Tuesday 13 November 2018
[Ms Nadine Dorries in the Chair]
Climate Change: Extreme Weather Events
I beg to move,
That this House has considered extreme weather events related to climate change.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Dorries. Several hon. Members send their apologies, because of a clash with an Environmental Audit Committee visit about sustainable fashion. Many of the normal suspects were sad not to be present. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate. It is a particular treat to be given the opportunity to lead it, not least because it is my birthday.
When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its recent report on 6 October, I assumed that we would have time to debate it on the Floor of the House. Any IPCC report should warrant that level of political attention, but that special report tells us that all the warning lights are on red and that we have 12 years to limit global temperature growth to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels or face extreme changes to the way we live our lives.
I welcome the Government’s clean growth strategy and the passing remarks of the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth about the IPCC report in her statement on Green GB Week, but, with respect, heralding a letter from the Government to the Committee on Climate Change asking for advice on what to do next is not good enough. The House of Commons is supposed to be at the heart of the national and international debate. What we do here adds volume to the news that people across the UK see and hear. Shamefully, the IPCC report was covered prominently in the newspapers, on the radio and on the TV, but not in the House of Commons.
The Government’s response to that significant report was not proportionate to the report’s conclusion, which was that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels
“would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”
“transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.”
Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero around 2050.
That was a lot of information, but the degree and scope of change required to limit and stop temperature growth is enormous. I fail to understand why this debate was not led prominently on the Floor of the House of Commons by the Prime Minister, rather than in Westminster Hall for 90 minutes at the third attempt by an Opposition Back Bencher to force the Government to the table. The report is not just a warning about the future or an academic hypothesis; it is about what is happening around the world today. The co-chair of the IPCC working group said:
“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1 °C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.”
I will read through some of the headline extreme weather events of this year. In January, a mud slide following rainstorms in California resulted in 18 deaths. Since March, floods in east Africa have accounted for almost 500 deaths. In May, a dust storm caused by high temperatures in India killed 127 people. In June, a monsoon followed by a landslide in Bangladesh caused 12 deaths. A summer of heatwaves across the northern hemisphere, experienced in Britain too, resulted in 65 deaths in Pakistan, 80 deaths in Japan, more than 90 deaths in Canada, 42 deaths in South Korea and 20 deaths in Greece, and, on the best available data, up to 259 deaths were attributed to high temperatures in the UK.
In June and July, floods in Japan led to 225 more deaths, and more than 8 million people were advised to evacuate. In July, wildfires in Greece resulted in 99 deaths. Throughout August, we saw the news of floods in Kerala in India, which caused 483 deaths as of 30 August and forced more than 1 million people into relief camps. Throughout the summer, wildfires in California, which are being dealt with again as we speak, resulted in tens of thousands of evacuations. In September, a typhoon in Japan caused 1.19 million evacuations and seven deaths. A typhoon in the Philippines, China and Taiwan led to nearly 2.7 million evacuations and 134 deaths.
A hurricane in the USA led to up to 1.7 million evacuations and 51 deaths. In October, in another hurricane in the USA, half a million people were ordered to evacuate and there were 45 deaths. In October, flooding in the south of France left 13 dead. Towards the end of August, another typhoon in the South China sea left 15 dead. Those are only some of the extreme weather events in 2018 alone.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) tabled urgent questions on our return from the summer recess to try to debate the issue, but he was unsuccessful. When Parliament is not sitting in the summer, we cannot debate. It is vital that we understand the consequences today of world climate change.
To put that list into an historical frame, the World Meteorological Organisation claims that there was a 20% increase in extreme weather-related deaths between 2001 and 2010, which means that at least 370,000 people have died as a consequence of extreme weather around the world—an increase in the number of heatwave-related deaths from 6,000 to 136,000. Extreme heat in the Arctic, coral bleaching in the Great Barrier reef, increased wildfires in the western United States, extreme rainfall in China and drought conditions across South Africa are not just bad weather; they are costing lives, and an estimated $660 billion in economic loss, which is a 54% increase in the costs associated with extreme weather since 2001.
The issue does not just affect other countries; it is about Britain too. We have already heard about the increased number of deaths as a consequence of heat in Britain. The Met Office helpfully published a report in November that concluded that the extreme weather we are facing today in the UK is due to climate change. The report shows that it is hotter for longer in the summer and wetter for longer in the winter, with more rainfall from extreme weather events than ever before.
That is why we are building flood sea defences in Avonmouth in my constituency to prevent my constituents from being flooded by sea level rises due to climate change. It is also why I and so many of my constituents are trying to build renewable energy solutions, albeit without much luck to date on tidal energy, given the Government’s decision to pull funding for the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. My constituency has two islands in the Severn estuary—Steep Holm and Flat Holm—which means my boundaries include a big chunk of the second-largest source of tidal power in the world, but nothing is there to harbour its energy. The Government need to move much more quickly.
The National Farmers Union has made a clear case about the impact of extreme weather on British agriculture. Flooding on farms causes damage to critical infrastructure and property, loss of power, impassable roads and bridges, damage to farmable land and a cost of at least £70 million in direct losses to businesses, before the indirect costs of damage to infrastructure and regional economies are even considered.
In other parts of the world, people are having to live in the most unsatisfactory of conditions. Otto Simpson, a doctoral student from Oxford University, recently emailed me. He had partnered with a Swedish filmmaker to produce a documentary in Bangladesh that shows how women and girls are being disproportionately affected by climate-related displacement. It tells the story of an unnamed women, now 18, whose family home in Bangladesh was washed away by floods. She and her family moved to Dhaka to look for work but arrived in an overcrowded city already struggling to meet the needs of climate migrants, with no jobs to hand and a shortage of food for those looking for it. Today, forced into being a sex worker, she is the main provider for her family and brings home between $120 and $180 per month, which is merely enough to pay the rent for one room for her, her parents and her younger siblings. That is a direct consequence of the extreme weather—the flooding—in Bangladesh.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva estimates that more than 20 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes temporarily or permanently due to ever more extreme weather. We have seen the official statistics today about the millions of people being advised to evacuate their homes. That may seem unusual for us in Britain, but we should pause and think about what that means. Imagine if the whole of Bristol or London were asked to evacuate. What would that mean for people’s lives? What would be the consequences for the way we manage cities and the country? Imagine if homes were flooded and we had climate migration in our country. The Government’s response would be significant and robust. That is happening around the world today, and as a global partner we have an obligation to ensure that this issue remains high on the agenda. We must not lose focus on the size of the challenge, the speed at which the change is coming and the impact on us and other humans across the globe.
The immediate challenge is to limit temperature growth to 1.5 °C. The Paris accord said that we must limit it to 2 °C or less, but the IPPC said we must meet 1.5 °C within the next 12 years. If we fail to stop global temperature growth, the world will radically change. Models published in the New Scientist suggest that a world that is 4 °C warmer than pre-industrial levels would result in the United States, South America, central and southern Europe, Africa, the middle east, India, China, Japan and most of Australia being uninhabitable—gone. A 4 °C rise means a world without the United States, China and India—that could happen within my daughter’s lifetime. We would be left with a world dominated by Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland, northern Europe and the Nordics, Russia and whoever ends up owning western Antarctica, which would have thawed in the 4 °C model, and might be somewhere that people need to live.
Our ability to grow and ship food around the world would change fundamentally. The way in which we build our cities and live would change. The way we generate and distribute energy would radically change. If we think we have a problem with countries relying on gas from Russia today, imagine a world in which Russia is the main place to live and the main source of our food. The geopolitics would be very different. Climate migration would dwarf the demands of today’s immigration flows, which are caused by war or economic migration. If we think the immigration that Europe faces is a problem, imagine dealing with a world in which many countries are no longer places that humans can live.
We must do everything we can to ensure that that is not the legacy we leave to our grandchildren. This is not just about where we live, what we eat and our energy; it is about national security, defence and geopolitics. If Russia is connected to the United States because the ice in the northern hemisphere has thawed, the way in which defence is resourced in the world will change fundamentally.
The UK has a proud record on tackling climate change, but we must do more at home and, fundamentally, more abroad. What role is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office playing in ensuring that every country in the world signs up to the Paris accord? We are missing Russia, which accounts for 5% of global emissions. We are missing Turkey and Iran, whose oil and natural gas exports account for 77% of its carbon emissions—again, that is an example of why we need to move at speed to a world in which we are not reliant on oil. We are missing Colombia, which has 10% of the Amazon rainforest within its borders. Illegal tree logging accounts for more carbon emissions than transportation. We are also missing a handful of others.
This is not just about the countries that did not sign up to the Paris accord in the first place. The President of the United States has signalled his intention to withdraw the country’s support, and the new President of Brazil has threatened to do the same. Brazil, of course, accounts for 4.1 gigatonnes of carbon emissions due to deforestation.
I find this amazing. I am disappointed that this debate is not receiving the highest levels of attention and that the UK is not forcing this issue up the national and international agenda. I applaud the efforts we are taking with the clean growth strategy and investment under the industrial strategy and on our own carbon emissions. The previous Labour Government had a proud record: they instigated the Climate Change Act 2008, and the Energy and Climate Change Committee is very good, but the speed and breadth are not good enough. Of course, we can be as good as we wish in the United Kingdom, but if the rest of the world does not follow, we all suffer.
I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to help raise the volume, and I hope she agrees that we should have a proper debate on IPPC reports on the Floor of the House of Commons annually. Perhaps the first should be after the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s advice is received next spring. I hope she will set out the work being done across Government to ensure not only that this is a strategy in the energy team at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—as important as that is—but that it affects every Department. What requirements have been placed on the Department for International Trade to drive this agenda as it secures new trade deals around the world?
I also hope the Minister will set out how the Government will build on their current plans to significantly increase the speed and breadth of their clean growth strategy. I again remind her of the IPPC report’s words: it said that we need “unprecedented changes” in all areas of our lives. I hope she will confirm that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with all its diplomatic might and soft power around the world, is keeping this issue high on the agenda so that we bring every country with us on this historic and vital journey to a sustainable planet.
Order. May I just say that it is usual for MPs to discuss terms of address with the Chair before the debate begins? I prefer “Ms Dorries”, “Chairwoman”—“woman” being the noun for an adult human female—or simply “Chair”, but not “Chairperson”.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries.
I thank the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on initiating this hugely important debate. I share his disappointment that it has not attracted a slightly larger audience, although my colleagues on the Environmental Audit Committee have a legitimate excuse: they are at the Victoria and Albert Museum as part of a session looking at sustainable fashion.
It is always tempting to point to individual weather extremes and ascribe them to climate change. This year, we had heavy snowfall in March and the joint hottest summer on record. This is not about taking individual weather events and attributing them directly to climate change. That would be bad science, and would be easy to debunk and discredit. It is about looking at the overall trends, both here and globally, which do show a significant increase in extreme weather. The hon. Gentleman has given lots of examples, and I will briefly look at some additional ones.
The most recent Met Office report, of 2 November, which has already been cited, makes really depressing reading. It compares UK weather data from 1961 to 1990—30 years—with the 10 years between 2008 and 2017. It is pretty clear that the UK is experiencing an increase in weather extremes. The hottest days have become hotter, the number of warm spells has increased and the coldest days are not as cold. On average, the hottest day in each year over the past 10 years is 0.8° C hotter than it was in previous decades. The coldest days are also warmer: temperatures were an average of 1.7° C warmer in the past decade. So-called tropical nights, on which temperatures remain over 20° C, have also increased. In the 30 years between 1961 and 1990, there were eight such tropical nights. In the 10 years between 2008 and 2017, there were four, and we had two more this year.
The Met Office’s conclusion is that those extremes are consistent with overall man-made warming of the UK climate over the past 50 years, and the global trends are showing the same pattern. Globally, the five warmest years in recorded history have taken place since 2010, and 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded until 2015 and 2016. The warmest year on record was 2016, and eight months in that year were the warmest individual month recorded.
If the science is right and the trends continue, we will see appalling consequences: increasing food shortages, lands becoming uninhabitable, and refugees on a scale that we as a species have never had to deal with before. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees tells us that already, on average, 21.5 million people are displaced each year because of weather-related, sudden-onset hazards. It describes climate change as a “threat multiplier” for people in conflict zones—and it goes without saying that it is bad news for the balance of nature as well.
The difficulty with climate systems is that they are so complex that no computer model on earth can fully capture and take on board the full range of feedback, positive and negative. That means that those who seek to pour doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject will always be able to do so, if that is what they want to do. The same goes for the consequences of climate change.
However, there is a fairly basic calculation to make. On the one hand, what would be the effect of listening to the sceptics, ignoring the overwhelming body of scientific evidence pointing to man-made climate change, and then being wrong? The turbulence and change would likely bring about an end to civilisation as we know it. The impacts on the natural world would be incalculable. It is not inconceivable that this fragile, precious planet that we live on would be altered to such an extent that it would no longer be able to sustain us as a species. That is the downside.
On the other hand, what would be the effect of listening to the scientific consensus, taking the necessary action and then being proven wrong? Accidentally, we would end up with a cleaner and eventually much cheaper energy system, protecting more of the world’s forests and ecosystems, and with an economic system that is more circular and less wasteful. It has always amazed me, in fact, that there is anyone who would look at that basic calculation and conclude that we are better off doing nothing. That just makes no sense. Indeed, almost everything that we need to do to tackle climate change is something that we would want to do irrespective of climate change.
What is interesting or, rather, infuriating is that over the years that I have been engaged on this issue—20 years ago, I used to edit The Ecologist magazine—the debate has consistently and conveniently shifted. At the beginning, we were told for years that climate change simply was not happening. Then we heard from the same people, “Well, it is happening, but it is nothing to do with our species.” A few years later, we would hear from the same people, “Well, it is happening and we are probably contributing to it, but the cost of tackling it is just too great—it’s punitive—and, by the way, it’s great because we might get a bit of wine in the UK”—that is, better wine; we already get some wine here.
I do not doubt that the challenge that we face is colossal, but action is well within our reach, and we now more or less know exactly what we need to do. The IPCC report, which has already been mentioned, lays it out pretty starkly. Almost the most alarming part of that report is the difference, according to the world’s leading climate scientists, between the effects of keeping the rise in warming to a maximum of 1.5° C, and keeping it to 2° C. They tell us that that half-degree would massively worsen the risks of floods, drought, extreme heat and, as a consequence, poverty for hundreds of millions of people. That half-degree is the difference between losing all the world’s corals, and managing to hold on to 10% of them. The number of people exposed to water stress would be 50% lower if we kept to a rise of 1.5° C instead of 2° C. That half-degree would mean hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in the world’s poorest countries, being at risk of climate-related destitution. A half-degree of extra warming would lead to a forecasted 10 cm of additional pressure on coastlines.
Currently, we are not heading for that apocalyptic 2° C rise; more likely, we are heading towards a 3° C rise. We will have to change profoundly so much of what we do: not only how we generate electricity, but how we use it; how we manage land; and transport, food and industry. That will require profound change, and investment on the part of Governments, individuals and businesses.
We can be proud that the UK helped to make the Paris agreement more ambitious, and of the cross-party Climate Change Act 2008, which set the target of an 80% cut in carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. I am delighted that the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), who has responsibility for climate change, is looking at how we can go further and make net zero emissions a reality. Renewable electricity capacity in the UK has quadrupled since 2010, and we are world leaders in offshore wind.
However, given the scale of the challenge, as outlined in detail in that IPCC report, clearly we have a very, very long way to go; at the current rate of progress, we will not meet our fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Domestically, that means doing absolutely everything we can now to encourage a transition to electric vehicles, and not waiting until 2040. It means saying no to infrastructure projects such as the third runway at Heathrow, which will increase carbon emissions; rejecting the Government’s proposal to allow fracking without proper local consent; and creating the friendliest possible environment for the accelerated development and roll-out of new, clean technologies.
There is a lot more that we can do globally as well. We need to build on the success of the international climate fund by using much a greater proportion of our overseas aid budget to protect nature. The IPCC maps out four pathways to capping the rise at 1.5° C, and reforestation is critical to all four of them. Apart from transport emissions, deforestation is the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions; deforestation alone accounts for up to a fifth of all carbon emissions. Forests are, I think, one of the world’s largest carbon sinks; they absorb around 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon every year and they store billions more. However, we are losing 18.7 million acres of forest every year—the equivalent of 27 football pitches every single minute. That is lunacy; it is madness. Protecting forests means helping to protect the world and insulate it against climate change.
However, protecting forests is so much more important even than that. Around 1.6 billion people, which is about a quarter of the world’s population, rely directly on forests for their livelihoods, and many of them are the world’s poorest people. I do not like the crudeness of the calculations that we sometimes hear, but I will cite one all the same: we are told that forests provide around $100 billion a year in goods and services, such as clean water, healthy soils and the like. They are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity.
Although the UK can be proud to be the only nation in the G7, or indeed the G20, to hit the UN’s target on overseas aid last year, and proud of being the third largest donor in the world after the US and Germany, a minimal fraction of that overseas development money—possibly as little as 0.4%—goes to nature. That is such a wasted opportunity. The aim of the Department for International Development is to tackle poverty; how on earth can we expect to do that if the very world on which we all depend is annihilated? Of course, the world’s poorest people depend much more directly on nature than richer people for the free services that it provides. If we destroy nature, we will plunge whole communities into desperate poverty. We have learned again this month of the sheer extent to which our species is denuding the natural world. Since 1972, which is more or less the year in which I was born, we have lost around 60% of the world’s animals.
I do not believe there is any real argument around the science of climate change, and I do not think that there is any argument at all around the annihilation of the planet that is happening right now, on our watch. Logically, this has to be the defining issue of our age. Very simply, if the scale of our response as a Government does not match the scale of the problem, we are failing. My plea to this Government, via the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), who speaks today for the Minister with responsibility for climate change, is: let us be world leaders, as we can be, in restoring ecosystems on a scale that matches the problem.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who has a deep knowledge of this matter. He is someone we all listen to every time he speaks, because he speaks with authority and knowledge, and I thank him for that.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) has brought this issue to the House. Last night, during a different debate, I said that the probable reason we are here in Parliament is that we might have different opinions—perhaps on farming, for example—but on this issue we are all in the same boat, if I can use that terminology, and, as always, we look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say and, in particular, to her response to our questions today.
In the last few years, we have experienced a great deal of adverse winter weather, often resulting in schools having to close their doors. In fact, there is concern in some schools about the number of days that children have to take off because of adverse weather. We can all think back to our parents telling us how they walked 5 miles to school, come hail, rain or shine, but it only takes seeing a sliding school bus once to realise suddenly that there is a safety issue and that safety must come first. I know also of churches that get funding to run programmes having to continue those programmes into the summer months to meet their allocation a certain number of weeks.
The weather is certainly affecting us. In Northern Ireland—and probably here on the mainland—the first thing someone says to a person they meet in the street is, “It’s a cold one today”, or “It’s very warm.” In any conversation, that seems to be the natural introduction before we get down to the nitty-gritty of what we are really talking about. The weather is a topic of conversation every day, and it has been more so in the last year because of the clear changes we have seen. We have to look at how best to create a better environment.
I will speak on a number of issues not raised by the previous speakers. The diesel scrappage scheme, which encouraged people to get rid of gas guzzlers, was a tremendous way of lowering carbon emissions. It was greatly encouraged by my council, Ards and North Down Borough Council. We are pleased that the Government supported and encouraged the initiative. Looking at some of my council’s initiatives, its new recycling and food waste disposal endeavours have taken the equivalent of 10,000 cars off the road. Councils have led the way.
When, wearing a previous hat, I was on the council—the Ards council as it was then; it is now a joint one—the recycling initiative came in. We were perhaps not all that sure of what it was, but we knew we had to do something. We set targets, because setting targets means that everyone tries to achieve them. The councils have achieved those targets, with the co-operation of local people. Something that came up in the Westminster Hall debate yesterday on the e-petition about plastics was the education of children at a very early stage—in primary and secondary schools—to get into their minds the importance of recycling, and that is one way in which the councils have achieved the targets. Very often, it is young children who come home and say to their mum and dad, “We should be putting that in the blue bin.” There is a bit of an education programme for parents, but it also comes through the children, which is great to see.
