Skip to main content

Westminster Hall

Volume 734: debated on Tuesday 20 June 2023

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 20 June 2023

[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Smokefree 2030 Target

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Smokefree 2030 target.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Evans, and thank you for stepping in to ensure that the debate can take place. We will be considering the 17 April statement to the House on achieving a smokefree England by 2030, cutting smoking and stopping kids vaping.

The debate is co-sponsored by me, in my capacity as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, and by my friend, the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), who is a vice-chair of the group. The APPG wants to ensure that Parliament has the chance to debate the announcement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), and to consider whether those measures are sufficient to end smoking by 2030 and level up the health and wellbeing of some of the most deprived communities in the country.

At the outset, I commend my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for announcing the first tobacco control measures since the Government set out their Smokefree 2030 ambition way back in 2019. Since 2021, the APPG has been calling for greater funding to help smokers to swap and to stop, and to provide incentives to help pregnant smokers to quit. We are extremely pleased to see that those measures have been taken forward.

However, while the measures recently introduced by the Government to achieve a Smokefree 2030 are welcome, they are insufficiently ambitious, as they provide only a quarter of the funding called for by the Government’s own independent review last year. Meanwhile, big tobacco continues to make extreme profits selling highly addictive, lethal products that kill if they are used correctly.

The idea of a levy on the industry is popular and feasible, and is supported by voters of all political persuasions, as well as the majority of tobacco retailers. The manufacturers clearly have the money and high profits, so they should be made to pay to end the epidemic. This is more than just a health crisis because delivering a Smokefree 2030 is integral to delivering economic growth, which is a mantra for the Government and for Opposition parties.

Analysis conducted by Landman Economics on behalf of ASH—Action on Smoking and Health—found that, in addition to causing around 75,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, in 2022 smoking cost the economy a staggering £173 billion, including lost productivity and premature death.

Let me break those figures down. The cost to the public finances was £21 billion, which is nearly double the tobacco tax revenues of £11 billion. The cost to the NHS was £2.2 billion, and to social care £1.3 billion. Those figures are substantial, but they pale into insignificance beside the £5 billion of social security payments and the £11.8 billion of lost income tax and national insurance—people who are sick from smoking are unable to work. That is public money, and it will continue literally to go up in smoke for years to come unless we take urgent and bold action.

I welcome the measures announced by the Minister in April, but I recognise that they still fall well short of the recommendations in Dr Javed Khan’s independent review. Of the four “must do” measures recommended by Dr Khan, only one—promoting vaping for adult smokers—has been fully adopted by the Government. The recommendation to improve prevention in the NHS has been partially implemented via the new NHS long-term plan with respect to tobacco treatment services, but those have been constrained by a lack of funding.

Dr Khan’s top two recommendations, which are increased investment in tobacco control and increasing the age of sale, have not been adopted, which has left tobacco control efforts desperately underfunded and put the Smokefree 2030 ambition in critical jeopardy. While I commend the Government’s ambition and commitment to make smoking obsolete by 2030, to date that ambition has not been matched by funding. Dr Khan’s independent review made it clear that a Smokefree 2030 cannot be delivered on the cheap. Speaking recently on improved public sector productivity, the Chancellor stated that

“we count the number of hospital treatments but not the value of preventative care, even though that saves lives and reduces cost.”

I could not agree more.

Public health interventions, such as smoking cessation, cost three to four times less than NHS treatment for each additional year of good health achieved in the population, yet this is where the largest budget cuts have fallen to date, with the public health grant falling by a quarter in real terms since 2015 and funding for tobacco control falling by almost half. Local authorities have done their best to continue delivering vital tobacco control activity despite these funding cuts, but there is much more that we can do. If the Government are serious about the Smokefree 2030 ambition, they cannot keep asking local government to do more with less. More funding must be made available to deliver it.

Last year, Dr Javed Khan called on the Government to urgently invest an additional £125 million per year in a comprehensive Smokefree 2030 programme. One of his options for raising that money was a “polluter pays” levy on tobacco manufacturers, based on the principle that those responsible for the problem should be required to fix it. The principle has been accepted on numerous occasions: the landfill levy; the tax on sugar in soft drinks; requiring developers to pay for the costs of remediating building safety defects; and, most recently, a statutory gambling levy. The “polluter pays” model would enable the Government to limit the ability of manufacturers to profit from smokers while protecting Government excise tax revenues. That will prevent big tobacco gaming the system as it currently does with corporation tax.

Despite paying little corporation tax, the big four tobacco companies make around 50% net operating profits in the UK—far higher than the average of 10% for UK manufacturers overall. Imperial Brands is the most profitable, with 40% market share in the UK and over 70% net operating profits in 2021. Why should an industry whose products diminish the health of users be allowed to make such excessive profits? A levy could raise £700 million a year while capping the profits on sales to ensure that the costs are not passed on to smokers. Some £700 million from tobacco manufacturers would more than cover the £125-million additional funding that Dr Khan estimated was needed for tobacco control, with money left over for other prevention and public health measures.

[Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

Amendments to the Health and Care Act 2022 calling for a consultation on such a levy were tabled by the hon. Member for City of Durham, who is co-sponsor of this debate, and were accepted in the House of Lords last year. Health Ministers were sympathetic, but the Treasury opposed the measure, so it was voted down by the Government, despite overwhelming public support for a levy. Some 75% of the British public think that tobacco manufacturers should be made to pay. My first question to the Minister is: can he tell me, if the Government will not commit to a levy on tobacco manufacturers, how, when and where will they find the additional funding needed to deliver the Smokefree 2030 ambition? Since 2020, public health Ministers have committed to publishing a new tobacco control plan, initially by July 2021 and then by the end of 2022—we are still waiting. The previous tobacco control plan expired last year, leaving us without a strategy or any targets for reducing smoking rates among the most disadvantaged groups.

In the absence of national leadership, local authorities are stepping up to the plate. For example, the London Tobacco Alliance, which I am proud to support, launched last year. It is leading the charge to make the capital smoke-free by 2030. I am sure the Minister will join me in commending the alliance and other regional partnerships across the country that are committed to tackling smoking in their communities. In place of a tobacco control plan, the Minister has said that tackling smoking will be “central” to the major conditions strategy. However, the recent call for evidence for that strategy was not reassuring, and certainly did not place smoking front and centre. My second question is: if the Minister will not commit to a new tobacco control plan—I wish he would—can he at least reaffirm that smoking will be central to the major conditions strategy and that further tobacco control measures will be included in the major conditions strategy when it is finally published? I assure the Minister that he has the full support of the APPG in his efforts to tackle youth vaping, and recent announcements by both the Minister and the Prime Minister are warmly welcomed.

My views on youth vaping were summed up expertly by the chief medical officer:

“If you smoke, vaping is much safer; if you don’t smoke, don’t vape; marketing vapes to children is utterly unacceptable.”

The APPG is deeply concerned about recent figures published by ASH showing that there has been a significant rise in youth experimentation with nicotine e-cigarettes, driven by cheap, colourful disposable vapes and child-friendly marketing.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) on securing this debate. Although I acknowledge that vaping has a role in helping adults to quit tobacco smoking, youth vaping has unintended consequences, as my hon. Friend is starting to elaborate. We have seen a surge in such vaping, and there are huge health and environmental concerns. As he said, the products are targeted at young people, with colourful packaging and flavouring. The Government have taken some strong steps. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to go faster to stop this unintended public-health ticking time bomb?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. It reminds me that 11 years ago I led a debate in this place on introducing standardised packaging for tobacco products. At the time, both the Government and the Opposition said they had no plans to support such a measure. Of course, we now have standardised packaging of tobacco products. I hope we can get standardised packaging of vaping products as well.

The Government recently issued a call for evidence on the best approaches for tackling youth vaping. I look forward to seeing the response. First and foremost, the Government should make disposable vapes, which are the worst things for the economy, much less affordable, by adding a £5 excise tax. That would also make the distribution of those products subject to much more stringent controls, making it easier to prevent illicit and underage sales. It would in particular ban the issuing of free samples to young people.

Will the Minister tell us when the Government’s response to the call for evidence on youth vaping will be published, and whether it will include specific enhanced regulation to address loopholes in the law? I welcome the Minister’s commitment to adapting the tobacco trace and trace system, to strengthen enforcement and to target the illicit market. I particularly welcome the Minister’s commitment to exploring how to share information with local partners about who is registered on the track and trace system, which is critical.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a critical role for trading standards in enforcing measures against illegal vapes, counterfeit tobacco and underage sales? We could greatly secure the environment for the consumer by trading standards enforcing the laws.

My hon. Friend must have read the next part of my speech. At present, trading standards officers have one arm tied behind their back in the fight against illicit tobacco, due to a lack of options for identifying and cracking down on retailers who repeatedly flout tobacco regulation. We know that retailers who sell illicit tobacco products are much more likely to sell tobacco to children, undermining tobacco-control regulations. They also seek to hook children on the addictive product that kills more than half of long-term users, by giving or selling them vapes in the first place.

Retailers are required to have an economic operator ID before they can trade in tobacco, under the current tobacco tracking and tracing regulations. Through adaptation of that system, local enforcement will easily be able to identify retailers who are breaking the law, and hold them accountable. That is the approach that I recommend in my ten-minute rule Bill, which would introduce a retail licensing system, similar to the one that exists for alcohol. Retail licensing for tobacco was recommended in Dr Khan’s independent review.

The Minister will be pleased to know that that approach has the support of the public and retailers. Survey evidence from ASH, published last autumn, found that more than eight in 10 small tobacco retailers support the introduction of a tobacco licence, backed by mandatory age verification. Will the Minister commit to publishing further detail on his plans to strengthen the track and trace system, before Second Reading of my ten-minute rule Bill on retail licensing in November?

It is undeniable that big tobacco and those representing its interests never cease in their attempts to undermine public policy, not just on tobacco but on vaping. Only last weekend, The Observer revealed that lobbyists connected to big tobacco were funding Facebook campaigns opposing new vaping regulations. Regulations, I think we can all agree, are desperately needed to protect children. It was exceptionally well timed, therefore, that yesterday the Department of Health and Social Care published guidance for all parts of Government on our legal obligations to protect public policy from the commercial and vested interests of the industry—guidance that I very warmly welcome. The Department of Health and Social Care, as custodian of the World Health Organisation framework convention on tobacco control, has been staunch in its support for that treaty and has upheld our legal obligation to strictly limit any engagement with the industry solely to that required for effective regulation of the industry. Will the Minister put it on the record that Government—the Executive, legislature and judiciary—are required to limit interactions not just with tobacco manufacturers but with any organisations or individuals with affiliations to the tobacco industry, including lobbyists or industry trade bodies, such as the UK Vaping Industry Association, which lists big tobacco among its members?

Mr Sharma, it is good to see you in the Chair; thank you for stepping in. When the Government initially announced their Smokefree 2030 ambition, it was described as “extremely challenging”. Four years on, not only has the challenge increased but the need for action has become more urgent. Cancer Research UK estimates that we will miss achieving the ambition by nine years; it will be even longer for the most disadvantaged in society. I am sure that the Minister agrees that that is not acceptable, so I wish to remind him of comments that he made in his previous role as a Minister for levelling up. He said that

“ultimately on public health and on prevention, we need to think extremely radically and really floor it, because otherwise the NHS will just be under humongous pressure for the rest of our lifetimes because of an ageing population.”

The proposals brought forward to date have been radical, but are not yet sufficient. There is nothing on key measures recommended by the APPG and by Dr Khan in last year’s review, which included reinstating funding that was cut for behaviour change campaigns, raising the age of sale, retail licensing, and tougher regulations for tobacco as well as vaping. I hope that when the Minister replies to this debate, he can assure the Chamber that the major conditions strategy will be published this year and will contain further measures—and funding—sufficiently radical to achieve our ambition for a smoke-free future, not just in England but throughout the United Kingdom. I look forward to hearing the contributions of other colleagues on this important matter, and thank you, Mr Sharma, for allowing this important debate to take place today.

Order. I have two announcements to make before I call the next speaker. This debate will still finish at 11 am. I intend to start calling Opposition Front Benchers at 10.30 am. Rather than setting a time limit now, I make this request of all Members: try to be brief, so that everybody can contribute. I hope that, in that way, we can deal with the situation. I call Mary Kelly Foy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma, and to follow my co-sponsor of this debate, the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). He is also the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, of which I am a vice-chair. I declare that interest.

As we have heard, the measures announced by the Minister in April were a step in the right direction. However, they fell very short of the comprehensive strategy outlined by the APPG and the Khan review, and it has taken far too long—almost four years—for the Government to get going on this. In the meantime, tobacco continues to kill an estimated one person every five minutes in Britain. The deaths are disproportionately concentrated in regions such as the north-east—regions that have some of the highest rates of poverty and, in turn, the highest rates of smoking in England. In the north-east, nearly 13,000 people died prematurely from smoking between 2017 and 2019. This has an economic cost for our communities of over £100 million in healthcare costs and £64 million in social care costs. All the while, tobacco companies make record profits, leaving the taxpayer and families to pick up the pieces.

We are fortunate in the north-east to have a highly effective regional tobacco control programme—Fresh—funded by all the local authorities in the region and the local integrated care board, and it has proven successful over the years. Just yesterday, it launched a new behavioural change campaign called “Smoking Survivors”, which features two women from the north-east who have quit smoking and survived cancer. However, national funding for behavioural change campaigns such as that fell by around 90% between 2008 and 2018. Although regional activity is vital, we need strong leadership from the Government if we are to see every region be smoke free by 2030.

Like the hon. Member for Harrow East, I welcome the Minister’s recent announcement on tackling youth vaping, but why did it take so long for the Government to act? When the Health and Care Act 2022 was going through Parliament in 2021, I tabled amendments that would have given the Government powers to prohibit child-friendly branding on e-cigarette packaging and to ban the free distribution of vapes to under-18s, which, as we know, has strong cross-party support. To my amazement, not only did the Government fail to adopt my amendments, but they voted them down.

As the Minister will remember, one of Dr Khan’s must-do recommendations was raising the age of sale for tobacco beyond 18, so I was disappointed not to see that included in the April announcement. The all-party group has already urged the Government to launch a public consultation on raising the age of sale, and I urge them to do that too.

I will end with a few questions for the Minister, which probably echo what the hon. Member for Harrow East asked. Will the Minister commit to consulting on a “polluter pays” levy to raise funding for a comprehensive tobacco control strategy?

Will the Government consider measures to address the affordability, accessibility, appeal and advertising of vapes, which were recommended by ASH in its response to the Government’s call for evidence on youth vaping? Once again, I highlight the fact that big tobacco companies rigorously lobby against vaping regulations, so I would like the Minister to take note of that.

Will the Minister confirm that a consultation on raising the age of sale will be considered? Finally, will he reassure the House that a comprehensive strategy to address smoking and vaping will be delivered—if not through the tobacco control plan, as promised by his predecessors, then in the forthcoming major conditions strategy?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on securing this important debate. The Department of Health and Social Care’s announcement in response to the Khan smoking review of last year was a positive step to ensure the UK remains a world leader on harm reduction and has a strong chance of reaching the Government’s ambitious Smokefree 2030 target. That said, I worry there is a serious risk that the target will be missed, with an estimated 13.3% of adults in the UK still smoking. The Department’s announcement that a reduction in smoking would also reduce the number of hospital admissions is clearly correct. It would help the Government’s priority of reducing NHS waiting lists.

The Government are taking a harm reduction approach to tackling smoking. As the Minister said, the person who quits today is the person who is not in a hospital bed tomorrow. I therefore welcome the Government’s highly pragmatic approach to vapes, but only by embracing all smoking alternatives—not just vaping, but gum, patches and NHS stop smoking services—can the UK give itself the best chance of hitting its Smokefree 2030 target, with the health benefits that would result from that.

There are 3.3 million vapers in the UK, but vaping does not meet the needs of all smokers looking to stop. Furthermore, because it does not closely mimic smoking, 35% of current vapers use vapes and cigarettes alongside one another, as confirmed by Action on Smoking and Health. Other products, such as “heat not burn”, heat tobacco rather than burning it, and therefore produce substantially fewer harmful and potentially harmful chemicals than cigarettes. They also mimic cigarettes much more closely than vapes, which means that smokers who switch to them are less likely to continue smoking. Importantly, studies have shown that they are less attractive than vapes to younger people who have never smoked.

That said, there are rightly concerns about youth uptake of vaping. Vapes are designed for adult smokers who are trying to quit, not for teenagers to use as a gateway to other nicotine products. There is clearly a balance to be struck between ensuring that vapes do not end up in the hands of young people and not hindering the access of adult smokers to these reduced-risk alternatives.

Tt international forums, the UK should stand up for this positive harm-reduction approach to tackling smoking. Now that it has left the EU, it can speak as a world leader on harm reduction, alongside nations such as Sweden and Japan, to demonstrate the powerful role that support for less harmful alternatives to cigarettes can play in reducing smoking prevalence.

In 2018, when I sat on the Science and Technology Committee, we called for independent research to be commissioned on the relative risks of “heat not burn” tobacco products. The research would fill the gap in knowledge and understanding of the impact of these products and the relative harms compared to other products, such as e-cigarettes, and would ensure that evidence-based policymaking was not solely reliant on the industry for scientific evidence. I stood—and indeed continue to stand—firmly by that call from the Select Committee for proper scientific research to be done. It is only when we have all the facts that we can make the most effective decisions to help us stop smoking by 2030, with all the health benefits that that entails and all the lives it will save.

I thank the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for securing this important debate. For seven years, I was the cabinet member on Birmingham City Council overseeing public health. Because of that, I have seen the long-term health impacts of smoking on communities across both Birmingham and the UK.

It is shocking that one of the biggest causes of death in the UK—causing around 150 cases of cancer per day—is entirely preventable. Around 6.6 million adults currently smoke in the UK. In Birmingham and Solihull, more than 10,000 people are admitted to hospital per year as a result of smoking. As a district nurse, I saw the effects that smoking can have on people both with and without existing health conditions and how difficult it can be to quit. I met patients with COPD—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—who were using oxygen to help them to breath and who would still ask to be wheeled outside to smoke because they were so addicted to smoking.

We have a very strong pro-smoking lobby in the UK. Action on Smoking and Health reported that the tobacco industry works to undermine public health measures and is increasing its marketing plans, including to market to young people and to oppose regulation. In the face of that, young people in my constituency do not stand a chance. That is why we truly need strategies to prevent our young people from starting smoking in the first place.

I recognise that encouraging the use of e-cigarettes is a vital part of the Government’s strategy. However, it is important that we do not forget about the risk associated with them. Not enough research has been done on vaping for us to know the long-term effects, especially during pregnancy, and the impact on the lives of children who vape, which are just starting to show through. Last year, 40 children in England were admitted to hospital due to vaping-related disorders, with 15 children under 10 admitted due to the effects of vaping. We are relying on best estimates to understand the impacts of vaping. It is vital that the Government commit to proper research and enforcement, including clamping down on the sale of e-cigarettes containing harmful levels of nicotine.

The ambition is for England to be smoke free by 2030. It is a welcome target, and the Government themselves have recognised that it will need bold action. The Khan review, which was published a year ago, found that, without further action, England will miss the smoke-free target by at least seven years, and the poorest areas, such as my communities in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale, will not meet it until 2044. We are still to see the Government’s new tobacco control plan more than a year later.

It is ridiculous that, since the Smokefree 2030 target was published—only three years ago—the Secretary of State has changed four times. If we are serious about stopping smoking and improving outcomes for all, we need an NHS fit for the future, with the capacity to deliver long-term, ambitious targets for public health. We need a serious Government, committed to backing our health service. Only Labour can deliver on those promises.

I thank the hon. Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for securing this important debate. I am always pleased to come along and make a contribution.

Although Northern Ireland does not yet have a smoke-free target, I strongly support the Smokefree 2030 ambition. I welcomed the Minister’s announcement in April, which set out a number of bold and innovative measures. Putting in place the measures needed to make England smoke free by 2030 will enhance efforts to tackle smoking across the whole United Kingdom. Although Northern Ireland and the other devolved nations hold responsibility for their own health policies, the Government in Westminster maintain responsibility for UK-wide policies, which will impact progress in the devolved nations. I know that the Minister is always keen to respond in a positive way; perhaps he could confirm that discussions have taken place and tell us their outcome.

