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Westminster Hall

Volume 744: debated on Tuesday 30 January 2024

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 30 January 2024

[Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Victims of Road Traffic Offences: Criminal Justice System

[Relevant documents: e-petition 623592, Lifetime driving ban if you are convicted of causing death by dangerous driving; e-petition 617180, Make disregard for learners’ safety an aggravating factor in driving offences; e-petition 590271, Shakeel’s LawReform laws on hit and run drivers; e-petition 575620, Ryan’s Law: Widen definition of ‘death by dangerous driving’; e-petition 323926, Tougher sentences for hit and run drivers who cause death.]

Before I call the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) to move the motion, can I ask for the co-operation of all Members taking part in this debate in ensuring that they abide by the House’s sub judice resolution? That means that there must be no reference in debate to cases that are active in the UK courts, including inquests and any cases that have not reached the sentencing stage. I ask Members to take all reasonable steps to assure themselves before mentioning specific incidents that there are no active court proceedings at this time, and to avoid saying anything that appears to prejudge the outcome of a future case. I will intervene if it appears that a case being discussed is indeed active.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered victims of road traffic offences and the criminal justice system.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Ms Nokes.

I am speaking not just as a representative of my North Devon constituency, but primarily as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cycling and walking. I am also here as a voice for the countless people across our country whose lives have been or could be tragically impacted by road crashes. I am careful to use the word “crashes” or “collisions” rather than “accidents” because RoadPeace, the charity supporting those who are bereaved or seriously injured after road traffic collisions, highlights that accidents are seen as “just one of those things”. In many cases, as we will hear today, there are a series of actions leading up to avoidable tragedies.

This debate has been secured following the APPG’s report on “Road Justice”, published late last year, which is a profound testament to the urgent need for reform. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is a matter not just of policy, but of life and death. This inquiry was a follow-up to the first in 2017, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who is now the Justice Secretary, held my position on the APPG. I spoke to him yesterday evening, and he is taking a keen interest in today’s debate; he will be facilitating a meeting for me with the relevant Minister following it.

The Government’s vision, as articulated in “Gear Change”, is ambitious and commendable. It is to see half of all journeys in towns and cities made accessible by walking or cycling by 2030. However, this vision is currently jeopardised by a prevailing climate of fear among vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. It also does not consider the complexities of active travel on rural roads, the encouragement of which requires a vastly different approach compared to the encouragement of active travel in more urban environments. The Department for Transport has made fantastic efforts to include rurality in its funding, but I ask that it extends rural thinking across the whole portfolio, so we can have a joined-up approach to road safety.

As many of us will know from the volume of correspondence from constituents, road safety is an issue that affects pretty much all of us, and pedestrians and cyclists are most at risk. To tackle road safety and improve the experience in the justice system, everybody needs to work together, and that includes Government Departments. Many of the responsibilities in this area fall between the Department for Transport, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, and I am sure that collaboration can be improved.

The inquiry conducted by the APPG included 10 recommendations categorised into two groups: group A, requiring ambitious reform; and group B, rapid and more uncontroversial proposals that could be implemented quickly. They would all require support from the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Transport and the Home Office.

The first recommendation in group A—aiming for ambitious reforms—is that the Government introduce escalating penalties for repeat road traffic offences. Analysis of police data from 2014 to 2017 has revealed that 47% of those convicted for driving while disqualified had at least one previous conviction for the offence. However, there is not currently a means for penalties to increase in steps. Instead, the magistrate or judge is limited to the same maximum penalty that applies to a first offence. I raised this point in the Chamber with the Minister for prisons, parole and probation—the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar)—last year, and asked about his Department’s plans to escalate traffic offences, especially as repeat offenders are given the same penalty as a first-time offender. This would be an important step towards making road justice a reality for those walking, wheeling and cycling.

The APPG also asked for compulsory retesting of offenders. Any driver who has been disqualified should be required to undergo retesting. This currently happens only for the most serious of offences, such as causing death by dangerous driving. This is not punitive, but a necessary measure to ensure that drivers possess the skills and awareness needed for safe driving. The report proposed increasing the maximum sentence for dangerous driving to four years, reflecting the severity of such offences and their potential for causing harm. We need to deter and tackle dangerous drivers before they kill, so dangerous driving needs to be treated more seriously.

The concept of exceptional hardship in the totting-up process for driving disqualifications must also be revisited. We advocate a stricter interpretation to ensure that it is not misused as a loophole. Approximately 23% of those who amass 12 penalty points successfully argue against disqualification on the grounds of exceptional hardship. We should prioritise the hardship felt by families and victims of road crashes rather than prioritising the convenience of offenders.

The second part of the report calls for

“thorough investigation of serious collisions”.

Standardised best practice-based guidelines for investigating serious road traffic collisions must be adopted across all police forces. This uniformity will ensure justice and proper accountability. There is also a need to implement a standardisation system for third-party reporting of traffic incidents via dashcams. Currently, this can be a postcode lottery, and the change would facilitate a more consistent and efficient handling of such reports.

The report recommends establishing a UK commissioner for road danger reduction. The role would involve measuring road danger, setting reduction targets and ensuring effective collaboration among various stakeholders. This campaign is championed by crash victim Sarah Hope, who I know hoped to be in the Public Gallery today. We need to recognise that crash victims should be treated as victims of crime, barring clear evidence to the contrary. This recognition is vital in addressing their trauma and loss.

As we look at extending understanding of the highway code, we need a better communication campaign to enhance that understanding and compliance with the revised highway code, which would also contribute significantly to improving road safety.

In addition to the report, I feel it important to mention some of the additional issues that road safety campaigners have highlighted to us. One is the lengthy delay in the publishing of various calls for evidence by the Department for Transport, and the delay in publishing its road safety strategy. The call for evidence for the Department for Transport’s roads policing review began on 13 July 2020, with recommendations due in spring 2021. To date, no update has been published. In May 2014, the coalition Government at the time committed to undertake a full review of offences and penalties. Although this is no longer the same Government, for 10 years various Ministers in both the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Justice have promised that this is coming in “due course”. I hope that today the Minister will be able to provide a significant update on that timeline.

The Department for Transport has said that it intends to publish a new road safety strategy. There is currently a document in place for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not England. It is essential that we know when such an important document will be published and put into practice. I again ask the Minister whether he can give any indication of a timeframe for the publication of that road safety strategy.

Unfortunately, most Members will have seen awful cases of road violence in their constituencies and struggle to understand the reasoning behind the charge and sentencing. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones), asked me to represent the case of Harry Webb on behalf of Harry’s parents in Powys. Harry was cycling in Hackney when he was killed by a driver. Harry was killed in a 20 mph limit area; if the driver had been driving at the speed limit, Harry would probably have got away with broken limbs at worst. However, that was not the case and if someone is charged—and there is no indication that they have been—it is regrettable that the case will not come to court until 2025. If someone is charged and found guilty, a criminally reckless driver will have been allowed behind the wheel until then. Harry’s parents have emphasised that perpetrators of road violence who have caused death or life-changing injuries often receive shockingly low sentences; their case is not the only one.

Not far from North Devon, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) has worked for some time on an upsetting case from his constituency—one in which the Saltern family were deprived of a much-loved son, and a wife was robbed of a life together with him. The family have since campaigned for a change in the law—Ryan’s law—to try to widen the definition of death by dangerous driving. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall was unable to attend today’s debate as he is in a Bill Committee, but I know that he, too, has met Ministers to discuss whether it is possible to introduce a new offence or new sentencing guidelines relating to failing to stop. In my constituency of North Devon, 451 residents have signed the Ryan’s law petition calling for the Government to widen the definition of death by dangerous driving to include:

“failure to stop, call 999 and render aid on scene until further help arrives.”

The distinction between careless and dangerous driving is blurred, leading to inconsistency in charging and prosecution. In my local policing area of Devon and Cornwall, the ratio of careless driving prosecutions to dangerous driving prosecutions is 21:1. Across England, the ratio differs greatly between 1.8:1 in Cleveland and 41:1 in Essex. That inconsistency cannot be attributed solely to variations in local driving behaviours or to different environments; it points to a systemic issue in our enforcement and understanding of these offences.

I thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for securing this important debate. Sentences do not reflect the impact and nature of the crime in all circumstances. Family and friends should be able to have faith in the criminal justice system. Does the hon. Member agree that family and friends should be able to have faith that the punishment will fit the crime and that justice will be done?

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and highly recommend that she digest a copy of the “Road Justice” report, which covers that point. I entirely agree that there is a real need to ensure that families feel that confidence.

I want to highlight an important campaign, by RoadPeace West Midlands and Action Vision Zero, on the inadequacy of the law around hit-and-run collisions. Also unable to join us today is my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), who wanted to highlight the work of local councillor Lucy Harrison, who unfortunately lost her brother in a road crash and is running the Remain and Report campaign with RoadPeace.

The rise in hit-and-run collisions, particularly involving pedestrians and cyclists, is alarming. The current laws, which allow up to 24 hours to report a collision, might be appropriate for a supermarket prang, but are woefully inadequate for serious or fatal collisions, especially as offenders potentially wait for alcohol or drugs to leave their system. The existing summary charge of “fail to stop”, which carries a maximum custodial sentence of six months, currently applies to all collision severities, including damage only; it is not appropriate for serious collisions. Two new criminal charges—failing to remain at the scene of a fatal collision and failing to remain at the scene of a serious injury collision—should be considered.

I want to draw attention to the Vision Zero South West scheme. Vision Zero’s ambition is to cut road deaths and serious injuries to zero by 2040 and to reduce current numbers by 50% by 2030. In 2022, however, there were 47 fatal injuries and 743 serious injuries in Devon and Cornwall, according to the road casualties summary. That number must come down. Although it is one of the safest regions when it comes to road safety, any death or serious injury is one too many.

Throughout the evidence gathering for the report, it became clear to me that the system has an issue with driving disqualifications. It is important to state and remind us all that driving is a privilege and not a right. When done correctly, driving can be an enormous tool for good, but we should remember that it is a dangerous activity—dangerous enough to need to be licensed.

Another flaw in the system that needs to be looked at is the fact that killer drivers can continue to drive while they await trial; sometimes that can be years, because of the delays in the courts. RoadPeace advocates for immediate licence suspensions for offenders. Of course we need to ensure that people are innocent until proven guilty but, as I have mentioned, driving is a privilege. A fork-lift truck operator involved in a fatal accident in the workplace would not be invited to carry on operating that machinery while they were under investigation. This change would not require new legislation, as guidance could encourage bail conditions to more regularly include restrictions on driving after being charged.

Finally, on the subject of disqualification, if a person kills someone through careless or dangerous driving, why should they ever be able to drive again? The mandatory driving ban for causing death by dangerous driving is five years. Why is it not a lifetime disqualification? Again, lifetime bans would not necessarily require new legislation. They happen now, although are exceptionally rare; guidance could change that.

The APPG’s recommendations are essential calls to action. We must act decisively and without further delay to reform our road justice system, protect the vulnerable and ensure that our streets are safe for all. We must foster an environment wherein every road user, regardless of their mode of transport, feels safe and is protected by a just and effective legal system.

As you can all see, many Members wish to contribute. I will not impose a formal time limit yet, but I ask Members to consider limiting their comments to five minutes or so.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Nokes. I thank my co-chair of the APPG for cycling and walking, the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), who gave a tremendous speech outlining the content of the “Road Justice” report that the group published in September 2023. I will add a little to what she said, but she was pretty comprehensive, and I am grateful to her. I took over from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) as co-chair late last year; I thank her for her years of dedication and the huge contribution she made to the APPG in the years that she chaired it with the hon. Member for North Devon.

On 21 December 2017, just over six years ago, I secured an Adjournment debate in the Commons Chamber on the case of my constituent Ian Winterburn, a cyclist who was killed at the junction of Whitkirk Lane and the A6120 ring road in Leeds on the morning of 12 December 2016. He was wearing a cyclist’s high-visibility jacket and his helmet, and his lights were on. In spite of that, a car turning right in front of Ian drove straight into him, the driver claiming that she did not see him on the road. He died in a coma 10 days later as a result of his injuries. On 4 October 2017, the driver of the Skoda that killed Mr Winterburn was convicted by Leeds magistrates court of causing death by careless driving. She was handed down a four-month prison sentence suspended for two years, a £200 fine, 200 hours of community service and a two-year driving ban—not even the five-year ban that is now mandatory. As I described to the House at the time, the way in which the West Yorkshire police and the Crown Prosecution Service dealt with the case and treated the family was utterly appalling, as was the family’s treatment by the court service and the coroner. I detailed the case then, so I will not repeat what I said, but I sincerely hope that the treatment of victims of cycling fatalities and their families has improved over the past seven years.

In summer 2022, I received a distressing email from the daughter of a constituent who had been killed by a taxi driver on his way to work, early in the morning. My constituent was an experienced cyclist who had been travelling by bike regularly for over 40 years. He was hit and killed instantly by a car that had seemingly gone through a red light at a junction. As the case is still sub judice, I cannot give further details except to express my anger and that of the family that West Yorkshire police told the victim’s wife and daughter that the case could take up to two years to bring evidence or a prosecution for what appeared to them to be a clear-cut case. The anguish that they suffered and still suffer is unimaginable. It truly is a case of justice delayed, as the saying goes, being justice denied.

In 2023, as the hon. Member for North Devon said, the APPG for cycling and walking launched an inquiry into road justice that reported in September and made 10 recommendations. I will briefly repeat them at the end of my speech. However, a few years ago, while on my routine ride from Parliament to King’s Cross station on my way back to Leeds, I was stopping at the traffic lights at the junction of Holborn and Kingsway, a notoriously dangerous area for cyclists, when another cyclist cut across my path, causing me to brake so sharply that I fell off my bike on to a stationary taxi. The other cyclist, realising what he had done, stopped and returned to help me—the lights were red and the traffic was at a halt. At the same time, however, the cab driver wound down his window and started shouting abuse at me—while I was lying injured on the ground—for possibly damaging his vehicle. The other cyclist made it plain that the accident was his fault, not mine, but the cab driver would not have it and demanded that I pay for the damage to his taxi cab. When he finally got out of the cab he realised, after inspecting it, that no damage had been done, but instead of helping me up off the road, he simply told both of us that we were a menace to all cars on the road and should not be allowed to cycle on any main road. Thankfully, cycling infrastructure in London has improved so much since then that I do not have to use the Aldwych/Kingsway route any more, which is a big relief. I am sure there have been far fewer casualties at that junction since London’s cycle routes were created, but the same cannot be said for the rest of the country.

It is my experience as a cyclist, and I am sure that of many other Members, that drivers—most of us are drivers too—do not recognise the right of cyclists to be on the road with them. As the hon. Member for North Devon said, they do not want to share the road with road users who are not in motorised vehicles. Driving a motorised vehicle is a privilege, as it is a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands if not used properly. We cyclists have every right to use the road and should not be treated with the contempt that most motorists show us. How many of us have suffered abuse from people winding down the windows as they overtake us because we are slowing them down to tell us that we should pay tax as a cyclist—which we do anyway—or should not be on the road at all? Sometimes, in rare cases, they take action they think is appropriate and try to run us off the road. Many of us have experienced that horror.

Justice for cyclists involved in these collisions is really important, especially when a motor vehicle is involved. We want the points we made in our report to be implemented as quickly as possible to help more people cycle on roads, walk and get involved in active travel.

I repeat my request for Members not to sail too close to the wind when it comes to the sub judice regulations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for securing this important debate on victims of road traffic offences and the criminal justice system. According to Brake, someone is killed or seriously injured on UK roads every 16 minutes or so. Although my hon. Friend focused on the work and recommendations of the APPG for cycling and walking, which she and others work hard to passionately support, we all recognise that victims of road traffic offences extend beyond that group. They include pedestrians, passers-by and other vehicle users right across the country. I therefore believe that the improvements that should be made in line with the report’s recommendations have the potential to have a much broader impact.

Like other right hon. Member and hon. Members, I have had tragic incidents of road violence in my constituency, and constituents who have been victims of road traffic offences outside the constituency. That is one of the reasons I am here today. Sadly, the victim’s family is too often left seeking the justice that has not been provided and campaigning to improve the system.

My constituent Lola Chapman’s beloved brother, Harry, was tragically killed by a speeding drink-driver on Aldridge Road. She is campaigning determinedly for changes to improve road safety, and has launched a petition seeking measures to reduce driver speed.

In a tragic case in 2021, an uninsured car mounted the pavement in Brownhills in broad daylight, killing an 18-day-old baby in his pram; the community was left in shock and the family was absolutely devastated. Some 18 months later, following a successful campaign, the Court of Appeal increased the driver’s sentence, but why must victims and families go through that?

Many other victims join support groups such as RoadPeace West Midlands, which my hon. Friend mentioned. It is an incredible volunteer group that provides support to others to raise awareness of the impact of road death and campaign for change. Whether it is Aldridge Road, Brownhills High Street, Pelsall Lane, Bosty Lane or other areas of my constituency, I come back to the fact that behind every number is a victim, a family and loved ones. That is why we must continue to improve the system. Sentencing should be tough, and crash victims should be treated as victims of crime. There is so much that the APPG seeks to change. We should create a UK commissioner for road danger reduction and revise the 2020 guidance and the totting-up disqualification. However, I believe that education and awareness matter too in ensuring that there is increasing knowledge of the highway code and driver awareness— I will touch on that briefly, because I am conscious of the time and the fact that many others want to contribute. Last week was Neighbourhood Policing Week, as I am sure you will be aware, Ms Nokes. I was fortunate to spend Saturday afternoon out with my excellent local Brownhills team, which conducted a speed awareness operation encouraging better driver behaviour to comply with speed limits as an important part of the work going ahead. There is so much to do. The issue and the work continue, and I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say to update us on actions and the timeline.

I first thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for securing this important and timely debate. I also pay tribute to Better Streets for Birmingham, which campaigns tirelessly in my community to improve the safety of our roads.

Road traffic collisions, certainly fatal ones, are some of the most tragic incidents that we see across the UK, especially as many of them are preventable. In reported road collisions in the year ending June 2023, there were more than 1,500 fatalities and more than 130,000 casualties in Britain. In 2022 in my constituency, there were 338 road collisions, with casualties rising by more than 100 since 2021. On 29 May last year, a four-year-old boy was tragically killed after being hit by a car in my constituency. Two days before, on 27 May, a 13-year-old girl was reported to be fighting for her life after she was struck by a hit-and-run driver. Just 15 minutes’ drive away, on 31 May a cyclist was killed in a hit and run. In the space of five days, three families in my constituency had their world turned upside down.

In October last year, I backed Birmingham City Council’s campaign to reduce the speed limit on one of the roads in my constituency from 40 mph to 30 mph, and the council is doing some important work throughout this year to make our streets safer, such as average speed enforcement, giving priority to pedestrians and refreshing its road harm reduction strategy. However, we can and should do more. There have already been two serious incidents on Birmingham Road this year. One of the biggest barriers to active travel as a replacement for driving is safety, and in the three weeks when the three cyclists were killed on Birmingham Road in June last year, the impact was felt right across our city.

It is also vital that people feel safe and secure when walking at night, so we must tackle the issues of crime and antisocial behaviour, which are soaring under this Government. We need to rebuild neighbourhood policing to increase the number of police and police community support officers in community teams so that people can be confident that someone will always be there to help them to remain safe. Government, both local and national, must do what they can to improve routes and roads so that people can feel safe walking and cycling, instead of driving. They must also ensure that penalties for breaking the law when driving are strong deterrents. Failure to stop after an accident and give details and failure to report an accident are an offence, which carries a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or six months’ imprisonment.

It is clear that we are not doing enough to prevent that kind of driving. A maximum of six months in prison for a hit and run is absolutely not enough, and clearly it does not deter as it should. Sentencing outcomes for summary motoring offences generally have not changed over the past 10 years, and most offenders each year are only fined. For some offences, a fine is adequate; for others, it is absolutely not—I am sure that those families in my constituency would say the same. We should feel safe walking to school, cycling to work and strolling to the shops, but the reality is that in my city, between 2019 and 2021, more than 200 collisions were caused by careless and reckless driving. More than 120 were caused by drivers speeding; more than 100 were caused by aggressive driving; more than 70 were caused by drivers impaired by alcohol. Currently, deterrents are not working. We need to see a dedicated road safety strategy from the Government, with a plan to fund active travel, deter dangerous drivers, and make our streets safer for everyone. We can do more to ensure we all feel a little safer on our streets—and we should.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this debate, which is of great importance to my North West Norfolk constituents and to Members across the House. I want to focus particularly on the sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. In the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, Parliament legislated to increase the maximum sentence for this crime from 14 years to life imprisonment, which we did to reflect the devastation that such crimes inflict. The sentencing guidelines issued for that change have a range for the category A offence—the most serious offence —from eight to 18 years.

