Tuesday 30 April 2019
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
Healthcare: East Midlands
I beg to move,
That this House has considered provision of local healthcare in the East Midlands.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am glad to have secured this crucial debate, which gives me and my east midlands colleagues a great opportunity to highlight the healthcare crisis in our constituencies, our region and across the country. I must stress in everything I say that I do not blame the hard-working and dedicated staff for any of it; the fault lies fairly and squarely with Government cuts. Our constituents deserve better than the past decade of under- funding, which has created a postcode lottery in local healthcare. It has had particularly detrimental implications for my constituency of Lincoln: local healthcare centres have been forced to shut, more general practitioners’ services are at risk of closure in the coming months, and local hospitals are in need of considerable funding and support.
Our healthcare infrastructure in the surrounding region of Lincolnshire has also been put under considerable pressure over the past nine years. In July last year, the chief inspector of hospitals recommended that United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which has a deficit estimated at £80 million, should remain in special measures. The latest figures show that the trust missed its A&E waiting time target by 32% and has not met the national standard since September 2014.
The east midlands reflects the national picture of a health service in crisis. The Government have spent nine years running down the NHS by imposing the biggest funding squeeze in its history, with massive cuts to public health services. Social care has been slashed by £7 billion since 2010. Our NHS is short of 100,000 staff, including 41,000 nurses and nearly 10,000 doctors. That has had a detrimental knock-on effect on performance: waiting lists are at 4.3 million, more than 500,000 patients are waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment, and 2.5 million people are waiting for more than four hours in A&E. That is a crisis.
It is clear that the underfunding, privatisation and inadequate staffing of our health service has had a devastating effect on healthcare provision in Lincoln and the east midlands. Government decisions have had terrible consequences for people who need care in the areas that I and many of my colleagues represent. That is typified by the recent announcement that the highly relied-on Skellingthorpe surgery may close.
For those who do not know it, Skellingthorpe is a beautiful village in my constituency. Its doctors surgery provides healthcare to more than 8,000 patients, many of whom are local residents. The national patient survey found that 81.9% of the surgery’s patients felt that their overall experience was good or very good. The Glebe Practice, which runs the surgery, is in the process of proposing its closure to the clinical commissioning group, and the practice’s patients are centralised in its Saxilby surgery. I acknowledge that there are pressures on the service—there could not fail to be, given the Government’s cuts—and that the practice is struggling to recruit clinicians, so centralising its service in Saxilby allows it to maintain quality in one surgery. However, centralising the service restricts my constituents’ access to care. They have told me that it is already very difficult to book a timely GP appointment there.
As many other hon. Members will know from their own constituencies, rural areas are often inaccessible because of limited transport links. If the Glebe Practice’s plan to transfer patients to its Saxilby practice is agreed to, it will mean patients having to travel on public transport—remember, not everybody can drive or has a car—or walk for 90 minutes from the Skellingthorpe surgery. Even the closest surgery is about a 40-minute walk away. Imagine elderly people having to walk for 40 minutes!
This is a shocking downgrade of my Skellingthorpe constituents’ access to care. The proposed alternatives do not offer an acceptable journey length to patients who are in need of health services. Many patients may struggle with mobility issues because of age or illness, while others may not be able to afford to travel other than by public transport.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech that sets out the challenges to healthcare in rural areas such as Lincolnshire. Just this week, the wound service in one of our local clinics in High Peak has shut. Elderly patients with open wounds are having to travel for four hours each way, on three buses, to access the clinic that they are supposed to go to. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is absolutely unacceptable?
Yes, I do. I hope that everybody in this Chamber would agree that that is really unacceptable.
Rather than reducing access to one-to-one healthcare, we should be outlining how we can help groups such as the Glebe Practice by implementing effective national programmes that incentivise recruitment in rural areas. There is a major workforce crisis: as a report co-authored by the Nuffield Trust, the King’s Fund and the Health Foundation has found, the NHS could be short of 7,000 GPs within five years. Rural areas will be the first to be hit. As access to GP services in the east midlands is reduced, I urge the Minister to take action to address the staffing crisis.
Before the surgery closes, Lincolnshire West CCG intends to hold a public consultation—but the people of Lincoln have been there before, very recently. Lincoln’s walk-in centre on Monks Road closed last year after an allegedly meaningful public consultation, 94% of respondents to which were opposed to the closure. Protests were held outside Lincoln County Hospital and along the high street. Both Conservative-led Lincolnshire County Council and Labour-controlled City of Lincoln Council formally objected to the closure, as did I, but not a bit of notice was taken—the centre was still closed. The justification was similar to the one being given now for the Skellingthorpe closure: we were told that there would be sufficient alternative provision to ensure the same level of care. After researching that claim, we found that no substitution would come anywhere near the accessibility of the walk-in centre, so I am afraid that my constituents’ faith in any local consultation is pretty limited.
Appointment-only slots will not meet the needs of my constituents who rely on short-notice, timely access to care. Inevitably, they will only add to the pressure on the overworked A&E department at Lincoln County Hospital and East Midlands ambulance service.
I am very concerned that a trend is emerging: the implementation of cuts to healthcare services, in direct opposition to local people’s wishes and needs. It is deeply worrying that CCGs are not listening to residents’ concerns before closing local health services. I completely acknowledge that there have been sustained budgetary pressures on the healthcare system over the past nine years, and that it is the CCGs that are expected to deliver large-scale cuts, but in a transparent health governance system we cannot allow cuts to be rubber-stamped against such clear local opposition.
I ask the Minister to consider these cases and contact me to provide substantial reasoning to explain why another closure in my constituency is considered acceptable. The information that I and my constituents have been afforded has led us to the opinion that neither the walk-in centre nor the Skellingthorpe surgery should have been considered for closure. I am sorry, Minister, but passing the buck to the CCG is not good enough for my constituents.
It is not just local GP practices and health centres that have been put under debilitating pressure over the past decade. In my constituency, Lincoln County Hospital serves the city of Lincoln and the north Lincolnshire area. Due to funding and staffing pressures, the latest Care Quality Commission inspection has found that Lincoln County Hospital is below the national standard and requires improvement. It is important to stress that, as is the case in hospitals throughout the UK, this substandard performance is in no way the fault of the dedicated and hard-working staff. I speak from experience: when I was a nurse there, we often used to stay up to an hour late. In theory we got our time back, but in practice we did not.
The staff give a lot—it is not their fault. I worked as a nurse at Lincoln County Hospital for 14 years and I know how much energy and care all the staff, from porters to doctors, put into their challenging work. That is supported by the CQC report, which concluded that the hospital requires improvement in four out of five areas: safety, effectiveness, responsiveness and management. The only area rated as good was the caring nature of the hospital. As the report states repeatedly:
“Patients were treated with compassion, dignity and respect.”
I pay credit to the hard-working staff for that, but they are being let down by a Government who have consistently neglected our health services. I have been through their cuts myself.
The inspection found that nurse staffing numbers were often insufficient to keep people protected from avoidable harm and that the hospital relied heavily on agency and locum staff. I know that at first hand: my friends who are still nurses there tell me that that is true even now. Most worrying was the fact that adequate levels of nurses were observed on only four of the 28 days that the CQC reviewed. It is hardly surprising that there are such drastic staffing shortages. Since 2010, there has been a 19% real-terms fall in weekly earnings for full-time nurses. Nursing degree applications have dropped by one third since the Government scrapped nursing bursaries, without which I would not have been able to train. I go on and on about the nursing bursary, and I will not stop. We need to bring it back; we will not have enough nurses until we do.
The Health Foundation has also found that the number of nurses quitting because of a poor work-life balance almost tripled between 2011 and 2018. Our NHS staff should be celebrated and supported. Their kindness and commitment should not be taken advantage of by a Government who strip away the security of their profession. Lincoln County Hospital demonstrates the devastating way in which avoidable staffing shortages affect vulnerable patients in our communities.
The CQC report also found that patients could not always access care and treatment in a timely way. Waiting times were worse than the England average and did not meet the national standard. Some 60% of ambulance handovers were delayed by 30 minutes or more, and 47% of patients in A&E waited longer than the recommended 15 minutes to be triaged. I went out with an ambulance crew about a year ago, and I saw that at first hand.
That shows how hard-working, committed NHS staff in Lincoln are being put under intolerable pressure by decisions made in Whitehall. That is not unique to Lincoln. In July last year, England’s chief inspector of hospitals recommended that United Hospitals Lincolnshire NHS Trust should remain in special measures after visits to Lincoln County Hospital, Pilgrim Hospital, County Hospital Louth and Grantham and District Hospital. Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, which serves my constituents, is a particularly worrying case. It received an overall rating of “inadequate” in this year’s CQC inspection. The report found that there was no allocated corridor nurse. Corridor nurse—really? Should people be in corridors on trolleys? One nurse was caring for up to 21 patients at one time. When I was a nurse, the average was about six or eight. On a bad day, if someone did not come in, it could be 10 or 12, but 21—really?
It is clear that at the local, regional and national level, healthcare provision is not working. Vulnerable people who need care in Lincoln, the east midlands and across the UK have a right to access the health provision that they need. That requires a properly funded and staffed NHS service, from local GPs to county hospitals. Although I welcome the Government’s planned funding increase for the NHS, most health experts agree that it is barely enough to keep the NHS afloat, let alone reverse nine years of severe funding cuts. Areas such as Lincoln and the east midlands need and deserve much more than a plan that will barely keep afloat a system operating on a shoestring budget.
As someone whose job used to be to provide local healthcare, I am lifted by the fact that everyone can access healthcare as a human right in this country, but that universal right is threatened by policies that do not enable an effective health service in which everyone can access care based on their need, not on the austere policy decisions of the Government of the day.
Order. The debate can last until 11 o’clock. We have got almost an hour of Back-Bench time, so there is no pressure, but the Chair will be particularly generous to any Member who wants to dilate at length on the need for an urgent care hub at Kettering General Hospital.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for allowing me to speak first. I think it is the first time I have heard a Chair say that there is no time constraint, but I will not detain the House for too long. At the risk of being called to order, I had planned to raise the work that you have done for Kettering General Hospital and your impassioned demands for improvements to it over the years, which no doubt the Minister has listened to many times. I was with some friends last week who said, “Ah, Northamptonshire. That’s the Bones—Peter and Philip—isn’t it?” Kettering General Hospital came up. At the risk of being called to order—I do not see you doing that—let me say what a good job you have done for that hospital. As was said in the Chamber this week, your whole identity in the House is linked to the work you have done there.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) on securing not just half an hour but an hour and a half in what used to be called the Grand Committee Room but is now Westminster Hall. She spoke passionately and with detailed knowledge, as a former nurse, about the problems in her area. I listened to her speech, and I have sympathy with what she said about some of the consolidation that has taken place, but inevitably there have to be some changes and rationalisations in the health service.
I will talk mainly about the changes in the great town of Hinckley, in my west Leicestershire constituency of Bosworth, which is some way from Lincoln. We were very fortunate that the Secretary of State himself—ipse—recently came to Hinckley to look at the changes that will be made thanks to the £8 million grant that has been secured for upgrading the facilities in Hinckley. Mayur Lakhani, the chair of the West Leicestershire clinical commissioning group, spoke warmly about the way the Secretary of State had responded to their bid, and the support of Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, which happens to be Conservative-controlled, and which I will refer to later.
I was lucky to be elected to this House a long time ago—in fact, so long ago that I sometimes forget the date. I have been a Member for more than 30 years, and the one health issue that has bedevilled my constituency above all others in that period is what to do with the Mount Road hospital—the old hospital in the middle of Hinckley. Because of the £8 million grant that the Secretary of State awarded to the clinical commissioning group, we are now able to make some substantial changes to the health improvements in Hinckley. Given your interest in Kettering General Hospital, Mr Hollobone, you will understand my joy at seeing the improvements that are about to take place—consultations are going on at the moment.
I have a letter from the West Leicestershire clinical commissioning group setting out exactly where we are now. It says that the investment supports plans to provide modern, fit-for-purpose facilities, and more services in the local community and closer to home in Hinckley. I say to the hon. Member for Lincoln that part of that will be about shutting down old facilities. One is a portakabin and another is the old hospital. In exchange, the investment will make better use of all available existing space in Hinckley Health Centre on Hill Street, not far from the old hospital, and Hinckley and Bosworth Community Hospital, which we call Sunnyside because it is on a hill and gets the sun all day long—it is a marvellous place for a hospital.
As part of the £8 million package, the Hinckley Health Centre will be refurbished to accommodate X-ray, ultrasound and physiotherapy, and to increase the number of consulting rooms, which is extremely important. Out-of-hours primary care services will be relocated from Hinckley and Bosworth Community Hospital—Sunnyside—to the newly developed urgent care hub in the Hinckley Health Centre, which will provide out-of-hours urgent care for local patients. A combined day case surgery and endoscopy unit with day case beds will be created. That will provide an increased range of day case procedures and cancer screening services for local patients. We will be removing services from the old Hinckley and District Hospital and the physiotherapy portakabin, which are unfortunately not fit for purpose, and physiotherapy services will be relocated to Hinckley Health Centre.
As I have the luxury of time, I say to people who have campaigned for years to save the old Hinckley and District Hospital that as it is such an old building, upgrading the hospital to the highest standards would require a phenomenal amount of work at a very high cost, with a low return on investment because all the special cables now have to be run with special conduits for oxygen and monitoring. It simply cannot be done efficiently in such an old structure. Although many of my constituents will have an emotional attachment to the old hospital, the decision that has been taken by the clinical commissioning group is right: it needed to close. In exchange, we are now getting an £8 million grant, which will provide much better facilities. As I mentioned earlier, some of the facilities are coming into the town from the outskirts—from Sunnyside to the health centre. It is quite an achievement.
We were lucky to get the grant of £8 million. My father always said to me that you generate your own luck in life, which is true. In this case, one of the drivers that made it possible for the Department and Secretary of State to agree to the clinical commissioning group’s bid was the extraordinary co-operation in west Leicestershire between the different service providers, particularly in Hinckley in my constituency.
At the beginning of the 2005 Parliament, I was lucky enough to get elected to the Health Committee under the new procedures. Subsequently, I chaired it for a short time. When I was elected to the Committee, I asked the then leader of the council, “Would you like me to come and talk about health on a regular basis?” It was agreed that I would, and that developed into a health and wellbeing partnership, which meets quarterly with the clinical commissioning group; the director of public health for Leicestershire County Council, Mike Sands; and senior officers at Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, including Bill Cullen, Simon Jones, Councillor Maureen Cook and many other excellent Conservative councillors over time. We also have doctors from the local surgeries attend.
Over a period of some years, we saw the meeting change from participants sitting with their arms folded and leaning back, to sitting up and listening attentively. We have learned to work together, and the partnership has been leakproof—there is nothing to gain from talking outside. We have had an extraordinary degree of co-operation, and I am absolutely convinced that it has improved the health services in my constituency and the county as a whole. It has reduced costs and brought up a whole a range of new ideas, some of which I shall go through today. The work of the secondary provider, Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, has been really remarkable and hugely encouraging, and it is something that all local people in my constituency can be proud of. Leicestershire County Council has done a good job, too, but I am particularly proud of what Hinckley and Bosworth has done through its health and wellbeing partnership—its contribution to health delivered through that partnership.
It might be instructive if I run through some of the areas that Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council has worked on. I am pleased to see the Minister of State in his place rather than a Parliamentary Under-Secretary; he is the deputy of the Secretary of State. It illustrates how seriously the Government take the issue of health funding in the east midlands. I want to share with him what is going on in Hinckley. First, I reiterate that we have a local delivery of preventive services through co-operation. I mentioned the councils, but we also talk to the voluntary and community sector. We have patient participation groups, school participation groups and elderly patient participation groups.
The information pyramid is broad-based, and the lines of communication are fluid. Information can come from the bottom to the top very easily. From those ideas, the Conservative-controlled Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council has produced a comprehensive prevention strategy, which sets out the work that the authority will undertake with its partners. The first objective is to prevent issues from escalating by taking action as early as possible. The second is to reduce demand for high-cost services and dependency on statutory services, thereby making spending more efficient.
Another objective is to develop self-help approaches to enable communities to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing, which is something that the Department of Health and Social Care worked on under the Secretary of State’s predecessor, and the Health Committee in the 2005 Parliament looked at personal budgets and how they work. It was about getting people to think about their own health. With an ageing population, that is one of the areas that really must be brought to the fore in the future. However much money we ask for the NHS, we will never have enough supply of resources to meet demand unless we encourage people to take greater care of themselves. In this respect, the initiatives that Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council has taken are hugely important in encouraging people to do that.
I will come on to what the council has done in a moment, but the overall aim of the strategy is to ensure that, together with its key partners, the council enables communities—especially people who are most at risk—to keep safe, keep well, stay independent and enjoy life. To support those aims and achieve those objectives, the council provides integrated locality teams, which identify and support people in a more co-ordinated way, focusing on two specific areas. The first is:
“Proactive identification via risk stratification of patients (18+, frail, multiple LTCs) at risk of a hospital admission and assessing the ‘whole person’ and their needs to keep them safe and well at home where it is appropriate to do so.”
I quote from this document—“whole person”—because a key thrust of health policy in the future should be holistic healthcare, which has become slightly muddled up and seen as definitely not mainstream. Actually, it should be at the core of the mainstream, treating the patient as a whole. I will come on to long-term care and conditions when I discuss the Health Committee’s report, “Managing the care of people with long-term conditions”, which I signed off as Chairman.
In Hinckley and Bosworth, we have a council that is proactively segmenting the population to treat people who are most in need as priorities, which I absolutely applaud. It also does that through the use of health ambassadors, who are
“uniformed volunteers who support and encourage people to get more active more often. They undertake this by playing to their strengths. Some give presentations, some lead activities, some encourage and support new participants on current schemes. Some are happy to have a coffee after an activity and talk to new participants. The big thing is they are positive role models who are empathetic with people and can support them to change and be more active in a way that is natural and comfortable to them.”
The programme is particularly effective when dealing with older people. In my beautiful constituency, Desford sports centre provides classes for elderly people, to keep them active. They have a chance to talk to experts—not doctors particularly, but sports therapists. They can play table tennis, sit down and do quizzes, play tennis—there is even tennis for people who are disabled. The whole idea is to get people who are a bit tired of life, or a bit sad by themselves, to meet other people and to engage in activities, thereby making them happier and healthier, and reducing the burden on the health service.
We are trying to divert away from A&E—the Leicester Royal Infirmary has one of the highest patient inputs in the country relative to its geographical footprint. I will not talk about the royal infirmary and the wonderful work of its health workers, but when the chair of the clinical commissioning group came to see what we were doing in Desford—on another visit, without the Secretary of State—we saw the Steady Steps programme. It is a 24-week free postural and stability exercise programme for older adults, aimed at those aged 65 and over who are at risk of falling, unsteady on their feet, lacking in confidence or likely to lose their balance.
One therapy that the sports centre is not employing, but to which I should like to draw the House’s attention, is the Alexander technique, which I have used in the past. Alexander was an opera singer, and he found that he could not sing. Part of the problem was that his chest was constricted all the time, so he could not project his voice—something that politicians are also quite keen to do at time when on the soapbox, if they can ever get there. Alexander discovered that breathing was connected to posture, and most people do not stand correctly with their hips as part of their back; they tend to have a break and swivel around the second and third lumbar vertebrae. He managed to get people to stand correctly to get their weight right. With their weight right, their lungs could perform properly. Those techniques, which have been developed by experts over the years, should be looked at carefully by the Department of Health and Social Care, but I will come to ways that we can take pressure off the Department generally.
Through the Steady Steps programme, it is so exciting and empowering to see elderly people who have become immobile actually get back into the community. Some of them have mental health problems, and Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council has an active mental health support programme with five main objectives. They are to create networks to co-ordinate comprehensive and integrated mental health services in the community; to implement activities and events for promotion and early intervention and prevention in mental health; to improve awareness of mental health issues among children and young people, so that they do not think it strange that an older person is perhaps not as with it as they were in their 20s; to improve mental health and the impacts in the workplace; and to improve the quality of life of people living with dementia, and of their families and carers.
That is not rocket science; it explains to people simple facts of life about health. The programme brings the community together—it is a project that speaks to cohesion—makes it less likely that people will be upset by the behaviour of other people, and enables instructors to identify core problems. In the Hinckley and Bosworth area, we have over 6,500 dementia friends and 40 dementia champions. That is a lot of people in a constituency of 100,000 with 70,000 electors, and a very serious intervention.
Suicide is another issue that we as MPs deal with regularly. Most colleagues will have had cases in their surgeries about which they have had to approach care agencies. Leicestershire and Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council have taken very decisive steps, with the Start a Conversation suicide prevention campaign for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. The Start a Conversation website was launched on 10 September to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day, and aims to provide information and signposting to people who are experiencing distress, to those worried about someone else, or those bereaved by suicide. The website is still in development, but will offer support and training to professionals.
Whether we are discussing healthcare in the east midlands or in Northern Ireland, the issue of suicide is prominent in my constituency. When I became its MP in 2010, the level of suicide among young people was at its highest. That was dealt with through the involvement of community groups and of people in the community who had lost loved ones. There was also interaction with church groups and those of faith. By coming together, we reduced the incidence of suicide, and by working alongside healthcare in Northern Ireland, which is a devolved matter, we found that together, we could address the issue. It took both the community and healthcare to make that happen.
I am sensitive enough to take the hint and will not delay the Chamber for much longer, Mr Hollobone. In response to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), we have a street pastor campaign in Barwell in my constituency, which really gets people in. The point about suicide that is often missed is the tragedy that it leaves behind and the damage to family and friends.
