Tuesday 14 September 2021
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
Black Maternal Health Week
[Relevant Document: e-petition 301079, Improve Maternal Mortality Rates and Health Care for Black Women in the U.K.]
Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government and House of Commons Commission guidance. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. Members should send their speaking notes by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Similarly, officials should communicate electronically with Ministers. I now call Bell Ribeiro-Addy to move the motion.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Black Maternal Health Week.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am thankful that we are able to have this debate, which follows from an e-petition debate that was held in April after the petition received over 180,000 signatures. MPs were given the opportunity for the first time to debate a petition calling for improvements to maternal mortality rates and healthcare for black women in the UK.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Tinuke and Clo from Five X More, as well as Elsie Gayle, whose tireless campaigning efforts have forced this issue on to the agenda. They have not only provided us with the opportunity to discuss the issue but given a voice to many black women who have experienced a traumatic pregnancy or birth and to those families who have lost loved ones.
For too long the statistics had pointed towards a glaring disparity in black maternal health experiences, and for too long nothing was said. We now have a Black Maternal Health Awareness Week, during which we can highlight the disparities and discuss ways in which we can make pregnancy a safe experience for all, regardless of skin colour.
Members will by now be very familiar with the statistics surrounding black maternal healthcare and mortality, but they bear repeating. In the UK, which is one of the safest countries in the world in which to give birth, black women are still four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth. Black women are up to 83% more likely to suffer a near miss during pregnancy. Black babies have a 121% increased risk of stillbirth and a 50% increased risk of neonatal death. Miscarriage rates are 40% higher in black women, and black ethnicity is regarded as a risk factor for miscarriage. Black mothers are twice as likely to give birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
The situation for women and birthing people of mixed heritage and Asian heritage, unfortunately, is not much better, with those of mixed heritage being three times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth, and Asian women two times more likely. Asian babies also have a 55% increased risk of stillbirth and a 66% increased risk of neonatal mortality.
However, we all know that racial disparities in health do not begin, and certainly do not end, there. Despite these statistics, despite the number of reports and studies that have been produced in the last year and before, and despite being aware of the glaring disparities in maternal healthcare, we still have no target to end them.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. The statistics are alarming and disconcerting. That black ladies are four times more likely to die in childbirth is shocking. Does she agree that the Government and the Minister now have a responsibility urgently to outline steps to address this? The hon. Lady has outlined the issue, but we want to see what the response will be to make it better.
The hon. Member is absolutely right. With disparities such as these and no clear way forward, that is what we are hoping to hear from the Government. With all the information that we have, it is clear that the response is not good enough.
In the USA, where there is also a glaring disparity in maternal health outcomes for black and ethnic minority women, the Government have actually begun to take steps to address the problem. In April, the White House issued its first ever proclamation on black maternal health. President Joe Biden declared a Black Maternal Health Week, to take place annually from 11 to 17 April.
The hon. Lady is giving a very powerful and important speech. I wonder whether she is aware that research from the USA shows that when black and Asian women do not have pre-existing medical conditions, do have English as their first language and come from middle-class backgrounds, they still have worse outcomes than comparable white women. Does the hon. Lady agree that there is something more going on here, making it all the more pressing that this Government here understand and act?
I thank the hon. Lady for that timely intervention. She is absolutely right; that shows that this is clearly about racism. It is important that we look to what other countries that also clearly have issues with racism are doing to tackle it.
Alongside the Black Maternal Health Week proclaimed by the White House, the Biden-Harris administration has outlined several action plans specifically looking at addressing maternal health issues. Through the American Rescue Plan Act 2021, $30 million has been reserved for implicit bias training for healthcare providers, as well as a provision that will allow states to expand post-partum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to a full year.
How have our Government responded in comparison? In response to a question I asked one of our equality Ministers, I was told that there was no target because the numbers were not high enough. Our Government have responded with poorly rolled-out plans that actually exacerbate the issue by ignoring the problem altogether. The NHS long-term plan aimed at providing continuity care for women across the country seemed, on paper, like a really good starting point to improve maternal health outcomes. However, a whistleblower at Worcester Royal Hospital has said that, in reality, it has created a two-tier system for pregnant women. To create the new team of continuity carers, midwives have had to be pulled from the hospital’s core staff, leaving the hospital unit without enough specifically trained staff.
A constituent of mine, Jade Sullivan, has been in touch with me to share her own experiences of disparities in maternity care and outcomes for black women. Her testimony was incredibly powerful, and I hope to be able to meet with the Minster soon to discuss that in more detail. Does my hon. Friend—I am sorry, I should say the hon. Member, although I hope that she is also my friend—agree with me that we need a clear plan with targets to reduce disparities in maternal health outcomes that actually outline the specific actions needed to improve safety for black mothers and their babies?
I thank the hon. Member because I absolutely agree that that is what we need, but we also need to make sure that these plans are well thought-out and well resourced. As the whistleblower from Worcester pointed out, with the new plan, the ward could often end up being short of five or six midwives per shift. Meanwhile, those with a continuity midwife who are, according to the whistleblower, actually lower risk, are jumping ahead and delivering their babies because the midwife is available straight away.
A system that is supposed to help reduce the rate of stillbirths and maternal mortality has, through its poor implementation, resulted in a two-tier system whereby higher-risk pregnancies are made to wait for deliveries. For example, a woman in need of an urgent caesarean section may have to wait while women with a planned or elective caesarean section are seen first.
Recently, the Health and Social Care Committee’s evaluation of the Government’s progress against their policy commitments in the area of maternity services in England rated the Government’s continuity care commitment as inadequate and in need of improvement. That is simply not good enough. While figures also suggest that the number of women from disadvantaged backgrounds who are likely to experience a high-risk pregnancy are now receiving continuity care, and those numbers are increasing, it is clear that the Government are not on track to meet the target of rolling out their continuity of carer service model to 75% of the most vulnerable groups by March 2024. Without adequate funding and staffing, the two-tier system that has played out in Worcester will continue.
Other measures introduced by the Government to improve maternity healthcare seem to ignore the racial disparities altogether. On 4 July this year, the Department of Health and Social Care announced that it was committing £2.45 million to improve childbirth care. Of that, £2 million was to be allocated to test the best way to spot early warning signs of babies in distress, and the remaining money was allocated to developing a new workforce planning tool for maternity medics, including helping trusts to tackle other inequalities, taking into account local factors such as birth rates, the age of the population, the socioeconomic status of the area, and geographical factors. Those are all important, but at no point in this announcement was there any reference to tackling ethnic disparities in maternal healthcare, despite all of the information we have heard over the past few years in particular.
