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Westminster Hall

Volume 750: debated on Wednesday 22 May 2024

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 22 May 2024

[Yvonne Fovargue in the Chair]

Crash-for-cash Insurance Fraud

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of tackling crash for cash insurance fraud.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. So-called crash-for-cash insurance fraud is an issue that many of my constituents have brought to my attention in recent weeks and months. “Crash for cash” refers to incidents in which individuals deliberately stage or cause road traffic collisions for financial gain. The scams often involve making fraudulent insurance claims for injuries or damages that did not actually occur. Often perpetrators exaggerate injuries or falsely claim that additional passengers were involved in a collision, to increase their payouts.

There are three principal types of crash-for-cash scams that I want to talk about: induced accidents, which involve fraudsters targeting an innocent motorist as the driver “at fault”, often by suddenly braking in front of their car to cause a crash; staged accidents, which involve fraudsters crashing their own vehicle or mimicking the damage of a crash by using tools such as sledgehammers; and fabricated accidents, which involve fraudsters submitting false claims for accidents that never occurred. The scams are constantly evolving, presenting numerous variations beyond the principal types.

Crash-for-cash fraudsters often target vulnerable drivers who are in a hurry or are unwilling to cause trouble. I have heard about women in my constituency being particularly targeted for such frauds. The scams harm all law-abiding motorists, increasing unnecessary work for the emergency services and the NHS, and causing innocent victims to lose their no-claims bonus and face rising premiums. The proceeds from the scams may go on to fund other serious organised crime. Not only are such actions deceitful, but they are already illegal, falling under offences in the Fraud Act 2006 and the Road Traffic Act 1988.

To fully explain the scams, I will share a few examples. Katrina is a brave woman who experienced crash-for-cash fraud at first hand in an incident near the Wallington high street last month when she was on her way to pick up her daughter from school. As she waited to turn right, a biker on her right stopped to give way. As the traffic halted, she cautiously pulled out halfway, stopping to ensure that the left side was clear. However, when she turned her head to check, another biker had collided with the front of her car. To her dismay, she noticed that the first biker was laughing, and the biker who had hit her immediately began filming the scene. Shaken and confused, she pulled around the corner to exchange details, but encountered a language barrier and evasive behaviour from the biker.

Despite the minimal damage to her car, something felt off. Trusting her instincts, Katrina reported the incident to her insurance company and the police. Following police advice, she contacted the Insurance Fraud Bureau. Later the same evening, she witnessed a similar incident in Sutton, although at the time she did not connect the two. A couple of days later, she discovered through a Wallington Facebook group that others had experienced identical incidents in the same week within the small area of Carshalton and Wallington. That confirmed her suspicion that it was not an accident, but part of a deliberate scam. Recently, she has received a letter from a law firm requesting a settlement. She intends to fight the claim, as it is appalling that people can exploit such fraudulent schemes, potentially affecting insurance premiums and causing undue stress and injury. I am sure that we wish her all the best.

Katrina’s story underscores the importance of vigilance and the need to report suspicious incidents. Not only are so-called crash-for-cash scams deceitful, but they have real consequences for innocent victims. This bold woman’s decision to share her experience highlights the importance of raising awareness of the issue and the need to do something about it.

Another victim in Wallington was targeted by a moped scammer who intentionally crashed their vehicle and refused to give details. The police did not attend; the victim was left to gather evidence alone. Another incident on London Road in Wallington involved a moped scraping a car and fleeing when a police car approached. The victim’s dashcam only captured the front, making it difficult to prove a scam.

A parent in Sutton faced a similar scam during the school run, causing immense stress, especially with young children in the car. There appears to be a trend of parents, particularly mothers, being targeted during the school run, when roads are busier and people are in much more of a rush. For that couple, it all began when a motorbike deliberately collided with the husband’s car, resulting in minor damage. Although the biker admitted fault at the scene, they then filed a fraudulent insurance claim for a substantial amount of money, causing my constituent significant frustration. It took persistent effort, including escalation to the chairman of Admiral, for the case to garner the attention it deserved.

The same couple were then involved in another incident in Wallington, also involving a moped. Despite the moped driver refusing to provide details, the police initially failed to respond. It was not until the couple posted on the social media site Nextdoor and filed a report that the police began to take action. Thankfully, CCTV was available for the incident, which shed light on the situation. However, even the supposed witnesses turned out to be a part of the scam, leading to a barrage of fraudulent insurance calls. It has been a frustrating ordeal, but the couple have diligently reported all incidents to the authorities and their insurance company and are hoping for a resolution.

The Insurance Fraud Bureau, a not-for-profit organisation established in 2006, focuses on preventing and detecting such organised fraud. It supports the insurance industry and law enforcement by providing intelligence and assisting in investigations. It also attempts to raise public awareness about insurance fraud scams and educate consumers on how to identify and avoid them. In 2023, the IFB managed more than 150 live operations, valued at about £90 million, and referred 52 cases to the police. It received more than 5,000 reports through its CheatLine, with 68% resulting in actionable intelligence. Currently, it has about 6,000 active crash-for-cash investigations, worth more than £70 million. That represents about 30% of all its live operations.

The Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department, which does great work to detect organised fraud, puts research into action. It is a specialised police force established in 2012, funded by the Association of British Insurers and dedicated to tackling insurance fraud. Hosted by the City of London police, the UK’s lead force for economic crime, the IFED operates independently while collaborating closely with insurance companies. Since its inception, it has investigated fraud valued at £360 million, made more than 3,230 arrests and secured more than 2,200 convictions, resulting in nearly 320 years of prison time.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Before this morning, I would not have imagined that the figures were so tremendously high. Does he agree that the millions of motorists who insure their cars year on year will suffer as a result of crash-for-cash fraud, not just this year and next year but in ongoing years? We need firm and decisive action to ensure that it does not occur to the level that he is very clearly elucidating.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I will come on to that point shortly. This is not a victimless crime; it is not that the fraudster gets some money but no one is worse off. Real people’s insurance premiums are going up, often by an amount that they cannot afford, and we absolutely must do something about it.

The IFED has investigated so-called crash-for-cash fraudsters. In September 2021, it secured convictions against three individuals who deliberately caused collisions that resulted in substantial damage and injuries. The fraudsters filed multiple personal injury claims totalling nearly £50,000, but thanks to CCTV footage and inconsistencies in their accounts, the insurer referred the case to the IFED, leading to custodial sentences ranging from nine to 20 months. In February 2022, similar convictions were secured against another three individuals who also staged a collision, with claims amounting to £48,000.

The insurance industry runs several public awareness campaigns on crash-for-cash scams and tries to provide drivers with the knowledge and tools they need to protect themselves. Recent campaigns have focused on crash-for-cash moped scams, which are particularly prevalent in London at the moment, although I am sure the same applies in other cities and other parts of the United Kingdom. It is vital to raise awareness of the issue so that motorists have the knowledge to protect themselves, so I will repeat some of that advice now.

Motorists should be cautious of cars travelling unusually slowly or erratically and of drivers paying excessive attention to the vehicle behind them; should maintain a safe distance so that they can brake in time; should follow the highway code and look ahead for potential hazards, including unusual driving behaviour; and should notice if the other driver is too calm and has pre-written their insurance details or if injuries seem exaggerated. Those who are involved in a suspected crash-for-cash incident should gather as much information as possible, including written details, photos, dashcam footage and any nearby CCTV; should report the incident to their insurer, the local police and the IFB CheatLine; and should stay vigilant and informed to protect themselves and others to help combat the scams.

An investigation led by the IFB, the City of London police, the IFED and several insurers has found that 2,250 people in London alone have been the victim of such a scam in the past two years, and many of the suspected fraudsters are believed to be couriers delivering items such as takeaways. As I said, the IFB is currently investigating more than 6,000 suspected claims, estimated to be worth £70 million.

I welcome the measures that the Government have taken to tackle insurance fraud, such as the insurance fraud taskforce, which was set up in 2015 and comprises members from the insurance industry, the Financial Ombudsman Service, citizens advice, the Treasury and the Ministry of Justice. The taskforce has conducted a review and made several recommendations; I note that its 2017 report highlighted so-called crash-for-cash scams. I welcome the significant steps that have been taken more recently to enhance fraud enforcement as part of the Government’s 2023 fraud strategy, including appointing 400 specialist investigators as part of a national fraud squad and creating the new voluntary post of anti-fraud champion, which is currently held by my excellent hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell).

Despite those efforts, obtaining detailed statistics on crash-for-cash offences remains challenging. Official crime statistics do not separately identify such offences; instead, they are grouped under insurance-related fraud. In 2023, approximately 13,700 offences were recorded in that category in England and Wales, and the IFB estimates that 69,500 personal injury claims are linked to crash-for-cash scams annually, costing the insurance industry nearly £400 billion.

What is the Minister’s strategy to tackle this growing issue and what work are Ministers doing in conjunction with the industry and police to work on establishing joint strategies for prevention? The fight against crash-for-cash scams needs a collective effort from law enforcement, Government agencies and the insurance industry. I hope that my constituents’ cases that I have highlighted today will encourage us all to work together to protect innocent motorists and ensure that those who perpetrate such fraudulent schemes are brought to justice.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for securing this debate about crash-for-cash scams. South-west London has been a target for organised crime gangs seeking to scam constituents in both of our patches, so this is a much-needed debate. The more attention we give the issue, the less likely our constituents are to be the victims of an insurance fraud.

I will start by declaring an interest: in retrospect, I understand that I have been the victim of a crash-for-cash incident. About eight months ago, I was driving through Tooting on a residential road when a moped came out of nowhere, overtook me and stopped right in front of me. I was not travelling very fast—it was a residential road—so I did an emergency stop and managed to avoid hitting the moped.

Immediately, the driver dropped the moped and began to shout and point at me. I pulled over to see that he was okay, but I was absolutely confused because I knew I had done no damage to his moped and that he too was not hurt in any way. I just did not understand what was going on. He dragged me over, took my details and took photographs of me, of my car, which showed no signs of damage, and of his moped. I gathered myself to take pictures of his moped and watched him drive off on it, and I thought no more of the incident. Then, some time later, I received a letter from a solicitor demanding large amounts of money because of the need for the driver to use a replacement vehicle.

Not until a constituent came to my advice surgery and went on to describe exactly the same sort of case did I really understand what had happened, and I feel pretty stupid now. My constituent, Ms T, told me that she had spotted a stationary moped on a residential road. Then, when she turned to exit a junction, the moped sped up and lightly tapped her car. The driver then threw his bike to the floor and started shouting at her. He immediately took photographs of Ms T’s car, but he fled the scene before she could take down any of his details. Lo and behold, she was then contacted by her insurers, who let her know that the driver had made a claim. Only then did I realise that both my constituent and I were among the 170,000 people targeted every year by organised crime gangs as part of crash-for-cash scams.

Since then, I have met representatives of Allianz and LV= insurers—not my own, I hasten to add—and learned that crash for cash is a slick operation that targets women: specifically women on the school run, as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said, because the gangs feel that they are less likely to put up a fight. That was the experience of Ms T, who was driving near a school at 10 am when the incident happened, and it is the experience of four in 10 people who fall victim to this. There also seem to be hotspots, with criminals targeting the outskirts of major cities and, specifically in south-west London, Thornton Heath, which, although it is part of Croydon, abuts my own constituency.

The scam is valued at about £392 million a year. It is big business that is only getting bigger—Allianz has reported that the crime has increased by 25%. What can we do about it? The first thing is the Government’s fraud strategy. The crash-for-cash scam is not even mentioned in that document, but if we are serious about our plan to stop fraud at source and pursue those responsible, that would be a sensible first step.

The next step is the job of the insurance industry: we need insurers to do a thorough job of investigating opportunistic insurance fraud and to let constituents know that they may have been a victim. In my own case, when I gathered myself and realised what had happened, I sent my insurers photographs and the short video. I said that I thought that I had been the victim of a scam. They wrote back to say that I would need to go to court and there was only a 50:50 chance of my being successful.

Finally, we need much more public awareness so that potential victims know how to look out for the scammers. If drivers know the signs of an unfazed driver with pre-written insurance information, they can let the police know and stop this at source. It might seem like a trivial issue, but it is a business worth £392 million a year and all our constituents will be better off if we can stamp it out. It is not a victimless crime. All of us trying to reinsure our cars know how much car insurance premiums are increasing. We must ensure that the law-abiding drivers of this country are not victims of higher premiums because of opportunistic organised crime.

It is lovely to see you in the chair, Ms Fovargue. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for bringing this important debate to the Chamber.

In preparing for the debate, I found out that Glasgow is sixth in the league table of places for crash-for-cash claims—although it is not something that my constituents have raised with me yet—so it is certainly an issue that I will be taking up as well. Allianz has mentioned that there was a sixtyfold increase, in 2023 alone, of motorbike crash-for-cash claims, so we should not be treating this lightly or ignoring it; it is increasing and we should do more to deal with it. Aviva has put a figure of £59 million on motor fraud as a result of some of these activities. Again, that has an impact on all our insurance premiums, which have already gone up considerably. A lot more can be done to highlight the issue so that nobody ends up a victim of this crime.

It was interesting to hear from the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington and for Mitcham and Morden (Dame Siobhain McDonagh) about the frightening impact on victims. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden clearly went through a difficult and confusing experience. The victim does not know what is going on when someone comes at them and behaves in that way, which is very frightening. The seeming targeting of mums on the school run is again frightening, particularly if children are in the car when something happens—that can be distressing and something they will not easily forget. There is something nasty about this type of crime.

As has been said, car insurance industry research shows that scammers use three different types of tactics for their staged accidents. Incidents where fraudsters crash into each other and claim on their separate insurance policies perhaps have less impact on the rest of us, although it has a worrying impact in terms of fraud. There are contrived accidents, where scammers make insurance claims; made-up accidents that have never taken place; and induced accidents, crash for cash, where a person deliberately drives dangerously or badly to force a collision with an innocent motorist—slamming on the brakes without warning, swerving into them or pulling out at a junction or roundabout, giving an incoming car no chance to avoid them.

This activity has a serious and frightening impact on people, and is a growing problem. The Insurance Fraud Bureau says that crash-for-cash scams happen every four minutes on UK roads; during this debate there will have been multiple scams. The bureau estimates that 30,000 incidents take place every year, costing insurers about £350 million in losses. The impact on insurance premiums is a rise of about £44 per person. The increase in such fraud is worrying, because when driving we expect to proceed in a normal way. We do not expect people to come at us in the way that these motorbikes or cars may do. That scenario can cause serious injury, particularly if it happens on a faster road. There is a real risk of injury and serious harm from the impact on the car and person. The scammers are posing a serious risk to themselves and other people.

I would be grateful if the Minister gave more details about the involvement of organised crime gangs, and how they are organising themselves to carry this out. There has been talk about other kinds of fraud being facilitated over social media. Is there such evidence for this type of crime as well? Social media has been an organising and facilitating method for many other types of fraud, both in recruiting people to be part of the scams, and for sharing information. It would be useful to know whether that is happening.

