Wednesday 12 February 2020
[Sir George Howarth in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of UK fisheries.
Since the Fisheries Bill is currently proceeding in the other place, I felt that it was timely to call for this debate to discuss the massive opportunities that a future fisheries regime can provide the UK as an independent coastal state. The Fisheries Bill means that, for the first time in almost 40 years, the Minister will have autonomy under international law to set the rules that apply to fish stocks and access for fishing vessels operating in the UK 200 mile to median line exclusive economic zone. That should be seen as a massive opportunity for the UK fishing industry and allied industries. It will offer great potential for small boatyards such as C Toms & Son and Mashford Bros in my constituency, as well as others in constituencies right around the UK coast.
The purpose of this debate is to explore the many opportunities for the industry, which, although contributing a small proportion to UK GDP as a whole, has a disproportionate impact on the economies of small coastal communities where fishing is a prime industry. I urge the Minister to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated, and that the UK’s new status as an independent coastal state is treated as a great opportunity. I reiterate my message in previous debates: access to UK fishing waters must not simply be squandered to buy a trade agreement with the EU in other areas. I will do my best to keep my points as brief as I can, as I am sure that other Members will have their own points to make.
I welcome the reassurance by the Prime Minister last week that there is no need to abide by EU rules. He went on to say that British fishing grounds are “first and foremost” for UK boats. As someone who has campaigned for almost 40 years to highlight the gross disservice heaped on the industry when we joined the European Economic Community, it is refreshing to hear a Prime Minister say those words. I hope there will be determination to ensure that any future arrangement with the EU looks similar to that of Norway, and that access for non-UK vessels to fish in UK waters will be subject to annual agreements.
The Norway agreement sets a precedent for the way an independent coastal state works with the EU. We must not stray from that. The EU will not be happy, but let us look back in history to a precedent that it set when Spain and Portugal joined: the EU fleet needed to rebalance its size to the available resource, because those two member states brought with them very little resource of their own but very large fleets. The rest of the EU member states had to introduce a number of decommissioning schemes in order to balance the whole of the EU fleet to the available resource. As a consequence, many UK vessels were broken up and scrapped.
Faced with the loss of access to UK waters, the European Union must now reduce its own fleet to adjust. As an independent coastal state, we could be generous and give them time year-on-year to adjust; at the same time, the UK fleet could be allowed to grow. The annually set total allowable catches will allow the Minister and his Department to establish the real catching capacity of the UK fleet, which has been artificially suppressed from achieving its full catching potential because of the share it received under relative stability, set in 1983. Given that there is potential for the UK fleet to expand, fishermen could even invest in newer, more modern, safer and more environmentally friendly vessels.
Much has been heard about the lack of quota available to the under-10-metre fleet. It is worthwhile looking back to what led to that situation. Under the original common fisheries policy, the catches of that sector were estimated, and the fleet fished relatively unrestricted until the total catch was deemed to have been used. There would then be a total ban on landing a certain species, which incidentally also prevented shoreline leisure fishermen from landing that species.
The introduction of the Registration of Fish Buyers and Sellers and Designation of Fish Auction Sites Regulations 2005 changed that. Suddenly, it became clear that the present-day catch of the under-10-metre fleet had been underestimated, and officials held a number of meetings around the coast to try to find a solution. It was a former Labour Minister, the former Member for Scunthorpe, who failed to take timely action. After introducing fixed quota allocations for the over-10-metre vessels, he was left with no additional quota to allocate to the under-10-metre fleet. That was the beginning of this travesty. I pay tribute to the former right hon. Member for Newbury, who tried to provide additional quota to the under-10-metre vessels by top slicing any uplift in quota gained from each annual Agriculture and Fisheries Council—something that this Minister has continued.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) would like to apologise to the under-10-metre fishermen for the action of her predecessors, rather than simply making statements, as members of her party have in the past, that are no more than political posturing. I remind her and the shadow Secretary of State that Plymouth fishermen, just like my late husband, have long memories: they will remember the proximate cause of the under-10-metre miniscule quota.
I turn to conservation. I recognise that we need to record how much catch each vessel lands if we are to comply with our obligations under international law. While we have protection under the UN fish stocks agreement about minimum fish size and gear that can be used, where we have a median line between us and a member state we must adhere to international law and ensure that any management regime respects the sustainability of fish stock in our waters. We must respect science and the maximum sustainable yields recommended. Larger vessels have a satellite-based vessel monitoring system introduced under the CFP, which has provided and continues to provide information on catch composition.
It is essential that smaller UK vessels receive their fair share of the quota. They should be allowed to fish regardless of quota for a number of days a year, provided that they have enough days to ensure that their annual fishing pattern can continue throughout the whole year. The minuscule share of quota for some species under the CFP for south-west fishermen is often attributed to the lack of historical catch data. I fully understand the intention of the new app the Minister has introduced. However, a trusted friend with vast knowledge of the fishing industry recently wrote to me that the Marine Management Organisation has introduced a new licence condition that requires skippers of under-10-metre boats to estimate, or guess, within a 10%—
I sincerely congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. She is talking interestingly about the use of technology in fishing. I am sure she will agree that, as we move into this new era, investing in health and safety on the fishing vessels around our coast must be integral to any measures the Government take to support fishermen, particularly now we know that the investment from the European maritime and fisheries fund is going. We need certainty about how to move forward. Safety on vessels, where many people operate on their own, is crucial.
The hon. Lady mentioned the app. A number of fishermen have told me that it is difficult to use: certain species are difficult to record on it and, in some cases, it does not seem to work at all. I think it was given a one-star rating on Google for its effectiveness. Does she think that needs to be looked at?
If the right hon. Gentleman is patient, I will come to that.
To reiterate, my friend wrote that the Marine Management Organisation has introduced a new licence condition that requires skippers of under-10-metre boats to estimate, or guess within a 10% tolerance, the weight of all fish caught, species by species, before the fish have been landed. He went on to say that, with small quantities of fish, it is almost impossible to estimate that reliably within 10%. If a fisherman gets it wrong, he is liable to criminal prosecution, with a maximum fine of £100,000.
Given the mixed catch in the south-west, my friend continued, that could put an extra hour or two on the end of a long working day for an under-10-metre trawler. That is totally unreasonable and is not safe. There is no de minimis exemption for small catches; every fish has to be counted and its weight estimated. Over-10-metre vessels are exempt from having to log catches of less than 50 kg per species, which obviously reduces the problem of trying to estimate the weight of small quantities.
I have used the app myself, so I have seen some of the problems that fishermen encounter. My friend added that there has been a string of technical and practical problems with the app and the contact centre, which is open only during office hours. According to the app, some harbours and landing places do not exist, and it does not recognise that fishermen catch more than 10 different species. People have had problems getting through to the contact centre. As far as the app is concerned, the threat of criminal prosecution for estimating outside the 10% tolerance should be removed, and there should be a complete rethink about the new system.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on landing this timely debate. I apologise to her—and to you, Sir George—that I cannot stay for the whole debate; unfortunately, I have a clash, which I discovered only this morning.
My hon. Friend touches on all the problems with how to fish in a mixed fishery. Does she agree that one of the real horrors of the CFP is the extraordinary level of discards? The industry has said that the level widely across Europe is beyond 1 million tonnes; the House of Lords says it could be up to 1.7 million tonnes.
Our great advantage now is that we can design a system that is tailored to our fisheries and works with the grain of nature, so we can stop that horrendous waste. The only way to do that, which my hon. Friend touched on—it would be great if the Minister confirmed this—is not to trade the allocation of fish stocks in the upcoming negotiations. We must take back 100% control of our exclusive economic zone and all that is in it, and then negotiate—in a friendly, amicable way, as my hon. Friend said—annual reciprocal deals, so we have complete control of what is in our marine waters. That would bring a huge advantage to our coastal communities and, potentially, a massive improvement to our marine environment.
My right hon. Friend speaks with great authority. I congratulate him on the Green Paper that he produced. I cannot remember how long ago that was, but I congratulate him on his expertise and on his record as shadow Fisheries Minister. I concur completely with what he just said.
Will the Minister please meet fishermen’s representatives and fish auctioneers to ensure that the app is operated in a way that reassures fishermen? Something that could benefit UK fishermen is being interpreted as a tool to use against them because of the complexity of the app and the worry that it will be used as a tool for prosecution.
There is also an opportunity to introduce a new registration and licensing regime, and to reintroduce the terms of vessel ownership and associated conditions that were first introduced by the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. That Act was introduced to stop other nations from benefiting from UK fish quota by registering their vessels on the UK fishing vessel register. People who did that were commonly described as “quota hoppers”. Although the European Court of Justice ruled that that Act of Parliament was contrary to the treaty, the fact that we are now not members of the European Union provides us with an opportunity to ensure that those so-called quota hoppers comply with UK law.
I acknowledge that some measures have been introduced at EU level to provide that an economic link must be shown, but, as is often the case, those measures are at best weak. By restoring the terms of the Merchant Shipping Act, we could require individual owners, or 75% of the registered owners of a company, to be UK citizens. We could couple that with a requirement to land all catch in UK ports. That would not only bring economic benefits but allow us to enhance the enforcement of UK catch rules on vessels. Will the Minister speak to the Minister with responsibility for shipping to explore that? I have been considering introducing a private Member’s Bill based on the Merchant Shipping Act.
In summary, I thank the Minister both for his Department’s commitment to UK fishermen and for the Prime Minister’s commitment. I am sure I speak for all wives, husbands and partners of fishermen, present and former, when I say that we have seen the price they have paid while operating under the disastrous common fisheries policy. All they were doing was trying to provide an honest living for their families—fishing provided a comfortable living for my family for 25 years—and that is a tribute to those men and women who put to sea to put fish on our table.
Some of us have seen our husbands pay the ultimate price, but we have never lost hope. I look forward to seeing us adopt a strong stance in the forthcoming negotiations, and I urge the Minister and the Government to never surrender to the unacceptable demands of the European Union. We must not allow the pillaging of UK waters to happen ever again.
Order. I am anxious to cast the net as widely as possible. I think there are nine Back Benchers who wish to make a speech. I am not going to set a formal time limit, but if people adhere to a four-minute limit on speeches and are careful about accepting interventions, we should be able to get everybody in. I call Alistair Carmichael.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on obtaining the debate, which, as the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) said, is timely. The next few months will certainly be formative for the future of fisheries management. I say gently to the Minister and those who are—at least today—above him in the food chain within government that, as the hon. Member for South East Cornwall said, the fishing industry has a long memory. She referred to Elliot Morley’s difficulties with the under-10-metre brigade. Fishermen also remember use of the term “expendable” from the 1970s and the view taken by the then Conservative Government. I urge caution for two reasons: first, we have to be careful once we start calling for apologies, because they can come bouncing back. Secondly, unless the promises made to the fishing industries and fishing communities are honoured in full, the Government will pay a very heavy political price in the future.
There is no reason why those promises cannot be met; it is simply a question of political will. The House and fishing communities will be looking closely to see whether the Government have the political will to deliver the deal that they promised fishermen. It is as a result of those promises that some Members on the Government side have their seats. I am a little sceptical, because there have already been two tests of that will. They could have shown that political will when the former Prime Minister did her withdrawal deal, but she put this area into the political declaration. They could have also shown it when the Prime Minister did his withdrawal deal, but again he put it into the political declaration. For the fishing industry, in terms of political will, we must hope that it is third time lucky.
The difficulties that have come from management of a quota system under the common fisheries policy are well documented, but let us not pretend that those difficulties were created just because the system came from Brussels. People in the fishing industry and fishing communities the length and breadth of this country know that, when it comes to remote, centralised mismanagement of the fishing industry, our own Governments in London and in Edinburgh—doubtless in Belfast and Cardiff too—are just as capable of treating the industry with that same high-handed attitude we have always complained of from Brussels.
There is an opportunity to reset that the system and put fishermen and scientists together at the heart of fisheries management. It does not matter whether we have a quota-based system, a days-at-sea system or some mix of the two; what matters is that the science on which decisions are made is sound and considered in a timely manner. Advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea is two years out of date before it informs a decision, so use of that is wrong and unproductive—and ultimately it is at the root of many of the difficulties we have had with quota mismatch between what is in the sea and what fishermen are allowed to take on to the deck. That is the opportunity the Government face as they construct a future system and the industry will be looking to the Minister and his colleagues in Government to ensure that they actually deliver.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) for securing the debate—a debate that coastal communities around the United Kingdom, not least in my constituency, have been looking forward to for 47 years. I have spoken in a couple of these debates, and I have spoken about fishing in debates that had nothing to do with fishing whenever I had the chance, but this is the first one since we left the European Union on 31 January.
At the end of 2020—after the transition period—we will be outside the common fisheries policy, we will take back control of our waters and become an independent coastal state like Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and indeed the EU. That is what most British fishermen want, and I trust the Government to deliver it, not least because of the repeated assurances of the Minister, other Ministers and indeed the Prime Minister. I find it surprising how surprised the media are when such assurances are made. That is not to say, however, that we take anything for granted, particularly as we go into the negotiations. To save time, I will not echo the words of my hon. Friend or of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) on the importance of getting the negotiations right; those views have been well represented. We will leave the CFP, but, as Opposition Members often remind us, that is not the end of the story. It is the first, crucial step towards reviving our fishing industry and our coastal economy more broadly. This debate is about what needs to be done to maximise that revival in the years and decades to come.
Under the CFP, British boats catch less than 40% of the fish in our waters—a ridiculously low amount compared with closer to 85% for Norway and 95% for Iceland. With the necessary support of both of Scotland’s Governments it is not unreasonable to expect that, over time, we will meet the objective of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation for fishing to be the fastest growing sector in Scotland in the next 10 years. I have made many such representations to the Minister, but what plans do the Government have to support growth of the industry not just in Banff and Buchan but around the United Kingdom?
As has been mentioned, last night the Fisheries Bill completed Second Reading in the other place and will now go to Committee. Opposition Members may be inclined or tempted to amend the Bill when it comes to this House. I tabled an amendment to the previous incarnation of the Bill, as did the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), to ensure that its commencement would take place no later than December 2020. That is now redundant, as we know that commencement will take place at the end of the transition period. In a recent briefing on the Bill, the SFF said:
“It is workable in its current form and should not be rendered unworkable through the addition of unnecessary amendments.”
It is well known that the fishing industry has had difficulty attracting young skippers and crew from local communities—it certainly has in my constituency for most of my adult life—and while exit from the CFP should go some way towards addressing that problem, we must ensure that the post-Brexit system gives opportunities to new and young entrants to the sector. In the short term there will continue to be a need for non-UK crew in the catching sector. In recent years, the industry, already seeing the “sea of opportunity” light at the end of the CFP tunnel, has made moves to attract more new and young entrants, becoming a more professional and safer industry in the process. However, the Scottish White Fish Producers Association estimates that it could take at least another decade before it becomes anything close to self-reliant on local labour. In the meantime, a limited number of non-EEA fishermen can enter the UK to work on our fishing vessels on a transit visa, but they can work only outside 12 nautical miles, which is a particular problem on the west coast of Scotland and the Western Isles—I am sure we will hear about that from the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil). What discussions has the Minister had with the Home Office about that? What can be done?
The future of our fisheries industry is about more than the catching sector. CFP exit can unlock enormous economic potential in our coastal communities. In port towns such as Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Macduff in my constituency, the seafood industry looms large in its own right, and the wider economy also benefits from a thriving fishing industry. Marine engineering and manufacturing, including the only manufacturer of steel-hulled fishing vessels in Scotland, are found in my constituency. The growth of those industries immediately connected to fishing could spur a broader upswing in the coastal economy. More jobs and prosperity will produce yet more jobs and yet more prosperity. Again, we will fully achieve that only if the conditions are right. I mentioned the need for access to skilled migrant workers in the catching sector, but an estimated 70% of workers in the processing sector are born outside the UK. Will my hon. Friend the Minister comment on what is being done in that space? I would appreciate that.
I am aware of the time and want to allow other hon. Members to speak, so I will conclude. The Government have stood by the fishing industry throughout the Brexit process, bringing an end to decades of neglect under the CFP. If we continue to stand with the industry after December and make common-sense reforms and investments, we will make our coastal communities a great Brexit success story.
I thank the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) for bringing the matter forward, and for her commitment and energy. She is a credit to her constituency. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for the selection of the debate. It is essential, during this time of transition, that we get things absolutely right for our fishing industry. I refer to the industry, rather than to fishermen, because it is about more than the livelihoods of fishing families. It is about an entire industry—the suppliers, the hospitality industry, exports and wider matters. I must give credit where it is due—and not simply to the members of the fishing communities, who have been tireless in their work to secure the future of the fishing industry for the benefit of us all. I must also thank the Fisheries Minister; he knows that he is highly esteemed among all of us who are involved in the fishing sector, and I thank him for all his hard work. I also thank the Immigration Minister for his willingness to make himself available. There are four Members present—they know who they are—who have been working hard on the tier 2 fisheries exception. That is something where we want to see the full potential coming in.
Non-European economic area fishing crew has been an ongoing issue, and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) referred to it. I look forward to working with him and others to bring forward a pilot scheme, which I hope can be endorsed post-Brexit. Our fishing fleet is competing directly with the EU’s, and that means that in Northern Ireland we are competing with Ireland’s fishing fleet. To reach our potential we must have skilled and experienced crews in place. That does not just happen, but it needs to happen for us to succeed. I am very much looking forward, now that we have left the EU, to the extra quota being dispersed among fishermen within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so that we all gain. Just last week, it was mentioned in the press that the Government are to spend some £30 million on fishing enforcement vessels. It is heartening to know that the Government are spending that money, because it means that the EU fishing fleet cannot come willy-nilly into the waters around the UK and take advantage of the fish resources that belong to us here and not to them.
The Dublin Government first introduced legislation designed to resolve the issues around the recruitment of non-EEA fishermen in 2016, but Irish over-15-metre trawlers are entitled under the common fisheries policy to fish anywhere in the waters around Ireland and the United Kingdom. Ironically, non-EEA fishermen employed in Northern Ireland on over-15-metre trawlers are restricted to operating outside the UK’s 12-mile territorial limit. Again, that puts us at a disadvantage. There are not many options outside the 12-mile limit. We can contrast that to the options available for fishermen working, for example, from Peterhead or Fraserburgh, who have the whole of the North sea at their disposal. Even before the UK becomes an independent coastal state, Northern Ireland’s fishing fleet’s ability to operate competitively with our nearest EU neighbour is being compromised. It is clear to me that the fishermen in Northern Ireland—in Portavogie in my constituency and in Ardglass, Annalong and Kilkeel—need to have the same opportunities as those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The dominance of the under-10-metre fishing fleet in England Wales is not reflected in Northern Ireland, and it therefore follows that the allocation on that merit does not suit our fleet. The under-10-metre question creates an issue for us, and I would appreciate it if the Minister would respond on that. I have corresponded with other elected representatives—MPs and those in the other place. Margaret Ritchie, who used to be the Member for South Down, will raise in the other place the fact that each devolved Administration must determine how to allocate the fixed quota allocation to its own industry. I am glad to see that. We have a Northern Ireland Assembly in place now and a Minister, Edwin Poots, who can do it, and make the right decisions.
You have been clear about the timings we should work to, Sir George, so my last point relates to the fact that Northern Ireland’s biggest market, as with most things, is mainly Great Britain. We need a clear view of how the trade will operate. I want to know exactly what it means. Will fishing boats landing their fish in Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel have a tariff? Will they not have a tariff if they land fish in Scotland or Wales or England? While I welcome the Government’s commitment to no checks in the trade of food products with Great Britain, I have yet to see how it will work in reality. I urge the Government to give clarity on those essential aspects for the Northern Ireland economy.
The future is bright for the fishing industry, but it is in the Minister’s hands—no pressure. I beg him to work closely with his team, and to work closely with us, the elected representatives, and the regional administrations, so that this once in a lifetime opportunity can be exploited for the benefit of the UK as a whole.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) not only on securing this debate, which is so important, timely and relevant, but also on getting elected to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee yesterday—so well done.
I also enjoyed that privilege, so I look forward to working with her in keeping our friend the Minister on his toes.
There is no way to measure the enthusiasm and appetite in Newlyn, the port that I represent, and right around the coast of my constituency, for the end of the CFP madness. There are some asks from west Cornwall fisheries. What they really want is a fair share. No fisherman has ever said to me that they want exclusive access to all the fish in UK waters. What they want is a fair share of quota and fisheries resources. The Government have said all the right things so far, but fishermen are clear about trade and fisheries—arrangements must be kept separate—and about resisting the EU. We hear from a few individual member states that they will exercise a veto, and so on; but not many of the 27 are that concerned about our waters, and perhaps we should stick to our guns. We should hold our position and not give in to any sort of nonsense from people in, say, France.
However, fishermen are also clear about safeguarding access to the zero to 12 miles. I remember the day when the Minister came down to Newlyn and declared that we were revoking the London convention, which meant that we could restrict access to the 12-mile limit. With the end of the common fisheries policy, that is completed. That is valuable to my inshore fleet and to fishermen around west Cornwall. Fishermen and their representatives are asking for co-management, and they welcome indications from the Government about that. They do not want decisions made in Brussels just moving to Westminster or somewhere else. They want, as the Government have indicated will happen, to be involved in decision-making about the future, so that as those involved in the industry contribute to the discussion, debate and decision-making, unintended consequences of the kind we have seen up to now can be avoided
I want to touch briefly on two matters that are particularly relevant to west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. If the intention is to maintain the effectively two-tier system of inshore and offshore fisheries, at some point we need to understand the definition of inshore, but today I am talking about the small-scale, low-impact fisheries—the small fishing boats that go out and do their work each day, land fish in the local port and then sell it, often quite locally. I believe that there is a real opportunity—a hunger and thirst—for a new chapter for that inshore fleet post-London convention and post the common fisheries policy.
There is already a natural restriction on that part of the fishing industry. For example, it is limited simply because of the weather—particularly the weather that we get around our coasts. I am sure that is true around Northern Ireland and Scotland as well. Days at sea are limited because of the weather that fairly small vessels can go out in. There is also the question of the capacity of the vessels and the types of gear they use. Already, before quotas and all sorts of other restrictions and legislation are introduced, there is a limit to what those vessels can catch and to the potential harm they can cause to quota, so I would like to think that we can be really ambitious about what can be achieved within the 12-mile limit for our small-scale, low-impact fisheries. They have an opportunity to provide good food for local communities and to see local coastal communities revived. We should not underestimate the frustration within the inshore fleet, especially since the introduction of registration of buyers and sellers legislation, as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall mentioned. UK fisheries policy must deliver a new chapter for our fishing industry.
I will briefly mention infrastructure spend. In Newlyn we could spend £50 million to bring our port really up to where it needs to be. That would deliver an extra quay with deeper drafted vessels, boat lift, boat repair facilities and engineering—all the things that would deliver the kind of fisheries that the UK wants, and that would help to secure skills and revitalise our coastal communities.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray): we have been debating fisheries together for about eight or nine years in this very room. Fifteen or 20 years ago, I worked on a couple of fishing boats and, unfortunately, I have also known boys who have lost their lives fishing, which should remind us of the heavy price that people pay in the fishing industry. The hon. Member for South East Cornwall knows personally that heavy price. It is a very heavy price—sometimes the ultimate price.