I ask the Minister why the decision was made to omit a reference to ethnic disparities when research clearly highlights ethnicity as a factor in maternal health outcomes, so much so that a series of papers released in The Lancet regarded black ethnicity as a risk factor for miscarriage. In fact, the only other intervention I have heard has come from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which was to recommend inducing black women at 39 weeks—another tone-deaf response. There have been loads of responses from throughout the sector that really drilled down on what the problem was with this. Christine Ekechi, the co-chair of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ race equality taskforce, said that
“Stratifying risk by race alone is a blunt tool to use, and although highlighting higher risk is important, it does not move our understanding further as to why this group of women are at greater risk…Women should always be able to make informed decisions about their own health and care based on real evidence.”
This suggestion was not based on real evidence.
The Royal College of Midwives warned against “blanket approach recommendations” and argued in favour of “personalised care”, saying that
“Black, Asian, mixed, and ethnic minority women face a constellation of biases when accessing maternity services, often experiencing poorer quality of care and lower satisfaction. Introducing an intervention that is singling out women on ethnicity alone, when there are likely to be large differences in health status and values within the group could itself be considered discriminatory.”
Mars Lord, who is a doula and birth activist and started the Not So NICE campaign with her colleague Leah Lewin, said that the recommendations were already affecting black people’s mental health. She said that she had been in contact with
“dozens of black and brown pregnant women and birthing people who are fearful about their birth because they are not seeing any choices”.
Thousands have signed a petition urging the Government to reject the guidance from NICE.
It is clear that without a proper plan to end racial maternity health disparities, the Government are telling black, Asian and ethnic minority women and birthing people right across this country that they do not care: that our pregnancies, our children and our experiences do not matter. If the Government want to show that this is not true—if they want to prove that they care about the experience of every pregnant woman—they have to start, first and foremost, by setting a target to end these maternal health disparities.
When the Minister responds, I want to hear that the Government have set a target to end racial maternal health inequalities. I want to hear that they have a timeframe for when they would like to see these gaps closed and reduced, and exactly how they plan to do this, and I want to hear that the Government have heard what black women have been saying about our experiences of maternal healthcare and how they have often resulted in negative outcomes and traumatic experiences. I also want the Government to say that they will engage with black women to improve our experiences of maternal health services, and that they will be implementing the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ recommendations on black maternal health, as well as those included in the Health and Social Care Committee’s report, “Safety of maternity services in England.”
Finally, when the Minister responds, I hope to hear that the Government intend to launch an inquiry into institutional racism and racial bias within the NHS, as well as within the medical education field. Stereotypes about the pain tolerance of black people, our cultural beliefs and practices, and our perceived understanding of the medical system all contribute to the negative experiences black women have had in maternal services, and they definitely contributed to mine. It is certainly an uncomfortable view to take that medicine, or our fantastic NHS, may operate within a framework that has institutional racist bias, but if we are going to improve the maternal experiences and outcomes of black women, we have to address the racial stereotypes that cause them. We are not going to get there by burying our head in the sand and pretending that these racial injustices do not exist, or that they are not so bad. The colour of a woman or a birthing person’s skin should not impact the experience that they have of maternal healthcare services, their chances of a successful outcome or, in fact, whether they live or die. It is a sad fact that this happens in our country—in the sixth largest economy in the world, in one of the safest places to have a child—so we are calling on the Government to help improve those maternal experiences for all women.
I put on record my appreciation to the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) for having led the debate today and for her incredible work on this important and sensitive issue.
Alongside me, she is a member of the Women and Equalities Committee. We have been privileged to listen to the evidence of black and mixed-race mothers about the experiences that they have had in giving birth and in supporting their family members in giving birth. We have heard some real horror stories of lost sisters and lost daughters, because their maternal health outcomes have been worse than the outcomes that my hon. Friends the Minister and the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) and I would have had.
It is wrong that in 21st century Britain we can still expect black and mixed-race women and women from ethnic minorities to have such a massive disparity of experience. The Five X More campaign has done some incredible work. In the Select Committee, we have been lucky enough to do roundtables with them, and to listen to their experiences, their recommendations and the changes that they believe would make a real difference.
Those stories have been difficult but important to listen to. The thing I took away was how fed up those women were about having to repeatedly tell the story. They feel that they are not being listened to, that there is no change and that they are not seeing action, when actually, as the hon. Member for Streatham has pointed out, the statistics are so stark that this should be driving immediate and rapid change.
In November last year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights discussed targets. I can sometimes be a bit sceptical about targets and think they do not necessarily always drive the right outcomes and behaviours, but this is a clear case where I think that they would and where I want to see the Government have real ambition to set a target and a timeframe, so that we can see that four times more disparity driven down and ended. It is crucial that we try to do that in a very rapid timescale.
There have also been clear recommendations from the Health and Social Care Committee. Indeed, the Government should be responding to them imminently. Can the Minister update us on that in her response and give us an indication about whether the Government will embrace those recommendations?
I am conscious that my hon. Friend the Minister has done good work on the subject and last year set up a forum designed to bring together experts in the field to meet key stakeholders, to consider and to address the inequalities for women and babies from different ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic groups. We cannot shy away from that. We also have to look at some of the intersectional challenges, and ensure we are looking not just at race but at the socioeconomic situation.
Can the Minister outline how that forum is assisting policy making? It is crucial and we want to understand what role those experts are playing in feeding into Government to drive policy change. Can she indicate how often the forum has met and what the key recommendations have been? How quickly will those recommendations be acted upon, if indeed they will be acted upon?
One challenge that we heard at the Women and Equalities Committee roundtables was about research. Many experts felt that there was already a great depth of research that had been done, that the knowledge was there and that perhaps further research was not needed. In April this year, we heard that the Government had commissioned the policy research unit in maternal and neonatal health and care at the University of Oxford to develop an English maternal morbidity outcome indicator, which is not easy to say. That is crucially important. We want to see how that indicator is working and when we expect it to be rolled out. I would like to hear the Minister today update us on that work and give us some indication as to whether she is any closer to committing to a target for reducing the deaths of black women in childbirth.
