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Westminster Hall

Volume 738: debated on Wednesday 18 October 2023

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 18 October 2023

[Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

UK Support for Stability in Libya

I beg to move,

That this House has considered support for stability in Libya.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this morning, Ms McDonagh.

I want to begin by sending my best wishes to all Libyans who have been affected by the horrific floods that have killed thousands in the east of the country and have displaced many more. In Derna, a town with a population of just 90,000, at least 4,000 people have been confirmed dead and another 10,000 have been reported missing. It was the last thing Libya needed. The death toll was clearly exacerbated by an inability to cope with a crisis of such magnitude, as well as by the lack of proper infrastructure.

I last visited Libya in 2005 with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Although we were not able to meet the then leader Colonel Gaddafi—or President Gaddafi —we were able to meet Moussa Koussa, his de facto deputy. It was a deeply disturbing experience being in Libya, a place with no road signs. Tripoli was a city where you could not find your way around unless you had been there before, because there were no directions and no street names—no nothing, in fact—and we were spied on in the hotel we stayed in. A lot has changed since that day, that year, that era. It is questionable whether it is better or worse now.

Since I applied for this debate, the world has become an even more unstable place. The conflict between Israel and Hamas has shaken the middle east and north Africa to the core. The increased instability makes this debate even more important than it was before. I want to put on the record my condolences to all the innocent Israelis who have lost loved ones as a result of the Hamas terrorist attacks, and to everyone in the region, especially in Gaza, who has lost their life as part of the wider conflict.

As we begin this important debate, it may be beneficial to look at the chequered history of Libya, a country that went from being part of the Roman empire to being part of the Ottoman empire. It was briefly an Italian colony in the 1920s and ’30s and became a monarchy under King Idris from 1951 to 1969, and then effectively a dictatorship under Gaddafi for 42 years. I realise that we do not have time for a full history of Libya, but that gives a brief background. It is right on the edge of Europe, in north Africa—the closest point to the European continent apart from Tangier and Gibraltar.

Some Libyans will have lived under four different kinds of Government, continually suffering from one type of Government to the next. After the 2011 revolution, there were elections in 2012 and 2014, but, sadly, division continued and the country fractured into competing groups. A UN-led peace effort brought the Libya political agreement of December 2015, which established the Government of national unity in Tripoli. That Government failed to unite the country. Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan warlord, attacked Tripoli in April 2019, assisted by Wagner Group mercenaries, but was beaten back with the help of Turkish forces. A ceasefire was signed in October 2020, which led to another political attempt to appoint a Government of national accord in Tripoli headed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh. That also failed to unite the country. The House of Representatives—the national Parliament that was elected in 2014—then appointed a rival Government of national stability based in Benghazi.

Divisions continue to the present day. Libya effectively has two Governments, two Assemblies, rogue warlords and militias very often armed by outside countries and groups that have an interest in what is happening in Libya, especially its natural resources. Tragically, ordinary Libyans have little say in the direction of their country. The legacy of Gaddafi and the failure of the revolution is illustrated in the tragedy of Derna: a lack of effective institutions of the state; a failure to invest in infrastructure, training and capacity building; widespread corruption; a political class that lines its own pockets rather than serving the people; and the inability of the nascent civil society to find its voice.

I congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate. He is outlining the relatively recent history of Libya. Does he agree that there could well be progress not only in Libya, but in the wider region and even here in the UK, where there are £12 billion of frozen assets from the Libyan regime, particularly under Gaddafi? Gaddafi and others supplied terrorist material to the likes of the Provisional IRA. Many innocent victims here could benefit, as well as, more fundamentally, people in Libya and the wider middle east.

I thank the hon. Member for his timely intervention. I will go on to talk about why Libya matters to us in the UK, but he is absolutely right to say that for decades, or certainly for many years, Gaddafi and his so-called Government were funding terror groups throughout the world, especially in Ireland, in Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom. What happens in Libya in future, and the role that we and the British Government can play, matters to all of us—not just in the UK, but across Europe, the wider middle east and north Africa. It is clear to me that Libya is a failed state and has been one for some time. I will now say why, as the hon. Member pointed out, it matters to us.

Libya’s long Mediterranean coastline is within a few hundred miles of the southern flank of NATO, and there are over 500 Russian mercenaries controlling part of the country. Given the growing Russian aggression and involvement in Libya, this has clear security implications for the alliance. The Opposition’s commitment to preserving that security is unshakeable, as I am sure is the case for all Members across the House. Libya’s long, porous border with countries of the Sahel has also been a route for drugs and people-smuggling and is now one of the main routes for migrants to cross the desert and take boats across the Mediterranean. The conditions in which the migrants are held are terrible and terrifying and are a major abuse of humanitarian standards and basic human rights. This was exacerbated hugely by the recent floods.

As I said in response to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), Libya matters for our nation’s security. The lack of effective government in Libya has allowed warped ideologies to thrive. The terrorist attacks in Tunisia in 2015, in which 30 British tourists were killed, including two people from Leeds, were carried out by a Tunisian trained in Libya. The Manchester bombing of 2017 was carried out by a British Libyan radicalised in Libya. If we are serious about protecting the United Kingdom from terrorism, we must be serious about restoring legitimate government to Libya.

As we know, Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa. At the moment, it produces 1 million barrels per day and large quantities of natural gas. We are rightly looking to wean ourselves off Russian gas, and this could play a part, but it is important to note that the huge unpopulated areas of Libya are also perfect for solar farms and other renewable sources.

When I held the role of shadow Minister with responsibility for the region, I worked closely with our allies and partner organisations to develop a potential road map for peace in Libya. This was ambitious, but if we do not operate with ambition, we will never achieve anything worthy of defending the rights and wellbeing of the Libyan people, as well as the wider area.

The year 2011 should have been an opportunity for a new start in Libya, but it was not. That is thanks in no small part to a variety of international actors who have intervened in Libya for self-serving reasons, whether that be an attempt to access an abundance of natural resources or the geopolitical advantages of having a sympathetic Government installed in north Africa. Sadly, that has been to the detriment of the Libyan people, who have continually suffered hugely. Healthcare services are dire, access to electricity is extremely limited and the ongoing lack of security has left thousands displaced. As the penholder for Libya at the United Nations, the United Kingdom must play its part in alleviating the suffering of millions of Libyans. We can do it, and we should and must.

The implications of the lack of a co-ordinated international response to the crisis in Libya and of the outright failure of Libyan state institutions have contributed significantly to the refugee crisis, with a subsequent impact on the UK’s strategic interests in the region. It is time for the United Kingdom to work with the UN to ensure that Libya can begin to repair the horrific damage that it has faced after years of political instability and civil war. In the past, the international approach has lacked understanding of the situation on the ground in the country. It failed properly to understand the political, military, social and ethnic circumstances that have fuelled the conflict. I therefore urge the UK Government to take a leading role in convening an urgent high-level meeting of all the state parties involved in Libya, including France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as, of course, the United States. Those parties should meet regularly to assess the situation and to help Libya to heal itself.

The United Kingdom should also urge all foreign powers to withdraw military personnel from Libya immediately, end the supply of military equipment and mercenaries to the country, ensure that the UN is able to investigate any reports that the permanent ceasefire agreement has been violated, and ensure that all foreign fighters leave the country within three months as per the 23 October ceasefire arrangement. We must ensure that the United Nations is able to uphold its arms embargo by allowing all inspections of cargo entering Libya to be carried out in full, and we must condemn those countries that continue to allow arms to enter Libya.

There must be a leader in mediating the negotiation of a political settlement between the main power brokers that ensures a just distribution of the country’s wealth and enormous potential wealth, and opens the way for the unification of key national institutions including the Libyan army, the Libyan central bank and the National Oil Corporation. That leader must also urgently collaborate with all external powers to ensure that the Libyan economy can be reformed, as it is one of the fundamental drivers of the conflict and a root cause of violence, displaced people and corruption. Some of the people I spoke to in preparing for today’s debate told me that if only Libya had a properly functioning economy that worked well, many of the migrants who come from sub-Saharan Africa and eventually end up on the shores of Europe—some of them come to the UK—would be content to work within the economy of Libya and send remittances back to their home countries, communities, towns and villages, and that would stop them wanting to come across the Mediterranean sea and into Europe. That is something we need to work towards.

The aims should also work towards the ultimate goal of a transition to constitutional governance with peaceful and fully democratic parliamentary and presidential elections. I believe that that will end slavery, people-trafficking and arbitrary deportations. It will step up the help to improve the lives and wellbeing of the Libyan people in order to alleviate the refugee crisis and prevent any further loss of life for those who are forced to cross the Mediterranean in perilous conditions. It is in our economic and strategic interests, too.

I welcome the discussion that took place earlier this week at the Security Council meeting, including the renewal of the mandate for the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, but we need action, not more words. Earlier this year, the Security Council reaffirmed its strong commitment to an

“inclusive, Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process”

facilitated by the United Nations. Now is the time to make it happen.

I thank the House of Commons Library and the former UK ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, for their assistance with today’s debate. I also thank all Members for attending this morning to discuss such a vital issue.

Thank you for calling me to speak, Ms McDonagh. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) for securing this important debate.

My strong interest in Libya stems from my childhood experiences. As the only Conservative Member of Parliament to have been born in a communist country—communist Poland, of course—it is difficult to explain to young people today how there was no food in the shops and everything was rationed. We could not get chocolate, exotic fruits or anything like that, but my aunt and uncle were sent to work in Tripoli and would send back cases of oranges. For a child in communist Poland, oranges were like something extraordinary from outer space, because we could not see them or buy them. I took them to school; we drew paintings of them; we made marmalade out of the peel. We talked about Libya, looked at it on the map and thought of it as some sort of paradise because it had these exotic fruits that we in communist Poland could not have. That is why I became chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Libya in 2006, shortly after being elected.

I then decided to write a book on Colonel Gaddafi. It is in my office; I forgot to bring it, but I wish I had. I wrote that book about Libya because I was extremely concerned about the rapprochement that Mr Blair, the then Labour Prime Minister, was implementing in trying to bring Gaddafi in from the cold. We all remember the scenes of Mr Blair smiling with Colonel Gaddafi in the tent outside Tripoli. I felt that that was the wrong approach, bearing in mind all our outstanding issues with Colonel Gaddafi. Simply to bring him in from the cold without dealing with those issues was, I think, wrong. More importantly, the Arab world thought it was wrong. Colonel Gaddafi was perceived as a recalcitrant, unstable and highly unreliable individual within the Arab world and among Arab leaders. For the United Kingdom to have so clearly bent over backwards to accommodate this man was felt to be inappropriate by many in the Arab world at the time.

I tried to campaign on the issue with the then Labour Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. I got absolutely nowhere, which is why I decided to write the book. I have to say it was a fascinating experience. As the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) says, there are so many outstanding issues that were left unresolved. Lockerbie, the worst terrorist atrocity on UK soil, was a result of Colonel Gaddafi sponsoring the bombing of the airliner over Scotland in 1988. There is also the funding and sending of Semtex to the IRA. However, the most poignant issue that I came across during the time I was writing the book was the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher in St James’s Square, just outside the Libyan embassy. When I go through the square now, I still pause for a moment in front of the beautiful plaque that commemorates her.

PC Yvonne Fletcher was a serving police officer who was guarding a demonstration outside the Libyan People’s Bureau when somebody from the embassy shot her. I have met PC Murray, who was at the scene and was with PC Fletcher in the ambulance as she was taken to hospital. He has led a decades-long campaign to find PC Yvonne Fletcher’s killer and have him brought to justice here in the United Kingdom. For her memory as a serving police officer, we must continue to raise the issue in the House of Commons.

The revolution came in 2011, one year after I wrote my book. I remember February 2011 so well: we had wall-to-wall coverage on our television screens of the revolution that started in Tobruk and swept across the whole of Libya. In the House of Commons, the scenario was that this disaster was happening and that something had to be done about it. I am not prone to criticising Conservative politicians, but I will on this occasion. Mr Cameron, the then Conservative Prime Minister, intervened; he planned the invasion with Monsieur Hollande, the French President, on the back of a fag packet, without any consideration. It is easy to kill the dictator, but what happens when we cut off the head? All the tentacles collapse. Like the hon. Member for Leeds North East, I have been to Libya on many occasions. The country was almost a carbon copy of President Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: everything—all the apparatus across the country—was controlled by one party and one man.

I remember well that we were whipped to vote for the invasion. From memory, I think that just a handful of Conservative MPs rebelled, and I very much regret that I was not one of them. The Conservative MPs who rebelled against Mr Cameron absolutely got it right, because there was not enough planning for the invasion of Libya. We bombed Libya back to the stone age. It is very easy to take on somebody like Colonel Gaddafi, who had obsolete Soviet-era equipment, poor radar and tanks and all the rest of it, but we bombed Libya with very little thought as to what would follow.

I asked to see Mr Cameron two or three days before Colonel Gaddafi was killed. I went to his office. I knew he was not listening to a word I was saying, because throughout the whole conversation he was signing bottles of House of Commons Scotch for raffle and auction prizes. One rather knows that somebody is not listening when, while one tries to raise important issues with them, they are doing a secondary task—signing their name on bottles of Scotch. [Interruption.] This is my book on Colonel Gaddafi, which I wrote in 2010; I spent over two years writing it.

I asked Mr Cameron, “What is going to happen to Colonel Gaddafi?” We all know how Gaddafi was killed: a convoy was leaving Sirte for the desert, and British and French military intelligence, in collaboration with the militants, got him in the tunnel and he was killed. Of course, he had to be killed. Some people said that he had to be silenced—that he knew too much. The hon. Member for Leeds North East will remember the allegations about all the funding from Colonel Gaddafi to Monsieur Sarkozy; apparently Gaddafi gave Sarkozy millions of dollars for political campaigns. He had to be silenced. I will never forget the words that Mr Cameron said to me. He sort of metaphorically patted me on the head and said, “Nothing to worry about—it’s all in hand, old boy.” Two or three days later, Colonel Gaddafi was killed.

I am no apologist for Colonel Gaddafi. He was a brutal, evil dictator who suppressed his own people, and my book chronicles the extraordinary human rights abuses that he implemented against his own people in Libya. Nobody here will shed a tear that Colonel Gaddafi is no longer running Libya or able to suppress his own people, but the reason I raise it is that we have to think about the mistakes we are making as a nation, whether that is in Iraq or Libya. Certainly in my time as a Member of Parliament, every time we have intervened in an Arab nation, rather than leaving it to the Arab League or the Arab people, and killed the dictator, what has ensued? Total chaos, total paralysis, internecine warfare, and brutality and killing that one could argue is of even greater consequence and destabilisation than what took place under the dictator. I very much hope that future generations of Members of Parliament will learn from our experiences and the mistakes we have made.

When I was on the Foreign Affairs Committee in that brief Parliament from 2015 to 2017, there was an attempt to investigate Mr Cameron. There was an attempt at that stage to investigate how he had brought us to intervene in Libya, but in reality it got us nowhere and little was done.

I would like to put it on the record how deeply disappointing it is that so few Members of Parliament are here. There is not one Conservative Member in this Chamber apart from the Minister and the Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory). Bearing in mind our responsibility as a party and as a Government for the intervention in that country and the extraordinary misery that the Libyan people continue to experience as a result, that is a very bad show from my party.

I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North East for bringing the debate here. Despite all the difficulties we are seeing in Israel and the Gaza strip and in Ukraine, we must not forget about Libya. These are our neighbours in the underbelly of the Mediterranean—in a country now being used, as a result of our intervention, for the massive trafficking of people from sub-Saharan Africa through Libya to Lampedusa and beyond. As British parliamentarians, particularly after our intervention in that country, we have a duty and a responsibility to continue to help the people of Libya.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. This is an unusual experience, because I cannot remember the last time that I looked over my shoulder and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was not there. Perhaps we should send out a search party.

I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) for securing the debate and for his thoughtful and considered opening speech. He is absolutely right that Libya’s proximity to Europe makes what happens there relevant to us and to our neighbours. What he said was echoed by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski): we have a responsibility to Libya, to what goes on there and to putting it right. As the hon. Member for Leeds North East said, the political chaos that we are seeing—with two Governments, two Assemblies and an assortment of warlords battling for control of and access to Libya’s vast resources—makes this a pressing problem. We cannot ignore the political chaos in Libya that affects the everyday lives of ordinary Libyan people.

This debate is also important because, perhaps understandably in the light of what has happened elsewhere in the past few days and weeks, the tragic events of 10 September in Derna seem a long time ago. But the people of Derna will live with that tragedy every single day and will have to live with it for a long time. It is absolutely right today that when we talk about Libya, we take the time to consider what happened in Derna, why it happened and what we, as the United Kingdom, can do to help in providing humanitarian aid to help those people to rebuild their shattered lives. Indeed, that goes beyond Derna to the whole of Libya.

I therefore thank the hon. Member for Leeds North East for giving us the opportunity to have today’s debate. He is absolutely right that what we are seeing in Derna is almost a microcosm of the failed state of Libya. It has all the hallmarks of that failed state: the presence of foreign mercenaries, which he talked about, and the export of international terrorism, as we have suffered to our grave cost on these shores. Those are a result of that failed state.

I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for bringing up the memory of Yvonne Fletcher. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) has campaigned passionately in this House never to allow Yvonne Fletcher’s memory to be forgotten and has ceaselessly campaigned for justice.

As we have said, Libya is a failed state, and what we see in Derna and in that devastating flood was caused by a mixture of climate change and systematic neglect of infrastructure. Officially, we are told that there are 4,000 dead, but the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs believes that it is more than 11,000. There are still 10,000 people missing, 40,000 people displaced with nowhere to go, and 20,000 people living without basic sanitation and hygiene. The city’s infrastructure was torn apart, with 120 schools damaged, a similar number of health facilities put out of action, and 11,000 buildings either damaged or completely destroyed. The scale of the disaster is unimaginable, and rebuilding Derna is a real challenge.

There is an understandable anger among the people there, because they are the ones having to live with the consequences of this failed state—of not having a functioning Government. Little wonder, then, that they rose up as much as they could—Libyan citizens, civil society groups and human rights defenders—and lodged a petition calling on the international community to establish an investigation into why this happened, to identify the culprits and to bring them to justice.

Those demands come as the Libyan officials are trying to dismiss what happened as purely an effect of climate change. Of course climate change played a part, but so did systematic neglect and the consequences of a completely failed political system. As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said, a decision was taken— I think his quote was “We bombed Libya back to the stone age”—without a thought as to what would happen subsequently. Well, this is what happens when things like that happen without any thought for the future.

A decade or more of armed conflict between rival authorities and the collapse of the dam in Derna are not separate issues. The war has eroded national institutions, the infrastructure of the state has gone, and the economy is in chaos. That is leaving people vulnerable and exposed, particularly to the effects of extreme climate change. Some $2 million went to support and maintain the dam at Derna. At a time of dire political chaos, in all likelihood that money was never spent on civil infrastructure. Even at the collapse of the dam, the United Nations could not get its people into Derna to help with the aid relief. The Libyan authorities even refused entry to a UN team who had gone to try to help. That is the reality for people living in Derna and in Libya at the moment.

We must understand that we have a responsibility. There are consequences of localised or national instability, but also global considerations, which the United Kingdom must address if it is to help the most vulnerable people, particularly in the face of a climate emergency. As always, climate change bites harder at those who are least responsible for its creation, and what we have seen in Libya is the all too painful reality caused by political insecurity and instability. We must take responsibility. If we do not, the situation in Libya is only going to get worse.

The hon. Member for Leeds North East talked about the people-smuggling and drug-smuggling—all products of a failed state. We and our young people will suffer when that reaches our shore. We must tackle this at source, and that means investing properly in the future of Libya. We can never again get to a situation where we decide on regime change without a single thought or consideration for what it will mean further down the line. We must understand and see that what happened and what we did in Libya were not consequence-free. We are living with that at the moment.