In my wind-up—I know hearing that will excite you, Mr Hollobone—I will focus on the Secretary of State’s announcement yesterday about putting cigarette-packaging style warnings on opioid painkillers, which I absolutely welcome. Of course it affects the east midlands. A report in the Evening Standard yesterday was entitled, “Experts hail our opioids investigation as addiction warnings are announced”. To give credit where it is due, the Evening Standard promoted that campaign, which I think is incredibly important.
The weakness in saying that we must stop all that is that no one has actually come up with any alternatives. People take those painkillers because they are in pain. Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council has produced a holistic therapists directory, which may be the first of its kind in the country. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited, I took him to Burbage House Health Clinic, where he could see physiotherapists and chiropractors working together. He has declared his interest—I believe his wife is an osteopath—so I hope that under this Secretary of State, we will see some movement in this matter.
We cannot just stop people taking drugs without offering them an alternative. The three most effective ways to stop back pain are acupuncture, osteopathy and chiropractic. Acupuncturists, osteopaths and chiropractors are all properly regulated, so I implore the Minister of State to look carefully at using them. The other issue I wanted to mention is polypharmacy polymorbidity, which the Health Committee looked at. I gave the Minister as a Christmas present the report of the all-party group for integrated healthcare, which I chair. I do not know whether he put it in his stocking, but I look forward to hearing if he enjoyed it over Christmas. Perhaps he will look at the issue.
We are very myopic sometimes, thinking that our system is the only one around, but the best place to look at for solving some of the problems is India, which has a Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy. It is responsible for all the herbal medicine and the different services that are not mainstream or opiate drugs. We should look at what Prime Minister Modi has done there.
I have probably indulged myself a bit, Mr Hollobone, but it is so unusual to have any time in the House—thank you very much. I look forward to the Minister of State’s response, and again I congratulate the hon. Member for Lincoln.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate about the issues that specifically affect the east midlands. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) for bringing the debate to Westminster Hall and the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) for expounding on some of the local and national issues in his area.
High Peak in Derbyshire is on the very north-west tip of the east midlands, which brings its own pressures to a very rural area on the edge of two other regions that provide most of our acute healthcare: Greater Manchester and Sheffield in the Yorkshire region. We are highly dependent on other regions for our acute healthcare. People can find it difficult to access our local healthcare services. It is important that they are able to access the best possible healthcare locally, to prevent their problems from becoming more serious and so that they do not have to travel much longer distances to access acute care.
When I was first elected, I had an indoctrination of fire on healthcare matters. A consultation by our North Derbyshire CCG had been ongoing for two years. It was called “Better Care Closer to Home”, so its aspirations sounded marvellous: people would receive the care they sought closer to home or in their own home, rather than having to travel anywhere. In practice, it meant an announcement in July 2017, just after I was elected, that our local gold-standard dementia ward, the Spencer ward at the historic Cavendish Hospital, was to close.
The ward had 10 beds and took the most seriously ill patients with dementia, whose families were no longer coping with them at home. Often, they had got to the stage of being violent and abusive, fighting against the illness and against the people trying to care for them. It is a tragic illness and I have seen members of my own family go down with it, and at that stage families need all the support they can get.
The Spencer ward would take those patients whom no one else could cope with and, within six weeks and with no drugs whatever, manage them and their families into getting them home again. The staff claimed it was the shepherd’s pie that did it, but it was down to years of skill, expertise and kindness. The patients could be cared for at home, which everyone had thought was impossible, instead of having to go into specialist dementia care housing with high-level nursing care, which often costs six-figure sums for each patient. The ward closed in February last year, and it was an absolute tragedy for the patients and their families—even more so for the patients now coming through with dementia.
We were told that the 25 skilled staff would be transferred to a dementia rapid response team, a group who would be able to visit patients in their own homes, giving support to the families and enabling continued care at home. In practice, however, I am afraid that has not happened. The response team is located 20 miles from some of the areas in my constituency that most need it, and only one of the 25 skilled Spencer ward staff members went to work in that team. Others were left with no jobs in the health service; they went into retail and their skills were lost. That was a tragedy not just for patients but for staff and our whole community, because once those skills are lost, once those jobs have gone and people have left the NHS, it is almost impossible—without years of training and dedication—to put that service back together again.
That is why I am so committed to fighting for services in High Peak that are being let go because of years of cuts to our CCGs, which have to make very short-term decisions based on balancing the books by the year end. NHS England does not let them look at any longer-term measures or decisions that could put the investment into the preventive health measures talked about by the hon. Member for Bosworth. That cannot be the case.
In 2016-17, the formula was changed for the CCGs. Our CCG went into deficit and then special measures under NHS England. The chief executive said that he and his board were prepared to make £12 million of cuts in north Derbyshire, but NHS England said that that was not good enough. It insisted on £16 million of cuts within six months, so the chief executive left. In the year just gone, 2018-19, the cuts have come on. With a deficit of £95 million for all the Derbyshire CCGs, which are looking to band together to achieve some efficiencies of scale, they had to make £51 million of cuts. We are constantly being told about the NHS 10-year plan and the £20 billion of funding coming into the NHS. I do not know where that is going, but our CCG will not see it. The Minister may smile, but I do not find it funny that over the next four years Derbyshire, the area I represent, will experience £270 million in cuts to health services, which are already stretched almost to breaking point.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln, I went out with the East Midlands ambulance service. I saw how stretched it was, having to travel vast distances and out of area, sometimes leaving little or even no cover, with patients perhaps having to wait five hours after a stroke, or being lost because of the cuts. The ambulance service has experienced five years of cuts, year on year.
Last year we had a Westminster Hall debate about the East Midlands ambulance service, which was attended by many of the Members present. I was delighted that another £20 million was invested in the service, but there is an issue with recruitment—once the skilled paramedics have left the service, recruiting them back again is very difficult. Meeting the targets for that extra £20 million will be extremely difficult for the service, through no fault of its own.
The issues in our local area put pressure on acute service providers as well. The hospitals in Macclesfield and Stepping Hill, which serve the north Derbyshire end of my constituency, have staffing problems and can shut their doors to High Peak patients because they are out of area—we are not in their region. The Macclesfield cardiology, gastroenterology and general surgery departments were shut to my local patients. Just before Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Stepping Hill shut breast services to patients from north Derbyshire, who therefore faced having to travel 30 miles for the follow-up to a mammogram. That is a huge distance for people in rural areas to travel; often, there is no transport available for them, so they are reliant on lifts. Yes, there is community transport, but that has been cut, too.
Our voluntary services have been cut because the clinical commissioning groups have to make their cuts by the end of the year, and one area they can cut is grants to external organisations. The voluntary sector has had cuts to social care, befriending services and community transport. As the hon. Member for Bosworth has said, a sustainable health service needs such services in order to provide preventive care and to enable communities to come together and support each other, particularly the most vulnerable. That needs a framework, but voluntary sector services are being cut time and again, as I said in a debate in September. Some £300 million of cuts have been made to voluntary sector services in Derbyshire.
Health service cuts are being made alongside those to social care. Derbyshire County Council has made huge cuts to services, resulting in care workers’ shifts changing from a two-shift to a three-shift system. It wanted more efficiencies and was struggling to fill some shifts, but working early, late and night shifts is almost impossible for anyone with caring responsibilities, which most social care workers have. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln, who worked in nursing, will sympathise with that and will know the destructive effect on people’s lives. It is one thing to do that for a nurse’s salary, which is a professional salary, but it is very different to ask people to do that for the minimum wage—it was a living wage under the Labour-led Derbyshire County Council, but now it is less than the national living wage. Asking people to work a three-shift system for that sort of money is simply not worth it, so they have left in droves.
Our care home fees have been frozen while at the same time the minimum wage, pension costs and business rates are all increasing. The care homes are not prepared to take any elderly residents with any sort of additional needs. There are no nursing homes whatsoever in the High Peak area, so we have to go out of area. It is an increasingly difficult situation for families, who struggle to visit patients and keep family ties going. It is heartbreaking that, at the end of a long life, residents are taken out of their area, away from the people they know and love and their communities.
That is the impact on rural areas of years of cuts to health and social care and to the young people’s services provided by the county council. Both older and younger people are being squeezed. A couple of weeks ago I held a debate in the main Chamber on young people’s mental health, because of the low-level support being given. Derbyshire CCGs have cut the contract for counselling services with the third sector and there is no longer a service in place. The number of school nurses, who support young people through difficult times in their lives, when they have anxiety and are distressed, has been halved. There is an 18-month wait for access to child and adolescent mental health services. I hear from young people and their families who are desperate. Often, parents feel they have to stay with their child 24 hours a day, seven days a week, because they are so scared of the harm that the child may do themselves and the risk of suicide that the hon. Member for Bosworth mentioned.
Why are we letting it get to this stage? Why are we letting our young people suffer in silence? Why are we sending our older people away from their families? It comes down to the failure to look holistically at our health and care services in the long term. NHS England still has Derbyshire CCGs in special measures. They have been told to meet a target of between £50 million and £70 million of cuts over each of the next four years. They have to identify those cuts behind closed doors. There is a lack of scrutiny, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln has said.
Often, so much of the impact is on patients and GPs, who have to pick up the pieces. The strain on GPs is almost intolerable. Buxton has only about half the GPs we need. There are shortages in other areas, too. At my surgery, patients have to phone two weeks in advance to even try to get an appointment with a GP. If they do not phone early enough, they cannot get an appointment in those two weeks and they have to try the next day. That leads to an increase in people going to A&E and an increase in admissions to acute care and costs to the NHS as a whole. That is not a cost-saving process.
Budgets that do not look at the whole picture, to try to help primary care and to support people’s conditions, are leading to an increase in the need for acute care. Because of the lack of social care, once people are in a hospital bed it is hard for them to get out of it. The number of beds at Fenton ward in Cavendish Hospital—the one rehabilitation ward left in my constituency—has just been reduced from 18 to 10. That was going to happen in October but I managed to persuade the hospital that it might need some rehab beds over winter. It kept them open but it is now down to 10 beds. There is a waiting list of six or seven patients, who are stuck in hospital, taking up hospital beds because the rehab beds have been cut. That is a false economy.
I hope the Minister will look at how the system has an impact on the health professionals who are trying to deliver a service, and most of all on the patients who are suffering under it. Yes, there is price for rationalisation in any service, but we also have to look at the long term. As the laudable aims of the NHS 10-year plan set out, we need to work with our communities, support our professionals and help our patients to care for themselves. Unless this financial system changes, that NHS plan will be simply hot air.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. In case hon. Members are not aware, I am a consultant paediatrician and work in the east midlands as a doctor during times that fit around my parliamentary commitments. I have worked in a number of hospitals around the east midlands: in Lincoln County Hospital, Mansfield Community Hospital, King’s Mill Hospital, and in both of the major Nottingham hospitals, Queen’s Medical Centre and Nottingham City Hospital. I have also worked at Doncaster hospital and I am now at Peterborough. I have a fairly wide experience of the different hospitals serving the east midlands population.
I was proud to hear last week that Peterborough has received a “good” rating from the Care Quality Commission. Not just that; the CQC will shortly return because the trust is not happy with “good”—it wants to receive an “outstanding”. It was somewhat displeased that the visitors focused on the areas they thought might be a problem, rather than on the areas we might have been able to showcase. The CQC will return to see the areas that it knew were very good already, to see whether we are entitled to see the “outstanding” mark. I hope that is achieved.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee), my constituency neighbour, on achieving this hour-and-a-half debate. I was pleased to hear her welcome the extra money for the NHS, but disappointed to hear that she does not think it is enough, unlike the former Labour Health Secretary. We need to bear it in mind that a 3.4% average real-terms annual increase—£20 billion more—is a lot more money. I was also disappointed to hear about problems; it is easy to identify the problems and much more difficult to identify the solutions. Money is one of the solutions, but this is about much more than money.
I want to highlight some of the really good things going on in the east midlands. The hon. Lady correctly identified morale as one of the issues with the workforce. One of the things that affects workforce morale is people focusing on problems rather than on the areas in which excellent services are being delivered, which is the focus of most of my constituents—me and my family included—who receive excellent service from the hospitals in our area. The problem with low morale in the workforce is that it causes people to leave. When people leave we have more locum staff, which increases costs. Since less money is available, there is less ability to trial new things, so staff leave—and so the cycle continues. We need to reverse that, so I welcome the new routes into nursing, such as nursing apprenticeships, and the hard work we have done to increase the number of nurses who can train.
As a doctor, I am aware of shortages in medical staff, particularly in paediatrics, which is the area I work in. The University of Lincoln is opening a medical school in the hon. Lady’s constituency. That is a really good intervention. Students commonly stay to work in the area in which they trained, and that medical school will enable that to happen. The Government also need to look at remuneration. The remuneration of my junior medical colleagues is significantly lower in real terms than the remuneration I received as a junior doctor at the same grade.
I would be grateful if the Minister looked at issues with retirement. In my constituency, some GPs and other doctors retire earlier than they might wish to, because if they continued to work they would accrue very high pension contributions that they would not benefit from. If they continued to work but withdrew from the pension scheme, they would lose other benefits, such as death in service benefits. The Government should look at that.
In my rural constituency, once I have visited the GP it takes me 15 minutes to drive to a pharmacy in the nearby towns of Grantham or Sleaford with the prescription I have been given. Some patients at my surgery, including me, are entitled to have their prescriptions dispensed to them on site. How frustrating it is, though, for constituents who do not have that entitlement but would if they moved one house further down the street, not because they live in the wrong area but because they moved practice after they moved house. A constituent recently wrote to tell me that if someone moves into the area and then changes their GP, they are not entitled to dispensing services, but if they move GP and then move home, they are entitled to those services. That seems incongruous. GPs at dispensing practices receive a revenue increase, so they have both an incentive to provide an excellent one-stop service to their patients and a financial incentive to work in a rural area that offers such a dispensing service. I should be grateful if the Minister would look at that.
When I was first elected, I was terribly worried about East Midlands ambulance service. In the preceding few months, I had attended a number of incidents—just as an individual member of the public who had been driving past—where patients waited an inordinate amount of time for an ambulance. That was completely unacceptable, and one of those patients died, although I suspect that was not related to the time the ambulance took to arrive. That is why my first Prime Minister’s question, my first meeting with the Prime Minister and my first meeting with the Health Secretary were all about East Midlands ambulance service.
I was therefore pleased to go back and visit the ambulance service recently and hear how much has been done. The extra money that has been put in has produced 67 new ambulances, of which 27 are brand-new and additional as opposed to new-for-old replacements. The service’s response time for patients in the most acute need—the most unwell patients—has fallen by more than two minutes, which is a good success; we have to bear in mind the rural geography. I was also interested to hear about the research that is going on. Not all improvements in healthcare are delivered by money; some are delivered by research and improvements in knowledge and treatment. The East Midlands ambulance service has a research and audit department, which is looking at ways that the service can deliver better care to its patients; that is excellent.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the challenges of delivering healthcare in rural areas. Hon. Members may know about the joint work between Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln, United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, Public Health England, Health Education England and others on launching a national centre in Lincoln to look at how we deliver better care to people in rural areas—that is its main focus. That is another attraction for people to come and work in the beautiful county of Lincolnshire. The centre will look at data, research and technology. I would love to have time to go into all the different things it can do to improve healthcare for my constituents and others, but time is short, so I will move on.
Let me touch on orthopaedic services at Grantham. People rightly are terribly concerned about the number of people who prepare for an operation—they build themselves up, take time off work and put plans in place for the care of those who are dependent on them—that is cancelled. We understand the reasons why that might happen, but ULHT has worked really hard on delivering better care. The fantastic Grantham Hospital—it has saved my husband’s life on two occasions—has a designated ward for orthopaedic surgery, which is only for what it calls “cold” operations. That is part of the “Getting It Right First Time” approach, looking at how we ensure that we get the very best care in orthopaedic surgery.
Trauma services have been moved to Lincoln. People might say, “Oh, that’s a dreadful cut,” but it means there are more people on hand in Lincoln to deliver more operations more effectively and more efficiently; more people get their operations done—fewer are cancelled—and there is a dedicated team of people in Grantham who are knowledgeable in orthopaedics and focused on delivering joint replacements and other non-urgent care. Overall, the service has improved massively. I congratulate ULHT and Grantham Hospital on the improvements they have delivered, and I wish they were being shouted about more publicly.
I also want to mention the A&E at Grantham Hospital. My husband, whom I love very much, has had his life saved twice at Grantham Hospital, so maintaining A&E services there and ensuring that people can access them is extremely important to me and my family, not least because we live very close by. I welcome the fact that the A&E will be reopened on a 24-hour basis soon, but I want soon to be now.
I have run out of time, but I thank the hon. Member for Lincoln for securing the debate and I hope to hear some good answers from the Minister.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) for securing this important debate. She is a passionate advocate for the NHS in her area and made a passionate speech. I also thank the other hon. Members who spoke—the hon. Members for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) and for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) and, of course, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who has just left the Chamber—for their excellent speeches and interventions.
Although I am pleased to respond on behalf of Labour, it is with sadness that Members come here time and again to explain the impact on their constituents of the crisis in the NHS. Sadly, as we have heard, standards are slipping across the board. It was a mild winter, but despite the thankfully lower levels of flu and vomiting virus, we saw the worst performance against the four-hour A&E target since records began. [Interruption.] If the Minister cares to—
Oh, right—it was the second-worst, then. Anyway, bed occupancy also rose to 95.2% this winter, well above the 85% deemed to be safe, and patients are waiting almost 4% longer in A&Es than they were two years ago. In Nottingham they are waiting 14% longer than in 2017, and in Leicester they are waiting almost 4% longer than two years ago. East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust has missed its targets for responding to patients in life-threatening situations. We have heard countless stories today that demonstrate how the crisis happening in our NHS both locally and nationally is real.
It is clear that the Tories’ plans for NHS funding fall short of what is needed. The autumn Budget announcement of a cash injection for health services excluded public health budgets, training and capital, which means an increase of just 3% for health services when we have a childhood obesity crisis, cuts to sexual health and addiction services, workforce shortages and a backlog of nearly £6 billion in repairs. It is not even enough to wipe out hospital deficits.
Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust alone predicted a deficit of more than £40 million by the end of the financial year, and it has declared 15 black alerts since December. How will the Government’s settlement help trusts like that become more sustainable? Where is the funding to guarantee sustainable health services in the face of ever-increasing demand from a complex and changing demographic? For example, in the east midlands, the number of preventable deaths from liver disease has increased by 37%. Obesity is also a growing problem, 66% of the population being overweight. People in the east midlands are more likely to have had a depressive episode than those in the rest of the country—3.9% compared with 2.2%. In 2013-15, the average life expectancy at birth across the east midlands was 79.3 years for males and 82.9 years for females, both of which are significantly below the national average. There is also considerable variation in preventable mortality from the major causes of death across the east midlands local authorities, with an urban-rural divide. The urban areas of Nottingham, Leicester and Derby have significantly lower life expectancy than the average for England.
Money is, of course, only one of the issues surrounding the crisis in the NHS. There is a staff recruitment and retention issue, too. NHS figures show that there are 100,000 vacancies across the health service, including 31,000 across the midlands and the east of England. Therefore, 9.3% of posts in the midlands and the east—about one in 11—are unfilled.
Constituents will also be worried about the integration of services in the east midlands. In recent years, councils have distanced themselves from sustainability and transformation plans and the integrated care systems in some areas, due to a lack of democratic accountability and scrutiny from stakeholders, including concerns over cuts and privatisation. Nottinghamshire’s ICS is an interesting case: the city council suspended its membership for six months last year for those very reasons, rejoining only in April 2019 after assurances were given to improve accountability and shared decision-making processes. I am sure that Members will be keen to hear from the Minister how democratic accountability and transparency is being improved in such cases.
Residents will also be concerned about the number of community hospitals that have closed or are under threat of closure. Residents of Bakewell and Bolsover have to travel to Chesterfield or Derby for their appointments, after their hospitals closed. The loss of those community hospitals impacts on rural areas of the east midlands, isolating people further because not only will they have to travel further to appointments, but so will any visitors, so patients are suffering.
The Government have spent nine years running down the NHS, imposing the biggest funding squeeze in its history, with swingeing cuts to public health services, and social care has been slashed by £7 billion since 2010. As we have heard, the NHS is clearly buckling under the pressure as a result, and standards of care continue to plummet. I would appreciate assurances from the Minister about how the Government will get a grip on the situation in the east midlands and across the country as a whole, to reverse the extremely worrying statistics and tackle the issues we have heard about.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As you know, I have met the chief executive of the team from Kettering, I have visited Kettering and I have responded to you on the Floor of the House about Kettering. Kettering and its requirements for the A&E are therefore not far from the forefront of my mind.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) on securing the debate and I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. I intend to spend some time going through a number of the areas raised this morning. I am bound to say that the long-term plan, which a number of Members welcomed, is a substantial step forward, and the funding commitment—the biggest ever in peacetime—is a key to ensuring that that can be delivered. The number 100,000 has been trotted out, but clearly that does not represent posts unfilled, nor does it take any account of the actions that the Government are undertaking. More than that, the simple fact is that, compared with eight years ago, there are 14,700—over 15%—more doctors, 10,300 more nurses, midwives and health visitors and, in addition, over 15,900 more nurses on our wards.
I also point out that of those vacancies that several hon. Members mentioned, well over 80% are being filled by a combination of bank and agency nurses. Of course no one wants that situation to persist, but there has been a consistent decline in the number of agency staff, and since the transfer from the bursary to the loan system, much has been done working with nurses to ensure that courses are filled. We are seeing more applications than previously: this time around UCAS reported over 4,000 more applicants. Last year, my predecessor announced a fund to provide an increased package for postgraduate nursing students starting courses in 2018-19 in terms of employment in learning disability, mental health and district nursing roles, which are the key vacancies that need to be filled.