Towards the end of her contribution, the hon. Member for Streatham spoke about continuity of care, which is crucial. We know very well that if there is continuity of care during pregnancy then the birth outcomes would be better for both mother and child. The NHS long-term plan included targeted support around continuity of care, with an aim that by March this year most women would receive the sort of crucial continuity that we are calling for. That was a target that was set, so I would very much welcome the Minister’s updating us on how that is going. We heard from the Health and Social Care Committee that the targets for continuity of care were inadequate and in need of improvement, so perhaps we can have an indication of how the Government will achieve that.
The hon. Member for Streatham finished her speech with a commentary on institutional racism in the national health service. I was really struck—I was going to say this time last year, but perhaps it was a bit earlier—when we took evidence in the Women and Equalities Committee on how much worse the outcomes of covid were for people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. One of the messages that we heard from healthcare professionals from black and Asian backgrounds who were working in the NHS was that they were scared to speak up. They were scared to tell their stories to line managers about the pressures that they faced when working in our NHS. In many instances, they felt exposed to racism if they asked for perfectly reasonable adaptations or changes, or for greater levels of personal protective equipment. It is absolutely wrong in the 21st century that we have people working in our health service who are frightened to speak up.
I was struck when we took evidence during the roundtable discussions with black and minority ethnic mothers, and indeed with experts—we heard from Christine Ekechi, who is the most incredible woman, and from the doula Mars Lord, to whom the hon. Member for Streatham referred. They made a really important, shocking and, in many ways, depressing point: too many black women and their partners were not being listened to during childbirth. They were trying to convey how they felt and the worries they had when they felt that things were going wrong. Mothers going through childbirth were scared and instinctively felt that something was going wrong, and they told us repeatedly that they were not listened to. In a 21st-century health service in the sixth largest economy in the world, that is simply not acceptable.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I pay tribute to my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), for her powerful opening speech and for the work that she has been doing to lead on this really important issue.
The theme for this year’s Black Maternal Health Awareness Week is “changing the narrative”. We have to change the narrative. There is a call for a sea change in the outcomes for black women during pregnancy, and in finding ways to empower black patients to advocate for their health. We have known for years that women of black, Asian and mixed heritage face significantly higher maternal and prenatal mortality rates, and that women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds discover many conditions during their pregnancy. I discovered that I had fibroids at my first maternal scan during my first pregnancy. As an expectant mother, that brought a level of fear and anxiety—what would happen to me and my baby? In most cases fibroids can be unharmful, but in a small number of cases they can cause complications for the growth of the child and for both mother and baby during labour.
Unfortunately, we know that black and minority ethnic women are sometimes not listened to during the course of their pregnancy, and that there can be unconscious bias as a result of the structural inequality and institutional racism in our healthcare system. As my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham highlighted, Professor Knight suggests in the MBRRACE-UK report that a number of black and ethnic minority people face microaggressions, which means that symptoms can be indicative of complications that are missed, and that they are not given the attention they need. The “changing the narrative” campaign helps to empower black women to make their voices heard on this issue. It is crucial that their voices are listened to, and that their experiences are heard. I pay tribute to Five X More for the vital work that it has been doing to lead the campaign and, most importantly, to get the Government to listen to the many voices of the black and Asian women who are suffering in this area.
As a mother to two young children, who were born just across the river at St Thomas’ Hospital, this issue is close to my heart and those of many of my constituents in Vauxhall. More than 1,000 Vauxhall residents signed the petition urging the Government to pay close attention to this issue and to improve health outcomes and maternal rates for black women in the UK. Compared with white European women, black African women in the UK are 83% more likely to suffer near-misses in childbirth, and black Caribbean women are 80% more likely to do so. My two children were very stubborn and did not want to come out; in the end, they had to be evicted by C-section. My first pregnancy was fine: I was induced, it did not work, so the C-section was the next day. My second pregnancy did not go so well. Having gone through a C-section, I did not want that again. I tried to explain to the doctors that my body did not respond to induction and that if they just gave me time, the baby would eventually come out. Everything did not go to plan and I was rushed to theatre for an emergency C-section.
Panic, fear and the unknown, added to the fact that they had not been able to contact or locate my husband, meant my body froze and rejected the epidural. I heard the doctor’s words that I would have to go under general anaesthetic. I asked, “What? I am going to be put to sleep and you are going to deliver this baby. What if I don’t wake up?” I was lucky because I did wake up, after many hours. A number of black women are not as lucky; they do not wake up. It is important that we listen to black women and the experiences of all women, because they know their bodies best.
During the debate earlier this year, alongside the petition in April, the Minister would not set a target around black maternal health:
“We cannot set targets until we know what we are trying to achieve through those targets and what we need to address.”—[Official Report, 19 April 2021; Vol. 692, c. 172WH.]
We know that black women in the UK are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth; women of mixed heritage are three times more likely; and Asian women twice as likely. Those statistics paint a clear picture of the problem we need to solve. It is now five months since we last discussed this issue in the House. I have one question for the Minister: what research has been done to set the target, so that we can measure the progress to end this disparity? If none, what steps is she taking to gather the data urgently to tackle this problem as soon as possible? One death is far too many. It is important that we listen to those women and address this issue urgently.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate on an important subject. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), who made it possible. In particular, to speak in Black Maternal Health Awareness Week feels right and appropriate.
For all mothers-to-be, pregnancy is a challenging time, as I remember. Pregnant women feel vulnerable as their bodies are changing. For a first-time parent, in particular, the uncertainty of parenting can be daunting. It is very important that all mothers-to-be have access to high-quality services. Many do, thanks to our NHS. Our NHS is staffed by so many dedicated professionals, who provide exemplary support for many new mothers.
I want to make it clear that this debate is not designed to berate or admonish hard-working NHS staff. In fact, many staff in maternity services are black. Nevertheless, as colleagues have said, the extraordinary disparities in black maternal health cannot, and must not, be ignored any longer. I am aware that the Government do not like to talk about racial disparities, but Ministers can scarcely blame black women themselves for the disparities in maternal outcomes for black women.
The time is now for the Government and those in charge of the NHS to take these issues seriously. As Members have said, statistics show that black women in the UK have a fourfold higher increased possibility of dying in pregnancy, compared with their white counterparts. Disparities in mortality rates extend to babies as well as mothers. Mortality rates remain higher for black, black British, Asian or Asian British babies. That must have something to do with the disparities in the whole area of the maternal experience.