We must do that kind of thing to help our environment, and I congratulate those who have worked so hard with these initiatives. I believe in being a good steward, and to me that means doing the best we can environmentally. Burning less coal is good for our health as well as for the environment; we need companies to step up when it comes to reducing coal use. In 2012, coal supplied two fifths of electricity; this year so far it has provided less than 6%—a massive change.
In his introduction, the hon. Member for Bristol North West referred to something about which we must express concern: the President of the United States unfortunately seems not to be focused as much as other countries are on environmental issues. We would like to have that commitment by him and the USA. Other countries also have a responsibility. We are not pointing the finger and accusing other countries, but there is a strategy, of which they have to be a part. We look at China, the States, India and Brazil, to which the hon. Member for Richmond Park referred. In the press just last week there was a picture of Brazil from the sky showing how much of the rainforest has disappeared—an enormous amount. That cannot go on. Our incredibly fragile ecosystem, which benefits everyone, needs the rainforest to be there as the lungs of the world, yet we see large tracts of forest being decimated and put to other uses. All countries across the world have a role to play.
Other energy sources have provided well, and if we use more renewable sources we can become more self-reliant and less reliant on other nations in a changing world and economy, which can only be a good thing. I look, again, to Government initiatives. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) is here on the Front Bench; his party, the Scottish National party, has shown a strong lead on wind turbines and has encouraged that through its own Parliament. The Government have done that as well, and we have seen some benefits in my constituency: the wind turbines there—they are probably smaller versions—have been incredibly important in getting the right mindset and providing renewable energy. We have also had a dam project. It is a smaller project, but it is enabled by Government money, and it feeds into the grid. We also have solar energy, which is another big benefit in my constituency. It is hard to envisage this, Ms Dorries, but focus on 10 acres of solar panels, with sheep grazing on the land between them—it is possible to have both things together. Farmers have diversified. We have a really good scheme just outside Carrowdore in my constituency, and a couple more up the country in Mid-Ulster and the northern part of Northern Ireland.
The Government could perhaps do more with tidal lagoons projects. In my constituency, through Queen’s University and others, and some private partnership moneys, we are looking at how we can better harness the tidal movements at the narrows between Portaferry and Strangford. The power of that water is incredible, and it could provide green energy. As technology increases, we will probably be in a position to provide such energy at a lower cost. Wind turbine energy was very costly at the beginning, but the cost has dropped now and it is economical.
There was a Government initiative announced in the Budget around electric cars; that was talked about yesterday in the Chamber, in debate on the Finance Bill. Electric cars will work only if the prices are right, the cars run well and there are enough charging points, but at the moment, there is a dearth of these. It is no good if we do not regularly have charging points across high streets, villages and rural constituencies. Only then can people depend on electric cars. I was listening to a story on the radio last week about people who have dual-purpose cars—those that run on both electricity and fuel—resorting back to the fuel because charging points are not always available. That is a real issue for the Government and, to be fair, I think that they, and others, recognise that it is something that we need to look at.
I would like quickly to refer to coastal erosion, because my constituency is subject to it. We have the very active Ards peninsula coastal erosion group, and I am very conscious of the good work that it does. The Government need to set some moneys aside—regionally, not from here centrally. There is erosion in 96 locations in the Ards peninsula. We used to refer to there being a one-in-100-years storm, but there is now one every three years.
It has taken time, but in my home county we have now bought into making changes to be more environmentally friendly, such as enforced recycling and no more free plastic bags, which has been a real success in Northern Ireland. Although the changes were difficult to begin with, we have come out better on the other side—more environmentally aware and proud of what we have achieved. That should be the goal of any environmental agenda—ensuring that people are brought in, buy in, and feel a part of changes that are good for us all in the long run.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) for introducing the debate so well. He is a University of Plymouth graduate, and I know that there are a lot of people back in Plymouth Labour who would want to wish him a happy birthday for today.
Climate change is real. Some 97% of scientists believe that it is happening, and it will continue to happen whether the remaining 3% agree with it or not. The extreme weather produced by climate change is becoming more and more commonplace and its impact on our lives is becoming more profound, obvious and inescapable. A report by Oxfam has shown that, between 2008 and 2016, 23.5 million people were displaced by extreme weather. If we do not wake up, that will get worse and worse. The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West mentioned, predicted that if we do not act to stop a temperature increase of more than 2° above pre-industrial levels, on the current trajectory we will see a sea level rise from melting ice of up to 1 metre by 2100—only 80 years away. That would cause severe coastal flooding and super storms that would easily flood most major Western cities and submerge many low-lying islands, and would mean homes, roads and train lines under water.
Rising sea levels and elevated acidity mean that coastal communities such as mine in Plymouth are on the frontline of climate change and extreme weather. Far too often, more intense and more frequent storms are battering the south-west, and a lack of investment to create proper resilience—especially in our transport links—is cutting people in Plymouth off from the rest of the country. That is what I would like to speak about, because it is a good example of the challenges that we must face if we are to truly mitigate the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on our economy.
Members will know that in 2014, the Great Western rail line between Exeter and Newton Abbot was badly damaged by storms. The train line was washed away, leaving the rails hanging like a Peruvian rope bridge above the waves, and as a result, the far south-west and the rest of the country were cut off from each other. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned coastal erosion, which is most apparent from the coastline at Dawlish. I went to university in Exeter, and the place where I studied in the summer months, on the cliffs overlooking the sea, has now been washed away. Those cliffs are no longer there, and when I go past on the train every day, going back and forth to Westminster, I look at that little bit of air and remember that I used to study on it. Coastal erosion is real, and the threat it poses to our train line is apparent.
The Great Western train line was closed for two months in 2014, which affected our entire region, costing us around £1 billion in lost economic activity. It was our one and only train line—our spinal connection, our lifeline for business and leisure travel, daily journeys, holidays and investment—and its closure exposed a gaping hole in Government policy towards the far south-west. Ministers did not care enough to find the funding that we needed to make our train line resilient to the increasing extreme weather that this country faces. The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, came down to Dawlish in the wake of the storms and said, “Money is no object” in making sure that such a closure would not happen again. However, last week, the train line closed. A month before, it closed again. It has closed dozens of times since that incident in 2014.
Strong winds, heavy rain, and large waves crashing over the sea wall affect the resilience of the Great Western train line and cut us off. Thanks to the good work of Great Western Railway and Network Rail staff, our train line is now operational again, but more extreme weather is going to have more impacts on that precarious and fragile train line. The Minister will know that in bad weather, when the waves crash over our train line, CrossCountry trains cannot get through. The design of those precious and precarious Voyager trains means that they short-circuit when they come into contact with salt water, meaning that if waves hit those trains at Dawlish, they short-circuit and block the track. That is not good enough. Now that Ministers recognise the chaos in our rail franchising system, they have pulled the franchise competition, but that has removed the opportunity to create trains that can get through that particular bit of track.
Network Rail has carried out studies of extreme weather conditions. Those studies show that by 2065, anticipated environmental changes could result in an increase of 4° in extreme summer temperatures, potentially buckling tracks; a 36% reduction in summer rainfall, but a 15% increase in winter rainfall; a 30 cm increase in sea level; and a 23% increase in river flows. When we look at the precarious nature of much of our transport infrastructure, especially along our coasts, rivers and estuaries, we can see what an impact that change in water level could have on the resilience of that infrastructure. The low sea wall at Dawlish will not be enough: the line will flood, and we will be cut off again. That is why we need resilience upgrades to preserve the line, steady the cliffs, and ensure that trains can get through Dawlish while a Dawlish-avoiding line is built. Nothing else is acceptable.
The lack of investment in much of our transport infrastructure, coupled with the more commonplace extreme weather that is being caused by climate change, means that we need greater focus on, and investment in, resilience in our transport system. The Secretary of State for Transport told me in the Chamber that the work on Dawlish was his No. 1 priority, but yet again, no money for Dawlish was announced in the Budget, and it is still the case that no money has been announced by Ministers. I say to the Minister—who I appreciate is not a transport Minister—that the patience of the south-west is wearing thin. We know that we are getting more extreme weather: we can see it year in, year out, and we can see the impact that it is having on our resilience. The betrayal, the breaking of promises, the frequency of closures, the disruption, and the damage to our reputation and attractiveness as a destination are all due to the failure to invest in and secure that train line. That cannot go on. We risk more and more disruption from climate change unless Ministers stop sitting on their hands and blaming others. They must put their money where their mouth is and fund proper, long-term resilience, particularly in Dawlish and Teignmouth.
Warnings about extreme weather can seem far distant from our shores. We sometimes look at extreme weather in far-away countries—hurricanes, tropical storms and mudslides—and think of it as happening to other people, not to us. However, the reality is that climate change and increasing extreme weather are occurring in countries far away, but also here at home. If we do not adjust the way we run our economy, invest in low-carbon technologies, and fundamentally change the way our country operates, we will see more extreme weather—not just far away but in the UK. That is something that we desperately need to avoid.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairwomanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on what is clearly a timely debate, and I wish him a happy birthday.
The hon. Gentleman would not have realised when he secured the debate that it was going to coincide with the worst wildfire to have hit California. Sadly, when I looked at the news reports this morning, the death toll had increased to 42. It is impossible to imagine what it must be like to be surrounded and engulfed by flames, and trying to flee those flames, or to be caught up in another natural disaster such as a tsunami and trying to flee the coming carnage. Those disasters are happening too often.
The hon. Gentleman detailed the other extreme events that have been happening recently: mudslides in California and Bangladesh; floods in east Africa and India; dust storms in India; heatwaves across the world, causing deaths even in the UK; typhoons; hurricanes; and extreme rainfall. He explained well that such events come at a human and a financial cost, and gave illustrative examples of the disproportionate impact that they are having on women and girls in some developing countries. It is sobering to think that 20 million people annually have to evacuate their homes and uproot their lives because of extreme weather events.
While other hon. Members also spoke about those issues, it was good that the hon. Gentleman not only highlighted the events that are happening here and now, but explained what a 4° increase would mean—Armageddon, frankly. That shows that we need to take action.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) reminded us that we are on course for a 3° increase in temperature compared with pre-industrial levels, yet the IPCC report focuses on the difference between a 1.5° increase and a 2° increase, so we need urgent action. The hon. Gentleman also highlighted the clear environmental benefits of taking action: irrespective of climate change, that action will improve the environment of the world we live in. We need to remember that, and look beyond financial costs.
No debate would be complete without the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). It was interesting that he highlighted his concern about the impact on education due to school closures because of extreme weather. I remember fondly when, back in my day, we had school closures because of extreme cold, or snow days. I am not sure about their impact on education, but they certainly gave us a lot of fun in the outdoors, so we took full advantage of them.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the diesel scrappage scheme, and councils leading the way in that area, but I suggest that it is the UK Government who need to lead the way. The reason we have so many diesel cars on the road is that incentives were introduced by the UK Government. Clearly, the UK Government now need to take action to get those diesel cars off the road, because people are being penalised through no fault of their own.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) both highlighted the impact of erosion on coastal communities, and the example that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport gave—the cliffs that he once studied on, which no longer exist—was certainly a stark illustration of the effects of erosion.
The hon. Gentleman also highlighted both the impact of erosion on general transport infrastructure and the closure of the great western rail line, which cut off the south-west of England. Again, that illustrates the need for action and for resilience planning, as he said.
The IPCC report effectively looks at the lesser of two evils: limiting global warming to 1.5° C versus a 2° C increase. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park touched on, a 1.5° C increase would mean global sea levels being 10 cm lower in 80 years’ time than they would be with a 2° C increase. Coral reefs would decline by only—I say “only”, but this is frightening—70% to 90%, rather than being completely wiped out by a 2° C increase. That is a stark illustration of what is going on. With a 1.5° C increase, the Arctic ocean would be free of summer ice once every 100 years, rather than once a decade.
Apart from the head-in-the-sand deniers, people know that climate change is happening. We have the proof and we can see it happening with changing weather patterns. In my lifetime, I have seen winters get milder. As I was growing up, people said, “It used to be far colder in my day,” so there is that generational change. We know people’s memories might play tricks on them, but if we look at old maps of Scotland from the turn of the 20th century we can see they are littered with outdoor curling ponds. Those sites are marked on the maps, but not one of those curling ponds exists any more. That shows the change in winter over the past 100 years or so.
Met Office statistics also back up the changes, which have accelerated in the past decade. The hottest day is on average 0.8° C warmer than for the period 1961 to 1990. Winters are an average of 1.7° C milder as compared with that same period. We now have longer spells where temperatures exceed 25° C. We have fewer ice days, longer wet spells, shorter dry spells and higher extreme wet days. It is obvious that action needs to be taken at a UK level, within the devolved Administrations and at the international level, though the international level clearly becomes more difficult with a climate change denier such as Trump in the White House. I hope his tenure is short lived.
Unlike the hon. Member for Bristol North West, I welcome the Government writing to the Committee on Climate Change asking for updated advice on reaching a net zero carbon economy, on long-term greenhouse gas emissions, on when the UK should reach zero emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, and the implications for emissions in 2050. I take his point that the UK Government need to take action, and I will come on to that. When that analysis and advice come at the end of March 2019, they will need sober reflection and concerted planning and action. This will have big implications for UK carbon budgets.
As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, we are already on track to fail to meet those carbon budgets, so strong leadership will be needed from the UK Government and we will need proper parliamentary scrutiny. As the hon. Member for Bristol North West said, we need more debates on the main Floor of the House to bring that level of scrutiny to Government policy.
Lord Deben has confirmed that, as part of its work, the Committee on Climate Change will look at how the UK can effectively eliminate carbon emissions and set out the necessary steps to clean up the UK’s homes, industry, transport and agriculture. That will clearly be critical, but I have a few suggestions of my own. First, direct Government action will be required. They cannot continue to try to hide behind things such as the green deal and hide how borrowing happens; they need to take a lead and invest. They need to move away from the obsession with nuclear as a means of low-carbon transition. That will free up billions of pounds for investment in renewables and energy efficiency measures. They should follow the Scottish Government and invest directly in energy efficiency for homes. As the hon. Member for Strangford said, the UK Government need to embrace the renewables sector.
Greater investment is required in carbon capture and storage to try to recover from the shameful pulling of £1 billion of funding. That remains a continual reminder that Departments need to work together and that the Treasury cannot have carte blanche suddenly to pull funding streams because it wants to impose austerity. CCS can decarbonise energy production and energy-intensive industries, and it can produce hydrogen, which is a carbon-free source of fuel. Onshore wind must be allowed to bid in future energy auctions, and the UK Government should not end the generation export tariff in March 2019.
Figures from the Renewable Energy Association show that changes to the energy market rules already mean that employment in the photovoltaic sector in 2016-17 was down 30% as compared with 2011-12. The number of companies in the PV supply chain was down 60% over that period, and turnover was approximately 50% in real terms. Government policy changes have a massive impact on the renewables sector. It is little wonder that the UK has once again slipped down the EY renewable energy investment attractiveness index, which compares countries all over the world. We know we need to develop energy storage, but I would suggest that the funding for the Faraday challenge is insufficient, especially when we consider that the failing nuclear industry has been given a £200 million sector deal. The UK Government need to step up with an oil and gas sector deal to help that sector to realise the 2035 vision and carbon reductions in those industries.
Before I became an MP, I spent my career as a civil engineer working in the sewerage sector. Much of my work related to sewer flooding. I have seen the number of houses affected by internal sewer flooding. I cannot think of anything worse, but the numbers over the years have increased massively. That is due to the increase in the frequency of intense rainfall. That is coupled with changes to lifestyle and the urban environment, where more and more runways are put in. People change from soft landscaping to hard landscaping, which increases run-off and water gets into sewers quicker. That is causing problems and leads to internal sewer flooding. To solve that retrospectively is expensive.
Going forward, we need to try to mitigate those things—there is demand to build more and more houses—by taking stock of those factors. In Scotland, any housing development of more than two houses must incorporate sustainable urban drainage systems, or SUDS. That has been the law for a number of years, yet in England SUDS are still voluntary. SUDS are a way of minimising the run-off into sewers or water courses, thereby preventing any detriment.
In Scotland—I know this from experience as well—any new development must get permission to connect to the sewer system from Scottish Water, which has the right to say no. The developer must pay for any upgrades to the sewer system or any mitigation measures that are required. That becomes part of the planning conditions, yet in England the UK Government have steadfastly refused to end the right to connect. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has made that recommendation over a number of years, yet the UK Government refuse to act. I do not understand that. If we are going to mitigate the impact of future housing and climate change, we need to start looking at this.
When it comes to building houses in Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency does not allow houses to be built on flood plain land with a predicted flood frequency of less than one in 200 years. Critical infrastructure cannot be built on land with a flood frequency of less than a one in 1,000 years. In England over the years, too many houses were built on flood plains, and we are now seeing the consequences of that.
The Government must take independent advice. They cannot listen to the lobbyists from the nuclear industry and the big housebuilders, which only want to make money. We need to take control and change where we are going just now. I have made a few suggestions, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on taking the initiative of writing to the Backbench Business Committee to suggest we have this debate. I congratulate him not only on persuading the Committee to allow it but on putting the case this morning that his achievement in bringing this debate reflects the non-achievement of the House as a whole in putting the issue firmly on the Floor of the House. The fact that we are debating this matter here this morning with the cream of the usual suspects indicates that we are still a very long way from getting the issue debated with the importance and urgency it deserves. I therefore fully back and support the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West that the IPCC report should have been debated fully on the Floor of the House. Indeed, the developments from that report should be debated regularly on the Floor of the House from now.
The subject of this debate is extreme weather and climate change, which has been debated in this House previously. Climate change deniers have come to the Floor here and indicated that this extreme weather stuff is nothing to do with climate change; that it is all a bit of a hoax and we should just accept the fact that the weather changes, as I think a certain President of the United States recently opined, and we should not worry too much about it. Well, I think that has been comprehensively demonstrated to be not only a completely false conclusion but an alarming and complacent conclusion, because we know what action we will have to take on climate change over the next period.
The IPCC report, as hon. Members have mentioned this morning, is not just a wake-up call but a blueprint. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) said, if we do not tackle the speed at which temperatures are rising and how much they are rising across the world, we will inevitably face a very difficult future. The extreme weather events that we are seeing at the moment are simply a signpost of the long-term enormous effects, as the hon. Gentleman set out, on the world’s economy and the livelihoods and lives of millions of people across the planet, and on the liveability, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West set out, of large parts of the planet in future. So the extreme weather events that we increasingly see are a harbinger of much wider effects in future—harbingers that we ignore at our extreme peril.
Hon. Members have drawn attention to a recent report by the Met Office on the changing nature of the climate in the UK. The report demonstrates to me that the issue is not only about hurricanes in the United States, flooding in south-east Asia or forests catching fire in northern Sweden but is very much here at home now and is the future that we will face to some considerable extent if we do nothing about it. The Met Office report is a stark reminder of how much and how rapidly things are changing. The creep of red across the map of the UK over the past 50 years shows the daily maximum temperatures of hot summer days and dry spells. Conversely, the creep of white across the country shows how icy days and daily minimum temperatures in winter change across the country. So we can see a clear change in climate.
As the hon. Member for Richmond Park has rightly said, we cannot attribute particular weather events to the effects of climate change, but elementary physics teaches us that—I speak as the proud possessor of a relatively good grade in O-level physics, so I am at the elementary level—if the temperature of water increases, as we know is happening, the water expands. It is not just a question of global icecaps and various other things melting that adds to sea level increases across the world; it is just the fact that water expands as it gets warmer.
As water expands as it gets warmer, the air above it is affected and becomes more turbulent. It absorbs more energy and takes up more water vapour, resulting in more precipitation, exacerbating the effects on the weather. It is not the case that climate change causes tidal surges or hurricanes in the southern United States, but it exacerbates them and changes them. They are longer in duration, more severe and more frequent, and are the consequences of the physics of climate change, as I have described.
So we know what our future holds if we do not take urgent action not only to mitigate climate change but to adapt to it. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) set out clearly what is in store for our own country’s infrastructure as a result of the changes. Indeed, I have observed the substantial effects of tidal surges and extreme tidal weather; a vital part of communication infrastructure has been severed. To a much lesser extent, I have had a small attempt in my constituency area to get much greater attention paid to flood defences for the Itchen valley. For certain, that valley will be flooded to an increasingly frequent extent as a result of tidal surges and changes.