I will re-emphasise a couple of points; I am aware of the restriction of time, Sir George, and I will try to be under my four minutes, to put a smile on your face by the time I have finished. First things first: what can we do now? As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) correctly guessed, my first port of call has to be the non-EEA crews. We should and we could be helping the fishing industry now. The UK Government have the power. It only takes one stroke of the pen, and many of the problems in Northern Ireland, in the west of Scotland and, I think, in the north-east of Scotland could be cured. If only one of the Conservative Ministers could find a pen, they could write to each other and maybe allow some of the non-EEA crews in that we need.
I have in my hand a report given to me by the excellent lawyer who has been working in this area, Darren Stevenson. It is a “Report on the Government Task Force on Non-EEA Workers in the Irish Fishing Fleet December 2015”, with a foreword written by the Tánaiste, Simon Coveney. It shows a Government that is prepared to work with the industry, with the realities of the industry, and ensure that it facilitates people’s coming in. I did have to smile, however, that the self-reported amount of non-EEA crew was about 9.3%, but when inspections were carried out on 25 fishing vessels in Ireland in 2015, it turned out that the non-EEA crews were up to 42%. That did not seem to be a great problem for the Irish Government, who worked with the grain of what was there. In the CFP or out of it, as the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Banff and Buchan and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) all know, fisherman have for years been banging a drum at the Home Office to get that changed, and it has not changed at all.
There is something else that we should be thinking about in the fishing space at the moment. The big shout was that the UK will be leaving the CFP “when Brexit happens”. Now, allegedly, Brexit has happened—although at the moment the UK is in this phase of being a rule taker—but we are most definitely in the CFP. This is an opportunity for fishing reorganisation, and that is what people are talking about in the CFP.
When I look to the Faroe Islands and I see the control they have, I think to myself, “Why don’t the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland have control of some aspects of their fishing?” We could have a sovereign wealth fund: our 200 miles in the Hebrides is about the only 200 miles that the UK has, so perhaps we could have a reorganisation of fishing entitlements within Scotland. The big boys of inequality in fishing should perhaps take a warning from that. I would like to see a change and make sure that some of the revenues in the fishery waters of the Hebrides go to the Hebrides.
There is also a danger, as we know, that the UK will trade that away. One way to maybe ensure that the UK Government cannot trade it away is not to give them the power in the first place, to respect devolution and make sure that this goes straight to the Scottish Government—who at the moment will not be at the negotiating table to hand it away, because the UK Government will not let them be there. I say to the Minister, “The EU can’t ask for something that you don’t have, and if you make sure that that’s in Scotland’s hands, it won’t be a problem for you.”
We should also be mindful of the immediate problem we have of selling catch to the European Union and the paperwork that will be required. There have been no full answers and no full guidance given to the fishing community and fishermen on that. I have eight seconds left, so I thank all hon. Members for their many reasonable and good contributions made in this debate. If the Minister is listening, change can come and it can be done well.
I apologise to hon. Members, as I have to step out at 10.30 am to chair an all-party parliamentary group meeting. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) for securing this debate and for her work as chair of the all-party parliamentary fisheries group.
I am extremely fortunate that in my constituency I have Salcombe, Dartmouth and Brixham, making it unquestionably the most beautiful coastline in the country—as hon. Members will all agree. However, within my constituency lie three particularly prominent towns that benefit from our leaving the CFP. In Salcombe and Dartmouth, we have a shellfish industry that is booming, which is looking at exports both within the European Union and further afield, and I hope to be able to support that. I think my hon. Friend has raised some of the issues and concerns with the under-10-metre fleet vessels, especially with the recent introduction of the app. In Brixham, I have the highest-valued port in England in terms of catch.
I will use this opportunity to add my thoughts about the future of the UK’s fishing industry and how we might be able to support it. There is no doubt that the feeling in this Chamber has been that our fishing industry has been let down over the past 40 years and that we now have an opportunity in 2020, 2021 and the years ahead to reignite the relationship that we have with not only with our fishermen, but those waterside businesses, of which many are dependent on a vibrant coastal community infrastructure and economy. It is time that this House, this Parliament and this Government showed their dedication to those fishermen and those businesses.
That potential can be unlocked in a number of ways, first and undoubtedly by securing free and independent coastal waters, ensuring that we are not just talking about the freedom and right of navigation, but the freedom and right for us to fish those waters to the full extent, and allowing us to negotiate and renegotiate on an annual basis. We had colleagues from Norway in this room recently, discussing their arrangement with the European Union; I think that is something we would all like to echo, especially to the Minister, as something that the UK might seek to replicate and enhance in the coming years.
We must also ensure that we create a flexible working model that relies on co-management. Having a variety of multiple voices from different areas across the country feed into how we enact policy across our coastline would be of enormous importance and extremely useful. Having a ministerial representative for our English fishing fleet would be in line with what the devolved Administrations have, and something that I know my fishermen in Brixham are extremely supportive of.
Last year, to much applause, the Government introduced the maritime and fisheries fund. I welcome that for the communities that can bid, but my own port in Brixham—I repeat, the largest fishing port in England—has been unable to bid for that fund because it is a local authority port. I do not believe that it sends the message that we are supporting our fishermen when a Government-announced fund restricts their being able to bid. I hope the Minister and his team will work with me to help me to find a way in which we can support that port and other coastal communities.
As I have mentioned, there are a number of waterside businesses that I would like to explore in the years to come, whether that is boat building, dry dock facilities, fish processing plants, the restaurant trade, tourism or environmental conservation, many of which are included in the Fisheries Bill that is coming before this House. Those are all really welcome opportunities, but we must explore how we can increase infrastructure across the country to allow us to exploit the enormous benefit that they will have for our communities. Our fishermen are the stewards, and their success will breed success for other industries.
Mention has been made of the under-10-metre fleet, and I will touch on that briefly. First, there seems to be a problem for those under-10-metre vessels about where they are registering their catch. The lists are based on EU port data, which means that in my constituency a number of ports are not registered. We are unable to put in applications for bids because those ports are not registered on the EU data app, so when we would like to request funding for, say, winches or any equipment for those ports, there is an inability to do so.
The second thing revolves around digital connectivity: an app that is unable to connect—especially in my constituency, which lags some 9% behind the rest of the country in terms of digital connectivity—makes it near impossible for any fisherman coming in to be able to connect and register that catch before landing. That is something that I would very much like to see delivered.
Finally, Scotland is home, I believe, to a skipper training school, but there is not one within England that I have recognised, although I am very happy to be wrong on that. I am working with my own fishing roundtable, which held its first meeting two weeks ago, to see how we can explore opportunities to create a skipper training school, to encourage people into the industry and to ensure that people can see the vibrancy and opportunity within it. I hope we can explore the different avenues and potential for expanding that.
I will end on this: the Prime Minister is often quoted as saying that he is in favour of “oven-ready” deals or opportunities. It seems to me that there is a perfect opportunity for us to deliver for our coastal communities and to expand on an industry and a trade in which we have a long and fruitful history. I look forward to working with hon. Members across the House in doing so.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on bringing forward this important debate.
I will make a few points. With devolution re-established in Northern Ireland, the Minister will have a friend in Northern Ireland under the Ministry of Edwin Poots, who has a proven track record in dealing with environmental issues as a farmer himself and as a person who has dealt with the fishing community over the years. I hope that that leads to a good rapport between the Department here and the Department in Northern Ireland, because we require good partnerships between Westminster and the devolved regions to make sure that we get our act together and that fishing interests across the entire United Kingdom are properly and fairly met. That is absolutely essential.
Northern Ireland promotes evidence-based protection of our marine environment, side by side with a sustainable and profitable fishing industry, which can only be done when there is good co-operation between fishermen, producers and processors, industry leaders and advisers and the Department. It is essential that those good relationships are honed and developed.
In the Irish sea, 80% of the UK’s fishing effort comes from Northern Irish fishermen, who need to be treated fairly and allowed to continue to have a profitable industry. The fishing industry expects to be part of realising the full potential that Members rightly alluded to, and the opportunities that people say will exist with Brexit have to become tangible and meaningful. As with Norway 40 years ago, the EU will have to accept a diminution of the share of catches from EU waters, which means that catches for non-EU boats will have to be properly negotiated and shared out. We want to make sure that our fishermen’s rights are properly enforced and protected by our Government; that sovereign British waters remain sovereign British waters; and that we get the lion’s share of the catch in those waters.
The Irish election throws up a particular challenge for Northern Ireland. With Sinn Féin now the largest party in both parts of the island, will it defend the EU policy that annually loots Northern Ireland fishermen’s rights? Let us see if it actually protects the interests of fishermen in the Republic of Ireland against the rights of fishermen in Northern Ireland. That will be a huge challenge for Sinn Féin, and no doubt for the Minister whenever he negotiates arrangements and agreements between our nations. It will be interesting to see what side Sinn Féin falls on. I would not like to hazard a guess; I suspect I know, but let us wait and see what ultimately happens.
There are four or five key issues that the Minister has to address. Crews have already been alluded to by several Members, and I know he will want to speak on that. However, there is a challenge for the Government as to how they will apportion catch within the UK to UK regions. That is absolutely essential. Fishermen are waiting to know the plan, and trust that it will be fair and proportionate. While the crews issue needs to be finalised, remember that Northern Ireland stands on the frontline with the EU, in terms of its land border and its sea border, and it is therefore absolutely essential that Northern Ireland’s fishermen are given protections and the absolute right to fish our sea without being encumbered by threats from Ireland.
A 2018 Select Committee report mentioned that we need a proper processing hub and a new harbour at Kilkeel, and I encourage the Minister to deliver that. Finally, what plans do the Government have to manage catches of lobster, salmon, mussels, oysters and other crustaceans on the north coast for smaller fishermen?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on securing the debate.
Over the next few months, the future of fishing in the UK will be the focus of much attention in Westminster, in the media and, most importantly, in those coastal communities that all here represent. We have a great opportunity to revitalise the industry, so that it can play a full role in the economy of towns such as Lowestoft, where in recent decades its importance has greatly diminished. Time is short, so I will make some brief comments, first on the Fisheries Bill, then on the upcoming trade negotiations and finally on how we should set about rebuilding the industry post Brexit.
The Fisheries Bill provides the framework within which the industry will be rebuilt. Generally, its provisions should enable us to do that, although consideration should be given to amendments to address the following issues. First, we should ensure a fairer distribution of fishing opportunities in favour of those inshore boats, the under-10-metre vessels that make up the majority of the East Anglian fleet. Secondly, full consideration should be given to how best to strengthen the economic link, so as to ensure that coastal communities have every opportunity to benefit from increased landings. Thirdly, the ability to fish sustainably should be ingrained in the Bill, and there must be no loopholes whereby unacceptable practices, such as electro-pulse fishing, can continue.
As the Government commence negotiations on our future trading relationship with the EU, I urge them to bear in mind at all times the importance of fishing in regenerating coastal communities and the role it can play in levelling out the economy right across and around the UK. The Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries report, launched on 17 October 2019 in the Minister’s presence, highlights the opportunity to generate an additional £32 million per annum at the quayside in the southern North sea alone. That can only be achieved by changing the way in which fishing opportunities are allocated between countries, by moving to a geographical-area means of allocation—zonal attachment—from the relative stability rule of the common fisheries policy. It is important that, throughout negotiations, the Government adhere to that principle.
In the coming months, the Government must be proactive not on two fronts—the Fisheries Bill and trade negotiations—but three, because they need to put in place the management systems and infrastructure needed to rebuild the UK fishing industry. The REAF report sets out how we can do that in East Anglia. I am grateful to the Minister for his support for the project, but we need to implement the report’s recommendations. I will briefly outline how we should do this.
First, I would be grateful if the Minister asked his officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Marine Management Organisation to engage proactively with East Suffolk Council, which is supporting the project, to ensure that it moves forward quickly to the implementation stage. Secondly, the Minister has previously advised that the Government will carry out an hours-at-sea pilot. Our request is that this should take place in East Anglia. Thirdly, there is a need not only in East Anglia but all around the UK to invest in infrastructure. The fleet, our ports and our processing facilities are in urgent need of upgrading, and I urge the Minister to ensure that there is provision for that in the 11 March Budget. If the right signals are sent out, they can act as a catalyst for significant private investment. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we must not squander it.
I do not know whether hon. Members have had the pleasure of visiting Fleetwood, eight miles north of our famous neighbour, Blackpool, on the Lancashire coast. The town boomed in the first half of the 20th century, mainly down to the deep sea fishing industry, which at its height employed around 9,000 people in the town. Unfortunately, the second half of the 20th century was less kind to Fleetwood. Anyone who knows anything about fishing will know that the late 1960s and early 1970s saw the cod wars and the decline of the deep sea fishing industry.
Because Fleetwood was a deep sea fishing town, the loss of trawlers and fishing grounds in the north Atlantic hit our town hard. The last deep sea trawler left Fleetwood in 1982, three years before I was born. We now have only a small number of inshore fishing boats in the port. However, there being so few left does not mean that we do not have an emotional connection and a sense of identity around fishing. In fact, there are still many fishing industry jobs in the town, including in fish processing—and, of course, there is the biggest employer in the town, Lofthouse of Fleetwood, which manufactures the famous Fisherman’s Friend lozenges, which I am sure everyone is familiar with.
I cannot claim that the loss of the deep sea fishing industry is alone responsible for Fleetwood’s decline—the empty shops on Lord Street, the lower than average life expectancy and higher unemployment rates. It has to be seen in a wider context, with things such as cheap package holidays taking away from the tourist industry on the Lancashire coast and the Beeching cuts severing us from the national rail network—although I am optimistic that we might see some progress on that. The decline in the fishing industry in Fleetwood is an important part of the story of our town, and why so many of my constituents will be following today’s debate and the Fisheries Bill closely.
There are high hopes riding on the Fisheries Bill. Communities like mine have an emotional connection to fishing, despite many decades of decline. When communities such as Fleetwood voted to leave the European Union, under the banner of “take back control”, many were thinking about the fishing industry. Those people do not want to see us taking back control of our waters only for those waters to be ceded in a trade negotiation with the EU. That is what they fear. If that fear is realised, I cannot overstate the sense of betrayal that will be felt in coastal communities, not just in Fleetwood but up and down the country.
Turning to the Fisheries Bill, which has been the main focus of the debate today, I have two main asks that I would like the Bill to deliver. First, it has to be a requirement for fish caught under a UK quota to be landed in a UK port, because every one job at sea supports 10 jobs on shore. That could be a huge part of the regeneration of coastal communities up and down our islands.
We also want to see a redistribution of the UK quota away from the large multi-national companies, because two thirds of employment is generated by boats under 10 metres, which have only 6% of the quota. It would not take that much of a redistribution to have a disproportionately large effect in terms of regeneration and supporting jobs on shore, as well as at sea.
If we are truly to grasp every opportunity outside the common fisheries policy and to look to the long term, we need to look at how the fishing industry is supported to grow. That will require a holistic approach to issues such as safety: commercial fishing remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
I will finish my remarks, Sir George, where I started: Fleetwood. On the Esplanade two bronze figures stand on the seafront looking out to the Irish sea. They are a memorial to all the fishermen who did not make it home. If, as I hope, we see a revival in fishing in the UK, it has to be one in which the Government take safety seriously and that supports the people who fish our seas, to put food on the plates of our nation.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) on securing this important and timely debate. It gives us all, wherever we sit, the opportunity to set out our hopes and, perhaps, some of our fears over the change that is to come.
I was taken by the hon. Lady’s observations about how Norway and its relationship with the EU could set a precedent. That is a laudable ambition, but I would caution that the Norwegian Government seem to set greater importance by their fishing industry than the UK Government do, given the evidence of recent years. We will see how that transpires.
I was also taken by the comments made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), about the prospect of no longer seeing EU vessels coming into our waters. I will touch on that later. My particular concern, which I share with many colleagues, is about the differentiated relationship that will potentially exist between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and whether we will see fish caught in Scottish waters landed in Scottish ports, or whether they will go through Northern Ireland for seamless access to important EU markets, that might not otherwise be accessed.
The hon. Members for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) all spoke about the importance of making sure the economic opportunities were fully seized on shore; I completely concur with that.
My group and the Scottish Government will consider the Fisheries Bill carefully, to assess whether it delivers for Scottish fishing communities, in our view. We will seek to improve it throughout the process, wherever we have the opportunity. We will be guided by the sustainable and responsible vision for fisheries management set out in the Scottish Government’s “Future of fisheries management in Scotland: national discussion paper.”
It remains a matter of real concern that UK Ministers have taken power to set quota for Scotland-only stocks. Even if they have no intention of using it, it is a matter of concern that that decision has been taken. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about it.
In preparation for the debate I cast my mind back to a statement issued by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations in April 2018. They set out three criteria by which they would measure the success of the Government’s negotiating outcomes. Those criteria were about
“actual as well as legal authority”
over fisheries; whether
“fisheries management decisions on shared stocks”
would be made through bilateral annual agreements; and about the ability to secure “free and frictionless trade.” I will deal with each in turn.
Regarding the first criteria—
“actual as well as legal authority”—
obviously, even as a coastal state, we will still be subject to the United Nations convention on the law of the sea and the concept of the total allowable catch, but if all we do is use the legal authority to take back control of the seas and repackage the status quo with a Union Jack around it, that will be very much a missed opportunity, far from the goals set out.
Secondly, I turn to “shared stocks” and bilateral agreements. I apologise, Sir George; at the outset I should have declared an interest. I am vice chair of the North Sea Commission’s marine resources group and had the opportunity to attend a fisheries conference in the Netherlands province of Flevoland. There, I had the privilege to hear Peter van Dalen, a Member of the European Parliament in the European People’s Party group, talk about an earlier stage in Brexit discussions. He thought there should be a link between access to waters and access to markets. We can instantly see the danger with that. Even if we manage to get the relationship right at the outset, given the imbalance in negotiating power and the importance of fishing to the economies of other countries relative to our own, bilateral negotiations are a risk. Access and quotas simply become a factor in annual politicking. I do not have a huge amount of confidence that UK fishermen, wherever they fish from, will necessarily always be the beneficiaries of that outcome.
Thirdly, “free and frictionless trade” depends on what sort of deal is struck, or indeed if one can be struck at all. A no-deal situation, or one that sees divergence or a lack of alignment, could create significant difficulties for exporting a product, whether it is a primary product or one at the value-added stage. For example, I am currently a member of Aberdeenshire Council, which, like all local authorities, provides environmental health officers. There remains a real concern about the need to provide export health certificates for catches, if they are required. That would obliterate small-value exports of single or small numbers of boxes. There are simply not enough EHOs to cope with what would be required. The qualifications to become an EHO are a Bachelor of Science degree and two years’ experience, meaning that people need to have a minimum of five years’ experience before they can sign off their first consignment.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point and I agree that we do not have enough environmental health officers. As a current—and soon to be recovering—member of Aberdeenshire Council, can he explain why the council has to cut back on environmental health officers?
The hon. Gentleman would be better advised to direct that question to his colleague Councillor Jim Gifford, who is the leader of the council. As members of the same party they will have ample opportunity to discuss the question. My point was that it takes five years from scratch to build EHO capacity, and without that there is a huge problem, which we cannot gloss over.
There is also a need to have heat treated pallets for exports, wagons and drivers with appropriate credentials, and there is the prospect of delays at ports. For a perishable product, that is bad news, especially as the European Union accounts for 77% of total Scottish seafood exports by value.
The only area of opportunity that I could concede Brexit offers is in terms of the value that could come to fishing and coastal communities. However, that requires investment in skills and training and requires the manufacturers, the producers, to have access to product. As hon. Members said, it depends very much on zonal attachment and getting access to that product. It depends very much on free and frictionless access to markets. It also depends on freedom of movement. I sat through a rather dispiriting Government response to a debate yesterday afternoon in the main Chamber about freedom of movement. We absolutely do need to have that if we are to take full advantage.
It is very clear—
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I am still relatively new to this place, but I know, like many others, the very personal commitment to and passion for the UK fishing industry that the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) has. Although we may not agree on everything, we stand together on the frontline in the fight for a sustainable, productive and successful fishing industry in all parts of the United Kingdom. I shall take a leaf out of the book of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and say that no apologies will be made today on decisions made over previous decades. Instead, we want to work together to ensure that the UK fishing industry thrives in the new post-Brexit era.
All hon. Members here will know that this is a topical debate. I welcome the opportunity to address some of the points raised by the hon. Member for South East Cornwall; to share the vision of Her Majesty’s Opposition for the future of UK fisheries; and to highlight some of the areas of concern on which we want real action in the weeks and months ahead.
The UK fishing industry is old and established—it is at the core of many communities up and down the country and in all four nations of the United Kingdom. From Grimsby to Holyhead and from Kilkeel to Aberdeen, many jobs have relied on the UK fishing industry for generations, and many dinner tables in the UK, and right across the European continent and beyond, have been blessed by the catches from our waters.
Hon. Members across the Chamber will remember the campaign slogans used during the EU referendum campaign in 2016 and the most recent general election: we will “take back control”, we will be “an independent coastal state” and we will “leave behind the common fisheries policy”. The Conservative party made so many promises, but there is very little to show for it so far. So many promises were made: it would be a huge betrayal if the Government failed to deliver on them or, worse still, sold out the UK fishers to get the trade deal that we were told was ready to go but that the Government are now furiously trying to secure.
The European Union has indicated that everything will be on the table to get a trade deal; the UK Government say otherwise. There will always be some form of brinkmanship during negotiations, but we cannot play games with our fishing industry. I hope the Minister will make that clear to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and to the Prime Minister himself.
Time is of the essence. Come 1 January 2021, we need to be ready to go with a new policy, a new approach and a new plan. Yesterday, the other place saw the Second Reading of the Fisheries Bill, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) stated. It has been heralded as the Government’s flagship attempt to deliver for the UK fishing industry. As my noble Friend Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said yesterday, the Bill sets out a framework to regenerate the fishing sector in the United Kingdom. At its core is the UK’s right, following our departure from the European Union, to operate as an independent coastal state under the UN, as the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) so forcefully expressed. The Government have made much of the potential of that to deliver for British fishers, but we all know very well the challenges that they will face in trying to negotiate a deal with our European partners—a deal that must receive the approval of every one of the 27 remaining nations.
Her Majesty’s Opposition are clear, and as the shadow Minister responsible for fisheries I am clear, that we want UK fishers to get a fair and sustainable deal. I thank the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for his expert comments on the need for sustainability, which is vital as we go forward. We want a deal based on the best scientific knowledge, and with the strict application of the maximum sustainable yield quotas that were sadly lacking from the common fisheries policy. The Government have an opportunity to create a flourishing and healthy marine environment—one with replenished stocks and that helps to deliver on our net zero carbon ambitions.