As a number of Members have said, these statistics show that there is a major problem in maternal health. So, the question is this: what are we going to do about it? To NHS managers and commissioners who may listen to this debate or read the transcript of it, I would ask: how will you ensure that black women are listened to? A number of Members who have spoken in this debate have made the point that black women, however confident and educated they might be in other circumstances, do not feel that they are listened to when it comes to the maternal experience. How will we close the pain gap, to ensure that black women are not left to suffer without the pain relief that apparently is readily given to white mothers?
The 2019 NHS Long Term Plan is a start, but it lacks concrete steps to address this disparity. It makes no mention of addressing disparities even in the administration of pain relief, among other things. I am hopeful that the Minister will touch on these issues when she responds to the debate.
So I say to the Government: what is the plan to address these disparities? What explanation can be given for them? Ministers have said in the past that we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. If they believe that, what will they do about the disparities in maternal outcomes?
If the Government and those managing our NHS wish to close this gap, they have to put black women at the centre of their thinking and listen to what they say about their experience, both after and during childbirth. That means that there must be clear and binding targets, data collection and monitoring to support and judge progress on this issue. It also means funding for new and existing projects to tackle this disparity and to take the measures that I and others have outlined.
I thank campaigners, such as those at Five X More, who have worked so hard to ensure that this matter is not forgotten. Black women and their babies deserve better. At no point in any woman’s life does she feel more vulnerable than in childbirth, and black women should not have to believe or understand that they will have a poorer outcome simply because of the colour of their skin and their babies’ skin.
It is a pleasure, Mr Hollobone, to serve under your chairmanship today.
I start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) for securing this debate in Black Maternal Health Week. Clearly, she is determined that something will be done to change this terrible situation, and rightly so. Persistence very often pays off and I am sure that she will persist until change comes. I also know that this is a very personal matter for her and nothing that happens in the future can change what happened to her and her child. The fact that she keeps fighting so that the situation changes for others says much about her and I am more than happy to offer her my support.
Just as the hon. Member and others will keep raising this issue, so should we all keep raising it again and again, as others have today, until it is no longer true that black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than white women. I repeat that: four times more likely to die. Women from mixed backgrounds are three times—
To highlight what my hon. Friend is saying, it seems to me that it is inconceivable that the general public know about this issue. If people understood what a huge disparity in maternal health outcomes there is for black women and for mixed race women, I feel sure that there would be a huge outcry. It is really important that the Minister takes that point on board and takes every step possible to deal with this terrible blight.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It is up to the many Members of this House who are not already doing it to do it, and those of us who are doing it must keep repeating over and over again that black women are four times as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth as white women. For women from mixed backgrounds it is three times as likely, and for Asian women it is twice as likely.
The reason we need to keep saying that is that, despite the fact that the inequality and disparity in maternal and newborn health has been highlighted for many years, we still do not fully understand why it exists, as we have heard, and we do not have the targets that we need to tackle it. The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, of which I recently became a member, said that the statistics are so stark that there should be immediate change. She called on the Government to meet ambitious targets rapidly, and I completely agree.
In the previous debate on this matter, I focused on some of the shocking statistics that MBRRACE-UK highlighted in its confidential inquiry into maternal deaths; I shall repeat some of them. For every 100,000 women who gave birth between 2016 and 2018, 34 black women, 25 mixed ethnicity women and 15 Asian women died, compared with eight white women. Behind those numbers are people—women and babies. Compared with babies of a white ethnicity, black babies have a 121% increased risk of stillbirth and a 50% increased risk of neonatal death, and the gap has been widening since 2013. So there are these tiny human beings—boys and girls—who never got a chance at life. There are grieving fathers and husbands. There are whole families and whole communities.
In addition to the higher mortality rates, other concerns include the number of near misses and the number of times that women have felt that their voices have not been heard because of their skin colour. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) described a terrifying experience, when she must have felt completely powerless. That is wrong. I was shocked to hear many stories of mothers denied pain relief or left to suffer with undiagnosed post-partum conditions. I know that these things happen to women who are not black—it is always wrong—but for someone to be treated differently because of their skin colour surely compounds the problem. Just as we would research and address any medical causes of these things, we must research and address this issue. I echo the calls of the hon. Member for Streatham for the Government to address it.
As someone who is white, it took me some time to learn that people who are black just know when someone’s behaviour towards them is because of their skin colour. It is hard to explain. It was hard for me to understand at first, and obviously it is harder for me as a white woman to explain it because I do not experience it, but I have no doubt about it. I encourage everyone who does doubt it to really listen to what black and Asian mums are saying and trust that they just know.
NHS GP Dr Adwoa Danso has pointed out that instances of medical mistreatment have impacted on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities’ faith in the health services, and we saw that when it came to getting the covid vaccine. There is a further suggestion that, as the majority of migrants are disproportionally black, Asian and mixed ethnicity, the Home Office’s hostile environment immigration policy makes public services incredibly difficult to access. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) talked about the hostile environment and has campaigned hard against it for many years.
Women seeking asylum have been blocked or refused by reception staff acting as gatekeepers, often in conjunction with expectations or experiences of prejudice and discrimination. The hostile environment also leads to decisions such as taking women seeking asylum out of supportive communities and into places such as the so-called mother and baby unit in Glasgow, where tiny babies are put in tiny rooms with not even enough room to crawl. The frustrating thing for me as an MP representing Glasgow North East, in a country where we have our own Government, is that our Government can do nothing about it because all the decisions about it are taken down here in Westminster.
Absolutely. The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North mentioned evidence from the Women and Equalities Committee. I was not on the Committee at the time, but NHS staff gave evidence saying that they felt unable to speak up. A number of years ago when I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I met with a group of South African nurses, and they were astonished that they were able to meet with a parliamentarian, because they thought it was not their right to be represented. They told me the things that were happening to them in their jobs in the NHS, and they certainly needed someone to support and represent them, so, yes, I do completely agree with the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
Maternity Action research found that, just like staff who were too afraid to report, black and minority ethnic women tended not to report negative experiences, and they were less likely to be treated with kindness by health professionals or spoken to using terms they could understand. Although data has not been collected recently, a 2007 confidential inquiry into maternal and child health found that between 2003 and 2005 10% of all maternal deaths were women who could not speak English. As we heard earlier in an intervention from my hon. Friend the member for—Eastwood?