I encourage people to listen carefully to the advice given by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington about what we can do as motorists and car passengers in these instances. We should be vigilant, look around and pay attention, as we always should when driving. Should something like this happen, we should look for damage, take photographs and be aware of what is going on. We should not feel forced into taking someone’s details. Sometimes scammers try to force people to part with cash there and then, on the scene, to try to avoid insurance claims. Do not go ahead and do that, because that is part of the scam. Take as many details as possible of the person involved.

It was quite chilling to hear that some of the bystanders—the people watching—could also be part of this scam. Victims should try to find somebody to help and support them, collect as much evidence as possible, and contact their own insurer and the police, because with evidence we can tackle these crimes, crack down on the perpetrators and get to the root of the organised crime gangs running these operations. All evidence is very useful. Taxi drivers can particularly fall victim to this kind of scam, which can take their business off the road. They are now obliged to have dashcams, both front and rear, in their vehicles. It would be useful to hear how many people have had dashcams installed to deal with this kind of scenario.

What is happening with public awareness of this issue, Minister? What are the Government doing to let people know that it is happening? This cannot be left just to insurers or to police; we need a co-ordinated effort to ensure that people are aware and that we do not provide an open door to crime gangs to perpetrate these awful incidents. As the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden said so powerfully, they can be frightening and long-lasting. I ask the Minister for more details of what will be done.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I frequently get the opportunity to take part in debates that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) leads in this place, because of his very important work on the Petitions Committee. Today, his leadership of this debate in the interests of his constituents was characteristically thoughtful, particularly when he talked about the advice he would give in these cases. That was a public service contribution that we cannot repeat enough. As the hon. Gentleman said, this is a constantly evolving crime type, and we must evolve our efforts to match it. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and on his contribution.

Colleagues have set out how important this issue is, and the impact of these scams on victims and the insurance industry. It also impacts on wider local services, including the NHS and the police, which are already stretched at the moment. This is a serious problem. The financial impact of this kind of fraud is significant, with fraudulent claims pushing premiums up for ordinary motorists, as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned.

It always enriches debates when colleagues bring their own personal experiences into the room. When my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame Siobhain McDonagh) talked about how she felt, I double-underlined one word she used: “stupid”. There is nothing stupid about it at all. That is how life feels when we engage in good faith with someone who is actually quite a polished and artful scammer, about something that did not happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden mentioned the particular vulnerability of mums on the school run, as did the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. When they are busy protecting loved ones and performing an important function in their life, and then stop to engage with someone who has set out that day to defraud, of course they would end up feeling daft. How do we compete with that level of polish and organisation? It is happening up and down the country every day. I will return later to the points that my hon. Friend made about hotspots, because that is a particularly important part of what we can do to look at solutions in the future.

Insurance fraud is a blight on our society. “Crash for cash” is a catch-all term used, for instance, where people deliberately stage or cause a road traffic collision for the purpose of financial gain. The police describe three different types of crash-for-cash fraud. First, there are staged accidents, when someone makes a claim for an incident that they have deliberately staged with another individual. Secondly, there are ghost accidents, when someone makes a claim for an incident that never occurred. That will not directly impact on our constituents in the same way, because they are not enforced parties to it, but it does impact us through our insurance premiums. We know that this is a regular, routine happening.

Finally, as we have spoken about quite a bit today, there are induced incidents, when someone makes a claim after intentionally causing a collision with an innocent motorist. Hon. Members have mentioned their experiences and those of their constituents, but we have also seen videos of this online. The footage is staggering: people driving their scooter or running in front of a car, creating a collision and throwing themselves to the floor, and then getting up and creating a drama and a scene that they know the innocent party will not want to be part of—certainly not if they have young children in the car. There is a sadness here, because although those filming the incidents are best protected through whatever capabilities they have in the car, I do not really want to live in a society where I must go on the road filming and surveilling what is happening to be protected from people trying to scam me. That is not a world we want to live in, or ought to have to live in.

The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) mentioned taxi drivers. Being off the road or having issues relating to insurance or their licence is significant for them—this is their livelihood—so I can understand why they take the decision to record to protect their businesses. Those who seek to scam are pushing well-meaning, law-abiding citizens into that type of behaviour every day.

We have heard a little from colleagues about how this issue makes people feel, but we cannot stress it enough. It makes them feel that they are no longer safe on the roads or in their communities; every time they are driving, they dread that it may well happen again. Again, that is not how we want people to feel when they are driving their cars.

Driving is important and, by its nature, risky. We do not want people to flinch every time someone moves in front of them or goes around them, thinking they are seeking to create a collision, but that is how people across the country who have fallen victim to these crimes feel. That is notwithstanding the fact that for someone to seek to induce a collision, whether or not they were successful in clipping or skimming, is exceptionally dangerous, as is doing something that makes someone act reflexively, which puts others at risk too. This is a safety issue, as well as being an issue of insurance premiums and cost.

I hope the Minister might be able to tell us something about scale, but I am not sure that the crime statistics on which we would usually rely give us enough detail to identify the number of crash-for-cash offences in insurance-related fraud or to identify the trends. However, the number of crash-for-cash cases investigated by the insurance fraud enforcement department is up 15% since 2021, so there is clearly a behaviour change. The industry itself has made its own estimates.

The IFB estimates that around 170,000 car insurance claims between October 2019 and the end of 2020 were linked to crash-for-cash fraud schemes. That is significant —multiple thousands of incidents every single day. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden mentioned, Allianz reports that the number of accidents has increased by a quarter in 2023. We know that this is happening and that organised fraudsters see it as an attractive type of crime. It is an important issue.

At a time when people are struggling—people up and down the country are still feeling financial challenges—the impact on premiums is significant. Inflation is in the news today, but whatever the rights and wrongs of that conversation, insurance prices in the first quarter of this year are up a third on the first quarter of last year. We always encourage our constituents to shop around, but we know that that is a bill that people are feeling. By its nature, it is a big bill—three and sometimes four-figure sums of money that come in one go—and people are feeling the pressure. It makes a significant contribution. No one should think that this is a victimless crime, because it very much is not; we will all suffer from it. What conversations has the Minister had with the industry about what it can do to combat fraud and to ensure that those costs are not piling up on ordinary motorists?

I have a few points to make to the Minister about what we could be doing on the issue. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden said, the Government’s fraud strategy does not include it. Fraud by its nature is a shape-shifting, ever-changing endeavour by people who seek to profit by doing the wrong thing, so that document by definition has to be a living and breathing one. What can the Minister do to include it? If it is not to be included in the strategy, can he provide an assurance that it is seen as a priority?

The IFB has highlighted the 30 most-challenged postal districts in this regard. If this issue is affecting certain communities, that is a good hotspot policing- type approach that we could take. The issue links back, as so often in these debates, to the fact that there are 10,000 fewer neighbourhood police. We have made our own commitments in that space and will continue to argue for them. This is the type of behaviour that individuals undertake if they think there will never be any accountability, just like retail crime—for example, if someone feels that they can walk in and nick stuff from the meat counter because there is no uniformed presence. Insurance fraud is similar. We need a uniformed presence on streets in areas where we know those crimes are taking place, so that there is that deterrent and sense that the streets are contested and that those who do the right thing are being backed up by the agencies we rely on to support them.

Finally, I know that there is a limit to the things the Minister can say in this space, but the reality—again, this is the same for retail crime—is that organised gangs that operate with sophistication in stealing at a staggering scale in the retail space do not just do retail crime; they do trafficking for sexual exploitation, forced labour, drug dealing and all sorts of organised crime. Breaking one element can help us break all those elements. I wonder whether the Minister might talk a little about the model used by the fraudsters who operate in this space—whether they are stand-alone fraudsters or part of the greater industrial-scale fraud that we see across a variety of different topics. As I say, if we can crack them on this, we can crack them on all sorts of things. It has been a good debate, and I hope the Minister will address some of those points.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I am delighted to speak in a debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn). He demonstrates again not only his commitment to his constituents, but the way to use the House quite correctly to bring out a particular example that affects both his constituents and people across the whole United Kingdom. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) highlighted many of these issues in Scotland. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame Siobhain McDonagh) touched on many of those issues and, sadly, her personal experience. That certainly was a telling lesson for all of us.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) touched on many of the questions that we are all looking at, because insurance fraud is not a victimless crime, as Members have highlighted. A few weeks ago I renewed my insurance premium, and I felt it; I know we all do. The reality is we are covering not just our own errors and foibles behind the wheel but those made by others and, in this case, by criminals. That is why I take the matter incredibly seriously, because fraud is not a victimless crime. It is not simply a crime against the insurance business or insurance companies, which in itself is not victimless—after all, insurance companies are owned by shareholders, families and individuals across the United Kingdom. Rather, it is a crime that has a direct implication for the pay packets and household economy of families across the United Kingdom. That is why fraud is taken so seriously and is part of the brief of the Security Minister.

Members may think it unusual that fraud, or even crash fraud like this, is part of my brief—I usually spend my time wondering what different foreign agents may be trying to do in the United Kingdom or, indeed, what hostile states may be trying to steal off us—and they may question the connection. But as hon. Members have correctly said, the connections are clear: criminals use fraud to raise cash to exchange with agents of hostile states. Effectively, the connection between hostile states, serious and organised crime, and people trafficking and fraud is all too clear. I should be clear that that does not mean that every group is connected in all parts. Sadly, or rather happily, many groups are not connected and are simply small ventures by individuals who are trying to exploit something that they may have been told about by somebody else. Therefore, they are simply copycat cases. We should not exaggerate too much, but keep that in perspective. The truth is that there are serious challenges. The serious point here is that hundreds of thousands of such cases have come to light: I think we are now up to 130,000, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington said. The Insurance Fraud Bureau, which does so much to lead on this issue, has around 6,000 active suspected crash-for-cash claim investigations that have been notified to it by its members, with an estimated worth of over £70 million, and crash-for-cash cases make up about 30% of its live investigations.

We also recognise that moped-enabled crash-for-cash fraud is on the rise, which the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden highlighted quite correctly. It is pernicious and can be extremely dangerous, because not only is the rider putting themselves at risk, but they may force the driver of the car into a dangerous manoeuvre that could put other road users at risk. It is perhaps not the case here, but a solicitor or another person can also be complicit in the scam, which needs to be called out. That is why we are working not just with the insurance sector, or even just with policing. I am grateful that the hon. Member for Nottingham North recognised that we have hired thousands of new police officers over England and Wales over the last year, many of whom are on the streets. Only London under a Labour government has failed to meet its target, which my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington and his constituents sadly know all too well.

The reality is that it is not just about policing, but about the way we work with solicitors, regulatory authorities and the various other organisations with oversight of the area. Unlike traditional scams, the moped scam involves hiding down a side road, nipping out and effectively trying to provoke an accident, which is extremely dangerous. The Insurance Fraud Bureau ran a targeted awareness campaign on the scam in June last year, which we supported because it highlighted what road users should look out for and what they should do if they think they have been a victim of such a scam. The campaign received widespread national coverage, and I am grateful to Sky, the BBC and TalkTV for picking it up.

There is still an awful lot that we must do. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington for setting out many of those areas, and to the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden for highlighting how fraud can happen to anyone in the United Kingdom. The impact of fraud goes beyond financial losses, and improving support for victims is an important part of our fraud strategy. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington is right. Not only have we introduced 400 new officers for the national fraud squad, but thanks to its efforts and the City of London police, we have managed to bring down fraud as a crime target. It is now down 16% year on year, building on 13% last year, which demonstrates that we are travelling in the right direction.

Sadly, fraud is playing a more important part in many people’s lives. So much of our lives is now online and has therefore been opened up to a different area of exploitation. That is why the work we are doing across the 43 police forces of England and Wales to support more victims through Action Fraud as part of the fraud strategy is so important.

We are also supporting National Trading Standards in its roll-out of a multi-agency approach to fraud, bringing together local services and improving support to vulnerable victims. Through the Financial Services and Markets Act 2023, which I know the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington has beside his bed at night, we legislated to require the payment systems regulator to introduce mandatory reimbursement for authorised push payment scams. Those provisions will come into force in October and will ensure that more people get their money back.

This is a matter of huge importance to the Government and something that we take seriously. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell), our fraud champion, has been working on it closely. He has been an important asset to the Home Office in making sure that work comes together. I am very grateful for the kind words of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington about our fraud champion. I agree: he is excellent.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. This has been a fantastic debate. I particularly thank my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame Siobhain McDonagh), for sharing her story. It was very powerful.

This is a nasty scam, particularly in the way it targets women on the school run. It is also linked to organised crime, just as we saw with the spate of catalytic converter thefts in London a few years ago. The statistics do not show the whole picture. I reiterate the advice to our constituents: always be aware, get a dashcam, collect evidence such as photos, videos and statements—and report it.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of tackling crash for cash insurance fraud.

Sitting suspended.

Crisis Houses

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

I beg to move,

That this House has considered crisis houses.

Until October 2021, I had never heard of a crisis house and did not know what one was, but that all changed when one of my constituents got in touch to tell me about the tragic circumstances of her daughter’s death in a crisis house, following a referral there from the local clinical commissioning group.

What is a crisis house? Crisis houses are broadly defined as community-based residential settings that give clinical and social support to people during a crisis. The emphasis is on providing a safe alternative to hospital admission when an individual is undergoing a mental health crisis. Some crisis houses are staffed by volunteers, while others are staffed by medical professionals. The level of support can vary greatly, from accommodation and emotional support to acute mental health support. Despite the varying degrees of support that they provide, crisis houses are not regulated. I will explain why that is a problem by speaking about the tragic case of my constituent’s daughter, Jess. The details of Jess’s case, which I will draw on in my speech, were reported at her inquest and are publicly available online.

In 2020, 27-year-old Jess Durdy entered Link House, a crisis house in Bristol. Link House is run by a charity and was commissioned by the local care commissioning group to provide mental health support. It was not registered with the NHS or the Care Quality Commission. Jess was moved from regulated NHS care to a service that was unregulated, where her care co-ordinator was not a registered practitioner. Five days later, she took her own life.

Jess’s death was almost certainly preventable. She died because staff at Link House were entirely lacking in the training necessary to deal with patients suffering from severe mental ill health. They failed to take seriously or act on Jess’s repeated warnings that she was having intrusive suicidal thoughts; they used unsafe door locks that prevented them or paramedics from reaching her quickly; and they were unable to provide emergency services with the information necessary to arrive on time to save Jess’s life. For Jess’s family, there were and there remain many questions. Could Jess’s death have been prevented? Was the crisis house that Jess entered a safe alternative to hospital care? How could they raise their concerns about the care provided to their daughter?

Despite growing numbers of crisis houses dealing with some of the most vulnerable in society, the regulatory oversight of these organisations is a complex patchwork of different regulators and regimes, including the CQC, the Charity Commission, local authorities and so on. The CQC can only regulate providers of certain regulated activities, including in such areas as accommodation for nursing or personal care and family planning. In Jess’s case, the CQC had no oversight of the care and treatment provided by Link House. It could only examine the procedures of the commissioning Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust in ensuring patient safety. Without proper regulation and oversight, there is always the risk that other vulnerable people will take their lives. For that reason, the Government must introduce regulation for the sector to ensure basic standards of care before another tragedy occurs.