Southampton put together a scheme for dealing with tidal surges and possible flooding. It obtained some funding through the local enterprise partnership to assist with flood relief, but the funding was then taken away on the instructions of the Government and placed into a road scheme. Unless we take the issue seriously, get our priorities right and adapt our country for what we know will be a future of far greater extreme weather events, with all the consequences that that will have on infrastructure and our daily lives, we will surely pay the price. Likewise, if we do not take seriously what the IPCC says about the global scale, we will pay the price.
I am worried about the extent to which past performance is prayed in aid for not doing as much on climate change and global warming as we might do. It is true that the UK has performed better than many other countries in taking action on climate change, but the sheer scale of the task facing us means that one country’s performance cannot be set against another’s.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park indicated that our clean growth plan is good in many ways. It has many good things in it, and includes many good responses to the requirements of the fourth and fifth carbon budgets from the Committee on Climate Change. However, the clean growth plan itself acknowledges that it will not get us to the terms of the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Indeed, it states that it will fall short by about 5% in terms of emissions by the time of the fifth carbon budget. The failure between the fourth and fifth carbon budgets is much worse; the clean growth plan gets us only about 50% of the distance between them.
Given what we know about the difference between 1.5° C and 2° C, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park mentioned, we have to do so much more. I was therefore dismayed that when the Government wrote to the Committee on Climate Change to ask what it thought about a 1.5° C, net-zero target on climate change they specifically excluded action to change the terms of the requirements of the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. We are looking at what we can do about a world increase of 1.5° C, with the enormous differences that the hon. Member for Richmond Park says would result from 2° C. Yet we are proposing no change at all in the current carbon budgets, which, even by the Government’s own plans, we will not reach anyway.
A theme of this morning’s debate is that far more needs to be done and we have, as the IPCC report tells us, a very limited amount of time in which to get it done. We therefore need at the very least to express that urgency in the House, to ensure that the debate is shared among all Members. The urgency, effort and additional activities that are needed to combat climate change, and to adapt, must be properly brought before the whole House. As a result of this morning’s debate that call might be heard.
In terms of parliamentary scrutiny, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government sent out the wrong signal when they abolished the Department of Energy and Climate Change and subsumed it into the much bigger Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, where these issues get lost among all the other stuff that the Government are looking at?
Indeed, Ms Dorries; I was just about to come to my last sentence when the hon. Gentleman asked me that pertinent question, to which I will take one second to reply. Yes—when the Department of Energy and Climate Change was subsumed into BEIS that gave out a bad signal about the Government’s seriousness about these issues. Whether or not that Department is re-established, the status of climate change within Government needs to be uprated, not just in BEIS but across all Departments, in terms of what we know we need to do.
I hope that the Minister will be in concord with what has been set out in the debate, and that she will take from it the message that more effort is needed, that the urgency is real, and that we look forward to the Government grasping the issue with the seriousness that it deserves. I am sure that she will agree that it deserves to be taken seriously and that action is essential. I am sure that she will set out exactly what that action will be.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on securing today’s important debate, and I wish him a happy birthday. I am pleased to respond to today’s debate, and I note his creditable concerns regarding climate change and extreme weather. I assure him and other hon. Members that the Government take those issues seriously. A Government’s first duty must be to guarantee the safety of their citizens. That is why the Government are taking steps to limit the causes of climate change and to prepare for the impacts of extreme weather.
The science is clear: our world is warming, and will warm further as emissions of greenhouse gases continue. Climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of our time, but it is a large-scale and long-term problem that it is often hard to grasp. Today’s debate touches on important points. It is often through local and immediate extremes of weather that we notice what is happening—record temperatures, droughts or downpours, or fewer, milder cold snaps. As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, around the world we have seen striking examples of extremes in recent months: the drought in Cape Town, wildfires in Alaska, and record-breaking rain over Texas from Hurricane Harvey to name just three.
In the UK we are not immune. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) identified, fresh in our minds is this year’s summer, which led to discomfort for many elderly and vulnerable people, and problems for farmers growing food. Provisional statistics from the Met Office showed it to be the joint hottest on record, together with 1976, 2003 and 2006, and one of the top 15 driest. Also, the winter floods of December 2015 and January 2016 involved the most intense rainfall at a national scale on record. Storm Desmond killed three people, contributed to severe flooding of more than 5,000 homes and businesses, and left more than 60,000 people without power in the north of England.
The risk in talking about extremes is that we rely on anecdotes—memorable events that might not really be part of a trend. Of course, not all extreme weather is directly because of climate change. That is why it is important to have recent, careful analysis by the Met Office, which shows that many extremes in the UK are indeed changing compared with the period 1961 to 1990. In the last 10 years we have seen higher maximum temperatures, longer warmer spells, lower minimum temperatures, and more rainfall on the wettest days. Those changes are consistent with a warming world.
The Met Office report was funded by the Government as part of our ongoing support for world-leading science. Thanks to cutting-edge research by scientists around the UK, the link between global warming and extremes is becoming clearer, even at the level of individual events. In Texas last year, the record rainfall during Hurricane Harvey led to 80 deaths and 100,000 flooded homes; researchers at Oxford University have found that human influence on the climate tripled the chance of that rainfall. To give an example closer to home, the scorching Europe-wide summer of 2003, which led to 70,000 deaths, was made twice as likely by climate change, according to studies by the Met Office. What is more, such summers are projected to become the norm by the 2040s.
The Government have a duty to protect our citizens, which means ensuring that the UK is resilient to damaging weather. We are therefore investing £2.6 billion between 2015 and 2021 in England in 1,500 new flood defence schemes to better protect 300,000 homes. When extreme weather is on the way, the Met Office makes weather warnings available to the public. Through the national risk register, we ensure co-ordinated emergency responses to possible major incidents, including flooding, storms, low temperatures, heavy snow, heatwaves and drought. We are also working to help other countries to deal with extreme weather. We have endorsed the UN’s Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction, which sets out targets and actions to reduce existing risks and prevent new ones, including risks from climate change.
We not only have measures in place to deal with today’s risks of flooding, drought, storms and heatwaves, but are actively planning for the changing risks that the future climate will bring. Last year, colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published the second national climate change risk assessment, and this July they produced the second national adaptation programme to address the key risks that they identified. Later this month, with the Met Office, DEFRA will publish UKCP18, a new set of UK climate projections that will be a key tool to help Government, businesses and the public to make climate resilience decisions.
It is vital that we maintain our resilience to present and future weather, but that is not enough. Unless we limit climate change, we will face ever-increasing risks, some of which we cannot simply adapt to, as last month’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on global warming of 1.5° C made clear. My Department is therefore leading steps to cut the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases while growing the economy. We are also encouraging other countries to do the same.
The UK was a vital player in securing the 2015 Paris agreement, which has been a game changer in bringing pledges of action from nearly all countries and collectively raising ambition. At this year’s UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister spoke about the importance of global co-operation and the value of such multilateral agreements.
We are among the world’s leading providers of international climate finance, having committed at least £5.8 billion between 2016 and 2020. That finance, which is mobilising further public and private finance globally, is helping developing countries to deal with the impacts of climate change by taking action as well as reducing emissions.
The UK is a world leader in reducing emissions. We were the first country to introduce a long-term, legally binding emission reduction target through the Climate Change Act 2008. Since 1990, we have cut emissions by more than 40% while growing the economy by more than two thirds—the best performance per person of any advanced nation.
Just last month, we held the first ever Green GB Week, with more than 100 events nationwide that demonstrated the strength of the UK’s commitment to a cleaner world: we hosted the European launch of the 1.5° report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, dozens of companies made pledges, the London Eye was lit green and it was even mentioned on “EastEnders”.
Our ambitious clean growth strategy sets out our plan until 2032 for decarbonising the UK economy, on the path to our target emissions reduction of at least 80% by 2050. However, we are not resting there. In the light of the IPCC’s report, we have joined with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to ask the independent Committee on Climate Change for advice on the UK’s long-term emissions target, and on whether we should move to a goal of net zero emissions. We will consider that advice carefully when it is complete in March next year. Going low carbon is not only good for the environment; we also see it as good for business, which is why we have put clean growth at the heart of our modern industrial strategy.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park for his speech. He is a passionate campaigner on the subject and has a long track record of raising these issues in Parliament. On international work, I should point out that we invested £3.87 billion between 2011 and 2016 in our multi-agency international climate finance programme and, as I have outlined, we have committed a further £5.6 billion. We spent £1.4 billion on adaptation projects between 2013 and 2016 and have helped 47 million people to cope with the effects of climate change since 2011. That has helped to deal with extreme weather, which is a priority for developing countries. The Government’s climate finance aims for a balance between adapting to climate change and limiting emissions. The Department for International Development leads several projects and delivery programmes to improve overall resilience to extreme weather.
On deforestation and overseas development, we support countries in taking steps to protect natural forests and make economies more sustainable. With Germany and Norway, we pledged £5 billion between 2015 and 2020 to incentivise ambitious behaviour such as Partnerships for Forest programmes, which catalyse forest-friendly businesses, creating employment in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park raised the issue of deforestation in Brazil. The UK and Brazil have a close dialogue on issues of mutual interest and concern globally and bilaterally. Brazil receives the third largest UK climate finance contribution in Latin America, the majority of which goes to forests and land use projects.
Hon. Members mentioned our influence and our work with global partners. The Government played a key role in securing the agreement of 195 countries to the landmark 2015 Paris agreement, and we remain fully committed to its implementation. We disagree with the US decision to exit that agreement.
Time is short, but let me touch on just a few other points raised by hon. Members. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park for highlighting the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) as Minister for climate change. Sadly, she cannot be present to respond to the debate, but I know that she would have enjoyed the challenge. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for raising a wide range of topics relating to the impact on all aspects of our lives. I reassure him that climate change is part of the curriculum for young people.
I thank the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) for raising an issue relating to the trains in his constituency, which I understand must be particularly stressful for him as a constituency MP. I can tell him that the Department for Transport is working to build improvement and plan resilience, but I encourage him to engage directly with the DFT.
Finally, to touch on a point made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), the Government take this issue very seriously. That is why we have a Minister for climate change who attends Cabinet meetings and is heard at the highest level. Unfortunately, that is why she is not able to be present to respond to the debate.
I thank all hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions to the debate. The Government will continue to work to deliver a clean, resilient and prosperous society for all our constituents. I believe that everyone in this Chamber would agree with that.
I thank the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), and the Minister for taking part in the debate.
The Minister’s response was a defence. It set out what the Government are doing but failed to admit the IPCC report’s findings: that we are not doing enough and not acting quickly enough. That admission needs to be made, on the basis of that evidence about us and other countries around the world. As my hon. Friend the shadow Minister said, we must ensure that the matter continues to be raised in the House of Commons and throughout the country. I hope that our debate this morning will raise the prominence of this vital issue and allow it to be debated on the Floor of the House in a more routine fashion in the years ahead.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered extreme weather events related to climate change.
Superfast Broadband Delivery: Somerset
I beg to move,
That this House has considered superfast broadband delivery in Somerset.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I know the Minister is swimming in unfamiliar waters this morning, but I am very grateful to him for coming to respond to this debate.
The Connecting Devon and Somerset intervention area, or CDS, is the biggest in England, and it is connecting some of the hardest-to-reach communities in the country. CDS did not have an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, and it is important to say right at the outset that the purpose of today’s debate is not to beat up CDS for the Gigaclear contract unravelling as it has. In fact, rather than starting with criticism of CDS, I would like to pick out Matt Barrow, an employee of Devon County Council who has been working on the Connecting Devon and Somerset project since its beginning, and who has spent hours by my side in public meetings in village halls across my constituency. I know he has done it with many colleagues elsewhere in their constituencies, helping residents to understand the differences between fibre to the cabinet and fibre to the premises, the way that CDS is working and when they will get their broadband.
There is absolutely no shortage of effort or expertise at Connecting Devon and Somerset, and the organisation has all the right intentions to deliver the best possible quality broadband to the residents of Devon and Somerset as quickly as it can. The reason we have this debate this morning is that the Gigaclear contract, which was signed for the delivery of phase 2 of the state aid intervention, has not run to time. Indeed, at the very first check after only six months of its anticipated delivery, Gigaclear is already well behind and has admitted that it needs to relook at the programme for delivery.
There are three key areas for our discussion this morning. The first is the soundness of Gigaclear’s position. Can it actually deliver what it has said it can? The second is the continued case for state aid in some parts of Devon and Somerset. The market has changed over the last year or so, and commercial providers are now delivering fibre to the premises, which raises a question about the legitimacy of state aid in those circumstances. Thirdly, how can we get on with the final 5% of premises that are now awaiting connection?
I commend Connecting Devon and Somerset on the biggest roll-out of rural broadband in the country. A great deal has been achieved, but it must not be forgotten that many of my constituents, and indeed those of my hon. Friend, have been ill-served. They have waited all this time, but nothing has been delivered. It has been a catalogue of incompetence and things that have arisen by the way, and many of my constituents are still not receiving broadband. The most important point in all this is that we resolve it as quickly as possible.
I think my hon. Friend means that nothing has come yet as a consequence of the phase 2 contract, and she is absolutely right. The phase 1 contract, which was a fibre to the cabinet deal, is now complete in its delivery. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses in my constituency have benefited from that, and I am sure that my hon. Friend has seen the same in hers. She is absolutely right that we are more than six months into the delivery window, and it has been over a year since the contract was signed. Not one constituent of mine is a Gigaclear customer yet, and I know from my hon. Friend’s intervention that it is the same in her constituency, too.
Gigaclear’s position is what it is because they were supported by the Carillion group, which met its demise. I think it is now clear that Gigaclear has quite inexplicably failed to understand that a lot of roads in Devon and Somerset are single-track lanes, which require somewhat more endeavour to dig up and somewhat more planning around road closures—it is not possible simply to go down one side of the road or even on the verge to the left or right.
I am inclined to agree with some of the comments from the county councils. There was overconfidence on the part of senior management at Gigaclear: they were telling the Connecting Devon and Somerset leadership and our county councils that all was fine, when it was obvious that things had not progressed as they should have. In the light of that, we need to ensure that what Gigaclear now says it is capable of doing is realistic. It has already overpromised once. As it seeks to put together a remedial plan to deliver the contract, we must ensure that it is at a realistic pace, so that, crucially, our constituents can have certainty about when their broadband will arrive. The Government, the Broadband Delivery UK programme and the county councils will want to be certain about the continued financial support that Gigaclear has secured.
I will raise some issues later that make the business case slightly less sound. It needs to be tested by BDUK and CDS to ensure that Gigaclear is still the answer, especially since the market has changed and commercial delivery is happening. When Gigaclear gets to communities as part of the state aid programme, it may well find that they already have fibre—it will have already been taken up. Gigaclear might not hit its uptake targets or realise the customers that it was expecting to. Now that Gigaclear is operating in a more competitive environment than the one that it negotiated when it took on the CDS contract, we need to look robustly at whether their numbers still stack up and whether we need to relook at the intervention area. In the briefing to MPs last week, which was the first indication that we had had of what the remedial plan would be, Gigaclear said that by the summer of 2020 it would deliver 40% to 50% of all that it had promised to have completed by 2020. That is a significant reduction in the pace of delivery, and Gigaclear now wants to deliver the remainder of the contract by 2022.
On that point, is it not the case that the Government funding secured by Gigaclear needs to be spent by March 2020? One of the key issues is whether we could ask for an extension of the funding in order for Gigaclear to get its house back in order and to roll out the new, proposed programme that they are suggesting to us.
My hon. Friend is ensuring that the Minister gets the message loud and clear, because that is one of the key questions for today’s debate. The remedial plan presented by Gigaclear already runs beyond the date that the Government have said that all available money for the delivery of phase 2 will be spent. Clearly, if Gigaclear’s remedial plan is accepted, the Government will need to be willing to extend the period over which the money is spent from 2020 to 2022. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some good news on that.
Given that only 40% to 60% of properties that were due to be connected by 2020 will now be connected by that time, we might also look at whether we should offer a voucher scheme to people who now find themselves in the 50% to 60% that will not be connected, so that they can take some sort of interim measure themselves. We did exactly that for those who were going to be in phase 2 or in the final 5% when the phase 1 delivery programme was rolled out; we offered voucher schemes of £500, so that people could take interim measures within their homes.
The second issue is the ongoing case for state aid, which we have spoken about a number of times. When the delay in the Gigaclear delivery was first announced, I was straight on local TV and radio, and speaking to my local newspapers, because I was very, very cross. My expectation was that my mailbag was about to explode and that I was going to be contacted by hundreds, if not thousands, of very angry people who were concerned that the broadband they had been waiting for for years and they thought was just weeks away was actually going to be years away again.
The reality is that I have had hardly anything, and that makes me wonder why. If I go back to my former employment, there is a very important part of the military planning process. When assessing the orders to be given in order to achieve a mission, we keep asking ourselves whether the situation has changed, in order to make sure that we are not problem-solving against a situation that no longer exists. I have come to realise in the last few weeks that the reason why so many of my constituents have not been in touch with me about the Gigaclear delay is that they have sorted themselves out.
They have gone to Openreach and put in place a community fibre partnership, or they have gone to companies such as TrueSpeed or Voneus that have cell-to-build business models. Those companies go out into communities and engage, they get 30% sign-up and then draw down the money from Aviva, which underwrites the delivery of the infrastructure, and they build the fibre into those communities. When the Gigaclear contract was delayed, there was complete silence from all those communities that were flashing red on the whiteboard in my office as those which most urgently needed broadband. The reason is that the market is already providing, and has already provided, for a number of them.
My hon. Friend is making a strong point and is representing his constituents extremely well. I am old enough to remember, because I was here before this started with CDS, that we were originally promised a level, as he quite rightly said, and it has not appeared. BT, slightly duplicitously, is getting in behind and setting up in villages that we were not expecting to come on. They were going to come on with Airband or Gigaclear, which is the point that my hon. Friend has made, and have actually come on behind. We should celebrate the fact that BT is still opening up in some areas—I hope the Minister takes that point—as it is a good fibre system. I accept that Gigaclear has problems and I understand that, but we must not just put BT to one side, because its infrastructure is what they all use.
My hon. Friend and neighbour is absolutely right: the market is delivering. Whatever the business model, and whether that is cell first and build second, I now have hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of TrueSpeed, Voneus and Openreach fibre-to-the-premise customers in my constituency—a situation that has been delivered through an open-market solution, within the area that the open market review had identified as requiring state aid.
A key question for the Government today is whether state aid is even legal in areas where the market has already provided. I am not sure that we should be using taxpayers’ money to subsidise the delivery of a competitor into an area where a commercial company has already set up. TrueSpeed is underwritten by Prudential. How absurd that we would be spending taxpayers’ money to subsidise the delivery of an infrastructure underwritten by one pension scheme while another, Aviva, has underwritten the money on a commercial basis without the need for taxpayers’ intervention. As the market has changed, we need to be very clear about whether we need to go back and look at the open market review again to understand where the market is now providing.
It is certainly the case that my constituency and those of my hon. Friends the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) and for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) and my hon. Friends the Members for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) and for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) will benefit more quickly because TrueSpeed is working away from the transatlantic fibre link that lands at Weston-super-Mare. TrueSpeed has accessed that link to fibre and is fanning out from there. The delay in the Gigaclear contract is an opportunity for us to look again at whether the market has changed, and whether Gigaclear’s priorities need to be tweaked.
My hon. Friend is making a very expansive case. On the point about extra funding and the money going to the different companies, I believe that Connecting Devon and Somerset has just received £5 million from the Rural Development Programme. I wonder whether we might push to see where that money is going to be spent and whether the Minister has any revelations to make about that. I believe it is for phase 2, and some of it is destined to go to Airband, Gigaclear and the various companies providing the different methods of rolling out the service.
My hon. Friend is an excellent pacemaker—she runs slightly in front of me. I am coming to that point, but it is very helpful for the Minister to hear such things twice.
