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Westminster Hall

Volume 738: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2023

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 25 October 2023

[Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Renewable Energy Providers: Planning Considerations

I beg to move,

That this House has considered planning considerations for renewable energy providers.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I am biased, but I think you can never have too many Siobhans in one room. It is great to be here, and I thank everyone for joining us so early on a Wednesday.

This debate really matters to my constituents and local businesses. They are environmentally focused and trying to do the right thing by our planet and for our children and grandchildren, but planning barriers and delays are holding back the renewable potential of the Stroud district and the UK. It is taking years to deliver projects—big projects and little ones alike—and it is not good enough for our constituents, who really want to see progress.

We know that renewable energy sources, as well as critical transmission infrastructure such as grid connections, are vital for the UK to reach net zero by 2050 and decarbonise the power sector by 2035. I have argued for years that technological innovation will provide the solutions that help the UK beat our 2050 target. There are also countless businesses in the Stroud district that show me they will achieve this, because they are leading the way nationally and internationally. It is our businesses that will win the climate battle. It will not be me gluing myself to things or sitting on roads, or getting arrested and stopping people getting to work or going to hospital appointments. I am not going to spend my time being a permanent protester or refusing to recognise where the UK is doing well, just for a political agenda. I want to find practical solutions, and I am going to get things done, using this place in any way I can.

The development of renewables should clearly continue at pace while we transition from oil and gas. The state and local government should protect residents where necessary, but they have to get out of the way wherever possible, and without the taxpayer—all our constituents and everyone in this room—subsidising eco-businesses up the wazoo.

Even in virtue-signalling councils that have declared a climate emergency, planning barriers are causing difficulties for local people. For example, I need clever civil servants and the excellent Minister to help me with issues relating to solar tracking. A local company called Bee Solar Technology contacted me about this many years ago. It is run by a female entrepreneur who, to be frank, gives me a really hard time because she is fed up with some of the problems, but she impresses me every day with her knowledge and desire to make things better for everybody.

Solar tracking systems rotate and follow the sun all day from sunrise to sunset, which enables them to generate more power than static roof or ground-mounted systems. In simple terms, six panels tracking the sun equal approximately 10 panels of static roof system. Fewer panels are needed, and as they are ground-mounted and freestanding, they can be cleaned easily to ensure that we are getting maximum bang for our buck. They can generate direct current electricity from sunlight, even on cloudier days, and people can take the device with them if they move. It works for small homes and big, posh homes, and it can heat a swimming pool, a summer house or a little office at the bottom of the garden.

When we talk about solar, we tend to talk about roof panels, and actually, all the drama is in the massive solar farms, which I will come on to. But people are not well aware of the technology coming through; local planning departments and councils are certainly not. I am not criticising roof panels, as Members will see. I believe they have a vital role to play, particularly against the big solar farms, but everybody I explain solar tracking to thinks it is a really good idea. Indeed, Bee Solar Technology gets lots of inquiries and has won awards, yet it has found that planners do not want to engage or learn properly about new technology, which I think is due to a mixture of being very busy in their jobs, caution and laziness.

The hon. Lady is enlightening us about how solar technology is moving on. On the point about local authorities, I have been approached by the Blackdown Hills Parish Network, a network of councils in my area that represent the Blackdown Hills area of outstanding natural beauty. It suggests that the problem might not be local authority planners but the national planning policy framework that planners have to work in accordance with. Specifically, it fails to give sufficient emphasis to the climate emergency, ecological decline and the principle of leaving the environment in a better state than when we inherited it. Does the hon. Member agree?

I think this is part of the problem. I love parish councils—they often follow the real detail of planning applications and have battles on a day-to-day basis—but while what the hon. Member proposes sounds very worthy and important, what we want is not statements but the mechanisms. At the moment, we have local authorities blaming the Government and the Government saying local authorities have the power, and local people are caught in the middle. I am happy to work with him to look at the NPPF—we know we are getting a new draft; it has been too slow and we need that information soon—but I want to avoid any more well-meaning rhetoric and get to the bottom of how we get some of these projects over the line. That is really important.

Going back to solar tracking, planning applications are getting rejected. Few people can afford to pay for an expensive planning consultant, and they obviously do not want to engage in local long-standing appeals. The Government planning portal on solar planning regulations makes no reference to solar tracking systems because the technology was not available when the regs were published.

I and Melissa Briggs from Bee Solar have done our best to raise awareness. We have written to endless Ministers and Secretaries of State, from even before I became the Member of Parliament for Stroud. The current position is as follows:

“The installation of solar panels and equipment on residential buildings and land may be ‘permitted development’ with no need to apply to the Local Planning Authority for planning permission.”

At that point, we think, “Woo-hoo! We can get there”, but then it goes on:

“There are, however, important limits and conditions, detailed on the following pages, which must be met to benefit from these permitted development rights”—

and the list is long. The conditions set out are not too problematic, but the fact that they must all be met could be. I will give some examples. First,

“No part of the installation should be higher than four metres”.

Why? Nobody can explain the 4-metre rule. It seems pretty arbitrary. The Bee solar systems are 4.3 metres when they are at their most vertical, but just under 4 metres for most of the day. What difference does it make if it is in someone’s private garden or business space whether it is 4 metres or 4.3 metres? We have already established that it is an acceptable amenity of the area. I ask the Minister: can the limit be at least 5 metres, or can we have no restriction at all unless there is a serious visual issue?


“The installation should be at least 5m from the boundary of the property”.

Again, why? That precludes people with smaller gardens, narrow gardens and smaller homes from being able to install renewable technology. Should only people with huge personal land be permitted to benefit from renewable technologies? Can that be reduced to 2.5 metres or be at the discretion of councils, depending on the circumstances?


“The size of the array should be no more than 9 square metres or 3m wide by 3m deep”.

Why? Where has the 9 metres come from? Solar panels have grown since the legislation was published in 2011. They were about 200 W then and are now about 400 W, and panels of upwards of 500 W are becoming commonplace. Can the requirement be removed or adapted to at least 15 square metres, or is there another way through?

I need the Minister and the Department to answer these questions, because I am banging my head against a brick wall. I want them to look closely at whether local authorities already have the powers—even though some of them do not think that they have them—to grant permission for these things, or whether we need to change the regulations. If so, I will work night and day with the Minister to make that happen.

Although I have highlighted the specific technology of solar tracking, the realities of what I have just explained apply to other issues with renewables. Often the planning systems or the planners and the councils—it sounds as though I am giving local authorities a hard time, but they are at the coalface of local people’s applications and inquiries—do not reflect the up-to-date world that we live in, and planners are blaming the Government, so it goes round in a big circle. Without clarity, local people cannot face battling with planning authorities and do not have the resources to engage experts. They will give up—and who can blame them, in some circumstances?

I give my thanks to another organisation, the Big Solar Co-Op, and to Maria Ardley, who is a Stroud co-ordinator. She has set out a number of issues that it faces in trying to get solar on to commercial rooftops. I think we can all agree that that is a good thing to do. The BSC is a national community energy organisation aiming to unlock the huge potential of rooftop solar to cut carbon emissions. Its target is to install 100 MW by 2030, which is equivalent to the energy used by about 30,000 homes. The Stroud team has a target of 400 KW of rooftop solar energy in the first year, which is about eight tennis courts’ worth of roof space. However, it is coming up against some big problems that it had not really appreciated would be there, particularly in an area that is so environmentally focused and a council that is so committed to tackling the climate emergency.

There are plenty of large rooftops in our area that could host solar panels. As a non-profit group, the Big Solar Co-Op is pretty attractive to building managers and business owners, because there is no capital cost. The financial and carbon savings to be made are important for head, heart and planet, but as I said, the planning barriers are holding them back. Maria explained to me that a presumption in favour of rooftop solar, as is the case with Kensington and Chelsea Council, would make things easier for BSC in Stroud and nationally. It allows for well-designed, aesthetically responsible arrays to be professionally designed and installed, even on listed buildings. That could make a huge difference.

I also have a lot of time for CPRE as a charity. The Gloucestershire CPRE works incredibly hard to scrutinise planning applications that affect the countryside and nature and will no doubt have a lot to say about the NPPF needing to be updated, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) said. I note that its position in response to wide concerns about solar farms is to reiterate its commitment to rooftop solar policies. Similarly, Heritage England has released guidance on how to install solar in a way that is sensitive and respectful to the building in question and not scaling out listed buildings.

At the moment, the BSC is working on a fabulous building called the Speech House hotel in the Forest of Dean. I have permission to mention that my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) and his team have been contacted about this recently, so they will be working through the issues too. Due to the rules on curtilage, the owners of the Speech House hotel and BSC must go through full planning application and hire a planning consultant. That is costly and cannot be done each time by a not-for-profit organisation. If the rules are not changed, BSC may have to rule out listed buildings, when these are exactly the properties that we need to help. Gill, the owner of the Speech House hotel, has said:

“We are particularly keen to reduce our carbon footprint as quickly as possible as well as having the need to reduce our overall energy costs. The hotel uses a great amount of electricity daily to provide the services that our customers need and want. These costs have more than doubled over the last twelve months. As a major employer in the Forest of Dean, not only do we need to be sustainable, but also, we need to be able to control our costs to maintain employment and levels of business.”

This is a sensible, conscientious employer who is struggling to make progress. She has a brilliant organisation in BSC, which is raring to help. However, I am informed that the Forest of Dean planners did not engage or inform BSC about the visit to the property, and it has been unable to discuss the matter with them. It has been reported to me that Stroud and other councils find it difficult to engage with planners.

I would be grateful to hear the Minister’s response to the issues raised about applying rooftop solar to commercial buildings and to how issues related to listed buildings could be addressed. Will Ministers replicate what councils such as Kensington and Chelsea Council are doing, or say from the Front Bench whether councils can follow and do this unilaterally right now? That would be helpful, and we could then send that to all councils.

On solar farms—I really appreciate the indulgence of my colleagues on this issue—I represent a rural area, and quite a few constituents have contacted me about the rise of solar farms in the last few years. They are concerned that they are ruining our countryside, with little thought for food security or the future of farming. A meeting with the hard-working Ham and Stone parish council last week brought home the pressures that our small rural villages and communities are under from the development of massive solar farms. Stroud District Council granted permission for a large solar farm at World’s End farm against the advice of the parish council and highways.

At a similar time, neighbouring South Gloucestershire Council approved another massive solar farm, which will effectively join up with the other solar farm and create a huge loss of green space. The practical consequence for residents, post-permission, is that they are trying to work out how the delivery of hundreds of solar panels will work; they will have to come down rural country lanes, past a primary school and over a very weak bridge. I have met a few local families who are devastated by this planning decision.

Local people are worried about climate change and care about the environment, but they feel under siege. Arlingham village fought long and hard against a huge solar farm there; long-standing relationships were broken, and there was a very upsetting loss for one family. A local councillor also told me that during the Arlingham case, it was established that Stroud District Council had already met its renewable energy targets, so local people were perplexed about why the Green-led council was approving planning applications that are wrong for small areas.

This issue has become entirely confused and quite worrying. I have a good friend and constituent who runs a business, and I trust him to provide me with sensible, constructive information about solar farms. That business spends a lot of time consulting local people, and if it is going to apply for a solar farm, it will ensure that it works for the local community. He sets out that the total UK land covered by solar panels is 0.1%, and under 0.2% of agricultural land, yet that is not how many of our communities feel. They feel that solar farms are here, and that there will be more coming, but the Government have not quite got on to the issue.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing a debate that is definitely timely. She raises the issue of consultation. Does she agree that consultation on proposals as far in advance as possible is essential? Local people, whether they are businesses or neighbours, need to understand completely what is coming, so that they can accommodate it where possible. If there is a rising tide of opposition, the applicants need to understand why that is, and try to amend their proposals to take account of any concerns in the area.

I could not agree with the hon. Gentleman more; he says it far more eloquently than I ever could. Consultation is key, and good businesses, as Low Carbon has been, are getting caught in the mix with others who are riding roughshod over local people, and with situations where consultation is not happening. Also, where big solar farms are coming in, there is no compensation to local areas, unlike in the case of wind and other developments.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s contribution to this debate, but my experience of these things is quite different from hers. As both Minister with responsibility for energy and as a local MP, I did not see friendly, local energy companies that wanted to go to the local community. I saw profit-hungry and greedy big firms that did not give a damn what the local people felt. Let us be frank about these kind of businesses: they are less interested in energy than money.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. He is an incredibly experienced local MP with ministerial experience in this field as well. Sadly, our experience on the ground with a lot of applications has been of big applications and big companies not listening to local people. However, I have found a good company and gone through the steps that it takes, and I think it is important for everyone to say that such companies exist. They are the ones that should win out.

A local area is under threat from an application for a potentially huge solar farm, and there would be two tenant farmers in the middle of it. Tenant farms are like gold dust—it is really difficult for any of us to find them for our constituent farmers—yet those farmers will lose their livelihood and home to landowners who could not care a jot about anything. Food security issues are also getting muddled in the mix. I want to highlight what we can achieve by working with good companies, by working sensitively, and by working with communities with solar farms—it is possible to do. It would be remiss of me to be completely down on these things, but I am incredibly worried.

I think that Ministers have said that the rules on solar farms should be changed to protect agricultural land. The Government need to define the protections for land used in food production to make it easier for communities to decide whether a solar farm application is right in the light of the UK’s long-term food security issues. I give credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith), who has done an amazing amount of work, and has proposed amendments that I know the Government have looked at carefully, but such changes will need to go hand in hand with changes to planning rules about rooftop solar, or massive farms will always fill the gaps. Will the Minister give us an update on the issue of solar farms, to reassure local people that even though local planning is erratic, the Government are taking steps to protect agricultural land? What is happening, and when will we feel it on the ground? When will we feel those protections that we say are coming?

Turning to national barriers, I have had some really amazing briefings, and my thanks go to people who are sending them in, including the Conservative Environment Network and RenewableUK. I defer on this to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who will speak for me on a number of the things that she is concerned about. When it comes to the national grid, we want to see the Government looking more lively. The new Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero said at an Onward conference event that she had 99 problems and they are all the national grid. I know that she is working really hard on it, but again, we need to see the detail.

Before I conclude, I again thank all here for indulging me, as this matters so much to Stroud constituents. I have two tiny little children who cause me chaos before I even get here, so this is a lovely, calm existence for me. I look at my baby and I think about the world she is growing up in, and the desire to ensure that we protect nature and the environment runs really deep. I know that many parents feel the same. I get really angry about all the abuse I get from eco-campaigners who say that I do not care. I do care. I care about this every day, but I make no apologies for taking a practical approach to net zero, as I always have done. I can see that the Prime Minister is trying to do the same thing in the face of great opposition.

I have always picked organisations and local businesses to work with, such as WWT Slimbridge, BorgWarner and PHINIA. I am about to ask about hydrogen combustion engines at Prime Minister’s questions. I work with those people to run campaigns that will make a difference, because they are the ones in which I think that I can carry influence. I do that rather than just virtue signalling or shouting into an echo chamber on Twitter. I desperately want to help businesses such as Bee Solar and Big Solar Co-op, who have smart people taking a smart approach to difficult issues.

The Government and local government should remove barriers that do not need to be there. My constituents and I will work on whatever is necessary to make that happen, but as I said, we cannot keep banging our heads against a brick wall. We are answerable to people who come to us saying, “We want these things in our houses, but it is just not happening.” I am very pleased to see the Minister who will respond to the debate in his place; he has so much experience from his career. I look forward to hearing what he and all our colleagues have to say.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) on introducing this important subject with such knowledge. She will not be surprised to hear that I too face a lot of abuse online, but for sometimes taking the opposite position. We on the Opposition Benches are concerned that what the Government call a pragmatic approach to net zero means further delay, which is the one thing we cannot afford.

Net zero should be non-negotiable. At a time when we should be strengthening our climate commitments, it is folly to weaken them. The UK has done well to lead the way on climate change, but recently this Government sadly seem to have given up on the country’s leadership position. How unnecessary! Renewables are the cheapest form of energy and would secure our energy supply. Moving rapidly towards renewables is central to reaching net zero by 2050, and will help to limit the devastating impacts of climate change. The Climate Change Committee has said that we are not moving fast enough towards renewables. Offshore and onshore wind development has been slow, and solar is particularly off-track. It is just not good enough.

The proportion of renewable projects being delayed is on the rise. Grid capacity, which the hon. Member for Stroud mentioned, is the obvious issue. However, the planning process must also be improved. My region of the south-west built the UK’s first transmission-connected solar farm. Despite its success, the developers said that planning was one of the most significant hurdles to delivering renewable energy at scale. Speeding up the planning process is vital; it takes up to five years to gain approval for an offshore wind farm after the application has been submitted to the planning system. We do not have the time for that in this race to net zero.

Resourcing needs to improve. The Planning Inspectorate and statutory consultees do not have enough resources to carry out timely and accurate reviews. It is all well and good saying that there is a debate, and ping-pong about what or who is responsible—is it the national planning framework, or is it local planners? However, if we do not have enough local planners to make these decisions, all these things get desperately delayed. Local government needs more resources and funding to make sure that planning decisions are made in a timely manner; otherwise, there are delayed projects, and delayed progress towards net zero.

The Government must make proper funding available. Local authorities depend on national Government to give them more money, so that the Planning Inspectorate can also do its job. That resource is also missing at national level. That is simply about funding.

On a point of clarity, is the hon. Lady saying that local people should have more say, and local communities should be more empowered, or that they should have less say, and that there should be more direction from the centre? I could not quite understand the point she was making.

I am happy that the right hon. Gentleman made that intervention, and happy to clarify for him. We Liberal Democrats believe passionately in local decision making, so that is obviously what needs to be strengthened, but local decision making cannot happen if we do not have the resources in our planning departments.

We have also been talking about consultation. I was a councillor for ten years, and was always appalled at how poor consultation was, mainly because councils had statutory obligations to consult only in a very small area. Why do we not widen that out, particularly in rural areas? If the obligation is just a matter of distance, then 10 people will be consulted, and awareness of big planning applications will spread only through local knowledge, rather than as a result of the council approaching people directly. Why do councils not do that? Because they do not have the money. If they do not have the statutory obligation to consult widely, they will consult only a small number of people. If we want to strengthen local decision making, that must change. I absolutely believe in local decision making, and if a planning decision does become a national decision—if an inspectorate comes in—then, of course, we do not want delays there either, because delays are unacceptable either way. That applies to any planning decision, by the way, not just renewable planning.

The Government must also do more to remove the barriers to renewable energy. Renewables developers still face a planning system that is stacked against onshore wind. It is treated differently from every other energy source or infrastructure project. If that persists, we will not get the new onshore wind investment we need to rapidly cut bills and boost energy security. Onshore wind farms are actually popular: 74% of voters are supportive of onshore wind, and 76% of people would support a renewable energy project in their area. That support holds strong in places that already have an onshore wind farm; 72% of people who live within five miles of one support building more. That addresses a problem that we have: people are anxious about things that they do not know, and a lot of political hay can be made with that, but when people actually have a wind farm development nearby, they support it. That is not surprising: communities benefit massively from onshore wind, both directly—for example, from developers, through bill reductions—and indirectly, through the wider socioeconomic benefits that such investment can bring.

Carbon Brief calculated that the de facto ban on onshore wind cost consumers £5.1 billion last year. That is unforgivable during a cost of living crisis. Planning rules must not block the benefits of renewable energy. The Government must bring the planning rules for onshore wind in England back in line with those for any other type of energy infrastructure, so that it can compete on a level playing field, and so that each application is determined on its own merits.

We Liberal Democrats recognise the importance of community buy-in. We need to win hearts and minds, and to persuade people that renewable projects are good for their communities. Yes, good consultation is part of that; if local communities feel that they have not been properly consulted, they will get their backs up. I absolutely believe in proper consultation. Only with consent from our communities can we deliver the path to net zero. That is why empowering local communities is so vital. More and more power and decision making has been eroded from local government—I can say that, because I was a councillor between 2004 and 2014. We still had a lot of decision-making powers, but they have been eroded in the last 10 years.

I agree with much of what the hon. Lady says, but when it comes to onshore wind, she must surely acknowledge that consultation often results in opposition. The problem with onshore wind is that too many of the applications are for areas of outstanding natural beauty or beautiful rural areas, rather than, say, docks or industrial estates. Does the hon. Lady think the focus should be on placing onshore wind farms in more suitable locations?

I thank the hon. Member for the intervention. A long time ago, when I was a councillor, a big wind farm was built in my ward. I remember well the local objections to it; people said, “Oh, the beautiful, natural environment of our hills!” The natural environment of the hills had been destroyed decades or centuries ago. There were no trees any more. Local people come forward and talk about our beautiful natural environment, but the natural environment had become like that, and wind farms are now becoming part of the landscape that we are creating for people. Once wind farms are there, people stop objecting to them; surveys are very clear on that.

Of course, it is clear that people are always worried about change. We are building something new and taking away something that was there, but if we are doing so for something that is so important, why can we not make the case that a wind turbine might be a much nicer thing to look at than, for example, a coal-fired power station, which we also need to put somewhere if we need energy? What we do as humans creates some disruption to our local environment, and it has done so forever, so what do we want? We need to get to net zero, build this infrastructure and build wind turbines, including in places where we can see them. As responsible politicians, it is up to us to make the case for that. We have no time to waste: it is a race to net zero, and it is difficult. Yes, some people do not like to look at wind farms.