I pay tribute to Jess and her family. Jess’s mother Moira Durdy is my constituent, and I have been supporting her attempts to get justice for Jess to ensure that no other family has to experience the terrible loss of a loved one in similar circumstances. Jess was originally from north London. Her family describe her as a dearly loved, bright and caring child. They are hugely proud of the kind, loving, generous and loyal person she was and of her intelligent and inquiring mind. After spending time in Bangladesh working for Engineers Without Borders, Jess returned to her university town of Bristol to live and work in 2016. Jess had struggled with mental health since her teens, and had been diagnosed with anxiety, depressive disorder and bulimia. Despite this, her family say that she always had a smile and often hid her struggles.

Jess approached her GP for additional support in June 2020 and was under the care of Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust. She struggled with the medication provided, and by October 2020 her health had further declined. She was referred by the trust to Link House, which is run by the housing association Missing Link. Places at Link House were commissioned by the local clinical commissioning group. It provides care to patients with mental ill health who need more support than can be given in their homes. Despite this, its staff are support workers and not qualified medical professionals.

In the three days before she died, Jess disclosed to Link House staff that she felt suicidal and wanted to end her life. However, staff lacked the training necessary to understand how seriously to take Jess’s reports. They simply made phone calls to the recovery team and failed to follow up on those calls when there was no response. They did not make calls to the crisis team because, as Jess had not been admitted under the crisis team, they mistakenly assumed that it would not respond to calls. They failed to remove the ligature from Jess’s room that she ultimately used to take her life. There was a lack of clarity in the pathway for the escalation of risk and an assumption that the welfare checks that they were doing were sufficient.

On the morning of Jess’s death, when staff found that she was not responding to the morning check-up, they were unable to enter her room, because the doors at Link House were locked from the inside. The door closure inside the room was a readily available ligature point, and an inward opening door is contrary to the usual standard in mental health facilities. Staff did not know how to communicate the seriousness of the issue to paramedics, such that the emergency call was made a category 3 welfare check call. The result was that Link House staff stood helpless outside Jess’s door for 30 minutes before paramedics arrived. The paramedics were eventually able to break down the door, by which time Jess could not be saved. Had the call been made to the fire brigade, which has specialist equipment for breaking down doors, the outcome might well have been different.

The lack of clinical oversight and regulation at Link House meant that it was not a safe place for Jess to be housed. Jess was continually and graphically describing how she would ligature, and it is clear that the welfare checks and her environment were not suitable for her. Patients like Jess are extremely vulnerable and require specialised care and support, which was lacking in this case.

This is a tragedy that unfolded at one crisis house, but this is not just about one crisis house. In response to my written parliamentary question in June 2023, the Minister informed me that there were “around 70 crisis houses” around the country, with the number continuing to rise. However, I was concerned that figures for the number of crisis houses that were NHS-commissioned but not managed by NHS staff were not available. In September 2023, the Minister confirmed to me that the Government are committed to expanding mental health crisis services as alternatives to emergency hospital admission, and that they are investing over £140 million to expand the provision of emergency care options such as crisis houses.

The existing regulation in this space is complex. If providers offer regulated activities, they must register with the CQC as a provider of health or care services. That requires certain basic standards of training and care, but in many cases what crisis houses offer is outside the scope of those regulated activities, so there is no requirement to meet those standards despite crisis houses dealing with a patient population with complex needs. In the case of Link House, for example, the housing association Missing Link is regulated only by the Charity Commission, which is not an appropriate oversight body for ensuring proper standards of healthcare.

With all NHS services struggling after more than a decade of under-investment, crisis houses may be commissioned as a low-cost option and staffed by support workers without sufficient training for the task that they are asked to undertake, creating a potentially dangerous environment for patients. Consistent and appropriate standards are needed as a matter of urgency to ensure that as more vulnerable patients enter crisis houses, they get the care that they need to be safe and to recover.

I ask the Minister again: when will the Government bring forward legislation to harmonise regulation across the sector, bringing all crisis houses under the same regulatory oversight? If the aim is to use an increasing number of crisis houses to provide a safe alternative to hospital in which to recover from mental health crises, where is the oversight to ensure that those environments are safe? Regulation is essential to ensure both appropriate and consistent standards of care and training for staff at all crisis houses and to create an effective and transparent mechanism for residents or their families to raise concerns, and complaints where standards of care fall short.

There is a long list of regulated activities, including treatment of those being treated for substance misuse or detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, that, if provided, require organisations to register with the CQC. It is regrettable that the Government are declining to expand the list, which would require crisis houses supporting those going through a mental health crisis also to register with the CQC, rather than relying on local integrated care boards and local authorities to provide oversight.

The Minister wrote to me that there were no plans to change the national definition of a crisis house, but added:

“We do however expect crisis house services to be designed in a way that aligns with national requirements, guidance and local structures, to ensure that appropriate safeguarding processes are in place, including enabling the escalation of risks.”

But where is the mechanism to ensure that crisis houses meet those expectations? Where does a bereaved family turn when standards fall tragically short? I hope that, following today’s debate, the Minister will consider all the points that I have raised and will give a commitment to regulating crisis houses to help to prevent any future tragedies.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) for bringing forward the issue. I offer my deepest condolences to his constituents on the loss of their daughter Jess.

Improving mental health crisis services has been a key priority for the Government for the past few years. We very much recognise that we need to support people better in their communities, rather than wait for someone to go into crisis when the only option is admission into a mental health in-patient unit. If we can get to people earlier, the outcomes are better, particularly for certain groups, depending on age, gender and ethnicity. We know that recovery is possible if the right treatment and early intervention can be given. That is why we have invested heavily in crisis services over the past few years. We see the difference that that can make, with people not ending up in detention in police cells, A&E or other inappropriate settings.

Before I touch on crisis houses specifically, I want to mention the range of crisis support available. We have provided more than £150 million of capital investment in urgent and emergency care infrastructure, £7 million of which has gone into new specialist mental health ambulances, which have mental health teams on board, rather than a traditional ambulance crew. Also, £143 million has gone into a range of alternatives—crisis houses are one of them, but we also have crisis cafés, step-down services and other crisis centres—which provide healthcare for people at a difficult time. More than 160 projects have been allocated funding and 137 of them are completed. We now have our crisis 24/7 helplines, so that around the country, in every area, a call will go through to the local crisis team. They are now linked through the NHS 111 service to provide a consistent route, so if a person is not aware of their crisis helpline number, dialling 111 will get them to that crisis line and their local mental health crisis team.

Crisis houses are a key part of that provision, and the early evidence shows that even crisis cafés can be associated with an 8% lower admission rate to hospital. Telephone services are associated with about a 12% lower admission rate. Overall, there is a 15% lower rate for detention under the Mental Health Act, which is all to the benefit of patients going into crisis. Crisis houses specifically are part of that crisis support team, and they provide accommodation for those who need such help and support, perhaps as a step towards more intensive crisis support, although sometimes that is just enough that someone is able to return home.

The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a mix in the provision of crisis houses. Some provide specialist care and regulated activity, including for those going through drug and alcohol addiction, some of whom might need their medication assessed and changed. Those crisis houses that do not provide such activities are not regulated by the CQC—he is absolutely right about that—and, to date, there have been no plans to expand the list of CQC-regulated activities to capture crisis centres that do not provide the more intense support. I hear his concerns, however, and as part of our work on the suicide prevention strategy, through which we are trying to reduce the number of suicides in England, we know that those suffering with pre-existing mental health illnesses are a high-risk group. I hear his concerns about Jess and the fact that she was in a place of safety that did not safeguard her needs, in particular as a vulnerable woman needing that help.

Crisis houses play an important role. They help mental health support teams, allowing them to deal with the most serious cases. They can also become a familiar setting for those patients who may use them regularly if they are going into crisis; they will know that that is a place where they can get help and support. Through our work on the suicide prevention strategy, in all the accommodation that people come into—crisis houses, police cells, prison cells, A&E or mental health in-patient settings—a key piece of work is on trying to eradicate ligature points, so that if someone is thinking of such a method of suicide, we have made it as difficult as possible for them to do that.

I am also concerned by the hon. Gentleman’s point about staff training. These staff members are looking after very vulnerable patients and they need training to know to whom they can signpost more quickly, whether that is the crisis team or other support avenues. Crisis houses are about more than just accommodation. Although they are not a regulated activity, they are more than just a roof over someone’s head. They are about assessing someone and getting them more intensive support if needed or getting them back home if possible.

Although I cannot commit today to including crisis houses as a regulated activity, I want them to meet the same standards as other places in which people going into crisis are often accommodated. Our motto for the suicide prevention strategy is “Suicide is everyone’s business”, so if crisis houses are not going to be a regulated activity and therefore not the business of the CQC, there must be more safeguards in place to ensure that they are as safe as possible, particularly for those at risk of suicide and for the staff, who have a difficult enough job at the best of times without having to deal with the fallout of a young person taking their own life under their care.

What I can commit to today is discussing the issue of crisis houses with Professor Louis Appleby, the Government’s adviser on suicide prevention, with whom I am working on the suicide prevention strategy and the suicide prevention oversight group. I am not sure whether regulation falling under the CQC is the answer, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are clearly some gaps in training and development for staff. They must be able to better assess risk. There is also the issue of ligature points in crisis houses and gaps in their assessment as a place of safety for those staying in them.

I commit to following up on Jess’s case. We are going to get those suicide rates down. It is no one’s fault, but if there is extra work we can do to make crisis houses not just places of crisis, but places of safety, we should leave no stone unturned in doing that. I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising his constituent’s case as an example of what can happen. Crisis houses are not a regulated activity at the moment, but I am sure that there is more we can do to improve the safeguards that are in place. Following the debate I will speak to Professor Louis Appleby to see what more we can do for crisis houses to ensure that when a person going into crisis reaches out to get the help they need, they are as safe as they can be.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Healthy Start

[Peter Dowd in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Healthy Start scheme.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. What is not a pleasure is that I am here yet again, still trying to get the Government to do something very simple and impactful to help those who need it the most. Auto-enrolment with an opt-out, as opposed to the current opt-in system, would ensure that the Healthy Start scheme operates as it should, so that every single child gets the best start in life.

The last Labour Government introduced the Healthy Start scheme, which provides financial assistance in the form of a prepaid card to all under-18s who are pregnant, families with young children or pregnant women claiming certain benefits. This is to help with the ever-increasing costs of fruit and vegetables, milk, formula milk and vitamins. The scheme is available in pregnancy and until the child’s fourth birthday, yet the scheme is beset with problems—problems that were caused by this Government and can be easily fixed by this Government.

The child of the north all-party parliamentary group has heard evidence that children in the north are more likely to die before reaching their first birthday than those elsewhere in the country. We have heard about desperate mothers who are seeking an abortion because they simply do not know how they will feed their baby. When I raised that with the Prime Minister only two weeks ago, his response was to advise me that he was

“proud that…the Government have overseen a significant fall in poverty, particularly child poverty.”—[Official Report, 8 May 2024; Vol. 749, c. 570.]

Child poverty has not significantly fallen: it stands at more than 4 million. When expectant mothers have had to make these heartbreaking decisions, bragging about the support put in is crass, to say the least. It was followed up with an equally tone-deaf letter from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

It has been widely reported that some parents, in desperation, have resorted to theft of baby milk and formula or are having to water it down, which is not surprising considering that prices of baby formula are at historically high levels and the current Healthy Start payments do not even cover the cost of formula for one week. Despite this, Healthy Start take-up is dropping. The Government’s 75% target—given to the NHS Business Services Authority, which runs the scheme—was missed last year, and take-up continues to decrease: it stands at just 62.5% across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The comparable scheme in Scotland, however, has reached 92% take-up. Some local councils and organisations have made a dedicated investment to promote the scheme; not only does this create a postcode lottery, but they were left feeling utterly demoralised after the Government provided false, inflated take-up figures and were then unable to provide accurate uptake data.

An opt-out system would ensure proper data and free up organisations to support families instead of having to try to locate them—a point that is supported by research published earlier this month and funded by the Minister’s own Department. In some areas, the take-up is as low as 44%. About 220,000 babies, young children and pregnant women are missing out on the scheme, and Sustain estimates that that leaves £58 million unclaimed.

Despite the Chancellor’s crowing on this morning’s news, low inflation still means rising prices on top of previous high rises. In short, this is just stemming the pain for families. Only last year, UNICEF found that the UK had the worst rise in child poverty, leaving us bottom among 39 of the world’s richest countries. That is why admissions for malnutrition have increased in children and there has been a resurgence of Victorian diseases such as rickets and scurvy. It is no wonder that the Government blocked the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food from visiting the UK and investigating poverty. When the previous UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty visited the UK, he was very clear that the rise in poverty was the direct result of Government policies.

Food banks, baby banks, faith groups and charities have now become embedded parts of our welfare state. The Key to Life food bank in my constituency reported a 300% increase in demand last year, coupled with a decrease in donations. It is therefore highly unlikely that the £58 million that is going unclaimed is unclaimed because people do not need it. There is a very clear need for the scheme but, as I have been told time and again, awareness is low among the public and professionals. That is why in 2021 the national food strategy recommended that the Government implement a communications plan related to Healthy Start, but they did not.

In 2021, I and others raised concerns about plans to fully digitalise the scheme by 2022, meaning that paper applications and vouchers would no longer be accepted. The result was that, as of October 2023, more than 20,500 households that were previously in receipt of the vouchers were no longer receiving them, 19 months after digitisation. The NHS Business Services Authority then admitted that technical issues meant that applications were being declined, resulting in parents and pregnant women struggling to get through to the helpline and having their payment cards rejected.

As it stands, the application routes are overly complex and varied. When an application is made online, an automated message claims that a response will be given in two days. This very rarely happens. Some mothers report that they have never heard back and that, after multiple attempts, they have given up.

I apologise for missing the first couple of minutes of my hon. Friend’s speech. She is making an excellent speech outlining why the scheme is so needed. She mentions that take-up of the Healthy Start scheme is too low, so proper information about the scheme is needed, along with auto-enrolment. That would cut through the red tape and the hurdles that many families experience. Does she agree that the Government must therefore do more to promote the Healthy Start scheme to families so that people are aware of it, as recommended in the excellent national food strategy?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and for all the work that she does in this space. She has tirelessly championed children for as long as I have known her and for as long as she has been in this place. Charities, organisations and local authorities are using what little money they have to promote a Government scheme, and then when they go to the Government for data about how it is working, they get either false figures or no figures at all, so I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.

The Healthy Start phone number is not freephone, and it is fully automated. There is no option at all for callers to speak to anyone unless they need an interpreter or have inquiries relating to their card. The absurdity of an automated system asking whether callers have problems with cards that they do not yet have is not lost on any of us, I am sure. Worse still, if the application is refused, the parent is not told why and is directed to the phone line: again, they cannot speak to anyone. Research by Manchester Central food bank highlights the fact that those on legacy benefits or with no recourse to public funds have to apply via paper or telephone, but that is completely at odds with the Healthy Start phone line and website, which state very clearly that applications must always be made online. The confusion is completely unnecessary.