It is Eastwood in the Scottish Parliament. Forgive me, Mr Hollobone. As my hon. Friend said, studies in America show that even among women who come from fairly well-off backgrounds and who do speak English, black and Asian women are still disproportionately affected.
If I worked in maternity care in the NHS and heard someone like me saying these things, I would naturally feel defensive. Instead, what I ought to do is think about it, read up on it, question myself—and I do regularly—and really listen to what people are saying. I have no doubt that the vast majority of healthcare workers care deeply about the people they work with. The debate is more about the system itself and the inbuilt structural inequalities. For those who may be watching and do not know this, if we say the health service is structurally racist, it does not mean it is populated by racists: it means the way in which it is structured is for white people from certain backgrounds. It takes into consideration their needs, culture and language, with very little flexibility to take into account anyone else’s. Changing the structures makes them more flexible, and that is what the debate is calling for, in addition to addressing the very specific problems that have been talked about. After all, our NHS is not a white person’s NHS, it is an NHS for everybody.
I had decided that I was only going to speak for five minutes, and I think if I had not taken interventions then I would have done, but I think it is worth saying why I had decided that. I wanted to give the hon. Member for Streatham longer—and I know she will want to say a few words at the end—because, even though I have ended up taking 10 minutes, I do believe that part of offering support is saying less and listening more.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Hollobone. I thank all Members who have taken the time to attend the debate, in particular the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), who I have heard speak before about her experience on this issue. I think she is incredibly brave to campaign and highlight the issue in the way she does. I thank her for her thoughtful considerations. I know that she is holding my feet to the fire as well as the Department’s, and that is a huge assistance in pushing the agenda forward within the Department of Health and Social Care.
I stand responding to the debate as a brand new grandmother of 18 days. The delivery was not uneventful, and the baby arrived early, which is a similar story to that of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) at St Thomas’. Having given birth myself three times, I understand in a very raw way the pressures that all women experience, and I lived through just two weeks ago how emotional and incredibly frightening it can be when things do not go to plan.
This is the second annual awareness week we have had to highlight the disparities for black women in maternal health outcomes in the UK.
Congratulations to the Minister, it is always a joy to see more children and grandchildren. I am still getting to grips with motherhood with my four-year-old and six year-old. The statistics clearly show that the maternal death rates, and negative experiences, of black and Asian women are higher, but this does not negate the fact that some white women also go through similar experiences. Does the Minister agree that improving the maternal health outcomes of one group will improve the outcomes for all groups?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I am very proud of the work that we have done in the Department of Health and Social Care, and in the NHS, to improve maternal outcomes for everyone, particularly over the last few years. The statistics speak for themselves. However, I will focus on the issue of black women and maternal health, because there is a great deal that we have done since the hon. Member for Streatham had the last debate. I am looking forward to informing her about the work that has been undertaken since then. I thank her for instigating this debate, and I hope that she continues to hold our feet to the fire. It is important that people do raise this issue, as she does, as often as possible in Parliament.
In response to the incredibly articulate speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), it is right to raise the report by the Health and Social Care Committee, which I will respond to next week. A number of the questions that have been asked today will be included in that response, so I will not steal my own thunder—I will wait to provide a response next week.
I thank the co-founders of the Five X More campaign, Clotilde and Tinuke, and all the health care professionals and organisations who campaign to raise awareness of this week. I have visited Tommy’s maternity unit three times now, and the hon. Member for Streatham is right to raise the point that the majority of staff, doctors and midwives are black. I am incredibly impressed with the way that Tommy’s addresses this issue; they are pioneers in addressing maternity inequalities and outcomes, and they do fantastic work. I pay tribute to Tommy’s, and all hospitals, who I know are putting their weight behind reducing maternity inequalities and outcomes—Tommy’s is certainly at the forefront of that work. My granddaughter was born at Chelsea and Westminster hospital, so I thank them too—they are pretty amazing as well.
This debate comes a few days before this year’s World Patient Safety Day; the theme this year is safe maternal and new born care. It provides an opportunity to mark the progress made across the system in improving outcomes and safety, but also to recognise that further work is needed. At its best, NHS care offers some of the safest maternal and neonatal outcomes in the world. However, the disparities that exist between black and white women in pregnancy and childbirth experiences are unacceptable. I am committed to both reducing this disparity in health outcomes, and improving the experience of care.
We cannot beat around the bush any longer on some of the reasons why we experience these inequalities. They are complex, and there is no one answer as to how we can address this subject. Personal, social, economic and environmental factors all play a part; we must address the causes of disparities to improve outcomes and experiences of care. I was delighted that last week NHS England and NHS Improvement published their equity and equality guidance, which responds to findings that maternal and perinatal mortality show worse outcomes for those in black, Asian and mixed ethnic groups. They invested £6.8 million in the guidance to improve equity and equality action plans, and implement targeted and enhanced continuity of care.
We know that pregnancy lasts around 40 weeks. However, when a woman walks into a hospital to give birth, those 24 or 48 hours—however many hours she is in hospital—are not what wholly contributes to her experience of the healthcare sector, or her outcome. A lifetime approach is needed to address some of the reasons why some women are more at risk of poorer outcomes than others. We know that there are many health issues that contribute to poorer outcomes in pregnancy, including alcohol, obesity and smoking. The chief medical officer recently published a report that showed that, in some of our seaside towns, 25% of women are smoking at the beginning of pregnancy. I think the figure was that 22% were still smoking by the end of their pregnancy. There are inequalities and health disparities that we really need to address.
For that reason, we have established the newly formed Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, which launches on 1 October, to target those health disparities, including racial and ethnic disparities in health, and to improve pre-conception health to support women to be in their best health throughout pregnancy.
I will just finish the point on the office of disparities, because it is quite important. It is a huge step to establish an office that will actually deal with this particular issue. It will tackle inequalities across the country, and will be co-led by the newly-appointed deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jeannelle de Gruchy.
The office will be a vital part of the Department of Health and Social Care, and will drive the prevention agenda across Government to reduce health disparities. I hope the hon. Member for Streatham welcomes the establishment of this new body to tackle the top preventable risk factors for poor health, which include obesity, unhealthy diets, lack of physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption. Equity and equality guidance will also be issued.
It is a huge step to look at those lifetime health experiences that contribute to what happens at the point of delivery and throughout pregnancy. Until we improve, and look at what happens before, using a lifetime view of health that includes women’s experiences of health throughout, then tackling what happens when they walk through a labour ward door will continue to be very difficult.