I will try to answer a couple of specific points raised by the hon. Member for Lincoln. She rightly voiced concerns about the closure of Skellingthorpe health centre in her constituency. As she pointed out, were there to be a closure, the CCG would be required to conduct a proper consultation. I spoke to the CCG yesterday and I understand that as yet—she may wish to correct me—there has been no formal request for closure. Equally, the CCG tells me—I hope this is right—that it will meet the hon. Lady later in May to discuss this matter, and that, were there to be a request, it would immediately inform her and offer her a meeting with it and the lead GP at Skellingthorpe to see what action could be undertaken. The CCG has also confirmed —she will understand this—that it appreciates that this is a rural community, and that there are additional challenges for local residents, so it is working not only with Skellingthorpe to understand the challenges and how they may be met, but to ensure that the rural network of GPs might work together.
The hon. Lady rightly expressed concern about CQC inspections, and I will go on to speak about those if I have time. She mentioned the recent inspection that took place on 25 February at Pilgrim Hospital, with a report published on 3 April. Although “requires improvement” remains the rating, there were marked improvements in certain areas, including in the standard of care, numbers of staff and nursing provision for children, and a real improvement in the triage time. She will appreciate that the trust is receiving substantial support from NHS England, including to help the hospital get out of special measures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), chair of the all-party parliamentary group for integrated healthcare, spoke passionately about the health and wellbeing partnership. He is absolutely right, and the Government support the integration of healthcare services and recognise the good work being done by that partnership in Hinckley and Bosworth. The Secretary of State enjoyed his visit to Hinckley, and was particularly pleased to get a real impression on the ground of the improvement in services that will come from the £8 million investment. My hon. Friend reminded me of his Christmas present to me, and I was pleased to read some—although not all—of his report over the Christmas period. You will not be surprised to hear, Mr Hollobone, that I was also intrigued to hear his comments about India. I sometimes think that the “Ministry of Calm” in India could benefit many people in this place.
The hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George) spoke about “Better Care Closer to Home”. That reminded me of when I was a councillor 18 years ago and a different Government wanted to do to local services in my area the things that she described. The issue was only resolved some years later, in 2015, when a new medical centre was built. She rightly mentioned the East Midlands ambulance service and—most importantly —its paramedics. I visited that service earlier this year, and spoke not only to the management but to the medics who deliver those services. There are clearly challenges regarding location, and not all the standards have been met. It is also true, however, that there are 67 new ambulances—an increase of 27—and response times have improved, which is to be welcomed. I recognise the problems with CAMHS that the hon. Lady raised. That is clearly an issue nationally as well as in the east midlands, and it is right for the long-term plan to recognise that. The commitment to mental health diagnosis and treatment times is a significant change from the previous situation.
Mental health services were allocated £1.2 billion, but that money was not ring-fenced. That is the problem that CAMHS has had with the cuts. Will the Minister commit that any additional funding for mental health services will be ring-fenced, so that it goes where it is needed?
The hon. Lady is asking me to use the word “ring-fenced”, but if I say that the money is there and allocated for that matter, then it is specifically ring-fenced for it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) gave us a valuable insight into the NHS, given her experience as a consultant. She is right to say that we must tackle a number of workforce issues, and morale is undoubtedly key to that. I was pleased to see that set out in the initial workforce plan; and Baroness Harding, chair of NHS Improvement, has been asked to consider a stream of work about making the NHS the best employer. That work will consider a number of issues about retention and the culture and morale of staff. I look forward to the publication of that report, and I hope my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the new ideas it contains.
My hon. Friend was right to mention the pensions of a number of GPs and other NHS staff. She will not be surprised to hear that I am continuing to persuade Treasury colleagues to accept the Department’s proposed solution for that issue, and I hope we can make progress and make an announcement on that soon, which will be reassuring to many. I encourage my hon. Friend to write to me about the dispensing service she mentioned, and I will consider what issues we can take up. Finally, she was right to talk about the orthopaedic services at Grantham. “Getting It Right First Time”—GIRFT—is led nationally by Professor Tim Briggs, who was lead clinician at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. That is making a huge difference, not only to the concentration, specialisation and number of operations being undertaken, but—equally importantly—the great improvement in safety and reduction in infections is leading to hugely better care for patients.
The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) mentioned A&E performance, and she is right to say that it fails to meet the target. However, she is wrong to say that this year has seen the worst performance ever, as there has been an improvement on last year. Over the past months, United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust has seen a huge increase in attendances compared with the previous year. That reflects the wider NHS, where demand is up by 6%, yet more than 4,700 patients per day are treated within the four-hour waiting limit. The hon. Lady mentioned Public Health England and Health Education England, but funding for those bodies was designed to be dealt with in the comprehensive spending review that will take place in the autumn. It was never intended to be tackled inside the long-term plan and spending commitment.
The hon. Lady mentioned money, but this is a transitional year for funding. The funding provided is enough to work on the deficit, and given the analysis being done, the Government’s commitments, and the work on efficiency in the health service, it is surprising that Labour Members who recognise the benefits of much of the long-term plan are not prepared to welcome the financial settlement that backs it up and will deliver it.
Briefly, let me mention another east midlands MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup). She was not able to speak today as she is my Parliamentary Private Secretary, but she has done great work in pointing out the benefits of Ilkestone Community Hospital, which I intend to visit in the near future. May I just say that—
Thank you Mr Hollobone. I will not just say anything other than that I wanted to address a number of issues about east midlands care, so I will put them in a letter and write to Members who have participated in this debate. It is important to address the huge number of issues raised by colleagues and ensure that the context is clearly understood. This Government wish to thank all hard-working professionals in the NHS for their work. We will do everything we can to continue that support, with a plan and the money to back it up, so that, both nationally and locally, the NHS can deliver for patients.
I thank all those who have contributed to this excellent debate. Some comments have reflected the fact that healthcare remains something of a postcode lottery. In some areas we hear that everything is positive and good, but that is not always the case where I live. Travelling long distances to access a GP is not positive for someone who is ill, and that is not what my Skellingthorpe constituents want. That is not about an emotional attachment; it is a practical consideration. The concern in Lincoln is that nothing is opening, it is all closing.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about suicide and mental health and I agree that we need ring-fenced funding for mental health care. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George) spoke about problems delivering healthcare in rural settings, and people travelling long distances to access care. My Skellingthorpe constituents are not looking forward to that, should they lose their GP services.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Services: Redcar and Cleveland
I beg to move,
That this House has considered funding for rape and sexual abuse support services in Redcar and Cleveland.
As always, it is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I was pleased to secure this debate to once again bring to the Minister’s attention the crisis facing rape and sexual abuse victims in my constituency. I have raised this crucial issue in writing and on the Floor of the House, but the response from the Government has been disappointing. I have been given the same response about the money the Government are investing in domestic and sexual violence and abuse services, which is welcome, but it simply does not reflect the realities on the ground in my area.
In response to my question in the Chamber last week about the cuts to rape and sexual abuse funding, I was told about the Government’s work on domestic violence. While domestic violence is extremely important, and I wholeheartedly welcome the Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill, I was talking about rape and sexual assault services, not about domestic violence. So I am glad to have the debate today to specifically focus on EVA Women’s Aid, which is a fantastic charity in my constituency that does amazing work supporting vulnerable women and children who survive rape, sexual abuse and violence and childhood sexual abuse.
EVA provides services across a 94 square mile area, and last year it supported nearly 1,000 vulnerable women and many children. It goes without saying that the support provided is a lifeline to clients, with whom the charity has worked hard and carefully, often over a long period, to develop sensitive, caring and trusting relationships. That trust is vital to enable victims to get the support they need. Because of that record, EVA is a well-respected organisation in the local community, held in high esteem by local people and led brilliantly by Richinda and her fantastic team of staff. I pay tribute to them today. Women feel comfortable approaching EVA because they know its reputation, how many women the charity has cared for and the respect and esteem in which it is held in the local community. That is why the removal of EVA’s grant from the Ministry of Justice’s rape and sexual abuse support fund is a devastating decision, which I urge the Minister to reconsider.
Since 2014, EVA has received funding from the rape and sexual abuse support fund to carry out its important work. The funding accounts for 15% of EVA’s revenue and is a significant source of income for a small local charity. In March, EVA was informed, without any prior warning or expectation, that its bid to renew the funding for the 2019-2022 period had been unsuccessful. That decision means that from the end of June the Borough of Redcar and Cleveland will not have the sexual violence support services and specialist counselling that EVA currently offers to children and young people of all genders, and to adult females. That includes support services for victims of child sexual abuse, which we know to be a crucial issue, and the number of people coming forward is increasing.
EVA is now trying desperately to make up the shortfall and save these crucial services. It has exhausted all other avenues, from the local police and crime commissioner to the local authority and clinical commissioning group. In areas like mine, the reality is that the budgets and funds of those organisations are already stretched. They have already had to make cuts to services and they do not have reserves of unallocated funding with which to step in and rescue services, such as those provided by EVA. Those services will have to go by the wayside if the funding is not found.
The PCC and the NHS jointly fund independent sexual violence adviser services and a sexual assault referral centre, which are highly valued and important, but they are not responsible for funding longer-term therapeutic counselling of the type EVA provides, which is vital. We cannot continue just to respond to crisis after crisis; we have to support people in the long term, which is exactly what EVA does. That is why I am raising this issue with the Ministry of Justice once again.
Ministers simply cannot pass the issue down to police and crime commissioners. Until now, the funding has been directly provided to EVA from central Government and it is central Government who have taken the decision to withdraw it, with very little notice and with devastating consequences. The three-month extension to June to allow for “necessary adjustments”, as stated in the ministerial response I received, is welcome but inadequate. At this point in the funding cycle, when organisations already have commissioning arrangements in place, this is just a stay of execution on the closure of services. Five of EVA’s 23 staff could be affected by the decision. They are specially trained rape counsellors who provide specialist support, and they could now be lost, along with all their skills, experience and training, because of short-sighted funding decisions that have not taken into account the impact on many vulnerable women in my constituency.
EVA received notification of the cut on the same day that the Government announced a funding increase of £24 million over three years for victims of rape and sexual assault. The victims Minister celebrated, saying that the Government are
“supporting more centres than ever”.
That would be a welcome development, but it is not the truth in Redcar and Cleveland and it is not what we are seeing. In reality, we are seeing a cut to vital services. While I appreciate that Arch North East is being funded to provide support for sexual abuse victims in the Cleveland police area, I understand it is receiving a similar amount to its previous funding allocation. It will have little extra capacity to support the residents of Redcar and Cleveland, who EVA currently caters for.
I do not know how familiar the Minister is with Cleveland; it is a huge geographic area, with a lot of rural, former mining villages and accessibility issues, as our buses are very expensive. Making one grant allocation for the whole area covered by the Cleveland police and crime commissioner fails to appreciate the different communities and demographics covered, as well as the fact that many women will only come forward to organisations and charities that they know, trust and feel secure with. Asking them to travel and to face a new and unknown organisation is going to put many women off accessing services.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and the powerful speech she is giving. It can be incredibly difficult for women to come forward. In south Yorkshire, where my constituency is, 3.5% of rapes result in a charge; nationally, it is only 4.1%. These figures are absolutely shocking and appallingly low. Does my hon. Friend agree that cuts to services, such as the one she is talking about and others across the country, will only make the situation worse and reduce the number of people, predominantly women, coming forward?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The levels of conviction for rape are a national scandal; more has to be done. The idea that we are seeing cuts to services and safe spaces for women coming forward is shocking. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend because not only is she here today defending her constituents and standing up for vulnerable women, but she ran the London marathon last weekend in support of a local domestic violence and rape charity. She’s talking the talk, as well as walking the walk or running the run; I congratulate her on that.
The geographic diversity of my area and the inaccessibility is a huge issue; it means many women will not access the services or be able to afford to access the services they need. The funding decision comes at a time when demand for independent specialist provision for survivors of sexual violence and abuse is at unprecedented levels. The message I hear from the workforce on the ground is that they are seeing services shrinking and provision is not meeting the level that is needed. The decision also demonstrates the risk of smaller organisations and charities, and the valuable, community-focused services they bring to the table, being squeezed out by larger organisations.
Indeed, the report by the all-party parliamentary group on sexual violence on the funding and commissioning of sexual violence and abuse services, published last year, found a huge contradiction in the way in which services are commissioned. There is supposed to be a move towards local commissioning to achieve tailored, locally appropriate solutions, which would be welcome, but that is countered by funding pressures on commissioners, who too often let large service contracts to single, generic providers in order to deliver savings through economies of scale. This approach is evidently happening with national commissioning too, and it will force small but vital, well-loved and respected providers, like EVA, out of the picture.
I will take a moment of the Minister’s time to share feedback from service users at EVA’s centre that highlights why the services matter. It is easy to talk about figures, cuts and national services in this place, but the reality is that we are talking about the lives of the most vulnerable women, who we must support and protect. These are the voices of women from my area who have reached out and sought EVA’s help after suffering horrific sexual abuse. Karen says:
“Your service gave me a lifeline when I was at rock bottom and didn’t know where else to turn, and I’ll never forget that. I don’t know what my fate would have been without you.”
“The counselling service gave me back my life. I’d be stuck in a nightmare if it had not been for EVA.”
“I now have the strength to face my issues. You have helped me realise I haven’t done anything wrong but was vulnerable and taken advantage of”.
Finally, Jane says:
“Counselling has helped me feel sane through the weeks. I thought I was going crazy. It has helped me start figuring out what to do about my circumstances and historic abuse”.
I am sure the Minister agrees that here are real people facing terrible situations, who would have nowhere to go if not for the services EVA provided. It is vital that we support them and enable them to get the support and provision they need. It is clear from those personal accounts how much EVA’s service users value the local, individually tailored support that they trust. As I am sure the Minister recognises, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) said, it can take a huge amount of courage to come forward and seek help after the kinds of horrific ordeals these women have gone through. This funding decision risks closing the door on that option for many women and children in Redcar and Cleveland, so today I ask the Minister once again to please revisit this funding decision. I would love to invite him to visit Redcar and see EVA’s fantastic services for himself. If the Government are truly committed to supporting more centres than ever and ensuring that every victim of sexual violence receives the full package of support they need, then I urge him to look at this one more time.
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I thank the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) for securing this debate. We may not always agree on everything, but one thing we can agree on is that she is a doughty champion for her constituents and speaks up for them in this House at every opportunity. I know the subject we are discussing is, rightly, enormously important to many Members of the House more broadly. Sexual violence and abuse, as the hon. Lady has alluded to, are horrendous crimes that sadly affect too many in our society. As the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) said, they continue to be a huge problem for our society and our country.
I will start by saying how important it is to me, as a Minister with responsibility for supporting victims of crime, to ensure that support is available to them when and where it is needed. The right support is essential to help victims to try to cope with what has happened to them and to try to start rebuilding their lives. Ensuring that more victims and survivors of sexual violence have access to high-quality services remains a key priority. As the hon. Member for Redcar will know, I have visited a number of services providing vital support to women facing abuse and violence around the country, including in Cheshire and Brighton, and heard of the struggle many of these services face to secure long-term funding.
Those services tell me that there are three challenges: first, sustainability of funding; secondly, the need to move from a single-year, round-robin settlement to a multi-year settlement; and, thirdly, the need for the process to be made simple and clear. Often, particularly with the small local organisations mentioned by the hon. Lady, it is the same person who is the director running the organisation, delivering the service on the ground and sitting up until the early hours having to write multiple bids to try to build up the pot for a sustainable budget.
I have listened to those organisations, and in last year’s first ever cross-Government victims strategy we set out ways in which the Government planned to improve support to all victims of crime, particularly victims of sexual violence and abuse. My aims have been to ensure the provision of high-quality services, with sustainable funding and clear and simple processes that reduce the administrative burden while moving to a multi-year settlement, reflecting what those services say to me.
The national rape support fund, for which I am responsible, is one of a number of Government sources of funding for rape support services. A number of significant improvements have been made to that fund, the previous competition for which took place in 2014. The most recent competition commenced last November and, as the hon. Lady has said, the results were announced in March.
That funding will now be provided for three years, rather than annually. As the hon. Lady said, I also ensured a 10% funding boost overall for these essential services, with an extra uplift above that in London to recognise the differential demand levels there compared with other parts of the country. The rape and sexual abuse support fund now totals £24 million over three years. Far from cutting spending at the national level, we are increasing it, and I welcome the spirit in which she acknowledged that.
It is also important to note that this is not the only source of funding to which many of these organisations have access. As I mentioned, last November EVA and others were made aware that this would be a competition for the next three years. The hon. Lady would not expect me to do anything with public money other than to recompete it, at appropriate intervals and with appropriate criteria, to ensure that services continue to evolve and we continue to get the innovation and the highest quality of services that we would wish for.
I have always been clear that in the context of the support that victims receive, their needs must come first. In addition to trying to ensure geographical access for as many victims as possible, our competition ensured that stringent quality criteria were applied to all bids. As a result, 79 support centres have been awarded grants, including various small local providers, and the Ministry of Justice now funds more support centres than ever before and in all areas. For the first time, there are directly Government-funded services in all 42 of the country’s police and crime commissioner areas.
The number of PCC areas with Government-funded male support centres—we must recognise that men as well as women are victims of these horrendous crimes—has nearly quadrupled from 11 to 41 under this process. That is in addition to funding a national helpline and webchat service for male victims, following a significant rise in the number of men and boys coming forward to report crimes. Funding has also been extended to include those who suffered abuse while under the age of 13, recognising that many victims of child sexual abuse may struggle to access timely support.
We are also testing full local commissioning of sexual violence services with five PCC areas for three years, to explore the benefits for victims and service providers alike. Our aim is to better streamline services locally, including with the national health service, to reduce administrative burdens and challenges for centres so that more money be spent on frontline services.
Our final piece of the strategy was to increase spending from £31 million in 2018 to £39 million in 2020-21, to improve services for victims of sexual violence and abuse who seek support from sexual assault referral centres. We are working to ensure better service integration between statutory services such as the NHS and the third sector and charities, to provide joined-up and lifelong care and support for those who have suffered sexual assault and abuse and therefore need them. The NHS strategic direction for sexual assault and abuse services is an example of those commitments put into practice. It seeks to improve support for victims and survivors of sexual violence by joining up key agencies and ensuring we have a whole-system response to tackling sexual abuse.
That work is complemented by the investment the Government have made in supporting PCCs to commission support services locally, with £68 million of funding nationally going to PCCs. The Ministry of Justice is also funding much of the spending that PCCs do in this area. The PCC for Cleveland has been allocated more than £600,000 to provide support to victims, of which £45,000 is ring-fenced specifically to support victims of child sexual abuse. PCCs also, rightly, choose to invest some of their own funds additionally into these services.
As the hon. Lady mentioned, as a result of the recent competition in her Cleveland PCC area we will be funding Arch North East to provide support to men, women and children across the county. As with all centres receiving MOJ grant funding, the funding will be expected to support victims resident across that entire area, including her borough, irrespective of postcode. Her constituency will continue to be covered by the service.
Arch North East is approximately nine miles from Redcar town centre. This is where my geography may become a little hazy, but I think it is about a 30-minute journey by car or a journey of an hour or so on the 63 bus. I know the hon. Lady mentioned cost, and she is right to highlight the need to remove as many barriers as possible to accessing services.
In addition to usual support services, Arch North East provides independent sexual violence advisers for victims, and they make home visits across the area, including the entirety of the hon. Lady’s borough. Home visits are also offered for children. The service is primed and ready to take on any victims that require support in the area, and reassures us that it has one of the shortest waiting times for services in the country. Arch North East complements services provided by Helen Britton House, a sexual assault referral centre in North Ormesby. The SARC provides 24-hour crisis intervention and support 365 days a year with dedicated specialist staff.
Additionally, the Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre in Darlington is an hour away from Redcar on the train and is served by good local train connections with nearby towns in Durham and Cleveland. Residents in the north of the PCC area of Cleveland—for example, up towards Hartlepool—would also be able to access services in Northumbria such as SomeOne Cares, Grace Northumberland Rape Crisis and Tyneside Rape Crisis Centre. For residents in the south of the PCC area of Cleveland, Survive North Yorkshire can also be accessed.
I understand that the hon. Lady will be disappointed that one of the centres, which she has highlighted today, was not successful in its bid to secure national funding. I reiterate what I said earlier: she is nothing if not a doughty campaigner for and supporter of her constituents and constituency. However, it would be inappropriate for me to discuss in this Chamber the specific detail of our evaluation of that organisation’s bid, although I will re-emphasise that all bids were measured against clear quality criteria, as well as geographical criteria, with awards made accordingly. The decision not to fund EVA Women’s Aid was not taken lightly.
I recognise the value that providers bring to those whom they support and to the local community and the point that the hon. Lady rightly makes about the need, in this space, for familiarity and trust at the heart of conversations. However, my primary consideration must be to provide the best-quality support to victims, even if on occasion that means taking a difficult decision such as the one under discussion. I regret to say to the hon. Lady that we will not be revisiting the decision. I know that she will be disappointed by that, but I feel it is important that I am honest with her.
As the hon. Lady mentioned, EVA Women’s Aid will receive a three-month extension of its current MOJ grant, to help it to adjust during this transition period. I understand that EVA was also not successful in a recent competition for PCC funding. The hon. Lady may wish to discuss with Cleveland’s PCC his decision in that respect as well; I imagine she probably will do so.