But this is something of which we can persuade people, and I believe in persuading local people. Yes, that sometimes takes time, but it is for us to do, because we have that persuading power and are in the position of influencing people. That is where we should be, rather than always being on the side of the nay-sayers. That is my honest position. I know that it is not easy; I have been there, too, in my time.

I commend the Liberal Democrats on Bath and North East Somerset Council, which has become the first council in England to adopt an energy-based net zero housing policy. That requires that all new major non-residential buildings must achieve net zero in operational energy. Research from the University of Bath indicates that the policy is likely to establish significant carbon savings in new buildings and reduce energy bills for occupants. Again, did my local council sometimes have difficulty persuading people? Yes, it did, but our local election results show persuasively that where we go out and make the case, we win—even as local councillors. Let us ensure that we persuade people and take them with us. I absolutely believe in that, but I also passionately believe that it is possible to take people with us if we confront people with the alternatives.

Unfortunately, Government funding cuts have forced many local authorities to make sacrifices on climate change policy, as climate change does not come under their statutory duties. That must change. Planning legislation must be bound to our climate change legislation, so that climate change takes greater weight in planning decisions. A major reason why renewable projects are waiting up to 15 years to connect to the grid is that the planning approval process is not adequately focused on the urgency of delivering net zero. The Royal Town Planning Institute argues that nothing should be planned unless the idea has first been demonstrated to be fit for net zero. The Government should certainly consider the institute’s proposals further.

We cannot wait any longer. The UK needs to move further faster towards renewables. Improving the planning system to quicken the building process is an important place to start.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) on securing this important debate.

I have a specific project that I wish to speak about today. I established and chair the all-party parliamentary group for the Celtic sea, and I have championed floating offshore wind, or FLOW, projects across the Celtic sea, working collaboratively with developers, ports, MPs and associated businesses right around the Devon, Cornwall and south Wales coast. I therefore find myself in a particularly difficult position, as are my constituents, on the proposed White Cross wind farm in my North Devon constituency. This project is 80 MW, so it is only a demonstrator project, and it has secured a distribution-level grid connection at Yelland. Given its scale, it has avoided being a national infrastructure project, and decisions about its development now lie with the Marine Management Organisation, which is under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the local planning authority.

The local community is hugely supportive of FLOW. Although there are some environmental concerns about the six proposed turbines, it is the cable corridor that is proving highly controversial. I have been expressing my concerns about the proposed cable route ever since the project came to light. The route submitted to the planning authority involves tunnelling through several miles of sand dunes, a large seaside car park, holiday chalets, a golf course and possibly a world war two munitions dump, and it will take several years to construct. The quickest route to the plug-in point at Yelland is across Crow Point, a very active sand system and highly designated sand dune complex. Although that route is potentially more environmentally contested, it would cause far less damage to hospitality businesses in a constituency that is dependent on its tourism economy. No one has been able to explain to me who decided on the cable corridor, and both the MMO and the local authority advise that they have no influence and cannot comment on whether a better corridor might exist.

White Cross is owned by Flotation Energy, which has recently been taken over by the Japanese company TEPCO. As somebody in the industry observed last night:

“Their website is a disgrace. There is no contact details for anyone within the company. Just a generic reply section. Very poor and unacceptable. They are taking advantage of the consenting regime because they are under 100 MW. Compared to the work done on other projects it is a joke.”

Other developers have fallen over themselves to engage with the APPG, which works cross-party and cross-Government, but not White Cross. I would like to put on the record my wish to meet TEPCO, and for it to explain why it is bulldozing its project through our community.

One of the objectives of the APPG for the Celtic sea has been to co-ordinate a more strategic approach to this new region of offshore renewables, to avoid some of the cable issues seen on the east coast. The APPG’s preference throughout has been to establish a single cable corridor to Devon and Cornwall, and one to south Wales, in order to reduce sea floor damage, as well as cabling onshore as the bigger projects go out to sea. The project, which is ready to bid for a contract, will connect to Pembroke, and I know that the cable corridor there has been well managed, and that landowners have been fully consulted. Local landowners are being threatened with compulsory purchase orders, and businesses were not consulted or advised until the planning application was submitted. Councillors are completely at sea when it comes to dealing with this type of planning application.

Additionally, the project is now taking up almost the entire time of one planning officer, in an area where planning is the biggest factor slowing down commercial development and the building of the homes we so desperately need. I hear that the planning department apparently does not have any planning grounds to reject the application. Any support that the Minister’s team can provide to the council and councillors on planning would be most welcome.

I have spoken with the MMO and it also does not believe it that it has grounds to reject the application, or the ability to challenge it. It appears that the developer has been able to choose a cable route of their suiting, without any agreement with the local community or the bodies that provide the planning and leasing.

My concerns are multiple. There are only two potential grid plug-ins along the north Devon coast, and these are vital national infrastructure resources at this time—Yelland and Alverdiscott. My understanding is that Yelland is smaller, but I have been unable to speak to National Grid ahead of today to clarify whether the White Cross development will completely utilise the capacity at Yelland. The concern is that it will not.

My view, and that of many in my constituency, is this: if we have to endure this level of disruption to get a cable corridor installed on land, does the development maximise the potential of the Yelland socket? There is growing concern that the developers have chosen a scale that avoids being classed as a national infrastructure project and the scrutiny that would come with it. That may mean that the socket is not optimised.

I have asked White Cross why it could not work with the other projects in the region and consider Alverdiscott for its cable. I was advised that it is too far and therefore too expensive. If a strategic view of cable corridors was taken, the costs might be reduced, but I do not believe that this has even been considered.

I recognise that Alverdiscott has had concerns about the situation it finds itself in as a hub for plugging in huge renewable projects. It is vital that communities that are asked to host this sort of infrastructure are properly compensated. White Cross does not seem to have offered any community reimbursement, as recommended in the report by the electricity networks commissioner, Nick Winser.

The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech, and I agree with a lot of what she is saying. As she is talking about compensation, will she explain what compensation would be adequate?

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Please do not think that this is a nimby issue. North Devon is home to the Fullabrook wind farm, which, when it was built, was the largest onshore wind farm in the country, at 66 MW. The project established Fullabrook CIC—community interest company—which was set up with £1 million from the then owners of the wind farm. It has now given over £1.58 million for community projects and receives £100,000 per annum from the current owners. I find it bewildering that White Cross has seemingly made no offer of community involvement. Indeed, its only offer is to decimate huge sections of coastline for its own financial gain.

I am gravely concerned that White Cross is not acting in any way appropriately with this development, and is taking advantage of the planning system, which it has chosen to use. I strongly believe that the entire Celtic sea FLOW project should be considered as one national infrastructure project. That would enable proper strategic planning and ensure that we hit our offshore wind targets, and that communities are included in decisions and appropriately recompensed for hosting infrastructure.

It is increasingly possible that the development will undermine all the support for FLOW that has been generated along this coastline. Hundreds of objections have been lodged, and further meetings are planned by local parishes in the coming weeks. It seems that the developers have carte blanche. As someone who is hugely supportive of the renewable opportunities ahead of us—as is my constituency—I ask that steps are taken to find a way through this cross-departmental maze to have this development withdrawn in its current form; that a better plan for the cabling is devised; that the Yelland socket is optimised, if used; and that the community across North Devon are properly consulted and recompensed for hosting this infrastructure.

With energy security so critical, alongside reaching net zero, surely we can devise a better way to install just six wind turbines, so that we can progress more quickly with these crucial infrastructure projects, with community support and transparency.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) on securing today’s debate, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on her speech. There is no doubt that there will be a lot of overlap in our various comments today. She has just spoken very powerfully about the need for local representation and, frankly, how planning blights so much of the agenda for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

I say that in the context of our country having made tremendous progress over the last decade in the transition to more renewable energy. There is a whole new raft of innovation and technology out there, and we are leading the curve. I also pay tribute to many of our former Energy Ministers who have led what has been quite a taxing issue for the last decade.

As our energy grid is being weaned off fossil fuels, renewable energy accounted for almost 43% of electricity generation in 2020. That represents a very significant increase from 14.6% in 2013 and 2% back in 1991. This country is leading the way, and even in the confines of this debate, I do not think that anyone should overlook what has been achieved. That is welcome, and it is right that we as a nation are moving in the right direction, as well as looking at options for nuclear energy and small-scale nuclear projects, in particular—I say that as a Member of Parliament for the east of England. The Bradwell site is not far from my constituency, and we are looking at all sorts of options there. We should also look at incorporating more efficient energy-saving measures, as well as small-scale solar. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud spoke in a dynamic way about that and the flexibilities needed.

However, with innovation and technology, which we should always encourage and support as a Government through various economic means, we should also look at the planning implications of what all that means, and how it can be practically delivered for our fantastic country. I have many constituents who are deeply frustrated with the planning process, as we all do. I could speak for hours about the planning process, as I have two district councils, one city council, a county council and a town council, as well as various parish councils.

Of course, I will contextualise my remarks. The point about the planning process is that when constituents try to do the right thing—my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud mentioned this—and want to invest in the right measures for renewables, such as double glazing or renovation works, planning prevents them from doing so, particularly in conservation areas. I have a number of conservation areas in my constituency, where people face bureaucratic hurdles to make such changes and where well-designed uPVC—unplasticised polyvinyl chloride—windows, which are sympathetic to conservation areas, are completely refused because of rigid policies. I have raised that matter with Ministers for a long time, particularly in relation to the focus on infrastructure. There is a clear message that planning policies must adapt when innovation and technology around renewables is adapting. The case is often, “This is good for the environment, but our planning processes are just too rigid.”

Turning to larger infrastructure projects, which my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon mentioned, the Winser review into electricity networks was published this summer. It contained a raft of recommendations, many of which were interesting, including those relating to the standardisation of equipment, developing the supply chain and ensuring that the appropriate jobs, skills and training are in place. No one will disagree with any of that; we need it all because we believe in being innovators and pioneers in this space. However, there were also recommendations covering strategic spatial planning and the methods by which locations for infrastructure are determined. That is important, as the public need to be aware of the full impact of new energy infrastructure, including the locations where it is generated, the infrastructure connecting it to the grid and where the energy is needed for use.

In theory, that is all very nice, because if we apply the benefits in the right way, everyone should benefit. However, the review has caused a lot of concern and anxiety for communities across the country, certainly in the east of England, and I speak about this for many of my colleagues in the east of England—not just in Essex, but in Norfolk and Suffolk. The Minister will be familiar with the “great grid upgrade” plans, as it is now being rebranded, for the new transmission infrastructure between Norwich and Tilbury. The plans will lead to 100 miles of overhead power lines and cables—pylons, in layman’s terms—being erected across the countryside of the east of England, including in my constituency.

National Grid is putting forward those plans because new offshore wind energy is being generated off the east of England. All that was set up nearly 10 years ago, and we are proud of that offshore energy grid—the energy coastline, as we call it in the east of England. It is hugely successful and has attracted billions of pounds in foreign direct investment that has come into that offshore process.

The Government want to connect 50 GW of offshore wind to the grid by 2030, and about 60% of the current offshore wind farms will have the energy that they generate come ashore on the east coast. The sites marked for potential development are heavily marketed to investors by the Crown Estate—we can see exactly where this is going in terms of investment opportunities, and the return on investment that people will get—but with a reliance on the power generated connecting into the Norwich substation. Wind farms are being developed, having received consent, and more wind farms are in the pipeline.

There are so many sensitivities around this issue. I should also point out that, due to commercial sensitivities, there is, frankly, a lack of transparency and openness about what is happening. Local communities have no information about what is being proposed and happening on their doorsteps, and shockingly—this is why local communities and local authorities matter—contracts and agreements between promoters and developers of sites, National Grid and central Government have been kept secret. That is simply not acceptable.

On top of that, contracts for difference have been provided by the Government in many cases—again, there is a lack of transparency, and it is inevitable that residents feel angry about the proposals. This situation has led National Grid to put forward the plans for new pylons that have angered so many across the region. Constituents and campaigners feel their views and objections are being run roughshod over. These are closed deals that have been done behind closed doors, involving central Government, promoters and National Grid.

Constituents and campaigners’ concerns have been compounded by the Winser review’s recommendations on community benefits. Recommendation CB2 states:

“Residents of properties close to new overhead lines should receive a defined direct payment. Communities should receive a set amount of money for new visible infrastructure they host. The benefit should be a defined value per kilometre of overhead line (OHL) or an appropriate amount for other visible infrastructure. This benefit would only be available for hosting OHL or other visible infrastructure, (e.g., substations).”

What Winser now calls “a defined direct payment” is what my constituents call “a bribe”, which papers over the cracks of unaccountable decision making and the lack of proper consultation. They feel that the current plans will be imposed on them and any bribe provided is an attempt to buy their silence and agreement. Of course, that assumes that the benefits of the defined direct payment process are in place in time to be relevant to the current plans and proposals. They may not be; we just do not know because nothing is transparent.

Communities across the east of England do not want money; they want a genuine say in the future of their community and countryside and a say in what renewable energy could look like, what infrastructure is needed and where it should go. Winser’s recommendation of developing spatial strategies for communities in the east of England is simply too late because the pylons are advancing at a fast pace. National Grid wants to hold its statutory consultation next year. I am afraid that that is simply too late.

I and many colleagues from across the east of England have been working with the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero to effectively put forward alternative plans. We have been working with the Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), and colleagues in the Department not only to air our frustrations and concerns, but to highlight the lack of transparency. We recognise that legal and planning processes are taking place, so the Government’s powers to intervene are limited. Frankly, however, they need to intervene. We want alternative offshore proposals and have even put forward proposals for what that could look like and how the Government could proceed with a proper and transparent consultation. But much of that is falling on deaf ears.

Communities across the east of England are incredibly worried. The plans will simply be badged and presented as riding roughshod over local communities when they and local authorities are powerless in the face of what is being done to them. That will be detrimental to the Government’s whole proposal for increasing renewable energy, to wider proposals relating to infrastructure, and—this could affect the entire country—to wider infrastructure development on energy going forward.

I recognise that the Minister will not know the ins and outs of the Winser review and what is being proposed around Norwich to Tilbury. However, there are alternatives, and the Government need to listen carefully in relation to the planning issues, the lack of consent and the lack of engagement with communities. That speaks to some of the recommendations and points that have been raised in the debate. We need the right kind of focus and we need community engagement.

If I am perfectly honest, in planning departments across the country, it is no longer just about money; it is about skills and capability. We need planners with the right kind of skills and capability who understand how we can future-proof planning policy in this country, so that we get a planning policy that is fit for purpose on infrastructure development, whether that is energy or transport links. We should think about how we can develop the right capacity and skills, in conjunction with real consultation with local communities.

When societies and civilisations lose their sense of the spiritual—their sight of God—the void is filled by causes, which, like the divine, are immense, inspire guilt and are pursued with intolerant zeal. Our cause, rather like the ancient people who danced for the rain or worshipped the sun, is the weather, which is now almost always described as “the climate”. All can be sacrificed, rather like religious fanaticism, in the name of the pursuit of our climate goals. Whether that is the wellbeing of people in London, who face ULEZ and not being able to get to hospital, school or work, or people across our constituencies who will have to replace their gas boilers with air pumps, costing thousands and thousands of pounds that they can ill afford, or whether it is eating up our most precious agricultural land with acres of onshore solar plants—they are not farms; they are industrial structures—all can be defended, as communities are ridden roughshod.

With his typical skill, my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) teased out of the remaining Liberal Democrat in the Chamber, the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), the dilemma for those whose zeal is such that they want to impose these things on local communities but dare not say so. The truth is that communities are ridden roughshod because of that zeal. Across the country, a blight is coming. That blight will be pylons in Essex, trunking in Devon and the eating up of tens of thousands of acres of the most precious agricultural land in Lincolnshire. That is unacceptable, communities do not want it and their views should be respected.

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but what are the alternatives? Does he not recognise that we need to get to net zero by 2050? We need to provide political leadership to take our communities along with us. We are making the case for community energy, for example, which is a wonderful way to take communities with us. Does he not believe that that is our job—that we take communities with us, rather than denying net zero?

Denying “our goal”, “our God”—I believe it is the hon. Lady’s God, certainly. She is right that it is important that what we do in respect of energy, which I spend a great deal more time thinking about than she ever has, needs to reflect a balance. Everyone who understands energy provision knows that renewables can and should be an important part of an energy mix. Yet they are not nirvana for all kinds of reasons—we need the flexibility provided by the kinds of energy provision that can be switched on and off, in a way that solar and wind cannot—but it is vital that we invest in renewable technology.

That is why, for example, I have been a passionate supporter of offshore wind, which is a very effective way of generating energy in a way that does less harm to the environment than onshore wind, which the hon. Lady champions. That essentially means littering the countryside with small numbers of turbines, which are much less productive, much less concentrated and with countless connections to the grid. That greatly increases transmission and distribution costs, which already represent 15% of every energy bill. It is both economically foolish and environmentally damaging to site wind turbines in presumably thousands of locations across the country, when we can concentrate large numbers of much larger turbines offshore, producing much more energy, with a single point of connection to the grid.

There is a similar situation with solar. I imagine that the hon. Member for Bath will know, as others may, that in Germany a much higher proportion of solar power is located on buildings. In this country, our record is very poor, and I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I would be interested to know what further steps he intends to take to incentivise, indeed oblige, adding solar panels to buildings. Warehouses are springing up all over the country, but I do not see a solar panel on any of them. There are large numbers of industrial sites, commercial sites and all kinds of other places where we could have solar panels.

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. As someone who represents a hugely rural community, I would like to ask this about solar panels. Does he agree that farmers need to be farming, that we face a food security crisis and that we need our land to be productive for food, and that rooftops are indeed the right place to put solar panels?

Absolutely. That brings me to—I do not know whether my hon. Friend anticipated this by a kind of telepathy or just through her wisdom—the next point that I intended to make. Recent worldwide events have taught us of the need for national economic resilience. We are moving to a post-liberal age—thankfully—when we will no longer take the view that we can buy whatever we want from wherever we want and it does not matter how much is produced locally or how far supply lines are extended.

We know that domestic production and manufacture of goods and food is vital for our resilience and security; in order to have that, we need to preserve the best agricultural land to grow the crops that we need. If people were really worried about the environment, they would have thought these things through a little more fully and so understand that shortening supply lines reduces the number of air miles and, indeed, road miles between where food is made and where it is consumed—as we once did—rather than extending supply lines endlessly, with the immense cost to the environment and in every other way. We need more domestic production, but to have more domestic production we must recognise that there should be no industrial solar or wind developments on grade 1, 2 or 3 agricultural land, yet that is exactly what is proposed.

No one can deny that we need an explosion of rooftop solar panels; we Liberal Democrats absolutely agree. But can the right hon. Gentleman give me an example of where good agricultural land has been used for solar farms? I ask because outside Bath, my constituency, a good solar farm has been built on land that cannot be used for food growing.

Let me give the hon. Lady a precise example. In Lincolnshire, there are currently applications for large-scale solar developments equivalent to 62 Hyde Parks, totalling 9,109 hectares or 1.3% of the total land across the county. She may know that Lincolnshire boasts the highest proportion of grade 1, 2 and 3 agricultural land of any county. These solar plants are proposed on the best growing land in the country. Once that land is lost, it will never be regained. There is this nonsense that the solar panels will be there for only 20 or 30 years. What about the 20 or 30 years while they are, when we cannot grow the crops that we need to survive? This is a preposterous circumstance.

I had a meeting this morning with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), and I met at the weekend a Minister of State in the same Department. Those Ministers responsible for the environment and agriculture recognise that it is unacceptable to lose this scale of land—the best growing land in the country—because of these developments, largely by businesses that have no connection with the locality whatever and are entirely careless of the impact that this will have on food production and local communities. This rides roughshod over the wishes of local people and local councillors. It is frankly a scandal that we should do that while simultaneously claiming that we want to build more national resilience through food security. Let us make more of what we consume in this country, here in this country; let us reduce our dependence on places far-off of which we know little—and in many cases wish we knew less; and let us have a Government who respect the interests of local communities and defend our land from this blight.

Finally, there is also the sensitive matter of aesthetics. Do we really value the English landscape, or do we not? Is this going to be a green and pleasant for the generations to come, or is it going to be a place full of industrial wind turbines and large-scale solar developments? I know which of those futures I want for my children and grandchildren. Because I know that the Minister is a fine man with a strong sense of the aesthetic, I rather suspect that he sees that future too, but we need urgent policy to make clear to planners and others that we will not simply allow communities to be beleaguered by blight.

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) on her diligence in obtaining this important debate about the nuts and bolts of how our country gets to a low-carbon renewable energy outcome.

I take it that, with the possible exception of one hon. Member present, there is pretty much a consensus that our country needs as much renewable power as possible, both offshore and onshore, so that we are on target for our climate goals. I also take it that we can organise our energy structures so that they mindful of how our landscape and community work while maximising the output of renewable and low-carbon energy in all circumstances. Clearly, decisions will have to be made about where things are sited, how they are sited and what the most productive use of land is under different circumstances, but those will be made within an overall view that we want to move forward on renewable energy as quickly as possible.