I think everyone present welcomes the establishment of the new office. The Minister has mentioned obesity, alcohol and smoking as risk factors in pregnancy; I take it she is not suggesting that the disproportionate outcomes we have for black women are because we are more likely to be obese, smoke or drink.
Absolutely. The office will look at all pregnancies, and the negative contributing factors. I believe that one in four women—black and white women—who present in labour are obese. That has an incredibly high risk factor during labour, so it is to address inequalities across the board. My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North mentioned socio-economic groups, and the disparities they experience: smoking, alcohol and other negative factors that contribute during pregnancy are across the board, and they need to be addressed. That is the reason why the office has been established.
The cessation of smoking during pregnancy was something we campaigned on a lot in the past. I have noticed, probably since we passed the legislation to ban smoking in many places, the emphasis has almost come off the importance of not smoking during pregnancy. The CMO’s report highlights that, in some areas of low socio-economic grouping, 25% of women are starting pregnancy smoking. That highlights the fact that we need to put more emphasis on, and focus on, those health disparities.
Maybe I am misunderstanding, but this Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is going to look at things like smoking—you can stop smoking and can be supported in that, and you can stop drinking and can be supported in that—and I think all this is really good, but people cannot change their skin colour. Will it be looking at how ethnicity impacts on women’s and babies’ chances?
Absolutely—across black, Asian and mixed ethnic minority groups as well. The point has been made today that black women do not feel listened to. We hear stories of complaints about pain, prolonged labour and other issues, and black women just do not feel as though they are being listened to in that environment. The core finding of the Cumberlege report, which addressed mesh, sodium valproate and Primodos, was that women are not being listened to, and black women probably even more so in the maternity setting. That issue for women, black women, Asian women and women from mixed ethnic backgrounds needs to be addressed. Women have to be listened to.
Turning to covid-19 and vaccinations, covid-19 has further exposed some of the health and wider inequalities that persist within our society. While considering disparities in the context of the pandemic, initial data suggests that vaccine uptake among ethnic minorities is lower than for other groups. Covid-19 vaccines are recommended in pregnancy. Vaccination is the best way to protect against the known risks of covid-19 for women and babies, including admission of the woman to intensive care and premature birth of the baby.
New findings from a National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit-led study showed that of the 742 women admitted to hospital since vaccination data has been collected, only four had received a single dose of the vaccine and none had received both doses. That means more than 99% of pregnant women admitted to hospital with symptomatic covid-19 are unvaccinated. That is quite stark.
On that point, will my hon. Friend reassure me and all Members that the Government will keep pushing the crucial message that the vaccine does not affect fertility or pregnancy, and that it is important for pregnant women and women of childbearing age to get the vaccine?
Absolutely. My right hon. Friend has done it for me, but I absolutely encourage women to get the vaccine because 99% is a huge figure. There is a basis of mistrust. The reason why many black women do not access some of the health services they should do before pregnancy is because they do not feel listened to and they do not feel they can trust their practitioner. The message of “Take the vaccine” must be pushed.
I will finish by taking the opportunity to urge women to continue to access maternity care and to stress that pregnant women should never hesitate to contact their midwife, maternity team or GP, or to call NHS 111 if they have any concerns. That also applies if parents are worried about their health or the health of their newborn baby. I urge expectant mothers to have their covid-19 vaccination as soon as possible. I do not think we can give out that message often enough.
I will try not to take up too much time. I am pleased we have had such a full discussion this morning. I know many Members across the House wanted to participate, but were unable to attend. I take confidence in knowing there are many Members in the House who are committed to reducing racial disparities in maternal healthcare.
I want to start by thanking Members who have contributed to the debate and I apologise for any mispronunciations of constituency names. Starting with some simple ones, I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) and the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) for pointing out how much black women do not feel listened to. The fact about socioeconomic groups was key. I also thank them for pointing out that, because of racism that exists in our society, 70% of black people in this country live in the poorest areas. That definitely has an impact.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) for sharing her experiences. It will be of great encouragement to her to know that St Thomas’ Hospital where she had her two wonderful children—they are my mates—has undergone five times more training than others and many of the midwives have done it, which is great. There are other NHS trusts like Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, which has put together a campaign called HEARD that is meeting these needs, taking steps and training in the gap where it has not been asked to train, and it should be congratulated for that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) made the point that we cannot blame black women for the situations that they find themselves in. Sadly, that is what happens, regardless of confidence, education and socioeconomics. As my right hon. Friend rightly pointed out, this does not always change outcomes, something which the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) also pointed out.
I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) for her frank comments about race and the articulate way in which she described exactly what institutional racism is. If only we had that level of understanding right across the House, I believe that this country would be a different place.
I also thank the Minster for her response and congratulate her on the birth of her grandchild. I thank her for committing to ending racial disparities. I think that this new body sounds like a positive thing, but I am concerned that, despite the new body and what it is going to tackle, it is still unclear whether the Government have understood that institutional racism is a serious factor affecting these outcomes and have made a direct commitment to changing that, especially in the light of the race report.
I have intervened, Mr Hollobone, because I think we have time. I probably should have also mentioned the Maternity Inequalities Oversight Forum, which is due to meet again next week. I do not want to give the impression that the new office which we are launching on 1 October will replace all the other work and everything else that we are doing. The Maternity Inequalities Oversight Forum still meets and, on the question about how it informs policy, it works hand in hand with the board of equalities and disparities. As the hon. Lady knows, we also have the patient safety board.
I can assure her that at all meetings, when we talk about maternal inequalities, the situation is something which has to be addressed and turned around in whatever way we can. This is why the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is being established. We have to turn around the dreadful, appalling figures which pertain solely and uniquely to black women’s experience of maternity. I want her to understand that all the rest of the work is still going on, because this remains a focus in the Department. I urge her to keep calling her debates and to keep raising the issue, because it helps to drive things forward and helps us to develop acceptable and welcomed policies. I thank her for recognising the work of the disparities and inequalities board; it is just another tool that we put into the box to help fight a much bigger problem that we have to solve.
I thank the Minister, but my main point was that while the work is ongoing, given what has been said in the past about institutional racism, will it be with a recognition of how it affects our various bodies, not least the NHS? Accepting that point, which many of us do not believe has been done before, is key to making sure that we get the outcomes that we need overall.