In the time I have left, I will make the point that all this leads back to the real-life consequence of the Government’s decision to slash their overseas aid budget. We are no longer at the forefront of countries giving support to African nations. When the Government look back on their decision to cut the 0.7% target, they really must ask themselves whether it was worth it. We are living with the consequences of that decision right now. The aid budget has never been more needed, as people’s lives are being torn apart by war, by the consequences of climate disaster and, as I said, by living in a failed state. That might be a debate for another day.

I urge the Government to make assisting the people of Libya, and getting as much stability as possible, one of their main priorities. If they do not, we will live with the consequences for a long time to come.

I associate myself with the comments made earlier about the situation we face in Israel and Gaza. I think I speak for everybody when I say that our hearts go out to those people who have lost their lives and to those people who may, sadly, lose their lives in the near future. We must do everything we can to secure peace in that troubled area.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) on securing this important debate and on the incredibly knowledgeable and sensitive way in which he introduced it. He is a friend and colleague, and I know full well how much work he has done in this subject area over a long period of time. We really value and respect his knowledge. We have also heard about the background to where we are today; I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for the information he gave us, and I will cite him. I promise him that I will buy a copy of his book and read it as well.

Since the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi, we have seen conflict and division in Libya. We have seen the involvement of foreign forces, and the Wagner Group is still present and holds territory. We have seen a ceasefire in the country and it is good that that ceasefire is largely holding, but we have nevertheless seen tremendous instability and insecurity for some time. I was mindful of the situation when I read a report by an international consultancy that was written earlier this month. I will quote from it because it is an accurate summary of the situation:

“The security situation will likely remain unstable nationwide…primarily due to intermittent fighting and armed clashes between various rival militia groups across the country. Competing governmental institutions, as well as geopolitical rivalries, have profoundly complicated the security situation in Libya. Kidnapping incidents, political assassinations, criminal activity, and clashes between opposing militia groups are the most severe problems.”

But that is not all. There is also growing instability in the south of the country because of the instability in the Sahel region. Militant organisations are developing there and intruding into Libya, causing further instability and worsening the migration crisis that so many countries in southern Europe face. That is the backdrop to the terrible disaster that occurred in the aftermath of Storm Daniel. We all saw the terrible scenes on our television screens following the breaking of two dams in the Derna valley. Estimates are still unclear, but some say that as many as 20,000 people may have lost their lives. Bodies are continually being recovered, and 48,000 people have been displaced in the region.

There are various suggestions as to why the dams broke, but it is clear to me that, despite international assistance, those dams had not been serviced properly and there was no insurance to make them safe. That is indicative of the malaise in the country. We also saw that in the difficulty with the international response to the disaster. It was evident that the governmental infrastructure was not in place to provide the framework for the international community to effectively deliver and administer aid.

We need a strong road map to bring a degree of political stability and democracy to the country. Just a few years ago, we saw efforts to create a road map. It was pencilled in that there should be presidential elections in December 2021. It is extremely disappointing that, despite the hopes at the time, those aspirations came to nothing and there were no direct elections. Since then, the instability has continued. It is extremely important that the United Kingdom, especially as it is a penholder on Libya at the United Nations, does everything possible to ensure that there is patience, stability, tenacity and, above all, hope for a political settlement and for elections to be held in the not-too-distant future.

I read the comments of the British permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Barbara Woodward, with great interest and some hope. She said in a debate on Libya at the Security Council in June that it is important that the international community do everything it can to bring about “stability” and a “clear road map”. She stated that it was therefore necessary to have more discussions among as many stakeholders as possible, and with the ordinary people themselves, to ensure that that road map had a large measure of support across the country. She also mentioned, correctly, that that was the hope of ordinary people in Libya. It is all too easy to forget what is vital for ordinary people’s livelihood and, indeed, survival, but there is a coherent political framework. We tend to focus too much on political elites and what is appropriate for the so-called political class, when it is the people we should always be concerned about.

It is equally important that when we talk about a political framework, we do not talk in abstractions. Politics in Libya, perhaps more than in any other country currently, is about creating a framework for the people, to allow them to live their lives properly in peace and security. The ambassador cited her visit to Libya when she was taken to a World Health Organisation health centre project, partly funded by the United Kingdom. Despite all the difficulties surrounding that project, it is successful. There has been a British contribution of $2.5 million. The project is important because it symbolises hope for the country. It offers the chance of proper healthcare, antenatal checks, dental treatment, primary care and much else besides. But for projects like that to flourish, a strong, coherent political framework is necessary.

I hope very much that the Minister can give a firm commitment that Britain will stay the course and that we will give support for as long as it takes to ensure that there is a political road map that leads to democratic elections. The days when we can think that what happens in one country some way away is of no relevance to us in this country are long gone. We live in a global community. What happens in one country, practically as well as morally, has an impact on our life in this country, so I hope that the Minister is able to reaffirm the British Government’s commitment to ensuring that there is a coherent, well-supported road map that will come to fruition in the not-too-distant future.

As always, Ms McDonagh, it is an honour to see you in the Chair. I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) on securing this debate. He has a wealth of knowledge on things international, particularly in the middle east. It is very unusual to see him in his current seat—I normally associate him with the Front Bench opposite me—but reshuffles are what they are.

I welcome the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) to his place, and I welcome his wise words on these important issues. It is good to hear that views are generally shared across the Chamber. There is a real responsibility to help the situation in Libya, and I assure the hon. Member that we are absolutely committed to that task.

As the whole House heard from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Monday, following the absolutely abhorrent attacks on Israel, the Government are doing all they can to prevent instability spreading in the region. I therefore welcome even more the opportunity to debate our work on Libya in that context. Like other Members, I send my condolences and those of His Majesty’s Government to Israelis who have lost loved ones in the terrible attacks and to Palestinian people who are suffering. I am also very mindful of those here in the UK who feel threatened, whether by antisemitism or anti-Muslim views. This is a time for calm and for us to hold on to the British values of tolerance and mutual respect. I hope that that will continue over the days and weeks ahead.

I am grateful to Members for their contributions to this important debate and will seek to respond to their points. An inclusive, representative political dialogue is the only way to overcome the current impasse in Libya. The UK fully backs a Libyan-led, UN-facilitated political process, which offers the best route to peace and stability. Elections remain a clear goal, and addressing the obstacles that prevented them from taking place in December 2021 is key to getting Libya back on track. The UK is using our position as UN Security Council penholder and working alongside international partners to support the UN mission in Libya. It is clear from the response to the recent devastating floods that the status quo cannot deliver what the Libyan people need. The political impasse threatens stability in Libya and in the broader region, and the people of Libya are losing out every day.

Libya, as a country with enviable human and economic resources—as spelled out by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski)—has the potential to be a global competitor on issues from healthcare to education, and a political settlement would unlock that potential. We also recognise the important role that a stable Libya could play, as a regional partner, in helping to address challenges from climate change to irregular migration, which has been mentioned a couple of times. The UK therefore supports initiatives on economic development and investment. UK and Libyan businesses have long worked hand in hand, with large volumes of trade between our two nations, totalling £1.5 billion in the past year. A thriving private sector can support stability, drive growth, create jobs and diversify the economy away from its dependence on oil revenues.

Although the UK and the international community are doing what we can, the onus must be, and is, on Libya’s leaders to fulfil their responsibilities, to uphold peace and security, and to find a lasting and inclusive political settlement. We engage with them regularly, encouraging them to work constructively with UN Special Representative Bathily as he seeks to facilitate a political agreement to address the underlying issues that prevent elections. The hard-working and dedicated team in our embassy in Tripoli also engage with a wide range of political actors and civil society organisations to encourage inclusive dialogue and negotiations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham reminded us about important points of history, and I am sure his book sales will do even better given the considered and important points that he made. I re-emphasise that the priority of our embassy remains building and sustaining strong and enduring partnerships in all parts of the country. The official reopening of the British embassy in 2022 was a demonstration of the strength of our relationship with the whole of Libya. The UK has played and continues to play a central role in supporting Libya on its path to becoming a more democratic and stable country. As I said to the hon. Member for Caerphilly, we are absolutely committed to continuing that task.

Following our intervention in Libya, there are allegations that Haftar and his sons are committing serious human rights abuses against the people of Libya and are working with the Wagner Group. There is increasing Russian influence in eastern Libya. I very much hope that the Minister will address those points. At the very least—I have tabled written parliamentary questions on this—may we have an assurance from the British Government that sanctions will be placed on the Haftar regime if those people are proven to be carrying out abuses against their own citizens?

I thank my hon. Friend for those points. The UK is committed to ensuring that the Libyan sanctions regime set out in UN Security Council resolution 1970 is fit for purpose by working closely with the 1970 committee. We are negotiating UN sanctions mandate renewal, and we expect that resolution to be adopted soon. My hon. Friend makes an important point about sanctions.

Significant points were made on some of the legacy issues. WPC Fletcher’s death remains as shocking and senseless today as the day it occurred. I remember it well from the news reports at the time. It should not be forgotten.

The Lockerbie bombing was also referred to. The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December 1988 was a completely brutal act of terrorism. This year, on its 35th anniversary—I cannot believe it has been that long—we remember that tragic event and all the lives that have been blighted by its impact.

I want to highlight the importance of ensuring that we counteract the work that other countries are doing to exploit the instability in Libya to further their own malign objectives. We have heard today about the influence of Russia. Our efforts to stabilise Libya have been particularly disrupted by the Wagner Group’s illegal actions in the country. We condemn the Russian Government and the Wagner Group for those actions, which are a clear violation of international law and the UN charter, and we call for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters in the region. The UK will continue to work with international partners to strengthen Libya’s security institutions and combat extremism in the country. That includes supporting the development of national security institutions to ensure that they serve the interests of the Libyan people.

Libya has also been plagued by landmines and other explosives—the legacy of war. They not only pose a deadly risk to civilians, but hinder reconstruction and economic recovery. The UK has supported efforts to dispose of more than 6,000 mines, clear more than 400,000 square miles of minefields in the east—these are extraordinary figures—and train the first all-female de-mining team in Sirte.

As the hon. Members for Caerphilly and for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) highlighted, the devastating floods have recently made a dire situation even worse. Many thousands of people have lost their lives, families have been torn apart and critical infrastructure, including hospitals and clean water supplies, has been badly damaged. The UN announced on 16 October that humanitarian assistance, provided by more than 24 humanitarian organisations, has now reached more than 146,000 people in need of support and basic services. I am pleased to see that report, because in the urgent question that some of us were involved in a few weeks ago concern was expressed about whether aid and support would reach the frontline.

The UK responded quickly with lifesaving aid. On 16 September, we announced a package worth up to £10 million to respond both to the floods in Libya and to the earthquake in Morocco. That built on the £1 million allocated in response to the floods on 13 September, and we have also committed £2 million to the UN’s flash appeal. On top of that, the UN announced $10 million from its central emergency response fund, to which the UK is one of the largest donors. UK-funded aid to Libya has provided emergency shelter to 14,000 people, 800 portable solar lanterns, and water filters and hygiene kits for 10,000 people. We have also supported the deployment of three mobile medical teams to provide primary healthcare in flood-affected areas.

We have been clear with key stakeholders in Libya that reconstruction, which was also talked about in the debate, must include institutions from both the west and the east, with full transparency and oversight of the funding by reputable international institutions. We have also allocated £6 million towards the Libya conflict, stability and security fund programme this year, which is facilitating peace-building efforts. That includes developing community-level councils, supporting civil society organisations and collaborating with Chatham House to help key Libyan institutions to become more accountable and transparent.

The UK continues to stand firm in our support for peace and stability in Libya. The UN-facilitated, Libyan-led political process offers the best hope of achieving that, alongside our wider diplomatic, humanitarian and economic development work. Members can be assured that we will do all we can to continue to help the victims of the floods and to support reconstruction, and we will continue to work closely with international partners and leaders in-country to help the people of Libya on their path towards a better and brighter future in the years ahead.

I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, but I echo what the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) said: it is sad that there are not more Members here from both sides of the House, because Libya matters. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) for his contribution as SNP spokesperson, and of course to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), who wound up the debate on behalf of the Opposition.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for his incredibly deep knowledge, based on the research for his book. We all remember him writing it; it took him two years. He must have the deepest, most profound knowledge about Libya of any Member of this House. I did not know the history of his connection with Libya through his uncle and aunt during communist times in Poland—those dark days when to see an orange was something that brought joy and hope to everybody.

I hope that Libya can be re-established sooner rather than later as a country with a functioning democracy, Government and economy, because only therein lies the hope for not just the Libyan people, but the whole region. As every Member has said this morning, Libya matters not just to Libyans, but to all of us in Europe and across the region, so we need to work doubly hard. Peter Millett and others who advised me for this debate told me that Britain, above almost every other European country, is respected widely in Libya. We need to use that connection and friendship, and the contacts that the Minister explained are already being used for the benefit of both Britain and Libya, even harder to make sure that the country is reconstructed.

The worst thing about Libya that I have discovered, over years of studying it, is that countries across Europe and the region and across the world have interfered for their own selfish reasons and agendas and have made the situation far, far worse. We need to bring those nations together and say, “Stop. It’s time you stopped and let the Libyans themselves decide what their future will be, gave them aid accordingly and helped in every way to reconstruct that country.” Only when Libya is reconstructed will it take its place once again among the nations of this world and serve its people as it truly should. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly made that point extremely strongly.

I have already thanked Peter Millett and the House of Commons Library, but I also pay tribute to the UK diplomats who are back in Tripoli once again—that is something that Peter was not able to do when he was our ambassador—for the work that they are doing. They need to be strengthened. I know that the Minister has been listening, and I know that the UK Government want to do this.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered support for stability in Libya.

Sitting suspended.

Railway Stations in Cumbria: Staffing Changes

I beg to move,

That this House has considered staffing of railway stations in Cumbria.

It is an absolute privilege to serve under your guidance in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. The impact of the proposed staffing changes in Cumbria, including the loss of ticket offices, will be immense and entirely negative. With the conclusion of the consultation last month, those closures may be imminent, but the Government have the power to prevent them. That is why I am so pleased and grateful to have secured this debate at this crucial time.

I have a high regard for the Minister personally, and I am here to ask him to intervene directly to save our ticket offices in Cumbria and to prevent the removal of station staff. I draw his attention to the petition to stop the closures in Cumbria, which has been signed by more than 3,000 people. I am determined that our communities should be able to access our stations and be safe at them. Those stations should have knowledgeable professionals on hand to answer the questions we all have when we are rail users, and I want to ensure that the quality of rail travel is not further diminished because of these foolish and backward-looking proposals.

In South Lakeland and Eden alone, we face the closure of Avanti’s ticket offices at the mainline west coast stations at Penrith and Oxenholme. Penrith is set to have no ticket office and to have staff available for ticketing support from 9 am, rather than from 5.30 am. At Oxenholme station, it is a similar story: the ticket office is to close and staff are set to be on hand from 8 am rather than 5.45 am. We face the removal of ticket offices and massively reduced staffing at the Northern Rail-run stations at Appleby, Windermere, Grange-over-Sands and Ulverston.

Ulverston station, where mobility scooter users and people in wheelchairs are dependent on staff to assist them across the tracks to platform 3, will be staffed for just two hours a day, from 11 am to 1 pm, and not at all on Sundays. Grange-over-Sands station, situated in a town with a disproportionately older population, will also be staffed for just two hours a day, from 11.30 am to 1.30 pm, and not at all on Sundays. Appleby station, which has direct connections to Leeds, Carlisle and the Yorkshire Dales national park, will be staffed for just four hours a day, from 9 am to 1 pm, and not at all on Sundays. Windermere station, in the heart of the Lake district—Britain’s biggest visitor destination after London—will be staffed for just three and a half hours a day, from 10 am to 1.30 pm, and, again, not at all on Sundays.

The staff who will be present for those brief periods are to be called “journey makers”, but they will not be able to sell anyone a ticket directly. They are there only to give people guidance on how to use the ticket machines on the platform, many of which do not take cash, by the way—a feature that merely adds to the heap of barriers to access that the changes entail.

For the mainline stations at Oxenholme and Penrith, the proposals mean a huge reduction in the quality and availability of support, but for the branch line stations at Appleby, Windermere, Grange-over-Sands and Ulverston, the proposals are devastating. They effectively amount to the de-staffing of those stations, to the enormous detriment of rail users and the wider community. Unstaffed stations are unsafe stations, especially for solo travellers and even more so for women.

Unstaffed stations are inaccessible stations, too. I met William in Appleby a couple of weeks ago. He is visually impaired and cannot use the ticket machine at the station. To travel, he needs a staffed ticket office. If the changes go through, he will be able to use his local station only on the rare occasions that the “journey maker” happens to be present. Last month, I met volunteers at Sight Advice South Lakes in Kendal, most of whom have visual impairments. They told me the same story as William: de-staffed stations are, for them, unusable stations.

At Grange-over-Sands, a town with a larger, older population where the station really is a lifeline for hundreds of people, the de-staffing of the station will render it inaccessible to many. Lillian and Mohammed from Levens village, who use the station regularly, tell me that because of Mohammed’s disability—he is a wheelchair user—they need a staffed station to help with such things as the ramp to get him on and off the train.

At Ulverston, people with mobility issues need to use the crossing across the tracks to get to platform 3. They can do that only when a member of staff is present, yet the plan is for that station to be staffed for just two hours a day and not at all on Sundays. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell)—my constituency neighbour—and the disability access campaigner Tony Jennings have also rightly brought the matter to the Minister’s attention.

It is my privilege to chair the public transport group Cumbria Better Connected, and in that role I joined the hon. Member, Cumbria Tourism, Cumbria local enterprise partnership, Morecambe Bay Partnership, the RMT, Ulverston business improvement district, local rail users groups and local Westmorland and Furness councillors in sending a letter to the Secretary of State this summer outlining our objections to the plans that the rail companies have put on the table. The Minister replied:

“No currently staffed station should be unstaffed as a result of industry changes, and operators should ensure that staff are well located to meet passenger needs in future. This includes ensuring that staff are available to assist those who need additional support or do not wish to use digital tickets.”

The Minister knows that the proposals to de-staff our branch line stations for at least 80% of the time are not compliant with his pledge in that letter, so he surely cannot permit the proposals to happen.

Further to that, in a debate on ticket office closures in Westminster Hall on 13 September, the Minister stated:

“I do not expect a material reduction in the number of hours where ticketing expertise is available at stations…it is important to note that the volume of hours is similar to what we currently have.”—[Official Report, 13 September 2023; Vol. 737, c. 346WH.]

But that is not the case for the proposals at Oxenholme or Penrith, and it is especially not the case at Grange, Windermere, Appleby or Ulverston. Given that all the train companies are proposing job losses—2,300 job losses in all—as a result of their ticket office closure plans nationwide, it is surely not possible for the volume of staffing hours to be even remotely similar to what we have now, and certainly the consultation does not indicate that that is the intention. Did the Minister mean what he said in this place a month ago? If so, would I be right in assuming that he plans to block the proposals, and that in fact there will not be the job losses proposed by the rail operators?

It seems obvious to me, and I assume it is obvious to the Minister, that the proposals for our stations in Cumbria completely go against his criteria. How on earth can passengers’ needs be met when Appleby station will be staffed for just four hours a day, Windermere for just three and a half hours, Ulverston and Grange stations for a mere two hours each, and none of them staffed at all on Sundays? The loss of ticket offices and our excellent ticket office staff would be a desperate step backwards, and an incredibly foolish and short-sighted one.

