Wednesday 9 November 2022
[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Huntington’s disease.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson, and to see the Minister in her place. I thank all the Huntington’s disease organisations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the vital work they do and for the help and expertise they have given me in preparing for this debate. Back in May I tabled early-day motion 72 on Huntington’s, and I am really grateful for the support it received from Members on both sides of the House. My colleague Jackie Baillie tabled a similar motion in the Scottish Parliament, which I am told secured record support. I should also declare that my interest in this subject is the direct result of knowing someone who has the disease.
Huntington’s is a rare genetic neurodegenerative disorder that, over time, basically stops the brain working properly. It affects some 8,000 people in the UK, but around 32,000 people are living at risk of developing it for the simple but deadly reason that Huntington’s can be passed from generation to generation. This means that a diagnosis of Huntington’s does not just affect the person who has it; it also affects their children, who have a one in two chance of carrying the gene. There is a predictive genetic test to find out whether someone has the faulty gene that causes the disease, but I am told that on learning of, say, their parent’s diagnosis, the vast majority of people do not want to know and prefer to travel in hope. For all those reasons, it is a devastating diagnosis, because there is no cure, and there is only limited palliative care.
Imagine for a moment the questions that go through somebody’s mind when a loved one gets the diagnosis. How long has my spouse or my parent got? What is going to happen when they can no longer look after themselves? Which of our children has it? Should we tell the rest of the family? Will my loved one’s personality change, so that they end up shouting at me or even assaulting me? In many ways that is probably the most difficult thing to cope with, because we are losing the person we love not just physically but emotionally. This horrible disease makes them no longer the person they once were, and there is nothing—absolutely nothing—we can do about it.
It is very hard fully to convey what this means, so let me quote a letter I have received from someone who writes of
“being forced to witness the agonisingly slow degeneration of someone you have known and loved for nearly forty years, and how hard it is to keep remembering the person that they once were. That man—a loving, supportive spouse and utterly devoted father—was erudite, kind, attentive, with a wickedly dry sense of humour. He bears little resemblance to the unsteady figure with unclear speech, alternating between bouts of aggression, anxiety and apathy, with whom I now share my home. A once reserved man has turned catatonic; a wry observer of others has become angrily anti-social; a discerning critic is now profoundly negative about almost every activity and person, including his own personal and work history and, too frequently, his loved ones. There are days when he resembles his old self but these periods are briefer and more spread out than they were.”
That is what sufferers and their families have to live with.
The symptoms of Huntington’s are many, and the list I am about to give is by no means exhaustive. They include early onset dementia; difficulty concentrating; lapses of memory; cognitive decline; depression; anxiety; obsessive disorders; psychosis; stumbling and clumsiness; involuntary jerking or fidgety movements of the limbs and body; difficulty moving; mood swings; personality changes; irritability; apathy; disinhibition; problems swallowing, speaking and breathing; fatigue; loss of weight; incontinence; and sexual dysfunction. In the later stages, full-time nursing care is needed.
I am immensely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I congratulate him on securing the debate. He is speaking very movingly.
One thing that has been emphasised to me is how important it is to remember the carers—particularly the family carers—affected by this condition. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will join me in impressing upon the Minister the importance to families who are going through this experience of granting the facility of respite care for family carers at a time of real carer shortages.
I am profoundly grateful to my right hon. Friend for attending this debate, and I agree completely with what she has said. I will come to the question of the needs both of people who have the disease and of those who care for them.
In short, those affected will lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink, make rational decisions and care for themselves. Partners and children are turned into carers, and children know that they themselves have a 50% chance of going through what they see unfolding in front of their eyes—a prospect that often results in self-harm, low esteem, low confidence, low mood, anxiety or depression.
Professionals, and indeed families, can sometimes mistake Huntington’s for other conditions such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. That is especially true when the family has no idea that Huntington’s exists in their family, and those living with it face a great deal of stigma and discrimination. It is not uncommon for a loved one to be wrongly accused of being drunk or on drugs due to their symptoms. The symptoms can start at an early age, and about 5% to 10% of sufferers experience them before the age of 20, although they usually appear between the ages of 30 and 50, and some 10% of sufferers develop them after the age of 60. The average survival time from first onset of symptoms is about 15 to 20 years.
Needless to say, people living with Huntington’s and their families face extraordinary challenges in their lives because the condition affects everyone who comes into contact with it: those experiencing symptoms and their families, those who have tested positive but do not yet have symptoms, and people at risk of developing it. Even those who test negative can suffer from survivor guilt, and in some cases might be ostracised by their families.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. As he is demonstrating, this debate is about raising awareness of the challenges, and I know from the constituents I have heard from that that is one of the key things that family groups would like to see happen. Even though health is a devolved matter, there is a consensus across the parties and throughout the UK that more needs to be done to ensure access to specialist services and to improve clinical research, and there are examples of collaboration, such as that between the University of Glasgow in my constituency and University College London.
I say to my hon. Friend, which he is on this occasion, that I am grateful for his attendance today and I agree with every point he has made. I will discuss research towards the end of my speech.
Young people who grow up in the shadow of Huntington’s face daunting choices about genetic testing and whether to start a family. Should a young person tell a new partner about the condition? When should they tell their partner? How will the partner react? Many young people care for relatives while worrying that they will get the disease themselves. A Huntington’s family member put it like this:
“Huntington’s is a thief that slowly steals your body, energy, health, family, friends and the person you used to be.”
Last year, a community survey undertaken as part of the Huntington’s Disease Alliance UK and Ireland Family Matters campaign—that is quite a title—found that 98% of carers felt that Huntington’s had negatively affected their loved one’s emotional wellbeing; 88% said the disease had changed their relationship forever; and 70% went so far as to say that the impact had been either extremely difficult or life ruining, saying, “It has ruined our lives.”
The disease has a huge effect on family finances and on the ability to work of the person and those who care for them. Sufferers eventually cannot hold down a job, their carer may have to give up their job to look after them, and all the while the bills mount. Income support and financial assistance to meet the cost of equipment and home adaptations is available, but it is limited and difficult to access. That is particularly the case for someone with Huntington’s who does not yet display physical symptoms, and is therefore incorrectly believed not to be symptomatic and not entitled to financial support. That means that people who display only the less visible symptoms—say, mental health or cognitive ones—cannot get the help despite their debilitating effect. That cannot be right.
I add my congratulations from the Government side to the right hon. Gentleman on securing this debate and raising awareness of this appalling condition, and on his very powerful speech. He is talking about the support services available to the families and victims of this disease; because there is no national guidance, that is now a matter for the individual integrated care boards, which have replaced clinical commissioning groups. Does he agree that one of the outcomes of his securing this debate might be that the Minister commits to at least consider encouraging the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to establish national guidelines to ensure consistency of support throughout the country?
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point; he anticipates my argument exactly. I and many other people think that is exactly what ought to happen for the very reasons he set out.
What needs to be done and how can the Minister help? That is why we are here today. First, we have to raise awareness of the impact of the disease and the suffering of those with it and their families. By acknowledging what it is and talking about it, we can help families who all too often choose the path of silence and shame because they do not want to talk about it to anybody else. We should say with one voice that no one should have to carry this burden alone.
Secondly, families need more support, including financial help and better care. There is some wonderful expertise in hospitals and a number of centres of excellence throughout the United Kingdom, including the Huntington’s Disease Centre at University College London, but outside those specialist centres it is a different story. At the moment, it is hit or miss; it was put to me recently that it is more miss than hit in areas without specialist support. Social care is of course vital to help those with Huntington’s to manage day-to-day life. The cost of private care for someone with Huntington’s can amount to thousands of pounds a week—who can afford that? Some councils provide specialist care homes, but not all.
Let us begin by having a care co-ordinator—a Huntington’s disease specialist—in every community to help to identify and keep in regular contact with Huntington’s families in their area and guide them through the range of support that they need to meet their requirements. They would also help to improve understanding of the disease on the part of other health and social care professionals. It is hugely complex, and how it presents itself and the sheer scale of support that sufferers require are much misunderstood.
I thank my right hon. Friend for securing this debate. As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on rare, genetic and undiagnosed conditions, I am glad this issue is being discussed. He has powerfully explained the difficulties. According to a Genetic Alliance UK survey, 71% of those with rare diseases co-ordinate their own care, and that is often the case for people with Huntington’s. Does he agree that it is really important that framework priority 3 of the rare diseases framework is used effectively to improve the co-ordination of care and make the situation much better?
I agree completely with my hon. Friend and congratulate her on her work chairing that all-party group.
There is a need for a Huntington’s disease clinical lead in every area, which is not the case currently. We need consultants in psychiatry, genetics or neurology who can run clinics in collaboration with a local care co-ordinator or Huntington’s disease specialist. As my hon. Friend identified, in the absence of that, carers carry a heavy load. Let me read what another person wrote to me:
“We learn to be our loved one’s nurse, dietitian, speech and language therapist, risk assessor, health impact assessor, cognitive ability trainer, physiotherapist, medicine dispenser, advocate and care manager, amongst many other things.”
That is one carer talking about their experiences. Those words reflect the fact that access to the right support is limited and varies across the UK, even though we have had commitments in the past decade, including the UK rare diseases framework in January last year.
Thirdly, we need better access to mental health services and support. I asked the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about this in a recent written parliamentary question, and the answer said:
“Access to mental health services is based on clinical need, including for people with organic brain disorders such as Huntington’s disease.”
I must tell the Minister that I have been advised by the Huntington’s Disease Association that some mental health trusts exclude people with organic brain disorders, regardless of their presenting symptoms. If that is the case—I am sure the Minister will check after the debate—such practice would be at odds with what I was told in that answer. If that is the case, it cannot be right, because patients who experience mental health problems—those who are, for example, profoundly depressed or suicidal—need help regardless of the reason for their experiencing those symptoms. We need good support everywhere.
Fourthly, to come on to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), we need NICE to produce specific guidelines on the treatment of Huntington’s disease, because there are currently none; that is in marked contrast to the situation for motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, for which there are NICE guidelines that have helped to improve treatment. Scotland already has a national care framework for Huntington’s, which was developed by the Scottish Huntington’s Association and funded by the Scottish Government. It makes clear that all NHS boards must have a Huntington’s clinical lead and an adequate number of Huntington’s specialists to support the local community. I am told that the majority of boards, although not yet all, now have such posts.
Formally setting out the needs of Huntington’s families for all to see in NICE guidelines would surely be beneficial to the whole UK. I anticipate that the Minister will probably argue, in response, that
“There are no current plans for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to develop a guideline on Huntington’s disease”,
“NHS England is developing a neuropsychiatry service specification”.
I say that because that is what she said to me this week in answer to another of my written parliamentary questions. If that is still the Government’s position, I urge the Minister to think again.
Huntington’s disease is not just about neuropsychiatry. It is frankly so unique, it has such a complex range of symptoms and the challenges that it presents are so difficult, that all the UK’s Huntington’s disease organisations together believe—and I agree with them—that there is an overwhelmingly strong case for the development of NICE guidance on Huntington’s that can support the care and management of patients and help to avoid the unwarranted variation in diagnosis and care that currently occurs. Apart from anything else, there are many clinicians and nurses who, on first encountering someone with Huntington’s disease, have to admit that they know absolutely nothing about it—they have never seen it before. That is another powerful argument for NICE guidelines: they would set an expected standard and be backed up by NHS England, and sufferers and their families could draw attention to them if the services offered in their community fell short.
Fifthly, there is a specific issue related to our armed forces. Those who are known to be carriers of the gene are normally graded medically unfit for service, as are candidates with a proven immediate family history of the condition, unless they are known, as the result of a genetic test, not to carry the gene. By contrast, I am advised that some individual police forces do recruit candidates with the gene, but ask them to undergo a yearly meeting with a neurologist and have an MRI scan as a form of MOT.
I was encouraged by the answer to my written question to the Secretary of State for Defence, because it said:
“If there is clear evidence that a candidate is unlikely to develop Huntington's disease during a Service career”—
that can be as short as eight or 10 years, although it can be longer—
“then they may, on a case by case basis, be considered medical fit for service.”
I ask the Minister simply to pass on my words to the Defence Secretary, in the hope that young people in particular aged 16, 17 and 18 who have always dreamed of a military career will have the chance to fulfil their dreams.
The final thing I want to raise is research. Recently, we have seen the development of covid vaccines. We remember how antiretrovirals were created and turned HIV from a terminal illness into a disease that can be lived with. Science, as we know, has an astonishing capacity to change lives. As I said earlier, there is currently no treatment for Huntington’s, but scientists have identified the gene, and that leads some people to argue that Huntington’s is—this is a wonderful phrase—the most curable of the incurable diseases. That is why lots of research is going on—because the gene is known—and about eight or nine pharmaceutical companies are involved.
The disease is caused by a faulty protein, and Huntington’s-lowering drugs, as I think they are called, aim to tell cells, “Make less of that.” That is sometimes referred to as gene silencing. There have been drug trials, including the Roche GENERATION-HD1 study, and the UK trial sites included Leeds—where my constituency is—Glasgow, Aberdeen and Cardiff. Unfortunately, last year that trial was halted, which was a terrible shock to the global Huntington’s community. However, the treatment that was being tested is to be investigated in a new trial with a different cohort of patients, and other trials are looking at easing the impact on cognitive impairment. Yes, there have been setbacks, but there will be further trials. Other scientists, with very powerful microscopes, are peering at the make- up of the sticky proteins—if I may use that phrase—that seem to be associated with this disease, but also with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
I thank all the scientists who are searching for ways of lessening the impact of this awful disease and, ultimately, for a cure, as well as all those who participate in the trials, because, when a treatment does come, we will remember them as the pioneers who made it happen. I am sure that the Minister and all of us here today offer our best wishes to the scientists and researchers, hope they have every success on their journey and want to encourage them—including, where necessary, by providing more funding—in order to speed us towards the extraordinary day, which the scientists are confident will eventually come, when the awful shadow of this disease can be lifted from those who feel so helpless today. Until that day dawns, we must unite in our resolve to ensure that the families and their loved ones who have this appalling disease visited upon them have the support they need and deserve, regardless of where they live in our United Kingdom.
It is always a pleasure to speak in this Chamber. As the DUP health spokesperson, I wanted to add my contribution today. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on setting out the case so well and on doing so from a passionate, intimate and obviously knowledgeable point of view. It was hard to listen to some of the things he said, not because he does not put them over right, but just because, when we hear the emotion in his voice, we understand that he has a very personal interest in this subject. So, again, I thank him personally, as I think we all do in the Chamber today. I just want to add my contribution and, as I always do, to give a Northern Ireland perspective.
This is a difficult subject to deal with. As the right hon. Gentleman said, this disease does not just affect the person who has it; it can potentially affect the children as well. I think that makes things harder, because if someone has any doubt whatever as to whether they carry the gene, that will impact what they do when it comes to marriage, having children and having relationships, but also what will potentially happen to them in the latter part of their life. Therefore it is important that we take the right action to make our services better, and that is what we want to try to do.
May I say what a pleasure it is to see the shadow Ministers, the hon. Members for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), and to see the Minister in her place two days running? We are doing well here, so we are. The Minister tries extremely hard to answer the questions that we put forward, so I thank her for that. I am very pleased to see the Labour shadow Minister—a fellow Leicester City supporter—in her place. We won 3-0 last night, which was a good result. That is by the way and nothing to do with this debate; it is just for the hon. Lady and me to glory in that victory, as we do, personally and collectively.
We need to have better mental health services for patients suffering with this disease and to encourage more funding into research. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central was right about the importance of research; I will comment on research later, but he was right to mention the need for it. In a way, this debate follows on from some of the questions about research in the debate on pancreatic cancer that I secured in Westminster Hall yesterday. We have to focus on research in a deeper and stronger way, and I look forward to hearing the comments of others about what we can do for our constituents.
Health is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland and is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I want to sew a Northern Ireland perspective into the debate. I will replicate the perspective heard in the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, and talk about what we in the United Kingdom need to do in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I look forward to hearing from my friend and colleague in the SNP, the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar), who always makes a significant contribution on health issues.
Huntington’s services across the UK lack efficiency and funding, especially in Northern Ireland. That is not the Minister’s fault, but it shows what this is all about. One of my constituents made me aware of the fact that there are only two Huntington’s-qualified nurses across the whole of Northern Ireland—for a population of 2 million. Wow! It shocks me to the core when I read that and have to convey the situation in Northern Ireland. As a result of the right hon. Gentleman raising my awareness of this matter, I will take a deeper interest in it from a Northern Ireland perspective. I will follow this up with Robin Swann, the Northern Ireland Health Minister.
In that population of 2 million, the rate of Huntington’s has increased from 6.4 people per 100,000 in 1991 to 12 per 100,000—almost doubling over that period of time. Approximately 223 people have been diagnosed with the disease back home, leaving many with the possibility of getting it genetically. That is one of the worst things: someone could be carrying the disease without knowing—this rare condition is also known as the disease of families.
The hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), who has left her place, is the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on rare, genetic and undiagnosed conditions. Huntington’s is a rare condition, and sometimes the symptoms are not as prevalent, making it even more essential for people to be aware of them. I would subscribe to the hon. Lady’s line of thought that this should be categorised as a rare disease: statistically, the numbers suffering from this disease are not large, and it is rare in the effect that it has. Government have a policy to deal with rare diseases, so maybe it is time to consider this as one of those, Minister.
Huntington’s Disease Association Northern Ireland has been instrumental in providing support for families—it is not all doom and gloom in Northern Ireland for the families and those who support them. The association has a lovely motto: “Families at the heart of all that we do”. That conveys the importance of what it does, bringing families together so that they can help and reach out to each other. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central referred to that point, and I would reiterate it.
The organisation offers care to loved ones and encouragement throughout the process. Not only that, but it provides hope for those dealing with Huntington’s. Currently, 15 clinical trials of different treatments are under way. We should take some encouragement from that and have hope of a cure. With 15 clinical trials taking place, there is hope that one day soon—not too far away—we will have a cure. If we have that cure, we can deal with these issues better personally.
Sorcha McGuinness of HDANI has stated that, by the late stages of the condition, people will require 24-hour care, as the right hon. Gentleman referred to. They will be unable to move, speak or sometimes even swallow. Other diseases we have spoken about, such as motor neurone disease, are similar.
The hon. Gentleman is speaking movingly and powerfully. Members will be concerned when we hear from constituents who are being refused personal independence payments. The procedure that applicants—people with Huntington’s disease and their families—have to go through to get PIP, to which they are entitled, is almost a test of their perseverance. As MPs, many of us have to deal with these things, but there must be a better way of dealing with families affected by conditions such as Huntington’s. Given what they are likely to need and that their care needs are so great, we must find a better way of dealing with this issue.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention, which clearly outlines another issue. It is not always health alone that is an issue; it is also about not being able to work again, as the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said. There is the financial impact on families. There is going on to benefits, which are probably alien to those applying. The system needs a wee bit more compassion for those who are under financial pressure. When they state that they have Huntington’s disease, the reality of what that means should figure in how they are helped through PIPs and other benefits. More often than not, we—elected representatives—come to an acknowledgment and knowledge of those matters through constituents who apply for PIPs. We understand a bit better what they are doing. There is one lady in my office who does nothing but benefits—five days a week. That gives Members an idea of the magnitude of this issue. The right hon. Lady is right, and I thank her for her intervention.