Are those guidelines effective, and are judges following them? In the case of my constituent, Summer Mace, I do not think so. I confirm that it is not an active case. Three members of Summer’s family—her mother, sister and stepfather—were killed by a dangerous driver. Having had an Adjournment debate on this case, I return to it to highlight the devastating impact on Summer, her family and her friends, and the inadequate sentence imposed. The judge rightly classed this as a category A offence, owing to a prolonged, persistent and deliberate course of very bad driving. There were six aggravating factors in the case: three people were killed; greatly excessive speed was used; the driver knew he was deprived of sufficient sleep; he had consumed drugs above the legal limit; he had previous convictions for motoring offences; and he was on police bail for a driving offence at the time, breaking the curfew to commit the crime. The only mitigating factor was a letter he sent to the court—not even to the family.

It is unacceptable that after a guilty plea was taken into account, he was sentenced to only 10 and a half years for three separate counts of causing death by dangerous driving. He could be out in seven years. The question that the family and I want to ask is what is required for a large sentence to be imposed? Those sentencing guidelines took effect in June last year. When more data is available, I hope the Minister and the Lord Chancellor will consider very carefully the impact on sentencing that those guidelines have had, and whether judges are actually imposing the sentences that this House and the House of Lords legislated for. I hope that the Lord Chancellor uses his power to formally request that the sentencing guidelines are reviewed.

The other point I want to raise is around disqualification, as touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon. In my constituent’s case, a ban for a period of only eight years was considered appropriate, extended to 15 years to take account of the time the offender will be in prison. Again, that strikes me as far too lenient. Courts can impose lifetime bans, and RoadPeace is campaigning for them to be applied. The House of Commons Library reports that disqualification for life only happened in four cases in the year ending June 2023, out of more than 116,000 who were disqualified. The Government should consider whether it should become a mandatory element in some cases because, as my hon. Friend said, driving is a privilege and not a right. The Sentencing Council will shortly consult on new overarching guidelines for driving disqualification, and I encourage everyone with an interest in this topic to respond to that consultation.

I end by noting the frequency of driving offence cases. I was struck by the statistics that, in the case of driving under the influence of drink or drugs, 79% of cases result in a fine, with only 1% resulting in a custodial sentence, and 99% of people disqualified for a year to less than two years for that offence. Does that reflect the seriousness of the crime? Does it create a deterrent effect? I do not think so. We need to apply a robust approach, including prison sentences and lengthy bans, to send a message that these are serious crimes with serious consequences.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this morning, Ms Nokes. I too would like to congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing the debate and opening it powerfully. I would like to raise a specific case I have been working on for some time. In August 2017, 22-month-old Pearl Melody Black from Merthyr Tydfil was tragically killed while walking with her father and brother. Pearl was killed when an occupied vehicle rolled from a private drive in Merthyr Tydfil on to the highway, down a hill, crashing into a wall that subsequently crushed her and injured her father and brother.

In the months after the incident, officers from the serious collision unit of South Wales police worked tirelessly to put a case together to provide justice for the family. In short, all tests concluded that the car was mechanically sound, and that it had rolled because the handbrake was not fully engaged, and the automatic transmission was not fully placed into park mode.

The case was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service locally and in London, and an independent QC was hired by the CPS to consult. Everyone was hopeful of a conviction under the death by dangerous driving category. The CPS looked into other possible options. After a number of months, however, it stated that it was unable to send the case to court, as a glitch in the law states that the vehicle must have started its journey on a public road for a prosecution under the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Even though Pearl was killed on a public road, the fact that the vehicle started its descent from a private drive meant that the prosecution was not possible. The coroner stated that the vehicle was well maintained. It seemed the issue was very much driver operation. The inquest heard that the handbrake had not been fully applied in the park mode. The inquest in October 2018 resulted in an outcome of accident.

With the support of South Wales police and the CPS, Pearl’s parents seek a change in the law to prevent other families from finding themselves in a similar situation, unable to secure justice due to a legal loophole, following such a tragic and completely preventable incident. As Gemma and Paul acknowledge, it will not help to bring justice for Pearl, as legislation is not retrospective, but if the law can be changed to prevent anyone else from suffering such injustice again, that might provide some comfort.

I have had meetings with Government Ministers in the past few years. Although they were helpful and sympathetic, there has been no major transport Bill to provide a way of introducing this change. I pursued a ten-minute rule Bill, but it failed as it ran out of time. I am hoping that an amendment to another related Bill may be a way forward, in the absence of a wider overhaul of the road traffic offences legal framework.

There are a huge number of incidences where private land adjoining public land is regularly used, and is potentially dangerous, including residential driveways, as I mentioned, as well as verges and land for schools and nurseries, to mention some of the most common. When we consider those examples, we can see that driving on that specific category of land can present a high risk to people in everyday situations, especially children, the elderly and the more vulnerable among us.

Many hon. Members would agree that nobody who has suffered the loss of a loved one, or who has had an accident or been injured as a result of a driving offence, should have to endure the injustice of seeing those responsible go free, simply because of a loophole in the law. Prosecutions for driving offences, and any illegal action, should be based on what happened, not where something happened.

The campaign to amend, update and overhaul current legislation would give people such as Gemma and Paul Black, as well as many others, the peace of mind that there are consequences for dangerous driving, no matter where it occurs. It would send a powerful message to help prevent such needless and avoidable tragedies happening in future. I thank the hon. Member for North Devon and wish her success. I congratulate her and the all-party parliamentary group on their work. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on introducing such an important debate, on an issue many colleagues are concerned about.

Urban speeding in Wolverhampton is, to my mind, getting worse. That could be just my personal experience driving round local roads, but I am regularly overtaken by other drivers on residential roads with a speed limit of 30 miles per hour. I have taken taxi journeys from the station to my home, but I cannot remember an occasion when I did not have to say to the driver that it was a 30 mph zone.

I strongly feel that we need to do more than intervene to prevent urban speeding only when there is a fatality. In many cases, people will slow down only if they fear they may be caught and fined. StreetWatch teams have been going out with speed guns, and I have urged West Midlands police to look at having more mobile speed cameras in vans. We need measures that create the perception that drivers may be caught and fined, because that can reduce urban speeding. Taxi drivers have trackers in their cars, and licensing committees could clearly be doing spot checks on taxi drivers to ensure that their journey time correlates with the speed limit. All those measures could help reduce urban speeding, which is a huge issue.

Moving on to serious accidents, City of Wolverhampton Council will look at traffic calming and speed reduction measures only where there has been a serious injury or fatality. Because time is brief, I will focus my remarks on one tragic case we had in Wolverhampton. In 2018, Mandy Gayle’s father, Hopton Gayle, was run over and killed on the Stafford Road, which is one of the main arterial routes into Wolverhampton. It has a 40 mph limit, but it is estimated that the man who hit Hopton was travelling at well over 60 mph. He had slowed down to avoid getting caught by a traffic camera, and he was speeding up again when he hit Mandy’s father and killed him. The case is made more horrific by several factors, including the fact that the driver only stopped to push the bonnet of his car back down before driving away, leaving Hopton Gale lying on the Stafford Road.

Mandy lives on that road, and when she left her home, she saw her father under a blanket on the road. These accidents have effects. Mandy has now moved house, and she is campaigning with RoadPeace West Midlands. I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon, because what happened to Mandy’s father is a case study in the report from the APPG for cycling and walking. In the report, Mandy comments that she does not go a day without thinking of her father, and the consequence for her is a lifelong sentence. The driver, who left the scene, did hand himself in many hours later, and he was sentenced to three years and nine months and banned from driving for only four years. When someone has driven so recklessly and killed a much loved great-grandfather, that does not seem a sufficient sentence.

Most constituents send us to this place to try to pass laws and to ensure that common sense shines through when people receive sentences. When life goes wrong, constituents want our support and they want justice for their families and loved ones. The work of RoadPeace and its “Remain & Report” campaign are therefore important, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s comments on making leaving the scene of an accident a significant factor in the length of sentences—sorry, collisions, not accidents; I will remember to use the new terminology. For the sake of all our constituents, we need to reduce urban speeding, and it would be appreciated if we could hear what the Government’s plan is to help with that and to punish those drivers who endanger us all every day.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Nokes. I thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for securing today’s debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) for the incredible work he does on the APPG for cycling and walking. We have heard so powerfully today about why we need greater justice for vulnerable road users—for cyclists and pedestrians and for those who wheel and scoot.

The APPG report articulates where those changes need to be focused, and I trust that, in his response, the Minister will refer to the report’s 10 recommendations and to the opportunity to put in place a system of justice that addresses the huge inequality that vulnerable road users experience. In particular, the right to continue to drive needs to be examined in greater detail, because we know that disqualification is a major intervention that will change behaviours. That, together with sentencing, re-testing and an escalation of penalty, is long overdue.

I want to focus on speed limits, which other hon. Members have talked about today. I thank the York Cycle Campaign for its work on abiding by speed limits. In the entry and exit points of York, in particular, people accelerate beyond the speed limit. It cannot be beyond the mind of technology today to better audit, monitor and provide penalty for those who exceed the speed limit. However, across all urban areas, we need to consider whether 30 mph and 40 mph are appropriate speed limits. The Minister will be very familiar with the 20’s Plenty for Us campaign, and we do need to look at this issue, particularly where there are blind corners and steep hills, which can occlude a driver’s vision.

The hon. Lady is making a very important point about speed limits. In my constituency, on Swinston Hill Road in Dinnington, we have an issue with speeding. The council conducted a speed watch to work out how fast drivers were going. Drivers were speeding, but the council’s response was that maybe the speed limit was too low and that it should be raised because there were no accidents. Does the hon. Lady understand the concerns of residents who report speeding, when the council says that, if there are no accidents, there is no problem? Speeding is always a problem.

I agree, and we must ensure that we put safety first at every juncture.

I want to address the issue of creating zones around schools, nurseries and other areas where young people play, as well as around heavily pedestrianised areas, to ensure that there is a safety strategy in such locations. There are many schools across York where young people have to navigate dangerous roads, and 30 mph is not a safe speed for children. I urge the Minister to consider an integrated schools strategy, so we can deploy proper measures to keep children and young people safe when they walk, wheel, scoot or cycle to school. The work done in Manchester, which states that the infrastructure should be there for a 12-year-old to navigate, is really important, but we need to ensure that it is applied across the country, because it is clear that there is inequality at the moment.

Where we see repetition in a locality, or indeed even a single incident, there should be a duty on local authorities to ensure that proper signage and speed mitigation are put in place to highlight areas of risk and to ensure that junctions and other areas are safe for walkers and cyclists. I urge the Minister to look at that.

I draw Members’ attention to the work of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety on speed limits and the opportunities for technology in this area. Its recommendations, too, are important, and I thank it for its work.

I also want to raise with the Minister the work undertaken by the Institute for Safe Autonomy at the University of York, in the light of the on-board technology that is available for vehicles, which can act as evidence in court cases. That could secure more convictions and ensure a chilling effect on poor driving.

The licensing of taxis is long overdue, and the Government have had a long time to implement the Law Commission’s report on it. We often see some of the worst driving behaviours in our city when licences have been granted in authorities other than our own. I really urge movement on that issue to ensure that licensing relates to the authority in which somebody is licensed to drive, and to bring greater safety for road users.

Finally, I want to draw attention to the work City of York Council is doing with its transport consultation. If we are serious about seeing an escalation of active travel and proper safety measures put in place, it is really important that every local authority has a proper integrated transport plan. That would benefit not only the environment and the economy, with all that that brings, but cyclists, walkers, wheelers and scooters, ensuring that their safety in the road space is acknowledged and made a priority.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this important debate.

I concur with a lot of what my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) said about sentencing guidelines in relation to the case he mentioned. He and I have exchanged messages on that issue, due to tragic cases that have occurred in both our constituencies. That is why I would like to focus specifically on the case of Sharlotte-Sky Naglis, which has now been dealt with, and the individual involved has been sentenced.

The case relates specifically to section 7A of the Road Traffic Act 1988. John Owen had put himself behind the wheel of a vehicle, having been drinking and taking class A drugs all day, and was using his mobile phone when he hit and killed six-year-old Sharlotte-Sky Naglis, who was walking along the pavement in Norton Green to buy some sweets from a local shop with her father. The impact that that had on the local community still scars me to this day. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was at my Adjournment debate on this issue, and he kindly intervened to allow me to gather myself, because Claire—Sharlotte’s mother—was in the Public Gallery listening to what was being said.

Claire had to spend weeks—actually, months—not knowing what had caused the death of her six-year-old daughter. That was because John Owen was in a coma, and even though his blood had been taken without his consent, as is allowed under the provisions in legislation, the blood itself could not be tested unless he awoke from his coma and gave his consent. What seems bizarre is that we can forcibly take blood from someone, which is the most intrusive thing we can do, but we cannot then immediately allow it to be tested to give answers as quickly as possible to the police and, more importantly, to the victims of the offence.

For me, this is also a perversion in the law. If someone chooses to withhold their blood sample to stop it being tested, they may receive a maximum of two years added on to their sentence. But if it came out that they had taken class A drugs, their fear would be that they would receive an even greater sentence. So where is the incentive for them to be honest and to admit to what they have done, when they know that two years is far better than the four, five, six or whatever it is that they will receive because drug abuse, particularly involving class A drugs, is such an aggravating factor?

I have been campaigning with Claire since that awful event in 2021 to get Sharlotte’s law introduced. I am looking to secure a ten-minute rule Bill opportunity to bring this issue to the Floor of the House so that we can tidy up this area of law and say that, when blood has been taken, it will be tested, regardless of whether consent has been given, so that victims get answers to their questions. Why should we allow the police to store blood when, God forbid—by accident, I am sure—it could be contaminated and that evidence could be lost, or when it might not be stored correctly, meaning that that sample would no longer be fit for use? Why even risk allowing the perpetrator of a crime the opportunity to escape the justice he should face?

Sadly, in John Owen’s case, because the incident took place before the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, he was sentenced under the old guidance. He received only a pathetic six years of prison, and within two years he has already had the opportunity to be considered for transfer to an open prison. I would like to put on record my thanks to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, who has intervened to ensure that John Owen remains in a full custodial prison—I believe it is a category B—to make sure that, at the very least, he understands, albeit very briefly, the consequences of his heinous crimes.

The campaign I mentioned has the backing of 5,500 petitioners, many of whom are Claire’s colleagues, and I thank them and her boss for sharing it with other employees and with clients to get them to sign up. I have also secured the backing of charities such as Brake, SCARD and the Campaign Against Drink Driving and of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which in September 2023 voted unanimously across the political divide to fully endorse and support the campaign. When this issue comes to the Floor of the House, I hope the Government can, as they have with other legislation I have worked on, put their full weight behind it and ensure that we get it on to the statute book, so that we can tidy up this perversion in the law and ensure that victims get answers to questions and people get sentenced for the crimes they commit.

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on highlighting this issue and giving us all the chance to be part of this debate. It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis)—he knows he is a dear friend, and I am looking forward to him coming to my constituency in the first week of March and renewing that friendship on the ground.

Although the UK legislation does not extend to Northern Ireland, we have a very similar legislative system in place. Consequently, issues faced by people here on the mainland are replicated in Northern Ireland, and so, too, must the solutions be replicated. My contribution to this debate will be from a Northern Ireland perspective. The Minister will not be able to automatically respond, and nor does he have any duty to, but I just want to add to the debate and to support all those who have contributed.

In Northern Ireland, we have had an awful year for road deaths, with 71 people losing their lives on the roads in 2023—that is the highest number for eight years, and the annual death toll had not risen above 70 since 2015. In addition to those families losing their loved ones, figures from the Police Service of Northern Ireland show that some 679 people were seriously injured on the roads between 1 January and 31 October 2023. The data also shows that there were 13 motorcyclists and 19 pedestrians among the deaths in 2023. Provisional figures also show that single-vehicle collisions accounted for almost one fifth of all road deaths in the first months of 2023. That clearly shows that there is a need to enhance safety. So the question for me, and probably for others as well, is: with all the new safety features in cars, including anti-lock braking systems and greater non-slide technology improvements, should those numbers not be declining rather than increasing? The facts, of course, disprove that, and that is why this debate is so important.

While I have seen indicators that as many as nine in 10 accidents are avoidable, I also believe that road infrastructure has a major role to play in these statistics. We see people crossing dividing lines to avoid potholes or being pulled into the verges and ending up—as we would call it—in the sheugh in the dark, due to no fault of their own. I am sure the hon. Member for North Devon would agree that part of improving safety has to be the improvement of road structures and surfaces, and the Minister must take that aspect back to Cabinet colleagues and bid for enhanced funding. I think it was two weeks ago that I met one of the companies from the mainland, and it had a brand-new idea for solving pothole problems that looks really good. It is financially viable, quicker and more efficient, and maybe there is an onus on the Government to try to put these things in place.

In my time as an elected representative, I have seen too many deaths on our roads and the impact that that has on families. I have also seen the impact of seeing the perpetrator receive what seems to be an unfair sentence, which is nothing short of devastating. One case that springs to mind is drink-driving case where the driver was substantially over the limit, and the accident resulted in death, yet the judge handed out a suspended sentence. I was heartened by a recent case, in November last year, which resulted in a nine-and-a-half year sentence for the drunk driver. I believe that the message is starting to make its way through: driving over the limit will not be treated as a mistake but as a decision, and that decision has consequences.

I support the hon. Member for North Devon in her view that sentences should not simply reflect the damage of the crime but send a message to others. I was shocked to read that PSNI officers conducted 7,250 preliminary breath tests during the Christmas drink-driving campaign between 1 December 2023 and 1 January 2024. Of those 7,250 tests, 4.9%, or 355, resulted in a fail or fail to provide. Males accounted for the majority of those arrested for drink or drug-driving offences in the 2023-24 campaign, and half of those arrested were between 30 and 49 years of age.

However, the most shocking statistic is that the youngest person arrested for drink-driving offences during the 2023-24 campaign was 14. My goodness—how on earth could that happen? The oldest person, and they are not guiltless either, was 82. It is clear that the message is still not getting to the people who need to hear it. I believe that a means of lowering the prevalence of drink-driving would be to enhance the penalties and to remove the ability for mitigating circumstances to affect any form of punishment or rehabilitation.

I will conclude now, Ms Nokes, so as to adhere to your five-minute rule. The issue should be considered UK-wide. I support the hon. Member for North Devon and all the hon. Members who have called for action, and I have absolutely no doubt that the Minister will respond positively and give us some of the assurances that we wish to hear.

It is a pleasure, Ms Nokes, to have you here in the Chair today.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing the debate as well as everyone who has taken part in it. The strength of feeling from everyone who has spoken has come across extremely well, including in the personal stories and those told on behalf of constituents who have been victims of road accidents. I completely agree that referring to “road accidents” is exactly right, considering what happens on our roads. There has been a sense that driving offences are not viewed as as serious as they are in reality; that has come across loud and clear. I also congratulate the APPG on its work, as well as Roadpeace and the other charities mentioned today.

I want to mention some personal stories of my own. A friend of mine decided to return to cycling recently. On his first outing on his bike, he hit a pothole and was badly injured, and he has not been able to go back to work. I mention that incident because one of the issues that has not come up today is the need for decently repaired roads. Before I move on to what others have said, let me briefly say that road safety, in its widest sense of ensuring that we can all travel safely on our roads, means investing in proper repairs. I am glad that we are going to see some more money for repairs after the cuts—indeed, the halving of the budget.

May I gently remind the shadow Minister that the title of the debate is “Victims of Road Traffic Offences: Criminal Justice System”?

Indeed, and I will say why road repairs are relevant. In October 2023, the AA had the highest level of call-outs in any October ever, and accidents are sometimes caused by or related to poor road conditions. We still need justice, whatever the cause of an accident is.

I hope that we will see a proper level of investment in our road repairs, including—I say this gently to the Minister —the specification of a higher quality of sustainable repair. The technology exists, although it is not always applied. That is all I have to say on the matter of road repairs, but I wanted to refer to it because I think it is relevant to the debate.

The other personal story I have is about a motorcyclist, who is the friend of a friend. A driver pulled in front of him and he crashed, and is now in a coma. The prognosis is that he will never recover, because he is paralysed. I was reminded of his story while I listened to some of the others. I have no idea whether there will be a prosecution in that case. I will make no further reference to it, to where it happened or to who was involved, but it is a reminder that accidents cause life-changing injuries and even deaths.

In her excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mrs Hamilton) mentioned the very high level of deaths on our roads—1,500 fatal injuries, as well as 130,000 casualties in Britain. We all have a duty to reduce that level of accidents, and I have mentioned repairs.

Just to clarify, given that every person in the Chamber today has asked for these events not to be referred to as “accidents”—we are talking about “crashes” or “collisions”—is it the Opposition’s policy to persist in calling them “accidents”?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention, but she heard me say at the start of my remarks that it was entirely appropriate that we spoke about “collisions”—

If the hon. Member refers back to Hansard, I think he will see that that is not what he actually said at the start of his remarks.