The train operators justify their proposals to close ticket offices and de-staff stations by saying that only 12% of passengers book their tickets directly at the ticket office. That is misleading, because it is not the case at our stations. At Appleby, for instance, 39% of all travellers book their tickets at the station office. At Grange and Ulverston stations, more tickets were bought at booking offices than through the electronic machines for every one of the last three years. Even for those who arrive at the station with a ticket, many still have questions that need answering. I am at Oxenholme nearly every week, and the excellent, cheerful ticket office staff are always being asked for advice by rail users. Most arrive with their tickets, but they perhaps lack answers to key questions about their journeys, especially when there are delays and cancellations, as is almost always the case these days.

The proposals are also stupid from a management point of view, because they are enormously demoralising to the entire rail workforce, whether staff work on platforms, in ticket offices or on trains. Have industry bosses and the Minister not noticed the ongoing industrial relations dispute? What possessed them to think that now is the right moment to cleverly pour petrol on that fire by seeking to force through unnecessary changes that damage the industry and morale?

The impact on our economy will be significant, too. In Cumbria, we have 20 million visitors a year. As I have been collecting signatures for our petition to save the ticket offices, I have been talking to passengers at Oxenholme, Appleby, Grange-over-Sands and Windermere. One thing that struck me is that many of those who were keen to sign were tourists. Indeed, at Windermere, the very first four signatories were from Israel, Abu Dhabi, Switzerland and Pakistan. By the way, they all already had their ticket. They were all uncertain about connections, timings and delays and would all be left high and dry if Ministers permit the closures.

Our tourism economy employs 60,000 people in Cumbria. It is our biggest employer by far, generating £3.5 billion a year for our economy. It is unacceptable that our visitors should have their experience so badly damaged by the proposed decisions. Westmorland and Furness Council and the Lake District national park authority are striving to get visitors to come to the lakes but leave their cars at home to protect our world-class landscapes from pollution and congestion. It is not right that that vital work should be undone by a proposal that would downgrade the main railway station in the English Lake district. By the way, many of those who arrive in the lakes as tourists are international visitors who come to the UK via Manchester airport, where TransPennine Express is planning to halve the opening hours of the railway station ticket office. That is a cut in Manchester that would do damage to the economy of the lakes.

The closure of ticket offices at the mainline stations is equally a backward step. At Oxenholme and Penrith stations, staff will not be available for ticket sales or advice until after the first several trains of the day have been and gone. How can that be an improvement in service? The loss of the physical ticket offices is also a foolish thing. Having staff at a designated ticket office means that passengers always know precisely where they can find help and advice, rather than having to scour the platform to see whether they can find a shivering employee randomly stood in an unspecified location. Furthermore, has it occurred to the Minister that the screens in the ticket offices can play an important role? Sadly, staff sometimes find themselves on their own, confronted by agitated and occasionally potentially violent people. It is not right to force them to lose that important shield.

The Beeching cuts of the 1960s were a tragic, myopic error on a huge scale, causing lasting and largely irreparable damage to our transport infrastructure, our environment and our communities. The minds behind that colossal own goal concluded that the arrival of the shiny new motorways and mass private car ownership rendered many of our railways redundant; they were yesterday’s news or old hat. Yet, looking back, few decisions can count as being as destructive or as stupid as the Beeching cuts.

What lesson do we learn from that devastating mistake? It is surely this: that we must not be hasty to throw away the old just because something new has come along. Then, the old was the railways, and the new was the motorways. Today, the old is human beings and human interactions, and the new is technology that allows us to book tickets and manage our journeys online. The new technology is good and most of us use it, but to arrogantly assume that we are on the right side of history if we blot out the human infrastructure of our railways is to invite the same ridicule and derision in future that most of us feel today towards Beeching and the politicians who foolishly followed his recommendations.

In the debate in this Chamber on 13 September, the Minister said:

“I have no role in the consultation at this stage”.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 13 September 2023; Vol 737, c. 346WH.]

Throughout the process, the Government have tried to maintain that it is industry-led. But that is not really true, is it? Documents released via a freedom of information request confirm not only that the Government had to sign off each company’s proposal before it went for public consultation, but that they were advising the train companies what to do with their closed ticket offices afterwards and were encouraging them to consider renting them out for retail use—and all of that was before the public consultations were even launched.

The proposals to de-staff our stations and damage our railways are not some regrettable imposition by an alien force beyond the Minister’s control. They are proposals from rail operators who are answerable to him and the Secretary of State—proposals that he has the power to quash. If he thinks these damaging proposals are a good thing for Cumbria, the Conservatives must stand behind them and accept responsibility. If they think they are a bad thing, what is the point of them being in office if they will not do the right thing and stop them? If the Minister wanted to call a halt to this process, he could. If he wanted to and if the Prime Minister wanted to, he could save our ticket offices with the stroke of a pen. On behalf of the people of Cumbria, our excellent station staff and our millions of visitors, I call on him to do just that.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McDonagh. I thank the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) for securing this important debate on staffing changes and ticket offices in his constituency. I know from a chance meeting with him in his constituency that he works hard for his constituents. I was walking in the Lake district and stumbled across a “Meet your MP” sign—and there he was, so we turned it into “Meet your MP and someone else’s MP.” I thank him for his kind words at the opening of the debate.

Together with the rail industry, we want to improve and modernise the experience for passengers by moving staff out from behind the ticket office screens to provide more help and advice in customer-focused roles. There are currently about 980 Department for Transport-regulated ticket offices for stations managed by the Department for Transport-contracted operators; 43% of them currently do not have any ticket office facility. People are still able to use those stations to access trains.

There has been a huge shift in the way passengers purchase tickets at railway stations: about one in every 10 transactions in 2022-23 took place in a ticket office, down from about one in three 10 years ago. Despite that, our stations have hardly changed in the past 10 years, which means that staff are constrained to work in ticket offices although they could serve passengers better on station platforms and concourses, where all the passengers could be served.

I am pleased that the rail industry launched consultations on the future of ticket offices under the ticketing and settlement agreement process, which gave the public and stakeholders an opportunity to scrutinise the train operating companies’ proposals to ensure that they work in the best possible way for passengers. The consultations, which ended on 1 September, yielded more than 680,000 responses. We are now in a period in which the independent passenger bodies, which comprise Transport Focus and London TravelWatch, are engaging with the train operators on the basis of the consultation responses that they have received and the criteria that they have set out.

I expect train operators to work collaboratively with the passenger bodies in the remaining weeks, to respond to the concerns raised and to define their proposals accordingly. Where agreement cannot be reached between the operators and the passenger bodies, individual cases may be referred to the Secretary of State for Transport for a decision. At that point, he will look to the Secretary of State’s ticketing and settlement agreement ticket office guidance. The TSA guidance is clear that a wide range of factors should be considered, including the impact of proposals on customer support, security at stations, modernised retail practices such as the availability of pay-as-you-go ticketing, and support for passengers with disabilities, accessibility or other equalities-related needs.

It remains important that we reform the railway to enable staff to provide a more flexible, agile and personal service, creating the modern experience that people expect. We should also look for ways to ensure value for money for the UK taxpayer. I know from listening to constituents and parliamentarians that there is indeed interest in what will happen to ticket office staff, should there be any changes. Indeed, as part of my visit across the railway over the summer, I visited Appleby station in the constituency of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, as he said.

The changes are about modernising the passenger experience by moving expert ticket office staff to be more visible and accessible around the station. As only 10% of tickets are sold across the ticket office counter, that means that most passengers are not in contact with ticket office staff. The idea is to take the member of staff on to the platform or concourse to help the passengers where they need it. That includes purchasing tickets via a ticket machine or online.

As the hon. Member mentioned, I reiterated at the last Westminster Hall debate, which was secured by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder), that—crucially—the Secretary of State and I have been clear that our expectation is that no currently staffed stations will be unstaffed as a result of the reform, with staff still there to provide assistance and additional support for those who need and want it. That includes advice on tickets and assistance in buying them. I also reiterated that I do not expect a material reduction in the number of hours where ticketing expertise is available at stations in the manner that some have described and that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale set out for the stations in his own constituency. I expect that by the end of the consultation process, there will be a differing design. When we talk about redeployment, it is important to note that the volume of hours should be similar to what we currently have. He will no doubt make note of those words.

Should ticket offices close following the process, we would expect staff to be redeployed and multi-skilled to provide advice and assistance across stations. Exact arrangements will vary operator by operator and will be the subject of collective bargaining with the trade unions. It is vital that our railway is accessible to all, and I have engaged directly with accessibility groups and will continue to do so. Alongside that, train operators are required to take into account the adequacy of the proposed alternatives in relation to the needs of passengers who are disabled, and to include that in the notice of the proposals sent to other operators and passenger groups. Operators had prepared equality impact assessments, and they were available on their websites during the consultation.

The Office of Rail and Road’s latest annual consumer report highlights that Passenger Assist booking has significantly increased since last year and that disabled people have returned to the railway largely in line with overall trends. For that reason, I firmly believe that the proposal to bring staff out from behind glass screens, to help the increased number of people who need assistance from the platform on to trains, is a step in the right direction in terms of the multi-skilling roles that I have described.

I reiterate that by bringing station staff out from behind the ticket office screen, we envisage an improved and modernised experience for passengers using the railways. It is vital that we bring forward reforms through considering changes in passenger behaviour, involving technologies and ensuring value for money for the taxpayer, while ensuring that assistance and support continue for those who require it most. I look forward to the process continuing in the design stage that I have described.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Green Energy: Ports

[Judith Cummins in the Chair]

[Relevant documents: Second Report of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Floating Offshore Wind in Wales, HC 1182, and the Government response, HC 1405; Second Report of the Welsh Affairs Committee of Session 2019–21, Freeports and Wales, HC 205, and the Government response, HC 667.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered ports and green energy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins—for the first time, I believe. I look forward to the next 90 minutes. I almost thought I saw the Minister cursing under his breath as he sat down for yet another debate; I keep dragging him back here to talk about issues that are close to my heart and to the interests of my constituency in Pembrokeshire. I am grateful to have secured time for this debate.

This is an important topic, for a couple of reasons. First, quite simply, without a thriving port sector attracting the necessary new infrastructure investment, I do not believe that we will be able to meet the ambitious targets that we have set to protect our energy security and renew our energy system as we work towards net zero. Secondly, a new generation of investment in our ports, based around a long-term vision for renewable energy, has the potential to make a significant contribution to addressing some of the economic inequalities and deprivation that we see in too many of our port communities.

I believe that ports can be an engine for local economic renewal and the key to a new energy future for the whole United Kingdom. That is the essential message that I hope to convey in my short remarks this afternoon. The key question I want to pose is this: what are the steps, decisions and interventions that His Majesty’s Government can take to support and shape this new future for our ports, while recognising that it is the private sector investors and developers who will ultimately need to make that vision a reality?

Nowhere is that more clearly in focus than in my constituency of Preseli Pembrokeshire. The port of Milford Haven is the UK’s most important energy port, hosting major oil refining and petroleum import and export terminals, two liquefied natural gas import and regasification terminals, and one of the UK’s largest and most efficient gas-fired power stations. The port looks forward to a future in which offshore wind and hydrogen will play a central role as our energy system changes. I will make some specific remarks later about the situation at Milford Haven in the context of its relationship with Port Talbot; together, those two south Wales ports form the Celtic Freeport enterprise. I am sure that the points I make will come as no surprise to the Minister, because he has been generous in giving me lots of time over the past year or two to talk about the vision that is emerging there. He has been extremely helpful in his work to take that forward.

As we are an island nation, it seems almost trite and blindingly obvious to say that ports are an essential part of our economy as gateways for vital imports and valuable exports. However, I do not think that that point is appreciated enough, partly because while some ports have flourished in recent times, others have not. In too many of our port communities, there is a sense that they are no longer quite as central to our economic life as they once were when the structure of the UK economy looked very different. Many ports have seen a steep decline in trade and industrial activity without seeing new industries and sectors emerging to fully plug the gap.

I believe that the green energy revolution offers a turning point for many of our ports. There is a broad consensus shared across the Government, the Opposition and large swathes of industry about the increasing importance of renewable energy in our energy mix and about the need for less reliance on imported hydrocarbons. With the impact of climate change brought increasingly into focus following the supply and price impacts of the war in Ukraine, we can see the net zero and energy security agendas coming together in a very potent way. The need to deliver home-grown, affordable and sustainable energy has never been greater. Our ports are right at the heart of meeting that challenge.

It is worth saying that Britain does not exist in isolation when it comes to this agenda. Across Europe, North America and indeed the whole world, many other countries are looking at this—just look at the efforts being made by major ports across Europe to get ready by upgrading their infrastructure to enable a big increase in renewable energy. We can see that at Bilbao, Brest, Rotterdam and other locations across Europe. We are in an internationally competitive environment. One point that I want to leave with the Minister today is that, for all the ambition we have and the vision that we have set out and are pursuing, we need to recognise that others are doing so as well. Given the competition for investment and capital, often from large global companies, we need to be getting our skates on and making good progress.

Ports have a major role to play in delivering on the renewable energy vision, and not just as transit points or entry and exit points for materials; they also have the potential to be hubs for manufacturing, energy generation, operations, maintenance and servicing. Just as in another era our ports acted as cradles of the industrial revolution, I think they can be cradles of a new green industrial revolution, based on the vision that I have been outlining.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate, to which I have come purely so that I can hijack it by singing the virtues of Shoreham harbour, the closest cross-channel harbour to London. He mentioned green hubs, and I absolutely agree with his comments about flexibility and the renaissance in our ports.

Shoreham harbour has put solar panels on its sheds. It has wind turbines. It helps to service the Rampion wind farm just offshore, which will expand to power more than 1.2 million homes across Sussex. It is becoming a hydrogen hub, working with Ricardo engineering, which retrofits engines to be run on hydrogen. Shoreham wants to produce its own hydrogen as well as importing it, and it will be an important centre for net zero through the Sussex bay kelp project, where carbon capture by seaweed is even greater than by trees. Is Shoreham not a great example of flexibility, adaptability and the huge potential of the green revolution, which can also apply to the whole United Kingdom?

I am grateful for the very concise way in which my hon. Friend has sung the virtues of his local port. He draws attention to an extremely important point. Very rarely are we talking about individual technologies in isolation; often they come together as a mix. There are so many synergies from different companies working together, as we can see at so many ports around the United Kingdom. It is really encouraging to see so many colleagues in the Chamber from so many different parts of the United Kingdom, hopefully looking to share in the vision that we are talking about.

On the subject of ports, I should not let the moment pass without mentioning Peterhead and the nearby St Fergus gas terminal. As my right hon. Friend will know, it is the site of the Acorn carbon capture and storage project, which, when completed, will have import capability that perhaps exporters of carbon dioxide from his constituency will take advantage of.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. Banff and Buchan is a constituency with which I am very familiar, as he knows, and there are some exciting things happening. For a long time the north-east of Scotland was associated with fishing and oil, but there is a lot more to talk about now, so I look forward to hearing further contributions from him this afternoon.

To encourage the investment required for all the ports that we have an interest in and are talking about this afternoon, the targets that the Government are setting are really important because they set the level of ambition and send a signal to investors in the marketplace about what the Government want.

There are two documents that are particularly important in describing the opportunities flowing from the new energy environment that we are in. One is the energy security strategy published in April last year; the other, which was published in March this year, is “Powering Up Britain”, which speaks to the role of new renewable technologies in our energy mix and outlines the scale of the ambition. Because of my local port and our proximity to the Celtic sea, I have a particular interest in the Government’s ambitions for floating offshore wind. In those two Government documents, I believe there lies a major new industrial opportunity for our nation.

The targets that have been set include 5 GW of floating offshore wind, 10 GW of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity, up to 70 GW of new solar, and an ambition for between 20 million and 30 million tonnes per annum of carbon storage. That is an exciting and ambitious set of targets that the Government are setting out. Meeting them will require a lot of work and a lot of investment, and ports will be right at the centre of it.

Different ports will undoubtedly offer different capabilities according to size, location, local skills mix and local supply chains. It is too easy to say that there will be something for everyone, but if the floating offshore wind sector in the Celtic sea plays anything like the role that the Government are setting out for it in “Powering Up Britain”, it will generate new activity in multiple port locations across south Wales and south-west England.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. The truth is that we still do not have any floating offshore wind projects up and running in the Celtic sea. That leads me on to the final section of my speech, in which I will outline the significance of what we have in my constituency at Milford Haven, as well as summarising the key asks that I want to put to the Government.

I feel this is an appropriate juncture to intervene. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the importance of Felixstowe port in Suffolk, which has almost 50% of the UK’s container trade. Through strategic investment, there is a great opportunity for the Government not only to support the economic growth of ports, but to support them in delivering the decarbonising agenda. In the case of Felixstowe, investment in the Ely junction will make a significant difference by potentially improving freight rail capacity to the port. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging the Minister to recommit today to the Government securing timely funding for upgrading that junction and others in the east of England? That will allow improved freight transport to Felixstowe, will help to decarbonise the transport of goods to the port and will improve its economic capacity.

I am grateful for that intervention. I am not familiar with the specifics of what my hon. Friend is talking about, but as I am generally in favour of upgrading junctions, I will echo his call to the Minister to support the investment required. His point about decarbonisation is really important; I might say a few words myself about decarbonisation in the context of the local energy industry in Milford Haven.

In the port of Milford Haven, we have the UK’s single largest cluster of energy-related businesses, with high-capacity oil and gas pipelines, electricity connections and a wide range of conventional oil and gas companies, as I referred to earlier. The energy sector in Pembrokeshire supports the employment of 5,000 skilled workers across Wales and the employment of many hundreds more throughout the wider supply chain.

Last week, alongside representatives of many companies at the port, I had the pleasure of celebrating the delivery of the 1,000th cargo of liquefied natural gas at the South Hook LNG terminal. This afternoon we are talking about the green energy revolution, but the truth—this is a point that the Minister understands very well—is that we will rely on oil and gas for decades to come, and the terminals in my constituency that have done a lot of the heavy lifting in the last couple of years in enhancing UK energy security will be as vital as ever. Those conventional energy companies are themselves taking huge strides and making big investments to decarbonise, reduce their own carbon footprint and fit in with the framework of policy and ambition that the Government have set out.

I commend those companies—South Hook LNG, Dragon LNG, the Valero oil refinery, the Puma oil import terminal—which are all part of a cluster around the Milford Haven waterway that is sharing best practice and working together. They are part of the wider south Wales industrial cluster, which has been charged by the Government with the mission of leading decarbonisation efforts. I look forward to hearing the remarks of my friend the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). The south Wales corridor—from Milford Haven in the west with its big hydrocarbon plants, through to Port Talbot with the enormous Tata steelworks, and then to Newport and the border of England at Gwent—accounts for a major chunk of Wales’s overall carbon emissions, so the south Wales industrial cluster’s efforts to decarbonise are vital. The Government support them, but it would be good for Ministers to engage even more with the cluster and particularly, from my point of view, with the energy cluster in Pembrokeshire.

In October last year, I led a debate in Westminster Hall about floating offshore wind. I will not repeat everything I said about the new industrial opportunity for Wales and south-west England that lies in the Celtic sea, but I underline the point that this is not some piece of green idealism. The Government’s targets for reaching net zero and ensuring a greater degree of energy security require industrial development in the Celtic sea on a very large scale. Milford Haven is in an ideal geographic location for the Celtic sea developments.

Milford Haven also has more than 50 years of energy industry skills and heritage. Many companies in the local supply chain are well able to adapt and are excited about the potential new opportunities from floating offshore wind. More than 20 companies have expressed an interest as potential developers in floating offshore wind projects in the Celtic sea, including large companies such as RWE and Equinor, which have global footprints and are already investing in Pembrokeshire ahead of the opening up of the Celtic sea. Other companies such as Floventis are already working with local schools and colleges to look at what kind of skills will be required and to excite young people about the green energy revolution. We will need many more people going into technical trades—more welders, pipe fitters, marine engineers, navigators and people who can work offshore—as well as project planners and all the other highly skilled jobs that are required to deliver such projects. It is an exciting time down in Milford Haven.