I want fishing quotas to be distributed more fairly, away from the select few who dominate ownership and to the smaller boats and fleets that use low-impact gear, as the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) so eloquently highlighted. Smaller operations create significantly more jobs per tonne of fish landed than the larger companies. We also want high levels of compliance with fishing limits, through the use of compulsory surveillance technology and an increase in inspection vessels to ensure that deliberate overfishing is punished; that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I also want to be clear that British fish, caught in British waters, must land in British ports. That brings jobs and maintains livelihoods.
We should see an end to the unnecessary red tape that the Government send our fishers’ way. One example, obviously, is the catch app, which has been well highlighted today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and, of course, the hon. Member for South East Cornwall. It is ill thought out, and we need the Government to pause and rethink.
One job at sea is worth 10 jobs on land. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith) highlighted the importance of onshore jobs associated with the fishing industry. We need to empower and enrich areas that have been let down by a decade of Tory austerity, and we can do that by delivering a sustainable and equitable fishing industry. We can do that by setting a requirement in the new licences to land at least 70% of the catch in our ports, supported by UK Government investment in green infrastructure. That will help in turn to grow the marine leisure and recreational fishing sectors.
I want to say a word about Northern Ireland and the real challenge facing the UK Government. The Government have indicated their commitment to the integrity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but in reality they have put a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and that border sits on the Northern Irish ports. It will have a significant impact on the territorial waters of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. These complicated issues will require serious and meaningful negotiation, and I urge the Government to ensure exactly that.
A frictionless border between the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe and the world will be key. Our fish and seafood, including shellfish, which the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) reminded us about, are all perishable and will diminish in quality, value and availability if they have to sit in customs for days on end. One major value of British fish today is that it can be anywhere in Europe in a matter of hours rather than days. We need to keep it that way.
I acknowledge the hon. Member for South East Cornwall’s constituency and family commitment to fishing. I hope that she will join me in holding the Government to account on their promises, so that together we can ensure that they do not put our fishers out of business.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who, as a number of hon. Members said, has been a passionate campaigner for the fishing industry; her technical knowledge of this sector is second to none. It is great that she managed to secure the debate today, because of course we would generally have an annual fisheries debate in December, in the run-up to the December Council negotiations. Last December, however, all of us had other things on our minds—knocking on doors and delivering leaflets. It is therefore good and timely that we are having the debate now.
My hon. Friend explained in some detail the genesis of our problem with the common fisheries policy. It is essentially that in the 1970s, as we joined the European Union, we gave the European Union the right to control access to our waters—and at exactly the same time, we were being progressively driven out of our traditional fishing grounds in Iceland. The first, second and third cod wars culminated, in 1976, with British fishing vessels, the long-distance fleet, being excluded to 200 miles from Iceland.
My hon. Friend was also right in saying that while the EU was developing catch data in the late ’70s, we ended up with an appalling and unfair share of the catch, under what became known as “relative stability”—partly because our fleet was in Icelandic waters and therefore not fishing to the extent that it normally would in our own waters, and partly because of patchy data and patchy data recording. Relative stability has remained set in stone ever since. It is based on a reference period in the late 1970s that is not representative of the fish in our waters and not representative of what we were catching even at the time; it also it did not take account of the fact that much of our fish was being caught in Iceland.
Ironically, the defeat of the UK in the third cod war in 1976 led to the establishment of an international convention giving independent coastal states control of their exclusive economic zone out to 200 nautical miles or the median line. That was formalised in the UN convention on the law of the sea in the early 1980s. This is often not understood, but our right to control our exclusive economic zone is not something we must negotiate with the European Union; it simply happens as a point of international law, which is widely understood by the European Commission.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall said, we are clear that we want to be like Norway: an independent coastal state in control of the resources in our waters, holding friendly annual negotiations with our neighbours—a mutual exchange of access as well as an annual discussion on the total allowable catch and who should have what share of that catch, species by species. Our approach will move away from the outdated, unfair and unscientific relative stability sharing mechanism that currently pertains in the EU to a modern, more scientific approach based on zonal attachment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) indicated. In those annual negotiations we will also seek a mutual agreement on exchange of access, deciding what species and areas that should involve, and what sharing arrangements should be attached to any mutual access agreed.
We are making good progress in preparing for this new world. Yesterday, Lord Gardiner took the Fisheries Bill through its Second Reading. It passed without incident. I was there for the closing speeches and I can report that all Members of the House of Lords were content to give the Bill a Second Reading. The Bill sets out several important things about our approach. First, it gives us a legally binding commitment to fish sustainably and observe maximum sustainable yield when taking part in fisheries negotiations, and to have a series of management plans for individual stocks, to demonstrate how we intend to get to sustainable fishing on each. Secondly, the Bill gives us crucial powers to control access to our exclusive economic zone and to require foreign and domestic vessels to have licences—and to attach conditions to those licences when people seek access to our exclusive economic zone. Thirdly, it gives us crucial powers to change technical conservation measures, so that we can make timely amendments—to closures for spawning grounds, to gear types and to nets, for instance.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall and others mentioned the new—currently not particularly popular—app, which we have asked the vessels under 10 metres to start using. I believe that is the right decision: if we want to move to a more sophisticated way of managing the inshore fleet—maybe to give them quotas that run for several months, rather than just one month at a time, or to experiment with effort-based regimes—it is important that we have reliable data on catch. Studies carried out by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science have shown that there is a significant mismatch between what is recorded through sales notes and what is being caught and observed on vessels, so we need to improve the quality of the data that we have.
It is worth noting that vessels over 12 metres and those between 10 and 12 metres have a two-stage process. They must record and log their catch data, which can be based on an estimate, but, in the case of the over-12s, within 24 hours they then must submit a landing declaration, which has the precise weight of each species. For reasons I entirely understand, the under-10s said that they did not want the administration involved in a two-stage process when we explored this option with them. They did not want to have to record catch data and a landing declaration.
Our approach—a one-system approach of catch data only—was designed at the request of the industry to make the process simpler. We think most fishermen can make reasonable estimates of their weight; they do not have to do it while at sea. They can do it when they have tied their vessel up. They can weigh the fish and submit the record as they unload it from their vessel. We are working with them to ensure we can make this work in practice.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which is obviously linked to the well-known Factortame case, which became an important test case about the sovereignty of Parliament in relation to EU law. It established the principle that while the European Communities Act 1972 existed, EU law had supremacy over UK law. As a Parliament, we have remedied that situation by repealing the 1972 Act; in future, we could look again at provisions such as those in the Merchant Shipping Act. However, as we set out in our White Paper, our clear preference is to review the economic link and to look at whether some of those foreign-owned vessels should be required to land more of their catch into UK ports, rather than getting into a more difficult discussion about whether we should take those rights away from them, given that they bought the vessels in good faith. We do not rule out something like the Merchant Shipping Act, but we have no immediate plans for such legislation.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) asked why fishing is in the political declaration. It is simply there to say that we will strive to have a partnership agreement with the EU, just as the EU currently has with Norway. We will use our best endeavours to get that by July. If there is no partnership by July, there is no consequence. International law is what it is, and we will still negotiate as an independent coastal state at those critical annual fisheries negotiations at the end of the year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) talked about the importance of having a plan to support the growth of the industry—particularly in his constituency, where there is a great deal of fish processing. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney made a similar point in respect of the Renaissance of East Anglian Fisheries project in his area. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan is obviously very vocal on this, since the Prime Minister frequently asks me what our plan is to support our fishing industry and to put in place the infrastructure to ensure we can harness its potential as we leave the EU. We are giving some thought to that area.
Several hon. Members raised the issue of attracting new entrants, which is an area that we are looking at. We are examining some of the approaches adopted in the Faroes and in the USA, and we are working with Seafish and the Seafood 2040 industry group to review a number of recommendations for supporting new entrants coming into the industry.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about the importance of resolving some of the questions about the Northern Ireland protocol, to ensure that trade can continue. We are absolutely clear that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK customs union, but I appreciate that a few minor technical details regarding that protocol still need to be worked through. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) made a very good point about the importance of splitting trade discussions from fisheries. We are very clear that there will be a fisheries partnership agreement and then a trade agreement. He also made a good point about looking at the way we define inshore fisheries, asking whether the current definition is appropriate, and ensuring that we think about the inshore fleet as we move forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) raised the issue of local authority ports currently being unable to access the maritime fund; that is another area that we are looking at. I am afraid that EU state aid rules are the source of the problem, and will be dealt with in the usual way, but we are considering that issue. Finally, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) asked what we are doing about lobsters and shellfish. We are considering whether technical or catch measures could be put in place to manage those stocks.
I thank all hon. Members for attending this debate, which has been one of the best-attended fisheries debates I have seen in quite a long time. I think the Minister has heard the message loud and clear: we want UK fishermen to be treated such that, first and foremost, they can get the majority of fish in UK waters, just as the Prime Minister confirmed. We are looking to both the Minister and the Prime Minister to deliver on that promise.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No.10(6)).
Education and Attainment of White Working-Class Boys
I beg to move,
That this House has considered education and attainment for white working-class boys.
It is of course an honour, Sir George, to serve under your chairmanship today.
I am pleased to have secured this debate today on an important issue, although I am frustrated that we cannot have more time to discuss it. I will run through it very quickly this morning; I hope that we can consider it in more detail very soon.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to levelling up across our country and investing in the communities that need it the most. I do not think that it is controversial to argue that education is one of those issues that we really need to focus on in communities with large areas of deprivation, such as my own in Mansfield, and if we are genuinely to give everyone the opportunity to make the most of their talents, then everybody needs to have access to a good education.
We know that on average boys consistently underperform against girls, and white boys from disadvantaged backgrounds underperform against boys of all other races and ethnicities. I will reel off some statistics: by age five, white boys from disadvantaged backgrounds are already 13% behind disadvantaged black boys and 23% behind disadvantaged Asian girls in their phonics, for example; only around a third of white working-class boys pass their maths and English GCSEs; disadvantaged white working-class boys are 40% less likely to go into higher education than disadvantaged black boys; and in fact, according to UCAS, only 9% of these boys will go to university, compared with around half of the general population. I could go on forever if I had more time, but as it stands these white working-class boys are being let down by an in-built and inherent disadvantage.
I am concerned that this issue has been brushed under the carpet, not necessarily by the Government—I have had conversations about it with Ministers before and also discussed it on a Select Committee, so I know that this issue is recognised—but by modern society, which refuses to see the plight of young white males, even those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I am concerned that in too many places this is a taboo subject, and that we cannot talk about the fact that white boys need more help.
This issue is very relevant in Northern Ireland as well. Recently, the Community Relations Council in Northern Ireland stated:
“While there is under-achievement among working-class pupils generally—and this is worse among boys—working class Protestant boys continue to have lower educational attainment than Catholic boys.”
We have continually heard the same thing in Northern Ireland and continually stated it, but instead of accepting this as a baseline fact we need to change the foundation across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with investment in the education of these boys and training in their skills, thereby addressing the imbalance that exists.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and for pointing out that this is something that is happening across the country—across the whole of the United Kingdom—and that there is a challenge around getting these boys to engage with school, around parental engagement and around that drive to attain, which I will cover in the rest of my speech. However, he is absolutely right that this issue is not limited to my community, or to the north of England, or to anything like that; it is an issue across the whole of the United Kingdom. For example, when we see schools turning down funding that is offered in support of disadvantaged white boys, despite the obvious problems that they experience, then we have a real issue.
The former head of UCAS, Mary Curnock Cook, said that this underperformance is a scandal, but it remains unfashionable to talk about it; in fact, it has become normal. She said that the discussion about white boys from disadvantaged backgrounds has been marginalised, which is why I called for this debate. That situation is not right at a time when boys are falling further behind, indeed when they are already way behind before they even reach primary school, and when they are far more likely to be expelled from school and increasingly less likely to get to university, but twice as likely to commit suicide if they do get there. I recognise fully that we need to support disadvantaged children of all genders and all ethnicities, but I raise this issue in these terms today to make sure that these boys in my community get a fair hearing.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case and we are listening with great interest. Does he agree that if this issue is not successfully addressed, we will have disaffected youth, there will be consequences for local communities and a loss of real potential—of real talent—in our workforce?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and I totally agree. The Prime Minister was clear when he said that opportunity is not spread evenly around the country but talent is, and this issue is about how we engage these boys with our education system, to make sure that they see its relevance and to ensure that they see the opportunities they have and can take them.
There is an awful lot to do, and we are already in a position where we have lots of young men in my community who have finished school but will have to go back and receive intervention and support as adults, because they did not receive that throughout their education. We have to understand the lives of many of these boys, in former coalfield communities such as Mansfield.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and also for raising this issue today. In my constituency, which is a very mixed one, I am aware of the disparities and the inequalities in all communities, which is why it has been very important for us locally to look at disadvantage wherever it occurs.
May I just make the point that the issue extends across the country and that we have to look at different communities? Last year, I hosted in Parliament the event “H Is For Harry”, about a young boy who has problems with literacy that are actually intergenerational. That event was very important in saying that wherever inequality, disadvantage or difficulties with education might occur, we need to address that situation and have a public policy response.
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention and I totally agree. As I say, I fully recognise that the challenges I am highlighting in this speech affect many communities and many children from disadvantaged backgrounds, regardless of race or gender. I have said why I am highlighting it in these particular terms today, but she is absolutely right that there is a broader issue that we need to focus on. She also mentioned that kind of parental drive and engagement with schools, which I will come on to.
As I was saying, we need to understand the communities that these boys grow up in. In former coalfield areas such as Mansfield, not so long ago boys generally left school before they were 16, and they went to work down the pit or in a factory. There was a simplistic kind of certainty to that, in that regardless of what happened at school, they would have a job and a career. If someone was lucky, they might get to take the 11-plus and go off to grammar school to do something different. A few children benefited from that route, but then that was taken away as well.
That certainty of career does not exist any more in these communities, but in many cases they have not moved on. Many parents in the poorest communities do not have qualifications and therefore are not able to extol the virtues of school—indeed, they do not necessarily see the point of that education—and they cannot help their children to study because they do not have that level of attainment themselves.
I have schools in my area where 70% of the children are involved with social services, such is the chaotic backdrop to their lives, so school is very far from the top of the agenda for those children. Boys are far more likely to say that school is a waste of time, so we have to engage them in a different way and help them to see the value of school.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate and for the case that he has made; I agree with every word he has said. Does he, like me, see the real sadness that generations—multiple generation—of boys from Nottingham and from Nottinghamshire, which we both represent, have had that perception that school does not matter, and as a result there is wasted talent, instead of all the good things that they could be doing in our community if they had had a better education and we had not failed them?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and I agree. I meet a number of young men who are bright, sharp and intelligent, but they do not have many qualifications and are struggling to find work, struggling to make a positive impact and struggling to see where their lives are going. We certainly need to do more to change that situation in the future and, as I have said, to go back to those guys who have finished school already and support them.
We need to prepare children for the 21st century and update our curriculum so that it is fit for the future. Repetitive tasks and memory tests are no longer relevant for study and even top private schools in America have shown that kids simply do not remember such stuff when they come back from school holidays.
The OECD’s programme of international student assessment rankings show that memorisation remains the dominant learning strategy in British classrooms. I could go off on a massive tangent at this point, and if I did I am sure that I would have a huge debate with the Minister for School Standards on this particular issue. However, I only have 10 minutes to cover things today, so I will try to focus on the headline issue, although there is a broader problem.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He has highlighted a very important point about working-class communities and white working-class boys. I have noticed in my constituency that those boys fall behind, especially after the school holidays, and we also know that a lot of funding that went into school holiday programmes has been cut, so I am starting a campaign to try to bring back more of that activity.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important to think about a cross-departmental policy response to this issue, through housing, education and wider afield, so that we make sure that we can reach into and deal with those families that are most at risk, and so that these young boys have the best chance of success?
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention and I agree. There is certainly a disparity that is entrenched when those boys go home over the summer to a household that is not necessarily pushing them to continue to learn and engage, compared with parents who are perhaps better-off and who drive that engagement. We must bridge that gap and I will come on to some of the potential solutions. The point I am trying to make is that we need to create incentives for these boys to learn and to make space in the curriculum, if needed, for something more relevant to them. It would be wrong if we assumed that everyone’s aspiration was to study to degree level. We would do far better to accept that where these boys are getting nothing currently, giving them something of interest and value would be a step forward.
Whether it meets our middle-class aspiration or not is kind of irrelevant; I am talking about choice and variety. Whether we do that through alternative provision or by giving all schools more freedom by offering more vocational and technical education, we have to do something more to show the career value of what they are learning, perhaps by doing it thematically, rather than in subject silos that do not connect with the real world. Everyone needs a certain core knowledge, but outside of that there are lots of different options.
I am sorry to come back again, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a real importance for us in this place to start talking about vocational and technical education with the same emphasis as higher education? That would set the tone that, actually, we think all those paths are just as legitimate and can lead to full and happy lives.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. As I have said, less than 9% of boys from tough backgrounds go to university, yet those technical routes are still often viewed as a last resort, despite providing the opportunity to learn valuable skills that lead to job opportunities. In Switzerland, for example, 70% of children undertake apprenticeships, because they are well respected. We talk in the UK about holding such qualifications in equal regard with academic ones, but we do not make them available to all children. When I suggest that we should make them available to all children, I get lots of academics telling me that I am writing off these kids, which does not sound a great deal like equal regard to me.
We need to go in and support apprenticeship routes, which means reforming the levy and supporting traineeships, as well as thinking hard about how we seem to be making even the technical qualifications more traditionally academic now through T-levels and about the other options for those who want genuine vocational or technical education. We need to invest in adult learning and retraining for those we have missed in the system.
We should do more to show these boys the career options out there by offering more meaningful work experience and by giving better careers or skills advice, particularly from professionals who have not taken traditional educational paths to succeed in their career. They need role models who they can look up to, and they need to be aware of all options for their future study. Many do not have those role models at home who they can turn to on education. That leads me on to the next bit of my speech, because it is not solely schools’ responsibility; the issues stem more often than not from home. We are fighting a losing battle if we are forcing boys to be interested in getting GCSEs when their parents think they are a waste of time.
I have to plough on, or I will run out of time. The challenge, as I have said, entrenches disadvantage, with better-off parents more able to push their children to attain, to do homework and to work hard at school, while those who have the least education themselves or who have chaotic lives struggle to do so.
Early interventions can help. We can refocus where we put our money in early years provision on the most disadvantaged, bearing in mind that currently, a couple earning £200,000 between them can access 30 hours’ free childcare, but a single mum on the living wage working 15 hours a week can only get 15 hours of free childcare. We can encourage nurture provision in a primary setting to ensure children are engaging with school early on and can settle into primary school. That saves all sorts of issues later and draws parents into that school setting early on. We need proper youth work and more trained youth workers to support children and offer direction. Great youth workers are hugely important, and we have the opportunity through the youth investment fund to train thousands more.
When I visit schools in Mansfield, parental engagement is often raised with me as being among the biggest challenges. How do we draw them into the educational environment to support their children at school? The Social Market Foundation, for example, suggests that after-school family literacy classes in primary school would encourage parents to take a more active role in a child’s education. I know some schools do that. My kids go in early for phonics with mum on a Tuesday morning, and I like the sound of that, and I like the sound of using the school setting as more of a community hub to be able to offer other services that push those hard-to-reach parents to come into the school to engage with teachers.
The Department for Education has found that higher rates of exclusions are seen in areas of deprivation. Pupils known to be eligible for and claiming free school meals account for 40% of all permanent exclusions. Again, that is boys from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is a reason why boys more than girls can be disruptive or badly behaved in a classroom setting. Simply using detention or exclusion rarely helps. According to the OECD, boys respond more to a school’s environment than girls. When they are in disruptive, chaotic disorganised settings, their capacity for self-regulation suffers. When they are labelled as the bad kid, they become the bad kid. Often these kids do not have male role models at home. They are confused about masculinity and what it means and their role in society. We need to support them through that, not punish them.
We need to take bold steps fundamentally to change failing schools, which can exacerbate problems, rather than help. A few weeks ago an article in The Sun highlighted so-called dumping grounds, where schools have struggled consistently for a long time even to get out of special measures. We need almost a “Supernanny”-style leadership team capable of taking on these challenges and intervening fundamentally in these schools. We need more incentives for the best teachers to work in such schools, which often exist in the same disadvantaged communities and so cannot attract experienced teachers. It is becoming commonplace for children to have lessons taught by somebody who is not qualified in the subject. Great leaders and great teachers can transform failing schools, and we need to equip them with the resource, the flexibility and the curriculum to deliver real and genuine change.
I wonder whether there is a way to build on interventions such as the London Challenge and offer that kind of resource and impact to the most challenging schools and areas outside London, too. I know that the Government have started on some of those kinds of interventions, and I would be interested to hear more about that from the Minister.
To conclude, I hope we would all agree that we are missing a trick if we are not focusing on ensuring that all children of all ethnicities and backgrounds get access to a good education and to life’s opportunities. That means we cannot continue not to talk about the plight of disadvantaged white boys who are consistently at the bottom of the pile.
We hear a lot in the media and in this place about white male privilege—it seems to overtake discussion a lot—and I challenge those people to come to my community, where men spent their whole lives digging coal underground to keep the lights on, and who are now dying early of lung disease as a result, and talk to them about their privilege. It is their children and grandchildren I am talking about today. They need help, and our communities need help. I hope that this Government’s mission to level up the towns and regions in the UK that have the least includes education as a key priority. I am sure that it does. Unless we grapple with the burning injustice that faces white working-class boys in communities such as mine in Mansfield, we will not be delivering the change that is needed.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I rise to make a brief speech to welcome the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) in securing this debate. I agree with every word he said. Three years ago, we had a similar debate in this Chamber on this subject, which I had the privilege to lead.
Secondary school league table data just published by the BBC on 6 February confirms that England’s schoolboys have had worse exam results than girls for 30 years. Another notable fact, reported by Ally Fogg on the politics.co.uk website, is that among every ethnic group, boys perform markedly worse than girls. Among the most deprived children, that effect is greatest. Across the board, a girl from a free school meals background is now 52% more likely to go to university than her male equivalent. Most worrying of all is that while there has been a welcome narrowing of the equity gap in ethnicity over the past two decades, and even the FSM gap has shrunk slightly, the gender gap has been going the other way. The difference in attainment for girls and boys is now markedly greater than that between white and black, Asian and minority ethnic students. The trend is best illustrated by the Higher Education Policy Institute in 2016, which calculated that if current trends continue, a boy born that year would be 75% less likely to attend university than a girl by the time he is 18.
The Men & Boys Coalition has done some sterling examination of this area of education and has unearthed some more stark effects for our colleagues in the Government, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister here today to digest. In 2019, 62.9% of males received grade 1 to 4, A* to C, GCSE grades, while 71.7% of females received the same results. Only 54.2% of 16-year-old boys achieved a grade C/4 English language GCSE, compared with 70.5% of girls. Some 59.9% of boys achieved grade C/4 in maths, as did 59.2% of girls. In the 2018 cycle, 196,105 men or boys domiciled in the UK accepted places at university, compared with 263,180 women or girls, a gap of 67,075 or 35%. The figure in 2008 was 177,780 and 226,075 respectively, a gap of 48,295 or 27%. Those figures are from UCAS.
