss. Pancreatic cancer is particularly difficult to diagnose early, as we have heard so many times, and Pancreatic Cancer UK reports that 80% of cancer patients are not diagnosed until the cancer is at an advanced stage. While the causes are not clear, it is most common among those aged 75 years and over, with almost half of all new cases diagnosed falling in that age demographic.

Early diagnosis is crucial to improving survival outcomes, with one year survival rates for those diagnosed at an early stage being six times higher than those diagnosed at stage 4. However, most people with pancreatic cancer are unfortunately diagnosed at that late stage. At present, surgery is the only treatment with curative intent for pancreatic cancer, while chemotherapy and radiotherapy have been shown to improve survival in those with late- stage pancreatic cancer. If it is diagnosed at a late stage, surgery to remove the cancer is usually not possible.

The Scottish Government are committed to diagnosing cancer as early as possible, which is why they continue to invest in their detect cancer early programme, or DCE, and are rolling out rapid cancer diagnostic services across Scotland. We know the earlier that cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. That is why the Scottish Government continue to invest in that programme, which adopts a whole-system approach to diagnose and treat cancer as early as possible. They are developing a new plan for early diagnosis as part of their new cancer strategy to be put in place in spring.

The new 10-year strategy will take a comprehensive approach to improving patient pathways from prevention and diagnosis through to treatment and post-treatment care. That follows on from the establishment of three rapid diagnostic services centres, developed within the NHS infrastructure. The centres are in Ayrshire and Arran, Dumfries and Galloway, and Fife. They will play a key role in delivering early diagnosis and improved care, with fast-track diagnostic testing at the first appointment wherever possible.

The First Minister announced as recently as 10 October that the next two rapid cancer diagnostic services centres in NHS Scotland will go live in my own NHS board of NHS Lanarkshire and in NHS Borders. Through the NHS recovery plan, the Government in Holyrood have invested £29 million to provide an increase of 70,000 diagnostic procedures next year and 90,000 by the end of the plan in 2026. A new DCE awareness campaign is also under development to empower people with possible cancer symptoms to act early. That is due to be published in spring 2023.

In Scotland, it has been recognised that the impact of the covid-19 pandemic may have exacerbated inequalities within cancer screening, and the Scottish Government have committed up to £2.45 million to the screening inequalities fund over the past two years. Public awareness campaigns and messages have run throughout the pandemic to encourage those with possible cancer symptoms to seek help. To support scope-based diagnostics, the Scottish Government have published a £70 million endoscopy and urology diagnostic recovery and renewal plan, focusing on key areas such as balancing demand and capacity, optimising clinical pathways, improving quality and efficiency, workforce training and development, and infrastructure and innovation redesign. A further £9 million has been allocated this financial year to support diagnostic imaging capacity, with six mobile MRI scanners and five CT scanners in place across Scotland’s NHS.

Despite all that work and all the amazing work of charities and activist organisations, and their dedicated supporters, which has been placed on the record today, there is still so much more for us to do. Investment in facilities, improved treatment options and early detection are all necessary, but it is also vital that research into alternative cancer treatments continues and expands. The Scottish Government provided an average of £2 million each year to cancer research causes in the five years before the pandemic, and that remains our priority.

According to Pancreatic Cancer UK, research into the disease has been underfunded for decades. The charity estimates that pancreatic cancer receives 1.4% of cancer research funding and yet is the fifth biggest cancer killer. Just recently, to mark World Cancer Day, Cancer Research UK delivered a cash injection of £12 million to the Cancer Research UK Scotland centre, supporting the work of cancer researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow. Professor Ian Tomlinson, who is co-director of the centre, welcomed the finance but highlighted how challenging the previous year had been and the fact that covid-19 has slowed down research.

Finally, we in the SNP commend all the charities and activist organisations and their dedicated supporters for their tireless efforts to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. We have called on the UK Government to support Cancer Research UK and other research charities throughout the pandemic, while their funding activities have been curtailed by restrictions, and now in the face of people being more cautious with their money. With the Tory cost of living crisis continuing to undermine people’s financial security and their ability to support charitable efforts, it is more important than ever for the Government to step in and support charities in their work and to directly fund cancer research.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I start by thanking and paying tribute to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this morning’s debate to mark Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

As other Members have done, I pay tribute to the brilliant work of Pancreatic Cancer UK. Such organisations are vital in raising awareness of this awful disease. I also praise the important contributions made by all Members, and thank them especially for sharing the touching stories of their constituents.

As we have heard throughout the debate, pancreatic cancer is the deadliest of the common cancers. It affects about 10,000 people a year across the UK, with three in five of those being diagnosed at a very late stage. More than half of those people will die within three months of diagnosis, only 7% will survive for more than five years, and 5% will survive for 10 years or longer. The figures are even worse in Northern Ireland, as we have heard.

In the North Central London integrated care board area, within which my constituency of Enfield North falls, 161 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2020, and there were 153 deaths due to pancreatic cancer, so I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected by pancreatic cancer and with the family members of those who are suffering. Those statistics are shocking, but even more shocking is the fact that they have barely changed in the past 50 years, and that the UK ranks 29th of 33 countries with comparable data on five-year survival for people with pancreatic cancer.

One reason for the tragically low survival rates is the stage at which people are diagnosed, as was mentioned by the hon. Members for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) and for Strangford, and other Members who contributed. Only 16% of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed at an early stage. For many, it is simply too late, so I would be grateful if the Minister outlined how the Government intend to improve the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

One thing we cannot ignore is the cancer backlog. Over the past decade, pancreatic cancer mortality rates have increased by a fifth. Waiting lists have risen to record levels and the proportion of people waiting less than 18 weeks for treatment is at its lowest in a decade. At the end of July 2020, waiting lists had risen to a record 6.8 million people, with almost 400,000 patients waiting more than a year. The Government are missing their target to eradicate the two-year wait, and analysis produced in May by Macmillan found that it could take more than five years to clear England’s cancer treatment backlog. For pancreatic cancer patients, that is simply not good enough. They cannot afford to wait.

Many Members have spoken about the workforce element, which underpins all the issues outlined in the debate. As was eloquently described by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), without a robust workforce strategy, our NHS will simply not be in a place to provide the support that pancreatic cancer patients need, yet Ministers continue to ignore those calls—even calls from their own Chancellor, who is the former Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee. A recent report by the Committee said that the absence of a “serious effort” from the Government to tackle gaps in the cancer workforce is jeopardising earlier diagnosis, so I am keen to hear from the Minister what plans the Government have to ensure that staff are trained and retained sustainably, such that pancreatic cancer patients can always access care in a timely manner.

Labour has already set out its plans, pledging the biggest expansion of medical school places in history to give the NHS the doctors it needs so that patients can be seen on time. That commitment also includes creating 10,000 new nursing placements every year and training 5,000 new health visitors. Labour will also produce a long-term workforce plan for the NHS for the next five, 10 and 15 years to ensure that we do not find ourselves in this position again.

Members also mentioned the 10-year cancer plan. In February, the then Health Secretary announced a new war on cancer and launched a call for evidence to inform a new 10-year cancer plan for England. That call for evidence closed in April. We are now on our fourth Health Secretary since April, but there is still no sign of the plan. That is not good enough not just for those suffering with pancreatic cancer, but for those with all forms of cancer. Will the Minister set out exactly when we can expect this cancer plan? As we emerge from the pandemic, people living with pancreatic cancer need an NHS that has the time and resources to support them. It is about time that the Government delivered on that.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this important debate, and for his work as chair of the APPG on pancreatic cancer. He is right: we should talk about pancreatic cancer; we should talk about how to improve survival rates and diagnosis rates; and we should talk about how we can raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. As we do so—including in this very debate—that in itself will make a difference, and if we do not debate this now, during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, then when? I believe in seizing the moment.

I welcome the speeches from the hon. Members for Strangford, for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) and for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) and my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), who also seized this moment to speak about pancreatic cancer. The hon. Member for Strangford spoke movingly about Rebecca Buggs, whose children were just eight and nine years old at the time she had surgery. I am very glad that because she was diagnosed early, she was able to have surgery, but we know that, sadly, her experience is the exception not the rule.

The hon. Member spoke about the importance of raising awareness of symptoms such as stomach and back pain, indigestion, unexplained weight loss and jaundice, and the importance of getting those symptoms checked if there is no explanation. He also spoke about research as the key to earlier diagnosis. On one of his questions, I will answer straightaway that, yes, I would be delighted to join him for a meeting with Pancreatic Cancer UK. I will come to his other questions as I go through my speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud mentioned that she wants to help everybody and, knowing her well as a colleague, I know that that is absolutely true. She also mentioned the catchphrase, “The clue is in the loo,” as mentioned by other hon. Members. She spoke movingly about one of her constituents, a young woman who spent five years going to and from her GP with symptoms, including fatigue and bloating, which brought to life how hard this cancer is to detect. She also talked about the PERT treatment, which I will come to in a moment.

It is very good to see the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire, a former chair of the APPG, here and to hear her speaking so eloquently in this debate. She spoke about Barbara, a PE teacher, and about the healthy life she lived. Barbara went many times to get a diagnosis, but it took almost 18 months to get one. Again, sadly, that brought to life how hard this cancer is to detect.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington for acknowledging the work that the Government have done, particularly on raising awareness for pancreatic cancer. He talked about the importance of the workforce, which I will come to. He also asked me to visit the Royal Marsden, of which he is rightly proud, and which I would be delighted to do.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann spoke about the importance of access to GPs. She called for more funding into research, and said, rightly, that time matters.

I will come to many of the points that hon. Members have raised, but first, I believe in saying it as it is. Nearly 10,000 people a year are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and that figure has steadily increased since 2013. Diagnosis rates increase with age, and from the mid-40s onwards pancreatic cancer is more common in men than in women. Just under a quarter of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, so three quarters are not. About 40% of diagnoses follow an emergency presentation. The one-year survival rate is just 27% and the five-year survival rate is only 7.8%. Although those figures have improved in the past 10 years, they are still bleak for anyone who receives a diagnosis and for their loved ones. That is why it is right to talk about pancreatic cancer.

As with many other cancers, early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is crucial so that there is the opportunity for successful treatment. One of the Government’s healthcare priorities is to improve early diagnosis of all cancers, and to achieve 75% diagnosis at stage 1 or stage 2 by 2028, compared with the current rate of about 50%. We have opened 91 community diagnostic centres, which have carried out 2 million extra scans, tests and checks, including cancer tests. We are rolling out non-specific symptom pathways so that people with symptoms such as weight loss or fatigue are either diagnosed or have cancer ruled out. We are encouraging people to go and get their symptoms checked. The NHS’s “Help Us, Help You” campaign tackles the barriers that prevent some people from getting their symptoms checked, such as fear about what might be found.

The hon. Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) talked about waiting times, and I assure her that we are tackling them. This August, more than 19,000 patients saw an upper gastrointestinal specialist, compared with 17,600 last August, and 17% more patients have seen a specialist within the two-week performance standard. That said, I recognise that the NHS is still not hitting the standard for enough people—it is currently 83%, compared with the 93% standard—so we will continue to support the NHS’s efforts to tackle waiting lists and backlogs.

On treatment, credit is due to hard-working NHS staff who have increased cancer treatment levels to 107%, compared with pre-pandemic levels. The cancer drugs fund has helped more than 80,000 patients, and we are investing £5.4 million in five new national clinical audits of cancer, one of which is focused on pancreatic cancer.

As several hon. Members said, the key to making a big leap forward in survival rates for diseases such as pancreatic cancer is research—research into tests that will achieve earlier diagnosis and research into treatments. The Government spend £1 billion a year on health research through the National Institute for Health and Care Research. The NIHR has funded seven research projects for pancreatic cancer since 2019, with a committed spend of about £3.6 million. That is about 5% of the NIHR’s total funding for cancer research, which is over £73.5 million.

I referred to the fact that Pancreatic Cancer UK has raised £10 million for research every year, and one of its requests is that the Government match that. I thank the Government very much for the £3.6 million that is going to pancreatic cancer, but is it possible for that extra bit of effort to be made and for the Government to match the charity’s £10 million? I do not want to put the Minister on the spot, but I really do think that is an important issue.

I absolutely hear the hon. Gentleman’s request, which is for match funding for the funding contributed by Pancreatic Cancer UK. I will say two things about that. Another function of the NIHR is to support research where the funding comes from other organisations; it already does that. In fact, it has supported 70 pancreatic cancer-related studies that have been funded by others.

The other point, which the hon. Gentleman may be aware of, is that the NIHR does not actually ringfence funding for specific diseases. That is similar to his match funding point. The NIHR is ready to fund research. It looks at applications for funding from the research community and then allocates that funding by looking at the merits of the proposal. We should encourage more bids for funding for pancreatic cancer research and more bids to go into the NIHR, which would then enable it to allocate more funding. I am assured the NIHR stands ready to fund pancreatic cancer research; it is about getting those applications in to carry out that research. I could publish a highlight notice to flag to the research community the importance of pancreatic cancer, which may go some way to achieving what the hon. Gentleman seeks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud spoke about PERT and asked why it is not prescribed for more people. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline NG85 recommends that PERT be offered to patients with inoperable pancreatic cancer, and NICE includes PERT in its quality standard for pancreatic cancer. NICE guidelines do not replace clinical judgment. They are not mandatory; they are guidelines. However, it is clear that PERT should be discussed between a doctor and a patient so a clinical decision can be made. I heard what my hon. Friend called for and I will look into whether there is evidence that such discussions between doctor and patient are not happening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington spoke about the importance of the workforce and, as the daughter of two NHS doctors and a former Minister for the NHS workforce, I agree with him. In essence, the NHS is its workforce, and I am proud that we are on track to achieve our ambition of 50,000 more nurses. Talking specifically about the cancer workforce, the workforce plan published in 2017 set an ambition to increase the workforce by 1,500 full-time equivalents by 2021. That has been achieved and, in fact, exceeded by 226 staff members.

Since then, Health Education England has been taking forward the priorities in the cancer workforce plan, with an additional £50 million of funding in the last financial year and this one. Also, a significant proportion of the elective recovery funding—£8 billion in the next two years—will be spent on workforce, both on capacity and skills. I assure my hon. Friend that, as the Minister with oversight of cancer care, I will look carefully at whether we have the necessary workforce coming on track now and in the future to achieve our ambitions and aspirations for cancer care.

The hon. Member for Strangford and several others asked about the 10-year cancer plan, and I know hon. Members are keen to hear about progress. More than 5,000 individuals and organisations responded to the Government’s call for evidence. The Government are considering the responses and the next steps, so I may have to disappoint some colleagues who may want to know more, because that is as far as I will go today. I assure hon. Members that I know how strongly they and their constituents feel about the matter.

I have welcomed this debate as a chance to talk about all the work going on to improve cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival rates, and crucially, to talk specifically about pancreatic cancer. Not least because raising awareness of pancreatic cancer is, in itself, an important step towards improving people’s chances of survival, raising awareness of the symptoms and, in turn, encouraging people to contact their GP and get themselves checked. I pay tribute to everyone involved in Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, particularly to Pancreatic Cancer UK and to everyone taking part, whether that is walking 30 km this month or doing their own thing to raise funds and awareness. I thank them all for what they are doing. In turn, I will do what I can in Government to support all those efforts and to improve the chances for anyone suffering from pancreatic cancer.

I thank all hon. Members for their contributions, in particular the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie). It is not a great headline, and not one we want to think about, but hers was, “The clue is in the loo.” That is a fact. The hon. Lady also referred to the medical system as failing, and many of us feel the same. We have to highlight the negatives and then ask for the positives. It is not about negativity all the time; it is about looking for solutions, which is what we all try to do. She also referred to people taking 60 tablets a day and nutritional expertise, which is part of the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) referred to the Northern Ireland statistics and early diagnosis. My good friend, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan), referred to raising awareness of the signs and symptoms: 16% of pancreatic cancers are diagnosed at a very early stage. She referred to her constituent Barbara, as did the Minister. It is humbling to think that that lady had all the symptoms but, after various investigations, nobody could find what was wrong. The hon. Lady and others, including the Minister, referred to better GP awareness, as well as a test that works, which is really important.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) rightly referred to the good work that has been done. We often focus on the negatives rather than the positives, but many people are doing good things. He also referred to awareness of the publication of the plan, and he clearly made five calls. He also referred to digital and IT and the steps forward, but we need a workforce of people physically on the ground. He also referred to the good work in his constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) referred to the impact on families, which is sometimes forgotten when the focus is on individuals. She also referred to contact with GPs and hospitals, and a pathway to detection, focusing on the GP service. She also mentioned research at Queen’s University Belfast. Her headline was, “Time matters,” and so it does.

As always in these debates, the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) and I are together. We are mostly on the same side, unless we are discussing constitutional issues, but that is by the way. He referred to pancreatic cancer being the deadliest cancer—the fifth biggest killer in the UK. He also referred to some good work in Scotland with its 10-year strategy. I am a bit envious of some of the things that Scotland does. I thank him for sharing that with us. He also referred to the good work done by charities.

I always look forward to contributions from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark), which always get close to the heart of things. She referred to pancreatic cancer as the deadliest of common cancers. The figures from her constituency— I think this is right or not far away—of 161 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 153 deaths are shocking. She implored the Government to bring in early diagnosis and improve the cancer backlog. She referred to nearly 400,000 people waiting for a cancer diagnosis and other things. She referred to the workforce, with more nurses needed. Her headline was, “War on cancer.”

Lastly, I thank the Minister, as I always do sincerely, as we all do. We understand the Minister’s deep interest in the subject matter. She grasped the issues we want addressed and said to seize the moment. She also referred to Rebecca Buggs, the lady I mentioned. There is a need for research and development. The Minister referred to the bleak figures of 25% diagnosis, with 75% not diagnosed. She recognises the issues and I believe she also recognises the solutions. That is why I welcome her commitment, when she said that more is needed.

Matched funding for Pancreatic Cancer UK was referred to, with a figure of £10 million, and £3.5 million or £3.6 million committed by Government. The Minister will do that. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire and I and others have a meeting with the Minister, and I thank her very much for that. We look forward to it and thank the Minister for that commitment.

We also welcome the 50,000 new nurses that the Government have committed to. It is important to have a knowledgeable workforce. We also welcome the 10-year cancer strategy. Those are things that we all agree on. We look to the Minister to lead the charge for the 10-year strategy, because it is important to have that in place. I conclude by thanking everyone for their contributions, especially the Minister.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered pancreatic cancer awareness month.