Well, I was referring to what the hon. Lady said in her speech, but I think we are talking at cross purposes. I completely accept that it is correct to talk about “collisions”, and all I would say in response to her intervention is that this shows just how easy it is to slip back into calling them “accidents”. I accept her point, and I am happy to correct the record.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington told us how many deaths and how many casualties there are from collisions, and we all have a duty to reduce the number and to prevent them from happening. What we have so often heard today is that that is not happening. The way that drivers are allowed to continue is a real problem. My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) spoke in a previous debate about a driver who had been banned something like nine times, and went on to be involved in a collision in which somebody died. This is about the short nature of such bans, and that point has been well made. I welcome the Government increasing the length of bans, and we supported the amendment to do that in legislation that went through a few years ago. The question is: what more can be done? I very much welcome the recommendations made by the all-party group, and I am very keen to hear what the Minister has to say in response to them.

I will say a few things about what Labour wants to see. We have published our approach to government, with our mission to raise confidence in the police and the criminal justice system to their highest levels. We want to see 13,000 extra police on our streets, and to address the cuts in the police and in support staff. I know that the Minister will say that police numbers, having declined first, have increased again, but there has not been a return to the previous numbers of support staff.

As Her Majesty’s—now His Majesty’s—inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services said in 2020:

“The number of dedicated roads policing officers has declined”.

It also said that they have been moved to addressing

“responsibilities for supporting general policing”.

That has to change if we are to support victims, investigate the incidents—collisions—that happen on our roads and deliver justice in a timely fashion. We heard about how long it is taking to bring one case to court; I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) who made that point about a constituent. The challenge for us is to support victims and to ensure that justice is seen to be delivered, and that it is not delayed. There were 83,581 cases in a nine-year period where drivers were not disqualified due to mitigating circumstances. I think we should address the recommendation in the all-party group’s excellent report on mitigating circumstances.

I will quickly reiterate those questions for the Minister, because I am keen to learn whether he accepts the recommendations. Whoever is in government has a duty to seriously consider the requests.

Indeed. We have 20 minutes left, but I do not intend to use many more of them.

Does the Minister support the all-party group’s 10 recommendations? Does he want escalating penalties? Does he agree that we should require retesting for those wanting to drive again following disqualification? What is his view on increasing the maximum sentence for dangerous driving to four years? What is his view on issuing guidance to police officers and increasing their use of bail powers so they can remove the right to drive from people arrested for dangerous driving? Does he agree that we should revisit sentencing guidelines so that exceptional hardship should be granted only in truly exceptional circumstances? What is his view on removing tolerances in speed enforcement, creating consistent guidelines for forces to investigate serious collisions, implementing a standardised system for third parties to report actual or suspected road offences, creating a UK commissioner for road danger reduction, and implementing guidelines so that victims of crashes are considered victims of crime unless there is clear evidence to the contrary?

The debate is about justice for victims. I am very keen to hear whether the Minister agrees that we really need to consider victims of road traffic collisions as victims, and that they should be covered by the victims code and other aspects of criminal law. Far too often, drivers who commit serious offences are not regarded by society as guilty of a serious crime. Everybody in this debate is calling for that to change, and I am very interested to hear whether the Minister agrees.

I am sure the Minister will want to leave a couple of minutes for the hon. Member for North Devon at the end.

Thank you very much indeed for your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on securing this very important debate. Sometimes Parliament is knocked or decried for its lack of impact, but nobody could have listened to the debate and not realised that what is being raised is of real importance to individual Members of Parliament, on a cross-party basis, and the families who have been so affected.

Road safety matters to all of us. As we are all aware, the solutions are complex, but that does not mean that we should not try to grasp them or engage with them, or that we do not take debates of this nature very seriously indeed.

We are on a journey. I am a veteran of a 20-year legal career, having prosecuted many of these types of cases and defended some, and there was no victim impact statement when I started out. It just did not exist; the victim was never consulted in any way whatever. I have been a cyclist for the past 40 years, and there were no such thing as cycle lanes in days gone by. The hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) is entirely right that things are getting better, albeit we have a way to go.

Having just been with the fantastic people who work at Active Travel England, which is based in the constituency of the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), and having cycled around the Roman and medieval streets of York with all their complexities, I fully understand that putting cycle infrastructure in such a town is very difficult. Active travel did not exist before, and it clearly has a way to go before it is as good as all Members would like it to be. We are all on this journey, and solutions will not be ticked by this Government or the next one straightaway, but there is an acknowledgement that we are all, on a cross-party basis, trying to improve the situation, and that is something we should get behind.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the debate, I put on record that colleagues are entirely right to state the impact that this issue has had on individual families, including that of Harry Webb, represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones); the Saltern family, represented by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann); the Winterburn family, represented by the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton); and the Chapman family, represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton). There is also the tragic case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild); the case specifically raised by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones)—I will come to new clause 49 of the Criminal Justice Bill in a second—as well as the case of Sharlotte, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis); and the Gayle family case, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson). Those families all have tragic and terrible stories to tell, and it is right that their representatives make the case for a better system. I take all the points on board. There is much being worked on by various Departments, which I will try to address in the limited time I have.

I represent the Department for Transport and have supported the all-party group; in fact, many years ago, I sat in this room while our colleague Lord Austin led a debate on these issues in this Chamber. This is clearly a cross-departmental matter, and we need to stress that the solution is cross-departmental. I give apologies from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), and the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), who are debating the Criminal Justice Bill as we speak and addressing, for example, new clause 49, tabled by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, on the use of private roads and the impact of particular cases that arise. That is something to be discussed in the House, in the Public Bill Committee.

I should also point out that I bear scars myself. On 23 June 2019, I was the victim of a pretty serious road traffic accident. I broke my ankle and ruptured my knee ligaments when I was knocked off my bicycle by a car on a London street, also not in a designated lane. I still bear the scars, and my running days are definitely over as a result.

We want to foster an environment of safety. Great work is being done to pursue that. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon that the word “accident” should no longer be used; indeed, the Department for Transport no longer uses it. The appropriate terms are “crashes” or “collisions”, and we encourage others to use them. My hon. Friend will understand that “accident” is the correct word in certain pieces of legislation, but the prevailing approach of various Departments is a difference and a change in words. I hope it is of benefit that my brief includes not just roads but road safety and active travel, as we try to bring those things together. I have certainly been fighting to address them.

In the time allowed, I will try to address the particular points raised. I will start with the issue of escalating penalties. Section 65 of the Sentencing Act 2020 provides a statutory aggravating factor, stating that:

“The court must treat as an aggravating factor each relevant previous conviction that it considers can be reasonably be so treated”.

Judges must therefore consider the appropriate level of any sentence uplift justified by that factor as part of considering the full circumstances of the case. I will come to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk, but the point is fairly made that these are relatively young pieces of legislation. The changes that the Government brought in to make sentencing take account of aggravating factors are still being worked through the criminal justice system.

Although I cannot speak specifically for the Lord Chancellor and the MOJ, it is unquestionable that, as cases take place, one can review guidance, take a second look at each situation, and see to what extent and how sufficiently the aggravating factors are being taken into account. That is not something that one can do straight away, but one can step back, take a proper review and look at that in a bit more detail. I will come to the increases in sentencing in a second, but first let me turn to the issue of compulsory retesting. I take the point that has been raised. Clearly, it is a cross-departmental issue, but there is, none the less, a mandatory retesting requirement on causing death by dangerous driving, dangerous driving and causing serious injury by dangerous driving. I accept, however, that the last update in the guidance was 2015, so it is something that the Department for Transport is considering. That is an ongoing process and, as Members will see when I come on to mention particular cases, there are many factors at play, ranging from insurance to consequential impacts on sentencing.

Let me turn now to increasing the maximum sentence for dangerous driving. As was outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk, the sentence has been increased: the maximum penalty for dangerous driving while under the influence of drink or drugs went from 14 years to life. I accept that that was of little comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North and his constituents, but, at the very least, the Government have listened and taken action. I take on board the criticisms of the sentences. It is a dangerous thing for Ministers to start criticising individual judges for the way in which they reach their decisions, so I will not get into that without being fully party to all the circumstances. None the less, as I think the Ministry of Justice will do, there is a legitimate case for reviewing the sentences and the totality that followed those particular cases and establishing proper guidance. That is what is done with other offences. That is what will be done in this case and I hope the affected families will feel assured to know that that process is in hand.

In respect of the exceptional hardship point, having prosecuted and defended a similar case, I know that it is up to the individual defendant to raise exceptional hardship; the presumption is not that one can bring that forward. The Sentencing Council’s explanatory guidance makes it absolutely clear that it is for the offender to prove that these circumstances exist and that they are, and must be, exceptional. If it is genuinely the case that the argument has been made that the exceptionality is not being implemented in the appropriate way, that is something for us to review. I take the assertions on board, but it is ultimately up to the sentencing court to genuinely take that into account. I stress very strongly that it cannot be that it is an inconvenience; it cannot be anything other than truly exceptional hardship. The loss of one’s driving licence does not constitute exceptional hardship in any way.

Let me turn now to the extraordinarily vexed issue of speeding. Any Welsh MP will know of the issues relating to the 20 mph situation and the complexities that that has brought, but at the same time, as I said in this Chamber barely a month ago, there is, in my respectful view, a consensus that 20 mph zones outside school are utterly accepted. There is no question of any of us going back on that—in fact there is massive encouragement. Frankly, those schools that do not have 20 mph zones need to take a long hard look at that, which might involve local councils and parish councils as well. Exceptional circumstances may apply in relation to the location, but, as a broad presumptive, this House is utterly committed to that in those circumstances. The blanket application of that, in my respectful opinion, is much more difficult to achieve, but, at the same time, just because a policy may be difficult to achieve does not mean that we cannot attempt to address it. The point is fairly made in the report and it needs to be made again here: the impact evaluation of the national speed awareness course, which was published in 2018, found that participation in that course was more effective at preventing speed reoffending than fines and penalty points. That is proper evidential data that we should take on board. I think that there is a widespread and strongly held view across the House that greater use of such courses is the way ahead and a much better approach than the simple approach that has been put forward.

I will briefly touch on new clause 49, proposed by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones). I met him yesterday, having met him previously when he raised his constituent’s case at PMQs.

No, I will not. Sorry, I have only three minutes, and I have loads of points to address.

New clause 49 is a cross-departmental matter. Clearly, it will be debated, but complexities are involved in doing what the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney proposes for private land. Those range from military vehicles and the extent, to issues with insurance and the like, but I very much take on board the point that the hon. Member raised.

I entirely accept that police forces have differing approaches when it comes to the thorough investigation of serious collisions. Effort is being made by the chief constables to change that, and I would urge the Home Office to drive that forward. Without a shadow of a doubt, some police forces are better than others in relation to the issue of recognising crash victims as crime victims. It is clear that the victims code permits and, frankly, encourages victims of road traffic offences to seek the support that they require. The Ministry of Justice, which provides police and crime commissioners with annual grant funding to commission local, practical and therapeutic support for victims of all types, should apply that to individual crime victims who have suffered crashes or collisions.

I respectfully suggest that the Department for Transport is very keen on the expansion and understanding of the highway code. It has spent millions of pounds on that, whether through its Think! campaign, social media campaigns, factual awareness campaigns or other particular ongoing campaigns on radio, digital, video-on-demand and social media. We genuinely wish to push those campaigns.

I totally accept that this is a work in progress, and on a cross-departmental basis. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon and this House that we will meet the three key Departments to try to drive forward an integrated Government policy on all these matters. It is not for one Department to fix this; it should be done on a cross-departmental basis. I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate and all my colleagues for bringing this matter forward.

It has been a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Nokes. I thank the Minister for his response and all right hon. and hon. Members for participating in the debate. I pass on my thanks and heartfelt sympathy to the families that we are representing today.

I fully accept that this is a journey, and while it has been great to reiterate some of the legal points and things that we have done to move these things forward, we all might like to see this journey speeded up a little—without wishing to break any speed limits—to enable us to get better justice for the victims that we have come to speak about today.

I put on the record my commitment to continue this journey with the APPG, through meeting with the Departments. We all recognise that when things fall between Departments they are often harder to keep on the road, but we really need to progress this.

I will take one more opportunity to thank everyone for who has taken the time to join this debate and to thank the APPG and all those who helped contribute to the report who are with us in the Gallery.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered victims of road traffic offences and the criminal justice system.

Future of UK Capital Markets

I will call Alun Cairns to move the motion and then the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for Mr Cairns to wind up, as is the convention for 30-minute debates.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the future of UK capital markets.

It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. It is also a pleasure to propose this debate on the future of UK capital markets. I have raised this debate following engagement from stakeholders across the sector. Like many other European markets, we have seen de-equitisation, as well as a slowdown in initial public offerings, with the US strengthening its position against other markets around the world. Arm’s flotation in New York over London last year attracted much attention, and we need to look at why that happened. We should also consider what is happening to the small cap and fledgling indexes, which the UK Equity Markets Association understandably highlights.

There are certainly examples where companies that may well have listed in the UK in the past are now floating in New York. We need to be conscious of that, and if the trend continues, we need to be concerned by it. I am not yet alarmed, but I look to the Government, regulators, fund managers, the London stock exchange and others to consider what can be done to ensure that London maintains its prominence in world financial markets.

The success of the Square Mile is hugely important to the whole of the UK—to its economy, tax revenues and status—and it is equally important to the UK financial infrastructure that is available to companies and individuals all over the UK, whether that is companies seeking capital, or individuals, including pensioners, looking for investment opportunities and potential enhanced financial returns.

The point I am making is that capital markets matter to us all and extend well beyond the world of finance. We need to recognise that domestic investors have moved away from UK equities in recent years. Asset managers’ investment in equities has dropped significantly, from 30% in 2017 to around 20% now. Although the London stock exchange remains the largest in Europe, its capitalisation has declined and the contribution of new international IPOs is down significantly. The number of companies listed in the UK is down by a third over the past 15 years, and UK retail investors have moved away from equities. Around 10% of assets are held in equities in the UK, compared with more than 30% in the United States. That is in spite of technology enabling more and more platforms. It is a far cry from the famous “If you see Sid, tell him” ad of the 1990s.

Some outlets, such as the BBC, sensationalise the reports of London losing its listings. An excellent report written by EY on UK finance last year provided a more balanced perspective, highlighting how London dominates in Europe in every aspect, even after the aggressive marketing by some cities in the EU following Brexit.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan on securing this debate, and I am pretty sure he will agree with what I am going to ask. Does he not agree that we cannot live up to the potential in the City market without implementing the necessary changes to promote safeguarding and safety? Those are critical. Does he believe that the Government and the Minister must be more proactive in that matter?

The hon. Member makes an extremely important point, and I will come on to it as I progress. He is right about the importance of standards. London’s reputation on standards is essential not only to London, but to every part of the United Kingdom and well beyond.

I was highlighting the challenges we have had in the UK. If there are challenges here in London, there are even greater challenges elsewhere. London still dominates the European market. However, the market is always evolving and we need to react. That being the case, I am pleased that the Government are already alive to change and, along with others, have launched a series of initiatives to analyse and act on what the UK needs to do to secure London’s important international role. We have seen the wholesale markets review, the UK listings review, the Kalifa review, the UK secondary capital raising review and the London stock exchange UK capital markets industry taskforce. Those are just some examples of what has been going on in recent times.

The influence of some of the reviews led to the Edinburgh reforms and the Chancellor’s Mansion House speech last year. Those are positive steps but, 12 months on from the Edinburgh reforms and six months on from the Mansion House compact, this is a good time to take stock. There is a need for co-ordination and assessment of developments. I am concerned that there has been a series of reviews, including those I mentioned earlier, but securing outcomes for the benefit of companies and investors must be our focus.

There is clearly a balance to be struck between evolution and revolution. The Chancellor is on record as saying that he favours evolution, which is fair enough, but we do need to see progression, too. We also need to consider the freedom that Brexit provides, against the diversion from standards in our closest markets. I am not saying that is easy, but regular review of progress is a positive step. There are wins available for the United Kingdom, and I look to the Government to respond.

The central piece of the Mansion House speech was an agreement with the largest UK defined contribution fund managers to invest at least 5% in private equities by 2030. There are also clear ambitions for defined benefits schemes, and I hope the Minister can provide a further update on that in his response. After all, when we consider that just 1% of the UK’s near £5 trillion assets are in private companies, the 5% target is a major step. I press the Minister by saying it is a good start but we need to go even further, and monitor progress towards that 2030 target. I also look to the Minister to provide further details on the defined benefits reforms and ambitions.

I recognise that the Chancellor announced plans to consolidate the local government scheme. As he said, when it comes to pension pots, big is beautiful. I get that, and the wider benefits that consolidation will bring. I would, however, add a note of caution. Large funds need large investments, which in general is a good thing, but we could end up squeezing small and mid-sized companies out of the equation. Guidance to secure the role of smaller private equity funds, which usually focus on smaller firms, would be helpful. I am concerned that large pension funds will have few places to go, other than to large private equity firms in the US, defeating much of the Government’s objectives.

The London stock exchange plans for an intermittent trading venue also offer new opportunities to bridge the gap, but it would be helpful to gain feedback on the timing of the regulatory approval. I also welcome the Treasury’s commitment to the replacement of the EU prospectus regulation with the Public Offers and Admissions to Trading Regulations 2023 that stem from Lord Hill’s listings review. That is welcome and will streamline the process significantly.

We obviously await detailed Financial Conduct Authority rules, and look to it to act swiftly in that respect. To credit the FCA, it has streamlined the listings process and loosened the rules for related party transactions. These reforms and others are very welcome, and I pay tribute to the Minister and his colleague for the part they have played. The scale of the reforms should be recognised and will have effect. However, the speed of change and the scale of reform need to increase. The capacity of the regulator will be a challenge, but we need to do whatever possible to support it to make the necessary changes we are asking of it, at pace.

In this technical debate, however, we need to remember why we are doing it, and what else can be done. We need to make it easier to raise capital in London, and the process of listing less clunky, while also focusing on attracting capital from domestic and foreign investors to provide the liquidity and funds for growth. London’s reputation for high standards is a good thing, and something we need to work with. We should continue the momentum to review the access for early stage business finance, to expand the scope and remove the potential cliff edge.

Tax incentives and greater digitalisation of capital markets processes can help too. Enterprise management incentives could play a part in widening the opportunity for staff to take a stake. Stamp duty changes are also relevant. We need a new approach to investing at both fund manager and retail level. Current regulations force fund managers towards bonds and Government debt to de-risk, which almost came back to bite us just a little over 12 months ago. Savers have also been encouraged to remove risk. The classification of investments needs to be reviewed, and better research needs to be available, akin to Rachel Kent’s report.

We need to re-engage the retail market in the opportunities of equities. I can recall—as I am sure you can, Ms Nokes—the privatisation of public services in the 1980s and 1990s, and the opportunities that provided for the public to invest. I have already mentioned, “If you see Sid tell him.” Regulations aimed at protecting the public from risk have removed legitimate opportunities like those. It is almost impossible for an adviser to facilitate investments directly into equities, in spite of today’s reduced costs and swifter processes. Proportionate regulations are required, along with further ISA reform. I can well recall the personal equity plans of the ’90s, which had a specific allowance for a single company PEP. That made capital investment accessible and relevant to the masses.

In closing, I want to recognise the changes and reforms that have taken place but to suggest that we need regular—at least annual—reviews of progress and of the impact of change, with all stakeholders involved. That would show the world that we are determined to get it right and to continue to evolve to ever-changing needs. We must always remember that gaining and accessing new capital is essential to growing business and the economy. By getting this right, we can offer greater returns for the public through better pension and investment returns, while maintaining the UK’s prominence in this vital industry.

I started off by talking about Arm, and I want to highlight a quote from Craig Coben, a prominent journalist in the field. He wrote that

“Arm should float in the US not because London has any particular flaws as a listing location, but rather because the scale, scope and depth of American capital markets make it a more compelling venue… Nasdaq-only flotation offers the broadest access to investors without the complications of two primary listings.”

That is just one example of the sort of change that can be brought about. I look to the Minister to continue his positive agenda.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) on securing the debate, and I thank him for his remarks about our capital market system, which I will address in some detail.

I am grateful for the opportunity to set out the key role that capital markets play not just in our UK economy, but in wider society, which I have long spoken about not just in this House, but in my career in financial services before coming into politics. No matter the size of the company or how many countries it operates in, behind every major listed company are thousands or even millions of investors who own a stake in that company, and own a stake in a country. A FTSE 100 or S&P 500 stock will be owned by teachers, nurses, firefighters and lots of other regular people who, by owning stocks through their pensions, have a stake in the success of the company and the wider economy, and a means to benefit when both those things do well. It is an extension of what Noel Skelton, a former Member of Parliament for Perth, said in the 1920s when he talked about a property-owning democracy. It is the idea that if people have a stake in our economy, they become more engaged with the economic outcomes of the country, which in turn become more equitable, because they engage and affect normal people in more prescient ways. In that way, strong capital markets that people can easily access, interpret and utilise can be an incredible tool for broad-based engagement with our economic systems.