The hon. Member for Stroud identified the problems in a number of those areas, and I would say there are three: the small print, time, and connections. Those problems stand within the choices that we have to make, and resolving them does not undermine the principle that we must move forward on renewables on the basis of an acceptable use of the landscape, acceptable support from local communities, and an acceptable outcome in terms of the national stock of power and connections. We will have to do a lot of work across the landscape in different ways to ensure that we have not only the renewable plant, but the connections for that renewable plant, the planning arrangements for that renewable plant and all those things that work together strategically to enable us to get the best result for renewable energy across the country.

For example, the hon. Member for Stroud identified a number of things in our planning regulations that quite absurdly stand in the way of perfectly good schemes that everybody wants—the local community and so on. It seems to me that there is an overriding responsibility on Government to get that right. Planning regulations should not impede good schemes that are wanted and agreed just because of the small print. There is therefore a substantial job to be done by Government in actually going through those regulations to ensure that they presume in favour of renewable development wherever possible, with proper concern where there are exceptions, but are not written in such a way as to impede those perfectly good schemes.

By the way, in the most recent alleged amelioration by the Government of the problem of planning for onshore wind, it is claimed that they have pretty much come to terms with the development of onshore wind in their most recently announced changes to planning arrangements. They are no such thing in reality. The small print of those changes still effectively bans onshore wind from moving forward, because of the way that footnote 54, in particular, is to be written in national planning frameworks. Alongside the examples mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud, that is an example of how the small print can have big effects on stalling, overthrowing or frustrating renewable and low-carbon development. It needs to be removed.

The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) made the point about just how much time is taken on offshore applications. Time is so important in not only getting these arrangements over the line, but ensuring that the investment happens in the first place. Someone faced with a 12-year process of getting their application sorted out, permissioned, thought about and given the go-ahead faces, among other things, a severe gap—a valley of death, as it were—between their application being progressed and the revenue from that application being arrived at. In many instances, those people will simply go away and not develop. Getting the time right, reducing the amount of time that the Secretary of State can take to make decisions and speeding up the process for renewables across the board are of vital importance. That is another thing that the Government can really have a hand in getting right.

The third question is on connections. We have increasing examples of the distortion of decision making on the siting of ground-mounted solar farms, because the developers of solar farms are faced with virtually no connectivity at distribution network operator level as far as their applications are concerned. They are therefore not necessarily looking for the best site for their solar farm in a particular area; they are looking for the small windows of remaining connectivity that might be possible for their solar farm to develop. They are looking for those permissions before, say, 2035. I have a direct case of that from some people I was talking to recently, who have done exactly that in their application for a solar farm. Unless we can quickly get the connectivity sorted out both offshore and onshore, planning schemes will increasingly be distorted. The Government can do a great deal on that. I hope the Minister will be able to comment on that this morning.

The hon. Member for Stroud has given us a good lesson on the detail and how we need to get the details right to bring the schemes forward.

I was hoping to hear from the shadow Minister, who is so diligent and always gets in the weeds of the details, which I say with the greatest respect, because he looks very carefully at issues, about his leader’s position on planning. The right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) says that he will override local views to get planning applications through—I appreciate he was talking about homes rather than renewables—but how does that work with local people’s concerns and what he says about issues with councils? There is a lot of confusion out there about Labour’s policy, which we know can change with the wind.

I think that what is being referred to is entirely in the context of what I have been saying about the impediments that we have at the moment. It is well known that we have broad support—this has been mentioned in the Chamber today—for particular proposals and a deep, narrow objection among certain people. I am afraid the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) is in that category of people who are just fundamentally opposed to these things, and he has various techniques that he puts forward to underpin that.

Perhaps I could phrase the question in another way for the hon. Gentleman. His party is the largest party in local government and is in control of the London Government Association right now, where the focus is on net zero. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that there is a disregard in the policies of his party for local communities and that it comes at net zero at all costs? That is effectively the stance that he advocates.

No, I am not saying that at all. Indeed, if right hon. and hon. Members have been following what I have said, they will recognise that what I have said from the beginning is that the role of local communities in assenting to arrangements is vital and should not be eroded, but there is a difference between communities dissenting from various things and one or two people completely holding up something because of their particular positions.

We therefore need to achieve a balance in which the planning system recognises what most of the public want, while ensuring proper rights of consultation and objection, and taking broad support through to the end of the planning system. One reason why onshore wind was banned for a long time in this country was that one person could object to a local scheme under the rules that were in place from 2015 onwards, and that would effectively turn the whole thing over. That is just wrong. It should not be tolerated in a planning system that should, in principle, be in favour of renewables and low-carbon energy. That is the balance that needs to be struck with these developments, and the Opposition are committed to achieving that.

I hope the Minister will take from today’s debate that there is a lot of work for Government to do on getting the planning arrangements right for the development of renewable energy and on getting the development right, in terms of the proper arrangements that should exist for local consultation, reputation and possibly compensation. For example—

I am happy to bring my remarks to a close, Ms McDonagh, which I anticipate is what you are going to suggest.

I just want to briefly mention the great work that the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) is doing on the Celtic sea. I think she will agree that we must get the offshore planning right for those developments so that landing can be assessed in terms of a planned arrangement at the start of that process, as it should increasingly be for the North sea, and so that the issues that she raised do not fall outside planning arrangements. That is another thing that the Government can get right; I hope the Minister was listening to the hon. Member for North Devon about how, among other things, they should go forward with the Celtic sea.

It is a great pleasure to respond to this debate and to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) for securing the debate. I am short of time, so although I hope to answer most of the points that she raised, I am happy to get back to her at a later stage if I have not done so. I also thank the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Witham (Priti Patel) and for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) for their contributions.

I want to assure everyone that sustainability remains at the heart of this Government’s ambition for development, and that that includes the protection of the environment and local communities. Energy security and protecting our environment are just some of the key challenges we face in the UK. Meeting those goals is urgent and of critical importance to the country, and we believe that they can be achieved together for the UK.

We believe that renewable energy will play a key role in helping to secure greater energy independence while building a more sustainable and greener future for generations to come. However, the Government recognise that, as with any new infrastructure, there will be local impacts. It is therefore essential that we have a robust planning system that not only helps to deliver energy security, but protects the environment and local communities and supports the Government’s wider ambitions on net zero.

The dramatic rise in global energy prices following the covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has emphasised the urgency of the need to build a strong home-grown renewable sector. Energy security is therefore one of the Government’s greatest priorities. As the British energy security strategy sets out, there is a growing need to diversify our energy sector by growing our nuclear sector, increasing our capacity for renewables across solar, onshore wind and offshore wind, and exploring how hydrogen can be incorporated into the domestic energy supply mix.

Our “Powering Up Britain” policy paper, which was launched in March this year, made clear how important the planning system is to delivering the Government’s commitments on energy security, net zero and energy prices. We need lots of new low-carbon infrastructure, including generation, network connections and storage, as we have heard today. Our national planning policy framework makes it clear that local planning authorities should have a positive strategy in place to promote energy from renewable and low-carbon sources. Last month, we updated the framework in relation to onshore wind. These changes are designed to make it easier and quicker for local planning authorities to consider and, where appropriate, to approve onshore wind projects where there is local support.

I will come to the points that my right hon. Friend made in just a moment.

For nationally significant infrastructure projects, the average time for development consent order applications to be decided increased by 65% between 2012 and 2021, and demand on the system is only increasing. We are therefore bringing forward reforms, as set out in the NSIP action plan, to speed up the process for users of the NSIP planning system, to grow our economy, achieve our environmental and net zero goals and level up jobs and opportunities for local communities.

I am sorry, but I am very tight for time and I want to come to some of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud mentioned.

I turn to community engagement. Early engagement between developers and communities is essential to understanding the impacts of energy development in local areas and to securing appropriate mitigation where impacts cannot be avoided. It is key to securing benefits from projects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud mentioned solar farms. The Government recognise the need to preserve our most productive farmland, as far as possible. The Government seek large-scale ground-mounted solar deployment across mainly brownfield, industrial and low and medium-grade agricultural land. Where significant development on agricultural land is shown to be necessary, the NPPF sets out that areas of poor land quality should be used in preference to those of higher quality. It is proposed that any use of land that falls under Natural England’s BMV—best and most versatile—agricultural land classification will need to be justified during the consideration of a planning application.

Can the Minister say that grade 1, 2 and 3 agricultural land will not be appropriate, and that that will be in the policy? Furthermore, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer) gave me a commitment on wind that topography will be a factor and that wind cannot be sited in areas that will have a disproportionate impact on the landscape.

I hope to come on to my right hon. Friend’s second point. On agricultural land, the BMV classification covers land in grades 1, 2 and 3a, but not 3b.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham for her comments on the plans between Norwich and Tilbury. I am unable to comment on the case directly, but I know that she has met numerous Ministers. She is a brilliant campaigner and champion for her constituents in Essex. If she is struggling to get further meetings, I will help to arrange them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud mentioned rooftop solar. We have recently consulted on changes to permitted development rights for both domestic and non-domestic ground and rooftop solar; further details will be announced in due course. I note her questions and points about solar tracking, and the clarity that she has provided. She is well informed—I certainly was not aware of some of the challenges. At this stage, I am not aware of planned changes to solar tracking, but I will ask the planning Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and to hear the case in respect of companies such Bee Solar and how the rules could evolve with the technology.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon for her work in establishing the all-party parliamentary group for the Celtic sea. I cannot give her the assurance that she seeks today, but I will ask my officials to meet her and her councillors to discuss what she has mentioned and help them to assess the energy system in local plans.

On the points made about planning resourcing, the reason why the planning Minister is not here today is that she is upstairs in a Committee on a statutory instrument that will increase planning fees by 35% for major applications and 25% in other cases. I hope that that goes some way to addressing the points made by the hon. Member for Bath.

I thank hon. Members again; I hope I have left enough time for my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud to respond.

I thank everybody for their contributions. In the examples of local projects in North Devon, Cornwall, Essex and Lincolnshire, the scale of things to do will make the Minister’s hair stand on end, but I am also very clear that this does not all lie at the Government’s door; local authorities can play a huge role in delivering these projects, being more transparent, responding to constituents and being the front door to getting things done. With the confusion that is reigning, we need some clarity and it probably needs to come from the Government and from people like the LGA. I thank everyone again and I thank you for your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered planning considerations for renewable energy providers.

World Arthritis Day

I beg to move,

That this House has considered World Arthritis Day.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. This House was in recess on 12 October, but that date has been celebrated—if that is the right word—as World Arthritis Day since it was established by Arthritis and Rheumatism International in 1996. Its aim is to raise awareness across the world of the existence and impact of rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases, and to educate people about symptoms, preventive measures and treatment options. I thought it might be helpful to bring this debate to the Chamber today—the closest date to World Arthritis Day that we could arrange—to raise awareness, to highlight the extent and impact of arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions in Britain today and to continue the debate on what we can do to mitigate the impact of arthritis.

What is arthritis? Arthritis refers to painful, stiff or restricted joints, which are common symptoms in conditions that cause joint damage or inflammation. They include osteoarthritis, which happens when the body can no longer maintain and repair one or more joints; autoimmune inflammatory arthritis conditions, including axial spondyloarthitis; crystal arthritis such as gout; or symptoms of inflammatory connective tissue diseases, such as lupus. Arthritis is used as an umbrella term for a range of conditions, and that is how I will use it in this debate, although there are certain issues specific to particular conditions that I will mention later.

The subject is worthy of debate for three reasons: first, to recognise the inherent issues in living with arthritis, and how widespread it is; secondly, to highlight the wait for diagnosis and treatment; and thirdly, to understand the economic costs of not dealing with musculoskeletal conditions effectively. We might think that arthritis only affects old ladies, but it is more widespread than that. More than 10 million people in the UK—one in six of our constituents—have arthritis. One in six of our constituents is in pain and experiences fatigue and often restricted mobility.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing forward this debate. In Northern Ireland, where we have a population of 1.95 million, there are 525,000 people living with arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition. That gives some perspective— it is more than one in four. The scale of the issue is massive.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that for those in the early stages, help in dealing with pain and strengthening the muscles can prevent further untimely deterioration? We should ensure that people stop classifying arthritis as an old person’s disease, so we can allow younger people to determine what they have and how to manage the progression that the hon. Gentleman wishes to achieve.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. When we have debated this subject in the past, he has raised the issue of arthritis in Northern Ireland; I am so pleased to see him raising it again. He is right in the perspective that he takes on the breadth of the issue, which affects a wide variety of people. I will come on to that point shortly.

One of my Gedling constituents puts it this way:

“Living with arthritis changes you and turns your world upside down. Things you took for granted become obstacles and daily challenges to be overcome. On a good day, you might not look like you’re living with a chronic condition but it never goes away. It’s hard to plan ahead because you don’t know if you’ll be up to going out or meeting up. Arthritis doesn’t only affect the person with the condition but their family too. I have watched Rheumatoid arthritis rob my mum of a life and now I have it too. It makes me frightened for my daughter’s future.”

Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can improve the futures of people living with arthritis and musculo- skeletal conditions, but not always. In the case of axial spondyloarthritis, in which I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on axial spondyloarthritis, a key challenge remains timely diagnosis. In this country, the condition currently takes an average of eight and a half years to diagnose, which puts us behind most comparable nations in Europe.

The latest report of the national early inflammatory arthritis audit, which is run by the British Society for Rheumatology, found that patients are experiencing diagnostic and treatment delays, with 44% of patients still not referred within the target of three working days and 48% of patients experiencing symptoms for longer than six months prior to referral. Although the average time to treatment has improved in England, having been reduced by three days, delays are an average of 12 days higher than the quality standard of 42 days.

The impact of arthritis is ultimately a human story, but the economic cost is also worth mentioning. According to the Office for National Statistics, 23.3 million working days were lost in 2021 due to musculoskeletal conditions. I have thought about how to put that figure in a way that politicians and politicos can understand. Think back to the winter of discontent in 1979, when 29 million working days were lost due to strike action. That was a politically pivotal year, which was notorious for how many working days were lost, and we are facing the equivalent of 80% of that figure—not just in one year but every year because of musculoskeletal conditions.

People with arthritis are 20% less likely to be in work than people without arthritis. Twelve per cent of sickness absence in the NHS between September 2021 and August 2022 was due to back problems and other MSK conditions. The National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society estimates that

“A patient aged 26 who waits 8.5 years for a diagnosis is likely to lose around £187,000”,

the majority of which derives from a loss of productivity due to reduced employment. The average patient also incurs costs of around £61,000 in out-of-pocket expenses while waiting for a diagnosis. That includes the cost of medication, travelling to appointments and private healthcare appointments, including visits to chiropractors.

I first praise the Government for making musculoskeletal conditions part of the major conditions strategy. Making MSK one of the six major conditions signals the importance of this issue, and I believe that it demonstrates that the Government are serious about tackling it. I hope that it will be understood that there are a range of measures that can be taken to improve matters. The Government have made reducing waiting lists one of their top priorities to improve the lives of those with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions, including those waiting for joint replacement surgery, but I would welcome clarification that it will remain a key Government priority and clarity on how that will remain the case in the face of likely future winter pressures.

According to the British Society for Rheumatology, growing the rheumatology workforce would reduce the health and societal costs of newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis by £50 million, so I welcome clarification from the Minister on plans to grow the rheumatology workforce.

Everyone recognises the valuable role that primary care can play. Raised public awareness can help to encourage early presentation in primary care, but there is also work to be done to help GPs and other healthcare professionals to recognise conditions. I spoke earlier of the delay to the diagnosis of axial spondyloarthritis. Fifty-six per cent. of that delay time occurs in primary care, with GPs often failing to identify the symptoms of axial spondyloarthritis and thinking that the patient may have mechanical back pain or back pain associated with injury. That can lead to repeated primary care visits and causes patients to be bounced around in the system, placing further burdens on the already stretched system. I welcome any opportunity to follow up with the Minister separately on that point, particularly on what can be done to improve public and primary care awareness of these conditions.

World arthritis day only comes once a year, but for those living with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions it is a constant issue. While they might dream of a world free of pain and discomfort, that is not yet a reality. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue on the Floor of the House today and I look forward to hearing further contributions on how we might make that the case.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. Let me first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall) on securing a debate on this hugely important issue. I know that he is a tireless campaigner for those living with arthritis, in particular axial spondyloarthritis, and his experience is invaluable in bringing a voice from that community to this place. He made a very emotive and powerful case in his usual articulate and eloquent way. I would also like to thank him for sharing his constituent Elizabeth’s experience, which shows how much further we still have to go in supporting people with this condition.

I would also like to pay tribute to the outstanding charities that support the 10 million people living with arthritis in the UK. I know that my hon. Friend works closely with the National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society—the NASS—and many other charities, such as Versus Arthritis and the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, which do such fantastic work to support patients and drive improvements in care. He referenced arthritis week—those charities have collectively made arthritis week a resounding success and do stellar work raising awareness not just during that week, but all year round, as my hon. Friend rightly pointed out.

My hon. Friend is also absolutely right to point to the impact that arthritis has on not only people suffering from the condition, but their families and carers. I know from my own experience of growing up with my grandmother, who lived with rheumatoid arthritis, the impact it had not only on her, but on my mother and the wider family. He is also right to highlight the difference that early diagnosis, the quality of care and proper support can make. He raised a number of important points in this debate; I will turn to each one now.

My hon. Friend made a hugely important point about early diagnosis of the condition and set out some of the challenges. He is right to stress the difference that early diagnosis can make to long-term quality of life. Research from charities shows that one year, rather than eight years, to diagnose inflammatory arthritis can save individuals over £150,000 in lost income and medical expenses. I know that NHS England is working hard to improve early diagnosis rates through its GIRFT—getting it right first time— rheumatology programme, which is designed to improve the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients, but I appreciate and recognise that we have further to go on this. I would be very happy to work with my hon. Friend to see what further improvements we can make alongside NHS England.

In terms of treatments for arthritis, the Government are committed to supporting timely and, vitally, consistent access to effective new medicines for NHS patients with arthritis. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recently recommended several new medicines for arthritis and other rheumatological conditions, including Rinvoq, Tremfya and Skyrizi. These allow patients to benefit from pain reduction and an improved quality of life and are now, I understand, routinely available for clinicians to prescribe to eligible NHS patients in line with NICE recommendations.

My hon. Friend was generous in setting out details about the major conditions strategy, and I agree with so much of what he said. In January of this year, we announced our plan to publish the major conditions strategy, which is designed to tackle the key drivers of ill health in England. We have now published our initial report, “Major conditions strategy: case for change and our strategic framework”, which sets out our plan to promote prevention of non-pharmaceutical interventions. The idea is to create a truly personalised approach for patients. I can assure my hon. Friend that my firm commitment is to continue engaging with charities such as Versus Arthritis and the NASS as we develop that strategy going forward. That is absolutely right; in fact, it is critical that we work with those charities to ensure that we are getting it right as we develop the strategy.

I would also like to touch on gene and cell therapies. In my view, having looked into this not just in relation to arthritis but more broadly, they have huge potential. I am passionate about the UK’s status as a life sciences superpower, and I am really pleased that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has launched the innovative licensing and access pathway to reduce the time it takes to get innovative medicines to market. In April of this year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommended Upstaza for aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase deficiency, which is a horrific genetic disorder affecting children. That is the first gene therapy for children with that condition, which is administered directly into the brain through a minimally invasive procedure.

My hon. Friend touched on elective recovery, and he is right to do so, because we know the size of the waiting list and the impact that has on patients. He rightly raised the waiting times for operations that patients often need, such as joint replacements. Of course, alongside that, it will not have escaped his notice that cutting wait lists is one of the Prime Minister’s five priorities. That is why we are putting record staffing numbers and record levels of funding into our health service. We are spending over £8 billion from 2020 to 2025, plus an additional £5.9 billion specifically for capital projects: funding for new beds; new tech and equipment; community diagnostic centres; and surgical hubs. We have virtually eliminated 18-month waits, and from this month patients waiting over 40 weeks will be informed of their right to be treated somewhere with a shorter waiting list—which of course includes those with arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. Patient choice is going to be at the heart of that.

My hon. Friend and I have previously had conversations about prescriptions—particularly free prescriptions—the charges for people with arthritis, and the need to review the current medical exemption list. I believe there has been only one addition to the list since 1968, which was specifically for cancer. I apologise for what may be a disappointing response, but we do not have any plans to make another exemption at this time. However, I would say to my hon. Friend and all those raising this issue that around 89% of prescription items are currently dispensed free of charge, and there are already a wide range of exemptions from prescription charges for those who meet the eligibility criteria.