Sitting suspended.

Asylum Accommodation: Novotel Ipswich

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the use of Novotel Ipswich as asylum accommodation.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Hollobone.

It is difficult for me to stress how big an issue this is in my constituency. It is something I have been aware of for some time. Before it became public, I was made aware of it as the local Member of Parliament, so that is not my complaint—I was aware of it. There is a paper trail that shows me strongly opposing the use of the Novotel for the purposes in question, and I have worked with Ipswich Borough Council on it. There are many issues on which the Labour-run council and I do not see eye to eye, but on this matter we have been on the same side.

In keeping with what many other local authorities have done, the council has, on planning grounds, secured a temporary injunction, and there will be a court hearing later today—it was meant to be yesterday. What the outcome will be I do not know. What I am saying today is less of a legal point and more of a political point on the ins and outs of whether this is the right thing to do, and I will give my views as the as the local Member of Parliament representing my constituents.

The Novotel is a town centre hotel in Ipswich. It is a good quality hotel in an incredibly important location, linking the waterfront to the Saints, which leads up to the town centre. It is an area of the town that has been at the heart of our regeneration efforts. My right hon. Friend the Minister might remember his visit to Ipswich to talk about the town deal. A significant part of the town deal is about regenerating the part of the town where the Novotel sits, and that is one of my concerns. I am already hearing stories about the way in which the building and the upkeep of it has deteriorated since it was acquired by the Home Office for this six-month period.

My hon. Friend is making an important point. Does he agree that often we are talking not about budget accommodation, but about accommodating those who come over here illegally on small boat crossings in smart hotels in city and town centre locations? What sort of message does he think that sends to those living on modest incomes in the middle of a global cost of living crisis?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. In answer to his question, I think it sends all the wrong messages. The cost to the taxpayer at a national level of putting up many illegal immigrants in hotel accommodation is huge. To say that it grates with a large number of my constituents would be an understatement. The Novotel is a nice hotel. I have been there before and my family have stayed there. I have spent time there. The issue is not in keeping with what we should be doing. My personal view is that if someone has entered this country illegally, they are not welcome and virtually all of them should be deported. But if we are going to have them staying here for a short term, it should be in basic, safe and secure accommodation, not hotels.

In addition to the Novotel with its 200 spaces in the town centre of Ipswich, there is a Best Western hotel in Copdock, which is not technically within the boundaries of Ipswich borough or my constituency, but for all intents and purposes it is within the urban area of Ipswich, so this is already causing concern for my constituents and having an impact on local public services. We are looking not just at the 200 in the Novotel, but the 150 in Copdock, so we are talking about 350 individuals who are overwhelmingly young men and who have all entered this country illegally.

Why is the Novotel the wrong location? Why is the decision to acquire the use of the Novotel for 200 individuals the wrong thing to do? Why has it united virtually everyone in the community against it? It has united the Conservative Member of Parliament, the Labour-run borough council, and the local business improvement district. It has united all sorts of people whom I do not often agree with, but we are all of one view: this is not the right location to be accommodating these individuals.

Something that I also find desperately concerning is the way in which 20 constituents of mine who worked at the hotel have been treated by Fairview Hotels (Ipswich). They were given five and a half days’ notice that their jobs were on the line, and many of them felt pressured into resigning under the vague promise that they might get their jobs back after the six-month period. I have one constituent whose daughter came home and broke down in tears because of the way she had been treated by those who manage the hotel. My responsibility is to her. My responsibility is to those 20 constituents. My responsibility is not to think about the welfare of those who have entered our country illegally, and I make no apology for that.

In terms of the economic impact of using this Novotel, a huge amount of effort is going into promoting Ipswich as a visitor destination. Ipswich is surrounded by beautiful countryside. It is the oldest town in the country—I thought it was older than Colchester anyway, but now that Colchester has city status, Ipswich is definitely the oldest town in the country. It was home to Cardinal Wolsey, and soon we will be celebrating the 550th anniversary of his birth. Only a stone’s throw away from the Novotel is Wolsey’s Gate, which was built by Cardinal Wolsey, and there is a whole operation to try to enhance the area.

What we are talking about is a 200-room, good-quality hotel in the centre of Ipswich that is lost to us and our local economy. It has been described by a business lady who runs a successful shop a stone’s throw away from the hotel as being an economic bomb that has landed on the town, and there is consensus within the business community that that is the case.

There is also the other angle: the nature of the hotel means that it is often used by successful businesses in Ipswich to host clients. If they have clients visiting or there are conferences, the Novotel is more often than not the hotel that is used, so losing those 200 beds is a further negative economic impact.

I also want to talk about community tension, which is an important point and I plan to address it directly. Ipswich is a welcoming town. It is a multicultural town and it has benefitted from that diversity. It is an integrated town. We have a history of welcoming genuine refugees—some of them are Conservative councillors, and some are from Albania—but they came here in a proper way. They came here legally, they were welcomed, and they have thrived in Ipswich. They have been welcomed in Ipswich and have made a positive contribution. The people of Ipswich are welcoming people but, quite frankly, there is a limit. When they see that people who deliberately enter our country illegally from another safe European country are being accommodated at vast expense in a good quality local hotel in an important location, which is costing local jobs and having a spill-over negative impact on the local economy, they are quite rightly furious. It is not surprising—I make no exaggeration in saying this—that at a time of cost of living strain, when many constituents are desperately concerned about getting by, I am hearing more about this than any other local issue in my postbag. I need to make the point that we are a welcoming and compassionate town.

I move on now to the general point. My right hon. Friend the Minister will know that I have been a consistent voice on the issue of illegal immigration since I was elected to this place. I support the Home Secretary fully in her efforts, and I support my right hon. Friend the Minister’s efforts fully. I was behind him in the main Chamber yesterday, supporting him. I was proud to do that, and he knows he has my support.

My view is that the situation would be even worse under Labour—there is no one from the party present. I find it somewhat ironic that the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), visited Ipswich last week and commented on this matter, even though about a year ago, when she was Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, she called an urgent question to oppose the use of Napier barracks for those who have entered our country illegally. All I would say is that I would much prefer the use of disused Army barracks for these individuals, rather than good quality hotels in the centre of Ipswich. I also note that the Labour candidate for Ipswich has made multiple visits to Calais. Quite what he was doing there, I do not know, but that is by the by; I will not get distracted by that.

I will finish simply by saying that I acknowledge the fact that, in tackling illegal immigration, there is no silver bullet. I am encouraged by the Prime Minister’s meeting with President Macron yesterday, and I look forward to hearing what came out of it. I have confidence in the Prime Minister on the issue. I spoke to him, and supported him. He is a great man. But, ultimately, we have to put turbochargers under the Rwanda policy. That needs to be part of it. Sections of the left deride what happened in Australia; they say that Australia’s offshore processing approach was not successful. Everything that I have seen indicates that it was successful. The fact of the matter is that Australia had a big problem with illegal immigration, it started offshore processing, and it now no longer has a big problem. I understand that Australia had two different locations and is not using one of them, and that there might be differences between Australia and ourselves, but ultimately the principle holds. I strongly encourage my right hon. Friend the Minister not just to support the concept in principle but to stress the urgency of delivering it and of doing what is required to deliver it. He has huge support on our Benches to get this done.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for coming to support me today. He is also a strong voice on this matter. We do not know what will happen in court later today with the temporary injunction; I hope that it is successful. But if it is not, we must separate it from the bigger issue of how we tackle the crossings. In the short term, we are where we are now. We must look again at the use of Novotel, take on board the view of the local business community and work with and support those 20 employees. They are my constituents, and have been treated very poorly. That is all I have to say on the matter.

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Given your duties as Chair you will not be able to say so, but I know that you also feel strongly about the issue, which affects your constituents in Kettering. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) for raising the matter, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for supporting him. The issue clearly concerns many Members across the House and millions of people across the country. Resolving it is a first-order priority for the Government.

The ongoing legal action means it is difficult for me to comment on the specific case of the hotel in Ipswich, but I will speak about it in more general terms, and about the wider issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich. I know Ipswich well, and met my hon. Friend for the first time when he was standing for Parliament there, when we toured Ipswich and visited the harbour, where the hotel is. I have seen the good work that he is doing with the council and others on the town deal board to regenerate Ipswich and help it achieve its potential. It is concerning to hear that the actions of the Home Office might, in a small way, be damaging his and the community’s wider efforts to boost opportunities and prosperity in Ipswich.

Since we came into office, the initial task for me and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has been to resolve the very urgent situation that we found in Manston in Kent, where a large number of migrants who crossed the channel illegally in small boats were being accommodated in a temporary processing facility that was meant for a smaller number of individuals. That was not within the control of the Government. It was the result of thousands of people choosing to make that perilous journey—over 40,000 this year alone, and rising. We had to ensure that the site was operating legally and decently. As a result, we had to procure further hotels and other types of accommodation across the country at some pace. I am pleased to say that that hard work is bearing fruit, and the situation at Manston has significantly improved. The number of people being accommodated there is now back down to the level for which it was designed.

That leads to the second priority, which is to stabilise the situation more broadly, and ensure that we procure hotels in a sensible, common-sense way. The case that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich raises prompts some important questions. First, when we choose hotels, other than in emergency situations such as the one we have been in with Manston, we need to ensure there is proper engagement with local Members of Parliament and local authorities, so that we choose hotels that might not be desirable but are none the less broadly suitable and can command a degree of public support. In some cases, we have seen hotels chosen that simply do not meet that barrier.

We need to ensure hotels are chosen against sensible, objective criteria. Those criteria might mean ensuring that towns such as Ipswich can continue to carry out their day-to-day business, and ensuring that tourists can be accommodated and that business and leisure travellers can find hotel accommodation in the centre. They will include ensuring that we take into account safeguarding concerns, for example by not choosing hotels that are next to children’s homes, schools or places where young people congregate. The criteria will certainly include taking into account community cohesion and the likelihood for disruption, and they should, obviously, include value for money for the taxpayer. On that point, I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend that we should be choosing decent but not luxurious accommodation. People coming here seeking refuge should be accommodated in simple but humane accommodation. He referenced the situation in Calais. The way this country accommodates asylum seekers vastly outweighs the way some neighbouring countries choose to do so, and I am afraid that creates an additional pull factor to the UK.

Deterrence needs to be suffused throughout our entire approach. We can be decent and humane, but we also need to apply hard-headed common sense. Once we have stabilised the present situation, and applied those criteria and better engagement methods, the third strand of our strategy is to exit from hotels altogether. Accommodating thousands of individuals in hotels costs the UK over £2 billion a year. In a time of fiscal constraints, that is an unconscionable sum of money and we need to ensure we move away from that as swiftly as we can.

The strategy that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I are establishing to do that has a number of fronts. One will be ensuring fairer dispersal across the country, so that cities and larger towns do not bear a disproportionate impact of the asylum seeker issue. Secondly, it will involve looking for other sites, away from hotels, that provide better value for money for the taxpayer, which might mean more simple forms of accommodation; we hope to say more on that soon. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we will accelerate the processing of asylum claims altogether, so that those individuals whose claims are rejected can be removed from the country swiftly and those whose claims are upheld can start working, create a new life in the UK and make an economic and broader contribution to the country.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for giving way. There are a great number of Members on our Benches who think that the very act of coming here illegally should prohibit people from making an application at all. Frankly, those people have already broken the law of the land by entering illegally. There is also an issue with the definition of “refugee” and I understand our rates of granting refugee status are much higher than those of comparable European countries. Will he expand further on any work that may be done by Government to make a narrower definition of what a refugee actually is? My concern is that some people are being given refugee status who may not be refugees, if we stick to the sense of the word.

My hon. Friend raises two important points. First, we are very concerned that a large number of individuals, certainly all those coming across in small boats, have transited through multiple safe countries before choosing to make the crossing to the UK. We do not want to be a country that attracts asylum shoppers. We want people to be seeking asylum in the first safe country that they enter. That may necessitate further changes to the law. We want to have a legal framework that is broadly based on individuals who are fleeing genuine persecution, such as war or serious human rights abuses, finding refuge in the UK through safe and legal routes, such as the highly effective resettlement schemes that we have established in recent years for, for example, Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Hong Kong. My hon. Friend was right to say that his constituents in Ipswich, like millions of people across the country, broadly support that approach and have played an important role in recent months, for example by taking in refugees under the Homes for Ukraine scheme. We do not want people to be encouraged by people smugglers to cross the channel illegally and then find refuge in the UK.

The second point that my hon. Friend raises, which is equally perceptive, is that the UK’s asylum system grants asylum to a higher proportion of applicants than those of some comparable countries, such as France and Germany. The Home Secretary and I are looking at that issue in some detail to see whether we can make changes to the way we manage the process and the criteria we adopt, not so that we become a country that is unwelcoming or ungenerous—that is not the British way—but so that we do not create an additional pull factor to the UK over and above other countries that are signatories to exactly the same conventions and treaties to which the UK is party.

To be perfectly honest, I am quite keen for us to be unwelcoming towards those who have illegally entered our country. What is the difference between breaking our immigration law and breaking any other domestic law? From what I see, if someone breaks a law in the country, they get punished. Surely breaking our immigration law is breaking our law, and the people who do so should be treated as such.

I do not want to get into a detailed conversation about our exact treaty obligations and the legal framework, but the issue is that any individual can claim asylum regardless of the means by which they came to the UK, regardless of whether they have transited through safe countries, and even regardless of whether they came from a safe country in the first place. That balance is not currently right, so we need to look carefully at how we can change it.

The most striking issue is the individuals coming from demonstrably safe countries. Today, about 30% of the individuals crossing the channel have come from Albania. That is a first-order priority for the Home Secretary and I to address, because it cannot be right that the UK provides safety and support for those individuals—mostly young men who are healthy and sufficiently prosperous to pay people traffickers, and who come from a country as safe as Albania. We need to change that. We have already returned 1,000 Albanians under the return agreement signed by the previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel). The present Home Secretary and I want to take that significantly further.

The longer-term trajectory obviously has to be moving away from tackling merely the symptoms of the problem—the processing of applications and the accommodation of individuals in expensive hotels—to tackling the root cause itself. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich is correct that a significant element of that will be to make further legal changes to our framework. Another element will be ensuring that deterrence is suffused through our approach so that we do not become a magnet for illegal migrants. We need the UK to be a country that supports those in genuine need, but we must not create a framework that is significantly more attractive than those of our EU neighbours.

That will also require work on the diplomatic front. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just returned from Sharm el-Sheikh, where he had further positive conversations with President Macron and other world leaders who are dealing with the symptoms of a global migration crisis. It will require tougher action by the security services to address the criminal gangs and gain greater intelligence on their work overseas. It will include tougher action at home on employers who illegally employ migrants who do not have the right to work here.

On all those fronts, the Home Secretary and I are absolutely committed to tackling this issue. I know it is extremely important to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich, who is one of the leading voices in Parliament on it, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough. They are both simply representing the strong views of their constituents, who, like millions of people across the country, want secure borders and a fair and robust immigration and asylum system. That is exactly what the Home Secretary and I intend to deliver.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Labour and Skills Shortages: Temporary Recovery Visa

[Judith Cummins in the Chair]

[Relevant documents: e-petition 621932, Allow EU nationals to come to the UK to work in hospitality for up to 2 Years; e-petition 594747, Allow disabled people to recruit live-in carers via Health and Care Worker visas; e-petition 565316, Seek Europe-wide short term work permits for the photographic industry; e-petition 584585, Relax immigration rules to enable the UK hospitality industry to recover; e-petition 598603, Create short-term visas for skilled abattoir workers to meet labour shortage; e-petition 599620, Ease immigration rules for construction workers to mitigate impact of Brexit.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of a temporary recovery visa for industries experiencing labour and skills shortages.

It is a privilege to serve under your guidance, Mrs Cummins. Before I start, I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and the support provided to my office by the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy project.

As the UK faces its longest recession on record, it is the Government’s duty to pull every lever they have to prevent hardship and support businesses, workers, families and the economy as a whole. My contention is that to do otherwise would be reckless, foolish and, indeed, heartless. It is great to see the Minister in his place and I welcome him to his important role. My plea today is for him to recognise the clear fact that hospitality and tourism businesses in my constituency in Cumbria are unable to operate to their full capacity because, despite their best efforts, they cannot recruit sufficient workers.

A recent survey by Cumbria Tourism, our excellent destination management organisation, found that 73% of businesses say recruitment is a problem, with more than half citing it as a significant problem. A lack of job applicants is an issue for 78% of employers. As I listen to employers right across Cumbria—the lakes, the dales and other beautiful parts of the county that are in neither—it is painfully clear that the situation is limiting business capacity and profitability, and forcing temporary or partial closures for almost half of all businesses.

Sadly, it is likely that anyone who has visited the Lake district on holiday, particularly in the last couple of years, saw reduced opening hours and capacity in cafés, hotels, restaurants and other visitor attractions, simply because they do not have sufficient staff. Those businesses came through the challenges of covid despite the odds, adapting to the drop in visitor numbers, but they have since been hit by massive problems with recruitment.

The backdrop to the issue is that Cumbria has a smaller than average working-age population, with 61% of people of working age compared with the rest of England’s 64%. It also has lower unemployment than the national average, at 1.5% versus 3.7%. The reality is that we just do not have the people to fill the vacancies. Some 80% of the entire working-age population in the Lake district already works in hospitality and tourism.

In the years that I have been raising the issue with the Government, I have been told repeatedly that the answer lies with the education and training of our UK workforce. A national cross-departmental skills strategy would, indeed, seem to be a reasonable and sensible development. Moreover, we do not want high domestic unemployment while employers take on migrant workers. However, that is not happening, and there is no prospect whatsoever of it happening. Instead, we have very low unemployment locally, so employers in Cumbria have spent the last two years trying a range of things to attract workers, such as increasing wages, adding benefits, providing more training, offering better hours or acquiring accommodation for staff to live in on site.

Cumbria Tourism and individual tourism businesses right across our county continue to work closely with the Department for Work and Pensions, supporting careers events and working with partners to engage directly with schools and colleges. Despite all those initiatives, businesses in our Cumbrian communities are struggling to survive and many are having to close altogether. How tragic it is that we can see the demand and the profit that could be made, or the losses that could be avoided, yet we cannot meet that demand because we do not have the workforce.