As my right hon. Friend alluded to, capital markets also have a more immediate impact through the allocation of capital, facilitating investment, which drives growth and jobs, and creating investor returns. That helps to build a market that is buzzing with opportunity and optimism and attracts the best and the brightest, bringing new energy and ideas to our economy, all of which drives economic activity in every part of the country. It is worth pointing out that of the about 1 million people employed in the financial services industry, two thirds are outside our capital city. That is not always appreciated.

However, London is an international powerhouse in its own right, with a foreign exchange market three times the size and a derivatives market about 50% bigger than those of the United States, making the UK a genuine global hub for investment. In 2021, more than £17 billion of capital was raised for firms in the UK—a 15-year high. Over 120 deals were completed in that year alone. Of course, we have not been immune to the limited IPO activity caused by market turbulence across 2022 and 2023, yet in 2023 the London Stock Exchange raised more capital than Frankfurt and Amsterdam—the two largest exchanges in the European Union—combined.

More importantly, this Government recognise that there is always more we can do to improve our markets and make them even more open and competitive. My right hon. Friend mentioned that the first step on our reform journey was, as the Economic Secretary to the Treasury stated in a speech last week at Bloomberg, to diagnose the problem—to acknowledge that there was a problem and then seek a way to fix it. That started with Lord Hill’s 2020 UK listings review, alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan, which builds consensus on how to boost IPOs and capital raising on UK capital markets. He will be aware that in 2021, at Mansion House, we launched the wholesale markets review to consider how we could use our new-found regulatory freedoms to make UK markets more competitive.

Next came our solutions to the problems that we had diagnosed. I am happy to say that reform has progressed across all those areas, not only in our legislation and our regulatory regimes, but in the culture and mindset of the Government and of regulators, which is not to be underestimated. The Financial Services and Markets Act 2023 delivered the wholesale market review’s most urgent changes. As a result, firms can now trade in the most liquid market and get the best price for investors. We have also set statutory growth and competitiveness objectives for our regulators and introduced new accountability mechanisms to ensure delivery against those objectives. Following the passage of FSMA 2023, we are taking forward a host of new initiatives, such as the digital securities sandbox, which will test the use of distributed ledger technology in trading and settlement. That is just one of a huge range of reforms coming in the near future.

The result of those reforms is that after three and a half years, we are now within sight of making the UK’s public markets match fit again, which my right hon. Friend and I both seek. But he is right that we must go further and use this as an inflection point to ensure that we are delivering on the promise and opportunity presented by our capital markets. That is why we are taking further steps now and supporting companies through every stage of their investment lifecycle.

First, we will ensure that companies can scale up effectively so that they are primed and ready for listing. To do that, as my right hon. Friend alluded to, we are establishing a world first—a new class of exchange. The private intermittent securities and capital exchange system—catchily named Pisces for short, thankfully—will be established by the end of this year. He asked for assurance, and I can assure him on that timing. The Pisces platform will give private companies better access to capital markets and break down the artificial regulatory cliff edge between public and private markets. This development will allow investors to take advantage of the structural shift to private markets, rather than suffer from it.

Secondly, we want to ensure that, when companies choose to list, the process is as easy and frictionless as possible. A fortnight ago, the Economic Secretary took the UK’s new prospectus legislation through Parliament, paving the way for the FCA to complete its entire rewrite of the prospectus regime’s rulebook to deliver on the recommendations of the Hill and Mark Austin reviews, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan referred to. That will boost the operating environment for our capital markets in two important ways: it will increase the pool of investors participating in capital raises, and it will enable firms to raise larger sums of capital more quickly.

Finally, we want to ensure that, once listed, companies are matched with the best investors for their offering. We welcome the FCA’s commitment to consult on the changes to the unbundling rules this spring. That was a recommendation of Rachel Kent’s investment research review. Subject to the outcomes of that consultation, the FCA will make relevant rules in the first half of this year. We aim to revive the research market by delivering more efficient and accurate pricing, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises.

In the autumn statement, the Chancellor announced his plans to explore options for a NatWest retail share offer this year, and a wider ambition to get the public buying more shares. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan rightly said that we should get Sid investing again. For those who do not know, that is a reference to an advertising campaign that only Members of a certain vintage will appreciate—it is entirely lost on my private office.

I will move on quickly to some of the wider issues. My right hon. Friend talked about Charlie Geffen’s accelerated settlement taskforce, which will upgrade our back-office operations for the 21st century.

This year will mark substantial progress in all three of the investment cycle stages that I have set out. Alongside the regulatory reforms, the Government are looking to reverse the trend of British investors—both institutional and individual—shifting away from investing in UK equities. As my right hon. Friend points out, the statistics are pretty stark. They have been on a downward trend for many years, and that is particularly evident in our pension funds. As he rightly said, at Mansion House the Chancellor began the process of announcing the Mansion House compact, which will see 11 major defined-contribution pension schemes allocate at least 5% of their default funds to unlisted equities, unlocking capital investment in high-growth companies. With the pension reforms now in train, we expect the pension pot of a typical DC saver to increase by as much as £16,000 over the course of an average career.

This agenda is underpinned by a commitment to openness, competitiveness, growth, dynamism and innovation in financial services, as first set out by the then Chancellor, now Prime Minister, in 2021. When those principles are properly applied, they have an impact far beyond financial markets. They can be a way to open the doors of our boardrooms to a far wider range of people, democratising our capital markets and inspiring individuals throughout the country to take an active interest in our markets, while making sure that more people have experience and an understanding of the risks and rewards that are such a vital component of our capital markets.

Our capital markets in this country are a source of great pride, including to me, having worked in them. It is right that we all feel pride in the UK capital market structure, but I want more people to speak with pride about our stocks—the stocks that they own today or may own in the future. Our capital markets have helped shape the country that we live in. They have helped us make this country more prosperous, they have created more jobs and they have made us more competitive overseas. The Government are working to ensure that that remains the case for many years to come by making our markets more attractive, competitive and, crucially, accessible. I am proud to be taking forward that important work with colleagues from across the House, and to have been able to speak about it today under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Children’s Mental Health Week 2024

[Mark Pritchard in the Chair]

May I apologise to colleagues for being a minute late? I was informed about two minutes ago, so that was the best workout I have had in a while.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Children’s Mental Health Week 2024.

It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Mr Pritchard—a breathless Mr Pritchard.

The challenges facing the mental health of our young people have never been greater. One in five children have a mental illness, and half of all mental illnesses develop by the age of 14. In the coming years, as many as 1.5 million children will need support for their mental health needs. Amid this escalating crisis, we need bold action to support our young people, but the Government too often lack the ambition, funding and attention that are needed. Meanwhile, the human cost of their inaction only grows.

In A&E, I see children coming in younger and younger. I will never forget their emaciated faces when attending having self-harmed, living with eating disorders or having attempted to take their own lives. I will never forget the faces of parents agonised by their children’s suffering, exhausted from being on suicide watch and fighting tooth and nail for their child, or pushing to access vital services that their child needs, and frequently finding their children being turned away and left to languish for months or even years on waiting lists while their condition deteriorates exponentially.

Pretty much every year we have a debate like this in Westminster Hall and we have many debates in the main Chamber. Every year, we all agree that this has to end, that we must do better and that our children deserve better, but year on year there is simply inaction. Parents are having to give up work to stay at home to be on suicide watch, because they fear what their child will do if they go to work. This affects families in a way that no one can ever possibly understand. A lack of investment in that one young person goes on to affect their parents, their siblings and their future, as well as their and their family’s ability to contribute to the economy and, most importantly, their ability to have a quality, healthy and happy life.

In calling for this debate I am labouring under the hope that we can actually move forward and do something. It is simple: poor mental health is carried through childhood into adulthood. The failures to address the mental health crisis in our young people will leave them ill-equipped as they grow older. We know all too well that prevention is better than cure, yet we ignore that wisdom when it comes to children’s mental health. That is something I simply do not understand. We have the ability collectively within the House positively to impact the lives of millions of children yet, somehow, remarkably, we fail to do so. The Government should invest in early intervention, working to improve child and adolescent mental health services and ensuring prompt access to vital support. Instead, children are being let down and left behind.

Despite young people making up a quarter of all contacts with mental health services, only 8% of funding goes towards children’s mental health services. There are almost half a million children on CAMHS waiting lists. That is a record figure that should be a badge of shame for this Government. Let me remind everybody that, when we talk about half a million children, we are talking about wider families who are affected, people who will never see their children again because those children felt they had no choice but to take their own lives. There are families begging their children to eat that one extra morsel of food because they have not been able to get the services they need for eating disorders.

We are talking about pain and anguish of epic proportions, and on a scale that we have to take seriously. Forgive my passion, but I care deeply about this. We must all care deeply, because this crosses the socioeconomic divide. Regardless of the size of house someone lives in or the amount of money their parents earn, if this pain is known to a family, it does not matter who they are or where they live—it is crippling. A parent loves their child just as much if they live in a £5-million house or a one-bedroom flat.

The hon. Member is making a powerful and passionate speech. As an expert specialist clinician, she has touched on the concept of prevention, and the fact that the key is preventive medicine and signposting. I have had applied suicide intervention skills training and mental health first aid training. I have been privileged to work with 3 Dads Walking, who tragically lost their daughters to suicide. A key part of their campaign is to get suicide prevention on to the school curriculum. Does the hon. Member agree that prevention is a key part of this that we should invest in, and that we should support efforts to get suicide prevention and mechanisms for helping young people into schools and education colleges?

I thank the hon. Member for his passionate intervention. He is right that prevention is better than cure. Anybody who knows anyone who has lost someone through suicide will know that it is not a pain someone ever gets over. They simply hope to God that they can learn to live with it in some way, so that they may get through their own lives with a semblance of existence. If there is any way in which we could prevent even one needless loss of life, that would go a long way.

The 3 Dads Walking are incredible—I have had the honour of following their marvellous work—but there are many people who are not in the public light, and many who are too embarrassed to admit how they lost their loved ones, for fear of blame and shame and what that means. We know that many people who have lost people in that way feel they want to take their own lives, and often do.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate and her passionate advocacy. Many of us across the House share a deep understanding of the need for it. Does she agree that, if we are to tackle the causes, we need better data? We need to understand what is driving this epidemic. I particularly want to draw attention to the children of alcoholics and the great work done by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics; the children of divorce and conflict; and those children badly affected during the pandemic. Does the hon. Member agree that we need better data to understand the causes, then we can start to prevent it, as well as, importantly, treating it when it occurs. We could prevent a lot more of this.

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that there is definitely space for more research. Adverse childhood experiences are the single biggest driver of mental ill health in children and, later on, in adults. I will touch on that later.

I want to know today when the Government will finally get their act together to end the wait for children’s mental health services. We are sick and tired of the same old meaningless platitudes from the Government. I know the Minister: I had the pleasure of working with her in my role as a shadow Minister. I know she is decent, good and kind, and she absolutely wants the best for children. I believe that. I also understand that her hands, regardless of what she might want to do, will be tied. However, in my role as shadow Cabinet Minister for mental health over three and a half years, the number of times the Minister and her predecessors have harped on, quite frankly, about the £2.3 billion they have put into mental health services! They have used that figure no fewer than 90 times in five years for many different things, depending on the focus of the debate. Whenever we have a debate about eating disorders, the £2.3 billion comes out. Whenever we have a debate about access to IAPT—improving access to psychological therapies—the £2.3 billion comes out. Whenever we have a children’s mental health debate, it is again rolled out. I understand that, but we really need tangible answers because the waiting lists grow, children are let down and families suffer.

I commend the hon. Lady for securing a debate on this important issue. She is absolutely right to highlight the fact that we have known there are challenges in CAMHS for many years: we know there are problems with commissioning CAMHS and we know there are workforce challenges. We know there has been a failure to properly recruit mental health doctors and nurses to posts across CAMHS. Does she agree that we need to hear proper answers from the Minister today? We have known about these challenges for a long time. It is time we got on and did something about it.

May I apologise, Mr Pritchard? I should, at the beginning, have drawn the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a practising NHS psychiatrist.

I thank the hon. Member, whom I would like to call my hon. Friend, because we have worked very closely on this issue for a number of years. He speaks not just as a politician, but as a practising NHS psychiatrist and I take my hat off to him. He speaks from a position of authority. We also sat together on a pre-legislative scrutiny Committee for a number of months, where we heard how black people and those with autism and learning disabilities are affected by current policy. We made cross-party, cross-House recommendations, but all of that has been scrapped. The Bill has not been introduced to the House and we are wondering how, with such cross-party agreement, that can be.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this very important issue to Westminster Hall. She just spoke about black children. Does she think that this crisis is impacting disproportionately on black children and young people? Does the profession need to look at racism as a trauma, and does more work need to be done to consider those issues and deal with this crisis?

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Absolutely yes, black people are significantly more adversely affected. The work has been done. We sat together and saw the evidence, and the Government have chosen to ignore the recommendations. Experts have been working for years on understanding the drivers and coming up with solutions. Young black men are four times more likely than white men to be diagnosed with mental ill health when they have entered the judicial system, when their life is over and they have already had their cards marked, as it were. What beggars belief is the fact that we had consensus. We had the experts who did the research. They came and presented, yet we have got nowhere. I am fed up, as are many people here, with the same old soundbites and no meaningful action.

Tonight, many children will be going to bed cold and hungry. More than 120,000 children will be without a home. Let us think about that for a moment: 120,000 children without a home. Millions more are living in poverty in damp and mouldy houses. Parents simply wanting the best for their families are suffering under the sharp pinch of the cost of living crisis. That is the damning reality of 14 long years of Tory rule.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, in keeping with the expertise that she has in this area. I agree that one of the great driving causes of the epidemic of mental ill health among young people is the unnecessary poverty and lack of opportunity in this country, following the political choice that was made to pursue 14 years of austerity. That means that, in one of the richest countries on earth, we need not only a solution to the root causes of unnecessary child poverty, but extra Government investment in children who are already on a waiting list for mental health support. People may be shocked to discover that, in West Yorkshire, 24,560 children were on a waiting list for mental health support as of November last year—a nearly 30% increase from the same time the year before. Does that not go to show that urgent action and urgent extra funding are needed from this Government?

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and he is absolutely right. This is about understanding. As I alluded to earlier, adverse childhood experiences are the single biggest driver of poor mental health in children and then later on in adults. Of course, there are other causes—most definitely—but adverse childhood experiences are huge. That is why, as my hon. Friend articulated so well, it is important to understand that, yes, there has to be money going directly into the mental health pot, but there must also be a wider ambition for our children. There must be an understanding of how we tackle these root drivers that are causing so many children to have poor mental health.

Inequality and poverty drive mental illness. We know that children from the very poorest households are four times more likely to develop a mental illness. Some 43% of children who are receiving mental health support from Place2Be, a fantastic organisation, are on free school meals. Addressing the mental health crisis in children must go hand in hand with addressing the cost of living crisis and child poverty. Yet, as many families continue to struggle to afford food and bills, the Government have offered little to tackle childhood poverty.

It will come as no surprise to Members here that I believe we need a set of policies that bring essential change to young people’s mental health. That means having specialists in schools; fixing the chronic staffing shortages and recruiting more staff; ensuring that patients are getting timely access to treatment and not languishing on long waiting lists, desperately waiting for that letter to come through the door telling them that they have an appointment; and enabling young people to access support in the community. As a country, we have a duty to be bold in our offer and uncompromising in our aims, with mental health interwoven into every decision the Government take.

The hon. Lady is being very generous with allowing interventions. I agree with much of what she has said, particularly in regard to early intervention. I was the Children’s Minister when we set up the early intervention fund, which recognised that having money invested early and attention on children as young as possible would bear dividends later on. The hon. Lady has made a number of criticisms of the Government, saying that they have done nothing, but she has not mentioned the Best Start for Life project set up by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), which is all about that early intervention, from conception to age two. Does she acknowledge the good that that is beginning to do, because in addition to adverse childhood experiences, the other biggest impact on a child’s mental health is the lack of attachment, or attachment dysfunction? There is a 99% correlation between a mother suffering from depression or low-level mental illness during pregnancy and the likelihood of her children going through similar mental health and depression episodes as teenagers. Therefore, working with parents, and particularly the mother, before conception is absolutely where we can have the biggest impact in making sure that children are well-balanced, ready to join society, join school and join nursery, and able to avoid many of the problems that happen later on.

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention and for highlighting something that we so often forget. When we talk about mental illness and children’s mental health, we often do not talk about the early years—the early attachment-forming part of life that is so important for positive mental health. He is right that healthy mental health in a mother is essential for positive mental health in a child. I would pick him up slightly on some of his points, because if we look at health inequalities, the groups that I have been talking about, who are most adversely affected with their mental health, are the ones who struggle to access any of the support available. The numbers speak for themselves.

Of course, all projects, interventions and ambitions for our children and their parents are important, but right now we have a children’s mental health epidemic. That is why it is important that we talk about these things during Children’s Mental Health Week next week, and beforehand in this debate. As a country, we have to be bold in our offer and have mental health interwoven in every decision the Government make. That goes to the point made by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), having been early years Minister, about the importance of having mental health not in a health silo but across Departments, from local planning applications to Bills taken through this House. However, our children are being failed by a lack of prevention and early intervention, by long waiting lists, by a lack of funding, by an overstretched system and by a Government who are simply not concerned with children’s mental wellbeing.

We simply cannot allow our children’s future to continue to be squandered as a result of more inaction. The Minister may challenge me on this point, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is no longer time for warm words; they have to be backed up with resources and ambition for our children. I hope we will hear something new from the Minister today, and I thank everybody for attending the debate.

It is an honour to serve while you are in the Chair, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) on introducing the subject in such a wide-ranging and compassionate way. I prepared only a few notes because I thought the debate would be over-subscribed, but I hope we will still fill the time. I might add a few things that I have not prepared.

I want to focus particularly on adverse childhood experiences. I have been the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the prevention of adverse childhood experiences, which we now call the APPG for childhood trauma, for some years. Listening to and understanding the science of adverse childhood experiences has given me a real insight. I commend the WAVE Trust, which has also done a lot of work on attachment disorder and the importance of a child’s early attachment to their mother. The trust has been a fabulous supporter of the APPG for childhood trauma.

Our children are falling through the cracks. It is clear that our approach to childhood mental health is not working—I agree with the hon. Member for Tooting on that. As the chair of the APPG for childhood trauma, I will focus my attention on trauma in mental health.

Adverse childhood experiences, also known as ACEs, are the biggest drivers of poor mental health in children. They can be anything that threatens to overwhelm the child, including abuse and neglect. Being unable to process prolonged stress can alter a child’s normal brain function, which often stays with that person all their life. That is what we call trauma. A child’s brain helps them to survive in the moment, but it assumes that persistent stress or danger is normal and it therefore adapts to constant adrenalin. Because of that, those who experience childhood trauma are twice as likely to develop depression and three times as likely to develop anxiety disorders.

Very often, children’s behaviour at school is also affected. I asked a question in Education questions earlier this week about the Government’s behaviour policy, because ACEs are not even mentioned in it. If we do not talk about ACEs more—I use every opportunity to talk about them—gaps appear in the behaviour policy or guidelines to schools. The Department for Education does not even mention ACEs and childhood trauma; that needs to be corrected.

Many children carry their traumatic experience into later life. Someone’s chances of dropping out of school, being obese or even developing diseases such as strokes are higher the more ACEs they have experienced. The life expectancy of those with six or more ACEs is 20 years lower than that of peers with none. There is no limit for the reach of ACEs. That does not mean that people who suffer adverse childhood experiences are invariably condemned to a life of disadvantage, but it is so much more likely. We therefore have to focus on it.

Poverty is also an adverse childhood experience. That is why the connection between mental ill health and poverty is so important. We need to focus and see it for what it is.

The hon. Lady is making a fascinating speech, and I look forward to hearing more from her on a future occasion. She draws attention to how young people can get support and be recognised. In my constituency, we had a series of tragic events. Out of that, the NHS has provided i-Rock Horsham District, which is an opportunity for young people without a referral—without being told by a teacher, parent or doctor that this is the appropriate path—to present themselves for professional support. It will not be fully-fledged psychiatric support but it will have that triaging process, sometimes helping them with more basic issues or reassuring them, but often helping to pick up where they really need the kind of support my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) and others have referred to. That is proving extremely effective in my constituency.