My hon. Friend has also raised the issue of mental health with me in the past, and we know that about 30% of people with rheumatoid arthritis develop depression within five years of their diagnosis, and that 20% of people with osteoarthritis experience depression or anxiety. Of course, those statistics should concern us. That is why we have made it centrally clear to commissioners at the local level that we expect NHS talking therapies to be integrated into physical healthcare pathways. It is absolutely critical that, alongside their physical health, we also support the mental health of patients. Our NHS long-term plan commits to an additional £2.3 billion a year for the expansion of mental health services by 2024, so that an additional 2 million people can access NHS-funded mental health support.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured by some of the measures that I have outlined today. I recognise that we have to go further, and my hon. Friend made a powerful case for that. To respond to his request for me to work with him, alongside NHS England, to explore how we can do that, my door is of course always open to him and other colleagues on this issue. I would like to thank him again for giving me the opportunity to reiterate our commitment to the very highest standards of care for the 10 million people living with arthritis in this country. I will of course look at what more can be done to address the needs of those affected by arthritis. I will take his points away and give them further thought, so that together we can continue to create the kind of care that patients deserve, to allow them to live their lives to the fullest. I would like to close by again thanking my hon. Friend and the charities for all their work in keeping a spotlight on this issue so that arthritis awareness remains constant in the public eye, not just for one week but every day of the year.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Future of Horseracing

[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the future of horseracing.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and to open this debate on the future of horseracing. As we can see by the sheer number of colleagues who have made the time to come today, it is an issue that affects the whole country, and there is a great deal that we need to do to secure the future of horseracing. That is why I was motivated to call this debate.

We all know that British horseracing is essential to this country’s culture, to our language and many of the idioms that we use, to our heritage, and of course to our economy. It means a huge amount to many, many people. Horseracing is the UK’s second-largest sport, in terms of those who watch it and those who go. It provides great joy and excitement. There are 5 million race-goers annually, with almost 100,000 jobs and more than £4 billion-worth of economic activity in the industry. That ultimately means jobs and pay for those who are employed in horseracing. For those on the Treasury Bench, there is more than £300 million in taxation, which I am sure would not go amiss.

There is also a global significance. British horseracing is the pre-eminent horseracing industry in the world, but it is also under significant challenge. Modern technology has improved British horseracing enormously, but ultimately it is the most ancient of sports. As with many other successful things, many places claim to be the first in the world to have horseracing: some in the Gulf, some in the downs of southern England, and also near Chester, where I grew up—there is a case for saying that the first known horserace, or at least the first on which there was betting, was held near Eaton. Of course, betting is integral to the sport of horseracing—I will come to that in a moment.

My right hon. Friend mentions history, but we believe we have had racing since 1800 in Market Rasen, in my constituency. It depends crucially on betting. Lincolnshire people are sound, sensible and prudent people. The whole future of smaller racecourses such as Rasen is now being put in jeopardy by these affordability tests on betting. I hope my right hon. Friend will give a really powerful speech defending the industry.

I certainly intend to. My right hon. Friend will be the judge of whether I manage to give a powerful speech, but there is certainly a very powerful case for saying that there is a really serious policy error going on that we need to fix. It is having a really serious impact, especially on the mid-size and smaller racecourses.

I am lucky enough to represent Newmarket, in my West Suffolk constituency, which is home to two of the finest—in fact, the two finest—racecourses in the country. It is the global headquarters of flat racing, and it has grown over the 12 years that I have represented it. It is an incredibly important sport for the whole town, with more than 7,000 people in and around Newmarket employed directly and indirectly in horseracing. It generates over £250 million in my constituency, and obviously attracts thousands of others, positively impacting and supporting local businesses, the hospitality trade and the like. It is also integral to the town. The horses walk through town every morning on the way from the stables to the gallops. As my right hon. Friend suggests, I will speak about the problems that affordability checks have brought.

Of course, Stratford-on-Avon racecourse is one such racecourse that has been adversely impacted. I would really welcome the Minister being cognisant of the fact that there is a problem here, when his Department and the Gambling Commission seem to be peddling what I would only describe as drivel about affordability checks being frictionless or racing not being damaged. Clearly, there is damage being done. On the point about how we support racing globally, there is a straightforward lever that we can pull now on the overseas element of the levy—on bets placed here on overseas racing. It is a no-brainer that we should get that done. I think the right hon. Member promised it back in 2018, and it should happen now.

I feel very strongly about this subject, not only because I represent Newmarket but because I had the joy of riding in races at Newmarket. I was the first MP in modern times to win a horserace at Newmarket in 2012. Since then, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who has been an incredible advocate for horseracing and does jumps, which are much harder, has also ridden winners. He always sends me a photograph of him at the winning post. The Minister should note that the fact that another Minister has turned up to support this debate, even though he cannot speak—[Interruption]—although he can cough—shows the strength of feeling on this issue.

I feel incredibly strongly about this; it is personal to me. It is personal to me for two reasons. First, I represent Newmarket and love the sport; and secondly, I have personally participated. I underwent a weight-loss programme almost as exaggerated as that of the former Chancellor, who has just spoken, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), in order to do that.

Three things need to happen. The first is the levy reform that I promised as Culture Secretary in 2018.

Before the right hon. Gentleman moves on to the detailed point, there is a slight danger that the debate is becoming very internalised to racing, racing towns and the immediate racing industry. We also ought to acknowledge that this is one of the big attractors to the UK in a broader sense, in the same way as our cultural offer, other sporting events and architecture are. It is part of the whole scene that makes us attractive for inward investment and inward workers. Is it not important for our country, to attract investment and people, to have that broad range?

I totally agree and could not have put it better myself. That shows the cross-party nature of the work needed to ensure that racing has a bright future, for the reasons the right hon. Gentleman set out and those that I have set out. I completely agree with every word he has said.

I commend the right hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. He said he would outline three reasons why this is important. Can I add a fourth one? With the costs of stabling and even learning to ride escalating, does he agree that there is a danger that the sport will soon be enjoyed only by the elite? Does he agree that steps should be taken to ensure that people of all classes should have access to the sport and the opportunity to take part? In my constituency, we have that. I hope we can agree that as well in this debate.

I could not agree more. The hon. Gentleman’s intervention shows that this is an issue for the whole United Kingdom, and for people of all backgrounds across the country. In my constituency, I have Heads of State rubbing alongside those from every background who love horseracing. It brings people together, and we should celebrate that. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point.

These are the three issues I want to raise with the Minister. The first is levy reform, which was promised. Critically, although we legislated a decade ago that anyone betting on a horserace through an offshore platform counts for the levy, we should also say that anyone betting on an offshore race counts for the levy. Otherwise, people will be increasingly driven to betting on races that happen overseas, and the international problem is significant. Prize money, which entices people to put horses into GB races, at an average of £16,000 per race, is lower than in Ireland, at £22,000, and France, at £24,000. That is not sustainable.

Levy reform is critical, and it is vital that the horseracing and gambling industries come together, shepherded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and bring forward a strong, credible proposal. I say to those who are in and support the gambling industry that they need people to bet on races—that is, real betting, on unknown outcomes, as opposed to computerised betting on a smartphone, where everybody knows they will lose money if they keep going. Horserace betting is a joy and a pleasure for millions. It is the best way to defend gambling, and supporting the horseracing industry is massively in the interests of the gambling industry.

The second issue, which deeply affects my constituents, is the importance of ensuring that some of the necessary occupations for horseracing are on the Migration Advisory Committee’s shortage occupations list. I have written to the Home Office about this issue and they said, “Speak to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.” The DCMS Minister is here today, so this seems an opportune time to raise the issue.

I thank the right hon. Member for securing this important debate. My constituency, Somerton and Frome, contains Wincanton racecourse, alongside many successful training yards and stud farms—including Paul Nicholls Racing and Joe Tizzard Racing. The industry plays an important role, but it is facing a shortage of workers due to our rural location. As the right hon. Member has said, the Migration Advisory Committee has recommended six horseracing roles to be added to the shortage occupation list, but we are waiting for approval from the Home Secretary. I am sad to see that horseracing has become yet another industry paralysed by these inflexible immigration rules. Does the right hon. Member agree that the Home Secretary should urgently approve these recommendations and help British sport?

I agree that the Home Secretary should sign off on the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations; they are based on analysis and fact. If she signs off on them, it shows the system actually working rather than not working. The Migration Advisory Committee has agreed that there is a problem and it is proposing to fix it—and fix it we must.

What assurance has the right hon. Gentleman received from the racing industry as to what training programmes they have got going into the future, when they will not need this to be a permanent feature?

There are significant training programmes already in place in the horseracing industry—for instance, at the British Racing School in my constituency, another British Racing School in Doncaster, and apprenticeship programmes right across the industry. In fact, horseracing is brilliant at taking youngsters, who might not have succeeded in mainstream education, and giving them a wonderful, different career—I know this as a great supporter of those with dyslexia. Horseracing is really good at that and good at the training, but that is not enough; we need to make sure we can hire people from overseas as well.

My third and most important point for the Minister is that the recent gambling review set out to the Gambling Commission the need to ensure that gambling is affordable. Nobody speaks more strongly about the need to control problem gambling than me. As the Secretary of State for DCMS, I brought in the reforms to fixed odds betting terminals, which effectively got their scourge off our high streets. As the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, I expanded the gambling clinics to ensure that there is direct NHS provision for gambling addiction, which is a very serious problem. However, the way that the Gambling Commission is bringing in these so-called affordability checks makes people move from gambling on reputable platforms into unregulated gambling. That is therefore having the directly opposite effect to the intention.

I understand the intention to tackle problem gambling; I have long supported that goal. The problem here is that, in order to tackle the problem of online games designed to hook people in with an adrenalin rush—and give them a certain loss—instead, those who love to have a flutter at the bookies, online, or at the racecourse are being caught in this net. Many people have already closed their betting accounts because they refuse to give highly personal data to the Gambling Commission—and frankly, I can understand why they have done that. This is already happening. It is happening before the Minister has set out his view. It is happening in response to the White Paper, not to Government policy. It is ultra vires from the Gambling Commission—it is getting this wrong and damaging the very objectives it set out to achieve. The Minister can already act on this by simply setting out that the current way that the affordability checks programme is being put in place is counterproductive. If Members want proof of that, I will give them it.

Research by PwC found that the number of customers using unlicensed betting websites more than doubled in one year, from 210,000 in 2019 to 460,000 in 2020. Billions of pounds are now staked on unlicensed betting websites, which do not have support programmes or any identification of people who might have suddenly lost a large amount of money or who display erratic behaviour. They do not contribute to horseracing in the way that they need to, nor do they offer support for problem gambling. This policy has been a mistake, and the Minister needs to change it.

The right hon. Member talks about illegal betting, and a lot of that comes through the use of illegal drones to film races in the first place, which means that the racecourses do not get any revenue. We need to make sure that there is integrity in the filming of sporting events, so that the revenue goes to the right places. The technology is moving on, and there is illegal use of data through the tools he talked about earlier. We must stop illegal drones and betting sites, and make sure that the revenue is going to the right places.

I totally agree. That point is another problem that needs to be addressed, and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. All these problems drive down the amount of money going into horseracing, which has two consequences. One is that there is less prize money, which means that there are fewer horses coming forward and that the UK will lose its pre-eminent position, as well as the tax revenues, jobs and prestige that comes with it. For instance, in 2022, the average number of horses competing in a race was at its lowest since records began in 1995. There is a problem that needs to be fixed.

The second consequence is that there is less money for problem gambling programmes, which we know are needed to help the minority of people who have a problem and need support. This is not only ultra vires from the Gambling Commission, but counterproductive to the goals of those who, like me, care about supporting people who have a gambling addiction. The websites to which people are being driven do nothing to promote safer gambling, do not support sports and do not make any contributions to tax, and the intrusive affordability checks happening right now—let alone what might be threatened in the future—are reducing betting turnover. They are impacting on horseracing and on people’s ability to have a flutter on the horses, which is a leisure activity for the vast majority of people who do it.

In a recent survey of over 14,000 punters, 28% said they will stop betting on horseracing altogether if the current plans for affordability checks are implemented in full. That would be a catastrophe for horseracing, and it would be detrimental to the Chancellor’s wish to sort out the nation’s coffers. Most importantly, it means that those who enjoy gambling responsibly—and who do so in what is now a pretty well-regulated overall framework for ensuring that people get the support they need before the affordability checks are put in place—do not have the opportunity to exercise their right to that pleasure.

I will stop there, as I know many people want to speak. I hope to hear cheerful and positive encouragement from the Minister and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), because our great sport of horseracing needs their support. Critically, we need to make sure that the Gambling Commission supports gambling that people enjoy while also effectively tackling problem gambling, rather than driving people into the darker regions of the internet, where they can get away from any regulation whatsoever. As the Member who represents Newmarket, I am proud to make this case.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) on tabling this important debate. I start by declaring an interest: I am a board member of the Racehorse Owners Association. I have been to the races at the kind invitation of a number of people whose names are in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and I am a modest owner of racehorses; it would probably be better to say that I am the owner of modest racehorses.

I completely forgot to also draw the Chamber’s attention to my registered interests. I have been kindly supported by many people from across horseracing over many years. They support me because I make these arguments; I do not make these arguments because they support me.

I am sure that we are all grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his declaration. Unlike him and my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), I do not seek to ride any winning horses; I just try to back a few, with mixed results. At least when I lose, I know that I am contributing to the levy, as the right hon. Gentleman has encouraged us all to do.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, horseracing is a very successful sport in this country, but it is under increasing threat from foreign competition, particularly from the middle east. Many of our best horses are now sold to race there, where racing is much more profitable than in the United Kingdom.

Whether people like it or not, the vast majority of income for the racing industry comes through betting, one way or another. Owners put an awful lot of money into it without much expectation of return, and I can certainly vouch for that. Betting brings around £350 million a year into the industry. That is much more than the total prize money in the UK. If racing loses that betting income, the problem of horses moving overseas will only get worse. British racing would cease to be the best in the world. That would be terrible for the country as a whole, as well as for individual constituencies.

The right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to focus much of his remarks on the issue of affordability checks, and I want to concentrate on it in the short time available to me. There is an issue of principle here. Who decides how much people can afford to bet on anything? Who decides what people can afford to spend on anything? We are in an interesting situation where the Government are deciding that people should have an affordability check on their betting, but on nothing else. People who spend a modest amount on betting—for example, those who lose £2,000 over 90 days—will undergo enhanced affordability checks.

I will illustrate how absurd the situation is. A racehorse owner might buy 10 horses, and spend £1 million each year at the sales buying those horses. None of that is subject to an affordability check. They then put those 10 horses in training, and pay fees of around £250,000 a year. None of that is subject to an affordability check. But if they were to spend £2,000 betting on those horses over a 90-day period, they would, at the Government’s behest, be subject to an enhanced affordability check. It is complete nonsense. Surely nobody here thinks that those people should be subject to an affordability check on that basis.

The racing industry worries that people who spend an awful lot of money owning and buying horses, and who enjoy having a bet on their horses when they run, will leave the sport, because that betting part will be at risk if the Government go ahead with their plans. That would be tragic for the racing industry and for those people, and it cannot have been the Government’s intention when they introduced affordability checks.

This blanket number is wrong, and why would it apply only to betting? Why is betting frowned upon to such an extent that the Government want to stick their nose in and find out whether I can afford to spend my money—it is my money, after all—on betting? They do not check whether I can afford to buy a pair of shoes, a coat, a suit or anything else. They want to interfere only if I am betting on anything, including horses. There is an important matter of principle here.

The intention behind some of the rules is ridiculous. For example, if someone loses £2,000 over 90 days, they get an enhanced affordability check, but they can offset only seven days of winnings against that. People’s losses are mounted up over 90 days, but they can offset any winnings made over only seven days. That is absolute nonsense. People could literally win £10,000 on the placepots at Cheltenham in March, go to the grand national at Aintree and lose £2,000, and then have to have an affordability check, even though they are £8,000 up. No account is being taken of how much is won in the previous month or two months—only of what was won in the previous seven days. Those arbitrary figures are ridiculous.

People want proportionate checks. We are basically treating everybody who bets on anything in this country as a potential problem gambler, even though the rate of problem gambling in this country is very low, at about 0.3%.

We are very proud to have two racecourses in the Windsor constituency. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that if the checks are introduced, all that will happen is that reasonable people who occasionally bet on horses will go to a black market site, where there will be no checks whatsoever? In fact, they will be exposed to all sorts of risks that we do not want, and there will be no revenue to UK horseracing.

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. How many people will go to the black market is a matter of dispute; it is impossible to know. However, people like a bet, and the chances are that they will keep betting. If they cannot bet on legitimate sites, they will go to illegitimate sites. There is a lot of truth in what my hon. Friend says.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government’s policy on this matter has a Conservative philosophy behind it. We believe that people should be free to spend their money as they wish, and we should not have bookmakers, the Gambling Commission and the Government deciding how much each individual can afford to bet on something. Let people make their own judgments and decisions; we have to have some individual responsibility. Any decisions must be proportionate to the problem, and we are very blessed to have low levels of problem gambling in this country. Those decisions have to focus on the wider impact on the horseracing industry, which cannot cope with the kind of reductions in betting that the right hon. Member for West Suffolk spoke about. That would be a disaster.

Many people in the racing industry think—I would be interested to know what the Minister thinks—that betting on horseracing is a game of skill; it is a matter of checking out the form, the draw, the ground and so on. When I back a horse, I do so scientifically. I can vouch for the fact that they do not always run scientifically, but I pick them scientifically. Does he think that games of skill should be treated differently from games of chance when it comes to betting? I would be interested to know his thoughts on that, because some people think that horseracing should be treated differently.

Many people make a living out of betting—professional gamblers. They go through good runs and bad runs. They will lose more than £2,000 over 90 days on many occasions, but they have won far more than that in the past. We cannot have blanket rules that are not sensible and that do not look at people’s overall patterns of behaviour. On the back of the consultation, I urge the Minister to think again. I urge him to think about making affordability checks proportionate and about Conservative principles, and ask him to have at the forefront of his mind the future of the horseracing industry, which I know he does not want to damage in any way.

If hon. Members can keep their speeches to around eight minutes or less, we should be great with time. I call Laura Farris.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) on securing the debate. I take issue with him on only one point: I think he described Newmarket as the finest headquarters of racing, but as the MP for Lambourn, I have to boast that we have some of the best trainers in the whole of the country. We also have Newbury racecourse, which is probably the best-known destination in my constituency. Collectively, the Lambourn industry employs over 1,000 people and raises nearly £20 million a year for the local economy. Much more than that, it is part of our heritage and our story, and it is a sport that many people in West Berkshire feel incredibly proud of and connected to.

One of the biggest misconceptions about racing arises from a lack of knowledge about animal welfare. I am very proud of how seriously we take animal welfare in my constituency. We have the Valley Equine Hospital, an exceptional veterinary facility that is essentially dedicated to racehorses recovering from races. We also have centres working to retrain racehorses and prepare them for private ownership and a much more sedentary life, such as Retraining of Racehorses, just outside Lambourn, which is run by David Catlow, and HEROS, run by Grace Muir.

On the observation made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk, HEROS, which retrains racehorses, works with a large number of young people—often of school age, but maybe nearing the end of school—who have had difficulties at school and may have troubled backgrounds or other significant obstacles in their life. It has transformed these young people’s lives. Sometimes, working with animals allows people a channel of communication and development that no other channel in their life has afforded.

I say all this because I want to align myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said about racing’s uncertain future as a result of the affordability checks proposed under the review of the Gambling Act 2005. As a starting point, I think the general ambition to tackle problematic gambling is laudable. Problem gambling can ruin lives; it can suck people in. Gambling is highly addictive and can lead to a terrible downward spiral, in which people can lose everything: their marriage, their job, their home, and, in extremis, their life. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is correct to say that it affects a tiny number of people—I think it is 0.3% of the population.

That kind of pernicious gambling has distinct features. It is far more closely connected with the sort of casino-type game typically found online, such as roulette or poker. Problem gambling has far less connection with horseracing, or many other sporting events. Horseracing in particular takes place at sporting events that many people will go to once or twice a year with their friends. They will have a big day out. They will have a flutter and a few drinks, and possibly push the envelope a bit. Greg Wood, the racing correspondent for The Guardian, put it this way in an article last month:

“The basic aim of affordability checks is a reasonable one…But the Gambling Commission’s proposals make the same basic mistake that has plagued the regulation of gambling for the past 20 years. They fail to appreciate the significant differences—in staking patterns, margins, cycles of profit and loss and more—that distinguish betting, on racing and other sport, from fixed-margin gaming products like roulette and online slots.”

There is a deep concern in the racing industry that the measures proposed are disproportionate and will have a significant impact on horseracing overall. It has been said, quite reasonably, that affordability levels are set too low. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley mentioned the £2,000 red flag moment, but the very first affordability check actually kicks in at a loss of £125 over 30 days—a loss that someone could easily incur at one race meeting alone.

By setting out a fixed figure, the proposal fails to take into account income differentials, or previous winnings made outside a very narrow window. It is also unclear how, if at all, affordability checks can really be “frictionless”, as the Gambling Commission has suggested, when there is no real mechanism to ensure that they are. The head of the Lambourn Trainers Association wrote to me yesterday, and said that bookies in Newbury have already started to bring in the checks, which require proof of earnings, such as payslips, even before any legislation has been brought in. The Gambling Commission has said that the most intrusive checks will apply to around only 3% of gamblers, but think about that: there are just under 32 million active gambling accounts held in the UK. Three per cent of that is still hundreds of thousands of people.

Half of all racegoers who responded to a survey conducted by British racing this October said they would either bet much less or stop betting altogether if they were required to provide proof of income. Most significantly, four out of 10 said that they would explore black market options instead. All that has the potential to be devastating. As the Minister will know, the White Paper estimates that the new protections would reduce horseracing betting gross gambling yields by somewhere between 6% and 11%, and that is before we take into account the behaviour of punters who do not particularly fancy a day at the races at which they have to prove their earnings.