Although the lakes and dales of Cumbria have an acute problem, labour shortages are a nationwide challenge. That means that there is not a big reservoir of untapped talent in the UK that might move for work. We therefore need a range of solutions, and short, medium and long-term migration has to be part of that. We have a choice. If we do nothing to change the status quo, many businesses will go under, and then we will have an unemployment problem and rural communities will fall into decline. It could be argued that the market will adapt and that is just the way of things. However, the Government must take responsibility for having interfered to undermine the free market. While land tends not to be all that mobile, capital and labour do tend to be, or at least they were until the Government chose to inflict harm on our economy by cutting off the supply and movement of labour. The party allegedly of the free market has become the dead hand that is killing our economy locally and nationally.

It does not need to be that way. The question is, do we want thriving tourist destinations outside London? Do we want them to continue to be able to offer a fantastic experience for tourists from home and abroad? Do we want that contribution to our economy? Domestic and inbound tourism combined contribute approximately £127 billion a year to the UK economy. Tourism is worth 9% of GDP and is our fourth biggest employer. As we face a self-inflicted Conservative recession, do we think that it might be a good idea to back an industry that is chomping at the bit to mitigate that recession to grow and thrive?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes—and surely it is—then, if we want real, sustainable economic growth and are serious about levelling up, we cannot close our eyes to the stultifying impact of labour shortages. By the way, a Conservative Government that understood and cared about business would not need anyone to tell them that; it would be obvious to them. Such a Government would also know that welcoming migrant workers into areas such as mine, to complement the local workforce, is part of the action that needs to be taken.

The current work visa situation does not support the labour needs of the Lake district. Again, the Government would know that if they listened to Cumbrian businesses. We need a visa like the youth mobility scheme, which is flexible across sectors. Of course, that scheme already exists for places such as Australia and New Zealand, whose populations are fairly small—places that, to misquote “Father Ted”, are small and far away. How about also developing youth mobility visa agreements with countries whose populations are large and much closer geographically? The youth mobility visa would provide greater work protections than sector-based schemes, so that workers are not tied to a specific employer. The Government could easily impose restrictions on workers’ rights to access benefits, to bring in dependants, or to remain in the UK long term.

In my correspondence last month with the former Minister, the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), he stated that that there were ongoing negotiations with both European and wider international partner countries for youth mobility scheme agreements. That was encouraging news. I had a similar response from his predecessor, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), when I met him earlier this year alongside lakes tourism and industry leaders.

Please will the Minister tell us the timescale for those negotiations? Will new schemes be available in time for the beginning of the 2023 season? If the negotiations are stalling because we are seeking bilateral agreements, which may be slowing down progress, could the Minister set out whether unilateral agreements are being considered, given the desperate need of our tourism economy?

The former Minister, the hon. Member for Corby, also stated in his letter that employment is not the primary purpose of the youth mobility visa, and that young people cannot be compelled to work in specific sectors or regions. I did, of course, know those things. However, people who come in through a youth mobility visa will no doubt be seeking employment. We want to give them opportunities in desirable areas such as the Lake district while allowing our economy to benefit. That is exactly how it has happened in the past; migrants have chosen to come to the Lake district and the Yorkshire dales to work, often with accommodation provided.

The Government have made much of the claim that we in Britain can control our borders, but surely we want to control our borders in our own interests, in a way that gives us an advantage, rather than to do ourselves pointless economic harm. The youth mobility scheme enables the Government to control migration and make use of an existing mechanism to bring in those who will allow our businesses to thrive and meet demand, while developing an effective national skills strategy to maximise benefits to the domestic workforce. It is a win-win.

If the Government are not willing to take advantage of that win-win, Cumbrian businesses will demand to know why they are choosing to do active harm to them and our wider economy, rather than taking action that would help them. While employers can make changes to their employment offers—and they really are doing so—a national strategy of skills development, linked to labour market needs, must be led by the Government. The onus cannot be on small and medium-sized enterprises. The Government have to make a choice: if they do not accept that migration is part of the solution to labour shortages, then reduced economic growth, business failure, and poverty is the choice they have made.

In its report, “Promoting Britain abroad,” published last month, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee stated:

“We welcome efforts to create apprenticeships and the new T-Level in Catering in 2023 but believe that more could be done to support business-owners who are short of staff today.”

The Committee then recommended that the Government

“should introduce a temporary recovery visa for industries where there is clear evidence of labour and skills shortages.”

Does the Minister agree with the DCMS Committee on that, and will he introduce a temporary recovery visa?

In the context of a lack of people to fill vacancies, there is, of course, another lever that the Minister could pull. It is staring him right in the face. We have more than 85,000 people who have been waiting more than six months for their asylum claim to be decided and who are banned from working. Many of those awaiting a decision are ready and able to work. It makes absolutely no sense that the Government would prefer them to rely on state support instead of keeping their skills alive.

Forcing people into inactivity is at complete odds with the Government’s stated policy aim to move people away from dependency and into work. Getting into employment at the earliest opportunity will put those people in a much better position to integrate and flourish in the UK when they receive their refugee status—and 76% of them will be given that status by this Government. Giving asylum seekers the right to work would mean that they pay their own way, rather than relying on state finance. It would save the taxpayer millions. There is literally no downside.

Last week, I visited asylum seekers housed in hotels in Cumbria. Some 130 of them are living in limbo, unable to work while they await a decision on their asylum claims. They are from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran—all places with high grant rates. Their professions are catering, architecture, agriculture, construction, aircraft engineering, welding, senior logistics and data analysis, to name just a few. It makes no sense that they cannot work where local employers have vacancies. Public opinion is supportive: a YouGov poll in March found that 81% of the population would support an asylum seeker’s having the right to work after they have been waiting for six months.

It is plainly not the case, as some have said, that that policy would be a pull factor. We are an outlier in having such a foolish policy. Look at all comparable countries in Europe: France grants permission to work after a six-month wait; Germany does so after three months. A six-month wait would safeguard against economic migrants using the asylum system to circumvent the work visa process. Given the current economic climate, the clamouring of our employers, workforce shortages—not just in my communities but elsewhere—and the backlog in the asylum process, will the Minister reconsider the right to work for asylum seekers, as many of his Conservative colleagues believe he should?

There are, of course, other reasons that Cumbria’s workforce has been so drastically reduced in recent times. The other main factor is the rapid growth in second home ownership in our communities and the collapse of the long-term private rented sector into the short-term Airbnb market. Housing for people who are not wealthy in our area has become such a rarity that hundreds who worked in hospitality and tourism have simply been evicted from their homes and ejected from their communities. It is tragic. I hope the Minister will back my amendments to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which would enable us to guarantee sufficient homes for local people and families by limiting the number of second homes and short-term lets in communities like mine.

The Government’s inaction in tackling the housing crisis is compounding their failure to look intelligently and pragmatically at the matter of visas. This all adds up to a situation where 63% of tourism businesses in communities in Cumbria are working below capacity because they cannot find staff. There is demand, but we cannot meet it. The Government have chosen to allow the growth of Airbnb to eject our domestic workforce and counterproductive visa rules to prevent overseas staff from supplementing our small labour pool.

After London, the lakes is the second biggest visitor destination in the country; at the same time, we have one of the smallest populations. Of course we need to bring in outside talent to work alongside our own; otherwise, the Lake district and Yorkshire dales economies just could not function. I ask the Minister to stop hamstringing our economy, listen to our businesses and adopt a pragmatic approach to addressing labour shortages in the UK, especially in rural communities such as mine.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) on securing the debate. I will come to some themes he spoke about in a minute but, importantly, I want to congratulate the Minister not just on being here but on the work he is doing. I will disaggregate some of my remarks because, clearly, I have worked in the Home Office and I know a little bit about certain aspects of policy, but there are wider issues around labour market skills and shortages that I want to air, and those are what brought me to the debate.

It has been a few years since I have been to the hon. Gentleman’s beautiful constituency. I have a bit more time on my hands now and, provided I can get there, I will, because it is a very beautiful part of the country. However, the debate and the issues he raised are incredibly pertinent to the entire United Kingdom. We have seen labour and skills shortages in certain sectors for as long as I can remember as a Member of Parliament, and that is what we need to address.

I will park home affairs issues—particularly visas and things of that nature—for the moment. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, there has already been some work, although not enough, across the whole of Government to put together a wider strategy for the labour market. I have been very vocal about this; when I was Employment Minister, I was one of the few advocates for a labour market strategy for the entire economy. If I may say so, that is something that I have also encouraged our new Chancellor to adopt and champion. We need the Treasury and, in particular, the DWP to be the advocates of a proper, coherent labour market strategy. That is really important, because we see wage inflation in certain sectors. We know there are shortages in the hospitality sector, which the hon. Gentleman pointed to, but we have to be honest that there is not enough training, investment or career progression in certain sectors, and hospitality is one of them.

I remember from my time as Employment Minister that the hospitality sector did a great deal to develop career paths, to make its jobs much more appealing and to invest in the individuals who got jobs in order that, although they might start behind the bar, they could become general managers of hotels, bars or restaurants, and so on. That is really important. My party believes in the ladder of opportunity. It wants to see people develop their careers and be incredibly successful, rather than the haemorrhaging of staff in certain sectors. My major point is not party political: we should encourage the development of a labour market strategy for the whole country, rather than try to find sticking-plaster fixes of visas and things of that nature, which I will come to in a minute.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the immigration system and some of the changes that have been made, which I was involved in as Home Secretary. Ending free movement was a manifesto commitment and part of Brexit, which the British public voted for. We delivered that at the same time as reforming aspects of the immigration system. The points-based immigration system is there to ensure that employers can sponsor individuals, admittedly not in the sectors the hon. Gentleman spoke about but certainly in other critical sectors, including the NHS, which should not be overlooked. The NHS relies on overseas workers, which are important for its health and wellbeing, although of course we need to grow more talent domestically as well. Those are important areas.

I want to touch on another aspect—youth mobility, which is an important way forward. The hon. Gentleman and other colleagues will know about the scheme for seasonal agricultural workers. That enables workers to come to our country for specific and restricted timeframes in key sectors. That enables workers to come to our country for specific and restricted timeframes in key sectors. Only last year, following a shortage, the seasonal agricultural workers list was expanded to include haulage drivers, key workers in agriculture, but not horticulture, and the farming sector when we saw pressures in the economy. It is right that we have the agility and freedom effectively to determine some of those changes while also—and I am sure that the Minister will agree with me on this—demonstrating to the British public that we are able to invest in our own home-grown skills and in particular parts of the country. I saw this in one of my previous roles in Government—not in my last role, but in employment—where we had pockets of unemployment around certain parts of the country. We must invest in those parts of the country too.

I said that I would talk about youth mobility schemes in particular. I have been involved in some of those discussions, and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referenced some of the bigger countries and economies; one of those is India, with which we have an agreement to actively bring over young people who are highly educated and skilled. We still want them to work here; the point of youth mobility is that we can reciprocate, which is really important, with our young people gaining life skills elsewhere in the world and showing what a free and open country we are.

In the interests of time, I will conclude by emphasising that it is quite unfair that a Home Office Minister has to respond to wide-scale labour market issues, which are cross-governmental. One of the biggest takeaways is the need for better integration across Government Departments to address issues with the labour market and skills shortages. When we look at what is happening with the apprenticeship levy, for example, we must ask how we can make that much more effective in different parts of the country. How can it be targeted to key sectors? How can colleges have more bespoke schemes for shortages in the labour market so that we develop a pipeline of young people to come forward? I am a Member of Parliament for a constituency in Essex, Witham. Some 80% of my constituents are employed by small and medium-sized enterprises; that is 20% higher than the national average. By default, we are an entrepreneurial and SME-based part of the country, but at the same time we must look at the needs of many of those small and medium-sized enterprises regarding skills and sustainable employment. That is why I encourage colleagues across the House to work in a united way to look at getting the Government to have a skills and labour market strategy for the entire country.

Thank you, Mrs Cummins. You caught me out, because I was not expecting to be called; I was just doing my duty of jumping up and sitting down again. You are most kind. I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) on setting the scene for the debate. The Minister probably knows what I will ask in relation to the fishing sector, because I asked him last week after the debate; his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey), was there as well. I have sought a meeting with the Minister and he has agreed to it, so hopefully we will have that in the diary over the next period of time. I will specifically focus on that and explain why it is so important, and reflect on my meetings with the previous Minister, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), and how we move forward on the issue.

One UK sector that most people agree has a bright future following Brexit is our fishing industry. Located in often remote coastal communities, the industry has weathered many challenges over many years, including those that are unique to the sector. The fishing fleet based in Portavogie, in my constituency, probably had its heyday during the second half of the ’70s and into the ’80s. Good profits were made and shared with the crew, which reflected the hard work and long hours that fishermen put into their profession. My brother is one of them; he worked the fishing boats in Portavogie over a period of time. I could never understand how the guys could get into the fishing boats, never mind get out of them, but that is by the way. It is a dangerous profession. Being a fisherman carried with it a great deal of pride, but something went wrong. Fisheries management policies were applied that undermined the industry; with hindsight, it is debatable whether those policies were right or wrong. Nevertheless, the policies succeeded in reducing most crew wages. Combined with alternative occupations, this led to a situation developing in the 1990s where there were more crew vacancies than there were crew to fill them. That is a wee bit of background about the sector before I put forward some ideas.

Fishing vessel decommissioning schemes released some crew who found positions in other fishing vessels. At that time, it was migrants from eastern Europe who, although inexperienced in commercial fishing, offered a breathing space when they were recruited to fill the crewing gaps. Then, trawler owners from Portavogie, Kilkeel and Ardglass followed the lead of owners elsewhere in the UK by beginning to recruit new crews from overseas. Those crews were Filipinos, who became a very important part of fishing for nephrops in the Irish sea and the Clyde.

The fishing fleet has never pretended that overseas crews offer a long-term replacement for domestic recruits. I understand exactly that it is not a long-term solution, but it is a short-term solution. It would be great if young people from my constituency were going into fishing, but they are not, and neither are young people from Kilkeel or Ardglass. The hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) will speak for Scotland shortly, and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) will speak for Wales. I think both of them will endorse that point.

Overseas crews have filled critical roles, which has kept a large part of the UK’s fishing fleet at sea and, in turn, maintained supplies of domestically caught seafoods to markets at home and overseas. Overseas fishing crews have largely been recruited to the UK on the basis of transit visas. I understand that transit visas were never intended for that purpose. Transit visas permit a crew member to join a vessel that is departing the UK and working outside UK territorial waters. It has generally been accepted that the majority of time on a fishing vessel at sea has to spent beyond the UK’s—

One fishing practice that the Minister might propose is for those vessels to keep their foreign-originating crew offshore, beyond the 12 miles of territorial waters, but that is both dangerous and inhumane.

The right hon. Lady illustrates the issue very clearly, as well as the concerns that we have. I think there are solutions that all of us here can support. I suspect that, besides fishing vessel owners, many ship operators would find the 12-mile limit challenging, as she mentioned. That is certainly not a new issue.

For well over a decade, the fishing industry has sought to engage with the Home Office to resolve the ambiguities around the matter. Ten years ago, a concession was granted: the option to move crew on to work permits. That was not widely taken up. The situation has changed again, not least because EU crew have left the industry, so there is a dependence on non-UK and non-EU crew.

Geographically, areas such as the Clyde have nowhere outside 12 miles. I am told that, towards the end of 2021 and early 2022, staff from Border Force visited Campbeltown, where they reminded fishing vessel owners about their roles, and effectively told the owners that overseas crew would have to go home. As a result, boats have been tied up and some have been sold. On 20 August, Border Force visited the fishing community in Mallaig and delivered a similar message to the one that was heard in the Clyde. A virtual meeting was held with industry representatives in Northern Ireland on 15 September.

I arranged a meeting with the previous Minister, the hon. Member for Torbay, and we discussed concessions granted to other marine operators, specifically those engaged in the construction of offshore wind farms and the owners of well boats. The latter are largely Norwegian-owned ships that transport fish between salmon farms in the west of Scotland, which are all within the 12-mile limit. Will Minister tell us the difference between a well boat carrying salmon smolt inside the 12-mile limit and a trawler carrying prawns in the same area? I do not quite understand that, but if we have a meeting, perhaps we can develop that argument constructively and find a solution. For me, it is all about solutions. It is never about the negativity; it is about the solutions. It is about what we can do to make it better. We ask the Minister for that meeting.

The industry is indebted to the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), for his early intervention with the Home Office on this matter. A six-month window has been agreed during which trawler owners are encouraged to pursue the sponsorship route for fishing crew, and the industry is working on that. Although that avenue is being pursued by some, questions are being asked about its applicability to the fishing fleets, especially in respect of the Government’s immigration targets.

Fishing vessel operators accept the need for a scheme that is transparent, complies with international law and affords protection to all fishing crew, especially those from overseas. There is no question about what they are trying to achieve. Fishermen and fisherwomen are skilled professionals, as the Government recognised in early 2021, following a recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee. However, despite the committee’s further advice that deckhands be added to the shortage occupation list, the then Home Secretary declined to approve the recommendation, and stated that more time was needed to examine the impact of the covid pandemic on UK employment levels. Again, I honestly believe that the fishing organisations that I and other Members represent have a working solution. The Minister’s PPS, the hon. Member for West Bromwich West, is not involved in the debate, but he knows that only too well, so he knows what I am going to say. I also note that it is accepted that skills can differ across the professions on the Government’s shortage occupation list, with one being English language fluency. However, the same standard of English is required across all occupations, which is something that we urgently need to examine.

I am nearly finished and am going really fast—I hope Hansard can follow my flow of words. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) says that Jim Shannon gets more words to the minute than any other MP, and today may be one of those occasions.

Leaving the EU creates opportunities for our fishermen, yet they are still competing with EU fishermen. The Home Office’s refusal to engage with the fishing industry and consider a bespoke or flexible approach to the issues around overseas crews compares less than favourably with the approach taken by others, such as the Dublin Government. In Ireland, a partnership approach has recently resulted in a new policy being unveiled. When we meet the Minister, we might be able to share this example, which is a constructive one. Less than a month ago, on 11 October, the Irish Government approved the publication of the “Review of the Atypical Scheme for non-EEA crew in the Irish Fishing Fleet”. The report and its recommendations followed an extensive consultation process, with stakeholders involved in the scheme. It is that kind of collaborative approach that needs to be pursued by the Home Office, instead of trying to squeeze the square peg of the fishing crew into the round hole of the sponsorship route. A square peg in a round hole really does not work.