As the disease becomes increasingly debilitating, there is a need for more trained specialists in it. I ask again the question asked by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, and we look to the Minister for help: what can be done, and what is being done, to increase the numbers of trained nurses? The disease affects the whole of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so what discussions has the Minister had, or will she have, with the devolved Administrations to ensure that there is a universal strategy for moving forward that encompasses us all?
A nurse who is qualified in Huntington’s plays a key part in the patient’s life, as the link to mental health. Physically, the patient’s body is dying—that is what is happening. Mentally, the disease affects them with anxiety, depression and all those issues. They feel it as it overtakes them and as their bodies decay. The nurse is also the link to neurology, GPs, social services and occupational therapy. I come back to the comment about PIPs made by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts). When our staff fill in PIPs forms, we look at how occupational therapy can add aids that help patients around the house. There is only so much that can be done for Huntington’s, and perhaps other diseases, but there is a key role for the occupational therapist in helping families to deal with it, whether that means a bed downstairs, an extension to the house or a walk-in shower. At certain stages of the game, of course, those things will not help, but perhaps early on they can.
In the area covered by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, which includes my constituency, patients are referred to the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust specialist nurse, and the cost is covered by the Health and Social Care Board. Patients living in the western, northern and southern trust areas in Northern Ireland have no access to Huntington’s disease specialist nurses. Some sufferers have described the condition as a vacuum of silence—that is what it is. They feel almost isolated—on their own—and they are very much dealing with all the issues without help. When people are living in complete isolation, with no assistance, it is important that there is someone they can turn to.
Although I appreciate that health is devolved in Northern Ireland, the situation unfortunately remains the same in the rest of the UK, as the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said and as others will as well. There is no equality of care, and Huntington’s disease patients still feel left behind. Through this debate and through awareness raising, we must try to address that. If the number of people diagnosed with Huntington’s disease continues to rise, the Government must review its status as a rare disease. I said that earlier on, and I say it again. Perhaps we need to move it into a priority category as soon as we can.
I look to the Minister, as I will continue to do whenever she is responsible for the answers, and to her counterparts in the devolved Administrations to initiate funding for greater care for those in the early and latter stages of the disease. We referred to those 15 clinical trials earlier. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central referred to the clinical trials and how important it is to find a cure, help that research and bring new symptoms to light.
Familial carers desperately need their loved one to have professional care, so that they can seek some respite, without being sick with worry about them. They need respite care—we say that often, but Huntington’s disease is such an all-encompassing disease that it totally takes over the life of families. That respite care has to be there to give them a half-day or even a few hours off from the 24/7 focus they have. Some indication in the Minister’s response that there will be some help with respite care would be helpful.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Robertson, and to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is so often left until the end in these debates. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on securing this important debate on what is a very serious issue and on setting it out so thoroughly with his typical style and power. It is very apposite that the debate is being held today, just a few days before the Scottish Huntington’s Association has its first family gathering since the start of the pandemic, which is taking place in Falkirk this Saturday. I hope they enjoy themselves.
As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central set out so well, this is a complex, hereditary neurological condition that impacts not only individuals but entire families across many generations. There is currently no cure, and children of parents diagnosed with Huntington’s are at a 50% risk of inheriting it. In 2019, I was contacted by the Scottish Huntington’s Association, which is based in my constituency, regarding the ongoing stigma and discrimination faced by the children of parents with Huntington’s disease, due to the possibility that they may inherit it. The need to raise awareness of the challenges that individuals and families in the Huntington’s community experience is as prevalent today as it was then. Indeed, a recently published YouGov survey on the disease shows the scale of the challenge: only 37% of UK adults were aware that Huntington’s is related to the brain; only 36% were aware that it is incurable, gets worse over time and is ultimately fatal; 45% did not know that the primary cause is an hereditary condition; and, crucially, 25% had never even heard of Huntington’s.
People and families living with HD face multiple challenges, many of which have been highlighted by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central. Another issue that the SHA highlighted to me is insurance. Something that most of us take for granted can be entirely unobtainable or unaffordable for those with, or at risk from, HD.
The SHA is the only charity in Scotland dedicated exclusively to improving the lives of people impacted by Huntington’s. The organisation takes a family-centred approach, with a focus on delivering change for local communities through a team of specialist staff, youth advisers and financial wellbeing services. Their work has been not only recognised but replicated at both national and international levels as a model of excellence for the care and support of the Huntington’s disease community.
In 2015, the person-centred national care framework, which has been referenced, was developed by a multi- disciplinary expert group led by the SHA, with funding and support provided by the Scottish Government. At the core of that framework was the need for every NHS board area to have a sufficient number of HD specialists available to support families in their Huntington’s journey, as well as a Huntington’s disease clinical lead. The SHA said at the time:
“The development of this Framework—the first of its kind in the world—presents Scotland with a unique opportunity to significantly drive up health and social aspects of care and support provided to HD families throughout the country.”
I want to stress that this is entirely party apolitical: the framework had the support of all parties in the Scottish Parliament.
There are five guiding principles of the national care framework. The first is a person-centred approach:
“An approach to providing health and social care which puts an emphasis on understanding the world from each individual’s perspective.
The Person Centred Approach makes the quality of the relationship between the individual and those providing support central to the process. Understanding the emotional life of each individual is important to ensure that care can be tailored accordingly.
In HD this also includes understanding the unique ways that HD changes how someone might think or behave and adapting care around the person to take account of this.”
The second principle, which is also crucial, is a family systems approach:
“An approach ensuring that the needs of the whole family are taken into consideration.
The Family Systems Approach promotes an understanding that the impact of HD affects not individuals but entire families.”
The third principle is a biopsychosocial—that is a bit of a mouthful—model of health and disability:
“An approach that ensures that—as well as understanding the health impact of HD—health and social care staff also consider the social and psychological impact of the disease for each person.
This approach fits closely with the person centred approach.”
The fourth principle is personalisation:
“A way of thinking about delivering services that tries to design them to suit each individual rather than people fitting into predefined service ‘boxes’.”
Finally, and sadly, comes the palliative care approach:
“The active total care of clients whose disease is not responsive to curative treatment. Control of pain, of other symptoms and of psychological, social and spiritual problems is paramount. The goal of palliative care is the achievement of the best quality of life for clients and their families. Many aspects of palliative care are also applicable earlier in the course of the illness in conjunction with treatment.”
Since the publication of the framework, services across Scotland have grown significantly, and the country is now edging closer to having an HD specialist and clinical lead in every mainland NHS board. To be clear, we have made massive strides in Scotland, but gaps still exist and more still needs to be done. I really hope that lessons can be learned from that approach for the rest of the UK, or indeed elsewhere. Astri Arnesen, the president of the European Huntington Association, has said:
“The Framework stands out to me as an invaluable resource on how to deal with HD. It is exactly what we need—not just information about HD but insight on how life with HD can be and how it can be managed whether you are impacted by HD directly or a relative, friend, colleague or anyone in touch with an HD affected family. The framework manages to cover the immense complexity of the disease in a very structured and straightforward way. A wonderful tool—hereby warmly recommended for Scotland and beyond its borders. I hope it will be widely shared and used!”
The support delivered by specialist services such as the SHA can provide invaluable care to individuals and families during their time of need and can be the difference between families coping and not coping. In Scotland, about 1,000 people have been diagnosed with Huntington’s, and an estimated 4,000 are at risk of inheriting the condition. In about 5% to 10% of cases, symptoms of the disease develop before the age of 20. A study by the University of Aberdeen highlighted that the number of HD cases in northern Scotland is now five times the global average, an increase of almost 50% over the last 30 years. Those numbers are, sadly, expected to be replicated across the rest of Scotland.
The SHA continues to highlight the challenges that specialist staff face due to the significant increase in cases over the years. However, that is still not reflected in the availability of resources, with some areas having no specialist services, despite the strides that we have made.
The chief executive of SHA, Alistair Haw, has said:
“Huntington’s disease is a hugely complex, widely misunderstood, and extremely difficult to manage condition. Specialist services are not some nice to have optional extra but an absolute necessity. Given the rise in cases over recent years a commensurate rise in specialist services is now required. Our Parliaments have backed this proposition resoundingly. The time has come for Scotland’s health and social care providers to take heed, and act.”
The growing need for specialist HD services has never been more prevalent, given the ongoing increase in demand. To conclude in a similar fashion to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, the inexcusable burden placed on those caring for loved ones with Huntington’s must be addressed, in the hope of ensuring that all individuals and families impacted by the disease receive the highest quality and consistency of care, regardless of whether they live in Aberdeen, Aberavon, Ansty or Antrim. I hope that the Minister will take on board the contributions of all Members here today.
We come to the Front Benchers’ speeches. I call Stephen Bonnar.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair today, Mr Robertson. I thank the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) for securing this debate on what is an increasingly prevalent feature across our communities. He made a powerful and heartfelt contribution, and I thank him for it. I also place on record my full support for his early-day motion 72, whose aims echo those of a motion already passed in Holyrood by 98% of Members of the Scottish Parliament—we would like that sort of unity in this place—which aims to expand the range of specialist services available to all those with Huntington’s disease.
This has been an excellent debate, with powerful and thoughtful contributions. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke of the long-term impact on the life of a young person with the gene and how it can affect their whole life, marriage, opportunities, finances and all that goes with them as they go on their journey through this world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) spoke of Scotland’s national care framework for Huntington’s, and its five principles. For obvious reasons, we are keen to champion that excellent body of work, and I hope that the Minister will take note of it. I thank all Members who have contributed to this morning’s excellent debate.
Huntington’s disease is an inherited condition. It is a progressive disease that slowly leads to the loss of the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink and make decisions of care for oneself, as well as the many other issues outlined by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central. It causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. That gets gradually worse over time and is ultimately fatal after between 10 and 25 years.
We have heard that each child of a person with the Huntington’s gene has a 50% chance of inheriting this awful condition. Affected children can likewise pass the gene to their own offspring.
According to the Scottish Huntington’s Association:
“Around 1 in 5000 people in Scotland has Huntington’s disease”,
which means that about 1,100 people are living in Scotland with Huntington’s disease,
“and an estimated 4,000-6,000 others…are at risk of inheriting it from their parents.”
Recent research has highlighted alarming figures, showing that the prevalence of Huntington’s disease in Scotland is almost three times greater than reported elsewhere in Europe, North America and Australia, and, as has been mentioned, is more than five times greater than the worldwide average. Those are not mere figures or statistics, worrying and sobering as they are. They are people’s lives—our citizens—and it is the duty of all of us to do our utmost to protect our people wherever possible.
With that principle in mind, the Scottish Government have released funding to allow University of Aberdeen academics and NHS Grampian Huntington’s disease clinic staff to lead pioneering research into tackling the disease. They have done so by leading on international drug trials, attempting to find ways to slow the progression of the disease and to increase our understanding of potential generational cures. The researchers have also gone one step further by engaging in close partnership with families affected by Huntington’s and working with the Scottish Huntington’s Association—we have heard much about its work already, and I place on record my thanks for it.
We must always remember that the disease is not about one individual, as we have heard. It is a cruel disease that has the power to destroy entire families. My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones through this horrible illness.
Children and young people have informed that body of work by agreeing to be interviewed about their experience of Huntington’s. That has allowed tools to be developed to support parents who face dilemmas about how, when and what to tell their children about the genetic condition. The use of such interviews is groundbreaking, taking a fully holistic approach to medical research within this field, and guided by one of the principles of Scotland’s national care framework—a family systems approach. I hope that that approach will be considered by other academics and Governments across the other nations of the UK.
Dr Karen Keenan, who conducted those interviews, explains:
“Living with a parent who has a serious hereditary degenerative condition like Huntington’s disease (HD) can be extremely difficult for children and young people. Many witness the loss of a parent as the illness progresses, whilst also discovering they are at 50% risk of developing the disease themselves in adult life.”
Families with Huntington’s disease can also face or feel considerable stigma, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North outlined. There are higher rates of family breakdown and often there is secrecy about the existence of the disease within a family. The readiness to deal with a diagnosis is so important.
The Scottish Huntington’s Association is the only charity in Scotland exclusively dedicated to supporting families impacted by HD. It does this through a team of Huntington’s specialists, specialist youth advisers and a finance wellbeing service. The lifeline service provided by the association can and does make the difference between families coping and not coping. We can all find out more about its work by visiting hdscotland.org. I encourage all to do so.
Scottish-led research has been instrumental in identifying a need for age-appropriate information and support for children and young people impacted by the disease, and a need for parental guidance about disclosure to children and young adults. Over the last two decades, studies conducted by Scottish researchers have built an evidence base that has been used to inform support services for young people across Scotland, Europe and the rest of the world. It has influenced health and training, and social care professionals in the work that they do each and every day. I am sure we would all like to place on record our thanks and gratitude to them for that work.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on the Government’s approach as we all go forward together. Cross-party support in both the Scottish and the UK Parliament is quite apparent. The togetherness in this room during debates such as this, where we are all in total agreement, is another step forward in the right direction of raising awareness of this genetic illness.
It is a pleasure to serve with you as Chair, Mr Robertson. I really congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on securing this debate. He spoke with great authority and passion, including about the person he knows. It means a lot that this place can reflect how people really feel when they have to live with this terrible disorder and the impact it has on their families.
As we have heard, it is a totally life-changing disorder, impacting on not just the person’s health but, I would argue, everything that makes them human, which is their relationships with the people they love most. We are the sum total of our experiences and memories, and our relationships with people. When someone we love loses those memories and becomes a different person, it has a deep effect on us, too. As Members have already said, it is about not just the 8,000 people who are living with this diagnosis in the UK—including about 100 in Leicester and Leicestershire, which is the part of the country that I represent—but their 32,000 children. Growing up knowing that the disease may end up affecting them too is a terrible burden.
The support that should be available needs to be very broad, and I know from my experience of working in health and care over the last 30 years that that is one of the key areas where we fall down. When so many different types of services and support are needed, bringing those all together for a very specialist and rare condition is one of the biggest challenges we face in the health and care system. As we begin to know more about diseases, particularly through genetic developments, we are going to see more and more of this in future. If we can get it right for Huntington’s, we know that we may be able to get it right for other conditions.
There are three areas that I want to talk about today. The first is obviously the critical issue of access to mental health services. Provision of comprehensive, specialist psychological care is an essential component of treating and dealing with Huntington’s disease, yet we know that access to that specialist care is limited and varies significantly across the country. Despite clear commitments from statutory bodies over many years—over the past decade, at least—the situation has improved little for families.
Research from the Huntington’s Disease Association shows that a quarter of people living with the disease are unable to access psychologists, psychiatrists and other counselling when required. I was really struck when the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said that there are only two specialist nurses for 2 million people in Northern Ireland. That simply is not good enough. Specialist nurses provide unbelievable support to families, and have the ability, knowledge and time to talk things through, so that has to change. That is part of a wider picture of significant staff shortages in mental health. Currently, one in seven mental health doctor posts and one in five mental health nursing posts are vacant. We simply cannot provide the access or standards of care that we need, including for people with Huntington’s disease, unless we tackle that problem.
As part of Labour’s plan for mental health, we would recruit 8,500 more mental health professionals, funded by closing tax loopholes for private equity fund managers and removing the VAT exemption from private schools. That would give us the extra staff we need across the board, including for people suffering from Huntington’s disease and their families. People often suffer from anxiety and depression after a diagnosis. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central talked about the impact on children and young people, who experience anxiety, depression and self-harm as a result of what they fear may lie ahead of them. We must focus on that issue.
Labour’s plan for mental health will also help to improve the quality of services, including by broadening the range of services available to those with severe mental illness. They will also require talking therapies and other interventions to help them live as well as they can as the disorder progresses. I hope the Minister will set out in detail what the Government will do to increase the mental health workforce, both in community services and in the specialist services that people with severe conditions require.
Staff shortages in mental health are a critical issue, but there are wider barriers. Many people with Huntington’s disease say that they struggle to get a specialist referral in the first place because there is a lack of awareness of the issue. My mental health trust has talked about the issues we have faced across county borders. We are developing specialist services for Huntington’s disease, but neighbouring counties are not, so it is challenging to get cross-county referrals.
The real issue is the problem of co-ordinating the care pathway for people with Huntington’s disease. People and families feel that they are in a constant battle with support services, and have to tell their story time and time again. The last thing that people faced with this terrible situation want is to battle the services.
The charities working in this area and my right hon. Friend have called for the development of NICE guidelines to ensure greater consistency in treatment and support for people with this condition. There is a very strong case for that, not simply because NICE guidelines exist for people with other conditions, but because unless something is set out for rare conditions, it is a real challenge to improve the quality of care and support. I ask the Minister to engage further on this issue with my right hon. Friend, the Huntington’s Disease Association and NICE, to see what progress can be made.
Families do not just need help from the NHS; they need help from social care too. The average survival time after a diagnosis of Huntington’s disease is between 15 and 20 years. During that time, the condition targets nerve cells in the brain, causing motor, cognitive and psychiatric symptoms that get progressively worse. The person living with the disease needs various sorts of care, including from the social care sector, but too often the burden is being shouldered by families in an unsustainable way. Many families say that, until the onset of the symptoms, they do not get the support they need. Again, there is a huge number of vacancies in social care—160,000, which is the highest it has ever been. Families have no choice other than to take on more of that burden themselves, which has a huge impact on their jobs, relationships and careers.
At the heart of Labour’s plan for social care is a new deal for care workers. It would allow us to recruit and retain the staff we need by ensuring fair pay and terms and conditions, and by improving training and career progression. We simply cannot give the families of people living with Huntington’s the support they need unless we have a properly staffed care workforce. We would also have a new partnership with families, so that they get proper information, advice and breaks, and so that we join up services and people do not have to battle their way around the system.
We cannot improve the quality of care and support for people with rare conditions such as Huntington’s unless families are equal partners. That needs to be at the heart of any future development, and particularly the NICE guidelines. The people who know how best to join up care and support are the families, because they do not see their loved one’s needs in separate departmental service silos. They do not think, “They have a social care need over here, and a health need over there”—they see their loved one as one person. We need families to help develop the NICE guidelines.
Last but by no means least, we need to touch on the financial strain facing those with Huntington’s disease. People with Huntington’s and their families tend to have lower incomes. That is often because the person has to give up work, as do their family members in order to care for them, but lower than average incomes are compounded by higher than average costs. Because of the involuntary movements associated with the condition, people with Huntington’s need higher-calorie diets, which means increased food bills. They also have to stay at home, which means higher energy costs, and extra washing is required, too.
The Huntington’s Disease Association recently did a survey looking at cost of living issues. It found that many people were cutting back on the absolute basics and were really worried about the increasing risk of debt and homelessness. Indeed, it wrote to the Chancellor about this issue on 26 October. Could the Minister encourage the Chancellor to reply to that letter? This is a pressing and immediate issue that people are facing. Members will know that Labour has called for a windfall tax on gas and oil profits in order to support struggling families during the cost of living crisis, and I wonder whether the Government will now agree to that.
There is hope for the future. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central said, there have been developments on diseases that we thought nothing could ever be done about. There is hope for scientific developments, especially in genetic technologies, but there are also things we can do in the here and now to better support families, such as improving the mental health and social care workforce, and dealing with the cost of living pressures that families face. I hope that the Minister will address those points.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on securing this debate on Huntington’s disease, and on shining a light on this condition, which we all recognise has a truly devastating impact on those affected by it and their loved ones. I also thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his speech. It is a pleasure to be together in Westminster Hall for the second day running. The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) gave a perspective from Scotland, and we also heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), which shows the interest in and concern about care for people suffering from Huntington’s disease.