However, I will end on a positive note. Recently, the head of three Muslim schools that came top in England for progress has vowed to help white working-class children, as analysis shows a widening gap between coastal and city schools. Government tables published recently reveal that the best three schools for progress were part of Star Academies. Although all its schools are in deprived inner cities with higher numbers of ethnic minorities, it is now focusing on deprived coastal areas with mainly white populations. It has taken on schools in Blackburn and Morecambe on the Lancashire coast.
I promoted a career academy in my first term as a Member of Parliament, in partnership with Steve Penney, then deputy head at the City School on Skellingthorpe Road in Lincoln, to assist pupils. I urge anyone with an interest to seek out the rebranded Career Ready charity, which seeks to raise the career aspirations of all pupils of whatever background in our schools, using business mentors and those who wish to offer a hand up the ladder of aspiration. Some universities have tailored approaches to widening participation for different under-represented groups. The national collaborative outreach programme is a national initiative focused on extending higher education opportunities to specifically disadvantaged wards across the country. The programme operates in Lincoln through LiNCHigher, which involves Bishop Grosseteste University and the University of Lincoln, and I encourage anyone and everyone to view their various outreach programmes.
Universities UK is also currently conducting a major review into admissions to look at how to make the application process fairer for all students. It tells me the review will be published in the spring, and I hope it will include the views that many hon. Members have expressed today and in recent debates on the subject. I thank hon. Members for their forbearance.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney) for their passionate commitment to wanting to improve the education and life chances of the most disadvantaged pupils in general and, in this particular debate, white disadvantaged boys. The statistics cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield at the start of his speech have driven the Government’s education policies since 2010. Closing the attainment gap between those from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more advantaged peers has driven our obsession with ensuring that children are taught to read effectively at the age of four or five, and that every six-year-old can decode words using phonics. It has driven our desire for children to develop a love of reading and our desire to help them develop a wider vocabulary. It has driven our determination to adopt the practice of the best performing countries in the world in the teaching of mathematics in primary schools, and to improve the cultural literacy of all children, regardless of their background or gender, ensuring they have the vocabulary that will not only help their reading, but will mean they have the knowledge required for academic progress.
As Harold Stevenson and James Stigler wrote in their book “The Learning Gap”, the error is,
“the assumption that it is the diversity in children’s social and cultural background that poses the greatest problem for teaching.”
In fact, a far greater problem is variability in children’s educational background and thus in their levels of preparation for learning the academic curriculum.
I am sorry; I will not give way because of the time.
There is a philosophy behind the Government’s drive to close the word gap and the attainment gap, and to level up opportunity, ensuring every child, regardless of background or gender, can fulfil their potential. The philosophy lies behind successful multi-academy trusts, such as the Star multi-academy trust cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln. It has driven our curriculum reforms, our GCSE reforms, and our determination to move this country’s education system away from a so-called competence-based curriculum to a knowledge-rich curriculum.
E D Hirsch, the great American educationist, wrote about the example of France in his most recent book, “Why Knowledge Matters”. He looked at the history of France’s curriculum reforms and the effect of the move away from a knowledge-based curriculum towards a competence or skills-based curriculum in the late 1980s. Comparing standards in 1987 and 2007, all socioeconomic groups saw a decline in standards, with a decline of a third of a standard deviation on average. Strikingly, children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw the greatest fall in standards, with a decline of two thirds of a standard deviation. That is one piece of evidence, but it is part of a pattern of international evidence that competence-based curricula are most disadvantageous to the pupils we are most keen to help.
After 10 years in office, the Government’s education reforms are beginning to show results. Standards are rising and the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils is beginning to close: by 13% in primary and 9% in secondary since 2011. Thanks to our reforms, more pupils are taking core academic GCSEs, more children are reading fluently, and more are attending good and outstanding schools, but, as my hon. Friend so clearly set out, too many pupils still leave school without the qualifications that they need.
We know that synthetic phonics is the most effective way of teaching reading to all children, so we have embedded it in the key stage one curriculum. Following a greater focus on reading in the primary curriculum, England achieved its highest ever score in the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. The result was largely attributable to increases in the average performance of boys and lower performing pupils. As Her Majesty’s chief inspector said recently,
“In the schools that teach reading really well, really systematically using phonics, the gap narrows or is even eliminated.”
That is the essence of ensuring that our schools adopt teaching methods and curricula that the evidence suggests narrow or eliminate the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils and between girls and boys.
All children, particularly pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, including white working-class boys, need a knowledge-rich curriculum that introduces all pupils to the powerful knowledge that best prepares pupils for their futures. We see it in schools such as Michaela Community School in Wembley, where the school regards knowledge about the world as essential. Its academically rigorous curriculum has enabled pupils to achieve exceptionally well. In 2019, Michaela’s results ranked among the best in the country, with all pupils, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, making well above average progress. Some 41% of pupils at that school were eligible for free school meals at some point in the past six years, but its progress 8 score of 1.53 is one of the highest in the country, and its EBacc entry was 84%.
It is a similar story at Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford with its unrelenting focus on improving the life chances of its pupils. The academy offers a rigorous knowledge-rich and evidence-based curriculum, which has seen it right at the top of the league tables over the past few years. Similarly, we can look at the work of leading multi-academy trusts such as Outwood Grange Academies Trust, which time after time radically improves schools that have had a long history of entrenched failure. That MAT provides long neglected communities in this country with the transformational education that they need.
My hon. Friend noted in his speech that the standard of education suffers when schools lose their grip on behaviour. I absolutely agree, which is why we have bolstered the powers of teachers and headteachers to deal with unruly pupils. I also agree with my hon. Friend that it is vital that this country has a world-class technical route for pupils to pursue technical and vocational training. Our reform of apprenticeships puts technical and vocational education on a par with academic study for the first time, in tandem with T-levels.
Apprenticeships ensure that people can gain the training and qualifications that they need to enter the job market and ensure that employers can access the skills that they need to make the country globally competitive. T-levels are at the centre of our plans for world class technical education, preparing students for entry into skilled employment or higher levels of technical education in areas such as engineering, manufacturing, health, science, construction, and digital. They will ensure that all post-16 students can make an informed choice between high-quality options that support progression, whatever their attainment or aspirations. We have made real progress since 2011, particularly in improving the education of disadvantaged children and those of lower attaining pupils as well.
In conclusion, I share my hon. Friend’s deeply held belief in the power of education to transform the life chances of pupils, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. Although I know there is more to do, the Government’s school reforms and plans to improve technical education through T-levels and the proposed £3 billion national skills fund are the right ones for every pupil and student in our education system, including the most disadvantaged pupils.
Question put and agreed to.
Leaseholders and Cladding
Before I call Hilary Benn, may I simply say that 13 Back Benchers wish to contribute? In the event that Mr Benn speaks for 20 minutes, everyone will have three minutes; in the event that he speaks for 10, everyone will have four. He is free to take as much time as he likes, and I will divide the remaining time equally between Back Benchers. Obviously, interventions will take time, but they will not result in more time for Back Benchers. I call Hilary Benn to move the motion.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered leaseholders and cladding.
May I say what a great pleasure it is to serve under your chairship, Mr Davies? I am grateful to all colleagues present. I know that a number will wish to intervene, but the more interventions there are, the longer I will take to complete my argument, which I am keen that the Minister should hear. I think the turnout shows her the strength of feeling on this issue.
It is not difficult to understand why there are strong feelings. Imagine that someone has saved up all their money and bought their first flat. It is the home of their dreams. They move in, the future beckons, and then one day a letter drops on the mat. It is from their managing agent, and it tells them: “Your home is in a building that has now been judged a fire risk because of unsafe cladding, and as a leaseholder you must immediately—this day—start paying for a waking watch. Otherwise, all of you will have to move out of your homes.” In one case in Leeds, such a waking watch is costing each flat-owner £670 a month plus VAT, on top of mortgage payments and the service charge.
The leaseholder is probably then asked to meet the cost of putting in a fire alarm system, which may or may not reduce the cost of the waking watch. Then, to their absolute horror, they are asked to pay for the cost of replacing the dangerous cladding to make their building—their home—safe. The problem is pretty obvious to us all: they simply do not have that kind of money. Their home has been rendered completely worthless, therefore they cannot remortgage. Their insurance premium is, in all likelihood, going up, and they worry about possibly being made bankrupt because of all the costs. That could result, depending on what job they do, in the loss of their job as well as their home. Yet none of that is in any way the fault, responsibility or doing of the leaseholders.
I have a building in the Tottenham Hale village with 432 people who cannot get a mortgage or remortgage. Is it the view of my right hon. Friend that that is entirely unacceptable, because fire and building regulations are rightly the Government’s responsibility? The Government should step in to support those individuals.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this immensely important debate. Does he agree that, although the Government’s recent announcement of the aluminium composite material cladding fund is welcome, it does nothing to help blocks, such as the Lexington and Rivington apartment blocks in my constituency, that have non-ACM dangerous cladding or are plagued by other fire safety defects, such as a lack of effective firebreaks? It is distressing to see those residents, who are worried about their finances and security, now suffering sleepless nights and fearing bankruptcy and homelessness. The Government need to help them out.
My hon. Friend is correct: there is a fundamental unfairness in the treatment of different types of leaseholders. That is the argument that I will make.
As we have just heard from two colleagues, a growing number of our constituents face this problem—in my case, leaseholders from St George’s building and a number of blocks in Leeds Dock and Timble Beck, who have other types of dangerous cladding. I pay tribute to the Leeds Cladding Scandal group, to all the other groups that have been organised up and down the country, and to the very aptly named Manchester Cladiators, who have really got organised. That name tells us how determined they are to win.
I thank my right hon. Friend for securing the debate, and for mentioning the Manchester Cladiators: a network of dozens of blocks in my constituency that are affected by such issues. What the Manchester Cladiators really want is to be at the heart of an ongoing dialogue with the Government to resolve the issues. The period of passing the buck between freeholders, insurers and the Government has to stop.
I agree completely, and I hope that today’s debate is part of the dialogue that has already begun. Leaseholders want to feel that they are being listened to, and they want to be able to meet Ministers. I hope that this debate will ensure that more of that happens.
It is powerful to hear how the issue is affecting people across the country, including residents of Radnor House in my constituency of Croydon North, which is in south London. Leaseholders are living in a block, converted from offices, that has wooden cladding, so they do not come under the ACM fund that the Government have opened. Yet they, too, face massive bills that they cannot afford, in homes that they cannot sell. It feels to them as if the Government are penalising innocent leaseholders instead of stepping in with real help, which is what they need.
My hon. Friend has painted a picture, as we all can, of the strain, the heartache and the worry, which are not difficult to understand. If we had received one of those letters and it was happening to us in our home, we too would be worried sick. Our constituents who are caught up in that nightmare want our help, and they need it now.
The Minister knows only too well how we got here, following the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower, so I do not propose to go over any of that again. The Government had to act in the wake of that tragedy to change what was clearly a wholly defective system. However, having done so, Ministers have put leaseholders in a manifestly unjust position. Were that not bad enough, as more and more building surveys have been done, other problems have come to light, such as missing firebreaks—which mean that the buildings were never built according to building regulations in the first place—or wooden balconies, which the new guidance says have to be replaced.
I have 1,087 developments in the Pulse development in Colindale. A lot of people bought those properties after the building regulations were signed off by the local authority, as recently as 2017. Those people have not been protected by building regulations and now, as the right hon. Member says, simply cannot afford to either remortgage or sell their property. They are in redundant properties. The concern is that the assurances from building regulations were simply not worth the paper on which they were printed.
The hon. Member makes a really important point. Lots of my constituents say to me, “But it was signed off under building regs. Surely that means it’s safe.” Well, it does not quite mean that, for reasons that we can go into on another occasion. It is part of the system that has still to be fixed.
Other leaseholders are drawn in because, even though their blocks have not been identified as having a problem, when they try to sell the flat the mortgage company says, “Okay—but, by the way, where’s the certificate that says that this building complies with the new regulations that the Government have, quite properly, put in place?” If they cannot produce it, the property is worthless and becomes unsellable. If that was not complicated enough, just to complete the story, the ownership structure of blocks and the history varies. The developers may have gone bust, the builders may no longer be trading, and some freeholders say, “I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t have the money to replace the cladding on this building.”
I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It is not simply that freeholders say, “I don’t have the money.” They do not have the obligation. Most freeholders do not have an obligation to mitigate any such problems. Perhaps the only people who do are the original developers—who, as the right hon. Member says, may not be there—or the leaseholders. Is that not the problem? As he rightly says, leaseholders in many cases have no means to pay for that remedial work.
The hon. Gentleman, who has great expertise in this matter, is correct. I will come to what the Government have said about the responsibility of freeholders, but I think the point we are all making is that this is not the fault of the leaseholders, who never expected when they bought that first dream home that this burden might fall upon them.
My constituency, like my right hon. Friend’s, has a lot of high-rise blocks—among the highest number in the country. One of the major issues is getting the Government to finance the work that needs to be done ahead of any further tragedies and fatalities, and ahead of the Budget statement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that two years after the appalling, horrific tragedy of Grenfell, the Government need to step up and create a fund so that those works can be done, and should then go after the freeholders to make them—rather than our constituents—pay when they are able to do so? That should be our focus and priority, as we said time and again in the last Parliament. I hope that we do not have to keep saying this. I hope that the Government heed our advice and make sure that the Chancellor puts some money into those works in the March Budget.
I agree with my hon. Friend. When the problem of ACM cladding was first identified, the Government quite properly said that it all has to come off and be replaced. Importantly, they also said that however it was done, leaseholders should not have to pay. On 29 November 2018, the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said:
“Everyone has a right to feel safe in their homes and I have repeatedly made clear that building owners and developers must replace dangerous ACM cladding. And the costs must not be passed on to leaseholders.”
I agree with that. The Secretary of State repeated that point on 9 May 2019, when he said:
“Leaseholders find themselves in this position through no fault of their own, and this is not morally defensible.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2019; Vol. 659, c. 688.]
Again, I agree. It would be monstrous to expect people who are entirely blameless to pay for the mistakes and errors of others. It has been pointed out that if our constituents had bought cars or washing machines that were a fire risk, no one would dream of saying to them, “Sorry, you are going to have to pay for the cost of replacement.” Their problem is that they bought the home of their dreams.
I acknowledge the responsible way in which some freeholders, including in Leeds, have accepted that they need to foot the bill to replace the cladding. That work has either been done, is in progress, or we are told it is timetabled. However, despite the Government’s policy, there are freeholders who have not lived up to their responsibilities. That is why the Government eventually realised they could not carry on, because otherwise ACM cladding would not be removed.
On 9 May last year, the Government announced the £200 million fund to support the removal of ACM, to protect those leaseholders from bearing the cost. There have been problems with that fund—slow disbursement, bureaucracy and the like—that are for another debate, but I welcome that decision. It showed unreservedly that the Government were determined to uphold the principle they had established: leaseholders should not have to pay. However, what is now happening in respect of buildings with other types of unsafe cladding completely contradicts the principled position that the Government have taken until this point.
Why is this happening? First, the Secretary of State said on 20 January that he had received advice that ACM cladding was much more dangerous than other types of cladding. Anyone who has seen the film of student accommodation in Bolton going up, convulsed in flames, might wonder whether that is the case, since that building was covered in high pressure laminate. It was the Government’s review that brought in the new advice, and that advice toughened the standards, leading to other buildings being peered at, prodded and having bits taken off them when people discovered the problems with HPL and other systems. Nobody knows how many such buildings there may be, but the point is that leaseholders in buildings with other types of cladding find themselves in exactly the same position as people who are living in buildings with ACM cladding, except for one thing: the Government’s fund does not cover the removal of their cladding.
Secondly, the idea of differential risk is not applied by the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. It does not distinguish between different types of cladding when it issues notices that say, “This building is unsafe. Start a waking watch now, or you are going to have to move out. Give us a plan for how you are going to replace this cladding.” The chief fire officer of West Yorkshire fire service put it to me this Monday that
“it is our view that there is no difference between unsafe ACM cladding and unsafe HPL cladding.”
Why, then, are the Government seeking to distinguish between the two when it comes to the position of leaseholders? I say to the Minister that that position is completely unsustainable.
Thirdly, Ministers have rightly been adamant that unsafe cladding has to be removed. They have set up the fund and said that they are going to name and shame freeholders who do not get on and do it. The latest building safety data says that 174 ACM-clad private-sector residential buildings are still yet to be remediated. What is those Ministers’ position on other types of dangerously clad buildings? Are the owners of those blocks going to be named and shamed—and if not, why not?
When the Secretary of State was pressed on that point in the House on 20 January, he indicated that the Government were considering further help. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), he talked about the possibility of loans. If those loans went to the freeholders, that might possibly be a way forward, but only if the Government could guarantee that none of the costs would be passed on to the leaseholders; if they just got a bill for it through their service charge, that would breach the principle that the Government set out. However, it was clear from the Secretary of State’s reply to my hon. Friend that he was talking about loans to leaseholders, because he referred to existing examples of building owners who have provided low-interest or zero-interest loans on a hardship basis. He went on to say:
“There may be a role for the Government in ensuring that that works, that the loans are affordable, and that it is done as quickly as possible.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2020; Vol. 670, c. 33.]
However, that would be another change of policy, because on 9 May last year, when the then Secretary of State announced the grant fund, he was specifically asked about loans. He said:
“We looked at questions such as whether a loan arrangement could work but ultimately, given the complexity, the time that would have been involved and the need for all sorts of different consents, and given that my priority is providing a sense of assurance for leaseholders and getting on with this, we decided to adopt this structure.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2019; Vol. 659, c. 695.]
By “this structure”, he meant grants. If that was the view then, what has changed? Perhaps the Minister can explain in her response. When the Secretary of State talked about hardship, when leaseholders are on low incomes or do not have any savings, the implication was clearly that if a person does not fall into one of those two categories, they will bear the total cost themselves.
The problem with the idea of loans is that it completely breaches the principle that the Government set out at the start of this crisis—and believe me, it is a crisis. That principle was that leaseholders living in buildings with unsafe cladding should not have to pay for the cost of its removal, because that would create two classes of leaseholder: one whom the Government would seek to protect from the cost of replacing cladding, and another to whom the Government would say, “I’m terribly sorry, you’ve got to pay.” That would be completely unfair, which is why many of us are calling on Ministers to extend the coverage and size of the fund to all buildings with unsafe cladding of whatever type. We have already heard those calls today, and I am calling for that as well, because it is the only fair way forward and the only way in which the objective of removing all dangerous cladding, with which we all agree, can be achieved.
Unless that happens, in situations where freeholders cannot or do not find the money and leaseholders clearly do not have the money, the nightmare will continue. They will go on living in an unsafe building; the only way they will be able to stay in it will be to go on and on paying for a waking watch, as the cladding will never be removed because there is no one to pay for it. Eventually, that will bankrupt them.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the case he has set out. Residents of the Lumiere building, in Manor Park in my constituency, tell me that there is ACM cladding on the front side of the building and other kinds of dangerous cladding on the other three sides. Does it not seem particularly absurd that Government funding can help with one part of the building, but not the rest?
My right hon. Friend makes an overwhelmingly powerful case for treating all unsafe cladding as unsafe and needing to be replaced.
The Minister has a tough job, because negotiations with the Treasury are difficult and there are complications. Was building control at fault originally? Can freeholders claim on insurance or building warranties? Can they sue the architects or developers for defects in the original design or construction, assuming there is still someone to sue? Perhaps, but that will take years, and it is not an answer.
I say readily, however, that if a claim is successful and the Government have paid to remove the cladding, the money ought to go back to the Government. I also have no problem with the Government taking equity in the freehold of buildings if they have coughed up for the removal of cladding. What more can the Government do about buildings that have not yet been identified as unsafe but where mortgage companies are asking for a certificate? The EWS1 form has not solved all the problems, so it would be good to hear from the Minister what more can be done.
I will bring my remarks to a close, because many hon. Members want to speak. I see no case for Ministers to move away from the principle they established at the start of the crisis: that leaseholders should not have to pay. I see no case for treating one group of leaseholders differently from another. I see no way for all the dangerous cladding to be replaced other than for the Government to step in and extend the coverage of their fund to all types of blocks that the fire service has identified as unsafe. That is what is needed and it is needed urgently.
All leaseholders on whose behalf we speak today, whose lives are in turmoil, will be watching very carefully to see how the Minister responds. They are not going anywhere—indeed they cannot, because they are trapped in their homes. All they are asking for is to be able to put this nightmare behind them, to go back to living in a safe home and to get on with their lives. Every single hon. Member in this Chamber has a responsibility to ensure that that is what happens, and happens soon.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on securing the debate. I agree with the thrust of what he said.
The residents of Northpoint in Bromley find themselves caught in a similar position. They have ACM—aluminium composite material—cladding but, like many blocks, a combination of cladding is used in the system, so they have HPL—high pressure laminate—cladding as well. They need clarity that all the remediation and removal costs will be met.
Whatever the Government’s intentions, which I accept were good, the process is continues to prove costly and bureaucratic. There are still delays. It has been many months since the residents were told that they had the problem, but they have still not been able to access the funds. They are having to fork out for surveys, even though their flats are effectively valueless anyway. They cannot raise any further equity against them, because there is no equity any more; they cannot remortgage or raise any other kind of loan against them.
At the same time, the residents of the block of flats have been obliged to fork out for the costs of a waking watch. So far, by requirement of the fire brigade, they have had to fork out nearly £120,000 between them for the waking watch and fire alarm system, and they have had to find that from sources other than the equity of their properties. That is putting people under massive strain.
In consequence, people’s health is being affected, because they are paying £11,000 a month. There is no sign of that ending, because it is taking so long to get any clarity as to whether they qualify—I hope to God that they will. On the face of it, stone bonk, they should, but it is taking so long and every month is another £11,000. We need to speed up the process and make sure that the inevitable costs of the waking watch and alarms are met, because they flow directly from the unsafeness of the cladding. They would not have them otherwise.
It is essential for all systems that involve dangerous cladding, whether ACM or HPL, to be clearly and manifestly brought within the scope of scheme. I hope that the position around insurance will also be considered, because the residents’ premiums have increased massively. The solution must surely be a grant; a loan does not seem appropriate. In many cases, the freeholders would have a legal entitlement in their freehold agreements with the leaseholders to recover costs from the leaseholders, so we have to get the grant to the freeholders to be sure that they are not out of pocket. They are the innocent victims.
I know that the Minister understands the complexity of the issue and that the Government want to do the right thing. Previous Secretaries of State were clear, but there is a real risk that the good intentions that were set out at the beginning are getting lost in a mire of bureaucracy. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on those specific points and on how we could cut through and speed up the process.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on securing this important debate and on his comprehensive overview of the problem.
In my constituency alone, more than 20 privately owned buildings across seven developments were found to have ACM—aluminium composite material—cladding. Far from meeting the Government’s target of remediating them all by June this year, work has been completed on only one, Babbage Point. Although work is well under way at two other sites, New Capital Quay and Greenwich Square, it has not even begun on the remaining four, not least because of the difficulties with the application process for the private sector remediation fund.