The fishing industry remains focused on creating an economically viable sector that will offer financial rewards in order to reflect the hard work that the fishing sector does. After decades of challenges, that ambition will not be met overnight, which is why officials need to work with the industry to develop a visa system that allows skilled overseas crew to pursue their professions on UK fishing vessels in a controlled, transparent and law-abiding way. That would allow our fishing industry to develop its full potential, benefiting the economic life of our coastal communities as well as the whole of the United Kingdom.

What I have said today about Northern Ireland is reflected for our fishermen in Scotland, Wales and England, and I honestly believe in my heart that we have a solution. I know the meeting last week was about a different thing, but none the less I took the opportunity to appeal to the Minister’s good nature and will. I hope to have a meeting shortly, so that collectively we can move forward together in a partnership fashion and solve this problem. If we can do that, it will be a big day.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins, and I thank the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) for securing a debate of such importance for my city of York. I will focus mainly on the hospitality sector, but I will also stray into a few other sectors where we are certainly experiencing skills shortages.

To realise York’s potential productivity, and ultimately the value of the pound, we cannot stand still, which is why the debate is timely. We need to move forward by putting pragmatism ahead of ideology in order to understand the reality of particular sectors and local economies across the country, to focus on the data, which speaks so loudly, and to listen to sector leaders across our communities to ensure that their aspirations for their industries can be realised, and that we are not left short of potential opportunities that people want to bring to the economy.

On Friday, I met York’s hospitality sector leaders—people from hotels, visitor attractions, restaurants and others—to talk about the challenges that we face in our city. Of course, the issue of skills shortages was high on the agenda. We have 1,605 enterprises in York’s hospitality sector, which employs 20,000 people, two thirds of them part time. It is growing, which is encouraging. Our “Skills for Employment” strategy—a 10-year plan for skills that Lee Probert, the principal of York College, assembled for our city—highlights the fact that the sector grew by 7.8% between 2017 and 2020, so we have a great opportunity to consolidate it. However, many places cannot open their doors full time, and with the cost of living crisis hitting hard, businesses are struggling and we need to ensure that we get the labour. They live hand to mouth with the innovation that they are able to bring. They got to the summer, got to half term, and they are going to get to Christmas, but, come January, they are worried not only about the great freeze, but about the freeze in business itself. They are really worried about that, and I hope the Minister will talk to his colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about the cliff edge that the sector faces.

People in the sector do not want to limp from season to season. They want to be able to plan. When they plan, they can put in place their skills strategy. When they plan, they have the headspace and can grow their industry, whether in the supply chain or directly facing their customers. We therefore have to build resilience into the system. We are fortunate. We have around 40,000 students across York, which helps to address some of the capacity issues, but not by itself.

Some businesses are doing incredible work. The Grand in York has taken refugees from Ukraine and supported people into employment, ensuring that there is a labour supply. It has also provided wider skills, including language courses, and has provided support even if people then move elsewhere in the sector. That is a positive sign of a good employer with the ability to invest, but not every employer has the margins to be able to do that.

In York, we have a skills strategy for 10 years in the city, but it will not be enough when we are near 100% employment. That is why we need to look further afield to ensure that we have a supply of labour coming into the city.

The Yorkshire hospitality sector has put together a three to five-year plan, looking at the cliff edges in front of it and highlighting the fact that only 5% of young people see a future in the hospitality sector. Again, we need to ensure that we have a supply of labour. The sector is using innovation as much as possible, with skills camps and academies in order to deliver so much more, but the workforce is not sufficient. That is why I turn, as other colleagues have, to the report by the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It highlights the scale of vacancies across the economy now, so we know we cannot stand still on this issue.

The youth mobility scheme is excellent. It gives young people the opportunity to come to the UK, learn the language and skills and have vital life experience. When we look at the list of countries we have heard about today—Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Hong Kong, India, Canada, South Korea, Monaco, San Marino and Taiwan—we do not have any EU countries on that list. With regard to the aim of bringing 1,000 people over to the UK, if we compare San Marino’s population of 34,000 with the EU’s 446.8 million, the Government’s thinking seems to demonstrate a disparity. We need the movement of young people to be expedited so that they come and support our economy and our labour market, and see that investment in their future and our future, too. It is a perfect scheme that would work for my city of York, where people can really enjoy the sector.

We do have a challenge, and I am going to be very straight and honest about this. As has been mentioned in this debate, we need sufficient housing, and we need to address that urgently because of the cost of living in York and the Airbnb situation. The flipping of private rented accommodation into Airbnbs means that we need to ensure we have suitable housing for people when they come and give to our local economies. We must have systems in place to support the city.

I want to highlight an opportunity to the Minister. I know he is working hard on the issue of those seeking asylum in the UK, but these people come with skills. That is why I ask him to look at the shortage occupation list to see whether we can passport people with skills into the economy, so that we can utilise the skills that people bring and ensure that we are not experiencing labour shortages in certain areas.

York is about to receive 450 people into a hotel in the city. They will get an incredibly warm welcome and lots of support from the infrastructure within York. We will provide people with a home for as long as they are with us. However, if they are not able to work, that is a missed opportunity for them and for us. That is why we need to ensure that we enable people to both utilise and gain skills while they are with us. We recognise that people need time to get oriented and to heal their trauma, but engaging in good employment will give them the opportunities that they need and that our city needs. It is such a waste of talent, skill and life if people are just waiting in hotels for their claims to be processed. We want that process to be expedited, but while they wait, we welcome their employment across our industries. Those people then build relationships in the city, which gives greater security not only to them but to all of us. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind and ensure that there is more opportunity for those individuals in future.

The tourism and hospitality sector has the advantage that it can use its resources to pay staff slightly more than other sectors. As a result, people have been sucked out of the care sector. Indeed, I will end by speaking about the care sector. The scale of vacancies is affecting the delivery of social care and the ability to discharge patients from hospital. That means people cannot get in the front door and we have an NHS crisis. Not being able to bring care workers into the UK because they do not fit into the points-based system seems completely ludicrous and self-defeating.

I trust that the Minister will look specifically at social care and the opportunity to bring highly skilled staff to the UK to deliver that vital role, so that all our constituents can have the care that they need, as we would expect. Not only are we in a crisis now, with 165,000 vacancies in social care nationally; given that 28% of care workers are over the age of 55, will have a greater crisis in future. That must be sorted out. I trust that the Minister will look at ways in which we can bring in young people and other people with skills, albeit for the short term, until we have the labour supply. However long it takes, we need to address those crises.

I am calling for pragmatism over ideology. I am sure the Minister understands that our communities must be heard and that the skills they require must be met. It is for him to deliver that.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) on securing this timely debate. Many, if not all, of us are aware that the hard Brexit the Government are pursuing is causing huge damage across many industries. I, too, want to focus on labour shortages as they affect the larger fishing vessels in Wales, just as they do beyond, as we have already heard.

I support local employment on Welsh fishing vessels, as would every local MP, but the simple truth is that the people are not there to do those jobs at present. Fishing vessels therefore need to be able to recruit from abroad to fill the gap in the short and medium term. Much like elsewhere in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England, the fishing fleet is being reduced. I do not think that is something any of us wants to be seen to be presiding over. Since 2018, it has been reducing by about 6% per year in Wales, possibly as the result of a combination of an ageing workforce, high costs of entry and now a restrictive visa system.

I want to raise the case of my constituent Mark Roberts, as it puts under the microscope something that is affecting a number of fishing vessels. He is a fisherman from Nefyn, a town near where I live, which has a long and proud tradition of both onshore and offshore fishing; it even supplied captains for whaling vessels back in the day. Mr Roberts has been trying to recruit fishing crew members from outside the European economic area. In the past, he has employed local crew, a number of whom have now gone on to own their own vessels. He would like to continue to employ a local crew, but the plain truth is that they are just not there. He faces not being able to go out to sea and operate as a business unless he has a sufficient number of crew members.

Mr Roberts told me that one of the main barriers to employment is the written English language element of the skilled worker visa, for which fishing crew members are eligible. He wanted me to raise the case of a Ghanaian fisherman who recently failed the B1 English exam for a fourth time. He is a highly skilled, highly motivated fisherman and he continues to persevere with the test. However, it has caused additional delay and cost for both him and Mr Roberts.

Mr Roberts and the rest of the crew have been trying to tutor him, in the hope that he will be able to pass next time. They also hope that the Home Office will relax the rule and recognise that written English is not a key skill for this vocational area. Does someone need written English to be a proficient crew member on a fishing vessel, when there is a skipper alongside? If we want our crews and our vessels to survive into the future, is that a skill we need, here and now?

The experience is, of course, far from unique. The fishing industry says that the high bar for English, particularly the written element, goes far beyond that required of deckhands. Mr Harry Wick, chief executive officer of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers’ Organisation, gave evidence to the all-party parliamentary group on fisheries. He told us that we need a vision of evolution for fisheries. There is no short-term fix, but they still need crew and, in the meantime, those crew will need to come from abroad.

Earlier this year, Seafish, the public body supporting the seafood industry, noted that only one person had successfully applied using the skilled worker visa route. Will the Minister tell me how many fishing crew workers from abroad have used that route since then? [Interruption.]

Because of my cough, I will come to a conclusion fairly shortly and will not be able to say everything I want to say, but I want to close on one thing that Mr Roberts told me. He has spent £17,000 in immigration solicitor fees to recruit crew members, because he is an honest man who wants to follow the post-Brexit rules to the letter. He wants to avoid the enormous fines he would face if he were to operate within 12 nautical miles of the UK with crew members who have transit rather than skilled worker visas.

This situation cannot continue. If we are serious about wanting this vocational area to operate into the future, I agree that we must look at careers, skills, apprentices and training into the future, but they are not here in the here and now. If I could meet the Minister to discuss how we can find a solution for honest, good, well-established family businesses like that of Mr Roberts, I would be very grateful.

I am pleased to serve under your chairwomanship, Mrs Cummins. I thank the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron)—he comes from a beautiful part of England—for highlighting this crucial topic. Much like a lot of Scotland, his constituency faces the problems of rurality and the challenges of supporting a hospitality industry plagued by labour shortages.

It has been interesting to hear the many views on how we can tackle the issue of labour shortages post Brexit and post covid, especially given the divergence in the types of constituencies we represent, each with its own unique set of labour challenges, be they in agriculture, hospitality, fishing—we have heard extensively about fishing today—transport, construction, health and social care, logistics or food processing. The list goes on, but the core issue at heart remains the same. We have witnessed the doors slam on free movement, which is now a dirty word—well, two dirty words—for both the UK Government and the official Opposition. In addition, the global pandemic saw more than 1.3 million EU workers return home. When they finally thought about coming back, they were locked out by this Government’s hugely regressive post-Brexit points system.

If we had stayed in the single market, as the majority of people in Scotland voted to do, free movement would be the perfect solution to the many labour shortages across these islands. It will come as no surprise to hear that I am confident that Scotland will rejoin the EU—and that means the single market—as an independent member soon. Until then, we fully support the call for solutions to labour shortages through visa schemes, including a temporary recovery visa.

This is a crisis of the Government’s making. It was completely avoidable. It is a crisis caused by policy, politics and a rhetoric on immigration that is fuelling the right, stirred up by inflammatory language from the Home Secretary. I cannot tell hon. Members how shocked and disgusted I was to hear the Home Secretary refer to an “invasion” of immigrants to these shores. An invasion—really? “Invasion” conjures up images of insects, wild animals, wars and battles. It is far removed from the reality of the humanitarian crisis that we are witnessing in the channel.

The Minister could argue that the Home Secretary was not talking about migrants per se, just those crossing the channel—I do not think he will—but it is not acceptable, whoever she was referring to. The Home Secretary must understand that using that kind of language and stoking up fear about one set of migrants has an impact on all migrants. That includes the current and future migrant workers that the UK is absolutely dependent on.

It has taken empty shelves and closed restaurants to bring this issue to the public’s attention, but business leaders have been warning the Government for quite some time about the dire situation that they would find themselves in because of these shortages. The British Chambers of Commerce has said that of 5,700 businesses, more than 60% need to find more staff in the UK. Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, pointed out that one in five workers has not returned after furlough, giving the sector a 10% vacancy rate. She agreed with the recommendations from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee for a temporary recovery visa, and said:

“This would go a long way to helping recruitment challenges and would support the sector’s ability to provide fantastic service to all its customers. We would strongly urge the government to consider its introduction as part of a pro-growth review of immigration policy.”

Three quarters of UK businesses have said that they are experiencing difficulties filling vacancies. I have received numerous letters from businesses in my constituency that are struggling to get staff and asking what exactly the Government plan to do about it. There is another reason to ensure that we fill those vacancies. As the CBI said recently,

“Guarding against skills and labour shortages can…help keep inflation in check”.

At a time when the cost of living is going through the roof, should the Government not heed that advice?

The Scottish Government have tried to help the UK Government out. The First Minister even offered to split responsibility for immigration policy with them, and proposed a Scottish visa, but that was refused. It would solve some of the economic problems in Scotland, but it clearly does not fit the ideology that says that if the Scottish National party suggests it, it must be wrong. The Scottish Government are determined to address these issues but have very limited powers available to them. They are proposing a rural visa pilot, which offers a community-driven approach to migration that can respond to the distinct needs of remote, rural and island areas.

We want to welcome people, not ward them off, because people make communities and keep our economy growing. It makes no sense to stubbornly believe that we can just do everything ourselves, especially when our rural communities—much like that of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, I am sure—face population decline.

Many of the initiatives from the UK Government are very temporary. I understand that the solution is not complete permanence, but they are so temporary that they offer no real certainty for businesses or workers. They are simply sticking plasters. That is the crux of the issue with so much policy at the moment—the short expiry dates. I have had milk that has lasted longer than some of the previous Cabinet’s plans. I hope this one does better.

Business, industry and the workers themselves need certainty. I have been trying to hammer home that point in relation to the six-month energy relief scheme that is on the table for SMEs, public sector organisations and charities. They simply cannot operate in weeks and months. Last year, we saw a three-month visa offered to HGV drivers. What good is a three-month visa? Who in their right mind would move to a country where they face being kicked out in 12 weeks’ time? That is a point that I would like to make to Labour colleagues. I am not going to go into how crushed I felt when I heard the Labour leader say that we have too many migrants working in the NHS, though I know I was not as crushed as the migrant workers themselves. Today, Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), said that if they got into power, they would keep migrant workers in the NHS until they had enough home-grown workers trained for the health service.

I worked in the NHS for 20 years and all I will say is that I know the value of working alongside people who have trained across the world. They bring their skills into the NHS, and it has been a privilege to work alongside them. I think we should aspire to recognise the skills they bring and the opportunities that provides for our patients.

I really do thank the hon. Lady for that. There will be so many migrant workers who have worked their backsides off in the NHS, especially during the pandemic, and who will be devastated about what has been said, but the hon. Lady’s remarks go some way towards balancing that out.

I have to ask: what kind of arrogance does it take to believe that doctors, nurses, radiographers and others are so desperate to be here in the UK that they will fill the positions that we desperately need to be filled in the NHS, knowing that when they are surplus to requirements, they will simply be dispensed with because both Tory and Labour Governments would much prefer the jobs to go to those who were born here? Employment is a two-way thing. Migration is a two-way thing. If we do not meet migrants halfway, they will not come and we will not be able to look after people. Everybody needs to think clearly about that.

We need solutions and ideas. One solution that has been put to the Home Office, certainly by my party—indeed some of my colleagues have private Members’ Bills on it—and other colleagues today, is to allow asylum seekers to work. We are facing labour shortages, yet we have tens of thousands of people who are already here, desperate to contribute and integrate with our communities, but they are cut off and left to rely on meagre handouts from the state.

The current situation plays into the hostile environment rhetoric so well. To paint asylum seekers as economic migrants here for benefits is just not true. Nobody wants to live on less than £6 a day, and people should not be put in that situation. Given that 76% of asylum applications are allowed on the initial decision, not to mention the many more who win their appeals, we are putting thousands of people in an enforced limbo when they could easily be contributing, paying tax and filling the gaps in our labour market.

I would like to know if the Government have any plans to consider this eminently sensible solution. As the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said, there is no downside. If the Minister’s answer is, “No, we are not going to consider this solution,” he must see a downside, and he must tell us what he thinks that is. My preference, and my fervent hope—I saw him nodding his head earlier when it was mentioned—is that he agrees to look into allowing asylum seekers to work and plug the damaging gaps that are holding the economy back.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship for the second time in two days, Mrs Cummins—it is truly a privilege for me. I thank the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) for securing this important debate, and other right hon. and hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions. I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) for her insightful speech. Her clarion call for pragmatism over ideology is something I hope everyone in this Chamber will support.

I would like to set out the Labour party’s approach to work-based migration in the UK. In a nutshell, we support the principle of a points-based system for migrant workers. I will not need to remind hon. Members that it was a Labour Government that introduced the points-based system in 2008 for immigration from outside the European Union. We are clear that there will be no returning to the free movement of labour that was a feature of our membership of the European Union, but we are equally clear that we need to build on and improve the points-based system currently in place. Our long-term ambition is to ensure that all businesses, in every sector, and our public services recruit and train as much home-grown talent as possible to fill vacancies, before they look overseas. For instance, we need to train more home-grown doctors, hence our commitment to doubling the number of clinical placements and to setting out a five to 10-year workforce plan, which is desperately needed when we consider the 7 million person waiting list and the huge issues with workforce shortages and challenges. We know that if we just turn off the tap of migrant labour, without the appropriate workforce structures and adequate training and recruitment in place, our public services will deteriorate and our businesses will struggle to meet our wider economic ambition to make, buy and sell more in Britain. In the end, it becomes a crutch, with more and more jobs eventually disappearing overseas.

Let me address the comments made by the spokesperson for the SNP, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin). I did not hear the comments today from the shadow Health Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), but I know that our policy is very clear. We want to maximise opportunities for home-grown talent—doctors, nurses and care workers—but we absolutely recognise that we have to get the balance right. Where we have migrant workers playing vital roles, that is what we want to continue to have, but we want at the same time to maximise opportunities for home-grown talent. It is not an either/or question—a binary question. It is a “both …and”. It is a question of balancing—not turning the taps off here and turning the taps on somewhere else.

I appreciate the clarification, but it was quite clear that the leader of the Labour party said there were too many migrant workers in the NHS. The shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care seemed to be saying—I cannot remember the exact words, but obviously I will go and look again—“Yes, okay, we’ll allow migrant workers to be our doctors, nurses, whatever, until we have got enough of our own.” What does that say to them? “You are here when we need you, but when we no longer need you…” I support training people who want those jobs—training people here. But what does that say to those migrant workers who have committed themselves to our NHS? “As soon as we have got enough of our own home-grown people, we are going to kick you out.”