Repeated questions to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about funding for the scheme and future take-up have been equally frustrating. The Government refuse to say how much money they allocate to the scheme each year. They claim it is allocated on a forecast for take-up, but will not say what that forecast is. A cynic would conclude that if the Government forecast low uptake, it is against their interest to do anything to boost it, as they will not have budgeted for that, or that if they forecast higher uptake but do not reach it, millions of pounds that could have been spent on feeding children will be spent elsewhere. Either way, hungry babies and children are once again the ones losing out.

Back in May 2023, a similar debate was held in which the Government were made fully aware of the problems with Healthy Start. The following month, I introduced my Bill on auto-enrolment, the Healthy Start Scheme (Take-Up) (No. 2) Bill. Over the past two years, I have sent the Health Secretary two cross-party letters, signed by MPs and a multitude of outside organisations. This was followed by more questions and speeches in the Chamber and a full report to the Chancellor in advance of the previous Budget. Forty-eight written questions and two well-supported early-day motions later, here we are again.

I am sure that in her response the Minister will reiterate the excuses her colleagues have given for refusing auto-enrolment: that it is not possible because the prepaid card is a financial product that is therefore subject to financial regulations. However, Mastercard has written to me explaining that it is possible, if only the Minister’s Department and the Department for Work and Pensions will work with it. I have been here long enough to know that the Minister will not be able to commit to auto-enrolment today, but at the very least can she give a commitment to working with her colleagues and other organisations to look at piloting auto-enrolment?

Can the Minister assure us that her Department’s uptake data is now accurate and advise us on the progress of her Department’s promise to me to write to all eligible households that are missing out on the scheme? As we debate this today, there will be mothers and fathers who, instead of excitedly preparing for their newborn or enjoying those early years with their little ones, are worried and distressed about how on earth they are going to provide for them.

I know that auto-enrolment is not a panacea. I know that life will continue to be a hard struggle for so many people. But as I did when I presented my Bill, I want to thank all the parents who have shared with me their stories and their pain. They should always be at the forefront of our mind, because nobody should feel such desperation and hopelessness that they can see no other way than stealing to feed their baby or seeking to terminate their pregnancy. I sincerely hope that the Minister agrees with me about that.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) on securing this important debate. She has done a considerable amount of work—some with me and some in her own right—over the past few years and has followed in the footsteps of my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Stretford and Urmston in campaigning on auto-enrolment.

This is a hugely important issue. We know that those families who are eligible to receive the Healthy Start allowance are some of the poorest in our country. We know, too, just what an important component of the benefits system it is. It ensures that youngsters at risk of malnutrition because of a lack of finance and of available cash in the family home are able to access things like healthy foods, fruits and vegetables, as well as milk formula and other important things to help with babies’ early development.

There are a number of aspects to this. My hon. Friend has focused largely on her important campaign to secure auto-enrolment, but I want to take a moment to broaden the debate with some comments about the uplifting of the allowance, given the significant increases in inflation in recent years.

I can see that my hon. Friend is going to make an excellent speech; he has made some important points already. Hon. Members may be aware that an event was held yesterday by Diabetes UK that discussed the shocking rise in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in young people. They mentioned early years nutrition and the important part that that period plays in establishing the lifelong health of an individual. Does my hon. Friend agree that that very early food system and what food children consume in those very early years is so important, and that schemes such as the Healthy Start scheme should be thought to be central to a good public health mission?

My hon. Friend is correct to make that point and to link diabetes and other negative health experiences that can happen as a result of poor nutrition in early years. She has spent many years campaigning for children and their health in this place, not least during her time as the shadow Minister, and I know that many families up and down the country will be grateful to her for that.

I turn back to the issue of inflationary pressures and the lack of uplift in the Healthy Start allowance since 2021, when it was uplifted for the first and only time since the Government came to power in 2010. We all know the inflationary pressures that we have seen since then; food, in particular, has outstripped other parts of our economy, with an average 30% increase in food prices. That pressure has been especially acute in the price of milk formula.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields mentioned our last Westminster Hall debate. I called that debate a year ago yesterday, and things have worsened since then. As my hon. Friend said, uptake has decreased, as prices—although they are not growing as quickly—have continued to rise. Twelve months ago, we were at the point at which there was not a single milk formula product on the market that could be afforded under the Healthy Start allowance. That is a terrible situation to be in, not least because of the other pressures we have seen on family finances in recent years.

I turn to auto-enrolment. Uptake is problematic: it has decreased over the past two months. As I said, these are the poorest families and those in the most need. Families are not deciding that they do not require that money. Families are looking, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields so ably outlined, at an opaque and challenging system to navigate. That, as well as a lack of knowledge that this allowance even exists for families, is one of the primary causes, if not the only cause, of this damagingly low uptake.

I am interested to hear the Government’s thoughts on the thorny issue of auto-enrolment, although I am not sure why it is so thorny. I also wish to broaden out my hon. Friend’s comments about the interim proposal that she and I put forward to Government of writing to those families who are eligible for the Healthy Start allowance but who are not taking it up. We have had a number of excuses from the Government over the past 12 months, similar to those that my hon. Friend outlined on data sharing and a financial agreement through a card system, which have since been quashed by Mastercard.

I have submitted a number of written questions about where we are with the data, given previous undertakings from Ministers that they would draw the data together to write to those families. In September 2023 I was told that that data was being brought forward. In November I asked again, in pursuance of the previous question, and we were told that the data would be available in early 2024. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields and I seem to dovetail on this issue a lot: she then submitted a question in March this year. There was still no sign, despite previous suggestions that the data would be available in early 2024 for that work to happen.

There is a lack of transparency and accessibility in the application process. The Government are not helping to disavail people of that view when they refuse to let even those who are eligible for the scheme know that that is the case. The impact on our communities is significant. In my constituency of Stretford and Urmston, one child in five lives in poverty. My local food bank in Stretford told me recently that 40% of the people it serves are first-time users, such is the enormous increase in demand that it has seen of late. Most damningly of all, in my community they also tell me that there has been an 80% increase over the past 12 months in the number of families with children that they are supporting.

We are in crisis. Families are struggling. The allowance is targeted at those in the greatest need, yet just this weekend, in Old Trafford in my constituency, residents were having a real-time WhatsApp conversation about the fact that milk formula and milk itself are security-tagged in some—not all—supermarkets up and down this country. There was a debate going on: if they were a retail worker, would they stop somebody who was clearly in need from taking milk or baby formula?

I said 12 months ago that people were watering down formula, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields mentioned it today. Worse still, as Sky News covered at the time, in some cases there were suggestions that mothers were adding flour and other such substances into milk formula to pad it out further. The impact that that can have on a baby’s digestion is significant and risks long-term health problems. This is the scale of the challenge that we face.

I would be incredibly grateful for an update on the Government’s thinking about whether they should be uprating the Healthy Start allowance in line with inflation, given the significant pressures on the price of food and especially on milk formula since the allowance was last uprated in 2021. Are the Government serious about the issue of auto-enrolment? If not, why on earth is more not being done to bring together the data that is required? That would at least let families know whether they can embark on this admittedly opaque process to try to bolster their family budgets and try to ensure that their babies, their children under the age of four or they themselves, if they are more than 10 weeks pregnant, can access healthy things such as fruit, vegetables or milk for their baby.

This is a crisis. The need is there. We all see it in our communities. The time to act is now, and I beg the Minister to do it urgently.

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Mr Dowd. I thank the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) for securing this important debate. By the time children start school, one in five is living with obesity. Recent research has shown that children who are severely obese by the age of four have their life expectancy cut by nearly half if they do not lose weight. Type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed in children, while a national NHS survey found that nearly 30% of children under the age of five are experiencing enamel and dental decay.

All the while, one in four UK households with children under four experiences food insecurity. That is defined as when households reduce the quality, variety and desirability in their diets. It is concerning that demand for emergency food parcels distributed by the Trussell Trust food bank network has nearly doubled over the past 12 months, and 65% of that support went to families with children. In Somerset, 18,000 food parcels have been distributed in the past year. When the household support fund closes in September, we could see pressures increase even further. In addition, Food Foundation polling from January 2024 found that food-insecure households were more likely to cut back on purchasing healthy foods such as fruit, veg, fish, dairy and eggs by up to 60%.

The Healthy Start scheme provides pregnant women or pre-school-age children from low-income households with a weekly payment to be spent on healthy food. That is welcome, but the Government have failed to roll out the scheme effectively or give it the attention that it deserves. The Government set an uptake target of 75% by March 2023, yet the latest figures for April 2024 show that only 62% have taken it up and we do not know the uptake data between July 2023 and February 2024, due to a major data error. That just amplifies how neglected the scheme is.

The scheme needs to move faster to reach more people and must not be left to stagnate against the backdrop of considerable food price rises. The scheme does not give people enough money to afford healthy foods in the light of inflation and the increased cost of food. The poorest 10% of UK households would need to spend between 34% and 52% of one person’s weekly food budget to afford one week’s worth of a five-a-day diet.

If the scheme is to be used as a tool to fight food insecurity, it must not be used in isolation. However, I do not believe that the Government are willing to take the necessary measures to change our food system for the better. They should accept the national food strategy’s recommendations by extending the scheme’s eligibility criteria and committing to a properly funded promotional campaign. The Government must also focus on the lack of access to healthy, nutritious food by incorporating household food security, including people’s ability to access healthy food, into a yearly assessment of UK food security.

At last week’s Farm to Fork summit, the Prime Minister had the chance to focus on primary food producers being squeezed by tight retailer-supplier contracts, but he did not, leaving potentially more farmers on the brink of closing their farm gates for the final time because of the associated financial pressures and anxiety. The Government have failed to grasp that we have a broken food system, which leaves farmers on a cliff edge and families reliant on unhealthy, ultra-processed foods and unable to afford the food necessary for their children’s healthy development. It should be a national embarrassment that so many children under five are beginning their lives with serious health issues because of poor nutrition, but the neglect that the Healthy Start scheme has experienced from this Government is symptomatic of the neglect that they have paid to our food system.

I do not believe it is too late. The Government should urgently revisit the national food strategy recommendations set out by Henry Dimbleby and act on them. The Liberal Democrats would fight to ensure that our children’s health is treated as a priority by guaranteeing free school meals for all primary-aged children and all those whose families are in receipt of universal credit. We would also boost the farming budget by £1 billion to help our farmers thrive, and to help them produce more home-grown, healthy food to improve the health of the nation’s children.

It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) for securing this debate. She has been a tireless campaigner on behalf of the 200,000 eligible pregnant women, babies and young children missing out on support via the scheme.

I will start by praising the Healthy Start scheme, which was set up by the last Labour Government in 2006. It provides support to expectant mothers who are more than 10 weeks pregnant, and to parents and caregivers who are responsible for at least one child under the age of four. Healthy Start vouchers have a value of up to £4.25 a week or £8.50 for those with a child under one. The vouchers entitle parents in receipt of certain social security benefits to fruit, vegetables, cow’s milk, infant formula and pulses. They also enable mothers to access vitamins from pregnancy until their child reaches the age of one.

Adequate nutrition in the first months and years of a child’s life is critical to supporting their healthy development. In recent years, the health of children under five has stalled or declined across various measures, including infant mortality, childhood obesity, tooth decay and mental health. Declining health outcomes are linked to a rise in poverty, with children from disadvantaged areas significantly more likely to face a range of poor health outcomes compared with those in more affluent areas.

Healthy Start has an important role to play in helping to take pressure off family finances and ensure that mothers and young children get a nutritious diet. It is effective. Research has found that participating families increase their spend on fruit and vegetables, and the Minister will understand how crucial a healthy diet is for pregnant women, new mothers, babies and young children. The British Medical Association has highlighted the effects of poor nutrition during pregnancy: adverse health and social outcomes, premature birth, low birth weight, shorter life expectancy and a higher risk of death in the first year of a child’s life.

As hon. Members have mentioned, child food poverty continues to stunt children’s development as they grow up, and overstretched family budgets mean that mothers go without in order to feed their children. I and other hon. Members present have raised concerns about Healthy Start for a number of years; I remember writing to the then Minister about it in 2021. However, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, three years later, after the cost of food essentials has rocketed, the value of the vouchers is the same as it was then and uptake has not significantly improved.

Since 2021, infant formula prices have risen by about 25%. Almost one in four households with at least one child under four reported being food insecure this year. Some 17% of single-adult households with children reported not eating for a whole day because they could not afford or get access to food. Food insecure households were more likely to cut back on purchasing healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables, fish, dairy and eggs. Those statistics are shocking. As we have heard, there has to be a call to action. The importance of good nutrition during pregnancy, breastfeeding and early life is indisputable. As the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline on maternal and child nutrition states, it forms the foundation for the long and short-term health of both mother and baby.

The incidence of severe malnutrition in the United Kingdom has doubled in the past 10 years, with over 10,000 people hospitalised in 2022, among them 312 children. Can the Minister please tell us—[Interruption.]

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

The incidence of severe malnutrition in the United Kingdom has doubled in the past 10 years, with over 10,000 people hospitalised in 2022, among them 312 children. Can the Minister please tell us what the Government are doing to urgently get a grip on the issue?

An issue that Members have raised is the poor uptake of the Healthy Start scheme. For years now, the Government’s target has been an uptake rate of 75%, yet the latest data, for April 2024, shows that not a single local authority anywhere in the country is hitting that target. However, when Ministers have been asked about take-up, they have routinely given boilerplate responses highlighting that the NHS Business Services Authority operates the scheme on the Government’s behalf, with no meaningful engagement on how the Government intend to improve that.

I also ask the Minister what assessments she has made of the merits of launching a national take-up campaign. Has she encouraged take-up by signposting through family hubs or early years provision? Likewise, has she made an assessment of the merits of including a tick box as part of the universal credit application process or as part of applications for council tax support?

There is also the very real concern that Members raised about the value of the food vouchers, particularly in the context of the rising cost of living. The few policies that the Government have introduced on healthy food in recent years have done little about affordability. I was momentarily excited last week when the Government launched their new food security index—it sounded promising. However, I looked into it and it appears that the index is comprised of metrics entirely of the Government’s own making, rather than internationally accepted definitions and indices of food security.

Can the Minister explain why the Government have eschewed internationally agreed definitions of food security in terms of availability and access—basically, that the food is there and people can afford it—in favour of their own definitions that do not cover those important points? In other words, why does the Government’s index give zero consideration to the impact on UK food consumers apart from a measure on confidence that their food is safe?

I note that the Government have previously commented that they keep the value of Healthy Start under continuous review. Can the Minister update us on whether there have been any recent discussions regarding the value of the scheme and whether it is still her Department’s position that no increase in value is forthcoming? If that is the case, what assessment have the Government made of the impact of inflationary price rises on low-income households, and what reassurances can she provide to Members that she is taking action to stop families from being priced out of essential goods on the Government’s watch?

One of the most egregious issues facing families with young babies is that they are being priced out of infant formula to feed their children. While breastfeeding will always be the gold-standard healthiest option, and we must do more to promote it, the Minister will know that it is not suitable for everyone, and some women simply cannot. All families should be able to feed their babies, and it is already hard for so many to afford to do so in this cost of living crisis. Does the Minister share my concern that regulations that prevent families from using food bank vouchers to buy infant formula are no longer fit for purpose? Labour will make it so that retailers will be able to accept loyalty cards and vouchers as payments for infant formula to help families feed their children. Labour will urgently review existing legislation on infant formula, ensuring that regulation is protecting families and their babies, not making life more difficult for them.