I particularly welcome the commitment to hold a consultation on pack inserts. All of us have probably called for that—I know I have—and I am pleased to see that it has been adopted by the Government. Cigarette pack inserts providing health information have been required in Canada since 2000, and there is substantial evidence that they are effective. Research carried out in the UK supports their use here too. I hope that the Minister will confirm when the consultation will open—that is my first question.

As the Minister knows, healthcare services are under severe pressure across the United Kingdom. Tackling smoking, which is a leading preventable cause of death and disease, killing 2,300 people in Northern Ireland each year, is vital if we are to ease that pressure. In Northern Ireland, cases of lung cancer among men are projected to increase by 74% by 2035. That is massive, but the figures are even more massive for women, for whom cases are projected to increase by 91%. Smoking is responsible for over seven in 10 cases of lung cancer. Therefore, real, targeted action needs to be taken. I am keen to get the Minister’s thoughts on that.

In 2016-17, the estimated hospital costs for treating smoking-related diseases in Northern Ireland were £172 million. If we do not take urgent action now to reduce smoking rates, our healthcare service will continue to face huge pressure. Analysis by Cancer Research UK shows that current rates of decline in Northern Ireland will not achieve the smoke-free ambition of smoking rates of 5% or less until the late 2040s, which is a decade after England. That means that our deprived populations will not be smoke-free until 2050. We need to step up efforts to achieve a smoke-free future at both the devolved level and the UK level.

I was interested to see the Minister’s announcement on how the Government intend to crack down on illicit tobacco and vaping products. We can give some credit to the Government, and to the Minister in particular, for the action they have put forward. The sale of illicit tobacco undermines efforts to reduce smoking rates. It is concentrated among poorer smokers and disadvantaged communities, contributing to higher rates of smoking. Retailers who sell illicit tobacco are much more likely to be happy to sell to children, so the illicit market also poses a particular risk to children’s health. Addressing the issue requires tackling not just the supply but the demand for illicit tobacco in communities where smoking is endemic.

The UK has made great strides in reducing the trade of illicit tobacco in the last two decades, with a comprehensive anti-smuggling strategy, which has more than halved the market share of illicit cigarettes, from 22% in 2000-01 to 9% in 2021. The Government need to be thanked and congratulated for that. It is a very positive and clear strategy, and it is working, but we need perhaps to sharpen it up a wee bit. There is still more to be done.

The announcement that His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Border Force will publish an updated strategy to tackle illicit tobacco is welcome. Northern Ireland, with its land border with the EU, is particularly geographically vulnerable to illicit trade run by criminal gangs, and we have a proliferation of paramilitary groups on both sides using the illicit tobacco sector to create moneys for their criminal uses. Border Force and HMRC have a key role to play in tackling smuggled tobacco, especially in our most disadvantaged communities, where smoking rates are highest. It is not the Minister’s responsibility, but perhaps he could give us some idea about how that co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Garda Síochána and the mainland police here is working.

I also welcome the Minister’s commitment to adapting the tobacco track and trace system to strengthen enforcement and target the illicit market. In particular, the Minister’s commitment to explore how to share with local partners information about who is registered on the track and trace system is critical. Will he confirm whether sharing information with local partners from the track and trace system overseen by HMRC will be part of the new strategy? It is important that it is. The Minister is nodding, so I expect that the answer is yes, which would be good news. Will he also tell us whether the new illicit tobacco strategy will be launched before the summer recess? As MPs, we always like timescales—I know I do, so perhaps he could respond positively to that question.

It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Mr Sharma. I commend the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for securing today’s debate.

Smoking is not a lifestyle choice; it is a lethal addiction that the vast majority of smokers enter into before they reach adulthood. It is also an addiction that is increasingly concentrated among the most disadvantaged in society. The Office for National Statistics recently reported that over a third of smokers are now among the poorest 20% of the population. Lest we forget, that concentration of disadvantage is fuelled by the tobacco industry, the ability of which to maximise its profits by selling lethal and addictive products must be strictly regulated if we are to achieve our Smokefree 2030 ambition and protect the nation’s health.

My constituency, like that of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham, is in the north-east, which is the most disadvantaged region in the country, as well as having the lowest regional life expectancy and among the highest smoking rates. It gives me absolutely no pleasure to say that. In 2021, 22,000 adults in Gateshead smoked, which cost the NHS £7 million and local authority social care £5.4 million, as well as costing £66 million in lost productivity. Those costs are due entirely to smoking and are entirely preventable.

Tobacco addiction has been levelling down communities across the country for decades and will go on doing so until the Government start to take action to deliver on their Smokefree 2030 ambition for all in society. On average, smokers spend around £2,500 per year on smoking. That is money they can ill afford. The total spend in Gateshead is £55 million—an eye-watering amount that goes up in smoke, with no benefit to the local community. Ending smoking will significantly increase disposable income in poorer communities such as mine, help grow the local economy, and improve the health and wellbeing of our communities.

Members have spoken about the need for investment in stop smoking services, which is indeed vital. The hon. Member for Harrow East spoke passionately at a debate in March about the Smokefree 2030 ambition and the role of support for smokers in achieving that goal. I wholeheartedly agree with him: smokers need to be motivated and supported to quit. But, as we have heard, the public health budget that funds local authority stop smoking services has been cut by 45% in real terms since 2015. That funding desperately needs to be reinstated if smokers are to get the support they need and deserve. The Government have so far failed to make the necessary funding available from the public purse. That is why I support a levy on tobacco manufacturers to pay for measures such as the stop smoking services needed to deliver the Smokefree 2030 ambition. Will the Minister fulfil the prevention Green Paper commitment to consider a “polluter pays” approach to funding tobacco control? That funding is sorely needed if we are to achieve our ambition of a Smokefree 2030.

Another area I want to look at is mental health. More investment is desperately needed to tackle smoking among those with mental health conditions as smoking is the leading cause of significantly reduced life expectancy among people with a mental health condition. Depending on the condition, life expectancy can be reduced by between seven to 25 years and as many as one in three smokers has a diagnosable mental health condition. Smoking is an indirect cause of poor mental health across the whole population through its impacts on physical health, income and employment. It is also a direct cause because it increases the risk of some mental health conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia. Those factors form a cycle whereby smokers are at greater risk of poor mental health and those with poor mental health are at greater risk of becoming heavily addicted to smoking and struggling to stop, further damaging their mental health. Investment is desperately needed to break that cycle. I could say much more on the issue. It is vital that we look at the provisions in the NHS long-term plan. They, on their own, will not reach the much larger group of smokers who need assistance to quit.

The improving access to psychological therapies programme has around 1,690,000 referrals a year and supports people with conditions such as depression and anxiety. The smoking status of clients of IAPT services is not routinely monitored. However, given the high rates of smoking among people with common mental health conditions, it is likely that around one in four clients smokes, which is equivalent to 504,000 smokers a year taking part in the IAPT programme. Pilot projects have shown that IAPT therapists are willing and able to deliver support to quit and that clients value the offer, so extending IAPT to include smoking cessation treatment would be highly cost-effective as it piggybacks on an existing service. But that still requires investment.

Finally, I want to share concerns that others have raised about the increase in youth vaping. Smokers with mental health conditions have been found particularly to benefit from access to e-cigarettes given their high levels of addiction and their barriers to quitting. It is essential that we ensure that adult smokers continue to have that help as a safer alternative to smoking and a means of quitting, but we must drive down the increasing rates of vaping in our children.

The hon. Lady is making an interesting speech. There is no doubt that vaping saves lives when smokers convert to vaping. Although we must do everything we can to stop children from accessing vapes and dissuade non-smokers from taking up vaping, does she agree that the last thing we want is to do anything at all that prevents or dissuades smokers from switching to vaping or other alternatives such as heat-not-burn products?

Of course, it is right that we do everything we can to help adults stop smoking, but we also want to prevent young people from accessing vaping. We do not know the long-term impact, and it is important that we do not get non-smokers taking up smoking because of some attractive bubblegum or strawberry-flavoured vape. There are also environmental issues with disposable vapes, which are often used. Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but we must tackle the other side of the issue as well.

Fresh, the tobacco control programme in the north-east, and Action on Smoking and Health have submitted strong, evidence-based proposals for further regulation of vaping to the consultation, which has just closed. The Government must act now, without delay, to implement their proposals. My final question to the Minister is this: will he commit to publishing concrete proposals for regulation to tackle youth vaping before the summer recess?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on securing the debate. I must confess to some trepidation about taking part, because it is on an England-only topic: health is devolved, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) pointed out. However, smoking is of specific and acute importance to young people, and many young people from Arfon work, live, love and play in England, so it has relevance.

I am a former smoker. I smoked until my 30s, when a friend pointed out the folly of rolling dried leaves up in paper and setting fire to them in my mouth—that eventually persuaded me. More relevantly, as long ago as 2005 I was a supporter of the Smoking in Public Places (Wales) Bill, a private Member’s Bill promoted by Julie Morgan, the then Labour MP for Cardiff North, that would have devolved power to the Welsh Assembly to ban smoking in public places. Unfortunately, the then UK Labour Government did not provide time for that Bill, and by the time an England and Wales Bill had become law, more people employed in bars, hotels and restaurants in Wales had contracted fatal smoking-related diseases. I am not being too dramatic about this: the lack of devolution in that instance actually cost lives.

In Wales, as in England, smoking is the largest single cause of preventable and premature death. Poverty is an issue. Wales is a poor country: when we were in the European Union, parts of Wales qualified for regional aid on the same basis as the most poverty-stricken parts of the former Soviet bloc in eastern Europe. That is how bad it was and, tragically, that is how bad it remains.

Smoking is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor. Smoking hits us hard in Wales: our smoking rates are some of the highest among vulnerable populations. The Welsh Government’s tobacco control plan, published in July 2022, sets a target for Wales to become smoke free by 2030. Meanwhile, England’s tobacco control plan has expired, and the promised updates have been delayed time and again.

As I said, this is an England-only matter because health is devolved. Health policy has diverged between Wales and England, not least in that the wellbeing approach adopted in Wales is markedly different from the illness policy introduced elsewhere. Reducing smoking is an urgent element of that wellbeing approach. However, many of the key policy interventions in Wales that require legislation are reserved and must be voted through in this Parliament. The Welsh Government do not have the power to put warnings on individual cigarettes, put inserts in tobacco packs or strengthen the regulation of e-cigarettes—by the way, if they did, I suspect that those warnings would be in both our languages, but that is a matter for another day. The Welsh Government have even been told that they do not have the power to raise the age of sale for tobacco to 21.

Those were all key measures that were recommended in the Khan review and are supported by the people of Wales, but they cannot be taken forward because of a lack of devolution and powers. By being so slow, the UK Government are undermining the ability of the Welsh Government to achieve their Smokefree 2030 ambition. That ambition is supported by seven out of 10 people in Wales, a figure that rises to eight out of 10 among those who voted for my party, Plaid Cymru, at the last election.

The “polluter pays” levy is vital for Wales, as it is for England. I was pleased to put my name, on behalf of Plaid, to the amendments to the Health and Care Bill that the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) tabled on Report, and particularly to the amendment that called for a consultation on a levy on tobacco manufacturers to pay for measures needed to deliver a smoke-free future. If the Government had adopted that amendment, we would now be much closer to achieving the target. A UK-wide levy would have raised as much as £700 million per year, which would have been sufficient to fund the programme both in England and Wales.

There are many other regulations that would benefit Wales but that need action from Westminster. Because of the time available, let me just say that those measures include: warnings on cigarettes; a ban on all tobacco flavours; prohibition of free distribution of vapes to children; a ban on sweet names, bright colours and cartoon characters on vapes, which are all so appealing to children; and a requirement that tobacco packs have inserts. These are all measures that the Government have refused to adopt in the past and are still slow to adopt today. Announcements on pack inserts and free vape distribution are urgent, so that both Parliaments have clarity. Will the Minister confirm the dates for the launch of the consultation on the pack insert regulations that was announced in April, and at the very least to reassure us that it will take place before the summer recess?

I hope that the Front Benchers and the Minister will spare about a minute or two for Bob Blackman to wind up at the end of the debate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Sharma, and I thank the hon. Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for securing today’s debate. This is absolutely vital issue that needs to get far more attention than it has had.

It is good to hear the broad cross-party consensus in the debate. Of course, as has already been mentioned by a number of speakers, health is a devolved matter. However, smoking is a significant public health issue in Scotland and a leading cause of preventable ill health, premature death and disability.

In 2013, the Scottish Government set a target that children born that year would reach adulthood in a smoke-free Scotland; our target for that is 2034, a few years after the English target date. A recent YouGov poll for ASH found that that 2034 target is supported by three quarters of adults in Scotland, with even more support coming from the supporters of my party—it was supported by eight out of 10 of them at the last election. It is perhaps worth remembering that the ban on smoking in public places came into force in Scotland in the spring of 2006, with the rest of the UK following soon afterwards.

As a footnote, the ban in Scotland came in on my birthday, which, as a non-smoker, I thought was a wonderful thing. I thoroughly enjoyed nights out a lot more afterwards. However, a much more profound effect was felt by my friends who smoked. Almost all of them have either stopped smoking completely or very significantly reduced their consumption.

Research shows that the number of heart attacks in Scotland fell by 74% between 1990 and 2014. Reduction in the number of people smoking and the increased uptake of cholesterol testing and statin drugs were cited as major contributory factors for that fall. That is very positive and it backs up the evidence I have seen with my own eyes among my friends and family connections. Since 2013, smoking prevalence has fallen significantly, from 22% to 14% now, but much remains to be done.

Smoking remains the leading cause of death in Scotland. Indeed, in 2021 the Scottish health survey set out that smoking was the cause of about one in five deaths and it is estimated that it also causes around 100,000 hospital admissions a year. The Scottish Government estimate that smoking costs NHS Scotland at least £300 million and the true figure could be upwards of £500 million, with additional costs, such as lost productivity, environmental and fire costs, calculated by Landman Economics at another £500 million. That is money literally going up in smoke for public services, as well as for smokers, at a time when the cost of living crisis is hitting hard everywhere.

We should not forget that the average smoker in Scotland—I do not know what the equivalent figures are for England, Wales or Northern Ireland—consumes around 12 cigarettes a day, which means they spend £1,875 a year on smoking. It remains pretty big business. Of course, smoking prevalence is highest in the areas that are most deprived, which further compounds health inequalities and poverty issues.

As Scotland’s five-year tobacco control plan is set to be renewed later this year, I hope for an ambitious set of policies that can help us to achieve our goal of a smoke-free 2034. A range of policies that aim to make smoking less visible, such as prohibiting smoking in public playgrounds, are being considered. However, there is only so much that can be done by Holyrood.

The Government’s Green Paper on prevention commits to considering options for raising revenue to fund evidence-based tobacco control, including a “polluter pays” approach, using mechanisms set out in the Health Act 2006. That would be a public health fund rather than a tax, modelled on the pharmaceutical pricing scheme that is organised and collected by the Department of Health and Social Care on behalf of England and the devolved nations.

Three quarters of adults in Great Britain support making the tobacco industry pay a levy or licence fee to Government for measures to help smokers quit and to prevent young people from taking up smoking. Tobacco must be the only product that kills when it is used as intended. I had a smile moment when the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) mentioned why he stopped. I always think of the Bob Newhart comedy sketch, for those of a certain generation, about introducing tobacco to the western world. If it had been found nowadays, no one would use it. That makes me wonder why we continue.

The tobacco industry continues to make vast profits: on average, 50% of operating profits, compared with only 10% on average for UK manufacturing. Big tobacco can—and should be made to—pay. A “polluter pays” levy would be not a tax but a public health fund, raising a fixed sum to pay for recurring costs of tobacco control. Capping profits at 10% would prevent tobacco manufacturers from passing on the cost to smokers and ensure that tobacco taxes were not undermined.

The current pharmaceutical scheme, set out in the Health Act 2006, is administered by the DHSC, with the devolved Administrations opting in. A tobacco control fund could easily be operated on the same basis. Funding for evidence-based tobacco control policies, such as public education campaigns, smoking cessation services and enforcement, has declined since 2010. The levy could restore funding for those vital activities, and provide additional resource for the further activity needed to reach a smoke-free generation throughout the UK’s nations. Will the Minister listen to the public and commit to consulting on a “polluter pays” levy to provide the funding needed to deliver Smokefree 2030 through the rest of the UK, and to assist Scotland with its 2034 target?

No debate on smoking could be complete without consideration of vaping, which has come up several times today. For many, vapes are a helpful route out of smoking and towards less harm. They are potentially a useful aid for many adult smokers, which has been proven by evidence from Cancer Research UK. However, as we have heard today, understandable concerns about youth vaping are growing, particularly about the cheap, disposable vapes most widely used by children. There have been many calls throughout Scotland to ban disposable vapes, and that movement is gaining traction, with 21 of the 32 councils in Scotland now backing a national ban on those products. It is true that single-use e-cigarettes are often discarded irresponsibly and, because of their composition, do not break down in the environment. Even if users attempt to recycle them, as is theoretically possible, they will find that the infrastructure required to do so does not exist in many places.

I am particularly troubled by the rise in youth vaping, about which several hon. Members have already expressed concern. Those products should never have been intended for children or for non-smokers, yet recent surveys have found an increase in experimental use among 11- to 17-year-olds. The cynic in me thinks that big tobacco may have designed those products to have child appeal, and ensure a future generation of consumers. Disposable vapes are brightly coloured, available in flavours attractive to children, and are in a price range that is accessible to those with limited funds. They should probably be banned but, at the very least, an excise tax on disposables should be introduced. That would put the price up and make them far less affordable to children, thereby driving down the use of these environmentally damaging products.

In conclusion, while the rate of smoking continues to fall in Scotland, it remains too high to be confident about meeting our targets of reducing it by 2034. We must all come together to eliminate smoking and stop the spread of nicotine addiction. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions and continued dedication to trying to eliminate the UK’s leading cause of preventable death. I urge Ministers to commit to implementing a “polluter pays” levy to help fund much-needed tobacco control action not just in England but throughout the devolved nations.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Sharma. At 9.30 am, it would have been a pleasure to see anybody in the Chair. I place on the record my thanks to you and Mr Evans for stepping into the vacancy. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) on securing this important debate and on their tireless work on this issue. When we create a smoke-free England—the consensus here today is for a smoke-free Britain—it will be in no small part thanks to their tremendous efforts and campaigning.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton) and for Blaydon (Liz Twist), and the hon. Members for Southport (Damien Moore), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Arfon (Hywel Williams), as well as the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), who leads for the Scottish National party on health issues. There is consensus across the Chamber on where we need to go.

In 2019, the Government committed themselves to a Smokefree 2030. As Members across the House will be aware, that means a smoking prevalence of around 5% of the population. The commitment was welcomed across the House, and for good reason: despite significant progress in driving down smoking rates over the past 40 years, smoking, as we have heard today, is still the biggest cause of cancer and death in the United Kingdom. Smoking causes around 150 cancer cases every day, and smoking tobacco kills one person every five minutes.

Those deaths are made all the more tragic by the fact that they are avoidable. By creating a smoke-free England, we would empower people to live happier, longer and healthier lives, and substantially reduce pressure on our NHS, as Cancer Research UK estimates that up to 75,000 GP appointments could be freed up each year if we put an end to smoking. That would all come alongside substantial economic benefits, as smoking costs the public finances an estimated £20.6 billion. The argument for a smoke-free future is overwhelming. We just need to get there.

In a recent response to a written question I tabled, the Minister stated that his Department is “confident” that it is

“on course to achieve…Smokefree 2030,”

but Cancer Research UK estimates that the Government are, as we heard from the hon. Member for Harrow East, on track to miss their Smokefree 2030 target by around nine years. Smoking cessation services have faced cuts of 45% since 2015-16, and in some of the most deprived areas of England, smoking rates are increasing, not decreasing.

That increase is incredibly concerning, and it risks exacerbating health inequalities that are already widening, in some cases at an alarming rate. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister explained why his Department is so confident that the 2030 target will be met, and where the Government’s modelling is, as well as why it differs from that of Cancer Research UK.

The announcements the Minister made in April were undoubtedly welcome, but they do not seem to me to be ambitious enough or wide-ranging enough to get us back on track. If that is the case, and if we are to miss the 2030 target, the Department of Health and Social Care needs to fess up and say how it plans to keep its pledge. The truth is that the foot has been taken off the pedal with regard to Smokefree 2030. The Government wasted precious time, and unless they act swiftly the target will be beyond reach. I do not want that. I want the Minister to succeed in achieving the target, and I do not think anybody in the Chamber wants us to miss it.