When it comes to cost, in two cases—City Peninsula and the Greenwich Millennium Village—the developers have done the right thing and committed to covering the full cost of the remedial works and the required interim fire safety measures. In the case of New Capital Quay, leaseholders are being fully protected from those costs because the National House Building Council accepted a claim to pay the cost in full following an investigation.
Those in other blocks, however, have not been so fortunate. At Babbage Point, the original contractor and building owner, Durkan, has strenuously avoided committing to covering the cost of the completed remedial works should its application to the fund be unsuccessful. It has passed on the full cost of 23 months of waking watch, which has been in place for so long only because it dragged its feet.
As we have heard, the cladding crisis now extends far beyond ACM cladding. My local authority has identified at least 24 buildings, and counting, with a type of HPL—high pressure laminate—cladding where leaseholders are likely to find themselves in protracted legal disputes between building owners and the original contractor. There are an unknown number of buildings that have serious issues with defective fire stopping and compartmentalisation, as in the Barratt Homes-constructed Royal Artillery Quays development. Again, leaseholders there are at risk of being hit with significant costs.
There are also an untold number of leaseholders in scores of local developments unable to sell their homes or remortgage because of the unintended impact of the guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The Minister should know that, although the EWS1 process has worked in some cases, in many others it has not. I have cases where large mortgage providers have rejected the form outright and others where forms cannot even be issued because of a lack of indemnity insurance coverage.
It is clear that the steps taken to date have not even begun to address that set of interconnected problems. It is perhaps understandable that Ministers and their officials might be overwhelmed by a crisis that continues to grow in scale and complexity, and baulk at the potentially colossal drain on the public purse, but this crisis is not going to disappear. As we have said time and again, the Government have a responsibility to act decisively to fix it. Ministers must start by going beyond moral suasion and compel developers to do the right thing. In cases where that does not work, they must step in to expand the scope and amount of funding to remediate where necessary, and oversee a nationally co-ordinated response, so that nearly three years after Grenfell, we can finally get a grip on the issue and protect leaseholders, as they were promised in the wake of that tragedy.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak in the debate. I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have individuals in my constituency who have apartments and houses with cladding problems, some of which is ACM—aluminium composite material—cladding and some of which is not; I live in one that has an ACM problem, so I am close to the issue. The problem has been well articulated, and I totally agree with the comments and the explanation of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), which were clear. In my three minutes, therefore, I will turn to some of the things that could and should be done differently. Clearly, it is about not just ACM cladding. The Government need to redefine what is covered, which must be everything that makes a building a fire risk.
The size of the pot is too small, as I can assure the Minister from personal experience. From personal experience, too, the portal is impossible to use, unless people have experts in IT and surveying in their leasehold community. The Government expect exhaustion of all other legal recourse, but that is expensive and timely, and most leaseholders have neither the pockets nor the ability. The Government ought to take over those claims so that, effectively, they give the money then take over the right to the claims against anyone they think they can make a claim against. The Government have appointed a regulator, which is brilliant, but we do not have the regulations. We are trying to comply with regulations, but we do not know what they are. They need to be expedited.
The timeline for the work to be done is far too short, which I know from personal experience. The block I am most familiar with has reached phase 2. We are required to give collateral warranties. While warranties are fairly standard, these are being given in favour of the Government, not of the leaseholders, which seems mad. Are the Government seeking to take a lien on the property? Such warranties are normally underpinned by insurance, but no insurance company will touch these with a bargepole. If the Government want this to work, they need to step in with an insurance solution. The state aid forms, which have already been referred to, are difficult and complex. That needs to be addressed. To expect every leasehold owner in every building to complete one is unrealistic.
The Government should step in with the banks, particularly for those with existing mortgages, where the banks are saying, “We will not allow you to borrow more, even at the same rate for this work”—even though it is my security that is being affected, which is the bank’s security. It makes no sense. At the very least, we should require the banks to lend the money to those who already have mortgages, for a start. Likewise, for insurers—insurers will not insure anything to do with cladding—the Government must step in and make it clear that it cannot be a valid exception or exclusion.
There is no point charging VAT, then the Government paying it out again. VAT should be taken off. We should also remember that suppliers in this market are growing in number and that is putting prices up, which needs to be fixed.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who summarised what we would all have said, had he not covered it so thoroughly. I want to focus on the costs to individuals and ultimately to the taxpayer—if the Government implement a bailout—and to highlight the impact on many of my constituents.
It is fair to say that after the Grenfell fire, Hackney was relatively unscathed, despite having a large number of tower blocks, because aluminium composite material cladding affected a few blocks, but not many. However, the new rules have affected so many of my constituents.
I declare an interest, as I am a leaseholder myself. All my cladding is being removed and, happily, my developer is footing the entire bill, although no doubt my property is worth nothing at the moment. I argue not for myself but for the many constituents who are not in as fortunate a position as I am.
The costs mount up. There are the survey costs. Hackney Council has been given £88,000 for data collection, which has got to cover more than 200 council blocks. It is inadequate. There are survey costs for all building owners, which fall on the leaseholders. There is the cost of remedial work, some of which needs to happen immediately—for example, new fire alarms in individual flats and in corridors. That work has to happen before removing waking watch can even be considered, and we have heard about the costs of waking watch.
There are the hugely increased mortgage costs. One constituent tells me:
“I can neither re-mortgage or sell my flat. I am currently stuck paying a variable rate mortgage, and am paying £800 more a month than necessary.”
That is on top of the other costs around waking watch and so on.
Insurance costs have gone up for blocks around the country, which the excellent all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform heard about only a few weeks ago. That does not look like it is going away, and the Minister needs to look at that. Insurance companies should not just get away with this. The reality of the risk is probably not as high as their algorithm throws up, but it is punitive for residents. Shared owners are paying the whole cost, not just for the bit that they own, so there is a problem with the shared ownership model.
There are challenges in tracking down owners, and a shortage of skills for surveys and remedial work. Has the Migration Advisory Committee looked at the skills that are needed and whether they could be urgently rushed through, so that more people could be available to speed up the work, which is being done on a riskier buildings first basis?
Then there is the inability to get the paperwork. Some of the properties could get mortgages, but without the right certificate, they cannot, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central highlighted. There are too many mortgage prisoners.
The previous Secretary of State made a bold decision with the ministerial direction to set up the fund to deal with ACM cladding. This Government need to be equally bold. They must make sure that bad developers do not get away with it and, if they are considering loans, that loans are to the developer rather than the owner, because a loan increases the lack of mortgageability.
The certificate of safety would help a lot of my constituents, right here, right now. If the Minister could reassure us on that one issue alone today, that would help a lot of people right now, while we recognise that there are bigger challenges ahead.
The right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) has been a powerful advocate today for many of my constituents. He said exactly what they and I feel. One of the first surgeries I held as a newly elected Member of Parliament was with some individuals who have been impacted by this issue, who feel that their lives have been destroyed. The Government need to be aware that I will not hold back in doing absolutely everything I can to fight for them. I will be a lion in fighting for their interests and I will not stop until their interests are looked after.
I echo some of the earlier points. Most of us can agree on two key points. The first is to go after the freeholders, not the leaseholders. In the block in Ipswich, St Francis Tower, with 116 flats over 17 storeys, the freeholder who put in the cladding is not the same as the current freeholder. The cladding is high pressure laminate, not aluminium composite material, but my constituents cannot understand why a type of cladding that was said to impose an intolerable risk to life after an inquiry is being treated in a different way to ACM cladding.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his passion for his constituents. Some constituents of mine own a leasehold property in that block in Ipswich. Is it not incredible that the cladding that my hon. Friend refers to is far more dangerous than the cladding used on Grenfell Tower?
Absolutely. I completely agree.
Communication from the block management company has been pretty poor, and has inflamed the anxiety and tension. Residents have received letters saying that they are required to pay between £21,000 and £24,000. The value of their properties has collapsed, and it is now at the stage where the amount they are being asked to pay is about one third of the value of the properties. The issue is hanging over them. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said, they feel trapped.
I ask the Government to appreciate the position of my constituents. More than 100 constituents are affected in that block, and perhaps there are others. I ask the Government to take steps to make sure that the £200 million fund that was set up to support those who live in flats with ACM cladding is extended to provide support for my constituents. The cladding has exactly the same impact, and there is no logical reason why they should be treated any differently to those who live in properties with ACM cladding.
I repeat the key principles: we must go after the freeholders, not the leaseholders, and we must have fairness in the way that individuals are treated. I beg the Government to stand up for my constituents in the way that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central has—and that I hope I have—today.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. This is an extraordinary issue that is causing terrible problems to many constituents and I am sorry that I will not have the time in this debate to do their cases justice.
I am currently dealing with 31 separate cases, and counting. One of those cases involves representing 57 different constituents in a single block. One local housing provider has told residents they will fund just 20 fire risk assessments a year, in an area where it has more than 100 properties. When I say 100 properties, I do not mean 100 flats—I mean 100 blocks.
In so many cases, my constituents have been left trapped and powerless. Many do not know if their homes are safe. Many have been unable to sell or re-mortgage. Massively expensive retrofitting is often necessary but is not being carried out.
One constituent is living with his young daughter in a one-bed flat. He cannot sell or move somewhere more suitable because his block does not yet have a cladding report. Another constituent split with his partner and cannot re-mortgage to make good that separation. The current mortgage has expired, trapping the couple on a higher rate, and costing an exorbitant extra £450 a month. It is causing severe financial and emotional strain. Another constituent was told it could take five years to provide the cladding report.
Something is desperately and fundamentally wrong with the whole legal structure around the issue, and it is our job in this place to put it right. My speech today has not allowed me long enough to do justice to constituents’ cases; I hope they will forgive me. The Minister can see how many of us there are in this room. She knows the issues. Can she not make some time available for us to be able to debate this in a full-length debate on the Floor of the House?
I have talked about the problems with the practicalities, but my constituents live with the knowledge that the place they are trapped in, which costs them a fortune, might be a death trap. As a child who grew up in a flat in the shadow of Ronan Point, I know the impact of such fear on families. So I want to hear from the Minister today that the Government will intervene strongly to exorcise the spectre of the tragedy of Grenfell that constantly hangs over my constituents’ lives.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on securing this debate. I associate myself with all the powerful arguments that he has made on behalf of his and indeed all of our constituents this afternoon.
I represent hundreds of people affected by the cladding issues, including in the Islington Gates development in the Jewellery Quarter area of my constituency. The 144-unit development has already had remedial work carried out. Residents pay for a waking watch and lighting upgrades, and at the moment structural fire resilience work is being carried out, including around fire compartmentalisation. The work is estimated to come in at a total of £1.5 million—about £5,000 per leaseholder—and that is before they get to the cladding removal. They are trapped by the same problem that many of our constituents have. They have non-ACM cladding, but it is just as dangerous, if not more so, than the ACM cladding that qualifies for Government relief. The bill for the removal of ACM cladding looks as though it will come in at about £5 million to £6 million, so each leaseholder faces a bill of about £40,000 to £50,000.
On the point about insurance, the premium for the building in the previous year was £36,000, but when residents came to renew they found their insurer would not renew the building on its own, so the residents had to go through a broker and a huge amount of stress, trouble and difficulty to find a consortium of five insurers willing to share the risk of insuring the building, and the premium has now come in at £190,000, a fivefold increase. It seems residents have received no credit for the fact that they have carried out a huge amount of remedial work already. No matter what people trapped in such buildings do, the insurance companies are running scared.
The Government could take action, as they have in areas affected by flooding, for example. We already have the good example of the Flood Re scheme. The Government should stand behind our leasehold constituents and force the insurance companies to act. It is unconscionable that such buildings might in the end be uninsurable without Government action. Our constituents are hit with a multiple whammy, where tens of thousands of flat dwellers are uninsured, unable to sell or re-mortgage, and unable to find the money to put their unsafe buildings right, and that has a huge impact on people. I will quote from a constituent’s email:
“Estimates are very loose at the moment but it is likely I will have to pay in the region of...£80,000 to £100,000. I can’t sleep, function or work. I try to be normal with my son but I can’t. I have a constant gut wrenching dread coursing through my blood stream each and every second. I want to cry.”
Real people with real lives are affected by a national calamity. It is morally imperative that the Government finally step up to the plate and act.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on securing this debate and on his excellent speech. I do not intend to go over the points he made, but I want to bring some details to the attention of the Minister and describe how the issue affects my constituents, because not only cities are affected; towns such as Runcorn in my constituency are also affected. I want to talk about the Decks development, which consists of six individual blocks of flats.
The Decks was built in 2007. Three blocks are seven-storey and three are six-storey, so they do not meet the definition of high-rise premises. They are clad in high-pressure laminate—HPL. I want the Minister to understand how that has affected my constituents. A building survey identified the following: sections of the external walls of each building are fitted with cladding that will support fire spread; there are cavities behind the cladding systems that do not have the required cavity barriers or fire stopping to prevent vertical and horizontal fire spread; the structural timber frame is exposed within the external wall cavities; the external wall cavity is open to the ground floor car park, permitting fire spread into it in the case of a car fire.
Specific fire safety concerns were raised: there is a risk of rapid fire spread over the external cladding of each building; a risk of rapid fire spread through the cavities behind the cladding; and a risk of fire spread from the car parks to the cladding systems and cavities. The car park cannot be used, so people cannot park their cars. There is also a risk of early structural collapse if the supporting timber frame, which I just referred to, is affected by fire, and a risk that the escape route could be compromised. There is a massive human cost. It is a nightmare and causes stress to the people living there.
Many of my constituents are in negative equity. The 266 homes are unsellable and not rentable. Constituents have been advised it will cost them around £30,000 per household to remedy the issue. They do not have that sort of money. They are worried they will be bankrupted and lose their homes and become homeless. It is through no fault of their own as they bought their homes in good faith according to the regulations that applied at the time.
It is important that the Government really tackle the issue, and they can do that only by setting up a fund to make the buildings safe and comply with the regulations now. Leaseholders are not to blame and should not bear the cost. My constituents should not be treated differently simply because the cladding is HPL.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) for securing this really important debate, which affects our constituents across the country.
In my short time as the MP for Vauxhall, I have been made acutely aware of how big a problem the issue is for leaseholders in privately rented and owned buildings. In just a couple of months I have had many cases brought to my attention by constituents who have been unable to sell or re-mortgage. Some have been unable to get the safety certificates that they need from their freeholders, and they pay really expensive service charges. The leaseholders feel trapped in their homes, unable to move, while facing the constant fear that the home where they live might catch fire. How can anybody sleep at night knowing that such a risk lies over their head? None of us could.
It is nearly three years since the Grenfell disaster alerted the whole country to the dangers of combustible cladding, and almost a year and a half since the Government banned ACM cladding on new high rises, so there has been plenty of time for remediation and to see plans put in place and the combustible cladding removed.
It is right that the Government have opened a £200 million fund for private sector blocks to remove cladding. To date, of the 56 tower blocks in London that fall within the scope of the funding, only 10 have submitted plans to get the initial costs covered, and none has submitted full cost plans. The fund is therefore not working. As a result, no money has been distributed to any of the buildings in scope in London nearly a year after the scheme started. We really need the Government to take urgent action to fix the funding system.
The Government can and should do things to help make the system fairer. They could provide technical support to block owners who are not used to dealing with large remediation projects. They are not building technicians or surveyors; they are residents living in their homes. Why do they have to deal with this? We could look at helping the people who struggle to get complex applications off the ground. Ultimately, if the Government have no trust in the private sector to make the leaseholders feel safe in their properties, they need to give local authorities the powers to confiscate the blocks and carry out the works themselves. I hope the Minister agrees that the matter is not one of ideology and us making complaints on behalf of our leaseholders. It is a matter of life and death for many of our leaseholders, so I urge the Government to fund the work properly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on securing the debate, and pay tribute to the work that he has done so far. I want to put on the record my co-chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform, and the fact that I am a patron of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, which brings its expertise to the all-party group and to the many people left high and dry as a result of the scandal.
Indeed, I wonder who people would have turned to if the LKP had not been there. It has heard, as we have, from many leaseholders up and down the country who have been placed in an impossible position—unable to pay for remedial work or obtain finance for it, and unable to sell their home until the work is done. They have been left stranded and effectively abandoned.
The debate may be technical and at times slightly legalistic, but at the heart of it are people such as those we have heard about today, who are looking for a bit of leadership and hope. There is clearly a tension between what the Government consider to be the moral case for not passing remediation costs on to leaseholders, and the legal position, by which freeholders may be entitled to recover costs from the leaseholder.
Although the Government’s pledges so far have to a significant extent removed the potential liability for some, there are still costs that can be visited on the leaseholder—and not just in relation to ACM cladding. There is a lack of clarity about other types of cladding and about who is responsible for the many waking watches that have now become necessary. At the moment there are serious doubts about whether the private fund is being utilised properly, or at all. Applications continue to be processed, but we do not know how much, if any, of the fund has been spent. Crucially, we do not know what will happen to those sites where no application has been made at all.
It should be clear that the longer it takes to resolve the issues, the more innocent leaseholders will have to pay out to fund the waking watches. That means thousands of pounds, needlessly spent, that they will probably never get back. Statements from Ministers are not enough. Talk about morality is not enough. Saying that there is a strong expectation on freeholders to put matters right is not enough. There is a lottery at the moment. Depending on the insurance company, the freeholder, the developer, the terms of the lease and the type of cladding involved, any outcome is possible. It seems to me, and probably to most people in the Chamber, that in the absence of someone stepping forward to put matters right, if a property was built in accordance with the regulations at the time, but is now considered unsafe, that must ultimately be the responsibility of the Government.
My all-party parliamentary group co-chair is the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), who unfortunately cannot be with us today. He joins me in that analysis and says:
“We have been grateful for the initiative of the Select Committee and we ask them to hold hearings—leaseholders’ voices must be heard. Government and parliament have imminent work to do. That is the way to justice. See the evil. Do good. Recognise the people speaking through the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership.”
We need to hear those leaseholders’ voices. The LKP recently did a survey of 117 different sites where people are affected by the issues, and the findings are stark: 90% of people surveyed said that the Government had provided “No help at all”. That has to change, and very soon.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Time is short, and other hon. Members have covered many of the issues that I wanted to raise—particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who dealt with the overall issues so well. I just want to say a little about some examples I have encountered.
A man who came to my surgery lives in a relatively new block. He has got a job in Scotland and therefore needed to move from west London, and wanted to sell his flat. He discovered that the people he was going to sell to could not get a mortgage. He has been waiting for months, to-ing and fro-ing between the builders, solicitors and mortgage company to try to find out why there is a delay, because until he gets things sorted out his life is on hold. It appears that the block does not have ACM, but possibly HPL—he is not getting straight answers.
Secondly, the Paragon development jointly built by Berkeley First and Notting Hill housing association some years ago was featured in Private Eye. After many years in which the residents faced damp, Notting Hill Genesis opened up the cavities behind the walls and found a range of problems, including lack of horizontal and vertical barriers—something that other hon. Members have mentioned—and cladding problems in particular. What is worse is that the scaffolding went up over a year ago, and work stopped not long afterwards. Two building companies have gone bust. The residents—the leaseholders; they are shared owners—have been living with their flats exposed to the elements, apart from a sheet of wood, for months. There are also the security issues of having scaffolding outside the windows. There are 700 students living in the other blocks on that estate, who, given the fire in the student block in Bolton, face the same fear.
Finally, there is a large development in my constituency, built by a volume house builder, and three or four of the blocks were transferred under a long lease, or a head lease, to a housing association. It now turns out that the cladding on those blocks is dubious, and possibly ACM. The shared owners and social rent tenants living in those blocks live in fear and uncertainty. The buck is continually passed between the housing association and the developer whose responsibility it is to pay for the problem.
I concur with many of my colleagues here today. The Government must take responsibility for the problem that existed in the first place—the building regulations and the fire regulations that were inadequate, despite warnings from previous fires. Think of the residents, who not only face the costs and cannot sell and move on, but who live in fear that they could be the victims of the next fire.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and all those from across the country who have spoken in the debate to show what strength of feeling there is. I want to join them, to represent my many constituents who feel just as strongly. Their lives are a misery because of the situation—surely an unforeseen result from a fund that is meant to save lives and to be a good thing for people across the country. Actually it has led to dreadful circumstances for residents.
To add to the stories we have heard, I will mention the leaseholders of 66 and 200 flats respectively at two buildings in my constituency—the Swish building and the Riverside Quarter. They have been told by their freeholder that the cladding and other fire safety measures in the building—the cladding is either not ACM, or it is a mixture between ACM and HPL—do not now meet the standard that the Government regard as adequate for the issue of a fire safety certificate, and that recladding is needed. To their horror, they have been told that they need to foot the bill for the work, which comes to tens of thousands of pounds. They have not been told exactly how much the cost is, but they believe it is between £50,000 and £80,000 per flat.
That raises a few issues, the first of which is safety. If the current cladding does not meet the safety requirements for a safety certificate, are the blocks safe? As we have heard today, different blocks are being treated differently. The fire regulations are not up to scratch. Another issue is fairness. To make leaseholders foot the bill is outrageous. They are not multi-million pound landlords, by any stretch. They are normal people trying to live their lives, and they do not have £50,000 lying around. The situation is taking a huge emotional toll.
My hon. Friend is right to raise the unfair cost to leaseholders, which we have all highlighted. Does she agree that, as the taxpayer could ultimately foot the bill, we should make sure that dodgy developers, or those who will not step up to the mark, do not get away with a situation where the taxpayer bails people out just because they will not pay?
I absolutely agree. There has to be a way to make the fund easy to use and urgently accessible, so that it is not held up for a long time in red tape, and the right people have to foot the bill. I argue that the Government need to extend the cladding fund to all types of unsafe cladding. That is what it is there for.
As to the emotional toll, one person said:
“The net result for me is that I will lose my home, as I cannot sell it, or raise a mortgage to finance repairs because it is unsellable and I am unemployed, and therefore will lose my lease.”
He will become homeless as a result. Another resident told me that his flat is unsaleable and effectively worthless. It was bought in 2004 in good faith in the belief that it was a safe home. The fact that it is now considered to have the problems in question is not of his making:
“We cannot afford to pay a sum of this size on top of the existing service charge”.
In summary, I am as shocked as everyone else here. I hope that the Minister will urgently tell us some good news. Three years after Grenfell, my constituents are being asked to fork out huge sums of money for a building that ultimately they do not own—a point that relates back to the leaseholder crisis. No leaseholder should have to pay for the work in question, or experience such huge stress and uncertainty. An urgent response is needed. I join those who are asking for the cladding fund to be urgently extended to all forms of unsafe cladding.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I congratulate you on your expert chairing of the debate, which has allowed many Members to have their say. I will try to limit my comments so that Members can intervene on the Minister, if required.