Healthy Start was a valuable scheme to improve nutrition among mothers and very young children at a critical stage in their development, but the impact of the scheme is being progressively eroded by Government inaction, poor take-up and the rocketing cost of living crisis. Labour has committed to a child health action plan to ensure that every child gets a healthy start in life. That includes our commitment to establish fully funded healthy breakfast clubs across England. We will also reform universal credit and set up Great British Energy to boost Britain’s energy security and cut bills.

Over the last 14 years, the UK’s progress on infant and child health has stalled. I urge the Minister to engage with campaigners on the issue and work proactively with Members on both sides of the House to ensure that the Healthy Start scheme is fit for purpose.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd, and to respond to the debate on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for Public Health, Start for Life and Primary Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom). I am grateful to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) for raising this important debate about the Healthy Start scheme, and to other hon. Members who have contributed.

The Government are committed to supporting the next generation of children, who are, of course, our future, and their own will obviously depend on this as well. A child’s early life is critical to their health later in life. We want every family to receive the right support to care for their children. Growing up with a healthy diet and weight is strongly protective against ill health in childhood and adulthood. Eating a healthier diet, as set out in “The Eatwell Guide”, could increase population life expectancy by up to eight years.

We know that fruit and vegetable consumption is lower among more deprived children, and that those children may be at risk of not getting enough micronutrients. More than one in five children start primary school overweight or obese, and the numbers are higher in more deprived areas. That is a major risk factor for long-term diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer.

Against that backdrop, the support for children to eat healthily through the Healthy Start scheme and our provision of free school meals is crucial. The Healthy Start scheme benefits hundreds of thousands of families across the country. The statutory scheme encourages a healthy diet for pregnant women, babies and young children under four from low-income households. Eligibility criteria for the scheme ensure that we target nutritional support on families who need it most.

In April 2021, we increased the value of Healthy Start by 37%, from £3.10 to £4.25 a week, therefore helping families with the increased cost of living. I welcome the support demonstrated by colleagues today for this important scheme and the emphasis placed on its uptake. I fully agree that we need to ensure that eligible families are aware of and able to access Healthy Start. I now turn to how we are doing that.

Healthy Start is delivered by the NHS Business Services Authority, on behalf of the Department. Following user research and testing by both the Department and the NHSBSA, the scheme switched from being paper based to a digitised service in 2021. An online application and prepaid card replaced the previous paper form and vouchers. The number of families being supported by Healthy Start has grown following the introduction of the prepaid card. Since September 2021, of the more than 600,000 successful applications, 45% have come from new families and the scheme now supports more than 360,000 beneficiaries on lower incomes. The uptake is 62% of people who are eligible, which is higher than in the previous paper scheme and shows the benefits of the transition to a digital scheme.

Hon. Members have raised the question of auto-enrolling eligible families on Healthy Start. Moving to auto-enrolment would require a substantial redesign of the scheme. In contrast to what I heard the hon. Member for South Shields say, such a move, unfortunately, is not a simple thing to do. I am told that the prepaid card would need to be removed because it is a financial product that, under financial services legislation, requires applicants to accept the terms and conditions on an opt-in basis, so we cannot have it as an opt-out. Creating a new delivery method and process is therefore far from straightforward and would come at an additional cost to Government, with disruption for the beneficiaries.

As the Minister heard in my opening comments, Mastercard completely refutes that argument. It and Allpay, which administers the scheme, have been clear that it is entirely possible to do auto-enrolment; they just need the Department for Health and the DWP to talk to them about it. It is not a difficult thing to do. They have outlined it to me in a letter, and I am happy to share that with her Department, yet again.

I hear the hon. Member’s point, but as I set out clearly, I understand that this is not a simple thing to do, and not straightforward. As she has offered, however, I suggest that she writes to the Under-Secretary of State for Public Health, Start for Life and Primary Care with that suggestion and the proposal from Mastercard. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will look into it and respond to the hon. Member.

I have been saying that it is complicated to shift to an auto-enrolment scheme under existing legislation. By contrast, the current scheme has seen increased take-up, with the switch to the prepayment card. We would not want to jeopardise that progress of increasing numbers of families enrolling on what is an important scheme. That is why the Government’s focus is on increasing the uptake and effectiveness of the existing scheme, so that more children can benefit from Healthy Start. I also assure the hon. Member for South Shields that the substantial level of investment in the scheme is in the order of £78 million per annum.

I was sorry to hear about the problems in getting access and responses to phone calls for people calling up for help with access to the scheme. It is clearly important for people to be able to get help, if needed, to access Healthy Start. I understand that the average speed of answer for calls between 1 April and 10 May was 19 seconds, but I have asked officials to look further into the problems raised by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) regarding accessing the phoneline and accessing help.

Multiple channels of communication are used to raise awareness and encourage take-up of Healthy Start. NHSBSA actively promotes Healthy Start through its digital channels and has created free toolkits for use by healthcare professionals, local authorities and public health teams. NHSBSA uses a range of communications to raise awareness among parents and pregnant women. For example, it has attended maternity and midwifery forum events and placed advertisements in You and Your Pregnancy magazine, which is given to pregnant women in the first trimester, and the Bounty and Badger Notes apps. As officials confirmed to the House of Lords Food, Diet and Obesity Committee on 7 May, we also have plans to write to everyone eligible for Healthy Start to ensure they are aware of the scheme and to encourage them to apply.

As I said before, the Government are committed to promoting a healthy diet for our children. Healthy Start is an important part of the support provided by Government but it is only one aspect of how we are doing that. For our youngest children, the Government are investing £50 million in infant feeding support as part of the family hubs and the Start for Life programme. We support childcare providers with the cost of milk through the nursery milk scheme. We are also working with industry to improve the healthiness, marketing and labelling of commercially available baby food and drink aimed at those aged up to 36 months. Children of all ages also benefit from restrictions on the placement of less healthy products in key selling locations, calorie labelling on menus and upcoming landmark restrictions on multi-buy offers and the advertising of less healthy products on TV and online.

For school-aged children, we have the school fruit and vegetable scheme and free school meals. The Government have expanded free school meals to more groups of children than any Government over the past 50 years. We have introduced universal infant free school meals for all children in reception, year 1 and year 2. Under the benefits-based criteria, more than 2 million of the most disadvantaged pupils are provided with free school meals; in fact, the greatest ever proportion of children are receiving free school meals, with more than a third receiving free lunches compared with one in six in 2010. Furthermore, a crucial backdrop to this debate is the latest fall in inflation—because we know that the best way to help people with the cost of living is to bring inflation down.

Infancy and early childhood is a crucial time for establishing food preferences and dietary patterns. Giving children a healthy start in life is critical to health outcomes throughout childhood and adulthood. The Healthy Start scheme is one of the essential ways in which the Government support our most vulnerable families to give their children the best start for a healthy life. I welcome colleagues’ interest in the Healthy Start scheme and assure them that although our approach may be different from the one that the hon. Member for South Shields argues for, we are committed to making sure that the children who most need help get it.

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken today, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western), who has long championed a reduction in the price of baby formula. He rightly pointed out that auto-enrolment is not the only issue with Healthy Start; there is also the value of payments and the eligibility criteria. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) for her kind words and support.

I also thank the Minister for her comments. However, it will come as no surprise that I completely disagree with her analysis of the entire situation. The one thing I will take from her speech is that at least she has reiterated the promise to once again write to all eligible households missing out on the scheme. We have been promised that for some time now and it has not yet been delivered.

If the rumours about an imminent general election are true, I must tell the Minister to please get a move on, because we do not have long left. In the interim, before we have a new Government, I will, as I have always done, use my time in this place to try anything at all that the Government might accept. I will keep pushing for them to at least explore trying a pilot for auto-enrolment for Healthy Start.

People should not have to put up with the daily grind and struggle. Eradicating child poverty was a central plank of the last Labour Government, and I know for a fact that it will be a key plank of the next one. I just cannot wait until we get there.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the Healthy Start Scheme.

Sitting suspended.

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders

Before I call Andrew Selous to move the motion, I will give a little clarity. As is the convention for a 30-minute debate, there will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge of the debate to wind up, but we have a spare 10 minutes and the previous debate finished a bit early, so there will be a little more flexibility—but do not abuse that. A couple of Members want to intervene or speak, so there is some flexibility, at the discretion of the Member in charge and the Minister, to bear that in mind.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the Major Conditions Strategy and people with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and hypermobility spectrum disorders.

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I am extremely grateful to colleagues across the House who have turned up to attend this important debate. We understand that anywhere between 135,000 and up to 300,000 people in the United Kingdom have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Those are only the diagnosed ones, and we think that that is the tip of the iceberg. If we take that higher number, in rough terms, that is about 460 per constituency for all of us—that is only those with a known diagnosis.

I am grateful to Dr Emma Reinhold, who is herself a GP no longer able to work because she has EDS. She sent me this quote by Professor Rodney Grahame, who is well respected in the field:

“No other condition in the history of modern medicine has been neglected in such a way as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.”

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a group of 13 genetic disorders in which connective tissue is abnormal. That results in fragile and hyperextensible tissues throughout the body, which can lead to a range of very debilitating symptoms. The effect on the body is widespread and not limited to one body system, as connective tissue is everywhere in our bodies. It is a complicated condition and can come with many comorbidities, which can include pain, gut issues, nutrition, cardiovascular autonomic dysfunction, postural tachycardia syndrome, low blood pressure, mast cell issues, musculoskeletal issues, and head and neck issues. Special considerations for children and women’s health, and anaesthetic and surgical considerations are issues as well. EDS can lead to physical disability and reduced quality of life. Some rarer types can be life-limiting. Hypermobility spectrum disorders have similar symptoms to the most common type of EDS, and are treated in the same way.

I am very grateful to Ehlers-Danlos Support UK; I publicly acknowledge the support it has given me for this debate. It supports people across the United Kingdom who live with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and hypermobility spectrum disorders. It is a wonderful charity and has been a big driver behind the debate. It wants us to come here and make a difference, and that is my plea to the Minister.

This is an important debate and many people, as my hon. Friend has said, do not know about Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or its diagnosis. Another complication, which he did not mention, is aortic dissection. People with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome can suffer from that and it can be deadly. One of my constituents has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, but it took 30 years to diagnose. At one point, she was under 11 different consultant teams. Both her sons have the same symptoms, yet they cannot access diagnosis or service. Over those 30 years, there has been no improvement in our care. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will be able to give some hope to the people who suffer from this syndrome.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because it is these individual stories that really make the case. My hon. Friend’s constituents had to wait 30 years: that is a very long time indeed.

A constituent of mine suffers from EDS. They make frequent trips to hospital, but every time they go they see a different consultant, who quite often treats the immediate medical emergency rather than taking a holistic approach and view of their condition. Does the hon. Member agree that people with EDS should be given a single point of contact—somebody who can review their condition as a whole, rather than just treating the individual symptom when it occurs?

The hon. Lady makes a sensible point. The four requests that Ehlers-Danlos Support UK wants me to put to the Minister are as follows. The first is a pathway for NHS diagnosis and care for hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and hypermobility spectrum disorders in England. Secondly, it wants National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and hypermobility spectrum disorders. Thirdly, it wants a properly co-ordinated, multidisciplinary approach to diagnosis and care for people with these conditions and their associated comorbidities. Fourthly, it wants support and training for healthcare professionals to deliver this. Those are all reasonable and sensible demands.

To give more background about the condition and the work being done to bring about change, I will say a bit more about the symptoms, as many people are not aware of EDS. Whatever knowledge people have, it is undeniable that there is a widespread lack of awareness, and that is part of the challenge that people living with EDS face in accessing care and in dealing with their condition. Twelve types of EDS are rare and can be genetically tested, but—this is a really important point—there is no test for the most common type of EDS. That has led to multiple reports of people being disbelieved by healthcare professionals and by assessors for personal independence payments. In fact, recent research suggests that those with the condition can wait for up to 20 years for a diagnosis. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) has just told us of her constituent who waited 30 years.

I am grateful to Danielle Humphreys, who researches in this area. She told me that quite a common response from doctors can be “Let me just check Google about this, as I’m not aware of the illness you are talking to me about,” or “Can you spell that?” I have some sympathy for doctors. Two of my children are junior doctors. They have a lot to learn in five or six years in medical school. They cannot know everything, but this is just not good enough. For each of us, the condition affects 500 or more of our constituents, so things need to change. I am pleased to put that on the record.

Constituents have been in touch with me about this. A member of my staff has been in touch with me as well. They tell me just how difficult life is with EDS. As one person put it,

“these are horrendous afflictions to live with, and some people can work and live with it, but some can’t. Any Personal Independence Payments that are received are spent on transport to and from appointments, medications and private treatments just to make life bearable.”

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we must do everything we can not only to improve standards of healthcare, but to make sure that the welfare system can continue to support them?

I agree with the hon. Lady, and I have experience of assisting constituents through the PIP process, which is tortuous for those with EDS so I am very grateful to her for putting that important point on the record.

The 13th type of EDS is not rare and cannot be tested for, which is really significant. Recent studies have shown that the diagnosed prevalence of the most common type can be as high as one in 227 people, although most are not diagnosed. Those with the most common type are twice as likely to use hospital services, and there is evidence that the cost of secondary care for them is an additional 29%. This places a significant burden on the NHS, so if we understood and could diagnose it earlier, we could take some of the strain off hospitals. That is another important reason why we must make progress.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving voice in Parliament to those suffering from this disease. We have heard from a number of fellow MPs about their constituents. A constituent has contacted me to say that she, her mother and her children all suffer from this condition. She is so grateful that Parliament is finally taking some notice of it, and a daughter of a very close friend of mine is also affected.

The fact that this condition is not diagnosed early leaves parents scared—petrified about what is happening to their loved one and not knowing what the answer is. Does my hon. Friend agree, and perhaps the Minister will also talk about this, that progress in analysing health service data about certain conditions—so-called big data and AI—could play a role in assisting doctors? As my hon. Friend has said, doctors cannot learn everything during their training, so maybe technology can provide them with some assistance.

I am not surprised that my hon. Friend and county neighbour makes such an astute point. He is absolutely right about the power of technology to help the NHS get this right, and I am grateful to him for putting that on the record.

Ehlers-Danlos Support UK, a wonderful charity that we are so lucky to have, called on the Government last year to provide urgently needed NHS services for those with the most common type of EDS and HSD. Its petition secured 28,700 signatures in England, although I have to say that it was disappointed by the response from the Government:

“There are no plans for a national service for diagnosis or treatment of hEDS and HSD. Our plans for musculoskeletal conditions will be outlined in the major conditions strategy.”

The draft strategy stated that people will be supported in primary care and that

“GPs and expert physiotherapists…are being empowered to identify and diagnose hEDS and HSD through the use of validated approved clinical guidelines and toolkits.”