I think it would be a caricature of whatever comments were made to say that we are going to somehow stop people who are already here being here. That seems to be the logical extrapolation of what the hon. Lady is arguing, and I do not think that anybody would argue that. We value the workforce that we have, but we also want to build and create more opportunities for our own, home-grown talent. I am sure that that is something we can all agree on.

Let me turn away from the health and care sector for a moment and look at some of the issues that have been raised about the agricultural sector. We cannot have a situation such as we have had in the farming sector where 30,000 pigs are being slaughtered and £60 million-worth of crops are being burned, which is what happened over the past year. We also know that the construction industry lost 175,000 jobs in 2020-21, and that has had a big impact in the form of projects being slowed down. We know that, in September 2021, UKHospitality called for the Government to include the hospitality sector in temporary work visa schemes in the aftermath of covid-19 and reflecting the need to boost our economy. That call was of course echoed in the report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that was published on 24 October. It recommended the introduction of temporary recovery visas for industries—predominantly tourism and hospitality in this case—that are experiencing short-term labour shortages for so-called low-skilled roles.

We recognise these challenges and we feel that the way to find solutions is to go to the heart of the system so that it is better positioned and placed to deliver results on a sector-by-sector basis—pragmatism over ideology, as has already been said. The Opposition are well aware of the flaws in the current points-based system. We feel that the Government are failing to balance the need to encourage businesses to recruit and train home-grown talent with the need to use migrant labour to address short-term pressure points in the labour market.

The fundamental weakness is that the Government’s economic migration strategy is not joined up, so they will struggle to meet their economic and public-service priorities. For instance, we feel that the Migration Advisory Committee and the Skills and Productivity Board are not as integrated as they could be in making decisions on the shortage occupation lists.

We believe that the way to understand the type of short-term support that sectors require, for instance access to temporary work visas, is to get the system working properly, with more flexibility. At the heart of that should be a three-way dialogue, led and convened by the MAC, drawing together representatives from employers speaking for the sector, trade unions, and relevant Government Departments, to look at the sectors on the Migration Advisory Committee’s shortage occupation lists in detail. That dialogue would be the mechanism through which decisions are made around the short-term visa schemes, such the seasonal worker scheme, the youth mobility scheme, and new ideas, such as the temporary recovery visa, which is being debated here today.

The three-way working group would not only look at the shortage occupation lists but set conditions that companies that have sponsorship licences would need to meet on workers’ rights. We are worried that the current points-based system is also failing when it comes to the enforcement of labour standards.

We know, for instance, that Nepalese health workers, Indonesian fruit pickers, and care workers from the Philippines and Ghana, are at serious risk of exploitation through recruitment agencies charging fees, leading to migrant workers ending up in illegal debt bondage through having to repay those recruitment fees. Many of those recruitment agencies operate abroad, and it would be good if the Government were able to investigate whether work could be done by British embassies overseas to look out for problems and red-flag agencies that are suspected of nefarious practices.

We must also clamp down on illegal practices in the UK. Of course, it is illegal to charge migrant workers recruitment fees in Britain, but the Association of Labour Providers said that some employers in the UK are still demanding that workers pay for their recruitment fees. We need solutions to those issues.

Part of the challenge is that, under the past 12 years of successive Conservative Governments, the number of labour market inspectors has decreased to one inspector for every 20,000 workers, when the International Labour Organisation recommends one for every 10,000. I hope the Minister will share his thoughts on that ratio, and whether he believes that it will enable the Government to crack down on exploitation.

In 2019, the Conservative party committed to merging the three enforcement bodies—the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ national minimum wage enforcement teams—into one enforcement body. Perhaps the Minister could confirm what progress is being made on that, or is it perhaps another broken manifesto promise?

The main agency involved in the welfare of seasonal workers is the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. The scheme operators, which are responsible for recruitment, must have a licence from the authority and can have it revoked if they failed to abide by certain standards. However, the regulator does not routinely carry out inspections on farm premises, and some critics say it lacks the resources to police abuses of workers’ rights.

We also need to understand, for seasonal workers specifically, what action is being taken by the Government to ensure that the 40,000 businesses with sponsorship licences from the GLAA are being properly regulated by HMRC to ensure that they maintain high employment standards.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of another issue, which the Daily Record in Scotland revealed the other day, that delivery drivers for Just Eat, Deliveroo and others—I cannot remember which of the others it was, so I had better not say any names—are able to rent out their accounts? They are told that they are responsible for ensuring that the person they rent it out to is allowed to work and has passed basic health and safety checks, and that is obviously not happening. People are having meals delivered, and do not know if that person has passed the checks that they should have. Just as importantly, some of the workers renting those accounts are not allowed to work and are being exploited. Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the agencies he mentioned should be able to look into that as well?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that there is a vital role to play here, in terms of regulation and enforcement. Our major concern is twofold. There is a bit of a mixture of all of these agencies not necessarily co-ordinating together. There are three main agencies, so, first, let us have a single enforcement body. Secondly, the number of labour market inspectors should meet ILO standards. It is currently one to 20,000 and it should be one to 10,000. Those would be major steps in the right direction, and could be the start of cracking down on the issue the hon. Lady rightly raises.

Maintaining standards is not just important for the wellbeing of migrant workers and preventing undercutting, it is also good for employers, as we need to make Britain an attractive place to work, not least in sectors such as food and farming, where we are clearly more reliant on migrant workers than in other sectors. The National Farmers Union deputy president, Tom Bradshaw, told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that, although a 30,000 quota for seasonal workers visas in 2021 was a lifeline for the industry, it has not been big enough.

We also know that the challenge for the sector is not just seasonal but year-round. We understand that there are recruitment challenges in relation to the short-term nature of these visas, which the Government must look at closely. Therefore, we need to be sure that the working conditions attached to the visas are as attractive as possible, in order to attract the workers that we need, and to avoid undercutting.

Of course, where sectors and businesses are given permission to recruit from overseas, we need to see commitment to long-term workforce planning. How, for instance, would a company plan to invest in home-grown talent in the long term? What is it doing to invest in research and development, in modernising its technology and machinery to boost productivity? Does it have a skills strategy? Those are the questions that should be asked of companies, as a quid pro quo and part of the conversation about being given shortage occupation and other permissions to bring labour from overseas. What is it doing to show its long-term workforce plan? How is it boosting productivity? Those are the questions that Government should ask. There should be a proper dialogue, rather than pulling arbitrary numbers out of the air within the Westminster bubble.

Are the Government asking for workforce plans from companies that benefit from the shortage occupation lists? If not, perhaps the Minister might like to say a few words on that. Those are the questions that Labour will ask, as and when we enter Government, committed as we are to ensuring that our points-based system strikes the right balance between incentivising employers to train and recruit locally with the right to recruit internationally where required.

I look forward to the Minister’s responses to my questions, in addition to those raised by other right hon. and hon. Members.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) for calling the debate. As others have said, he represents one of the most beautiful parts of the country and one of my favourite destinations. Any help we can give him to ensure that his hospitality and tourism sector continues to thrive is a priority for me.

I am grateful for comments and speeches from other right hon. and hon. Members, and will try to answer as many as I can in the time available. I am particularly pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) make her debut in Westminster Hall after many years. I know from my new colleagues at the Home Office how much she is missed. I was pleased to hear her thoughts today.

I will begin by addressing the specific question of a temporary recovery visa, and then broaden out. We have had a wider debate about how we handle labour market shortages, the balance between migration and our domestic labour market and how we train people here in the country to meet those challenges. That includes how to balance bringing people into the country versus the significant issue of more than 5 million economically inactive people, and how we can help those individuals back into the labour market, whether they be older people who left the labour market during the pandemic, or younger people who need to get back or into work for the first time.

It is important to say at the outset that an impression has been given during the debate that the visa system is highly restrictive, enabling few people to come into the country, and that essentially migrant labour has been cut off as a result of policy decisions. That really is not true. We have a comparatively flexible work visa system, and the Home Office granted over 330,000 work-related visas in the year ending June 2022, including—I will come to this in more detail in a moment—just over 96,000 health and care worker visas to support the NHS. We have more than doubled the number of eligible occupations for skilled worker visas so that more than 60% of jobs in the UK economy are now eligible. Over 48,000 employers are now on the sponsor register, and we encourage others to join.

We have to set today’s debate, and the important and valid points that have been raised, within that context. As a country, we are welcoming very significant numbers of people to work and live here as a result of our visa system. Of course, there can be a legitimate debate about who we are inviting in, and whether we address specific concerns, but it is not correct to suggest that we have a highly restrictive system, or that that has been a consequence of leaving the European Union.

In general, I do not think that a temporary recovery visa is the right approach. The points-based system is the right way forward. It supports UK businesses to recruit workers with the skills that they need from around the world, and it is broader than the previous immigration system, with many more jobs now eligible, stretching across all the key sectors of the British economy, thanks to the good work that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham did during her time in office.

We have a large and growing domestic labour force, which includes UK workers, the millions of people who applied successfully under the EU settlement scheme, and visa-holders with general work rights. It is important to stress that, over the course of the last year or so, we have also had tens of thousands of Ukrainian and Afghan citizens. In fact, well over 100,000 are now living in the United Kingdom, a good deal of whom want to work. We should encourage them into paid employment for many reasons, not least so that we can help them to make fruitful lives here and ensure that they are not living in hotel accommodation, which too many still are. That has been the subject of other debates elsewhere in Parliament this week.

Many of the sectors that have called for a recovery visa, some of which have been discussed today, including hospitality, haulage and construction—all sectors for which I have sympathy; I have been involved in some of them in recent years as a Minister—have long-standing recruitment challenges, stretching back many years. Some of them are essentially calling for a general immigration route, allowing recruitment at or near the minimum wage for roles that have only relatively short work-based training requirements. It could be a choice for this country to welcome workers to that type of role, and other parties may make different choices from us, but it is important not only that we are guided by the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations, but that we think carefully about the skill and salary thresholds of people coming into this country.

That is for a number of reasons. One reason is so that we can ensure that people who are looking for work in this country are encouraged into those jobs. As Members of Parliament, I am sure that we have all come across employers in our constituencies who in the past have reached too easily for international workers rather than trying to recruit, retain and skill up British workers. I have certainly encountered that in my constituency, which has a good deal of employers in the food processing and agricultural sectors.

Another reason is that we want to encourage the British economy to be more productive. Employers should ensure, where possible—it is not appropriate in every sector—that we are better at automation and have a more innovative economy, not one that is simply hooked on the drug of relatively low-paid and low-skilled migrant workers. I appreciate that in sectors such as care, and perhaps hospitality and tourism, talk of automation and innovation is not as relevant. I will come to some of the work that we have been doing in those sectors in a moment.

I want to stress that some of the businesses we have been talking about, particularly in hospitality and tourism, although undoubtedly they have been through an extremely difficult period during the pandemic and our recovery from it, have benefitted from substantial Government support, whether through the business support scheme or furlough. Those schemes amounted to hundreds of billions of pounds. I do not diminish the challenges that businesses face, but it is worth reminding ourselves of the scale of support we have given. We are, of course, living in the long shadow of the pandemic and the fiscal challenges it has brought upon us all.

We really need to encourage businesses to play their part by investing in and developing the UK’s domestic labour force, rather than relying on immigration policy as an alternative, especially given the 5 million economically inactive people in our economy. That does not mean we should not think carefully about the sectors that face particular challenges. We are alive to those issues and want to adopt a pragmatic approach, but that approach has to be a two-way street. As the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) said, it involves businesses themselves working hard to recruit and retain domestic workers and thinking about improving their productivity, rather than immigration being the long-term solution for those sectors.

We must also be alive to the fact that some of the industry bodies and lobbyists who approach the Government, perfectly understandably to represent their members, occasionally overstate the value of migrant workers and their availability in the international labour market. The former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham, will remember some of those instances. I am thinking, for example, of HGV drivers: there was a concerted campaign—one that ostensibly seemed valid—to create a specific route to bring more HGV drivers into the country to meet the significant issues we had at one stage. We responded to that call and only a tiny number of foreign HGV drivers ultimately applied for the visa, met our requirements and came here.

The lobby groups that raised that issue, although they were perfectly at liberty to do so, were wrong. That was not the route to solve the problem. The long-term solution was to make the industry more attractive to domestic workers, to retain more HGV drivers and to help to put the sector on a more sustainable footing.

I will give way to the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) and then the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

Could that failure to recruit enough HGV drivers from overseas have been anything to do with the fact that they were told they could come here for 12 weeks and would then have to go home again?

No, that was not the issue. Without going off on a tangent, the root cause of the issue was the aging population of HGV drivers. Many were coming up for retirement and the industry had had poor pay and working conditions for a long time. There was also a global shortage of HGV drivers, so it was not unique to the UK. We saw it all over Europe.

I thank the Minister for his interest in trying to solve these problems. In my contribution I spoke specifically about fishing and skills; will he give an assurance that he will meet me, and other Members who wish to join us, to discuss that topic? That would be helpful. I make that request in a constructive fashion—I mean that honestly—because I believe there is a way forward that we can all agree on.

In the time I have available, let me address some of the specific points raised. I am looking forward to meeting the hon. Member for Strangford and representatives from the fishing industry. He has made a number of good points today and I hope we can explore them in more detail when we meet.

The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) made valid points, particularly on health and social care. As a former Health Minister, I hear what she said. The issues she raised are the reason why my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham created the health and social care visa, which has been very successful, and we now see tens of thousands of doctors and nurses coming to the UK. That is not the long-term answer—we want to train more people domestically, and I am alive to arguments made for lifting the cap on medical school places—but in the meantime it is important to bring in those who want to come here to work. That visa is also applicable for care workers, although I appreciate that there are some legitimate concerns about the salary threshold and so on that make it more challenging than we would like it to be.

In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale talked about the broader labour market challenges and how we respond to them—a valid point also made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham. We need to take that up across Government so that we have a far more joined-up approach to these challenges. One way in which we are trying to ensure that skills training more adequately meets the needs of particular communities in England, at least, is through devolution. We now routinely devolve the skills budget for adults to local authorities and Mayors. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale has a new devolution deal in his area; if that progresses to a mayoral deal, I suspect he will see a devolution of skills budgets and training to Cumbria, which may be helpful to him.

A number of colleagues raised the question of youth mobility schemes, which I fully support and would like to see more of. Most recently, we have progressed that idea through the Australia and New Zealand free trade agreements, while negotiations are ongoing with other countries. We are open to more agreements, which clearly must be reciprocal. With respect to European countries, we are open to that debate. The EU is currently seeking an agreement across the whole European Union, rather than on a state-by-state basis; although that does not preclude us from entering into it, it clearly means a longer and more complex negotiation than if we were able to negotiate with individual states.

Several Members raised the question of asylum seekers having the right to work in the UK. I appreciate that there are good arguments on both sides of this debate, which I have considered at length. On balance, I do not agree with doing it because it would add a further pull factor to the UK. The UK already sees a very large number of individuals making the dangerous crossing across the channel. There are a number of reasons for that. The UK is viewed as a more attractive location to come to for work and access to public services because of the way in which we treat those individuals versus other European countries. I do not think it would be sensible for us to add a further pull factor to the many we already have. Deterrence has to be suffused through our approach to tackling illegal immigration. If we undermine that further, we will only find larger numbers of individuals crossing the channel.

With that, I draw my remarks to a close. I look forward to meeting the hon. Member for Strangford to discuss fishing. If the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale ever wishes to take up these matters with me, I would be happy to meet with him to discuss them further.

I am grateful to you for overseeing the debate, Mrs Cummins.

I thank the Minister for that offer. Let me cut to the chase: yes, we would love to have a meeting with the tourism leaders for the lakes and the rest of Cumbria Tourism to talk about all the practicalities.

The tone of the debate was good. It is a low bar, I am afraid, but at least there has not been any incendiary language about foreigners and asylum seekers flooding our shores and all the rest of that nonsense, although I did disagree with some of the things that others said.

The right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) made some good points about us training our own staff and ensuring that we develop young people’s talent. In my part of the world, Kendal College has certainly added massive value for young people so that they can set up a career in the Lake district. We should not see hospitality just as something that is menial and low paid; it is a real career trajectory that people can follow.

My more general concern about the Government’s position is that they have allowed political considerations to overwhelm economic and practical ones. If someone trying to run a business in the Lake district has a workforce problem, that is partly—maybe mostly—caused by the housing disaster, which the Government need to get a grip of, but it is in no small part also caused by inflexibility on migration. It needs to be something that is reciprocal, whereby we give people a reasonable length of time here so that they can contribute. That is what businesses want; I hope the Minister will listen to them.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of a temporary recovery visa for industries experiencing labour and skills shortages.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

Bankers’ Bonuses

I will call Jon Trickett to move the motion, and then the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up, as is the convention for 30-minute debates.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Government policy on bankers’ bonuses.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mrs Cummins. It is good to hear somebody from the old West Riding, as we would call it, in charge of the sitting this afternoon. I look forward to fair but firm chairpersonship.

It was the great German playwright Bertolt Brecht who once said that, to make money from banking, set up a bank rather than rob one. People make more money that way. It is clear that there needs to be a wider debate about the role of the financial sector in the British economy, but it is good to start with the remuneration structures in the finance sector. That is what this debate is about.

The previous Chancellor’s deplorable mini-Budget, as I would insist it is called, contained a series of clearly mistaken policy shifts. Following the change in Chancellor and then in Prime Minister, almost the whole of that mini-Budget disappeared, except for one thing: the idea that we should lift or remove the cap on bankers’ bonuses. I hope that the Minister will be able to change Government policy this afternoon, following my persuasion, but we will see what he says.

We have been here before on the question of bankers’ bonuses. I want quickly to recall what happened in the 2008 banking crash. As it happened, I was working in Downing Street at the time and saw clearly that we were on an economic precipice, in part because bankers’ remuneration had been allowed to let rip. The crash almost brought down our whole economic system.

When it came time to review how the crash happened, a significant part of it was attributed to the reckless culture of greed in the banking sector, which had exposed the banks to unacceptable levels of risk. Adair Turner, the then chair of the Financial Services Authority, said that

“inappropriate incentive structures played a role in encouraging behaviour which contributed to the financial crisis”.

He is hardly a man of the left, and therefore I think his words might be regarded as authoritative.

In 2009, the all-party Treasury Committee returned to the question of remuneration. It said that remuneration in the banking industry had played a role in causing the banking crisis. It questioned whether Turner’s response was strong enough and whether

“the Financial Services Authority has attached sufficient priority to tackling remuneration in the City.”