We need action, so I will press the Minister on a few key points. First, will he confirm whether the Government plan to announce any further measures to tackle smoking prevalence, or whether the April announcement is intended to replace the tobacco control plan and the health disparities White Paper?

Secondly, the April announcement referred to an updated strategy to tackle illicit sales and imports of tobacco due to be released at some point this year. There is a backlog of reports to be published sometime this year. We would like this one to be at the front of the queue, not the back. Will the Minister update Members on where the work has got to and when we can expect publication of the strategy?

Thirdly, the Minister will no doubt be aware that Cancer Research UK and ASH have made several recommendations to the Government, most notably on an increase in the age of sale and a “polluter pays” tobacco levy. I would be interested to hear what recent assessment he has made of those proposals and whether they will inform his Department’s work moving forward.

Finally, cross-Government guidance on protecting public policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry was published yesterday. That is a step in the right direction, but will the Minister set out how the guidance will be disseminated to all branches of Government, given that it is cross-departmental?

The last Labour Government had a proud history of taking bold action to drive down smoking prevalence. We implemented the indoor smoking ban and took action to tackle cigarette advertising, and we are still feeling the benefits of those policies to this day. We want to continue that legacy and, indeed, the measures that were brought in more recently. That is why creating a smoke-free England within a smoke-free United Kingdom will be an absolute priority for the next Labour Government.

Our recent health mission launch set out the first steps of our road map to a smoke-free Britain. They include making all hospital trusts integrate opt-out smoking cessation interventions into routine care and expecting every trust to have a named lead on smoking cessation, so that every single clinical consultation counts towards health improvement. We would legislate to require all tobacco companies to dispel the myth that smoking reduces stress and anxiety. We would also ban vapes from being advertised to children and instead work with councils and the NHS to ensure that vapes are being used to stop smoking—full stop.

That is just the start of our road map to a smoke-free United Kingdom. The next Labour Government wholeheartedly believe in a smoke-free future, and we will not shy away from taking the bold steps that are needed to protect and improve public health. Until then, we are ready to work constructively and across party lines to build a smoke-free England within a smoke-free United Kingdom. I look forward to hearing how the Government plan to get us back on track.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) for securing this hugely important debate, and I thank other hon. Members for some excellent speeches. I was haunted by the image, conjured up by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton), of people with COPD being wheeled outside to have one more gasp—I think we have all seen things like that. It has also been a pleasure to have contributions from all four parts of the UK. I shall try to respond to as many of the questions as possible.

In 2019, the Government produced a Green Paper on preventive health, in which we introduced our ambition for England to become smoke free by 2030. The ambition aims to shift the focus from treating ill health to preventing it in the first place. That means three things: first, discouraging children and adults from starting; secondly, helping smokers to quit; and thirdly, moving smokers to less harmful alternatives, such as vapes.

That is exactly what we have been doing over the last decade, and we have made significant progress. In recent years, the Government have introduced a range of legislation. We have introduced a UK-wide system of track and trace for cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco to deter illicit sales, and from May 2024 that will cover all tobacco products, including shisha and cigars. We have continued to invest in stop smoking services, to help smokers get the right support for them. We continue to support the NHS, and last year alone provided £35 million to the NHS long-term plan commitments on smoking. Of course, we have also doubled duty on cigarettes and introduced a minimum excise tax on the cheapest cigarettes. Between them, those measures have helped to ensure that adult smoking prevalence in England is at its lowest level on record, 13%, and that youth smoking rates are the lowest on record—in 2021, 3.3% of 15-year-olds were regular smokers.

If we are to achieve our 5% ambition by 2030, however, we must move faster and be bolder. That is why on 11 April I introduced a package of new measures to help make more progress. To help smokers quit and move towards less harmful alternatives, we announced funding for a new national “swap to stop” scheme, which is the first of its kind in the world at a national level, to encourage 1 million smokers to swap cigarettes for vapes. We have begun to set up pathfinders, where local authorities can apply for starter kits, and the first shipments of vapes should begin going out later this summer. Local authorities across the country have expressed an interest, and we are also working with social landlords, homelessness charities, jobcentres, food banks and all the other groups that can help smokers to quit.

Despite its effectiveness as a tool to quit smoking, we must be aware of the risks that vaping poses to children and non-smokers, as various Members have pointed out. Over the past couple of years, we have seen an alarming rise in children vaping, and that is why we are taking action. We recently held a call for evidence to look at all the opportunities to reduce the number of children using vape products. It closed on 6 June and we are analysing the responses. We will publish our response within 12 weeks.

To stop children buying vapes, we need to get businesses to comply with our regulations and abide by the standards we have set. Of course, there are retailers out there selling vapes to children. That is why we recently created a new enforcement unit, which has three priorities: to tackle products imported and traded illicitly, to remove illegal products from the market that do not comply with our regulations, and to stop under-age sales to children. The unit will help remove illegal products from shelves, stop them coming through our borders and stop the sale of vapes to children.

I thank the Minister for articulating some of the risks around disposable vapes. I want to raise the risks they pose to animals. Just the other day, I was out walking my young dog Poppy and she came out of the undergrowth with a bright pink, melon-flavoured disposable vape in her mouth. I was able to get it out of her mouth, but, as a vet, I shudder to think what would have happened if she had chewed, crunched or swallowed it. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need more public awareness of the risks of vapes to health, the environment and even animals?

That is a fascinating point, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to be aware of the environmental and wider impacts of disposable vapes as we consider our next steps.

At the end of May, the Prime Minister announced several further measures to address youth vaping, including closing the loophole that allowed industry to give out free samples, increasing education and supporting dedicated school police liaison officers to keep illegal vapes out of schools. The measures support our wider approach to tackling youth vaping—not only preventing supply, but reducing demand. We also need to take action against businesses that break the rules and protect businesses that abide by them.

As well as non-compliant vapes, the illicit trade in tobacco undermines our work to protect public health. To answer the question from the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams), His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will produce a new strategy to tackle illicit tobacco later this year. The strategy will outline joint efforts to catch and punish those involved in the illegal market and will build on the work we are already doing—my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East alluded to it—to use the registration system as a way to improve enforcement.

Another big priority is to help pregnant women quit smoking. The rate of smoking in pregnancy remains stubbornly high; increasing the number of women who have a smoke-free pregnancy is crucial. To help expectant mothers, we have set up a financial incentive scheme, married with behavioural support. We aim to ensure that every pregnant mother who smokes across England gets help to quit. That work is based on a successful scheme in Greater Manchester, which has seen one of the biggest drops in smoking in pregnancy anywhere in the country.

To help more smokers quit, we need to be more innovative in how we connect with them, with the right type of support and messaging at the right time. To address the question asked by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), we are going further on mental health and are ensuring that everyone who is in mental health treatment is signposted to stop smoking services, because there is a link between the two.

Another potential opportunity that hon. Members have raised is our plan to provide pack inserts in smoked tobacco packets, with positive messages and information to help more smokers quit. We intend to launch a UK-wide consultation shortly and are engaging with devolved Administrations on the matter. To answer the question raised by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), we are absolutely having those conversations.

We are committed to doing all we can to prevent people from starting smoking, to give smokers the support they need to quit, and to tackle the damage from the illicit market. I talked about some of the measures that I recently announced, but we will have more to say in the major conditions strategy in the not-too-distant future. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and the hon. Member for City of Durham for securing this hugely important debate, and I look forward to making further progress towards our ambition for a smoke-free England and a smoke-free UK by 2030.

I thank the Minister for his reply to the debate; the co-sponsor of the debate, the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), for her contribution; the Labour Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), for his support from across the Chamber; and our SNP colleague, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), for his contribution. That we have had contributions from Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England demonstrates the strong cross-party and cross-country support for making the United Kingdom smoke free. It is reassuring to hear people support the campaign with such enthusiasm.

I urge the Minister to consider carefully the questions and points that were put during the debate as we look forward to the action that is required to prevent people from starting to smoke and to encourage those who do smoke to quit. At the end of the day, this is about preventing avoidable deaths, and without that action, we will, unfortunately, see far too many people become ill and die prematurely.

While I have the floor, I will remind colleagues that on 19 July the all-party group will be hosting a reception to mark the fourth anniversary of the Government’s Smokefree 2030 ambition. We hope to hear from both the Minister and the Opposition spokesman, and I invite other colleagues to contribute to the session. I hope that we will be able to celebrate some new announcements from the Government, and that we will move forward to a smoke-free England in 2030 jointly and severally.

Finally, I thank you, Mr Sharma, and Mr Evans earlier, for stepping into the Chair. When we were all sitting here before the start, we were wondering whether the debate would take place at all, and had you not stepped in, it would have been very difficult to continue. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the Smokefree 2030 target.

Volunteer Groups in Rural Settings

I will call Anthony Mangnall to move the motion and then call the Minister to respond. There will be no opportunity for the Member in charge to make a winding-up speech, as is the convention in 30-minute debates.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the role of volunteer groups in rural settings.

This is not so much a debate, but a statement of appreciation and a tipping of the hat to David Cameron’s efforts around the big society. Those of us fortunate enough to live in a rural community are acutely aware that much of what takes place around us is done by the hard work of volunteers. From Dartmouth’s food and music festivals and royal regatta to the Kingsbridge show, Brixham’s pirate festival, Salcombe’s Crabfest and Totnes’ Christmas market, all are organised, operated and supported by legions of volunteers. Those successful events help to raise money, drive tourism and provide tailored experiences in keeping with the spirit and character of every location in which they take place.

For the purpose of this debate, I will specifically focus on the volunteering groups providing local services throughout the year to people across south Devon and, indeed, the whole country, often doing so under the radar, without thanks and making a huge difference. They are helping to decentralise the centralised bureaucratic model and provide services that operate effectively at a local level with long-term impacts. They are encouraging a new generation of volunteering and philanthropy and social engagement. They are helping to empower communities to take charge of their own future rather than waiting for the lumbering, clanking machines of state to catch up. Above all, they are providing local solutions to national problems.

For instance, south Devon is home to LandWorks, an extraordinary charity based in Dartington that seeks to provide a supported route back into employment and the community for those in prison or those at risk of going to prison. At its core, LandWorks provides a solution to reducing recidivism, which costs the UK £18 billion a year. It celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and thanks to the extraordinary work of Chris Parsons, Ted Tuppen and countless volunteers, it has grown into an organisation that is effectively changing the landscape when it comes to preventing reoffending.

The charity’s work in helping to equip trainees with skills and support to engage with society is helping to drive down reoffending rates. Compared with the national average, the figures are stark. In the UK, the reoffending rates for imprisonment and community sentences are 36.7% and 28.8% respectively. For prisoners released from sentences of less than 12 months, the reoffending rate is 53.9%. At LandWorks, the reoffending rate has never exceeded 6% during 10 years of operation.

This local solution may well offer a strong guide for how we can bring down reoffending nationally. Exploring the LandWorks model on a national scale could help to reskill and equip individuals with the skills necessary to lead successful, productive lives. The Minister is welcome to visit LandWorks, and I might encourage him to bring the Minister for prisons, parole and probation. LandWorks is a strong reminder of how some of the best and most effective solutions to national problems come not from Westminster or Whitehall, but from a small band of volunteers who set out to make a difference within their local community. Government would do well to look closely at the model.

It has been my pleasure and honour over the past three and a half years to visit and meet many extraordinary volunteering groups across south Devon, so forgive me for this rather lengthy list: Prickles in a Pickle, a hedgehog sanctuary; Till the Coast is Clear, an organisation dedicated to keeping our coastline plastic and rubbish free; Dart Sailability; Dartmouth in Bloom and Kingsbridge in Bloom; SASHA, a domestic violence prevention charity; Cued Speech; and all the local care groups, such as Totnes Caring, Dartmouth Caring, Kingsbridge Age Concern, Kingsbridge and Saltstone Caring, South Brent Caring and Brixham Does Care. From meeting all those groups, I have created working groups to enhance their activity, such as my social care group, where best practices and resources can be shared, common problems and difficulties can be discussed and solved, and I can be given my marching orders.

I commend the hon. Gentleman on bringing this forward; what an important subject it is. I would add to that list young farmers’ clubs, and I would do so for a purpose. Does he agree that isolation is prevalent among farmers, with data indicating that in Northern Ireland, for example, a third—33%—of all farmers express concerns about loneliness and isolation? There are organisations in my area—I know he has them in his area as well—such as young farmers’ clubs. They are a vital tool in the battle for good mental health for our farmers. The isolation of rural communities and the impact that loneliness and desolation sometimes have on people is hard to quantify, but it is real.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for continuing his record of intervening in nearly every one of my Westminster Hall debates. He does so with absolute accuracy and a commitment to raise important issues such as that. The National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association are fantastic organisations, but we need to look at how we can help within communities, such as in agriculture and fisheries in my community. During the pandemic, I saw fisheries groups, farming groups and young farmers band together to help in the community. It is right to use such a debate to discuss and contemplate how we can support those groups in turn, how we can reassess the structures that keep them going and ensure that we can tackle loneliness and, indeed, suicide, which is all too prevalent in the agricultural sector.

I wondered whether it might be helpful to intervene after another intervention, but the hon. Gentleman is being very generous. I congratulate him on all that he has said; he is making really important points and delivering them well. B4RN—Broadband for the Rural North—is a wonderful community interest company that has connected thousands of homes in rural Cumbria and north Lancashire to the internet, ensuring that there is connectivity. It is basically run by volunteers on the ground. The volunteer groups in Warcop, Sandford, Coupland Beck, Bleatarn and Ormside have done brilliant work alongside B4RN to bring hyper-fast broadband to their communities, but at the eleventh hour, the Government pulled the rug from under them by saying that their communities are no longer a priority area. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should rethink and back these volunteers and their communities?

I am always concerned about any platform that might help the hon. Gentleman to get his message out to his constituents. In this instance, however, he is absolutely right. When living in a rural constituency, as I do in south Devon, internet connectivity is absolutely essential. We have upgraded our internet in south Devon through volunteer groups working together with state and private enterprise—something I will touch on later—and we absolutely need to look at how we can find the balance between private, public and charitable to ensure that people are getting the services they need, especially in the new working environment post pandemic. I thank him for his intervention.

Volunteer groups are the fabric of our society in rural settings, and we must do all we can to sustain, encourage and learn from them. In 2020, I visited Hope Cove lifeboat station, and I was made aware of the UK’s 54 independent lifeboat stations. These non-Royal National Lifeboat Institution stations operate at a local level, staffed by volunteers and funded by local donations. They do not benefit from being part of a wider system, at least until now. From seeing the vital work of Hope Cove’s independent lifeboat station and speaking with volunteers, I was energised into action. I am pleased to inform the Minister—and you, Mr Sharma—that since that meeting with Hope Cove lifeboat station, my colleague Rachel Roberts in south Devon and I have worked extremely hard to create the National Independent Lifeboat Association, known as NILA. I am grateful to some Members here who helped me in that process.

NILA seeks not to take away the independence of independent lifeboat stations, but to promote and highlight their work while ensuring that the machinery of state is taking notice of its work and using these vital stations to keep people safe on our waterways. Since its establishment, a board has been appointed, with myself as president—that is, until I am usurped by someone important. The Charity Commission has registered it as a national charity, and just last month, United Kingdom Search and Rescue admitted it to its ranks. Once again, this is an example of where local organisations and volunteer-led services can provide a national service without huge costs and bureaucratic rigmarole to deliver an important and necessary service.

Beyond LandWorks and NILA, I will mention one group in detail, I believe for the first time in the House of Commons: the Rapid Relief Team. I am grateful that some of them are in the Gallery today. The RRT was born out of the work of the Plymouth Brethren, and I confidently suggest that it has helped people in nearly every constituency across the country. I had my own dealings with the RRT a few weeks ago, when a constituent was in dire need of medical equipment. I did not know where to turn; I asked integrated care boards and local healthcare groups, but I found myself being continually rebuffed—that is, until I spoke to the RRT. Within a day of contacting it about my constituent’s concerns, my constituent was greeted and given the medical equipment he needed. He is now living a life where he can even get out and about, and I am particularly grateful to the RRT for its efforts in that case.

Across the UK, the RRT has 3,302 approved volunteers, and its most recent impact report shows how it has effectively set about helping in the community. It has supported more than 366 events, served 95,027 meals and gifted 22,571 volunteer hours. In south Devon and across the country, the RRT has helped to deliver incident and training exercise support to emergency services, and relief at home and abroad. It is a flexible organisation that can meet the need from unexpected events.

The work of the RRT takes it across Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the UK. It has effectively harnessed the power of teamwork by working with the private sector to encourage philanthropy and volunteering. It is even more remarkable to consider that its work has focused on emergency and disaster relief, homelessness, poverty and hardship, youth, and health and disability, and that it has been able to effectively move the dial in those areas without a single penny of Government funding.

We owe those organisations, and all the ones that I have not mentioned, a huge debt of thanks and gratitude for their work. The three examples I have given remind us how to solve local problems from a grassroots perspective, as well as how to empower communities and encourage greater private sector involvement. They also remind us that the state does not have all the answers, nor does it always need to be involved. However, although fantastic organisations such as the RRT, LandWorks and NILA all depend on volunteers, the statistics since the pandemic have shown a concerning decline in the number of people willing to volunteer. We need to consider how we can encourage a return to volunteering. Failure to do so will irreparably impact the fabric of rural and, indeed, urban communities, and only cost the Government more in the future.

Several funds have been made available through national and local government. For instance, the £5 million platinum jubilee village hall fund was announced, and the bidding in for the funding process ended in January this year. May I ask the Minister how much of that money has been allocated to date, and whether any extension is being considered? The UK search and rescue volunteer training fund helps organisations such as NILA and the RRT to train their volunteers to go out and be as effective as possible. It would be interesting to have the statistics on how many people are being trained every year, and to know how the bidding process can be streamlined to ensure that it is as effective as possible.

The Minister’s Department has also announced the volunteering futures fund; I believe that £7 million has been made available to volunteering funds across the country. May I ask the Minister how much of that money has been allocated, whether the funding will be continued over the next few years, and whether we can provide certainty to local organisations, where necessary, that it will be available in the next five and 10 years? Of course, other methods can be used, such as local authority funding, section 106 funding and allowances within councils to be able to talk about these issues.

Time, job constraints and now costs are putting off volunteers. We need to think about how we can encourage more people to take up the worthy work of volunteering, not necessarily through regulation, but through encouragement and co-operation with fantastic organisations such as those represented by the people who are attending the debate. We need to think carefully about how we support volunteer groups across this country. I suggest that by encouraging private sector involvement, as well as Government adoption of local solutions, we can empower local communities and deliver across the country. Finding the balance between state, private and charitable sectors is the answer to addressing many of the challenges we face.

If Members will forgive me for recommending a book, this is well presented in “The Third Pillar: How the State and Markets are leaving Communities Behind” by Raghuram Rajan, the former Indian central bank leader. The case is made about ensuring that the balance is found between each of the three core structures in our society and ensuring that we can get the resources to where they need to go. We need to reset the balance and make the case for better co-operation between the three pillars so that we can meaningfully ensure that our volunteer groups can effectively deliver on their objectives, and support our rural communities.

There is, as ever, more work to be done in this field, but I conclude by saying that I owe a debt of gratitude to the extraordinary volunteers who have done so much in my constituency and across south Devon, and to all the volunteer groups who have done so much across all of our respective constituencies and, indeed, the country. Whether they worked during the pandemic, work abroad or work in the United Kingdom, they do so because they have pride in the work that they do and because they feel a need to take a part and a hand in society. As politicians, as Government and as officials watching this debate, we must do all we can to encourage that work and action. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) for securing this important debate on volunteering in rural settings. I mean that most sincerely. Having spent most of my life working in the charitable sector, I know that we could not have provided anything like the services that we did in the hospice movement without a band of volunteers not just providing excellent support to the hospice staff but raising significant amounts of money.

Volunteering is vital for society and provides enormous benefits both to the volunteer and to the community that they serve. It connects communities, builds people’s skills and networks, boosts their wellbeing and improves their physical health. My hon. Friend rightly pointed out the issues around loneliness. That is an important part of my portfolio, and I see a strong link between tackling loneliness and the opportunities created through volunteering.