The right hon. Member for Leeds Central spoke powerfully and clearly drew on his own experience, as he mentioned that he knows somebody with Huntington’s disease. It is important that we all bring to this place our own experiences, whether they arise from speaking to our constituents or from contact with family and friends, because they add to what we can do here in Parliament.
The right hon. Gentleman gave a long list of the symptoms of Huntington’s and their consequences, and described how all that can play out for individuals with the disease—agonisingly slowly over 15 to 20 years. He also spoke about what that means for those around the sufferer, not only as carers, but as family members who might carry the gene, but who might choose not to have a test and to live without knowing whether they have it. Clearly, that brings its own challenges, including mental health challenges. He made a point that I found very powerful: he said that Huntington’s is a thief that slowly steals family, friends and the person someone used to be. I am sure that rings true to people who are suffering from the disease and those who love them. I thank him for bringing the issue here, and for speaking so powerfully.
The right hon. Gentleman asked several questions, which I will come to, but I want to start from the top: Huntington’s disease is estimated to affect one person in 10,000 in the UK, so it is a rare disease. Rare diseases are those that affect fewer than one person in 2,000. While rare diseases are individually rare, sadly, they are all too common collectively. One person in 17 will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their life, and in the UK that amounts to more than 3.5 million people. We must ensure that they get the best possible diagnosis, treatment and support.
The Minister is generous in giving way. The available figures suggest that 8,000 people are affected by this truly awful disease, but in truth, owing to the problems with diagnosis that have been described, and due to stigma and misrecorded deaths, the prevalence of Huntington’s is uncertain. Will she give us a sense of what the Department is doing to secure a more accurate estimate of the figure, which would give us a better grasp of the scale of the challenge?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said, some people choose not to find out whether they carry the gene. Let me look into the hon. Gentleman’s question. I am happy to write to him with an answer.
Research is the key to swifter diagnosis, for those who want to know whether they carry the gene, and to better treatment of Huntington’s, which will ultimately give those who carry the gene the hope of better prospects. Through research, we are making major advances in diagnosing and treating Huntington’s disease. The Government primarily fund research on rare diseases such as Huntington’s via the National Institute for Health and Care Research, as well as through UK Research and Innovation. We have funded £32.6 million-worth of research on Huntington’s disease through those organisations over the past five years. Through its clinical research network, the NIHR has supported 43 studies into the disease over that period, particularly ensuring that scientific breakthroughs can be translated into treatments that will actually benefit patients. An example of that comes from researchers at the NIHR’s biomedical research centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust, who have pioneered research on diagnosis of Huntington’s disease. Their work has led to the world’s first genetic test using nanopore-based DNA sequencing technology, which may be able to diagnose even the most complicated cases of Huntington’s disease in a matter of days, instead of weeks.
As part of England’s first rare diseases action plan, published in February this year, we announced £40 million of new funding for the NIHR BioResource, a bank of genetic data that is helping us understand the genetics of rare diseases. That action plan commits us to mapping the rare disease research landscape, so that we can identify gaps and priorities for future research funding. The results of that analysis will be published in the new year. NHS England recently published “Accelerating genomic medicine in the NHS”, a five-year strategy that sets out an ambition to accelerate the embedding of the use of genomic medicine across the health service. That includes continuing to deliver equitable genomic testing for improved prediction and diagnosis of conditions such as Huntington’s disease.
Many Members spoke about the experience of caring for people with Huntington’s, and the challenges involved in navigating the health and social care system. As this rare disease has such a complex range of symptoms, people have to navigate physical and mental healthcare, and of course social care. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central called for a Huntington’s care co-ordinator in every community. The current approach to improving care for people with Huntington’s and other neurological conditions is in the NHS England neurosciences transformation programme, which is identifying and setting out what good care looks like for people with neurological conditions, and what services they need. Those findings will be used to inform and advise integrated care systems on the services that they commission. The ICCs should then commission that range of services for people with diseases such as Huntington’s, who can then better access the support that they need. However, I will take away the right hon. Gentleman’s specific request for care co-ordinators, look into the matter, and get back to him.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about NICE guidelines, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), and it is true, as was stated in the answer to his parliamentary question, that there is no NICE guideline specific to Huntington’s. In advance of this debate, I looked into that, and the expert view that I have been given is that Huntington’s sits under a recent NICE guideline on a range of neurodegenerative conditions that are grouped together, albeit that we recognise the differences in progression, prevalence and severity of those conditions. That said, I have heard the argument made by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, and I will ask again about the case for doing something more specific to Huntington’s.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about symptoms, and about mental healthcare for people with Huntington’s, as did the shadow Minister. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the mental health ramifications of the disease, which are an aspect of it that makes it so distressing and difficult for those who have it and their loved ones. People with Huntington’s should of course receive mental healthcare and support, and the Government are investing in mental health: an extra £2.3 billion per year will go into mental healthcare by 2023-24 to improve access and capacity in our mental health system. That said, I was concerned to hear from him that some people might not be receiving mental healthcare, and might be being excluded as a matter of policy, because of the nature of Huntington’s. I will take that point up with the mental health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield).
The right hon. Member for Leeds Central spoke about the Ministry of Defence. I reassure Members that the armed forces do not conduct genetic testing for Huntington’s disease in their medical assessments. That said, I am told that if a candidate knows of a family history of Huntington’s, it is for the candidate to provide medical evidence that they are unlikely to develop the disease in the service. I am aware that the genetics of Huntington’s disease are complex, and that the likelihood of an armed forces candidate developing the disease and the likely age of presentation depend on the number of repeating sections in the gene responsible for it. More repeats cause an earlier age of onset. I am sure that the right hon. Member knows that, as will other experts in the condition. I am told that, if there is clear evidence that a candidate is unlikely to develop Huntington’s disease during a service career, they may, on a case-by-case basis, be considered medically fit for service; however, the right hon. Member made an important point about young people being able to fulfil their dream of serving in our armed forces, and I will take that message to my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, as he asked me to.
Once again, I thank the right hon. Member for leading today’s important debate, and other Members who spoke in it. I too extend my thanks to the rare diseases community, including carers, clinicians, patient organisations, Huntington’s disease charities across the UK, and the researchers who work tirelessly to improve the lives of people affected by Huntington’s disease and all other rare conditions. It has been very helpful to have this debate. The right hon. Member made specific points that I will take away and respond to. Overall, it is a very good thing that we have shone a light on what people suffering from Huntington’s disease, and their family and friends, are going through. I will do all that I can as the Minister with oversight of this area to make things better for them.
I thank all colleagues who have been present—those who were able to stay to the end of the debate, and those who obviously had other matters to attend to. There has been a striking unity of purpose and resolve. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his contribution. He will clearly follow up on the point about Huntington’s nurses in Northern Ireland. I did not know that statistic. I am sure that he will do so with his normal dedication.
I thank the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), who made a really important point about PIP. It is a more general point about something that many of us will have experienced. We know what it can be like to make a PIP application. Figures for tribunal cases—I looked a couple of years ago at the figures for Leeds—show that more than 50% of people who appeal to the tribunal have the decision overturned, so we have not got that process right. To draw a parallel, if 50% of people convicted in a criminal court had their conviction overturned in a court of appeal, there would be a national scandal and outrage; yet over half of the cases that eventually get to the tribunal—after months, because there is a long delay—find that the original assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions was not correct. There will undoubtedly be people with Huntington’s in that group, so the right hon. Member raised a really important point.
I thank the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) for talking about the work being done in Scotland, and for highlighting the high and increasing incidence of Huntington’s in that part of our United Kingdom. Why that might be, and whether it is due to better diagnosis, we probably do not know. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), who talked about the constant battle. She made the powerful point that if we could get it right for Huntington’s, it will help us to get it right for other diseases.
That brings me on to what the Minister had to say. I am genuinely grateful for her response and its tone. She said that she would take things away and look at them. The Huntington’s disease community will be back. I look forward to her response, because the request for a care co-ordinator is, as she can tell, heartfelt. She is going to go away and look at it, and I am sure that is the most one can ask for, but we would like to see a result in guidance and policy. On NICE guidelines, I heard her argument, which I anticipated she would make, but I welcome the fact that she will go away and look at the issue again. We have NICE guidelines for the other conditions that I mentioned. Given the nature of this disease, its all-encompassing impact, and what we have heard, including from Huntington’s disease associations around our country, about the difficulties that people experience, the case is overwhelmingly strong for NICE guidance to be produced on Huntington’s. We shall return to that. I suppose I take what she said as perhaps a slight opening of the door.
I am very grateful to the Minister for saying that she will go away and look at the issue of mental health, and will pass on to the Defence Secretary the point that I raised about the armed services. In one sense, of all the replies to the parliamentary questions that I asked, the one to my question to the Defence Secretary was the most encouraging; he said that the services would be willing, in the right circumstances, with evidence, which I accept that candidates will need to provide, to consider recruiting those with the gene who they do not think are likely to get the disease.
I thank the Government for the money that they are putting into research. There is always a need for more funding for all sorts of research. The Minister was right to start with that, because if we can find a way of eradicating this gene, treating it, and preventing it from being passed on, all the other things that we have talked about will be echoes of the past for those who lived in an era when there was not a cure. All of us recognise that that day cannot come soon enough, but in the meantime, we need to be better at helping those who have the disease, and the families and loved ones who care for them.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Huntington’s disease.
Creative Industries: North-east
I will call Julie Elliott to move the motion, and then the Minister to respond. As is the case with 30-minute debates, there will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the contribution of the creative industries to the North East.
As ever, it is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. Today I will speak about the significance and impact that the arts and cultural sector has on our communities and on the economy and, in particular, the huge benefits that Sunderland has seen from recent developments. Sunderland and the wider north-east has always been a hub for culture and creatives. The recent growth in investment and attention shows just how significant the potential of that sector is, and gives a good indication of where we are headed. The many partnerships that the creative industries have developed in the area over the last few years have boosted the opportunities for jobs, the development of skills, and community engagement, as well as bringing people in from near and far. That benefits the local and regional economy.
The creative industries and cultural sector combined are worth just under £1.5 billion in gross value added to the north-east economy. That shows how much the sector contributes, and, more importantly, how much room there is for growth and how far investment has the potential to go. We have seen a 43% increase in the economic value of the creative industries in the north-east over the last 12 years, since I became a Member of Parliament, and a 10% increase in the cultural sector. That is at a time when the Government have cut council budgets, which has in turn been passed on to the creative and cultural sectors, and the pandemic set the sectors back across the north-east and the country.
There are some 3,500 people employed in the sector in Sunderland, and there are tens of thousands of job opportunities across the north-east. Sunderland is a city that has a creative and cultural sector steeped in history, from historic institutions like the Sunderland Empire—a landmark of the city, dating back to 1907, that welcomes over 300,000 visitors every year and attracts many west end shows—to modern collaborations such as Sunderland Culture.
Sunderland Culture, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary, was founded by a collaboration of the University of Sunderland, Sunderland City Council and Sunderland Music Arts and Culture Trust. It has delivered programmes in the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art at the National Glass Centre and, most recently, the new Fire Station theatre—the opening of which I had the privilege of attending. It is a stunning auditorium space that has created a home for many of the talented performers of Sunderland. More importantly, it has redeveloped a former fire station, which was a heritage building so has attracted heritage funding. It is beautiful to see that the bars and restaurant attached to the new auditorium are actually the former fire station. The father of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) used to work in that fire station, so it is particularly special when he visits.
The Fire Station theatre has already been host to a range of incredible events, and half of those who have come to visit the venue have been from outside the city. That boosts the local economy by bringing people into the city centre who are going to the bars and restaurants and bringing revenue. In the first four years of its existence, Sunderland Culture can boast that the city has attracted 3.5 million visitors to its venues and programmes. It has helped to host over 1,000 exhibitions, performances and events in the city and online, seen almost 40,000 school visits to cultural venues and had over 150,000 participants of all ages. That is truly an incredible achievement.
The cultural investment in the city does not stop there. We currently have the Sunderland Festival of Light down by the seafront and in Roker park—not the former football ground, but the Victorian park. There are ongoing projects, such as Culture House, a project for learning and creating that will sit in the very centre of the city. Yesterday, we also had a formal announcement of a huge new project in the city. Pallion Engineering announced that it had made a planning application for the development of a huge new production space at Pallion shipyard on the banks of the Wear. This is a sensitive subject for people in Sunderland, as we have a long history of shipbuilding in our city, but the river has changed. Many buildings have been built and the possibility of building ships on our river went when the shipyards were closed by the Government in 1988-89. Tyne and Wear Development Company, which did not need planning permission under the Thatcher and Major Governments, was created. That meant many buildings were built on our riverside, making it impossible to build ships again on our river unless buildings were pulled down. Sadly, although I totally understand the emotion of wanting to bring shipbuilding back to our city, it is not realistically possible. The opportunities in that area with offshore wind and refitting are better placed at our port, a little further down the river.
The building that is the subject of the planning permission application was built in the 1970s and closed in 1989 for building ships, although there has been fabrication work there since then. The history and the new production space are both incredible testaments to the history of our city and its contribution to the world, and also an example of the city’s future. The plans are for 500,000 square feet of creative space, maintaining the existing huge structures, with plans to have the largest covered water studio in the world. That will be a huge thing not just for Sunderland and the north-east, but for the country. There is the potential for creating 1,000 new jobs. Although during the second world war, we were the most productive city in the number of ships built, we can once again be a world leader, with the biggest water studio in the world.
Although developments are in their early stages, the plans are being led by production company Metalwork Pictures USA, Broadwick Live, Pallion Engineering and Kajima Corporation of Japan. This is a great opportunity for regeneration of an area that needs it. It is a great opportunity for the growth of our creative sector and a perfect opportunity for the development of skills and training in the local area. The wheels are already in motion in some of these areas, most notably by the opening last year of Fulwell 73’s new office in the University of Sunderland. An organisation co-founded by Sunderland-born Leo Pearlman, it has produced an incredible list of films, TV series, adverts and music videos, not least the famous Netflix series “Sunderland ’Til I Die” about our beloved football club. It is an incredibly welcome addition to the cultural ecosystem of the city, and forms part of a commitment to upskilling and reskilling in the city. That forms part of a plan to ensure that the sector continues to grow. The transferable nature of skills that have been learned in industry or in apprenticeships over to the creative sector is huge. The latest developments by big production companies provide new opportunities for local people to train and work in the creative industries.
I must also pay tribute to North East Screen, a film agency supporting local productions, helping to drive local talent. It supports incoming productions by connecting companies with crews, filming locations and a host of other north-east creatives, helping to develop the many broadcasting projects coming to the region. Last month, for example, an initiative promoting opportunities for comedy creators was announced, as the first development opportunity of its kind, giving comedy creators in the area the chance to pitch their ideas to the BBC, and gain support in bringing their projects to life. The BBC also announced £25 million investment in the region, drawing on partnerships with local authorities, working together to create growth in skills, talent and creative industry infrastructure.
The importance of public service broadcasting and its commitment to regional programming cannot be overestimated. This is another example of its benefits, in addition to the increased allocation of Arts Council funding for the 2023-26 investment round announced last week. I must at this point praise the commitment to our city from Darren Henley, who is regularly a visitor to our city. In fact, in Select Committee, he has said, “I love Sunderland.”
I believe that the success that we have seen in Sunderland and the wider region and the very good examples of collaboration will be for the benefit of the creative industries as a whole, but there is undoubtedly still much more work to do. Although local partnerships are flourishing and we are finding investment through private initiatives such as the one proposed at Pallion shipyards, per capita investment for Sunderland remains well below that for equivalent cities. There is a long way to go on the levelling up to which the Government are committed, to balance investment across the country.
I would like to ask the Minister today about Government support for skills and training to support the sector in Sunderland, the north-east and, indeed, the wider country. I am aware that there is a cross-over in responsibility between Departments, but I believe that it is the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s responsibility to make the case for the cultural and creative sectors to those other Departments. I look forward to a commitment on that issue from the Minister today, to ensure that the growth is sustained, that local people have access to the new opportunities that my city is gaining and that the benefits of the growth are shared. I also ask the Minister what plans she has to support the growth of the creative industries as a whole in the region, to ensure that schemes that bring vital boosts to the local economy are successful and have the support to be sustainable contributors to local economic growth.
What plans do the Government have to support arts training programmes, and to support young people entering the sector? Reskilling and retraining for those already well versed in skills such as construction and those trained as electricians—accountants are in demand in this area as well—is an extremely valuable resource for the creative sector. We need to look not just at bringing people through school, education, higher education and so on, but at some of those transferable skills that, with small tweaks and small training programmes, could be very effective in this area. The University of Sunderland has done an incredible job, now in collaboration with Fulwell 73, to provide an extremely high-quality training programme for young people, but the number of students starting arts courses has fallen in the last 10 years. That simply must be rectified. The value and contribution, and the potential, of the sector must be recognised.
Covid-related issues are ongoing. Many freelancers in this area of work went on to find other jobs at the height of the pandemic, because they slipped through the net of a lot of the support that was available. They have left the industry and are not coming back. We need, and the Government need, to look to see whether that can be addressed to encourage some of those people back with the opportunities that are available.
Some incredible projects have been launched in Sunderland recently, and there is potential from yesterday’s announcement, but there is still a lot of work to do. I look forward to the Minister getting behind the growth in the region’s drive to grow its creative and cultural sector, and I look forward to hearing what she has to say.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) for securing a really important debate. It is a great opportunity to showcase her tremendous region, and she has very cleverly articulated just how much vibrancy and life the arts can breathe into parts of her city that have previously fallen into disrepair or where there were industries that have declined. I had the pleasure of spending some time with my family on holiday in the north-east not so long ago, and I saw the amazing contribution of heritage and the arts to the vibrancy of the region.
I was glad recently to present to the hon. Lady’s Committee; she is a very engaged member of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. We spoke on local journalism, and I hope to write to the Committee shortly in order to update it on some of the conversations that I have had specifically with the BBC on the local democracy reporting service, which it provides. She is a stalwart supporter of the creative industries, and I am grateful for her passionate campaigning on behalf of the sector but also the place that she represents. I congratulate Sunderland on being chosen as the national e-sports performance campus by British Esports this year. I was really interested in the water studios project that the hon. Lady spoke about. It sounds absolutely incredible, and I am keen to hear more about it as it develops.
The hon. Lady is right to be so supportive of the creative industries. They are an economic powerhouse: they contribute almost £116 billion to the country’s economy and employ more than 2 million people throughout the country. Although the north-east may not have some of the biggest clusters of creative businesses, the sector there employs about 45,000 people and contributes £1.1 billion to the economy. It is built on a foundation of venues big and small, from the Forum music centre in Darlington to the Sage Gateshead in Newcastle. The Government are committed to supporting creative businesses. We supported them through the pandemic, and we are now trying to help them with future growth, because it is such an important sector to the economy.
As the hon. Lady may be aware, we are developing a creative sector vision, and we will set out our 2030 ambitions to drive even more growth and employment in those world-renowned creative industries. At the heart of that vision is £50 million of investment from our Department to drive growth across the country through the Create Growth programme, the UK games fund and the UK global screen fund. In addition, UK Research and Innovation is providing more than £100 million of funding for the Circular Fashion programme, the CoSTAR virtual production infrastructure programme and the Creative Catalyst scheme. Those investments demonstrate our commitment to supporting the industries across the UK.