This change will affect prize money, when British racing already pays out far less than its nearest competitors, such as Ireland and France, not to mention the middle east. If people cannot have a flutter, that will affect numbers going to the racecourse. It will also affect the value of media rights, which are integral to racing, the British Horseracing Authority says that it will seriously affect the levy and set horseracing on a path to financial decline.

I will make a final point about the levy. At present, racing receives a return of just over 2.8% of the total £10 billion that is spent on sport overall. That is the lowest of any major racing nation. The BHA estimates that the cost of affordability checks will result in an 11% reduction to the levy. That is money that would go directly to activities such as animal welfare, veterinary science and education—things that are crucial to helping the industry to develop and thrive.

I close by saying that if the Government wish to see British horseracing thrive, as I believe they do, they should remove racing from the affordability threshold test, recognising the difference between betting in sport and online gambling. Secondarily, the Government should increase the percentage of the levy that is paid to British racing, to support more competitive prize money, funding for equine welfare development and all the other things that I listed at the beginning of my speech, and to bring us in line with our international competitors.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) on securing this debate. He is a passionate champion of British horseracing.

As an equine vet, I am absolutely passionate about this sector; I believe that it has a strong future, but we firmly need to look out for it and protect it. I should declare my professional and personal interests in this area. I am a veterinary surgeon, a fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and a member of the British Equine Veterinary Association. I was a member of the BHA’s whip consultation steering group and a part of the BHA-convened horse and society group. In my past career, I have received research moneys from the Horserace Betting Levy Board and from the Horse Trust for veterinary research in equine health and welfare. I have chaired the World Horse Welfare conference for the last couple of years. Finally, I am an officer of the all-party parliamentary group on the horse.

I firmly believe that the future for this sector is strong. As we have heard in previous speeches, it provides £4.1 billion to the economy; it employs 20,000 people directly, and perhaps over 80,000 indirectly; there are 5 million racegoers a year, making it the second largest sport after football in this country; and there are 59 courses in the UK, hosting some of the great races, including the 1,000 Guineas, the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, the Oaks, the St Leger, the Cheltenham gold cup and the grand national. In addition, there are 550 training yards, 660 stud farms and upwards of 14,000 horses in training.

I will restrict my comments today to certain areas. I will touch on money and finance, but I will focus on the people, the horses and the social licence. On the people involved, as we have heard, there are significant staff shortages in this sector, and the Migration Advisory Committee recommended earlier this month that certain parts of the equine sector be added to the shortage occupation list. I encourage the Government to accept that proposal. Also, there is potentially a shortage of vets, so we need to increase capacity and the training of vets, but we must also work to increase retention in the profession.

There is also the issue of people coming into the horse world. Many young people who come into this world do so through riding schools. However, there has been a 15% reduction in the number of riding schools since 2018, so that is also something we need to look at. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, produced a report on rural mental health. That involved talking to people in rural communities about their connectivity, transport and housing issues. People who work in the sector that we are discussing are affected by those issues, which we also need to look at.

To have a thriving horseracing industry, we need healthy horses, so we need to look out for their health and welfare. Biosecurity is absolutely pivotal in that regard, as is disease surveillance. Sadly, a few years ago we lost the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, but the Cambridge vet school had the foresight to take in the trust’s senior workers—Richard Newton, Fleur Whitlock and Máire O’Brien—so the equine infectious disease surveillance unit still exists. That is so important as an early warning system to keep the equine population safe.

Over the last few years, in the coronavirus pandemic, we saw the impact of a disease that is infectious to humans. In 2001, in the foot and mouth epidemic, racing was shut down, even though horses are not affected by foot and mouth virus.

During the equine influenza outbreak in 2019, British horseracing shut down for a short period, and in 2022 there was a shortage of flu vaccines for horses; so we need to keep an eye on the availability of medicines and vaccines. Heaven forbid we get an exotic disease such as African horse sickness coming into our country, but if we did the impact would be catastrophic—the level of magnitude of foot and mouth disease—so we need to be very, very clear on that.

I realise this is not the Minister’s responsibility, but the future of horseracing needs to be looked at by DCMS and also the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and across Government. We need to adequately fund the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which needs a rebuild and redevelopment. The Government have committed £1.2 billion, but it needs another £1.6 billion. We had the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary in front of the EFRA Committee yesterday and they are clear that the agency needs to be redeveloped. Again, I put that on the record.

On EFRA we produced a report on the movement of animals across borders. Some of the key recommendations included improving the equine identification system in central databases. People involved in the horseracing industry will know about the free, safe and practical movement of horses. Prior to leaving the EU there was the tripartite agreement between the UK, France and Ireland. We need to get a good replacement for that, so that the high performance élite animals can be moved safely and practically.

Equally, we need to improve identification so that we can stop the abhorrent practice of horses being illegally exported to Europe for slaughter. We must clamp down on that.

I will say something briefly about money, although that has been covered by colleagues. On the Horserace Betting Levy Board, there is a need for reform. It is important to make sure that part of the moneys coming in gets put back into the sector to support the people and the horses in terms of improving racing and breeding and also the advancement of veterinary science and research. The HBLB does great work in producing codes of practice in infectious diseases.

On the social licence, it is so important for horseracing to have that contract with the public and the public consent for that great sport to be allowed to continue. I believe that racing gets that. The British Horseracing Authority’s whip review has started that work. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) mentioned equine welfare. Some great work has been done by the BHA’s Horse Welfare Board, which produced the “A life well-lived” document.

We need to ensure that we support foals from birth to the start of their racing career and through to retirement and beyond. I firmly back my hon. Friend’s comments on the Retraining of Racehorses charity. We must look after the animals throughout their entire journey.

On safety and welfare, there are increasing veterinary checks in racing to make it a safer sport for the horses and the jockeys. That is an important part of the social licence as well. In Australia they have had lots more pre-racing diagnostic imaging panels set up for the Melbourne cup, which is something that is being looked at internationally. There is increasing research into injuries and fatalities.

I very much welcome the grand national’s changes for next year. Over the years we have seen changes in the jumps, but next year they will be reducing the number of runners from 40 to 34. The first fence will be brought closer to the start and there will be a standing start to reduce the speed of the horses when they take the first jump. It is important that the industry is aware of that, so that that social licence granted by the public continues moving forward. I believe the racing industry gets it, and we need to move forward on that.

If we look after the people and the horses and have sensible and pragmatic financing, and put some of that financing back into supporting those people and horses, the future of racing will be bright.

I apologise for being a couple of minutes late, Mr Hosie; I was taking part in the Select Committee Chair vote, which was delayed because of the main vote. May I congratulate the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) on securing the debate and say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship? I need to declare that I am the joint chair of the all-party parliamentary group on racing and bloodstock. I have Cheltenham Racecourse in my constituency. I also have an entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I receive occasional hospitality at racecourses, and up to the end of June I was an adviser to the Betting and Gaming Council.

I do not want to repeat what has been said, other than to say that I agree with pretty much every word spoken so far. British horseracing is the best in the world but, rather paradoxically, it is probably the worst funded. The money it generates for a constituency such as mine, in just four days in March, was estimated at the last count to be about £270 million for the whole area. That is not just the racecourse, but the hotels, restaurants, pubs, taxi companies and everything else, and that is replicated across the country. It is important that we understand what we are dealing with here. It is easy to see Royal Ascot and the Derby with people in fine clothes, top hats and everything else and think that horseracing is a very rich sport. It is known as the sport of kings—it is in some ways—but that is the top 1%. The rest of the pyramid is very poor indeed.

We have heard some figures already, but I want to mention how, quite often, at the lower end, where horses start, the prize money can be as low as £2,000 per race. When we take the jockey and trainer’s cuts out of that, along with other costs, the owner is left with very little, and to break even at the lower level, an owner would have to win about 12 or 13 races a year. They are not going to do that, so they have guaranteed losses. This is no exaggeration: the whole sport’s future is dependent on owners being prepared to continue to lose money and we cannot make that situation any worse. The prize money in this country is lower than in France and Ireland. When I last checked, the prize money in Hong Kong was 15 times the prize money in this country. We really do have an issue and it is important that we understand the starting point.

Secondly, the link with betting is crucial. As we have heard, betting companies pay about £365 million into racing every year through the statutory levy, picture rights and sponsorship. They will only continue to do so as long as racing is a profitable product for them. It is very important that they do. I only have a slight caveat to add to what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk said about the reform of the levy. I understand where he is coming from, but we must not think we can mop up the losses that will be caused by the affordability checks with the levy. That is not a trade-off worth considering and I must stress that it will not work like that.

These days, Governments have very little say in or influence on the running of horseracing, except with regard to the levy and, rather unfortunately, some of the rules that the Government are considering setting out for gambling. I must say first that I have known people who have suffered addictions. I have also been heartbroken, as we all have, by some of the stories I have read about people who have taken their own lives because their gambling habits got out of hand. I am horrified by those stories and am firmly with the Government in wanting to address those terrible situations. The question is: how do we do that best?

We have to understand that somebody who loses more money than might be good for them is not necessarily an addict. The two things are different. Addiction is a very different thing and has to be properly addressed. I suggest we make sure that gambling companies put systems in place that detect people who have or who might develop problems and then take action to prevent those problems occurring. I am not convinced that we will achieve that with the proposals. Indeed, paradoxically, we could actually end up missing the people who need most of the help. I want to see the Government take a step back on this, have a look at what we are doing and see the damage that could be done to horseracing without actually helping the people we all want to see helped.

The Government have frequently said that the checks will be frictionless and that people will not even notice them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) said, they will apply to just 3% of punters. To start with, it depends how we calculate the 3%. However, I am really concerned about how, in a recent survey of 14,000 people who bet, more than a quarter said they had already had affordability checks carried out on them even though the system is not in place yet. How bad is it going to get if the Gambling Commission is allowed to run away with this? I just do not know how much damage it could do to horseracing.

British horseracing is the best in the world. We have the iconic races: the grand national, the Derby, the Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham gold cup. That is how people view this country. It is a fantastic sport, but it is under threat. I know for certain that the Government, who I support, would not want to do any damage to the horseracing industry. The Minister is always available and very willing to have discussions. I thank him for that, but we need to have more detailed discussion to see how we can help those we all want to help. No one wants to see people harmed as a result of any kind of addiction. Lots of people go in pubs, but the last person we want in a pub is someone with a drinking problem. That is how we must view this. I ask the Minister and the Government to be prepared to hold even further discussions with us beyond the consultation, so that we can get this right together.

Thank you, Mr Hosie, for chairing this debate, which has been fascinating. I have learned a huge amount about British racing. I declare an interest: I do not represent Newmarket or Cheltenham, but Fakenham—a fantastically formed, albeit small, national hunt course—is in my constituency. The topography is such that one can see the entire race from the stands. It is a really lovely place, and it employs 132 people on race days, all from Fakenham and the surrounding area. It is not just about the direct employment; the beneficial impact of having a course like Fakenham in my constituency is more widely felt like that in the town—

I have a confession to make: Fakenham was the first racecourse I ever went to. When I went, it had a chase course that went out beyond the point. Would my hon. Friend agree that the supply chain for British racing extends out of training centres and the courses we know about, into the countryside and studs? Its tentacles go right through towns in this country into those licenced betting offices that are features of all our towns. There are people employed in that wider industry on high streets everywhere around this country.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is quite right. It is not just about the betting offices in towns, but the restaurants and hotels that are supported by Fakenham race days. I declare an interest: I have enjoyed a day’s racing at Fakenham courtesy of the racecourse’s trustees. I think they threw in a sandwich as well. That should be included on the record. It was delicious. I hope to go again later this year—[Laughter]—depending on the outcome of this debate.

Many Members have spoken about the benefits to the national economy of racing. I will not repeat them; they have been well rehearsed. I want to focus on the local benefits of racing to rural communities like mine. The Gambling Act review is causing Fakenham huge concern. The proposed enhanced checks for problem gamblers will be incredibly important for two communities: problem gamblers—they must be assisted, not hurt, by this decision—and the racing industry. It is a truism that, like any important decision, it should be based on best evidence, not ideology.

Judging by this debate, which I have listened to, there appears to be a massive conflict of evidence. It depends on who one listens to. According to the racing industry, the existing checks to reduce problem gamblers have not had a minimal impact and have not been taken in the industry’s stride. In fact, they have cost it about £1 billion. It is argued that as a result of this withdrawal of cash from the industry, about 1,000 racehorses have been taken out of training, bringing the number in training comfortably below 15,000 for the first time in a long time. That is a very heavy impact on the industry.

Perhaps it is worth it. Perhaps the benefits of the current checks on problem gamblers are so positive that it is worth imposing a cost of £1 billion on the racing industry. But they have been in place for two years now. What does the evidence show us? There were nine characteristics of harm from gambling that were associated with the assessment of the efficacy of these new rules. Have they changed? I am sorry to say that despite costing the industry £1 billion, of those nine measures of gambling-related harm, not a single one has improved during that period.

At the very least, this should cause the Government to pause for consideration, rather than doubling down on yet more of the same seemingly failed approach. Losing £1 billion for no measurable impact on the nine metrics that the Gambling Commission considered were the right ones to measure is not a result that would lead one to think, “Oh yes, we need to go further in the same direction.” The Gambling Commission tells us that the current proposals will also have very little, or minimal, impact on the industry. As one of the other contributors has mentioned, it says that about 3% of the accounts will be affected. But the evidence from the industry is that this is already incorrect. Somebody only has to read the front page of the Racing Post, of which I hope many Members here are subscribers, to see the multiple accounts of people changing their betting habits even before the new restrictions come in.

Just this month, there was a survey in which 15,000 racing gamblers took part—so a very substantial survey. More than 50% said they would stop betting or significantly reduce their betting because of these personally intrusive checks, which include one’s job title and postcode, while 40% of them said that they would consider moving towards black market betting, which 10% have already done. What outcome are the Government seeking to achieve for those with problems in gambling? Is it to drive and increase the size and scope of the black market industry, where there is no regulation at all, and where problem gambling is actively encouraged because it maximises profitability? If that is what they want to do, just the threat of this consultation review is already causing that to happen.

My hon. Friend is making a very good speech and I agree with everything that he is saying. Does he also recognise the danger of driving people towards international gambling organisations online, which, although perfectly legal, have none of the checks that we would have, and where, as he is describing about the black market, they have all the incentives in the system to drive people into addiction?

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s contribution. Of course, he is absolutely right. There are many seemingly unintended consequences of the current proposals. I have yet to see any worked examples backed by genuine evidence, as opposed to the expressions of hope from the Gambling Commission, that support an alternative interpretation.

If we are worried about unintended consequences, I encourage the Minister during this welcome consultation to follow the evidence and not ideology; to support rural employers like Fakenham; to support the fantastic day out that racing provides to 5 million people a year and the pleasure that it gives them; to support the economies that rely on racing in places like Fakenham and around the country; to support fun betting, which in itself provides revenue to help the 0.3% of the gambling public that has a serious problem; and to support the long-term future of this fantastic racing industry in our country.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hosie, and for a change, I actually mean that this time around. Can I start with an apology to Members for being a little late for the start, and particularly to the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) for missing the opening couple of minutes of his remarks? From the Australian jungle with Ant and Dec to the Vietnamese jungle with the SAS to plain old Westminster Hall, it is indeed a pleasure to see him here. I agreed with a chunk of what he said, but I have to say that I disagree with what he and many others on the Tory Benches said about affordability, which I will come to later.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and I seem to have found ourselves on different sides of just about every argument since I was elected in 2015. He made a comparison between spending on gambling and spending on suits and shoes and other forms of expenditure. The contribution from the hon. Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), who spoke of how severe the issues are with problem gambling, shows how ridiculous that analogy actually is.

In my first year as an MP, one of the first cases I took was from a chap in Linwood who had lost absolutely everything because of his problem gambling. He then spent a long time campaigning to try to improve the lot of others and some of the safeguards around gambling. I very much remember that case and have obviously stuck up for that.

Given that he is particularly concerned about the damage that certain things do, and affordability checks are therefore important in that, does he believe that affordability checks should be brought in for people who buy alcohol, since alcohol does far more damage to people than gambling?

When we talk about gambling, we often compare it with alcohol and tobacco, so that is a perfectly fair challenge. The Scottish Government have tried to recognise the harms of alcohol, with our minimum unit price on it.

But it is a problem, so that supports my argument, not the hon. Gentleman’s, I would suggest. I will come on to affordability checks later and if he wants to intervene then, he is more than welcome to do so.

With that all being said, the Scottish Government obviously recognise the benefits of racing to the economy and the positive impact that it has had on employment in communities across Scotland. The 2018 annual review highlighted that the sport generated more than £300 million to the Scottish economy, as well as sustaining nearly 3,500 full-time equivalent jobs. Who can forget that, yet again, Corach Rambler brought home the grand national to Scotland earlier this year? According to Scottish Racing, by 2025, the impact of Scottish racing is projected to rise from just over £300 million to half a billion pounds of revenue for Scotland’s economy, with £50 million in tax revenues. Each year, most of that goes to the Scottish Government.

Racing remains the second most popularly attended sport in Scotland after football. It attracts a diverse section of society, with nearly nine out of 10 racegoers comprising people from both middle and lower socioeconomic groups. Females account for over half of all race-goers in Scotland, and it is set to support 3,700 jobs, including in employment across Scotland’s racecourses and tourism activities supported by race-goers. It also supports or sustains jobs through the development of racehorses such as Corach Rambler, media coverage of race days and off-course betting.

From time to time, all of us will receive, particularly around the grand national and what have you, a number of emails about animal welfare in relation to horseracing. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) can speak better than the rest of us combined on this issue, given his depth of knowledge, so it was good to have his input, too.

Animal welfare is covered by devolved legislation, which makes the keeper of an animal responsible for its welfare and permits the prosecution of those who do not ensure such welfare, such as the need for a suitable environment, and so on. The British Horseracing Authority, which I have met a couple of times over the years, assures us that it complies with all aspects of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 through its rules of racing and the licensing and inspection of participants. It works closely with a range of animal welfare organisations, such as World Horse Welfare, to maintain and promote horse welfare. The BHA also seeks to minimise the risk of injury and fatality to thoroughbred horses on racecourses, and it records and analyses such incidents.

Much of today’s discussion has been about the gambling levy and affordability. We in the SNP think that the gambling levy should go further to tackle gambling-related harms, such as by dealing with advertising, regulating online bookmakers and ensuring that the levy funding is allocated properly. As the Minister will know, this is a completely reserved matter, and a review took place that generated some 16,000 responses. Forty-seven per cent of people surveyed in the UK had gambled in some way in the four weeks before the survey. Most gambling—I am happy to admit that I very occasionally dabble, although it has been a number of years since I have done so—is done without any harm. However, for those who face problem gambling, the impact can be harmful and addictive, with one person committing suicide in the UK every day because of gambling-related harms. Thankfully, the Gambling Act will be modernised and made more effective for the digital age by providing adequate protections, notwithstanding a lot of the very good points made about some of the overseas websites, which we need to do more to address.

I think I heard the hon. Gentleman repeat the figure of one person committing suicide every day as a result of gambling. He should know that that figure is not accurate but has virtually been plucked out of thin air. If he wants to give a quote for the basis of the figure, I would love to hear it. The figure, which has often been quoted by Gambling with Lives, has been debunked, not least by the Gambling Commission. I hope he will not rely on that dodgy information.

That is the other side of the argument. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I am happy to write to him with the source of the figure I am using.

Two million families in the UK are blighted by problem gambling, and more than 55,000 children aged between 11 and 16 are addicted to gambling, with 60% of the gambling industry’s profits coming from 5% of gamblers. A poll by Clean Up Gambling found that 72% of the public supported affordability checks for those who want to bet more than £100 a month, and 74% supported limits on how much money can be staked on a single online bet. Without affordability being addressed, individuals suffering from gambling harm will switch between online operators and continue losing money, with potentially catastrophic consequences, as I outlined by mentioning my constituent and, indeed—

I bow to no one in my support for tackling problem gambling. I went toe to toe with the gambling industry by introducing FOBTs as Secretary of State, to its great unhappiness, but is the industry not right on this? The hon. Gentleman just said that the public want action on online gambling, but it comes down to this point: gambling on horseracing is materially different from gambling on games of pure chance, whereby people know they are going to lose over time because the technology is designed in such a way that there is no fluke, no luck and no skill. The two are materially different. If we do not understand that, we will simply end up destroying a sport to try to protect people from something completely different.

I accept the premise of the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but that is why the SNP is calling for a smart gambling levy that is scaled to the damage that gambling does. There has obviously been cross-party agreement on FOBTs over the past couple of years, but the levy would be higher. We can agree to disagree on many things, but we can certainly agree on others.

I have another couple of points that I would like to make, but time has defeated me. I should perhaps not be so generous in taking interventions next time around.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) on securing this important debate. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, I attended Donny races along with many others from Barnsley, South Yorkshire and across the country.

Horseracing is our country’s second largest sport—second only to football. Each year, races attract over 5 million spectators across the country, but it is not just people who attend the races that benefit from the sport. Horseracing supports 80,000 jobs and generates more than £4 billion a year for the country, giving it a wider economic importance, as the hon. Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) and many others said. That is without mentioning the impact the industry has in generating a positive view of our country across the world, with events like Royal Ascot attracting international competitors and spectators. With that in mind, the future of racing must be protected for generations to come.