The House should be in no doubt that the Government are determined that victims of rape and sexual violence will be supported by high-quality, accessible services throughout their journey to try to cope and recover from these hideous crimes. I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues across Government, with the specialist support organisations that have helped to shape our victims strategy and with colleagues across the House on this agenda, to ensure that all victims of crime have access to the high-quality services that they need and deserve.
Victims of these most appalling crimes rely on all of us in the House, irrespective of whether we are in government or opposition and of whether we are a Front Bencher or Back Bencher, to represent their needs and to ensure that they receive the support to which they are entitled. It is a privilege to work with colleagues across Government and across the House. In this context, although she is not here given the nature of this debate, I also pay tribute to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), with whom I work closely on these issues. She, too, is a doughty champion of victims of crime. We will continue to work to ensure that victims in Cleveland and in all areas of England and Wales are heard and supported.
In conclusion, I appreciate that the hon. Member for Redcar will be disappointed by the outcome of the process, but I again reiterate my commitment to continue working with her to ensure that her constituents get the services that they need. I again pay tribute to her dedication to her constituents in bringing forward this debate and thank her for doing so.
Question put and agreed to.
Sikhs: Contribution to the UK
[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the contribution of Sikhs to the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and to open this debate, which comes at the end of the first UK National Sikh Awareness and History Month. I am sure this debate will cover history, community, faith, economy and culture.
The Sikh community is an established community in the UK, whose members first arrived in significant numbers in the 1950s. We know that Sikhs are now well established with a significant and leading presence in almost all professions. In Hounslow, almost 10% of the population identifies as Sikh. There are almost 500,000 Sikhs across the UK—approaching 1% of the total population.
The “British Sikh Report 2019”, launched in Parliament last week as part UK National Sikh Awareness and History Month, describes the contribution of Sikhs across our economy. Sikhs have an 84% employment rate, with top sectors of employment including public service, charity work, healthcare, teaching, accountancy and finance, and IT and technology. Many businesses are run by those in the Sikh community, including many in my constituency. Dr Rami Ranger, who is Sikh, is perhaps one of the best-known Asian businessmen in the UK, having founded a company which has won the Queen’s award for enterprise more than six times.
The contribution of the Sikh community to our armed forces continues to this day. Sir Frank Messervy, quoted in “The Sikh Regiment in the Second World War” by F. T. Birdwood, said:
“In the last two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded, fighting for the British Empire. During shell fire, they had no other head protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith.”
By the beginning of the first world war, there were more than 100,000 Sikhs in the British Indian Army, making up 20% of the force. Before 1945, 14 Victoria Crosses were awarded to Sikhs, which was a per capita regimental record. In 2002, the names of all Sikh Victoria Cross and George Cross recipients were inscribed on the monument of the memorial gates on Constitution Hill, next to Buckingham Palace.
Despite that background, this shared history is far less known or understood by an increasing number of people.
Before my hon. Friend moves on from the incredible record of Sikh soldiers in service of this country and freedom, does she agree that it is appropriate that we should now have a war memorial recognising that effort? Fundamentally, the Government should get on with designating a site where that can be placed.
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I am sure that all hon. Members present would agree with him. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) will talk further about that point and the campaign he has helped to lead in Parliament.
Following on from what our right hon. Friend has just said, the Sikh contribution in the first and second world wars was very significant, particularly in places such as Burma. Sikhs played a prominent part in the battles of El Alamein, which were some of the greatest victories of the second world war, and that should not be forgotten. I reinforce what our right hon. Friend said about a memorial to the Sikh soldiers.
I am pleased to be in this debate. My hon. Friend mentioned the lack of knowledge in this country of Sikh history. Will she join me in encouraging visitors to the Manchester Museum to see the Jallianwala Bagh exhibition, which has been prepared in conjunction with the Partition Museum in Amritsar? I think visitors from across the country and different cultures will find it very informative. I visited it during the Easter recess and I can warmly recommend it.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important contribution. I hope to visit the museum in the near future. I am sure that hon. Members across the House and those watching will be interested to attend that exhibition, which comes at a critical time, 100 years since the awful event that took place on Vaisakhi in 1919, in Amritsar. I will comment more on that centenary later.
Despite the background of Sikhs’ contribution to the UK, it is extraordinary that our shared history is little known or understood. Understanding different communities is vital for not just community cohesion, but getting policy right, including the rights of Sikhs to wear their articles of faith—an important right that led to exemptions for the kirpan in new knife crime legislation in the recent Offensive Weapons Bill debate.
Sikhs, like other communities, have faced an increase in hate crime attacks. Last year we saw an attack on a turban-wearing Sikh visitor outside the House of Commons. This appalling attack sent shockwaves across the whole community and the Houses of Parliament. That incident triggered our idea of a National Sikh Awareness and History Month, which is also referred to as Sikh Heritage Month and takes place this month, during April, the month of Vaisakhi.
Other right hon. and hon. Members will make speeches raising the issues that are important to them, so I want to focus on two main areas. First, I want to focus on the purpose and place in our national life of National Sikh Awareness and History Month, of which this debate forms the final parliamentary event. Secondly, I want to share a perspective on the Sikh community in my local area and the range of contributions made to the wider community.
Last April I tabled an early-day motion with cross-party support, calling for the UK to recognise April as National Sikh Awareness and History Month, noting that 14 April marks Vaisakhi and the founding of the Khalsa in 1699, by the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. That early-day motion was supported by over 100 Members of Parliament from across the House, the all-party parliamentary group on UK Sikhs and many other groups. It recognised that the national Sikh awareness months that have been established in other western countries have successfully raised awareness of Sikhs, broken down barriers, and improved cohesion and dialogue.
To take that forward, we formed a cross-party parliamentary steering committee, and I thank all its members for their support in recent months. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), who is here today, and the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), who is chair of the all-party parliamentary group on UK Sikhs and is also present.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Slough, who is leading the campaign for a permanent Sikh war memorial in London. Sikh war memorials have opened in Bristol and elsewhere, but it is absolutely time that we showed leadership and had a permanent war memorial in London. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend for working with me on the campaign for direct flights from London to Amritsar, which would serve communities in London and the surrounding areas. I also thank the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir Vince Cable), the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who is present, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell).
Many across the Sikh community were part of the early establishment of the idea last year with the Sikh Council UK. I thank Jagtar Singh Gill and Gurinder Singh Josan, along with Kirat Singh, for their support in the early days when the idea was growing, which led to the launch this month.
This month is just the start. With the foundations in place, we look forward to expanding the steering group and including community members and groups from across the country, so the project will be truly community led. The programme of events in Parliament in April has been supported by a range of Sikh community organisations and community channels, all of which I thank for making it happen. I also thank Satwinder Sehmi, an artist and calligrapher who contributed to the development of the logo for Sikh Heritage Month, which respectfully and symbolically brings together faith and heritage.
Our programme of events has been extremely well attended and hugely inspiring and engaging. The Vaisakhi event in Parliament, which is organised annually by the British Sikh Consultative Forum, brought together representatives from gurdwaras across the country for the launch of the project. There were also supportive messages from all parties, including from the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. On the same night, a launch took place in the Scottish Parliament.
Last week, we had a packed event and discussion in Parliament for the launch of the “British Sikh Report 2019”. The Sikh Channel, Everything’s 13 and the Basics of Sikhi, which are also attending the debate, helped with the incredible Turban Awareness Day, which was educational in recognising and educating people about the significance and relevance of the turban. That event in Parliament was attended by almost 50 Members of Parliament from all parties.
Two lectures were given, one by Dr Opinderjit Takhar, the director of the Centre for Sikh and Punjabi Studies, on Guru Nanak and feminism, and one by Anita Anand on her new book, “The Patient Assassin”, which is about the principal actors, the story before and the story after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in which many Sikhs and people of all faiths were brutally murdered by the British. For her, the story is personal, as her grandfather escaped death by minutes while his close friends and colleagues were brutally murdered. She also told the story of Udham Singh, who made it his life’s mission to assassinate the lieutenant governor of the Punjab at the time, to whom she also had a strong personal link through her husband’s family, who had had contact with him in the past.
The massacre 100 years ago is a stain on our nation’s history to this day. It is time for an official apology. I am extremely disappointed that that was not forthcoming in our previous debate and during April. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that again today. It is no surprise that the “British Sikh Report 2019”, published last week, found that 79% of British Sikhs believe that the British Government should apologise for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and that 85% believe that it should be taught and in school syllabuses. It is a huge disappointment that we continue that battle. The massacre was condemned by Winston Churchill, then Minister for War, as
“an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation”.—[Official Report, 8 July 1920; Vol. 131, c. 1725.]
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East for his work and for the way he has brought together Members of Parliament from both sides of the House to call on the Government to make sure that the official apology happens.
Through April, a range of community-organised events have also taken place around the country, with MPs and councillors involved in Visit My Gurdwara and Langar with your MP events, which often coincided with important Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtans or community processions. This month takes on greater significance this year, as Sikhs around the world mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. I hope that National Sikh Awareness and History Month plays its part well in raising awareness and understanding of the Sikh faith, history and community, and continues to strengthen the bridges we build with Parliament and across nations with all our communities.
I will talk briefly about the gurdwaras in my constituency, Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha on Alice Way and my gurdwara on Martindale Road, which is run by the Nishkam trust, which play a huge role in many different ways, as I am sure gurdwaras across the country do. They extend charity and welcome and they support those in need. Every week, they welcome people who may be homeless or hungry. They welcome all, irrespective of background, through their doors. They run weekend classes and Punjabi classes, and host our surgeries as Members of Parliament so that we can reach all those in our communities. They have run immigration workshops —a huge issue in many ethnic minority communities— where immigration advisers are supported in providing confidential support and advice to those who desperately need it.
The Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha on Alice Way hosts the Hounslow Disability Network, which again provides vital support to those who need it. There are wellbeing events with the NHS, the police and many others across our community that make a huge difference. They also support the arts, culture and education. My constituent, Hardyal Luther, the former vice-chairman of Guru Nanak Worldwide’s council of supporters, organises a Guru Nanak essay competition every year that brings together talent and encourages the younger generations to take part and explore their history, culture and faith.
We live in a peaceful and respectful society because we choose to make it so. The structures that we build between us as a society help to nurture those vital links that make us a safe place for all communities and a place in which we can be sure that future generations will also be safe and will understand and respect one another. The respect that we hold and the understanding that we nurture are part of a statement about how we as a nation recognise that we have more in common than that which divides us.
I realise that my hon. Friend is reaching the end of her excellent contribution, but she has come to a key point about the Sikh community in the United Kingdom. While enormously proud of its history, culture and tradition, it is also enormously proud to be British. Something like three quarters of the Sikh community in this country were born in the UK and are hugely proud of this country. Being proud to be Sikh and proud to be British identifies the Sikhs and is why the Sikh community makes such a great contribution to our country.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point that goes to the heart of what this debate is about. Whatever our heritage, as we play our part in British public life, it is vital that we respect each other and show that, in a time of rising hate crime not just across our country but across the world, we take the time to value each other, respect each other, understand each other’s history, and understand our nation’s history through the context and lens of all those who make a vital contribution.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, given that she is coming to the end of her speech. I thank her for an admirable and comprehensive contribution to the debate. The contribution of Sikhs to public life has gone unrecognised so far. I had the privilege of being the deputy to Lord King when he was leader of Sandwell Council. He was the first Sikh leader of a major metropolitan authority and subsequently became a Member of the House of Lords. I put on record his contribution to breaking down barriers and providing inspiration for subsequent generations of Sikhs to enter public life.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. We all remember Lord King and the contribution that he made.
I will also make reference to our two Sikh Members of Parliament who are here today: our first turbaned Sikh Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough; and our first female Sikh Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston. They do us all proud and make a huge contribution, not only to debates in this House but to making sure that, as a minority community, we play our part and are seen to play our part in Britain’s mainstream public life.
With those words, I will end my speech. I thank you, Sir Edward, for chairing this debate, and the House for allowing me to call this debate and make my contribution to it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and to follow the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra). I thank her and other colleagues for all they have done for the National Sikh Awareness and History Month.
I will mention three things that I have really appreciated about the Sikh community in my own constituency of Stafford, having visited the gurdwara on Tithe Barn Road on more than one occasion. The first is the wonderful hospitality that visitors receive, which I have experienced during my time in Stafford and also at the Sikh temple in Moshi in Tanzania, where I lived for many years. The warm welcome I received was tremendous and a great credit to both those communities.
The second point, which has already been mentioned by the hon. Lady, is the contribution that Sikhs have made, are making and will continue to make to our country, whether that is in business, the professions, public life, which she rightly mentioned, including the very highest levels of public life, or the armed forces. She has rightly mentioned the huge contribution, and sacrifice, that Sikhs have made on behalf of the United Kingdom throughout both world wars, and indeed elsewhere.
It was my privilege on Sunday to attend the Anzac memorial service in Cannock Chase in my constituency, and to see the contribution that others from the Commonwealth have made, particularly those from New Zealand. However, it is equally right that we remember the huge contribution of Sikhs. Let us not forget that the number of people who served was absolutely tremendous, including 100,000 New Zealanders out of a population of 1 million. Well over 100,000 Sikhs served in the first world war alone. Those are tremendous figures, and those who served were all volunteers; they were not conscripts, as far as I am aware.
Thirdly, it is important to note the interest that our Sikh community in Stafford has shown in the community and public life. During elections they always invite the candidates to speak and answer questions, which I welcome because they extend the invitation not only from the Sikh community’s point of view but from that of the whole community of Stafford.
I will make two further points. First, I very much hope that there will be an official apology for the events of 100 years ago. We need to look more closely at a number of events from right across the former British empire, which is now the Commonwealth. For instance, events during the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya have not yet been sufficiently investigated, by which I mean events on both sides of the conflict, but particularly perhaps those relating the United Kingdom.
My Sikh constituents also have a real conviction—indeed, they make it really clear—about the importance of freedom of religion. The freedom to express one’s religion, and having the ability to do so across the world, matters hugely to me as a Christian. We in this place must uphold freedom of religion at a time when the situation in many countries around the world is becoming increasingly darker for those practising their faith.
Thank you, Sir Edward, for that ruling and for your chairmanship today.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) on securing this debate. As she said, it comes at the end of our first ever National Sikh Awareness and History Month. There have been lots of events, including the Vaisakhi celebration, Turban Awareness Day, the lecture on Guru Nanak and feminism—which I am glad to say was given by Dr Opinderjit Kaur Takhar, the director of the Centre for Sikh and Punjabi Studies at the University of Wolverhampton—and many others dedicated both to acknowledging the Sikh contribution and to teaching more about Sikhi and what it stands for.
I will mention a few things relating to that contribution. The first is the military contribution of Sikhs—the sacrifice in blood and life, with lives being laid down in two world wars, by Sikhs fighting for this country. It is estimated that some 83,000 Sikh soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice. Memorials have been erected to acknowledge that sacrifice, including, as we have just heard, in Bristol. A memorial was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire in 2015, and another was unveiled in Smethwick last year. We await, however, a national memorial in central London dedicated to their sacrifice. I acknowledge the leadership and hard work of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi). We want a memorial to be erected and for the bureaucracy to be cut through. The issue has cross-party support, so I hope the Minister will provide a positive response.
The second contribution by Sikhs is, of course, economic. Many Sikhs came to my constituency and others in the west midlands in the 1950s and 1960s, often to do hard, even back-breaking, work in steel mills and foundries. They often faced barriers of prejudice as they laid down the foundations for their new life. Although we quite rightly associate the Sikh community with social mobility, that mobility rests on the hard work of the first generation of Sikhs who came here. As is the case with so many immigrants, they worked hard to make sure that their children had better chances than them in life.
I also pay tribute to those who have worked to record the stories of those early Sikh migrants. For example, Anand Chhabra, founder of Black Country Visual Arts, has lovingly collated the Apna Heritage Archive’s photography collection, which records early Punjabi life in the west midlands in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and which was exhibited at Wolverhampton Art Gallery last year.
Alongside that hard work, there was great bravery. For example, there is the story of Tarsem Singh Sandhu, who led the fight in Wolverhampton for Sikhs to be able to wear a turban while driving a bus. Unbelievably, that was banned in the past, even when half the bus drivers in the city were of Sikh heritage. Tarsem Singh Sandhu was told that he would lose his job unless he was clean shaven and abandoned his turban, but he took a stand, rightly saying that he was doing nothing wrong. He had to face down great hostility to win his battle, and his bravery and that of those who campaigned alongside him paved the way for change that today we take for granted. Even after that great progress, however, there are still struggles. Legislation still has to be amended to ensure that the simple act of observing the five Ks and wearing a turban can be done freely.
What can we draw as a broader conclusion? I see a community whose story is overwhelmingly positive. Sikhs have achieved success in business, education, public life and, increasingly, politics, with the historic election of the first turban-wearing Sikh, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), and the first woman Sikh MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill). This is a timely debate, and Sikhs should build on their success in the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank my good and hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) for securing this important debate and for her excellent speech.
Despite being only about 1% of the UK population, British Sikhs have without doubt made an immense contribution to our nation. They have among the highest numbers of graduates of any community, and huge proportions of them are in employment and in the voluntary and charitable sector. According to official statistics, they also have the highest level of home ownership—the most likely of all the faith groups to own their own home. However, despite there being such incredible achievements, I want to concentrate my remarks, in the limited time I have, on some current and future initiatives.
In particular, there is the national Sikh war memorial. Due to the hard work of the trustees, of whom I am president, a central London site has been identified. I pay tribute to Members of both the Government and the Opposition who, on a cross-party basis, have helped, and also the Mayor of London’s office. I fully hope that the Minister will today endorse all that good work and support us in the future in every possible way, so that the dream will be become a reality on that site.
I also want to touch upon direct flights to Amritsar, which is the global, spiritual and tourist hub for the Sikhs, and home to the most revered Sikh shrine, known sometimes as the Golden Temple. Since being elected, I have been pushing on this matter, and I am thankful to those hon. Members who, on a cross-party basis, attended the parliamentary event. Despite the anti-Sikh and anti-Punjab elements who successfully scuppered such efforts by the diaspora and the Punjab community over the previous decade, in 2018 we successfully reinitiated the Birmingham to Amritsar route with Air India, and this month, thanks to several meetings and sincere efforts, we were looking forward to the announcement of direct flights from London to Amritsar. However, the recent difficulties faced by Indian airlines, including the collapse of the major private operator, have unfortunately put paid to that. Furthermore, even the advances made with the Birmingham to Amritsar route have been cancelled, allegedly due to the escalating Indo-Pak tensions and the inability to use certain airspace, along with capacity issues.
Given the context, is the Minister willing to meet me, and perhaps team members from the Departments for Transport, for International Trade and for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, as well as the Foreign Office, to see how we could encourage some of our British airlines to take on what would no doubt be a lucrative route? Post-Brexit, our ability to increase such communities’ cultural, trade and tourism ties will no doubt determine our nation’s success and enhance our global links. I sincerely hope that the Government will fully support National Sikh Awareness and History Month every April, after its having been initiated this year under the leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston, with excellent events being organised by other Members and hard-working Sikh organisations.
I fully endorse the calls for a formal apology from the Government for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, massacre, and the need to incorporate such historic colonial events into our national curriculum, so that future generations may learn from the blunders of the past. There has been an increase in hate crime, and after the horrific attack last year on one of my turbaned guests, who was queueing outside Parliament, by a hate-filled individual who felt the need to try to remove his turban, we have turned a negative into a positive with a Turban Awareness Day for the second year in a row, attended by so many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler). I am sure that with continued political support, the British Sikh community will go from strength to strength.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) on securing this important debate. In our first ever National Sikh Awareness and History Month, I pay tribute to her work, and that of hon. Friends and Members across the House, in establishing it. It is absolutely right that we have this debate today, to highlight the contribution of the Sikhs to the UK on so many different levels, whether military, economic or political. I thank my hon. Friend for calling the debate, and for organising the fantastic Turban Awareness Day last week. I know that many hon. Members present were there. It is certainly the first time I have worn a turban, and the process of having someone dress me in a turban was interesting and educational. I very much enjoyed it, and I thank everyone who was involved in organising the event.
I am proud that one of the first Sikh temples in the country outside London was the Guru Nanak Satsang gurdwara on the Cannock Road in my constituency. It is one of two Sikh gurdwaras in my constituency, the other being the Guru Nanak Sikh gurdwara on Well Lane in Wednesfield. I am always delighted to visit the gurdwaras. As the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) said, people always get a very warm welcome reception, a delicious Indian tea, samosas and all sorts of other things, because of the Sikh tradition of offering food to anyone, regardless of their background. People are always well fed and warmly welcomed at gurdwaras, not only in Wolverhampton but elsewhere across the country and the world.
I am delighted to take part in the annual Vaisakhi procession in my constituency, which last took place a couple of weeks ago between the Well Lane and Willenhall gurdwaras. There will be a very late Vaisakhi celebration in Wolverhampton—we always have the Vaisakhi Mela on the first Sunday of the month in West Park. Thousands of people flock there, obviously from the Sikh community but also from all different communities, and from all religions and none. It is a joyous affair, and I look forward to attending again this year.
I am proud that Wolverhampton has the second-highest percentage of Sikh residents in England, second only to Slough. Our Sikh community in Wolverhampton is vibrant and well integrated and makes a huge contribution to the local community and to society. It is fantastic and fitting that the University of Wolverhampton last year launched its Centre for Sikh and Panjabi Studies, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden). The centre is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, and I congratulate Dr Opinderjit Takhar not only on setting it up, but on giving the recent lecture in Speaker’s House on Guru Nanak and feminism.