When the Minister responds, perhaps he will tell us a bit more about what “empowered” means in this context. The only toolkit for diagnosing and managing hypermobile EDS is the one created by Ehlers-Danlos Support UK. There are no validated and approved clinical guidelines or genetic tests to use to diagnose, and in the past EDS UK has always been told that physiotherapists cannot diagnose EDS or HSD.

We need to do better. We need a proper multidisciplinary approach to diagnosing and managing hEDS and HSD, for two reasons. First, hEDS is a common type of EDS —it is the most prevalent—and is therefore not covered by the rare diseases action plan. Secondly, it does not fit solely into the category of musculoskeletal conditions and accordingly will not be covered by the major conditions strategy.

Like virtually all hon. Members in the Chamber, I am grateful to my constituents, one of whom, Alex Akitici, is here with us this afternoon. She has been to see me a number of times, and when she came to my constituency advice surgery in January, I could tell that something was not right. The colour of her face was giving me cause for concern, and when she got up at the end of the meeting, she collapsed flat on the floor and fainted in front of me. That was just a small example of what this group of people, whom we are all here this afternoon trying to help, have to deal with.

This is not just a musculoskeletal condition, because musculoskeletal conditions do not necessarily cause people to faint, but that is what happened to my constituent Alex. She has had to pay privately for a diagnosis—not everyone can afford to do that—and for her treatment and care. She and her husband have had to spend money adapting their home to make it safe as her collapses are frequent and unanticipated, as I witnessed. She lives in constant pain and has had an issue with personal independence payments, which were raised by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist).

My constituent’s experience is common. Many people with EDS are also fighting to stay in work, but due to delays in diagnosis and a lack of appropriate care, they end up in a position where they can no longer stay in work.

I want to mention some people with EDS who are constituents of MPs who cannot be here today. As Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) is not allowed to speak in this debate, but he contacted me ahead of it to tell me about his constituent Fran Heley, who has a connective tissue disorder. She has had to spend thousands of pounds on private healthcare, and she walked from Leeds to Parliament to draw attention to the condition. She has also undertaken a coast-to-coast walk across the north to raise awareness of the condition. What a brave campaigning lady! I thank her.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) asked me to give a shout-out to his constituent Karen Huntley from Healthwatch Calderdale and Huddersfield, who works tirelessly to highlight the need for a Government strategy. I thank Karen Huntley for what she does.

The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan) contacted me before the debate with details of her constituent who has just had a battle royal to deal with her condition and get appropriate care and recognition for it. And one of my constituents contacted me earlier this week and said:

“Both my daughters and grandson have the condition”,

but they did not realise until the older daughter was “quite old”. Other hon. Members have made exactly that point. So we can see that the condition is widespread across the UK and that the same issues come up time and again.

I want to draw the Minister’s attention to what is happening across the United Kingdom. In Wales, Members of the Senedd have resolved as follows:

“The National Clinical Lead for Musculoskeletal Conditions is working with EDS UK and Community Health Pathways to develop a nationally agreed pathway for hypermobility in children and adults. This will support healthcare professionals to have informed conversations with patients and to provide access to the right specialist teams.”

That is a major step forward. If it is good enough for the Welsh, it is good enough for the English.

I am told that in the Scottish Parliament there will be a roundtable debate at the end of this month, which, by the way, is Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes Awareness Month. In Scotland, they want to try to understand how they can improve diagnosis and care there. A recent study launched in Holyrood included a recommendation to develop a pathway and NICE guidelines—a request I made to the Minister earlier—with lived experience as evidence of the need.

I hope that the Minister will reassure us that he and his officials are looking around the world at best practice, the best research and the best care. I stumbled across the Ehlers-Danlos Society of the United States of America today. Lots of clinicians involved in that do a lot on research. I hope that we are up on what is happening globally, so that we do not miss out here. Departments needs to look internationally to get best practice in the United Kingdom.

On Ehlers-Danlos support, I mentioned the four points: the pathway for diagnosis; NICE guidelines; a co-ordinated multidisciplinary approach; and support and training for healthcare professionals. I ask the Minister to really push for that in the Department. I know that he is a good man and that he has to get that through NHS England, but, frankly, the time really has come to make progress. I would like a meeting, if possible, with him and Ehlers-Danlos Support UK, which does so much in this space, so that we can take the matter forward.

I am grateful to colleagues who have attended the debate. With your permission, Mr Dowd, I am happy for my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell) to speak briefly.

Thank you for your guidance on timing, Mr Dowd; I will be as brief as I can. I deeply thank my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) for holding this debate, but I do so with some embarrassment because I feel like I should have done it a long time ago. I will explain why.

I very rarely talk about my personal life in great detail, especially not about my loved ones, but my wife has hypermobility Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Many of the comments made today, especially in my hon. Friend’s speech, echo very deeply what I have seen from my wife. She has struggled since her mid-teens with gastric issues. As briefly as I can, I will share some of the experiences that she has shared with me, because when she heard about this debate, she urged me to speak.

My wife has had mobility issues for over 15 years now, probably longer. Her experience with the NHS, as wonderful as it can be and as much as I praise it, has not been the greatest. When she has seen GPs, they have questioned what she actually has. A long time ago, they questioned whether it exists. Even when she sees the musculoskeletal unit, she says it has no idea how to deal with her condition. The answer is often physio, but she needs manipulative physio and she does not get that on the NHS. Painkillers will often be thrown in her direction, many of which she has taken, but over time they do not give the same relief. The only thing that has ever worked for her is proper reformer Pilates, but that is not available on the NHS, and water therapy is very difficult for a person with a full-time job who is guided by when it is available.

Many of my points have been made, but the key point I want to get across is that this condition is like an invisible disease. It is almost like a vile torment for those who have it. I have seen my wife in absolute agony from doing the simplest of tasks. There are many times that I have had to apologise when I have gone to events as an MP and people have said, “Is your wife not coming with you?” I try to explain that she cannot come, but the truth is that if she does, she will be in agony for the rest of that evening and the rest of the next day. It is very hard to explain to people what she has. I explain and they say, “Oh, I have never heard of that.”

The condition is like a disability that is not classed as a disability. It affects every part of the body, yet the person is not seen as a whole. Every single aspect of it that I have seen through my wife over the 20-odd years that we have been together is torment for her. From a personal perspective, I love her deeply and I see how strong she is as a woman, yet I see the pain that it causes her. I have deep concern that this issue is just not being looked at. There are lots of holistic therapies and things that can be done, but when only the body parts of a person are being treated—that includes not treating their mental health as well as their physical health—it has a detrimental effect on every part of their life.

I do not want to take up too much time, but I echo the points that have been made. The NHS needs to ensure that the condition is identifiable, and that the training, the guidance and the signposting are there. We need to ensure that holistic therapies such as Pilates, which do work for some, are not just seen as a thing that sounds nice, but are actually used as a pathway for care. This needs to be looked at as a lifelong condition, because we need to make sure that people are looked after as time goes by and they get older, with other conditions coming into play. The key aspect is understanding.

I am really proud of my hon. Friend for hosting this debate—as I say, I am embarrassed that I did not do it myself. If it helps just one or two extra people realise that this is what they need to see their GP about and be forceful, it will make a difference. Thank you for the time, Mr Dowd.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing this debate on such an important issue, underlined by the sheer number of MPs who have attended this 30-minute debate today. He is a tireless campaigner for people living with Ehlers-Danlos. He was right to bring some of them to the House back in November, and he was right to bring campaigners again today to sit in the Gallery to ensure that their voices are heard. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell), who spoke from the heart about his wife’s personal experience.

May is awareness month for EDS, and I thank the outstanding charities that do so much to support people living with the condition all year round, especially Ehlers-Danlos Support UK. My hon. Friend said that many people may not have heard of the condition. As Minister for Health and during my constituency work, I come across many people living with debilitating diseases, but it was difficult for me to read some of the stories collected by Ehlers-Danlos Support UK that are collated on its website. Multiple stories show what can be achieved when the correct support is provided, such as the story of Ellie Ovens, who began using a wheelchair in 2018 but returned to France two years later to ski again. That underlines what the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) said about how the conditions affect different people in very different ways.

As has been said, although there is no cure for EDS or HSD, treatment can help an individual to manage their symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening. Early diagnosis is key to ensuring that patients are offered the most appropriate treatments and are supported to make lifestyle changes to improve their outcomes. NHS England commissions a national diagnostic service for certain rare types of EDS that can be diagnosed using a genetic test. We do not yet have a genetic test for every type of EDS or HSD, but as the Minister for life sciences I am hopeful about what the future may bring—a point made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller).

I thank the Minister for giving way; I know that he has limited time. May I add to the four requests that were made by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous)? With other conditions for which the Government have appointed an individual MP as the champion, we have seen some remarkable results because of that focus. Will the Government look at appointing a particular champion? I think we have seen the person who is in line today.

That is certainly the kind of thing we would want to consider, among a whole range of things.

In the limited time available, I will try to respond to the specific points made by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire. At the moment, diagnosis for these conditions is based on signs and symptoms, usually by a GP. As my hon. Friend knows, NHS England recommends care for patients with non-inflammatory but painful conditions, and that should be provided in primary and community care settings. That brings care closer to home for those patients, in line with our ambition to get every patient the right care in the right place.

It is not only about being able to diagnose the condition. Constituents have got in touch with me who have been undiagnosed for more than 40 years. They say that the big issue is not necessarily the inability to get a diagnosis, but the complete lack of awareness among medical professionals, so it is not even considered as an option. Will the Minister commit to increasing awareness of this serious condition across medical services so that this can at least be considered?

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point.

When I was preparing for this debate, I looked at the last time that the issue was debated in Parliament. It was a very long time ago. I strongly pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire for leading this debate. There have been others: the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who is now in his place, raised this with me at health orals a few months back. There are parliamentarians who are pushing on this, but this is the first specific debate we have had in a while, so we all have a role to play in raising awareness. Again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire for securing today’s debate.

My hon. Friend made a strong case for a nationally commissioned diagnosis and treatment service. In preparation for the debate, I raised the matter with NHS England, which tells me that it does not yet feel that it has good evidence that secondary care services are more appropriate for patients with hypermobility and pain, and that if patients were placed on secondary care waiting lists, it would not necessarily be in their best interests. If clear evidence is brought together that a nationally commissioned service would benefit patients, I will be happy to forward those examples to NHS England and ensure that it looks carefully at them.

My hon. Friend also asked for a meeting between himself, campaigners and me. I am happy to commit to that. Perhaps we can talk through the evidence after that to see what the best way forward is. For now, NHS England takes the view that the majority of patients with EDS and HSD can be managed within the community.

As we know, in many cases diagnosis is challenging. In recent years, we have taken great strides in making diagnosis more effective, giving GPs and physiotherapists comprehensive toolkits developed by healthcare professionals for healthcare professionals. I thank the Royal College of General Practitioners for working hand in hand with Ehlers-Danlos Support UK to get that done.

EDS and HSD are complex, chronic conditions that are frequently associated with other comorbidities. Sufferers may require access to a range of specialists, depending on the person. Integrated care boards are responsible for many of the treatment services for patients with EDS and HSD. They have a statutory responsibility to commission services that meet the needs of people in their area and that are in line with national guidance, including guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. As my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire will accept, NICE is an independent body and it would be wrong for me or any other Minister to interfere in its decision making, but I know that it follows these proceedings carefully and will have heard what my hon. Friend said in the case he has made for EDS and HSD to be included in its guidelines.

My hon. Friend rightly says that people suffering with the condition should have a co-ordinated, multidisciplinary approach to diagnosis and care. That is why we are rolling out new primary care networks across the NHS in England, which are delivering more proactive, personalised and integrated care through access to multidisciplinary teams of GPs, physiotherapists, nurses, pharmacists, podiatrists, physician associates and psychiatrists. NHS England commissions some specialist services for patients with rarer forms of EDS, and a service for patients who have complex EDS is delivered by centres in Sheffield and London. The “Getting it right first time” national specialty report on rheumatology, published in September 2021, has made important recommendations for rheumatology units to work more closely with primary care and achieve the properly joined-up care that I think we all want to see.

As my hon. Friend notes, patients with the condition frequently have other comorbidities, and the Government are committed to giving every patient proper joined-up care centred around them. That is why we announced last year that we will publish a major conditions strategy. The strategy will outline our approach to tackling six groups of major health conditions that contribute to 60% of morbidity in the UK by creating a health and care system focused on prevention, and proactive and person-centred management of health conditions.

The strategy will focus on the challenges, and on the changes that are needed to make the most significant difference across the six groups of major conditions. However, many of the solutions identified will be applicable beyond just those six major conditions to diseases like EDS. Aligning work across several groups of conditions for the strategy will allow us to focus on where there are similarities in approach and ensure care is better centred around the patient.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the matter to my attention. I also thank him and other hon. Members for their insightful contributions today. My door will always be open to him to hear how we can improve the lives of people living with EDS across the country. As I committed to earlier in the debate, I am happy to meet him and other campaigners to see how we can deliver an NHS that is faster, simpler and fairer for all.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the Major Conditions Strategy and people with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and hypermobility spectrum disorders.

E-scooters: Deaths and Serious Injuries

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-scooter deaths and serious injuries.

What a pleasure it is to make possibly my last speech in Parliament under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. This may well be quite a historic occasion for me if the rumours flying around about the statement at 5 o’clock today come true.

This is a very important issue that is close to my heart. Before I was an MP, I was involved in a horrible collision in a car. When coming back from my daughter’s christening to my job, teaching at Swansea University, someone drove into us head on, on the wrong side of the road. My family and I only survived because of the seatbelts. When I got into the House, that gave me the passion to take an interest in transport and road safety, which I have continued to this very day. I am president and have been chair of PACTS—the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, which I helped to launch—and I still chair the Independent Council for Road Safety International. I have kept that theme throughout my entire political career; it is an interest that I have never given up on.

You will not remember, Mr Dowd, because you are too young, but we managed to get the law on seatbelts through the House on the night before the royal wedding of Charles and Diana. We managed to keep our troops here, but a lot of people went home for a long weekend. That was the 14th attempt—quite a victory. That has saved a lot of lives over the years.

I have continued to have my interest. The reason I tabled today’s debate is that certain things happen in the transport world that suddenly transform what we have been used to—that absolutely revolutionise any concept we had beforehand—and e-scooters are that change. I have never seen anything that has so radically changed the whole landscape of safety on our roads. It is certainly true that many people find e-scooters a convenient, sustainable, attractive and low-cost form of travel.

While I was lead member for environment and climate change at South Somerset District Council, we introduced one of the e-scooter trials, which provided rural communities with a rare opportunity to engage in them, given that most were delivered in more urban settings. The trials were a huge success, with only eight recorded accidents. Does the hon. Member agree that legal e-scooter usage can play a key role in allowing rural communities to reduce their car usage for short, about-town journeys?

I totally agree. It can be a vital means of transport for business or leisure, and where properly regulated, it is to be welcomed, but when it is totally unregulated, it breaks all the conventions. I think that in total there have been 22 rental scooter schemes like the one the hon. Lady mentioned, which have been relatively well-ordered and welcome. On the other hand, we know that rental schemes account for only about 20,000 scooters in the UK, when it is estimated that there are now between 750,000 and 1 million e-scooters being ridden on the roads illegally. Not only that, but people are being killed and seriously injured on them: there have been 37 deaths since 2019, and I know from talking to regional elected Mayors that there are signs that that figure is a great underestimate.