The Government are committed to supporting volunteering. I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss such an important issue today and to highlight some of the many ways in which we are supporting volunteers across the country. However, first I would like to thank all the volunteers who contribute their time and energy to support others and make a real difference in their communities. They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help others. Our latest figures show that around 25 million people in England volunteered at least once in the previous 12 months.

I was delighted to take part in the celebration of Volunteers’ Week at the start of the month. I had the pleasure of presenting a Points of Light award to Joana Baptista, a youth activist who set up her social enterprise, “She Dot”, to encourage girls to pursue traditionally male careers. I also met the amazing and brilliant team and young people at the Active Communities Network in Elephant and Castle, which combines arts, sports and volunteering to create transformative opportunities for young people.

The British public’s enthusiasm for volunteering was self-evident during the Big Help Out on 8 May, which formed part of the celebration of the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III. The campaign organisers estimate that more than 6.5 million people took part by volunteering in their communities. I am proud that we were able to support that campaign. Many organisations with a large rural presence took part and provided volunteering opportunities on the day, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs.

Volunteers support society and their communities in a wide range of ways each and every day: they support the health and wellbeing of the nation by giving their time to health charities and the NHS, and we will always be grateful to the hundreds of thousands of people who stepped forward during the pandemic; they are the lifeblood of community sports and large events such as the Commonwealth Games; and they are also the people who see changes that are needed in their communities and go about making those changes. That is why we shine a light on those people through the Prime Minister’s daily Points of Light award.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the vital role that volunteering plays, particularly in rural areas. People in rural areas such as those in his constituency can face particular challenges associated with geographical isolation, such as the sparsity of public transport and access to public services. He rightly gave some excellent examples of the work that people do to tackle some of those issues. For example, the South Western Ambulance Service covers one of the most rural areas in the UK, and every day volunteers from across the south-west support their local communities. That ranges from supporting someone before an ambulance arrives, as my hon. Friend mentioned, to saving someone’s life. Of course, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the independent lifeboat organisations that he mentioned—and I congratulate him on his election as president of the national association—are critical, as I know from my time growing up in Anglesey. They all rely on volunteers, who do some outstanding work and put their own lives at risk to save others.

I was encouraged that the most recent community life survey showed that, despite the challenges faced in rural areas, volunteering rates in rural areas are actually higher than in urban areas. That demonstrates the commitment and willingness of people to support their neighbours and local communities. We are committed to growing the number of volunteers and improving the volunteer experience across the country, including in rural areas. That includes supporting the next generation of volunteers and enabling them to create a lifelong habit of volunteering. An example of this is the #iwill fund, which is a joint initiative between the Government and the National Lottery Community Fund that has funded a number of projects that support young people volunteering in rural areas. For example, in Derbyshire, the #iwill fund has partnered with the Pears Foundation and other local partners to create a new young people’s forest that is situated on the site of two former coalmines. The funding enables young people to design and create the new 400-acre woodland, and over 250,000 new trees have been planted.

There are, however, barriers to overcome to ensure that everyone who wants to volunteer can volunteer. There has been a dip in volunteering following the pandemic, which is why we are providing funding and working with partners to ensure that there are clear entry points for volunteering, more flexible volunteering roles that fit with people’s work and life demands, and help for people to identify available volunteering opportunities. One key initiative is Vision for Volunteering, which is a voluntary sector-led initiative that aims to develop volunteering in England over the next 10 years. One of the vision’s themes is to increase equity and inclusion by ensuring that volunteering is accessible and welcoming to everyone, everywhere.

In March, we announced the Know Your Neighbourhood Fund, which is a funding package of up to £30 million, including £10 million from the National Lottery Community Fund, that will widen participation in volunteering and tackle loneliness in 27 disadvantaged areas in England. It is designed to generate learning about how people in those communities can be supported to volunteer and boost their social connections. Those communities include areas that are predominantly rural, including areas in Devon.

In his opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes referred to the Rapid Relief Team, which provides essential support in the event of emergency. It is a fantastic organisation that delivers practical support including, as he mentioned, food parcels for people in need, hot meals for emergency responders dealing with crises and a multitude of other types of support, including support for refugees from Afghanistan who are settling here in the UK. We are incredibly grateful to the Rapid Relief Team and all their volunteers for the tremendous work that they do. As my hon. Friend mentioned, it was established by the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, and I take this opportunity to thank faith-based charities for their wonderful volunteering. When a major factory in my constituency caught fire, it was exactly those teams that were there to support the people putting their lives at risk as they tried to control the fire.

The voluntary sector has a vital role to play in the event of emergencies, such as flooding and heatwaves. Those organisations have unique local insights into the needs of their communities and, as my hon. Friend rightly said, they can sometimes adapt much quicker. Given the sector’s unique capabilities, it is encouraging to see local resilience forums work collaboratively with it to support their local response to such events. The Government are strengthening the links between emergency responders and the voluntary sector through the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership. That partnership is co-chaired by the British Red Cross and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and it brings together organisations, ranging from large household names to micro local community organisations, that can assist in the event of emergencies. I am delighted that we are continuing our work with it, including by funding it to increase the effectiveness of the sector’s emergency preparedness, planning and response.

My hon. Friend mentioned LandWorks. I spent a short six weeks in the summer of last year as the Prisons Minister, so I know how important that work is. He is right that it supports people in prison or at risk of going to prison. I congratulate it on its vital work in supporting those who might otherwise take a different path; it is a great example of an organisation funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.

My hon. Friend asked about the platinum jubilee village halls fund. As he is aware, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced that £3-million fund last year, and it is designed to support the modernisation and improvement of village halls. I understand that it has been extremely popular. The last funding round closed in March. I am happy to write to DEFRA and update my hon. Friend when I have more information.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the volunteering futures fund. As he rightly said, more than £7 million was made available to improve the accessibility of volunteering. That funding is now fully allocated, and we are currently evaluating that scheme to see what worked and identify where we can make improvements. I see community wealth funds, which make use of dormant assets, as an opportunity to build up skills in areas where there is not the infrastructure that is needed to bring about more volunteering and community work. I look forward to updating Members as we develop that policy.

This debate has demonstrated that we share the ambition of supporting volunteers to make a real difference in their communities, including in rural areas, such as my hon. Friend’s constituency. I am proud of the Government’s record in developing volunteering in England, whether by supporting our strategic initiatives such as the vision for volunteering, or directly funding projects through the funds I mentioned. I thank my hon. Friend again for listing a whole raft of organisations in his constituency—he listed them so fast that I could not write them down. I thank him for proposing this valuable discussion to highlight the unique challenges faced in rural areas and, crucially, the role that volunteers play in addressing societal change in those wonderful settings. I thank every single one of them for their contribution to our society.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Co-operatives and Alternative Businesses: Local Authority Support

[Peter Dowd in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the role of local authorities in supporting co-operatives and alternative businesses.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I am proud to declare my interest as a Labour and Co-op MP since 2005, and as a member of a co-operative society. I shall discuss the importance of co-operatives and alternative businesses. It is great to see the Minister here because I want to talk in particular about how councils have a role in promoting co-ops in their areas.

It is worth giving the basic background. Co-operatives are mutual societies, often locally based, that invest their profits with their members and services. That means that they are very much part of the local community, with their activity and finances in that local area. They put economic power directly in the hands of local people, ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are felt by those who create it.

As I said, I want to highlight the role of councils. There are now 41 councils up and down the country that are members of the co-operative councils’ innovation network. Those councils believe that traditional models of top-down governance and economic growth are not always fit for purpose. By being part of that network, they choose to reclaim the traditions of community action, community engagement and civic empowerment that can transform communities.

There were 7,200 co-operatives in the UK in 2021. Those include 2,500 social clubs in the trade union sector; 721 in retail; and 720 in housing, which is an area of particular interest to me. There are 14 million people in the UK who are members of co-ops. This is a significant sector that reaches into many areas of our lives. Co-ops directly employ 250,000 people. In 2015, co-ops produced 2% of the UK’s GDP. That is impressive enough but, compared with New Zealand where co-ops produce 20%, France and the Netherlands, where they produce 18% in each, and Finland where they produce 14% of GDP, there is still a lot of opportunity, to put it positively, for co-ops in the UK. There is also a lot of wasted opportunity, when considering what they could do to deliver for communities and the wider economy.

In 2021, UK co-operatives had an annual turnover of £39.7 billion, and they have grown every year since 2017. They are significant and important in economic terms. Some people might ask why promote co-ops rather than other businesses. Co-ops are more ambitious than other businesses, according to research by the Co-op party and its allies. As many as 61% of co-ops expressed ambitions to grow, compared with 53% of small businesses generally in the UK. That might be because some are smaller, so it is easier for them to have that ambition. Obviously, businesses are going through a difficult time at the moment. Nevertheless, that is a sign of people’s personal investment in co-operatives.

Co-operatives are more resilient. Co-op start-ups are almost twice as likely to survive the first five years of trading, compared with start-ups generally. Co-ops were more resilient in the pandemic, with the number growing by just over 1% between 2020 and 2021. It is interesting that co-ops have a smaller gender pay gap than other businesses: 9% compared with 12%, based on the median hourly wage in Great Britain, and covering Northern Ireland as well. That may be because co-ops have a flatter pay scale and less of a hierarchy, but that is nevertheless a significant fact when looking at that important issue.

I want to highlight what local government is doing to promote co-ops. I will start my canter around the country with Greater Manchester and its Co-operative Commission, which was established by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and launched by Mayor Andy Burnham, to make recommendations aimed at enabling the co-operative and mutual sector to make the best possible contribution to Greater Manchester. Of course, that is very fitting considering where the Rochdale pioneers came from. Mayor Burnham is going back to the roots of his region.

The commission focused on recommendations in three sectors: housing, the digital economy and transport. They were all chosen because of their fit with the Greater Manchester strategy. The commission promoted co-ops to reduce inequality, improve education and employment. Its stated aim is

“To help co-ops to expand into other areas of the economy to make Greater Manchester the most co-operative region in the UK.”

I may have a bone to pick with Mayor Burnham, because I hope that east London might beat him to that title. Nevertheless, the Mayor accepted those recommendations by the commission, so that work is now under way to ensure that co-ops play an important role in the north-west.

Ownership hubs have been set up in several combined authorities across the UK. They began initially in South Yorkshire under the former Mayor, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). The ownership hub model has also been launched in Greater London. The aim of that is to promote both co-operative and employee-owned business growth. In South Yorkshire, the collaborative partnership works with the combined local authorities in the region and the South Yorkshire Growth Hub, where businesses can get support to set up or indeed convert their organisation to worker or employee ownership.

The South Yorkshire Growth Hub has experienced and knowledgeable advisers, who can offer support on setting up new businesses, upskilling workers and gaining access to finance. In London and Greater London, the London Growth Hub, under Mayor Sadiq Khan, will be tasked with increasing the growth of co-ops across different London boroughs, replicating—we hope—the successes of the South Yorkshire Growth Hub. It is significant that the hubs provide knowledge and expertise, because sometimes one of the barriers to setting up a co-op is that, seen from the outside, there are some seemingly complex legal models that have to be established, but they are not so complex if a business has a helping hand to guide it through.

Moving to the west midlands, Birmingham City Council has taken a community economic development planning approach, which engages residents, community groups, local businesses and voluntary sector organisations as part of its economic development projects. For example, a community building has been built on a disused playing field next to Edgbaston reservoir, and the land is now used for growing food. Again, that project is very much rooted in the local community.

In January, Liverpool City Council adopted a community-led housing policy, which aims to unlock vacant land and properties for community groups to convert into new homes. The policy was devised in collaboration with local community groups. These groups are already forming land trusts and co-ops, and they will work alongside council officers and community-led housing advisers to build new houses.

In my own constituency, I know the vital importance of housing, the problem of shortage, the overcrowding situation and how little empowerment there is for many residents, whether they are private renters or council tenants. Co-ops are a really great way to give people control and power over their own homes.

I have mentioned east London. As the MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, of course I will focus on what my own borough is doing, under the excellent leadership of Mayor Philip Glanville, a Labour and Co-op mayor who was directly elected by the residents of Hackney.

In setting its budget for the current financial year of 2023-24, Hackney set aside £70,000 to support the creation of co-ops, in order to deliver services where there is market failure and no business case for in-sourcing. Hackney has a good track record of in-sourcing many services, including our street sweeping and cleansing, but where there is not the right case—perhaps because the service is too small—Mayor Glanville wants to consider alternatives. At the moment, these include social care, affordable childcare and community energy. Where Hackney cannot in-source services and there are existing co-ops, it wants to look to local businesses, social enterprises and co-ops first, working across departments to ensure that contracts are designed to make it possible for co-ops to tender.

I should perhaps flag to the Minister one of the challenges. Sometimes in local government it is difficult for co-ops to meet the required threshold, because of some of the restrictions set at different times, in different eras and by different Governments, including different central Governments, which perhaps do not understand the benefit of a local community co-op.

First, I commend the hon. Lady for securing this debate. I have apologised to her already and I apologise now to you, Mr Dowd, as I am afraid I cannot stay for the whole debate, because I have another meeting to attend at 3 pm.

I also commend the hon. Lady for her leadership of the Public Accounts Committee. We are all very glad that she is there, because we believe that she gives the leadership and direction that that Committee needs. Does she agree that in these times of financial crisis, a mutually beneficial co-operative has never been more important? I know that from my own constituency. A local social supermarket in Newtownards, in my constituency of Strangford, operates almost like a co-operative—it is not an actual co-operative, but almost operates like one—in order to provide food at a lower price. This is something that our local council also needs to sow into, in order to facilitate and encourage people. If a lower price can be obtained by that shop in my constituency, the saving can be passed on to those who need it most. Clearly, that is what we need to do. It is for that reason that this debate is so important and I once more congratulate the hon. Lady on securing it.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments and for that valid point. One of the many advantages of local co-ops is that they and the benefits are owned by the local population, and the profit is redistributed to the very people who helped to generate it. Although I have talked about small-scale co-ops, of course they can be larger; there are many such co-operative businesses up and down the country. I am focusing on how councils can facilitate co-operatives in their own areas, so by definition I am talking about the local.

Mayor Philip Glanville has established, among the elected councillors, a member champion for inclusive business, social enterprise and co-operatives. The role is held by Councillor Sam Pallis, who does an excellent job in promoting these issues. There have been some success stories in Hackney. Hackney Co-operative Developments, which has been established for a long time, is being supported by the council through the provision of properties at sub-market rent, capital investment in those properties—that can be hard for small co-ops—and targeted funding for business support and outreach projects so that that fantastic project can spread its expertise to other organisations in Hackney and help to build the co-op sector. Hackney Co-operative Developments understands the technical and legal aspects of setting up a co-op better than anyone, as do similar organisations in other areas up and down the country, so it is right that the council supports it in that way. That relates to the ask that I will have for the Minister in a moment.

Hackney has also set up a community energy fund. A few years ago, it established Hackney Light and Power, which is the energy services arm of the council, and that local company launched a £300,000 community energy fund last year, which aims to support innovative community-led energy projects that benefit Hackney. That amazing programme ensures that Hackney generates its own energy for local use. That reduces energy costs for many consumers; long may it succeed. We must see locally generated energy for local use as a way to tackle the challenge of climate change.

The first round of funding from that £300,000 community energy fund provided funding for solar panels on the Hackney Empire, our fantastic local theatre. I say “local”—it is nationally renowned, but we are proud to call it our local theatre in Hackney. I should declare, as an interest, that I am a friend of the Hackney Empire—that will hardly surprise Members—and a regular visitor to its fantastic pantomime. The fund also provided solar panels for the Mildmay club in north Hackney, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), and Parkwood Primary School. Those panels provide enough electricity for one third of those properties’ energy use, equivalent to 35 homes. If the first round of funding can deliver that, it has real potential. The Minister is very welcome to visit if that would be helpful.

We need a real understanding in Government about what co-ops can deliver. Many years ago, when Labour was last in government—it does seem like a long time ago—I was looking to mutualise the then Forensic Science Service, and I asked for guidance from the Government. I was a Minister in the Home Office, which was, perhaps understandably, not an expert on co-operatives and mutual ownership, so it commissioned advice elsewhere in Whitehall. To my horror, what landed on my desk was a document about John Lewis. I feel no horror about John Lewis, I have to say, but its model of employee ownership was not what we were looking at. It was almost as if there was no real understanding of what mutualism was. Unfortunately, I was unable to get that mutual off the ground for various reasons—many co-ops face a challenge with capital funding—but that drove home to me the fact that we need a central hub in Government that can point people to advice about co-operatives, and I have been banging that drum ever since, in all these years in opposition.

The Treasury, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Business and Trade, and other Departments such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, would benefit from that understanding. We need a hub that is open to Departments so that when advice on alternative models is needed, co-ops are considered. The Minister making the decision must have full knowledge of the possibilities and possible challenges, and co-ops must be considered as part of the solution.

The hon. Lady is making a very important point about what central Government can do. Does she agree that that applies to measures to address food poverty? Co-operatives right across these isles are playing a vital role in ensuring people have affordable food during the cost-of-living crisis.

Absolutely. As I have said, co-operatives invest back into their own communities, especially the small local co-ops—not every business does that. It is really important that we recognise what the benefits are. Like other hon. Members, I have community shops in my constituency as well as food banks, in which people can buy food and get double the value of what they paid. The fantastic community shop on the Kingsmead estate is staffed by local young people who volunteer their time. There is dignity there for the people who come into the shop; they pay for their shopping but get much more than they paid for. They can get fresh fruit and vegetables as well as other products. Community shops are an important and valuable resource.

As well as a central unit, it is important that the Government ensures that procurement opportunities are open and available to alternative businesses, so that we do not just set up a central procurement model that allows the big beasts—the big strategic suppliers of Government—to bid, without taking into account options for smaller businesses, including co-operatives, to bid. That may be beyond the Minister’s personal gift today, but I am sure she can take it back to relevant Ministers. It is important that we consider what co-operatives can bring to the table.

There is a requirement to have social value in a number of contracts now, but we cannot have co-ops as an added-on extra to a big contract from one of the big strategic suppliers, there to salve Government or community conscience. In that respect, if they are involved they need to be involved properly but, better still, they can actually bid. Greenwich Leisure Ltd was a co-operative social enterprise, but it is now running leisure centres across London and elsewhere as Better Ltd. That is a mutual that is delivering for local people, and it is now big enough potentially to bid for bigger contracts. From small co-ops these larger opportunities grow.

There may be work that needs to be done to provide additional support to those businesses, such as open roundtables, discussions or opportunities for drop-ins for those businesses to come and talk to Government about what they need to do to meet Government procurement requirements. I have highlighted some of the regional and local government support that goes on. If we look at regions—this is very much in the Minister’s bag—if co-operative development is a central strand of economic development outcomes for combined local authorities, then there will be more than what has been happening in Greater Manchester and elsewhere. It is something that could be used to drive up economic growth in the country. The mutual route is an entry-level way for a lot of people to get into business opportunities.

A regional co-operative development agency, to model, co-ordinate and support the co-op sector, would be an excellent initiative. It would not be massively resource intensive; in fact, if the Minister took one of the big, regional local authorities—for example, Greater Manchester —and boosted it, that could be the hub. It does not need to be in Whitehall; I am all for having those provisions outside of London. Although I am a London MP, I think it is important that we support those sectors across different parts of the country. I really want to see a central Government unit set up to support co-ops.

I hope the Minister will take those points on board. I know that she cannot answer them all. Co-operatives cover every sector of the economy and every part of Whitehall’s responsibilities. I know that she is a champion within Whitehall for local government, so I hope that she will pass on these thoughts and comments to her fellow Ministers.

It is always a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) on securing this important debate. I have been a co-operator for many years, because I believe that the only way to improve the quality of life of people living in the UK, Wales and my constituency of Neath is by working together.

I would like to pay tribute to some of my fellow co-operators who have encouraged and supported me in my co-operative endeavours over the years. Alun Michael, former MP and now police and crime commissioner in south Wales, introduced me to the co-operative ethos many years ago. Three of the four police and crime commissioners in Wales are Labour and Co-operative, which is a wonderful achievement. I thank all the current and past members of the Wales co-operative council, on which I have had the honour to serve for many years. A special mention goes to K. C. Gordon, secretary of the Wales co-operative council for nearly 20 years, my campaign manager when I stood for Arfon in the Senedd election in 2011, and a formidable mountain rescuer on Snowdon. Chair of the Wales co-operative council and former MEP Jackie Jones is an ambassador for co-operative ideals throughout Europe. The legend that is David Smith has campaigned for many years for the father of the co-operative movement, Robert Owen, a Welshman who was born in Newtown in Powys in 1771, to be part of the school curriculum in Wales. That will mean that children can learn that Robert Owen, who made his future and his fortune in the cotton trade, was unique among employers of that era because he believed in putting his workers in a good working environment with access to education for them and their children.