I would like to reflect on what the hon. Member for Stafford said about the strong advocacy of the freedom of religion that the Sikh community brings to the UK. At election time, we always know what the Sikh priorities in my area are. We get invited to the local gurdwara; we get fed and watered, but demands are also put on us for the election. That is good and right, and I congratulate the various Sikh organisations that actually draft a manifesto for the election.
I echo those who have asked the Government for an apology for the massacre 100 years ago at Jallianwala Bagh. Although the Prime Minister has expressed deep regret, it is a shame that the Government have not gone further. On a more positive note, I would like to say how proud I am of the contribution of the Sikh community in Wolverhampton to business, education, public life and politics.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) for securing the debate, and I thank the Minister for being here today and for his clear commitment to his role. I look forward to hearing his remarks.
As we have heard, Sikhs have made an immense contribution to British society in a wide range of areas. Whether through business, charity work or the invaluable impact of the 83,000 Sikh soldiers who gave their lives in the service of the British Army, it is no exaggeration to say that Britain would simply not be Britain without the contribution of the Sikhs. Despite their magnificent contribution, Sikhs in Britain—and across the world—often face significant discrimination because of their beliefs.
Just before the Easter break, I, along with others, spoke in this very chamber about the many Sikhs who lost their lives during the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre, roughly 100 years ago. Thankfully, things have drastically improved since then, but Sikhs still face discrimination and even violence across the world. I declare an interest, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, and I am here to speak out for the Sikhs as well. I am also pleased to have the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) as an office bearer in that APPG and I look forward to her contribution shortly.
According to UK Home Office data, 117 incidents of hate crimes against Sikhs were recorded in 2017-18. That figure is likely to be underestimated, as many victims of hate crime do not report them. Incidents of discrimination towards Sikhs have been recorded for years. For example, the “British Sikh Report 2013” estimated that three quarters of the UK’s Sikhs had experienced racism. According to the UK Sikh Survey 2016, almost one in five Sikhs had encountered discrimination in a public place over the past year, with one in seven having directly experienced workplace discrimination. The report found that Sikhs who wear religious iconography or clothing are the most likely to experience abuse. Since 9/11, both individual Sikhs and gurdwaras have regularly been on the receiving end of attacks by people who have mistaken them for Muslims and mosques respectively. There have been numerous high-profile incidents in the media, notably the attempted beheading of Sikh dentist Dr Sarandev Bhambra in a Welsh supermarket in 2015.
It is simply unacceptable that anyone should be subject to discrimination, abuse or violence because of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof. We should do everything in our power to tackle discrimination against Sikhs in Britain. It is also right that we work with our international partners to tackle discrimination towards Sikhs because, unfortunately, the problem also afflicts many other nations, as has been mentioned. For example, in the US, the Sikh Coalition estimates that Sikhs in the US have experienced an average of one hate crime per week since the start of 2018, with a 17% spike in anti-Sikh violence since the 2016 presidential election. Those figures, too, are expected to be underestimated.
In India, where there is the greatest population of Sikhs in the world, conditions for Sikhs and other religious minorities have deteriorated over the past decade owing to the rise of Hindu nationalism, and attempts to alienate non-Hindus have emerged in conjunction with that ideology. The 2017 report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom notes:
“Hindu nationalists often harass Sikhs and pressure them to reject religious practices and beliefs that are distinct to Sikhism, such as wearing Sikh dress and unshorn hair and carrying mandatory religious items...Article 25 of the Indian constitution deems Sikhs to be Hindus. This creates an environment in which Hindu nationalists view Sikhs as having rejected Hinduism and as being enemies of India because some Sikhs support the Khalistan political movement, which seeks to create a new state in India for Sikhs”.
The growth of such views serves only to make life harder for the Indian Sikh community.
Sikhs in Britain and around the world have contributed greatly to society. Despite that fact, their community continues to suffer significant discrimination. It is our responsibility in this House today to do what we can to tackle that discrimination at home in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and abroad, and to ensure that Sikhs and all other religious or belief communities are valued and allowed to live their lives in peace and to contribute yet more to society, having very clearly contributed much in the past.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) for succeeding in her application for this timely debate to mark the end of Sikh heritage, history and awareness month—a month she has worked incredibly hard to champion and organise. Like many Members across the House, I too have participated in the Vaisakhi Nagar Kirtan in Birmingham over the weekend. The gathering is one of the largest in Europe, with more than 100,000 in attendance.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on UK Sikhs and the first female Sikh Member of Parliament, it has been a pleasure listening to Members from across the House rightly laud some of the contributions that individual Sikhs and the Sikh community as a whole have made to the UK.
When I was elected just under two years ago, I came to Parliament with a belief that it was here that we could make fundamental changes, and that we, as Members of Parliament, could lead on issues of importance for individual constituents, our community or the whole of the United Kingdom. I want us to do more than offer warm words about the contribution of Sikhs, or indeed any community, to the UK.
Despite making up 0.8% of the population, according to the 2011 census, Sikhs accounted for 2% of religious hate crimes recorded by the police in 2017-18. I want us to tackle hate crime and prejudice by taking today as a starting point for educating the whole population about the influence that Sikhs have had and how their impact has shaped the Britain of today, as well as many other parts of the world. It is in this place that we can choose to do more than discuss the contribution of diverse communities and speak solemnly about hate crimes. In this place we can put in place actions and policies to look at the link between the two.
The hate crime action plan refresh in 2018 was extremely disappointing, given the promises made to Sikh organisations that they would not be ignored or invisible to Government; but what matters now is how the Government address Sikh hate crime. I look forward to working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to address the under-reporting of Sikh hate. The new chair of the community safety group for the Sikh Council UK is Manchandan Kaur, and I hope the Government will reach out to her and the council to work with them.
Our children need to learn about the contribution of the Sikh community, and to do that, we must teach people about the honest history of Britain. We must learn about the positive and progressive parts as well as the repression and exploitation that has occurred in Britain’s name. We need to learn that, during the second world war, British soldiers were paid differently depending on their race. In their thousands Sikhs, along with others, gave up their lives for our freedom. My grandfather also fought in the second world war.
Our children must learn about the Amritsar massacre, where British troops massacred unarmed demonstrators. They must learn about the life of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, daughter of the last Maharaja of the Sikh empire and goddaughter of Queen Victoria, who pioneered the cause of women’s rights in Britain and abroad. They must learn about the grassroots activism of many Sikhs in the 1960s to challenge unfair pay, working conditions and cultural oppression.
My father, the late Daljit Singh Shergill, who was president of the Guru Nanak gurdwara Smethwick for 18 years, set up the first food bank during the 1980s recession in Smethwick. He worked with the miners during their strikes, raising funds to support them. He championed interfaith working and worked closely with the Harborne parish and the Bangladeshi and other minority groups. Gurdwara Smethwick has recently revealed the Lions of the Great War statue, commemorating the contribution of Sikhs to world wars one and two, led by the president, Jatinder Singh Bassi; the general secretary, Humraaj Singh Shergill; and leader of Sandwell Council, Steve Eling. And we must know the truth of the role of the then Government involvement in Operation Blue Star, otherwise known as the 1984 genocide of Sikhs.
If we genuinely want to recognise the contribution of Sikhs to the UK and the way it has shaped British society, the way it has moulded what it means to be British and the way it has shaped current and future generations, it is not enough simply to discuss it; we must end the discrimination that Sikhs face because of a lack of data. The race disparity audit used 100 datasets across Government to look at how people of all ethnic groups are treated across public services, but there was no data on Sikhs. As we celebrate their contributions, let us not ignore the fact that the Government’s aim to tackle burning injustices has been a concern when it comes to Sikhs. That is why Members across the House support the Sikh ethnic tick box in the census.
We in this place are here to make fundamental change and lead on what is important. I hope that today the Minister, as a Member of the Government, will commit to genuinely following through on the issues raised. In doing so the Minister will have my full support, and the APPG will be happy to work with officials to develop a programme of work.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) for securing this extremely important debate today. I want to start by putting on the record my sincere gratitude for all the support and good will that I have received from the Sikh community in Coventry. Their help and encouragement has been and will always be very much appreciated.
There are many gurdwaras in my constituency and across Coventry. They are not only places of worship, but important community hubs that bring people together and, as anyone who has visited a temple will know, are places of great benevolence, where everyone is welcome and food is shared with the rest of the community. The annual Vaisakhi celebration is firmly woven into our city’s cultural calendar. Thousands of people take part in the Nagar Kirtan—the parade—which starts at the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Parkash in my constituency, and is a joyous and inclusive celebration that is attended and enjoyed by Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. The event contributes successfully to broadening our city’s cultural life.
Similarly, the Sikh community contributes tremendously to the success of the economy of both Coventry and this country. The Sikh community certainly punches above its weight in this area, with a deserved reputation for having a strong work ethic and being disproportionately successful in business. It is a similar story in our vital public services, where Sikhs make such an invaluable contribution to our armed forces, our NHS and our education sector.
As well as the cultural and economic contribution that the Sikh community makes to our city, there is a significant social contribution, not least to the health and wellbeing of our environment. Sikhs have a strong relationship with the environment, which is an integral part of their faith and identity. That connection with the natural world prompted Coventry’s Sikhs to commit to planting more than 550 trees across the city to mark the 550th anniversary of the birth of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. That fantastic initiative will help to restore nature to our cities, parks and green spaces, and secure a healthy, resilient and sustainable environment that will benefit people and wildlife for generations to come.
That sense of social responsibility does not end with the natural environment. Public service is hugely important to Sikh identity, and helping others is part of their way of life. Sikhs constantly strive to do more and find new ways of contributing to their local community, whether that is through the time they give up or the money they donate to important local charities and projects. I admire and am grateful for their work throughout my city, and I thank the 16,000 Sikhs in Coventry for their social, cultural and economic contributions.
I echo the points that my hon. Friend is making so well. In my constituency, the Sikh community has done a huge job and been at the heart of our community, both commercially and through its public leadership. I place on the record my thanks to Mota Singh, who is standing down as a councillor after 40 years of public service. What a terrific record that has been.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Sikhs contribute so much each and every day across all walks of life, and their culture, diversity, enterprise and values of faith, family, and community help to make our city a more unique, integrated, tolerant and vibrant place to live in, work and visit.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) on securing the debate and on her powerful speech. I am delighted to speak in this debate, and I welcome the launch of National Sikh Awareness and History Month. I pay tribute to the work of my colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), for Feltham and Heston, and for Slough (Mr Dhesi) in pursuing that important initiative. It has also been wonderful to see recent events in Parliament—my personal favourite was definitely Turban Awareness Day.
My city of Manchester contains a significant Sikh population and provides a prime example of the beauty of our diverse society. It is particularly noticeable how well the Sikh community has integrated itself into the local community, not just through business, but through charity work and the hospitable nature of the local gurdwaras. My local gurdwara is a lively, colourful and welcoming place. I recently visited it for the Vaisakhi celebrations, and was touched by the warm and very Punjabi welcome.
I have seen over the years the positive impact that Sikhs have had not just in my constituency, but across Britain and in all walks of life. Minorities such as British Sikhs exemplify all that is great about Great Britain, which is home to many of the world’s religious and ethnic minorities. It is a place where we strive to create the conditions for minorities to thrive, safe in the knowledge that there exists a robust framework of equality and non-discrimination legislation, and professional practice. Other examples of the contribution that Sikhs make to the UK are witnessed in the British Army where, as Members have said, many Sikhs have served with distinction. We still have some way to go before we fully realise our equality aspirations, but the Equality Act 2010, passed by a Labour Government, remains a significant landmark on our journey to a more equal society for all.
As for other minority communities, however, challenges remain for British Sikhs, and ignorance of the Sikh religion often lies behind prejudices. Sadly, the Sikh community continues to face discrimination. For example, a report by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims described the very direct and tangible impact that Islamophobia has on our Sikh communities. Whether that is gurdwaras being defaced, or Sikh men such as Dr Sarandev Bhambra being targeted by Islamophobes because of the mistaken perception that they are Muslims, we are acutely aware that more must be done by all in society to tackle the impact of rising Islamophobia that affects all our communities.
Given the escalation in bigotry after the Brexit vote and the rise in racial discrimination and hate crimes on grounds of race and religion, it is important that we reassert the Britishness of our minority groups, and integrate their history and stories in our national imagination. To challenge the racism of far right groups, we must repel the myths that are peddled about our communities, and we must celebrate the tremendous contributions made by those communities to the UK. I believe that the positive contributions made by Sikhs and other Commonwealth citizens to our British history should be included in national school curricula. The time is right to pay tribute to British Sikhs and all they have achieved, because their contribution amounts to so much more than their numbers. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to participate in this much-needed debate, which recognises and celebrates the wonderful contributions made by the Sikh community. Finally, let me conclude with the wise words of Guru Nanak, who said:
“He who regards all men as equals is religious”.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Edward. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) for her work in establishing National Sikh Awareness and History Month. It has been a wonderful month of celebration, education, learning, and sharing food, which is a great thing and definitely to be encouraged. This month the Scottish Parliament held its first Vaisakhi reception, which was so well attended that extra people had to be squeezed into the garden lobby. More and more people kept coming, which was great to see.
I thank Charandeep Singh and Ravinder Kaur Nijjar from Glasgow for their help in gathering information on the Sikh community in Scotland for my contribution to this debate, and for their tireless community work. In her interfaith role, and through the network of Scottish gurdwaras, Ravinder has been incredibly active over nearly 30 years in promoting dialogue and understanding between faiths, as well as promoting the Sikh community. After our debate on Jallianwala Bagh, she told me that her grandfather had survived that massacre because, as a young man, he lay underneath the bodies. That brings home to us all how that link is still there within human memory, including here in the UK, and it is because that link is so real for so many that the lack of an apology from the Prime Minister was so disappointing. Ravinder also told me that in 1920, Sikhs based at Glasgow University wrote to the then Glasgow Herald to voice their outrage at those events. This is not something that happened in another country far away and a long time ago; this is very real to communities today, and I urge the Minister to do all he can to secure that apology.
The established Sikh community settled in Glasgow in the early 1920s, and the first gurdwara was established in South Portland Street in the Gorbals in the 1940s. The community has grown in both numbers and institutions. Scotland’s eight gurdwaras, based in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and Irvine, serve communities across the nation and are used by 4,000 individuals each week, including Sikhs and those from other backgrounds. During the Vaisakhi celebrations we saw the Nagar Kirtan procession through the streets of Glasgow, and it was an absolute joy to behold and be part of. The tradition of langar—providing a free meal—was begun by the first guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji, expanded by Guru Angad and Guru Amar Das, and it remains strong to this day. I very much enjoyed sharing a meal with my colleague Sandra White MSP and the congregation at the Glasgow Central Gurdwara Singh Sabha a fortnight ago. The food was delicious, and I encourage anyone who can to go there. As other Members have reflected, visitors are very much welcomed when they go through the doors.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) on her role in securing this important debate. Everybody recognises the contributions of the Sikh community in the social and semi-political fields, but I am glad to say that in my constituency and my area, the Sikh community has played a major part in the mainstream politics of Britain. It was where the first Sikh—Indian-born—was elected as a local councillor, and where Piara Singh Khabra was elected as Member of Parliament. Parmjit Dhanda was elected as a Member of Parliament, as was Marsha Singh, who was the Member for Bradford West. The Sikh community is not only playing a part in social life, but playing a positive role in bringing communities together in the mainstream politics of Britain.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his excellent point. Sikhs have played a role in many different fields, as they should. Two Members who have spoken this afternoon, the hon. Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and for Slough (Mr Dhesi), are Sikhs who have made their contributions to politics. There is a great contribution going on across the UK, and we need to see many more Sikhs taking up the role of elected Member.
Each week, the gurdwaras in Scotland serve over 3,000 meals, all prepared and distributed by volunteers. In addition, Seva Scotland prepares meals in the gurdwara and distributes them to the vulnerable in society through mobile food banks, which provide over 100 hot, fresh meals a week in Glasgow and Edinburgh to the most vulnerable, many of whom are homeless. In addition, the Sikh community regularly fundraises for Scottish charities, including the Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity, for which it recently raised over £8,000.
The Sikh community works hard to create stronger, integrated communities. As the hon. Member for Slough and others have mentioned, there has been anti-minority hostility and hate crime about, which the Scottish Sikh community has taken on through a vibrant proactive approach to promoting diversity in Scotland. Each year, the Network of Sikh Organisations educates over 4,000 Scottish school pupils, and interacts and engages with over 40,000 non-Sikh visitors to gurdwaras. The Gurdwara Guru Granth Sahib Sikh Sabha on Albert Drive is recognised as being so welcoming that it has a four-star rating from the tourist agency VisitScotland. It also does outreach; it recently did a turban-tying event in Queen’s Park, with members of the community turning up on a beautiful sunny day to show how turbans are put together. As other elected Members have mentioned, learning how that feels was an experience, and it was good to get the opportunity to do that outside in the sunshine.
As the local elected Member for three of Glasgow’s four gurdwaras, I know that the Sikh community regularly engages with local and national Governments on issues of importance to the Sikh community, most recently the Sikh census question, but also on security issues after the scandalous attack on the Guru Nanak gurdwara in Edinburgh last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) asked me to pass on how strongly the community in Edinburgh felt about that. There was great solidarity, with the community coming out in support of those from the gurdwaras. The Scottish Government’s Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development, Ben Macpherson, who is also the local MSP, was out there giving his support to the community as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) has been active in campaigning on the Jagtar Singh Johal case. I know that there was a meeting with the Foreign Secretary last week, and that the all-party parliamentary group led by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston has also been campaigning on that issue, backed by the solidarity of the gurdwaras.
I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman’s support; it is important that we stand together on these issues as much as we can.
I have received representations from the gurdwaras in my constituency about the difficulties caused by the UK Home Office in the recruitment of Sikh celebrants. When I visited the Vaisakhi celebrations, I was pleased to see that the Sikh celebrants had been able to get into Glasgow and participate in those celebrations, which I believe involved a 48-hour reading of the Sikh holy scriptures. If that is going to be done in a shift over 48 hours, there need to be plenty of celebrants to make it possible.
The Scottish Sikh community is engaged in international activity. The Sikh Council of Scotland was founded in 2002 by Gurdeep Samra, and under President Sulakhan Singh is providing scholarships worth £700,000 to 290 young children in the poorest parts of India, covering their tuition fees, transport, food and schooling costs and removing that burden from their parents. The community also supports work to empower young women by providing training in high-skilled tailoring centres, where those women are trained in the art of tailoring, sewing and design. Hundreds of young women have enrolled, and after their training, each qualified young woman is provided with a sewing machine free of charge to open their own tailoring shop locally, to act as a source of income for those women and their families. Some 90% of young women enrolled in that scheme reach the stage of opening their own local centre, which is quite incredible. The Sikh community also funds local water projects in India and provides six eye camps in that country, which have provided eye care and operations such as cataract surgery to over 6,000 individuals, completely free of charge.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the importance of education. All the Sikh gurdwaras in Scotland provide a range of educational facilities, including Punjabi heritage classes, tuition classes, computing classes and health and wellbeing classes. Those are all free, and seek to increase and improve the life chances of people from minority ethnic communities. Combined, the gurdwaras educate over 4,000 young Scottish Sikhs through their educational services. That is a great thing for the community, particularly as it links together the older and younger generations through language.
Leith-based Sikh Sanjog, founded by Trishna Singh OBE in 1989, is particularly notable as an organisation run by women, and I wish it all the best on its 30th birthday this year. Sikh Sanjog has run the Punjabi Junction cafe for the community, and offers a range of services to inspire and empower Sikh and other minority ethnic women and young people to advance their life opportunities through the building of skills, confidence and social inclusion. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith has told me how much that means to the local community. The Sikh community is also expanding its footprint on the national stage through the advocacy charity Sikhs in Scotland, under the leadership of Charandeep Singh, which will represent the needs of that community across civic Scotland. As other hon. Members have mentioned, Sikhs have made an economic contribution. The two stunning gurdwaras in Glasgow, which I invite everybody to visit, invested £15 million in Scottish communities, which is significant in fundraising terms.
I will finish with a wee story about how the Sikh community is regarded in Glasgow. The painting club at Toryglen community hall has produced for me the most gorgeous painting of the Glasgow skyline, with landmarks from my constituency. It has recognised the contribution of the Sikh community by including the gurdwara dome in that beautiful painting. What more fitting tribute by Glaswegians to their fellow citizens could there be? The Sikh community is very much part of Scotland's vibrant tartan, and I take this opportunity to thank it for its contribution.
It is a great pleasure to be part of today’s debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) on having secured it. I also congratulate all the members of the all-party parliamentary group on UK Sikhs who have contributed to this very special month. It is lovely to see Parliament as diverse as it has been this month; sometimes, I think this place is at its best when Members can debate and talk about the beauty and diversity of their constituents and how much they add and contribute. It makes this a very special place.
We have heard a lot about the contribution of Sikhs in both world wars, and a recognition of the role that Sikhs played in our history. Sikh British Indian soldiers were just 2% of the population, but 20% of the British Indian Army, and I join other Members in calling for a war memorial in central London to recognise and celebrate that fact. I hope that when the Minister rises to his feet, in the spirit of today’s debate, he will agree and say that that will happen. As we have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), a place for that memorial has already been identified.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston said, it is sad that this history month was born out of an attack on a turban-wearing Sikh outside Parliament, a place where we hope we break down barriers. However, as we have heard, something positive has come out of that negative. It was a pleasure to be a part of Turban Awareness Day in Parliament. I too now understand how long the process takes. It was a real education, and I thank Members, especially our Sikh Members, for allowing us to ask silly questions—I thought some of them were silly questions—and for the dignity with which they responded. That is testament to how we all need to embrace, understand and appreciate each other’s cultures.