My staff and I were checking how to buy an e-scooter only today. They are freely available for any age; they are available to buy for children. They can be bought at Toys “R” Us in pink. They usually travel up to 15 mph, although some are advertised as up to 25 mph. There are no regulations about what sort of protective clothing or crash helmets a rider should wear. There is no regulation on insurance, so if someone is involved in an accident with an e-scooter and the rider is uninsured, there are real repercussions not only for safety but for any possibility of compensation for an accident that is no fault of their own.

One lovely advert from Toys “R” Us tells us that we can buy an e-scooter for as little as £109 with next-day delivery, but there is no indication that when we buy them, there are a set of rules or that we should get training or anything like that. We can just buy them and then, presumably, just get on the road and drive them. That is against the law. They are freely available to people of any age, there are no regulations provided and, as I said, there is a very big difference in the insurance situation between private and rental.

The speed limits are quite astonishing. The established limit is regarded in many areas as 15.5 mph, but they are available to buy going up to 25 mph. Police have found cases of people fiddling around with the mechanism so they can go even faster, which apparently is quite easy to do. We all know that at that speed, people could be killed, including children. Helmets are not mandatory, so serious head injuries are prevalent. I said to a friend one day, “What does it mean to have a ‘serious’ accident?” He said to me, “‘Serious’ means you never walk again without pain.” That is a serious disability for the rest of your life. Head injuries have very worrying and serious effects on the individual and their family.

Naively, being something of an expert in this area, I assumed that laws for other vehicles would cover passengers for e-bikes. They do not. There is no consequence for carrying a passenger. I find it quite frightening when I see people go past me on the road at high speed with a small child standing on the running board. It is usually the father, but sometimes it is the mother or another relative. Imagine the horror of an accident in which you crushed your child to death on an e-scooter.

This is so serious because it is only just beginning. It has only just become a fashion, and it is going right across countries and continents. Some countries have been more adept at meeting the safety, security and welfare challenges. E-scooters are particularly dangerous to children—as I say, it is mainly children who are killed and seriously injured—but there are very serious issues for people who are partially sighted and people with buggies, and let us not underestimate the impact on the NHS. There is more evidence of accidents being reported that, when looked at even superficially, are obviously caused by an e-scooter collision. That has a huge impact on waiting lists, emergency care and all the rest of it.

What are we going to do? We must increase awareness of the current regulations. We need an appropriate framework in legislation. We have to ensure that the police have the capacity to act when they see these illegal riders. I know they are under great pressure and lack resources, but it is absolutely vital that they do that. I have said to so many people in my constituency, “Do you realise they’re illegal? You can’t be riding them on the road unless you are on a leasing agreement.” They look bewildered and say, “Well, we’ve just bought it.” A grandmother said to me, “Oh, I bought one for the kid’s birthday”—a little child, straight on to a highly powered vehicle on the road.

I am worried about the broader context, too, because across the piece, in our country and most of western Europe, Australia and the United States, casualty rates have come down substantially over many years. Seatbelt regulations and other regulations have led to such an improvement that fewer people have been killed and seriously injured on the roads. This is a big change, but that happy time seems to be going.

It is not just e-scooters. A report this week said that a growing number of young people do not bother to get insured because it is expensive. The insurance situation, which could work when only a few people did not have insurance, is no longer fit for purpose. Everywhere we look, we see more careless motorists—people who might be 55 or 65 but drive like they are boy racers—and bad behaviour on the roads. I have been a campaigner on this issue for a long time, but standards and conduct on the road are deteriorating. Added to that is the revolutionary change of so many people riding e-scooters. The figure that everyone gives me, which seems pretty accurate, is 1 million, and it will be 2 million next year. If that is the case, we are facing an epidemic of accidents and injuries that will have an impact on the NHS. We obviously need speed limits, and e-scooters must be regulated, with people given the appropriate punishment.

Even the knowledge is a problem. I have a constituent who came down to London for a week and brought an e-scooter all the way from Yorkshire. He got to Waterloo station, came out and got on his e-scooter. Halfway across Waterloo bridge, there was a check by the police. He was astonished. They said, “Is this yours?” and he said yes. They confiscated it, and it cost him £200 a night while it was in storage. He also got six points on his licence. They said, “Are you insured, sir?” He said no. He lost all his car insurance by driving uninsured. Not many people know about that, and we have to ensure that people know what the law is, that the law is enforced and that we stop this scourge before it becomes a national pandemic.

We know, as public representatives, that it is our responsibility to be far-sighted. This is one of the greatest threats to children, young people and older people. I see there was a 73-year-old killed last year on an e-scooter. PACTS and all of us in the campaigning area—wonderful hard-working people—are basing all our recommendations to Government on good evidence and what works in other countries. I say to the Minister and all my colleagues: wake up, because the evidence is there. This will kill many people and many children, and we must act quickly.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on securing today’s important debate, and I commend his lifelong campaigning in this place on road safety. If this is his last speech, it is a worthwhile one, and I place on the record my thanks to him for all his work.

Since being elected as an MP, I have been dedicated to making our roads safer in Bradford South and across the UK. That has led me to lead and support a number of campaigns that tackle dangerous driving and the use of illegal vehicles on our roads. I gave my name to the Road Safety (Cycle Helmets) Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) and put forward my Bill to regulate the use of off-road vehicles and quad bikes on public highways. My Quad Bikes Bill called for the registration of off-road vehicles, empowering police to remove nuisance off-road quads from our streets permanently.

I also supported amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill just last week that made important changes to the Road Traffic Act 1988. In particular, the amendments will create a specific offence of causing death or serious injury by dangerous, careful or inconsiderate cycling. The Act defines a cycle as including the pedal cycle, an electrically assisted pedal cycle and, importantly, an electric scooter. The amendments will be an important step forward in protecting people from e-scooter misuse and delivering justice, to a degree, for victims.

I would like to highlight your excellent work, Mr Dowd. You have worked tirelessly to make our roads safer and deliver justice for victims. The recent amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill in your name, to which I have given my wholehearted support, would ensure that perpetrators can be held properly accountable under the law following a road collision. Mr Dowd, your dedication and commitment to this issue is something that I and all Members across the House look upon with great support, respect and admiration.

E-scooters remain dangerously unregulated. As things stand, those available for public hire are available under the Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020, which established e-scooter trials in major cities in 2020. We were told by the Transport Secretary in 2022 that the Government planned to introduce legislation to allow the regulation of e-scooters in the last parliamentary Session. That clearly has not happened. The Department for Transport—surprise, surprise—has now announced that it will extend city centre trials of e-scooters until May 2026. That dither and delay is simply not acceptable. The Government cannot stand by while our streets become more and more dangerous. In 2022, there were nearly 1,500 casualties in collisions involving e-scooters, including, tragically, 12 deaths. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, I am sure that those deaths and casualties are under-reported.

Some private e-scooters are known to reach speeds of up to 48 mph, although I have just googled and found one available to buy on the internet that can reach a speed of, shockingly, 80 mph. That poses a great danger to other road users and to pedestrians. More than half of all casualties are outside the legal trial areas, so the legislation is clearly inadequate. Use of private e-scooters is illegal on public highways, but an estimated 750,000 privately owned e-scooters are in use in the UK and are often used on public highways and our paths. Private e-scooters are unregulated, so they do not pass tests, standards setting or type approval. The law must therefore urgently be updated to reflect the reality of our society. We need enforceable e-scooter regulations and not an indefinite trial period.

Previously, I have raised in this place the case of one of my constituents who was taken to the accident and emergency hospital in Bradford with a fractured knee after being mowed down at high speed on a path by a reckless e-scooter driver. That is but one example of a much wider problem. The Government must get to grips with the reality of the situation and act.

In 2022, a Transport Minister said:

“Safety is…at the heart of our plans to create a regulatory framework for…e-scooters.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 May 2022; Vol. 822, c. 30.]

Having all but abandoned those plans for a new regulatory framework, the Government are failing in their duty to protect all road users and pedestrians who remain at risk. Those vehicles are not harmless toys; they are capable of reaching high speeds and can be dangerous when not properly driven and not properly regulated. Now is the time for new measures to be introduced to protect road users from dangerous and antisocial use of e-scooters on our streets and paths.

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman)—I am not sure whether it is hon. or right hon., but after 45 years it probably should be right hon. I think in the next few minutes we will all know what will happen to that 45 years, although perhaps I will create some headlines rather than the Prime Minister. If that is to be the case, however, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and thank him for his 45 years of service in the House and to the people of Huddersfield. This is an apt issue for him to go out on, given his work on similar issues for decades, as he outlined in his speech. He mentioned the serious car accident that he and his family were in, which led to his work. I thank him for his work on those issues.

The main point, and certainly the first point, that the hon. Gentleman made was that the sector is totally unregulated. That is the main point in the contributions made thus far. There are various numbers about, but I think we can probably come to a consensus on 750,000 to 1 million—perhaps just over 1 million—e-scooters in use in the UK. I thought he used a good device when he brought up the Toys “R” Us advert—obviously other retailers are available, and we can get these things from any number of them—to show how freely available e-scooters are, usually without any real warning about their potential illegality, any mention of training, and so on.

This is a real issue, and the Government have to take the blame, because ultimately they promised regulation. In fact, the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) quoted a Transport Minister when she said that safety was “at the heart of” their plans to regulate e-scooters. Since then, clearly nothing has happened. Another good point—I do not know how widespread this is, but I have certainly heard about it—was about those who tamper with their e-scooters to go faster. Some of them can already go pretty fast—too fast, one could say.

The hon. Member for Bradford South rightly referred to the amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill to ensure that the perpetrators of dangerous riding resulting in deaths and so on would be punished fully. She also read through some of the stats used by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, but said that it is possible that those stats under-report casualties and deaths. That is something we have to bear in mind as we look at the issue.

At the end of the day, the Government have failed to regulate e-scooters for a couple of years now. I am the SNP transport spokesperson and sit on the Transport Committee, and we have looked at the issue. We have been promised regulation, and it has never happened. It looks like it will certainly not happen this side of an election—certainly if an election is being called as I speak. In the Queen’s Speech in 2022, the Government said that they would create a new category of low-speed, zero emission vehicle in the transport Bill. The trouble is that we never got a transport Bill, which would have allowed for the regulation of e-scooters.

In July of the following year, the Government said that they intended to introduce legislation on micromobility vehicles, which would encompass e-scooters, when parliamentary time allowed. Those of us who have been around Parliament in the last few months—not even just the last few weeks—have seen that it has been rather a zombie Parliament, with a huge amount of time available for the Government to bring forward legislation. With the time available to us, we might even have been able to bring forward rail reform, but nothing was brought forward.

Clearly the Government have now left it too late. We do not know whether e-scooter regulation will be an immediate priority for an incoming Government of whatever hue—however likely the polls seem to be one way—but it has to come as quickly as possible. The point remains: there are just over 1 million e-scooters in use, so we need that regulation and we need it now.

This is not just about reflecting the reality of the numbers; it is about trying to ensure that the use of e-scooters is safe for riders, pedestrians and other road users. DFT numbers show that more than half of e-scooter collision casualties involve illegally ridden e-scooters—those outwith the pilot areas. A French study found that the fatality rate in collisions involving e-scooters was 9.2%, compared with 10% for bicycles, which is quite high—an amendment was tabled on that as well. The rate for motorcycles was 5.2%. The fact that e-scooters have a fatality rate nearly double that of motorcycles is telling.

A study by Queen Margaret University found that e-scooter riders were 13% more likely than cyclists to require admission to a critical care unit following an accident, which would stand to reason given the previous statistic, and that almost twice the number of e-scooter riders admitted had severe head injuries—probably because the vast majority do not wear helmets. Almost all deaths involving an e-scooter are those of the riders. Of the 12 killed in collisions involving e-scooters in 2022, 11 were the riders. Of the seven killed last year, all seven were the riders. According to UK Government figures, in the year ending June last year, there were 1,269 collisions, compared with 1,462 the year prior.

In terms of the Scottish situation, legalising e-scooters is clearly not a priority at this point. We need regulation before we can legalise—that seems obvious—but legislation is not an immediate priority. When the initial trial scheme was announced, Transport Scotland said that it had been given no prior notice, and Scottish legislation enabling such a trial in Scotland had not been factored in, so there are currently no trials in Scotland and all e-scooter use in public space in Scotland is illegal. There were no recorded e-scooter deaths in Scotland in the three years to May 2023, and there were nine serious casualties. E-scooters on trains have also been banned by ScotRail and other train operators, following several battery fires in London.

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Fiona Hyslop, who gave evidence on rail to the Transport Committee this morning, has said that “there’s an inevitability” that electric scooters will be legalised in Scotland, but that public opinion is “quite polarised” and that there are “genuine safety issues”, as I think everyone who has spoken today well knows. She continued:

“Electric scooters are a challenge for everybody. I’ve seen the statistics on injuries for electric scooter users and that's problematic…When you’re looking at a shared space”—

as we are in Scotland, with the massively increased spending on active travel areas north of the border compared with down here—

“we want to encourage people to do more walking and cycling, and where that’s compromised by an electric scooter—that’s a danger. It’s not a current priority for us; and anything we did would be in consideration to the timing of what we do with more bus lanes and active travel lanes. They would all have to be managed at the same time to have sensible use of electric scooters.”

That was the Cabinet Secretary for Transport in Scotland.

The bottom line, and consensus in this room today, is that the Government—whether this one or the incoming one, following the election being called as we speak—have to get on with this and make it a priority. Clearly, it has been nowhere near high enough on the Government’s priority list up to this point, given that they missed two deadlines that they set themselves. We need that regulation, and we need it now.

It is an honour to respond to this debate on behalf of the official Opposition with you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) for securing this afternoon’s important debate. He is a dedicated advocate for road and pedestrian safety. On behalf of the Front-Bench team, I would like to thank him for his tireless work and leadership as president of the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety. If this was indeed his last speech in this place—his swansong after 45 years—let me say that I am proud to have served with him and to have been here for his final contribution.

I also thank all hon. Members for their contributions, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), whose concern about the use of quad bikes is one that I share. I echo the praise for your work to improve road safety and get justice for victims, Mr Dowd. I also share the concerns raised about the potential under-reporting of accidents involving e-scooters. To respond to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), we have all been waiting for this long-awaited comprehensive transport Bill that has never materialised.

As Labour’s shadow Minister for local transport, I have met dozens of stakeholders to discuss the issue of e-scooter safety and micromobility more widely. Virtually all those stakeholders, who have all raised different challenges in the micromobility sector, tell me of the desperate need for clarity, certainty and a clear indication of the way forward from the Government. Ambiguity and confusion over the current and future legal status of e-scooters, both rental and privately owned, are an enormous source of frustration. From disability campaigners, local councils, digital mobility platforms, and scooter rental firms themselves, I hear the same thing time and again. We desperately need the Government to end this damaging uncertainty.