As we know, although bankers played a major role in bringing the system to its knees, in the immediate aftermath of the crash no banker was charged with any offence, in spite of their reckless behaviour. Many people in the country, in my constituency and elsewhere—perhaps in yours, Mrs Cummins—thought that at least some of them should have served time at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

It was the European Union that eventually instituted control of bankers’ bonuses. The EU said that no banker should receive a bonus of more than 100% of their salary—though where that figure came from I do not know—or 200% if shareholders had voted in agreement. It is that cap that the Government appear to now be intent on removing.

I want to use this short debate to ask three questions. First, how much is remuneration for bankers now, 14 years after the crash? Secondly, who is suggesting that the bankers’ cap be removed and why? Thirdly, how do we justify an ethos of greed as a determining factor guiding so many decision makers in a strategically important sector of the British economy?

My hon. Friend is making a very important speech, particularly in terms of who is advocating this policy. When the previous Chancellor made the fiscal statement announcing the policy, I tabled a written question asking how many people in my constituency of Cynon Valley were going to benefit from lifting the bankers’ bonus. The response was as expected and inadequate, in that the Government said that they did not know. I wonder whether that was because nobody in Cynon Valley is going to benefit from it. Does my hon. Friend agree that the reason nobody in places such as Cynon Valley will benefit is that the ban is being lifted to benefit financiers and others in the City, when the people who should be benefitting are those in the regions of Wales, the north of England and Scotland and our essential key workers—nurses, teachers and so on?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I agree with every point she made and I will develop some of those arguments as I speak.

First, I will address the question of where we are now with remuneration in the banking sector. We know quite a lot about it. The chief executive officer and chief financial officer of Britain’s largest bank, HSBC, were paid $2.2 million and $1.3 million, respectively, for 2021. The truth is that bankers’ bonuses have doubled in spite of the cap since the 2008 financial crash. According to the most recently available data, there are 3,500 bankers working in our country who made more than €1 million—£880,000—in a single year. That information comes from the European Banking Authority. Seven out of 10 of all the bankers who made more than €1 million in the whole of Europe are located in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, 27 bankers in the UK were paid more than €10 million in a year. Two UK-based asset managers received between €38 million and €39 million in a year—I think that clearly makes the point referred to by my hon. Friend—and at the top of the pops, one merchant banker was paid €64.8 million in a single year, and almost all of that was a bonus.

Those are absolutely outrageous figures. They make me wonder why the Government feel it is necessary to lift the bonus cap at all, given the outrageous sums that are being paid.

That brings me to my second question, which was an attempt to discover who is actually pressing for a lifting of the cap on bonuses. Given the rates of remuneration I have just indicated, it would take a colossal amount of unrestricted greed for bosses in the banking sector to propose such a thing. However, according to The Guardian, sources in some of the City’s largest banks are saying, “Not me, guv. I didn’t ask for the cap to be raised.” Those bankers admitted that they were baffled by the then Chancellor’s plan, and I think that they are equally baffled by the current Chancellor’s decision to continue with the plan to lift the EU-imposed cap. The bankers said that they had not lobbied for the move, so it begins to look like this was an ideological move by the Conservative Government, who believe as a matter of faith in rewarding the super-rich with additional wealth.

The hon. Member is making an excellent speech. In my constituency of Airdrie and Shotts, 68% of people are cutting back on their essential groceries, and 65% are worried about not being able to pay their energy bills. Is it not simply the case that under the Tories the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, whether they be bankers or oil giants not paying windfall tax? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the UK Government would do well to adopt the Scottish Government’s approach of implementing policies designed to alleviate the cost of living crisis, such as freezing rent and rail fares, expanding access to free school meals and increasing the Scottish child payment to £25 a week, rather than looking after their rich banker friends?

The hon. Lady makes a number of important points, and I agree with most of them.

I was asking whether the Government are ideologically committed to this policy, since no banker is prepared to admit that they had lobbied for it. If that is the case, and it looks like it is, there is not a single shred of empirical evidence that money can trickle down from the most wealthy to the rest of society—quite the reverse. Beyond a certain point, it has been argued that the further growth of the finance sector hampers rather than supports the real economy. One study estimated that the excessive size of the UK’s financial sector may well have cost our economy £4.5 trillion in lost growth over a 20-year period.

Turning to my third question, there is no evidence to suggest that individualised reward systems for key decision makers are necessarily for the corporate good of the institution for which they work, let alone the common good of the country as a whole. An argument that the Government have developed is that if banks pay more bonuses, they will attract more bankers who will pay more tax. A better argument would be to pay those who are on the lowest pay more money because they will spend it in the local economy and contribute to income for the Treasury.

A Government who set out public policy to raise the incomes of the wealthiest while holding down the wages and salaries of working people are totally at variance with the values of the overwhelming majority of people in this country. How can they justify the multimillion remuneration packages for a handful of people at the top when the number of food banks for working communities is growing? In any event, it seems that avarice in the financial sector is simply piling up the material for the next crash, which will come if we do not change direction fast. The Government need to abandon this policy. That is just plain Yorkshire common sense.

I want to make one further point, and I will be careful how I express it—the House will understand why. The Code of Conduct for Members states:

“Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.”

I quote that because 10% of all MPs have disclosed in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests that they have monetary ties with for-profit companies or individuals in the financial sector. The same is true of one fifth of all peers. I worry about how embedded the financial sector is in this very building. Financial institutions and individuals closely tied to the banking and finance sector donated a total of £15.3 million to political parties throughout 2020 and 2021.

Returning to bankers’ bonuses, the Government need to take three steps. First, they should immediately announce that they will not lift the cap on bonuses. Secondly, they should appoint an independent commission to examine the whole remuneration structure in the UK, starting with the financial sector. Thirdly, they should make an interim announcement that there will be a suspension of all bonus payments in the City during the current financial crisis, until the independent commission that I have recommended reports.

In addition, does my hon. Friend agree that a windfall tax on the profits of the banks should be introduced as an alternative to a future round of austerity, as stated by the previous deputy governor of the Bank of England?

My hon. Friend has caught my next point. In the interest of social justice, the country feels that a 2% cap on the salaries of public sector employees and the lifting of the cap on already over-remunerated bankers is the wrong way for the Government to go. I agree with the statement made last week by the former deputy governor of the Bank of England, who my hon. Friend has just referred to. He said:

“The British government should raid the banks for tens of billions of pounds to fill a black hole in the public finances”.

He argued that the combination of rising interest rates and the money printed as part of quantitative easing has handed banks windfall profits. Those profits are going towards increased bonuses, which is totally unacceptable. Surely the banks and the financial sector should work for the common good, rather than for the private interests of a handful of very wealthy people. I will now make way for the Minister, and I look forward to him attempting to defend the indefensible.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) on securing the debate. I accept that he is sincere in bringing forward his concern and that of his constituents, but we on this side of the House believe that he is sadly wrong.

In responding for the Government, I am grateful for the opportunity to lift the lid on what is an important but often misrepresented issue. Let me be unequivocal from the outset that the Government are unapologetic about our commitment to the financial services industry, which stretches across the whole of this great nation. If the hon. Gentleman cares to talk to his Front-Bench colleagues, he will find that the policy of both Front-Bench teams is to support the sector in order to help grow our economy and create the prosperity from which we all benefit.

I will happily do so. Perhaps we will hear more about the policy of those on the Opposition Front Bench.

Does the Minister accept that I am not speaking on behalf of my Front-Bench colleagues? I am speaking about the views of my constituents and others across the country, and in the interests of what I believe the country should be doing. The Government are clearly wrong, whatever those on the two Front Benches are proposing.

It is always a pleasure to hear a Member of this House speak on behalf of their constituents, which is indeed what we are here to do. I stand corrected by the hon. Gentleman: this debate is not about the policy of Opposition Front Benchers. I just thought it was worth setting that in context, because where there is consensus, we should build on it. I understand his views, but the scale of the sector’s contribution to the United Kingdom is truly massive.

Financial and related professional services, and all those that are engaged in the support functions, make up 12% of the UK’s gross value added—12% of the economy. That is millions of jobs, and not just in the City. Indeed, I actively push back against the idea that I am the City Minister, because that is not the case. The financial sector has to build bridges and reach into every household across the country. To that point, the hon. Gentleman is probably aware from talking to his constituents that there are 145,000 jobs in the financial sector and related industries in Yorkshire and the Humber, and long may that continue. Those are the sorts of high-quality, high-skilled jobs that I am sure he seeks for his constituents, for our generation and for generations to come.

The sector produces prodigious amounts of tax revenues—billions of pounds—without which our public services would be in peril. Because of the financial services sector, I can look our hospitals, schools, police, fire services and all of our brilliant, fabulous public servants in the eye. The hon. Gentleman might tell us that they do not get enough revenues, but one of the ways in which we can continue to make sure that they are sustainably well financed is on the back of the very bankers he decries, and my mission is to continue to grow this wonderful sector.

I return to the subject of the debate: the bonus cap. Although many people are confused about what the bonus cap is, I know that the hon. Gentleman has followed this topic and is not confused. It is not a cap on bonus pay. If he would like to introduce such a measure, Parliament offers many wonderful opportunities for him to do so, including ten-minute rule Bills and Backbench Business debates. If he would like to propose a cap on bonuses, I am sure that the House would be keen to hear more about how such a cap would work.

I think the hon. Gentleman knows that what we are talking about is not a cap on bonuses whereby fixed pay is inflated and bankers are paid the egregious amounts that he talks about. This did no such thing. It was simply about the composition of pay and how much of it is geared to performance versus a mere entitlement or fact of contractual law. It has never been a cap. The EU directive that the hon. Gentleman talked about relates to the ratio of fixed pay to bonuses. At no point has there been a cap. To be in favour of the status quo is actually to be in favour of higher basic salaries for bankers. Perhaps we should have renamed this debate, “The debate about higher basic salaries for bankers.” We may have got more bankers to come and watch, but I am not sure how many hon. Members would have clamoured to support a debate about higher basic pay for bankers. This is a really important point. The hon. Gentleman himself raised the fact that since this so-called cap was introduced, we have actually seen an increase in pay. If it was a cap, by its own definition it has failed.

The consequence of all this is that by removing restrictions, more of bankers’ pay can be performance-based. If they do not perform, perhaps their salaries will go down and perhaps the hon. Member’s objectives would be achieved by the very measure the Government have advocated. We would be removing the insistence on higher fixed pay, and more of it would be based on performance. If they do not perform or grow the economy, and if they do not contribute the near 50% share that the bankers will typically be paying in tax to our nation, then their salaries will go down. I would offer that to the hon. Gentleman as a reframing of how he thinks about this.

This is a common remuneration structure, not just in this sector but elsewhere in the economy. It is how many industries align performance and incentives in a sensible way. I have heard the argument that removing what we have now established as a so-called bonus cap will see a return to the bad behaviour and perverse incentives that led to the global financial crisis. The hon. Gentleman was there at the heart of that in No. 10, and I can understand that experience, but things have moved on—not just in respect of this cap, but the fourth European directive.

At that point there was no broader remuneration framework for bankers. They could get their entire variable pay on the day it was awarded. There was no element of deferral or additional regulatory requirements, such as those imposed by the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority, to require a significant proportion of variable remuneration to be deferred for a number of years. In those years, firms are able to revisit performance and material events or misconduct and then take account of those within the remuneration framework. Since the hon. Gentleman’s service in No. 10, we have seen the introduction of the senior managers regime, which has even greater accountability.

The point is that the regulatory structures have evolved. They were right to evolve in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, but the reforms that work do not include this arbitrary and variable remuneration ratio.

The Minister will have heard me talking about a person in the City being remunerated £68 million in a single year. Of that, £200,000 was the basic pay, and the rest was bonus. I think the Minister is resting his case on the expansion of basic salaries, but that is not the case for that person. It would take the average person in my constituency 2,260 years on an average salary to achieve what that person achieved in a year. Is that possibly morally justifiable?

The hon. Gentleman needs to make peace with the benefits of a capitalist, free-enterprise, private, risk-taking economy. I understand that that is a certain distance for the hon. Gentleman to travel. Perhaps we do not have enough time this afternoon for the hon. Gentleman to travel all that distance. By his own admission, he chose the most extreme of the most extreme cases. I celebrate, because in that example, his, mine and your constituents, Mrs Cummins, would be better off to the tune of £34 million, from that single, most productive of financial services employees in that year putting that money back into the Exchequer. I sincerely hope that is absolutely the case, because the Government have made a great endeavour to collect all the tax revenues owed.

I will shortly conclude, but earlier the hon. Gentleman seemed to decry the fact that seven out of 10 of the most highly paid bankers in Europe were based in London in the United Kingdom. I think the very opposite. The Government’s view is that, if not seven, it should be eight, and that we should seek to obtain those revenues and grow our economy, reinvesting in the productive and public services.

At the beginning, the hon. Gentleman made great play that this was one of the few surviving measures of the mini-Budget, the then growth plan. I cannot leave that lying on file, because the biggest single measure, which all our constituents benefit from right now, as the nights grow colder and the temperatures plummet, was the £60 million—

Sixty billion pounds—a little more than bankers’ pay. That is now flowing into individuals’ heating, fuel and energy bills, protecting every one of our constituents, up and down the United Kingdom. This was not the sole surviving measure that the hon. Gentleman talked about. This was a sensible measure, part of taking an inherited European rulebook that never fitted the fact pattern of the United Kingdom. That is why the Bank of England and the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition all made great protestations at the time that the fourth European capital requirements directive was introduced, because it did not fit the unique fact pattern of the United Kingdom.

Let me conclude. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for bringing these matters to the House. It is absolutely right that we talk about this and understand how we are going to drive our economy forward in the fairest possible way. The City, I hasten to remind him, has a significant duty to society, and must be connected to every part of the United Kingdom, even our wonderful Administration north of the border. The Government’s position is that the measure is the right one. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government stood by that. It is the case, because we want a productive economy and people to be paid what they earn, but no more than is warranted. That is why we continue to stand by the measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Cryptoasset Promotions in Sport

I beg to move,

That this House has considered cryptoasset promotions in sport.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I thank Mr Speaker for granting the debate and welcome the Minister to his place. The debate was originally set to be held on 13 September, but the very sad death of Her late Majesty the Queen meant it was rightly postponed, until today. I should also mention the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), who pipped me to the post in securing the first parliamentary debate on regulating cryptoassets, which took place on 7 September. That was a very well informed debate, which I read in Hansard. While acknowledging the opportunities that blockchain can present, it foreshadowed some of the issues I will talk about today.

As the Minister and I heard just last night in the Adjournment debate led by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood), our sports teams occupy a very special place in our communities. The fans have a special bond with their clubs that goes far beyond being a customer or a consumer. Their loyalties are passed down through generations, and the shared memories of league titles, cup finals and spectacular upsets bond families and communities together in tribal loyalties towards those clubs.

When an individual club or sport as a whole takes its fans for granted or seeks to exploit them, those bonds are not only frayed, but lasting damage can be done to the community as a whole. It is for that reason that the fan-led review, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), is so important, as we also heard last night. It is also for that reason that I urge the Minister and the Football Association to crack down on some of the cryptoasset promotions I will discuss today. Many have been almost entirely exploitative and have traded on fans’ love for their club and on the susceptibility of some of those fans, particularly young men, to speculative get-rich-quick schemes.

Cryptoassets are the ownership of a digital entity, whether a currency or some sort of collectible. The formal Government definition is:

“A cryptographically secured digital representation of value or contractual rights that uses a form of distributed ledger technology and can be transferred, stored, or traded electronically.”

That definition includes things like bitcoin, the currency, but also tokens that can be traded among people, which is where a lot of the current problems in sport lie.

We could debate on a moral level the fundamental value of such cryptoassets—it is my contention that many I will describe today have zero value—but what is apparent is that their value and their price is often not the same thing. Their prices can be very volatile, which is partly why they have proved so attractive in the field of speculation and in encouraging people to speculate.

In general, the crypto space is growing. There are potential economic benefits to some uses of blockchain technology and I cautiously welcome the Government’s announcement of April 2022 to

“make the UK a global cryptoasset technology hub.”

However, the field urgently needs better regulation, and the need for regulation comes from the potential risk of people losing all their money. The Financial Conduct Authority has said that consumers should regard such investments in crypto as high risk and speculative and that people

“should be prepared to lose all your money”.

The speculation surrounding cryptoassets, with prices often far exceeding any possible intrinsic value, brings to mind previous bubbles, going back to tulip mania. All of these bubbles are examples of the greater fool theory—the idea that someone might pay for an overpriced asset, knowing it to be overpriced, but they hope to sell it for even more to the so-called greater fool, to make a profit. The modern terminology used in forums to boast, by those who get involved in these schemes—the so-called crypto bros—is pump and dump, and the most effective way of pumping a cryptoasset seems to be the endorsement of a sports club or a sports star, which is also known as crypto-washing.

By endorsing these speculative assets and by letting themselves or their players be the pumpers of the assets, clubs are potentially putting their own fans in the role of the greater fool, which is something they do at considerable risk to their reputation and the long-term bonds I spoke about a moment ago.

In calling for better regulation of cryptoasset promotion in sport, there are four significant areas of concern, and I offer my thanks to the journalist Martin Calladine—@uglygame on Twitter—for the taxonomy. I will come to them in turn. They are the misleading promotion of the assets; the lack of consumer protection; the lack of due diligence by the clubs entering into deals; and the problematic nature of their attempts to monetise fan engagement with the clubs.

As I said, I will start with misleading promotion. The widespread and often misleading promotion of crypto has helped it to make it into the mainstream. It minimises the risks involved in so-called investing—in many cases, fans just spending their money on this product. Many sports teams, players and, now, leagues have made or are in the process of making deals with companies in the crypto sector and are using their own social media—clubs or players—to push these items on to people who might not otherwise have been aware of them. We know from FCA research that more than 70% of people are not very aware of what crypto is, but we also know from the same research that 10% of people, as of June this year, have held or currently hold a cryptoasset. That is up from 5.7%, I think, in January 2021, so this is clearly a growing space.

I have also talked about fan tokens: digital assets that allow holders to access a range of alleged benefits. A fan token is a fully fungible digital token giving fans some influence over certain decisions made by a sports team. Quite how valuable that influence is I will come to later, but the fan tokens themselves usually require an intermediary step of buying cryptocurrency to purchase the fan token, thus exposing the fans to the whole world of cryptocurrency and not just the alleged benefits of the fan token. Of course, both the tokens themselves and the cryptocurrency can be traded as a speculative asset.