A hundred years later seems like the right time for an apology for the Jallianwala Bagh murders. That incident should be taught in schools; it is time and it feels right. We have been talking about suffrage and the contributions that Sikh women made to suffrage movements, and we have talked about those centenary celebrations, but it is time to acknowledge the good and the bad and ensure that that incident is taught in schools.
We have heard a lot today about the “British Sikh Report 2019”. It refers not only to the many Sikhs who work in the public sector, but to those in the care sector. I found that a fascinating piece of research, and we should all reflect on the positive role that Sikhs play in public life.
The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) spoke with pride about his Sikh community and about events in the British empire that need to be investigated. What he said is true. Often history likes to talk about what are considered to be the good bits, but for us to understand and mature as a society, we need to talk about the bad bits too, so that history does not repeat itself, as we have seen in the recent increase in hate crime.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) spoke about Sikh soldiers and the ultimate sacrifice. He talked about the cross-party support and all the firsts we have here in Parliament and, beyond that, in his constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Slough is a completely and utterly enthusiastic advocate for the war memorial. I congratulate him on all his campaigning since he has been in Parliament. He has hit the ground running, to say the least, and has always been so calm in doing so. He often talks about turning a negative into a positive, but I congratulate him on being elected as the first ever black, Asian and minority ethnic representative in the UK delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I am sure he will take that delegation by force and ensure that everything is considered in the right way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) talked about education about the turban and the gurdwaras in her constituency. She is no longer in her place, but she talked about West Park, and it sounded like the place to be. I might just have to pay a visit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) talked about her constituency with such joy and grace, but I must congratulate her on being the first female Sikh Member of Parliament. I remember when she was elected, everyone was saying, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe that you are the first and there wasn’t one before.” There was almost a sense of it being a shame on the House. I congratulate her on being the first female Sikh Member and her words about being an advocate for action, not warm words. We must never forget how we can use this place to ensure that the Government make the changes they need to make. We need fewer warm words and more action.
My hon. Friend mentioned Princess Duleep Singh and the role she played in the suffrage movement. Often, women of colour are excluded from the history books and we have to dig deep to find the role they played, even when we know they played a full role and often made a bigger sacrifice to do so. She also mentioned the race disparity audit having no data on Sikhs. If the Government are going to do something, it is important that is done in its entirety, so that it is meaningful. If we are going to go through a process of auditing, it is important that we make it as meaningful as possible. The debate about having Sikh as a recognised box is not a new debate, and it could easily have been included in the Government’s race disparity audit. Will the Minister explain why that was not the case?
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) talked about how Sikhs punch above their weight and the planting of trees around Coventry. I should not forget to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). He talked about the warm Punjabi welcome and everything that is great about Great Britain, and that is the thing: Great Britain is known for its diversity. People coming from other countries often say, “I love the diversity, the unity and the acceptance.” It is not about tolerance. I do not want to be tolerated; I want to be accepted and appreciated for the contributions to society that my family and I make. My hon. Friend talked about the role we can all play in rooting out racial discrimination. Debates such as this highlight how we all have a significant role to play in ensuring that there is less hate in society, and more acceptance.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Edward. Being in the House of Commons, more often than not I am really proud of our role as advocates for our communities. It is brilliant that more than 20 Members of Parliament have come to this debate to make a contribution to celebrate Sikhs and Sikhs in British society. That is extraordinarily uplifting and a brilliant way of marking the almost conclusion of UK National Sikh Awareness and History Month. That event came out of a negative attack outside Parliament, and what a fantastic way it is of turning that negative, terrible thing that we all condemn into something positive.
In this debate, we have all come together to make a positive contribution about Sikhs in our society. I love the idea of having a month that is not only about history and what happened in the past, but about today and celebrating the hugely positive contribution that Sikhs make in Great Britain and around the world, as we have heard. We have had more than 20 contributions. I will do my best to respond to as many as possible of the points raised, while leaving the customary two minutes for the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra). I congratulate her on securing this debate and pay tribute to her for the campaign she has run and all the work she has done.
My Department is in charge of communities in this country, and we work closely with communities across Great Britain to try to find ways to create that cohesion that the Opposition spokesperson just spoke about. I reiterate what has been said about the positive contribution that Sikhs have made to British society. Their vibrancy and selfless service are renowned. I have never visited a gurdwara, so I will have to do that. I do not have one in my constituency, but the huge contribution that gurdwaras are making to communities across Great Britain is absolutely fantastic.
Fantastic—I accept that invitation. I am sure my hon. Friend will also take that opportunity to lobby me on his high street competition bid, but I happily accept his invitation.
I am delighted that our Parliament has been made richer and more diverse. Having the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) speak today was one of the highlights, as he is the first turban-wearing Sikh in Parliament. We should celebrate his historic role in the story of our Parliament and our nation.
In addition, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) is the first female Sikh, which we should also celebrate. I was surprised when the election results came in and that news came over the wires. It says something about this place that we had not until that point had a female Sikh representative. The hon. Lady is doing a fantastic job representing not just her constituents but the Sikh community more widely.
I appreciate that it is a couple of weeks late, but I place on record my good wishes to all Sikhs who celebrated Vaisakhi recently with their family and friends. I think it is fantastic. The Prime Minister will host an event in Downing Street early next month to celebrate Vaisakhi with members of the Sikh community from across the UK.
I thank the Minister for his opening remarks, and I am sure that the Sikh community will be very grateful for his Vaisakhi greetings, but the Government missed an opportunity a couple of weeks ago, on the 100th Vaisakhi since the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, to respond to cross-party calls for an official Government apology. Was that the last word on the subject, or can we expect to hear more from the Government, perhaps at the Vaisakhi celebration that he mentioned?
The right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to prejudge what the Prime Minister may or may not say at that Vaisakhi celebration; I do not have any information about what is planned. All I would say is that the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 13 April 1919 is, as Members have described it repeatedly in this debate, a stain on the history of this country. It seems to me quite right that, 100 years on, people are calling on the Government to mark it, and to change what the Government have done. The Prime Minister recently made it clear that she deeply regrets what happened and the suffering caused, saying:
“The tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 is a shameful scar on British Indian history.”—[Official Report, 10 April 2019; Vol. 658, c. 308.]
That is a direct quote from the Prime Minister, and of course the British high commissioner to India, Sir Dominic Asquith, laid a wreath on the Jallianwala Bagh centenary, expressing regret for what happened.
It is important to reflect on the past, and I do not know what will happen at the Vaisakhi celebration in Downing Street. I will pass on the comments from this debate to the Prime Minister, and more widely to those across Government. There may be an opportunity for others to raise the matter with the Prime Minister if they have the opportunity to do so in Parliament, at Prime Minister’s Question Time, on or around the time of that celebration in Downing Street.
I will move on to talk about how the Government engage with the Sikh community. We have heard about the hugely important contribution that the Sikh community makes to Britain. It is important that I put on record how the Government, particularly through my right hon. Friend Lord Bourne, the Minister for Faith, engages with the Sikh community and particularly Sikh umbrella groups. He often hosts interfaith roundtables with representatives from different faiths. Part of that has been to engage heavily with the Sikh community and its representatives.
Lord Bourne is currently seeking to refresh the groups of Sikh communities and umbrella bodies with which he meets. He is seeking particularly to expand those groups to ensure that more women have an opportunity to contribute and that more members of grassroots and community representative groups can attend them. Knowing the interest that there will be in today’s debate, I put out a call to the community more widely, particularly to women, to come forward and engage with the Government on how we can more actively support the Sikh community in the UK. We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Sikh community throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and I hope that that can be part of an active engagement, with Members from across the House playing their full part.
I really appreciate the commitment that the Minister is giving to carry on working closely with the Sikh community. Will he join all of us in campaigning to put pressure on the Prime Minister of this country to apologise on behalf of British communities? The Sikh community and the Indian community in general would appreciate that support.
I read out the direct quote from the Prime Minister expressing regret in relation to that. Any further change in the Government’s official position would be a matter for the Foreign Office and for the Prime Minister, although I have committed to pass on Members’ comments, and I am sure that the Prime Minister and her team will read the Hansard of our debate.
A few very specific points have been raised, to which I will respond. First, the hon. Member for Slough asked whether I would meet him to discuss flights directly. I will of course, but I wonder whether it would be more appropriate for him to meet a Transport Minister. Perhaps he and I can have a quick conversation after the debate to work out who the appropriate Minister would be. In the absence of any other Minister better qualified to deal with the matter, I will of course meet him with the greatest of pleasure.
Comments have been made about the Sikh war memorial and the cross-party campaign for proper recognition of the extraordinary contribution that Sikhs made during both world wars—14 Victoria Crosses is a number that should humble us all. The Government are correctly supporting efforts to seek a permanent war memorial in London for that contribution. My Department has facilitated meetings with Westminster City Council and we have helped to persuade it, though I am sure it did not take too much persuasion, that there is a need for this war memorial. We support the planning application and have helped to identify potential sites. My Department is the ultimate arbiter of the planning application, so I cannot be drawn more widely on its success or failure, but we would all think it a wonderful outcome were such a memorial to be seen in London.
I thank Lord Bourne, his colleague Hilary Patel and the entire Department, because they have been very co-operative. I need reassurance from the Minister that we will get further gas under the pedal to get that memorial in Westminster sooner rather than later.
I hope I can give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. The Government are fully behind the proposals for the war memorial. If there is more we can do to assist, we will certainly offer that help. I congratulate him for all the work he has done and the extraordinary way in which he has reinvigorated the campaign since he arrived in Parliament relatively recently. We will continue to work with Westminster City Council. There are negotiations with the Crown Estate, and if we can assist in that work or those negotiations in any way, we will do so. If, following this fantastic month of celebration and history, we can make some real progress, we can all be really proud of that. If the hon. Gentleman runs into any issues—of course, my colleague Lord Bourne would usually deal with them—he can contact me and I will personally take them up with the relevant people in my Department.
Issues relating to hate crime have been raised. In the remaining moments, it may be helpful for me to highlight the additional funding that the Home Secretary has made available for places of worship. I have visited each of the mosques in my constituency to talk about the availability of that funding. It is right that the Government support places of worship, so that religious people can meet, come together, pray together and practise their faith. I hope that colleagues will do what I have done, which is to visit diverse places of worship in their own constituencies, to ensure that worshippers are aware of that funding and of the fact that they can apply for proactive security around places of worship. I congratulate once again everyone who has taken part in this extraordinary and uplifting debate.
I thank the Minister and all who have taken part. I am sure that the debate on the issue of a formal apology for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre will continue. I hope the Prime Minister will use her Vaisakhi event next month to move things forward.
I echo the words of my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill): raising awareness has a purpose, which is to build relations and to tackle hate, inequality and injustice. Where that requires Parliament to act, I hope we will have the courage to do so. In this debate, we have heard that people from the Sikh community have contributed to our society in so many ways—from Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who campaigned for suffrage in my constituency, to Fauja Singh in sport. We have not mentioned him, but this is a marathon week.
I close by thanking the Sikh community in my constituency and the leaders of our main local gurdwaras for all they do in working in an interfaith way, recognising the words of Guru Nanak Dev Ji that there is no Hindu and there is no Muslim. That we are all one together is a strong message that comes from the Sikh faith. I would like to mention Zora Singh Khangora, Gurmej Kaur, Gurmit Singh Hanzara, Premi Singh from the Afghan Sikhs, Sarup Singh Mahon, Gurmail Singh Malhi and our deputy mayor, Councillor Sumra, and all the other Sikh councillors who do a huge amount to keep the bridge strong between our community and our politics.
On a personal note, it has been a great privilege to chair this wonderful debate, in which we have all come together to celebrate the contribution of the Sikh community to our nation.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the contribution of Sikhs to the UK.
Migration Advisory Committee
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the composition of the Migration Advisory Committee.
The Migration Advisory Committee has six members. The chairman, Professor Alan Manning, is from the London School of Economics; he is, of course, an economist. Professor Jackline Wahba is from the University of Southampton; she is an economist. Dr Jennifer Smith is from Warwick University; she is an economist. Madeleine Sumption is from the University of Oxford; she is an economist. Dr Brian Bell is from King’s College London; he is an economist. Finally, Professor Jo Swaffield, who is newly appointed, is from the University of York; unsurprisingly, she too is an economist.
I do not doubt that all those individuals are proficient economists. Nor do I doubt that those of them who still lecture are perfectly capable of imparting in the lecture theatre the knowledge that students need to pass their exams. However, an important question must be asked: does it make sense to have an advisory committee on migration that is made up exclusively of economists, and that excludes all other fields of knowledge and experience? If the Minister told me that there was a case for one economist on the panel, I would accept that, because there is undoubtedly an element of economics in migration policy. However, it is not the only issue that we should address, nor are economists’ skills the only skills needed.
The knowledge and experience of the individuals on the committee is inevitably quite limited and narrow, and their perspective is inevitably very theoretical rather than rooted in experience. They live in an academic bubble, which means that they do not always understand the challenges that individual businesses face. Not one of them, I think, has ever run a business; not one has created any wealth on their own through entrepreneurship; not one has created any jobs. They do not know what it is like to worry about putting together a rota to ensure that a restaurant is fully staffed. They do not know what it is like to be a strawberry farmer who has to close a gate on a field of strawberries because they do not have enough staff. Nor do they know what it is like to have to cancel a weekend away with their family because somebody has called in sick and they have to do the work themselves.
My view is that an expert committee on migration should be much broader. It should have entrepreneurs—people who have actually built wealth, created jobs and made and run their own businesses. It should have business leaders from a range of different sectors.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. For instance, some of the Migration Advisory Committee’s advice has been that it does not matter if we shut down certain industries, but some of those industries are prevalent in certain regions and matter to those of us who represent them. I believe that the committee should also have a range of business leaders from a range of sectors of the economy, to represent different briefs and explain why particular sectors employ people in a particular way. Why not have a place for a trade union representative as well?
The Minister or her officials might regard all the people I have just mentioned as dreadful vested interests with an axe to grind, who could not possibly sit on an expert committee. I disagree. Does not the Minister value those people’s opinions? She might find that real entrepreneurs and people in business and trade unions could ground-truth some of the current committee’s economic theories.
Even to economists, for whom I have a high regard, some things should be self-evident. For instance, in Stafford we grow an awful lot of salad, which replaces salad that would otherwise be imported. It is really important for the United Kingdom’s balance of payments; without the workforce to pick it, grow it and process it, we would be more reliant on imports and our balance of payments would be negative.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is important that as a country we make, produce and grow things. Sadly, I am afraid that some economists overlook the importance of that, and some do not think that the balance of payments matters at all. They think that we can just carry on losing money, borrowing it from elsewhere and spending like no tomorrow, but we all know that that is not how the world works.
Even if the Minister felt that some of the people I have mentioned had a vested interest or an axe to grind, it would be quite possible to make allowances to take that into account. It is wrong to ignore those voices and shut them out. Even if the committee were to remain largely academic, where is the space for people who studied international relations? Do not their degrees matter? There will be many people at the Home Office who have chosen to work in immigration, and whose skillsets and qualifications are in international relations, but they are all excluded from this expert committee. What about people who studied human geography, a normal route to looking at issues such as immigration? Where is the space for them on the committee?
The Minister may say that she meets businesses and unions all the time and hears their voices. However, we cannot get away from the fact that this narrow advisory committee almost sees itself as writing policy. Ministers and officials who draft answers to parliamentary questions routinely hide behind the MAC, saying that it is not appropriate for Ministers to say anything about migration matters until the committee has reached a conclusion. They appear to have abdicated responsibility for policy making to the committee.
The level of reverence shown by the Home Office to the Migration Advisory Committee is rather akin to that shown to the Monetary Policy Committee. However, the MPC was established by statute and has statutory powers to set interest rates, whereas the MAC is simply an ad hoc advisory group and should be treated as such.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, highlighting deficiencies in the Migration Advisory Committee with respect to the reflection of regions, income strands or industry needs. However, the committee only advises; Ministers decide. This afternoon, the Minister has an opportunity to show how she can hear and ignore, to make sure that we have a system that is bespoke and best suited for the future of our industry and our country.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I hope that the Minister will clarify that the Government have an absolute right to ignore at will any recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee.
Until recently, I was a Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—I was one of those Ministers who used to sign off parliamentary answers that said, “We can’t say anything until we hear from the Migration Advisory Committee.” We saw this as a vital piece of work. As we leave the European Union and take back control—in some cases for the first time in half a century—of policy areas such as agriculture, fisheries and migration, we must assertively own that space. There is no space for sitting on our hands, dithering and delaying; we must wholeheartedly come up with a coherent policy.
My hon. Friend will know that people in fishing, farming, healthcare, social care and our tourism industry are acutely conscious of this challenge. They expect and want whoever is making the decisions, or at least guiding policy, to be well informed and responsive to things as they change.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Sadly, many individuals across various sectors report that they do not feel that the Migration Advisory Committee actually listens to them. They feel that the committee has a rather supercilious stance and is basically not interested in the views of people running real businesses.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important debate. Economists like to measure and count things. Does he agree that they need to come up with a way of counting shortages of different skills, rather than trying to put a measurement on the value of those skills? It is purely as simple as, “We have a shortage of these skills. We need those skills.”
My hon. Friend makes a crucial point, which I was going to come on to. The Migration Advisory Committee is trying to be too clever by half, rather than just making a straightforward assessment of the industries that have labour shortages, trying to assess what those shortages are as best it can, and setting a figure for the appropriate tier 3 or tier 2 provision, so that we can get the right people into those industries. Instead, the committee has gone off on a frolic of its own in trying to outline a plan to socially engineer a solution to what economists call the productivity puzzle.
As a Minister, I was deeply disappointed when the Migration Advisory Committee’s final report concluded in autumn 2018. I thought it was very poor and told us nothing new. Frankly, it read a bit like a student’s dissertation. It was a trot round the course of rather standard economic theories of comparative advantage and so on. I suppose that reflected the fact that it was ultimately written by economists and academics, who do not have real-world experience. At the heart of that report was undoubtedly an economist’s obsession with abstract theories of productivity—the so-called productivity puzzle to which we have to keep being subjected, because it is the current obsession of economists.
Put simply, the MAC believes that it can use immigration policy to socially engineer a solution to productivity. It recommends no provision at all for tier 3 migration—no provision for so-called lower-skilled jobs. In essence, its argument is that if we get rid of people on lower incomes and simply destroy the industries they work in, productivity will rise. It is a completely ill-conceived idea and will lead to economic contraction, which will affect particular parts of the country worse than others. Industries will be forced to close, as the committee’s report highlighted and acknowledged, but was indifferent to. Let us not forget that under Professor Manning’s world-view, the Home Secretary’s father would have been denied entry to our country. Mr Javid came here to work first in the cotton mills, and then on the buses. Had Professor Manning been in place at the time, the Home Secretary’s father would have been sent back and would not have been admitted to this country. That is a terrible indictment of the conclusions of the current MAC report.
The Migration Advisory Committee claims that its recommendations are consistent with our industrial strategy. I think that is wrong, as they violate two important principles in our industrial strategy. First, a principle of the industrial strategy is to make the UK the best place in the world to set up a business. Secondly, the strategy seeks balanced growth around the country, not growth concentrated simply in the home counties. A skills-based immigration system along the lines proposed by the Migration Advisory Committee will be bad for business and will damage and close certain industries. It will be bad for many parts of the country that depend on those industries for their wealth generation, including whole supply chains.
As I said, Brexit changes things fundamentally. We have to own this space assertively. We have to learn to value people who work on lower incomes and might have fewer formal qualifications, but who do vital work—be it in hospitality, agriculture or caring environments, and so on. First, we need to reform the Migration Advisory Committee so that we can give the Home Office better advice.
I conclude with two requests of the Minister. First, since the Migration Advisory Committee is an ad hoc committee and not established in statute, I see no reason why its current membership could not be extended to, say, 10 or 12 individuals. They are paid a day rate for attendance; it is not a salaried position. The Minister has an opportunity right now to extend the Migration Advisory Committee and broaden its skills base.
Immigration is very important to Scotland, and I notice the absence of my colleagues from the Scottish National party. It is a very important area not just for Scotland, but for the whole of the UK. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a very narrow field to have a team of economists dealing with such an important issue? We surely must have the voice of others—particularly business, the National Farmers Union in Scotland and in England and Wales, and, as he mentioned, trade unions. We need to have some mechanism whereby these people are heard and the real needs of these industries, including hospitality, the NHS, fishing and farming, are truly heard. I doubt whether any of those economists understands the need throughout the UK, particularly in Scotland.
My hon. Friend makes a vital point, which is the thrust of my argument: we cannot have a coherent policy by relying just on the opinions of economists. They will give a particular perspective—cut and pasted out of a textbook—but it will not actually be ground truth; it will not be rooted in the real economy. Up and down the country, real businesses are taking decisions not to invest, not to expand and not to create new jobs, because they cannot get people to fill the vacancies that they have in their business as it stands. The stance against so-called low-skilled immigration is actually damaging our economy already, and we need to recognise that.
I have a second request of the Minister. As I said, I note that she recently took the opportunity simply to reappoint, I think, two members of the Migration Advisory Committee at the end of last year. She has not taken the opportunity to refresh the team. I also understand that Professor Alan Manning has a three-year term, which, if my research is correct, ends in November. Can the Minister confirm that she will not reappoint Professor Alan Manning, that his term will end in November, and that he can then be replaced by someone who understands business?
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) on securing this debate. He put his view forward with customary forthrightness, and I would expect nothing less from him. I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to shine a bit of light on the work of the Migration Advisory Committee. It plays a very important role in the development of immigration policy and its work is often in the spotlight, but there is far less discussion of the committee’s membership and composition.