As the Minister for those industries, I am always looking for new opportunities to encourage growth. On Friday, I announced the six regions that will receive funding from our £17.5 million Create Growth programme. I am pleased to say that that includes the north-east, which will be getting £1.28 million in grant funding. That will allow businesses to access a further £7 million investment fund and support to build local investor networks. Working with Innovate UK, the North of Tyne Combined Authority will collaborate with local and industry partners, including New Writing North, North East Screen, which the hon. Lady mentioned, and Creative UK to develop a bespoke package tailored to the needs of local creative businesses.
The hon. Lady rightly asked about skills. I have been advocating that agenda across the Government, working very closely with the Department for Education. We are lucky that our new Secretary of State has deep experience in the education space.
I am always keen to show that creative careers are a stable and fulfilling choice for young people, contrary to the stereotype that parents might have about them. From directors to designers, cameramen, creative technicians and, as the hon. Lady says, accountants, there are many exciting careers in the creative industries, which can be very lucrative. To target young people from under-represented backgrounds, we will relaunch the Creative Careers programme to raise awareness of the wide range of exciting careers that those industries can offer. I am pleased to say that parts of the north-east are included in our 53 priority areas, where we will be delivering this programme with our industry partner, ScreenSkills.
Getting a new generation of talent into the creative workforce is absolutely vital if we are to mitigate the reported skills gaps and shortages in the sector. A lot of people in the sector speak to me about them regularly. We also recognise the importance of providing opportunities for current workers to upskill and retrain. The hon. Lady spoke about those in the construction industry.
There is a range of technical education pathways available to enhance the skills of the creative workforce, and I am pleased to say that we have been developing a range of new qualifications that will be on the horizon, from creative T-levels in 2023 to creative higher technical qualifications in 2025. They will provide people with high-quality vocational skills training and work experience from the age of 16.
Of course, apprenticeships also play a very important role in upskilling and retraining. There are now five Government-funded apprenticeship pilots under way. We are testing new, more flexible approaches to that training pathway for our industries. It has been a particular challenge to get an apprenticeship that fits the creative industries, which use freelance work, so it can be quite difficult to get the right placements. That includes the northern apprenticeship pilot, which will be trialling 60 flexible apprenticeships across the cultural and creative organisations in the north.
The hon. Lady also spoke about the importance of BBC investment. That supplements what we are doing in the north-east. For instance, as she said, last year the BBC announced investment of £25 million in the north-east, which will support the creation of more jobs and more regionally made independent programmes. The Department recognises that the creative industries in the north-east have an enormous amount to offer, and we are dedicated to nurturing that. She also talked about the importance of public service broadcasters; we are developing a range of reforms to support our PSBs legislatively.
I also pay tribute to the great work of the British Film Institute. Through its delivery of national lottery funding between 2017 and 2022, it has played a really important role in reaching creative businesses and audiences in the north-east, delivering more than £2 million of funding in total. The north-east is just one region benefiting from what is a booming film industry, and it is great to hear some of the examples the hon. Lady has shared with us today.
I am proud and excited to say that creative industries are often at the forefront of innovative technology, with potential applications across the economy. I have recently enjoyed hearing about XR Therapeutics in Gateshead, a company that uses virtual reality to help people to conquer phobias. It was supported by UK Research and Innovation’s healthy ageing challenge to push those immersive technologies in the healthcare sector. By using the latest digital technologies in creative ways, the creative industries are trailblazers in delivering the social, economic and environmental benefits that come from innovation.
The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s £70 million CoSTAR programme is also open for applications. The programme seeks to support researchers in developing new technologies such as virtual production and many more applications. I very much encourage businesses in the north-east to look at that fantastic opportunity so that they can be much more involved in this cutting-edge work.
I recognise that, as the hon. Lady mentioned, this has not been an easy time for creative businesses. We are still working to recover after the pandemic, and the sector faced particularly difficult challenges. Although some were able to make it into an opportunity for innovation, others were not in a position to do so. The coronavirus job retention scheme did a good job at protecting the vast majority of businesses across the country, supporting just under 60,000 employees in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors. We also supported freelancers directly through the self-employment income support scheme, which received about 312,000 claims from self-employed people in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors.
The Government went above and beyond that, investing in some 5,000 organisations through the culture recovery fund, which supported both commercial and non-commercial organisations, including venues such as the Auxiliary Project Space in Middlesborough. The fund also indirectly supported freelancers by helping to ensure the survival and operations of the organisations with which many freelancers work.
On Friday, DCMS also announced that the Arts Council has kicked off its latest round of long-term investment to help creative industries grow in the regions. I am glad to hear the hon. Lady speak so positively about Darren Henley. We have been working hard to try to spread Arts Council England funding across the regions, and it is great to hear that the hon. Lady’s region has benefited. As she will be aware, we have had new investment in Sunderland Central, with the Arts Council offering annual funding of £230,000 to Southpaw Dance Company and increasing its investment in Sunderland Culture, which runs a number of organisations including the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art.
The north-east is undeniably a real hub of activity and I thank the hon. Lady for highlighting the work in her area. The north-east would not be the dynamic, innovative place that it is without advocates like her, in this House and beyond. Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has been an inspiration, working with the combined authority cabinet to develop a £16.5 million programme for the long-term recovery of creative and visitor sectors in Teesside. The pandemic has shown that we need creative content in our lives more than ever, and that brilliant package helped many businesses to survive a very difficult time.
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing forward this debate and providing an opportunity to showcase her fantastic city and all its thriving arts organisations. It is important that we continue to highlight regions like hers that are working hard to make a tremendous difference to people’s lives. The north-east in particular sets a fantastic example for other local authorities in how to support local creative industries. I am also grateful for the opportunity to set out the Government’s extensive programme of support for the arts and creative industries in the north-east and across the country.
Of course, I am aware of how difficult the pandemic was for many creative workers and how it has resulted in some people leaving the sector. We are aware of that, and we are trying to develop ways to get people back because of the severe skills shortage that the hon. Lady has referenced. I truly think, though, that the best way to bring those people back is to generate growth in the industries. That is why we are focusing a lot of our efforts on that, so that people understand the valuable job opportunities there are and the fact that they can have very fulfilling, exciting careers.
That is why, as I have set out in my speech, the Government are investing millions to support creative businesses’ growth ambitions. I firmly believe that these investments, combined with our work with the sector, will develop the right training opportunities and ensure that our creative industries and creative workers are able to thrive. I look forward to continuing to work with partners in the north-east, including the hon. Lady, to support an absolutely fantastic sector and look at further opportunities for creative businesses in the region.
Question put and agreed to.
Nature and Climate Declaration
[JAMES GRAY in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Government support for a nature and climate declaration.
Sir James, I am not sure—
Order. This is the second week in which people keep addressing me as “Sir James”; unfortunately, Her Majesty did not knight me, so I am just Mr Gray, if that is all right.
Sorry, Mr Gray; I exceeded my area of responsibility.
I am not sure that I have brought any subject to the House without having been petitioned by a constituent. In this instance, I have been petitioned by many of my constituents and by many town and parish councils. They have urged me to raise the issue of nature and climate, and they have been particularly keen to secure my backing for the nature and climate declaration.
I do know for sure what my fellow parliamentarians got up to over the weekend, but I suspect that many of us attended church services in our constituencies to mark the beginning of COP27. I was pleased to join members of the congregation at Madron church on Saturday afternoon as the church bells were rung out to welcome COP27. The service began with a reading of an old and simple psalm:
“The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.”
It seems to me that those words are a helpful reminder that we are simply caretakers and guardians of the planet we are so fortunate to live on.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate at a time when the United Nations are meeting in Egypt for COP27. I am pleased to contribute, in some small way, to the effort to get back on track on the road to net zero following the severe disruption of the covid pandemic, the race to build back after it, and the current devastating impact of Russia’s evil war against Ukraine and the resulting global crisis in energy and food security.
This debate and the declaration itself support efforts to deliver on a commitment that we made in the Paris agreement, which was ratified in 2016. We committed to affirm
“the importance of education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information and co-operation at all levels on the matters addressed in this Agreement.”
I thank the Zero Hour team, who have built up support for the nature and climate declaration over the past month. I particularly thank Ron, who cannot be here today due to traffic and transport difficulties, but I also thank Amy and Oliver, who are here; it has been such a pleasure to work with them. Their hard graft prepared the ground for the launch of the nature and climate declaration in this place last week.
This is democracy at its best, because the nature and climate declaration has been signed by nearly 2,000 UK politicians from all parties, including more than 1,500 councillors. The first of its kind, the all-party declaration has been signed by councillors, elected mayors, peers, MPs and Members of the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies. It recognises and supports the UK Government’s efforts on climate change and biodiversity, and recommends that the UK Government deal with what it calls the critical environmental risks to Britain’s heritage, communities and future prosperity by doing three things: fulfilling our fair share of emissions reductions to meet the 1.5°C target; reversing nature loss by 2030; and delivering an integrated environmental protection and decarbonisation plan. I take this issue and the declaration seriously for a number of reasons, not least because all three recommendations are in line with UK Government policy and should therefore be welcomed and accepted by the Minister.
British citizens understand that there needs to be a shift towards a healthier and greener way of life—in fact, when I stood for election in 2019, that was the idea I stood on: to work for a healthier and greener west Cornwall—but they also recognise that this aim needs to be achieved both at home and abroad. We all recognise that we have a part to play; the problem is that net zero and 2050 are not expressions that particularly resonate with the average human being, although most people want us to treat the planet better than we do now and few would deny the sizeable benefits for everyone if we focused a little more on what nature recovery actually looks like and how efforts to decarbonise will improve day-to-day living.
In recent years the Government and Parliament have made great strides in getting to grips with the sheer challenge and opportunity of delivering on environmental protection and decarbonisation, but we have failed to clearly articulate what this means for our constituents. We get too hung up on what we mean by net zero by 2050 and do not talk nearly enough about the positive benefits of improving our homes, or about the creation of the skills to do that and of skills in farming and clean energy. We do not talk nearly enough about how important farms are for food production that enhances nature and captures carbon. We do not talk nearly enough about how energy can be secure and affordable if we use a natural resource such as underground heat, the sun, the wind and tide-generated energy.
That is why I want to briefly concentrate my thoughts on how delivering on the declaration’s three recommendations is not about inflicting hardship, or placing a straitjacket on our constituencies and communities, but rather about delivering levelling up in real terms—levelling up in skills, health equality, food and energy security, mental wellbeing, and knowledge and educational attainment. I will set out how the integration of environmental protections and decarbonisation will deliver those public benefits.
When we have debated net zero previously, we have tended to alienate farmers by somehow blaming them for our carbon footprint and loss of biodiversity. I agree that over recent decades we have hungered for cheap food at the expense of the natural environment. From visiting farms in west Cornwall, however, I know that it is not just possible to do food production, enhancing the natural environment and decarbonisation in harmony; they are mutually dependent. There is not time to go into the full detail now, but the use of herbal leys, tree planting and cattle grazing has led to enriched biodiversity, improved soil health and reduced run-off.
Farms that work with nature have an immense potential for productivity and high-quality food while securing resilience in the landscape and creating a robust environment that will cope better with climate change. Farming with nature can reduce reliance on imported inputs and rebuild biodiversity by creating habitats and space for nature at scale. Farming with nature builds complexity and diversity in denuded farmland, which can sequester vast amounts of carbon and create opportunities for education, community and social recovery.
There has been considerable debate recently about food security and the Government’s intention in relation to the environmental land management scheme. For what it is worth, I would fully support the Government if they decided to channel a far greater share of ELM towards our farms to support food production, environmental health, environmental protection, decarbonisation and food security, but there are other ways to rapidly increase environmental protection and decarbonisation hand in hand. For example, there is an ambition to ramp up clean energy and clean heating, as we heard earlier from the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions.
Cornwall is fast becoming known for geothermal, which has the potential to generate energy for Britain’s homes. Sadly, because of the way the Government organise their contracts for difference auction, emerging renewable energy technologies such as geothermal, and to an extent floating offshore wind, are not getting a fighting chance. I am aware that those developing the geothermal potential have submitted written evidence to the Government’s recent call for evidence. They suggest avenues for supporting geothermal that include a new deep geothermal renewable heat incentive, a ringfenced pot for geothermal in the fifth CfD auction round, and significant reform to the current planning process. I am hopeful that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will look carefully at the case being made for emerging renewable technologies.
Cornwall is also leading the way on community ground-source heating. Kensa, a world-leading Cornish company, has now completed ground array installations for the first private retrofit street. Residents’ properties will benefit from low-cost ground-source heating, which does not require gas or oil.
In my job I am privileged, as many of us are, to see all sorts of examples of how we can integrate environmental protection with decarbonisation. I focus particularly on food and energy, which is where the pressure on households is today. I cannot tell Members how keen farmers and businesses in my constituency are to access support to clad their barns, warehouses and workshops with solar panels and to install battery storage. Penzance dry dock, which is also represented in the Public Gallery, is the UK’s oldest working dry dock and builds and retrofits ships and boats for maritime demands. That is an energy-intensive industry that looks to the Government to enable clean energy solutions in buildings and workshops.
The Government have nothing to fear from the declaration. Our communities are ahead in many ways. For example, Penzance Town Council recently committed to the future generations pledge, ensuring that every decision made, at every level, passes the good ancestor test that asks how each decision benefits our children’s children and makes their lives at least as good as our own.
There is so much more I would like to include in my speech, but I do not get any impression that the Government lack ambition or commitment in this policy area. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said as much on Monday at COP27, and reiterated it in the Chamber this afternoon. He said:
“The world came together in Glasgow with one last chance to create a plan that would limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees…By honouring the pledges we made in Glasgow, we can turn our struggle against climate change into a global mission for new jobs and clean growth. And we can bequeath our children a greener planet and a more prosperous future. That’s a legacy we could be proud of.”
The UK Government are, though, rightly under pressure to deliver on their commitment and assurances. It would be remiss of me not to refer to the fact that the Government missed their own deadline for publishing the legally binding targets required by the Environment Act 2021. Will the Minister give an indication of when we can expect those targets to be published?
Another frustration for Members in this place is that Government Departments do not necessarily work together towards the same goals. The Climate Change Committee has been instrumental in highlighting the issue and setting targets for each Department; however, we recognise that inconsistency across Government is a risk to achieving environment protection and decarbonisation.
The hon. Gentleman touches on the crucial point that the delivery of our targets is not on track because we are missing co-ordination within Government. Is it not time to bring back the Department of Energy and Climate Change to co-ordinate the delivery of our net zero targets?
There is a Committee in No. 10 that does that job, but I accept the hon. Lady’s point.
On Radio 4 last week, as I was driving back to Cornwall, Lord Deben said that we have some of the best, world-leading targets but are lagging behind in delivering on them. As I hinted at in relation to offshore winds, which affect the Celtic sea off Cornwall, Devon and Wales in particular, and in respect of the challenges around geothermal and new technologies, we need cross-Governmental work to ensure that nothing stands in the way for no good reason. On intervention by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), it would be great if the Minister could outline what joint departmental work is taking place on these intertwined issues, especially between BEIS and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Finally, will the Minister meet me, the team from Zero Hour and other interested colleagues in this place? There is so much that Members from throughout the House can do to support the Government to deliver what has been committed and to improve the way we inform and take the public with us, as we pledged in the Paris agreement. There is a real opportunity to take the public with us so that they can see the positives of what I have briefly set out this afternoon. The declaration gives us a renewed opportunity to commit to working together to achieve what we all know is fundamental to our constituents in relation to skills, health equality, food and energy security, mental wellbeing and knowledge. It is the least they deserve from their elected representatives.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this incredibly important debate; I was interested to hear about what is happening in his constituency.
As we all know, the need to act on climate change is urgent. Extreme weather events over the summer saw the UK endure record temperatures of more than 40°C for the first time—something the Met Office described as “virtually impossible” without human-induced climate change. Recently, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy urged the Government to get a grip on the major national security risks posed by the effects of climate change on critical national infrastructure such as that for power, transport, water and communications. Its note reported an extreme weakness at the centre of Government when it comes to tackling climate change.
Earlier this week at COP27, the UN Secretary-General gave a stark warning that humanity is on what he called
“a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”.
“We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing…our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.”
With that in mind, it is disappointing that the Prime Minister saw COP27 as something of an afterthought and initially decided not to attend, only to be shamed into a U-turn. He did go—that is something—but it was very disappointing that he had to be forced. It is so vital that the Government now address the climate emergency with real urgency. I note the Prime Minister’s statement in the House today, but I point out to the Minister that there are glaring inconsistencies in his current position. I would like her to respond to the points I am going to make.
It was the Prime Minister who, as Chancellor, introduced the energy profits levy that allowed energy companies to shield 91p of every £1 of their profits from the levy by investing those profits in fossil fuel extraction. The promotion of fossil fuel extraction instead of investment in renewables is irresponsible as we face the climate emergency—it is an insult to young people and future generations. Of course, in addition to that, the Prime Minister is still committed to the ban on onshore wind which, again, given the urgency of the emergency we face, makes no sense.
I was proud to support the Labour motion in May 2019 that led to the UK Parliament being the first in the world to declare an environment and climate emergency. It was incredibly disappointing that Conservative Members abstained on that vote. Labour’s green prosperity plan would establish a national wealth fund and GB Energy, a publicly owned energy company, to invest in the technologies of the future. The policy would create 1 million new jobs in towns and cities in every corner of the country and bring down energy bills, raise living standards and ensure that Britain shows global leadership in tackling the climate crisis.
Labour also has a clear plan to insulate 19 million homes throughout the country to help to cut people’s energy bills and emissions. Home insulation rates and energy efficiency upgrades have plummeted since the Conservative party took office more than 10 years ago. Why have Conservative Governments decided to slow down on home insulation? We need to see a reversal of this. I urge the Minister to set out what plans they have to get the UK insulated.
I pay tribute to the Cool Places of Worship programme in Wirral, through which places of worship are taking action on climate change as part of Cool 2, Wirral’s climate change strategy. West Kirby United Reformed Church in my constituency is part of the programme and is doing some really interesting and exciting work. I congratulate the church on its recent event to share knowledge about how people can improve the insulation of their homes and tackle climate change, because it is incredibly important that that expert information is shared with people.
Recent research by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit found that poorly insulated homes will have to pay almost £1,000 more on average than others on their energy bills this winter. Why are the Government not insulating homes on the scale Labour has outlined? The nature and climate declaration that put forward by the campaign group Zero Hour calls for the Government to ensure that the UK fulfils our fair share of emissions reductions to ensure that the average global temperature increase will not exceed 1.5°.
The Government’s October 2021 net zero strategy points to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shows that
“if we fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C…floods and fires…will get more frequent and more fierce, crops will be more likely to fail, and sea levels will rise driving mass migration as millions are forced from their homes. Above 1.5°C we risk reaching climatic tipping points…meaning we could lose control of our climate for good.”
What do the Government intend to do to ensure that the UK plays its part in doing all we can to keep below 1.5°?
Turning to the attack on nature, I pay tribute to the campaign by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. We know that there is an urgent need to protect and restore nature. As the RSPB has said:
“We need immediate action from the UK Government to halt the plans which threaten our water, air, beaches and rivers. Nature cannot wait. We need the UK Government to halt their attack on nature, now.”
The chief executive officer of the RSPB said that
“this is not the time to be pushing forward with destructive legislation that will remove vital wildlife protections and threaten nature’s recovery.”