There is another part to the point about the change in the market and whether state aid is relevant. There is also the frustration that communities feel when they have got themselves motivated to bring in an alternative provider, such as TrueSpeed, Voneus or Openreach, and when they have fibre to the premise already, and yet their roads are now being closed and dug up with their tax money to deliver something that causes huge inconvenience to them while it is being put in, and which they have already got. A number of communities have written to me not to criticise the delay in the Gigaclear programme but to ask, “Why on earth are you still digging up our roads and blocking off our village when we have already got ourselves sorted and we have got it? Can we not have our tax money spent on improvements to our junction or a new road or something else?”
I know that is not how it works, but it certainly underlines the case for reassessing the priorities that Gigaclear has been set by Connecting Devon and Somerset, so that Gigaclear focuses on areas where we know the market will not be able to provide over the next 24 months, rather than focusing on areas, as is the case at the moment with its early areas, that are in direct competition, particularly with TrueSpeed. I am not sure that that is the most effective spending of Government money.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) pointed out, we have been given extra money by the Government to look at further broadband improvement in rural areas. There is a real opportunity to take the money that the Government have announced—I know that the Minister will be enthusiastic to remind us of the vast sums of money that the Government have made available to Devon and Somerset—and to add it to the £5 million-plus already available in gainshare from Openreach from phase 1 of the CDS roll-out, and the substantial additional money that is still to come as part of that gainshare, and look at where that combination of funds could be used as an intervention to deliver the final 5%.
We know now, by definition, what the final 5% is, because phase 2 delivers everything but the final 5%, so surely we can deliver that final 5% concurrently rather than waiting until we have connected the 95th percentile to get on with connecting the 96th through 100th percentiles. It seems to me that the money is already available. The gainshare is coming onstream very quickly. We have a real opportunity to get the whole thing cracked in a few years by taking advantage of what the market is now providing.
In some ways, we have an embarrassment of riches, because in some parts of Somerset we now have two entirely independent fibre-to-the-premise networks being dug in on very remote rural lanes, which is a slightly absurd situation. In small communities such as Badgworth, Biddisham and Lympsham, people will soon end up being able to choose which fibre-to-the-premise provider they want to use—not the internet service provider, but actually who is going to put the fibre to their front door. I am not sure that that is actually what taxpayers’ money should be being used for.
I remind my hon. Friend that places such as Exmoor and the more remote parts of Somerset do not have that choice. Gigaclear’s cheapest package, for instance, is £35, with an activation fee of £120. Sometimes we have no choice. I know my hon. Friend is fully aware of that, because he covers the Mendips, but it is worth reiterating to the Minister that there is a cost differential here that people have to pay.
That intervention perfectly underlines the final line of my speech. There is absolutely no point in spending taxpayers’ money in areas where the market is providing. There are areas of my hon. Friend’s constituency and mine, and other parts of the Devon and Somerset, where the market will definitely not provide. Let us ensure that Gigclear’s priorities are those areas and that we do not use taxpayers’ money to compete in areas where the market is providing.
It is a pleasure to be here. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey) for securing the debate and my hon. Friends who have spoken. The debate allows me the opportunity to update hon. Members on the Government’s plans and progress towards ensuring universal high-speed broadband.
Broadband connectivity is just as, if not more, important in rural communities across the UK as in urban centres. That is why the Government and local partners are investing £1.7 billion in the superfast broadband programme, which has provided superfast coverage with speeds of more than 24 megabits per second to around 5 million premises in areas that would not otherwise have been covered by commercially funded roll-out. Coverage of homes and businesses in the UK continues to increase beyond the 95% policy objective that was achieved less than a year ago in December 2017—up from just 45% in 2010, when this Government entered office. That is a significant achievement.
At least £210 million of funding will be available to support further investment as a result of efficiency savings in the initial roll-out. High levels of take-up mean that gainshare funding from the additional profits from the network is projected to reach at least £712 million. That means a total of £922 million will be available to support further roll-out. Of that, £4.7 million will go on work that will cover areas including the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wells, and that is being modelled by Openreach as we speak. He and other hon. Friends present will recognise that a substantial improvement has been achieved in their constituencies over the past few years, but that there is still more to do, which I accept.
Superfast coverage in my hon. Friend’s constituency has increased from 15.6% in 2013 to over 90%, while more than 96% of premises have speeds of 10 megabits per second or above. Connecting Devon and Somerset, or the CDS project, which is delivering across both Somerset and Devon, has to date provided superfast broadband access to over 300,000 premises that would have otherwise been left behind.
It was inevitable that reaching more rural homes and businesses would require building entirely new networks, which requires major civil engineering. Gigaclear seemed well placed to provide that following the open procurement exercise. The contracts were awarded on the basis of the supplier being financially robust enough to support the roll-out, providing the necessary broadband speeds under state aid rules, and representing good value for money for the required public investment. My hon. Friend asked a question about state aid; the short answer is that all projects begin by testing the market. We take the view that state aid is legal in an area where the market has delivered. I will write to him about that in more detail in due course.
There are a number of reasons why there has been a delay up until now. These include poor operational capacity and, frankly, poor decision making within Gigaclear linked to their supply chain management. Partly as a result of the adverse impact of the collapse of Carillion earlier this year, it has become apparent that the resources were not in place for the contracts to be managed successfully.
I recognise that communities that have not yet got the expected coverage, such as those in the beautiful rural parts of the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Wells, for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) and for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger), will feel left behind. We recognise that that is not good enough, especially when timescales extend, potentially, out to 2022.
Outline remedial plans that push delivery back to mid-2022 have been provided. Both CDS and BDUK will, however, require key reassurances regarding capacity and resources, a commitment to accelerate deployment and robust evidence that these new proposals can be delivered. We are expecting those reassurances in the coming days.
While I accept that the state aid is still legal, does the Minister agree that it should—at the very least—force a reassessment of the priorities that Gigaclear is given, so that the Gigaclear state aid programme complements what the market seems to be providing?
Yes, I do. The BDUK superfast programme is being delivered under a European Commission decision from 2016, which followed on from another in 2012. As my hon. Friend will know, the 2016 decision expires in 2020. Government policy is that the state aid regime will stay in place, and the Competition and Markets Authority will take on the Commission’s role in approving schemes. My Department is working closely with the CMA to ensure that BDUK can continue to deliver projects after the 2016 decision expires.
Even with this further delivery, some premises will remain without coverage. We are working hard on our commitment to ensure universal high-speed broadband of at least 10 megabits per second by 2020. We have set out the design for a legal right to high-speed broadband in secondary legislation. Ofcom’s implementation will meet the Government’s commitment to give everyone access to high-speed broadband by 2020. In the meantime, the better broadband scheme is available for any home or business with speeds below 2 megabits per second, and provides a subsidy of up to £350 for any eligible premises for satellite broadband or, where available, other solutions. The scheme has now supported almost 20,000 homes and businesses, particularly in acutely remote locations.
In the light of the findings and recommendations of the future telecoms infrastructure review, we need to move to ensure a transformation in the UK’s digital infrastructure based on fibre to the premises—or full fibre, as it is called. Despite their delay, the contracts awarded by the CDS project already adhere to this goal and overall objective. Currently only 5% of premises have a fibre-optic connection. That is not good enough. We have a target of at least 15 million premises having a full-fibre connection by 2025 and nationwide full-fibre coverage by 2033.
That is achievable according to recent industry announcements. BT Openreach, CityFibre, Virgin Media, KCOM, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and others all have plans for significant new fibre coverage. Fibre would, of course, make a huge difference compared with copper technology. CityFibre recently announced a £2.5 billion investment in fibre, and Openreach has announced its plans to reach 3 million premises by 2020, and 10 million by 2025 if the conditions are right.
The digital infrastructure investment fund, involving Amber Fund Management and M&G Investments, is now in place. It provides £400 million of investment capital, alongside private capital, for new expanding providers of fibre broadband. Network operators such as WightFibre and Community Fibre have already leveraged that funding. Our barrier-busting taskforce is established and tackling the barriers to fibre roll-out across the UK, and includes the production of a framework for fibre delivery to provide best practice guidance. We also introduced a five-year relief from business rates in England for new fibre infrastructure.
There is no doubt that there are challenges ahead. My hon. Friends made sound points that represent the best interests of their constituents. There is also no doubt that we are making good progress in providing rural broadband coverage. I recognise that there are issues with the remaining harder-to-reach localities. We do however need to finish the job and it is our strong intention to do that. We will also continue to push hard on full-fibre coverage, including through the project in Somerset. I welcome the continued interest and support from hon. Members ably representing their constituents—they keenly require and have a right to broadband service—as we continue to ensure we deliver our goal of a full-fibre future for the United Kingdom.
Question put and agreed to.
Taxi and Private Hire Licensing
[Sir David Crausby in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Task and finish group report on taxi and private hire licensing.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to see the familiar faces of those who have been discussing the issue for a long time. I pay particular tribute to the former Transport Minister, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), who instigated the task and finish group’s review in this very Chamber some 18 months ago.
I will praise quite a few people in my speech, but the main praise must go to Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq, who has brought together a diverse range of voices from the industry and users to produce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) has called “a superb report”. Not everyone will agree with all of it—that is partly why we are here to debate it—but we all agree on our thanks to the professor for producing it.
Let me give a couple of quotations from the report that set the scene rather well. The professor’s introduction says that he trusts
“that Parliament and the Department will lead the cultural change which is necessary to ensure that passengers, workers, operators, and neighbouring authorities are treated fairly. I look forward to the Government’s prompt response to this report in order to maintain the momentum for improvement. Undue delay would risk public safety.”
If one message comes out of our debate, I hope that is it: undue delay would risk public safety.
We have only an hour and a half, so I will not go through the report line by line; that needs to be done on another day when legislation is introduced. However, perhaps there is a little to be said about how we got here, or possibly about how we did not get here. I am afraid that the Government have to take some responsibility.
In paragraph 3.7 on page 16, the professor refers to the Law Commission’s 2011 review and notes that
“it is deeply regrettable that the Government has not yet responded to the report and draft bill which the Commission subsequently published in 2014. Had the Government acted sooner the concerns that led to the formation of this Group may have been avoided.”
That seems to me quite a strong charge, and quite a strong point. However, we are where we are. Looking back tells us something, but we have to concentrate on looking forward. I very much hope that we will get a strong response from the Minister, whom I congratulate on his recent promotion; perhaps it was not in circumstances that he would have sought, but I commend his predecessor for her very principled decision.
Many thanks are owed to those who contributed strongly to the report, some of whom are in the Gallery today. I highlight the work of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, GMB, Unite the union, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Guide Dogs, Transport for London—Helen Chapman and Val Shawcross have both spoken personally to me about the issue—and the Local Government Association. I must also praise the cross-party approach that has been taken, and I have had good help and support from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), in promoting my private Member’s Bill.
I want to say a little about where my Bill has got to, how the report refers to it and how I hope it will go forward, and then pick up on one or two of the more controversial issues in the report that bear discussion. First, however, let me say how extraordinary the industry is and how dramatically it has changed, even since the Law Commission report—to be honest, if the Government ever finally responded to that report, I suspect that they would find it was way out of date.
We have seen huge changes in the past few years, with changing technologies and huge numbers of private hire vehicles and taxis on our streets. I do not think everyone quite realises the scale of the industry: there are now 285,400 licensed taxis and private hire vehicles and 361,500 driver licences, of which more than 137,000 are in London. The number of private hire vehicles in London has increased by 120% since 2005.
Behind the numbers, there are many different stories, and a point that I have consistently tried to make is that they are not always the same. The all-party parliamentary group on taxis, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), produced a report last year that stimulated the debate that I referred to earlier—an excellent report, but, as I said at the time, somewhat London-focused. That is not to say that London is not hugely important, but any solution that we suggest has to work not just for London, which operates under different legislation anyway, but for the rest of the country. That is part of the challenge.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the reports published by the all-party group and by the task and finish group indicate that we need new primary legislation to adapt to the changes in the taxi and private hire sector that he is outlining? That legislation should include national minimum standards to ensure that we protect passenger safety and security.
I will come on to that point, because one of the headlines in the report is that we need consistent national standards; the question is the extent to which they can be tailored or lifted to suit appropriate local circumstances. First, however, let me say something about accessibility issues. Our London taxis have a fantastic record: all 21,000 are wheelchair-accessible, but the story is not the same across the country. I am told that in metropolitan areas outside London, 83% of taxis are wheelchair-accessible, but in some rural areas the figure falls as low as 15%. One of the challenges that we face is making our taxi and private hire fleet more accessible to people throughout the country.
There is a lot of variation in the approach to disability awareness training, which only 41% of local authorities require for taxi drivers and only 38% require for private hire vehicle drivers. Over the past few years, the percentage of local authorities that require taxi and private hire vehicle drivers to complete training on the subject of child sexual abuse or exploitation has risen to 70%, partly in response to some very sad incidents in some parts of the country. However, that leaves nearly 100 licensing authorities that still do not require drivers to undertake such training.
I became interested in the subject when I had the privilege of serving as a shadow Transport Minister for a couple of years. When I later had the opportunity to introduce a private Member’s Bill, I chose to try to do something about safety issues, on which there is cross-party consensus. Since I introduced my Bill—the Licensing of Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill—some 18 months ago, I have had the opportunity to discuss the issue with enforcement officers and officials from Knowsley to London and with taxi and private hire firms from Brighton to Manchester.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important and timely debate. The Select Committee on Transport recently visited Bristol, where we saw problems with traffic congestion, including the number of private hire vehicles from outside the city that were causing additional air pollution and congestion problems. He cited huge figures for the number of private hire vehicles—is there not an overwhelming case to cut the number outside London?
My hon. Friend and I had a fascinating trip to Bristol with the Transport Committee yesterday and, from that, I observe that the same kinds of issue crop up all around the country in different forms. For some years before I came to the House, and then as a constituency Member, I tried to understand the complexities of the taxi and private hire industry in my own constituency in and around Cambridge. Exactly the same issues arose, with licensing standards in a city often set at one level, but many private hire vehicles came in from an adjacent area. We heard that yesterday in Bristol, where the vast majority of private hire vehicles are actually registered in South Gloucestershire, creating a conundrum for the people and local council of Bristol. That goes to the heart of one of the questions, and to the point made earlier by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), which is that of national standards.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. The point that he is making is very pertinent to South Yorkshire, where we had the terrible child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham. As a consequence, both Rotherham and Sheffield have very high licensing standards for our taxis, with CCTV required in Rotherham. However, operators and licensed drivers from other areas can come in and completely undercut those measures, as well as all the efforts to tackle the prevalence of grooming gangs and their ability to exploit young children in South Yorkshire. I add my voice to the cross-party call for national minimum standards, which are vital to prevent such exploitation.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That was one of the issues that I spent much of my time discussing with people—trying to get that balance, with very high standards that we should rightly expect where there are specific problems, but without damaging an industry in other areas by putting undue costs and burdens on it, which could leave people in some areas with no taxi or private hire vehicle service at all. It is a challenge, yes.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on the report. Equally, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), because he has done a lot of work on the matter, which I have discussed with him. At the same time, we should pay tribute to the ex-Minister, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). We have had a number of meetings and, in all fairness, as we are being cross-party, he was the man who initiated the report in the first place. He should get a lot of credit for that.
Having said that, we have a similar problem in Coventry, and there have been a number of incidents between the private hire taxis and drivers from Uber—let us be frank about that. To my way of thinking, the report should be implemented in full. People tend to forget that, originally, it was the coalition that weakened the legislation, but we are being cross-party, so I will not go too far down that road. Often, some of the drivers work 12 to 13 hours a day, just on a minimum. In fact, a documentary set in the west midlands was on a couple of weeks ago, in which someone had gone out and spent the day with a driver, who was just making ends meet. The situation is not fair on drivers, who should be given proper employment rights, like everyone else, and the zero-hours contracts should be stopped. I hope that the Minister will address that and put it right, whether it takes primary legislation or not.
In actual fact, the black cab is made in Coventry. Two years ago, everyone was paid off, but a new investor came in and the business is now thriving. But this situation threatens that, so lots of jobs are at stake as well.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is so valuable to hear the different stories from around the country. Some years ago, I visited Coventry and talked to some of the taxi drivers represented by Unite about exactly some of the issues he raises. However, although the issues and problems are similar, they are not the same everywhere and will not require exactly the same solutions. That is the conundrum we face. Nevertheless, I pay tribute to the report, because issues such as the ones he mentioned—a complex mix, especially in relation to rewards and employment protection for drivers, which I will come on to—are part of the package.
The hon. Gentleman is being very kind in giving way. There is a lot in the report about the influence of new technology on how the taxi fleet should operate. He might be coming on to this, but what impact does he think new technology will have on the taxi industry?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that. I fear that were I to divert into a disquisition on the impact of new technology it would be very lengthy. I will say only that it has clearly had a huge impact over recent years and that, as so often with new technology, the impact is mixed. The new app-based technologies have, without doubt, not only created great opportunities for some but led to difficult working conditions for others. Some people, for example, question where some of the operators pay their taxes—no pun intended—and so on. A whole range of issues have come up, and the challenge for legislators and this place is to make some attempt to keep up. That, I am afraid, is one of my criticisms of the Government. As the years have passed, the legislative void has opened more and more problems, leaving local authorities and enforcement officers with considerable problems. We have seen people out there in the real world respond quite quickly to technological change whereas, quite frankly, we seem to struggle to set the right frameworks.
Going back to the report, one of its strengths is that in a relatively short document of 30 or 35 pages it has managed, in language that most of us—and probably the wider world—can understand, to summarise a range of issues in a readily understandable way, including sections on working practices and changes in technology. I suspect that if a Committee were to take it forward, or legislation was necessary, it would probably end up being a much longer document, as the Law Commission document of some years ago was. It is, however, welcome that we have a comprehensible and comprehensive account that deals with a number of the issues. One of the key recommendations is national minimum standards, and—this is the key point, in recommendation 2—we could build on them.
My Bill looked at the other side of the coin, which is enforcement. Anyone who goes out with taxi or private hire drivers, or with enforcement teams, will pretty quickly realise that the situation is very complicated and, indeed, it is made much more so by the examples that we have referred to—drivers might be licensed somewhere else, and enforcement officers can apply rules only in their own area. To put it simply, the system is clearly not working. My Bill would have made it possible for local enforcement officers to enforce in their area against drivers from another area plying their trade. I am pleased that recommendation 9 in the report makes a similar proposal.
My Bill also suggested a national database. In the existing situation, sadly—we have seen some notorious incidents—someone can lose their licence in one area but still apply to a different authority for another. Because a local authority has no way of knowing about any previous record, it can issue another licence to a driver who, because people work out of area, can be back on the same streets where the local authority had tried to protect the public against them, sometimes within a matter of weeks. The intention of my Bill was therefore to create a national database; local authorities would record their refusals, revocations and suspensions, and any authority issuing a new licence could check that database.
That might sound like a complicated process but, through the work of the Local Government Association, such a database has been established—not at a huge cost; at a fairly minor one—and it is run by the National Anti-Fraud Network. The problem at the moment, however, is that it is voluntary, which probably means that, as so often is the case, all the people who comply and do the right things take part, whereas the ones whom we seek to catch out, or to check up on, might not. One of the recommendations in the report is that that should become mandatory.
I was extremely grateful to the Government and the Minister for supporting my Bill, and it was worked up very effectively. Sadly, as sometimes happens to a private Member’s Bill, it fell foul of one or two individuals, which is a great shame, because we might well see incidents over the next few months or years that could have been prevented had the legislation gone through with all-party support. But we are where we are and importantly, the recommendation is in this report. The question is whether the Minister can find a way of taking it forward.
Of the 34 recommendations, many of which I think we would all agree with, I would like to comment on one or two. We have already talked about the national minimum standards. The report retains the two-tier approach to private hire vehicle and taxi licensing that sometimes has been questioned. The cross-border issue, which has already been referred to, has been one of the most controversial in recent times. It is directly affected by new technologies that make the place-based legislation that we inherited and have been using for a long time seem woefully out of date. One of the strengths of the report is that the chairman was good enough to allow members of the committee to put their comments in the appendices at the end, so we can see the differing views.
The report comes down on the side of a recommendation that was also made by the all-party group last year—that journeys should start or end in the area in which the vehicle operator and driver are licensed. There are some downsides to that; in some places that could make life a little more difficult and complicated, but on balance it seems to be the right way to go. I am sure that others wish to comment on that. Some say to me that implementing that could create great difficulties, including unnecessary driving to and from destinations; potential damage; problems for chauffeur services, particularly to airports—that is a very extensive trade, although most of us hope it may be diminished to try to improve our air quality and surface access to airports. It does not seem to be beyond the bounds of possibility to find a way through those difficulties. A close reading of some of the comments in the appendices shows perhaps a growing consensus that that basis could be achieved without necessarily causing the complete set of problems that is claimed.