Karen Wilkie, former regional secretary of the Wales Co-operative party, gave 20 years’ service to promoting and growing the co-operative sector all over Wales. The former MP and now Senedd member Huw Irranca-Davies has worked with me to have Marcora law adopted in the UK and Welsh Parliaments. I firmly believe that support for co-operatives and alternative businesses would be greatly enhanced if the UK Government created a Marcora law.

Those who missed my 20-minute speech in my Westminster Hall debate on Marcora law in September 2021 will be relieved that I am going to give the edited version today. I believe that a Marcora law is the answer to small businesses closing or where there is a lack of succession planning. Marcora law was created by the Industry Minister Giovanni Marcora in the Italian Government more than 30 years ago. Marcora law gives workers the right and, more importantly, the financial support to buy out all or parts of an at-risk business and establish it as a worker-owned co-operative. Italian workers are given the opportunity to rescue profitable parts of a business or an entire profitable business, and are each given a lump sum in advance of three years’ social security payments and redundancy payments, which they pool together to use for the buy-out.

Marcora law is run by the Cooperazione Finanza Impresa—I will call it the CFI—which was set up in 1986 by the Italian Government, who hold a 98.6% share of the capital investment and oversee the CFI board. The CFI assesses, supports and provides the finances for the buy-out, and it has invested over €300 million in 560 companies, saving more than 25,000 jobs and retaining the skills and experience of the Italian workforce.

The return to CFI is more than six times the capital it has invested in worker buy-outs, and the workers also benefit from co-operative values, safeguarding employment and guaranteeing fair workplace conditions. In my Westminster Hall debate, which seems like years ago now—it was September 2021—I asked the Minister whether the UK Government had

“conducted an assessment of…the existing co-operative sector”.

I asked whether his UK Government would

“increase the size of the co-operative sector”.—[Official Report, 8 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 113-114WH.]

Had he considered the benefits of worker buy-outs for at-risk businesses? Would his UK Government provide financial support to workers looking to buy out their at-risk business? Unfortunately, the Minister was not too impressed, so I will ask the Minister today whether she will meet me to discuss the benefits of Marcora law.

I followed up my debate by introducing ten-minute rule Bill on a Marcora law, the Co-operatives (Employee Company Ownership) Bill. To my absolute astonishment, the CFI got in touch, having watched my Westminster Hall debate and my ten-minute rule Bill debate. I had the absolute honour of speaking at the CFI conference in Rome in November 2021. Unfortunately it happened virtually, so I have still never been to Italy, but it is on my to-do list.

In the Welsh Parliament, Huw Irranca-Davies introduced a legislative proposal for an employee ownership Bill to give workers support to buy out their workplace if it is at risk of failure. Huw’s motion, which received cross-party support, proposed

“that the Senedd:

1. Notes a proposal for an employee ownership Bill on promoting worker buy-outs and employee ownership;

2. Notes that the purpose of this Bill would be to:

a) legislate for a Welsh Marcora law to provide the legal framework, financial support and advice for worker buy-outs;

b) put in place a statutory duty to double the size of the co-operative economy by 2026 and to actively promote employee-ownership and worker buy-outs;

c) provide financial support and advice for workers to buy out all or part of a business facing closure or down-sizing and to establish a workers co-operative;

d) ensure that all companies in Wales in receipt of public funding or part of the social partnership and ethical procurement chains agree to the principles of worker buy-outs and employee ownership.”

Huw’s Bill is still awaiting legislative time, but although it would pave the way for a Marcora-type law in Wales, only this place has the financial power to truly provide what will be needed to make worker buy-outs a success. Welfare and benefits are not devolved. Even with a Welsh Marcora law, the Welsh Government would struggle to provide the funding needed. That is why we need the UK Government to commit to such a law for the UK.

Co-operatives and alternative businesses represent a departure from the traditional business model, emphasising principles of shared ownership, democratic decision making and the pursuit of sustainable development. By prioritising social and environmental wellbeing alongside economic growth, these enterprises encapsulate the values that we hold dear: equality, co-operation and resilience. These forward-thinking initiatives are reshaping our economic landscape, fostering inclusivity and empowering communities across Wales.

Many local authorities in Wales, including my own in Neath Port Talbot, have recognised the potential of co-operatives and alternative businesses to drive positive change in their communities. They understand that these ventures not only provide valuable products and services, but generate meaningful employment opportunities and promote community engagement. By lending their support, local authorities are fostering an environment conducive to collaboration, innovation and empowerment.

A key way in which local authorities assist co-operatives and alternative businesses is through the provision of financial resources. They offer grants, loans and other forms of financial assistance to help those enterprises get off the ground, expand their operations or invest in sustainable practices. By leveraging access to funding, local authorities are reducing the barriers to entry and are levelling the playing field for aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to pursue a co-operative or alternative business model. In Neath Port Talbot, support is provided through a range of schemes targeted at the third sector, including the community regeneration fund, the Building Safe and Resilient Communities programme and community benefit funds linked to renewable energy products.

Moreover, local authorities play a pivotal role in facilitating networking and knowledge sharing among co-operatives and alternative businesses. They organise events, workshops and conferences at which entrepreneurs can connect with like-minded individuals, share best practice and learn from successful case studies. By fostering a sense of community and collaboration, local authorities are empowering these businesses to thrive and grow.

There are also examples of capacity-building initiatives to ensure the long-term viability of co-operatives and alternative businesses. They provide training programmes, mentorship opportunities and business-development support to enhance the skills and knowledge of entrepreneurs. By equipping them with the tools that they need to navigate the challenges of running a co-operative enterprise, local authorities are creating a sustainable ecosystem that fosters success.

I will finish by mentioning Cwmpas, a development agency working with local authorities, organisations and businesses for positive change in Wales, which has recently expanded to cover the UK—so look out! Cwmpas is a co-operative that was established in 1982 as the Wales Co-operative Centre. It focuses on building a fairer, greener economy and a more equal society in which people and the planet come first.

How we do things is just as important as what we do. Cwmpas works collaboratively, for mutual benefit, by providing support and encouragement, addressing inequality, valuing diversity and democracy, striving to be open and honest, investing in achieving positive outcomes and inspiring and empowering people, communities, and businesses to take control and reach their potential.

My good friend, Derek Walker, led Cwmpas for many years, and I was proud and honoured to speak at many of its events. Recently, Derek was made the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, and I am sure he will do just as good a job there.

Cwmpas research found that small and medium-sized enterprises make up 90% of public sector and 62% of private sector companies in Wales, and that 20% face closure or succession in the next five years. A Marcora law has a place in improving the chances of succession, rescuing jobs and securing the future of many at-risk businesses across Wales and the UK. A Marcora law would allow organisations such as Cwmpas and local authorities to provide the financial support and expertise to deliver this.

Importantly, the support provided by local authorities and organisations such as Cwmpas is not limited to the start-up phase of co-operatives and alternative businesses. They recognise the need for ongoing support and aim to create an enabling environment for those enterprises to flourish. Local authorities work hand in hand with those businesses to identify opportunities, address challenges, and advocate for policies that promote their growth. By nurturing a long-term partnership, local authorities ensure the resilience and sustainability of co-operatives and alternative businesses.

Support for co-operatives and alternative businesses in Wales is an essential pillar of economic development and community empowerment. By championing those enterprises, local authorities are not only fostering inclusive growth and job creation but promoting the co-operative values that define us as a society—co-operative values that have stood the test of time. As we move forward, let us continue to embrace and support the co-operative spirit and its values, for it holds the key to a more equitable and prosperous Wales.

I invite the Minister to visit Neath and to see those wonderful co-operatives and alternative businesses in operation in every community of the Neath Port Talbot local authority.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees). I also congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) on securing this important debate during Co-operatives Fortnight.

The economic system under which we live is creating extreme levels of inequality, poverty, suffering and hardship, and the private profit motive is benefiting a tiny few at the expense of the majority of people in the United Kingdom. After a decade of Conservative austerity, public service cuts and the current cost of living crisis, we urgently need fundamental societal change to deal collectively with the social and economic crises that we face.

I genuinely and firmly believe that co-operatives—which are “people centred” to realise

“common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations”—

have a critical role in shaping the alternative economic system that this country urgently requires.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Neath already outlined, Wales has a strong culture of co-operation, and many of the first co-operative societies were established in Wales. Indeed, the socialist Robert Owen is credited with inspiring and founding the co-operative movement in the UK. In my constituency of Cynon Valley, the first co-operative society in Wales—the Cwmbach co-operative—was established in 1859. It was founded to collectively alleviate the extreme poverty experienced by the community as a result of the miners’ strike back in 1857. Since that time, co-ops have had a growing presence in Wales with a wide variety of functions and, thanks to organisations such as Cwmpas, they now contribute £3 billion to the Welsh economy. That is no small change; that is a massive, significant contribution.

We are fortunate in Wales that the Welsh Government actively support the co-operative sector and are building an economy that prioritises wellbeing and resilience. Legislation like the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the recently passed Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Act 2023 are models of facilitating that co-operative approach, as is the Welsh Government’s recently announced £1.7 million funding a year for the next two years to help businesses transition to employee ownership and help develop new social enterprises. Community energy projects will benefit from the Welsh Government’s publicly owned Ynni Cymru energy provider, which the shadow Climate Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), continues to champion in this House through GB Energy.

In addition to the Welsh Government, there is a significant role for councils. As Professor Neil McInroy of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies has said, we need

“a new conception of the local state”

that conceives

“the local state as a facilitating institution that empowers, coordinates and upscales social innovation from community organisation and social enterprises.”

I have been fortunate enough to do quite a lot of work with Neil and many of the trade unions in the UK to develop the building of a community wealth-building approach in the co-operative movement, which I will come to shortly.

Since I was elected to this House, given the horrendous impact of austerity, the cost of living crisis and the pandemic on people in my Cynon Valley constituency, I have prioritised working with the local council, other organisations and, crucially, local people to develop a co-operative and community wealth-building approach. I am truly determined that not only can we and should we create wealth in our communities, but we have to retain that wealth in our communities, unlike during the mining industrial revolution where we produced all the wealth in the south Wales valleys and other valleys and communities throughout the UK, but the wealth was extracted out of our communities. That cannot happen again.

My local authority, Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, and its community development team, with people like Simon Gale, have significant experience of working with and supporting co-ops and community-based enterprises. One example of how it recently worked was with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust opening a facility called Hwb Cana in Penywaun, where I used to work as a community development officer many years ago. It will function as a skills and training centre for local residents and will house Smart Money Cymru Community Bank, which will enable local people to access loans and other financial services and is similar to the credit union movement that has spread throughout the UK.

There is much more that can be done and, with that in mind, one of the first things I did when I was elected was to commission independent research by the Bevan Foundation think-tank in south Wales to assess how it is possible to transform the economy of Cynon Valley, taking a grassroots, bottom-up approach. The report produced around 17 recommendations, ranging from having a joint procurement strategy using local supply chains and bottom-up town centre regeneration to delivering a real living wage and a Cynon Valley-wide co-operative. To achieve each recommendation, we have set up a number of working groups to turn them into real action and change.

The purpose of the co-operative, which will be in the form of a development trust, is

“to stimulate community-based enterprises, with a strong focus on the green economy.”

Without a doubt, we are living in a climate crisis and notwithstanding the significant challenges and risks, we have many opportunities, particularly in Wales with our topography and green environment, to really develop grassroots, co-operative and community-owned initiatives to tackle that crisis.

We have secured funding from the Welsh Government to undertake a feasibility study into the Cynon-wide co-operative and we are currently considering that report’s findings. It is a really exciting time in the valley and there are lots of opportunities there. Indeed, there was overwhelming agreement that a development trust would play a critical role to assist the economic and social revival of Cynon Valley and its long-term sustainability, which is key to any developments.

I will finish by mentioning Tyrone O’Sullivan. He is a hero of mine, and I had the privilege of attending his funeral yesterday. He was a miners’ leader and a real giant of the trade union and Labour movement, but he also put co-operation into practice. His leadership and vision led to the miners’ buy-out of Tower colliery back in 1995, when miners used their redundancy money to purchase the mine. It was a huge success and made in excess of £11 million in profit in the first three years alone, so it was a brilliant example of worker ownership and the potential of co-operatives.

Going back to where I started, co-operatives must be part of a much wider transformative change and must be placed in the wider context. Tyrone really did have a clear vision of the need for that societal change to give young people a future and to build and develop our communities. He showed that change can happen and that people can take control of the wealth in their communities and make sure that that wealth stays there. That vision remained part of Tyrone. I was privileged to have met him in recent weeks, when we had a long discussion about politics, socialism and the need for societal change. He spoke about the power that lies in our working-class valley communities to effect the change required to achieve—for me and for Tyrone—a socialist society.

The south Wales valleys have been at the forefront of change in the past and we can, and will, be at the forefront of change again. Co-operatives, with the co-operation of councils, have a fundamental role to play, turning that vision—and in his memory, Tyrone’s vision—into reality. Diolch yn fawr.

Just to alert people, there are likely to be a number of votes. If that is the case, we will adjourn for 35 minutes.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. I commend the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) for leading this debate with an excellent speech. I commend the speeches of my good friends, the hon. Members for Neath (Christina Rees) and for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter).

I completely agree with the hon. Member for Cynon Valley: the ongoing cost of living crisis has clearly demonstrated the inherent dangers of communities being reliant on companies motivated by profit for essentials like food and housing. It is vital that co-operatives and social enterprise organisations, which prioritise supporting communities, receive adequate funding, not just from local authorities and devolved Administrations, but central Government, too.

I listened intently to the colleagues who provided a bit of history on co-operatives, which have existed for centuries. The co-operative movement predates the British Labour party. In Govan in Glasgow South West, in 1777, the Govan Victualling Society became Scotland’s second co-operative—it was pipped to first place by the village of Fenwick. The book on co-operatives describes Govan in 1777 as a pretty village on the banks of the Clyde just outside Glasgow. Of course, some of the people of Govan still deprecate the decision of 1912 to bring Govan into the city of Glasgow for local authority purposes. I am not here to describe that part of Govan’s history, but to demonstrate that we can learn lessons from the past. The memory of that society founded in 1777 lives on today in my constituency.

I am privileged to be the chair of Good Food Scotland. That organisation, along with a number of others, assisted the great organisation Govan Home and Education Link Project—Govan HELP—which transitioned during the covid pandemic away from emergency food parcels to become a co-operative pantry. The work of Good Food Scotland is thriving, with the help of both the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council. We now have six, and rising, larders run by Good Food Scotland, with a membership so far of 1,500, which is also rising.

How vital is that service? The saving for a weekly shop using one of these Good Food larders is on average £20 a week, but we had an example just this week from the Linthouse Larder. A couple who go to a regular supermarket calculated their weekly shop at £80; using the larder, their weekly shopping is now £30. We not only need to promote the great work of co-operatives, we also need to look at supermarkets’ excess profits, and we should be debating whether companies that are making excess profits should perhaps be contributing a bit more in the taxation system.

The work we are doing on eliminating food poverty backs the principles of my private Member’s Bill, the Food Poverty Strategy Bill, in which I ask the Government to produce a food poverty strategy to eliminate the need for food banks by the year 2030. If Joe Biden’s America can look at producing a food poverty strategy to eliminate food banks in America by 2030, we can learn lessons in this nation state and do that as well.

Co-operatives are business organisations that are owned and controlled by members to meet their shared needs. Members can be customers, employees, residents or suppliers, and they have a say in how the co-operative is run. In 2020, just 1% of UK businesses were co-ops, but more co-ops are opening in response to the ongoing cost of living crisis, and a vital job they are doing, too. In January 2022, Cooperation Town had six co-ops in its network, and that has now more than tripled to 21.

Co-operatives provide a vital service to those struggling through the crisis. The soaring food prices in supermarkets are a clear example of why we need organisations that prioritise fairness and support local communities. This cost of greed crisis is a stark reminder of the danger of companies that sell essential supplies prioritising profit margins above all else.

The hon. Gentleman really is a friend of the workers. What I find so inspiring about this debate—I am sure he will agree—is that Wales, Scotland and England have come together to show the value of co-operation and the amazing impact that co-operatives have across the UK.

The hon. Lady, too, is a friend of the workers. In fact, I once said that to her when she was in your very spot, Mr Dowd, in a debate on workers’ rights. She is correct that the co-operative movement, which is doing a vital job, needs to grow in this country.

I would argue that credit unions are based on the co-operative model, and they too are playing a vital role in helping people with their finances. They help people to save and take out affordable loans. The credit union movement, which is doing great work, should be congratulated. The less I say about some of the bigger banks, the better, because I would probably veer into using unparliamentary language, and I am sure you would not allow me to do such a thing, Mr Dowd.

According to the House of Commons Library, in 2021-22 4.7 million people, or 7% of the UK population, were in food poverty, including 12% of children. In 2022-23, the Trussell Trust supplied the highest recorded number of three-day emergency food parcels. It is hardly surprising that the number of co-operatives in the UK is growing to meet the challenge of soaring levels of food poverty.

FareShare, the largest distributor of charitable and surplus food in Britain, supplies about 9,500 groups, including food banks, co-ops, community cafés and school clubs, but it currently has a waiting list of 1,500 organisations. That shows the challenge of dealing with the cost-of-living crisis. Its head of marketing noted:

“We believe this is just the tip of the iceberg for the number of charities and community groups needing more support… We do not have enough food to meet this soaring demand, so we’re asking the government to provide us with £25m to help us unlock an additional 42,500 tonnes of surplus food, the equivalent of 100m meals, to the people worst hit by the cost of living crisis.”

That shows the very real challenge facing citizens across these islands. The idea that the growing demand for affordable food is an indictment of the lack of action in providing adequate support through the cost of living crisis is echoed by other stakeholders.

Co-ops have the potential to offer a real, sustainable solution to the ongoing housing crisis. It is not just in the context of essentials like food that we are seeing companies take advantage of the ongoing crisis to disguise hiking their prices; increasingly, landlords are also taking advantage of the cost of living crisis to charge exorbitant prices for accommodation. Although the Scottish Government have taken decisive action to support people through the housing crisis by introducing a rent freeze and a moratorium on evictions, I am afraid that the UK Government have taken no action to protect people from the crisis. As with food prices, soaring housing costs do not impact everyone equally.

Chloe Field, the National Union of Students’ vice-president for higher education, has said that the “unprecedented” housing shortage is

“jeopardising students’ university experience and forcing them to make difficult decisions.”

She also noted:

“Without urgent action to increase the amount of affordable housing, it is inevitable that both dropouts and student homelessness will increase.”

Those on low incomes are paying a hefty price for the lack of action to tackle our housing crisis. One charity has warned that student housing is reaching a “crisis point” not seen since the 1970s. As a result, housing co-operatives are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among students, who have set up student co-operative homes. The Student Co-op Homes organisation notes that

“We know from elsewhere in the world this model works and is replicable at scale...There are now four such co-ops in the UK (housing over 130 students) in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Sheffield and Brighton, plus active groups looking to secure property in Belfast, Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester, and Nottingham. Further enquiries are coming in every month.”

Such co-op homes are a solution for people who have been priced out of buying a home in their local communities.

I hope that when the Minister responds to the debate, we will hear about what the Government are doing to help these housing co-operatives ensure that there is affordable housing, about how we are very much having to deal with food poverty, whether or not the Government will support my private Member’s Bill, what action the Government are taking to address food poverty, and about the support that they will give food co-operatives.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Dowd. I refer colleagues to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as I am a Labour and Co-op Member of Parliament and because my wife is the assistant general secretary of the Co-operative party.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) for securing this debate and for her leadership of it. She started by saying that there is a great need and enthusiasm in this country to move to more local models and away from top-down planning to local delivery. That was really on the money, as was her point about the huge input that the co-op sector already makes to our economy. She also referred to the frankly unrealised potential of the sector, which I will talk about shortly. However, as the theme of the debate is the role of local authorities, I thought it was wonderful that she pulled out examples from across Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire, Birmingham and her borough of Hackney where local, regional and sub-regional leaders are taking ownership and putting co-ops at the heart of their local economy and their local economic development.