She has called for the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill to be stopped right now, for an end to the attack on nature and for the Prime Minister to set out an ambitious plan for tackling the nature and climate emergency. She is absolutely right.
The Wildlife Trusts have raised serious concerns that, through the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, we could see the loss of important protections for nature, including habitat regulations. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will soon return to the Commons, bringing with it further risks to environmental protections. The Government have an immense responsibility in the face of the climate emergency and the environmental breakdown that we are experiencing. I call on them to introduce a bold and urgent plan to address the climate emergency, to change course and to drop their attack on nature.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this debate. Like him, I have been urged by constituents to show my support for this declaration. Like him, I welcome the strong support from church groups.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was at Worcester cathedral, meeting the cathedral’s eco-group. It was holding a fantastic green fair at which it showcased ideas for sustainable living, green skills and education, and better ways of dealing with food and energy waste. The declaration mentions, as did my hon. Friend, the importance of education and training. During my all too brief period as Schools Minister, I was proud to put the COP26 Education Ministers meeting on the agenda of the international forum for the teaching profession, thereby ensuring our attendance. I was proud to introduce the natural history GCSE, which had cross-party support in this House. I was strongly urged to do so by pupils in Nunnery Wood High School and Stanley Road Primary School in my constituency. I contributed to the Department for Education’s sustainability and climate change strategy, and it was great to stand alongside my right hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) and Bear Grylls at the Natural History Museum for its launch. I took the opportunity to visit schools that were providing strong environmental education, such as North Worcester Primary Academy in my constituency. It is part of The Rivers CofE Multi Academy Trust, which has rewritten its entire curriculum around the sustainable development goals. That is well worth looking at and learning from.
Today we have had the Prime Minister’s statement on COP27, showing that the UK continues to lead actively in this space. I was pleased to hear him say that there is no solution to climate change without protecting and nurturing nature. That has got to be right, and we understand that in the declaration. It is vital that we protect the natural environment, meaning not only the global natural environment—some of the work that the UK has done to protect our oceans is world-leading—but our domestic natural environment, through campaigning against litter in all our constituencies, campaigning to support biodiversity, and ensuring that the UK reaches the highest environment standards.
I was pleased when the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), announced that the Office for Environmental Protection would be headquartered in my Worcester constituency. In fact, it will be located very close to the Worcester woods, a fantastic area that preserves the natural environment. Although at the time Labour Front Benchers decried the decision to locate this institution in Worcester, I hope that by now they have changed their mind and realise, like Dame Glenys Stacey and me, that Worcester is an excellent location.
We are a city that has its fair share of flood risk, so we are very aware of the impact of climate change on flooding, and of the importance of nature and the natural environment in avoiding flooding. Trees do important work, particularly when planted in the upland areas that affect flooding on the River Severn, as does high-quality soil. On a visit with the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, I remember discussing the importance of soil porosity, which is supported by healthy, live soil, to avoiding flooding. I urge the Government, as I did at DEFRA questions a couple of weeks ago, to continue to engage with the Wildlife Trusts on the future of environmental land management schemes, and to support biodiversity through a strong British agriculture policy, which should play to some of the unique assets of our country, such as its hedgerows and ancient native woodlands.
I am proud of the work being undertaken in my constituency by the so-called WEG—the Worcester Environmental Group—which works with Worcester City Council and our county to support more biodiverse verges and roundabouts, and to create a fantastic new nature trail, which is linking Worcester’s primary schools with a circuit of green lanes, taking in some of the city’s oases of green space and areas for outdoor activity.
I praise all those in my urban constituency who help to create space for nature and think about how to support biodiversity. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister talk at today’s PMQs about the opportunities provided by offshore floating wind. Alongside wider investment in renewables, nuclear—which is a low-carbon technology—and hydrogen technology, that can play an important part in our journey to achieve net zero.
I agree with the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) that we need to do more on insulation. That was one reason why I supported my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) in both of the last two leadership campaigns—because he spoke about the importance of insulation during those debates. I hope that the Government he leads will come forward with more measures on that front.
Finally, as we rightly pursue the green technologies of the future, we need to be careful that we do so in a clear-headed way, which will allow our constituents to afford their energy bills and heat their homes effectively. I am concerned by the Government’s policy to encourage the complete electrification of heating, given that many of our constituents live in homes that are not yet energy efficient enough to be effectively heated by electric heating and heat pumps. I declare a constituency interest in representing one of the largest boiler manufacturers in the country, but I hope that the Government will explore carefully the opportunities for zero-carbon technologies to heat with gas, including the potential use of hydrogen. That could be an important part of the mix if we want both to keep our constituents’ homes warm and to move towards net zero.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Gray. I thank the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) for securing this crucial debate and setting the scene.
I hope you will forgive me, Mr Gray, for quoting again what António Guterres said this week:
“We are on the highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”
The world is on course for a 2.8°C temperature rise by the end of this century. Without taking action now, the 1.5°C target is unreachable, and complacency is the biggest danger we face.
Unfortunately, the UK Government are not acting with the necessary urgency. We are setting a lot of targets and having lots of plans, but we do not deliver on them. The Government have proven themselves to be climate action delayers. When the new Prime Minister was Chancellor, he cut air passenger duty on domestic flights and introduced a windfall tax that incentivised firms to invest in fossil fuel extraction. And our Prime Minister had to be dragged to the COP 27 summit this week. He was asked only today whether he would lift the de facto veto on onshore wind, but he did not answer the question. That gives rise to the question: what is this Government about?
We have just heard that we need to find solutions that are affordable. The most affordable solution for renewables is onshore wind, not nuclear. We heard last week that Sizewell C might be scrapped because it is too expensive. If the Government were serious about investing in renewables and doing it cheaply, onshore wind is surely the most obvious solution. The blindfold worn by Conservative Members is beyond my understanding.
The climate emergency is a problem not just for future generations. It is having a material impact on people now. We have seen extreme weather events cause suffering, conflict and destruction around the world—from droughts in east Africa, to bush fires in Australia. If we exceed 1.5°C, floods and fires will become more frequent and intense. Crops are more likely to fail and millions will be driven from their homes. Some politicians treat this 1.5°C target as being like a bus that can be missed because we can catch another one. We cannot miss this target. We have to keep global temperatures to less than 1.5°C or we face catastrophic climate breakdown.
The Government’s net zero strategy recognises the danger of not meeting the 1.5°C target. The Government themselves acknowledge that we might miss the target. Their own plans do not even guarantee that we will hit it, given that their chance of success is just over 50%. Our own targets, in our developed nation, might not succeed. Our Government are taking major risks with the lives of people across the world. The Government know the dangers, yet they refuse to act at the necessary pace and with the necessary focus, as shown by their refusal to lift the veto on offshore wind. It is as if there is always something else that might be more important. No, the climate emergency is now and it is the most important issue on which our Government and Governments worldwide need to focus.
Nature provides our best chance of mitigating climate change and its worst impacts, such as flooding and droughts. As nature declines, so does the quality of human life. Protecting ecosystems that regulate the climate or contain critical carbon stores, such as ice sheets, forests, peatlands, wetlands and the oceans, must be prioritised alongside cutting emissions.
The Government are not acting to protect nature as they should. The Natural History Museum has named the UK as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, and current Government policy will do nothing to improve our standing. The Government have tried to deregulate environmental protections at every opportunity, and have failed to make halting and reversing biodiversity decline by 2030 a legally binding target. At this rate, the Government will miss their commitment to leave the environment in a better state than they found it. Once again, they are not matching words with action.
I fully support Zero Hour’s nature and climate declaration, but it must be matched with more substantive action. The Government must consider supporting the Climate and Ecology Bill, which addresses the full extent of the climate and nature crisis in line with the most up-to-date science. The Bill sets out a whole-of-Government emergency plan to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels and reverse the destruction of nature. It would require the UK to do its fair share globally to cut its emissions and stay below 1.5°C of global warming. The Bill would also require the UK to reverse the destruction of the natural world, by committing the Government to restore and expand ecosystems and to ensure that nature is visibly and measurably recovering by 2030.
Will the Minister set out how the Government are measuring their ambitions and targets for 2030? We need a clear and transparent way of measuring whether we are actually delivering on what we say we want to deliver. The Government are in the driving seat, and we need answers from them.
To some, these plans might seem radical. However, radicalism is necessary in the face of the climate emergency. The time for inaction is over. This is one of our last opportunities for a decisive response. If Governments do not step up, we risk losing the battle to preserve nature and the climate.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Grady, and I am glad to have caught your eye slightly spontaneously—clearly, there is space in the debate for further contributions. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing the debate. It is absolutely fantastic to see Government Members proposing debates on this topic, as there have been recent Westminster Hall debates in which the Government Benches have not been occupied. The hon. Gentleman spoke passionately about what his constituents have said to him. Other Members said the same, and I have definitely had that experience. That is testament to the power of constituents lobbying Members of Parliament, engaging with us, making those visits and inviting us along to the parish services, nature demonstrations and woodland walks.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the church services that have been held to mark COP27. That reminded me of the many church services and demonstrations—the entire range of civil society activities—that took place in Glasgow this time last year for COP26. People from Glasgow North and across the city were immensely proud to host that conference and welcome the whole world. The momentum that was generated there cannot be lost, which is why debates such as this are so important, particularly as it is taking place while COP27 is happening in Egypt.
Many constituents have asked me to sign the nature and climate declaration, and I have been very happy to do so and to work with Zero Hour and the other organisations promoting it. On several occasions, constituents have made the journey to London to speak at mass lobby events on the Climate and Ecology Bill. The attempt to take it through the House of Lords is generating a lot of momentum, and I really hope the Government pay attention to what is said in the upper House. Not all of us are fans of the fact that people can be appointed for life to that place, but it has a role in the UK’s constitution. If the Government are serious about protecting the UK’s constitution, they need to show that they are taking the House of Lords seriously. When it debates issues such as this, it is important that the Government pay attention.
It is timely that this debate is happening during COP27. In the Chamber today, the Prime Minister was subject to some robust questioning from both sides of the House. One of the key points for the Minister to consider is that there is growing cross-party consensus not just about the need to tackle the climate emergency and the crisis facing nature, but about some of the steps that have to be taken. As we said in the debate that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) secured last week, if Members of the Conservative party want to come up with free market-based solutions to tackle the climate emergency and preserve ecology, that is fine, but the problem is that externalising pollution and damaging factors from the current economic system caused the climate emergency in the first place. We can debate how we reach the targets—that is fine—but we have to agree that the targets are absolutely necessary.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the best delivery mechanisms is local government, but the Government are not prepared to devolve power and resources to local authorities, which are often closest to the people and are where the best solutions can be found?
Yes, indeed, and a lot of local authorities are doing what they can. The city authority in Glasgow, having hosted COP, is determined to be a leader in reaching net zero and for Glasgow to become a net zero city. Many local authorities and devolved institutions have been way ahead of the Government in recognising and declaring a climate emergency. To date, we have not had a Minister accept at the Dispatch Box that the planet is facing climate emergency, and adopt that language. If the Minister were prepared to do that, that would be a helpful step forward.
A moment ago, the hon. Gentleman asked whether Conservative Members could come up with ways in which the private sector and the market can help, and I think that was a fair challenge. One of the positive legacies from Glasgow, which was mentioned in the Prime Minister’s statement earlier today, was the international climate finance pledges, and private sector organisations have got involved in that. Does he agree that that is a better approach to engendering international progress on this issue and supporting developing countries than the suggestion from the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) that we should be paying reparations to countries around the world for climate damage?
I think it is important that we address loss and damage. It is a question of climate justice, and this is a concept that the Scottish Government have embraced for many years. The reality is that those of us in the developed part of the world—western, liberal economies—have benefited from an industrialisation process that has led to the anthropogenic climate change we are experiencing. The effects of that climate change are being felt first and hardest in developing parts of the world that have done the least to cause climate change. Whether people use the language of reparation, loss and damage or mitigation and adaptation, the reality is that it will have to be paid for.
Climate change is a reality that people have to adapt to. As we said in last week’s debate, there are already significant population flows. The population flows that are coming to these islands are as nothing compared to what is happening with internal displacement of people in Africa and Asia. There are small island states that are simply not going to exist any more, but the people who live on them have to go and live somewhere, and that has to be paid for.
It is not necessarily helpful to get tied up in the language around how the finance is leveraged. There is absolutely a role for the private sector and private funding. I was very interested to attend, at last year’s COP, events organised by the Global Ethical Finance Initiative, which spoke about how the private sector can ethically, effectively and sustainably leverage funding that helps businesses grow and develop but that also tackles precisely these challenges.
Last week, I asked the Leader of the House if we could have some progress on the pledge on accessing climate finance for poorer countries. She could not answer that question. I have asked for a debate. It would be great if we could have a statement from the Government on the progress on access to climate finance.
The hon. Member is absolutely right, and I would support a bid for such a debate—I might even notify the Chair in advance that I wish to speak, rather than popping up at random.
As the hon. Member says, it is all good and well making pledges—the Prime Minister spoke many times today about the £11.6 billion that has been pledged—but that money has to be disbursed. It has to be spent effectively, and that cannot be at the expense of other development projects. Climate funding and justice have always required additionality to pre-existing aid flows. Without that, we will go backwards on progress towards meeting the very sustainable development goals that the hon. Member for St Ives spoke about, which school pupils in his constituency, as in mine, are so concerned about.
This issue has to have implications for the Government’s domestic agenda as well. The reality is that new coal and nuclear power stations are not a sustainable solution, nor a route to protecting climate or nature. In Scotland, we are very proud that 100% of our electricity requirements are generated by renewable sources. We want to continue to build on that as time goes on. That is why it is important that the UK Government, and indeed devolved Governments and local authorities, start developing a broader vision of a circular economy that has wellbeing at its heart. I am very relieved that the language of growth at all costs, which was briefly the mantra of the UK Government for 40 days or so from the start of September, has quietly disappeared. Infinite growth is simply not possible on a finite planet. While growth is an important indicator, it is not the only indicator of wellbeing, prosperity or success.
All those considerations have to fit into the Government’s thinking. A cleaner, greener future is also a cheaper and safer future. I have heard from constituents who are concerned that, in among the cost of living crisis and everything else that is going on in the world, some of these priorities—particularly those we heard about at COP26 last year—have begun to be forgotten. That is why the COP process is so important: we have that annual reminder, the whole of civil society is mobilised and Governments are motivated—including the latest Prime Minister. Actually, if we want to tackle the cost of living crisis, adopting a more sustainable approach to our energy use and our consumption of goods and so on will lead to a cheaper and safer future at the same time.
The fact that there is a certain amount of cross-party consensus behind the climate and nature declaration represents an opportunity for the Government. Support will be there for action that helps us meet our targets. The Government should recognise that and capitalise on it. The fact that we are having the debate during COP27 makes it particularly timely. We all look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) on securing this important debate. I would not normally take part in such a debate, as my personal knowledge of the matter is quite small. However, I was grateful to him for mentioning things such as herbal leys and rewilding, because I listen to “The Archers” regularly. That keeps my nature and farming knowledge up to date.
In the shadow of COP26, Scotland continues to lead on nature restoration and climate targets. Scotland has the most progressive climate targets in the world, and has had for a while: delivering a just transition to net zero by 2045, with an ambitious interim target of a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030. Scotland was the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency, and the first to introduce a climate justice fund, which has a human rights focus on helping those in developing countries, who are most at risk from climate change, to tackle its effects on the frontline.
Scotland has made great progress on our net zero journey, such as in energy supply and waste management, but further emissions cuts will involve some genuinely difficult decisions for Scotland, with significant long-term investment and behaviour change. Our schools are also playing a leading role. I learn not just here but from my grandchildren what I should be doing and what the planet needs. The Scottish Government have been a world leader in renewable energy technologies, with onshore and offshore wind, hydropower and solar meeting the equivalent of 90% to 100% of Scotland’s energy demand. That is up from only 28% in 2009.
We are making progress but there will always be more to do. The Scottish Government’s biodiversity strategy aims to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and reverse it by 2045. They have also led an international coalition resulting in the Edinburgh declaration, which urges increased international action to tackle biodiversity loss. It now has 244 signatories from Governments, cities and local authorities representing every continent. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) emphasised the need for action not just at Government level but at local authority level.
During the last Parliament, the Scottish Government exceeded the First Minister’s commitment at COP21 in Paris to provide an extra £12 million to support projects in Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda through our world-leading climate justice fund. Under the Scottish Government, the climate justice fund has trebled to £36 million over this Parliament, which aims to support those on the frontline of the climate crisis. That is in contrast to the global Britain espoused by this Tory UK Government, who have cut international aid. For example, the £3.2-million Climate Challenge Programme Malawi, which ran from 2017 to 2020, supported a select group of rural communities to identify and implement their own solutions to adapt to and build resilience against the worst effects of climate change. That contributes directly to many of the UN global goals, especially goal 13 on climate action.
The Scottish Government have provided support through their climate justice fund to not just Malawi, but to Zambia, Tanzania and Rwanda to train people in water resource management and resilience, to improve sustainable agricultural and irrigation systems, to plant 122,000 trees, to develop renewable forms of alternative farming and to fund clean drinking water initiatives. The SNP welcomed the UK Government’s climate justice fund that was announced at COP26, following the nine-year lead of the Scottish Government’s own fund.
As the world gathers in Egypt for COP27, the Scottish Government have been praised for their world-leading loss and damage funding support. At COP26 in Glasgow, they used Scotland’s role as the venue for the summit to support others in calling for action on loss and damage. Scotland became the first country in the world to make an explicit commitment to providing funding to address loss and damage in other nations. That happened 30 years on—30 years, Mr Gray!—from small island states first calling for a loss and damage fund.
Commitments followed from Wallonia, Denmark and philanthropy through the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, showing that there is recognition of the importance of the issue and an appetite to address it. The Scottish Government pledged £2 million from the climate justice fund to the project, jump-starting a further £17.5 million in funding from other Governments and civil society—a ninefold increase on the initial commitment.
Amid the flip-flopping over whether the Prime Minister would attend COP27 at all, the UK Government have not provided the $280 million they pledged to the green climate fund or the $20.6 million they pledged to the adaptation fund. Scotland leads the way in committing to loss and damage funding; it is time for the UK Government to step up.
Egypt’s COP27 presidency welcomed actions by Scotland and Denmark—two very small countries—as
“steps in the right direction”
on loss and damage. It encouraged other developed nations to follow their lead. Ahead of attending COP27, the First Minister said:
“For many countries, particularly in the global south, this must be the COP where the global north not only delivers on our promises to finance adaptation and mitigation, but recognises the need to address the loss and damage experienced by countries already impacted by climate change.”
She has committed to increasing that funding further in future.
At least 33 million Pakistanis have been directly affected by floods in rural and urban areas, after unprecedented torrential rain inundated almost a third of the country, breaking all records of mega-floods, with cumulative damages worth $14.906 billion—I have trouble saying these figures, they are so big. If that is not a call to action, I do not know what is.
The First Minister has called it our “moral responsibility” finally to acknowledge the damage done by developed nations through emissions and to contribute to loss and damage funding. Yesterday, she pledged a further £5 million of funding for loss and damage caused by the climate crisis, such as the effects of sea-level rise or non-economic effects, including the loss of cultural identity. Importantly, the funding will be in the form of grants, rather than loans, ensuring that there is no additional debt burden for recipient countries. The process will be community-led and owned.