The other controversial proposal, recommendation 8, is a cap on private hire vehicle numbers. Those who have followed these debates for many years will know that there was an extensive period of discussion about whether there should be a cap on hackney carriages. My city is one that has been through both, and the cap has been widely considered to be for the best for everyone. The evidence in the report from Helen Chapman on behalf of Transport for London puts it very well, and my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), who is no longer in his place, made reference to it, following our visit to Bristol yesterday. The congestion levels in our cities are partly attributable to the significant rise in private hire vehicles, and to other issues as well. To tackle the air quality issues, local authorities need the opportunity to consider a cap. There is not a blanket suggestion that numbers will be capped everywhere; there would have to be a public interest test and it would have to be part of a wider strategy. It seems that that, too, is the way forward.
My final general comments are on workers’ rights. The report rightly says that there are bigger, wider issues that go beyond the taxi and private hire industry. Obviously, there are proposals from the Taylor review. This is a controversial and contested area, and I certainly would not suggest that the issues are simple. I fear there is growing evidence that some of the rates for drivers, even using the new technologies, are being forced downwards. There is not exactly an equal balance of power for potentially vulnerable workers.
Action should be taken; I want stronger support for drivers. The suggestions made in the report are driven by passenger safety, which is very important, but it has been pointed out to me by people who work in the industry—Unite, Steve McNamara and others from the LTDA—that some of them have been tried before. Having a tachograph in a cab is different from having it in a lorry or a bus—there is much more waiting time in a cab. We will have to find other ways of dealing with that issue, rather than those suggested in the report. I agree with Steve McNamara that if drivers were better recompensed and wages were not being driven so low, there would be less incentive to work long hours. We need evidence—that may require more work—to know exactly where long hours are leading to safety issues. In the end, the overriding issue has to be safety.
I return to where I began. In the introduction I quoted, the chairman clearly says that there must not be further delay and prevarication. He says:
“Undue delay would risk public safety.”
That is a strong message. There have been too many years of delay. This is a hugely important industry for many people, especially in areas where public transport can no longer provide the kind of 24-hour service that people need to get to work and to go about their business. It is a fantastic industry, with a proud tradition and an important future. The problem is that a few people sometimes abuse the licensing system and create some of the awful incidents that there have been in some parts of the country.
We owe it to the industry, to the people working hard in it and to passengers to ensure they are safe. In this report we have an opportunity to move swiftly to implement a range of things that are not contentious and to take some decisions—as Governments ought to do—on some of the things that may be more contentious. There would be widespread support for a Government who implemented this report pretty well in full. That would make our country safer and the industry much more secure, and would offer it a vibrant future.
Order. I will call the first of the Front-Bench spokespersons at 3.30. If they keep their remarks below 10 minutes each, Mr Zeichner will be able to make some closing remarks. Four Back-Benchers wish to speak; if they keep their contributions at around eight minutes, everyone will have the chance to speak. I call Iain Duncan Smith.
Thank you, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing this debate, and I echo his congratulations to Mohammad Abdel-Haq on what is essentially a comprehensive and good report. We do not have to agree with everything in it, but I hope the Government will realise that there is much agreement across all parties on the need to drive a lot of it forward to make the changes necessary to improve taxis across the UK.
I will focus my remarks fairly narrowly on London, and particularly on the effect on black cabs of the enormous increase in the number of hire vehicles, which is mostly down to Uber. The people who have quite rightly lobbied me to ask me to be present at this debate have found that their incomes have fallen quite considerably. I want to focus on some of the issues that have arisen, and I hope that the Minister will take them on board.
Uber is massively adding to London’s congestion; the figures show that. The hon. Gentleman made a point about the increased numbers of vehicles on the road. I think a significant amount of that is down to the arrival of Uber. It is time to look at its business model. I hope we all agree that Uber does not pay its fair share towards the upkeep of the roads that it runs on, through the normal tax base. To echo his comments, whether or not people like the flexibility of its business model—I think flexibility is important, and that the gig economy opens up huge amounts of competition—there comes a moment when we must recognise that Uber drivers are treated pretty unfairly. They are scraping by in many cases and often are not very well supported by the organisation that says it does not employ them, which I always find rather bizarre, because it does. The idea that somehow they are going to be incredibly successful as a direct result of this has mostly proved quite incorrect.
There is a lot of talk about how Uber got prices down, but the truth is that its model is about arriving in an area, undercutting everything else there and eventually driving people out of business, and building up a model that allows it to raise its prices. I am interested to hear that it even uses an algorithm that allows it to jack up its prices when there is demand, whereas the black cabs that it competes with are not allowed to do that. Black cabs have a fixed price set for them: they charge the same figure, regardless of whether one cannot find a taxi and it is pouring with rain. That is an area that causes great concern. Many people, in my constituency and others, who ply their trade in black cabs comment that this has led to all sorts of problems. Often, black cab drivers get complaints from passengers that they have recently been paying much more when taking an Uber, and they wonder why that is.
I recognise that the report covered much of that. The hon. Member for Cambridge mentioned an area that I think we need to focus on much more. This is not just a free-for-all. After all, the scale of the increase in traffic on the roads in London is quite staggering. Notwithstanding that, the previous Mayor managed to significantly cut down various traffic lanes for reasons to do with cycling. I am sure we all want more cyclists on the road, but the reality is that as a result, in London there are more cars on slightly fewer traffic lanes.
The number of private hire vehicles has increased by more than 50%. Transport for London data shows that between 2011 and 2017 there was a 39% increase in private hire licences, taking the total to over 87,000 vehicles, which is up by 40,000 in the space of only a few years, so the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct; in fact, I would have liked him to have stayed on the subject for longer, because it is such an important point.
The side effect of the increase is significant, and we London MPs see it every single day. We see complaints about productivity in London being affected dramatically by the inability of vehicles to get around and make deliveries, because the scale of traffic inside the city is astonishingly large. It is a matter that the Government need to look at carefully, because of the way that the gratification of some people becomes a serious problem for others.
I am conscious of time, but I want to touch on another point as quickly as I can. I am concerned—anybody should be—that Uber’s business model, which I mentioned earlier, is alright for a short period of time when things are getting going. We want companies to get those opportunities and not be trammelled by too much tax—I am an absolute believer in that. However, when an organisation is as large as this and so dominant, there is a genuine reason why we need to look again at the business model. The figures that are most startling are that Uber paid £411,000 in corporation tax in 2016, on a turnover of £23.3 million, and that masks a number of payments. It has set itself up in Holland.
I understand about competition, but my concern is about who ultimately will pay for the roads and the condition that they are in if Uber will not. Black cabs are contributing through their tax and national insurance, as well as other private hire vehicles, many of which have been used regularly and are absolutely above board. They all have to pay through tax and through the way their company tax and regulations are applied, but Uber gets away with making next to no contribution to the state of the roads that it uses in plying its business. Uber keeps saying that it is not the one plying that trade; rather it is the drivers, who are independent, even though the drivers would not be able to ply their trade if Uber was not there. It would be a very different game.
I want to mention some constituents who have seen me about this issue: Ron Nicholson, Martin Franks, Mark Diggin, Steven Tyson and Trevor Board. They are all straightforward people who are trying to earn a living. London’s black cab system is arguably the most admired in the world. It is on all the posters, and I notice that the Ministers for Trade go out selling the idea of coming here to get black cabs. We regulate it incredibly highly. It has to have disabled access; I am enormously proud of that fact. Unlike places such as New York, where it tends to be more of a free-for-all, we genuinely have a seriously good service, with straightforward people who want to do a good job. We regulate black cabs, yet because of the app, they are in competition with an organisation that has to do none of those things, and which has broken the point about hailing from the road. The app makes that almost ancient history. The reality is that Uber drivers are, in essence, getting passengers from the road.
We need to rethink this. We cannot have it both ways; we have to decide. Either we admire and want to continue with a service of regulated vehicles and drivers that produces an excellent service, particularly in central London, or we do not. We cannot have this unfair competition and this unlevel playing field, with higher congestion as a result.
I urge the Minister to take into consideration the consensus, among both London MPs and those who come from other constituencies and use the excellent service here. Now is the time not just to take the report into consideration and do something about the issue, but to genuinely ask the question: do we really value what we have? If we do not, we will lose it, and if we lose it, we will end up in an absolute free-for-all.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing the debate, and on his consistent work over the past three years in keeping these issues on the agenda, not least through his private Member’s Bill. I hope that as a result of this debate and the excellent report we are here to consider, many of the commendable measures he suggested through his Bill will finally find their way on to the statute book.
I rise to speak today as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on taxis. This is a particularly important issue for my constituency; well over 1,000 of my constituents are either licensed London taxi drivers or private hire drivers. During its short lifespan, the all-party parliamentary group has sought to make the case for urgent and far-reaching reform of the taxi and private hire licensing architecture. As we have seen this afternoon, we have a growing and strong cross-party membership.
There are three points I want to make to the Minister. I congratulate him on his promotion in the reshuffle, and I commend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) for her diligent attention to these issues and for her engagement with the all-party parliamentary group.
Firstly, there is strong cross-party consensus on the need for urgent change; that is an important point to make, particularly given the current arithmetic of Parliament. I hope that Ministers will be reassured that if they bring forward legislation at the first opportunity, as I hope they will, they will find strong cross-party support for the proposals that we are discussing today.
Secondly, passenger safety and accessibility must be at the heart of the system. We have seen in two reports—the report published by the all-party parliamentary group on taxis and the excellent report we are discussing today—that clearly the current system has fallen well short of our expectations, and of the bar that we should rightly set to keep our constituents safe.
Third, we urgently need to address the working conditions of many people, particularly those working in the private hire industry. It should not be left to unions such as the GMB to drag big multinational corporations through the courts to ensure that workplace rights and protections, which have been fought for and won by working people over the best part of a century, are respected.
I thank Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq for an absolutely outstanding report. I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), who was an excellent Minister. We would not have the report were it not for his efforts. We welcomed his engagement as a Minister with the all-party group and we are delighted he is able to join us this afternoon to add his considerable voice and weight to the debate. To his enormous credit, Mohammed Abdel-Haq has engaged widely with others in producing the report. The quality and quantity of that engagement is reflected in the report’s strength. There will obviously be differences and competing interests, but he has succeeded in listening to everyone, engaging with them properly, and coming up with a comprehensive and coherent set of reforms that will address the widespread concerns of many different parts of the taxi and private hire industry.
I echo my hon. Friend’s remarks about the professor, who did a considerable amount of work and produced a good report. In fact, I met him with a trade union official. I was remiss earlier in not identifying the professor as having done a hell of a lot of good work on the report.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, and thank him for his consistent engagement with the all-party group, for raising the issues, and for bringing them to the attention of Ministers.
The report contains a whole package of reforms, and I strongly emphasise to Ministers and the Department that they ought to be implemented in full. We have already heard that there is clear consensus on the need for national minimum standards that apply across the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) alluded to child sexual exploitation and local issues. Of course, for very good reasons, there will always be areas where local authorities will want to enhance standards and protections, and develop appropriate local tools and solutions in order to regulate the taxi and private hire industry properly in their area, but our starting point has to be clear minimum standards. I think that point is accepted by the Department. Taking that into account, I will turn to why I think it is important to give some of the recommendations an airing, not least because persuasion might still be required.
On cross-border hire, as we have heard, local authorities in places such as Rotherham and Sheffield have had particular issues with safeguarding children and young people. Girls have been sexually assaulted and raped, and private hire vehicles have been used to carry out that dreadful exploitation and those horrendous crimes. Where local authorities have rightly responded and put in place enhanced safety standards and protections, it cannot be right that people can flout those protections simply by getting their vehicles registered in another licensing authority, where there are lower standards. That wild west of regulation is where we find ourselves.
The issue is not only safety. I strongly believe that some licensing authorities give out licences like sweets because they enjoy the revenues. They know that the drivers securing the licences have no intention of driving in the licensing authority area where the licence is issued, and they know that the drivers will be somebody else’s problem. That simply is not fair. It is not a sustainable position, but it is the position that we find ourselves in. The proposal to address that, whereby any journey must either start or finish in the area where the licence is issued, is common sense and practical. It is known as the A to B and B to A model, or ABBA for short.
Since we know that the Prime Minister is a big fan of ABBA, I hope that we will take on board the report’s recommendation to end the practice of cross-border hiring. It would stop local authorities thinking only of the “Money, Money, Money”. Local authorities support the proposals and the Local Government Association recognises the challenge. Lots of local authorities are victims of the practice, which is why the LGA issued the “SOS” in its briefing ahead of this debate, hoping that Ministers would take it on board; there is strong support for it, so I would not want Ministers to face their “Waterloo” if they did not. I promise that is the end of the ABBA references, but I hope Ministers will look carefully at the strong evidence for the need for change, and at the practical proposals.
It has been mentioned that licensing authorities in some parts of the country are small in scale, and some are in close proximity to each other, so there might need to be a pragmatic approach whereby drivers could operate across different licensing authorities, but we have to make it absolutely clear that that should not prevent drivers from being licensed in a number of authorities where they intend to work. Luckily, we have a London-wide licensing authority, but let us imagine for argument’s sake that we did not, and that drivers in my constituency in the London Borough of Redbridge also wanted to operate in Barking and Dagenham, Havering or Newham. They ought to be able to be licensed in those areas.
Local authorities might want to join together to create larger licensing areas. The Government ought to be permissive about such approaches, so that appropriate local solutions can be adopted, but we simply must end the wild west regulation. We must end the scope for drivers to flout important safety regulations, and end the practice of local authorities dishing out licences like sweets.
I turn to the proposal to give local authorities the power to cap the number of vehicles in their licensing area. It is important to emphasise that the proposal is for a permissive power. It certainly would not be the expectation—in fact, it would not be desirable—for every licensing authority to impose unnecessary caps, but particularly on the streets of London and in other big cities, the number of private hire vehicles has exploded beyond all reasonable proportions. The number of such vehicles in England reached record levels last year, having increased by 37% since 2011, whereas there was just a 3% increase in taxis. In London, the number of private hire vehicles jumped by 39% to 87,400, and the number of drivers increased further to 117,700.
The problem with the situation in London is that it does not benefit anybody. It does not benefit consumers, because even if they find it easier to order a private hire vehicle via an app, or to ring up a minicab office, it is no good to them if they are then stuck in heavy congestion trying to get to wherever they are going. It does not work for private hire drivers, who tell me they have seen their hourly wages go down. It is all right for a big multinational company with loads of drivers on their books, because they still rake in the revenues from the drivers’ hard work.
Companies such as Uber saturate the market, not just to drive the competition off the road, but at the expense of their own drivers. In central London, huge concentrations of Uber drivers operate in the same area, so they compete for the same number of customers. Even if, as we accept, the market for private hire in London has grown in recent years, they still compete for the same number of passengers, so what we get is a scourge of drivers driving round and round the streets of London, pumping toxic chemicals into our air and reducing our air quality. Even if those vehicles are not the most polluting, the congestion that they create on the streets of London allows the most polluting vehicles to pump more and more fumes into our air.
Those are some of the many reasons why the Mayor of London and Transport for London have requested from the Government powers to cap the number of private hire licences issued in London. I hope that is a permissive power that Ministers will consider carefully, and introduce, and I hope that they will put trust in local licensing authorities to make decisions appropriate to their areas. It does no good to keep talking about localism if we do not give local authorities the powers and tools that they need to do the job.
The third issue that needs to be addressed is the running sore of plying for hire. It is years since the Law Commission recommended that the Government introduce a statutory definition, but we have still not seen one. The situation should be clear, as the right to be available for immediate hire, and to be hailed on the street or at a taxi rank, is reserved to taxis alone. That has been a key privilege, in recognition of the fact that licensed taxis are held to higher standards, with higher hurdles to jump, and that taxis are more highly regulated than any other part of the system. However, it is increasingly clear that companies such as Uber flout the spirit of the law on plying for hire. It is time for the Government to strengthen the letter of the law, so that there can be no room for confusion or ambiguity about where we stand on the issue.
Finally, I would not expect mandatory disability equality training to be a source of controversy, but it has so far been a bit too difficult to persuade the Government of the need for reform in that area. As things stand, the Government are committed to guidance, rather than an obligation on drivers to undergo mandatory training. The problem, as we have heard from a range of disability charities, is that the experience of disabled people when using vehicles has not overall been a happy one, with the consistent service that we would expect. For example, Guide Dogs, which has a training facility in my constituency and has given evidence to the all-party parliamentary group on taxis, notes that discrimination against assistance dog owners is widespread. The worst offenders for refusing access to assistance dogs are private hire vehicle and taxi drivers. According to Guide Dogs, in a one-year period, 42% of assistance dog owners were refused by a PHV or taxi driver because of their assistance dogs. We have also heard complaints from people with a range of disabilities about their needs not being properly met. The proposal has widespread support from the Transport Committee, the Law Commission, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010, and the all-party parliamentary group on taxis.
I want to impress on Ministers again that the case for reform has been clearly made. The need for it is urgent; but happily for Ministers and Government business managers, as we have seen this afternoon from the contributions of Members from across the House, including former Cabinet Members and former Ministers with responsibility for this matter, there is clear cross-party support for the entire report. I hope that the Department for Transport will urgently proceed on the basis of that report.
Dr Johnson spoke of the virtues of travelling hopefully, but travelling hopefully depends on travelling efficiently, effectively, securely and, most of all, safely. The foreword to the excellent report before the House, by a group led by Professor Abdel-Haq, states that it was necessary
“to chart a future which ensured public safety for all”.
Public safety lies at the heart of the work, and of our endeavours in debating this today.
The recommendations in the report are focused on how taxis are licensed and how that licensing is enforced and complied with. Compliance and enforcement are critical to a number of the recommendations. Recommendations 23 and 24, on the database and the exchange of information between licensing authorities to check on the bona fides of applicants, are critical. Throughout the report there is a focus on ensuring that those who apply for licences are fit and proper people, on whom the public can rely.
A second issue, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) referred, is the working conditions of drivers. It is clear to me that there is exploitation of drivers, whose working conditions are at best—I put it generously—variable, and that minimum standards are not currently being enforced. There is a need for urgent reform. I am not speaking, of course, of our blackcab drivers, who are largely self-employed and determine their own working day and year, and who, as my right hon. Friend is right to say, are celebrated, worldwide, for their quality. It seems extraordinary to me that we should jeopardise that worldwide reputation for what modern economists call a disruptor. I am not a great fan of the disruption of what works. I say that what matters more is doing what matters in the interests of the public, not fixing things that ain’t broke—which largely applies to blackcab drivers.
Recommendation 33 addresses working conditions, referring to the exploitation of drivers and the need to enforce the national living wage, while recommendation 34 addresses the question of restrictions, on safety grounds, on the number of hours that private hire vehicle drivers typically drive. There are other recommendations on the proper treatment of disabled people. It is appalling that some blind people have been refused their proper entitlement to take their guide dog with them on a private hire car journey, and I am delighted that there is a recommendation on that in the report.
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), has been remarkable in her willingness to listen, and I pay tribute to her, as well as to Professor Abdel-Haq. The cap that has been discussed by a number of Members seems to me to be localism in practice. We can hardly argue for reinforcing the role of local authorities in regulating the circumstances of private hire vehicles and taxis, and then say that they cannot make a judgment about the appropriate number of vehicles in a locality.
There is, however, something more worrying still to consider. We know that in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and Newcastle taxis were a key element in allowing the widespread abuse of vulnerable young women. The use of taxis for criminal purposes is a direct consequence of a regulatory system that is simply not fit for purpose. We cannot allow that to continue and the Government would be unwise to hesitate for a moment in putting in place the changes necessary to avoid such an eventuality. That is about more than taxis. It is about public confidence, social cohesion and building communal faith in a system that works for all, as Professor Abdel-Haq has argued.