I believe, and this came through in what my hon. Friend said, that we are at a co-op moment. We are showing that leadership is local and developing, but that needs to be matched—perhaps this is a theme of today’s debate—with a national commitment.

My hon. Friend was ably supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees), who, in my head, is synonymous with her 100-plus appearances for Wales in squash, as well as with the co-operative movement in Wales. She listed a number of people who have been the backbone of that movement, but she ought to have her place in that pantheon. I knew that she would not disappoint us and would talk about the Marcora law, which is particularly germane to today’s debate.

Whether a Member is from the north-east, like the Minister, from the east midlands, like me, or from south Wales, like my hon. Friend the Member for Neath and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter), a common theme is that, in recent decades, we have felt the huge loss of businesses, industries or enterprises that are at the heart of our community, and we know the absolute hole that that creates. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath, building on the Italian example, suggested a way that we can perhaps fill that hole and stop that happening. I am interested to hear the Minister’s reflections on that. Whether she is addressing the current Government or a future one, my hon. Friend will continue to press that case hard. In giving the example of Cwmpas, she made a case—this was picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley—about the impact of support and input at a national level to help different models of enterprise to develop, and that that can be highly effective.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley picked up on that theme by talking about the work of the Welsh Government and Cwmpas. However, what I also took from what she said is that the co-operative economy and co-ops’ place in the economy are as a deliverer of really important social programmes. She mentioned net zero and energy, as well as the cost of living and tackling poverty. I believe that co-ops are at the root of tackling those challenges, which is why I am a Co-operative Member, and that local authorities should act as a facilitator. I associate myself with everything that she said about Tyrone O’Sullivan. I know that a lot of pain has been felt by Welsh colleagues at his passing. For all the reasons she mentioned, his place is very much in a co-op debate, and I am glad we have had the chance to recognise that.

I will make a couple of points of my own. Efforts to support the growth of co-ops and alternative businesses are vital, because we know the difference that those business forms can make. Co-operatives, for example, put economic power in the hands of local people, and ensure that the benefits of economic growth are felt by those who help to create it. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s reflections on that, because I think that is what we are talking about with levelling up. I know that, perhaps politically, the Minister is not co-operative, but I suspect that she is by instinct. I am interested to hear her views.

Co-ops are grounded in shared values that put communities, members and workers together in the driving seat of a fairer, more ethical way of doing business, where issues such as paying a fair share of tax and protecting our natural environment are at the core of how things are done. Co-operatives are good not just for those who depend on them, but for business. They are shown to be more resilient. Co-ops are twice as likely to survive the first five years of trading than other start-ups. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch said, they are more ambitious, with 61% expressing a desire to grow, as opposed to 53% of businesses more generally. Where workers and members of the co-operative have a true stake and say in the success of business and, crucially, have a share in the rewards, they are more productive.

So co-ops are resilient, ambitious and productive—qualities that we so badly need in our economy, especially in these uncertain times, and also to smooth out and avoid uncertain times in future. As colleagues have said, this is already working, with 7,000 co-operatives across the country turning over around £40 billion a year. We believe that the sector can grow and that its benefits can be felt more widely by more people.

This is about a change of focus from economic growth built around low-paid insecure work that does not ride out economic uncertainty well and is concentrated in certain regions of the country. Instead, we are talking about an “everyone in” approach, providing grassroots growth, created everywhere, by everyone, for everyone, but that will not happen by chance. Colleagues have used good examples of where it has worked well. At the root of that, there has been a degree of national, regional, sub-regional or local leadership, and it requires that proactivity. I hope we will hear some of that in the Minister’s response.

For our part, we as the Opposition have an important ambition, shared with the Co-operative party, to double the size of the co-operative sector, to help build that sustainable growth. Colleagues will also have seen that our local power plan was announced by the Leader of the Opposition on Monday. Co-operation lies at the heart of that plan, which will put money and power—literally and figuratively—into people’s hands. We believe that when more people have a say and a stake, and greater ownership of the issues and decisions that matter to them, the balance of economic power shifts back in favour of people and communities—and my goodness, do we need some of that!

We have heard that local authorities and local government are taking a lead across the country. We have also heard from colleagues that local elections saw a record number of Labour and Co-op councillors elected. There are more than 1,500 such representatives across 80% of local authorities, so the case is being made at a local level more and more. However, we need to see that matched at a national level. When the Minister makes her contribution, I will be interested to hear what work her Department is undertaking, not just to support co-ops and alternative businesses in the here and now, but going forward, in terms of its ambition and belief for the sector. On levelling up, if there is anything the Minister could deliver in her role, it would be to help those sub-regional bodies—perhaps combined authorities and mayors—to deliver ownership hubs. There is clearly enthusiasm to do that.

What more help does the Minister envisage giving local authorities to ensure that they can play their role? There has been a pattern over the past decade or more of not prioritising alternative models. It has been the same old models delivering the same old outcomes. As a result, we have pent-up potential—we really need to realise that—and that plays out in Government focus and in a policy and regulatory framework that often inhibits the development of alternative models.

I hope that the Minister has heard, in contributions from colleagues and me, about the ambition and the potential, and the difference that it would make to the UK economy to unleash co-ops. We see the local leadership of this, and we now need to see some national leadership to match it.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for what I think is the first time, Mr Dowd—what a very sound time it is. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) on securing this incredibly important debate. We in Government share her desire to expand our understanding of what more can be done to support growth in different sectors and to learn from successful examples of best practice, as mentioned by hon. Members today. When I walked in, I admit that I was not expecting to go all the way back to 1777, which the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) mentioned, but it is always important to take on that historical perspective.

In looking at best practice today, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch for her canter through the country’s co-ops and the excellent work that they do to support their local communities. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) for outlining the work that she is doing across the valley to develop a local co-operative; I am interested to hear how that work progresses in the months and years to come. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) for highlighting some key Welsh co-operative champions, such as Robert Owen, and for her overview of the Italian experiences of the Marcora law. I would be delighted to meet her to discuss that, perhaps in Neath; I thank her for the kind invitation to visit her in her constituency.

We recognise that co-operatives and alternative businesses can and do play a vital role in boosting growth and opportunity, at both a local level, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) highlighted, and a national level. For instance, Co-operative UK’s 2021 report estimates that the UK’s co-ops have a combined turnover of almost £40 billion and employ around 250,000 people. It is also important to note the role that they have in supporting their local communities, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West highlighted with regard to food poverty—an issue that he is incredibly passionate about and on which he is a vociferous campaigner. As for his private Member’s Bill, I do not want to give a commitment today, given that it does not sit within my brief, but I will certainly ask the relevant Minister to follow up on that point and have a discussion with him.

The role played by co-ops locally and nationally is why I am really pleased that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently launched the social enterprise boost fund, which will see £4.1 million of Government funding invested across six local authority areas to support the creation of new social enterprises and boost early-stage organisations. The fund will run until March 2025, and we expect local delivery partners to involve local authorities over the course of the programme.

In my Department, our £150 million community ownership fund allows community groups to bid for up to £1 million of match funding to help them to buy or take over local community assets at risk of being lost and to run them as community-owned businesses, supporting that sense of co-operative entrepreneurship. That important fund helps to safeguard the small but much-loved local assets that, frankly, we cannot put a price on, such as pubs, sports clubs, theatres and post office buildings. So far, £23.9 million has been awarded to 98 projects across the UK. I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of such projects and seeing the vital roles that they play locally. One of my highlights from my early visits was a visit to the Old Forge pub in Inverie, otherwise known as the mainland’s remotest pub. Certainly for the people in that community, it is more than a pub; it is very much a central pillar of their community, right at its heart.

In addition to those funds, the Government have supported a private Member’s Bill: the Co-operatives, Mutuals and Friendly Societies Bill. The Bill would grant His Majesty’s Treasury the power to introduce regulations to give mutuals further flexibility in determining for themselves the best strategies for their business regarding their surplus capital. The Bill completed its Third Reading in the House of Lords on 16 June and is entering its final stages. Hon. Members may recall that on the same day, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury announced that the Government will launch reviews of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 and the Friendly Societies Act 1992, conducted by the Law Commission. Those comprehensive reviews aim to identify essential updates to legislation, thereby developing a more modern legal structure in which mutuals can be supported to take advantage of opportunities to grow.

We should also recognise the work of the local growth hubs across England, as outlined by the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch. I must say, as a Yorkshire-born lass, that I was delighted to hear that Sheffield is taking lessons to London, not the other way round. That is always very refreshing for me to hear in my levelling-up role. There are currently 37 local growth hubs, which are backed by Government funding, with each delivered by a local enterprise partnership or an upper-tier local authority. They provide local businesses of any size, any sector or any ownership status with advice and access to support for any stage of their business journey through a free and impartial single point of contact.

Growth hubs bring together the best of national and local business support from across the public and private sectors. They work with key partners and funding bodies, including local authorities, to shape provision around local needs, meaning that businesses can find the right support for them at the right time. I am pleased to tell hon. Members that funding for growth hubs of up to £12 million in 2023-24 is confirmed.

It is important that co-operatives and alternative businesses are seen as valued members of their community by local authorities. That is why, as part of the antisocial behaviour action plan, the Government announced a high street accelerator pilot programme. Accelerators will incentivise and empower local people to work together to develop ambitious plans to tackle vacancy and reinvent their high streets so that they are fit for the future. I really hope to see co-operatives and alternative businesses in pilot areas joining the accelerator to ensure that we continue to learn how to better support their growth in our town centres and high streets.

I thank the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch and all Members for their contributions to this important debate. While I am unable to make promises today, as I hope hon. Members will appreciate, some key issues that I will take back to my Department, and more widely to Government, include assessing the barriers for co-operatives in accessing local and national government contracts; whether there is an opportunity to create a central hub for co-operative advice in Government; and whether there is an opportunity for a regional co-operative development agency. I will take those away and follow up with the hon. Lady. In the meantime, if there are more examples of ways in which local authorities can support co-operatives and alternative businesses, I will be very happy to receive them.

I thank all hon. Members who have contributed. The House has heard the passion that we all have for co-ops and how they can invest wealth back into the communities that generate that wealth, as well as the vital role of local authorities in championing that in their areas. We need to see co-ops go from strength to strength. It is appropriate that we have had this debate in Co-op Fortnight, so I thank Mr Speaker for granting it, and I thank all hon. Members, you in the Chair, Mr Dowd, and officials for the support.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the role of local authorities in supporting co-operatives and alternative businesses.

Sitting suspended.

Podiatry Workforce and Patient Care

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

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the podiatry workforce and patient care.

The background to this debate is a meeting I had with a number of local podiatrists representing the Royal College of Podiatry, so let me thank them for the briefing that the royal college has sent me. I want to talk about the development of a workforce strategy for podiatry.

To explain for those who may take an interest in the debate, podiatrists are highly skilled healthcare professionals. They are trained to assess, diagnose, prevent, treat and rehabilitate complications of the foot and lower limbs. They manage foot, ankle and lower-limb musculoskeletal pain, and skin conditions of the legs and feet. They treat infection, and assess and manage lower-limb neurological and circulatory disorders. They are unique in working across conditions and across the life course, rather than on a disease of a specific area.

A podiatrist’s training and expertise extends across population groups to those who have multiple chronic, long-term conditions, which place a high burden on NHS resources. The conditions largely relate to diabetes, arthritis, obesity and cardiovascular disease. In addition to delivering wider public health messages in order to minimise isolation, promote physical activity and support weight-loss strategies and healthy lifestyle choices, podiatrists keep people mobile, in work and active throughout their life. They contribute to the wellbeing of our economy and workforce.

Podiatry is intrinsic to multiple care pathways too, and podiatrists liaise between community, residential, domiciliary, secondary care and primary care settings. They specialise in being flexible and responsive, ensuring focused patient care, irrespective of the clinical setting. Podiatrists are at the forefront of delivering innovation in integrated care. They deliver high-quality and timely care, as well as embracing safe and effective technologies that lead to improved patient outcomes.

The role of podiatrists in managing diabetic foot complications is key. They play a vital role in the prevention and management of diabetic foot complications, which, at the last estimate, cost the NHS in England £1 billion a year. In the three-year period from 2017-18 to 2019-20, there were over 190 minor and major amputations per week in England. Of the people affected, 79% will be confined to one room within a year, with 80% tragically dying within five years. That is a shocking outcome for patients, and it is even worse than the outcomes for the majority of cancers we seek to deal with.

The impact of lower-limb amputations on patients’ quality of life and chances of survival are shocking, so we must do everything we can to prevent diabetic foot complications. We have to act in a timely and targeted manner to ensure that people have the best possible chance of living long and fulfilled lives.

It is estimated that by 2025, 1.2 million people with diabetes in the UK will require regular podiatry appointments if they are to remain ulcer, infection and amputation free.

I declare an interest as a diabetic, so I understand exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. I am aware of the silent but vital work carried out by podiatrists throughout the United Kingdom. In my constituency of Strangford, a nursing home where funded podiatry appointments were cut was still visited by a podiatrist. He was able to attend, but he treated people without taking any money. Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that access to podiatry for the elderly in care homes should be fully funded and that they should not have to rely on family or kind-hearted podiatrists to get their health needs taken care of?

What I have discovered on my journey of finding out about podiatry, which I knew very little about before I met podiatrists in my constituency, is that of course people need professional care, and that care needs to be properly funded. There are volunteers, but we should not have to rely solely on volunteers; we need professionals leading the way. Podiatrists are skilled and trained in the prevention and management of diabetes-related foot complications. That is why many of us believe that they must be at the heart of the NHS plan to eliminate unnecessary amputations and the consequent avoidable deaths.

As I said, the broader cost of diabetic foot ulcers to the NHS is more than £1 billion per year—the equivalent of just under 1% of the entire NHS budget. Effective and early intervention for diabetic foot complications prior to ulceration could save thousands of lives and millions of pounds each year.

The situation in my area in Hillingdon exemplifies what is happening elsewhere in the country, which the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has mentioned. Hillingdon’s community podiatry service is part of the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. It is suffering from severe workforce issues, which is having a detrimental effect on the people delivering the service and those suffering from foot ulceration, infection and amputation.

The service is currently failing to meet its timescales for seeing patients at high risk of developing a foot ulcer. What should be a team of 13 clinical podiatrists is now just 3.5 full-time equivalents and three support workers. The immediate concern is the pressure that puts on the staff who remain and the impact it has on the patients who need a minimum of weekly wound re-dressings to enable healing and prevent infection and life-changing amputation. The opportunities to prevent life-changing and life-threatening complications are minimised by the shortage of staff.

We also have concerns that support workers are being asked to triage and treat people beyond their scope of practice due to the staff shortage. That is not a criticism of them, but it is the reality. We should be filling the service with professionals who are fully trained to deal with the range of complications that they might come across. The workforce challenge facing podiatry is the real issue.

There is a need for focused recruitment. As I said, it is estimated that by 2025, 1.2 million people with diabetes in the UK will require regular podiatry appointments if they are to remain ulcer and amputation free. In the absence of that, there will be a greater risk of premature disability and death. There are currently just under 10,000 podiatrists registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. That is just one per 5,500 residents in England, and that number is due to decline as a result of demographics.

Following the removal of NHS bursaries for student podiatrists in 2016, the number of undergraduates studying podiatry has declined by 38%. Prior to that, the student bursary was set at £9,000 a year and it covered the cost of tuition for a year. In 2020, in a welcome move, the Government reintroduced student bursaries, but at £5,000. That has caused a slight improvement in recruitment to the profession, but it falls far short of ensuring the future of the podiatry workforce that will be required to deal with the oncoming wave of severe diabetic complications coming out of the pandemic.

Another issue is that the average age of podiatry students on graduation is 32. The majority of students are pursuing a second degree, and the need for a second student loan is having a damaging impact on universities’ ability to recruit undergraduates to train as podiatrists. By leaving it up to the market, we face the prospect of not training the workforce required to meet the needs of an ageing population.

The other issue raised with me is the limited career progression in NHS settings. Of the podiatrists currently qualified in England, approximately 40% work in the national health service. It is projected that many of those podiatrists not heading for retirement are likely to move to work in the private sector in the next five years. The reasons cited for that include lack of career development opportunities; repetitive workloads, with limited skill mix; and high demand and low capacity to meet it, leading to what people consider are unsafe staffing levels and to staff burnout.

Expansion of the podiatric workforce across primary, community and secondary services may address some but not all of those issues. Support for workforce growth is critical, but support for those already qualified to progress to advanced clinical practice and consultancy is also critical to workforce retention and ensuring adequate capability in senior clinical, leadership, education and research roles.

We need policy to ensure closer working across providers and the delivery of a foot health strategy. There is significant opportunity to expand the foot health workforce to include non-registered roles, supported by qualified, expert podiatrists. There is also opportunity to consider alternative workforce models that are inclusive of podiatrists working in private practice or the wider foot health workforce in the third and voluntary sectors, for example. A clear workforce strategy is desperately needed now. It needs to explicitly underpin how the foot health workforce is optimally configured, funded, implemented and trained and what the core outcomes of foot health services must be to meet the needs of our future population.

Currently, there is no workforce strategy, no clear statement of aim, and no standardised set of core outcome measures informed by public health or policy. Clear foot health policy is urgently needed to maximise all the benefits that podiatry can offer across an integrated care system, before the profession becomes—as we predict it will—unsustainable, with staffing levels even more unsafe and avoidable patient harms, amputations and deaths relating to lower-limb disease rising dramatically.

I therefore have three key asks. First, I ask the Government to reinstate the £9,000 bursary for student podiatrists. If podiatrists are to be able to support the millions of people who will require their expertise, the Government must reinstate the full podiatry student bursary of £9,000 a year. That is essential if the workforce is to be secured and expanded for future generations. In the absence of long-term funding confidence, allied health professions such as podiatry are unable to commit substantial and consistent investment towards maximising recruitment and retention, both of which will be crucial in securing the future viability of this vital profession.

My second ask is for national collection of podiatry vacancy rates and inclusion of podiatry in workforce planning. Publishing a national workforce plan that considers future need for allied health professionals such as podiatrists must be a priority for the Government. That plan must take into account current trends in recruitment and retention and, for future needs-based public health, comorbidities and their impact on disease prevalence. A national workforce plan will also act as a crucial evidence base for the allocation of long-term workforce funding.

My third ask is for the guidance on integrated care system membership to be strengthened to include allied health professionals. The absence of national guidance or recommendations regarding which organisations and individuals should be included in integrated care partnerships has resulted in a patchwork of involvement for allied health professionals, including podiatrists, in integrated care decision making. Without their meaningful engagement in those discussions, there is a danger that the invaluable contribution podiatrists can make to the delivery of care might simply be overlooked. Strengthened national guidance on the make-up of integrated care partnerships, to include representation of allied health professionals such as podiatrists, should be developed and implemented at the earliest opportunity.

I conclude by thanking the professionals who work in my constituency, as well as those who work nationally. I recognise the pressures they are under and the valiant way that they cope with them.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd.

Let me say first how grateful I am to the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for raising this important issue. He said that he did not know a huge amount about podiatry. I must say that I did not either, because I am not the Minister with responsibility for primary care, but I do have responsibility for the workforce. One of the powerful aspects of debates of this nature is that they force not only Ministers but the Department to focus on a particular issue and give Members from across the House—including the Minister —a crash course in it. As a result of my research ahead of the debate, I know far more about podiatry than I did yesterday. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that.

I know having undertaken that research—and, indeed, from my constituency inbox—that podiatrists are a hugely important part of the workforce. They are an invaluable part of our NHS, as the right hon. Gentleman eloquently set out. I join him in saying how hugely grateful I am for their vital work supporting patients day in, day out across our NHS. The Government know that personal care that is responsive to people’s needs is essential and the service that podiatrists provide to local communities is important in helping people maintain their mobility, independence and wellbeing.

As the right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, early identification of foot problems helps to prevent or delay the onset or exacerbation of long-term conditions, thereby reducing the risk of wounds, infection and, ultimately, amputation. He also pointed out that foot problems have a significant financial impact on the NHS through out-patient cost, increased bed occupancy and prolonged stays in hospital. Working mainly at the heart of primary care, podiatrists are well placed to ensure patients receive a quality foot screening service, as well as the appropriate onward referrals for foot and lower-limb interventions.