As many Members know, this topic is particularly close to me and is not always easy for me to talk about. Many of those engaged in the campaign to end racial disparity in maternal health care experienced the same thing. When we detail our past events and the experiences, we do not do so to gain sympathy. We do so to give a voice to the hundreds of black women each year who have similar experiences, and in the hope that our stories will help to spur the change needed so that black women no longer face negative outcomes and the negative treatment we so often face. Bringing children into this world should not be a matter of life or death. We have a duty here, particularly with what we are tasked to do every day in our work, not just for the mothers who do not survive the dangerous birth experiences but for the many who go on to experience trauma.
I hope that the Government have been spurred into further action. I will continue to hold the Minister’s feet to the fire, since she sounds as if she enjoys it. I call on the Government to do a lot more: to ensure that we have proper data collection; to increase the support available for at-risk women; to implement the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights report “Black people, racism and human rights”; to identify those barriers to accessing maternal mental healthcare services and increasing the accessibility of mental health services after miscarriage and traumatic maternal experiences; to engage with black women in improving their experiences of maternal health services; and to commission a review of institutional racism and racial bias in the NHS and medical education to address the learned stereotypes about black and ethnic minority women that impact us so much.
By committing to those steps, the Government can demonstrate that they are serious about tackling racial disparities. Members have heard me say it before, and I will say it again: the colour of woman’s or a birthing person’s skin should not have an impact on their health or the health of their baby. The sad reality is that in this country it does, and while the Government appear to hear and are making some headway, I really want them to listen. I believe that they will truly have listened only when we have those targets and those very clear mechanisms to end institutional racism in our health service.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered Black Maternal Health Week.
High Rise Social Housing: Reducing Fire Risk
[Christina Rees in the Chair]
Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. Members should send their speaking notes by email to email@example.com. Similarly, officials should communicate electronically with Ministers.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered reducing fire risk in high rise social housing.
It is a pleasure to be here under your chairship, Ms Rees, and to speak about the subject at last, because I have been trying to obtain this debate for some time. It is a shame it clashes with the Building Safety Bill evidence session, but that shows how important these issues are to the House, and they will remain so for a considerable time.
The human tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire was apparent from the morning of 14 June 2017 as the world woke up to the horrifying images of people killed in their own homes in a particularly savage manner. Four years later, the scale and depth of that tragedy are only now being explored. The Grenfell inquiry is still years from resolution, however, interim investigations, such as the Hackitt report, have provided some clue to the comprehensive failures in the building industry. The Government have been slow to legislate, but earlier this year the Fire Safety Act 2021 was passed and Parliament is currently considering the Building Safety Bill.
Much focus has rightly been on the priorities for action, such as the removal of flammable cladding from the exterior of tall buildings and who will pay for the huge remedial costs, in particular whether the costs should fall on leaseholders given they had no knowledge of the risks they were taking on and do not have the means to meet bills that, in some cases, are higher than the price they paid for their homes. Members may wish to raise these issues and others today, but my purpose in requesting the debate was to highlight two aspects of the crisis exposed by Grenfell that have not received sufficient attention. It is not by coincidence that they both relate to social housing.
Anyone who watched Daniel Hewitt’s distressing documentary, “Surviving Squalor: Britain’s Housing Shame”, on ITV on Sunday night and saw some of the conditions social housing tenants are living in in 2021 would have been sickened by how far the sector has fallen from its post-war pride and ambition. I am sure every Member present has horror stories of neglect, under-investment and poor service to relate, but Grenfell has exposed how the failure of some Governments to invest and of some landlords to show a duty of care has become a threat not only to the quality of life of millions of tenants and leaseholders, but to life itself.
In the second part of my speech, I want to deal with the causes of fire in social housing, especially electrical fires, and why more is not being done to prevent them. First, I want to comment on the consequences for social housing landlords and tenants of the costs of undertaking fire safety works. This morning, Inside Housing—all of us, particularly the Government, should be grateful for its investigative work throughout this crisis—published a story that One Housing, one of the G15’s supersized housing associations, recorded a deficit of £25 million for the last financial year. In the same year, it spent £27.3 million on fire safety work to its stock.
Over the next five years, One Housing expects to spend £200 million on such works. Clarion, another of the G15, estimates it will spend £150 million in the next four years, and in total the 12 biggest housing associations will spend an estimated £3 billion over the next decade. Yes, that is right: 12 housing associations will spend £3 billion when the Government’s total building safety fund stands at £5 billion, and the National Housing Federation says the total bill for the sector will be £10 billion. Clarion told me that it expects to receive £5.4 million from the BSF of the £150 million it will spend. That shortfall is significant, not only for the association as a housebuilder and landlord, as we shall see, but for its leaseholders. Like most associations, it will try every other source of revenue, including builders, developers and the BSF. If all else fails, it will bill the leaseholders. Tenants lack even that mitigation; there is no BSF for them. The majority of the costs social landlords must bear will come from their existing income streams—mainly rents—or from diverting funds from other services, from repairs to new developments. Expect more Daniel Hewitt documentaries in the years ahead.
I contacted the main social landlords operating in my constituency that are tackling significant remedial works with a series of questions, including how much they were spending on remediation. The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham said it will apply to the BSF but
“the remainder is from the Housing Revenue Account.”
To its credit, it added that
“leaseholders are not being charged”.
Catalyst says that
“overall, we expect to invest over £109m remediating our high-rise portfolio”.
It has secured £22 million from the BSF, but will charge leaseholders where grants are not available. Shepherds Bush Housing says that
“the total cost of our building safety programme is estimated to be over £40m”.
For buildings under 18 metres, or where grant is not forthcoming, it is concerned that it may have to pass on costs to leaseholders. Notting Hill Genesis estimates a bill of £41 million for the last financial year, and will pass on costs where third-party funding is not forthcoming.
Almost every landlord said the unrecovered costs of fire safety works will impact significantly on core functions and other duties. That means fewer, slower repairs and fewer staff to manage properties and to liaise with residents. Members who already have a full inbox of housing casework will groan, as will tenants and leaseholders, at the prospect of a continued rapid decline in the resources and services available.
The most shocking effect will be on development programmes and new home building. Shelter estimates the need for 90,000 new social homes a year. Last year, 6,000 were built. Earlier this year, the Financial Times carried a report based on evidence from Clarion, Peabody, Network Homes and the L&Q group—four of the biggest landlords—that the number of affordable homes built over the next five years would fall by 40% as a direct consequence of fire safety works. Small and medium-sized associations have even less room for manoeuvre. Shepherds Bush Housing estimates a 50% cut in the development budget and less planned maintenance spend.