Loss and damage is now on the formal agenda for the first time. As the First Minister said,
“this COP can mark a turning point in ensuring the views, experiences and perspectives of the global south”
are at the heart of negotiations.
The UK Government must commit—and act—to restore nature and decelerate the climate catastrophe. Scotland has asked the UK Government to increase their ambition on decarbonisation of the electricity grid and gas network and to immediately confirm support for carbon capture, usage and storage. The UK Government have not yet responded positively to those requests. Such changes would support both the UK and Scotland to meet their emission reduction targets.
The House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee stated in a report last month:
“Behaviour change is essential for achieving climate and environment goals, and for delivering wider benefits.”
“The Government’s current approach to enabling behaviour change to meet climate and environment goals is inadequate to meet the scale of the challenge.”
That is from the House of Lords.
The UK Government must incentivise instead of cutting electric vehicle access schemes such as England’s electric vehicle grant system, which has been further downgraded from £5,000 in 2011 to £1,500 in 2022. In balancing their budgets, the UK Government might subject electric and zero-emission vehicles to vehicle excise duty, which is a huge worry. The majority of fossil-fuel buses in Scotland will be removed by next year and will be replaced by green buses that are free to use for all under-22s and over-65s. In fact, the Serjeant at Arms picked up my bus pass from the Floor of the Chamber for me only last night. Scotland’s scheme is a positive way to encourage the use of public transport. Despite the Scottish Government’s achievements, the UK Government have cut bus decarbonisation funding by half, with local authorities warning that up to a third of English bus services are at risk of being scrapped. Public transport must not be sacrificed to balance the books.
I note the hon. Lady’s remarks about bus fares. In the Liverpool city region, the metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram, has introduced the £2 fare, which is having a fantastic impact on the way people travel, because it makes things so much more affordable. Does she agree that we need to see a lot more of that around the country?
Absolutely. If people use public transport and not their cars, that is a really good way to cut emissions, but the cost of public transport has been rising for quite a long time.
The evidence from Scotland’s rail electrification programme is clear: having a strategic plan on decarbonisation and sticking to it means more efficient and cheaper electrification schemes. The cost of electrification in Scotland is 33% lower per route-kilometre than in England. The electrification schemes recently announced for Scotland’s railway will mean the introduction of even more decarbonised journeys across the Borders, Fife and the Lothians, and the roll-out of innovative battery electric units to accelerate the move to a net zero railway. That must be followed by the UK Government.
A Public Accounts Committee report released last Wednesday states that the UK Government’s commitment that the public sector should “lead by example” in moving to net zero is not being met. It highlighted the poor quality of emissions measuring and reporting, among other things. If we do not measure and report, we do not know where we are. That is a challenge for the UK Government, particularly following the High Court’s ruling that their net zero strategy is unlawful.
The current Prime Minister removed the COP26 president, the right hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), from the Cabinet even before the UK’s COP presidency had ended. He stopped the Minister for Climate from attending Cabinet, and effectively banned the King from attending COP27. The UK Government have blocked plans to ease planning restrictions on onshore wind, despite its being the cheapest form of energy and key to the transition to a renewable energy future.
The UK Government must get the balance right and put the fight against climate change at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s policy agenda, as the First Minister of Scotland has done. We must all root for each other to succeed as we prepare for the worst effects of the climate catastrophe. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in answer to my questions and all the other questions that have been asked this afternoon.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Gray. I am sure that those in the know will be listening to the debate, and that your elevation to the peerage will happen very soon.
I am delighted to be here in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), who is attending the COP27 conference in Egypt at this moment, and to be able to respond to this timely debate secured by the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas)—who, I have to confess, is a friend of mine, even though we sit on opposite sides of the House. I am also pleased to welcome the Minister to her place; I think this debate is the first time that we have sat opposite each other in this Chamber, and I look forward to working with her in future in a friendly, debating way.
It will come as no surprise to anybody present, or indeed to anybody watching our proceedings, that our United Kingdom is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. That is why the case for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change, and the environmental risks to the health of the public is the challenge of our time—indeed, that is why the Climate and Ecology Bill is so important. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West is very proud to have been one of the original co-sponsors of that Bill when he was on the Back Benches, and I pay tribute to him for his work and commitment to these issues.
Halting and reversing biodiversity loss in the United Kingdom by 2030 is essential. We parliamentarians, particularly Ministers in His Majesty’s Government, must do everything possible to make sure that that promise is realised. There can be no more dithering, no more delays and no more missed deadlines: this is an emergency, and it needs to be treated as such. I am afraid that the Government are setting their baseline too low. The 30 by 30 agenda ignores the other 70% of our land. Our national parks are in a poor state of health after 12 years of Conservative Government, and our protected natural areas need far more focus and support. The fact that this Tory Government failed to meet their own deadlines under the Environment Act 2021 does not inspire much confidence that they will ever get around to meeting the 30 by 30 deadline.
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) mentioned the Office for Environmental Protection’s location. I respectfully suggest that the shadow DEFRA team did not decry Worcester as its final resting place; rather, we were surprised. We were originally told that it was going to be Bristol, but that was a U-turn by the Government—we were not surprised by that.
Nature fundamentally underpins human health, our wellbeing and our collective prosperity. By protecting our planet and preserving our environment, we deliver for all our people in Newport West, in St Ives, and across the United Kingdom. Opposition Members, particularly my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), have always understood the importance of that challenge. We view the environment through a twin lens—human health and environmental health—and we see the impact of inaction all around us, such as last weekend’s heavy rainfall and the subsequent flooding in places such as Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Hornsey and Wood Green, Chichester, Canterbury and Lewes. My hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) have been out there speaking to businesses, engaging with local councils and supporting local people, and I thank them for that.
We have seen wildfires in Australia, Africa and the United States, and—as the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said—we have seen drought in Zimbabwe, Sudan and other parts of southern Africa. This issue is as global as it is local, which is why we need to consider people living in increasingly expensive housing without proper insulation who are now increasingly dependent on prohibitively expensive fossil fuel energy. That is why a Labour Government will cut energy bills and fight climate change by insulating millions of homes and making the UK the first major economy to have a zero-emission power system, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) outlined. Moreover, when we form the next Government, we will introduce a proper windfall tax on the obscene profits of the oil and gas companies to protect both vulnerable people and our vulnerable planet.
I want to say a word about those living in communities plagued by toxic air and dirty water. Restoring nature will never happen successfully without us acknowledging that these issues disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities and the health of our natural environment. Our poorest communities are also twice as likely to live in a neighbourhood without nature-rich spaces, which is outrageous. I want our country to be a place where everyone has proper access to wild places and wildlife. In other words, delivering for the natural world requires both social and economic justice. A healthy natural world and more equitable access to nature are key priorities for us—but not just for Labour Members. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) outlined, there is growing cross-party consensus on the need to move now and to move fast, because we understand the importance of the UK doing its fair share to cut emissions in order to stay below 1.5°C of global warming.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) has been clear on this and, as a party, we have pledged not just words but a promised investment of £28 billion every year until 2030 to tackle the climate crisis and create clean, green, secure jobs for people in all parts of our United Kingdom. A Labour Government will deliver a science-led, joined-up plan to tackle the climate and ecological emergency. We have committed to a robust net zero and nature test for every policy, as well as our £28 billion a year investment pledge. We want to create certainty for business and provide leadership on the world stage. That is how we seize the opportunities for the United Kingdom, while protecting nature here and abroad.
We know that climate action must be nature-positive action and that we must halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity by 2030 for the benefit of all people and the planet. This important declaration and the Climate and Ecology Bill alongside it will be a huge step towards achieving those aims. I am delighted to have been able to participate in this important debate today.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, for what I believe is the first time. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) very much for his timely securing of this important debate. Given that it is taking place at the time of COP27, I am mightily impressed with the timing. He is an outstanding champion for his constituency, particularly on the issue of nature and biodiversity. It has been a real joy to listen to the cross-party support for nature and biodiversity, and I will set out to respond to the many questions. They strayed across many different Departments, and I certainly work across Departments, because that is absolutely what we need to do in this area.
We do have a strong track record. It is not correct to say that we are the most nature-depleted country in the world. Depending on the measure, we are 142nd out of 201. But we recognise that nature has been declining for a very long time. There are historical reasons for that, such as the pressure on land and the industrial revolution. That is why it is the mission of this Government to halt that trend by 2030, and then reverse it. Our world-leading target to halt the decline in species by 2030 demonstrates our very strong commitment. On nature, we have already implemented myriad measures to support biodiversity and to increase carbon capture through natural methods.
I noted the Minister’s remarks about how she likes to work across Departments. I am particularly concerned about the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, part 5 of which will essentially remove environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental assessments and bring in environmental outcomes reports. It kind of gives the Secretary of State a blank cheque to do what he or she wishes to do, and I am very concerned about what it will mean for the planning system and therefore for the protection of nature. Could the Minister tell us what discussions have taken place between her Department and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about that Bill? I think that it poses potentially a very serious threat to the quality and sustainability of our natural world.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, but she should be reassured when I say that there must be no regression, and there will be no regression. I have been to speak with my counterparts in BEIS recently, and we are working with DLUHC as well, to ensure that the protections for our environment focus not on the EU as a whole but on the UK.
It might be helpful to set out our record. Although we recognise that there is much more to do, since 2010 we have supported the creation or management of 175,000 hectares of priority habitat. In 2021 alone, we created over 2,700 km of new hedgerows through the countryside stewardship scheme. That is over 3,870 different agreements. There were 9,000 countryside stewardship agreements with the management of hedgerows option, leading to over 46,000 km of hedgerows. Our farming and protected landscapes programme also planted 88 km of hedgerows and delivered around 45,000 hectares of habitat improvement for biodiversity.
We have established over 100 marine protected areas, and we are now putting in place byelaws to reinforce their protection, alongside our work to launch highly protected marine areas. We have brought over 5,800 hectares of peatland in England under restoration, predominantly through the £750 million nature for climate fund. We have also announced 22 ambitious projects receiving funding through the landscape recovery scheme, allowing land managers—in particular, farmers—to take a more long-term and large-scale approach to producing environmental and climate outcomes on their land.
Between 2010 and 2021, 123 hectares of new woodland have been planted across the UK. That is an area equivalent to Bedfordshire. Tree planting is so important for biodiversity, and it is at the heart of our environmental plans for the future. We increased tree planting and woodland creation by approximately 10% to 2,700 hectares of trees planted in England in 2021-22. Is it enough? Absolutely not, but we are improving every year. As part of flood and coastal capital programmes, 25 schemes that include natural flood management measures have secured approval.
We are seeing that improvement in habitat also play out in the improvement in species such as the cirl bunting, which demonstrates how agri-environment schemes have supported species recovery. In 2016, the population exceeded 1,000 pairs, representing a nine-fold increase since conservation action commenced in the early 1990s. The marsh fritillary butterfly increased in abundance by 700% between 2005 and 2016, following years of decline, through action under the two moors threatened butterfly project. Our bat species increased by 47% between 1999 and 2019. Those are just some examples of the progress that is being made. It is important to have hope and to take personal responsibility for the way that we can all improve nature and biodiversity in our back gardens, our farms and right across this country.
Reaching net zero remains a top Government priority. We are really proud to lead the world in ending our own contribution to climate change, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because we are determined to seize the unprecedented economic opportunity it brings for jobs, innovation and exports. That is why our British energy security strategy and net zero strategy build on our 10-point plan and our blueprint for a green industrial revolution. Those commitments will unlock £100 billion of private investment and support 480,000 well-paid jobs in green industries by 2030. I know that many of those jobs will be in Cornwall, which I look forward to visiting. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives set out exactly what is needed right across the country and the need for society to play its part.
As part of our plans for decarbonisation—this is personal to me, because I was the Minister in the Department for Transport who led on it—we have published our ambitious transport decarbonisation plan. There has been much talk of COP27, but I was proud to stand on the world stage during transport day on 10 November last year at COP26—[Interruption.] Indeed, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) was there as well—where I set out what we were doing across the modes of transport to set our pathway to net zero by 2050. We will require all new builds from 2025 to be future-proofed with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency.
DEFRA has a vital role to play in delivering the Government’s net zero strategy. During the debate, there have been many calls for us to work across Departments. That is absolutely what we do and I will give a few examples. The joint air quality unit works across DEFRA and DFT to improve air quality and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. The Office for Zero Emission Vehicles works across DFT and BEIS to ensure that we roll out the electric vehicle programme. It is not true to say that the amount of money being spent on electric vehicles has been reduced; the focus has changed to ensure support for taxis and trucks, because we needed to diversify and ensure that our funding has the greatest impact.
We have boosted the nature for climate fund to total spend of more than £750 million by 2025 to protect, restore and expand the support and resilience of habitats such as peat bogs—both upland and lowland peat bogs are essential for nature. This will help us to achieve our ambitious targets to restore 35,000 hectares of peatlands by 2025 and treble woodland creation in England by the end of this Parliament. Yesterday I had the privilege of joining the Northumberland National Park Authority, and the day before I was in woodlands in Cumbria with the Forestry Commission, to understand how we can bust the barriers and increase planting of trees, both coniferous and deciduous, because we recognise the vital role that trees play as well as the value of supporting the UK timber industry. It was also a pleasure to visit A.W. Jenkinson to learn how it takes the waste from woodlands to create peat-free compost. There are fantastic opportunities like this one for our economy as we decarbonise and support biodiversity.
At COP26 last year, we brought nature into the centre of the climate COP for the first time. Today, at COP27 in Egypt, we will maintain our global leadership by demonstrating progress and integrated action on climate and nature since the UK’s presidency, focusing on protecting forests, the ocean and nature. We will build political momentum to secure ambitious outcomes at the convention on biological diversity COP15 in Montreal next month. We are working to ensure that nature is resilient and adaptable to climate change. We recognise that the interlinked threats of climate change, pollution, and habitat and biodiversity loss threaten the security of global health, the food supply and the economy. In 2019, the value of natural capital in the UK was estimated to be £1.2 trillion. The biodiversity net gain measure created by the Environment Act 2021 to aid nature recovery will drive green growth by creating and supporting a private market estimated to be worth £135 million per year. We are committed to halting and reversing the decline of biodiversity, as I have set out. We will continue to implement our world-leading Environment Act, including by building on the 2030 species target by setting other long-term targets to improve our biodiversity, resource efficiency and air and water quality, and to reduce waste.
To set out what we are doing to create habitats and protect species, we have requirements on new developments to build habitats as well as legally binding targets to halt species decline by 2030. We are reducing plastic waste through bans on a number of single-use plastic items, as well as powers to introduce charges for single-use items of any material. We are recycling more plastic through the introduction of a deposit return scheme for single-use drink containers, and extended producer responsibility which makes producers responsible for the cost of the disposal of packaging waste.
I note that Minister said that the Government are introducing the deposit return scheme. I am pleased to hear that, but there have been four consultations and we have had no action yet. When will it happen?
I am unable to provide the hon. Member with a confirmation of actual dates, but she should be assured that we are working across Government to ensure that we involve manufacturers and get this right.
There is increasing concern that we will introduce a deposit return scheme that is not fit for the 21st century—that is, one that involves going back to vending machines in supermarkets. There is a very strong push for the digital delivery of a deposit return scheme. Will the Government look into that?
The hon. Lady will have to forgive me, because this is not my area in DEFRA, but I am happy to provide a more detailed response from the DEFRA Minister responsible for this matter. She will be aware of the various discussions that are going on —for example, on whether to include glass or not. I know that Scotland includes glass. Those are the kinds of discussions that we are having in DEFRA with our partners and stakeholders. We are ensuring that we get the scheme right and that we implement it as soon as possible.
We are also taking forward measures to tackle deforestation overseas and increase domestic planting. We are preventing UK businesses from using commodities associated with deforestation, committing the UK to planting 30,000 hectares of trees per year by the end of this Parliament, and maintaining new planting at that rate from 2025 onwards. There was reference to environmental targets. I hope that Members will appreciate that we have had 180,000 responses to the consultation. We are working at pace to review those views, and we look forward to updating Members on targets and our environmental plan very soon.
We are protecting our waters and cracking down on water companies that discharge sewage by enshrining in law a duty to reduce the impact of discharges from storm overflows. We are also cleaning up our air, through a requirement on local authorities to tackle air quality and making enforcement in smoke-controlled areas easier. We have established the independent Office for Environmental Protection, and I recently met the chief executive and chair of the organisation. We are also developing a third national adaptation programme, which addresses all 61 risks and opportunities identified in the latest climate change risk assessment.
I have set out quite clearly much of what has already been achieved, but also what we hope to achieve with our ambitious, world-beating, world-leading Environment Act, and with the support of brilliant Members across this House, not least my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives. He will wrap up the debate in the final minutes.
I thank the Minister for her response, and I am glad she mentioned species. For example, the Cornish chough and the Manx shearwater are birds precious to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. They have made a remarkable recovery, and it is good to mention that along with all the other achievements.
In 2019, I was one of many Conservative MPs who supported the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), in setting out legislation on the commitment to net zero in the UK. I am very proud to have been a part of that discussion and debate. I have heard the various political points made by Opposition Members, but outside this place we see businesses big and small, schools, the public sector, farmers, food producers and householders all looking seriously at how they can decarbonise and promote nature recovery. That is because there has been a national effort, led by a consecutive Conservative Prime Ministers, to get everyone engaged in the process. I do not pretend that we have done enough; we should do more, more quickly, and the nature and climate declaration helps us to do that. I again thank the team for making it possible and launching it last week.
My colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), would have loved to be here to say more about the great things that are happening in Cornwall, but she has been detained in the Chamber. It is good to conclude by thanking everyone who took part. Let us move forward, recognising the great things that are in place, the targets and achievements, while recognising that by working together we can achieve much more, not just for our constituents but for people around the world.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Government support for a nature and climate declaration.
European Women’s Football Championship: Girls and Young Women
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the 2022 UEFA European Women’s Football Championship and participation of girls and young women in sport.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. Before we kick off, I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who has shown great leadership in this place, not just on women’s football but women’s sport in general. I really hoped she could be with us today, but sadly she cannot.
I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this debate, which has been a little late due to the sad death of the Queen. It was scheduled for just after the summer recess following the Lionesses’ success but had to be pushed back. I want to take this opportunity to record my and the House’s congratulations to our fantastic English national football team, the Lionesses, on their historic win at the European championships earlier this year.
After 56 years of hurt, England finally brought football back home, and it took the women to achieve it. The nation celebrated and we were all bursting with pride. It was the first time in my life I have ever seen England lift an international trophy in football, and I was bawling my eyes out as it happened. The residents of Teddington in my constituency were so proud that the Lensbury club was the Lionesses’ training base for the tournament—and still is for some of their home fixtures—that crowds gathered that night at about midnight or 1 am to welcome the Lionesses back from Wembley to celebrate their awesome victory.
There is no doubt that the Lionesses brought the nation together this summer, and the legacy of their stunning win is there to be shaped. News this week from YouGov that an extra 4 million of us now define ourselves as fans of women’s sport is testament to their performance. Indeed, women’s participation and profile in other sports is increasing. But like many of the Lionesses themselves, I strongly believe that that legacy should be more than just warm memories. It must mean support for the generation of girls and young women now inspired to get out on the pitch and bend it like Beth.
Only 63% of young girls have football offered as part of physical education in school, and football continues to largely be seen as a sport for men and boys. Does the hon. Lady agree that this cultural change should start at a young age to drive passion for the sport among girls and young women, and nurture future talent?