I approach the debate from a slightly different angle, because we do not have the leaseholder/freeholder issue in Scotland, although we have continuing issues with cladding. We also have issues over which the UK Government have had an influence but have not had the best communication with the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government have ended up with a problem not of their making that they are struggling to put right. Finance and insurance are obviously reserved to Westminster, and the Scottish Government have limited influence on the actions of mortgage companies, banks and insurers.
I turn first to advice note 14, which pertains to fire safety in buildings post Grenfell. It was introduced following very limited consultation with the Scottish Government, which means mortgage lenders now insist that cladded properties over 18 metres high have specific documentation to evidence how well they comply with safety standards. Most properties built in Scotland in the past five years comply with the safety standards set out by the Scottish Government. Our fire standards and building regs are better and more comprehensive than those in England, so we do not have a problem of the scale that right hon. and hon. Members have identified. Without the requisite certification, however, people cannot meet the new standards now being imposed by lenders. As a result, surveyors who have been instructed to compile home reports—it is a routine exercise when properties are sold or remortgaged in Scotland—have found that they have been imposed with nil valuations.
Constituents across the country, including many in my constituency of Glasgow Central, have spoken in terms similar to those used by right hon. and hon. Members: about not being able to sell their properties or to remortgage. As right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned, in some cases house sales have fallen through, leaving residents out of pocket.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) described how somebody could not take up a job. I know of somebody who had arranged to move to Poland with his Polish wife, but their house sale fell through at the last minute. All the arrangements had been made to move to Poland, but they now cannot sell their home and are stuck. Despite the vast majority of properties being certified by council building control departments, many surveyors refuse to commit to a valuation without seeing specific certification on the cladding.
In response, the Scottish Government have written to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government four times: on 18 October, 8 November, 19 December and again on 27 January. As far as I am aware, that correspondence has not yet been formally responded to, which is completely unacceptable. I hope the Minister will address this issue, if she can. The correspondence from the Scottish Government underlined their willingness to work in collaboration to find a suitable solution that works for the particular set of circumstances in Scotland, but we do not seem to have got very far. The Scottish Government have highlighted that, although they appreciate that MHCLG has introduced the EWS1 form to bring about a resolution, it relies in some respects on a tenure system that does not exist in Scotland. That needs to be addressed.
My constituents have raised their concerns about a number of properties in Glasgow Central, including Lancefield Quay, which was built in phases and has different issues across those phases. The right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) talked about having different types of cladding on a single building, which highlights that the whole building, rather than just one type of cladding, needs to be considered.
My constituent Lisa Jamie Murray has been working incredibly hard to highlight the situation at the Templeton Building next to Glasgow green, because there is non-compliant ACM on the top two floors alone. As far as I am aware, it was compliant at the time of construction and conformed to the regs in place when the building warrant was obtained, but it seems that some of these things have been missed over time. There has also been a change to the building, which means that there is essentially a line of cladding up its side that would act almost as a chimney. If there were a fire at the bottom of the building, it would scoot up the outside of the building and on to the top, which is terrifying.
It has been incredibly difficult for the residents of the building to ascertain who is responsible for the cladding. Is it the original developer, or somebody who made the changes in between times? Do the residents now have to take this up and face the costs that right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned? It is incredibly difficult to make sure that we can reach a solution. It is very important, particularly because this is based at Glasgow green and there are lots of events there; it is a very busy part Glasgow.
I turn to some of the issues raised by advice note 14. Right hon. and hon. Members have hinted at some of the issues with inspections needing to be carried out by a qualified certificated body, and there are capacity issues in the industry. As the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) mentioned, perhaps we need to consider bringing more experts into the country to address that. We could make adjustments to immigration as well, because the industry does not have the people to do this. Time is pressing and money is a factor, and we need to find a way to reach that point.
The new consulted advice note, issued in January, introduced a fundamental change because it applies to all multi-storey and multi-occupied buildings, including those under 18 metres, which brings a whole load of extra buildings into scope. Inside Housing highlights the increased burden, saying:
“Compliance with the advice note and recovering costs both require expert evidence from a limited pool of fire engineers and forensic architects, and place an additional administrative and financial burden on building owners.”
What is the Minister doing to meet the challenge? Without the adequate people to do that, we will be waiting for a long time.
Listening to residents is fundamentally important. Dame Judith Hackitt mentioned that the Scottish Government have listened well to residents in order to forge their response. The Scottish Government’s Fire Safety Committee is still meeting and taking on concerns. I ask the Minister to listen closely to MPs and residents right across the country, and to bring a response that meets those needs. It is clear that the fund being set up is far from adequate. It is far from being wide enough in what it encompasses, and the Minister needs to consider expanding it very soon so that people can get on with the work.
Lastly, I echo the words of the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris), who called for a VAT exemption. I have asked for a VAT exemption on multiple occasions in the Chamber. The Budget is coming up, and there is an opportunity to remove VAT from sprinkler systems, cladding and house repair systems. If the Government were to do that, it would be a huge help to people who want to get work done quickly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) on securing what is clearly an incredibly important debate. We could spend many hours talking about leaseholders and cladding, which reflects the scale of the problem right across the country.
As right hon. and hon. Members would expect, I spend quite a lot of time talking to leaseholders, whether through the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold reform, the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership or the UK Cladding Action Group. I have had the privilege of talking to many of them about some of the issues they face. As has been articulated so well, these are lives that have been turned upside down completely due to issues for which they bear no fault. What they bear is the cost, anxiety and stress. Their lives are on hold, and it is incredibly upsetting for everyone who has been involved.
It has been nearly a thousand days since the Grenfell Tower fire, and since then we have had two Prime Ministers, three Secretaries of State and four Housing Ministers—everything but a partridge in a pear tree. We might have another reshuffle tomorrow. Hopefully we will not, because we want the Ministers and the Secretary of State to stay and fix some of the problems.
Most of the issues have been explained well in the debate, so I will focus on some particular questions to the Minister. If she does not have time to answer them all today, it would be great if she could write back to us. My first point is about the remediation of ACM cladding, which has been talked about a lot. We know that nine in 10 private blocks with Grenfell-style cladding are still covered with such cladding.
There are still several blocks with flammable ACM cladding. My constituents at Sesame Apartments in Battersea are still living in a building that is wrapped in unsafe cladding. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister should give us some definitive deadlines for when those private blocks will be made safe?
I completely agree.
We know that 75 private block owners do not even have a plan in place to remove this cladding. Will the Minister confirm that, as the Secretary of State promised on 20 January, the Government will name all block owners who fail to put a plan in place by the end of January? Will she publish those names in tomorrow’s building safety update?
The Government’s £200 million fund for ACM removal on private blocks is nine months old, yet just a single block has so far been accepted for funds, and none has been made safe as a result of the fund. Labour has for years called on the Government to legislate to ensure that building owners cannot pass costs on to innocent leaseholders. Even with the £200 million fund, leaseholders are still exposed to risk, because state aid rules mean that fund payments are capped at €200,000 per property.
As the Mayor of London and the National Housing Federation said, the fact that the fund covers only ACM cladding creates a two-tier system. Will the Minister explain what protections she is putting in place to ensure that leaseholders are not handed the bill in the event that remediation costs exceed the state aid cap? What is she doing to protect leaseholds in blocks with other forms of dangerous cladding from being unfairly passed those costs?
Research from Labour revealed last year that up to 600,000 people are now stuck in unsellable flats because of flawed Government guidance relating to advice note 14, which is compounded by the failure to publish the Government’s tests into suspect non-ACM cladding. In recent weeks, new advice has been issued, and a new form from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors—the EWS1 form—for buildings whose cladding status is uncertain. In spite of those changes, in the past few days I, like others, have dealt with constituents who have been able to complete their sale. One constituent is facing major delays and bills over the work that she has been told needs to be done. Will the Minister give some clarity on how many sales are still being held up, how many EWS1 forms have successfully been signed off, and what the Government are doing to ensure that leaseholders are not being ripped off for those forms?
Interim measures such as waking watch, which other hon. Members have mentioned, were put in place after Grenfell as a very temporary measure before remediation works were undertaken. However, nearly 1,000 days on, leaseholders are still paying exorbitant costs—thousands of pounds per year—as a direct consequence of the Government’s failure to hold building owners to account and make their blocks safe. What plans does the Minister have to ensure that leaseholders who cannot afford to continue paying the costs are supported?
On non-ACM and data collection, ACM is the tip of the iceberg. High-pressure laminate and other forms of cladding are just as dangerous and should be removed. However, two years on, Ministers have failed to audit residential blocks, so we still do not know how many blocks are covered in HPL or other types of potentially lethal cladding. Ministers promised that that work would be completed by March this year, but an Inside Housing investigation report revealed that 70% of blocks remain uninspected, meaning that it is virtually impossible to reach that deadline. It is ridiculous that the Government have often shifted their deadline on publication of the non-ACM test results. Will the Minister today commit to a date for the publication of the tests, or explain to us the reason for the delay?
Does not the delay in getting the data in speak to the lack of expertise available? I spoke to one of my housing associations at the end of last week, and it is having to assess its buildings in risk order. Many people in not so risky buildings will never get the work done to get the necessary paperwork—the data—to get a mortgage, which is also important for the property owners.
That is absolutely correct. There is a whole raft of areas in which different evidence is gathered and different work needs to be done. There are questions about all those things. We do not know whether the people doing waking watch are doing it properly and are properly trained. We are spending money on things that we are not sure about. The lack of people doing those jobs is an important issue.
The announcement on 20 December that the height limit for removing ACM had shifted from 18 metres to 11 metres means that there are potentially thousands more blocks implicated in the cladding scandal than originally thought. That means that tens of thousands more leaseholders, who previously thought their blocks were safe, have now discovered that work needs to be done and that the Government do not deem their building safe. Additional safety requirements are welcome, but when it comes to building safety, it is unclear why the Government took two and a half years to decide that buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres were equally unsafe. Will the Minister clarify why they took so long to determine that blocks of that height should also have their cladding removed? Does the Department know how many residential blocks of between 11 metres and 18 metres exist across the country? How many are covered in Grenfell-style cladding? If the Government do not know how many blocks are covered, is there a plan in place to collect and publish that information, as has been done with blocks of 18 metres and above?
For two and a half years, we have had a merry-go-round of buck passing, and hundreds of thousands of people across the country are suffering as a result. It is disappointing that the Secretary of State was not asked about this more when he was doing the media rounds at the weekend, and that we have not seen more action. It is also disappointing that the Government are not engaging with leaseholders. A meeting in London was recently organised by the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, and 100 leaseholders were there. They were asked whether they have had regular engagement with Ministers, and not a single hand went up. We need to talk to people so we can understand the issues that they are facing.
If the Government are serious about the claims and pledges they made in the days and weeks following the Grenfell Tower fire, about their role in keeping people safe, about their commitment to homeowners, and about the principle that leaseholders should not be paying, it is time to act. I know this is difficult. It is a very big problem, and it will be very complicated to solve. If the Government act and do the right thing, the Opposition would thank them very much for doing so.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I thank the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) for bringing this issue to Westminster Hall, and all the Members who have attended. This debate has shown MPs at their very best, bringing issues, cases, concerns and dilemmas to the Chamber and expressing what needs to be said here on behalf of their constituents. Members on both sides of the House want to be here to voice those concerns.
We all know that this issue causes much stress and anguish to residents. How do we support everybody? People can appreciate that issues are evolving as time goes on. We also understand that it is not the fault of the leaseholders who bought their homes that things have happened. We all understand that anybody could be one of those leaseholders; this is happening to so many. I praise what MPs are doing today in bringing this issue forward.
That is a very well made point. In January, the Secretary of State said that we are currently considering options with the Treasury on the support that can go to leaseholders. Those are obviously ongoing conversations and negotiations, and I can go no further than that today.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. As I said, MPs from both side of the House are raising these issues. The fire risk of tall buildings with cladding was brought to everybody’s attention after the terrible tragedy of Grenfell Tower. It had not been brought to people’s attention before.
With the deepest respect to the Minister, these issues were raised and recommendations made to the Government at the inquests into both the Lakanal House fire in south London, which took the lives of six residents, and the fire in Southampton, which took the lives of firefighters. Grenfell would not have happened had the recommended building standards been put place.
The Government took immediate action straight after the report. The actions that we took included a comprehensive independent review of building safety, chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt, and we have accepted all the recommendations of her independent review. We will continue to bring forward legislation to deliver an enhanced safety regime for high-rise residential buildings. As we announced last month, we will begin immediately to establish the new building safety regulator—initially in shadow form, pending legislation—which Dame Judith will chair, to oversee the transition to the new regime.
The Minister has paid tribute to MPs for doing their best and for showing the best of MPs. What we hoped for was the best of the Minister, doing the best by our constituents. Although we recognise the action that the Government took after the Grenfell fire, our residents need some assurance and action, so they know that they will not have to wait years for the issue to be resolved. Can she give our constituents any comfort today?
I started my speech with the Secretary of State’s remarks about what we are doing, the actions that we have taken, and how we will deliver going forward. I want to ensure that people understand the rigorous work of the expert panel and the advice that we are taking from it. That work is checked and verified, and we are taking it forward at the right pace. Of course, we are here to discuss those issues, which are being dealt with—negotiations are ongoing. What the issue absolutely impresses upon us is how important it is that things are done as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on students, I wrote to the Secretary of State about HPL cladding after the Bolton fire. After two months, I had received no response. I raised it with him on the Floor of the House and he promised me an early response on 20 January, which I still have not received. Will the Minister give us some assurance about when the work on the risks of HPL cladding will conclude? Do the Government recognise that ACM cladding, about which colleagues on both sides of the House have raised concerns, presents exactly the same issues as HPL?
I will take that message back to the Department and see what happened with the correspondence from the Secretary of State. I know that the Department replied to the letter from the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) on 6 February, so if she has not already got it, it will be with her shortly.
I will go through exactly what we have done and how we have done it, and note the significant steps that we have taken, including the provision of £600 million to support people and the further work led by an expert panel. We have accepted all the recommendations from the independent review, and are going forward at a rigorous pace, which we can do, obviously, once we have had all those negotiations with the Treasury.
In December 2018, we banned the use of combustible materials in external walls of new high-rise buildings and, after implementing the ban, we checked its effectiveness. In January, we launched a consultation on the ban, which went further and asked whether the limit should be lowered from 18 metres to 11 metres. The Government also announced the fire safety Bill, and the associated regulatory changes, to deliver the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry phase 1 report.
I thank the Minister for the extensive detail that she is giving, but will she address the gentle point that I made? Even if the Minister had another five minutes, that would not be enough to address all the issues, many of which have not been raised simply because of a lack of time. Will the Government consider giving us a proper full-length debate in the main Chamber so that we can better express ourselves and hear more comprehensively from the Minister?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. We need more time to discuss the matter—this is only a 90-minute debate—and the number of hon. Members who are here shows that. Not only should we have that debate, but we should come together to raise those points and work in a constructive fashion. The hon. Lady is quite right; 90 minutes is not long enough. We also need to, and we will, write back to the hon. Members present, because I cannot give a comprehensive response to everybody in the time that I have.
I take the Minister’s point about ensuring that we all get to express ourselves so she can hear our concerns. It is glaringly obvious from much of the engagement that leaseholders do not believe that they are being listened to or heard by Ministers. Will the Minister commit to meeting leaseholders and some of my constituents so that she can hear at first hand their concerns about their homes being wrapped in unsafe cladding?
The Department has met leaseholders, and we have received and replied to letters from leaseholders. The hon. Lady is right: we have to have a bigger consultation and ensure that we meet leaseholders. Yesterday, Lord Younger met a group, some of whom are in the Public Gallery. It is imperative that we hear from the people who are most affected, and I absolutely agree that we should.
Does the Minister agree that we need to hear more not just about how great it is that we have all come to discuss these things, but about concrete actions? Some of my constituents in Ilford South, including the 100 people in Raphael House, have mental health issues and problems planning their futures and getting their kids into schools, because freeholders essentially have them over a barrel. The time has come to stop the platitudes and take some action.
The Government took the unprecedented step of bringing forward £600 million to support the people whom the expert panel said were in the most dangerous buildings with ACM cladding. I started my speech with the words of the Secretary of State, who spoke about how we can ensure that we have the right support at the right place and at the right time. From the very start, we have taken the advice of experts in the field to ensure that we are supporting the leaseholders.
I thank all colleagues for the force and clarity of their arguments. It is no good pretending that the leaseholders listening to the debate will not be very disappointed by the response that they have heard. I hope that the Minister will go back to the conversations with the Treasury and say, “Blimey, we’re in a bit of a mess here—MPs on all sides of the House are not going to go away,” because we will be back. The Budget is coming up, and I hope that on that day, we will hear what the Government will do to ensure that leaseholders do not have to pay.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Support for Hill Farmers
[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered support for hill farmers.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship and to be guided by you today, Mr Bone. It is also a real honour to be asked to speak on a subject that is of massive importance to my constituents and to people across the country.
South Cumbria’s landscape is spectacular. Much of it is within the Lake district and the Yorkshire dales, and pretty much all of it has been maintained over generations by our hill farmers. The UK’s uplands are vital to us all, yet they are generally exposed and remote. Furthermore, upland farms are disadvantaged compared with lowland ones due to a shorter grass growing season. Hill farming is therefore often a marginal occupation. My fear is that the unintended consequences of transition to new payment methods and new export arrangements could push hundreds of marginal upland farms out of business. In this debate, I want to help the Government to get this transition right, so that our hill farmers do not pay an unbearable cost and so that Britain does not lose a priceless asset.
I speak regularly to hill farmers in our communities in Cumbria. Many of them are terrified of what is to come and do not have confidence in the Government plans revealed thus far. Right now, their No. 1 concern is the plan to phase out the basic payment scheme from next January, before the environmental land management system is ready to be delivered. The figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs tell us that an average of 85% of livestock farm incomes come from the basic payment.
Despite regular calls from the National Farmers Union, the Tenant Farmers Association and others to think again, the Government have not listened so far. A ham-fisted phasing out of the basic payment may see farm failures across the country, especially in the uplands. The stark reality is that the phase-out of the basic payment begins in 10.5 months’ time, but environmental land management schemes will not be available for everyone until 2028. Rolling out schemes before they are ready can have a catastrophic impact. The lesson of universal credit should have taught the Government that.
We have already had the first predictable evidence of slippage in the timetable. The plan to test a national pilot scheme for ELMS this year has already been pushed back to the autumn, yet the Government insists on ploughing ahead with the phase-out before anyone is ready, least of all the Government themselves. Removing the existing support before the new system is properly tested and ready to implement seems reckless and will surely cost many hill farmers their businesses, and many farming families their future.
Projections prepared by the Uplands Alliance using DEFRA’s farm business survey data from the Andersons Centre consultancy suggest significant reductions in farm business incomes by 2024, and further show a net loss of income to the average farm in 2028, even assuming that ELMS is fully rolled out by that stage. Put simply, the Government are asking hill farmers to endure seven years of lost income, seven years of uncertainty, and seven years when we may lose the backbone and future of our industry, with devastating long-term consequences for our food supply and our environment. I simply urge the Minister to delay the phasing out of the basic payment until the environmental land management system is fully operational for everyone. It would be a tragedy if the Government messed up what might well be a positive new scheme by botching the implementation period.
For all that uncertainty, the outline of the new environmental land management system is cause for some optimism. It is right that we should reward farmers for public goods. The industry is behind that and so am I, but let us get the details and the implementation right. The greatest public good that comes from our uplands is of course the production of food: 45% of UK lamb is produced in the uplands, as is 55% of the UK suckler herd and 35% of UK milk. Given that straw and feed grown in the lowlands go to feed animals in the uplands, if hill farming recedes, clearly lowland farming would soon sadly follow. A country that loses capacity to feed itself is a country in big trouble.
An alarming 50% of the food we consume is imported. Twenty years ago, that figure was more like 35%. Our food security looks more and more tenuous as every year goes by, although it is not just the Government’s stubborn insistence on the premature phase-out of basic payments that threatens our food security but the worry that ELMS itself may inadvertently or deliberately see the draining of funds from upland farms.
One mistake would be to fail to use the skills of hill farmers to fight against climate change. For example, commendably, the National Trust wants to increase the amount of its land used for trees from 7% to 17%, but one means of delivering that would be completely to bypass farmers. Indeed, any other landowner might do the same. However, if we bypass hill farmers, we will lose hill farmers, and if we lose hill farmers, we will lose the very people whom we most need in order to deliver the whole range of vital environmental goods to tackle and to mitigate climate change. I therefore ask the Minister to ensure that ELMS is delivered only to active farmers. After all, it would be a disgrace if the replacement of the common agricultural policy was a policy that removed agriculture from the commons.
Recently, our rural and farming network took the DEFRA policy team to a hill farm near Slaidburn. The farm is already in a higher-level stewardship scheme and doing all it possibly can, but it is still more reliant on the basic payment than on environmental payments. They asked the DEFRA team what else the farm could do environmentally to make up for the imminent loss of the basic payment. The Department offered no ideas. Perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure hill farmers that ELMS will not be biased against certain categories of farm simply because of the nature of their landscapes.
In addition, a concern among farmers in my community is that the new ELMS will be much easier for some farms than others by virtue of location and, to some extent, sheer good luck. For example, a grassland farm, with mostly fences for boundaries and not so many walls or hedges may struggle to tick sufficient environmental boxes, compared with a farm with some existing woodland, perhaps a bit of wetland, or hedges.
Hill farmers are essential to the promotion and protection of biodiversity. They maintain rare natural habitats and ensure the upkeep of our rich heritage landscapes. They protect iconic British breeds such as Herdwick, Swaledale and rough fell sheep. We have to be prepared, through ELMS, to count the rearing of such breeds as a clear public good worthy of attracting public money. Indeed, many of the public goods provided by farmers are by-products of the fact that we have viable farms producing food. That is why a major focus must be to ensure that hill farmers get a fair price for their produce.
That is why, to be honest, I am disappointed that the Government are not more forthcoming about plans to expand the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, a piece of machinery that the Liberal Democrats were proud to help deliver in government—but we were sad that the Conservatives chose to water it down before it reached the statute book. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that the Groceries Code Adjudicator has its remit widened so that it can look at the whole supply chain and act on referrals from advocates such as the NFU, the Tenant Farmers Association and indeed Members of Parliament, and so that it is given the power to levy sanctions that will truly hurt those retailers and processors who abuse their market power to pay our farmers a pittance?
Water management work in the uplands is utterly vital—the impact of Storm Ciara over the weekend was a reminder of just how important that is. Farmers protect our towns and villages from flooding. In December, we marked the fourth anniversary of Storm Desmond; the memories and the financial and emotional impact of the devastation it caused are still fresh for many of our communities in Cumbria and elsewhere. Amidst the pain there is much to be celebrated, and we can be proud about how our communities responded and coped. Farmers were a key part of that; they did essential work in places such as Kentmere and Longsleddale. For our farmers to do vital work to mitigate flood damage and, indeed, be part of natural flood management schemes, they need to be equipped. The scope of public goods must be broad enough to reward them for it.