There cannot be a cherry-picking exercise. The report must be adopted in full, for there is not a single recommendation in it with which I do not agree. It would be quite wrong if the Government were to cherry-pick, and I know that the newly promoted Minister, who must be basking in the glory of his seemingly unstoppable rise up the greasy pole of politics, will be listening closely to the debate, and will want to work with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to make sure that the report is implemented speedily.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate. Like the speakers before me, I thank the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for initiating this debate.
As we have heard, taxis are now an integral part of our lives, providing jobs and opportunities to people across the UK and enhancing transport links to our local and rural communities. The report by the task and finish group on taxi and private hire vehicle licences, which we are focusing on today, urges the UK Government to overhaul the regulatory regime for the taxi and private hire vehicle sector and has recommended minimum standards for drivers, vehicles and operators in taxi and private hire vehicle licensing.
There have been calls for the UK Government to convene a panel of regulators, passenger safety groups and operator representatives to determine what those minimum safety standards should be. It has been suggested that licensing authorities should be able to set additional, higher standards in safety and all other aspects, depending on the requirements of particular local areas, as the hon. Member for Cambridge and the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) pointed out.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on bringing this debate to the House for consideration. The lines between a hackney carriage, a black taxi and a private hire vehicle have become blurred; there are those who know how to play those blurry lines to their benefit and those who have paid the price, through fines and even the loss of their licence. Does the hon. Lady agree that this report gives the opportunity for regulation, and that that regulation should be across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about the blurring of the boundaries. I will go on to talk about this in a wee bit more detail, so I will simply say for now that taxi licensing is devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are pretty slight but pretty important divergences across the UK that deal with the kind of issues that he has raised.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust’s research on taxi and private hire vehicle drivers revealed that only 46 out of 316 local authorities were able to provide it with detailed information about drivers’ criminal histories on request. Indeed, the research went on to reveal a significant number of licensed drivers with serious criminal convictions. The fact is that the “fit and proper person” test that is used for anyone applying to drive a taxi or private hire car is pretty ambiguous, and means that some local authorities are granting and renewing licences that perhaps we would not want them to.
The Local Government Association in England is creating a voluntary register, as we heard from the hon. Member for Cambridge. That, of course, is an interesting idea, but if it is voluntary, inevitably its impact in bringing about the changes that many of us would like to see will be limited. We know that the advent of smartphone apps is already having a significant impact on the way taxis and private hire cars operate, which is challenging existing businesses and regulatory models all the time. We have heard a lot about that today.
We need all and any taxi or private hire companies to comply with the existing licensing requirements set out in legislation and to ensure that all vehicles and drivers are properly licensed. We heard much about that from the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). We also need to pay attention to unfair working practices and ensure that those working in the so-called gig economy have fair, protected and decent working conditions. If work must be flexible, it should still be fair; the two are not mutually exclusive. Workers should have appropriate rights and protections, including sick pay and holiday pay. It was disappointing that the Taylor review did not quite match up to many people’s hopes in tackling the real issues facing workers in insecure employment.
As I said earlier in answer to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), of course taxi licensing is devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The licensing systems across the UK are similar, but there are important differences. One of the major differences, something that campaigners have flagged up and that has been made much of today, is cross-border hiring of private hire vehicles.
In Scotland, private hire vehicles are required to return to their licensing area to accept a booking after travelling outside that area. A private hire vehicle driver in, for example, Glasgow can accept a fare in Glasgow that takes them out of the city, but they cannot pick someone up outside the city. They must return to Glasgow to pick up another fare. I see no reason why the Minister cannot give serious consideration to the regulatory system in England.
There remains the problem of drivers illegally picking up off the streets without prior booking, which often overlaps with cross-border hiring. These so-called pirate cabbies have an impact on the livelihoods of other taxis and private hire cab drivers who follow the rules. They can also potentially put the public at risk, and I would wager that these pirate cabbies are causing problems across the entire United Kingdom—even in Scotland, where cross-border hiring is illegal.
Most particularly, I suggest it is likely to be a problem in big cities such as Glasgow, Belfast, London and Cambridge on the busiest nights of the week, especially Fridays and Saturdays. Clearly, more enforcement would help. The practice is a breach of cab licensing restrictions and invalidates car insurance. I know that in Scotland illegal taxi touting, where the illegal pick-up is often charged way over the odds for their journey, is an issue that Police Scotland are particularly interested in.
There is also the contentious issue of over-provision, about which we have heard much today. In Scotland, until fairly recently local councillors had no power to limit the number of private hires on the streets, but new legislation allows the licensing authority to refuse to grant an application for a private hire licence on the very grounds of over-provision of private hire cars in the area in which the driver plans to operate. Any assessment of over-provision must of course look at current provision, as well as the use of and demand for the service of both taxis and private hires, to ensure that demand can be fulfilled and there is fairness to all in the industry.
Local flexibility is important. It is also important that there should be a minimum number of wheelchair accessible vehicles, as the hon. Member for Cambridge pointed out. We have heard calls for CCTV licensing in cabs, but that is more controversial, because as well as cost considerations there are concerns about intrusion.
As the way we live our lives and access our leisure pursuits is increasingly reliant on technology, and as public transport can be challenging for some of our communities at certain times of the evening, taxi and private hire licensing also becomes more challenging. Our priority must be to keep the public safe, as well as to create a fair and reasonable environment for those who make their living providing this important service. Today we have heard some of those concerns and a little bit about some of the divergences and the different direction we have taken in Scotland. The concerns raised are important and require our attention; I am keen to hear what the Minister intends to do to answer them, whether he has had a look at how things operate in Scotland and whether any of those measures are perhaps things he would wish to adopt.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing this important debate, and on the work he has been doing on the licensing of taxi and private hire vehicles. With his private Member’s Bill, he has shown more initiative than the Government to ensure that we legislate in this Parliament to require taxi and private hire vehicle licensing authorities in England to share information with other local authorities, to prevent unsuitable people from being granted licences. I should say that in our manifesto at the general election last year, the Labour party pledged that we would reform the legislation governing taxi and private hire services, introducing national standards to guarantee safety and accessibility.
I thank the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), who instigated the task and finish group’s report, and I hope his colleagues on the Government Benches will now act on it. While we welcome the many recommendations in the report and the work of Professor Abdel-Haq, it is frustrating that the Government have so far failed to legislate during their eight years in power, despite the calls from Labour and other Opposition parties, trade unions and campaigners.
I intervene merely to put on the record the thanks that the whole country should give to Professor Abdel-Haq for leading this working party, to the working party itself, many of whom I see in the Public Gallery, and to the Minister who set it up. Even if the Government do not want to move generally, they can say that licensing authorities may act against companies such as Uber by insisting that people get the legal minimum rate for the hours that they are clocked on for work.
I share my right hon. Friend’s concerns about the role of Uber in this and the need for urgent action to tackle abuses.
While we welcome the recommendations of the report, eight years in power is a long time to leave this issue and not tackle it. It is now time to move on. The Government’s hands-off approach to taxis and private hire vehicles means that they have presided over a race to the bottom on quality, accessibility and, as we have heard, safety. Several serious incidents have demonstrated that taxi and private hire vehicle passengers are simply not adequately protected.
As technology and the industry have evolved, our regulation of the taxi and private hire industry has simply failed to keep pace. The industry is changing rapidly, yet the legal framework governing taxi services is almost 200 years old, while private hire services legislation dates from the mid-1970s in most of England and Wales and 1998 in London. The piecemeal evolution of the regulation of taxi and private hire services has resulted in a complex and fragmented licensing system, with services differing greatly depending on where in the country they are. There are no national standards, resulting in a very variable picture, primarily regarding quality, safety and accessibility.
One of the most significant challenges facing the taxi trade that Ministers have stalled over, but which the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge addresses, is cross-border working by private hire vehicles. There have been concerns about private hire vehicles operating outside their licensed geographical areas, as we have heard. That puts taxis at a competitive disadvantage, as unlike private hire vehicles they have to return to their licensed area after taking a fare outside their borough.
Some councils in the country hand out too many licences, clogging up the streets and worsening congestion and air quality, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) mentioned. Illegal levels of air pollution are the UK’s most severe public health crisis and cause 40,000 premature deaths each year. Despite being repeatedly dragged through the courts, the Government have refused to act, including by failing to include taxi and private hire vehicle policy as part of a wider clean air strategy, which I believe is a serious omission. Greater investment in charging infrastructure and greater support for taxi and private hire vehicle companies that wish to switch to electric fleets are also required.
However, it may be better to reduce the total amount of traffic in areas with illegal air quality, so I note with interest the task and finish group’s recommendation that the Government should legislate to allow local authorities—where there is a proven need—to cap the number of taxis and private hire vehicles that they license. That proposal could help authorities to solve challenges around congestion, air quality and parking and ensure appropriate provision of taxi and private hire services for passengers, while at the same time maintaining drivers’ working conditions, which is important and which we have heard about today. I am interested in hearing the Minister’s response to this specific point.
The implications of cross-border licensing arrangements for safety are deeply worrying, as was said earlier. Local authorities are presently permitted to set their own “fit and proper” criteria for licensing. Dangerous private hire drivers are therefore able to operate even in an area with stringent safety criteria, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), who is no longer in her place, mentioned. That needs to be tackled. As a result, local authorities such as Rotherham and Oxford, which set strict criteria following instances of child sexual exploitation, are powerless to act.
Rather than addressing that problem, the Government’s Deregulation Act 2015 permitted the subcontracting of licensing, which has made the situation worse. Enforcement by local licensing authorities is now more difficult, and passengers are stripped of their right to choose which operator they wish to travel with. The Government should include in future national minimum standards the requirement for all taxi drivers to undertake safeguarding and child sexual abuse and exploitation awareness training, which should include the positive role that drivers can play in spotting and reporting signs of abuse and neglect in vulnerable passengers.
Further, in the interests of passenger safety, the report recommended that Government standards should mandate that all vehicles be fitted with CCTV, subject to strict data protection measures. In the light of threats to passenger safety, there is indeed a strong argument for this measure. The report also found that such standards would support greater consistency in licensing, potentially reducing costs and assisting in out-of-area compliance.
What steps will the Government take to combat the problems associated with cross-border working? One obvious measure to mitigate the problem is the introduction of national standards for licensing authorities. The Labour party has repeatedly called for such standards, and I hope that the Minister will now commit to introducing them. The Government have previously stated that many of these issues should be the responsibility of licensing authorities, but issues such as disability access and safety standards should not be at the discretion of local authorities and should not vary greatly across the country.
In May 2014, the Law Commission published a report recommending wholesale reform of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing. It found that:
“The balance struck between national and local rules lacks an overarching rationale, resulting in duplication, inconsistencies and considerable difficulties in cross-border enforcement… The outdated legislative framework has become too extensive in some respects, imposing unnecessary burdens”.
The Government did not respond to the report beyond saying that they were “considering it.” Surely they should not simply ignore it. The industry has changed significantly throughout the years, and continues to do so, increasingly spurred on through technological change.
I am conscious of the time, so I will move to my closing remarks. The former Mayor of London, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), planned at one point during his tenure in City Hall to introduce a minimum five-minute wait for customers requesting a car and beginning a journey. That was motivated by concerns about the impact of Uber’s business model on London, which we heard so much about earlier. Those plans were abandoned after intense lobbying, but I think it is worth reviewing them again. The advent of smartphone apps is changing the industry and presents many clear benefits to passengers, but companies such as Uber currently enjoy unfair competitive advantages because they do not have to follow the same regulation as other businesses.
Licensing authorities should use their existing enforcement powers to take strong action where disability access refusals are reported, to deter further cases. We welcome the recommendation that central Government and licensing authorities should level the playing field by mitigating additional costs that the trade faces where a wider social benefit is provided, such as when wheelchair accessibility or other measures are offered. We have seen real progress in London on these matters. I look forward to hearing what steps the Minister will take on the many questions I have asked him.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. If I may briefly state the Government’s position, very much in the spirit of the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), I would say in the first instance “Mamma Mia”—we cannot allow this to be “One Last Summer”, nor can it be “Hasta Mañana”. It is not quite “SOS”, but we cannot allow the taxi trade to say “Take A Chance On Me”. Above all, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) said, it cannot be that “The Winner Takes It All.”
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing the debate on the task and finish group’s report on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing. Unfortunately, as Members will have detected, the Minister responsible for taxi and private hire vehicle policy is unable to be here; she is overseas on a ministerial visit. However, I have noted—as will she when she reads the account of the debate—the very warm words that colleagues from across the House have for her work and for that of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), in whose steps in the Department it is a pleasure to tread.
I know that better regulation of this sector is something that hon. Members from across the House regard as important, and we in the Department very much share that view.
I add my grateful appreciation and thanks for Professor Abdel-Haq’s brilliant, well-informed and well-intentioned report. May I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that if we embrace modern technology, it will not and need not be too expensive, onerous and complex to adopt most of its recommendations?
My hon. Friend tempts me to comment on the contents of announcements that will be forthcoming relatively soon. I do not think I should do that, for reasons that the House will understand, but his point is well made. Certainly many of us have been beneficiaries of increased technology in our lives as well as in our travel.
Ministers in the Department very much regret that the private Member’s Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Cambridge appears unlikely to be successful. We all know, and he has reminded us today, of his considerable efforts to increase safety and of the support that he received from officials in the Department to introduce that Bill, which the Government were pleased to be able to support.
I shall make some general remarks and then pick up the questions and specific matters that have been touched on. In recent years, the taxi and private hire industry has experienced rapid growth and significant change brought about by innovation and the application of new technologies, which my hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) has just mentioned. Those changes contributed to the announcement of the formation of the task and finish group. Hon. Members will recall that that announcement was made at a Westminster Hall debate last July by the former Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings.
The goal of the group was to consider issues raised about taxi and private hire vehicle licensing and their potential remedies. The group first met in September of last year, with an intention to submit a report later that year. The work that it did revealed a degree of agreement—a high degree of agreement, in many ways—but also very strongly held and disparate views on solutions. It is important to put that on the record, but I am sure that it will come as no surprise to anyone who has engaged with taxi and private hire vehicle regulation over the years.
The report was delayed, but that enabled the already well-informed group to consider the numerous submissions from organisations across the country and a wide range of stakeholders. They included those working in the trade, regulators, the police, disability organisations and trade unions, to name just a few. The longer timeframe gave the group the opportunity to question many of those organisations to learn more about their concerns and the specific matters relating to them.
As I trust colleagues will understand and as I have said already, I cannot advise them of the Government’s response at this stage, but I can reassure them that the work being done in the Department is near completion and that a Government response, setting out how we intend to reform the regulation of the sector, will be issued very shortly.
It really would not be appropriate for me, not least because I am not the Minister directly responsible for this area, to comment on the timing of the response, but “very shortly” are encouraging words when uttered by any Minister and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take comfort from that.
I, too, would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), as well as, of course, on my own behalf, to thank the chair of the task and finish group, Professor Abdel-Haq, for his work. It has been much said across the Chamber that his work has been welcomed and is well regarded for its clarity and the ingenuity with which he brought the disparate voices together. The recommendations that he made in the report may not be unanimously supported in every case, but the professor has achieved a great deal of consensus and on that he should be congratulated.
The report sets out the professor’s view of what is needed, from both central and local government, to ensure the safety of passengers and the long-term success of the sector. There are 34 recommendations, some of which focus on short-term fixes. A number need to be achieved by licensing authorities using their extensive existing powers. In the medium term, the recommendations focus on greater consistency in licensing. They call on the Government to legislate to set national minimum standards, as discussed today, and to enable effective enforcement through greater powers for enforcement officers and better sharing of information between licensing authorities.
As I have said, the Government will respond to the report very shortly, but we are already seeking to increase the consistency in licensing. Ministers will very shortly launch a consultation on safety-related statutory guidance to be issued to licensing authorities. The draft guidance has been the subject of extensive discussion and engagement, including a review by the task and finish group. The guidance represents an important first step in ensuring that all passengers will be carried by someone who has undergone rigorous checks to ensure that they are “fit and proper”, as legislation requires. That should apply regardless of where they travel and by whom the driver and vehicle are licensed—both issues have been raised here today.
Some of the recommendations made in the statutory guidance and in the task and finish group report will impose additional burdens on the trade. Although we would prefer that those measures were unnecessary, Ministers recognise that it is vital to act on the lessons from the Casey and Jay reports. It is a well-known remark and, I think, agreed by all that a single attack is too many. We must protect passengers from any driver seeking to abuse their position of trust.
The task and finish group’s remit extended beyond the vital area of safety. The way in which the sector is regulated and the welfare of those working within it have also been the subject of increasing concern and have been raised in this debate. Many of those concerns stem from the innovation and application of new technologies. The requesting of a vehicle, whether a taxi or a private hire vehicle, via an app is increasingly popular, but the fundamental difference between what private hire vehicles and taxis are permitted to do, in law at least, has not changed. There may be blurring, but the fundamental basis of it has not changed.
Taxis alone have the hard-earned right to ply for hire, and action must be taken against those who break the law in that regard. Taxis offer a premium service to passengers, providing confidence that drivers have knowledge of the local area and, in some areas, guarantees on the accessibility of vehicles—another matter raised today. Private hire vehicles provide a different range of services and, although there is a wide range of views as to the relative merits of some of the new entrants to the sector, we must not forget that many of these services are popular with the public. The Government support consumer choice and want to see both the taxi industry and the private hire vehicle industry prosper.
Local authority enforcement officers have a vital role in maintaining the differentiation and fair competition between the two sides: taxis and private hire vehicles. They also play an important role in ensuring that unlicensed, unvetted, uninsured and unsafe drivers and vehicles are prohibited from circumventing the regulations and stealing business from the legitimate trade.
The emergence of “disruptive” businesses, though the application of new technologies, has created new products and services with the potential to meet still better the demands of consumers. These developments have also provided greater flexibility in working arrangements and increased employment opportunities, but of course one recognises—this has been raised today—that they have drawbacks as well. The implications of gig working extend far beyond this sector. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister commissioned Matthew Taylor to conduct a review of modern working practices.
Let me pick up some of the other points raised. The report raises the issue of accessibility training, and the Government are considering that very closely. The same is true with regard to the need for national standards. As I have mentioned, the Government expect to consult soon on statutory guidance on safeguarding. As regards the question of a national database, the Government are considering all things that could be done to improve safety, and the response will include that question, too. I think that it would be unfair for me to continue to say, “The response will include,” and that I should allow the hon. Member for Cambridge the chance to wind up his own debate.
I am very grateful to the Minister for giving me the chance to wind up. I thank everyone who has contributed to a full debate. We have not been able to cover every single issue, and I want to raise a couple of things that were not touched on: the use of CCTV, and the anxieties, if we have larger licensing authorities, about potential clustering of vehicles in city centres.
I would like to finish by echoing the wise words of the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). He said that he was not in favour of disruption. I think that I am more disruptive than he is, but one thing that we would not want to disrupt is things that are precious, and the most precious thing is safety. That is the theme that has come through the debate this afternoon, which is why I was pleased to hear the Minister promising action very shortly. We will keep him to that promise, because it is very important that we heed the messages coming through from this excellent report—we again thank the professor and his group for producing it—that safety is paramount and we need swift action.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Task and finish group report on taxi and private hire licensing.
Parental Leave for Parents of Premature Babies
[Mark Pritchard in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered parental leave for parents of premature babies.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. Having a premature baby is one of the most traumatic experiences that any parent can go through. Instead of the healthy baby that they longed for, traumatised parents watch their tiny baby struggling for its life inside an incubator surrounded by tubes, wires and bleeping monitors. That is terrifying and it can go on for weeks or months, until the baby is well enough to go home.
By the time that they take their baby home, many parents find they have already used up an awful lot of their maternity and paternity leave, so their child suffers twice: first, from the serious health conditions and trauma of premature birth and, secondly, because mum and dad have to go back to work much earlier in the baby’s development than the parents of a baby born at full term. Losing this vital time for bonding and nurturing can hold the child back throughout its life. I met a young mum whose baby spent three months in intensive care, and all that time was taken out of her statutory maternity leave.
This is a topical subject. In the last week in Northern Ireland, six small babies have been born prematurely to parents who were not expecting to see them this soon. Those parents then have to change their plans for coming home. Common sense dictates the normal things that happen when a baby comes home, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that those parents should have the additional time to deal with their child’s acute needs, which arise from being premature, and that they should be given additional leave for that purpose? At that critical moment, they need that extra time.