I could not agree more. The hon. Lady has already cited a statistic I was going to come to later on. I could talk in a lot of detail about how we must promote girls’ sport in schools and the community.
I saw at first hand the impact of England’s triumph on my own daughter, who is eight. Together we attended her first live football match during the tournament, just down the road from where we live in Brentford. We went to see Spain play Denmark. By the final, when England were playing Germany, she was giving her own expert commentary on the game and providing live demos of various tricks in our living room. She was super excited when we had the chance to watch the Lionesses beat the USA at Wembley last month.
Like parents and PE teachers across the country, I believe girls like my daughter deserve every chance and should be given every possible opportunity to follow that passion, be it for football or any other sport. This is a legacy that the Lionesses themselves have thrown their full energy into achieving. Following their success in the summer, they wrote to both the Conservative party leadership candidates, calling on them to take action to ensure every young girl in the nation is able to play football at school. They called for all girls to have access to two hours of PE lessons every week. The current Prime Minister responded at the time by saying he would love to see all schools provide two hours a week.
It sounds like a simple ask, but as the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) has already mentioned, just 63% of schools in England offer equal access to football during PE lessons. That means that more than one in three girls are excluded from the beautiful game. When we look at secondary education in particular, the numbers get even worse, with less than half of schools empowering girls to play football as part of the curriculum. At secondary schools, teaching gets increasingly gendered, whereas in primary schools, children are taught in mixed groups.
According to the Youth Sport Trust, a staggering 42,000 hours of PE have been lost over the last decade as the curriculum has been more and more squeezed, with a relentless focus on tests and ensuring boxes are ticked for Ofsted inspections. Girls in particular have been impacted. The trust found that by the age of seven, girls were already a whole year behind on physical literacy—that is the development of movement and sports skills.
With such a patchy offering of girls’ football in schools, it is no surprise that many of our current generation of women footballers have spoken of struggling to access the sport, relying on extracurricular clubs and far-flung opportunities to rise to the top of their game. That is not to talk down the importance of extracurricular clubs and activities. The Liberal Democrats would love to see a much stronger offer from the Government in that area, including vouchers to help all children access extracurricular opportunities—both as part of the post-pandemic catch-up package, and longer term, outside the covid recovery.
A number of organisations are doing a sterling job in supporting the women’s game. Of course, that includes the Football Association. It runs grassroots initiatives in schools, such as the Disney-inspired Shooting Stars programme, and in the community, such as the Squad Girls’ Football programme, which is designed to keep secondary school-aged girls engaged with football where PE lessons may fall short. That is supported by Sport England. The FA’s community-based Weetabix Wildcats programme for girls is offered through Hampton Rangers Junior Football Club in my constituency on a Saturday morning. I was also pleased to support the FA’s #LetGirlsPlay initiative earlier this year, by going to play football with girls at both Twickenham School and Trafalgar Junior School in my constituency. I urge all Members to take up the opportunity next year. It was great fun—even if people made total fools of themselves, as I am sure I did—but it was also a real boost to the schools and to the pupils there.
McDonald’s Fun Football programme brought England legends Sir Geoff Hurst and Karen Carney into Parliament last week. I learnt that it runs waves of footballing activity across the country, with over 500 children in my constituency benefiting from the programme at Orleans Park School. They also enabled two year seven pupils from Teddington School to have the training session of a lifetime with footballing hero Beth Mead in September. There is no doubt that those extracurricular clubs and corporate responsibility initiatives play a vital role in nurturing children’s passions, but it is equally important that they do not become a substitute for access to sport in school for free as part of the curriculum. Otherwise, we risk football—and indeed many other sports—becoming elitist and open to only those who can afford to pay.
I am grateful to the parliamentary engagement team for all its work in securing feedback and stories from parents, young people and teachers for this debate. One teacher, James, said:
“My daughter is involved in netball and cricket outside of school. This has given her great fitness and confidence and is hugely beneficial to her overall wellbeing. For her to actively participate in this way costs hundreds of pounds per year but she simply would not have had any opportunity to play team sport regularly otherwise.”
We cannot let that cost be a barrier.
The hon. Lady will be aware that for many decades, many of Scotland and England’s national players for the women’s teams have had to do other day jobs, while their male counterparts have been paid frankly outrageous fortunes to play professionally. Does she agree that we need greater coverage in the media, and greater sponsorship and support for the women’s game, so that our female players can enjoy some of the riches that the male players enjoy?
I could not agree more. As the hon. Lady says, there needs to be parity in terms of salaries, sponsorship and so on. That does not mean that the women’s game wants to ape the men’s game. I went to an event in this place celebrating women’s football, and the clear message given by those who are involved in the women’s sport was that women’s football has its own special culture. Frankly, I think it is far healthier and far nicer than the men’s sport. I would never have taken my young daughter to a men’s football match, just because of the sort of culture and atmosphere there.
I do not think that male footballers need to be paid as much as they are paid, but I do think that women footballers should be paid more. If I am not mistaken, Lewes Football Club is the one football club in the country that pays men and women equally.
I welcome the Minister who will answer the debate today, the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew); I welcome him to his place and to his new role. He is from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and I very much welcome some of the positive noises that have come from both the Secretary of State and her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), on this issue.
I understand that the Department is committed to investing some £230 million to build or improve up to 8,000 sports pitches across the UK. That is clearly a step in the right direction. However, it is also yet another example of how utterly disjointed the Government’s policies are when it comes to our children and young people, because at the same time that DCMS is building community pitches, schools across our country are haemorrhaging playing fields and other sports facilities due to shrinking budgets. Liberal Democrat analysis has uncovered that 100 school sports fields have been sold off in the last seven years, impacting more than 75,000 pupils. That not only puts the Lionesses’ legacy at risk but potentially bars tens of thousands of children from a full range of outdoor sports.
While we are on the subject of sports fields, it is with great regret that I tell the House that Udney Park playing fields in Teddington, which is in my constituency, was sold off in 2015 by Imperial College to a hedge fund company that sought to make a quick buck on that precious community site. Having been prevented by planning inspectors from concreting over the fields and building on them, the facility has since gone to rack and ruin, with community groups fighting tooth and nail for it to be maintained for community sporting use.
I salute my constituent Jonathan Dunn, who has led the charge to bring Udney Park playing fields back into community use, and I hope that, now the ground has been sold on to another investor, that it will be revitalised quickly and then opened up to the many grassroots sports clubs in my constituency that are clamouring for playing field space across the Borough of Richmond and simply cannot get enough of it. If the Minister is able to offer any assistance in that regard, I would be absolutely delighted.
Participating in sport is a fantastic way to take care of young people’s physical health, to boost their mental wellbeing and to teach children important skills, such as teamwork and communication. More than 150 children and young people sent in their views for this debate, as part of the Pupil Parliament programme, and they wrote overwhelmingly about the positive impact that sport has had on their lives. They said it made them more confident and more fulfilled, and gave them a sense of community.
At the same time, when those children were asked what had been holding them back, the same few words cropped up and again, including phrases such as “men’s sport” and “women’s sport”, which is the idea that netball and gymnastics are female and football, rugby and cricket are male. In light of the Lionesses’ victory, those ideas and phrases may seem like outdated tropes, but they are far from being a thing of the past when our children and young people still feel held back and over a third of girls do not have the opportunity to play football at school.
Women’s football has a longer history than people might think. Church documents reportedly refer to women playing football in my local authority area in South Lanarkshire back in 1628. Does the hon. Member agree that women’s contributions to football over the centuries should be recognised more frequently, to inspire girls and young women to take up the sport today?
Yes; indeed I could not agree more. We need to celebrate and give a profile to that history as part of the process of inspiring the next generation, in the same way that often happens with the men’s game, to be honest.
I am very grateful that the public engagement team have facilitated pupils’ interaction with this debate and of course I also thank all the students from the Bishop of Hereford’s Bluecoat School, Eardisley CE Primary School and Knighton Church in Wales Primary School for participating in the process and feeding back to this debate. One parent, Diana, described the “misogyny” she had witnessed at her daughter’s mixed-gender primary school football club. She said:
“I approached the school and asked if they could run a group for girls who were leaving the after-school club, one after another. The school offered her netball. It was at that point she lost all interest in sport.”
So I will echo the very simple ask of one of the pupils who responded to my survey. She said:
“Let girls participate in all sports at school. I want to do the same sports as the boys—if we do dance, so should they. And if they get…rugby, so should we.”
As MP for Twickenham, I am so proud of our strong sports heritage and the thriving network of grassroots sports clubs, run almost exclusively by dedicated volunteers. At the elite level, Twickenham is of course the home to English rugby, and we will play host to the Rugby World Cup. The gendered title of “Women’s World Cup” was dropped last year, so the Rugby World Cup is coming to England in 2025. I hope that England’s women’s team will come to defend their world cup title. We all wish the Red Roses, England’s women’s team, who have reached the final this weekend against hosts New Zealand, the very best of luck.
In Twickenham, we also have the Harlequins, a premiership rugby club, whose home the Stoop is just across the road from the Rugby Football Union. They have a phenomenally successful women’s team. Bushy Park was home to the very first parkrun, and we also lay claim to the oldest hockey club in the world, in Teddington, which has a number of girls’ and women’s teams.
I spoke earlier this week to an inspirational woman in my constituency, Natalie Raja, who founded Bushy Park girls’ cricket club 10 years ago, when her daughters and other girls were struggling to find anywhere to play cricket. From the handful of girls she gathered together in 2012, she now has 120 girls and women from age 5 upwards, and a cabinet full of trophies. Sadly—this shocked me—as recently as last season, when she was negotiating access to pitches for her teams, she was still receiving emails saying, “We need to get the boys’ fixtures sorted first, then we can organise the girls.”
In football, as well as Hampton and Richmond football club, there are so many grassroots football clubs—I could not mention them all. Two I could mention with plentiful girls’ teams are Whitton Wanderers—they are very close to where I live—and Hearts of Teddlothian. I give a special shout-out to the Parakeets and Cygnets, dedicated girls’ clubs founded by a local dad, Eamonn, when he could not find anywhere for his girls to play football because they were regularly being put off by joining boys clubs.
Thamesians women’s rugby team, who currently train at St Mary’s while Udney Park is out of action, flooded my inbox with support for this debate to talk about the impact of sport on their lives. I was particularly moved by this comment:
“I’m 25 years old and I have been playing rugby since I was 19. I am 6ft 1 and 85 kg and for the first 19 years of my life, I hated the way I looked, felt and I had no confidence and no motivation. I found rugby as a way of making some new friends and enjoying a run around while doing so. To say it changed my life is an understatement. Women’s sport is special, because it brings a group of people who face similar challenges in day-to-day life together, and provides a safe space, a place for encouragement and love, and lights a fire within people who didn’t realise they had it. Being around women who are praised for having different body types has skyrocketed my confidence. I feel empowered in my life outside of sport, knowing the things that I have accomplished and my worth.”
That is what the Lionesses want for girls and women across England: the chance to get involved in women’s football and, indeed, other sports, and to allow it to change their lives. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I want the same: equal access to the joys and opportunities of playing sport for every child, no matter their gender, their background or where they happen to live.
In an interview on Sunday, Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA’s director for women’s football, spoke positively about the Lionesses’ meeting with the current Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but said that the big issue is the Department for Education. I wholeheartedly support the steps DCMS has taken to support women and girls’ access to sport in the community. I look forward to hearing more from the Minister about what else he and his Department are doing to support girls and women’s participation in sport at all levels, especially the grassroots. I hope he can also tell us how he plans to work constructively across Government, especially with the Department for Education.
In particular, does the Minister agree that the sport premium is so important when it comes to supporting access to sport and tackling childhood obesity? Will he press his Education colleagues to continue funding the sport premium in schools? Will he press the Department to include PE in the Ofsted inspection framework, as the FA and the Lionesses have called for? What of the Prime Minister’s assertion that he would like to see two hours of PE for all? Will we see that come to fruition? Will the Minister impress on his colleagues the need for a moratorium on selling off school playing fields, which means funding schools properly so they do not have to do that?
I hope the Minister will agree—as we have heard from the quotes and stories I have cited—that sport is crucial for everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing, yet women are too often left behind. In particular, sport helps to boost children’s educational and academic outcomes. If we truly want to celebrate the Lionesses’ amazing victory this summer, we need to secure their legacy by working together to help deliver for England’s next generation of sportswomen.
It is a great pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Gray. I commend the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) on securing the debate and on her magnificent speech. There is a delicious irony in the hon. Member for Twickenham talking about football, but to her complete credit she spoke about women’s sport in the round, and she gave a good indication of what we need to be doing in sport now.
I love football—I make no apology for being a huge football fan. The offer in the UK is quite fantastic. We have the premier league—the world-leading brand—and we have many professional leagues across all four of our nations. We have millions of fans and people who are paid good money to play sport. Of course, that also brings revenue into the Treasury, so what is not to like? What a brilliant way to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon—watching football live or on the television. The offer is great.
Sadly, my own playing days are now behind me. As a rather rotund 50-something-year-old, I have stopped playing, but I have two sons who play to a very good standard, and me watching them at the weekend is important. As a huge non-league fan, I am regularly found at my local clubs in Aldershot, Bracknell, Woking and Sutton. As I mentioned, it is a great way to spend the weekend with decent, real people.
Following the success of the women’s Euro 2022—what a success and what a magnificent achievement it was—I want to talk about women’s football. The progress that has been made in women’s sport over the last decade or so is remarkable. Women’s football has become the fastest-growing sport in the UK, which is brilliant. The stats speak for themselves. Nearly 70,000 people were at Old Trafford to watch England’s UEFA Euro 2022 opener against Austria. Recently, a friendly against the United States at Wembley attracted a record 78,000 fans, which is quite extraordinary. People are paying good money to watch fantastic football, and that is just a start. Funding for women’s football still lags far behind what we see in the men’s game, but the way to address that is to tackle grassroots football first and then to build up, which is what is happening at the moment.
What of the future? The latest FA survey has found that growth across the board—from match-day broadcast, commercial and prize money sources—is exponential. Clubs report year-on-year commercial revenue growth of 33% for women’s football, which is amazing. Some 77% of female leagues now have a title sponsor, up from only 11% last year, which is extraordinary growth.
According to FIFA, 29 million women and girls play football worldwide—in comparison, the men’s game probably has at least 10 times that number—and the aim is to facilitate 60 million female participants by 2026. I think we will smash that comfortably, but there is a danger here: 64% of girls quit playing sport by the time they are 16. We have work to do not just in building the girls’ game but in ensuring that girls who play football, or any sport, stay with it and keep playing into their adult lives.
I am proud to be the MP for Bracknell, in east Berkshire, and the local offer there for all sports is really amazing. We have grassroots money and a council—Bracknell Forest Council—that supports male and female football. Why wouldn’t it? Football improves teamwork, camaraderie, decision making, discipline and mental and physical wellbeing.
In my view, the benefits of sport for everyone are beyond doubt. We need to encourage girls to stay in sport for the reasons I have discussed—for teamwork and mental health—and to bring young girls together. That is perhaps something young boys find a bit easier, because the structure of the game is that boys play football and girls might not. But why can boys and girls not play football equally, in the same numbers and with the same opportunities available to them?
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that men and boys are our allies in this challenge of equality? Men like him and the Minister, who speak up for women’s sport, are crucial in that. Does he also agree that the FA has historically imposed some challenging rules on boys and girls, and young men and women, playing together for fun? Breaking down some of those barriers and having people playing together across the gender spectrum is really important.
The hon. Lady makes an interesting couple of points. Women, of course, do not need men in order to play football, but it is incumbent on men to encourage the female game and to get people playing, and on dads like me, who do not have daughters, to get girls playing as well.
The hon. Lady mentioned grassroots football. It is so important that we nip the stigma attached to female football in the bud. It is complete nonsense. Female football is really exciting to watch on TV. The Euros were really exciting. Like the hon. Member for Twickenham, I watched them and I was overcome—it was just the most brilliant occasion. I have watched and played men’s football all my life, but women’s football is the growth sport now. It is where it is at; it is where things are going, and we have to embrace and support it.
In Bracknell, PlaySport delivers a weekly girls-only football programme for girls aged five to 11. It does that in partnership with our local football club, Bracknell Town football club, which comprises men’s, youths’, ladies’ and junior female teams. Who could forget that wonderful evening on Monday, when Bracknell Town hosted Ipswich in the first round of the FA cup? It was a brilliant night. We almost got there. It was 0-0 in the 65th minute—perhaps there would be a replay at Portman Road—but Ipswich came through to win 3-0. However, the important point was that there were women in the crowd; there were girls who I know play football in Bracknell supporting their local team. It was just brilliant. What’s not to like?
In July 2022, 25 players, including eight at international level, took part in a women’s walking football competition at Bracknell leisure centre. Interestingly, plans are being developed for the leisure centre to be rebuilt in 2028 with a football stadium and a new sports centre that will embrace both the female and the male game. How fantastic would it be to have Bracknell men’s and women’s teams in the football league? There is a lot to look forward to.
Women’s football is on an unprecedented rise. It is the growth sport in the UK—let us get behind it. Funding has increased tenfold for the female game over the past decade, but we need to spend more on it. Grassroots football turns into adult football, which turns into professional football, so it is worth investing in it. The national team’s success right now is a fantastic opportunity to embrace the game more widely, so let us build on and reinforce that success. I am very proud that Bracknell itself is poised to take on the grassroots women’s game.
The first thing we need to do is make sure that local clubs and schools across the UK embrace girls’ sport, particularly football. Opportunities for men and women, boys and girls, have to be completely equal across the board. We need more adult volunteers, and we need more parents to embrace the girls’ game—why wouldn’t they? It is a great way to spend a weekend. We need enhanced Government and FA funding to support the girls’ and the women’s game. I find myself—quite strangely—congratulating the BBC: what it is doing now on TV across the UK to promote the female game is brilliant, and I commend it on that. It is great that we can now switch on the TV and watch either men’s or women’s football.
My final point is that equality in sport is really important. We have heard some horror stories about where there has not been equality and where there has still been a stigma about the female game. It should not be there. The female game should be as natural as the men’s game. Let’s get stuck in, Minister.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray. I wholeheartedly thank the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for securing this debate. I am sorry that it was somewhat delayed, but it is fabulous to have the opportunity to wholeheartedly congratulate the Lionesses on a truly remarkable result at the Euros. I hope that she and they know that all football fans in Scotland really were behind them. I am delighted to see what they have done for not just their generation of footballers but the next generation. That goes beyond just England; it goes across all these islands. We hope that the investment that has come into clubs will be emulated and replicated in Scotland. We have many fantastic players in Scotland who play in the English leagues, as the hon. Lady and other Members know.
Members may be interested to know that football was invented in Scotland. It belongs to no specific group; it belongs to us all. As the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) highlighted, it goes back a long way—potentially to the 1600s, although I have the historical facts only back to the 1800s, when women played in corsets, hats and heeled boots. Thankfully, our attire on the football pitch has come some way since that time.
As the hon. Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) said, it is crucial that we talk about inclusion and equality. When we talk about participation and inclusion for minority groups—particularly black and minority ethnic groups, who have been historically excluded and have faced barriers, as Sport England identified in a 2020 report, and members of the LGBTQ community and queer women—we have to look at the challenges they face and ensure that we include everyone. I declare an interest as a big lesbian and someone who has been kicking a ball around for as long as I can remember. I see the current debate around the rights and inclusion of trans women and non-binary folk as particularly distressing. We must stand firm with them and their right to be included in all aspects of society, including sport and, of course, the beautiful game of football.