Central to environmental land management schemes must be farm succession. Attracting young people to hill farming, incentivising them to enter the industry and supporting them as they grow their business means allowing older farmers to retire with dignity and to an affordable home. Given the astonishing price of housing in rural communities such as mine, that will take serious Government intervention.
Contrary to popular myth, many hill farmers voted remain—the majority in my patch did—but those who voted leave often tell me that they were motivated by a desire to do away with the red tape and bureaucracy of the CAP—or rather, the British application of the CAP. I trust that the Minister will not replicate or even add to the burdens of bureaucracy, badly run payment agencies, excessive farm visits and insecurity that have been the hallmarks of a hill farmer’s lot in recent times.
To achieve a fair deal for hill farmers, it is essential that the Bill defines public goods to recognise the incredible work that they are doing. The public good that I fear may be in most danger is perhaps the hardest one to quantify, measure or reward: the work that farmers do to maintain the aesthetics of our landscape. I can look down Langdale from the Pikes. I do not know how to quantify and codify a financial reward for the farmers who carefully maintain the view below me, but I know that it takes my breath away.
Those farmers underpin the £3-billion-a-year Lake district tourism economy that employs 60,000 people throughout our county. Our farmers’ work was acknowledged in 2017 when UNESCO granted world heritage site status to the Lake district. It will not be easy to quantify and codify that, which is why the Government should not fool themselves that they will be able to do so competently and without teething trouble in just a few years. The Government need to give themselves time and not rush the phasing out of basic payments.
Britain’s uplands feed us. They give us biodiversity, protection from flooding, carbon sinks, heritage and rare breeds. They underpin a multi-billion-pound visitor economy. They give us space to breathe, to soak up awesome creation in its rawest form; they stir us and they settle us.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He has outlined a number of major strategic objectives, and said that farmers are part of the solution, not the problem. Does he agree—I am sure he does—that the four Governments of the UK need to work with our farming community to achieve the strategic objectives he outlined?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The essence is this: farmers manage our landscape and work it as owners or tenants—many of our constituents are tenant farmers who have even more insecurity in the current situation. Without their being able to make a living as active farmers—food production is their primary motivation—we lose their presence on the landscape to deliver all those public goods. First and foremost, the Government must maintain the current farmers on the uplands. If by a slip between cup and lip over the next seven years, we lose a chunk of a hill farming community, we will not get them back. Even if we do, it will be at vast expense.
The delivery of public goods is undoable without the people to deliver them. That seems basic common sense. ELMS fills me with some optimism; the thinking behind the new scheme is positive and the industry as a whole welcomes it. What I am bothered about is that the transition could be so clunky, and lacking understanding of how marginal the incomes of those farmers are, that we end up losing them in the process, and they will see it as a seven-year notice to quit.
We borrow Britain’s uplands from the generations to come, and we are beyond grateful to those who maintain them. We must not, either by design or by accident, threaten the future of our uplands or their stewards.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) on securing this debate. He is a champion for hill farming areas, and hill farming is particularly important in his constituency. As he described quite eloquently, hill farming is a critical part of some of our most important landscapes in this country.
Those areas are the home of important heritage native breeds, which I will come on to. The sheep farming industry, which is predominantly based in hill farming areas, using some of those breeds, is large: worth around £1 billion a year. The UK sheep sector, despite what some say, is world leading—we are the largest producer in Europe by a very long way. Over a third of sheep production in Europe is carried on in the UK. Internationally, we are the third or fourth largest exporter of lamb after countries such as Australia and New Zealand. There is a very strong brand for UK sheep production, and we have strong regional brands—whether west country lamb, lamb from upland areas such as the hon. Gentleman’s, or Welsh lamb, which is famous around the world. Let us not forget Scottish lamb for good measure, including on Shetland.
We are going through a big change in our industry as we leave the European Union and chart a different course. The first thing I want to say relates to our trade with the European Union. We export a significant amount of lamb to the European Union: about a third of what we produce nationally. That is why the political declaration—the heads of terms on the future partnership—being discussed envisages zero tariffs on all goods. If that were not to be possible, depending on how negotiations go as far as the sectors affecting the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are concerned, getting at least tariff-free access or a tariff rate quota on lamb would be a very high priority. We hope that it will be possible to get zero tariffs on all goods, since that is what both parties have committed to try to achieve.
When it appears in the news that British Cabinet members are talking about there being trade barriers, or the Prime Minister says that he is looking forward to importing Ugandan beef, does the Minister think that alleviates or heightens anxieties in the rural communities we represent?
The Prime Minister is also very keen that we open up new markets. There are great opportunities for our lamb sector in markets such as the middle east and the far east, including in countries such as Japan. We should not always take a glass-half-empty view when it comes to trade. We also have offensive interests, particularly in our livestock sector.
We are looking at those opportunities around the world for our lamb sector. I have already had discussions with New Zealand, for instance, about whether together the UK and New Zealand could develop the market for lamb in the United States. There is a very small, underdeveloped market for lamb in the US at the moment, but it is growing, particularly among younger consumers in the US. These are all opportunities that we have as we leave the European Union and take back control with an independent trade policy.
I want, though, to spend most of my time talking about future agriculture policy, as concerns about the loss of the basic payment scheme—direct payments—and the speed of the transition were at the heart of the opening remarks made by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. I will simply say that, in terms of future policy, I do not think it possible to defend the idea of arbitrary, area-based payments, because in essence they are a subsidy for land tenure or land occupation and land ownership. That means that the biggest payments go to some of the wealthiest landowners in the country. It means that people who perhaps sell a business and get millions of pounds in profits can invest that money in land, to shelter their wealth, and then on top of that claim a BPS payment, a subsidy, from the taxpayer. That just is not sustainable, justifiable or defensible in the long term.
Therefore the premise behind our Agriculture Bill is this: let us get rid of the subsidy on land tenure or ownership and instead pay farmers properly and reward them adequately for the work that they do for the environment. The system will be based on payments for delivering public goods and environmental outcomes and for protecting genetic heritage through rare breeds, protecting water quality and so on.
My hon. Friend the Minister will know as well as I do that many upland farmers also support some of the tributaries that run into our main estuaries, and we have declining populations of salmon and sea trout in those. Will ELMS be trying to repopulate some of our rivers with salmon and sea trout? Is that something that we can do through upland farming?
It is absolutely the case that one key priority of the future scheme and one objective set out in clause 1 of the Bill is about improving water quality. Any measures and interventions that farmers implement that will lead to improved water quality will be exactly the type of project that we would want to support.
I also point out that it seems already to be the case, from some of the work that we have done, that when it comes to sheep farmers in particular, around 30% of them do not actually receive the BPS payment; they are in some kind of contract farm agreement and effectively their landlord takes the BPS payment while they are the ones doing all the work and raising the sheep. It is not at all clear that the current area-based BPS payment is in fact in the interests of the sheep sector.
I want to be very clear that I have agreed with everything that the Minister has said about the area-based payment, its unjustifiable nature and how it is not a basis on which to continue—indeed, I support in principle what we are talking about with the environmental land management scheme. However, my concern is that we have a seven-year transition in which we are about to phase out the current scheme more quickly than we are to phase in the scheme to replace it. That is where we lose the people we need in order to deliver the public goods in the long term.
I entirely appreciate that and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I was not going to skip over that point; I have some time left.
The upland areas in particular are well placed to benefit from a system of support based on the delivery of public goods. Some 66% of blanket bog in England is in “triple SI”s—sites of special scientific interest—and is in those upland areas, so projects such as peatland restoration are certainly things that the uplands could do. Some of our rare and endangered bird species are in parts of the uplands so projects to support their recovery also lend themselves well to such areas. I am also thinking of projects that might mitigate the risk of floods by holding water uphill and projects such as the mires project down in the west country, on Exmoor, that can improve water quality by rewetting some of those peatland areas.
All those things mean that the potential for some of the uplands to be rewarded for what they in some cases already do, but may well do even more of in the future, is very high. The reality is that our current system pays the moorland areas, the severely disadvantaged areas, less money than it does the lowlands, even though they are probably doing most of all for our environment. The change in emphasis to payment for delivering public goods means that those severely disadvantaged areas, which historically have been told, “We will give you less subsidy because your land is less productive,” may actually be able to deliver and achieve far more.
I come now to the issue of the transition. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I agree, that getting the sequencing of the transition right will be very important. Although we have not made final decisions in these respects, I will make a number of points to him. First, the Bill provides for us to make available grants and payments to farmers to help them to improve their productivity, invest in equipment and reduce costs, and that will help farmers to get to a position in which they are less reliant on the subsidy payments that they receive now.
The Bill also provides for us to make several years’ payment in one lump sum to help—aid—the retirement of those farmers who decide that now is the time to leave. Linked to that, we know, from all the work that we have done, that if we want to encourage new entrants into the sector, the critical element is freeing up access to land. That is why, if we want new entrants to come in, we have to have projects and ideas to help farmers, who are sometimes in their 70s or 80s and still going, to make the sometimes difficult decision to retire. The measure gives us the option to be able to do that.
The Bill also gives us the power to modify the legacy scheme, to simplify some of the rules around the basic payment scheme, or indeed to simplify and modify the current pillar two countryside stewardship scheme. The integrated administration and control system that is a requirement of EU law is particularly burdensome on some of the current schemes, and we would have the option, should we wish it, to remove that.
Let me deal with some of the hon. Gentleman’s other points. He suggested that the pilot was delayed. The pilot is not delayed: we always intended to go to a full pilot in 2021, and still do, and will. The issue is that we have had trials running. We have 30 trials already up and running—already under way. There has been no delay, and further trials will be added. He suggested that we would not be in a position to roll out the new scheme until 2028. That is not the case. We intend to be rolling out the new scheme to every farmer—a full launch of the scheme—probably around 2024, so we will not be waiting until the end of the transition before we start the new scheme. We envisage that, as the legacy scheme tapers out, we will be opening up versions of the new scheme in advance of that.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that we ought to have an active farmer test. I am reluctant to get into that kind of EU rule making, as it was not particularly successful when the EU tried it. However, he makes a very good point: some of the environmental benefits that we need explicitly require grazing, and grazing by the right type of animal, to be taking place on our upland areas, to keep the bracken down and the sward at the right length so that conditions are made most favourable for invertebrates, which in turn helps farmland birds. It is therefore not the case that we want to take land out of grazing; indeed, grazing has an important part to play. We have amended the Bill so that it recognises native breeds and rare breeds in particular as a public good. We changed that in its latest iteration so that we can reward those hill farmers who are using and encouraging the preservation of some of our important genetic resources.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to get farmers a fair price for the food that they produce. Although we chose not to extend the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, we have in the Agriculture Bill taken wide-ranging powers to be able to legislate in the field of contracts to ensure that there is fairness in the supply chain and transparency around what farmers are paid as well as on issues such as carcase classification. There are quite wide powers in the Bill dealing with those things.
My final point is that it is not correct to say that we watered down the GCA. There was a delay in the introduction of penalties for breaches, but those were put in place—I think even under the last coalition Government, but possibly after the end of the coalition Government and under the Conservative Government from 2015. But substantial sanctions are in place and available to it.
I hope that I have been able to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we see a vibrant future for hill farming. We believe that hill farmers will be able to benefit from our new system of payment for public goods, and they can look to the future with confidence.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
I beg to move,
That this House has considered social mobility.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I am grateful to be able to raise this subject, which I believe is vital to our country as we develop global Britain and look to a successful and exciting future. Among other roles outside politics, I have worked as both a teacher and a lecturer, so I am particularly passionate about education and social mobility. I have always endeavoured to be involved in them and to highlight issues and concerns about them.
Ultimately, social mobility is about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to build a good life for themselves, regardless of their family background. In a socially mobile society, every individual should have a fair chance of reaching their full potential. Social mobility is good not only from a moral perspective but from an economic perspective: by ensuring that talent is harvested across the social spectrum, we have the opportunity to boost our country’s productivity and GDP.
Social mobility is one of the key reasons for Britain’s historical success in channelling the talents of all sections of our country for the benefit of the whole nation. Margaret Thatcher, for example, came from very humble origins to become, in my opinion, one of the greatest Prime Ministers we have had. She became Prime Minister because of social mobility.
My right hon. Friend talks of Margaret Thatcher coming from a humble background. I wonder whether he participated in a booklet produced about 10 years ago of Conservative Members who also came from humble backgrounds. I was, and I think that was a useful tool.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention. I, too, am a product of social mobility: education and social mobility have characterised my life. I was born into a family whose origins were in the east end of London, but, through family, education and opportunity, my grandparents and parents were able to develop and get on in life. I am therefore always grateful for the opportunities I had from schoolteachers, from the LSE, where I went to university, and from others who helped me to move up, be involved and have a career.
There are also business leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, actors and singers from humble backgrounds who have had the opportunity to move up the social scale and make something for themselves. However, despite some successes, for far too long the UK has not done as well on the social mobility front as I would have liked. Where someone starts in life should not determine where they finish in life. There is a strong link between adults’ income and those of their parents, and people’s educational attainment is closely linked to that of their parents too. That significantly affects opportunities later in life.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. This is an important issue, which we have discussed recently in Westminster Hall. Does he agree—I think he does—that it is important that being born into a family of sales assistants should not mean that someone can only be a sales assistant, in the same way that being born into a family of doctors does not mean that someone can only secure a position as a doctor? There must be a better structure to ensure that people can determine their own path, based on their hard work and passion rather than their background and birthplace.
I totally agree—and, of course, the opportunities have to be there for people to do it. That is what this debate is about.
Last month, the World Economic Forum highlighted the problem of poor social mobility around the world. It concluded that where someone is born still pretty much determines the opportunities they get in life. It also published a new global social mobility index, on which Denmark is ranked No. 1. The forum found that just a handful of Governments—specifically those in Scandinavian countries—have succeeded in laying the foundations for greater social mobility and more prosperous futures for their citizens. Rather disappointingly, of the 82 countries in the index, the United Kingdom is ranked 21st, behind Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland.
A lack of social mobility not only has a negative impact on an individual but affects the society in which they live. Now we have left the EU, it is more important than ever that we look seriously at how to improve social mobility further to harness talent across the country. I strongly believe that talent and hard work should determine how far people can go in life, whoever they are and wherever they come from. Opportunity should be available to all sections of our society.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing forward this important debate. I want to reinforce his point about the economic cost of a lack of social mobility. We agree that that is a tragic waste of human potential and happiness, but let me quote the Sutton Trust, which said:
“A modest increase in the UK’s social mobility (to the average level across western Europe) could be associated with an increase in annual GDP of approximately 2%, equivalent to…£39 billion to the UK economy”.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving us that informative statistic.
Conservative Governments have made considerable progress since 2010, particularly on education standards and opportunities. Education gives us a better understanding of the world around us, helps us to develop a perspective for looking at life and helps us to build opinions. It is key to social mobility. Some 86% of schools are now rated good or outstanding, compared with only 68% in August 2010. That is a real improvement, and the Government should be congratulated on it. More young people than ever go to our world-class universities, and the highest ever proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds participate in education. We will increase the schools budget by £2.6 billion in 2020-21, £4.8 billion in 2021-22, and £7.1 billion in 2022-23, compared with 2019-20. That will help schools to develop the talent of our young people.
We should all be proud of what the Government have delivered so far and what they continue to deliver. In my borough, Bexley, we are fortunate to have many brilliant schools, both primary and secondary, and a wide range of job opportunities, including apprenticeships. Bexley has been listed as a “social mobility hotspot”, as children from both disadvantaged and advantaged backgrounds achieve excellent results at school and benefit from a wide range of opportunities.
However, there is still more to be done, in Bexley and across the country. Clearly, there is still a social mobility postcode lottery in Britain: the chances of someone from a disadvantaged background being successful are still linked to where they live. I am concerned about underachievement. There are areas throughout the UK and in my constituency where many children do not reach their full potential. Young people—particularly young males—in certain areas of the country have become more disengaged from all aspects of society and, regrettably, have fewer aspirations. For some, their teachers, parents and peer groups do not expect them to do well, and there seems to be an acceptance of that. I believe that talent is uniform across all sections of our society, but opportunity is not always so.
I am particularly worried about the underachievement of white working-class boys. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) led a Westminster Hall debate on that subject this morning. I will not repeat what was said then, because he covered the issue very well and the Minister responded, but I share the concerns that were highlighted. We need to give young people from all backgrounds the tools and knowledge they need to succeed; then, the world will be their oyster, and the opportunities to reach for the stars, or whatever, will be there.
The “Elitist Britain” report published by the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission laid bare
“the lack of opportunities for so many young people”.
I will not go through the statistics, because I want others to be able to participate in the debate. Unfortunately, however, the elite still dominates, so we have a lot of work to do to give people an opportunity to rise up.
My right hon. Friend is setting out his case eloquently and beautifully. May I push him a little on his point about some people not being advised to aim high or encouraged to be the best they can? Does he share my fear that in some parts of the country, as he describes, there is some sort of inverse snobbery, and that some people are just told to aim low because the people around them are not willing to transcend the images they have—social images, perhaps—of the people who should and could aim high?
That is a good point, and that is regrettable in 21st century Britain.
The “Elitist Britain” report made a number of policy recommendations, but I want to highlight two of them:
“Recruitment practices should be open and transparent”
“Leading social mobility employers should take a sector leadership role and share best practice.”
In the previous Parliament and the one before that, I was a strong supporter of the social mobility pledge, championed by the former Member for Putney, Justine Greening. The pledge is made up of three interlinking commitments. The first is partnering directly with schools or colleges to provide coaching through quality careers advice, enrichment experience and/or mentoring to people from disadvantaged backgrounds or circumstances. The second is access, providing structured work experience and/or apprenticeship opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Thirdly, there is recruitment, adopting open employee recruitment practices that promote a level playing field for people from disadvantaged backgrounds or circumstances, such as name-blind recruitment and contextual recruitment. The initiative is backed by hundreds of businesses, because they understand that improving social mobility is good for them as well as for individuals and communities.
The pledge was set up to tackle the social mobility problem, share best practice and ideas and to boost social mobility. It covers more than 3 million employees and 1 million students across the UK. Partners include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sainsbury’s, BP, the AA, various universities, and some of my local housing associations. That is important and welcome.
I also want to stress the important role that further education colleges can play in improving social mobility as well as helping to solve our country’s skills shortage. Further education has always had close links with local employers, so it is in a unique position to fill their skills gaps, but that needs businesses, local authorities, schools and colleges to work together.
Last week, I visited the Bexley campus of London South East Colleges, which is an excellent college in our area that understands the vital importance of providing good training and education and promoting social mobility and opportunity. I discussed finance, and I do believe that our further education colleges are underfunded. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Education and indeed my hon. Friend the Minister will take action to fund colleges better. It would be a good investment in our nation as well as for individuals, and it would help global Britain succeed.
As well as speaking with staff and students, I was privileged to meet some inspirational apprentices studying on apprenticeship schemes. Apprenticeships are an engine of social mobility, particularly as they create routes into stable, highly skilled and well-paid jobs. It is important to note that learners from deprived backgrounds may need to be in employment while learning, rather than going on to colleges. A report by Universities UK called “The Financial Concerns of Students” found that living costs to be a more significant concern than the level of tuition fees for undergraduates and that the financial aspects of going to university are more important to those from under-represented and lower socioeconomic groups. Nearly all the apprentices I spoke to there and across Bexley—a very good local authority in promoting apprenticeships—see a tremendous beneficial impact from apprenticeships on their career. The majority were satisfied in their job and felt they were better at doing their job since starting their apprenticeship.
Worryingly, though, the report found—this was repeated at my meetings—that a majority of apprentices said their secondary schoolteachers had not discussed apprenticeships as an option with them. Similarly, a majority of teachers said they would rarely or never advise their high-performing students to choose an apprenticeship over university. That overall experience of the apprentices I talked to is rather disappointing. They felt, and I agree, that we need a more innovative and proactive approach to raise awareness and break down those barriers among staff and pupils in schools.
There is a lot to be done. I know the Government are committed to creating a country where everyone has the same chances to go as far as their talents allow. I am a strong supporter of the Prime Minister’s agenda of opportunities for all across our country. We must now ensure that people are encouraged from a young age to engage with education and training and understand the long-term benefits. Without action—the Government must be involved, as must all the others I have mentioned—social and economic divisions in the UK could widen, meaning our country and our workforce will not be geared up to ensure that global Britain is the success that our PM wants and we all strongly believe we can achieve. This is an important issue and, at this time in our history, social mobility should be top of our agenda.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) on his excellent introduction. I begin by declaring that I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on social mobility. This is an issue I feel passionately about, and I am afraid that each time I speak on it I see little sign of progress. We need an overarching cross-departmental Government strategy, which is sadly lacking at the moment.
I have long held the view that many of the frustrations and factors that led to the Brexit vote are connected to declining social mobility. That was reinforced by findings published a few weeks ago by the Social Mobility Commission, whose survey showed that 78% of people in London thought they had good opportunities to progress, whereas only 31% of people in the north-east did. Those figures ought to make us all sit up and take notice, because they show just how disconnected we are from voters and how little confidence the public have in our being able to address their concerns.
A number of recent reports tell us about the scale of challenge we face. One is from the Sutton Trust and even its title, “Elites in the UK: Pulling Away?”, pulls no punches. It said that one in five men in professional occupations born between 1955 and 1961 became socially mobile, but the figure for those born between 1975 and 1981 was only one in eight. In other words, we are a country where opportunity is declining. The pull of London was prominent, with the report finding that two thirds of the most socially mobile people built their careers close to home, rather than by moving away, but people in that group were more likely to come from London. Of course, London is the political, economic and cultural centre of this country, and it has much to offer, but that report and others show that it is over-dominant to the detriment of other places. It is no wonder that three and a half years ago so many people sent us a message in the ballot box that they wanted something fundamentally different in the way the country works.
As the right hon. Member said in his introduction, there is an international comparison of social mobility from the World Economic Forum, which ranks the UK 21st in the world. Unfortunately, as was mentioned, the majority of countries above us are our western European neighbours. We see that the top performers combine
“access, quality and equity in education, while also providing work opportunities and good working conditions, alongside quality social protection and inclusive institutions”.
I do not think we can begin to understand the scale of the problem until we see words like that, which show how social mobility is about far more than just education.
It is very much more than education. There is also a need to have education at an early stage. The schools in my constituency, and probably in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, try to focus on career opportunities, and it is important that teachers involved in careers give the full picture of opportunities and what may need to be done. Pupils may see some other options for work and they need to know that opportunities are there.
I thank the hon. Member. We have talked many times about the need to raise levels of aspiration. One of the sad things we have seen in recent times is how quality careers advice has slowly drained out of the education system. It is not just about 14 and 15-year-olds; it is about getting five and six-year-olds to think about what they can achieve. The evidence shows that the countries that tend to be more socially mobile are those where the gap between the bottom and the top is smaller, demonstrating that social mobility and inequality are closely linked. In 2019, it is a scandal that where you were born and who you are born to are still the biggest influences on your prospects. If we are ever going to move forward as a nation, everyone should have the same opportunity to achieve their potential. I think everyone in the room agrees with that.