Let me wrap up by summarising a few asks of the Government. The first—the Minister has heard me ask this before, but I will ask it again—is that it would be great if he could visit Milford Haven, sit down with some of the companies that I am talking about, and get a sense of the excitement and the work that is happening. The previous Secretary of State made a fleeting visit in the middle of August to RWE’s net zero centre at its power station in Pembroke, but we need the Minister to engage with the whole sector. He has previously committed to coming down. Transport to west Wales is appalling—the Welsh Government need to pull their finger out when it comes to running train services, but that is a debate for another day—so it is difficult to get to. There are so many good Scottish colleagues present, so I will make the point that, given the number of visits that Scottish constituencies get, it would be great if Wales could have some of that as well. That is my first ask: come to Pembrokeshire and see what is happening.

Secondly, the bidding process for the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme closed recently. I have written to the Secretary of State, copying in the Treasury. I strongly support Milford Haven’s application for FLOWMIS funding. I have made this point previously, and I will make it again this afternoon: if this fund is to help unlock strategic investment in port infrastructure, it has to be used in a targeted way. I love levelling-up funds—I love the way they are used and spread around—but this is not a levelling-up fund. It has to be used to encourage private developers to release their funding, to incentivise and to send a market signal. I encourage the use of that money. There is £160 million. It should be more, and hopefully it could be more. I would like to see Milford Haven and the port of Port Talbot in south Wales get their asks. Investment is needed in both locations. Everyone who is considering the industry of floating offshore wind in the Celtic sea will agree that Milford Haven and Port Talbot are the two western-facing ports in the Celtic sea where this will happen first.

Thirdly, we appreciate the support that the UK Government have given to establishing the Celtic freeport. I am delighted that Milford Haven, and Port Talbot 70 miles away, have a twinned arrangement and are partners in the Celtic freeport enterprise. A lot of work remains to be done on the governance and on getting the freeport up and running and doing its thing. I ask the Minister to show a real interest in that and to meet representatives of the Celtic freeport to capture their vision of how they want to use that to incentivise investment, particularly in supply chains, so that floating offshore wind does not happen in the same way as fixed-bottom offshore wind, where we ended up relying on companies based and doing work overseas. We want much more of the work for this new industry to be based in and close to our constituencies in south Wales.

My fourth ask of the Minister is on working with the Crown Estate, which I know he already does. If the Minister looks at what the Crown Estate has said ahead of its next leasing round, he will see that it is emphasising the importance of developers working with what they describe as integration ports. These are the ports where the kit is going to be assembled, and these are enormous pieces of kit. I take my hat off to Dan Labbad and his team, who are doing a very good job, but it is important that the plan that the Crown Estate is working on aligns with what the UK Government are doing. That aligned leadership is going to be important if we are going to make those strides and get the industry off the ground.

I was going to make a final point about contracts for difference, but the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) will be leading an excellent Westminster Hall debate on that subject tomorrow afternoon, so I will let him make those points. I am sure that he and I think the same about the issue.

I will leave it there. I look forward to hearing from other Members.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Cummins. I thank the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) for securing this vital debate. It has been a real pleasure working with him cross-party in the interests of our two communities, and communities right across the south Wales corridor and the whole of Wales and the United Kingdom. What we are discussing today genuinely has UK-wide significance. We worked together to develop and deliver the successful Celtic freeport bid, and I look forward to further collaborating on maximising the benefits it will bring.

Britain’s ports are both the gateways and the drivers of so much economic activity in the UK and, in turn, are crucial to the prosperity of British people and their families. From the food shipped into Britain’s supermarket shelves to the exporting of British goods sold overseas, our ports play a crucial role both in the everyday lives of families across the UK and in the growth and success of hundreds of thousands of British businesses. As well as adding close to £7 billion to the UK economy, ports employ more than 100,000 people directly, and more than that again in their supply chains, meaning that they are pivotal to supporting local economies and providing communities with good job opportunities. British ports transport around 60 million international and domestic tourists in and out of the country every year.

Today I want to focus on the once-in-a-generation opportunity represented by the new industry of floating offshore wind and the crucial role that the ports will play. The Celtic sea and Wales’s geography offer us a significant competitive advantage that we cannot afford to squander. We must seize this opportunity to place ourselves at the forefront of the green industrial revolution, just as Wales was the cradle of the first industrial revolution two centuries ago. Floating offshore wind has the potential to deliver 16,000 new jobs and could land £1.7 billion of investment in port infrastructure and manufacturing in south Wales. FLOW offers the opportunity to unlock a truly game-changing £54 billion of investment into the UK economy, with the Crown Estate aiming for approximately 25 GW by 2045. Indeed, the first 1 GW of projects alone is anticipated to create 5,000 jobs.

Our Port Talbot port has both the space and the steel to manufacture these giant structures, while Milford Haven, as the right hon. Member has pointed out, can provide energy storage facilities and a whole range of other vital components for this huge opportunity. This is a global market and we are in a global race for green investment. Port infrastructure needs to be ready ahead of time to capture first-mover advantage for Wales, so that we can land investment in port infrastructure and manufacturing to generate good job opportunities and deliver energy security. Without the first-mover advantage, Wales and the UK risk repeating the experience of earlier waves of offshore and onshore wind development, where the jobs and investment ended up going to other countries.

So what do we need to do to seize these opportunities? First, we need to make sure that the port infrastructure is built. The port and the prospective developers need certainty. They need assurances that the market will reach its full 24 GW capacity. Of course, the first round of FLOW, as confirmed by the Crown Estate, is only set at 4.5 GW, but it is the long-term line of sight on this and the pipeline that we really need to focus on. Associated British Ports is developing its plans for Port Talbot at pace, investing more than £500 million in developing a major floating offshore wind integration assembly port and a wider green energy hub. But the length of the leasing window by the Crown Estate is of crucial importance. We need a clear outline of the development window to that 24 GW target for flow in the Celtic sea. This is to act as a clear signal in that FLOW global market. Could I ask the Minister to outline the steps he is taking to secure clarity about the long-term pipeline?

Secondly, Wales must get its fair share of the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme programme. There is a pot totalling £160 million for the whole of the UK. Welsh ports must get their fair share of that pot. It is critical that the UK Government understand the enormous potential for Welsh ports to deliver this game-changing new industry. We need the UK Government to back the two very strong bids from Port Talbot and Milford Haven for FLOWMIS funding. Could the Minister update us on FLOWMIS and assure us that Wales will get its fair share?

Thirdly, Aberavon in Wales will secure maximum benefit from floating offshore wind only if the developers are held to firm supply chain commitments. The Crown Estate must get this right when awarding licences. We must ensure that local supply chains are developed for the manufacture of turbines and their sub-structures as well as their operation and maintenance. We cannot have a situation, for example, where these structures are built in China or somewhere else and merely assembled and serviced at Welsh ports. That is the case with the Scottish SSE wind farms, for example, which use no British steel whatever. We must use local steel. Tata Steel can adapt and reconfigure its production processes if it knows what the order book looks like, but it needs that advance warning. Could I ask the Minister to tell us what steps he is taking to secure those supply chain commitments right from the outset of the Crown Estate licensing process?

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

Thank you, Mrs Cummins. I will try to pick up where I left off.

On the planning side, the Government need to find a solution to the national grid’s capacity issues. The National Grid says it has to develop up to five times as much energy infrastructure over the next seven years as it has developed over the past 30 years, such is the clamour for net zero projects, in terms of both energy generation and demand. How will the UK Government and, more specifically, the Minister work with the National Grid to end the gridlock, and how will they send a clear message to developers that these problems are going to be fixed?

That brings me to my next point, which is about the administrative strike price. Allocation round 5 was a shambles, with no bidders for offshore wind. We need the UK Government urgently to reshape the contracts for difference for AR6 and make them more attractive to developers if we are to realise Britain’s potential to become a world leader on FLOW.

Finally, the UK and Welsh Governments must work collaboratively. We cannot allow bureaucracy to slow us down. Planning and consenting for major infrastructure is devolved. We need the UK Government to look for ways to support the Welsh Government to ensure that current capacity and resource blockages for planning and consenting are resolved to ensure that the seabed licensing is accelerated and that port infrastructure in Wales is ready in time. We also need strong cross-Whitehall co-ordination. I worry that the large number of Government Departments involved means that the process is not as streamlined as it should be. Perhaps the Minister could say what he will do to knock heads together to unlock all of the blockages.

This is a huge, game-changing opportunity for Aberavon, Wales and the entire United Kingdom. Ports play an absolutely crucial role in this opportunity. I look forward to the Minister’s comments so that we can find a pathway towards maximising the opportunities before us.

Order. Before I call the next speaker, may I gently ask Members to make contributions of about four minutes so that we can get everybody in?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I apologise that I will have to leave before the end of the debate for a meeting at 4 o’clock.

I thank and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) on securing this debate. I agreed with everything he said and noted his slight jealousy of how Scottish Conservative MPs are so good at cheering Ministers who come up to our constituencies. He also mentioned how bad the transport is in Labour-run Wales. It is also pretty bad in SNP-run Scotland, particularly if you are trying to get a ferry—but I digress. [Interruption.] Well, it’s true.

I want to focus for a few minutes on the issues in my constituency of Moray. Buckie’s proud history as a fishing harbour dates back many years, to 1878. It was the first large concrete harbour to be built in Scotland. We have seen a decline in fishing in Scotland over a number of years, so I was delighted when Buckie was chosen as the site for the operations and maintenance of the new Moray West offshore wind farm. That will bring 60 highly skilled jobs to the community of Buckie. I discussed this with the developer, Ocean Winds, and the local community at the opening event. This is not just about the jobs that are coming, important though they are; there will also be a long-term effect. The jobs will be there for the next three or four decades, so this vital work is coming to communities whose ports have experienced a downturn. It is long-term and highly skilled work.

Immediately before this debate, I met David Whitehouse from Offshore Energies UK. He has been doing a lot of work with oil and gas, but also with renewables and green energy. He was keen to speak about the opportunities available to ports across Scotland and the United Kingdom, and about the UK Government’s support to ensure that the infrastructure is there and is capable of taking us on to the next level.

The final area I want to look at is freeports in Scotland. I was delighted that one of the first announcements that the Prime Minister made after taking office was to deliver the two freeports in Scotland in conjunction with the Scottish Government. Our two Governments are working together to deliver freeports. I spoke to Calum MacPherson, the new chief executive officer of the Inverness and Cromarty freeport, which will have benefits for my Moray constituency and constituencies across the highlands. It is not just great news that we have a freeport there; it is levelling up in action, because that area has seen a decline in the working-age population. People will move to Cromarty and the area to support the tens of thousands of jobs that could be created as a result of the freeport.

The quayside depths provide Cromarty with an extremely exciting opportunity to be a real hub for the offshore renewable industry. Not only is it great that freeport status has come to both the highlands and the firth of Forth, but the jobs, investment and building up of the local community are being roundly welcomed by the vast majority of people. Sadly, some Scottish Government representatives are still against freeports, but I think the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland, particularly in the areas with freeport status, can see the benefits.

Work is being done to ensure that Scotland and its coast, and my Moray constituency, have the opportunity to be involved in the next stage of the offshore industry. Oil and gas is still an important industry in Scotland: 90,000 jobs rely on it. There is a strong future for it, as we have seen in polling this week. There are also opportunities in green renewables. I am delighted that the UK Government support that, and I am firmly behind them.

I thank the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) for bringing the issue to Westminster Hall today. He has done so before. I have been here to support him in the past, and I do so again today with the same motive: I have always believed in net zero and green energy. Some people in my party perhaps may not have the same enthusiasm for it, but that is not the point; the point is that our party is committed to it, and we want Northern Ireland to contribute to net zero goals.

Hon. Members will be aware, from their constituencies, of the expansion of green ports across the UK. I for one want to ensure that Northern Ireland and my constituency of Strangford take part in this expansion, so it is good to participate in the debate. We all want to play a part in helping our society to turn greener. Northern Ireland has five ports, four of which are public trust ports; they are in Belfast, Londonderry, Warrenpoint and Coleraine. The fifth is Larne, which is privately owned by P&O. Northern Ireland also has three fishing ports: Ardglass, Kilkeel and Portavogie, which lies on the Ards peninsula in my constituency of Strangford. While the right hon. Gentleman may not have had the Minister visit his constituency, I am pleased to say that he has visited Portaferry. He has been to Scotland and Northern Ireland, so I am sure he will eventually get to Wales.

The seaports are managed by the Northern Ireland Fishery Harbour Authority. I have worked closely with local fishermen in my constituency for years. Fishing is such an important industry for Northern Ireland, and across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There is certainly scope to ensure that our local ports and harbours have the opportunity to become greener and more environmentally friendly. I welcome that and encourage everyone to support that, but the incentives need to be there to make that happen. The International Maritime Organisation has set the target of halving 2008 emissions by 2050—quite a big goal, but if we put our mind to it we can achieve it.

The strategy to reduce emissions is to increase electrification of ports and port handling processes, and to adopt future fuels such as liquified natural gas, hydrogen or ammonia. Globally, we need to come together as one to decarbonise shipping and ports, thus ensuring our target for net maritime CO2 reduction is met. Everyone here knows where I stand: I am a great believer in this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman), we are always better together. We can do this better together, and I do not see any reason why it cannot happen.

Shell is developing a hydrogen hub through the port of Rotterdam and the Hollandse Kust wind farm, which aims to start production in 2023, so there are examples in other parts of Europe that we could replicate. The wind farm is expected to produce some 60,000 kg of hydrogen daily, which will fuel 2,300 hydrogen-powered goods vehicles per day. That is a scheme that could really work. I know the Minister has always been keen to tell us what the United Kingdom is doing, and we will hear some of that later on. Closer to home, the port of Aberdeen in Scotland has also taken action.

There is a great necessity for a solid and flexible energy system that complements local production of green energy with the import of renewable molecules. If port and harbour masters are to consider the benefits of a green future, Government incentives must be there. I ask the Minister whether the incentives to make that happen can be put in place.

We are a maritime nation. The United Kingdom’s ports can be the basis for a new, low-carbon economic model and can help to address the long-standing regional imbalances that have come to characterise the British economy. This United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland should pave the way, and the devolved Administrations should not be left behind. Associated British Ports is committed to investing in green energy infrastructure, and the services needed to deliver a clean energy transition and create lasting prosperity for our coastal communities. We need greater integration between this place and the Department for the Economy back home in Northern Ireland, through the Minister’s participation and encouragement. I encourage the Minister to ensure that we in Northern Ireland become part of this project.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I do not intend to keep hon. Members too long. In fact, I think my speech will be shorter than the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) on securing the debate and giving me the opportunity to talk about the port of Southampton.

Associated British Ports runs the port of Southampton and is committed to decarbonisation. All ABP vehicles in the port are electric, and it has free chargers for all visitors and employees in the port. Last year, ABP commissioned its first shore power plug-in. Some 80% of cruise ships are capable of taking plug-ins, but there are very few of them in this country. In fact, ABP in Southampton had the first commercial plug-in in the UK. It would like a second one, but the national grid does not have the capacity. The new cruise terminal that it commissioned the year before last, the Horizon cruise terminal, which was opened by the then Minister for marine and maritime, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), is the greenest port terminal in the country. It has 2,000 solar panels on the roof and creates more energy than it uses every day. Elsewhere in the port, DP World operates the container facilities; it has decarbonised its vehicles and straddle cranes by using hydro-treated vegetable oil to replace diesel and has cut the terminal’s emissions by some 80%.

Beyond the boundaries of the port, the Solent cluster is working to decarbonise energy. The cluster is the only decarbonisation option in the south of England. It is led by ExxonMobil, ABP, the Solent local enterprise partnership and the University of Southampton, and it has over 50 partners. ExxonMobil’s plans are to create hydrogen manufacturing, which will be able to supply industrial quantities of hydrogen by 2030 while capturing the carbon that the manufacturing process creates. It will be able to capture not only its own carbon, but carbon from other industries in the area.

The private sector is creating the solutions that we have asked it to create, but too often obstacles and difficulties hinder its progress. Too often, companies come to me and say that they would like to do more, but that the Government, the grid or someone is getting in the way of their progress. That is why I wanted to come today and make a few short points to the Minister. Just as there is uncertainty to do with the national grid, there is uncertainty to do with licences for storing carbon under the sea. Those uncertainties are slowing down progress. My plea to the Minister and the Government is that, where we can, we remove any obstacles, do not create any more difficulties, and give those who will create our solutions—the private sector—any support that the Government can give.

It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) on securing this important debate.

There is no doubt that the port sector has a leading role to play in our energy transition. I am fortunate to have in my constituency on the Humber the ports of Immingham, Grimsby, Hull and Goole, which are all owned and operated by Associated British Ports. We are, indeed, the energy estuary. ABP is committed to green energy and to meeting our net zero ambitions. The port of Immingham is the largest port by tonnage, handling around 46 million tonnes of cargo each year. It represents a gateway to global trade and is a critical part of the supply chain for sustainable electricity generation and other production that helps to power the nation.

Linked to ports are, of course, freeports, which also have a huge role to play in the energy transition. We are fortunate in the region to have the Humber freeport, which is determined to accelerate the region as a world-leading hub for renewable energy and clean growth. The Humber freeport incorporates three tech sites that will allow for the rapid development of new offshore wind manufacturing, which will make the site a leading UK producer of wind turbines. Given that the port of Grimsby, part of which is in my constituency, is the largest hub for offshore wind operations in the world—there is significant growth still to come—the Humber is ideally located to take advantage of the growing demand for wind energy in the North sea. The Humber ports are home to world-leading facilities such as Ørsted, the Siemens blade factory and the offshore renewable energy catapult operations maintenance bases in Grimsby. This is opportune, given that offshore wind is set to grow at pace over the next decade, with 40 GW of clean electricity planned by 2030. The Humber can act as a model not only for the UK, but for Europe and the wider world.

ABP has also partnered with Harbour Energy to develop a carbon dioxide import terminal in Immingham. That terminal will provide a large-scale facility to connect CO2 emissions from industrial businesses around the UK to Viking CCS’s CO2 storage sites in the southern North sea. The project includes Phillips 66, VPI and West Burton Energy. Together, they aim to capture 10 million tonnes of UK emissions per annum by 2030. That is vital work in the UK region that has the greatest CO2 emissions by a considerable margin. Fortunately, local industry agrees that that record is not acceptable and must change, which presents a monumental opportunity. My constituency will hopefully become home to the Immingham green energy terminal, which will be on the eastern side of the port of Immingham. That is to be constructed and maintained by ABP, and will be home to Air Products’ new hydrogen production facility.

The terminal will include a new jetty with up to two berths and associated infrastructure, to be used for the import and export of bulk liquids. It represents a nationally significant infrastructure project and therefore requires a development consent order from the Secretary of State. I hope that the Minister will feed back positively on this project to his Department, given that the terminal will contribute to the Humber 2030 vision; the Humber Energy Board is driving forward change in local industries in order to decarbonise the Humber and deliver clean energy for the future.

The Minister will be aware of the CATCH training facility based at Stallingborough on the south bank of the Humber, which is being developed as a national net zero training centre. The significance of recent and planned investment in decarbonisation projects in the Humber cannot be overestimated. Offshore wind, hydrogen energy, carbon capture—the Humber ports have it all. We are proud to be the UK’s energy estuary, and I am determined for us to maximise the opportunities that arise from the net zero transition, creating highly skilled jobs and driving investment. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire said, we are in a worldwide field. We need certainty and speedy decisions from the Department; I am sure that the Minister will confirm that that is what we will get.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) on securing this debate. He is right to highlight the opportunities in the Celtic sea. I shall briefly provide some geographical balance and complete our tour of coastal Britain by showcasing the work that is taking place in the southern North sea, off the East Anglia coast. With the right investment in ports such as Lowestoft, so much more could be achieved that would not only enhance our energy security and propel us down the road to net zero, but help to deliver long-term economic growth.