In recent years, however, horseracing has been at risk of decline. Further to the pandemic, which cost millions in lost revenue, trainers are now also bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis. That has impacted everything from the price of feed to the cost of transportation, but British horseracing was facing serious concerns even before these challenges. The UK has experienced a drop in the percentage of grade 1 races that it holds, as well as a crisis in equine talent moving abroad.

One of the underlying causes of the decline is the level of prize money available to British competitions. Despite reaching record highs in 2022, British prize levels are still significantly lower than rival competitions in France, Ireland, the USA, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong, as the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) mentioned. A poor prize pot means poor incentives for everyone in the racing industry—from owners to spectators—to compete and take an interest in British competition.

The racing industry has gone to great efforts to prevent decline and to see the sport grow. For example, as part of their new long-term industry strategy, the BHA has worked hard to secure a boost to prize funds and to publish a 2024 fixture list that includes 170 premier race days. Likewise, the betting industry has continued to foster its relationship with racing, including spending £125 million on marketing to promote racing. Despite that, more must still be done to ensure the future of British racing. For many, that change will start with the horserace betting levy.

Currently, the horserace betting levy is funded directly by bookmakers at a fixed rate of 10% of the gross profit made on British horseraces. Since its introduction, the levy has delivered around £80 million to £100 million of funding annually for the sport—a level that has been maintained in recent years despite declining turnover. Compared with other countries, however, the overall percentage of return that racing receives from the betting industry is on the low end of the scale at 3%. It is welcome, therefore, that the Government have committed to reviewing the levy to ensure that it delivers an appropriate level of funding for the sector. That review must answer the many questions being asked about the levy’s current structure.

I ask the Minister for a clear update on the progress of the review, including whether the Department has made any judgment on whether the levy should be raised, linked to inflation or adjusted to cover all bets by British customers, including those on international races. It is essential that the review looks to protect racing and its relationship with the gambling sector in the round. In that vein, I also ask the Minister for an update on what the Department is doing to ensure that money paid by gambling firms for racing media rights is actually benefiting the sport. For example, what meetings has the Minister had specifically with media rights companies to ensure that money is moving from betting to racing in a way that positively impacts the sport?

Concern has also been raised about the impact of the gambling White Paper and particularly—as has been mentioned a number of times in the debate—affordability checks on horseracing. Although I have only recently been appointed as the shadow Minister with responsibility for gambling, I have already met a number of charities and organisations that work to prevent gambling harms, providing a range of treatment, education and advice. Although there is, of course, a spectrum of gambling harm, I have seen at first hand that gambling addiction can have a devastating impact on the lives of individuals and their families. It is therefore important that gambling regulation is updated. Indeed, the last Gambling Act was introduced back in 2005, long before the huge growth in online and mobile gambling opportunities. An update to that is well overdue, and the Government must waste no further time in introducing a modern system of gambling regulation that is fit for the future. Affordability checks will form an important part of that and must be set independently, rather than by the industry. These checks must be accompanied by online stake limits, data sharing between gambling firms and a crackdown on black market activity funded through the regulator.

However, as well as ensuring that the law protects children and adults vulnerable to gambling harms, it is important to ensure that the regulation recognises that millions of people enjoy betting safely and without harm. The Government must therefore be very clear on how they will go about ensuring that affordability checks are frictionless for consumers, as they have promised. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) used the word “proportionate”, which I think is a good one. That is important for the sustainability of the gambling industry, which we know racing relies upon, and for ensuring that customers are not incentivised to leave the regulated market and turn to the black market. The safety of racehorses is also fundamental.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her post. I agree with the overwhelming majority of what she has said, and I commend her for it. I wonder what she thinks of the issue that a number of Members have raised about whether games of skill should be treated differently from games of chance when it comes to gambling regulation, whether it is affordability checks or any other measure.

That is a very valid point, and it is one for the Minister to address. A balance needs to be struck. We have to recognise that gambling, whatever form it is in, can devastate lives. I have acknowledged in my comments that there is a spectrum and that not everyone who gambles has a problem, but we need to ensure that the regulation is fit for the modern day.

I want to talk briefly about welfare. When I was at Doncaster races, the British Horseracing Authority showed me round and explained some of the vital measures that were in place to maximise the welfare of racehorses. I was really interested to hear the contribution from the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), who spoke with great experience and knowledge of the issue.

Following the tragic events at this year’s grand national, which left many distressed, it is welcome that the industry has come together to implement a package of safety measures before next year’s race, including reducing the maximum number of runners, investing in course infrastructure and ensuring that participating horses are in good enough condition to compete. I welcome that. Equine care must be at the forefront of the industry’s concerns, and the hon. Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) spoke about the veterinary centre in her constituency.

To conclude, the Labour party acknowledges the huge contribution that horseracing makes to both our culture and our economy. I have a number of personal memories of the races, in particular of attending the Yorkshire cup last year, where I watched the super stayer horse under Frankie Dettori win. I was there with my very good friend, the late Jim Andrews, who passed away not long after that. It was one of the last days we spent together, and it is an incredibly fond memory of mine. I know that people across the country will have similarly fond memories, and that is why it is really important that we protect the future of the industry.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) for securing this important and timely debate, and I appreciate his support for horse racing not only in his constituency but across Britain.

The Government acknowledge the significant contribution that racing makes to our economy. As has been rightly mentioned by Members from constituencies across the country, it plays a central role in the livelihoods of many people in our rural communities. The employment that it supports across racecourses, training yards, breeding operations and related sectors reflects a powerhouse industry that is respected at home and abroad, and it is one that I am keen to explore even further through a forthcoming visit to a training yard. We absolutely agree that British racing is a substantial asset to the country and remain committed to supporting the industry.

As many Members have said, horse racing is the second biggest sport in the UK in terms of attendance and contributes £4 billion annually to the economy in direct, indirect and associated expenditure. The fact that so many people go to the great races—some 65,000 to 70,000 to the grand national, and 200,000 over the four days of the Cheltenham festival—shows how important it is. I have seen that at first hand during my visit to Newmarket this summer and in discussions with the Jockey Club and Arena Racing Company, as well as the measures around welfare, which were particularly interesting to see in Newmarket. The industry enjoys a reputation as a global leader and is part of the GREAT campaign, which recognises that horse racing is a valuable asset and has a tremendous amount of soft power.

My hon. Friends have noted the importance of the levy. As has been said, in 2017, the levy was extended to online bookmakers and fixed at the rate of 10%, so that it no longer had to be negotiated each year. That has seen a significant rise—almost doubling in amount from £49 million to £95 million—and the forecast for 2022-23 is around £100 million.

On the horserace betting review, the British Horseracing Authority has presented its case that there is a significant gap in its funding that means that it cannot compete with jurisdictions such as France and Ireland. The authority has submitted suggestions on how to close the gap, and we are considering those proposals as we undertake our review, which is due by April next year. Of course, I cannot pre-empt the outcome of that at this stage, but I reassure all colleagues that the decision will be firmly based on the evidence.

Changes would require legislation, so a sensible first step is to explore a voluntary agreement, especially when there are so many competing demands on parliamentary time. We are looking at all options and encouraging racing and betting to work together in the best interests of the sport. Reaching a mutual agreement on the way forward for the levy would be beneficial for everybody. To support that aim, the BHA and the BGC were invited to submit evidence over the summer and have been given extensions to come to an agreement. I met both groups in early September for an update on the discussions, and I look forward to hearing more from them when I meet them again in the next few weeks.

The levy is not the only source of funding for racing. It represented just 6% of racing’s total income in ’22, and far greater proportions were earned from owners, breeders, racegoers, media rights deals and sponsorship. While we review what the levy provides, we have also asked racing and betting to explore jointly how they can maximise other sources of income for racing. I am encouraged by the close engagement that has taken place and welcome the recent changes to the fixture list, which should bring an additional £90 million to racing by 2028.

The BHA and other industry stakeholders have raised concerns about the impact of the financial risk checks that were set out in the Government’s White Paper in April. As the darling of the Racing Post, as I seem to be these days, I want to reassure everyone that I have heard those concerns and take them very seriously. I have already met many Members who are present today, including members of the all-party parliamentary group on racing and bloodstock, and we have many more meetings to come. Given that the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is next door to mine, I cannot avoid him, as much as I may try, but I commit to those meetings carrying on long after the consultations have been completed.

Given that the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) and I actually agree on this issue, which does not happen very often, does the Minister accept that we really must be on to something?

If only I could have achieved that when I was the deputy Chief Whip—that would have been great, but there we go.

I have also met with horse racing bettor forums to hear about this from a customer’s perspective, which is incredibly important, and I will continue to engage with all those stakeholders. Let me also take this opportunity to address a couple of important points. The first is to distinguish between the checks that many operators are currently doing and the future system that was set out in the White Paper. At present, the Gambling Commission has not set specific thresholds or requirements for how or when operators must consider customers’ financial circumstances. There has only been an ask to prevent a repetition of the cases in which operators allow rapid losses that would be life-changing for most of us. However, that has led to inconsistency across the sector, with different operators seeking proofs at different points, often in the form of onerous documentation such as payslips and bank statements. We also know that many operators are requesting personal financial information for a range of reasons that are not necessarily related to safer gambling. I have heard concerning reports that some operators are using checks as a way of restricting the accounts of successful bettors. As a result of listening to all of this, I have spoken to the Gambling Commission CEO about these issues. I asked him to challenge operators to be more transparent with customers and more consistent in how they apply the checks now. They are looking at that and I am waiting to hear back in the coming weeks.

My focus is also on the new coherent national framework underpinned by data sharing, which was outlined in the White Paper and the consultation. We want it to be a significant improvement for customers and companies, to have clear requirements and a much smoother process for assessments, and crucially to bring uniformity rather than the process that people are seeing now and which has been described by Members here today. It will ensure that we see no more of those terrible cases where people lose tens of thousands of pounds in a very short time. As the Minister for gambling, I have also had to hear the awful stories that families have raised with me, and it is right that we act in that area.

I agree with many Members who have pointed out the need to be proportionate. The White Paper was clear: we only want checks for those most at risk of harm. We want the checks themselves to be painless for the overwhelming majority of customers, and neither the Government nor the Gambling Commission should put a blanket cap on how much money people spend on gambling. That will be at the forefront of our minds. The point about being frictionless is essential. I reiterate my commitment that proposed checks will not be mandated across the sector until we are confident that they are frictionless for the vast majority of customers who will be caught by them. The Gambling Commission will continue to work closely with gambling operators, the financial services sector and the Information Commissioner’s Office to develop the checks. We are also exploring options such as pilots and phased implementation. I am pleased that the Gambling Commission has agreed to host a series of workshops with the industry to explore these in detail.

It is important that the wider public have their say too. It is great that the Gambling Commission’s recent consultation received over 3,500 responses, many of which focused on financial risk checks and the relationship with racing. The regulator is working hard to analyse those responses and, notwithstanding its statutory independence, we will continue to work closely with it as it refines proposals before introducing new requirements. The consultation was on all aspects and all details, including the levels at which those checks will come in and how we consider the previous winnings.

The Government are keen to ensure that measures such as these checks do not adversely affect racing or interrupt the customer journey. They also cannot push away high-net-worth individuals such as owners and trainers who invest in the sport. We want to protect those at risk of harm, but with minimal disruption to the majority who, I recognise, place bets on horseracing with no ill effect. I also want to point out that the proposals the Commission are consulting on will apply only to online gambling accounts; they will not affect betting shops or on-course bookmakers.

On the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk about the workforce, the Migration Advisory Committee has recommended adding six racing roles to the shortage occupation list. That recommendation is currently being considered by the Home Office, but I will ensure that I write to my colleagues there to highlight this debate.

The Government remain committed to supporting horseracing in this country. It is vital to the rural economy and a source of great pleasure to many people. I look forward to further discussions on these important issues, especially as the review of the levy continues.

Very briefly, I welcome the Minister’s confirmation that the levy review will happen by April 2024. However, overwhelming concern has been expressed from Fakenham to Bangor, from Newbury to Newmarket, from The Guardian to the Racing Post, and across the House, by Labour, the Lib Dems and the DUP, as well as the Conservative party—and, within the Conservative party, from the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) to the hon. Member for Newbury (Laura Farris). When they agree, they must be right. I cannot see how we can ever have frictionless checks—how we should ever have frictionless checks—if the checks involve looking at someone’s income or bank account. I urge the Minister to take away this key point: there is a difference in different types of betting, and there is a serious risk of unintended consequences in the current approach, which is going to make things worse.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

Rural Postal Services: Sustainability

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the sustainability of rural post offices.

It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. Balintore is a coastal village 595 miles from London and seven miles from my home town of Tain. It has no bank, a fair number of elderly residents and a bus service that is, to say the least, infrequent. When the people of Balintore and the neighbouring villages of Shandwick and Hilton heard that the local Spar shop would no longer provide a post office service, they were downcast, to say the least. There seemed no way to avoid the complete disappearance of the local post office.

Then, step forward one Maureen Ross. Maureen, a Seaboard village local, has long been a dynamo of community work. True to form, she did not disappoint. Maureen dared to ask whether the post office could be part of the local community hall, the Seaboard Memorial Hall in Balintore. The hall is already much used by the community and is a provider of excellent meals and coffee.

Maureen, in true form, approached the Post Office bosses with that innovative proposal. Fast forward to today, we have a successful local Balintore post office, open five mornings a week. Pensions are collected, bills are paid and cash withdrawn. It is the place where older folk can go about their day-to-day business and stop to have a cuppa and a chinwag.

I am delighted to hear about the success story in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. When a rural post office closes, as he mentioned, a post box often remains in the vicinity. Residents will be keen for the post box to remain functional, as is the case at (Stoke) post office in Hayling Island in my constituency. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that keeping post boxes functional, even where the post office has closed, can help make post offices and postal services more sustainable and successful in the long term?

Indeed, the hon. Gentleman makes a wise point. A final point on Maureen Ross: she has protected a fundamental pillar of that community. It is no surprise that a few weeks ago she was elected as a member of the Highland Council. She recognised that a network of local post offices is integral to the social fabric of our nation.

It is worth bearing in mind that our banks have pretty much vacated our towns, villages, high streets and communities over the past few years. They must have saved themselves hundreds of millions of pounds in salaries, upkeep and all the rest of it. Does my hon. Friend agree that the banks should be forced by the Government to pay a far higher fee to post offices, so they can be sustainable in the long run, perhaps even becoming a front for all Government activity in their communities?

My hon. Friend is correct. He represents a remote constituency, as I do. When I talk about the social fabric of the nation, it is important to have a network of post offices in those remote areas.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this forward. It is more than just post offices; it is about rural communities. Does he agree that isolated communities rely heavily on a reliable, frequent service, and investment should be made to ensure that daily deliveries, as the postie does his rounds in our rural constituencies, are not a bonus but are a standard? Would he join me in thanking posties and delivery personnel who carry out this vital service on difficult roads in difficult conditions at the right time for us all?

Again, a very good intervention; I completely agree. I have described a success story, for which I thank the Post Office for seeing that it happened. Now I turn to a more difficult situation. On the north coast of Sutherland, in my constituency, there are two local post offices at villages called Melvich and Bettyhill. They are now worried about their viability.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the previous Labour Government stripped post offices of many of their unique services and the current Government have not supported post offices as they should have done during the recent difficult times. Does he agree that that has made the sustainability of post offices all the more challenging, particularly in rural areas such as Brodick on the Isle of Arran, which is now facing the closure of its post office?

The point is well made. I will give this specific detail: until now, Royal Mail, which is a separate organisation, has paid each of the two post offices I described to have a parcel and letter sorting facility at the back of their shops. Technically, that is termed a scale payment delivery office or SPDO, which is where posties go to sort the letters and parcels, to avail themselves of toilet facilities and, indeed, to have a sit-down to eat what we in the highlands would call their piece at lunchtime. I have been told that those contracts are due to end this coming January, leaving the shops without the funding for an SPDO. In the case of Bettyhill, the shop will lose a significant sum of money. It means that posties will have to meet in the public car park to sort the mail and swap parcels between vans. That is a pretty unpleasant prospect when we think about some of the weather we have had recently in my constituency.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. This year, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee produced a report on rural mental health, and pivotal to that was rural isolation, with people needing access to vital services, including postal services and banks. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is beholden on both central and local government to work with communities to protect and uphold those services for the benefit of rural constituents?

I absolutely concur with that, and it brings me to my next point. When nature calls for our posties, they have been advised that they will simply have to use public toilets rather than what was at the back of the shop. At this time of year in the highlands, many public toilets are closed. This is about the overall approach described by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, and getting all the services, the council and local government to act together.

What happens if there is a parcel for Mrs McKay on the north coast, but she is not at home when the postie comes to deliver it? In the past, it would go back to the local post office and would be put, in the case of Bettyhill, in a safe room and stored there. Now, however, it has to go all the way back to Thurso, which is a good 30 miles from Bettyhill and 17 from Melvich. That is far beyond the usual access criteria set by the Post Office, which says that those living in rural areas should live “within three miles” of their local branch. That is no good to my hypothetical Mrs McKay. She might not drive, she might be elderly and, as I have said, she can hardly rely on public transport.

There is a point about staffing of rural post offices. Eggborough post office in my constituency has to close at 1 pm on most days due to staffing pressures. Does the hon. Member agree that specific support could be allocated by Government to meet some of those staffing deficiencies so that rural post offices are more viable in future?

Yes, indeed. I completely agree with that. I hope that some constructive thinking will now be forthcoming. As I have said already, this is part of our social fabric.

Earlier, I touched on loss of income for shops. The post office at Bettyhill will lose almost £7,500 a year. As I have said, that could mean not only further post office closures but shop closures. Pillars of rural communities will be demolished by cost-cutting tactics: we see all too much of that in the highlands, with that weary drumbeat of closures and cutting back.

This comes on top of a situation that most sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses already face, where the individual transaction costs that they are paid for are actually more than the money they are given from the Post Office. Does that not make the bleak scenario that my hon. Friend outlines look rather inevitable?

My right hon. Friend represents the furthest constituency—even further away than mine—so he indeed knows what he is talking about.

Money is lost. There are, however, other ways to ensure the sustainability of rural post offices. We have heard how we can do this from the numerous interventions, for which I thank all hon. and right hon. Members.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and for tabling this important debate. There has been an issue in my constituency—which I think can be described as semi-rural—with the post office in Darfield regularly not opening. I am hopeful that we will have a solution, and perhaps the Minister can pick up on this, because it has been tricky to get the Post Office to act when there have been regular closures. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it has a real impact when residents cannot access the post office due to regular closures and the travel time is not sustainable?

I will say in passing that I am very considerably encouraged by the number of interventions. It leaves me in very good heart.

Perhaps I asked for that one.

As I said, there are ways of keeping the post offices open. Getting rid of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency services is absolutely not one of them.

On that note, the withdrawal of DVLA services, due to take place in March next year, is abominable, and will further cut the amount that sub-postmasters can earn. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should invest in the future of the rural network, pay sub-postmasters enough to allow them to continue providing their vital services to local communities, and get more business into these vital outlets for rural communities?

This is an extremely important debate and I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has tabled it. I have met with several postmasters in Frome and Martock, in my constituency. They are worried that from 31 March next year, people will be unable to access DVLA services from Post Office branches. Currently those branches carry out 6 million DVLA transactions a year. I know that the range of services offered by the post offices in Frome and Martock are essential to many residents. Does he agree that we need to recognise the regrettable impact that the loss of in-person services at Post Office branches will have on our rural communities?

Indeed I do agree. If we look at this historically, the Royal Mail post office network was one of the proudest achievements of the 19th century: it made this country what it is. One last point on the DVLA—some 6 million people use the post office network for accessing DVLA services each year. That increases the vital footfall to local branches which helps to pay our postmasters, and keeps our post offices open. I call on the Government to look again at this decision to take away this function.

Finally, to conclude—[Interruption.] I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He would know that I would want to say something, being a former postmaster myself. There is a glaring hole on our high streets as our banks leave at an ever growing rate. The Post Office does a fantastic job, as we know. Why can it not be given the tools to roll out banking hubs up and down our high streets? Not only would this be a fantastic additional service to the post office network, but it would also help postmasters—who could perhaps run them—receive valuable additional revenue.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. In Llanmadoc—in my constituency—the post office is located in a community shop that also serves as a meeting space for local groups. After the closure of the old shop 20 years ago, the community and volunteers got together to make that happen. The post office benefits hugely from being in this hub now, and it also benefits the tourists that come to Gower. Will the hon. Gentleman agree that post offices such as the one in Llanmadoc are vital to our rural communities, and will he join me in thanking the volunteers and people in these rural communities determined to make those services work for everybody?

That is absolutely correct. I think we are all saying that any Government, of any colour—be it the Scottish Government, or Westminster—has a responsibility to remote communities. It is of course for Royal Mail and the Post Office to try and work together, and perhaps also—as others have said—local councils and other organisations, to make this work.

The bottom line is that I do not want to see posties on the north coast of Sutherland having to swap parcels and letters between their vans in the rain and I do not want them searching for a loo that is probably closed. We can do things so much better. As I have said already, I am extremely grateful for the thoughtful and helpful interventions that I have taken this afternoon.