Labour supports the principle of greater mobility choice and the importance of embracing new technologies as they emerge. The ability to hire a small, lightweight, easy-to-use and zero emissions scooter on the street to complete a journey would have felt far-fetched in the UK even 10 years ago, but they have now become a regular feature of many towns and cities. The rental e-scooter sector would certainly not have emerged were it not for the advent of the modern smartphone, which has enabled new modes of sustainable transport that take cars off the road and encourage the use of active travel infrastructure.

The advent of all these is welcome, but it is plain as day that the sector desperately needs the Government to show some leadership, to stop those positives being outnumbered and outbalanced. Since e-scooters first hit Britain’s streets, and with the infamous introduction of the first e-scooter trial zones in 2020, what has emerged is a confused patchwork of inconsistent standards and contradictory positions from the Government.

The Government’s first set of trial zones were due to expire at the end of November 2021. The Government assured us that the trial would last 12 months and would be closely monitored, so that the Government could assess the benefits and impacts. The trial period was extended to March 2022, because they needed more time to gather evidence. That was then extended once again to November 2022 because the Government failed to properly issue safety guidance the first time. The trials were extended a third time to the end of May 2024 because the Government said they needed “more time to reflect”.

Most recently, the Government extended for a fourth time to May 2026. Across the sector and for the multitude of organisations campaigning on the issue, patience has not just run thin; it has completely run out. What was clearly intended to be a temporary study period has been extended and extended so many times that it has become an utter farce. After four years of constant extensions—six, if the trials run their course—we still have no clarity on what the Government intend to do next, despite repeated promises that e-scooter regulation would be included in a transport Bill that never materialised. The Government must not underestimate the impact of such indecision.

Even rental e-scooter operators tell me that the lack of certainty from the Government is undermining their ability to invest in the UK for the long term. The Government are therefore holding back potentially tens of millions of pounds of investment into our economy and the micromobility trade because they cannot make up their mind. The Government have provided guidance on e-scooter trial safety, but that is a far cry from the strong action that the sector and campaigners desperately need. While the Government dither, the reality on the ground is stark.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield was completely right to draw attention to the deeply worrying levels of serious injuries and fatalities that have been reported since e-scooters first emerged. He was also right that the Government’s refusal to take the steps that they promised to regulate on safety has led to the chaos, and he was right to highlight the potential under-reporting of casualties, as shown in the research by PACTS.

I am extremely keen to hear the Minister’s response to PACTS’ recommendation that the DFT must urgently improve data collection to address the issue. Without firm data collection on the impact of safety, how can the Government honestly believe that they will be able to enact regulations—if they ever do—that put pedestrian and rider safety first?

Many colleagues will be aware of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. I had the privilege of visiting its offices and meeting its dogs earlier this week. They truly do incredible work, but what was clear from watching them in action was the scale of the impact that unregulated e-scooters are having on people with sight loss. According to research by Guide Dogs, 12% of people with sight loss reported that their guide dog had been disturbed and another 12% said that their mobility aid or cane had been hit by an e-scooter. In fact, half of people with sight loss who encountered an e-scooter reported changing their behaviour as a result. Some even said that they have had to avoid parts of towns and cities altogether.

Another huge impact on people with sight loss is the blight of e-scooters carelessly discarded on the pavement, which causes havoc for people with sight loss. It confuses their guide dogs or makes navigating with a cane incredibly challenging and stressful. As far as I can tell, e-scooters strewn across the pavement absolutely constitutes an obstruction—a criminal offence. Under a properly regulated system, with more stringent and enforced requirements on returning e-scooters to docks, those obstructions might be less of an issue. This is an immensely important problem, so I urge the Minister to assure those with sight loss that he is actually listening. Will he clarify in his response whether he intends to take action?

I mentioned PACTS. We have always believed in evidence-based policy and what works in other countries. Is it not time that the Government and all of us woke up to what is good practice across Scandinavia and other leading nations that have tackled the issue before us?

I think it is really important that we always consider evidence from all over the place to make sure that we have the legislation and guidance that befits our situation.

Before I finish, I want to touch on privately owned e-scooters, as the majority of e-scooters that we see used day to day are not part of the rental schemes, but are among the estimated 1 million privately owned e-scooters used in the UK, as my hon. Friend said. Indeed, over half of e-scooter casualties are outside trial areas. There are 1 million privately owned e-scooters, despite their being completely illegal to operate on public highways and despite the Government promising to crack down on them in 2022. Their widespread use is entirely because of the confusion the Government have caused about their legal status.

A huge issue that I have heard about from stakeholders, particularly the fantastic team at Electrical Safety First, is the deadly risk of chemical fires when people put their private e-scooters on charge at home. In 2023, there was an e-bike or e-scooter fire once every two days in London, a trend that is reflected across the UK. Often, those are caused by inexpensive e-scooters bought online, often imported from abroad, which completely fail to meet UK plug safety standards. These are not just regular fires; they involve what is known as thermal runaway, which causes 600-degree fires and releases toxic gases such as hydrogen fluoride, which strips the lining from the lungs. With proper regulation from the Government, those incidents would be completely preventable, so I urge the Minister to clarify what he is doing to tackle that. Does he intend to protect UK consumers from products that do not meet our safety standards?

Labour knows that there are enormous social, economic and environmental benefits from a thriving e-scooter industry but, from consumer safety in the home to insufficiently regulated rental schemes, it is clear that the Government’s current wild west approach to e-scooters is immensely dangerous. With the right policies, e-scooters can play an integral role as a last-mile solution in a joined-up urban transport system, and I encourage people to take more sustainable journeys. However, the Government’s current approach is letting down pedestrians, whether they are disabled or non-disabled. It is putting homeowners at risk from faulty products and is frustrating the efforts of e-scooter hire companies that want to play their part as responsible transport services. I implore the Government to regulate these vehicles urgently.

We have had five Prime Ministers, seven Chancellors, seven Transport Secretaries and 11 failed plans for growth. People across the country have had enough of Conservative chaos and decline. The nation is desperate to turn the page and move on. People have had enough of 14 years of decline that has cost them, their families and their communities. In transport, the Tories have failed to deliver a comprehensive transport Bill, they have failed to act on e-scooters, they have failed to act on taxi safety standards, they have presided over a shocking decline in our bus services, and our railways are broken. Only Labour can bring the country together and deliver, from infrastructure to our public services.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I do not think it will be my last debate, because I have a speech to make tomorrow, but we are all awaiting an announcement. I am glad that it is delayed, because I know we have the nation’s undivided attention here.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on bringing this important debate to Parliament, on his incredibly impassioned speech— whether or not it was his last—and on his campaigning on road safety over many years. I know that as president of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety he has done a lot of work advocating for reform. I have met representatives of the council and gone through their proposals.

I want to say from the outset that e-scooters are revolutionary—there is no doubt about it. Many people like them, as we heard from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Sarah Dyke), and I myself have ridden them. On the one hand, it is important to get the regulation right, and safety must be at the heart of that; there is absolutely no doubt about that, and I think there is full agreement here. On the other hand, we do not want to legislate in a way that means we get it completely wrong and end up making things worse.

I agree with the sentiment expressed by the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) that these are not harmless toys. They are serious pieces of equipment and it is important we have the right standards around them.

I have a prepared speech, but let me go through the various points raised and the comments on them. First, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) mentioned the statistics on deaths. In 2022, there were 12 deaths from e-scooters; 11 were the riders themselves, and two of those were within the trial. So far, four people in total have been killed on the trial scooters. Clearly, with the non-trial scooters there is a far higher incidence of deaths.

The latest figures that I have seen on accidents are from 2022. There were a total of 1,492 accidents, of which 12 resulted in death and 440 were serious accidents.[Official Report, 23 May 2024; Vol. 750, c. 14WC.] (Correction) Each of those deaths is absolutely tragic, and serious accidents can be life-changing, so it is important to make sure we get the legislation right. Pretty much every speaker has said that we need to legislate, and I agree. Unfortunately we do not have parliamentary time, particularly if the speculation is right, but the Government have said that we need to legislate. We have been trying to make sure we have the right legislation, because it really is not clear exactly what the right legislation is.

One Member said that we should learn lessons from other countries. We have been looking at what other countries have done. Many have legislated, but they have all done very different things with different rules. Do they require helmets or not? Do they require insurance or not? Should an ID licence plate be required or not? Should people require a licence to be able to ride e-scooters? Should they be allowed on pavements? I think the answer to that one is an absolutely clear no. What should the minimum age be? Should there be a minimum age? Six countries in Europe that we looked at have no minimum age. In various countries, the minimum age is set at 10, 12, 14 or 16. We wanted to use the trials to collect evidence and make sure that we understand how e-scooters are being used, how people are riding them, what the patterns of behaviour are, what works and what does not work. That is why we have been collecting data from the various trials: so that we can learn how they are used in the UK, but also learn lessons from other countries.

It is important that we take the public with us on this journey. This is a new technology, and people need to know that they are being kept safe despite the pace and scale of these changes. We need only look across the channel to see the impacts if we get this wrong and the potential benefits are outweighed by the very real and understandable concerns. I am sure that the hon. Member for Huddersfield knows what happened in Paris: rental e-scooters were banned following the so-called blitzscaling, where streets were overwhelmed by these new-fangled forms of transport and the public became very strongly opposed to them. Other countries such as Lithuania and Belgium have gradually introduced tighter restrictions, having started out with a more deregulated regime.

I am listening with great interest. The Minister is obviously very knowledgeable about this area, but I beg him to rapidly assess the best course of action. Beside me I have my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Simon Lightwood), who is a great friend—I recently campaigned in his by-election—and I will be on him as well.

The worst thing that can happen to you as a human being is to get a knock on the door with the news that your mum, your dad, your daughter or your son has been killed in a road accident. It is all avoidable—I am sure the Minister agrees. This should give us the passion to make sure that, even if we have to feed it all into AI, we come up with something quick. Let’s do it!

Clearly I agree. All road deaths are absolutely tragic, but that is why it is so important that we get it right. I will come to some of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but these scooters are completely illegal at the moment. Anything we do to regulate them or legislate on them would be legalising something that is currently illegal; presumably that would make them more widely used. That is why it is important that we learn about their safety features, the way they are used, what the age limit should be and whether we should legally require helmets, licences or whatever else. Other countries, as I say, started out with more liberal regimes. Lithuania and Belgium tightened them. I think it would damage public confidence if we started out with a regime that was unregulated, and then ended up having to ratchet it up because safety had not been protected. That is why we really need to get it absolutely right.

In our first evaluation, the trial data showed that the accident rate is higher than bicycles, but we do not know whether that is just because this is a new technology that people are getting used to. Some 72% of e-scooter accidents happen during someone’s first five rides. That suggests a learning curve: once people have used them for a while, they are less likely to have an accident. One point of reassurance is that 82% of accidents did not involve other vehicles or other pedestrians: it was simply the riders hitting something themselves, although obviously that could also be serious.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield mentioned the research that he has done. I commend him on his research into Toys “R” Us; I am rather alarmed by what he said, and will follow it up with officials. All retailers have to meet the product safety standards, and everything that is sold has to meet the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. All retailers are required to tell people buying e-scooters that they cannot use them on public land, roads or pavements. We do monitor that: last year the market surveillance unit took up 24 different online retailers that it found not to be complying with that law. Some of them had to go through the Advertising Standards Authority, but all those that we found not to be complying with the law are now doing so. The year before, there was one that did not comply with the law, even when we told it that it needed to; that case is now in the courts. We have taken legal action against those retailers that are not abiding by the law, but I will ask my officials to look at the case of Toys “R” Us, which the hon. Member mentioned. That absolutely should not be happening.

The hon. Member mentioned that the police should be enforcing the law. E-scooters are illegal at the moment —the private ones, not the trial ones, obviously. It is up to the police to decide what to enforce and what not to enforce. In my constituency, I have tried to encourage the police to enforce parking regulations; I am in one of the few areas of the country where there is not civil enforcement. The police quite rightly make the point that it is up to them to decide what their operational priorities are, but I urge them to enforce this. I get frustrated when I see people on private e-scooters riding around. It is clearly illegal and I point that out to them, but I think there probably does need to be more enforcement. That is the case whether or not e-scooters are legalised through some form of regulation.

The point about fires that the shadow Minister mentioned has been a cause for concern; the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire and I have met the fire safety people about it. As the shadow Minister mentioned, most fires are caused by people using wrong batteries or wrong connectors. It is a product standards issue, and we are ensuring that there is enforcement. We have issued guidance to retailers and to the wider public on how to reduce the risk of fires.

The shadow Minister also mentioned pavement parking for people with sight loss, which is a real issue. One thing that we have been learning through the trials is how to get people to park in safe places, for example by having parking bays. The benefit of the 22 trials is that different areas have tried out different things, and we have seen what works and what does not. There has been dramatic progress on that, and we now know far better how to stop people leaving their e-scooters on the pavements and causing hazards. I should say that that is only really relevant for rental scooters, because no one is going to leave a private scooter out on the payment; it is a valuable thing, so people will take it home. But that is an example of how we have been learning through the trials.

The hon. Member for Bradford South mentioned the regulation of e-scooters to prevent dangerous riding. I should point out that e-scooters are classified as motor vehicles and are, at present, covered by exactly the same offences as cars. Things like death by dangerous driving are already covered for e-scooters.

The Minister is being very kind on this auspicious occasion. Could he say something about the insurance of e-scooters? People are going to get killed and their lives are going to be destroyed. What about the insurance aspect?

The hon. Member makes a very valid point. If we do legislate, one thing we would want to look at is whether we should require insurance or not. Of the 22 countries that we have looked at that have legislated on this issue, 18 do not require insurance and four do. We do not require insurance for pedal bikes; if we did so for e-scooters, there would be a question about why we do not require them for pedal bikes. There is a range of issues there, as well as the safety side.

Finally—I am conscious of time—the shadow Minister asked about the recommendations that PACTS made on data gathering. Basically, we are abiding by all the regulations, and officials met PACTS just last month. We are improving police data collection. We are improving the trial data collection and are about to launch a second evaluation of the data from the e-scooter trials. It is incredibly important that we get the best information from those trials.

I thank the hon. Member for Huddersfield again for securing this important debate. I agree that we need legislation, but it has to be based on evidence. I understand that during my speech a general election has been called on 4 July. If that is true, I can guarantee that we will not get any legislation in before the general election. Whoever wins the general election will have to do the legislating, but they will have the support of the officials at the Department for Transport and will get all the information that I have about the need for legislation. Again, thank you for bringing forward this debate. It has been very instructive; a lot of valid points have been made, and we will take them away.

I understand that earlier today the Prime Minister spoke to the King to request the Dissolution of Parliament ahead of a general election on 4 July. I call Barry Sheerman to wind up the debate if he so wishes.

I am surprised to be called again: looking at the time, I was not sure I would have the opportunity. This has been an excellent debate. There are a lot of good people here who are knowledgeable and care about the subject.

This is almost a tsunami that is going to hit us. It should not be party political. We should make sure that we protect people, especially children, and we should act now. I thank all colleagues for their contributions—and thank you, Mr Dowd, for your wonderful chairmanship.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered e-scooter deaths and serious injuries.

Sitting adjourned.