I could not agree more. I hope my speech will make everybody here realise that we need much more understanding about ACEs. Some countries have that understanding and roll out trauma-informed services across the board, including police, education, welfare and health. A better understanding of ACEs will lead to more specialism and more people understanding this area. Trauma-informed schools, for instance, would also mean that teachers pick things up and go deeper into the issues of childhood trauma. I was a secondary school teacher before I became a Member of Parliament, and I sometimes wish I had known about ACEs, given some of the behavioural challenges I faced, which would make someone think, “That is just a very difficult child.” If I had known more, I would probably have picked up the behaviour as that of a traumatised child, rather than that of somebody who was consistently causing trouble. We would therefore deal with children differently.

The hon. Lady is making a powerful case, and I am keen to hear as much of it as I can. To the point I was trying to make earlier, extreme poverty is one cause of childhood trauma, but there are many others. Like many people in this House—I put my own hand up—I experienced childhood trauma, but I was in a materially privileged family. Poverty can provide a lot of those drivers that the hon. Lady has talked about, but I was taken out of the arms of my father by the police at 11 months, and I was a child carer of an alcoholic parent. Poverty has a part to play, but does the hon. Lady agree that we need to make sure we frame this in the context of the real causes, some of which are not related to poverty but to other chronic problems, such as alcohol, addiction or domestic violence? If we view the matter simply through the prism of a poverty attack, we are in danger of missing out some of the causes that are really embedded in repeated patterns of trauma within families.

First of all, it is brave that the hon. Gentleman is sharing his experiences of trauma. I think we need more people to do that. He is also absolutely right that not all of this is directly linked to poverty. Poverty or extreme poverty is one ACE among many others, and these things can happen in any family. Those who are doing research into ACEs would always recognise that trauma is not just suffered in a particular type of household but across socioeconomic backgrounds. The hon. Gentleman will know how difficult it is to overcome the traumas of early childhood and deal with them.

I want to make some progress. I am sorry that I cannot expand on ACEs now, but I encourage everybody who is here to inform themselves about them and the research that the WAVE Trust has done into the subject, which is fascinating and ongoing. That research suggests that the adverse childhood experiences of abuse and neglect alone, which can happen in any family, cost the UK more than £15 billion a year. Clearly, the cost of preventing adverse childhood experiences is less than that of inaction.

Unnoticed and unaddressed, adverse childhood experiences can be a lifelong sentence. Childhood trauma does not end with the child and it gets transferred to the next generation—that is also something that the APPG for childhood trauma has researched further. Then, there is a spiral or a vicious circle of repeat trauma. If childhood trauma is not addressed, those who become parents will carry their adverse childhood experiences into the next generation, and their children may suffer trauma, too. We must end this cycle, and that starts with early intervention. One factor that can help to prevent childhood trauma is whether the child feels capable and deserving. A supportive and reliable adult presence is key, and we often hear about how teachers, for example, have helped a great deal because they, as an adult, have been in the room when home life has been very difficult.

As I have said, trauma-informed services across the board—in schools, the NHS, the police and our prisons—would have a transformative impact on the whole of our society. Social workers must be supported to recognise the effect of ACEs early in children’s lives. Early years practitioners can spot signs of trauma at the age at which it is most likely to be resolved. I hope to hear commitments from the Minister on implementing trauma-informed services. Examining how trauma affects minds allows us to gain an enriched understanding of behaviour, and I have mentioned how that would support teachers. Rounded insights and changes in approach lead to better care for children, and better care for children now will be felt for generations to come.

I had not intended to speak, but there appears to be an opportunity to do so, and I am not one to pass it up, so I will make just a few comments. I declare my interests as per the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Until recently, I was also for six years the chair of the trustees of the Parent-Infant Foundation, which did and continues to do very important work on infant mental health awareness, attachment and the provision of services.

I again congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) on securing this debate. It is a subject about which she knows much, and her passion shows through. I disagree with little of what she said, although her speech became a little partisan at some stages. This issue has besieged Governments over many years, but if one looks at the figures, most alarmingly, the incidence of mental illness among children has got particularly bad since the beginning of covid, and there are reasons for that that we should continue to be worried about. This is not a gradual progression; there has been a very serious downturn in recent years, which I will come back to.

I agree with all the comments that have been made about the disproportionate impact on children in the care system, children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and those in poverty. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) said, the issue is not exclusive to people from deprived backgrounds. In some projects run by the Parent-Infant Foundation around the country, we see parents from well-to-do city backgrounds who have serious attachment problems with their children. At times, we forget that mental illness spreads across the whole of society in different ways, and we need to be open to all of them.

Does the hon. Member not recognise that those from a less deprived background have better access to help than those from a poorer background?

There is something in that, and people from better-off backgrounds may have recourse to the private sector as well, but the point is that the illness impacts on everybody, although I certainly agree that the capacity to get early help for that illness is differentiated across families.

The impact of covid should not be underestimated. During covid, we saw the impact on new parents, particularly new single parents. One of the biggest impacts was the absence of health visitors able to go across the threshold of new parents’ homes, particularly on single parents having a child for the first time. There were the other horrors of covid going on, and people were detached from the normal family networks they might have, such as grandparents coming along to share their experience and give support. On top of that, they did not have a health visitor coming to visit them physically, because about three quarters of health visitors were diverted to the frontline of dealing with covid. It was only in the most deprived cases, where there were concerns, that health visitors physically got to go and visit.

On top of that, we had a decline in the numbers of health visitors, which reversed the position that the coalition Government produced, where we had an additional 4,200; quite rightly, that was a pledge by the Government, and it was actually delivered in the lifetime of one Government. Since then, numbers have declined again. I think there is absolutely a false economy.

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend said about health visitors. I think I was actually the Minister who oversaw that increase in the number of health visitors. The change to commissioning by local authorities has been a very big mistake in the provision of health visitor services. I wonder more generally—after reflecting on the link between poverty and poor mental health—whether he would also reflect on family nurses, who provide significant support to deprived families and families with challenges. That workforce also struggled to do its good work during the pandemic, which has had a consequential effect on those families and indeed the mental health of young people.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Family nurse partnerships were another great success story, for which he can take part of the credit. There are various ways of providing that support, in particular to new families, but a lot of it was not available during covid.

I have a real concern about babies born during covid. We are only starting to see the consequences. I remember well one of our own colleagues in a debate in this Chamber during covid saying that she gave birth during that time and it was five months before her own baby got to meet another baby, and the baby did not react well—“What on earth is this? Another baby?” There were no mum and toddler classes available then, and there were no support networks of grandparents and others coming in. If there were no health visitors or other professionals there as well, it was difficult to spot signs of attachment disorder or safeguarding issues within a household—and we are only starting to see the consequences now. It has compounded the issues for these children. Now at last, they are at least being diagnosed with a mental illness, but it might have been prevented earlier if all that support was there. That really needs to be on the radar of the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education.

Then there is the impact of school lockdowns, which should also not be underestimated. There is a strong correlation when it comes to children, particularly younger children, not being able to go to school and socialise with their friends, or go through all the normal disciplines of what school brings. There are also safeguarding concerns that teachers and early warning exercises can pick up. We are seeing the impact of children being cooped up at home and not able to get on with the ordinary day-to-day business of growing up and being a child, and there were many safeguarding problems as a result of the schools lockdowns.

I will not apportion blame here, but it was a big mistake that the schools were closed down, and the unions forced those closures in the early days. We are seeing the consequences now. I agree with many of the solutions. Of course we need more investment. The Government have been investing, but they need to invest more, and we need more professionals to come into the system, because they do not grow on trees. It is absolutely right that awareness is needed of mental health first aiders and the mental health support available in schools—and we need more of that.

The trouble is that when somebody’s mental health problem is spotted in school, the thresholds for getting the treatment, therapy or whatever they require are so high that it takes too long, and in too many cases the condition worsens over that time. It really is a false economy. We need far quicker referrals, and without having to go through so many hoops. As the hon. Member for Tooting said, parents are waiting weeks or months on end to get a referral—in many cases, just to get the diagnosis before they can actually get the appropriate treatment.

I also have big concerns about eating disorders. The Government have put a lot of investment into increasing eating disorder specialist placements, but they are full up. I had a particularly tragic case in my constituency. The father rang every hospital in the country, including all the private hospitals because he could afford to fund treatment for his daughter, but everywhere was full. Eventually he secured a bed on, I think, Christmas eve. This was a teenage girl who was suicidal and had been through various episodes before. Eventually she got good treatment in hospital.

But there is a problem when people come out of hospital; often it is a case of falling off a precipice because the support services are no longer there. We need a much better system where people who need residential intensive support can be supported when they come out of that residential environment, which is a particularly tricky time because too often they end up having to go back into that intensive residential environment.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He is making an excellent contribution to this debate. His points about eating disorders are absolutely right. On the arrangements that are in place for discharge from in-patient units and also on preventive care such as community services for eating disorders, does he agree with me that one of the challenges is that there has been a failure to develop the workforce in that area? There are many unfilled posts in community eating disorder services. Unless we get that right, we will not address the challenges of eating disorders that he has outlined.

Again, my hon. Friend reinforces my point. I think we have done better on the provision of beds for that intensive care, although there are still not enough of them, but we have not done nearly enough on picking up afterwards and on preventing people from getting to that stage in the first place. The issue disproportionately affects young girls, who have all the pressures of social media. The Media Bill is being discussed in the main Chamber at the moment, and we are clamping down on sites that pretend to be there to offer support but that actually encourage vulnerable teenagers into obscene eating disorders as though they are a badge of honour. So much more needs to be done. It is so expensive—financially, as well as socially—when we do not act at the appropriate time.

My final point comes back to early intervention and prevention. The Best Start for Life project, pioneered by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), really is a game changer. It has had the buy-in of all the political parties. I was a part of the various advisory research groups that we had in this place working with Members across the Floor, and we now have the roll-out of family hubs. This is all about supporting families, particularly mums, but not exclusively mums because fathers have a role; too often they are neglected and yet they are a part of the support mechanism. There are mental illness problems affecting new fathers, which are quite severe, as well as the perinatal mental illness around women. We need to do much more to make sure we have happy mothers and that we attack domestic violence problems, a third of which happen during pregnancy. If we have a happy mum, we have a happy baby, who is likely to grow up well attached, happier, well balanced, and more resilient against all the pressures and problems of mental illness in society that are manifested in schools and beyond.

It is not true to say that the Government have done nothing and have not invested in this issue. We need them to do more and invest more. The Best Start for Life project is one of the most exciting and fundamentally important projects for attacking a problem right at the beginning, before it becomes a much bigger problem for children, families and society as a whole.

Order. I am afraid I will have to impose a time limit of five minutes for each speech—we have about three left. We will move on to the Front-Bench speakers just before half-past, so that will be 10 minutes each. I call Yasmin Qureshi.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) on securing this really important debate. I thank her for all the work that she has done over the years on mental health issues. She works as a doctor while still working as a Member of Parliament, so I thank her so much for everything that she has done.

I will speak for about two minutes, so hopefully colleagues will have a chance to get in. The problem is that mental health has always been a bit of a Cinderella service; there has never been proper investment in, for example, the training of professionals, or in sufficient spaces—for example, in schools—to help children with mental health issues. As a constituency MP, parents come to see me when they are trying to get their children into a special school, and I am sure other colleagues will have heard about the same issues: there are not enough spaces available and, if there are spaces, they are often far away. It is heartbreaking to see parents crying about how much their children are suffering. In Bolton, the wait just to get a first appointment with CAMHS is at least 12 weeks, and the NHS Greater Manchester integrated care board recently reported that, as of November 2023, there were 29,690 children on the waiting list for mental health support—a 25% increase on the figures in November 2022.

Mental health issues have affected almost 1.6 million young people—double the number 10 years ago—who are effectively being reported as “disabled”, and 650,000 children receive disability living allowance. There are many reasons why children experience mental health issues. We have discussed the cost of living crisis; being unable to access proper food, a warm home and clothes will have an impact. I agree with the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham that the covid lockdown, school closures and other reasons have also contributed to the situation. There are also existing recognisable mental health issues, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders and self-harm—and we often forget about factors such as the sexual and physical abuse of children in the home. These are real crises that we are facing.

The country cannot afford to have 1.6 million children who will become adults with mental health issues. There is a moral argument for the situation to be resolved. I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting said about the Government; whether people like it or not, this Government have been in charge for the last 14 years, so if there are still problems now, they have to take responsibility and tackle the issue properly. I will say it again: while there is a moral case to address the situation immediately, there is an economic case as well, because we will have adults with a lot of emotional health issues, and that is not good for our society. The time for discussion is over.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) on securing the debate and on all the work that she has contributed in looking at mental health and, in particular today, children’s mental health.

I believe that no one has the monopoly of wisdom in this area—every day we are learning how to move forward—but key components need to be put in place. We know, and have heard in the debate, the role that trauma plays and its impact on children’s mental health. We also know that the environment to which a child is exposed can trigger and escalate the challenges they face.

We have heard about the shortfalls in the number of professionals required in the services. We need greater investment, not just through ringfenced and protected finance and funding, but to ensure that the NHS long-term workforce plan focuses on the mental health workforce that is needed now and into the future. As we have heard, whether workforce issues are due to the impact of covid or other factors, they will have a significant impact; and unless we make the right interventions early, there will clearly be consequences.

I particularly want to focus the Minister on the issue of leadership, because in an ever more complex health system—we have heard again today about the challenges of trying to navigate local authority and health systems—we need to have very clear leadership in this area. I urge the Minister to go back to the major conditions strategy and to pull out mental health, specifically looking at children and young people’s mental health, and to develop a 10-year strategy, not just for mental health in general as was originally planned, but for children and young people’s mental health, so that there can be not only a laser focus on the interventions that are needed but so the strategy can be held up to scrutiny, which is what this place needs to do.

I also urge the Minister to co-ordinate cross-departmental work to ensure that that strategy is robust and that the inter-relationships between different Departments work, because we recognise that the issues we are discussing today have impacts in so many different areas, whether we are talking about the environment, housing, poverty—as we have today—or indeed education. We need to ensure that we pull all that work together. I urge her to take that work forward and to respond to the debate.

In particular, I also want to focus on the intersections with children from the care sector—care-experienced young people—and the additional traumas that they have. Just last Thursday, we heard powerful evidence in this place when Adoption UK put forward its latest report, which discusses how the education system itself needs to change. I would be really interested to know what discussions the Minister is having with Education Ministers about creating a trauma-informed approach to schooling, particularly addressing some of the behaviour codes that are in place, and the processes of isolation and exclusions, which are bearing down on young people who, as we have already heard, have faced significant challenges since covid and before. It is incredibly important to ensure that such an approach is put in place, in particular for children with autism and children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

Those children are having an adverse experience in the education system, which will be costly in the long term. There are too many children in that situation. I met an Education Minister this morning and highlighted the number of children who are not in school. We cannot just say that children are refusing to attend school with no reason and we also need to ensure that the school environment is safe for children.

I welcome the presence of health professionals in schools. I have to say that relying on teachers to lead on mental health in schools is the wrong approach, because teachers have so much to do already that they need back-up. Teachers are scared that they will miss something because they have not had the training that mental health professionals have. However, the roll-out of those teams of health professionals in schools is far, far too slow. I appreciate that there is a workforce challenge, but we need to expedite that work.

I will close by drawing attention to the work of Healthwatch York, which has really dug deep into children’s mental health issues in our city, and to the work that I have been doing and a recent meeting that I have had with parents from across our city. Systems seem to be impossible to navigate, there are long waits and ultimately services are overstretched and under-resourced. It is not just the young people themselves but their parents who need support, so I trust that the Minister will ensure that there is a parents strategy in all the work she does.

It is a real pleasure to speak in this debate, Mr Pritchard, which is on an issue that I have a very big interest in.

I start by thanking the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) for securing this debate on such an important subject and on setting the scene really well with her massive knowledge of this subject, which helps us all to develop a better understanding of it. This issue is experienced in all of our constituencies; it is not just a nationwide issue but a universal one. So, I am very pleased to be able to make a contribution to this debate today.

I know first-hand stories about this issue from my own constituency. I will not mention any names, but I know that a large number of children are genuinely struggling, so it is great to be here to represent them and discuss ways to combat mental health issues. It is the parents who I deal with; they speak on behalf of the children who have the problems.

I will give a Northern Ireland perspective. I am very pleased to see the Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield)—here in Westminster Hall today. She is a Minister who understands these issues and I have no doubt that she will reply very positively to our requests. In Northern Ireland, the system is operated by child and adolescent mental health services, or CAMHS, which goes above and beyond to support young children who are suffering from conditions such as depression, problems with food or eating, self-harm and abuse, violent tendencies, bi-polar disorders, schizophrenia or anxiety. More than 2,000 young children are waiting for an assessment by CAMHS and some of those children have to wait for up to nine weeks.

There is no greater worry than the worry that one has about a child or grandchild. I have six grandchildren and I really do worry about the six of them and the society that we live in now. It is different from when I was a teen growing up, which, by the way, was not yesterday. Support and openness is the main source of encouragement and I will go on briefly to that in terms of school and education. In my constituency of Strangford, I have heard of and taken many phone calls concerning eating disorders. I commend the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) because she has been at the forefront and done a grand job. She has highlighted the matter, not just here but in the main Chamber, and I congratulate her on that.

I have spoken about having good and efficient eating disorder services available. For example, in my constituency there is no access to a clinic to allow people to weigh in with their GP or to receive specialised treatment. Each year in Northern Ireland, 50 to 120 people develop anorexia, while 170 develop bulimia. Way back when I first came here, the Minister in Northern Ireland at that time helped one of my constituents, who was a young girl of 15. She went to St Thomas’ hospital across the road here. My Minister, along with the then Minister of Health here, saved that girl’s life.

That is a story of how our NHS works. We do not always hear the good stories. I know as a fact that that young girl is now married with two children. I remember meeting her with her parents in the Lobby here, who were worried sick about her. Yet our health service, our Minister back home and the Minister here saved her life at St Thomas’, just across the water.

There are 100 admissions to acute hospitals for eating disorders every year. It is important to remember with these figures that that they record only people who have been admitted to hospital, so there will be more. What is this about? Young boys and girls who suffer with eating disorders struggle with their looks and self-confidence. Children and teens spend so much time in school, that often their parents will be completely unaware of what is taking place. We must also make discreet pastoral care accessible for young children. It is really important to have that, and I hope the Minister will provide a response on pastoral care and where we are here.

I can speak for the schools of Strangford, as I am in frequent contact with them regarding multiple issues. The care our teachers have for young people is unwavering. It is a fact of life that so many young people are struggling. I have never seen anything like the struggles of the past two years. The hon. Member for Tooting mentioned that in her introduction, and I see that replicated, unfortunately, in my constituency.

Other features are struggling at school, personal appearance, heartbreak and grief. We must always remind them of the importance of speaking up and sharing feelings, so that we can help them. In conclusion, I urge the Minister, the Department and the Government to engage with devolved institutions. I always say that because it is important that we work better together, to ensure we have the necessary means to support our young people with their mental health.

This issue is incredibly important, as I have witnessed in my own constituency, from what parents and children have brought to me. To reiterate the point I made at the beginning, this is an issue we must all understand and must resolve as a nation. I have said often that we can do these things better together, and I think the Minister grasps that.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) on securing this debate and the passion and professional experience she brought to her contribution.

The contributions we have heard so far highlight how important it is to take action to improve children’s mental health and address the root causes and aggravating factors leading to poor mental health in children. As the MP for East Dunbartonshire and the SNP health spokesperson, I am fully committed to tackling the underlying causes of mental health issues. The key themes I want to reiterate are improving support for children who are struggling with their mental health, and poverty as a key driver of poor mental health. Addressing that is key, to ensure children are not taking on the burden of this Tory Government’s financial mismanagement.

I will start with support. The theme of this year’s children’s mental health week is “My Voice Matters”. It is important that we acknowledge in this place that we are here to represent our constituents and give a voice to those not feeling heard. It is our responsibility to advocate for those families and ensure that, when children are struggling with their mental health, they are met with support and a listening ear.

It is also important to note that LGBT young people are more likely to struggle with their mental health. It is no wonder, really, when the rhetoric in this place and from the Government constantly undermines and questions young people who may already be struggling with their identity. Instead of questioning and doubting these young people, we all have a duty to understand and support our young LGBT constituents. That is why the Scottish Government recently announced additional funding for a new project to support LGBT children and young people’s mental health. LGBT Youth Scotland will receive £50,000 to establish a new mental health LGBT youth commission. The commission will explore barriers and the challenges young LGBT people face when accessing mental health support and services. That will involve listening to young people and their lived experience to help inform future work, designing targeted and tangible solutions formulated by the LGBT Youth Scotland mental health ambassadors.

The SNP believes that supporting children’s wellbeing should be rights-based, strength-based, holistic and adaptable. That is why, in 2021, the Scottish Government published the whole school approach framework to assist schools in supporting children and young people’s mental health. The Scottish Government’s mental health transition and recovery plan also emphasises a health-promoting and preventative approach to mental health and wellbeing. The preventative approach is something we have heard about from across the Chamber today, so I am delighted to represent the SNP in that regard.