Lowestoft port, which is likewise part of the ABP fleet, has a good story to tell. SSE has run its operations and maintenance base in the outer harbour since 2012, and ScottishPower Renewables has done likewise since 2019. ABP is progressing plans for the Lowestoft eastern energy facility. There will also be a direct air carbon capture demonstrator site in the inner harbour, which is being progressed by ABP in conjunction with Sizewell C. Lowestoft and Ipswich ports will also play important roles in delivering materials to the Sizewell C nuclear power station.

A good start has been made, but there are challenges immediately ahead that need to be addressed if we are to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There is a global race for green investment. The UK should not and cannot get into a subsidy race to the bottom with the likes of the United States. Instead, we should work faster and smarter, building flexibly on what we have already achieved.

In his April report, UK offshore wind champion Tim Pick highlighted a variety of risks that have limited UK port investment. Some of those relate to the contracts for difference mechanism. I will not go into those in detail, as many of us will be back here tomorrow to take part in the debate on the subject led by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). The report highlighted a variety of obstacles that need to be addressed. There are some interesting recommendations, which I will briefly highlight: an industrial growth plan; a support framework for offshore wind ports targeted at the risks that they face; and a recommendation that the Government should give offshore wind ports priority, just as they do to offshore wind farms, in the national policy statements. I would be most grateful if, in summing up, my right hon. Friend the Minister advised us how he and the Government will respond to Tim Pick’s report, with specific regard to promoting investment in port infrastructure.

In conclusion, over the past decade offshore wind has been a great British success story. We put in place a mechanism that has worked very well. However, due to geopolitical and inflationary pressures, it needs recalibrating. As part of that process, leading up to the autumn statement, we need to review the way we promote investment in port infrastructure. Ports such as Lowestoft are honeypots not only for decarbonisation but for job creation and regeneration. They are the link between offshore electricity regeneration and onshore supply chains. Nurture them properly and the dividends will be significant.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I am delighted to sum up in today’s debate on the contribution of ports to green energy. I really do thank the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) for securing this debate, which it is important to have at this time.

This debate gives me the chance to highlight some of the benefits, from a Scottish perspective, of the development of ports north of the border, where our green port ethos is centred on the importance of net zero and the just transition. At the heart of the Scottish Government’s unique approach to our green ports is the commitment to the development of renewable technology, an innovative environment and the promotion of decarbonisation, alongside the creation of well-paid, high-quality jobs and skills development.

In that sense, the fair work practices agenda is embedded in our green ports from the get-go, and progress on freeports and green ports must be monitored and evaluated to ensure a just transition. We want to ensure that we make the most of the skillset we have in Scotland, valuing the existing expertise across the energy sectors while transitioning from oil and gas to renewables, and training up the new generation of workers into high-quality work.

In developing the Scottish green port model, the Scottish Government were mindful of the more negative aspects of freeports and their reputation for poor working practices, deregulation, weak productivity and the lack of real benefits for their surrounding areas. Instead, in Scotland, we are centring on sustainability, environmental concerns and fairness to boost innovation in renewables, and focusing on a prosperous growth agenda for our local communities based around our ports.

Given everything positive that the hon. Member has said about freeports in Scotland, does he agree that it is disappointing that the Scottish Greens, who are in government with his party in Holyrood, do not support Scotland’s two freeports?

I worked very closely with the Minister, Ivan McKee, when the green ports project was at its inception. We worked with the UK Government at that time as well, and Mr McKee was very supportive of the whole concept. There is more I want to say today that might give the hon. Member a bit more reassurance that we see the green port opportunity as just that: a real opportunity to develop the economy of Scotland.

Others have mentioned their own constituencies; I am the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, which has one of the two green ports being developed in Scotland, at Rosyth on the firth of Forth, along with Leith and Grangemouth. I believe it will be transformative for the local economy and in trying to meet our environmental ambitions. The green port will feature a new freight terminal, offshore renewable manufacturing and green power generation capacity, skills development opportunities and new rail connections. The regeneration of this important logistical port should deliver a huge boost to the local community, through employment opportunities, and the wider economy in the surrounding area. It is good for energy security, good for creating prosperous communities and, importantly, good for the environment.

The Forth green port aims to bring £6 billion in private and public investment and will contribute £4 billion in gross value added. It has the potential to create 50,000 high-quality jobs, stimulate growth in renewable manufacturing, and develop offshore wind and various alternative fuel sectors. It will also support research and development investment and drive business growth for small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups.

Alongside the development of the green port, I have been campaigning for a number of years to reinstate the ferry connection from Rosyth to mainland Europe, which will not only boost connectivity and trade prospects, but contribute to a reduction in harmful emissions by reducing both the tourism carbon footprint and road miles for freight transport. It would also reduce the pressure on the land bridge ports in the south-east of England. It is a good example of joined-up thinking for the climate and for the economy. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will open their ears to this plea. The project currently has a logjam with the border and export authorities in London. If anything could be done to ease that pain, we could get ahead and ensure that the ferry service can start as soon as possible. In the Republic of Ireland, I have seen new ferry routes helping to boost exports. If Ireland can do it, why not Scotland?

The second green port will be based at the Inverness and Cromarty firth—another area steeped in industrial history and now playing a critical role in offshore wind. The project will place the highlands at the heart of the drive towards net zero. It will create 15,000 jobs in the area and a further 10,000 across Scotland and the rest of the UK, focusing on renewable and low-carbon energy production. Again, it is good for the economy, good for creating prosperous communities, and good for the environment.

Before I draw to a close, it is good to remind colleagues not just of the benefits of a just transition, but of its true definition. Scotland’s Just Transition Commission described it as a process whereby

“Governments design policies in a way that”

benefits the climate change agenda—benefits that are widely shared—but where

“the costs do not unfairly burden those least able to pay, or whose livelihoods are directly or indirectly at risk as the economy shifts and changes.”

I remind Opposition politicians that we are trying to lead on that in Scotland, but we need to focus on these ambitious climate and net zero targets to ensure that the just transition actually happens and remains meaningful.

In conclusion, the Scottish Government are committed to using the new green ports to attract investment into our economy. In addition, Scotland has all the potential to be a world-leading green energy producer, where the jobs, the revenue and the power rest with Scotland. The maritime sector also has a strong responsibility and an opportunity to be a key player in that ambition and to make the managed transition work for everyone. Between our industry sectors and Government, we can all benefit, but the message needs to be: let’s just do it.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) on securing the debate and on a very good speech; I agree with most of what he said. It was also good to hear about the consensus and the joint work on the Celtic freeport from my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), and about his ambition for Port Talbot to be at the forefront of the floating offshore wind industry.

I also enjoyed listening to the hon. Members for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman), for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith), for Waveney (Peter Aldous), for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Moray (Douglas Ross), and it is always good to hear from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) about his commitment to net zero. It is clear that there has been a lot of consensus in the Chamber today. That demonstrates the strong consensus across the House about the importance of the green energy transition, and the good jobs and prosperity that it needs to create—and will create—up and down the country, particularly for port communities and other places with a strong industrial heritage, some of which have suffered economically in recent years, as the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire pointed out.

Ports have a key role to play in helping to decarbonise energy generation, transport and industry. Their role as bases for the offshore wind industry and the skilled workforce that many of them have make them pivotal to the UK’s energy transition. Many ports are already playing that role with offshore wind and many more could unlock further power generation from floating offshore wind and—potentially—hydrogen.

Floating offshore wind is an exciting, pioneering technology, which allows us to tap into wind power further out at sea where the winds are stronger and more consistent, but the water is too deep for regular offshore wind facilities. We need to do everything we can to maximise the benefits of this industry. As it stands, there are no port facilities in the country that are fit for the mass deployment of floating offshore wind. Ports need investment and upgrading to be able to manufacture and assemble the components of those turbines and their bases at the required size, which I believe is up to 150 metres. These are huge pieces of kit that we need to be able to manufacture and assemble in the UK.

Crucially for ports, we also need new wind projects—both standard offshore and floating—to come forward for investment. That is another reason why the Government’s completely avoidable failure on offshore wind in the recent contracts for difference round was so disappointing, with no offshore wind or floating offshore bids. No new offshore wind projects means £2 billion more on families’ energy bills and means our energy security will be weakened.

Ministers were repeatedly warned about the impacts of higher inflation and setting an unrealistic strike price, but they did not act. Because of that missed opportunity, we will now be more dependent on expensive and polluting fossil fuels. Every wind farm that we fail to build leaves us more exposed to the whims of petrostates and dictators such as Putin. The Government are squandering our potential for offshore wind power, just as they squandered our potential for onshore wind by effectively banning it for so long. All this has resulted in higher bills, energy insecurity, fewer jobs and climate failure. Britain’s port communities and the rest of Britain deserve better.

That is why the next Labour Government will drive forward offshore and floating wind through major investments to our ports, providing £1.8 billion over five years to ensure that we can construct, manufacture, deploy and maintain offshore wind and marine renewables from UK harbours. This would be the biggest investment in our ports for decades, benefiting communities in Wales, Scotland and across the UK.

We will establish a national wealth fund. This will be a new strategic body to ensure that when public money is spent on building British businesses, the British people will benefit from the long-term return that those investments produce. That will ensure that the whole country benefits from the wealth and talent that are created in our nation, so that with every investment, jobs and economic benefits flow into our communities and the British people benefit from the return on those investments.

A Labour Government will invest to drive forward projects that are necessary to the energy transition and our industrial future, crowding in further private investment in crucial infrastructure. GB Energy will be able to de-risk new energy technologies, helping to speed up and scale up development in areas such as green hydrogen and floating offshore wind. With a target to achieve clean power by 2030, and making, buying and selling more in Britain, GB Energy will overturn the stagnation and offshoring of British jobs and manufacturing that have been caused by the neglect of the British wind power industry.

Industry is calling out for more support and more certainty so that it can make the long-term decisions to develop infrastructure and ensure that we have the critical capacity necessary to deliver our ambition for clean power. Industry will get that with Labour. The current Government are progressing FLOWMIS—the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme—with up to £160 million of grant funding for port infrastructure, which is small change really, in relation to manufacturing facilities, and which will be inadequate without serious strategic investment in our nation’s ports, so that they are big enough and advanced enough for the most cutting-edge technologies. Compare that with Labour’s £1.8 billion commitment. Like others here, we want to see the money reaching ports, where it can make the most difference to jobs and power generation.

Will the Minister confirm when the awards will be made? Will it be enough to reach 5 GW of capacity by 2030? Owing to the Government’s handling of contracts for difference, we are understandably sceptical. On that point, will he outline his plans to recover the progress that we need to make on offshore wind, following the massive setback of CfD 5? Expanding offshore and delivering strategic port upgrades will be crucial for a renaissance of green jobs and opportunity in those communities. We want those port communities to be successful. Labour is committed to delivering that. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I begin by thanking and congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) on securing this important debate. We have heard high-class contributions from pretty much every person who has spoken so far. I will return, if I have time, to the trite and empty remarks—which were perhaps written by others—from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith).

Just by way of context, it is worth highlighting the record, because track records should count for something. Less than 7% of our electricity came from renewables in 2010. That was the dire inheritance of this Government. It was the CfDs developed and delivered by this Government that transformed the economics of offshore wind and which led us from the Labour record of less than 7% to nearly half in the first quarter of this year. We have gone from a desperate legacy, where nearly 40% of our electricity came from coal—the filthiest of fossil fuels—as recently as 2012 to that being eliminated next year under this Conservative Government. It is this Conservative Government who have led the world. We have cut emissions more than any other major economy on earth and grown our economy significantly at the same time.

We heard about crowding in private investment, Great British Energy and writing cheques, which is the last thing we need. We have heard that from Labour before, yet every Labour Government in history have ended with unemployment higher than it was at the beginning, when they started. They all offer hope and cheques for all, promises of huge support and endless taxpayer subsidy, which will deliver nirvana. Nirvana has never been delivered by Labour—not a green one and not any other kind. I said that bit would come at the end, but I had to indulge myself and do it at the beginning.

As has been said by everyone here today, ports are so important to unlocking the green revolution. As colleague after colleague have highlighted, from the Humber to Wales to Scotland, the southern North sea and Northern Ireland, ports have an enormous contribution to make to economic regeneration. The fact that we are blessed with this phenomenal renewable energy opportunity in the UK—which this Government, uniquely and unlike the previous, are committed to unlocking—means that we can turn levelling up from an excellent concept into genuine delivery. The previously highly carbon-dependent areas of this country are the very areas that genuinely need that, and they are best set to benefit from it. Their ports are what will make that possible.

I recognise the importance of existing port activity in south Wales in securing the UK’s and indeed Europe’s energy supply. Last year, rather than being, as in the previous year, a net importer of a billion cubic metres of gas, we moved to being an exporter of 19 billion cubic metres of gas, making a significant contribution to storage in Europe and the energy security of an entire continent. A lot of that came through south Wales. Of course, it is the two LNG terminals in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, on the Milford Haven waterway, that helped to deliver that. Looking forward, the success of the Celtic freeport bid, covering Milford Haven and Port Talbot, demonstrates the opportunity to unlock investment and therefore growth for the south Wales area and delivering those high-paid, long-term jobs that so many colleagues on the Government side of the House not only talked about, but have a history of delivering.

The right port infrastructure is vital to deliver offshore wind and other renewables, as part of our transition to net zero. Big though the energy business, carbon capture and related things are, perhaps the biggest opportunity here is what all this will facilitate. When we took on the COP presidency, just 30% of global GDP had made net zero pledges. By the time the presidency was handed on by the UK to Egypt, that figure stood at more than 90%. The world is following. If we create among the world’s first genuine net zero industrial clusters, the inward investment that will come—into non-directly energy-related, yet still energy-dependent businesses, as every business is—could be quite phenomenal. That is why colleagues are right to share their excitement and why my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire is right, again and again—alongside, as always, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—to come here and enthuse about the importance of this and the opportunity it brings.

The Government’s policies, as set out in the British energy security strategy and endorsed in “Powering Up Britain” earlier this year, include bold new commitments, so that we can supercharge clean energy and accelerate renewable energy deployment. The Government set an ambition of 50 GW of offshore wind by 2030, up from just 14 GW today. The UK has the largest offshore wind sector in Europe and is home to all four of the largest offshore wind farms in the world. As part of that ambition, we are aiming for up to 5 GW of floating offshore wind. Colleagues have rightly highlighted the importance of ports to that, given the gargantuan scale of the products that will be required. Ports will play a vital part.

Colleagues have raised the issue of ensuring that we maximise the industrial heft and capability from this sector, which is why we are looking at reviewing the contracts for difference scheme and improving it with non-financial factors and other ways of encouraging industrial development.

The hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) asked me what work we could do with the Crown Estate. The first thing is to work super closely with it, which we do. We are backed by colleagues from His Majesty’s Treasury, and it has been great to see how we can work together co-operatively to unlock this. As part of the tender for the offshore wind leasing round 5 in the Celtic sea, the Crown Estate will require floating wind developers to set out specific commitments to ports, as well as binding commitments on wider issues such as enhancing skills, addressing environmental impacts and delivering community benefits. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s reasonable question.

During my summing up, I mentioned the ferry terminal from Rosyth to Europe. The Minister has brought in other issues such as skills, training and so on, but the other thing that we should think about is our ports for exports and ferry services. I noticed that he made a note that he would contact his colleagues at border control—that is a complete roadblock at the moment—to make sure that the ferry service can go ahead and be a success.

I certainly sympathise with the Scottish Government’s troubles and challenges with ferries. As the hon. Gentleman suggests, through my officials I will pass on that message to other Departments to facilitate that. Anything we can do to help, we will seek to do.

I will not.

The offshore renewable energy catapult has estimated that floating offshore wind could deliver more than £40 billion for our economy by 2050, creating about 30,000 jobs in the process. We are moving at pace to deliver those benefits, with more than 25 GW of floating wind projects with confirmed seabed exclusivity—the most in the world. The last thing we need to introduce into the excellent track record and system for bringing in private sector investment from all over the world—which we are proud of—is Labour’s plans for Great British Energy clunking into a carefully calibrated set of market mechanisms. That will have exactly the opposite effect of the objectives that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington, set out.

Going further, the Crown Estate has announced its plans to hold a seabed leasing round in the Celtic sea, capable of supporting up to a further 4.5 GW, as we have heard. We also understand the importance to investors of certainty on a long-term leasing pipeline. If they can see the scale, we can get large-scale investment. We are acutely aware of that issue and are working closely with the Crown Estate and with other Government Departments. We must ensure that the multiple uses of our seas are thoroughly considered, so that we can then provide the visibility to unlock investments in ports, which will then unlock further investment.

The Government recognise the critical role that ports will play in achieving our green energy ambitions and the importance of securing investment in the infrastructure. They will also be a big enabler for offshore wind and a catalyst for wider supply chain development.

I am sure that the Minister is absolutely delighted that the voting interruption has given us some additional time. He was talking about floating offshore wind infrastructure. I do not know if he is coming to this, but I asked about grid capacity. There are real concerns that there will not be the grid capacity to facilitate all this, which is having an impact on developers’ thinking, too. What comments does he have on that?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for another excellent and well-made point. One of the biggest challenges facing my Department is ensuring that we have the facilitating infrastructure. No matter how interesting the generation is—nuclear, floating, fixed-bed, onshore, offshore—it does not really matter if the electrons cannot get where they need to. That is why we commissioned the Winser review on transmission, and I am really grateful to him for his work. We are going to be reporting back on that as soon as we can. We are working closely with National Grid and others to speed up the extraordinarily long times it takes to put that infrastructure in place. The hon. Member for Aberavon was right to say that if we want to realise our Celtic sea ambitions or our other ambitions around the UK, we need the facilitating infrastructure.

More locally, we are also focused on connections. We will shortly be coming out with a connections plan, because we have queues filled with projects that may never go ahead. We need to find ways to deal with that legally and properly. We now have a dedicated Minister for Nuclear and Networks, precisely because we recognise the challenge. The hon. Member for Aberavon is right to highlight that. We are working flat out on it and it is probably our top priority.

On the important issue that the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) raised about the grid, is the Minister aware of any specific work by National Grid looking at the grid needs of ports, so that we know which UK ports are going to be energy ports? We can predict where those locations are going to be and we can see activity already happening. Is National Grid doing a piece of work to map the grid requirements of the next 20 to 30 years and put together plans for individual port locations?

One recommendation of the Winser report was that we pull together a much more coherent overall spatial plan. In previous years, things were done on a fairly linear basis, as we have seen in East Anglia. We have been taking steps through the holistic network design—not necessarily the best title—in phases simply to ensure that we have a more strategic and joined-up approach. We cannot do it project by project; we have to plan the whole thing out. We want to take it from a regional basis to a national basis. Further information will be set out by the Government.

We are working with our European neighbours. I spoke to the German ambassador only this morning about the fact that all of us around the North sea need to think and work together on a common basis. If we do so, we will be better able to realise the huge opportunities in the surrounding seas, do so at the lowest possible cost and maximise European energy security and the jobs and benefits that spring from doing that work.

For floating offshore wind specifically, the industry road map 2040, developed by the floating offshore wind taskforce, identified the need for up to 11 ports across the UK to support the roll-out of commercial-scale floating offshore wind. That is a significant opportunity for the years to come. To support the industry, the Government launched the £160 million floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme, which the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington, asked about in one of the much more reasonable comments in his speech. We are doing everything we can to bring the timing of that forward and do the assessment, and I hope that we will be able to announce the next stage—due diligence—before the end of this year, but that is tight.