A few years ago, barely any football clubs were doing anything with crypto. Now, nearly every single club in the top four divisions either has a crypto partner or—in a few rare cases—has turned down the offer to sign one. Cryptoassets are of course often promoted as a new and exciting opportunity, and the potential downsides are glossed over or downplayed. For example, last year Southampton football club promoted a crypto “education” website by its crypto partner, Yolo Group—Yolo presumably standing for “You only live once”. The content of that website is utterly one-sided and totally inadequate. It is just propaganda rather than education, and it is biased wholly in favour of crypto. For example, its “what is cryptocurrency” page states that €1 invested in bitcoin in 2009 is worth €60 million in 2021—without any recognition whatever that that is no guide whatever to potential future returns from any currency, let alone bitcoin or the one that it is promoting.

Socios, the largest and most famous provider of so-called fan tokens, has repeatedly marketed its products in the UK without proper acknowledgement of the risks. If we look at a recent deal that it did with three English rugby union clubs—Harlequins, Leicester and Saracens—we see that it is clearly promoting the claim that fans can access an exciting new opportunity. Only on a separate webpage, at the very bottom of the frequently asked questions does it say:

“You should not purchase any cryptoassets if you do not fully understand the nature of your purchase and the risks involved.”

Not only are those risks not identified properly, but the benefits—most notably the potential financial returns—are hyped up.

This in particular was the subject of so many complaints that the Advertising Standards Authority drew up new crypto-marketing rules with specific reference to Socios. The ASA ruled in December 2021 that Arsenal FC

“trivialised investment in cryptoassets and took advantage of consumers’ inexperience or credulity”

in a promotion of its Socios fan tokens featuring three first-team players.

Despite my misgivings about its product, I am grateful that Socios engaged with me prior to this debate, and I should say that its official position is that it does not

“market fan tokens as investments. The purpose of tokens is to give fans new ways to engage with their club, be entertained by it and to win rewards that can’t be gained anywhere else… Our marketing materials include warnings about the risks of purchasing fan tokens for any other purpose.”

In the discussion that I had with it over Zoom, it acknowledged that it has come some way, but I still feel, fundamentally, its product is not really worth anything in particular to anybody. I will come to some of those alleged fan engagement benefits later.

The second problem that I would like to turn to is the lack of consumer protection. This is still a very unregulated space—a wild west—leaving fans with no recourse if the scheme collapses or is subject to fraud. I think there is a comparison here with the Football Index scandal, which I raised in this Chamber a few months ago. I mentioned crypto at that point, which is what ultimately led to this debate today. Again, there was no recourse for people who had lost all their money. They were led into believing in something that was regulated in that case, through the Gambling Commission. It turned out it was not, and it has been a real struggle for people to get their money back. There is even less protection in this space, given that the FCA has not regulated firmly yet.

To see the impact on the consumer, we should also look at the profile of the consumers. Socios’s own data shows that 50% of its users are aged from 24 to 34. As with Football Index, those young people interested in crypto are usually men. They usually do not have a traditional finance background and they find crypto attractive because it does look like an opportunity to get rich quick. That is precisely why the companies in turn look towards sports teams and sports players alike—because they have a huge following among young men that they can sell the emperor’s new clothes to.

Numerous non-fungible token schemes, having been pumped and dumped—again, fitting in with the greater fool theory—have rapidly lost almost all their value. The investigations writer for The Athletic, Joey D’Urso, who is here today, has covered the topic very rigorously and has set out how these schemes have infiltrated top-flight and lower-league football. He has shown how so many of them have depreciated substantially in a very short space of time, to the disadvantage of the fans who were encouraged to get in at the beginning.

Of the 20 football clubs in last season’s premier league, all but one had at least one cryptocurrency sponsor, and some had several. As I said earlier, the assets are very volatile, so much so that we have seen multiple crashes of the cryptoasset bubble, most recently a few months ago. In June 2022, bitcoin was down 70% from its all-time peak in November 2021, but at least it still has some value. Compared with when the deals were originally signed, the value of nearly all cryptoassets linked with premier league clubs tanked over the course of last season. Some have gone bust completely. Companies such as IQONIQ and Sportemon Go have collapsed totally, which has wiped out the value of any investments fans have made. IQONIQ had deals with Crystal Palace, La Liga in Spain, the McLaren Formula 1 team and several leading European football clubs.

The schemes partner not just with sports clubs but, as I have said, with players. Most infamously, perhaps, the former England and Chelsea captain John Terry launched the Ape Kids Football Club NFTs on 2 February 2022. If hon. Members were not on Twitter, they might have missed that, but those were cartoon monkeys being sold, initially, for an average price of $665—that was the early peak. They were literally cartoon images of monkeys. They are all slightly different, and buyers allegedly own their particular one, but, of course, anyone can just take a screenshot and claim that they own it too. As the scheme was going well, other footballers endorsed Terry’s project. His former teammates Tammy Abraham and Ashley Cole also posted them on their social media pages. Predictably enough, within a month those NFTs plummeted in value by 90%, and Terry’s former colleagues quietly deleted their tweets of support.

It seems to me that cryptoassets and fan tokens are the only unregulated business that those in the sports industry are willing to endorse to their fans. If a club was sponsored by a chocolate bar, for example, the chocolate bar would be tested and regulated by the Food Standards Agency. More to the point, consumers of that product would be protected by the law. There is nothing like that for crypto: no trading standards, no industry ombudsman, no FCA regulation, no fit and proper persons test and, in the event of a suspected crime—some of these cases are probably criminal—no great likelihood of any police action. In fact, the closest we have come to regulation is the Advertising Standard Authority’s new rules, which I referred to earlier. It should not fall to the ASA to be an ersatz regulator in this space.

I recognise that the FCA is doing work through its cryptoassets taskforce, and that is a matter for the Treasury, but sports bodies themselves need to do more. That is why I am grateful that we have a Minister from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport here today. I am grateful for his attention.

The third issue with cryptoasset promotion in sport is the lack of due diligence by those who do deals around such investments. The large sums of money on offer, combined with the opaque nature of many of the schemes, has exposed the low quality of due diligence. Football clubs are routinely doing business with crypto schemes that fans cannot interrogate, and clubs themselves often make no effort to assess their partners’ integrity.

In yesterday’s Adjournment debate, I referenced the example of Birmingham City’s ill-fated tie-in with Ultimo GG, but perhaps the most unbelievable example is the story of Manchester City and a company called 3Key. Man City has been at the forefront of football’s crypto sponsorship revolution. This time last year, the club announced 3Key as its new crypto partner, only for it to drop the company within a week when it came out that nothing about the company—even the fact that it existed—seemed to be true.

Again, Martin Calladine had the story. He established that 3Key was actually the new name for a massive, rolling crypto pyramid scheme. Man City subsequently refused to discuss the partnership or reveal what due diligence had been done, which for Mr Calladine left some serious unanswered questions. If the club signed a deal with what was, in effect, a criminal gang, and did not take any steps to establish who it was dealing with, it seems obvious that there are money laundering issues. In his article, Martin writes:

“The question is how could City not have noticed when literally just 15 minutes of googling would’ve been enough to establish that 3Key were not who they claimed to be…They didn’t have, or wouldn’t give me, 3Key’s address, company registration details or even their telephone number. If you were a junior estate agent who rented a flat to someone on this basis, you would get fired. If City actually accepted money from 3Key without having verified their identity, then this could be a breach of money laundering regulations.

In essence, it appears that it is only by luck that Man City failed to become party to a massive fraud, which could’ve severely harmed their own fans.”

I spoke to a number of clubs in the lead-up to the debate. I wanted to establish their intentions in making partnerships with crypto companies. The official line is frequently fan engagement, which I will come to shortly, but I have been told another reason: commercial reality. That applies in particular to clubs that are not at the top table—those outside the gilded land of the premier league. We know from previous debates, and from the work that so many people have done to save their local football clubs—I think of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly)—that it is difficult for those clubs to balance their books. Clubs are keen to get sponsorship. One club told me that crypto companies often offer five to six times more than other companies normally would. I therefore completely understand the temptation, perhaps even the necessity, to take what is on offer, particularly for clubs on the financial brink, as many are. However, that should not mean that a comprehensive appraisal of such companies—true due diligence—does not take place.

The fourth and last problem I want to raise is the issue of attempting to monetise fan engagement. The promotion of crypto as an alternative way of letting fans contribute, through tokens, is encouraging clubs to monetise fan engagement and replace the genuine consultation that many have pioneered over the past 20 or 30 years with a deeply flawed pay-to-have-your-say model.

Many clubs and crypto businesses that I have spoken with say that their main intention is fan engagement. For example, Manchester United, which has an official blockchain partner, Tezos, provided the following comment:

“Blockchain is a hugely exciting area of technology which, over the long-term, has the ability to revolutionise the way in which we digitally engage with our fans.”

On the intentions of crypto companies, Socios stated:

“We are the leading fan engagement and rewards platform in the sports industry. Through digital utility tokens, known as Fan Tokens, we are creating a new form of digital membership for sports fans around the world.”

Sorare, a French start-up digital entertainment platform that is allegedly lining up an NFT deal worth £30 million a year with the Premier League itself, provided this comment:

“Our platform connects fans with their passion for sports.”

The crypto businesses and the clubs profess that the deals are based on fan engagement, but what do the fans think? I met the Football Supporters’ Association, which gave me the following comment:

“We’ve seen a lot of clubs and players entering into partnership with crypto providers including those selling tokens which provide ‘engagement opportunities’. We don’t think supporter engagement should be monetised—if an issue is important, clubs should consult with their fans as outlined by the fan-led review of football governance…Fan loyalty is something to be cherished, not exploited.”

When we look at the fan tokens, a large number are owned by traders and not fans of the club. There is no limit to the number of tokens people can buy and therefore no limit to the number of votes they can have, and there is no limit to the number of clubs they can hold tokens in. When we look at engagement with polls, the turnout is rarely more than 20%, and the polls themselves often cover ludicrously trivial matters. There was even one that asked token holders to vote on which player’s washbag they wanted to see inside.

Tellingly, when the decision is really important, clubs have recognised that a vote via NFT is not appropriate after all. Aston Villa announced last Friday that it wanted to redesign its crest. That is a pretty fundamental thing. I remember that when Chelsea redesigned its crest, there was prolonged fan engagement. Aston Villa has launched a vote for season ticket holders and members, despite having an arrangement with Socios. To my mind, that eminently sensible decision gives the lie to the idea that the tokens are primarily about engagement rather than speculation.

What would go towards fixing these four interlinked problems? The answer is pretty simple: better regulation. That can happen on two fronts: better statutory regulation by the Government, with the Treasury and DCMS working together, and better self-regulation by governing bodies and leagues.

The independent fan-led review of football governance, overseen by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, called for a new independent regulator for English football and made many recommendations, which I endorse. My hon. Friend sits on the Science and Technology Committee with me, and she picked up on precisely the issue I am raising today during the evidence session we held on blockchain on 29 June this year. She asked David Gerard, a journalist and author who has written extensively on blockchain:

“Given the volatility that you have spoken about and we have heard about in terms of cryptocurrency and crypto cash and the volatility in football finance, surely this will create the perfect storm or disaster of which the fans of those clubs, who are buying NFTs, for example, will be the victims.”

David answered:

“The fans end up being the victims in this financial issue; they are the public interest here.”

As politicians, we should be mindful of the public interest at all times.

Unfortunately, my hon. Friend is away on other business and was unable to make today’s debate. I know she wanted to be here. I pay tribute to her both for the fan-led review and for her tenaciousness on this topic. The Government published their response to the review’s recommendations in April 2022, saying that they would seek to implement the proposals. I note the Minister’s words at the Dispatch Box last night about the matter. It is my hope that the problems of crypto in the sport of football could fall under the remit of the independent regulator for English football.

The FSA suggested ways to address these problems at its 2022 annual general meeting, and I hope the Minister takes those away. They include engagement on common self-regulatory standards for any cryptocurrency partnership entered into by a football club, so that we see some genuine self-regulation in the sport of football; an information awareness campaign for football fans advising them of the risks to their capital; lobbying of the Government for statutory regulation—I suppose I am ticking that box today—and better due diligence by football clubs before entering into deals, including engagement with their supporters, supporters’ trusts or fan groups before they issue any promotional material aimed at their fans.

I hope today’s debate will have helped raise the profile and, more importantly, the reality of crypto in sport so that fans and, more importantly, the senior actors in this space think twice. The Premier League really should review that proposed £30 million deal with Sorare. Is that really what it thinks of its fans? If the Government are serious about looking to make the UK a global cryptoasset technology hub, they need to work with all the relevant actors across all sectors to ensure that we have both statutory regulation and self-regulation, but that need is perhaps most urgent in sport.

For the second time today, I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) for leading the debate, and for his contribution to last night’s Adjournment debate on the financial sustainability of football clubs in England. It was an excellent debate. The Minister was there to respond to it, and I know that he is biting at the bit to respond to this debate, too. I am genuinely pleased to see him in his place; we have all grown fond of him, and we know that we will be more than pleased with his response.

I spoke in the recent Westminster Hall debate on the regulation of cryptoassets. It was clear from the contributions of all Members that there are real concerns surrounding the impact that “online money” can have on society. There is uncertainty; people have invested and been caught out. I understand that the figures for crypto investment are higher as a proportion of the population in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. There is an interest for us there, although I am not aware of any football teams or other sporting organisations in Northern Ireland that are involved. That does not mean that they are not, of course; I am just not aware of them at the moment.

As the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme rightly stated, cryptoassets are becoming more prominent in sports, which are a major source of enjoyment for many in the UK. It is great to be here to discuss these issues. The hon. Gentleman has an incredible interest in and knowledge of this matter, so I am pleased that he has set the scene so well. Sports as an industry has realised the potential that cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies can bring to further monetise fan engagement, attract sponsors and engage a global market in ways that were unimaginable decades ago. However attractive that may be, it is not always safe, and that is what I want to focus on. I know that the hon. Gentleman has already done so, and we look forward to the Minister’s summing up.

As far as I am aware, there are currently no sports clubs in Northern Ireland enabling the use of cryptoassets; I stand to be corrected, but I am pretty sure that that is the case. As of 6 August, Oxford City became the first football club in the United Kingdom to accept bitcoin for matchday tickets. In March this year, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme referred to, Manchester City announced a global partnership with one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges, OKX. We have seen incidents in the past where similar online products, such as bitcoin, have proven dangerous but at the same time appealing, as they pose as get-rich-quick schemes. It is a bit like doing the lottery on a Saturday. If anyone is as successful as I am—I have not done it for a long time—they will never get anything.

In 2021, Football Index went bust after its contractor suspended operations, and it was revealed that customers could lose up to £90 million. I remember that well; it was incredibly scary. For some people, it was a get-rich-quick scheme, but it did not work out. Similarly to cryptoassets, these types of investment companies sound fantastic in theory, as people are told that they will make money quickly and profits will increase over time, but it becomes clear that that is not always the case; indeed, many end up losing their life savings. As the hon. Gentleman referred to, and as he reinforced in last night’s Adjournment debate, many in sports clubs find themselves in incredible difficulty. Many clubs were mentioned last night—the Minister mentioned some of them—and there is a need to have them regulated.

Our sporting industry in the UK is so loved by so many. In my constituency, crowds gather every weekend to watch local football matches, and teams of all ages compete in different leagues, tournaments and cups. We have seen the excitement of fans ahead of the 2022 World cup. There are massive calls for a greater review of the Gambling Act 2005, and for a deeper look at blockchain technology—the quicker the better—which allows participants to review transactions made in digital currency without the need for a central clearing authority. Something is just not right about that, and I hope the Minister will listen to our concerns and give us some encouragement.

We have the Financial Conduct Authority to ensure that things are done correctly, but sometimes, as technology advances and rolls on, it is hard to keep up with all the things that are happening. Unfortunately, the promotion of cryptoassets by sports teams poses new, unheard-of regulatory challenges. The Chancellor must take that into consideration and ensure that cryptoassets are brought into financial regulation. I think that might be a solution; it would certainly give us some peace of mind. Some athletes in the United States are already getting part of their salary in digital money or shares. Cryptoassets must be held to the same high standards for fairness to consumers.

Let me conclude my contribution to this worthwhile debate by saying that this is an issue that we must aim to address UK-wide. The issue will be dealt with at Westminster but it is important that the regional Administrations are kept on board. The Treasury must put the correct provisions in place to ensure our constituents’ financial security. Cryptoassets are becoming incredibly popular, and not just in sport; many employers are considering them as a payroll method—talk about taking a chance with your pay on a Friday night. If we cannot stop this, it is important that we at least take the correct steps to ensure that it is done in the right way.

I am pleased to see the Minister in his place, but the discussions need to take place with the Chancellor and the Minister with responsibility in DCMS. I hope that the Chancellor will maintain regular contact with DCMS Ministers and with the economy Ministers in the devolved Administrations to ensure that all efforts are made to keep up to date with cryptoassets and their impact on our sporting industries. We cannot rule out, either, the role of the Home Office and the police in this matter—I think it is at that level. Some people have done well out of cryptoassets, but many people have not. We need to protect them, and protect the clubs, too.

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. I thank the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) for securing the debate, which is important not only because it dovetails with the debate that I secured two months ago, but because I agree with most, if not everything, that he said.

I began my speech two months ago by declaring my interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on blockchain, which has done a most excellent job of examining and understanding the blockchain—or, as I like to call it, distributed ledger technology. I remind Members who were not in that debate—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was—that cryptoasset promotion in sport was one of the first things I touched on.

Something of a watershed was reached during the January Super Bowl in the United States, as cryptoasset ads took up a large chunk of the lucrative half-time advertising. The adverts starred such Hollywood luminaries as Matt Damon and Larry David. A cross-platform, cross-interest advertising nirvana was reached as some of the most trusted personalities were crossed with some of the most trusted brands in American life. The cryptoasset companies that paid for those lucrative spots surely hoped that would impress the hundreds of millions of viewers in the United States and across the world.

Although I used the Super Bowl as my example in my previous speech, I could have gone for other examples closer to home. After the National Football League, the most lucrative sports competition is the English premier league. As the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme alluded to, there is no shortage of crypto sponsorship there, either. Most if not all clubs have tie-ins as a secondary or main sponsor. Quite simply, sports teams provide perfect synergies for advertisers. Unlike most institutions that command national and international respect, they are open to commercial partnerships, exchanging the cachet that their brand commands among millions of people for handsome pecuniary rewards.