We are lucky to have the MAC. Although there are no members of Her Majesty’s Opposition here to hear me say this, the then Labour Government’s establishment of the MAC back in 2007 was possibly one of the best things they did in the field of immigration. Creating the MAC has enabled successive Governments to have a source of informed, authoritative and impartial advice on some of the most contentious and thorny questions of immigration policy. The readiness with which successive Governments have accepted the MAC’s advice is a testament to the quality of that advice and to the value and wisdom of having such a body. It is noteworthy that a number of other countries have now sought to emulate our approach by appointing their own expert bodies to advise them on immigration policy.
As my hon. Friend said, the MAC is made up of a chair and five members, whom he described as proficient economists. I might go somewhat further and describe them as eminent labour market economists and migration experts working in universities and think-tanks, who bring considerable skills, expertise and experience to their role. Indeed, I venture to suggest that they are some of the finest minds in their discipline in the United Kingdom. The chair and the members are appointed through a process of fair and open competition, in accordance with Cabinet Office rules on public appointments. The MAC is supported by a secretariat made up mainly of Government economists drawn from across the civil service, but it remains independent of the Government.
It has been suggested—indeed, this was the main thrust of my hon. Friend’s comments—that the MAC or a successor body would benefit from having a wider range of members, and that it should include not just academics but, for example, people working in industry. I want to make three points in response.
First, advertisements for MAC members do not stipulate that they have to be academics. As I have said, fair and open competition is used, and there is nothing to prevent a person working in any field from being appointed, provided he or she is the best candidate. My hon. Friend might be interested to know that the advertisement listed experience of working in or with business as one of the desirable criteria that candidates were asked to display.
Secondly, the MAC always seeks to proceed by consensus, and all its reports are unanimously agreed. There is a danger that that approach could be damaged if it were made up people who felt the need to represent and argue for the concerns of particular sectors or vested interests.
Thirdly, I am not sure where we would draw the line in any such approach. My hon. Friend suggested that the MAC, or a body that replaces it, should have business representatives among its members, but there are millions of businesses in the UK and many representative bodies that speak for their interests, including the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses, Make UK and chambers of commerce up and down the country, to name but a few. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is suggesting that they should all have a seat. If businesses are to be represented, what about the trade union movement, charities, voluntary organisations, local government and, of course, the NHS, which is a major employer of migrant labour? Pretty soon we might have a body so large and unwieldy that it would struggle to advise the Government sensibly.
The MAC has been very busy indeed over the past few years. My hon. Friend mentioned one of the two important reports it produced last year. The first was on international students, and the second on the impact of European economic area migration. I recognise that not everybody agrees with its conclusions, particularly in the EEA migration report—my hon. Friend is among those who do not share its views—but producing a report that commands universal support would be beyond any committee or organisation, however constituted, given how contentious immigration policy is. Moreover, I do not think anyone can dispute the thoroughness and rigour of the MAC’s approach.
My hon. Friend invited me to tell him that I have travelled the country meeting businesses, trade unions and others. I certainly do that, but so has the MAC, and it will continue to do so. For its report on EEA migration, it took evidence from a wide range of organisations and individuals, and visited every nation of the United Kingdom and every part of England. As its interim report states, it met more than 130 organisations and stakeholders representing every sector of the UK economy, and it received 417 written submissions. It weighed all that evidence very carefully before it came to its conclusions. It is important that people do not let their disappointment with the recommendations translate into an attack on the effectiveness of the independent body that produced them.
My hon. Friend went as far as to say that the MAC’s report was cut and pasted from a textbook. Far from it. It was the result of a great deal of evidence taking, research and work, which took many months. It is incredibly important to recognise that the MAC’s recommendations are exactly that—recommendations. The hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) suggested that I have the ability to hear and ignore. I also have the ability to hear and listen. This year, as part of our White Paper engagement, we are taking the opportunity to listen to a wide range of views from across the country and from a variety of sectors. Immigration policy is a matter for the Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth knows, not least because he was involved in this when he was a Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Government’s intentions for the UK’s future skills-based immigration system were set out in a White Paper that was published last December, which we have described repeatedly as the start, not the end, of the conversation.
Time does not permit me to cover the White Paper in detail, beyond making it very clear that our engagement has started. So far, more than 60 meetings have been held to discuss the proposals contained within it. To date, I have met representatives of several significant sectors, and I will continue to do so over the course of the next few months. We will not make a final decision on the proposals in the White Paper until that process has been completed. In parallel with that, the MAC is reviewing the composition of the shortage occupation list, and is undertaking an extensive evidence-gathering process to help its deliberations.
We have heard views this afternoon from across the country, including Northern Ireland, Scotland and the south-west. Hon. Members mentioned a variety of sectors, including social care, farming, fishing and hospitality, but there are many others that we often hear less of. I am particularly struck that the road haulage and distribution, veterinary science and retail sectors rely significantly on migrant labour. When we consider the views that are fed into the MAC, it is important that we do not cherry-pick which parts of industry and which sectors we listen to. We must listen to them all, and to every part of the country.
I am very grateful to the Minister for setting out her approach. Does she agree with a point that a number of hon. Members made, which is that a coherent approach to setting numbers for migrants coming here would be to look at a range of different sectors so we can make the best judgment about the number of migrants we want to come into the country for the time being—albeit perhaps on a short-term work permit? The MAC has done something very different. It has set out a plan to socially engineer a change to our economy. Its plan is to force the closure of certain industries by denying them access to the labour they need. That is what is wrong.
My hon. Friend will be aware, from the White Paper and the Government’s proposals, that although we have listened to the MAC, we have not relied exclusively on its opinions. The MAC did not include any suggestion of a temporary workers route for skills that do not fall within the categories that it has designated—I hate to use the term “lower skilled”, and if I have a few minutes at the end, I will try to expand on why. We are very conscious that there are industries and sectors that need people with different skills. The temporary workers route, which we included in the White Paper as a point for engagement and discussion, was not included in the MAC’s report. I am very conscious that, although we have to listen to the views of expert economists, we have to come up with a coherent policy that will work for every sector of industry, every part of the economy and the whole of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend makes a big pitch for tier 3, and we can have a long conversation about “lower skilled”. He and I are conscious that there are many occupations that do not fall neatly into the categories of “high skilled” or “medium skilled”. When we talk about lower skill levels, I always try to find different language. There are many people working in health and social care or in farming and fishing who have skills that do not fall neatly within academic qualifications but are absolutely essential if those business are to be able to find staff, and to remain vibrant and profitable. That is part of the jigsaw puzzle that we are putting together over the course of the year.
The White Paper makes it clear—my hon. Friend may disagree with this—that we envisage an expanded role for the MAC in the future. As well as responding to specific commissions from the Government as it does now, it will have a wider role to produce an annual report on all aspects of Government immigration policy. It will have the ability to consider and make proactive recommendations on any aspect of that policy. The White Paper is clear that we want to consider the MAC’s composition, status and remit, potentially including expanding the chair’s post. I have certainly heard my hon. Friend’s pitch about appointments to posts in the MAC. I emphasise again that that is always done through fair and open competition. We want the best people—people with experience and expertise—and it is crucial that we build on our existing model, rather than create something new from scratch.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for enabling us to debate these important matters. He, like other hon. Members, has strong views about this. I remain convinced that the MAC model has served the UK and successive Governments well, and that we should enhance and strengthen it so that, in an area as important as immigration policy, the Governments can continue to make policy on the basis of the best possible independent and impartial evidence-based advice.
Question put and agreed to.
Defence Industry: Scotland
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the diversification of the defence industry in Scotland.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Hollobone. I am glad that this debate was selected because it is an opportunity to raise the important and seldom discussed topic of the defence industry in Scotland.
We are rightly proud of our history of shipbuilding. I represent a constituency just south of the River Clyde, and I do not need to tell anyone in this chamber that the legacy of shipbuilding and the remaining cranes dotted along the Clyde are a great symbol of national identity and pride, not just for those who live near to or in Glasgow, but across Scotland. That pride is not limited to those of us north of the border, either. The industry holds significance for the entire UK. Shipbuilding rightly continues to be an important part of the defence industry in Scotland, but as the demand and requirements of national defence change and future threats emerge, we must look at areas of future growth for Scottish industry, to ensure that, alongside shipbuilding, Scotland has a diverse pool of defence industries that will be sustainable in future.
In 1981, 68% of the workers in defence-related industries worked in shipbuilding, while 26% worked in the aerospace industry and about 6% worked in the armaments industry. In 2017, the picture was similar: shipbuilding accounted for about the same proportion of 68%, while the aerospace industry in Scotland had gained a slightly greater share of 28% and the armaments industry had about 4% of the workforce. Of the £1.6 billion that the Ministry of Defence spent with industry in 2016-17, 57% was spent on shipbuilding and repair, with the nearest spending block making up just 11.8%, which was spent on computer services.
The defence sector in Scotland is significantly reliant on shipbuilding, and although shipbuilding is a major benefit to our economy, high reliance on a single sector exposes the wider industry to risk from changes in the market and the evolving nature of the threats that we face, and to the risk of mismanagement by the UK Government.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. We need a strong domestic defence industry, as well as the sovereign capability to build defence equipment in Scotland and across the UK, to ensure that we are not overly reliant on orders from overseas. Does he agree that, unfortunately, this Government have chosen to neglect our home-grown industries in favour of buying off-the-shelf from abroad?
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that one of the UK Government’s strangest decisions is to tender internationally for fleet support ships? If it were decided that they should be built in the UK, that could benefit shipbuilding not just in Scotland, but across the UK.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I will touch on that point later in my remarks.
Although we must continue to support shipbuilding, the UK and Scottish Governments must focus on diversifying and deepening the defence industry in Scotland to ensure that there will always be a base for the high-skill and high-value roles associated with the industry—that is eminently achievable. Scotland is well placed to be a home for a variety of new industries. With strong universities and a history of manufacturing and design excellence, we are ideally placed to take advantage of the large demands of the UK’s defence. This debate gives Members the opportunity to discuss future high-growth areas and draw attention to the advantages of increasing diversity in the defence industry. For my part, I will touch on two high-growth areas: space and land vehicles.
Glasgow in particular has become a pioneering centre for the deployment of microsatellites, producing more satellites than any other city outside the United States. As future defence concerns rely increasingly on the gathering and analysis of information, significant space assets will be vital to the day-to-day operations of the armed forces in both military and non-military operations.
The space sector has huge potential for future growth. Year-on-year growth in the sector has been five times greater than in the wider economy since 1999, and the sector has tripled in value since 2000. Each new job in the space sector adds £140,000 of added value per employee, and the overall sector receives 36% of turnover from exports.
The high-quality satellites that are built in Glasgow are superb, and will be launched from my part of the world. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Britain has a great business opportunity to build a lot of satellites for allied countries for their own defence, and that if we get going now, we can steal on a march on the world?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As a satellite hub, companies in Glasgow have produced huge volumes of satellites. Two companies, Alba Orbital and Spire Global, have between them put around 100 satellites in orbit, and Spire Global makes one new satellite per week. The recent go-ahead for the spaceport in Sutherland, as well as Glasgow’s growing microsatellite industry, perfectly places Scotland to take advantage of new investment and infrastructure.
Investment from the MOD will be a major factor in the successful development of space and satellite technologies. Any investment will naturally lead to a build-up of skills and will spill over into the civilian sector. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister indicated the role that the upcoming strategic defence and security review will have in supporting the development and expansion of the space industry in Scotland, and what representations he will make to ensure that that vital high-growth sector is not overlooked. The industry is highly competitive and, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) said, it is vital that the UK takes a lead.
I thank my hon. Friend for the speech that he is making, which is very helpful. The British space industry has not only been successful here, but has played a huge part in the European project Galileo. Does he share my regret that the European Commission, in a fit of pique, has decided to kick us out of the project, to which we have made not only a financial contribution, but an enormous industrial contribution? Europe should really be holding that up as an example of competing in the world.
My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to know that we have different views on Britain’s membership of the European Union. I largely consider that we are kicking ourselves out of the EU and should accept the consequences of that, although I regret the impact that it will have on projects such as Galileo.
Further to the space sector, the construction of advanced land vehicles offers an excellent opportunity for the expansion of the defence industry in Scotland. Glasgow now hosts an armoured vehicle centre of excellence, which was set up by defence company Thales. The centre aims to provide the MOD with an excellent new resource for the development of armoured vehicles.
Thales is currently bidding for the MOD’s multi role vehicle-protected programme which, if successful, would see 50 highly skilled engineering design and manufacturing jobs brought to the Glasgow site, and the possibility of 30 additional jobs created over the programme’s lifetime. Thales has said that if it is selected for the MRV-P and as the UK design authority and integrator for the Boxer and its variants, 100 new jobs could be created directly, while 180 jobs could be created through supply chains and around 200 further jobs could be supported indirectly.
Such programmes are vital for expanding the diversity of the defence industry in Scotland and introducing new skills, as well as deepening the existing skills base. A great example is my constituent Stewart Macpherson, an employee at Thales Glasgow who has been chosen as one of the top 30 electronics engineers under 30 in the UK.
Encouraging and supporting new skills and professionals is a great benefit of defence investment, so I should be grateful for an update from the Minister on the progress towards reaching a decision on the MRV-P programme. I appreciate, however, that he may only be able to reveal certain information as some might be commercially sensitive.
I again thank the hon. Gentleman for mentioning Thales, which is based in my constituency. Does he agree that if Thales is successful in obtaining the contract, the economic benefits for the whole Glasgow area—including for my constituents and his—would be considerable?
I absolutely agree. Recently, when I visited the site, I was pleased to see how many of my constituents are employed there.
I am disappointed about the previous actions of both the UK Government and, to a certain extent, the Scottish Government. The recent failure by the UK Government to support the construction of the fleet solid support vessels, as mentioned in this debate and many other times in this place, shows completely misplaced priorities. Ill thought-out changes to Government tendering rules redefined the vessels, meaning that the ships will not fall under article 346 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. That opens UK shipyards to subsidised international competition and puts jobs and the potential investment in shipyards such as Rosyth at risk.
What is more, that situation was wholly avoidable, with the decision being made completely unilaterally, yet possibly writing off highly skilled, highly paid jobs that could return £2.3 billion in revenue to the Treasury while providing sustainable employment and an increasing skills base. I therefore urge the Government to think again about that, and to follow the Labour party’s lead by advocating that such ships are built in the UK. The case of the fleet solid support ships signals a Government who are far more interested in achieving in-year cost reductions than in looking at the whole picture.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech about the British defence industry. Does he agree that we built two world-class aircraft carriers in Rosyth, employing a lot of my constituents and I am sure some of his, and that the Government should offer some of our expertise and the build facility to our allies around the world who have expressed interest in aircraft carrier technology, so that we can continue to build our expertise and keep the engineering specialities developed in Rosyth and in Scotland?
Is it not the case that the solid support ships would be ideal for the Rosyth site to maintain its workforce until aircraft carrier refits are necessary? Does that not show that the Government have not learned the lesson of the gap in work at Barrow, which then required a reconstruction of the workforce at huge cost? Surely the Government are saving pennies now but costing pounds later.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. To be frank, I find it amazing that the red, white and blue Conservative party of Great Britain does not see the merit of building such ships in Britain, creating so much benefit for years to come.
In the context of this debate, we must also look at the Scottish Government’s role. Recently, the First Minister set out her plans for a new independence referendum. We must therefore consider the impact of that policy on long-term investment. Scotland’s shipyards rely on the pipeline of complex warships to be constructed for the Ministry of Defence—at least one remaining aircraft carrier, five offshore patrol vehicles and eight frigates—but if Scotland were to become independent before the next Holyrood election, as the SNP plans, the MOD has indicated that Scotland could be excluded from producing UK warships under article 346, or a similar rule if the UK has left the EU. Without those contracts, the shipyards would need to find alternative sources of demand in order to remain open, and I hope that the SNP will elaborate on that in any contribution today.
The MOD spends about £1.6 billion a year directly on Scottish industry, with £900 million spent directly on shipbuilding. The Growth Commission report stated that the entire defence budget for an independent Scotland would be £3 billion, plus £450 million to be used over five years to set up the apparatus of an entire independent state, of which a defence force is just one part. From that combined pool, therefore, the SNP proposes to find at least £900 million a year just to keep the shipyards open, while also setting up a new defence force, equipping it, and ensuring that its IT and support systems work properly. That is before we get on to the implications of importing the necessary components required for advanced manufacturing under a new currency.
That is £450 million to set up a new state in five years, including a defence force, but in less than five years it has cost the Scottish Government £200 million to set up a Scottish social security system and £178 million to set up an IT system to allocate payments to farmers. When we consider the complexity required to set up a new modern military force with all the support and complex IT architecture necessary, we realise that the figures do not add up. Scotland is being let down by both its Governments.
There are so many different layers to this. Going into the day-to-day costs in pounds sterling is bad enough, but adding the uncertainty of trying to set up a whole new currency from scratch takes us into the realm of fantasy.
We have a good opportunity, through smart industrial policy, to build a healthy, thriving and contributory defence industry in Scotland. The Labour party has put smart industrial policy at the heart of our policy proposals for the next election, whenever it comes. However, it is disappointing that both the UK and Scottish Governments cannot do the same.
The debate can last until 5.30 pm. I am obliged to call the Front-Bench spokesmen no later than 5.7 pm. The guideline limits are five minutes for the SNP, five minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister. If the Minister closes no later than 5.27 pm, that would allow the mover of the motion three minutes to sum up the debate. Until 5.7 pm, however, we have time for Back-Bench contributions, the first of which will be from Stephen Kerr. One other Member was standing, so I hope that we can split the time equally.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen). He spoke very well, with passion and conviction, and thoughtfully. I was delighted with the tone that he set for the debate.
I wish to take us in a slightly different direction with public policy in the defence industry and on diversification, because I wish to refer specifically to the Scottish Trades Union Congress campaign to set up—or to encourage the SNP Scottish Government to set up—a defence diversification agency. That approach to defence diversification, rather than the one in the hon. Gentleman’s thoughtful speech, is simplistic and frankly regrettable. Not only is the point of view that the Government are best placed to tell business how to operate mistaken and misguided, but the ideologically blinkered way in which the left approaches this vital area of public policy is lacking.
I would not often choose to quote from the Morning Star—frankly, I have not often even perused a copy of it—[Interruption.] I know that Opposition Members are disappointed to hear that I am not a regular subscriber. On 15 May, it ran a story on the vote at the STUC annual congress calling on the SNP Government
“to establish a Defence Diversification Agency to promote a ‘fair and sustainable shift’ away from nuclear weapons.”
Continuing to quote the Morning Star—the first and perhaps only occasion on which I will do so—the report went on:
“But professionals’ union Prospect and general union GMB opposed the motion, saying it sent the wrong message to defence workers.
GMB Scotland delegate John Dolan, a Scotstoun shipyard convener, said: ‘This motion is not in the real world of work.
‘These people have worked in these industries for years, keeping you, your children and your grandchildren safe.
‘How many jobs have been created by defence diversification?
‘This is a con. Where is the Saudi Arabia of renewables we were promised 10 years ago by Alex Salmond and the SNP government?’”
I do not know John Dolan—perhaps other Members present do—but I want to repeat a line of his, because it is important:
“These people have worked in these industries for years, keeping you, your children and your grandchildren safe.”
I agree with the statement made by the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West in his opening speech that we should be proud of the defence sector in Scotland. As he mentioned, UK defence spends £1.6 billion with Scottish industry each year, supporting at least 10,000 high-value jobs in the Scottish economy.
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that if he buys the Morning Star today, he will find a column in the name of my good self on blacklisting, which I recommend to him. I suggest that if he is, as he claims, so concerned for the views of shipyard workers on the Clyde and what they are saying at the Scottish Trades Union Congress, he listen to them and support their argument that the fleet’s solid support ships should be built in the UK and not be put out to international competition.
I am not at all surprised that the hon. Gentleman writes a column in the Morning Star. I would have been disappointed if he had said anything other than that. Of course I wish that all the defence contract work available should remain in the UK, support high-value UK jobs and advance our technical expertise in shipbuilding. I have no doubt that the Minister will address that issue when he responds.
I pay tribute to the people who work for businesses that have invested in Scotland such as Babcock, BAE Systems, Leonardo, Thales, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce and others. All those major contractors and others are operating in Scotland. I have heard Members of this House speak of those businesses in disparaging terms. I want to make it clear that if any Member of this House does not want those businesses and their workers in their constituency, I will be absolutely delighted to have them come to Stirling. Stirling has a long association with our armed forces, and a proud connection with our servicemen and women and those who support them in the supply chain that those industries represent. That connection is symbolised by Stirling castle.
I do not know John Dolan but he captured some of the pride of the people who work in those industries. I am proud of that workforce, such as those at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde at Faslane, many of whom are my constituents. If I could, I would say to each of them, in the words of Mr Dolan, “Thank you for keeping me, my children and my grandchildren safe. Thank you for defending our country and our freedoms. Scotland is proud of you.” In my constituency, defence contracts support many jobs, especially at FES, which is a principal electrical contractor and works on the new Navy ships that are being built on the Clyde. Emerson also has significant defence contracts. FES has made a huge investment in its apprenticeship programmes and runs its own academy. Hundreds of skilled electricians have benefited from FES’s commitment to them and the Ministry of Defence’s commitment to Scotland.
Some on the left approach this issue from a pacifist viewpoint built on deeply held beliefs. I respect that. Others on the left, such as the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, are more pragmatic and see the high-value jobs that are done as a vital strategic part of the Scottish economy. The position of the SNP is far more craven. It knows that the defence sector would be destroyed in the event of independence, as the hon. Gentleman outlined. SNP Members use defence diversification as a way of distracting people, because the truth is that they do not care much about jobs or about defence; they just care about independence, as was seen in their conference in Edinburgh at the weekend. According to that separatist vision, Scotland’s workers, savers and pensioners would give up the pound for a valueless currency yet to be named, and no frigates would be built on the Clyde if they ever got their way.