Education and the time children spend in schools have a large part to play in that approach, through raising awareness and understanding, and supporting the positive mental health of children and young people. Included in the framework are considerations for local authorities and guidance for schools to develop and embed policy in practice within schools and the wider community, and to support them in evaluating their mental health practices and identify areas for improvement. It is essential that schools, where children spend so much of their time, are equipped with the proper tools and knowledge to support children and ensure their mental health is prioritised and understood. That is why the Scottish Government also continue to support local authority partners with £60 million of funding to ensure that every secondary school has access to counselling services. The Scottish Government have also published a mental health and wellbeing strategy built around the three pillars of promote, prevent, provide: promoting positive mental health and wellbeing; preventing mental health issues occurring or escalating, while tackling underlying causes; and, of course, providing mental health and wellbeing support and care.

That leads me to the other major theme I want to highlight, which is tackling the underlying and aggravating causes of poor mental health, the most prominent being financial pressures and the impact of the Tory Government’s cost of living crisis. Childhood should be a time of happiness and freedom. Children should not need to worry about their family’s finances or whether they will be warm and well fed, a point explored by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who is no longer in his place.

Oh, sorry, you’ve just moved.

Low-income families with children continue to be disproportionately hit during the crisis. It is no surprise that that has had an horrendous impact on mental health. When families are in fuel and food poverty, struggling to keep warm and fed, the stress is certainly not limited to parents, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Tooting. It can aggravate specific mental health conditions, including, but not limited to, eating disorders.

The cost of living payments from the British Government have been one-off flat-rate payments. That means that a single person receives the same as a family of five. Research has shown that single-person households saw their income rise by 6% thanks to those payments, which is of course welcome, whereas for families with two or three children, the increase was only 3.3%. The Work and Pensions Committee’s cost of living payment report states that the failure to provide extra support for families is notable and should be examined further by the UK Government. Unfortunately, the response from the British Government rejects the idea that cost of living support payments should take account of family size, despite that being a common sense recommendation based on data and fairness.

We in the SNP are deeply concerned about the UK Government’s welfare policies. Instead of heaping additional pressure on low-income families, the British Government need urgently to address the fundamental issues with universal credit. One particular example is ending the two-child limit and the rape clause, a policy that I am afraid would be kept by any future Labour Government. The End Child Poverty Coalition analysis estimates that almost 90,000 children in Scotland are impacted by the two-child limit, and ending it could lift 250,000 children—15,000 of whom are in Scotland—out of poverty. This British Government’s political choice to keep and force kids into poverty is simply to the detriment of children’s mental health across these isles.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government have lifted 90,000 children out of poverty with ground-breaking, game-changing policies such as the Scottish child payment. We in the SNP are not the only ones who are concerned and calling on the British Government to end the two-child limit. The chief executive of the UK Committee for UNICEF, Jon Sparkes, said:

“We urge the UK government to take steps to protect all children from poverty, starting by making child poverty reduction a government priority, scrapping the two-child limit policy and benefits cap, and improving services and support, especially for the youngest children”.

I ask the Minister this: why is reducing child poverty not an ambition of this Government? We in the SNP call on the British Government to scrap the benefit cap and to introduce an essentials guarantee to ensure that universal credit is set at a level that allows households to cover essential costs such as food and utilities. As much as the Scottish Government progressively mitigates the policies of this place, 85% of welfare expenditure and income replacement benefits remain reserved to Westminster. That is why social security policy should be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Adverse childhood experiences are of course a significant factor in a child experiencing poor mental health, as outlined by the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), who chairs the childhood trauma all-party parliamentary group. ACEs and the trauma associated with them are, by and large, linked to poverty. I sat on and chaired children’s panels in the central belt of Scotland before being elected to this place. I saw at first hand the trauma that ACEs and poverty can cause to children and families. The SNP Scottish Government’s strategy of investing in people, investing in children, would work much more significantly if our hands were not tied by this place.

It is clear that the Scottish Government have the willingness and the ideas to help children’s mental health. We just need the powers. It is abundantly clear that, no matter which party forms a British Government after the next election, ending child poverty will not be a priority. Only with the full powers of independence will we be able to tackle the root causes of child poverty and improve the mental health of children in Scotland, continuing the Scottish Government’s current ambitions as an independent nation.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard.

Let me start my remarks by praising my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan). She is a true champion for the nation’s health. She works tirelessly to highlight mental health issues, especially those among children. In my unbiased way, I have seen how she has operated as an MP and as an NHS emergency doctor, as echoed by some of my colleagues, and she commands huge respect on these issues, so I wish to congratulate her, as others have, both on securing the debate and on her excellent speech.

I also wish to thank hon. Members who have contributed to this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) said that this was not just a moral case, but an economic case, especially as children grow into adults and continue to be negatively affected. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) talked about the impact on the mental health workforce and the fact that there needs to be clear leadership in this area. She called for a 10-year mental health strategy along with a parent strategy.

I am delighted to be marking Children’s Mental Health Week, which starts on 5 February. This is its 10th year. It is organised by Place2Be, which deserves great thanks for all the work that it does to support children’s mental health. I also congratulate its chief executive, Catherine Roche, and its president and founder, Dame Benny Refson. These are strong women leading the way. This year’s theme, “My Voice Matters”, goes to the heart of the issue. Every child matters. Each child counts no matter who they are, what their parents do, what their race or religion are, or where they live. Every child must know that their voice matters. We need a system that listens to every child. We know that our child and adolescent mental health services are in a severe state of crisis—they are at breaking point.

Last May, we read reports in The Guardian that the number of children in mental health crisis in England was at a record high. NHS data collected by the excellent YoungMinds charity revealed more than 3,500 urgent referrals for under-18s in May, three times higher than the same month in 2019. The number of children and young people undergoing treatment or waiting to start care also reached new highs, with record open referrals to children and young people’s mental health services. This month, The Independent newspaper revealed that NHS figures show that a record 496,897 under-18s—nearly half a million—were referred by GPs to child and adolescent mental health services at the end of November last year, up from 493,434 the month before.

More children than ever with anxiety, depression and other serious mental illnesses are waiting, for longer than ever, in anguish. We know that the causes are complex: social disintegration, harmful social media, bullying, worries about the climate and anxiety about the future. As has been mentioned, covid was a real game changer. Secondary school pupils across the UK experienced significantly higher rates of depression and social, emotional and behavioural difficulties—overall, the worst mental wellbeing—during the pandemic. An Oxford University department reported that cases of depression among secondary school pupils aged 11 to 13 rose by 8.5% during the pandemic compared with a 0.3% increase among the same cohort before covid, that girls’ mental health deteriorated more than that of boys during the pandemic and that girls were also more likely to find the return to full-time schooling difficult. This is a generation in pain, so when we use the word “crisis”, we mean it.

The Oxford University research highlighted something else that is really important: the students who were most resilient during the pandemic were those with plenty of social interaction and support, including a supportive school environment, along with good relationships at home and a friend to turn to for support during lockdown. That is why the centrepiece of Labour’s plan for children’s mental health is the introduction of specialist mental health support for children and young people in every school. That will mean that every child in the school will have someone to talk to, someone to listen to, someone to offer support and someone to prove that “My Voice Matters”. It will go alongside recruiting thousands more mental health staff to cut waiting lists and ensure that more people can access treatment. Labour will create an open-access mental health hub for children and young people in every community. We will focus on prevention, early diagnosis, early intervention and timely treatment near where people live. It simply cannot be right that young people travel miles and wait for months to see a specialist. We know that mental illness is best tackled early and that it seldom gets better as the wait goes on longer. Prevention is not just socially just but, as has been mentioned, economically efficient. It saves young lives and it saves money. The next Labour Government will pay for this move by abolishing tax loopholes for private equity fund managers and tax breaks for private schools. That is social justice.

That promise sits alongside the many other measures in Labour’s child health action plan—a plan that adds up to a comprehensive mission to create the healthiest generation of children ever. That is why, when we meet again for Children’s Mental Health Week in early 2025, after the ballot papers have been filled in at the general election, we hope that we will have a new Government and a fresh start for children’s mental health.

I once again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting for securing this important debate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) for securing this debate ahead of Children’s Mental Health Week. I thank all hon. and right hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions, and I will try to answer as many points as I can in the time that I have.

It is absolutely clear that we face a challenge in ensuring timely support is available for children and young people’s mental health. Two factors are proving the greatest challenges. The first, as was pointed out by a number of speakers today, is the historic underinvestment in mental health services in this country. No other Government before us had tackled this, trying to introduce a parity in esteem between mental and physical health. The Government are investing £2.3 billion extra a year—I know the hon. Member for Tooting is tired of this figure —in mental health services. That is making a difference.

I just want to correct one figure that the hon. Member raised, about only 8% of funding going to children and young people’s mental health services. Actually, 1.63 million people were in contact with mental health services in November last year, and 31% of those were children aged between nought and 18. That shows that children are making up a large proportion of those benefiting from the funding. The extra £2.3 billion a year is going into projects such as our capital investment programme to eradicate mental health dormitories, and is being invested in our crisis centres, our crisis cafés, and 27,000 additional staff. We are seeing evidence that that is making a difference already. Our crisis cafés are associated with an 8% lower admission rate and our crisis telephone services with a 12% lower admission rate, and detentions under the Mental Health Act 1983 are 15% lower.

Our second challenge is the sheer scale of demand for services in the past few years. Even though we are investing more than ever before in children and young people’s mental health services, as the hon. Member for Tooting pointed out, one in five children now suffers with a mental health problem, compared with one in nine in 2017. There were 743,000 new referrals to children and young people’s mental health services in 2022, up 41% from just the year before. We recognise that we have to put in more funding. We are doing that, but it is difficult to meet the sheer demand for the support that children and young people need.

This is true across all four nations of the United Kingdom and not just here in England, where the Government are responsible for health. In Cardiff, for example, where Labour runs the health service, 83% of CAMHS are not on target for seeing children and young people. The Welsh Labour Government target of 80% of children and young people being assessed within 28 days had not been met for the five years up to 2021, the dates covered by the latest figures. I was quite surprised by the contribution from the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan), as Scotland have been missing their national targets. Under some health boards, children and young people have been waiting for more than 1,000 days for services. In Northern Ireland, 60% of those targets have not been met, either. All four nations of the United Kingdom are facing exactly the same pressures.

In England, however, we have a plan, and I can assure hon. Members that it is far from just warm words. While our spending on children and young people’s mental health services has increased from £841 million in 2020 to just over £1 billion in 2022-23, it is not just about how much we spend, but about how we spend it. An additional 345,000 children and young people are getting the mental health support they need. As of August last year, 703,000 children and young people aged under 18 were being supported through NHS-funded mental health services. That is a 13.1% increase on the year before.

I recognise what the Minister is saying. Things are not perfect, but we in Scotland are investing more in the NHS and mental health services than they are in England. We recognise the problem, but we are doing something about it. That is more than can be said for down here.

Let me point out what we are doing with our funding. We have introduced two waiting time standards for children and young people. The first is for 95% of children up to 19 with an eating disorder to receive treatment within one week for urgent cases and four weeks for more routine cases. I can showcase for the hon. Member for Tooting figures from her local integrated care board for eating disorders: 82% of children and young people under 19 are seen within four weeks. That is not 95%, so we are not where we want to be, but a significant proportion are being seen according to our new target. Our extra funding to children and young people’s services for eating disorders will rise to £54 million in the coming financial year, creating more capacity, but we absolutely acknowledge that there is more to do.

The second waiting time standard we have introduced is for 50% of patients of all ages, including children and young people, experiencing a first episode of psychosis to receive treatment within two weeks of being referred. That target is being met across the country.

Our plan for children and young people is cross-Government, because this is not just a health and social care problem. Mental health is everyone’s business. That is why we are working with the Department for Education to implement proposals from the children and young people’s mental health Green Paper.

If the Government are interested in implementing cross-party proposals, why on earth have they scrapped the Mental Health Bill?

I will touch on what we are doing and come back to the hon. Lady on that point.

Last week we met the Education Secretary and the chief executive of the NHS to discuss how we can better support school attendance, because we know that children with mental health problems are the most likely not to attend school. I do not think there was a single proposal from any of the Labour MPs, apart from on mental health support teams in schools, which we are already rolling out. We have rolled out 400 mental health support teams, covering 3.4 million pupils in England—something that Labour has not started to do in Wales, where it runs the health service. Our original ambition was to cover 25% of pupils, but we have done that a year earlier than expected; we are now on track in March this year to cover just under 50% of pupils with a mental health support team. We will also have 13,800 schools and colleges with a trained senior mental health lead, including seven in 10 state-funded schools in England.

We are already doing what Labour says it plans to do if it ever gets into government, and our evidence shows that that is making a difference across the country. In addition, in October we announced £4.92 million of new funding to develop new mental health and wellbeing support hubs for young people across all of England. We will be announcing in the next few weeks the successful hubs and where they will be based. That clearly shows that the work we are doing is on track and amounts to far more than just the warm words we have been accused of.

Let me point out two things. First, 12,140 children are on waiting lists at my ICB, an increase of 18.15% on last year. Secondly, the Minister spoke about 1.63 million people accessing mental health services and said that 38% of them were children, but that is actually up on the 25% that I cited. She used that figure in her argument about the amount of money that has been spent on children’s mental health services. She was incorrect, and all she did was highlight that the situation is getting worse, rather than arguing against my point that only 8% is being spent on children. She did not address that point.

The hon. Lady is making my argument for me. We are seeing a significant increase in demand, and that is why we are spending more on rolling out these services. She did not welcome the progress we are making on mental health support teams across our schools, or the fact that we are set to announce new mental health support hubs across England.

Last year we published our new suicide prevention strategy; my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) talked about 3 Dads Walking, who I was pleased to meet. We are also rolling out mental health and wellbeing support in our school curriculum, teaching young people what good mental health looks like and about support mechanisms. Our strategy sets out over 100 actions to help reduce suicide and to ensure that young people in particular, who are identified as a high-risk group in the strategy, are getting the support they need. That includes making mental health and wellbeing part of the school curriculum.

Has the Minister had the opportunity to look at how to ensure that young people have some church activity and pastoral care, which is very important?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Part of that can be done in our schools. With the increase in mental health support teams, which will now cover 4.2 million pupils, there will be different levels of support, from pastoral support right through to acute help for those with more acute mental health needs. It is really important that we ensure that those teams are rolled out as we are planning. Our hubs in local areas will also be able to provide more bespoke services for the communities they represent, which is crucial. I would like to thank Dr Alex George, the Government’s youth mental health ambassador, who has been leading much of this work, particularly on the suicide prevention strategy and making children and young people a priority group.

I reiterate my thanks to everyone who has contributed to the debate. The Government have a plan to improve mental health services for children and young people by investing in services, with capital projects to improve infrastructure in order to provide the care that is needed, from crisis centres right through to the 27,000 extra mental health workers; rolling out mental health support teams in schools and our new children and young people’s mental health hubs, which will be announced shortly; and dealing with the sheer tsunami of demand, whether it is due to the fallout of covid or the fact that people are coming forward because we are encouraging them to talk about their mental health and ask for support.

Our plan is making a difference. I am hopeful that, with the investment we are putting in to tackle the lack of investment for decades under many Governments, we are providing the building blocks to improve the mental health of our young people in this country.

I thank all Members, including the Minister and my hon. Friend the shadow Minister, for their contributions. Disappointingly, I have not heard anything about the scrapping of the Mental Health Bill, which the Minister conveniently avoided.

No, I will continue. The Minister had ample opportunity to respond to a direct intervention, and she chose not to. That Bill was a great piece of cross-party work that would have improved the lives and outcomes of so many people in our country, particularly minority groups. The Minister did not address the fact that only 8% of funding is spent on children’s mental health services, but she highlighted that the need is greater than ever.

The £2.3 billion was promised before covid. We have heard multiple arguments today that the situation has got worse post covid. There has been no money to make up for the increased need related to covid, and no assessment of how we are going to deal with the fact that adverse childhood experiences and poverty are contributing so greatly to our nation’s mental ill health.

The Minister talked about the fact that there are many new referrals. There are many new referrals, but she did not mention that in so many parts of this country, and even in parts of this city, it is a postcode lottery. In some places, up to 50% of referrals are closed before the person has even been seen. While I welcome the fact that efforts are being made—it would be churlish of me to suggest that they are not—the fact remains that they are not good enough, they do not reach far enough and they are not ambitious enough. Even on the £2.3 billion, I know for a fact that the head of mental health services in the NHS asked for more, and that was before covid.

I thank everyone for being here and for their contributions. Although we are all on the same page in the sense that this is an issue we all care about, regardless of how we vote, where we live or what our socioeconomic background is, this Government still lack ambition for children in this country and for their mental health. Let me again, on the record, thank all the organisations that work so tirelessly in this space.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Children’s Mental Health Week 2024.

Type 2 Diabetes: Availability of Drugs

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the availability of drugs to treat type 2 diabetes.

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

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about what is a vital and, I think, under-recognised issue. I wish I did not have to, and that all the necessary medicines were available for all of the serious, life-changing conditions we face, but the reality at the moment is that they are not. Specifically, I would like to talk about type 2 diabetes, which is more common than type 1 and can go undiagnosed for years.

To be clear about what we are talking about, if someone’s body does not make enough insulin or what it makes does not work properly, the result is high blood sugar levels—type 2 diabetes. If untreated, that increases the risks of serious problems with their eyes, feet, heart and nervous system. High blood sugar levels can cause serious complications, potentially at great cost to individuals, but also to the national health service. The reality is that any of us can develop type 2 diabetes, but it mostly affects people over 25, and often those who have a family history of it.

What about treatment and medication? We know there is currently no cure, but we also know that type 2 diabetes can be put into remission by losing weight. We all know that eating well and exercising are the key to a healthy lifestyle, and that is never truer than with preventing and reversing the onset of type 2 diabetes.

I commend the hon. Lady for bringing the debate forward. I am a type 2 diabetic—I declare an interest as such—and when I was diagnosed some 13 or 14 years ago, I went on a weight loss course right away. The doctor told me, “You lose weight!” I lost about 4 stone, and I have kept it off, but that did not stop the diabetes in its entirety. I still have it, and I still have to be very careful about what I eat.

The point I want to make is that there are recent indications that certain diabetes treatments can also be successful for weight loss, but weight loss is really important at least for the first stage of diabetes, and priority for such treatments must be given to those with type 2 diabetes before, with respect, those who are finding success with them for weight loss. How can the Minister and our Government encourage such guidelines to be firmly set in place?

I thank the hon. Member for that intervention, because that point is at the heart of the matter. We have to ensure that the supply of drugs, which is short at the moment, is prioritised for those who need them for important health reasons.

A healthy weight, as the hon. Member said, and keeping active make it easier for someone’s body to manage their blood sugar levels and help prevent insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Research has shown that, for some people, a combination of lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by about 50%, but sufferers may also need to take diabetes medication such as metformin and insulin, as well as making changes to their lifestyle.

In the UK, 4.6 million people have type 2 diabetes and around 13.6 million are at risk of developing it. People often need help, such as intervention and medicines. Last year, I called on the UK Government to take action on the shortage of medicines for type 2 diabetes patients, after a constituent came to me concerned that her treatment and her health would be impacted by a shortage of the diabetes drugs she needed. They are known as GLP-1 RAs—glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists—and include one of the most common drugs, semaglutide.

As for many other manufactured drugs, there is currently a supply problem with semaglutide. In this case, the problem has been made worse, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, by the fact that the same drugs are effective for weight loss. The very thing that semaglutide does to help diabetes patients is making it difficult for them to access it.

I wrote to the Scottish Government, who told me they did not expect the supply to return to normal until mid-way through this year. I appreciate that that is not the most helpful response, but in some ways it is understandable, because medicine supply and licensing is a reserved matter. That is why I am raising it with the UK Government. We have seen issues with drug shortages beyond diabetes, and that is why I am so concerned at the slow response to the lack of medication.

Patients find themselves stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. In Scotland, they have the Scottish Government unable to act, and they perceive the UK Government to be very slow to act. It seems that neither Government have realised how potentially serious this situation could be for patients who use these drugs daily. For a patient to be in a position where they do not know whether they can get what they need to help them get well and keep them healthy is simply not acceptable. I have heard from people in my constituency and beyond about the impact that the situation is having on their lives.

Does the hon. Lady recognise that this is not just about access to drugs for type 2 diabetics, but about access to medical equipment, such as the LibreView glucose monitoring sensors that have changed people’s lives? Does she agree that, because the incidence of type 2 diabetes is closely related to areas of social deprivation, where the finance is not available, the NHS should look to give those sensors to as many people living with type 2 diabetes as possible? That would save a fortune in the future, and it would reduce harm to lots of people who are currently suffering greatly because of diabetes.

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, and I completely agree.