The hon. Gentleman makes the point extremely powerfully and I hope he has persuaded the Minister that action is needed to support these families. It is not just the baby who suffers; so do the parents. Two mums in five of premature babies suffer mental ill health because of the stress of watching their tiny baby fight just to survive. The expense of daily journeys to hospital, overnight stays in nearby accommodation and eating in cafés pushes many parents into debt.
I first raised this issue in Parliament in October 2016 on behalf of a group of fantastic campaign organisations, including Bliss and The Smallest Things, which is based in my constituency. We were delighted when the then Minister agreed to pilot a voluntary scheme for employers, drafted by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, encouraging them to offer parents of premature babies the flexibility and time they need to look after their little baby. The pilot started in November 2017 and was intended to run for a year, ending in October this year. We are now well into November, but there is still no word from the Minister on her view of how well the pilot went, or whether she agrees that legislation is needed.
Instead of action, the letter that the Minister kindly wrote to me proposes—regrettably—a further delay until next summer. The charities recently met with officials from the Department, but the officials said they had not yet worked out how to assess what impact the voluntary guidance has had. I would be grateful if the Minister explained the point of running a pilot if we do not know from the start how to assess it.
The truth is that we do not need any more pilots. The best employers are providing the flexibility that parents need, but too many others are not. Voluntary guidance will never coax employers who do not understand—or who do not want to understand—into doing what is right. These parents need the full force of the law behind them to ensure that their babies get the love and care they need.
I fully add my voice to those calling for extra parental leave for those with children born prematurely. As the hon. Gentleman says, many parents use large amounts of, or even all, their leave entitlement watching their babies develop in incubators. As the mother to a young baby, I can only begin to imagine the stress those parents must go through. Extra maternity and paternity leave is needed. Does he agree that parental leave should begin when a new-born baby is well enough to go home?
I absolutely agree and I echo the hon. Lady’s sentiment. I hope the Minister will reflect those views in her comments. It seems extremely unfair that if a child is born prematurely it does not get the same time with its parents after it has reached full development phase as a child born healthy after a full-term pregnancy.
These parents need the full force of the law behind them to ensure that they have the time to give the love and care that their baby needs. The baby needs time with mum and dad at its side, fully focused on helping their little baby to survive and without the worry of losing their job or falling into debt, which has happened to far too many parents whose babies were born too soon.
The Government have delayed by two years so far, partly because they were carrying out a pilot, but that pilot has finished. Another year’s delay is not acceptable. It is hard to imagine something more precious, vulnerable or deserving of our support than a tiny premature baby fighting for its life and so small that it can fit into the palm of your hand. Does the Minister agree that these families need not more delays, but action, and that they need that action now?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) on securing this important debate and thank him for his passionate speech.
I sympathise greatly with the experiences of parents of premature babies, especially those whose children spend extended periods in neonatal intensive care. I am sure we all have personal experience of friends or constituents who have been in this situation. I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point and sympathise. I assure the Chamber that this Government are committed to supporting working parents, including those of premature babies.
The UK’s system of maternity leave is one of the most generous in the world. Pregnant women and new mothers are entitled to take up to 52 weeks of leave as a day-one right and up to 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay, if they are eligible for pay. In the case of premature births, eligible fathers and partners have the flexibility to take up to two weeks of paternity leave and pay within eight weeks of the expected date of birth, rather than within eight weeks of the actual date of birth, if they wish.
Employed parents also enjoy other employment rights that enable them to take time off work following the birth of their child or agree a working pattern with their employer, which gives them the flexibility to combine work with caring for their child. Subject to meeting eligibility requirements, employed parents now have the right to request flexible working and the right to take shared parental leave and pay. Shared parental leave and pay enable eligible couples to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay. They can use the scheme to take up to six months off work together or, alternatively, stagger their leave and pay so that one of them is always at home with their newborn child. They can also have periods of leave within periods of work. Parents can use this flexibility to take time off work according to their and their baby’s needs—for example, fathers and partners might wish to take time off work when their child is born and later in the first year.
We are also undertaking a short, focused internal review of provisions for parents of premature babies. We expect to conclude that in the new year.
One of the issues that I hope the Government will look at in the review is the voluntary conduct of employers and whether they want to support additional leave for parents of premature babies. We must remember that a baby could be born at 24 weeks, which is many months before its due date. The problem with voluntary codes is that, although some employers might be exemplars, many might not be. What more can the Department do to ensure that all employers recognise the special needs of parents in this difficult situation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Voluntary codes are there to try to change culture and to give businesses and employers the opportunity to do the right thing in the best way they can.
As I was saying, we are undertaking a short, focused review of provisions for parents of premature babies. We will work with ACAS to see whether we can improve the guidance. When the outcomes of that review have concluded in the new year, the Government will hopefully be able to come back with further activity and make further provisions.
Exactly—it is in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I hope to review what comes forward and to be able to come back. I look forward to discussing the outcomes with him at that time. My officials have already had productive and informative meetings with The Smallest Things and Bliss, and will be meeting the parents of premature babies this month.
It is important to strike the right balance between giving parents the flexibility that they need and giving their employers and co-workers the certainty that they need to plan. It will be important to canvass the views of organisations representing employers, particularly small businesses.
One of the problems with premature birth is that it is difficult to plan for—the fact that it is premature means that people do not necessarily know that it will happen. I met one father who was required by his employer to go back to work the day after his baby was born prematurely. I am sure that the Minister agrees that his baby needed him more that day than his employer.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, and that is one reason we are conducting the review. We are aware, and we want to be able to assess what we can do more of and what needs to happen to support that group of individuals.
I am aware that the parents of premature babies have several issues to contend with, particularly in cases where their child is very premature. I am keen to explore what more can be done to support parents in that position. The review will inform our policy, and I hope the fact that we are undertaking it reassures the hon. Gentleman that we are far from complacent and that we are already taking steps better to understand the needs of parents and employers in this situation. As I have outlined, I look forward to discussing the review’s findings with him in due course and I will ensure that that happens.
I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) for their interventions on the hon. Member for Croydon North. It is good to see other hon. Members supporting the hon. Gentleman on the issue. I hope they will be able to engage further as we look at and come forward with the findings of the review that we are undertaking.
We are committed to creating more flexible and supportive work environments for parents. In the last few years, we have taken important steps towards that, from introducing shared parental leave and pay to mandatory gender pay gap reporting for large employers. Although our maternity leave policies are some of the most generous in the world and can cater for a wide range of circumstances, we want to gain a better understanding of the difficulties faced by the parents of premature babies and we are already conducting that work. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. I would be delighted to meet with him at any time to discuss it further.
Question put and agreed to.
Local Sporting Heroes
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the importance of local sporting heroes.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard.
This debate is about recognising local heroes. We are lucky to have bags of them in Blaenau Gwent—Nye Bevan, for one—but it is those from the field of sport who I will look at today. They are people such as Sam Cross, the Olympic medallist from Brynmawr; Ashley Brace, the female super-flyweight boxing champion from Ebbw Vale; and Mark Williams, the three-time snooker world champion from Cwm.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and indeed for securing such an important debate. Before he moves on, will he join me in commending Ken Jones, who is from my home town of Blaenavon in my constituency? His achievements in athletics, as an Olympic medallist of course, were outstanding, but he was also a quite outstanding rugby player, who scored the crucial try when Wales last beat New Zealand at rugby in 1953.
I am very pleased to say what a brilliant athlete, rugby player, journalist and schoolteacher Ken Jones was; he was renowned across the valleys for his rugby pedigree. Today, however, I will talk about Steve Jones, from Blaenau Gwent.
The unusual thing about Steve is that he is a world-class, record-breaking athlete who hardly anyone knows about. He is one of the most successful long-distance runners ever produced in our country. Despite his multiple achievements, however, many people know little about this British athletics hero. So I will start telling them today.
Steve is a Blaenau Gwent-made and self-trained sporting hero. The son of a steelworker, he grew up in Ebbw Vale. Steve had been a cross-country runner, but it was while he was a technician with the Royal Air Force that he really began running competitively. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps and he reminds me of what Michael Parkinson has just said about George Best—namely, that while Best was the greatest player he has ever seen:
“He did not arrive as the complete player; he made himself one.”
Steve made himself the complete runner.
Training in what spare time he had, Steve began working his way up and competing, all the while serving his country full-time. After a ligament injury put his leg in a cast, Steve soldiered on, saying later:
“If anybody says I can’t do it, I end up doing it...I don’t like to be told that.”
That was an understatement. The tragic death of Steve’s dad in 1978 had a major impact on his career. His dad had been extremely proud of his achievements and, after his dad’s death, Steve wanted to push himself even further, and to be the best.
Steve burst into the top tier of world athletics in 1984 by completing the Chicago marathon in just over two hours, beating a reigning Olympic champion in the process. He set a British marathon record that stood for 33 years, until it was broken just this April by Sir Mo Farah.
In the years following Chicago and after receiving generous sponsorship from Reebok, Steve racked up further first-place marathon finishes in London in 1985, in New York in 1988 and in Toronto in 1992. Taken together, his achievements add up to a remarkable contribution to British athletics.
Now 63, Steve works as a running coach in Colorado, supporting athletes from across the world. In Blaenau Gwent, his legacy is seen every weekend in our local parkrun and other initiatives that Tredegar’s Parc Bryn Bach Running Club uses to encourage new runners; I am a newish member of the club. It has also been leading the charge for proper recognition for Steve. A local dynamo, Lee Aherne, has launched a campaign to build a statue of Steve, which has already raised more than £2,000.
The key issue is this: we have this great man, who accomplished incredible things and inspires people to follow in his footsteps, but he is simply nowhere near as widely recognised as he should be. Steve’s achievements are a great source of pride for many in Blaenau Gwent, but he is barely known outside our borough.
On that point, as I come from Henley it will be no surprise if I mention our rowers, many of whom are—like the hero the hon. Gentleman is talking about—not widely recognised outside the town, even though they participated in an international sport. Will he join me in celebrating the achievement of all these local heroes, particularly in attracting young people to their sport and giving them something to live for?
I am very pleased to support the commendation that has just been made.
There have been other positive steps in Blaenau Gwent, such as installing plaques for some of our other sporting heroes, notably Spurs football legend Ron Burgess. Over the next few months, I will write to the Welsh Government, the Cabinet Office and Welsh Athletics to seek proper recognition of Steve’s substantial contribution to sport.
However, I also want to look at one of the best ways to do justice to the record of local sporting heroes—harnessing their achievements to improve public health. Groups such as the Blaenau Gwent Sole Sisters and the Parc Bryn Bach Running Club already do a great job with the Couch to 5k programme and parkrun, which are coming on in leaps and bounds. However, I think that Steve getting the recognition he deserves would inspire even more people to participate.
What do I think the Government could do more of? First, it is important to assess the criteria for the official UK Government honours system, to make sure that people such as Steve are not overlooked. Understandably, many honours are awarded to people who have recently won a major competition, and some are awarded to athletes who are still competing, which is great. However, it is also important to recognise those who have made a sizeable contribution during their career—local heroes, whose good will keeps on giving.
Secondly, successes in local sport need to be given due credit. There is space for awards for services to sport at the devolved or local level, with a project similar to Australia’s Local Sports Stars scheme, which seems to be a tremendous initiative.
Thirdly, we need to encourage links between our local sporting heroes and key public health initiatives. Local sporting heroes know the areas they come from and their communities, so they are ideally placed to continue encouraging others.
Some Welsh athletics stars came to our parkrun recently to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS and they went down a storm—the response was absolutely fantastic—so I ask the Government to consider engaging local sporting heroes as part of the childhood obesity plan’s local partnerships, which are in train. I will suggest a similar approach in my discussions with the Welsh Government and my own local authority.
Great sporting achievements of any era show us what is possible, whether they are Steve’s marathon records, Mark Colbourne’s Paralympic cycling achievements or Mike Ruddock’s delivery of a grand slam as Wales rugby coach—we can all be inspired by the examples that such sports people have set—but when we see others reaching the pinnacle in any field, if they are from our home town, the thought “that could be me” strikes home a bit harder.
I hope everyone here has learnt a little more about Steve, his achievements and how he continues to make a great contribution to Blaenau Gwent, and I bet that other people here today have their own sporting heroes to celebrate. Finally, I would like to hear other suggestions on how we could build on the good work that these local sportsmen and women have done.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), who I congratulate on securing this debate.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) said while we were gathering for this debate, a famous pub quiz question is this: which three England captains played for Scunthorpe United, the Mighty Iron, whose tie I am wearing this afternoon? Of course, the answer is Ray Clemence, Kevin Keegan and Ian Botham. I understand, Mr Pritchard, that Ian Botham played for Scunthorpe against Hereford United, not always successfully.
There are many local sporting heroes that we should celebrate—that is a very important thing to do—and I would like to talk about two of Scunthorpe’s sporting heroes, from different generations and different sports: Tony Jacklin and Tai Woffinden.
Tony Jacklin, as people will probably know, was the first person to hit a televised hole in one in Britain, at the 16th at Royal St George’s, Sandwich. That was an achievement, but Tony achieved much more in his life as a professional golfer. Scunthorpe born, he became the first British/European player to win on the Professional Golf Association—PGA—tour since the 1920s. He ended a 17-year British drought by lifting the British Open championship trophy at Royal Lytham & St Annes, and the following year he won the US Open. He is the only British golfer to hold both the British and the US Open.
Jacklin should also be remembered for rejuvenating the Ryder cup. We recently had a very successful Ryder cup series that would not have happened but for the inspirational leadership of Tony Jacklin, who led the European team to win the tournament in 1985, 1987 and 1989. The 1987 victory was the first ever on US soil by a European team.
Jacklin deservedly entered the world golf hall of fame in 2002, but he is perhaps one of those sporting heroes who has been overlooked in honours from his own country. In former times, people often had to wait until they were older to get their honours, but in these times they often get them fairly close to their achievements. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of that amazing sporting occasion when, in the Ryder cup, Jack Nicklaus conceded to Tony Jacklin on the 18th hole, and it would be an absolutely ideal year in which to recognise Jacklin’s massive achievement and his contribution to the world of golf and sport, and to this nation.
That is Tony Jacklin. We have the appropriately named Jacklins Approach in Scunthorpe, which is a street in Bottesford, and recently, when I was visiting my parents in Leicester, I passed Jacklin Drive, so there are street names, but it is time to recognise Jacklin’s achievement even more.
Tai Woffinden was also Scunthorpe born and, riding for the Scunthorpe Scorpions in 2006, he completed a clean sweep of conference league trophies, winning the championship, the conference trophy, the conference shield and the knockout cup. It was clear back in 2006 that Tai was someone special. Since then, in 2013, he has won the speedway grand prix to become world champion. Woffinden was the eighth British rider to become world champion, and the first since 1992 to hold the British championship and the world championship in the same year. He is also the youngest world champion in the modern-day grand prix competition.
In 2018, Tai became the first British rider to win three individual speedway world championships, and he is the current world champion. That is a fantastic achievement, in a sport that is sometimes a little overlooked but one that many people enjoy in the same way as many enjoy football, rugby—I should mention the wonderful people who play for the Greens in Scunthorpe—and, of course, golf, which is where I started, with Tony Jacklin.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I was not going to participate in this debate, but I will do for a short moment. Each year in Henley we have something called the Regatta for the Disabled, which has been going on for the past 10 or 11 years. I have gone along and supported it every year. I will come on to the sporting hero associated with the regatta in a moment.
The regatta has a great impact on disabled people, showing them that the river is theirs; that it belongs to everyone. There is a good deal of fun about the day. I do a bit of the commentating on the dragon boat races, which is something to behold, but what I want to mention is that one of the really important people in the whole regatta is Helene Raynsford.
Helene is a world-class rowing champion and also a Paralympic champion. Her involvement in the regatta means a great deal to all of us who are involved, and it sets an absolutely brilliant example to everyone of what can be achieved despite a disability. It has always been a great pleasure to welcome Helene and to participate with her during the day. I offer her up as a local sporting champion and pay tribute to the enormous role she plays.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group for boxing, a steward of the British Boxing Board of Control and the author of “Fearless Freddie: The Life and Times of Freddie Mills”. I think that Members will, therefore, know what I am going to talk about today.
The primary focus of my speech is boxing and how it inspires people, but I first want to talk about something that is happening in my constituency at the moment. All sporting heroes, wherever they come from and whoever they are, have to start somewhere. They need facilities and coaches and, more importantly, they need inspirational people. The week before last, I joined my predecessors as MP for Islwyn, Lord Kinnock and Lord Touhig, to march with the community through Blackwood against the proposed closures of leisure centres in Pontllanfraith and Cefn Fforest. The leisure centres are well-used community facilities and resources, and 5,500 people have signed a petition to save them. I have been honoured to support the community in their campaign and they can rest assured that they have my wholehearted and continued support against the closures. I hope that when the council makes its decision it will bear in mind the voices of the people and keep the leisure centres open. We have seen in the past that once such community facilities are gone, they are gone forever.
I mentioned the all-party parliamentary group for boxing because we had a meeting this morning that was particularly pertinent to this debate. We were talking about how boxing has turned people’s lives around. Among others, we heard from the chairman of Matchroom Sport, Barry Hearn, who told us that inspirational role models are absolutely key to turning people’s lives around. We heard how Mike Tyson, the famous world heavyweight boxer, started fighting. He was in a correctional institute in New York state when Muhammad Ali came along, and watching Ali perform and say his rhymes for the children suddenly set a light off in Mike Tyson and he too wanted to be a boxer and follow in the footsteps of the greatest fighter of all time.
In Wales, we have a rich seam of boxers. People ask me, “How did you get involved in boxing? What was your interest in it?” and I often consider saying this: “It’s an old pair of worn-out dusty leather gloves that hang in my grandfather’s shed”. He was a fighter in the boxing booths, which were well known in south Wales. They came around every summer and many miners used to fight in them to get extra pennies, because the mines closed down for the last week of July and the first week of August and there was no holiday pay in those days. My grandfather was one of those miners and his family of 18 needed to look for an alternative form of income. He would put those gloves on and hit the carpet to knock the dust out for my grandmother before, even though he had been blinded many years previously in a pit accident, fighting his heroes, including Percy Jones.
Percy Jones is long forgotten. He died in 1922 and had a very sad life. He has a unique place in Wales, as Wales’s first flyweight world boxing champion, long before Jimmy Wilde who lived up the road in Tylorstown—they were the same weight but never fought. Percy Jones’s life is very pertinent, especially the week after Remembrance Day, because he served in world war one, was hit by shrapnel and lost his leg. He would not take a stretcher, in case he used up one for a less able-bodied man. That is how brave he was. When Percy went to a fundraiser in Cardiff at the age of 29 with his former coach and friend Jim Driscoll, people did not recognise him because he was so underweight. He was suffering from all the symptoms of trench disease, and he succumbed to it on Boxing Day 1922, at just 29 years of age. His story was lost to the mists of time, but the bravery he showed in the trenches was also demonstrated in the ring.
I want to mention not only Percy Jones but Jimmy Wilde, “the ghost with a hammer in his hand”, and other names that trip off the tongue. Even now, most recently and sadly in Newbridge in my constituency, we had Joe Calzaghe, undefeated over 40 fights. He has a unique bond with his father Enzo, to whom I want to pay tribute. They were a special team—a father and a son—and as Enzo said, “I went to war with my son, and I supported him.” Each of those boxers, whether Percy Jones, Jimmy Wilde, Jim Driscoll, Joe Calzaghe, or Muhammad Ali—I should not really mention Mike Tyson, given everything that happened—has an inspirational story. As we heard today in the all-party parliamentary group for boxing, when we talk about turning people’s lives around, we are mainly talking about people who have had contact with the criminal justice system, many of whom are inside. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), having been a boxing doctor and having attended meetings of the APPG in the past, knows Anthony Joshua well, and will know that he was tagged. When Anthony Joshua goes into a prison, unlike myself or many Members here, he can talk the language of those prisoners. He can share experiences with them, and may even have friends who were in that prison. He can tell those prisoners how boxing turned his life around.