In the coming years, the UK and other countries will exponentially increase their offshore wind deployment in the North sea, the Celtic sea and across a range of new markets. We signed a memorandum of understanding with countries surrounding the North sea in the week before Christmas last year about our rejoining the North Seas Energy Co-operation forum, and we will be having another ministerial next month to ensure that we are working closely together.

We will work with industry, through RenewableUK and the Offshore Wind Industry Council, to assess supply chain needs, which so many colleagues have rightly raised, and to identify the opportunities for the UK to lead and benefit from sustainable growth in the industry, including through building new export opportunities. As a former exports Minister, I recognise that by leaning in ahead as we have done—we have cut our emissions more than any other country on earth—and developing the technologies and solutions, we then have the long-term opportunity to export it. If we can capture more than enough of that energy to meet our own needs, we can export it directly. We could also convert it into green hydrogen, and we can export that. We can also bring in the carbon that will still necessarily be emitted by certain industries and our western European neighbours and put that into the 78 gigatonnes of capacity we have in the North sea. There is so much to be done here, and it can make such a difference: it can bring about the renaissance of industry in the north-east and north-west of England, in Scotland, in Wales and in Northern Ireland, as well as all around the country. It is a very exciting thing.

As I said, ports are not just important for offshore wind. They will also play a key role for carbon capture and storage, supporting the decarbonisation of emitters. Maritime shipping will play a key role, linking emissions captured from the dispersed sites with offshore CO2 storage sites. Import and export ports across the UK that can handle large volumes of CO2 will be required to facilitate the transport and storage of CO2 via ships. We heard about the plans for the Humber and elsewhere, indeed including on the south coast as mentioned in the brilliant, albeit short, speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith).

On hydrogen, the Government recognise that port infrastructure will have a big role to play. We have a target of 10 GW of low-carbon production by 2030. As the hydrogen economy matures and the UK exploits export opportunities, we will need the right port infrastructure to accommodate large transport ships bringing in or taking away hydrogen, and we are determined to seize those opportunities for the UK economy. It is so important that we do not have an Administration who would do the exact opposite—and who have a track record of that.

Offshore wind champion Tim Pick has highlighted some of the obstacles that need to be overcome for the industry to realise its full potential. Some of that focuses on ports. Will the Minister provide a bit more detail on the Government’s response to his proposals and recommendations?

We are working with industry through the Offshore Wind Industry Council, of which I am a co-chair, to consider Tim Pick’s wide-ranging recommendations, including developing an industry growth plan. Again, this is to do with supporting the development of the UK supply chain and, as we do this massive deployment, trying to ensure that as much as possible of the industrial heft of that can be delivered through the UK and UK jobs. That work is ongoing, and we will keep going.

The hon. Member for Strangford will be aware that Northern Ireland has a target for 1 GW of offshore wind from 2030. SBM Offshore and Simply Blue are developing FLOW projects in Northern Ireland. Likewise, Simply Blue is developing the Erebus project in the Celtic sea.

I was asked about meetings. Notwithstanding any transport and logistical challenges, I would be delighted to come to Wales. I must pay tribute once again to my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, who is relentless, albeit always cheerful and well-considered, in promoting the need for understanding and engagement with his part of the world and the opportunities that offers for the whole of the UK in contributing to the global challenge on climate change and, most importantly, in delivering a more prosperous and better future for constituents in his part of the world. Thank you, Mrs Cummins, for chairing the debate.

Thank you, Mrs Cummins, for your excellent chairing. I thank all colleagues who participated in what I thought was a useful, practical and good-natured debate. I always come away from these things having learned quite a lot about what is going on in different parts of the country. Really exciting things linked to renewable energy are happening in so many different port communities around the UK. We hope that that continues to go from strength to strength.

I really appreciated the winding-up remarks of the Minister, who always speaks with intelligence and passion. He really believes in what he talks about, and I know that he is engaged with industry, the Crown Estate and other stakeholders to try to make this vision a reality. I look forward to welcoming him to the port of Milford Haven in a matter of weeks, whenever we can get it arranged. That would be hugely welcome.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the contribution of ports to green energy.

Business Banking: Undesignated Client Accounts

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins, on an issue that is affecting many businesses across a number of sectors. It is an issue that is extremely important to the businesses that are affected, and one that could have a significant impact on many businesses and their customers in future. I want to raise the situation faced by a number of small businesses with ongoing struggles to get access to the bank accounts that they need to carry out day-to-day functions and protect their clients’ customer funds.

Over the past couple of years, I have heard horror stories from a number of reputable and long-established companies that have been driven to the brink of closure as a result of how anti-money laundering regulations, particularly the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group guidelines, are being understood and implemented by UK banks. Many small businesses that deal with large quantities of client money use pooled client accounts, also known as undesignated client accounts.

I have a background in the marine industry, so I have a good understanding of, knowledge of and relationship with the industry. That is why, when the Association of Brokers and Yacht Agents reached out to me to highlight its concerns, I understood that it was a real issue and that I needed to work with the association, along with the Treasury and other relevant parties such as UK Finance and the Financial Conduct Authority, to try to resolve it. Yacht brokers are a very resilient bunch and are a key part of the UK’s marine industry, so when I hear that they are facing challenges that threaten their businesses, it is something of great concern that we must take seriously.

Although I initially raised this issue on behalf of the yacht broking industry, I have since learned that it is an issue that affects a number of other industries and sectors, including letting agents, estate agents, jewellers, care homes and even solicitors. I suspect it affects many more. I have had recent engagement with Propertymark, the professional body for property agents, which represents over 12,500 member branches in the UK, some of whom are being affected in the same way.

I will briefly explain why the yacht broking industry has come to use those types of accounts, and where we are up to with getting this resolved. In the early 2000s, the yacht broking industry faced a severe crisis when yacht broker and new boat dealer BA Peters went into liquidation. This created shockwaves throughout the industry, as BA Peters did not have a pooled client account in place. As a result, clients’ money was not protected when the company collapsed. Numerous individuals lost their deposits and the proceeds of sales, with some receiving only 23p for every £1 they were owed. It also resulted in a massive bill for the Insolvency Service to conduct a thorough investigation to try to identify client funds and into which of the many accounts they had been paid. This devastating experience exposed the vulnerability of client funds and the need for urgent safeguards.

I congratulate the right hon. Lady on bringing forward this debate. We spoke beforehand. Does she agree that some banks are being accused of using the legislation she referred to as a way of closing accounts that are not profitable? I have several examples from back home in Strangford—I could read out two pages of them—of businesses being given no other reason for closure than this legislation. Does the right hon. Lady agree that the loophole must be closed?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. Something is going on, and it is worrying. Banks are there to help us with our personal finances, but they are also a key part of how all businesses operate within the UK. I would be very disappointed if they were taking a cynical approach to potentially reduce costs of applications. However, having heard that some organisations are now being requested to implement a number of individual accounts, maybe there is a business case for them to want to administer 1,000 bank charges rather than just one.

In the aftermath of this, the yacht broking industry came together to ensure that such a calamity could never occur again. It was unanimously agreed that all yacht brokers should establish pooled client accounts as a standard practice. The PCAs were designed to protect client funds and enhance transparency in financial transactions. That became industry standard practice and is a prerequisite for any business joining an association such as ABYA. It is now a requirement by many professional indemnity insurance providers to hold client funds in these accounts. To formalise those efforts, brokers that set up PCAs with banks obtained letters confirming that funds held in those accounts were exclusively client funds and not part of the broker’s trading capital. Thus, they could not be used to offset business loans or overdrafts with that bank. That strengthened the protection of clients’ interests and returned confidence to the marine sector.

In 2009, it was made compulsory for anyone acting as an introducer for marine finance or settling marine finance to be registered with the Office of Fair Trading. That was a significant step towards regulating the industry and ensuring that financial transactions adhered to established standards.

In 2015, the Financial Conduct Authority was formed. The FCA introduced the FCA Handbook, taking over regulatory oversight. In 2016, the FCA confirmed that yacht brokers did not fall within the scope of the FCA handbook for holding PCAs, but did need to be registered for acting as an introducer for finance and insurance.

In 2020, significant changes occurred to the anti-money laundering regulations. That was when I first heard of the struggles that the industry were coming up against. Anti-money laundering legislation was introduced in 2017, as were updated Joint Money Laundering Steering Group guidelines, but notably they did not mention yacht brokers being excluded from FCA registration, or that their PCAs could be assessed using a simplified due diligence approach. That led to confusion and concern within the industry. As a result, major UK banks such as Lloyds, HSBC, Barclays and NatWest started to refuse to open PCAs for yacht brokers and threatened a number of businesses with the closure of their accounts.

Over the following months, I heard numerous stories from businesses within the industry that were fearful that, should they have their accounts closed, they would be unable to trade. Reputable businesses that had been trading for decades were suddenly faced with that terrifying prospect. Many of those yacht brokers are small independent family-run businesses. Contrary to what often comes to mind when yachts are mentioned, they are not large businesses trading in multimillion-pound superyachts and they do not have thousands of pounds in capital behind them; they tend to be long-established reputable small businesses operating in our coastal communities, where the marine industry may be a key part of the local economy, selling smaller boats for UK leisure.

Some of those family-run businesses—registered UK companies—operate across borders to support UK clients to buy, sell or hire their boats. Many of their clients are repeat customers because of the great experience they have encountered and the reassurance and confidence that their funds are safe.

All ABYA-member brokers are required to abide by strict professional standards to minimise fraud and money laundering. Yacht brokers are required to complete “know your customer” checks to verify clients’ official documentation such as driving licences, passports and utility bills, to ensure that the documents are valid and that the person is not on the anti-money laundering or politically exposed persons lists.

Purchasers receive a legally signed sale and purchase agreement, and all transactions are done by bank transfer, so there is a full audit trail of the money. ABYA yacht brokers do not accept any form of cash payment. As I mentioned, brokers undertake their own checks and specific sale and purchase agreements for every transaction, and they rely on UK and EU banks to transmit funds to the PCA from their own bona fide and validated clients.

Despite the checks that brokers carry out and the detailed recording of transactions, the fact that UK banks now consider yacht broking to be a high-risk business might imply that UK banks are failing their customers’ AML and politically exposed person checks before opening their client accounts.

In January 2022, ABYA and I held a crucial meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was then the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and UK Finance. Following that meeting, he agreed to issue guidance allowing banks to simplify due diligence for opening and maintaining PCAs. That decision was made to try to temporarily ease the conflict between banks and account holders, and to encourage banks to keep accounts open while a comprehensive review of the anti-money laundering regulations was undertaken. This review was expected in December 2022 but, to the disappointment of both me and the industry, it was pushed back a year until December 2023. I am grateful to the Chief Secretary for the action and the interim guidance he provided in his previous role, but unfortunately that did not go far enough to prevent many banks from closing some of those accounts, which had a devastating impact on some of our small businesses.

In May 2020, we witnessed Barclays close the first pooled client account of a yacht broker because it was not registered with the FCA and part of its business involved cross-border transactions. Members will be unsurprised to learn that cross-border transactions are a fairly normal part of yacht sales, given the nature of boats. The stress that caused the company, including its potential collapse, and the impact on clients resulted in the director of that small UK-registered company suffering a mental illness for which, 18 months on, he is still receiving medical treatment and support.

That move set a worrying precedent. In May 2023, Barclays blocked the accounts of another company without appropriate notice, preventing the company from accessing its funds for three weeks. Not only that, but the bank transferred the funds from a European pooled client account into pounds sterling and placed the funds into the company’s account, without the authority of the clients whose funds were in the pooled client account. I understand that ABYA has asked the FCA to investigate that case, as it believes that Barclays had breached the provisions of the FCA handbook. As an aside, I have been made aware of another case in which such action by a UK bank has affected personal bank accounts, so I am concerned about how widespread that type of action is among some UK banks.

The FCA has acknowledged ABYA’s concern but has refused to conduct a full investigation and take appropriate action against Barclays, which I believe sets a dangerous precedent by endorsing Barclays’s actions and destabilising the security of PCAs for all industries. The FCA has advised ABYA that its members should report the incident to the financial ombudsman, which they have done, but they have been advised that it could take up to 18 months for it to report back.

To enable their business to continue trading, the directors of the affected company had to personally fund their clients’ sales and purchases, while Barclays sat on its client funds. That has also had a significant impact on the mental health of the directors of those businesses. Only last week, HSBC approached yacht brokers to ask them to stop using their pooled client accounts. I have recently been made aware that marine insurance companies, which have thousands of clients, are also being asked to cease using pooled client accounts.

The consequences of those developments extend beyond the yacht broking industry. They are a concerning precedent, which indicates that funds held in PCAs for clients may not be as secure as was previously believed. The situation has implications not only for the yacht industry but for lawyers, estate agents and care homes, as I have mentioned. Only last week, Propertymark members reported that Lloyds had threatened one of their members with account closure if they continued to use PCAs. That forced the property agent to open and hold individual client accounts for the rents and deposits of every landlord they worked for, and this particular agent was working with over 100 landlords.

ABYA has been at the forefront of the efforts to address the issue. It has tried to push various individuals who have influence over the matter to work together and with the industry to find short and long-term solutions. The Treasury has met and been in communication with ABYA’s chairman, Peter Norris, and has agreed to meet him again. For that, I am grateful. I am also grateful for the continued engagement I have received from the Treasury and its Ministers over the last 18 months. ABYA has worked to strengthen its code of practice and engage with banks consistently over the past couple of years. ABYA has candidly and consistently said that it will put in place whatever measures and changes to its code of conduct are necessary to ensure that banks have confidence to offer these services to ABYA members.

Since the FCA’s confirmation that yacht brokers do not need to register to hold PCAs, one bank has asked its customers to register as a high-value dealer with His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for anti-money laundering purposes. ABYA is currently in consultation with HMRC to see whether it is possible to register as a high-value dealer, as such registrations normally apply only to businesses that deal in cash transactions of over £10,000 or €10,000. I understand that HMRC is questioning whether that is a necessary registration.

It has been a particularly tiring and frustrating few years for the industry, and ABYA and other industry representatives can only do so much. They have shown their willingness to find solutions, but we need the same willingness and drive to find a solution. As I have mentioned, these are often long-established small businesses or sole traders. Like any businesses, these companies are lifelines for their owners, employees and local economies, and they rarely have significant capital reserves to keep them afloat while seeking a resolution with the banks. It has been heartbreaking to hear the panic and distress that some of the businesses have been put through. Some business owners have been driven to the point of illness or, in some cases, have wanted to take their own life because of the stress of the potential loss of their business. As someone who ran a business prior to becoming an MP, I can totally empathise and understand how those business owners may be feeling.

Can the Minister confirm that there will be no more delay in bringing forward the consultation on the review of the anti-money laundering regulations? Can the Minister also assure me and those listening that he and the Treasury are engaging with the banking sector to represent the views of these small businesses, which are struggling to survive as a result of the actions that have been taken? Will he commit to urgently finding a short-term solution for this very real issue, which is having a devastating impact on people’s businesses and livelihoods?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) for highlighting this important issue. She has been tenacious, and I convey my distress at the frustration suffered. The industry is an historic one and is important to us. She and I have worked together in the past to support the small and medium-sized enterprises of this great nation, but not until today had I realised the importance of the yacht broking industry. I also know about her passion for sailing, which is reflected in her role as patron of the Medway and Swale Boating Association. I am sure that all her members are metaphorically, and probably physically, cheering her on today. I reassure her that I share her concern about the issue.

Earlier this year the Treasury requested that the FCA lead a review into the wider matter of de-banking, to ensure that the sector was not overreaching itself through the unfair denial of banking services—in one case, based on a customer’s political beliefs. That is not the matter before us, but it highlights my concern, and the action that I took then is replicated when we find other instances in the financial sector. A bank account, as we know, is a vital part of the way in which we operate in society.

We try to get the balance right with a commitment, which I know my right hon. Friend understands, to tackling illicit finance. It is important that we get that balance right and do not put a disproportionate burden on legitimate businesses and customers. Indeed, the world of financial regulation is fraught with well-intentioned regulations that nevertheless have deleterious unintended consequences. This is an example. Pooled client accounts have many virtues. They protect customers so that when a firm fails, their deposits and moneys are segregated. They are a vital part of how we protect consumers. It is a concern that we see banks perhaps having a misperception about the risk of those accounts and the regulation.

It is wrong—I am happy to share this with my right hon. Friend—to say that pooled client accounts are not eligible for simplified due diligence. Last year, my predecessor wrote to the chair of UK Finance, the relevant industry body, to reiterate the importance of that when it came to looking at the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group, the industry group that deals with that. My predecessor convened a roundtable with banks and the Association of Brokers and Yacht Agents to help to develop and improve mutual understanding and iron out the issues.

Banks can apply simplified due diligence to pooled client accounts where they assess the risk of money laundering and terrorist finance to be low. My right hon. Friend gave us some really good examples of that. I am not sure that there are many Russian oligarchs sailing up and down; delightful though Medway and Swale Boating Association is, I am not sure it is the destination of choice for illicit ill-gotten gains. We will, at my right hon. Friend’s urging, continue to work to improve the guidance notes and work with the industry to make sure we can achieve the objectives that she talks about.

I am also happy to give my right hon. Friend the assurance that she seeks. She has been very patient and tolerant. I understand her and her constituents’ frustrations, but there will be no further delays. After having consulted earlier this year, we intend to look at how we can improve and reform the anti-money laundering procedures.[Official Report, 23 October 2023, Vol. 738, c. 4MC.] As I say, we are dealing here with the law of unintended consequences. I believe that we can reconcile both objectives through better guidance and greater clarity and, where necessary, adjusting the regulations.

My message to those banks and financial intermediaries is that they should continue to engage. I know that they also do so with my noble Friend Baroness Penn. I hope that by so doing, and with that collaborative approach, we will “chart a route”—someone has been getting creative—to an effective resolution that steers us into calmer waters and that, once we are through this, it will be plain sailing.

Question put and agreed to.

Hate Crime Against the LGBT+ Community

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of hate crime against the LGBT+ community.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins. I sincerely thank all colleagues present for attending today’s debate. I draw attention to my membership of the all-party parliamentary group on global LGBT+ rights, my role as co-chair of the LGBT+ parliamentary Labour party and, sadly, my own experience as a victim of LGBT+ hate crime.

I begin by thanking Stonewall, Galop and many other national organisations that speak up on these issues. Locally, in my constituency, I think of groups such as Pride Cymru and Glitter Cymru. I also want to mention the LGBT+ Safe Spaces venues, from our clubs and pubs to inclusive religious venues, and places such as the Queer Emporium in Cardiff, not to mention their brave security staff and managers, for all they do to keep our communities safe and welcome.

The fact is that, despite all the legal progress we have made in this country and the rapidly changing and welcome debate, particularly among younger generations, this is a perilous and profoundly uncertain time for the LGBT+ community in the UK. I would never seek to downplay the even worse threats of death and violence, let alone the absence of basic legal rights in many other contexts globally, but I can genuinely say that we are not in a good place here and things are getting worse.

That view is not just anecdotal. It is borne out by clear evidence and trends that I will come on to, and is sadly borne out by the stark, horrific reality that we saw in the homophobic murder of kind, compassionate Dr Gary Jenkins in my city of Cardiff in 2021. We can all think back to the horrors of the Admiral Duncan bombing in 1999 and the Stephen Port murders in 2014 to 2015 in east London, and all the failures around how that case was handled.

We are all aware of ongoing and more recent incidents, but I am conscious of the House sub judice rule and I will, therefore, refrain from commenting on a number of them. I know that colleagues will want to take particular care on that matter.