Type 2 diabetes is a problem in itself, with the lack of medication, but it is also an illustration of a major problem that our health services are facing with growing costs. We should be looking at how we prevent the problem in the first place, both in areas of social deprivation and in society generally. We should be looking at how we help people to avoid the problems that come with conditions such as type 2 diabetes. If we fail in that, people will fall into the situation where they are living with diabetes—a condition that requires 24/7 self-management to stay healthy. I invite Members to imagine living with a condition that they have to manage every day—a condition that has the power to affect them at any moment, disrupting what they are doing and altering their day to day life—when they have done all they can to stop that happening. Now consider how the lack of a medication that we have organisations and administrations responsible for providing makes that situation worse.

A couple of years ago, as part of a campaign by Diabetes UK, I tried to live life as if I had diabetes, and I have to say that I failed dismally. I realised just how difficult it is, and I realised that people living with diabetes —type 1 or type 2—deserve much better than they are getting at the moment. To be turned away at the GP surgery or pharmacy through no fault of the practitioner and to be told, “You might have to wait 18 months for what has been helping you get on top of the condition”, is simply unacceptable.

I know some people who have been left waiting since 2023. Shortages have been linked to those without diabetes using the drugs, as the hon. Member for Strangford mentioned, simply for weight-loss purposes. Drugs such as Ozempic are being sold online for nearly £200—a 1,765% increase on the cost of what they would be on an NHS prescription.

The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies has talked of the shortage of medication to treat the likes of epilepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well as diabetes, all of them potentially life-changing and life-ending conditions. That is true also of some cancer drugs and hormone replacement therapy. The consequences do not lie just at the door of patients but, as we have heard, at that of the NHS and community pharmacy teams, which are under increased strain.

A national patient safety alert has been issued by NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care to address supply, but I ask those with the power to consider standing in the shoes of those going through this. People who should have been started on GLP-1s are facing delay or are being put on to less effective options. Let us imagine being told that we had to take less effective medicine for a life-changing condition. If the supply is interrupted, a person potentially has to go through the side effects again and again when being restarted. People have been contacting Diabetes UK regularly since the start of the shortage in early 2023. This is not just about equality or ease of access. For all those affected, it is about quality of life.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Pritchard. I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) for raising such an important issue. I want to begin by emphasising that I understand that medicine supply issues are a significant cause of frustration for many of our constituents across the United Kingdom. I also recognise that there have been particular challenges recently with certain medicines. Without diminishing those challenges, it is important that we set them in context.

There are around 1,400 medicines licensed in the UK, most of which are in good supply.[Official Report, 1 February 2024, Vol. 744, c. 14MC.] The Department is regularly notified of supply issues; thankfully, the vast majority of those can be managed with minimal impact on patients. The medicine supply chain is highly regulated, complex and global, meaning that there can sometimes be supply issues that affect the UK, along with other countries around the world.

There are a number of reasons why a limited number of medicines might be subject to a disruption in supply, such as manufacturing difficulties, regulatory non-compliance, access to raw materials or distribution problems. We cannot always prevent supply issues occurring, but where they do the Department has a range of well-established processes to manage them and help mitigate the risk to patients.

Where there are concerns about supply, they largely, although not exclusively, concern medication to treat the most common conditions. That is exactly the case with what we are talking about today—diabetes—a condition experienced by more than 4.9 million people across the UK. Action on diabetes will be included in the major conditions strategy, as it is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. If someone has diabetes, they are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke than someone who does not have diabetes, which goes to the heart of what the hon. Member for Edinburgh West said about the importance of ensuring diabetics get their medication.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive and helpful response. Some years ago, when I first came to Parliament there was a diabetes strategy for the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. If the Minister could look at it, I think a renewal of that particular strategy would help. It was agreed here at Westminster, but took in all the regions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was a marvellous objective to address diabetes and it seemed to work. I would like to see it happen again.

The hon. Member makes an important and powerful point, as usual. As he knows, I am a proud Unionist and am keen for us to do as much as we can in collaboration. I recognise that health is a largely devolved matter. However, since I joined the Department of Health and Social Care in October, I have visited Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, I have talked about how we can collaborate more closely on things such as research and innovation, and I am sure that we can do more together where the devolved Governments agree. Last night we had encouraging news. Hopefully we will have power-sharing arrangements back in place in Northern Ireland so that we can work together collaboratively to deliver those benefits for patients.

I will finish the point I was making about the major conditions strategy. That strategy aims primarily to improve care and health outcomes for those living with multiple conditions, and it will be centred on prevention. We have heard from a wide range of stakeholders, whose views are informing the development of the strategy. I will meet Diabetes UK this week to continue that engagement.

With regards to the availability of drugs to treat type 2 diabetes, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh West set out, there has been a significant global supply issue affecting glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists—GLP-1RAs—with the shortages driven by an increase in demand for such products for licensed and off-label indications, meaning that the medicine is being used for a different use from that stated on its licence.

I will set out the steps we have taken to manage those issues. We have continued to work with suppliers to take action to resolve the issues as quickly as possible, including expediting deliveries and boosting supplies. In July last year, we issued guidance for healthcare professionals, which took the form of a national patient safety alert on how to manage patients during the supply disruption. Clinicians and prescribers were directed not to initiate new patients on these medicines, which were to be used only to treat their licensed indication, protecting supplies for diabetic patients. Guidance was supported and echoed in a statement issued by the professional regulators.

One of the particular shortages affecting the market at the moment is Ozempic, which is the brand name for semaglutide, which is licensed to treat type 2 diabetes. Wegovy is the same medicine—semaglutide—but licensed specifically for weight management and is generally used at a higher dose than Ozempic. Obesity-related conditions can be serious, so it is right that we support people living with obesity to lose weight, and Wegovy is one option for those with severe obesity and comorbidities. However, it became available for prescription in the UK only on 4 September 2023, having received approval for use on the NHS for weight management in March 2023.

We believe that supply issues with Ozempic have in part been contributed to by off-label prescribing of that medicine for weight loss ahead of Wegovy’s launch. However, the strong and clear guidance that we provided on the use of those treatments only for their licensed indications and our ongoing work with the industry has helped to protect supplies for diabetic patients.

As a result of our continued intensive work with the supply chain, I am pleased to inform hon. Members that the supply position of that particular drug has improved. Supplies of Rybelsus have been boosted to support demand from new patients with type 2 diabetes, patients switching from Byetta injections and patients switching from Victoza injections. The national patient safety alert was amended on 3 January to reflect that positive development. The professional regulators have issued a second statement to highlight that update.

I am also delighted to highlight the fact that the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency gave regulatory approval in the last few days to Mounjaro, an injectable medicine for adults with type 2 diabetes. That will bring an additional treatment option and will mean that more diabetic patients will have access to the medicines that they need.

Sadly, supply is not expected to return to normal due to the issues with certain products, but we will continue to work with the manufacturers, the NHS, the MHRA and others working in the supply chain, to help ensure that, overall, supplies of GLP-1 RAs are available for patients.

I think the hon. Members for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and I would be interested know about the other option—if I caught you right, Minister—that you mentioned, which is in the form of an injection but is not insulin. Just so we know, is it a different system?

Sorry, was the hon. Gentleman asking about the approval of the new drug, Mounjaro, which I just mentioned?

Yes, I am trying to understand, because I am not aware of it, and neither are the hon. Lady or the hon. Gentleman. It is not insulin for type 2, is it? The Minister mentioned an injection system.

It is an injectable medicine for adults with type 2 diabetes. It was recently approved by the MHRA. To put a little bit of extra information out there, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommended Mounjaro, the same drug, for the treatment of patients with type 2 diabetes who meet specific criteria. The NHS in England is therefore now legally required, in line with NICE recommendations, to fund its use for eligible patients. The availability of that new medicine in Scotland is, however, a matter for the devolved Administration. The Scottish Medicines Consortium, which makes decisions on the use of medicines in Scotland, has not yet published guidance on Mounjaro. It will be a matter for the SMC as to whether that becomes an option in Scotland.

As I was saying, Mr Pritchard, unfortunately we expect supply chain issues to continue for the rest of the year. Throughout the management of this issue, our guidance has been supported by additional advice issued in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which has, critically, reinforced the messaging provided by the national patient safety alerts.

Does the Minister understand and recognise the benefits of glucose monitoring centres? It is not a supply chain issue, but an access issue. They can and do change people’s lives, but they are not widely accessible. People are very much unaware that they actually exist. If they did and understood that the centres were available from the NHS, it would save the NHS millions if not billions of pounds. It would change the lives of many people, mainly in deprived areas. Can the Minister give a commitment to look at that and see how we can allow more people to access glucose monitoring systems?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and I am more than happy to look at the issue. However, I believe—I may be mistaken—that he is suggesting something that we would routinely advise for type 1 diabetics to be provided to type 2 diabetics. As far as I am aware, the clinical advice does not suggest that we do that, but I am more than happy to look at the issue, because I want to ensure that we support people living with diabetes as much as we can.

Finally, I emphasise that our guidance remains clear that medicines licensed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes should be used only for that purpose. All prescribers, whether employed privately or by the NHS, are expected to take into account the appropriate national guidance. Unfortunately, the supply disruption is a common issue for the UK and other countries around the world, which is both frustrating and distressing for patients. We cannot always prevent supply issues from occurring, but where they do arise, the Department has a range of well-established processes and tools to manage them and to help mitigate the risk to patients. Addressing issues with GLP-1 RAs continues to be a priority for the Department. We will continue to work hard with industry to resolve the issues as quickly as possible. Once again, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Edinburgh West for raising such an important issue.

Question put and agree to.

Sitting suspended.

Somerset Council: Funding and Governance

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the funding and governance of Somerset Council.

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

When I became a councillor—some years ago; probably 10 or more years ago now—one of the things that I took most seriously was my duty to those in our community who are more vulnerable than others, in particular looked-after children within the authority of Somerset, as it then was. I passionately believe, as do all of my Conservative colleagues here in Parliament, in trying to ensure that we have the best possible quality services for both our young people and all those in the rest of society who are vulnerable. That really goes to the quick with me and indeed with all of us. I am therefore passionate about trying to make sure that our local services have the funding that they need, and the inspiration that they need, to be able to do the best possible job in the best possible way. I want to make that a reality for those who depend on us for their care.

When I became a councillor, I also became aware that under previous Liberal Democrat administrations—there are various arguments about the genesis of the current situation, but the fact of the matter is that a large debt had been run up by the council to some of the public sector financing organisations and others, which needed to be serviced. The debt was of some £350 million or more. What we needed to spend on the interest on that debt was really detracting from what we needed to spend on for our constituents. The need to get that debt under control, to begin to repay it, was a big deal for the council in Somerset at that time.

Of course, at that time—under the coalition and after a massive debt had been run up nationally—there was a big need for councils across the country to make savings. The coalition made the decision—indeed, my predecessor as the Member for Yeovil, David Laws, was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who decided, at that time, that he would champion the idea of being “the axeman in chief”, according to his autobiography, in trying to get spending by the Government generally under control. One of his decisions was to make savings in local authority budgets.

At that time, that was a necessity. What we also saw under the coalition, as things evolved, was that in order to try to protect some of the county spending budgets—the local authority budgets—money was provided to councils, so that they were able to restrict the increases in council tax that would otherwise have been required to pay for some services. The national Government made more money available, which meant we could limit council tax rises to 3%, 4% or 5% a year, rather than what otherwise might be required.

That is the context for the financing of Somerset Council and for the wider council environment. However, it also has to be said that part of managing the budgets for local authorities is that there needs to be creative thinking about how to get more growth, more investment and more housing into an area, with more council tax being delivered through that development, to be able to finance some council services.

In recent years, I have been quite disappointed that the new administration in Somerset, which is Liberal Democrat, has not taken some of those opportunities to think more holistically about how we might grow such economies to help pay for services. At the end of the day, it is only by getting the top line—the revenue—growing that we can get the tax revenue coming through to support the good-quality services that we all want to see for our residents.

For example, getting the town centre in Yeovil going again has been really important. As an MP, I got the Government to commit to very substantial town centre regeneration funding of £9.75 million through the towns fund to make that happen. The idea was to have a transformative change in Yeovil’s value proposition. It involved regeneration to enable the town centre and surrounding areas to be seen as places on the up, and to engender a virtuous circle that could increase property prices and get people excited about investing in their property, making sacrifices and a life for themselves and being able to make money from that. That kind of vision is essential for making places in the UK inspiring, where people think there is a future for them and an opportunity to make something of themselves for their families and their retirement.

Such things are really important, so it has been disappointing to see the local Lib Dem administration—thus far, at least—not capitalise on that investment. The projects have stalled. I have been working constructively with the local authority to make sure that the opportunities come forward properly in the time available, to transform those areas rather than just spending, or wasting, money on projects that do not quite work out or on public realm improvements that are not well thought through or well contracted. It is essential to focus on those basic issues of competence in the administration of how the funds are spent.

Another reason why Somerset is in a troublesome situation more generally is that the business case at the heart of the plan to move to a unitary authority, which was based on a very good decision by the previous Conservative administration to save money by amalgamating all the councils, has not been pursued by the new Liberal Democrat administration. Those savings have therefore not come through, some of the personnel and management rearrangements have not occurred, and many tens of millions of pounds that would otherwise have been saved have not been saved since the savings were to have started, a year or two ago. That means that the council is in a difficult position and needs more funding.

I am supportive, as my parliamentary colleagues in Somerset are, of the Government helping with more funding for social care and for thinking more carefully about how we manage some of the inflationary aspects that, in part, have put the council in the position that it is in. However, we cannot get away from the fact that the current Liberal Democrat administration has not taken the decisions and done things according to the business plan that was set out to save the money required to make the changes necessary to keep the council’s finances on an even keel.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the challenges for local authority budgets, particularly for upper-tier local authorities, from rising social care costs, with the potential for productivity and other savings from a move to unitary. However, I am sure he will be aware that the Office for Local Government has published a report, with a dashboard to help councils identify how efficiently they are running their services and the general state of their finances. The conclusion of the Office for Local Government is that this was not just about money, but that where there have been failures in council finances—as, indeed, is the case in Somerset—it is down to a poor civil service and poor political leadership. It is incumbent on politicians and, indeed, council civil servants to take responsibility for that.

I agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that it is important that responsibility is taken and that some of these decisions—or lack of decisions, should I say—are held up for scrutiny. It is not acceptable for residents, because of the lack of money, to face the potential loss of services that are really important to them, such as the Yeovil recreation centre and the tourist information centres in Cartgate and Taunton. Such services are essential for our communities, and it is not right that those non-statutory services should now be threatened.

It is also right that we protect non-statutory services generally by making sure that the council does not go into special measures, or is subject to a section 114 notice, which is the council version of a bankruptcy. The Minister will know well how that works. These are potentially very threatening to things that are not core or statutory council operations, and we do not want to see bus services being cancelled because a council goes bust. Residents may not know or necessarily care who is in charge and what is happening, but this is a serious situation. The reality is that the current administration has caused this issue and has not taken the decisions necessary to avoid it. Nevertheless, none of us wants to see that happen and to see these services go, because they are really important.

My hon. Friend is making very powerful points. I have been trying to work out how long it is, but I have worked with Bill Revans, the leader of the council, for over 25 years, and I have a great deal of respect for him. My hon. Friend is quite right that none of us wants the council to go into special measures. The Minister has been very kind to all of us, and he has given us an enormous amount of time on this. I am also grateful to him for the money he has given so far—I thank him very much.

Would my hon. Friend agree that the big trick with this will be our working together, regardless of our personal views or our political views, to make sure that this does not happen? Once, many years ago, I had the commissioners in to West Somerset Council, and it was a complete disaster. We lost our cohesion, and that council disappeared soon after. This is not something we should take lightly, and I ask my hon. Friend to dwell a little bit more on how we can help the Minister and Somerset Council to get what they want, which is to maintain services—schooling, education and children’s services—so that we do not have a complete disaster on our hands.

I thank my hon. Friend, and he is absolutely right. We need to work together, including across the aisle. I am very fond of my Liberal Democrat ex-opponents on the council. I know them well, and in many cases they are very good people who want the best for their communities, as we all do. We need to work together, whatever we think about the decisions that should or should not have been made. I am willing to do that, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger). I know that my other colleagues in the parliamentary party and the Ministers are willing to work on that, too.

I want to make it clear that this is not some story of Government underfunding; that is absolutely not the case. My hon. Friend is right to point out that the Government have listened and have given substantial new money, which Somerset Conservative MPs lobbied for. Their voices were heard loud and clear and we were given that money. None the less, we still face challenges and there are things that will be required, but we need to make sure that we keep these essential services that people rely on—the recycling centre in Crewkerne, the libraries and the various services that are not protected within statutory limits, which would be protected should there be a bankruptcy. My constituents rely on their bus services; they cannot see them cut. That would be a fundamentally difficult thing for them to deal with. We cannot allow that to happen. [Interruption.]

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming

Yeovil is one of those places that is dripping with potential. It has an incredible defence manufacturing industry, people, skills and development organisations. In my opinion, as someone who has been around the world looking at development and business opportunities for many years, I have never seen an environment that is so conducive to partnership working between business and local institutions to make things happen as there is at Yeovil College. Yeovil and the wider area need that vision from the council to back that up, to be the glue to make permissions happen more easily or to put in infrastructure, whatever is needed.

We need that vision from our local council, and that is what we are not getting right now. It is incredibly frustrating, for someone who wants to do the best to make that difference, with opportunities for people in our town, to find that at all stages it has been underwhelming, shall we say, for everybody dealing with the local council. I urge Ministers to think structurally about change, so that local councils have more accountable responsibility for bringing those things forward.

It is extraordinary, when looking around the world, to see how welcoming some other places are to investment, new thinking and different ways of doing things. When I proposed the idea about six or seven years ago of a new town development on the A303, to capitalise on the advantages of investing so much money in the A303 dualling, which we in Somerset fought so hard to get from the Government, we were met with a brick wall when talking to the council about executing those opportunities, and thinking about whether such things should be in the local plan, to excite local entrepreneurs. It has been such a frustrating process. We need to make sure we have well-equipped, local economic development operations of one kind or another, and to make sure we have good access to local and national incentives that attracts business to set up in different places.

My hon. Friend is making a very powerful point. I think what he is getting around to is levelling up. Somerset has not done very well out of levelling up, and my hon. Friend and I have talked about this. I would say to the Minister that levelling up would help immeasurably. What we need to look at is the learning of skills, rural deprivation, helping young people get on to the job ladder in rural areas—that covers the whole of Somerset—and we certainly need to look at the way people are leaving school. Although we have Bridgwater, Taunton and Yeovil, there is not much in between, and therefore young people have not got those opportunities. I therefore make a plea through my hon. Friend to the Minister that we start talking about getting a levelling up bid for Somerset, where we could work with the council to get money to help the most vulnerable.

My hon. Friend makes a brilliant point. This is all about thinking of a plan for how we join up those urban and rural development opportunities and our skills development opportunities to make the most of what is an incredible area.

Somerset is a rural area, but I have never seen anything like it in my travels of the whole world—there is so much energy and sophistication in what is a rural environment. Yeovilton is in the north of my constituency —it is the home of the Fleet Air Arm, and the site of one of its core operations. We have the manufacturing cluster around Yeovil, and indeed we have north Dorset, which is second to none in the world in its defence manufacturing abilities. We need to support that—it means people come from all over the world to work and raise their families there; it is not an average rural area by any stretch of the imagination. We need to build on that; it is a massive opportunity for the country in exports, high-value engineering jobs, and all the things that we as a nation are supposed to be trying to encourage.

We need to support our local authorities and ensure they are doing the right thing. We need to ensure they are making the right decisions, at the right time, to be able to save money where it is required, and that they are also thinking about ways of making money where it is required. That should not just be through some fly-by-night plan to invest in commercial real estate; local authorities have no ability to judge if such plans are a good idea, and that is something we need be careful they do not do. However, those core activities of working with private industry to make sure the incentives and skills are there for business is the way forward—that is the way to finance any local authority.

There can be endless arguments about who gave what money to who and so on, but unless that core business of getting growth going in an area is there, with proper support and incentives from local and national government, it will be very hard to compete with some other parts of the world that are doing a brilliant job of it. They are rolling out the red carpet to welcome people to those areas, and they are giving massive incentives: 40% or 50% capital incentives are being paid up front to people who want to start businesses and invest in renewable energy generation—or whatever it is.

There are very serious things going on out there, and we need to think about how we match that. This idea that we can just put our fingers in our ears and pretend it is not happening is for the birds. These are real-time decisions being made now that people are having to think about, and we need to make sure that we are on the same page and we are competitive. Somerset is an amazing place with amazing opportunities, and we need to focus on how we can capitalise on those. They could be an absolute driver of economic performance, and the realisation of the aspirations of people in all income brackets across our country. I hope the House will urgently consider this topic.

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Sir Mark. I thank the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) for securing this really important debate. I agree with him on many of his observations about our wonderful county that is Somerset and, indeed, the opportunities that it offers.