The right hon. Gentleman correctly pointed to our ageing population. That is not exclusive to us; it is a global problem, certainly in the western world. I say “problem” but, actually, it is a great thing that people live longer. However, it is a challenge for health systems, because people are living longer with long-term conditions and complex needs that we need to ensure we can support and manage as a society. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the need will continue to grow.

The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues but, with his permission, I will focus mainly on the workforce rather than on podiatry more generally. I recognise that the workforce remain under sustained pressure, having worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to provide high-quality care for those who need it. I recognise that podiatrists’ role in supporting our NHS is as important as ever. It is vital that we support the workforce both now and in the future.

The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) referred to volunteers. I have them in my constituency, and if it were not for the volunteer podiatrists who give their time every day of the week, free of charge, I believe the NHS would be suffering even more. That is why we need to push for the recruitment that he referred to.

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, and I pay tribute to all those who volunteer. This is not the only area in our national health service where volunteers play an important role, but it is important that they are add-on and add value—supporting professionals as opposed to replacing professionals. That is why, at the heart of this debate, we must ensure that we have the podiatry workforce that we need across all four nations—although this debate is specifically focused, understandably, on England.

As the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington pointed out, demand for the NHS continues to grow. That is why we have already done a significant amount to invest in the education and training of our future workforce. NHS England—until recently, this was done by Health Education England—has worked extensively to enhance and modernise the podiatry profession. One central factor, which the right hon. Gentleman alluded to, is the development of the foot health standards for the education and training of the foot health support workforce.

However, I am certainly conscious that we have more to do. As part of that process, we developed the podiatry apprenticeship, which is a degree apprenticeship, and supported the implementation of that route into the profession. The numbers are still small, but they are growing, which is great to see. We are keen to promote that route into the profession, not least because it comes with significantly reduced costs for those taking part in the training.

With the promotion of more podiatry apprenticeships, we are offering a more diverse number of training options for students. Furthermore, the learning support fund, which the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington pointed to, provides all eligible nursing, midwifery and allied health professional degree students—including podiatrists—with a non-repayable training grant of a minimum of £5,000 per academic year. I say “minimum” because there is an additional hardship element to that of up to £3,000 per year, and additional support is available for childcare, dual-accommodation costs and, where appropriate, travel. The right hon. Gentleman specifically asked for an increase; there are no plans for that at present, but I will of course take that away and have a look at it.

I am here if the Minister needs any assistance in—I was going to say beating—negotiating the Treasury into submission.

I think I mentioned a figure of one podiatrist to every 5,500 people, but I think that I have got that wrong; I think it is actually one to every 55,000 people. That is a huge demand that is placed on podiatrists.

On the Minister’s point regarding the bursary, the British Society of Rheumatology pointed out in one of its briefings that an estimated £15 million a year would be saved on the costs of rheumatoid arthritis if sufficient support was given, particularly through podiatrists. In our argument or discussion with the Treasury, this is therefore an investment that will save money, and we know that directly from the evidence that has been provided.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We are constantly looking at those spend-to-save arguments in areas in the health service where it makes sense to invest. Following this debate, I will gladly look at the podiatry courses and see how over-subscribed or under-subscribed they are, because that may—or may not—help to make the case.

I just spoke about training. Training is important because, of course, we need to see new podiatrists coming in to practise. However, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, retention is as important as recruitment. As important as increasing numbers of podiatry trainees is, it is also important to retain the highly qualified, highly skilled, experienced people we already have practising podiatry in the NHS.

I am determined—I know that the Secretary of State is too, because we have had this conversation many a time—to ensure that staff in our NHS feel supported and that the NHS works to ensure that staff feel valued, both by individual organisations and across the system. We are working closely with NHS England—and indeed, through NHS England, with individual trusts—to ensure that that is happening. We regularly meet staff to get a better understanding of how they could better feel valued and supported in their workplace.

The actions of the NHS people plan and the NHS people promise are helping us to build the kind of culture that will go a long way towards helping to support and hold on to dedicated and hard-working colleagues. That very much includes a stronger focus on health and wellbeing and, importantly, on strengthening leadership. People often say that they do not leave trusts or organisations but their managers, so we must make sure that management culture is right. We also know from speaking to staff that it is vital to increase opportunities for flexible working.

One of the right hon. Gentleman’s other asks was on the long-term workforce plan. He is absolutely right. To help us ensure that we have the right numbers of staff with the right skills to transform services and deliver high-quality services that are fit for the future, we have commissioned NHS England to develop a long-term workforce plan for the NHS for the next five, 10 and 15 years.

That high-level workforce plan will look at the mix and number of staff required across the country and will set out a number of actions and reforms that are needed to reduce those supply gaps and, importantly, improve retention. We have committed to publishing that plan shortly—and it will be shortly; I know it is soon. I am very keen to ensure that it is published, because I know how much work NHS England has put into it. In addition, the Chancellor committed that it will be independently verified. We have to make sure that we get it right.

The plan will also include projections for the number of professionals that will be needed, which goes directly to the right hon. Gentleman’s point—it will include podiatrists—and will take full account of improvements in retention and productivity that we plan and hope to see. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for securing this important debate. Through long-term planning, we are ensuring that the NHS has the robust and resilient podiatry workforce that it needs for the future.

The third and final question the right hon. Gentleman posed was on integrated care system guidance relating to allied health professionals. As tempting as it is to make policy on the hoof, that does not sit within my portfolio. I will commit to raise that with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O'Brien), who is the Minister with responsibility for primary care. I will ask him to write to or meet the right hon. Gentleman.

We are working to ensure that we have the right people with the right skills in the right places and are working to ensure that they are well supported and looked after, so that they in turn can look after those who need our great NHS services and can keep delivering the great standard of care that people need now, but also in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Heritage Sites: Sustainability

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the sustainability of heritage sites across the UK.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I am grateful to have been granted this time to shed light on the important contributions that independent heritage sites make to the UK.

The current climate emergency demands that we act fast to mitigate the fatal consequences for our natural world, and one way we should do that is by making man-made environments energy-efficient. There are also concerns about the fragility of heritage sites and doubts about their long-term existence.

I put on the record my thanks to Historic Houses, which has taken the time to educate me and my staff about this issue, and to come and watch this debate. I particularly want to name-check my assistant, Olivia Sharma, for her work on this issue. I also want to thank the custodians and caretakers of listed buildings—especially those in my constituency—who work tirelessly to preserve our heritage. In 2022 alone, Historic Houses’ members welcomed over 20 million visits, generating over £1.3 billion in expenditure for the UK economy. They supported over 32,000 jobs across the UK, over 4,000 of which were in Scotland. I believe the figures speak for themselves.

In my constituency, in the far north, I have seen at first hand how heritage sites, such as Dunrobin castle in Sutherland, ignite pride in the locals and provide fascination for tourists. That was evident in 2019, when the attraction welcomed—can you believe this?—100,000 visitors to a remote part of the UK. Attracting tourists from within and outside the UK to visit rural communities is imperative for the survival of those communities, as independent businesses are boosted considerably by visitors each year. The popularity of heritage sites as tourist attractions speaks to their unique ability to put rural communities in the highlands on the global map.

I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing this issue forward. Heritage sites help not only his constituency but mine. An example is the abbey at Greyabbey, which dates back to 1193 AD. It is worthy of protection not simply to preserve the history and the beautiful building, but so that it can act as a tourist attraction for cruises and coach tours, including the Disney Cruise Line tours. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we must recognise the beauty of wonderful buildings, that funding needs to be put in place to ensure that moneys are ringfenced for historic sites, and that each and every pound must ensure that tourist money comes in, that tourists visit and that we all benefit, including the shops and the economy?

The hon. Gentleman makes his point eloquently. As he knows, my wife hails from the Province of Northern Ireland, and I know Greyabbey. He makes his point very well indeed.

Historic buildings are pieces of our history in the far north, and keeping them standing protects our heritage in the highlands, Scotland and the rest of the UK. In 2022, Historic Houses properties hosted over 26,000 events, such as festivals, theatrical performances and recitals. Listed buildings and their custodians make history, art and culture more accessible to people in communities right across the UK. It would be wrong to underestimate the value of listed buildings as sources of education as well as entertainment.

However, as I said at the outset, the climate emergency poses a challenge to the survival of estates and calls into question their long-term existence. Despite being sustainable partners who view decarbonisation as crucial to the preservation of heritage for future generations, custodians of listed buildings face practical barriers, which I am afraid to say include current planning permission and listed building consent, both of which inhibit the pursuit of net zero targets. For example, energy performance certificates use a metric of cost, as opposed to carbon. That often encourages the installation of new fossil-fuel boilers, rather than green alternatives such as solar panels, in listed buildings.

Furthermore, listed building consent adds delay, expertise and, indeed, hassle to the process of installing any energy-efficiency measures in listed buildings—even those with minimal impact on their historic fabric. I would suggest that the regulations are flawed and that they lead to the slow and difficult uptake of energy-efficiency measures. These houses were built to last, but the Government must allow them to adapt and change as necessary. Planning frameworks need to provide support for the implementation of sensitive energy-efficiency measures in a way that reflects the climate emergency.

Greater investment in renewable energy in off-grid rural communities is imperative, particularly in my constituency and other rural constituencies, because it would lower renewable fuel costs and increase self-sufficiency. That way, green energy projects in the heritage sector could be integrated into their surrounding communities. Reviewed planning frameworks must ensure that buildings are repaired and adapted in energy-efficient ways, not demolished. In short, heritage protections must be maintained and prioritised in future reviews of planning policies. We must put sustainability at the forefront of our thinking.

I am fully aware that housing is devolved to the Scottish Government, but perhaps—with the best will in the world—the two Governments could work together to ensure best practice. After all, having a chain of historic attractions all around the UK can only benefit the four nations of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has the oldest building stock in Europe. It would be shameful and reckless to let it succumb to insolvency when we have the tools to ensure its survival.

The point I want to make is simply this: the climate crisis is growing ever more urgent and we need to start taking tourism and heritage more seriously. We can do that by recognising this historic environment as part of the solution to achieving net zero. I suggest that tourism has for too long been treated as second rate—an afterthought to bigger, more important issues. We are talking about people’s livelihoods, the preservation of our national identity and, indeed, the very existence of our planet as somewhere we can live and work for many years to come—these are no small feats.

That is why I join the voices that have been calling on the Government to support heritage sites that are committed to net zero targets by publishing a review of the planning and regulatory reforms that face listed buildings. The survival of our country’s heritage requires a supportive regulatory framework, and we need it as soon as is humanly possible. I look forward to hearing the contributions of other Members present, and I thank them for attending the debate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I thank the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) for his excellent opening speech and his commitment to the important matter of heritage and its connection with sustainability and the wider environment.

I would like to address my remarks to the question of the future of Reading gaol, which is a grade II listed building. It is famous for being the place where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated, and it was designed by the famous Victorian architect George Gilbert Scott, who was responsible for a number of well-known Victorian buildings in London, including the Albert memorial and St Pancras station. Sadly, the gaol has been mothballed since 2013 and faces an uncertain future. Locally, we would like to see this historic building reused as an arts and heritage hub and preserved for the community, possibly with some support from outside benefactors. We have had interest from Banksy and, indeed, members of the arts community.

When the Minister responds, I hope he will indicate that he has passed on my concerns to the Ministry of Justice, which owns the site. Sadly, the Ministry mothballed the gaol in 2013. It spent a large amount on maintaining the building’s integrity, but it has not sold it, and has not wished to sell it, to a community-led bid, despite an offer of interest from Reading Borough Council. The council and I are waiting to hear from the Ministry what the future of the gaol might be. We would very much like the Government to reconsider the community interest in the future of the gaol and to look at an arts and heritage hub as a possible future use for the building, so I hope the Minister will be able to address that. I thank you, Mr Dowd, for allowing me to briefly speak about this matter.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) on securing this important debate, because heritage sites and tourism mean so much to people in places like Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke. I will start with a success story that shows what can be done to sustain important icons in our communities. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), visited Middleport pottery. I was delighted that he was able to see it; it is just a shame that he did not visit with a much sounder group of individuals like me, but I understand he was there in a party political capacity. Anyway, I am glad that he was able to see that fantastic work.

All thanks to His Majesty King Charles III: his charities came in and turned Middleport pottery around. It is a great icon of our history and heritage that was on the verge of crumbling and falling down. Today, it is a continuously working factory—the only factory in the world where pottery is still handmade and hand-printed. Every piece of Burleigh is unique to its owner.

Middleport pottery is opening up and giving tourists the opportunity to see a working factory in action, and to be involved in arts and crafts. It has developed the Harper Street project, which has an excellent veterans support network; it creates artwork for local veterans to sell. That gives them skills and ambition for the future, and helps them to tackle their physical and mental health ailments. There are fantastic organisations, such as Middleport Matters Community Trust, led by Vicki Gwynne, who does tremendous work. It ensures that young people and mothers get the support that they need all year round, through holiday activities and food programmes. It is linked to the Hubb Foundation, and gives important community support.

Channel 4 has used Middleport pottery for “The Great Pottery Throwdown”. Canal scenes in “Peaky Blinders” were filmed there. The site has been used diversely to bring in a sustainable income. The factory produces an awful lot of heat, so that is shared around the complex to drive down energy costs. Also, many volunteers kindly give up their time to support that success.

The greatest honour I have had as a Member of Parliament was seeing those at the heart of this Government—the Cabinet—have a regional away day in the Middleport pottery building. Hosting a Cabinet meeting, and knowing that those decision makers were in the community, was iconic for the people of Stoke-on-Trent. These local charities and organisations would maybe never otherwise be able to access Ministers at first hand; having them on their doorstep sent a real signal of intent and seriousness. I congratulate Boris Johnson, the former Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, on doing that. It was a big decision, and it meant a lot to the people of Stoke-on-Trent. I am delighted that Middleport pottery also recently received £249,962 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Middleport pottery is a success story, but there are many challenges. Stoke-on-Trent is littered with beautiful buildings and historic heritage. The mother town of Burslem has many of those buildings. The Queen’s Theatre, the Victorian Burslem indoor market and the Wedgwood Institute are three iconic buildings. The city council recently found that it would cost between £30 million and £40 million to bring them back to life. Through feasibility studies, the council has been looking at what could be done with those spaces.

The indoor market—a fantastic building—had the Office for Place visit it; being the cheapest of the three, I think it is a real goer. It could be not only a great venue for meetings and conferences, but a performing arts space. Street food stalls could be set up there. An iconic building could be brought back into use. It was recently listed, which is important, because it gave us access to funds that were unavailable before. Stoke-on-Trent City Council took the risk of bringing the building back under the public purse. The council wants to see it future-proofed and used, so that Burslem can continue to thrive.

I welcome the Minister to come and see at first hand that iconic sight, and to stop off at the mighty Port Vale football club. There is another football team in the south of the city, but we do not need to worry about them quite as much. Port Vale are a great football team, and the Minister would be more than welcome there. Port Vale’s promotion from league 2 to league 1 has helped bring an awful lot of extra footfall into the mother town of Burslem. That supports pubs and independent restaurants, such as Agie and Katie, an award-winning west midlands food provider, as well as The Bull’s Head in Burslem, near the fantastic Titanic Brewery; it is a great epicentre.

There is one building that is iconic to the history of not just the city but the country: the Leopard pub. Sadly, arsonists attacked this important building and caused tremendous damage. It is where Josiah Wedgwood and James Brindley met to discuss and plan the Trent and Mersey canal, which fuelled so much of the industrial revolution across the city. Now, potentially just the frontage can be kept. The new owners are talking about turning the building into housing. I hope that can be done, but Government support is required to move those plans forward.

Price and Kensington teapot works is another important site. I am grateful to the Government for supporting my ten-minute rule Bill and including it in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. It means that the current capped fine of £1,000 for someone found guilty under section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 will be unlimited for the first offence, and will go up from £100 to £500 a day for a second offence. That will help us hold to account rogue and absent landlords, such as Charles Lewis and Co, which owns that great heritage site and was today fined up to £72,000 for its misuse. I hope that people such as Simon Davies of Kidsgrove, a local businessman, will come forward with plans to take over the site and deliver a new arts and cultural centre. It will be a corridor into Stoke-on-Trent north, off the A500. That would be really powerful, and would support the tourism industry. It would go into Middleport pottery, using the canal network.

Finally, there is a great sleeping giant that I have been proud to bang on about time and again: Chatterley Whitfield colliery, which is the largest complete deep coal mine site in Europe. It was the first colliery in the country to dig up 1 million tonnes of coal, and it did so not just once but twice. I congratulate Nigel Bowers, who in the recent honours list was recognised for his public service, and for standing up for such fantastic local charitable organisations. Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Historic England, the Chatterley Whitfield Friends and I have come up with a plan to make the colliery a really exciting centre for geothermal exploration; it can be used as a trial. The Coal Authority has revealed that there is pre-existing infrastructure that could help develop a mine energy project with a heat pump that can bring heat from the ground to the surface and power homes. The Coal Authority estimates that the site could generate about 1 MW of energy—enough to power 500 homes. I hope the Minister will take that back, feed it into Government and make the most of the opportunity to bring to that important site the investment that we need if we are to turn around that sleeping giant, which I want to see flourish.

Just a bit of housekeeping: I expect to call the Opposition spokespeople at 5.16 pm, and I will give the mover of the motion a couple of minutes to wind up, so hon. Members have no more than five minutes each. Try to keep it under five minutes, please.

It is a real pleasure to take part in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) on securing a debate on the sustainability of heritage sites across the UK.

I should like to discuss the Llanelli railway goods shed in my constituency. When the local planning authority conservation officer deals with the application for solar panels, the matter will of course come under Welsh Government guidance, which has much in common with the guidelines elsewhere; the same issues are raised. It is a huge challenge to finance the renovation of a large, grade II listed building. The building has featured in TV programmes by Michael Portillo and Huw Edwards. The dedication of volunteers, and the desire of local residents to see it restored to its former glory, is immense.

If a building is commercially viable, it will be snapped up, and there will be plenty of options—it can be done up for flats or whatever—but so many of these buildings are not in that category. The costs of renovation far outweigh any easy profit for commercial investors, so the buildings remain there until local volunteers get together, start raising money, including through grant funding, and make a business plan that stacks up. It is very important that they can show that the building is sustainable. In our case, we have gone for a mixture of commercial and business start-ups, plus community and educational use. We are already bringing in schools and showing the children material about Llanelli’s industrial heritage. For us, putting on solar panels is extremely important, because we want to tackle climate change. Every level of Government—the UK Government, the Welsh Government and the local county council, which is the local planning authority—has professed its commitment to getting to net zero. We have a huge south-facing roof, which is not visible from the front of the building—from the road, where people go in. The building backs on to the railway; somebody has to be right over the other side of the railway to see that part of the roof.

We were concerned not only to tackle climate change, but to make the building more viable and save on running costs, all the more so given that energy costs have soared recently. However, our local planning authority conservation officer has been adamant that the guidance will not permit solar panels. It was strange; they would not contemplate the modern solar panels that we liked, which look so much like slates that it is hardly possible to tell the difference. We were told that we had to have the ones that stand proud. I can understand the theory, which is that restoration to the original would be required; that might be the reasoning. Anyway, neither option is apparently acceptable, and we have been flatly refused permission to put solar panels on the roof.

This is a listed building that we want to be preserved and to look as it has looked. It is an industrial building, and we want to move with the times. We want to use technologies that are up to date, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross mentioned, just as the builders used the technologies of their day. We want to conserve the building and preserve the planet. We want to contribute to tackling climate change, and make the building more viable.

Even well known buildings with high footfall do not necessarily find it easy to make ends meet, because running costs can be so high. With a building in a less well-off part of the country, which probably will not attract such high footfall and is wanted principally for community use, it matters even more that we should have the opportunity to put on solar panels, out of sight, and in a way that helps the sustainability of the building, and ensures its preservation for the future.

Brookwood cemetery in my constituency is a beautiful grade I listed historic park and garden. It has a fascinating history, which I would recommend to everyone. In brief, London ran out of space in its churchyards and cemeteries in the Victorian age, in the late 1840s. Given the potential for cholera outbreaks and so on, Brookwood cemetery in the heart of Surrey was designated to take all of London’s deceased, and a special train line was set up. Its other name was the London necropolis.