I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter forward. Unfortunately, I cannot stay for the debate; I have already informed the hon. Gentleman that I have a prior appointment. As someone interested in human rights issues, I want to put on the record my condemnation of those who carry out hate crimes against anybody, wherever that happens. I fully support what the hon. Gentleman is putting forward, which I want to put on the record.

I thank the hon. Member for his support, which is genuinely welcome. The cross-party group that we have here today reflects the wide concern across the House at recently released statistics.

I will refer to my own experiences, which are sadly all too common for others. I have been assaulted with a homophobic element in my own constituency in broad daylight. I have been told online by somebody that he would sort me and my issues out while I was at football, while posting pictures of me dressed up at Pride. I have been called a “faggot” while walking along Queen Street in Cardiff. Like many other members of the community, I have worried whether it is safe to kiss my boyfriend or hold his hand on the bus or the tube. Even as a parliamentarian on an overseas trip, I was told to my face that people like me are detested.

In National Hate Crime Awareness Week, rather than belittling the impact of hate crime or suggesting that it is a “woke” irrelevance, it is critical that we look into the impact that attacks are having on the community, across the country, against people who just want to love who they love, live as themselves and get on with their daily lives. In the UK in 2023, the place of LGBT+ people in society, and their safety and wellbeing—is it really such a difficult thing to ask?—simply should not be contested notions, be up for debate or, worse, lead to violence, intimidation or assault; and yet here we are.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this incredibly important debate. The figures from my local police force, North Wales police, are staggering: the number of hate crimes based on transgender identity has surged by 771%. When we bear in mind that it is likely that only one in 10 hate crimes are reported, that gives us a sense of the level of suffering and the sheer size of the problem that we have to deal with.

The right hon. Member is absolutely right to highlight not only the increase, but the context of significant under-reporting. We all ought to be shocked.

This is Hate Crime Awareness Week, and the reality is that hate crime remains stubbornly high across the piece. Not least in the current context, given the despicable incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobic hate crime, we must rightly focus on religious hate crime, and race-related hate crime remains stubbornly high. That is before we consider the less looked-at but equally important disability-related examples or, of course, the widespread epidemic of violence against women and girls.

Despite a slight year-on-year fall in sexual orientation-based hate crimes, the total number of anti-LGBT+ hate crimes remains well above 2018 levels, with 28,834 recorded this year, a net increase of 217% since 2017-18.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and on sharing his own personal experience. Those of us who have faced homophobic or—as I have—lesbophobic abuse know that it takes it out of us, quite frankly. How many more people have to share their stories or experience violence before we see a regression? As the hon. Gentleman has rightly said, we are talking about hate crime in the round. Does he agree that if those at the very top of Government make statements that attack some in our community, that only makes it more dangerous for everyone and justifies hate crimes against everyone?

As the hon. Member knows, I totally agree with her. The scale of this issue is staggering. Those statistics in practice mean 79 incidents a day—one roughly every 20 minutes—in 2023. Of course, there is better police awareness and reporting in some cases, but there is significant under-reporting. Fewer than 10% of LGBT people told the national LGBT survey in 2018 that they felt comfortable reporting hate crimes to the police, so it is likely that the statistics are a drop in the ocean.

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this really important debate. He has just talked about some of the statistics. Does he agree that things are even harder for LGBTQ+ black and minority ethnic people? One of the things that was flagged up with me when I attended Black Pride this year was that a number of people in that community still do not feel comfortable reporting to the police. The figures are just the tip of the iceberg.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I commend Black Pride and many of the other organisations that do incredible work in this area. The intersectionality of hate crime statistics should be deeply shocking to us all.

We heard about North Wales police. My force, South Wales police, provided me with its latest statistics. Just in the period from October last year to September this year, the force recorded 645 hate crimes related to sexual orientation, resulting in 33 charges, and 170 reports of transgender-related hate crimes, resulting in five charges. I am reassured by how seriously my local force takes these issues—I have had many conversations with it—and I have heard other positive examples while preparing for the debate, from Avon and Somerset to Lancashire to Norfolk, but there are significant challenges in some places. In London, the Casey report showed that trust in the Metropolitan police has fallen faster among LGBT+ Londoners than among non-LGBT+ Londoners. Leadership and action are far too patchy across England; in the absence of a central hate crime strategy, they depend too often on individual police and crime commissioners and forces.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. It comes at a time of a significant rise in hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. I stood with the trans community in Merthyr Tydfil with Merthyr Pride last week at a rally. My hon. Friend mentioned the figures supplied by his police force, which is the same as mine. Does he agree that the particularly venomous comments from the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and other senior Tories do nothing to support those figures and will increase the problem further?

I greatly endorse what my hon. Friend said, and I welcome the work of Merthyr Pride. I think that was the first such event to take place in Merthyr, and the organisation does amazing work. I will come on to some of the context driving this.

We have colleagues here from across the United Kingdom. The Police Service of Northern Ireland records transphobic incidents and crimes motivated by transphobia, but unfortunately there is no enhanced sentencing for that motivation or hostility. We see a more positive picture in Wales, despite the statistics. The Welsh Labour Government’s LGBTQ+ action plan specifically covers safety, online hate, improving reporting and investing in local hate crime prevention programmes. In Scotland, there is a hate crime strategy focused on data, tackling crime online and on public transport, and supporting organisations working on these issues.

The effects of hate crime are deep and pernicious. They can unravel the lives of those who are among the most vulnerable in our society, and in the worst cases lives are lost and serious injury occurs. I pay tribute to all those who have been affected in that way, to their families and to all victims. But for many other victims of less violent offences, the crime itself is only the beginning. Some 42% of victims of hate crime felt a loss of confidence or felt vulnerable following the crime, compared with 19% for all other crimes; 29% of hate crime victims had difficulty sleeping, in comparison with 13% for all crimes; and 34% of hate crime victims suffered from anxiety or panic attacks compared with 14% for others.

I thank the hon. Member for bringing forward this important debate. I worry that too often the focus does not come from the point of view of the individuals who may be subject to this type of violence and their voices are suppressed. Does he agree that we must remember the unique position of LGBTQ+ women in our discussions?

Absolutely. I spoke earlier about intersectionality. When we look at wider violence against women and girls, or violence related to race or disability, there can be a double or triple whammy for people experiencing violence on the basis of who they are. It is simply unacceptable.

Given the shocking record and the shocking increases that we have seen in recent years, it is no wonder that many LGBT+ people—people we all represent—feel less safe and more afraid to walk down the road holding hands with their partner, to present themselves as they wish and to remain authentic, honest versions of themselves. But it does not have to be this way. We know that we are capable of providing vibrant, diverse, dynamic, beautiful and inclusive communities.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I apologise that I will not be able to stay until the end. We have heard from others how the current climate has been fostered by the very unprofessional and negative comments from some Cabinet members. Will my hon. Friend ask the Minister what she will do to raise that with Cabinet members and ensure that they stop making things worse?

I wholeheartedly agree with what my hon. Friend says. It is worth looking at the fact that in 2013 the UK was rated as the best place in Europe for LGBT+ equality. We had taken pride over many years in being a beacon of the furtherance of LGBT+ rights. Indeed, there was a broad political consensus around advancing those rights; let us not forget that it was a cross-party coalition of Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and other parties represented here that passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. I was proud to serve on its Bill Committee.

However, today we see increasingly regressive forces in our politics, with sometimes explicit and sometimes more insidious attempts to divide and demonise our community; an increasingly hostile media and online environment; the influence of globally regressive forces, from Putin to the extreme religious right; and, across society more broadly, others vilifying our community and weaponising debates about our rights and, in many cases, even our existence. Shamefully for the Government, that means that since 2013, the UK has dropped to 14th place in the ILGA-Europe rainbow index, lagging behind the rest of western Europe.

Where once we had Prime Ministers who took pride in Britain being a leader on LGBT+ rights, we now see the plight of our community demeaned to cheap punchlines or political dog whistles. Where once we had consensus, compassion and kindness—and, indeed, legal action—now there is division, polarisation and a perpetuation of insidious culture wars. Quite frankly, we deserve better. Our constituents deserve much better.

I am proud that Labour has set out the need for a different approach—one that does not treat LGBT+ rights as a political football or an afterthought. It is a fact that hate crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and disability are not punished as severely as those based on other protected characteristics. I am proud that we have committed a Labour Government to fixing that injustice by equalising the law so that LGBT+ and, indeed, disability-related hate crimes are treated as aggravated offences. We will provide real accountability and assiduously pursue those who seek to harm an individual on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

One of the most concerning trends in recent statistics is the 11% increase in hate crimes committed against transgender people. Tragically, I would think that that would come as no surprise to any of us in this room. We have all seen the way in which the discussions around these issues have been conducted in recent years, with escalatory rhetoric increasingly poisoning and polarising our discourse. Of course there are valid, important and complex issues to be discussed, but the lives and experiences of an already small and vulnerable community are increasingly abstracted into a reductionist zero-sum game and, in many cases, people are dehumanised and targeted.

We see it with the rise of anti-trans rhetoric online, as well as in cheap shots politically. We also see it quantitatively in surveys of British public opinion. The latest British social attitudes research reports that the proportion of British people who describe themselves as being prejudiced against transgender people has increased from 18% to 36% since 2019. Most alarmingly, we see it in the sharp increase in anti-transgender hate crime, which is up 11% in one year. In the past six months alone, Galop, which does excellent work, has seen a 76% increase in trans people seeking support to deal with serious incidents.

In closing, I ask the Minister for clarity in a number of areas. First, will the Government end what the Law Commission calls a “hierarchy of protection” and bring about real parity between groups of all protected characteristics, or will it fall to a Labour Government to find the courage to take that step forward? LGBT+ people rightly feel that the current political set-up is weighted against them because the Government have failed to make achievable and critically necessary reforms such as introducing an inclusive ban on conversion therapy. How can the Government say that they are concerned with the plight of LGBT+ people while they continue to quietly acquiesce in that abhorrent practice? Lastly, given the shocking statistics, what specific support will the Minister give to the trans and non-binary community? Will she commit to stamping out the divisive and horrific rhetoric that comes from some parts of her own Government?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for bringing forward this important debate in such a timely manner, with the release of the latest hate crime statistics from the Home Office. It is a pleasure to see the Minister for Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), in his place. I am very grateful that he is here.

We do not have a lot of time, which is a shame because there is so much that could be said. However, there are some important things that I want to raise, to add to what the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth has already mentioned. I start from the position that the LGBT+ community has—and must have—the same right to live a peaceful life as anyone else in this country, but sadly that so often is not the case, as we see in the latest statistics. I refer to some of the work that I and the hon. Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) have done in this space over the past year or so as co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on global LGBT+ rights.

As we have heard, the statistics, although depressing in themselves, are actually only part of the picture, because there is massive under-reporting. Last year, the police recorded 24,000 hate crimes in England and Wales linked to sexual orientation and more than 4,700 cases linked to gender identity. Those figures represent increases of 112% and 186% respectively over the past five years.

As a London MP, it would be remiss of me not to mention Greater London, the Casey report and, not least, some of the tragic events that we have seen outside LGBT+ venues recently, including Two Brewers in Clapham not that long ago. Over the past five years in London alone—a city that we all assume is incredibly tolerant—hate crime has increased by 65% against people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and by 129% against those who have a transgender identity.

That is not helped by a lack of trust in the police, which was identified by the Casey report on the Metropolitan police. I welcome the steps that the new Met commissioner is trying to take to repair that, but trust in London’s police has fallen to an all-time low of 64%. I would be grateful if the Minister outlined what discussions the Home Office has had with the Metropolitan police about the contents of the Casey report and how it intends to keep track of the quality of the improvements that the Metropolitan police must make to repair its relationship with the LGBT+ community.

It has already been mentioned that the Home Office’s own blurb accompanying the statistics mentioned the public and toxic debate around trans rights that is happening in this place and across much of the media and academia. As many people in the Chamber have said, and as I have said before, we must find a way to lead from the front and take the heat and toxicity out of these discussions, because nobody wins from them. If any political party or candidate thinks that going into the next election on a platform of going after the LGBT+ community is smart—I am speaking to all political parties here; we have to be honest that all of us have had issues in our parties—they are mistaken. We must all stand up to that in our own political parties and try to stamp it out as much as possible. The LGBT+ community are not our enemy, they are not a threat and they are not dangerous. We cannot be surprised that trust in institutions such as the police reduces when these things are not stamped out.

Like the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, who spoke so eloquently about this, I have not been without attacks in my own constituency. Thankfully, I have never been physically assaulted, but I have been on the receiving end of homophobic abuse just going about my day-to-day work. Sadly, I am sure that other colleagues will bring up examples of what they have experienced. It is truly devastating, as the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) said. It knocks it out of you and you wonder, “Why on earth am I putting myself in this position?” You think, “Why should I put myself in harm’s way? I don’t want to hold my partner’s hand in public. I don’t want to show affection in public. I don’t want to be my authentic self in public.” I am more worried about an attack than I am about being my authentic self. That absolutely is not right in 21st-century Britain.

The hon. Member is absolutely right: if we are cowed and go into the darkness, the bigots win. In an interesting article, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that the US Christian right, militant European Catholics, Russian Orthodox hardliners and even sanctioned oligarchs are working concerted campaigns to undermine reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights across the world. We need to remember that when we talk to our own colleagues and others who seek to divide liberal democracies across the world.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for bringing that up, because she is absolutely right. Indeed, we have seen that in the work we have done in the APPG on global LGBT+ rights, particularly in parts of east Africa—not least Uganda, where an anti-homosexuality Bill was recently passed. There is massive geopolitical influence, with efforts to push an anti-human rights and anti-LGBT+ agenda as a way of exerting influence. We must be able to track where the money is going. We know it comes from the actors that she eloquently outlined, and we must call that out and stamp it out as much as humanly possible.

I do not want to go on for much longer, but I have a few questions for the Minister and I would be grateful if she would cover them in her response. The Home Office’s hate crime action plan for England and Wales has not been updated for years. Will she commit to updating it? What discussions has the Home Office had with the Metropolitan police and other police forces about homophobia in their own forces and how they plan to rebuild trust with the LGBT+ community? Will she offer an assurance that despite some of the rhetoric we have heard, it is a priority for the Home Office to get this right and to stamp that out? We were a leader in global LGBT+ rights. We must be a leader again.

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I ask colleagues to stick to between two and half minutes and three minutes, tops.

It is a privilege to speak in the debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) on calling it. I am proud to speak as Plymouth’s first-ever out Member of Parliament, which gives me a special responsibility not only to share my personal experience, but to speak up for communities who often feel neglected and abused by those in this place.

We know that hate crime is on the rise. It is on the rise in Plymouth; it is on the rise in all our communities. As politicians, we can choose whether we calm things or fan the flames of hate. That is a choice we can make. Despite progress over many years, LGBT hate crime rose by 186% in the past five years, according to Stonewall. How we tackle that hate crime matters, and it requires leadership from the top.

Like many people, I have been attacked because of who I am. I am proud to be a massive gay: it is part of who I am, it is part of my identity and I celebrate it. My office has been vandalised with homophobic graffiti; I have had homophobic threats and messages left on my answer machine; and I have received an enormous amount of abuse simply for tweeting a picture of me and my boyfriend on Valentine’s day. That is an experience that happens to far too many LGBT people throughout the country—being authentically themselves makes them a target. We should be in no doubt that we must call that out. That is why in the run-up to the next general election, it is incumbent on us all, as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) said, to call out hate wherever it comes from—whatever dark recesses of the communities we represent—but especially from those people who aspire to and occupy the highest offices of our country.

We have had a Prime Minister who refused to apologise for calling gay men “tank-topped bum boys”. We have a Home Secretary who has accused LGBT asylum seekers of faking their sexuality. As an MP, I have campaigned hard to stop the Home Office deporting gay asylum seekers to countries where they would be killed because of their sexuality. We have had senior Tory MPs saying that marriage between men and women is

“the only possible basis for a safe and successful society.”

I believe in the family—I think the family unit is at the heart of things—but I will not tell any single person what their family should look like. That is what we should aspire to.

When we have a Prime Minister whipping up transphobia, that is right out of the culture war playbook. That is why I want to ask the Minister whether she has heard of the CAT strategy, which will apparently form the basis of Government policy between now and the general election. It will focus on climate, asylum seekers and trans people. The culture war playbook is deliberately designed to divide. Leadership matters. We need the right leaders who build bridges and take the difficult step to unite, not the easy step to divide.

Has the Minister heard of that strategy? What is she doing to police other Ministers who make such divisive comments? Has she called out the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister on their recent divisive comments? If she has not, who does that within Government? If we are to tackle hate crime, we need to tackle it from the top, which means making sure that all the words we use, all our behaviours and all the campaigns we run respect everyone being able to be authentically true to themselves and being able to do so safely in every part of our country.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Ms Cummins. I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and congratulate him on securing this important debate. I will speak briefly from my own experiences and perspectives as someone who, before my election to this place, was physically assaulted for being who I am. It is incredibly important that we tackle the root causes that motivate and cause such behaviours against members of the LGBT community, which is why I am so pleased to support the hon. Gentleman’s debate.

As we tackle this hideous behaviour, though, it is also important that we lead by example and hold our own community to account, just as we would the wider public, because in the quest to reduce instances of hate crime against the LGBT community, we also have to look at our own behaviours within it. It is simply unacceptable for those who may well have been impacted by hate issues previously to provoke and manufacture homophobic hate against staff or innocent supporters of an MP for political purposes, especially when they are fuelled by alcohol. I am afraid that this is a growing issue and one that I have personally faced as recently as this week, in my home town of Sherborne. I put on the record my thanks to Dorset police for responding so promptly and for their help in calming an extraordinarily aggressive situation.

At Manchester Pride last year, the current shadow Leader of the House of Commons—the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), who is a Labour Member—turned up with her supporters in T-shirts bearing the words “Never kissed a Tory”. I am sorry to say so, but she should be ashamed for doing that and for making some people—

Yes, I have. As I was saying, I believe that the hon. Member for Manchester Central should be ashamed for doing that, and for making some people who do not share her political views uncomfortable for joining a Pride event—an event at which we should be united and not divided. I believe that it is as much our duty to call out such instances of hypocrisy within the community when we see them as it is to call out those outside the community who serve hate against us. I will not be threatened nor intimidated by that sort of nastiness. That kind of behaviour does not just stem from drunken louts, but can start and be fomented by supposedly upstanding members of the community.

When such comments originate from those who hold elected office, I hope they are taken into account at election time. Where the proprietors of local businesses spread that form of hate, I hope their customers fully know the values of that business and consider to whom they give their custom in future. Manufactured hate against gay people by gay people for the purposes of political difference is still hate. It has no place in our society, nor in our community, and where it happens and has happened, I shall shine an intense light on it—as I hope everybody will.

It is a pleasure to be in this debate with you in the Chair, Ms Cummins. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for securing the debate on hate crimes against LGBT+ people as part of National Hate Crime Awareness Week.

I recognise that there is a rising trend of hate crime across the board, as our society becomes more divided. Those politicians who seek to peddle the politics of blame and division have a great deal of responsibility on their hands. We have seen a rise in that kind of politics across the globe, and sadly in some areas of our country. Today at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that

“the words we say here have an impact beyond this House.”

We have seen that sometimes global issues have an effect on levels of hate crime for other reasons, and we are conscious of that today.

We are also conscious of some others. Problematising members of the community, particularly trans members of the LGBT community, othering them, and perpetrating discourse that casts them as a threat and a danger to children—the usual tropes that many who are old enough and have been involved in politics as long as I have remember from the 1980s—can end only with one effect. It is the effect that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth outlined effectively in his speech, and that we have heard about in other contributions: a massive increase in hate crime on the basis of sexual orientation in the past five years, up 112%. Hate crime against trans people is up 186%. In Merseyside, where my constituency of Wallasey is, hate crime based on sexual orientation is up 162%, and against trans people it is up 1,033%.