It is a pleasure, Mr Hosie, to speak with you in the Chair. I congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) on securing this important debate on a subject close to my heart, as a rural MP.

The post office network plays a unique and vital role as part of the UK postal system. Although consumers have more choice than ever when it comes to purchasing postal products, many still turn to bricks-and-mortar post offices. As the hon. Member rightly said, post offices are part of the social fabric of our communities.

There are currently over 6,000 rural branches, which constitute 54% of the total post office network. Over 3,000 of those rural branches are described as the last shop in the village. Recent research highlights how vital these branches are. They enable people to access vital services without needing to drive or use public transport. They are particularly cherished by older people and those who might struggle to travel far to access services. In my constituency we have lots of bus passes but not many buses, so it is very important that those rural post offices exist, as they are also integral to businesses operating in rural areas because of their important role in providing access to cash.

Cash being the word, the Government have provided significant financial support to sustain the network nationally, adding up to more than £2.5 billion over the last 10 years. The Government are providing a further £335 million for the Post Office for the period between 2022 and 2025. As part of that support, the Government have committed to maintaining the annual £50 million subsidy to safeguard services in the uncommercial parts of the network until 2025.

The Government protect the sustainability of the branch network, and the rural network in particular, by providing funding on the basis that the Post Office meets its minimum access criteria, to ensure that across the country 99% of the population live within 3 miles of their nearest post office, as the hon. Member referred to. The Post Office meets its access criteria obligations nationally, making it the largest retail network in the UK with an unrivalled reach, especially in rural areas. Indeed, in 2022 98% of the rural population lived within 3 miles of their nearest branch.

The Government remain committed to the long-term sustainability of the Post Office, but we have to recognise that there is not a bottomless pit of money. Of course, with a network of this size, we are likely to see a fluctuation in the number of branches that are open at any one time. However, the network is certainly not in decline at a national level. As its chief executive officer recently confirmed, the network is as large today as it has been for five years, with around 11,700 branches open.

The count of the number of post offices includes drop and go facilities. Those are not in any sense post offices, as all Members here would recognise them. Does the Minister think that is fair?

Drop and go branches perform an important service, as do mobile post offices, of course. However, there is no doubt that there are challenges in maintaining the size of the network, which I will come to shortly. Of course this is public money that we are spending, so we must ensure that it is spent well, while being appropriate to the need locally, particularly in rural areas.

The percentage of the network serving rural communities has remained steady at 53% since 2016. We appreciate that it is very challenging for communities that lose their post office service and the Post Office endeavours to restore services as quickly as possible.

The Minister is a good man; I am very grateful to him for being so generous, indeed super-generous, to my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) earlier.

The thing about individual post offices is that I can think of a couple of villages in Westmorland and Furness —Hawkshead and Shap—that have lost their post office and where Post Office Ltd. is working hard to restore them. Will he pay particular attention to those communities to make sure that we get those replacements over the line, because we are all but done with getting them back on the street and back open?

We are very happy to take up any particular issue that Members raise, as we do regularly through correspondence and other measures. Where there are closures of post offices, we will endeavour to reopen them, but that can be challenging. However, if there is a particular issue, I am very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss it.

Does the Minister think there is a case for giving greater UK Government support to rural post offices, which, by definition, cannot compete on footfall because they serve smaller populations, so that our island and rural communities can keep hold of our post offices, even during these difficult times?

As I said earlier, I am bound to stand up for rural areas, just like the hon. Lady and others in this debate, but there is a limit to taxpayers’ money, and we are talking about £2.5 billion over 10 years and significant funding requirements now, in terms of the needs of both the network and the compensation schemes, which I will refer to in a second. We do not have a bottomless pit of money. However, there are other measures we can take, which I will mention, to make the Post Office sustainable and make individual branches profitable, which is the key to this conversation.

Returning to specific branches, I am glad that the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross referenced the Balintore post office, which reopened at the Seaboard Memorial Hall last year, thanks to the efforts of the post office and the hall’s committee, and indeed Maureen, the postmaster. However, we are in no way trying to pretend that the rural network is not facing challenges—not at all. As I have said before, the Post Office works with communities to ensure that services are maintained, and the Government’s access criteria ensure that however the network changes, services remain within local reach of all citizens.

My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak) rightly references post boxes, which are another key part of this matter. Royal Mail is there to ensure that there is a post box within half a mile of the premises of at least 98% of users of postal services. If that is not the case, I am very happy to engage with my hon. Friend to get answers for him and change in his local area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) challenges the Government on what more we can do to ensure the sustainability of post offices. It is important we take into account that many of the challenges facing post offices are because of the changes in consumer habits—just like the rest of the high street, which is seeing those changes too. That is also related to Government services such as driving licences, passports and other similar services, mentioned by the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), who does a fantastic job as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on post offices. Many consumers now want to access such services online, which can be done very efficiently. I do not think it is for us to dictate to those citizens how they access those kinds of services if they can do so more quickly and efficiently online. That would be the wrong thing to do.

The Government will be dictating to our constituents how they access those services if they are withdrawn from post offices, because digitally excluded people will not be able to use them online.

If that was what the Government were doing, that would be something the hon. Lady could hold us to account for, but that is not the case. There is a clear negotiation between different Government Departments over the cost of providing those services, with negotiations between the passport service, the DVLA and the post office network itself. I very much hope there is a good commercial relationship that properly remunerates postmasters for the work they do, which is key.

As I say, there has been a diminution of hundreds of millions of pounds in revenue into the post office network because of the change in consumer habits, so we need to find ways to make the network sustainable in its own right. We do not have a bottomless pit of money. We are talking about £2.5 billion over 10 years. This year, the UK economy deficit in terms of public spending, expenditure and income will be about £140 billion.

The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Keir Mather), whom I welcome—this is the first time I have responded to him in a debate—challenges us to do more and provide more funding. There are challenges with that. To govern is to choose, so we have to be careful how we spend taxpayers’ money. Nevertheless, we want to make sure that the post office network is sustainable in its own right, wherever possible, to ease the burden on the taxpayer. We are, of course, determined to retain the network wherever possible and to find ways to do that.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) rightly raises the issue of the banking framework. This is a relationship between banks and post offices, in terms of how post offices are renumerated for providing many of the services banks used to provide when they had branch networks across the country. Since 2015, there have been 5,500 bank closures—at the last count—across the network and collectively across the different high street brands. That saves those banks somewhere in the region of £2.5 billion to £3 billion a year.

We are very keen for the Post Office, in its negotiations with the banks via UK Finance or other means of negotiation, to get a better deal and better remuneration from that relationship. Increases in remuneration should go, wherever possible, into the branch network or into automation to make those branches work more efficiently, so that they can be more profitable. A key thing that we would like to see is a fairer relationship, which shares some of the savings banks are making from the closing of their branches with the network that is providing those services since their closure. While we want to see access to post office services retained for our communities, we also want things like access to cash, both in terms of dispensing cash and cash deposits. That is vital, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, and for the 2 million people in this country that do not have a bank account and the 8 million people who use cash every single week.

At the beginning of my contribution, I outlined the success story that is the work of Councillor Maureen Ross to establish a post office in Balintore. I know from having talked to the good lady that she is thinking of increasing the opening hours and has thoughts on banking, as we have no bank branches in the villages at all. I suggest to the Minister that it might be constructive if perhaps some officials from his Department went up there and talked to Councillor Ross, and saw what a good idea that would be.

I would be very happy to visit if I find myself in that part of the world. It is quite a way away from even my constituency, but Maureen obviously does a fantastic job for the hon. Gentleman and his community, and we are keen to support those efforts. I am very happy to facilitate a conversation to ensure that Maureen has the best opportunity to make her business as viable as possible.

The Government are also funding the cost of the replacement of the Horizon IT platform that caused so many difficulties. Again, we hope that will provide new opportunities too, both in terms of efficiency and new services. We see post offices becoming parcel hubs, and the Post Office sees that as an opportunity to be frequented not just by custom from Royal Mail but also DHL, DPD, Amazon and other providers. There are future revenue opportunities that we should encourage to ensure that the network is sustainable.

Briefly on Horizon, last week’s written ministerial statement announced our intention to provide additional financial support to the Post Office as it continues to respond to the Horizon IT scandal. That is further proof of our commitment to the network.

There are certainly challenges ahead, but we continue to work with the Post Office to ensure that it is fit for the future, and we always welcome views from across the House on the network and how we make it sustainable for the future. I therefore once again thank the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross for securing today’s important debate, and thank all other Members for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.

Government Support for a Circular Economy

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government support for a circular economy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is a leading non-governmental organisation on the topic, the circular economy is

“a system where materials never become waste”

and the natural environment is able to regenerate, and in which

“products and materials are kept in circulation through processes like maintenance, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacture, recycling, and composting.”

The sustainable and regenerative system that it creates is one in which economic growth is decoupled from our resource consumption.

I hope to make it clear that there are economic opportunities to be derived from a more circular economy. It is great example of the environment and the economy going hand in hand, rather than being pitted against one another as competing and conflicting aims. The approach runs counter to the linear “take, make and dispose” approach to resource consumption to which we have become accustomed.

To illustrate the status quo, imagine a single-use plastic bottle of water. The bottle takes approximately five seconds to produce in a factory. It is transported to a shop for someone to buy, and it takes around five minutes to drink, at which point it is put in the bin. Having taken just five seconds to produce and five minutes to consume, the plastic bottle can then stay in our environment for 500 years. Even then—as I have been cautioned by the founder and lead member of Plastic Free Eastbourne, who is a modest local hero—the journey does not end there. Every piece of plastic that we have ever produced is still with us somewhere. When a plastic bottle eventually starts to degrade, it does not simply disappear; it breaks down into smaller parts—microplastics and even nanoplastics.

That is one of the reasons for the campaign to roll out refillable water bottles, which hon. Members will see if they visit my fair constituency of Eastbourne. The first refillable water bottle station, which I had the great privilege to attend back in the time between lockdowns, was introduced in 2021. That one refill station has now sprung to 14, and a further five are in the pipeline, so that people can return again and again to fill their bottles, in their own circular economy.

Plastic bottles are still in production in their millions, and we pay for the convenience, perhaps without thinking about the inevitable hidden costs to our environment. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has undertaken hugely important work in order to make strides in this area, and specifically to improve recycling rates in England. As recently as this weekend, DEFRA made important announcements about its reforms for simpler recycling, which will see councils across England providing for the collection of the same set of materials from households, including a weekly food waste collection.

There is perhaps a higher calling to that notion of food waste. I met just this week with an enterprise called Too Good to Go. Its app connects local shoppers to local businesses that are anxious to pass on food that would otherwise go to waste. In my constituency alone, 70,000 kg of food—equivalent in its carbon emissions, I am told, to 156 days of constant warm showers—has been saved from landfill.

The recycling reforms do not stop there. I know that the Minister’s Department has been working tirelessly to create an extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging that moves the burden of responsibility and payment for waste management from local councils to packaging producers. The scheme will help to ensure that the polluter pays for the packaging legacy that it creates. In doing so, it will encourage innovation and lower packaging use. It will also ensure that all the packaging we use has a clear label stating “recycle” or “do not recycle”.

As the Minister will know, last week was Recycling Week 2023. The theme was “the big recycling hunt”—an entire week dedicated to shedding light on the recyclable everyday household items that we do not put in the recycling bin, such as aerosols and plastic cleaning and toiletry bottles. With so many random recycling labels out there, the presence of a standard, recognisable label will remove doubt and help consumers to get it right when they go to the recycling bin.

Another critical aspect of the extended producer responsibility scheme is the modulated fee structure. In theory, that will mean that producers are charged different amounts, paying less for recyclable items than non-recyclable ones. However, I understand that industry is still awaiting the details, meaning that the timeline for roll-out is stretched, and there could be a scenario in which producers are paying into the scheme before the modulated fee structure has been implemented. The modulated fee structure is the key to driving the action we want to see from packaging producers. Could the Minister provide further clarity on the timeline? We need to ensure that we incentivise producers not only correctly but in a sufficiently timely manner for them to deliver change to their packaging.

The third pillar to these packaging reforms is the deposit return scheme for drinks containers. I know that progress on that policy has been fraught due to factors outside of DEFRA’s control, but it was an aspiration and ambition raised at Plastic Free Eastbourne’s recent water summit. It is considered an important solution, so how do we focus on it? It has worked incredibly well for our European neighbours, albeit less so across the border in Scotland. I understand that there are potentially lessons to be learned from that experience. I would welcome an update from the Minister on the scheme.

Individually and collectively, the reforms will be game changing for our recycling system and help to boost our stubbornly low recycling rates in Eastbourne and across England. In my own council area, the recycling rate sits at 32.8%, which is sadly below the national average of 44% and below next-door Wealden’s 48%. I am concerned about the risk that a focus on recycling may overshadow other processes I have referenced, such as reduction, reuse, refurbishment, re-manufacture and composting, which are all so critical to the creation of a circular economy.

Speaking of composting, let me return briefly to the topic of food waste. It is certainly welcome news that households will now have a weekly food waste collection. Even collecting food waste in its own bin has been shown to reduce the amount of waste created, perhaps by embarrassing people—awkward but true—into cutting their waste. The carbon emissions from food waste are enormous and represent a huge waste of money and food. Processing food waste through composting and anaerobic digestion will help to reduce the emissions that would have been created if it had gone into the general waste bin.

I also want to draw attention to what other countries, such as Italy, are doing with their collection of food waste and compostable plastics. Those plastics are made from bioplastics, which means that, unlike regular plastics, they are not made using fossil fuels and they break down quickly in industrial composting facilities. This challenge—the move from fossil-based plastics to those made from more sustainable and renewable raw materials such as corn and starch—was the subject of a petition by Eastbourne’s plastic-free community that garnered 1,446 signatures. This important topic was covered in some depth by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in its report published earlier this year.

I am aware that there are challenges in the transition to bioplastics, including with disposal, the question of one-time use, and the use of land to grow the raw materials. But the march towards the bioeconomy the world over, with ever-increasing uptake and interest in bioplastics, is something that we must surely be watching with keen interest. I understand that the UK does not have as many composting facilities as anaerobic digestion plants, but compostable plastics are increasingly being adopted by businesses that want to do the right thing for the environment.

Compostable plastics are a clear example of the market in action. Recognising the problem posed by single-use plastic waste, companies have invested in research and development, and come up with an innovative tech-driven solution. There are many businesses already operating in this space, and we should surely incentivise them rather than disadvantaging them with a framework that does not recognise the good that their work could represent.

The applications of compostable plastics are broad. I have seen them used in items such as coffee cups, packaging for online clothing deliveries, coffee pods, sauce sachets, tea bags, and—perhaps most relatably—food waste caddy liners. The Government and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation are in agreement that there is a role for compostable plastics in specific applications such as coffee pods and tea bags. In a recent DEFRA consultation on consistency in recycling, 77% of respondents approved of the introduction of compostable caddy liners, a move supported by the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association, but the commentary in the executive summary suggests quite the opposite—that a majority disagreed with that move. Is that something that the Minister could resolve?

I have devoted a lot of time to packaging—I think that reflects both where the general public’s interest lies and where DEFRA has taken most steps—but packaging is only part of the circular economy. The UK throws away 300,000 tonnes of electrical waste from households and businesses each year. That makes us the world’s second largest annual contributor of e-waste, averaging a whopping 23.9 kg per person. The idea of fast tech—the disposable use of electronic goods—is gaining prominence among campaigners, and disposable vapes in particular have become a focus. The Government have taken steps to tackle disposable vapes, but the issue is much broader.

To illustrate that, recent research by Material Focus revealed that there are 7.5 million unused electrical children’s toys hidden in households across the UK. Even if they do make it out of the cupboard, they do not necessarily go to the right place. Three million toys have been sent to landfill in the past six months alone. That is enough to fill Hamleys’ flagship Regent Street store nearly 14 times over—not fun; we have all seen “Toy Story 3”.

I understand that some councils are voluntarily introducing kerbside or communal bins for e-waste collection. Even rolled out at scale, however, will that tackle the problem head on? Do we not need to look further upstream to the design of products and the obligations that we place on their producers?

I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent speech and for bringing this important matter before the House. She is talking about encouraging people to behave a certain way with reusable products, but does she agree that this place could also utilise the tax system more effectively? Take period products: unlike products that cannot be reused, we tax products promoted as “period pants” at 20%. Will she join me in supporting the Marks & Spencer campaign that went to No. 10 yesterday and saying “pants to the tax”?

I thank my hon. Friend for saying “pants to the tax”, and I am happy to confirm that I am 100% behind the campaign. It is a strange and extraordinary anomaly that period pants are classified as a garment, rather than as a period product. I cannot imagine anyone wearing period pants on other days of the month, just for fashion or pleasure, so I 100% subscribe to the campaign. We would be levelling up not only by changing the VAT regime for period pants, but by distinguishing between disposable and reusable. Surely we want to promote reusable in this context. It would be an important incentive because it would give choice, and my understanding is that the leading companies have pledged that the tax difference would be passed on to customers. This is another important way in which we can use the frameworks and levers around VAT and tax, as my hon. Friend said, to help people make the best and wisest decisions. I thank her for mentioning that important campaign.

Some products are more easily reused and repaired than others. A more circular approach in general would be a welcome step up in ambition, but I understand that the Minister is actively engaged through reforms to the waste electrical and electronic equipment regulations. It would be good to hear how those reforms are progressing.

Each year, only 1% of clothes are recycled into new clothes. It has been estimated that one truckload of clothing is landfilled or burned every second globally. On our high streets, charity shops do a fantastic job of providing access to textile reuse, both for clothing and for sometimes overlooked purposes such as furniture upholstery. Access to charity stores has helped to normalise reuse.

The work of charity shops will only go so far, however, and does not tackle the root cause. Back in 2018, the Government committed to consult on a textile extended producer responsibility scheme, but that has been superseded by other pressing priorities for the Department. However, there was a commitment to help establish the best waste hierarchy in order to better manage textile waste. With the Government target to halve residual waste, we have an incentive to tackle textile waste, but without a clear route to correct disposal, clothes will continue to be sent to landfill and incineration. In the light of that, I wonder what more the Minister might have planned to tackle textile waste.

This might be a Miranda Hart moment: my notes say “lubes”. For the benefit of Hansard, however, I might resort to “lubricants”. I wish to make some comments about cross-departmental collaboration. Energy is a resource that we must husband effectively and efficiently. With the UK target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, we have been made to reassess our relationship with energy and the composition of specific resources that that might require.

Intuitively, we know that a more circular economy is one that uses renewable energy sources. In the south, looking across the downland from Eastbourne, we can see the most glorious vista across the waves to Rampion offshore wind farm, which powers half the homes in Sussex, and there is an ambition for an extension that would take in the whole county. As we continue to adopt renewables at scale, we must make sure that the resources that go into harvesting the energy are sustainable. The topic of blade recyclability is gaining traction, but the sustainability mindset should cover all aspects of the process, right down to whether the lubricants used in the generation of energy are sustainable. If our wind farms made the transition to bio-based lubricants, typically from vegetable oils, that would be very effective. Of course, the UK has abundant bio-based resources, such as rapeseed oil, for producing bio-lubricants.

There are further advantages to the adoption of a bio-based fuel. Bio-based fuels not only extend the life of the machinery, as evidenced by the Eden Project, but have a wider economic and environmental benefit: if they are accidentally discharged into the environment, they are benign compared with petroleum-based lubricants. Although waste and resources as a whole sit with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, wind turbines are a Department for Energy Security and Net Zero matter. It is vital that cross-cutting, cross-Department issues do not fall through the cracks, so I would love to know what work could be undertaken between DEFRA and DESNZ around such issues and challenges. I will take that up with colleagues in DESNZ.

I know that by covering only packaging, electronics, textiles and renewables, I have missed out many other sectors that would benefit from a circular economy, but I hope that I have gone some way towards illustrating the opportunities, and the case for Government support. Business giants such as Currys, Apple, M&S and IKEA have been experimenting with reuse and take-back schemes. Indeed, the likes of eBay stake their entire business model on reuse. I am sporting my latest purchase: my vintage M&S jacket recently procured through eBay. They are joined by a suite of start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises across the country that have put the circular economy at their heart. However, across the board, businesses are concerned that without stronger incentives, we will perhaps not see the leap from small-scale initiatives and trials to mass roll-out.

A circular economy is more efficient. It can save us money and make us money. In short, this is not a hair-shirted environmental mission. There are economic opportunities to be pursued, but after decades of disposability, there is work to be done to ensure that action is aligned with the Government’s commitment to creating a more circular economy.

Before I call the next speaker, may I remind the Front-Bench speakers that in these hour-long debates, the speaking times are five minutes for Opposition Front Benchers and 10 minutes for the Government? I call Andrew Selous.

I am happy that you are happy to do so, Mr Hosie. It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) on leading today’s debate and setting the scene so very well by giving us an evidential base and information, which is so important. As we approach COP, it is always good to have these discussions, so that we can assess what stage we are at, in terms of product stability and waste management. Throughout the United Kingdom, we all have different strategies for contributing to the circular economy. It is always my intent to give a Northern Ireland perspective. I do it in every debate; I make sure that our position, as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is clear.