Local authorities exist to provide crucial frontline services to their residents. Some 63% of Somerset Council’s budget is spent on children and adults who need council care, but the stark reality is that the funding model is broken. As a proudly active Somerset councillor, I have seen the situation at first hand. The Government have decimated council finances and local communities are paying the price. This is a national problem that requires a national solution; it is not specific to Somerset.

Somerset Council has declared a financial emergency. It did so late last year because of the significant pressures on its finances due to sky-high inflation, spiralling costs of providing services, especially in social care, and a broken system for the funding of local government.

The council has been completely transparent about the measures that it has taken to address the £100 million funding gap for next year and will do what is necessary to continue to provide those essential services to its residents. I know that most of Somerset’s MPs have met Councillor Bill Revans and the Somerset Council team to learn more about the financial emergency, but sadly the hon. Member for Yeovil has not yet been able to find time to do so. However, speaking to the council’s leader this morning, I found that the offer of a meeting still stands, and I would be happy to join him if he wishes to meet Councillor Revans.

The hon. Member will be aware that some of the issues facing the current administration are the legacy of the previous Conservative council. Vesting day for Somerset Council, the new unitary council, was on 1 April 2023. The previous administration’s One Somerset business case stated now that the seemingly meagre £18.4 million-worth of savings would be realised after three years, not within nine months of forming a new council. The previous administration was guilty of irresponsible fiscal decisions. Six years of council tax freezes from 2010 reduced income from council tax, a move that saw a minimum shortfall of £24 million per year and delivered a total cut to services of £150 million.

During this period, central Government reduced the council’s revenue support grant, leaving councils more dependent on council tax and business rates. In 2018, the council was close to bankruptcy, which is why Somerset turned to the Liberal Democrats to sort out the mess.

It is important to note that Somerset has historically low council tax rates, compared with its contiguous councils, such as Dorset and Wiltshire. Somerset lost many of the higher-banded homes in Bristol and Bath areas to Avon in the 1974 reorganisation, and council tax then was set low in 1993 against the national average, all while the council tax itself is still based on the 1991 house values. This funding model is clearly unfit for purpose, and I do not believe that anyone would design a system like that now. Let me just add that there are now 18,000 homes with planning permission in Somerset caught in a moratorium due to the phosphates issue, which obviously has an impact on income that we would possibly then be able to draw down in council tax.

Where council tax income is lower, the need in the population is generally higher. Somerset is a rural county with an ageing population. The 75-plus age group is expected to double over the next 25 years. The cost of care in Somerset rose by 47% between 2022 and 2023, and the number of people needing more care is rising. That equates to a £70 million increase in council costs. There is an elephant in the room almost identical in size to the cost of living crisis that people face right now: fair funding from the Government to allow councils to get the basics right and give local people a fair deal.

It costs more to deliver services in rural areas, and the Government recognised that by altering the funding formula in 2013-14. However, due to damping, only 25% of the new benefit has been received by rural councils. Support from the Government does not match the increased cost, and the cost of years of underinvestment is now being felt by councils across the country.

Every single council bar the Greater London Authority is expected to experience a real-terms cut of at least 6.4% in 2024-25. That means that there will be a real-terms shortfall of £5.75 billion in council finances compared with 2016-17. The Government failed to get a grip on the situation early and now they are scrambling at the last minute to try to avoid a situation in which more local authorities go bankrupt.

Hon. Members from across the political spectrum have demanded action from the Government. Recently, I was pleased to join colleagues from across the aisle, including the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger), in signing a letter that called for urgent additional funding for local government.

The previous Conservative leader of Somerset County Council, as it was, also previously called out this Government for leaving needs in social care unmet, and advocated for immediate investment. I was glad to see that the Government had listened to those pleas, but the extra funding announced last week is simply inadequate to quell the oncoming costs. It is like a rugby team converting a penalty in the 81st minute when they needed to score a try to prevent a crushing defeat.

We are all seeing councils that are close to the cliff edge; unfortunately, some have tipped over that edge. The situation is hurting residents and communities. I urge the Government to provide more funding to support councils as a matter of urgency, while allowing them increased powers to deliver for their communities and to reform business rates to boost local economies. The Liberal Democrats would provide additional funding by reversing tax cuts for the big banks, which could raise £18 billion over five years. We would also look at implementing a proper windfall tax on the oil and gas giants, and we would collect more of the £36 billion of tax that goes uncollected every year.

I have experienced—indeed, I continue to experience—the privilege of working in local government. I have seen the impact that local government can have on our communities and I am determined to defend it, but we need a Government to listen and to help turn the tide against this crushing wave.

I always find—my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh), the Minister and you, Mr Pritchard, all know this—that the best speeches in this place are the ones that you write yourself, and not the ones you deliver in parrot fashion after they have been written by someone else.

As my hon. Friend said, in the last few months we have worked together to try to solve this problem. Let us look back at the history of the situation. I will gently say that it was going on under the coalition Government. We made representations then and I do not remember being completely supported by David Laws, David Heath, Tessa Munt or—I have forgotten now, but I think that is about it. That is a problem.

It is easy to cast aspersions, but let us look at the reality. I am very grateful to the Minister; I must give credit where credit is due. He has worked very hard to make sure that he gives the time that is needed to all these councils to get this situation sorted. The point was made that £5 million is very little. Yes, of course it is, but it is a start.

I do not think it is any secret that tomorrow the Minister is meeting the leader of Somerset Council, Bill Revans, and his team to talk about the next phase. My conversations with the Minister—I do not know how many there have been, but there have been an awful lot—have always been constructive and helpful. We are in a crisis—we must be absolutely frank about that.

I absolutely abhor having in commissioners. Having suffered that, as I said in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil, who was very noble about it, I know it is an absolute disaster. If they come in to Somerset, I can tell hon. Members exactly what will happen. They will shut the recycling centres, stop the buses and pull back on the funding for roads, for the most vulnerable and for many others, and the money we give to colleges such as Yeovil, Bridgwater & Taunton, and Strode just will not happen. No matter what we do—parliamentarians, councillors or anyone else; parishes, towns or whatever—it will make no difference at all.

The problem we have is that councils such as Taunton, I think Yeovil, Minehead and others are raising council taxes way out of proportion with what they need to do. I am worried that they will raise them so high to take on services that the county has been running up to now, and they will not be able to cope. In all my 23 years in this place, I have seen when councils have taken on assets, and after a while they just cannot cope. That is partly down to the people they have, partly down to the rises in costs that we all have, and partly down to the fact that these things are damned complicated, and that goes not just go for the loos, but for much more.

We really must talk with the Minister about how we make sure that when assets are given to other councils—mainly town councils, because it is more difficult to do for parishes—they are able to deal with those assets in the future. Taunton is to have a 200% increase in council tax, and that is huge, but it wants to take on a lot of things, and Taunton covers the whole of Taunton—not a bit of it, but the whole thing. I am not going to cast aspersions about whether this is right or wrong; I am just making the point that the assets that go over to such councils still have to be managed.

The other issue I have is about the superb colleges we have, and my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil and I have talked about Yeovil College, and Bridgwater & Taunton College. We have come an enormous way in Bridgwater, and these colleges are superb. When I first came in all those years ago—and let us be honest—they were not as good as they are now. There has been a huge amount of work by the teams in both those colleges, and we have created proper colleges for Somerset. The debate goes on, and the conversations between Bridgwater & Taunton, Strode and Yeovil are brilliant. They are really looking at how we move on in the future.

Another point, and the Minister must be aware of this, is that not only are we building the biggest infrastructure project in Europe, which is Hinkley Point, but we are about to start building the Gravity site. Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil has been very helpful, with his wonderful workforce at Westland and so on. This is a 423 acre, 11 million square foot battery factory for Jaguar Land Rover under the Tata Group. It is a phenomenal investment in the west country, with 9,500 jobs, and it is crucial to the future of our beautiful county.

In the time I have left as an MP—God willing, and the electorate willing, I will still be an MP, but not for Bridgwater—I will be absolutely dedicated to getting this to the stage where we have the infrastructure, but we need a functioning council. We have to have that. It is going to be difficult for the council, because it has to put in some money, and we will have massive infrastructure costs. I do not want to have to come back to the Government in however long it is—in the next six months —and say, “Look, we haven’t got the money to put in the roads, the railway and the college campuses for Bridgwater & Taunton and for Yeovil.” We must get this sorted.

In the short time I have left, I say to the Minister that this is going to be a partnership. As I have said, I have worked with Bill Revans for a very long time, and I have enormous respect for him. He is trooping on, and not perhaps in the best circumstances, as we all know. He is still there fighting his corner, as he has long done—he stood against Tom King in 1992. He is a long-term, committed politician for whom I have a great deal of respect; as hon. Members know, that is not always the case.

We have to work together to get the funding we need to stabilise the situation, and this cannot wait until after the election. I have no idea about the policy of the Labour party—I genuinely do not know—but I know the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) will be sympathetic because I was in opposition when I came in and I will probably be in opposition when I go out. However, when I had issues when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, they were listened to, and I can only say that I am very grateful for everything, but we need to do this now, Prime Minister—

Yes, I know. I do apologise. Minister, we need to sort this now, and that conversation is crucial. We need to keep this going as much as we can. We need to take it forward in the constructive way in which it has been dealt with so far. I am one of the worst offenders in this place for taking it to the lowest common denominator and attacking everybody, but this is a time when we cannot do that. There are too many vulnerable people whose futures and wellbeing are at stake, so I say to the Minister: please, just keep talking to us.

Minister, you have been brilliant. I cannot fault you or the Secretary of State. I cannot fault the way in which you have dealt with Bill and his team, Duncan Sharkey and everybody in Somerset. At every meeting I have had, we have talked about how we have work to do, and we will do it. We have discussed what needs to be done. I am conveying that to Bill, the Minister will convey that tomorrow, and we will work on it. In the next few months we have to come up with a formula that safeguards those vulnerable people. My constituency covers Exmoor. The problems we face with things like social mobility and access in one of the most rural parts of England will be devastating if we cannot come to an agreement.

Minister, we are here to do the best for our constituents; we always have been. That is why you do it, why I do it, why my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil does it, and why everyone else does it. If you can come halfway, we can come the other half. That will be most important. You could use Somerset as a guinea pig in order to come up with a formula that will get this working, so that we can work with you and land what we need to do. I am meeting the Chancellor tomorrow. I am going to put the plea to him and ask him to be generous—

No, I am not curtailing the hon. Gentleman’s speech, if he has anything more to contribute. I just gently remind him that he should address his remarks through the Chair rather than speaking directly to the Minister. I have let it go a bit, but he should speak through the Chair.

I am so sorry, Mr Pritchard. After all these years, I should know better. I do apologise.

That partnership will be crucial. It matters more than anything. I look forward to working with the Minister on this.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard, and to respond to the debate secured by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh). Despite the clear localised political differences that have played out, we have heard quite a lot of commonalities in terms of the structure of local government finance and the issues that are driving demand pressures. That is important: we need at least a shared analysis of the issue before we try to find common ground on the potential solution. I welcome the exchanges today and congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate. We perhaps need to talk about issues like this more than we do.

I hope very much that the offer of a meeting with the local council leader is taken up, because this matters to all our constituents. That is why we bring such debates to the House, but in the end, the solution lies in local partnerships and in Members of Parliament working in partnership with their local authorities, regardless of political affiliation, for the best outcome for their constituents. That is the only way to work, in the end, so I hope that is taken up and that the council enters into the spirit of partnership in return.

Let me be clear: we are here to talk about funding and governance in Somerset Council, and we have heard many of the arguments, but this issue affects councils of all political colours. I have met many council leaders up and down the country. The one thing they have in common, and the one thing they continually raise, is that they often feel that they are standing alone in dealing with the pressures of rocketing demand while trying their hardest to prioritise services for their local communities. We have heard about some of those issues today: the number of children who need child protection; older people living longer but needing care in older age; the homelessness crisis and people staying in temporary accommodation—all those things have a significant impact on council budgets at a time when central Government funding has been reduced in real terms. Those were political choices made over 13 years of a Conservative Government. They have fundamentally changed the structure of council funding, and Somerset will feel that too.

We should not forget that in 2010 the coalition Government announced the closure of the Audit Commission. It is not just that money has been taken away; the infrastructure required to raise a red flag when there are concerns was taken away as well. What does that mean, 14 years later? The audit market is still dominated, by and large, by six firms, with very few new market entrants. The market size has not grown in comparison. As a result, there is real tension in the system. As one could predict, the closure of the Audit Commission and the limitations placed on the National Audit Office mean that there is a gap in local as well as national reporting. Councils are often left alone to inspect their own financial risk, rather than looking for value for money, or to use a broken audit market.

How does that manifest itself here today in 2024? There has been a sharp increase in the number of local authorities that have not had their accounts audited by the statutory deadline. In 2022-24, just five of the 467 councils delivered their audits on time. That means just 1% of English councils published their audited accounts by the deadline. When a council is in financial difficulty, the warning system which should escalate the matter is just not there. The Minister needs to consider how that might be improved.

We have talked a lot about the grant funding and, as such and in the interests of time, I will not go over old ground. However, it is a matter of fact that Somerset Council has £100 million less than it needs to provide services in its area, when compared with demand. Labour understands that councils like Somerset are funding the impossible balance between demand rocketing and budgets not keeping pace. When the austerity programme started, cuts were targeted at local government far more than at any other part of Government. We know that local government was always the prevention arm of Government. When we take away the prevention arm, all we have left is the reactive. We see that in the NHS and right across the board, but in the end it always comes right back to local government to pick up the pieces. That is what we have seen in social care, children’s services and homelessness. It is important that councils are given the tools to take the long-term decisions that are needed. Labour would commit to single pot, multi-year settlements to give the financial certainty that is needed, as well as funding that follows the need where it exists.

We often hear debates in this place about the difference between the north and the south, between our towns and our cities, and between counties and villages, but in the end, for a funding formula to be fair, surely it must follow need, wherever it is? It is not right that an older person in any part of England is denied the care they need, or a young person is placed at risk because they do not receive the care they need, or someone is not given the home they need. For a funding formula to be truly fair, it has to follow the need where it exists. That also requires a resetting of the partnership to be a partnership of equals. That is why Labour would introduce a take back control Act to reset the balance of power between central Government and local government.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this evening, Mr Pritchard, and to reply to the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh). We have covered a lot of ground. The danger of covering a lot of ground is that it leaves the Minister with precious little time to respond to that ground, so I shall canter through as quickly as I can, with some barely connected bullet points.

I am grateful for the comments made by those who participated in this afternoon’s debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil said that we all want to see top-quality services for our communities. My take, and I say this as a party politician, is that the public out there do not really care what type of council is delivering the service. When push comes to shove, they are not that motivated by which party, if any, is doing it either. They just want to know that the services are there when they need them and that the council can deliver those services with resilience and robustness.

In response to the point made by my friend the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), I would gently remind him that in broad terms the funding of local government formula today is that which we inherited, authored and written by his party when in government. I think we all recognise that the formula needs change. Certainly, as late as last week, the Government committed to a fundamental review in the next Parliament. I am tempted to say that it would have been done had it not been for covid, which took up significant bandwidth within local government, but it is a job that needs to be done.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) and for Yeovil, and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Sarah Dyke), are right to point out that there is a clear role for local government, not just in delivering statutory service, but in making place and effecting beneficial change. My hon. Friends were right to point to the excellent Yeovil College. About 40% of the students of Yeovil College come from my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder). The principal, Mark Bolton, provides exemplary leadership. My hon. Friends spoke of Bridgwater & Taunton College, about which I am afraid I do not know, but if it is half as good as Yeovil College, it is excellent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil talked about the role of trying to attract business and he is absolutely right, because business rates help to grow the services. If he thinks of Leonardo and Yeovil College in his own constituency, the giga-factory investment not far from Bridgwater that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset spoke about, and the massive investment in Hinkley Point C, I would suggest that Somerset as a rural county is very much punching above its weight in economic activity. That is to be applauded, and the role of Somerset Council in helping to foster that environment is to be noted and the council congratulated.

What is the basic problem that Somerset faces? The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome talked about money. She said that the Government were not listening. I take issue with her; I do not like taking issue in normal circumstances with the hon. Lady, but I am going to in this case. She said that we need a Government who will listen. I can give the hon. Lady half a billion pounds of listening, which we announced last week. The rural services delivery grant will now stand at its highest-ever level. We are raising the funding floor from 3% to 4%—an ask of the district councils. We have listened.

Part of the underpinning of Somerset going unitary was to deliver efficiencies and savings. For reasons that my officials and I continue to explore and doubtless will touch on in conversations tomorrow, those savings have not manifested themselves. The steam has fallen out of the engine of change. I appreciate any new party coming into an administration will want at least to cast a casual eye over a plan, but to have delayed and prevaricated for as long as it has is, in my judgment, inexcusable because the basic premise of going unitary will have been submitted. The programme of savings and efficiencies will have been looked at by officials in my Department and have been a key part in determining whether Somerset was to go unitary. A very clear and compelling case was put forward.

I know from my experience of when I did it with our colleagues in Dorset, including my right hon. Friend, the former Member for West Dorset, Sir Oliver Letwin, the numbers that we put in were gone over with a fine-tooth comb because there is no point delivering change if there is no tangible and obvious benefit. I urge Somerset Council to build up that head of steam, to put some wind in the sails—I am mixing my metaphors; not unusual for me—and to drive forward the efficiency, innovation and modernisation that underpins the unitary process.

I am not going to comment—I know colleagues have invited me to do so—on the minutiae of the conversations that officials and I are having with Somerset Council. I know that the House would not expect me to do so, but the points I am making in this debate are ones that I have and will continue to make. Somerset’s budget is up 6%—£565.3 million in ’24-’25. There are no cuts anywhere in local government budgets for this coming financial year. We are a Government who have listened. We asked, we heard.

A section 114 notice is often referred to as bankruptcy. It is not bankruptcy in the commercial sense of the term. That is the key message from me. This is not bankruptcy. No Government would ever allow any council to fall over, not because of politics or politicking, but because the vulnerable who need services need to have the comfort and security that those services will be provided. I do not want to scare the most vulnerable in our society and have them suddenly think that at the stroke of a pen and the issuing of a section 114 notice, everything they rely on for their quality of life will suddenly be removed. That would not be the case.

Mention has been made of the levelling-up agenda, which falls within the portfolio of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young). My hon. Friends the Members for Yeovil and for Bridgwater and West Somerset are right to make the point that the levelling-up agenda is not reserved solely to our northern and industrial towns, as important as they are to the levelling-up agenda. There is an element of coastal levelling up. There is an element of rural levelling up.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome made a point that I have made in every speech in this place since my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil and I were first elected way back in 2015—with all we have gone through, it feels a lot longer, I am sure he will agree. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome was right: the cost of delivery of services in a rural area, which is wider in geography and sparser in population, is by definition going to be higher than in denser urban populations. We do not then move forward and rob Peter to pay Paul and say that the deprivation in a rural area is more important than the deprivation in an urban area, or that need is greater in an urban area compared with a rural area.

Need is need. Deprivation is deprivation. We must meet the two where they manifest themselves in order to make the lives of our fellow citizens better and more comfortable. I am not a Minister who believes in robbing the rurals to pay the urbans or vice versa. I believe in trying to get equity in the system and having a more sophisticated way of recognising and addressing need. I have every confidence that in a review of the formula that would be an absolute kernel of all that we do.

The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton referenced the audit issue, and he was right to do so. It is a serious issue. There are some announcements on that in the not-too-distant future, which I will, of course, share with him in due course through the usual channels. In conclusion, let me say this to the three representatives of the great county of Somerset—not as great as Dorset, I hasten to add. From the Blackmore hills, nothing gives me greater pleasure than to look down on Somerset, but it is a great county. It is full of innovation and good people working hard and paying their taxes. I do not believe that they should be overburdened with taxation to mask deficiencies in the public sector. I think that is something that resonates across this Chamber—indeed, I see the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome nodding in agreement.

A number of Members spoke about the importance of partnership. The central theme since I was appointed in November has been the pivotal, positive partnership between central and local government to achieve for our people, wherever they are and whatever their needs. My door stands open to work with colleagues across the House representing Somerset to ensure that their residents secure the services that they need at a good value-for-money rate. I expect Somerset Council to rise to that challenge, and I look forward to furthering my discussions with it in due course.

The Minister has set out exactly his case, and he is right to say that we need to work together on this. Councils are integral, and they have been for hundreds of years, to our local people and their experience of life. They are vital. We in this House support the Minister in trying to make sure that the process works well and efficiently, that savings are made and that the vision we can try to set out as Members of Parliament and councillors can be translated into real change for people on the ground. I am extremely grateful for his attention on this issue, and I look forward to working with him over the months and years ahead.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the funding and governance of Somerset Council.

Sitting adjourned.