It would be fair to say that issues of morality or due diligence have not always come to the fore when making commercial partnership decisions, as exemplified by the hosting of the world’s largest sporting tournament this month in a tiny yet fabulously wealthy sliver of the land in the Persian gulf, or in the way that one of English football’s most traditional clubs was purchased last year by a group close to the Saudi royal family. I would not ask Members to just take my word for it. The Financial Times, in an article examining the relationships between sports and crypto, said that

“the love affair between sport and crypto appears to be a perfect match, as franchises can deliver a wider audience within the demographic that digital asset players want to reach.”

The article also came up with the astonishing figure of $600 million spent by crypto firms worldwide on sports sponsorship last year, which is up from just $25 million the year before. That is an incredible growth that really demands further examination by anyone interested in issues of consumer protection and good governance, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme mentioned. The risks are obvious, and I will quote the Financial Times article from 27 May one last time to demonstrate that.

“Ronan Evain, executive director at Football Supporters Europe, a prominent fans group, pointed to the risks of ‘an unregulated financial product’. He said teams and players backing crypto assets were ‘considerably irresponsible’, as such tie-ups were aimed at ‘building the legitimacy of the product for an audience that wasn’t necessarily familiar with it’.”

That essentially gets to the nub of my debate in September —the grey areas that are allowed to flourish in the regulation vacuum, the lack of clarity around so many of the products that are being offered, and then the resulting fertile ground for the outright scams that will inevitably follow.

To give just one example, the—how shall I put this—lack of attention to due diligence given by many sporting brands has already resulted in pretty shocking examples of fraud. Take the example of Sportemon Go, something that described itself as an

“NFT-augmented reality sports trading platform”

when it signed deals to appear on the kits of two Scottish Premiership teams, Rangers FC, which I know the hon. Member for Strangford supports, and Hibernian FC, which I know my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) is a big fan of. The company collapsed earlier this year after seeing the value of its proprietary “SGOX” token reduced to zero.

That is far from the only example of bizarre cryptoassets being lent a sheen of respectability by our own beloved sporting brands. The Guardian reported last year a press release from English champions Manchester City that trumpeted:

“We are excited to partner with 3Key”,

which I think the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme already mentioned,

“in their journey to simplify the decentralised finance (DeFi) trading analysis user experience through the power of football to engage with our fans with a range of content and activations.”

While that sounds like the marketing babble that most sports fans are used to, the real story was that 3Key lacked what could be called a digital footprint. It was unclear what services and products it sold, and where it was regulated. Websites associated with the company then went offline, and the club had no choice but to suspend the partnership. I could go on, but we have also heard plenty of examples from elsewhere today. I think there is a broad agreement that something needs to be done.

The Financial Services and Markets Bill, which has just finished in Committee—I was on the Committee myself—could have been one such avenue for regulation. However, to go back to the arguments that I made in my own debate two months ago, there is no legislation needed to clamp down on the worst excesses and sharp practices employed by some of those companies. That said, particularly when it comes to sports clubs—and individual athletes, a subject I have not really mentioned—there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Government could be doing a lot more to protect institutions that ultimately command so much respect in our communities from the worst excesses and temptations that these sorts of bubbles can bring.

There is only one professional sports team in my constituency of West Dunbartonshire, Dumbarton FC—or the Sons, as they are commonly known—and they are celebrating their 150th anniversary this year. There used to be two, but my hometown team of Clydebank FC folded in 2003 after poor financial decisions were taken by the previous owners, so I know, at first hand, the importance of these brands to communities. Thankfully, the Bankies are now climbing up through the leagues and got into the Scottish cup last year, for the first time since they folded, and I was delighted to be there.

We need to make sure that our communities and constituents are protected from the worst excesses of what I would call unregulated capitalism. When the Minister, whom I congratulate on coming back into Government—I know he is all over this and crypto is way up there at the top of his agenda—rises to his feet, will he therefore highlight the broad range of existing legislation that can deal with fraud and advise how the Government intend to work with sporting bodies across these islands to better understand why they are falling for this fraud and these scams? If necessary, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, perhaps the Minister could also lay out whether existing regulations need to be improved or new regulations need to be added to the statute book to protect consumers. I know that Members on the Opposition Benches would at least support him on that.

It is great to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) not only on securing the debate, but on what I thought was an excellent speech that really set out the issues. I completely agreed with most of his speech, including, sadly, his criticism of the club for which I have been a lifelong season ticket holder, Man City. We have not covered ourselves in glory on this issue.

Some 2.3 million people in the UK apparently own cryptocurrency or cryptoassets, so it is no surprise that lots of sports teams have seen the financial opportunities and signed up for lucrative deals with the sector. In the USA, crypto sponsorships have been established across Formula 1, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Major League Baseball, with major venue sponsorships as well. In the UK, most premier league clubs have some sponsorship links with cryptocurrency businesses and some clubs have launched their own non-fungible tokens. As we have heard, the Premier League has just signed a multimillion dollar deal with a blockchain company, Sorare, to deliver its own NFT collection. Alongside several major European teams, six premier league clubs have partnered with the company Socios, which markets itself as a fan engagement platform and also has links with rugby union. By purchasing fan tokens based on blockchain, fans are told they will have more of a say and can vote on club decision making, mostly on issues around the match day experience and so on.

There is a key question here for the clubs, not the businesses. The businesses are just in it for the money, but the clubs should be in it for more than that. In the wake of the fan-led review, if clubs really want to engage with fans and give them a say on these issues, they should do so. Why can they not do that without requiring their fans to sign up to spend money on cryptoassets? In this day and age, it is not hard for clubs to carry out that kind of engagement. Is it, as many of us suspect, just another way to exploit the loyalty and wallets of football fans?

Labour believes that fans should as a right have a say in the direction and decision making of their club, and that they should not have to invest in a cryptoasset to earn that right. I was reassured many times by the Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), that the Government are on board with all the recommendations in the fan-led review. When they come forward with the White Paper and the proposals, I trust that we will see some opportunities to clamp down on this kind of business and really promote genuine fan engagement by the clubs.

In December 2021, analysis commissioned by the BBC estimated that more £262 million had been spent on fan tokens through Socios. Some producers of football NFTs and fan tokens state that these cryptoassets were never intended as investments, which is fair enough. However, that is certainly not always made clear by all producers. It is clear that some people have felt encouraged to purchase these tokens as investments. If so, they are taking a risk. We have already heard about John Terry’s Ape Kids Football Club NFT collection, which was promoted by a number of high-profile football stars, and how the NFTs crashed in value and lost about 99% of their initial price. Several footballing figures have advertised NFT schemes on social media and then had to retract or delete their posts when the schemes nosedived and fans lost money.

As fan tokens are usually linked to volatile cryptocurrencies, which they provide an incentive to invest in, and are influenced by supply and demand, the value of those NFTs has fluctuated wildly. In November 2021, the crypto market was at its peak, with a valuation of almost $3 trillion; by June 2022, it had lost more than two thirds of its value. As we have heard, fan tokens pushed by premier league teams have often tanked in value. I do not think we have heard about this in previous contributions: the Advertising Standards Authority recently upheld a ruling against Arsenal for its promotion of Socios fan tokens in an advert. It found that the club

“trivialised investment in crypto assets and took advantage of consumers’ inexperience or credulity.”

We need some action and we need regulation. Labour is not advocating a ban on the ownership of cryptocurrencies. We recognise the opportunities they can create for our economy when done right. Proper regulation of cryptoasset promotions marketed to sports fans is clearly needed, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme set out.

I have some questions for the Minister. First, as I have asked many times of his predecessor, can he tell us when or if—I hope it is when—he will bring forward proposals for the independent regulator? Does he foresee an independent regulator of English football having any role to play in the regulation of cryptoassets in football? It might be that the FCA is the appropriate regulatory body. The FCA has indicated that it is working with the Government to target financial promotions and advertising in crypto as a priority. Can the Minister set out a timeline of when those reforms will happen and what the legislative vehicle for doing so will be?

I will conclude with an aside. In the week of COP27, we should probably note that cryptoassets are really bad for the environment. They require huge amounts of power and powerful computer calculations to verify the transactions. They are very carbon-intensive. Will the Government be clear with supporter bodies about at least the environmental impact of crypto technologies? I do not want to let COP27 week go by without mentioning the detrimental effect of crypto.

The clear message from across this Chamber today has been that this is a really worrying development for football fans. It is not something we need necessarily, unless the clubs and businesses are out to make money and at the expense of football fans. Regulation is clearly needed. That is the message from Members today. I hope the Minister will take that on board.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) for securing the debate. It is clear that he and I share a passion that everyone should be able to enjoy sport safely. That is ultimately one of the things that has motivated him to secure this debate.

We both understand how important it is to protect the integrity of our sports as well as the fans, who are their lifeblood, frankly. In my first few weeks in this job I have been learning an awful lot, but I would say that in the last hour I have learned even more. I am certainly grateful for the focus on this very important area. It will be informing a number of areas I am currently looking at.

It is a privilege as the Minister for Sport to be able to champion a sector that means so much to so many fans across the country, plays such an important part in local economies and has such a rich history in each of our communities. We would all agree that for those reasons and more we should ultimately encourage innovation in sport. Innovations that can harness emerging technologies, providing both new commercial opportunities for sport and greater engagement for fans, should be embraced. That being said, any such innovations should be implemented responsibly, in line with any relevant regulation, and with transparency in how they are advertised and promoted.

As I mentioned in last night’s Adjournment debate on the governance and financial sustainability of English football clubs, fans are the lifeblood of sports clubs. That is why they were the first people I met when I took on this role. I met representatives from the Football Supporters’ Association as well as a number of club supporters’ trusts. I listened to their perspectives, because their needs must be understood and protected and should be central in any decisions we take. That way, we can ensure a sustainable, thriving future for sport in this country.

As part of the Government’s ongoing work on football regulation, we are committed to breaking the cycle of inappropriate ownership, financial instability and poor governance practices. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme in congratulating and thanking our hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for the amazing work she has done with her review.

However, engaging with fans’ groups goes wider than that, and the growing interest in, and promotion of, cryptoassets issued by sports clubs should clearly keep fans at the forefront. The enthusiasm of fans for sports memorabilia and collectibles is not new, and it is no surprise that this enthusiasm remains undimmed in the digital age through new technologies. It is clear to see that there is a hugely positive potential for cryptoassets in a fan market, with such a latent appetite for merchandise, memorabilia and other opportunities to show one’s colours.

A number of sports clubs and competitions have taken early steps into partnerships with cryptoasset businesses, or in developing their own assets. As we have heard, fan tokens have the functionality of making fans feel more immediately involved in their clubs on a digital platform by giving them a vote on matchday music or entering them into draws for signed shirts. Non-fungible tokens bring traditional collector opportunities into the 21st century, with opportunities to purchase digital cards. That can be at club level or relate to evolving digital assets that chart a team’s progress, such as the recent product launched by the sponsors of the 2022 World cup. Sponsor relationships can be as responsibly explored as any other corporate partnership—none of these alone represents a significant risk that needs to be mitigated—but as we have heard today, not all projects launched by the sector thus far have delivered on their potential or done so in a transparent manner.

As I have said, any promotions of cryptoassets in sport should have fans’ interests at their heart and must be transparent about any risks, and the sector should be mindful of that as it looks to further develop its digital offers. Cryptoassets should not be viewed in isolation from their wider relationship with a club’s fan base and our normal expectations of responsible corporate relationships. It is reassuring to see that clubs are being held accountable on that point—for example, as we have heard, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that some of the adverts promoting Arsenal’s fan tokens through their partnership were “misleading” and “irresponsible”, with insufficient warnings of the risks involved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme mentioned the incredibly damaging collapse of Football Index, which is an example of the four main problems that he has highlighted. Our independent review into the regulation of Football Index identified lessons to be learned by the Gambling Commission and the Financial Conduct Authority. The commission has taken action, including strengthening its approach to novel products.

As we have heard, cryptoassets can come in many forms, ranging from cryptocurrencies to non-fungible tokens. It is important to note that the Government are taking action on the regulation of cryptoassets and their promotion. In July, the Government set out our vision for the future of the financial services sector, which included a plan to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of technology and innovation. That was one of the four key components of the vision, with the ultimate aim of building a financial services sector that continues to be one that the rest of the world looks towards.

The global and UK cryptoasset markets have evolved rapidly in recent years. In 2021, the FCA estimated that 2.3 million people in the UK hold cryptoassets—up from 1.9 million in 2020. The Government see enormous potential in this innovative market, which needs to be carefully balanced against the risks. We have set out our firm ambition to make the UK a global hub for cryptoasset technology and investment. We want to ensure that firms can invest, innovate and scale up in this country, and we have announced a number of reforms that will see the regulation of cryptoassets and aspects of tax treatment evolve. Our clear message to cryptoasset firms is that the UK is open for business, and these announcements are in line with our objective to create a regulatory environment in which firms can innovate while, crucially, maintaining financial stability and regulatory standards, so that people can use new technologies both reliably and safely. That is essential for continuing confidence in the financial system.

The Government established the cryptoassets taskforce in 2018, consisting of the Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority. The taskforce’s objectives include exploring the impact of cryptoassets and the potential benefits and challenges of distributed ledger technology in financial services, and assessing what, if any, regulation is required in response. To protect consumers, the FCA has banned the sale of cryptoasset derivatives to retail consumers. The Government launched a new anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing regime in this area in 2020. The Government will continue to monitor the wider cryptoasset market and stand ready to take further regulatory action if required.

The Government are taking action on the regulation of cryptoasset promotions. In January 2022, the Government published a response to a consultation on proposals to bring certain cryptoassets into scope of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Financial Promotion) Order 2005, which would ensure those promotions are fair, clear and not misleading. The measure aims to improve consumer understanding of the risks and benefits associated with such purchases and to ensure that promotions are held to the same standards as financial services products with similar risk.

The Government have been clear that UK authorities are committed to supporting the growth of the sector in a safe and competitive manner. Certain cryptoassets are already subject to FCA financial promotions rules. A wider array of unregulated cryptoassets, such as bitcoin, are not subject to similar regulation for financial promotions. The Government’s proposed measure to expand the scope of the financial promotion order to capture qualifying cryptoassets will bring most of these unregulated cryptoassets into financial promotions regulation. That forms part of the Government’s staged and proportionate approach to such regulation, which is sensitive to the risks posed and responsive to new developments in the market.

As is already the case in the application of the financial promotions regime, the Government set the regulatory perimeter while detailed rules for the regime are determined by the FCA. The FCA’s consultation on its rules closed earlier this year and it will carefully consider representations from firms. The Government will continue to closely monitor market developments and stand ready to take further legislative action if required.

In summary, the cryptoasset market is an emerging and rapidly evolving one. This innovative market has huge potential, but that must be balanced against the risks. The Government are actively monitoring the cryptoasset market and stand ready to regulate where necessary. The same is true for cryptoassets in sport. There is potential for cryptoassets to enhance fans’ experience of sport and make them feel more a part of the clubs they love. However, their use by clubs must be responsible and transparent about any risks involved.

I absolutely recognise the four main problems that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme highlighted. Misleading promotion, consumer protection, due diligence and fan engagement are interconnected factors that must be considered and addressed in the context of cryptoasset promotion in sport. The Government are happy to engage with the FCA and others on these issues in relation to our work on football governance and in respect of sport more broadly.

The Government will continue to monitor the use and promotion of cryptoassets in sport and will factor this into our considerations around the wider market and its regulation. I will certainly raise the important issues that have been highlighted today with my Treasury colleagues. I assure the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that I will ensure that the issues for Northern Ireland are highlighted. I will come back to the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) on the current legislative options that may be available following the meeting I have with him.

I knew that I would be asked about the publication of the White Paper. As I said last night, it is a priority for me. I get how important this is to fans. I hope the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) will understand that, as a new Minister, it is important that I get this right and take the time to consider all aspects that have been raised. We are committed to reform, and that will come. Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme for leading this very insightful debate. He has certainly given me even more to consider as I make preparations for the White Paper.

It was a pleasure to speak in a debate where everyone seemed to agree with me, which is fairly unusual for this place. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his kind words. He is right to emphasise the impact on our constituents. That is always at the heart of his speeches, whatever the topic—and he speaks on a number of topics. He is right that the public interest point, which I drew out in the quotation from our evidence session, should be at the forefront of what we are doing. It really is about the public interest, and the public interest in this case means the fans.

I am grateful to the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), particularly for highlighting that huge growth figure—from $25 million to $600 million in one year. Goodness only knows where it will be next year, though perhaps it will go the other way, given the scale of the crash that has been happening. He also gave us another example of a company going bust—the one that sponsored Rangers and Hibernian. The truth is that there are plenty of examples. I had to cut so many from my own speech. They are all equally jaw-dropping in their way. I focused perhaps on some of the better known clubs and examples.

I thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), for what he said. He is right that it is all very well our criticising the crypto firms, but it is really the clubs that we should be talking about. They should be in it for more than the money. They represent heritage and communities, and they really need to think carefully. Likewise, the Premier League needs to think carefully about what it does, because it is the custodian of the top flight of the game, and the FA is the custodian of the whole game. It too needs to think about what it does in this space.

I thank the Minister for his kind words. He is right that my motivation is that everyone should enjoy sport safely, but my secondary motivation is that clearly we will look back in two years’ time and say, “How on earth did that happen?” It is a potential scandal unfolding in real time, and it is for us as Members of Parliament to do and say something about it, which is what I am doing today. I hope that the Treasury does bring forward both the regulation and the consultation that it has promised. In the answer that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) gave the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) on 22 July, it promised a consultation and legislation this year on this topic.

I look forward to the White Paper, and I hope that the Minister will find some space for crypto in it, and that he will perhaps work with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) on that. I hope that he uses his good offices to speak not only to the Treasury but to the Premier League, the Football Association and so on to emphasise that they need to do more in this space.

I thank my staff for helping me put the speech together. It has been over two months in gestation, given the delay. I also thank everyone who took the time to speak with me, including football clubs, some of the crypto firms themselves, and in particular Joey D’Urso and Martin Calladine, who have been extremely helpful. They have been completely on top of this topic as journalists for a long time. The work that they have done has obviously informed my speech and those of many Members present. It is really important to have people standing up for fans and doing that hard work in the sports sector, so I pay tribute to them.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered cryptoasset promotions in sport.

Sitting adjourned.