I find it extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman accuses me and others in the SNP of not caring about defence jobs, given that I meet the shop stewards in the Clyde shipyards on a regular basis and they know my views. Would he care to withdraw or clarify what he suggests? He was pointing at me when he made those outrageous remarks.
I am not sure I was specifically pointing at the hon. Gentleman. Let me be absolutely clear: those who espouse separatism in Scotland know that the consequences would be the loss of those jobs and the technology, know-how and added value that goes with them. They know only too well that Scotland would not have a Royal Navy.
My hon. Friend is making a valid point. It would not just be the hard power of the military’s physical ships and tanks that would be taken away; it would also be MI5, MI6 and the myriad security services that are embedded and supported by the United Kingdom. I wish the SNP could see that valid point, too.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just a question of defending the United Kingdom’s territorial waters and our contribution to NATO, but goes much further afield? We forget that the maintenance of a blue-water Navy is vital to trade. One only has to look at the Red sea. I used to ship coffee from the Port of Tanga through the Suez canal to Europe and around the world. Piracy around the Red sea was rife; ships were hijacked until the European Union force and others, led until recently by the United Kingdom, were there with ships built in Scotland.
I would sign up to beating swords in ploughshares every day of the week, but the lesson of history is that we defend the peace by being strong. I am proud of the United Kingdom’s 2% defence spending commitment. We have obligations in the alliance, which we meet.
I recently had the privilege of attending the naming ceremony of HMS Taymar, the latest second-generation River-class ship, on the Clyde. It is a magnificent ship built in the best traditions of Scottish shipbuilding for the Royal Navy, by Scottish engineers, fitters, designers, programmers—a host of highly skilled professionals. The workforce spoke with such pride about their work, and they are fully justified in that pride, because they are making a massive contribution to the security of our country and our servicemen and women who sail in those ships. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) outlined some of the other things that they do.
Scotland’s contribution to the defence sector and our Scottish servicemen and women are a matter of national pride for all of us. The men and women who serve alongside our service personnel are to be saluted. I will long remember the visit I made in my constituency to people who work for Babcock—mechanics and engineers who had gone to Afghanistan and Iraq to be there with our service people to service their armoured vehicles and to keep them on the road. They must not have their sacrifice traduced by an ideologically driven attack on a proud and vital industry.
It is good to serve with you in the chair, Mr Hollobone. It is always good to speak in this place about the valuable contribution made to Scotland and across the UK by the people who work in the defence industry. Their skills and diligence make their contribution to our economy invaluable—let us not forget that Scotland has record-low unemployment—and that is felt well beyond the sector in which they work. I am glad there is agreement across the Chamber on that point. I am thankful to the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) for giving us the opportunity to demonstrate that point of agreement.
From the perspective of the Scottish National party, as we consider the starting point for the Scottish defence industry to move towards an economically and otherwise sustainable future after Scotland’s independence, there is much cause for optimism. I am no pacifist; my brother served in Iraq and in Afghanistan twice, and my nephew is a Royal Engineer. Our Benches are not filled with pacifists, although I cast no aspersions on the voting intentions of those who are.
In my role on the Select Committee on Defence, I have been lucky to visit many defence manufacturing sites in Scotland. I am glad to say that they are all historically rooted in their local communities, but nonetheless are well integrated into the wider European and global economies, with export profiles to match. For me, an independent Scotland operating in the strong framework of the European family of nations, with the broad shoulders of a global, capable trading bloc that already has trade agreements and over half a billion people, should be well placed to build on that position.
The most important aspect of ensuring that we have a sustainable and diverse Scottish defence industry—this is where we might find some agreement—will be the establishment of multi-year defence agreements, or MYDAs. I have yet to hear a single other member of the Defence Committee mention those at that Committee. Used commonly by our allies, MYDAs create a framework agreement among political parties for a common approach to defence procurement that gives security to industry and removes complex and long-term decisions from capricious politicians wedded to short-termism.
With MYDAs of five years or longer, an independent Scotland, which of course is my preference, or indeed the UK, would no longer have to face Governments halving the size of the Type 45 destroyer programme—I will leave it to others to find out which Government did that—or chopping up maritime patrol capability. That capability was discussed at the Defence Committee this morning; we are having to try to get an even older programme from the United States to replace it. Defence Secretaries who seek to sign blank cheques for programmes in the hope of being catapulted into No. 10 would no longer be able to saddle the procurement budget with £15 billion black holes.
The consensus about the excellence and skills of our defence industry employees should be reflected in an ability to work together to ensure their long-term future. Quite simply, the MOD has been used for far too long as a political football. We already know that a steady and reliable pipeline of orders can form the basis of a diversified and sustainable industry.
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to join my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) on a visit to Thales electronics in his constituency. I was fascinated to see the outstanding tradition of periscope manufacturing being transformed to produce a new generation of optical sensors for the Royal Navy and other customers, including the navy of Japan. Technology designed and developed in Glasgow, with a broad economic reach across the whole of central and western Scotland and with the expertise of a lot of people from West Dunbartonshire, whose shipbuilding heritage is profound—of course, we do not have any shipyards left, but we will leave that for another debate—is used on a whole range of optical sensors for use across the military and civilian fields, not only in the UK but by our allies.
Similarly, SNP Members were delighted by the welcome news that Raytheon, recognising the strength of the skill base in central Scotland, has decided to invest in a new facility in Livingston, primarily to design and manufacture power systems for military and defence radars. Building on a history of excellence in manufacturing in the military domain to provide civilian applications is precisely what this debate is about, as I am sure the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West intended.
Those are examples of multinational companies that have chosen to locate in Scotland because of the skills, quality and work ethic of those who come through our schools and universities. Very few other small states have such a plethora of world-class higher education departments, and we can only hope that the end point of the Brexit process does not dislocate them from common European funding mechanisms. That points to the fact that the common assumption that the strength of Scotland’s defence industry is mainly in the maritime sector may change in the future. These are encouraging developments, and I only hope that the potential development of cyber and electromagnetic capabilities in Scotland leads to much growth and diversification. Again, that was discussed at the Defence Committee this morning.
Let me draw my remarks to a close by reiterating my agreement with most of what was said by other Members, who spoke about the abilities of those who work in the defence sector in Scotland. We are grateful for the contribution they have made and will continue to make to the health of our economy and to our neighbours and allies. Let me reassure them that, as least from my perspective, independence continues to be the best way forward for a sustainable future away from the historical underinvestment by successive UK Governments in defence in Scotland. Finally, we hear much about the 2% of GDP that the UK spends on defence, but Scotland does not get its fair share of that. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why not.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) for bringing this important and timely debate to Westminster Hall. We on the Scottish National party Benches really appreciate his timing; only last weekend, our party decided to develop a policy of setting in stone a road map for taking nuclear weapons out of Scotland forever.
Critical to developing that road map is establishing how we can have conventional forces in places such as Faslane, Glen Douglas and Coulport. Importantly, we need to use the skills and talents of engineers, scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs to diversify into conventional deterrents, and to put those people’s undoubted abilities to more peaceable uses that help our economy.
Despite promises, troop numbers in Scotland are down and naval shipbuilding contracts have gone unannounced, with consequent job losses in the likes of Rosyth in my constituency and on the Clyde. We have long made the case that the fleet auxiliary ships should be built in Scotland, and that the north Atlantic and the High North should be the bread-and-butter areas of activity for our Navy and Air Force, yet not a single ship of any significant size is based north of the English channel, and the people of Scotland feel exposed to potential threats from the north and the east. In the air, following the demise of Nimrod, we beg and borrow any maritime aircraft we can find from the USA, Canada and Norway until the new P-8s come into service in 2021.
We would like more support for our defence industries, not just to meet the defence needs of today but to help them create the new technologies that will be at the cutting edge of our future defence posture. If we put more money and time into the technology, jobs and skills we have, perhaps we will find better solutions that we can apply as a society.
I was really taken by some of the ideas I picked up on a NATO visit to Nova Scotia earlier this year. The Canadian Space Agency is a leader in technology, and its use of satellites and different information-gathering devices would sit exceptionally well with the scientific reputation of Scotland’s space industry. Canada organised a huge competition to identify the country’s first astronaut, which involved kids in schools, with the aim of boosting their science, technology, engineering and maths activity, and allowing more children to become involved in science and technology. All the provinces involved got behind their local candidate to be the first Canadian astronaut, and that really upped the ante with respect to people’s interest in science and technology. Canada even put a picture of its first astronaut on its $20 bill; every time someone spends one, they are reminded that their country is associated with science and innovation. It is quite amazing what you can do when you have your own currency.
I thought I was going to get an intervention there. Here in the UK, we are going to lose out on £1.2 billion of investment through the Galileo programme as we drop out of the EU. That cannot be good news for anyone. That is the kind of investment we need to take us forward, to enable us to use the skillsets of our graduates and to support our defence industries to diversify into more peaceable activity.
The other area I would like to talk about is cyber-security. There was recently a meeting of cyber-experts at Edinburgh Napier University. Small nations, such as Estonia, have shown the way forward, as they have picked up prizes and accolades for the expertise and innovation they have shown in finding solutions to security problems. Again, leaving the EU puts us in quite a difficult—and weaker—position. Money must be found to retain that research and development to encourage new cyber-products and services to come to market.
I have come hot foot from a meeting in Committee Room 6 at which we were talking about the costs associated with nuclear submarines. I have no doubt that we could use the range of skills and talents involved in building submarines, maintaining the warheads, and so on, to provide us with a better chance of developing economic activity rather than spending it on a weapons system that will never be used.
That is the line pointed out every time we have this discussion, but it really is time for an adult conversation. The figures in the “Trouble Ahead” report show that £3.5 billion is spent every year on the nuclear deterrent. There are conventional deterrents that we can use, and we must also look at how else we could utilise that money if we were not spending it on nuclear weapons.
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. There are huge pressures on the defence budget overall, but the Minister knows that if he had another £3.5 billion to spend every year on conventional weapons and the approach and posture suggested by my hon. Friend, that would put a big smile on his face. Perhaps then we could get some RAF contracts back into Scotland.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) on securing this debate on such an important topic to Scotland. He made a number of important points and spoke with great passion about the opportunity for companies such as Thales with its multi-role vehicle programme. I recently visited Thales, which, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) mentioned, is located in his constituency. There is the potential to create 180 new jobs in Glasgow. Of course, opportunity is centred not just on that site, because of the importance of the supply chain. For example, Allied Vehicles, which is one of the largest automotive companies in Scotland and is located in my constituency, stands to benefit from participation in that programme if we drive forward the opportunity for automotive development in the defence sector in Scotland. That is just one of the many examples of how we can grow the supply chain in Scotland.
In preparing for the debate, I could not help looking back at the previous few years both in my life and career and in politics. Having worked at BAE Systems on the Clyde and at Scottish Enterprise, where I was part of the team that developed the aerospace, defence, marine and shipbuilding strategy with the industry leadership group, I know the role that a thriving defence sector can play when it is given not only resources but political backing. The importance of that was spelled out by the work of the ADMS strategy, which identified that 38,408 people are employed across 825 companies in the sector, and that there are £5.5 billion of sales a year, generating £1.7 billion in gross value added, from which there is an annual tax revenue of £540 million to the Scottish economy. That is a huge benefit to the Scottish economy. Sadly, the resources and political backing are not fully met by the Government. Political ideology seems to have blighted the clear economic opportunities provided by the defence sector.
I apologise for being late. Does my hon. Friend agree that the process for giving out defence contracts is fundamentally flawed?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. As we are discussing the defence industry in Scotland, we must express the Opposition’s frustration that no one from the Scotland Office is present to answer for the Government. That crystallises the Opposition’s belief that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not providing the political backing that Scotland needs. I cast no aspersions on the resilient efforts of the Minister, with whom I often enjoy batting back and forth across the Dispatch Box, but it is a pity that the Secretary of State for Scotland could not be here. I will discuss that later in my contribution.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West outlined, the defence sector in Scotland takes many shapes and forms, from shipbuilding to the aerospace industry, with exceptional talents. Unfortunately, they are not being enabled to flourish as they should. There is a clear absence of an industrial strategy, and given the engineering expertise that can be found across the whole defence sector, it should be at the heart of any industrial strategy. The Government do not seem to appreciate that, and they will undermine the integrity of the defence sector in the near future if they do not rapidly get to grips with it.
If we take the obvious example of shipbuilding, which is easy for me as I worked in the industry, we see that the Government’s approach to the fleet solid support ships contract is nothing short of absurd. The decision not to factor the socioeconomic value of defence contracts into the procurement process is economically illiterate and flies in the face of common sense. The Minister and I have batted this back and forth, as I mentioned, and I am sure that in a few minutes he will tell me that it is all about value for money for the taxpayer. However, that argument falls apart because the contract’s socioeconomic value is not factored in at the procurement stage. The reported cost of the contract is £1 billion, but as studies such as those by the GMB union estimate, keeping the contract in the UK would secure up to 6,500 high-paid, high-skilled jobs, including almost 2,000 shipbuilding jobs that pay about 45% more than the average UK salary. Just think of the difference those jobs could make to the UK economy and to communities across Scotland.
The GMB has estimated that the contract would return about £285 million to the Exchequer in the form of taxes, national insurance contributions, lower social security payments and so on. If we built FSS ships in the UK, it would contribute to the nation’s prosperity. In fact, there would be a direct tax and national insurance return to the Treasury of up to £415 million—20% of the contract cost, which represents a bargain.
Data from other countries indicates that naval shipbuilding has a multiplier effect of 1.35, with £1.35 generated in long-term economic benefits for every £1 spent. Therefore, the UK benefit from a programme cost of £1 billion would be £1.35 billion. Having those ships built overseas would simply hand the benefit to someone else—that is probably why they are so eager to bid. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of their book and, at the Government’s discretion, ensure that those ships are built in the United Kingdom without competition—or, at the very least, ensure that the UK consortium wins the contract. That would secure jobs for the future.
At Rosyth, there is a gap between the completion of HMS Prince of Wales later this year and the expected refit of HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2030. The contract for the fleet solid support ships could ensure that the shipyard runs at smoother capacity during that timeframe. However, as I have said, the Government’s economic illiteracy could well prevent that from happening, leading to much greater inefficiency and costs down the line. I am sure the people of Fife will not let them get away with that. The Government are keen to celebrate the continuous at-sea deterrent, but I would much rather see continuous in-shipyard building across the country. We would far rather celebrate that.
That brings me to the fact that there is clearly no wider industrial strategy not only for the defence sector but for manufacturing as a whole. To use Fife as an example, the Government are refusing to keep the FSS contract in the UK. At the same time, not even 10 miles away, the BiFab yards in Burntisland are sitting there idle because of a lack of contracts. That is another example of the Government’s complete and utter short-sightedness.
I shall steer it into port forthwith, Mr Hollobone.
The Government have spent the past few months saying how wonderful it is that this offshore wind deal has been signed, but we are not seeing the benefits spin off. Other countries are clearly benefiting from that, through state aid deals. Many references have been made to opportunities in the space sector, but yet again the Government have not convinced us about what they are doing.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West again for securing the debate. I have shown what a Labour Government would do with a coherent strategy. I look forward to hearing the Minister address the key points raised, including the need for a more robust defence industrial strategy to maximise the economic opportunities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) on securing the debate and for the tone of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) is right that it has been a considered debate about how we might diversify the defence industry in Scotland.
Before I address some of the specific points that have been raised, I want to emphasise the importance of the UK’s defence industry, both in delivering world-class military capabilities to our armed forces and in contributing to the UK economy. Last year’s report into the contribution of defence to UK prosperity by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) showed that defence benefits every single part of the United Kingdom. It is a sector with an annual turnover of £22 billion supporting some 115,000 jobs. Scotland shares in that national success by benefiting directly from every pound spent on our defence, which is in itself the biggest defence budget in Europe. The report highlighted the range and diversity of the defence industry across the whole of the UK, including in Scotland, and the UK Government’s support for the defence industry in Scotland.
Last year, defence spend with industry in Scotland amounted to £1.65 billion, supporting some 10,000 jobs and equivalent to £300 per capita, which is above the UK average. The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) said that Scotland wants its fair share, but as a Yorkshire MP I would say that £300 per head in Scotland compares very favourably with the £60 per head that we get in Yorkshire and the Humber. I think it is we who want our fair share.
There are many Yorkshire people who would argue very differently.
We invest in shipbuilding in Scotland to maintain world-class capabilities for our Royal Navy, recognising the incredible expertise of the Scottish shipbuilding sector. With a history that dates back more than 150 years, it has long been the envy of the world and today remains a global leader. As we have heard, in the past few years Scotland has played a major part in the building, assembly and successful delivery of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the most powerful surface vessel in British history. The MOD has also placed a £3.7 billion contract to build the first three state-of-the-art Type 26 global combat ships on the Clyde, where all eight will eventually built. The first of these City-class frigates has been named HMS Glasgow and the last will be HMS Edinburgh. Coupled with our order for five offshore patrol vessels, this work will sustain some 4,000 jobs in Scottish shipyards and throughout the supply chain until the 2030s. No other industry in the UK can boast such a pipeline of future work.
Many other businesses are investing in Scotland, and I have heard many people congratulate and praise them. They include Babcock, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo, Thales, Raytheon and QinetiQ. Denchi Power is an innovative smaller company, based in the far northern coastal town of Thurso in Caithness, which from its factory overlooking the beautiful islands of Orkney provides much of the essential advanced battery and charging technology and subsystems for the UK’s combat radio systems. These companies demonstrate the diversity of size and geography of the Scottish defence supply chain.
In the air, Leonardo manufactures state-of-the-art radar systems in Edinburgh. I had the great privilege of seeing some of the fantastic work it is doing there, and it is world beating. We want to see more of that as part of the combat air strategy. At RAF Lossiemouth, work has commenced on a new £132 million strategic facility co-funded by the MOD and Boeing. Up to 200 local jobs will be created at the peak of construction and we expect over 400 new jobs in the operation, once the P-8A fleet is based there permanently.
On land, companies across Scotland have provided and continue to logistically support high-technology subsystems on the Army’s critical warfighting platforms. These include Challenger 2 main battle tanks, Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, Foxhound patrol vehicles and the new AJAX reconnaissance fleet. The hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) asked for an update, and I can tell him that there is an ongoing competition on package 2 between the two contenders, and we are waiting for their revised bids, which we expect to have soon. The winner will be announced later this year. As it is a live competition, there is not much more I can say at this stage, but it is ongoing.
It is right that there is more that we can do, and I am absolutely determined that we do it. Scotland also benefits from the defence innovation initiative. The Defence and Security Accelerator finds and funds exploitable innovation to support UK defence and security quickly and effectively. It brings together the private sector, academia and Government organisations to find innovative solutions to some of the challenging problems facing defence. In the last year, DASA has launched 14 new themed competitions and run five cycles to open call. It has received nearly 800 proposals from over 480 organisations; some 228 proposals have been funded, of which over half are from small and medium-sized enterprises, with over £36 million of funding allocated. DASA’s competition events and outreach work are supported by a team of regionally focused innovation partners. This year DASA has been building relationships in Scotland and liaising with Scottish Enterprise, Textiles Scotland and the Universities of Glasgow, Strathclyde and St Andrews, to name but a few.
We also heard about space; Scotland has a great opportunity in that sector. Scotland is developing innovative defence technologies in that area, which is one reason that the Government’s flagship cyber-security event was hosted by the National Cyber Security Centre in Glasgow last week. Raytheon, which I met this morning and which specialises in the development of cyber-technologies, has recently announced new investment in a hi-tech manufacturing facility in Livingston, as we heard in the debate, as part of the diversification of its portfolio and its investment in British jobs. That is exciting news that will build on the support that it already gives.
More broadly, the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West is right that space funding is an area that we need to develop carefully and take every possible opportunity from. That is why our space strategy, setting the direction for the defence space sector, will be published shortly. I regularly meet companies across the country, including many in Scotland, to talk about the space sector. I can assure hon. Members that it is something we are taking very seriously, because we know it will provide a great deal of opportunity in the future.
On 14 March this year the Defence Secretary reaffirmed his commitment to increasing defence’s contribution to UK economic growth, setting out a new package of measures to drive productivity and innovation in the sector. We held prosperity conferences and SME workshops, and we want to engage with as many people as possible. Many Members who have an interest in defence have arranged for me to meet businesses. I am happy to do that because we want to engage with as many of them as possible, so that we can take advantage of what they offer for the security of our nation, and so that every part, including Scotland, benefits from the wider prosperity that defence spending can bring.
It is a pity that the Minister’s response was cut short, not least because I was on the edge of my seat waiting to hear what he had to say about the FSS issue that has been raised several times by Members in the debate.
As the Minister says, this has been a considered debate. I am not sure what progress we have made, but we have at least been able to give some of the issues an airing. I am pleased that the Minister acknowledges the need for more to be done and recognises the opportunities, particularly in the space sector. I thank hon. Members for their attendance and participation, and you, Mr Hollobone, for chairing the proceedings.
I passionately want shipbuilding to remain a mainstay of the defence industry in Scotland, but I want it to be one of many mainstays as we move towards a defence environment that is increasingly dominated by information gathering technologies and intangible assets. There is much for us to be proud of when it comes to Scotland’s defence industry, but if we are to future-proof it and realise its untapped potential, we need smart investment decisions, long-term thinking and a focused mission-oriented approach to diversifying it.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered diversification of the defence industry in Scotland.