Modern football was invented in Scotland, and women have long fought for their place, despite significant discrimination. As the hon. Member for Twickenham rightly said, contemporary women’s football is an opportunity to do things differently. There are prejudices and bigotry in the men’s game that we need to kick out, and the women’s game is an opportunity to set a different standard.
I grew up playing football in Livingston. I probably peaked at about 11, but I saw boys I played alongside going on into real, structured environments. If it was not for the fact that my primary 7 teacher, Mrs Shaw, who deserves an honourable mention, gave an equal opportunity to the boys and the girls in our school, I might not have continued on to play for the University of Stirling team, which included some former members of the Scotland international team, so we were in good company. That was the first structured setting that I experienced—if going for a pint after training and then doing a hill race can be considered structure.
I care passionately about equality and diversity in football and all sport. I grew up playing in teams, and I have recently joined a team called the Camp Hellcats in Glasgow. I also have the honour of playing in the women’s parliamentary team here at Westminster, which the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) founded with me and other Members from across the House. We have a regular kickabout, and we play games. There are members of that team here today.
I want to talk a little about the Hellcats, because there could not be a better example of what participation is and what it means than that incredible group of straight, LGBTQ+ and non-binary women. I asked Amanda, the person who got me involved in the team, what it meant to her and what the history was. She said:
“We formed in the pandemic and we just had enough of not being able to do anything together. Some of us used to play with other 5s but they were mixed and a lot of the time the guys just hogged the ball and showed off which was frustrating.”
Is that not a familiar tale?
In the part of the pandemic when organised sport was allowed, Camp Hellcats went off to Goals, on the south side of Glasgow—just a bunch of pals plonked into a WhatsApp group. Amanda said:
“The funniest memory I have of those early games is that we had to keep 2 metres away from each other, and there were staff in high Viz vests…patrolling the pitches to make sure nobody was getting too close…From that first game, friends of friends were added to the chat and it has just grown and grown since then into 2 games on a Monday, training on a Wednesday, competitions on weekends”.
Camp Hellcats now has support from Goal Click and EE, which just goes to show what it has achieved in the short time since it was founded. Amanda said that it has given her an opportunity to fall back in love with sport. She played national level hockey as a teenager and then stopped because there was nowhere to go with it. To be in her 30s now, finding so much joy in running around for an hour on a Monday night with her pals, is a great feeling. She said:
“It’s a very positive environment to be in and it’s totally changed my lifestyle as a result. I’ve never been healthier, physically or mentally too—and especially in lockdown that was huge! And to watch the group grow”
and see the passion is “incredible”. She continued:
“There’s also something great about taking up 2 pitches…every week and walking off after to a car park of dudes waiting to go on. Taking up that space feels important.”
I do not think that there could be a greater example of what it really means.
Megan, the captain of the team, spoke to me of her own experience. I have to say that my experience of her is the incredible ability that she has for encouragement, motivation and tactical strategy on the pitch. She said:
“I played for a boys team, got bullied out of it and lost all confidence. I didn’t kick a ball again until Camp Hellcats. It’s my personal mission that no player will ever be made to feel that way…I’m not sure how to put it, but ultimately we came together as a group of people who never had a place in football growing up, for the most part. Being captain of this team has enabled me to gain so much confidence and nothing makes me happier than seeing the team succeed. With everything I do for myself and the team, I remind myself how proud teenage me would feel.”
There is not a better way to reflect what the debate is about, and what football is about. For a lot of folk growing up like myself in the ’80s, ’90s and even the 2000s, sport was a sanctuary when society was rife was homophobia. To play among women and to see so much great inclusiveness across the women’s game is truly remarkable, because we have led the way on inclusion, and it is great to see the men finally catching up.
I pay tribute to Aussie football player Josh Cavallo and the Scottish footballer Zander Murray, who have both come out recently and who will no doubt pave the way for others, but that makes the hosting of the World cup by Qatar this year all the more offensive and, I have to say, disgusting. Qatar treats LGBTQ people as illegal and as criminals, and it is simply not safe for us to go there. It is high time that we, as a family of nations, and Government Members stand up and refuse to support such nations in hosting international sporting events. If we allow them to do that, and they want to invite the world, the world should be welcome to go, but the truth is that it is not.
LGBTQ women in top-level football are many in number. Many young women will look up to players such as Scotland’s Rachel Corsie, the US’s Megan Rapinoe and England’s Demi Stokes. I pay tribute, as I did at the beginning, to England’s women—the great Lionesses—after what they achieved at the Euros this year. It is fair to say that decades of listening to the England men’s team telling folk that they were going to “bring football home” had become a bit tedious, so it was quite a treat to see the England women do what the men had serially failed to do for many decades.
The success of the Lionesses, and the resource and money that have been put into the women’s game by folk such as Sue Campbell and Dawn Airey, who have championed the women’s game from grassroots to club level up and to national team level, including media coverage, are incredibly important. Of course, Scotland’s women and girls benefit from that. We certainly hope that the Scottish Football Association and the Scottish Professional Football League will be watching carefully and looking to emulate that success and to work with those in England and across the world.
Our clubs in Scotland are developing, and it is great to see the men’s clubs bring on women’s teams, but we all know in Scotland of the success of Glasgow City, which was championed by Laura Montgomery. Many Scotland players have come through that team, which was never attached to a men’s team. It can be done, and that team is proof that it can be done. People may be interested to know that we have come a long way since the first recorded international women’s football match, which was played in Edinburgh on 9 May 1881 in Easter Road stadium. A team representing Scotland allegedly beat a team representing England 3-0, according to the history books.
There is so much more that I could say, but the fundamental point is that this debate is incredibly important. Cross-parliamentary support for women’s and girls’ football must be at the forefront of our minds following the success of England, to ensure that all the home nations can emulate that success and that we can all stand on the global stage and be proud of our women and girls in sport and football.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray. I have the immense pleasure of responding to the debate on behalf of the Opposition. I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) on securing this debate, and on her excellent contribution. It is a shame that this debate was postponed, because I am sure that many more hon. Members would have loved to have contributed to pay their respect and tributes to the England women’s football team.
Like other Members, I love football and sport; Parliament is at its best when we all come together to celebrate the success of our national teams. I am making a bit of a habit of coming to Westminster Hall and agreeing with Members from all sides during a debate. This year, we all cheered as the fantastic Lionesses captivated the nation and won the 2022 UEFA European women’s football championship. The women’s Euros win was England’s first major women’s tournament victory ever, and the country’s first major competition win since 1966. Although, like the Minister, I am a proud Welsh MP, and it may usually be a sticking point to cheer on an England side, I am happy to put our historic sporting rivalry aside for this special occasion.
I take the opportunity to put on the record my well wishes for Rob Page and the Wales men’s World cup squad. The line-up is being announced tonight in my neighbouring constituency, Rhondda. All of us back home are excited to sing “Yma o Hyd” over the next few weeks. But today’s focus, quite rightly, is on the important progress to be made to ensure that women’s sport more widely receives equal parity with men’s participation.
The Euros final was watched by more than 17 million people, and the Lionesses have truly become an inspiration to many girls and young women across the UK. Labour believes that must represent a turning point in women’s football and sport. A record-breaking 87,000 people attended the final, with nearly 575,000 in attendance across the entire championships, and 84% of those who attended said the tournament improved their perception of women’s football. As a result, 416,000 new opportunities were created in England across schools, clubs and communities to engage women and girls in grassroots football. That is all to be celebrated, but we need to build a lasting legacy, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Twickenham.
Major sporting event success can be a powerful driver of grassroots sporting participation. Unfortunately, this Government have a poor record of building on our sports stars’ success. A decade on from the 2012 Olympics, we have seen facilities forgotten and physical activity has flatlined. The Government have failed to address the wider societal inequalities that make certain groups less likely to get active, and well-meaning initiatives, such as This Girl Can, have not met their participation targets, with insufficient strategic Government focus.
As the National Audit Office confirmed this year:
“Grassroots participation in sport did not receive the post-London Olympics and Paralympics boost hoped for at the time.”
The Government must learn from their previous failures and capitalise on the momentum that the Lionesses have created to ensure that more girls and young women are inspired to play sport. We need to address sporting disparities. It is widely reported, as we have heard from other Members, that women are less active than men. The physical activity gender gap starts very young, with girls being less active than boys from the age of five. Girls and women are also less likely to enjoy sports and physical activity. Beyond providing opportunity, then, we need to do better at boosting confidence and making sport safe, inclusive and enjoyable.
As we have heard, unequal access to sports in schools is holding us back. Currently, instead of being taught to play football, girls are instead taught comparable sports, such as netball or hockey. According to Sport England, only 63% of all schools currently offer equal access to girls’ football in PE lessons. In 2022, that is outdated and outrageous. We call on the Government to seize the opportunity created by the women’s Euros and introduce an equal access guarantee into the curriculum to create equal access to sports for all girls. That would ensure that girls are given the opportunity to try football at school. Will the Minister adopt that policy?
We know that despite growing prominence in recent years, rights, conditions and pay for women footballers are not yet anywhere near where they need to be. That is why the Labour party strongly supports the fan-led review’s recommendation of a dedicated review of the women’s game, and we welcome that finally being put into motion. The review and the process must remain fully independent and challenge the existing structures where needed. We need to ensure that the women’s game flourishes sustainably, that footballers are rewarded fairly, and that girls are supported to get into the sport.
Will the Minister please update us on what progress has been made so far and set out a timeline for when he expects the review to report? Given the Government’s flip-flopping and delay on their commitment to implementing the central recommendation of the fan-led review of the men’s game—the recommendation that there be an independent regulator—how can we have any confidence that they will act on the recommendations of the review of the women’s game? What assurances can the Minister give us on that?
We cannot ignore the fact that the cost of living crisis and the impact of soaring energy bills on sports and leisure facilities presents a major challenge. How does the Minister plan to increase women’s and girls’ participation in sport when closures, reduced timetables and price increases are probable, particularly from April 2023, when there is no guarantee of financial support for the sector?
We need the Government to acknowledge the power of sport to build healthier, happier, more connected communities, to save the NHS money, and to reduce pressure on public services. Labour will continue to cheer on our inspiring female athletes from all sports—they are the best of Britain—while fighting to secure a long-term legacy from our sporting achievements for future generations of girls and women.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank and congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) for securing this important debate. Let me say at the outset that I have made this issue a huge priority for me in this role. I am passionate about making sure that all sports are inclusive. I echo some of her points about the forthcoming World cup and share many of her concerns. This morning I met the Qatari ambassador. I sought assurances that the “Everyone is welcome” message is meant, and that fans will find that when they get to Qatar. I also raised the frankly unacceptable comments that Khalid Salman made yesterday; I made my views very clear indeed.
I put on the record my thanks to the Minister for doing that, and for raising his concerns, which many of us share, about the treatment of LGBT fans at the World cup. I appreciate that this Government did not have anything to do with the corruption that led to Qatar being chosen to hold the World cup, but I hope that all parliamentarians will consider how we will lobby such Governments and make sure that they do not get to hold international sporting competitions, and hold a place on the world stage, when they treat people from LGBT communities in such a way.
I think that the hon. Lady will know that this issue will continue to be high on my agenda. The Government are fully committed to supporting women’s sport at every opportunity, and to pushing for greater participation, employment and commercial opportunities in women’s sport, and for greater visibility both in the media and, as was mentioned, in this House. Let me start by wishing the Red Roses the very best of luck for the rugby union world cup final this weekend.
I am delighted to take on the role of Minister for sport at such an exciting time, and I look forward to making real progress on issues that I feel very passionately about, such as equality and diversity. Overall, I can see that there has been clear progress in a number of areas, but it is also clear that we have a long way to go. I am determined to strive for greater equality and opportunity for girls and women.
I join the hon. Member for Twickenham in celebrating the wonderful success that we witnessed in women’s sport this summer, when our very own Lionesses beat the German team at Wembley to lift the UEFA European championship trophy, teaching the men a thing or two. That inspirational tournament was staged in July in venues across England, from Rotherham and Wigan down to Southampton and Brighton.
So many records were broken during the tournament, but I will just mention two outstanding examples. The final at Wembley was attended by a crowd of over 87,000 people. That was a record for a women’s international game in Europe, and it broke new ground for a women’s or men’s Euro final tournament game. The tournament also became the most watched women’s Euros ever, with a global cumulative live viewership of 365 million across TV, out-of-home viewing and streaming. That massive number is more than double the number of people who watched the last UEFA women’s championship, staged in the Netherlands in 2017.
My local pub, the Red Lion, was transformed; usually, everyone is watching Leeds United, but they watched the championship, and I cannot tell you how excited they were and how they cheered. It was fantastic to witness. The tournament was a truly groundbreaking moment for sport. It has super-charged interest in the women’s game, bringing it to the forefront of people’s mind. We are looking forward to that momentum being maintained and built on, with the FIFA women’s World cup in Australia and New Zealand next year.
When I went to Wembley to see the Lionesses beat the USA, I sat next to Baroness Sue Campbell, and my arm was bruised afterwards because she was clutching on to it with so much excitement. When I meet her in December, I will know to sit on the opposite side of the table. She is clearly a passionate advocate of the sport.
To commemorate the team’s incredible achievement, we are working with the Football Foundation and the FA to name sites after the players in the towns and cities that shaped their careers. That is in addition to investing £230 million between 2021 and 2025 to improve grassroots sports facilities across the UK and help more women and girls to access high-quality facilities. I am looking forward to going to Stenhousemuir multisport facility tomorrow to see the work going on there and to support the Billie Jean King women’s tennis tournament in Glasgow.
We know this is not a one-off. Major sporting events unite the nation, instil pride in our communities and give us all something to feel good about, in a way that few other things can achieve. They also provide fantastic opportunities to create lasting legacies. We continue to see the impact of the women’s Euros. It has increased interest in the club side of the women’s game. Clubs in the women’s super league, which kicked off in September, are still reporting huge surges in demand for tickets. The new broadcast deal with Sky will see women’s football reach more people than ever.
The women’s super league attendance record has been smashed, as we have already heard, after 48,000 watched the north London derby between Arsenal and Twickenham—sorry, Tottenham, I am getting Twickenham on the brain—on Saturday 24 September. That would have been frankly unimaginable just a few years ago. We saw something similar in Birmingham for the Commonwealth games in the summer. There were some important firsts, including more medal events for women than men—a first in major multisport event history—and 173,000 spectators attended the T20 women’s cricket at Edgbaston, a record for women’s cricket.
This year’s rugby league world cup, played across venues mainly in the north of England, has been the first time that all three world cups—men’s, women’s and wheelchair—have been staged at the same time. That has helped to give visibility and a platform to those teams and players. Women and wheelchair players are also receiving prize money for the first time, as well as equal participation fees across all three tournaments. I wish all the teams every success.
As a country, we continue to reap the benefits of hosting major and mega sporting events. That is why the Government are fully committed to building on our world-leading reputation as a host. Although it is right to celebrate and reflect on the success of the Euros, we must now refocus to ensure that that success translates to the continued growth of the women’s game. That is why I am pleased that in September we launched an independent review of the future of women’s football, which is being chaired by former England and Great Britain footballer Karen Carney.
The review is looking at how to deliver bold, sustainable growth of the women’s game at elite and grassroots level. The Secretary of State and I recently met Karen to discuss progress to date. I look forward to working closely with her as the review progresses over the coming months. This is a defining period for the women’s game, and I want to ensure that the review contributes to the bold and sustainable growth of the game at elite and grassroots level.
Challenges frankly remain for women’s and girls’ participation in sport. As we have heard, Sport England data showed that the pandemic wiped out all of the gains made in women’s sport participation over the previous five years, falling back to just below 60% of women being active. The latest data, published in April this year, showed that men are still more likely to be active compared with women. The latest Sport England data for children and young people from December 2021 is more positive, showing that physical activity levels are very similar for boys and girls in education, with 45% of both defined as active. However, it is clear that more work needs to be done to continue to break down the barriers that prevent women and girls from being active, such as a fear of judgment, safety concerns and a lack of time.
We know that football is a popular choice for women and girls to get active—indeed, it is the most popular team sport for women and girls. Programmes such as Game On, Shooting Stars and Barclays Girls’ Football School Partnerships are engaging more girls in football at school—for example, more than 3,200 primary schools participate in the Shooting Stars programme. Initiatives such as Sport England’s This Girl Can continue to inspire millions of women to get active, regardless of shape, size, or ability. That campaign has helped to eliminate fear of judgment by normalising women taking part in sport and changing perceptions of what sport is. It also aims to prove that barriers such as time and money can be overcome.
The Lionesses’ fantastic performance at the 2022 women’s Euros has truly inspired the nation, and it is great to see that confirmed by the recent figures published by UEFA in its post-tournament flash report. For example, more than half of local residents and two in five spectators and tournament volunteers have been inspired to do more sport and physical activity generally, and 84% of those participating in UEFA’s women’s Euro 2022 legacy activities report that doing so has improved their confidence and self-esteem. We want to build on that momentum.
The Minister is outlining a lot of fantastic community initiatives. If he is going to come on to this topic, I hope he will forgive me, but could he address some of the questions I asked about working with the Department for Education to make sure that PE is on the agenda in the way the Lionesses have been pushing for?
The hon. Lady does not have long to wait. We want to build on the momentum that the tournament has created to ensure that every woman and every girl has the opportunity to take part in football if that is what they want to do, and—more importantly—to get active in any way that suits them personally. Our £230 million grassroots investment will be key to achieving that.
The Secretary of State was delighted to meet the Lionesses last month; they are extraordinary ambassadors for sport. We will continue to invest in grassroots sport to bring on the next generation of Lionesses. We know how valuable PE at school is: it gives pupils an opportunity to excel, be active and lead healthy lives. We are actively working with the Department for Education to understand the barriers that prevent the ambition of two to two and a half hours of PE a week being achieved. I commit to personally engaging with my colleagues in the Department for Education to ensure that girls have equal access to sport. We are also reviewing the barriers that prevent girls from getting access to two hours of PE. There is more work for us to do to identify and address the different barriers to participation that exist for young people, and I absolutely commit to making that my priority.
Alongside that, the Department for Education is working on updating the school sport and activity action plan, which will set out actions to improve PE teaching in primary schools and help schools to make better use of their facilities. That will include a £30 million project to open those facilities after hours. More broadly, we need to work with other Departments, such as the Department of Health and Social Care. This is a policy area I care passionately about, and I know that if I do not do something about this issue, I will have far more debates to answer, although I will be happy to do so.
I thank Members for participating in the debate. I was told there was a delicious irony in the Member for Twickenham talking about football; I think there is a delicious irony in the fact that four of the seven Members present do not represent English constituencies, but also congratulate the Lionesses and wish them well. I am pleased to see the Scots enjoying English victory.
I thank Members for the important points they made, not least regarding the equalities issue—I wholeheartedly add my support to the comments made about Qatar hosting the World cup. I thank the Minister for his passion and commitment and urge him to keep pressing the Department for Education, particularly on the sport premium. With spending cuts coming down the tracks, that is an easy thing to go after, but it is so important, particularly for less well-off children. Given that we are running out of time, I will end there.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the 2022 UEFA European Women’s Football Championship and participation of girls and young women in sport.