It is always a pleasure to see the Minister in her place. I look forward to her response and the solution-based answer that she always gives us. I am also pleased to see the two shadow Ministers in their place, especially the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan), who survived Storm Babet. We missed him in the debate here last Thursday, which was on his area of responsibility. It is good to have them both here.

Back home, the Department for the Economy has initiated a draft circular economy strategy for Northern Ireland. It stated:

“We are all experiencing the impact of resource scarcity in the rising cost of living. We know the earth provides an abundant, but finite supply of resources that we are rapidly depleting.”

That is a fact of life; that is where we are. This revolution of resources will be an essential part of reducing our emissions, and it will be embedded in climate action plans, and in Northern Ireland’s multi-decade green growth strategy.

Our research back home for the strategy has shown that Northern Ireland imports and extracts some 31.5 million tonnes of materials annually. That is the equivalent weight of nearly 16 million cars. It puts into perspective the magnitude of what we are discussing. For a country the size and population of Northern Ireland—we have 1.95 million people—we are consuming a disproportionate amount of the Earth’s resources. Clearly, that has to improve. It is estimated that each person in Northern Ireland is consuming some 16.6 tonnes of resources per year.

When I give a Northern Ireland perspective, I like to give an idea of what the council is doing in my constituency. Ards and North Down Council, which covers the area where I both work and reside, has proven committed to acting sustainably to create a vibrant and healthy environment. There is always room for improvement when it comes to meeting our net zero targets and waste management, but recognising the contribution that local councils and smaller devolved institutions can make to the UK is the first major step in regulating sustainability in our environments and products.

Ards Borough Council, or Ards and North Down Council as it is now, has a proactive recycling strategy. It takes away the blue bins, grey bins and black bins, and there are bottle banks as well. Those are all things that we do to try to make recycling more sustainable. However, unfortunately, we have come to a crux in the road: the recycling targets we have set seem to have been achieved, but having had population growth, we do not seem to be doing any more. The council is looking into how it can do better.

In conclusion, although the Minister does not have direct responsibility for Northern Ireland, I know that she engages with the Departments back home and, through the Assembly, directly with the councils. I ask her to consider the contribution that Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales can make to circular economies across the United Kingdom. This is not something we can do on our own; I want to get that point across. We cannot do this regionally in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, but we can if we all come together. The good thing about agreeing on the targets and the strategy is that we can ensure that we all benefit. I look forward to engaging on this topic, and perhaps we will revisit it after COP28 this year.

It is a pleasure to take part in this important debate, so ably introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell). Someone said to me recently that when we say, “Throw it away,” we need to realise that there is no such place as “away”, because everything ends up somewhere. Matter becomes different types of matter. We need to think about our language sometimes, and to have a whole different mindset in this important area.

Today we are talking about reducing waste, reducing cost, conserving nature and making sure that the polluter pays. I think those are principles to which we would all sign up. They are inherently conservative as well, and they are really important. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne said, we have to move away from the linear economy of take, make and dispose, and towards the circular economy of reuse, repair, recycle and remanufacture. I pay tribute to businesses large and small that have been on this journey for a while. I think I first heard the expression “the circular economy” from Unilever. Many businesses get it, and they want a helping and supportive environment from the Government, which I know the Minister will try to provide for them.

We have already had many examples in this debate of items going unnecessarily to landfill, including toys. I was particularly pleased to present a Points of Light award to Charlotte Liebling from Leighton Buzzard in my constituency. She runs the wonderful charity Loved Before, which takes children’s teddies that have been greatly loved and often hugged night after night. When children do not want them anymore, the teddies go to Loved Before. They are sanitised, repaired, repackaged and loved again and again by other children. Charlotte has prevented thousands and thousands of teddies from going to landfill all over the country, and it was a pleasure to present her with her Points of Light award from our former Prime Minister a couple of years ago.

We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis, for reasons with which we are all familiar, and it is important to point out to our constituents that reusing resources and reducing waste can save the average household around £300 a year. That is not an insignificant sum of money for many families, so there is definitely an economic aspect to this, which will help people’s purses and wallets. I am pleased to see that many of our leading companies, such as IKEA, Currys, Primark and Apple, run take-back schemes. It is scandalous that many of us get pressured into replacing our mobile phones after only two years. The mobile phone companies do not upgrade the software, so we are almost forced to replace our phones, but it is good that companies such as Apple now have a proper take-back scheme, so that other people can use those phones, and they do not get wasted.

I was very pleased to see the Government’s announcement on Saturday morning. We have to recognise that recycling rates have plateaued at around 44% in England. They rose for a number of years, but we are not making the progress that we want. The Government have committed to starting a deposit return scheme in the next year or so; to introducing requirements on local authorities to recycle standardised items; and to making recycling labels mandatory. We need a very clear, easy-to-understand guarantee that if a product has the mandatory recycling label on it, people can put it in a recycling bin wherever they are in the country and know that it will get recycled, and they do not have to wonder whether the local authority will recycle it.

Weekly food waste collections are really important. A couple of years ago, I learned that if food waste was a country in its own right, it would have the third highest greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. That is hugely significant. These are very dangerous gases, such as methane, which is particularly bad for the environment, so this is so important. I gently say to some of my constituents, even up and down my road, that I do not always see the food waste bin outside. I make sure that mine goes out every week, because it is part of our civic responsibility to get with the programme if we care about the environment and our planet. That is a bit of gentle encouragement to some of my constituents.

Extended responsibility schemes for packaging are absolutely right, and the Government are right to be committed to the “polluter pays” principle. It should not be the taxpayer who always has to pick up the tab. Those responsible need to raise their game as well.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to the near elimination of biodegradable municipal waste to landfill from 2028. That is excellent. I am also pleased to see the commitment to raising the rate of recycling for municipal waste from 44% to 65% by 2035. I would love that to happen sooner, but let us at least try to meet that target, and get there earlier if we can.

I am also particularly pleased about mandatory digital waste tracking. There are too many fly-tipping cowboy criminals, as I mentioned in my maiden speech over 22 years ago, and we need to crack down on them. Congratulations to Peter Byrne at Central Bedfordshire Council, who has secured a number of convictions on that front recently, which is excellent.

There are a couple of areas where we could do more. There is too much farm food waste; that is food that could be eaten. It is not always easy to deal with; I had a particularly prolific apple tree this year, and I tried to give the apples away, but although I did as much as I could, I am afraid that some were wasted. I peeled, cored, sliced and froze as many as I could. Farmers need help in that area. Textiles have been mentioned, and it is shocking that only 1% are recycled. I would like to do another shout out to my dry cleaner, Met of Four Seasons Dry Cleaners in Dunstable, who has repatched my gardening trousers about 12 times. I keep on wearing them, and that is very good. Also, on electronic items, we have to get away from fast tech. It is also great that the UK was in the lead on the UN global plastics treaty.

Let me finish by saying that it is absolutely shocking that a plastic bottle takes five seconds to make, takes five seconds to drink, and then lasts for 500 years in our environment. We have to do better on that front.

Who on earth would have thought that we would be talking about the hon. Gentleman’s gardening trousers? I call Dave Doogan.

It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I want to touch on a couple of issues that were raised, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) for securing this important debate.

Mr Hosie, in Angus we recycle—and I literally mean “we”: you, I and everyone else in Angus—54.7% of our post-consumer waste. That is to be celebrated, but I am relieved that the SNP administration on Angus Council is not resting on its laurels. In the last budget, it was looking at measures to get that figure even higher. Although I salute the plea from the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) for civic responsibility in recycling and disposing more responsibly of food waste, let me gently suggest that a statutory responsibility is far more effective. Scotland has a statutory responsibility on local authorities to collect food waste at the doorstep, and we have used it to good effect.

I think that disposable vapes are universally loathed among parliamentarians. I recently had to replace a tyre after it succumbed to the innards of a disposable vape. In this debate, we need to separate the truly pernicious public health element of disposable vapes, which are cynically marketed to children, and focus on the environmental consequences, which are vast and disastrous for us. I understand that the Government are looking at that. Will the Minister update us on what actions are being planned?

I know that we are not allowed to use props in the Chamber, but these water cups are among the products that are marketed as being allegedly biodegradable. Can the Minister update the Chamber on how genuinely biodegradable they are? My understanding is that they are biodegradable in little more than a marketing sense, and that the amount of energy that has to be put into recycling them, supposing that a facility that can recycle them can be found, is truly appalling.

Unlike here in Westminster, the Scottish Government are committed to implementing legislation to ensure a transition to a circular economy, and to support growth in green businesses while cutting waste and climate emissions. However, the UK Government continue to abuse their post-Brexit powers to prevent the Scottish Government from taking action. We saw that after the Scottish Government introduced the Circular Economy Bill to the Scottish Parliament. The Bill will give Ministers powers to set local recycling targets, which is fine; ban the disposal of unsold consumer goods; and place charges on single-use items. On that last provision, the Scottish Government went further and legislated for a deposit return scheme, which was due to go live in August ’23, until the malign last-minute intervention of the United Kingdom Government. They unilaterally halted Scotland’s ambitions until October ’25 at the earliest, and held Scotland back to keep us in line with England. A partnership of equals? I think not!

The European Commission adopted a new circular economy plan in March 2020. Europe is marching on ahead. Thirteen countries have a deposit returns scheme. It is entirely unremarkable on the continent and Scotland would be among that number were we not shackled to this failing Westminster system. A transition to a circular economy is crucial to our fight against climate change. We must remain committed to shifting away from a disposable economy. I am struck by hon. Members talking about throwing away. Away where? It does not go anywhere. It stays with us. We must remain committed to that priority. Our society should be based on the principles of recycling and reusing, and that should be achieved through deeds, not words.

I am saddened that the UK Government exposed their deep-seated—and justifiable—insecurity by preventing Scotland from following through on their legislation in this entirely devolved area, solely to show who is in charge and to mask their own legislative inaction. A shift towards a circular economy would also deliver reductions in energy consumption, which should be a priority alongside green power, but is not—not here in the UK, anyway. A transition to a circular economy could deliver significant gains for industry and generate savings, as others have already evidenced, for households and businesses alike.

The Scottish Government have been working to implement legislation to drive and create a circular economy, which would support the growth of green businesses. The deposit returns scheme was a significant part of that. When the Scottish Government were prevented by Westminster from introducing the DRS, Westminster blocked an issue that had cross-party consensus in a devolved area. Consider this contrast: when the Scottish Government disagree with the UK Government, we can decline to provide legislative consent; when Westminster decides that it disagrees with Scottish Government legislation, it blocks it. A Union of equals? I do not think so. We in the Scottish Government are committed to furthering the ambitions of environmental protection and renewal, and that is how we will continue.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I first offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) on securing this important debate. She made so many important points during her opening speech, which we obviously all listened to with great interest and agreement.

It feels as though we have been talking about circular economics for a long time, but we seem to be going backwards in some areas when it comes to action. It is estimated that there are enough unused cables in UK households to go around the world five times, alongside a hoard of 20 unused electronic items in every household across the UK, yet electronic manufacturers and online retailers do little or nothing to stem the flow of more and more. It does not seem to occur to them at the design stage to even think about making a product durable, reusable, able to be repurposed or built from readily replaceable and upgradable components.

Far too often, products are made with components that will fail and either cannot be repaired or can be fixed only by the original manufacturer. Our economy is stuck in a linear mindset, in which the full costs of environmental impacts are just not factored in. That means high-quality, long-lasting products are undercut by cheap, poor-quality goods that are designed for a single use or a short lifetime.

As ever, there are loads of great initiatives across the UK. In the summer, I had the privilege of spending a day at the Greater Manchester Renewal Hub in Trafford. It is a vast warehouse complex run by SUEZ. It has reuse and repair workshops and is operated by a whole team of community organisations. There are areas for furniture restoring and upcycling, bike repairs, and electrical equipment testing and repairing. Excellent-quality items are resold through the local shops and online. In my constituency of Newport West, our local shop, Remake, hires out products, repairs items and runs classes, including sewing classes, to enable local people to actually repair their own products and give them skills for the future, which is brilliant.

It is clear that need a proper circular economy action plan, but unfortunately we have a hopelessly piecemeal and hotchpotch system, which is emblematic of the Government’s current sticking plaster approach. Even worse, it seems that we now have the Prime Minister trying to turn recycling into a political football. The hon. Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned the recycling figures. Certainly, in England they are very low. [Interruption.] I apologise; I meant Angus, not Strangford —I got my countries muddled up. The hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) made the point about Scotland striving for higher recycling figures. In Wales, the recycling figures are always over 60%, and we are striving for 70%. We are the third best recycling country in the world at the moment and are striving to be second.

Some 80% of the environmental impact of a product is in the design phase, so to prevent waste we have to look at things such as built-in obsolescence and electronic products that are either designed not to be repairable or can be repaired only by the manufacturer. The Government’s adviser, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, recommended that Government should support businesses to focus on remanufacturing and repair, which will generate new jobs and tackle structural unemployment. We are also missing a huge opportunity to generate growth and jobs in the economy. Widespread adoption of circular economy business models has the potential to boost the UK economy by around £75 billion in gross value added, according to WRAP. It also believes that moving to a more circular economy, including through recycling, could create around half a million jobs across all skill levels and regions of the UK.

We need a strategy for a circular economy with proper and effective buy-in from the devolved Administrations. That will drive up vital business investment in circular design and reusability. Getting in place the right Government support for a circular economy is a real priority for the next Labour Government.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) on securing this debate, which gives me, as the Minister, the opportunity to talk about so much that is going on in this sphere. I also want to extend a welcome to a gentleman from my hon. Friend’s constituency, Mr Sterno, who is here. I believe he is something of a hero locally and has introduced a plastic-free world, basically, in Eastbourne. I congratulate him on that. He also initiated the Spring Water Festival and refillable water stations. He is a model of the kind of constituent we would all welcome. I thank him for all his work and hon. Members and hon. Friends who have taken part.

Natural capital is one of our most valuable assets. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we live on and the stock of material resources that we use in our daily lives are at the heart of our economy, our society and our way of life. We must not take those for granted. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) highlighted that very clearly in his speech. I want to set out the things we are doing in Government. Contrary to what was said by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), and, much as I respect her, we are taking this very seriously and we have a joined-up strategy. She suggested that it was all piecemeal, but I think it will be clear by the end of my speech that that is not the case.

In our 2018 resources and waste strategy for England, we set out how we will preserve that stock of material resources by minimising waste, promoting resource efficiency and moving towards the circular economy. The strategy also made clear our intent to minimise the damage caused to our natural environment by waste and to promote clean growth as we move towards reducing the amount of waste we produce and better handling the waste we generate. The strategy combined immediate actions with firm commitments for the coming years and gave a clear, long-term policy direction in line with our 25-year environment plan, which was refreshed in January this year as our environmental improvement plan. This is our blueprint for eliminating avoidable plastic waste over the lifetime of the plan, for doubling resource productivity and for eliminating avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050—so perhaps I should present a copy of it to the shadow Minister.

I would like to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne that my Department remains absolutely committed to these ambitious goals—as I know she is; that was very clear from her speech—and that we have set that out in those publications. Indeed, over the past few years, we have made considerable progress towards realising the aims set out in our plan.

With plastics, we began in 2018 by introducing one of the world’s toughest bans on plastic microbeads in rinse-off personal care products. I was just a Back Bencher then—although I should not say “just”—and it is one of the things that I am most proud of being part of, having come to this place. We raised the issue, we gathered the evidence and the data, and the ban was introduced—it happened. That was a huge step forwards.

We followed that in 2020 by restricting the supply of single-use plastic straws and cotton buds, and by banning single-use drink stirrers. From 1 October this year, we have restricted the supply of single-use plastic plates, bowls and trays, and banned single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, and expanded and foam extruded polystyrene food and drink containers—the sort of bubbly or crackly ones. Furthermore, we also increased the carrier bag charge to 10p and extended it to all businesses back in May 2021. That has reduced carrier bag sales across the main retailers by an incredible 98%.

In addition to our domestic progress on plastic, the UK has shown real international leadership in tackling plastic pollution, which was mentioned earlier by a few hon. Friends. We are continuing to deliver international UK aid programmes through our blue planet fund. I was fortunate enough to go to Colombia in the summer and I launched a £10 million programme working with Colombia. Some of Colombia’s beautiful islands, beautiful as they are, are being completely weighed down by the weight of plastic and the lack of recycling. Terrible damage can also be seen in the ocean there. Our money is helping with education and work programmes to tackle all those things. I was genuinely so proud to see what we are doing and the lead we are taking on this.

Significantly, we are also co-sponsoring the proposal to prepare the landmark and legally binding treaty to end plastic pollution, which is absolutely critical. The UK is also a founding member of the High Ambition Coalition to end plastic pollution, which is a group of 50 countries calling for strong global obligations and targets, including the goal of ending plastic pollution by 2040. We hope that the eventual instrument—this is happening really quickly—will include obligations relating to the whole lifecycle of plastic, from production to consumption, right through to the environmentally sound management of waste, to create a legal framework for reducing the total quantity of plastic on the planet that goes out on to the market, and to set a really clear road map for that.

However, I always say, even when I go out on the international stage, that we have to take the lead at home. We have to demonstrate. We cannot tell other people what to do; we have to be doing it here, and I think everybody in the Chamber clearly feels the same.

Beyond plastic pollution, we are overhauling our whole approach to recycling and packaging waste. The collections and packaging reforms programme comprises a number of schemes. We have the extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging, known as the EPR, which, as has been pointed out, is very much based on the “polluter pays” principle. We also have the deposit return scheme for drinks containers, known as the DRS, and simpler recycling, formerly known as the consistency in recycling collection scheme—we have simplified the whole thing, including the name. Together, the reforms will make up three of the most significant commitments in our resources and waste strategy, and they will play a really key part in delivering our goals for the environment. These reforms will also drive clean growth and reduce the amount of waste that we generate.

Although the EPR and the DRS are laudable schemes, does the Minister agree that they seem to have hit the buffers? They have been delayed, and although we have had consultations, we are a long way down the line, yet nothing has happened so far. Does she agree that consistent recycling has also been a long time coming and that it should not be a political football?

The hon. Lady will not be surprised that I completely disagree with her. All these schemes are aligning. Maybe she has not been listening to the recent announcements about all the things coming down the track, and maybe she does not have a complete understanding of how all these schemes will dovetail together. It is so important that we listen to business and to industry, so that we make these schemes work for everyone.

The Minister is gently pushing back against the Labour Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), about the perceived lack of commitment from the UK Government. It is my understanding that the Conservative party’s 2019 manifesto contained a commitment to DRS, which included glass. Can the Minister confirm that that target has now slipped to 2025? There is a very good chance that, putting it mildly, they might not be in government in 2025.

The Scottish spokesperson raised the whole subject of the DRS in his speech. I was disappointed at the approach he has taken, because my officials and I are at pains to be working so closely with all the devolveds on this, particularly Scotland, in the light of what happened with its deposit return scheme. Just this morning I had a meeting with business and industry. The key things they want are good relations and inter-operability of the schemes. That is partly why we moved our EPR by one year, because we listen to business and industry, and they asked us for more time. These things are really complicated for our businesses to roll out, and we have to ensure that they work and will deliver what they are there for.

Absolute alignment is what would work best for all these schemes to achieve what I think we all want, and that is what we are working on with all our devolved counterparts. It would be brilliant if the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Newport West, could help that along in Wales, and if our SNP colleague, the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan), could help us along in Scotland—generally, we always get great support from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). That is something on which we could really work together strongly to help with this.

The overall objectives of our packaging scheme are to encourage businesses to consider how much packaging they use, to design and to use packaging that is more easily recyclable, and to encourage the use of reusable and refillable packaging—I have brought along my refillable water bottle, which is something we could all be doing, although I see that the shadow Minister has not brought along hers.

We have committed to setting ambitious new packaging waste recycling targets for producers, and the packaging EPR policy measures will be key in delivering these. The data already being gathered by the businesses will inform what the fees will be, and that money will be used to pay for the simpler recycling collection. It is all circular. The more recyclable the packaging the producer puts on the market, the lower the fee it will pay. That will drive the design, reusability and recyclability of the product. This is genuinely very exciting, and there are huge opportunities for business, industry and innovation, which some colleagues have referred to.

The deposit return scheme will help to boost recycling levels, just as the EPR will, and to reduce littering, which was one of the main reasons we wanted to bring in that particular scheme. As has been mentioned, the simpler recycling details have now been launched. They are very flexible. We have worked with local authorities so that they know there will be something they can work with. They can put all the dry recyclables into one bag if they wish to, and the food waste will be separately collected. That will be mandatory. As has been pointed out, this is one of the biggest contributors to our emissions. DEFRA’s biggest emissions contribution is food waste, so we must collect it. It is absolutely right that we are going to make that mandatory.

Very briefly, can the Minister confirm that, in the main, the local authorities that recycle the most have only three bins?

Three bins is one possible direction. If a council still wanted to separate out all the products, as mine does in Somerset—if that works, because it has the systems and knows it can get the onward market right—then that is fine. But if it wants to put all those dry things into one bin, it can. It will then end up with three bins: that one, one for food waste and the big one for general waste that it is simply very hard to recycle, which will tend to go to incineration to create energy. But the worst thing is landfill, which is what we are trying to eliminate altogether.

We are also honouring our existing commitments to waste prevention, which is really important. So for England, maximising resources—

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).