I ask the Minister what the Government are planning to do, given that six Cabinet Ministers took to the podium to rail against the trans community and so-called gender ideology and wokeism at the recent Conservative party conference? The Home Secretary’s speech was

“a signal to people who don’t like people who are LGBT+ people.”

Those are not my words; they are the words of the Conservative chair of the London Assembly as he was being thrown out of that conference. Let us get a grip. Let us remember that real people are involved. When hate crimes rise it ruins lives. Let us do something about it and let us unite to do so.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) on securing this debate, and I am pleased to see the Minister present.

Many Members here today, in the most LGBT-represented Parliament in the world, are openly gay. We often reflect on how far we have come: same-sex marriage, equalised age of consent, the ban in the armed forces lifted, and the welcome recent apology by the Prime Minister for our LGBT veterans. However, the very fact that we are having this debate and the shocking statistics underlying it mean that there is no room for complacency.

Just over a week ago, I returned from a visit to Ghana as part of Parliament’s delegation to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference. There were other reasons for Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) and the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), to visit: we wanted to understand the situation with that country’s horrific proposed anti-LGBT legislation, which actively reduces human rights and criminalises people for simply who they are and whom they love, and we wanted to share our story about our nation’s progress.

Against the backdrop of a changing picture in parts of Europe, Africa and America, and a challenging dialogue in this country, we must be mindful of changes in the law and keep acting to protect human rights. I repeat my call for an inclusive ban on conversion therapy. The fact that we have people being abused, assaulted and, in the most extreme examples, stabbed and murdered in our country for just being who they are and loving whom they love is shocking and deeply saddening. Hate and abuse targeted towards anyone because of their sexuality or gender must never be acceptable in our community. This debate gives us an important opportunity to press the Minister to do more, and be seen to do more, to drive down the shocking statistics.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for securing this important debate and for his passionate speech, which I associate myself with very much.

The statistics that my hon. Friend set out were absolutely shocking, but they are only the reported crimes. As we know, only one in 10 LGBTQ+ people report hate crimes or incidents. It is even more worrying and upsetting that over recent months we have seen Government spokespeople specifically using trans people—who already struggle against prejudice day in, day out—as a political football, for no reason other than stoking a culture war.

The Government’s words matter. I met a group of parents of trans young people in Salford on Sunday. The Government’s words mattered to them, and they mattered to the young people. I heard stories about how horrified those young people were when the Prime Minister made certain statements during his conference speech, and how in some cases those young people felt they had no place in the world. Some had even considered suicide. The Government must understand that their words have an impact, not just on increases in hate crime but on the mental health of the people they affect.

We have a moral duty in this place to speak up for those we feel are disenfranchised, and we have a moral duty to choose our words carefully. I am proud that Britain is a tolerant, respectful and inclusive country but, as the charity Stonewall states,

“a lack of positive action and threats to existing rights are taking the UK off course.”

We cannot allow that to happen. I urge the Minister to really take action today and listen to the words of my colleagues.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Cummins. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for securing this important debate and for the words he put so well.

In just over a month, on 20 November, we will mark Transgender Day of Remembrance. It is a moment for communities around the world to honour the memory of transgender people whose lives have been lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. In 2021, that was 375 people. We are facing a crisis. As we have heard today, LGBTQ+ hate crime is rising at a terrifying rate. The figures are startling, but what is worse is that they do not even represent the full picture. In the Government’s national LGBT survey, more than 91% of respondents said that the most serious incidents they had experienced in the preceding 12 months had not been reported. Those incidents included sexual assault and physical violence. That evidence is supported by Galop, which has said so much in the last year. It has seen a 65% increase in LGBT victims coming forward for its support.

As mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, we have slipped down the charts in terms of being LGBTQ+ friendly, and that should shame us all. Instead of taking steps to address the crisis, reduce hate and ensure that those who experience it can access all the support they need, our politics is focused on fuelling it:

“Transgender issues have been heavily discussed by politicians, the media and on social media over the last year, which may have led to an increase in these offences”.

Those are not my words, but the words of the Home Office. Filling the public domain with toxic language that dehumanises LGBTQ people has real, life-threatening consequences, and it is telling that those in this place who often spread hate are not here to listen to those consequences. When the Prime Minister suggests to his Conservative conference that transgender identities are not valid, his words do not go into a void: they have repercussions.

What must we do? We must get the hate crime action plan back and ensure that we bring in a total ban on conversion therapy. It is incredibly important that this issue is taken as seriously as it can be. We should stamp out hate as much as we can.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for an immeasurably heartfelt speech. He is so passionate about this issue, which we have discussed many times.

Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation are up by 112% compared with this time five years ago. For trans people, that figure rises to 186%. Figures for West Yorkshire released in June 2022 showed a 39.9% rise in transphobic incidents in that year. Christina, a trans woman who supports victims through the charity TransLeeds, said that she was not surprised by the figure:

“I feel that is significantly low compared to what the real numbers would be because a lot of people don’t report. We still get a lot of mis-gendering, a lot of dead-naming. It doesn’t make someone feel safe when they are trying to report something that has happened to them.”

Last month, we heard our Home Secretary stand on the global stage and tell the world that being gay is not reason enough to seek asylum. There are still 11 countries where being gay carries the death penalty. Is the Home Office suggesting that we send gay people back to countries where they could be killed by their own Governments? Two weeks ago, the Tory party conference hinged on humiliating and scapegoating vulnerable people, with an obsessive focus on trans and gender non-conforming people. The Conservatives seem obsessed with trans and non-binary people. They tell us that our children are at risk simply because of the existence of LGBTQ+ people.

The moment we are in is a dark one. We live in a country that is unsafe for queer people, and have a ruling party that is fuelling transphobia and subsequent hate crime. Trans people and non-binary people have always existed. They will exist in spite of the vitriol, scapegoating and legislation. To any trans person listening, I want to address you directly. I see you, I stand with you and I respect you. I hope that in the face of this hardship, we can support you, and that we do much better for you in law.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Cummins. I am grateful to be able to speak in the debate secured by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), which is particularly important in Hate Crime Awareness Week. His contribution was eloquent and moving, and some of the things he said should horrify us. We should be shocked to the core by the things that he shared, and we should all have pause for thought. The hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) also should have made us all think very deeply about the situation that our society faces.

The statistics shared by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) tell us about the huge increase in hate crime. She spoke about the increase in hate crime in relation to the transgender community, and we have heard clearly from a number of Members about how significant and troubling that is.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) correctly made a point about how frightening the increase in hate crime is. That is all very well but, as he said, it is not the full story, because we know that that crime is under-represented. We also know that it is significantly on the increase, not just here but around the world. That is a particular challenge when we think of the policies of the UK Government, who are not at all minded to consider that fact when they move people around the globe without thinking about the consequences.

It is a time of polarisation of views and positions, as is clear from the online space, if Members ever brave it. Social media companies as well as Governments have a responsibility to deal with the shocking and disgraceful commentary on social media. Fundamentally, no one’s identity should be up for debate. No point of view can possibly excuse hate crime. As politicians, we need to take some responsibility here. Are we always measured and considered? I would say no, not all of us are always measured and considered. We have heard very clearly about some of the commentary coming from the Conservative conference, for instance. I think that was a point well made. Culture wars should never be a political strategy. We should all call it out and be confident in doing so. We need to get a grip on the hostile language that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) spoke about, because we know very well that it does embolden people to commit hate crimes against the LGBT community, who are just trying to live their lives, after all.

It is timely for us to point out how utterly unacceptable and troubling it is that we also see an uptick in other kinds of hate crime. Antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes are increasing at the moment. Whatever angle we look at this from, it is devastating to the LGBT community. It is damaging and erosive to all our communities. Everyone suffers when we accept this shocking attack on people’s identities. It is an unfortunate instinct of the UK Government to try to move along and pretend that this is not happening.

I wonder whether the Minister is able to answer the written question I submitted, which remains unanswered, about the draft Bill on banning conversion therapy. It is overdue, and I wonder if it is overdue because the Government do not want to answer it as they have no intention of following through on their previous commitments. That matters because that in itself has implications for hate crime and the way that people will be treated. As a useful political wedge for those who wish to seek division it might work, but we need to hear commitments here from the UK Government and the Minister that proper action will be taken to deliver a proper ban on conversion therapy, and that there is a commitment to recognising and understanding the impact on LGBT communities of hate crime.

I will conclude by thanking the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington for saying very eloquently that the LGBT community are not our enemy; they are not a threat. I think that is a sensible point to conclude on, because he is right. It is time for us all here to say, “Enough,” and call it out.

It is a pleasure to see you in the chair, Mrs Cummins. I would like to start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for securing this debate, which has been so well attended. When I was shadow Public Health Minister, I had the chance to collaborate with him on his vital work to end the transmission of HIV. His efforts there have been remarkable, and he has set the tone and brought the same kind of spirit to today’s debate. He talked about the stark and horrific reality of hate crime, which should act as a call to action. He made crucial points about reference, which were echoed by my hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle), for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake). We as leaders have a real responsibility in this space.

The debate has been important. I am particularly grateful to colleagues who were able to talk about their personal experiences. People assume that as parliamentarians we are confident in always sharing what can be very deep parts of our personality, but it really has enriched the debate, and I am exceptionally grateful for that. My hon. Friends the Members for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) and for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) made really important points about under-reporting. Our efforts today and the leadership we show from this place—we must hear that from the Minister, and I will have some ideas myself—are the way to drive up reporting and build confidence. We know for too many people that confidence is not there at the moment.

I want to cover the point from the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder). First, to be very clear, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) has a very diverse constituency in Manchester and represents all her constituents, no matter their background—political or otherwise. That T-shirt is not an act of hate. Similarly, we would not interpret condoms at Tory party conferences that say, “Labour isn’t working, but this condom will (*99% of the time)”, as such. We take it in the spirit in which it was meant. I would be saddened if it was not taken in the spirit in which it was meant. I want to put that on the record.

In recent years we have seen incidents of hate crime rise significantly. Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation have risen by almost 500% over the last decade. Crimes targeting transgender identity are up by 1,000%. We would expect to see some increase as we have, as a whole society, pushed to improve reporting, but even from isolating the data to the recent past four years—2018 to 2022—hate crime on the basis of sexual orientation is up by 41% and on the basis of gender identity by 56%. There is a problem here, and reporting alone cannot explain it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said, there are changes in all our communities.

LGBT+ people must be treated fairly, with dignity and with respect. As leaders in this place, our commitment is to treat these issues with sensitivity, rather than to stoke division and pit people against each other. We should be proud of our record as a tolerant country. We should be proud of our progress on equality. As the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) said, we should be overjoyed that we have the most out LGBT+ Members of Parliament of any legislative body in the world. But that progress is not inevitable. We need to hear the Government’s plan to reverse this trend in hate crime and to reverse how LGBT+ people feel today.

Where the Government will not step forward, we stand ready. We are proud that the previous Labour Government did more to advance LGBT+ equality than any in history and, if given the chance, the next will break new ground in this space, too. We would introduce a full and immediate trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy, protecting legitimate talking therapies but closing any consent loopholes that are put in the statute book in the meantime.

We will also strengthen and equalise the law so that anti-LGBT+ and disability hate crimes are treated as aggravated offences. In doing so, we would accept the Law Commission’s recommendations that the aggravated offences regime be extended across five protected characteristics: race, religion, sexual identity, transgender identity and disability. That will ensure that anyone who falls victim to hate crime is treated equally under the law and that the perpetrators of anti-LGBT+ and disability hate can no longer dodge longer sentences. Those commitments sit alongside our broader, crucial pledges to put 13,000 neighbourhood police officers and police community support officers back on our streets and embedded in our communities, so that they can build local relationships to combat hate crime and deter it through their visible presence.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the horrific attack at the Two Brewers in my constituency of Vauxhall on Sunday 13 August. I commend the organisation for working with the police: the perpetrator was caught a month later and he is still on remand. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need more police officers across all our communities to ensure that anyone committing these heinous attacks will feel the full weight of the law?

Absolutely. We want to send a very strong signal that, under a future Labour Government, there would be 13,000 extra staff, compared with the 10,000 fewer we have at the moment, to take back our streets so that those who think they can break the law with impunity find out that they no longer can.

There is a significant point about charging. Our charging commission, chaired by former Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird, will be providing recommendations on raising the scandalously low charge rates that are so damaging to our justice system and are letting criminals off the hook. This is a plan to reverse a legacy of decline. We are determined to turn this situation around, and to make our streets safe with a police and justice system that is fit for the future and that the LGBT+ community can trust to combat hate crime and bring the perpetrators of it to justice.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for securing this debate. It was abundantly clear throughout his remarks that this subject is of significance to him. He relayed his thoughts and personal experiences and, like those of other Members who have contributed to the debate, they were thought-provoking and I thank him for them.

Although the debate is specifically about hate crimes that target the LGBT community, I want to echo the remarks that the Prime Minister made on Monday. He mentioned that hate crime takes various forms and that we must look at the antisemitism of the past few days. We must stand not only with our Jewish community, but with our British Muslim community, too. We stand with both communities. I echo those remarks very firmly because they are important, and I want to lower the temperature of the debate. These matters are felt strongly not only by Members present, but by those in our communities. It does not help when intemperate language is used.

The Government are clear that there is no place for hate in our society. It does not reflect who we are: modern Britain. We are beyond that, but we still have room for improvement. Given the personal nature of these abhorrent crimes, I know how distressing they can be. I have heard some of the experiences of Members from across the House and the political divide. They are really thought-provoking. These things we are joined together on. I know how distressing these crimes are, as has been mentioned, for victims, their families, friends and the wider community. I therefore want to make it clear that any form of hate crime is unacceptable. The Government firmly believe that everyone should be able to lead their life free from discrimination, prejudice and hate. That is precisely why we are tackling all forms of hate crime, not lifting one or two above the other. They are all important to me.

One thing I was impressed with when I came into the House was just how these issues can be debated and how my own party has come so far in proposing marriage that had previously been unacceptable and representing the community. We are still world-leading; I think it is at our peril that we say we are not. There is always more to do, but we must not be too hysterical in language. That provides difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) pointed that out: it can be misused, and it should not be. We should be together on that.

I will carry on a little and then give way. A lot of specific questions were raised, and I want to answer them. I will then give way.

The UK has a proud history of protecting and promoting LGBT rights and the Government are committed to preserving that record. We are clear that victims of hate crime should be supported and the cowards who commit those hateful attacks should be brought to justice. I want to mention that I was delighted to see the Minister for Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), here. That shows the important work that he has been doing and I know through cross-departmental ministerial meetings that he is working incredibly hard on this. I too have spoken to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the deputy commissioner on these issues as safeguarding Minister. They are taken very seriously.

Whatever some Opposition Members may say, I ask them to consider that we still have one of the world’s most comprehensive and robust legislative frameworks for hate crime. Indeed, in 2018 the Government asked the Law Commission to conduct a review of the coverage and approach of hate crime legislation in England and Wales. The Law Commission provided a very long, detailed and considered report. We are grateful for those detailed considerations and for the work put into that. We have responded to and accepted one of the recommendations in that report and will respond to the remaining recommendations shortly.

On online offending, it is evident that in modern life intemperate and illegal remarks can be whipped up online. We continue to work to ensure that people are protected against criminal activity, including threatening behaviour both on and offline. In my work with the National Crime Agency and various police forces, I have found a high level of commitment to improving this arena. There are people doing some very good work, and we must not forget that.

We have robust legislation in place to deal with threatening and abusive behaviour or behaviour that is intended to or is likely to stir up hatred. That applies whether it takes place here, in the wider world, or online. Further to that, we are making hate crime a priority offence in the Online Safety Bill, which, as hon. Members will be aware, has recently completed its passage through Parliament and is awaiting Royal Assent. There are legal duties of care under which technology companies will need to prevent, identify and remove illegal content and activity online. That means that less illegal content, including content that incites hate on the grounds of race, religion or sexual orientation, will appear online and that when it does it will be removed quickly.

The Government have also worked closely to fund True Vision, which is just part of our commitment in this area, for online hate crime reporting. The portal is designed so that victims of all sorts of hate crime do not have to visit a police station to report. We also continue to fund the national online hate crime hub, which is a central capability designed to support individual local police forces in dealing with online hate crime. The hub provides expert advice to police forces to support them in investigating these despicable offences.

There is much other work being done by the Government to broaden education, such as providing more than £3 million in funding between August 2021 and March 2024 to five anti-bullying organisations. There is much work being done, too, in schools to tackle this sort of hate crime. Also, the curriculum in schools is drafted in a way that will promote greater understanding in the field. It would not be fair to characterise the Government as somehow not being engaged and working in this field.

I want to go on to the issue of conversion practices, if I may; I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s patience. The Government have made it clear that conversion practices are abhorrent and have no place in our society. We are grateful to those who have responded to our consultation, which was very wide and well thought-out, and my ministerial colleagues will set out further details on that in due course. I cannot give a timeframe.

We have been promised “very soon” since January this year. Does the Minister have an update on specific dates?

As a junior Minister, I have learned that “very soon” is quite an interesting phrase. All I can say is that hopefully we will have some news very soon.

I will address one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth. He asked whether the Government will end the disparity between the different forms of hate crime, and I know he feels strongly about this issue. It is something that the Law Commission has considered in its recent report. We are considering that further and, again, will have more details shortly.

The Government’s has a proud record on LGBT rights. We have one of the most comprehensive and robust legislative frameworks, but the work on the HIV action plan—

I want to mention and praise the work of the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth on the HIV action plan. We have announced an ambitious target to end new HIV cases by 2030, which represents a lot of work done by the defence community and the UK armed forces. A lot of work has been done there. I have mentioned the ban on conversion therapy, to which we are committed and which was raised by Members in the debate.

The rise in hate crime statistics has been mentioned. At first glance, it is very alarming. The good news is that, generally, hate crimes are on a downward trajectory. However, specific hate crimes, such as those targeted at LGBT people, are on the rise. There has been a characterisation of the figures as given, so I will go through the actual statistics. As hon. Members have said, transgender identity hate crimes have risen by 11%—from 4,262 to 4,732. That is the highest number since the statistics began in the year ending in March 2012, so it is of concern. However, it would be wrong to say that that has been prompted by any particular politician. The report says:

“Transgender issues have been heavily discussed by politicians, the media and on social media over the last year, which may have led to an increase in these offences, or more awareness in the police in the identification and recording of these crimes.”

When we look at statistics, we need to look at the independent assessor, who did not say that, in isolation, the rise in such hate crimes is because politicians are talking about it. It is because this issue is discussed online and in the media. More importantly—I have witnessed this myself—police officers are now more likely to understand it and be able to report it than they were two, three, four or five years ago. Although it is alarming that hate crime in this field has risen by 11%, in some ways we must look for the positive, which is that more people are coming forward.

I just want to make this point: more people are coming forward, which is good news that I welcome. More people are reporting this sort of crime. [Interruption.]

I will make a concluding point. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) made some very important points, and I can speak to him afterwards—

Thank you, Mrs Cummins. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members present today. I particularly thank Opposition Members, but I also want to thank Conservative colleagues for having the courage to speak up on these issues publicly and within their own party.

I am sorry to say that the Minister has shown how completely out of touch she and the Government are with the lived experience of LGBT+ people. To use words such as “hysterical” when we are talking about such serious issues is deeply disappointing. The evidence is there and is very clear. It is unequivocal: hate crime is up, people’s experiences are horrific and we have slipped down the rankings. The question is: when will she and the Government do something about this, rather than just talking and offering warm words?

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of hate crime against the LGBT+ community.

Sitting adjourned.