When he resigned as the chair of the Social Mobility Commission, Alan Milburn said he was doing so because the Government were
“unable to devote the necessary energy and focus to the social mobility agenda.”
When he gave evidence to the Education Committee, he said:
“After the change of Prime Minister, following the European referendum, that whole conversation frankly went into the void. There was no conversation. There was no response.”
Those are damning word that were barely met with a shrug.
The new chair—not so new, now—Dame Martina Milburn is bringing real focus and drive to the commission which only yesterday produced a fine set of recommendations for the workplace, including internships being openly advertised— something that the all-party group on social mobility has called for for a long time. It recognises, as we do, that informal networks, which do much to stifle social mobility, creep into recruitment, even at the internship stage, for which money is a vital in order to make the first step through the door. While we are on that subject, why do we still allow internships to be unpaid? That is an invitation for exploitation.
We rightly focus on education, but addressing inequalities beyond the education system, including factors such as access to work, tax, welfare, housing, transport and health, is vital. We need to look at the world of work, particularly. For how much longer will the most likely experience for young people be casual work, low pay and insecurity in the workplace?
The Government need to stop treating social mobility as a niche issue that is the role of just one Minister. They need to make it a mission across all Government departments, with a focused and consistent approach that transcends the day-to-day world of politics and reshuffles. That is an issue to which I hope the commission can add value.
I agree with everything the hon. Gentleman has said, particularly about the importance of each Government Department taking this issue seriously. He may recall that under the coalition Government there was a Cabinet sub-committee specifically on social mobility, which entrusted and tasked a Minister from each Department to take forward initiatives in their Department. Does he agree that that is something we can recommend for the Minister to take away and feed back, particularly in advance of events that are likely to occur tomorrow?
I hope the Minister stays in post and is able to take back today’s messages. Government focus has not been where it should be, but in the early part of the last decade we saw a real drive, with the introduction of the Commission on Social Mobility, which has unfortunately now stagnated. We need much greater accountability and transparency across Government in this area. It seems incredible that there is no automatic impact assessment about the effect that new legislation will have on social mobility.
Our central aim and mission should be to create a society where everyone has the same opportunities in life, regardless of their background. We know we have a long way to go. As long as three quarters of senior judges, half the top 100 news journalists and two thirds of British Oscar winners are privately educated, we will not have a fair society. The kids from the council estates will still get the message that those jobs are not for people like them.
The economic imperative speaks for itself, but the moral urgency of the task is clear. The commissioners are making the case, as am I, and many other Members. The question now is are the Government listening? What happens if the commission’s many worthy recommendations are not acted on? How much longer will we expect things to stagnate? Will anyone in Government take personal responsibility to improve social mobility? It is not an easy nut to crack and it will take many years to see real improvements, but someone senior in Government, with authority and resources, is needed to build a cross-departmental approach that is clearly lacking at the moment.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) for introducing this important debate.
In my intervention, I mentioned a booklet that was produced during my early years as a new Member and in which I appeared. Its purpose was to try to attack the caricatures that were made of Members on this side and to show that they, too, had participated in social mobility in their own lives. I am a good example of that, having come from a poor family and worked my way through education, at school and three times at university. It is not that I got it wrong the first time, and had to go back and do it again; I can explain that on another occasion. It is important to show that Members on this side have personal experience of social mobility.
My hon. Friend the Member for Filton and Bradley Stoke (Jack Lopresti) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) will have heard what I am going to say, in a debate yesterday about the apprenticeship levy. I heard what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford said about apprenticeships; I agree with him. My point yesterday was that I do not think the levy has helped to achieve social mobility. The figures from 2015-16 show that the deprived 20% accounted for around 21.9% of level 4 apprenticeships and above. That figure has now dropped to 16.4%, so there is a long way to go. We need to build into the apprenticeship levy—into apprenticeships generally—the idea that they are not an excuse for trying to fob off other sorts of training, particularly for graduates, who may feel they are able to do something better.
Education played a major part in my own experience. Universities have changed enormously over the past few years. The percentage of people who received free school meals who are going to university now is much larger than it was even five years ago. That is very welcome. Combined with the emphasis on apprenticeships, that shows that there are good opportunities for young people to engage in aspirational activities, which will help them to make the most of their lives in the future. Society today is much more dynamic than it was even in the 1990s. There are good examples of that in the Chamber. However, I fully accept that the work has not yet finished and there is still much to be done to take the issue forward.
As the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) rightly pointed out, education is not the only factor. Housing plays a major part in increasing social mobility. When people come to me and say, “I don’t want any more houses built in my area”, I am naturally very caustic with them, because that goes against everything that I believe in terms of social mobility. My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) is laughing because there is a dispute in Oxfordshire at the moment over the building of houses, of which he is fully aware. Even social housing plays a major part in being able to provide people with the experience we want them to have, in order to take social mobility forward.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford for introducing the debate. It is an excellent subject for debate. As he has already picked out, and as I did in the apprenticeship levy debate yesterday, the subject has been something of a theme this week. Having a theme is good for this place because we can bring in different aspects of the subject as we go along.
It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, and to follow the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell). I agree with his comments about the apprenticeship levy, which he made in the debates yesterday and today. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) on securing this important debate.
Social mobility is about young people’s chances in life. It is about creating a society where kids can aspire to anything, and about giving them the tools and resources they need to achieve their dreams. I will speak about the current gap between aspiration and opportunity that exists in areas such as mine, and advocate for long-term, sustained investment in our schools and industry, so that children and young people from places, such as Barnsley, have as much chance to succeed as those elsewhere.
Former coalfield communities, such as Barnsley, have been left to weather the devastating impact of the loss of the mining industry and decades of deindustrialisation by themselves. Our economy has lagged behind that of the rest of the UK, affecting how many and what kinds of jobs are available. Older industrial towns in coal-mining areas tend to have fewer higher paying jobs, which obviously has a knock-on effect on the amount of schools and, in particular, on transport infrastructure. A stark geographical divide exists in this country. A child from Cudworth in my constituency is five times less likely to go to university than one from Chelsea. In Barnsley, only 9% of kids who receive free school meals go to university, compared with the national average of 26%.
Accessible vocational education is an important part of overcoming disadvantage, giving young people the tools and employment experiences to get on in life. Right now, in my constituency, there is not one sixth-form college. That is not to take away from the fantastic work of Barnsley college, which is not too far away—it is a fantastic institution and provides fantastic education—but obviously the inability to stay on in a school setting has an impact on encouraging young people to do A-levels.
It is not just about A-levels, but about vocational education; there has been more than one debate on that in this place this week, and I agree that it is incredibly important. But our communities have been left behind and I do not believe that that should or must be the case. This should not be the first generation that is worse off than the one before. Social mobility can be fostered so that children from all backgrounds and areas can reach their potential.
A fantastic example of encouraging that is the world-class Barnsley Youth Choir, which provides choral training, regardless of financial or social background. The choir was set up 10 years ago from absolutely nothing, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the fantastic Mathew Wright, who set it up. Now we have hundreds of kids of all ages from across Barnsley coming together, and the choir is ranked fifth in the world. They go all over the world performing. That is a fantastic example of an opportunity that gives young people the ability to express themselves, to sing, to show off their talents and to see more of the world. It is a reflection of the community spirit of Barnsley, and it is particularly inspirational.
Volunteer-run programmes such as the Barnsley Youth Choir show the commitment of parents, teachers and volunteers to giving young people the best start in life. Last week I met the head of Netherwood Academy, one of the schools in my constituency, to discuss its efforts to increase the aspirations of young women. They want successful women from different industries to go and meet young girls and to speak about their careers and ambitions. As a former teacher, that is a project that I welcome, and I hope to welcome them here to the House of Commons.
Sadly, it is not just about having aspirations for more, but about having the opportunity to act on those aspirations. Social mobility should not be a postcode lottery.
The Government can and should support working-class communities such as Barnsley by investing in its people, the local economies and the manufacturing industry, so that people are not stuck in low-paid, insecure jobs with no prospect of development, with the only alternative being to leave their local areas.
We need to invest in the skills of our workforce, which will aid recruitment and increase productivity. We need to invest in education and qualifications to enable people in Barnsley to pursue jobs that are higher paid and more secure and, crucially, we need to fund transport projects to connect our towns and communities across the UK. I believe the Government need to take urgent action if young people from my community are to be given the best start in life.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock); I particularly agreed with her remarks about university and encouraging participation. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) for allowing us to debate this today.
Given the time, I will talk about one specific thing: the importance of going to a good university in driving social mobility, and what more we can do to encourage that. I should declare an interest at the outset; I am a Sutton Trust girl and am now an ambassador for the trust. It has been mentioned a number of times, which has been a pleasure to hear.
We know that university places correlate with success; that has been shown again and again, in study after study. The Browne review showed that people are more likely to be employed, with higher wages and greater job satisfaction, if they go to university, but it is the top universities that confer particular benefit. We know that many of our top employers only recruit from a certain select number of universities. On average, they target the top 19 of our 115 universities, so it is not only university attendance that we need to focus on, but which universities our deprived kids are going to.
That has been slightly overlooked in the debate we have been having over time about university attendance, which has been more about the quantity of people going through university, rather than the quality of the education that they get and what impact that has on their educational outcomes. We have found that not enough children from disadvantaged backgrounds are going to those good universities. There have been huge upticks in the numbers over time, which is of course to be welcomed; the Government have done a huge amount to encourage that, and the Office for Students now has a plan in place for each university to encourage it further. However, the most advantaged 20% are still seven times more likely to attend the most selective universities than the most disadvantaged 40%—a statistic that we urgently need to address.
Over time, we have put a lot of emphasis on universities. That is obviously right, and there is a place for that, but, as someone who came from a comprehensive school and was lucky enough to get into Oxford with the help of the Sutton Trust, I know how difficult it is to make that transition from a comprehensive education that was good, but not amazing, to university, and the extra help that was needed once I got there. We can do more at school level to help with that transition and to raise aspiration for our kids as they are going through school.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of raising aspiration, but it is not just about raising aspiration a year or 18 months before the transition to university. It is about raising aspiration towards the end of primary school and at the very beginning of secondary school. There is good evidence that if that takes place, and is done effectively, we hugely increase social mobility and the aspiration of young people and their ability to attend good universities.
My hon. Friend is right. We cannot just do this at sixth form: we need to focus on it throughout a child’s school career.
Successive Governments have tried to fix careers advice, and none has been effective in doing so. Careers advice varies hugely throughout the country and, despite the best efforts of successive Governments, evidence shows that it is not really getting much better. In our levelling-up agenda as a Government, we really need to focus specifically on that.
We also need to look at subject choice. The subject choices that children from more deprived backgrounds make tend to be less academic and I do not think they always realise how much that will drive future choices. There were people at my school who did A-levels, but did not study all the sciences, and then realised that that restricted their ability to study medicine at university. They did not know that beforehand. It is crucial that we look at how schools guide subject choices and consider what different career paths require at an earlier stage.
We come to the fundamental question of the quality of education. The education reforms that the coalition put through and that have been pushed by this Government have been critical in driving up standards in schools. We need to focus on the fact that children need to be able to read and write when they leave school; everything else that we talk about—music education, for example—is all well and good, but we must have those fundamental basics. The reforms that have been made to GCSEs and A-levels are critical and I believe will, over time, make a difference in social mobility terms.
We cannot lose sight of that. We cannot allow our Ofsted regulators to inspect everything under the sun, rather than examine quality of education. It has become a Christmas tree over time, which has diluted the focus on the quality of education in schools. We cannot allow that to happen. If we are to really succeed in changing social mobility, we need laser-like focus on quality in schools, which I know we will have. The increased funding will help with that.
In summary, we must get more disadvantaged kids into good universities. We need to highlight opportunities and instil aspiration in them throughout their time in schools.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett). Is it not good that another further education lecturer is responding for the Scottish National party? We both know the importance of further education and how it helps to increase social mobility.
The latest state of the nation report says that
“social mobility has stagnated over the last four years at virtually all stages from birth to work”,
which is an utterly shocking indictment of the UK Government. It highlights the way in which inequality is entrenched in Britain, with someone born privileged likely to remain privileged, while someone born disadvantaged may have to overcome barriers to improve their and their children’s social mobility. Urgent action needs to be taken to close the privilege gap. The report also praised the Scottish Government for making Scotland
“more socially mobile, as a person’s occupation is now less determined by the occupation of one’s parents”,
“giving consideration to improving social mobility by introducing a duty on public bodies to reduce socio-economic disadvantage”,
which we do not have in the rest of the UK.
I, too, am socially mobile. My dad was a corporation milkman and my mother was a cleaner. I was the first in my whole family to go to university, in 1967. A lot of what happened to me was because of my parents’ belief in education and the fact that their children should get the chances that they did not. However, it was also because they worked hard, and got the rewards of working hard, in a way that families nowadays do not. We hear so much about work being the best way out of poverty. That is not entirely true—not for someone in the gig economy on what is not, in fact, a living wage. Most people on benefits are in working families, and there are children in poverty across the United Kingdom in families in which both parents work. This scandal should not escape us, and we should do everything we can to end it. The Scottish Government are working to help Scottish families—the Scottish child payment is about to come on board—but only 16% of social security is devolved to Scotland, so they cannot do everything that they would like. Children are the start; and if we give children across the UK the best possible start, social mobility should follow.
Education has been mentioned. As I said, I was educated and became socially mobile. I was economically inactive for a number of years—I had three children—but was able to go back into the workforce at a far higher level. If we educate women especially, we educate generations after them. That is an absolute fact, and I stand here as proof of it. The SNP Government have invested record amounts in schools, to close the poverty-related attainment gap. Hon. Members should not listen to everything said against education in Scotland. It is improving. I know from my experience in further education that giving money helps, but it is also about the commitment of the people who work in education.
The Scottish Government have a uniform fund, enabling children to go to school and be like their peers. A child who goes to school and is like their peers will learn better, learn more and will feel able to progress. The Scottish Government have also expanded the education maintenance allowance in Scotland, but it has been scrapped here. We have to ask why, given that it is socially advantageous to give children from poorer backgrounds money to allow them to stay at school and increase their educational abilities.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott). Yes, going to a good university is really important, which is why places like St Andrews, one of the leading UK universities, actively encourages children, and is actively encouraged by the Scottish Government—
I was indeed. Will the Minister tell us whether her Government will follow the Scottish Government and commit to a socioeconomic duty in England and Wales, and whether they will look at steps that the Scottish Government have already taken to increase social mobility?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I welcome the Minister to her new role. I know from my time on the Front Bench that she takes a keen interest in education. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) on securing the debate. He has a long-standing interest in this matter and has raised it on the Floor of the House on numerous occasions. I just hope that his colleagues at the top of the party will continue to listen. He is right that it is a moral argument, which was made crystal clear in his comments.
I am a First Generation ambassador for Manchester Metropolitan University and have trained numerous working-class young people at A-level about going to university for the first time. Several of them will visit Parliament in the next few weeks. We raise money from the private sector to help the programme, and I am proud of the work that I do as a constituency MP on this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) mentioned social mobility. I have to say that I disagree with his saying that London is the economic and cultural capital of Great Britain. As a Manchester United fan, he should know better. However, it was an excellent speech. He said that opportunity has gone backwards and social mobility is going backwards. I thank him for his work in Parliament on this the subject.
The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), as ever in education debates in Westminster Hall, made really good points about apprenticeships and how important they are to working-class communities getting on. I visited Airbus in Broughton recently and saw working-class young men and women obtaining level 4 and 5-equivalent degrees on the shop floor and coming out with no debt whatsoever. He also spoke about social housing, which was key for me. I had a secure tenancy growing up, even though I grew up in a council flat on a council estate in Manchester. How many young people nowadays get that?
What my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) said about music resonated with me. She has one of the best choirs in Europe in her constituency. Music, arts and culture are a great way to raise aspiration. She is a fantastic representative of a coal-mining community, and she said that those communities need sustained and long-term investment. I thank the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott) for her ambassadorship for the Sutton Trust. She is right: we need more working-class kids going to Russell Group universities. I have some appalling statistics of free-school-meal kids who cannot really get into my fantastic local Russell Group university. The numbers are so few. We have to work harder.
The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) clearly said that the education of women is key to raising social mobility. However, with austerity, the economics we have had and the lack of social justice, it is no wonder that it is stalling. It is worth noting that there was no explicit reference to social mobility in the Queen’s Speech. It has stagnated. That is not my view; that was the view of the Social Mobility Commission, which is part-sponsored by the Government. Members may recall that the board of the Commission resigned en masse in 2017 because it thought that the Government were not taking this seriously enough.
A 2017 Social Mobility Commission report stated:
“There is a fracture line running deep through our labour and housing markets and our education system.”
In other words: our society is divided and unequal. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston pointed out, the then social mobility commissioner stated that appointments to key commission roles were left vacant for years, and went on to say in an interview in The Sunday Times that the Government had shown
“indecision, dysfunctionality and a lack of leadership”.
It took more than six months for the Government to appoint a new commission, so there was no doubt at that point that the Government were not prioritising the issue. However, the new commission revealed that more than half a million more children were living in poverty than in 2012. Furthermore, levels of social mobility remained “virtually stagnant” since 2014—almost five wasted years.
I am extremely proud of my country, but the report by the United Nations special rapporteur that was published last year made me feel ashamed. The report described how our social safety net had been badly damaged by drastic cuts in Whitehall, how the glue that held British society was coming unstuck, deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh, uncaring ethos.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) on securing this important debate on social mobility, the issue which inspired me to enter politics—to enable others to get on. Social mobility is a top priority for this Government and a challenge that requires action across the whole of society and Government. My right hon. Friend is right that the Government must play a key role in improving opportunities across our country.
My right hon. Friend highlighted the important role of the Social Mobility Commission. I want to reassure hon. Members that I regularly meet the chair of the commission to discuss where we can effectively work closely together on our shared agenda. I vehemently believe that education is the key to expanding opportunities and everybody has the right to a good education. As my right hon. Friend said, while education has the power to grow skills and knowledge, it is also about fostering self-belief and expanding horizons. It really is the key to social mobility.
Improving this country’s education system starts in the early years. Giving all young people the best start in life is a top priority for this Government. We are committed to improving access to early education and supporting parents to improve their child’s outcome. Hungry Little Minds is a three-year campaign to encourage parents to chat to their children, play with them and read to them, and to help them be ready for school and life. The other week I visited the Wirral, where I saw how different sectors of the community—businesses and charities—have got involved in that campaign.
Schools are essential ladders of opportunity, as my right hon. Friend noted when he quoted the statistics showing the success of the current reforms. We have focused our attention on raising standards, because all children, wherever they live, deserve high standards of education, which are the best way to allow young people to make the most of their potential. My right hon. Friend will know that this has done much to improve the academic improvement and wider educational outcomes of pupils from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.
We provide additional funding through the pupil premium. Since 2011, we have distributed over £17 billion in pupil premium funding. Through the groundbreaking work of the Education Endowment Foundation, schools can now freely access a growing body of high-quality evidence on what really works, so they can make informed decisions about how best to spend that money effectively. We will continue to support all groups that are held back and ensure that schools can address the needs of each individual pupil. That is why we have injected so much more money into our education system recently.
My right hon. Friend mentioned social mobility hotspots. While we are working to improve the life chances of disadvantaged pupils everywhere, we recognise that some parts of the country face particularly significant challenges. We have used the Social Mobility Commission’s 2016 social mobility index and the data from the Department for Education on school capacity and performance to select 12 areas for targeted initiatives. Those 12 opportunity areas are a mix of coastal, urban and rural areas across the country. The commission’s report on the state of the nation, which has been referenced several times, recognised the important work of opportunity areas for levelling up society, especially in deprived parts of the country. We were, therefore, delighted to announce a one-year £18 million extension to the programme last October, bringing the total funds to £90 million. Additionally, we are working with leaders from education, local government and business, and we are investing up to £24 million through Opportunity North East.
My right hon. Friend made an important point about the need of young people to access a range of activities, inside and outside the classroom. In 2017-19, we invested £22 million in an essential life skills programme to help engage disadvantaged young children in extracurricular activities, to develop confidence in leadership and support life skills critical to raising their aspirations. Last year, we published guidance to help schools to improve character education and the personal development of their pupils.
We have not yet set a target. I think the aspiration should be that the sky is the limit. This is an extremely important debate that, unfortunately, we did not have enough time for today. It is the key priority of this Government to level up society across the country and ensure that every child and young person has the opportunities they deserve.
Going back to the point I was dealing with on, I wanted to say that it linked with the points made by the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), who talked about the role of the voluntary sector in levelling up society. Further education is a great driver of social mobility, and we are reviewing qualifications to ensure that our reforms in that sector help all students. We will provide £3 million in extra funding to pupil premium plus, on top of the additional investment we have made in the further education sector.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) that high-quality apprenticeships are essential to social mobility. That is something that we all recognise, and something that we debated in this Chamber yesterday. We want to ensure that people from all backgrounds can access the benefits of an apprenticeship, and our Opportunities Through Apprenticeships project was specifically targeted at helping disadvantaged young people. That is something that I am looking at, to ensure it is an even playing field.
Higher education has been referenced, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott). I agree with her, but I stress that higher education is not the only route for social mobility. However, our reforms, including the establishment of the Office for Students, open access to higher education. They are about bringing in greater competition and choice and promoting higher-quality education for all. I take her point about it depending on the type of institution that young people get into, and that is something we have specifically been targeting over recent years. The figures have demonstrated success: in 2019, 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds were 62% more likely to enter full-time higher education.
Finally, turning to the world of work, I share the concern of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford that privately educated individuals continue to be over-represented in professional occupations. That is something we have tried to target through our career education reforms. We have made great strides in recent years to improve careers advice for young people based on the Gatsby benchmarks. Through the Careers & Enterprise Company, we have established 40 career hubs. The latest state of the nation report concluded that schools and colleges have improved in every aspect of their career provision, with some of the most disadvantaged communities among the highest performers.
In conclusion, and to allow my right hon. Friend a moment to sum up, I thank him for calling this important and crucial debate, which has rightly ranged across the actions that we are taking to spread opportunities at all stages of a young person’s life. The Government and I are committed to providing all young people with the tools that they need to reach their full potential and access the opportunities that they deserve.
I thank the Minister for her comments and for the information she has given us, and I also thank everybody who has participated in today’s debate, which is vitally important. We need to work together across parties to ensure that we achieve what we all want, which is to make sure that the deprived areas have the best opportunities for young people and to create aspiration and opportunities for people to maximise their life chances. We need to do that in many and varied ways.
We have had a very good debate this afternoon on how we view social mobility, how we think about it and how we should go forward. Members from all parts of the House have raised many issues, and I thank them for giving us more food for thought. There should be more opportunities to discuss the issue, and it should be a top priority. I welcome the Minister saying that the Government have social mobility as a top priority. We should all be working to ensure that all young people have real opportunities to make the most of their lives and the most of the opportunities that we can give them. Through that, they can succeed and then our country and our communities can succeed. By working together, they will have a fulfilled life and really achieve their maximum potential.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered social mobility.