Today, 170 years later, it is still a beautiful place. Originally, the London Necropolis Company bought more than 2,000 acres. The site is still very large, at 220 acres. It holds the remains of more than 265,000 deceased, from the great and the good through to paupers. Recently, about 15,000 sets of remains from the route of the HS2 line have been reinterred at the cemetery. It is still used as an active cemetery, and still has that historic job of taking in remains when the need arises.

Brookwood has had a slightly chequered history in more recent times. It has always been in private ownership. Some of the private owners looked after the cemetery well; others not so much. Woking Borough Council stepped in a few years ago to buy the cemetery, and has done an amazing job of restoring it. The buildings, walls and memorials were in great need of love, attention and restoration. There are also some wonderful flora and fauna, but the area had become overrun with rhododendrons and all sorts of other things. Some of the trees are 170 years old; they are an absolutely magnificent sight, all set out in serried lines, particularly next to the old railway line. As Members can hear, this is a very special place, but it needs further restoration. It is the largest cemetery in the United Kingdom and one of the largest, if not the largest, in Europe. As I say, it has an amazing amount of history.

Going forward, Woking Borough Council will not be able to spend the sort of money on the cemetery that it has done in recent times. As I say, the council has done a great restoration job, but we are talking about a site of national importance. The Minister will forgive me if I engage with the Government and with his Department on this magnificent place, along with other heritage bodies and lottery organisations, because it really deserves the public’s support. As I have said, I recommend that everyone becomes acquainted with this most amazing place, but national support will be needed for this very special and important national monument.

It is a pleasure, Mr Dowd, to serve under you today. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) on securing this debate, and on the way in which he put the case for what he charmingly termed “the far north”, or the start of the south, as we in the northern isles call it.

I flatter myself that we know a thing or two about heritage sustainability in the northern isles; we have been doing it for 5,000 years, after all. Since 1969, Orkney has been home to a UNESCO world heritage site—the heart of neolithic Orkney, incorporating Skara Brae, the stones of Stenness, Maeshowe and the Ring of Brodgar. However, that is just the start of it, because there is so much more archaeology peppered around the northern isles, and of course we have in Kirkwall St Magnus Cathedral, which is a relatively late addition to our portfolio, being a mere 12th-century construction. Most recently, we have had a very important addition in the Scapa Flow Museum in Hoy, which does a tremendous job in retaining historic artefacts that take us back to the first and second world wars—a time when Orkney and Scapa Flow were at the heart of the nation’s defence.

Of course, for some time now, Shetland has been designated a UNESCO global geopark. Earlier this year, the Government gave their support to the Zenith of Iron Age Shetland, which is also acquiring UNESCO status as a world heritage site. There are also Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof. Jarlshof is a 4,000-year-old settlement. Can the Minister give us any update on support for the Zenith of Iron Age Shetland? Obviously, it was never going to be a fast process; we know that. However, if he can give us an indication of what his Department is doing to sustain that process, it would be most appreciated.

In many ways, heritage defines what we are about in Orkney and Shetland. It is one of the things that marks us out as being very different from the rest of the country, and we are enormously proud of it. It now brings in a huge amount of business, and a huge number of people from right across the world for tourism. That is both an opportunity and, if we are not careful, something of a threat. It has developed in Orkney and Shetland a tremendous visitor economy, all made up of small and medium-sized enterprises; in particular, there is now an army of well qualified and well trained tourism guides who are able to offer a great visitor experience to people coming to the northern isles.

In recent years, however, we have seen an enormous growth in cruise ship traffic. That has been enormously valuable, especially financially, to the community, but there are challenges given the sheer number of people who come to visit sites such as Skara Brae, Maeshowe and the Ring of Brodgar. I commend everybody who has been involved in the management of that influx of tourists, because they have balanced the needs of maintaining the integrity of our world heritage site while making sure it is open and accessible to those who visit our islands.

The other threat to all built heritage, of whatever age, is climate change. We see that manifesting itself in so many different ways. Skara Brae on Orkney has been listed as a site that, because of its sheer location, is particularly vulnerable to the threat of climate change. It would be an absolute tragedy for our country if we were to lose such a site. I would like to see our Government in Scotland and the UK Government in Westminster come up with a more strategic and co-ordinated approach to ensure that these very important sites are maintained for future generations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your guidance this afternoon, Mr Dowd. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who I am delighted to follow, and my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), who secured this debate and made a wonderful opening speech. I commend the other speeches made in this debate.

UNESCO granted world heritage site status to the 1,000 square mile English Lake District in 2017. The document that UNESCO released on that proud announcement gave as much credit to the farmers and land managers as to the glaciers that first shaped its environment. World heritage site status was hard won by the Lake District National Park Authority and the many communities within it. The status is richly deserved and precious, but it is not without being at some risk.

I will identify a handful of the risks to the world heritage site status that we enjoy in the Lake district, starting with the environmental risks. The great risk we face at the moment relates to the transition from the old farm payments scheme we had under the European Union, the common agriculture policy, to the new environmental land management scheme being designed by this Government. In theory and principle, I am fully in favour of the scheme; in practice, the Government are botching the transition and risking our landscape.

Why is that the case? This year, all my farmers will lose at least a third of their basic payments. Last time I checked, not very long ago, a grand total of 27 of the 1,000 farmers in my constituency alone—there are many more in the broader Lake district—had signed up to the new sustainable farming incentive. What will the farmers outside the new environmental schemes do? I suggest they will either go broke or go backwards. Many will go out of farming altogether, which means our landscape will rapidly change, damaging both the environment and our tourism economy, or they will go backwards. I have talked to many farmers who are desperate to work out how on earth they will make ends meet. What are they going to do? They are already increasing their livestock numbers, over-intensifying their farming and undoing the good environmental work they have done over the past few decades.

Meanwhile, badly put-together schemes are effectively giving landlords vast sums of money. What are they being compensated for? For evicting their tenants and creating valleys that are completely lost to farming and wildlife protection, which many of us have termed a Lakeland clearance. The landscape will look very different in a few years’ time if the Government continue on this trajectory. We have a tourism economy worth £3.5 billion a year in places like Bowness, Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere, Grizedale, Langdale, Coniston, Hawkshead, Staveley, Glenridding, Patterdale and all the lakes and fells that people come to visit.

The tourism economy from which we hugely benefit will be damaged if we do not have the protection for which I am calling. We have 20 million visitors to our community, underpinning 60,000 jobs. It is important that we recognise how precious it is to the life of our community that we protect our world heritage site status. The national parks were originally founded on the Sandford principle, the idea that, all other things being the same, priority must be given to the conservation of the national parks.

We need to conserve our landscape, as I have already set out, but we also need to conserve our communities. The massive unrestricted growth of second home ownership in many of our communities means that I can name many villages where almost 90% of the housing stock is not lived in all year round. So you lose your school, you lose your bus service, you lose your pub. You lose everything there is that held the community together. We also see a growth in the ownership of the landscape falling into private hands. I trudged my way around Windermere lake a few weeks ago, when I ran the Windermere marathon. Apart from the fact that it was very uncomfortable and quite hot, it struck me how much of the frontage of the lake is privately owned. At the moment we are campaigning to stop YMCA Lakeside North Camp being sold off to a private owner who would permit no direct public access to the lake. I want the Lake district to be available to everybody, not just those of us who live there—I am so lucky to do so—but the country as a whole.

Our environment, our tourism economy and the communities that make up our national park—these things are hugely important. World heritage site status was tragically and sadly lost by Liverpool just two years ago, a reminder that all of us can lose this precious status. I ask the Government to take the action needed to protect world heritage site status for our wonderful communities in the Lake district.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd.

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) on securing the debate. I share with him a heritage in the highlands. I grew up in Inverness and I recognise much of what he describes. Everyone has spoken today with passion about the heritage sites in their area, whether they are world heritage sites, scheduled monuments, listed buildings or community assets of local value, and whether they are in the far north, Reading, Stoke, Llanelli, Woking, Orkney or the Lake district. I am sure I will be able to mention a couple in Glasgow. All such assets have a value in their own right as tangible and sometimes intangible connections to our past, our culture and the role they played in shaping our society.

In Glasgow North, we have a portion of the world heritage site of the Antonine wall, which was part of the frontier of the Roman empire. Much can be learned from the wall and associated sites about the Roman presence on these islands. Apparently, the first Romans who came here were chased away from the white cliffs of Dover, and people threw rocks and stones at them. These days the Government might call them illegal migrants and try to deport them to Rwanda. Nevertheless, the legacy is there to see in all the assets we are talking about. That important economic and social value remains in the here and now. These places bring people together and attract interested visitors who spend money on site and in the local economy. That in turn provides further benefit for the local community.

In Glasgow North we have the Maryhill Burgh Halls and in the east of the city Provan Hall. They are fantastic examples not just because my younger sister has worked on their heritage and regeneration, but because the projects to save and restore those facilities have themselves supported the local economy. They will be developed into functioning buildings that provide a place for people to make new memories, as well as to share their memories of them in times past.

The development and redevelopment of such sites is rarely, at least in the first instance, a purely commercial endeavour. Many heritage sites rely on charitable giving or funding from grant-making organisations, not least the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and from statutory bodies. The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, has received support from Historic Environment Scotland and has maintained and developed Mackintosh church at Queen’s Cross in Glasgow North as an attraction in its own right and as a venue for performances, weddings and other events. Currently, it is hosting Luke Jerram’s famous Gaia installation, last seen in Glasgow at COP26, where of course we were all encouraged, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross rightly said at the start, to think about how we tackle climate change and work towards reaching net zero targets.

In Glasgow’s west end, the Arlington Baths Club, of which I am a member, benefited from lottery heritage funding in the past. This recognised its value not only to the club’s members, but to the wider public. The facility is used by schools and is open throughout the year to those who wish to learn more about the building’s architecture and history. It is also a good example of how sites can adapt to a changing climate while becoming more sustainable at the same time. It recently produced a very ambitious plan to reach net zero. It will reduce carbon emissions, which is good for all of us, but also save money through energy efficiency and local generation. Supporting such projects should not just be seen as some sort of nice to have or luxury extra by Governments. Investing in heritage sites pays dividends for both the economy and wider society, and failure to invest results in either long-term maintenance costs or costs associated with the loss or even the destruction of assets.

The hon. Gentleman touched on a range of devolved areas. The Scottish Government invest what they can from the resources available to them. That includes the £278 million for the culture and heritage sector in the current year’s budget. We would, of course, welcome further investment at a UK level, because that would result in Barnett consequentials. I hope the Government will keep up with EU regulations in this area despite their insistence on a hard Brexit. There has been consensus on the value that these heritage sites bring to our culture, economy and society, but preserving them for future generations will not happen by magic. I hope the Government are prepared to step up to meet the challenges ahead.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. I congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) on securing the debate and on his opening remarks, most of which I agree with. We have heard contributions from a lot of right hon. and hon. Members across the Chamber, demonstrating the pride and passion that people feel in their local heritage sites. I greatly enjoyed my trip to Middleport Pottery. It is an excellent project and I also saw in Burslem the potential for wider regeneration of a heritage area.

Heritage sites tell the story of our country. They educate visitors from home and abroad, boost our visitor economy, and provide jobs and opportunities across the nation. Historic Houses has 1,450 sites, more than 900 of which are open to the public. They received 21 million visits last year, supported 32,000 jobs and generated over £1 billion for the UK economy. It is not just about money; living close to historic buildings and places associated with heritage is associated with higher levels of self-reported health, happiness and life satisfaction. Some 93% of people agree that local heritage improves their quality of life, and civil pride decreases when that heritage is in poor condition. For all those reasons, we need to preserve our heritage sites for the future so they can continue to enhance our local communities.

Like all sectors, there is a need to reduce carbon emissions as we transition to net zero. By their nature, heritage buildings are often old and inefficient. According to Historic England, improving the energy efficiency of historic properties could reduce emissions from the UK’s buildings by 5% a year and generate £35 billion for the economy, while making those buildings warmer and cheaper to run. Grosvenor’s recent research shows that retrofitting just half of pre-1919 homes in the next decade could lead to a saving of around £3.4 billion worth of CO2 reductions by 2050. Keeping historic buildings in use—adapting instead of demolishing them—is one of the most impactful things that can be done to lower carbon emissions and reduce waste.

These sites are vulnerable to risks beyond the climate crisis. During the pandemic, without a steady income stream from visitors and events, they immediately fell into difficulty, with repairs and maintenance projects cancelled. The backlog of repairs and maintenance projects will now cost around £2 billion. I would like to flag that work on historic buildings is currently subject to 20% VAT, but no VAT at all is charged on work on new buildings. Does the Minister agree that that creates a perverse incentive to pursue the most carbon intensive option, which is to demolish and rebuild rather than to repair?

Then there is the cost of living, inflation and energy costs for both operators and visitors. In January, a survey found that nine in 10 heritage sites feared for their future because of energy costs. I welcome the fact that historic sites were included in list of energy intensive industries eligible for sustained support from the energy bill relief scheme, but costs remain a problem.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith) said, our under-resourced and often painfully slow planning system does not help either. Trying to upgrade listed buildings or buildings in conservation areas with things such as solar panels, window efficiency works and heat pumps is difficult. Some 87% of respondents to a Historic Houses survey believed that the planning system was a block to their efforts to decarbonise the buildings in their care.

In their energy security strategy, the Government said they would review

“planning barriers that households can face when installing energy efficiency measures…including in conservation areas and listed buildings.”

That review has been under way for some time but, halfway through 2023, it still has not been published. Recent responses from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities give no clear indication of a timeline for publication, which is frustrating those in the sector. Delaying the energy efficiency review is holding up the review of the national planning policy framework, which is in turn holding up Historic England’s new climate guidance. I urge the Government to publish that review as soon as possible. Will the Minister provide us with a timeline, or at least engage with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and put some pressure on it to provide us with a timeline?

The hollowing out of local government and the loss of expertise under this Government and the coalition Government make these issues particularly difficult, but I presume that the work and thinking has already been done on the specific challenge of barriers to sustainability in the planning system. It is time that the Government brought those proposals forward and gave the heritage sector the information and support it needs to get on with safeguarding our heritage sites for the future.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I offer my congratulations and thanks to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) for securing this important debate and for all the contributions from hon. and right hon. Members today. My noble Friend Lord Parkinson, the Minister for heritage, is keen on hearing the contributions from the debate today. I am delighted to respond to the debate, and will certainly feed back many of the points that have been made.

I want to give thanks to the custodians who look after our heritage in this country. Members rightly raised the importance of their contribution to our economy, with the role of heritage sites as tourist attractions. I recognise the high importance of tourism to this country as an industry. I also put on record my thanks to the volunteers and charities who do so much and give up so much of their time in this area. Members have listed a whole raft of heritage sites in their constituencies. I could commit my noble Friend to visit them all, but I will not. I am sure, however, that he would be keen to hear more about them.

It is important to recognise that in 2019 the sector provided 206,000 jobs directly. We can all agree that the nation’s rich heritage touches us all and is a vital part of life in this country. It has a crucial part to play, not only in our cultural lives, but in the wider economic and social fabric of society. That is true now more than ever, as we rebuild following the pandemic. Ensuring that we protect and future-proof our historic sites is a matter of utmost importance and something we must continue to do. Their value is clear. The protection and preservation of our historic sites, by making them more sustainable, plays an important role in generating economic growth as well as pride in our local village, town or city.

The Government-funded high street heritage action zones programme shows the positive return from heritage-focused investment, with over 171,000 square metres of public realm improved in 65 high streets. By ensuring that historic sites remain at the heart of our communities, we create great places to live, work and visit, making an area more attractive to visitors and locals alike. Heritage can also bring joy to people’s lives. It improves quality of life and brings a sense of wellbeing, helping to meet major challenges of ill health and social care and our wider environmental and climate goals. It is therefore imperative to ensure that the sector remains sustainable and able to deliver these positive effects.

A number of Members have mentioned financial sustainability. It goes without saying that the heritage sector, like many others, is still feeling the impact of the period of upheaval and disruption. The pandemic, and more recently cost of living pressures, have contributed to a challenging time for many organisations, which are still rebuilding their financial sustainability and finding ways to make ends meet. Our precious heritage sites continue to need routine but vital conservation work, as the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith) mentioned, and financial sustainability is needed not just in the wake of the pandemic and the cost of living pressures but so that they can adapt to a changing digital world and meet the challenges of a net zero carbon agenda. We need to look to the future and at financial resilience. There is much that needs to be done.

The Government have been working very closely with the sector on those immediate pressures, including the unprecedented investment we gave the sector as part of the £1.5 billion culture recovery fund. I thank the sector for its engagement and the delivery of that fund. It certainly helped to deal with some essential capital restoration, as well as protecting the jobs of skilled specialists, and to make sure that historic buildings survived, workforces were retained, and most reopened to the public rather than being lost. The sector has been financially strained by the cost of living. I am delighted that we have been able to give more support through the energy bills support scheme, which was mentioned, to mitigate those costs.

Climate change was rightly raised by a number of Members. Heritage has a unique role to play in wider environmental sustainability. Our natural and historic environments are inextricably interlinked and by protecting one we can benefit the other. We need to maximise the potential of heritage to drive wider environmental goals around biodiversity, protecting habitat and sustainably managing our rural environment.

For example, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, an arm’s length body of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, supported the “Flows to the Future” project, which restored more than seven square miles of blanket bog habitat. Restoring and supporting peat bogs has multiple benefits for our environment by providing habitat for rare species and carbon capture, while also protecting unique archaeology and heritage that might otherwise not be preserved.

The Minister makes a very interesting point. People come from all over the UK and the world to see the blanket bog, and to look at the little animals and flowers that live there. They also come in the shoulder months—spring and the colder times. They are not fussed about the temperature; they want to see what it is like. That, in turn, boosts the local economy.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is a benefit that these places bring to our communities, and that is why preserving our heritage is so important.

On energy efficiency, the Government are fully committed to encouraging homeowners to incorporate energy-efficiency measures in their properties to reduce consumption and sustain our historic building stock. As part of that, we recognise the need to ensure that more historic buildings have the right energy-efficiency measures to support those objectives. In the strategy published last year, we committed to reviewing the practical planning barriers that households face when installing such measures, including glazing, or in conservation areas and listed buildings. We will be publishing the results of the review in due course and I will certainly speak to colleagues to find out when that might be.

The Government recently consulted on introducing a new national planning policy framework to support such energy-efficiency adaptations to existing buildings and historic homes. The consultation responses are currently being analysed and an announcement on the way forward will be made in due course.

I want to touch on a few specific points that were raised. The hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) mentioned Reading jail. I commit to speak to colleagues in the Ministry of Justice on those issues. I am always happy to visit Stoke, and look forward to combining that with a visit to the football.

The hon. Member for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith) mentioned the issue of confusing guidance. We recognise that, which is why the review will be looking at refining it to make it easier for homeowners. Historic England has already refreshed some guidance providing advice to homeowners, but I certainly take her point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr Lord) spoke about the cemetery. Again, I will raise this matter with my noble Friend the heritage Minister. As a Department, we are happy to engage with him and other stakeholders.

I will have to write to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) with an update on the issue he raises. I have a very good friend, Tracey Thompson, who lives up there. I keep being asked to go and visit her, so I look forward to going along.

I will certainly speak to colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the points that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) raised. In my time as Housing Minister, I heard the issue about second homes, and he will know that the Government are working on that as we speak.

Conscious of time, I shall conclude by thanking all Members for bringing this debate forward and to life and talking about the great assets that we have in this country and the issues we are facing in making them sustainable, because that is important for us as a Government. It is an issue that is recognised, and I thank all Members for their contributions.

I will be very brief. I welcome the Minister’s tone, and we all look forward to seeing what emerges from a new planning framework for listed building consent and seeing what comes out the other end. I will make a simple point: if we get this right, there is a great prize, because the more people who come to these attractions that are supported in a sustainable way, the more that boosts the local economy and, in turn, His Majesty’s Government’s tax take increases. It becomes a beneficial spiral. It is a great goal if we can achieve it; I am sure we can if we work together. Finally, I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions. I am personally grateful to each and every one of these splendid people. Sometimes I think that these Westminster Hall debates are like the very best kind of tutorial at a higher education institution. It leads to good thought and constructive work together.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the sustainability of heritage sites across the UK.

Sitting adjourned.