The problem is that people see boxing as violence. People think that it is all about who can hit the hardest, and that the bigger man will always win. It is more technical than that; it is about tactics and thinking, and—as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting will say, having been ringside a number of times—it is about discipline. It is that discipline that turns people’s lives around. As Barry Hearn said this morning, people who have been absolute devils, when they get in the boxing ring and see they are good at it, suddenly become like angels.
I have to take the Government to task, since there is so much good news showing that boxing in prisons can turn people’s life around. I cite other American boxers such as Bernard Hopkins, who lost his first fight after being released for armed robbery, and Sonny Liston, who famously fought Muhammad Ali over two fights many years ago. Both were prisoners who turned their life around. On 11 August 2018, the Ministry of Justice published Rosie Meek’s independent review of sport in youth and adult prisons. In that report, she highlighted the beneficial role that sport can play in our criminal justice system. She drew on extensive evidence from community groups and academic research to show that sport and physical activity, including boxing, can help to reduce antisocial behaviour and violence in prisons. Moreover, her research demonstrates the value of sport as rehabilitative in prison settings, specifically in relation to educational and employment opportunities. Recommendation 7 of that report urged the Ministry of Justice to
“re-consider the national martial arts/boxing policy and pilot the introduction of targeted programmes which draw on boxing exercises, qualifications and associated activities.”
Rosie Meek argued:
“Where these are offered (in some Secure Children’s Homes and Secure Training Centres), they are well received and highly valued, both as a behaviour management tool and as a vehicle through which to facilitate education, discipline and communication.”
Unfortunately, in the wake of that report—which only asked for a pilot—the Government decided not to take forward recommendation 7. In their response to the review, they stated:
“We acknowledge that there is a great deal of evidence about the way in which participation in boxing and martial arts programmes in the community can have positive outcomes for individuals, however there is currently limited evidence about how that translates into the custodial environment.”
Without the pilot, how are we going to have evidence? I say to the Government and the Minister—although I know this is not her direct responsibility—that they should think again about promoting boxing in prisons, and the discipline that it can encourage.
Boxing, like rugby, is entwined with our valleys communities, whether in Blaenau Gwent, Islwyn, Rhondda, or the other places I have mentioned. The boxing booth was a familiar sight in our communities. Boxing turned around not only the lives of people who might have been drawn into the criminal element but the lives of people such as Jimmy Wilde from Tylorstown, who might have been resigned to a life in the pits. It turned around the life of Percy Jones, and countless others such as Jim Driscoll and Tommy Farr. All of those people are now lost in the mists of time, but boxing turned around their life. Freddie Mills would not have been heard of if boxing had not come into his life at an early age; he would have remained a milkman in Bournemouth. He was a young criminal who turned his life around. The discipline of boxing, introduced first by his brother and then by the boxing booths, took him from driving around in a milk cart in Bournemouth to the Royal Albert Hall, and eventually to a media career. Those are inspirational stories, and there are countless others. I urge the Government to allow the boxing community to share them with those who have found themselves in trouble in life.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I welcome the Minister to her place. She follows a Minister who advocated for sport with great passion; she will, I am sure, follow in her predecessor’s footsteps. I thank the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) for securing today’s debate, because sport is close to my heart, having played rugby—and any other sport that I possibly could—for 17 years. He outlined that one of the main reasons for the debate was the lack of recognition given to Steve Jones, and the campaign to ensure that he gets the recognition he deserves. I wish that campaign well.
I think we all enjoyed hearing from the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) about the plethora of sporting greats that Scunthorpe has produced, notably three England captains. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), my colleague on the Select Committee on Justice, spoke about Henley and its rowing regatta. The hon. Member for—
I thank the hon. Member for Islwyn for filling in the gap there. He spoke with clear passion about boxing, and about facilities and coaching. I will touch on coaching later. Of course, my constituency has its own local heroes, including Archie Gemmill, scorer of the best goal in World Cup history; Bernie Slaven; Callum Hawkins; David Hay; Paul Lambert, the Champions League winner; and great Scottish cup winners such as Frank McGarvey, Billy Abercromby, and Tony Fitzpatrick, who recently had the great honour of having a council gritter named after him: Tony Gritzpatrick. I can hear the groans from here, although I prefer Ploughlo Grittini, named after Paolo Nutini.
When we talk about sporting heroes, we often talk about modern-era greats such as Andy Murray or Dame Kath Grainger, or old greats such as Denis Law or Rose Reilly. However, the positive impact of sport is felt most at the local level, thanks to the real local heroes: the coaches and volunteers who give up their time to allow all of us, old and young alike, the chance to participate and compete. Scotland has always been a sporting nation. We are proud to have a pantheon of heroes that rivals that of nations many times our size, and 2018 has been another proud year for Scottish sport. We have witnessed the emergence of new household names to join those we have already recognised, such as the fantastic Laura Muir, who achieved a gold medal at the European athletics championships, and Duncan Scott, who was named the national lottery’s athlete of the year after exceptional performances at the Commonwealth games and the European athletics championships.
Of course, as an SNP MP, it would be remiss of me to not take the opportunity to boast about Scotland’s victories over England in rugby—I was there that glorious day—and, even more impressively and unlikely, in cricket.
Wales will get its come-uppance in the six nations.
Scotland is one of the first countries in the world to publish a national action plan following the World Health Organisation’s global action plan on physical activity. Empowered by local sporting communities, the Scottish Government aim to cut physical inactivity in adults and teenagers by 15% by 2030. That will mean rigorously addressing all the factors involved, using a variety of approaches, including active travel funding, support for formal sports and informal physical activity, and targeted partnerships across the transport, education, health and planning sectors.
Sport and physical activity bring massive benefits to physical and mental health. Those benefits include improved self-esteem, the learning of new skills and, most importantly, fun and the forming of new relationships. The “Active Scotland Outcomes Framework” sets an ambitious vision for a more active Scotland, and is underpinned by a commitment to equality, in recognition of the extra barriers that women and girls often face when getting involved. The Scottish Government set up the Women and Girls in Sport Advisory Board and the sporting equality fund. They have also announced a £300,000 fund to be awarded to 14 projects that will work to tackle the long-standing challenge. All those actions will make Scotland a healthier and happier nation, and ensure that our sporting heroes, locally and nationally, will become more representative of our diverse population.
Sport truly does have the ability to promote wellbeing and inspire communities through the empowerment of local heroes. Scottish football is just one example of how sport can bring communities together. Scottish football was recently the focus of a UEFA study on the social return on investment in sport. Many will recognise the story that the study tells us, namely that sport has clear, acute social benefits that play out most locally. That is thanks to countless community role models who organise kickabouts, coach youth teams, and play for their local amateur or junior teams.
The report shows that the immediate economic benefits of football in Scotland total around £1.2 billion through participation alone, with nearly 800,000 people playing in some way. It also shows £667 million in savings for the Scottish NHS and a direct contribution of £212 million to the economy, creating thousands of jobs. It finds that investment in girls’ and women’s football has paid off massively, through excellent social benefits, as well as excellent results in the game itself: the women’s team have been hugely successful, qualifying for the World cup next year for the first time, and I congratulate them on that. That amazing achievement far outstrips anything that the male team has achieved in the past couple of decades.
Building a nation in which good physical and mental health is promoted and the norm for the majority of people would be difficult without our sporting role models nationally and locally, but it would be impossible without our heroes in local communities, who champion their sports and give their own time freely to enable, encourage and educate our youngsters. As I hope I have demonstrated, Scotland champions its sporting achievements, and we are well on our way to creating the next generation of sporting heroes.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) for securing this important opportunity to discuss the role played by sporting heroes in our local communities.
It will surprise no one to hear that as shadow Minister for Sport, I spend a lot of time thinking about the role that sportspeople play in our daily lives and society. In the past, it might have been considered self-explanatory that “Sportspeople play sports, people come and watch said sports, and society benefits by having sports entertainment—and that is that.” Occasionally sports stars would break the mould—people such as Muhammad Ali or Billie Jean King, who challenged authority and told truth to power—but they were few and far between. If we asked someone today about the role sportspeople can play in society, I think the answer would be very different. We live in a period where sports stars are doing more than ever before to break the mould, to inspire a sense of possibility in our young people, and to educate. In America, LeBron James, an athlete at the top of his game, sets up public schools for underprivileged children.
Sports heroes are vital for society in general, but especially for the next generation, and it is important that we recognise that. They truly can make a path for others to follow. Representation matters. For many young people, seeing people who look like them, sound them like and grew up in their communities succeed in such high-profile arenas is inspiring. Nicola Adams, a normal young woman from Leeds, grew up to be our first woman boxing champion in Olympic history. We should think about how important it is for people to see themselves represented in these incredibly public settings—to see women of colour achieve so much. Women, particularly women of colour, are often told to stay in our lane, but to borrow the phrase of Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke, Nicola showed that we should not stay in our lane; we should slay in our lane.
I firmly believe that the only limits that truly exist are the ones we put on ourselves. Sporting stars today do so much to personify that theme, especially for the local communities they represent. It is one thing for someone to see someone like them make it, but it is another thing entirely if they grew up in the same place. My constituency of Tooting has its fair share of sporting talent. Frank Bruno was born in Wandsworth and boxed in Earlsfield. Darren Bent was born in St George’s Hospital, where I still work as a doctor. Commonwealth heavyweight title-holder Joe Joyce boxes at Earlsfield boxing club. We are definitely very lucky with our plethora of local sports stars.
Today I would like to draw attention to one particular type of local sporting hero—the kind who almost never makes it into the headlines and never gets the medals or accolades, but is just as important to our local communities. I am talking about the parents who drive their kids to matches, meets and practices every weekend. I am talking about brothers and sisters who take their little brothers and sisters to the park for a kickabout. I am talking about people who volunteer for sports clubs, not only coaching, but offering a safe space that people can come to, where young people can be themselves and share their problems. I am talking about people like Sid and Clare Khan, who run Earlsfield boxing club—clearly Tooting has a thing for over-achieving Khans—and Winston and Natasha, who run Balham boxing club.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) rightly said, boxing clubs in the heart of our communities can change lives. Sid, Clare, Winston and Natasha perform vital roles as mentors and friends to young people who might otherwise not have reliable adult role models in their life. I still box at Balham boxing club. I sit ringside as the boxing doctor during shows. I know the difference the clubs can make. We can talk about it in these rooms and go home to our wonderful, comfortable lives, but for many young people, the boxing club is the only place they can find someone to trust. They can be the only place where they can go to find solace, speak their truth and admit that they might have a mental health problem, or that they are about to join a gang. That is the case for any sporting facility, not just boxing clubs. We have to recognise the role such facilities can play.
The people in the clubs are mentors. They spot mental health issues and problems at home. They provide guidance, and they often offer a confidential conversation where there is no other. I have seen with my own eyes how young people who probably would not talk to their parents or teachers instead come to someone like Winston at Balham boxing club. These people are local sporting heroes. There are people like Phil and the team at Tooting and Mitcham football club. When their nearby rivals Dulwich Hamlet had their ground seized by greedy property developers and their entire club seemed to be hanging by a thread, Phil offered Tooting and Mitcham’s ground. Within a week, Dulwich Hamlet had agreed terms and were able to continue playing until the dispute with their property developers was resolved.
I want to pick up on the hon. Lady’s reference to boxing clubs. I have a very poor village in my constituency that has a boxing club. It plays a fantastic role in providing some organisation for the young people who live there. The only thing one has to bear in mind is that last time I went there, I sat next to the ring, and I had to put my hand over my wine glass to stop blood from spurting into it after one boxer punched another completely on the nose.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for pointing out the dangers of mixing sweat and blood, and of sitting ringside. He sounds like a true sporting hero himself for being there and supporting his local club, which I am sure was very grateful.
As we know from the contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), this country has a rich history of sporting heroes; nowhere was that better demonstrated than at the 2012 Olympics, where Team GB had its best Olympics since 1908. That is something to be proud of. So many stars were made in that summer that it is hard to keep track of them.
We can speak all day long about the sporting heroes we hold dear, but we must also speak about the legacy that we leave behind as representatives of our communities. The proportion of over-16s playing sport for at least 30 minutes each week remains virtually unchanged since 2005. Teenagers are being taught almost 35,000 fewer hours of physical education in school. Hundreds of sports facilities close each year, and local authority spending in sport has been rapidly cut under this Government. Sporting heroes are important; sports facilities are vital.
I welcome the Minister to her post, and look forward to working with her in future. I hope that she will use today’s debate as an opportunity to show in concrete terms that the Government will prioritise sport. We owe it to our sporting heroes, and to the people we represent.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard, responding to my first debate in my new role. I thank the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) for securing the debate; I have no doubt that it will be the first of many in my new portfolio. I am hoping to do more actual sport now I am in this role, rather than just talking about it. Hon. Members’ contributions on local heroes have been fantastic. Even so early in my tenure as Minister, it is clear to me that sport can inspire communities to achievement and activity at every level. I am delighted that we are celebrating that this afternoon.
Let me turn to Steve Jones, who headed to Chicago back in 1984—before the running gels and the great trainers—and ran a two-hour marathon. That is fantastic. A statue for Steve would be the only time he was seen standing still. I have gone to London, New York and Toronto to run, although not always in marathons. His contribution to British athletics should be celebrated in the Chamber, and I am pleased to do that. We must also remember what got Steve running—opportunities like parkrun and support for people in Tredegar getting out in trainers. We should absolutely celebrate him. Of course, people called Jones, as we heard this afternoon, are also very inspiring.
My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) spoke about rowing, boxing, blood, sweat and tears and being the person on the mic at the dragon boat races. This morning, I met representatives of Activity Alliance, a disability inclusion charity whose focus is getting active lives for everybody—it is doing so much work on that. I am delighted to hear about the Henley Royal Regatta. I have not been to it, and I think there is a huge opportunity there.
We heard about the Scunthorpe stars—three of them shining England captains—and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) reminded us of the marvellous Tony Jacklin. I must confess that I was slightly distracted at the Conservative party conference this year by the Ryder cup—I think we all were. It was wonderful to hear about the 1980s Ryder cups where we really saw some successes.
The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) made a passionate speech about facilities, coaches and community; the power of change through boxing; Percy Jones and Jimmy Wilde and bravery shown in this sphere; and the importance of tactics, discipline and focus in boxing, which can be seen at the highest level through the teamwork of Joe and Enzo Calzaghe.
We also heard about Anthony Joshua. I agree that sport and physical activities give opportunities to communities. People in prison or perhaps in need of support in the community can be given opportunities through martial arts and boxing. In my very short time in the Department, I have made it clear that we should be agile, open-minded and focused on outcomes for people. It is easy to talk about the Government putting in investment, but ultimately it is about outcomes.
We heard from the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) about Archie Gemmill and that wonderful moment, and Laura Muir. I have followed her as an athlete—a slip of a girl, she has achieved so much. When they are seen to be doing so well, the cold dark mornings when they put the slog in can be forgotten about. As a former Paisley rugby captain, the hon. Gentleman will know about getting out on the field and doing the work when needed. It was great to hear about Active Scotland doing so much work focused on women’s and girls’ participation. When I was lucky enough to be asked by the Prime Minister to do this role, that was the focus that she looked to me to move forward.
It was wonderful to hear from my opposite number, the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), about the work in Tooting, and about Frank Bruno and Joe Joyce. I have two boxing clubs in my patch that do great work: Eastleigh boxing club, which celebrated its 70th anniversary at the beginning of the year, and Poseidon, based at the Ageas Bowl, which has been going only since 2013, but looks after 400 people and gives them opportunities to get into sport.
It would be remiss of me not to highlight the work of some amazing people across Eastleigh. The sports awards are coming up, and coaches, officials, clubs and schools all have the chance to be nominated by the beginning of February. Some great people have already done so much in the community. David Smith, a Paralympian, is now over at Swansea. He is an MBE, and he has won so much in boccia. He is the champione, and he is an Eastleigh guy. Eastleigh walking football club won the national finals. Getting involved in walking sports is a great opportunity for our local heroes to bring in people who perhaps have not seen such opportunities before to participate. At my seniors’ fair last week, Eastleigh rugby club was also looking for people to participate.
I think we do have a sporting hero here in the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent. Despite the foot injury, he could be back doing the marathon for the Hospice of the Valleys—I see a comeback on the cards. As a councillor, I had the chance to meet Tim Hutchings and set up a staggered marathon. That was an opportunity to inspire people into sport. It gives public health benefits and encouragement in terms of the challenges that we face with obesity and childhood inactivity.
That is a quick reminder that I did not start this year, but I feel a bit of competition coming on next year.
Moving on to the elite level, which I feel not at all close to, in Rio we saw the result of UK Sport’s no-compromise approach. Yesterday, I met with and spoke to Dame Katherine Grainger and heard about her plans. It was an amazing performance at Rio in 2016—366 athletes travelled to Brazil and 130 of them won Olympic medals. More recently, we had record-breaking performances at Pyeongchang. We absolutely look up to our elite stars, but if they are in our midst how wonderful that is.
Of course, we are building on that with our athlete days scheme, ensuring that our sports stars find some time, if they are funded, to inspire our children in schools and to go to local clubs to ensure that the story of how they got there becomes clear to our youngsters. Much of what our athletes do to inspire is vital. Since 2012, there have been more than 30,000 athlete volunteer days around the country.
We have heard about the power of UK Sport partnering with parkrun. Over 250 funded athletes have attended events this year, which has led to record-breaking attendance. The national lottery awards now include a new “athlete of the year” category. Seven shortlisted athletes were selected by a judging panel for their sporting achievements and their passion for sport. Swimmer Duncan Scott won the £5,000 award from the national lottery this year—congratulations to him.
All these people continue to keep our interest going. Football clubs across the country are doing more as part of their fixture calendar, and it is absolutely right that we allow this to happen at every level where there is an opportunity to engage and inspire. The Government are looking for lots of different outcomes with our sports strategy, but ultimately it is vital that we look for inspiration.
I feel that time is starting to push on, so I will move forward and talk about sports volunteers. The hon. Member for Tooting rightly mentioned the reliance on our volunteers, families and communities to do so much to inspire locally. There are 6.7 million sports volunteers at grassroots level; without them, we would not have the major events or sports opportunities that we see. Sport England is investing over £20 million between 2017 and 2021 to increase the number of volunteers and to allow meaningful volunteering experiences for everybody. Those mums, dads, supporters and coaches are absolutely vital.
We must talk about nominations for public honours and the opportunities to recognise people who do so much. Recipients of honours make a difference in their communities, and the guidance for nominating an individual for a national honour is readily available and can be found on the Government’s website—or people can come to Westminster Hall to make their bid and hope that it is heard by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
There are many ways to recognise the local sector. County sports partnerships do a great job in my own community at providing the nominations for the Eastleigh sports awards. Those are under way in many areas, and this is a way for local businesses also to get involved. The Prime Minister has the daily “points of light” award, which recognises inspirational community volunteers. In Hamble, there is an opportunity for everybody to experience sailing on one of the Wetwheels boats, which has been launched at Royal Southern yacht club in my own patch. This organisation for disabled people, which disabled yachtsman Geoff Holt has led, has allowed 3,000 people to get out on the water. That is an area where getting engaged is probably more difficult, but there is a fully accessible powerboat.
Dedicated athletes, volunteers and coaches, as well as people who wash kits or who get out and inspire, are vital to our communities at every level, and they should be celebrated. I have been delighted to contribute to the debate and will continue to use this platform to ensure that there are sporting heroes in our local communities who can continue to do so much and to be rightly recognised.
This has been an interesting and really important debate, and it has been good for me to celebrate the athletic brilliance of Steve Jones. It has been interesting to hear about Scunthorpe’s Tai Woffinden and Tony Jacklin; to hear more about our south Wales heroes, Joe and Enzo Calzaghe; and to hear about Hannah Rainsford from Henley, who sounds absolutely fantastic.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) about the importance of boxing in our justice system for helping prisoners to build a new life, get out of crime and play a part in our mainstream communities. I thank him for that powerful point, which he made very well.
I hope that the key message coming from this debate is that our local sporting heroes support greater physical participation and good public health across our country, which has certainly been my takeaway from today. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) and the Minister, I want to give a very loud shout out to sporting volunteers across our country. Week in, week out—sometimes in all sorts of terrible weather—they ensure that our teams and individuals perform at their best.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the importance of local sporting heroes.