My hon. Friend is quite right to focus on the implications of these costs and how they will affect the repairs and development programmes. Does he also recognise an additional issue that the Government have not addressed over a number of years? Local authority housing contains a high proportion of leaseholders within that stock. Even where a local authority wishes to carry out fire safety works, as was the case in mine, the fact that there is no clarity about the right to go into leasehold properties and to require leaseholders to have the works done means that it does not even get the fire safety works carried out, and many tenants are left at risk as a consequence.
As always, my hon. Friend is on top of her brief. That is a very important point that the Minister and shadow Minister may wish to address. Many people who looked at the Building Safety Bill think that the provisions for access are inadequate or overly bureaucratic, and simply will not work. We have already seen that happen with the problems that Wandsworth Council has had with retrofitting of sprinklers, where there is resistance from leaseholders. There has to be a way, as with gas safety and so on, of ensuring that where the safety of the occupants of a block as a whole is at risk, it is possible to carry out works in a comprehensive way.
I want to make a point about mental health and the impact of the cladding scandal. I would like to read something from one of my constituents who lives in a dangerously clad building:
“When I look outside my window, I see Grenfell Tower on the horizon. I have lived in this area for years and what happened on that night pains me very much to this day...And now to think that I, like them, live in an unsafe building and that I face an unknown but certainly very high bill to fix it gives me great anxiety.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a hell that no one should go through?
That is absolutely right. It is a triple whammy. There is the fear of living in an unsafe building with one’s life potentially at risk; there are the huge, unaffordable costs I have already mentioned; and there is the extra feeling of being trapped because one’s property may have a nil value, so it is impossible to move on with one’s life, start a family and so on. It is difficult to imagine a previous crisis with such an impact on so many people, and frankly that is why the Government’s response so far has been inadequate.
As usual, my hon. Friend is making some excellent points, and I totally concur with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) about the mental health impact—I have heard similar things from my own constituents. In that regard, I praise the work done by Cardiff Council, particularly Councillor Lynda Thorne, in responding very quickly to the crisis in the council-owned blocks by taking action and carrying out the additional tests necessary to identify the problem; I also praise the Welsh Government for making £10.5 million available for social housing, which has benefited 12 blocks, including some in my constituency. But the problem remains, in that the Welsh Government still do not have clarity from the UK Government on the available funding for consequentials. As a result, they are unable to move forward with the wider building safety and fire safety funds that would operate for other social clients and those in the private sector affected by the same mental health difficulties as those social clients.
That is another excellent point. I realise I am being quite critical of social landlords. We have to be, because sometimes they fall down on their duty quite spectacularly, as the documentary showed. However, I am glad that my hon. Friend has reminded us that most social landlords—councils and housing associations—are trying their best for their tenants and leaseholders, some of whom are very poor or have particular vulnerabilities. Whoever their tenants are, those landlords can only work with the tools at their disposal. The systematic cut in the housing subsidy over the last 10 years and the additional pressures that will continue, not just from fire safety, but from retrofitting in relation to carbon reduction, mean that we are often asking them to do the impossible—you cannot get a quart into a pint pot.
It is very easy for the Government to pass the buck, and that is exactly what the Housing Secretary did in the Hewitt documentary. “Nothing to do with me, guv”, he said, when asked about the fact that he, or his Government, had cut the budget of local authorities by 40% over the past 10 years.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that the sources of anxiety that others have referred to inevitably lead to mental health problems? And does he agree that it is time to bring this to an end by introducing a scheme to address all of the concerns people have as comprehensively as possible?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We are talking about very large sums of public money, but we are also talking about both a moral duty and resolving a practical problem, which we seem to be very bad at in this country; look at the contaminated blood scandal, and how it took decades for the inquiry to take place and, hopefully, to reach an outcome. The Grenfell inquiry is under way. I hope that the Government will accept its recommendations and that they will provide a full response not only to that individual tragedy, but to the problems we are talking about today. However, there is a lot that the Government can do in the meantime. The Building Safety Bill is supposed to be a major tool in that respect, yet there are major gaps in it.
I said I would have very few questions for the Minister. The deal is that he answers them, but we will wait and see what happens. I have just one question in closing the first part of my speech. What will the Government do to prevent the effective collapse of the social housing sector as a provider of new homes? That is what we are looking at over the next five to 10 years if the full costs, apart from the small amounts that are payable from the current building safety fund, fall on to social landlords, tenants and leaseholders.
Electrical safety is an issue that has particularly concerned me for some years. Grenfell Tower, Lakanal House, Shirley Towers and Shepherd’s Court—the last in my constituency—were among the worst fires in high-rise buildings in the past 12 years. All were social housing, and the first three led to the deaths of residents or firefighters. They had something else in common: they were all caused by electrical appliances—a fridge freezer, a television, a light fitting and a tumble-dryer. That should not be a surprise. Each year in England, 54% of all household fires are caused by an electrical source of ignition. This is not unique to social housing. Private sector rental property also has a poor history of providing and maintaining safe electrical items. Fires in the home can be fatal for the people who live there, but they can quickly turn into a catastrophe when they happen in high-rise blocks.
Increasingly, hard-pressed families across the UK rely on cheap or second-hand electrical items in their homes. They seek out deals for electrical goods online. Retailers such as Amazon, eBay and Wish host independent sellers, some of which have been found to be selling fake or faulty electrical goods. Just as Grenfell exposed the poor standards of building regulation and inspection, events such as the recall of more than 5 million Whirlpool tumble-dryers have shown that consumer safety in this country is in a parlous state.
With trading standards services cut to the bone and almost no national co-ordination, in 2018, mainly as a result of the Whirlpool fiasco, the Government set up the Office for Product Safety and Standards. However, that body has a budget of only £14 million a year. In the words of the recent National Audit Office report,
“There are gaps in regulators’ powers over products sold online, local and national regulation is not well coordinated despite improvements, and the OPSS does not yet have adequate data and intelligence…Until it establishes a clear vision and plan for how to overcome the challenges facing product safety regulation and the tools and data needed to facilitate this, it will not be able to ensure the regime is sustainable and effective at protecting consumers from harm.”
That simply is not good enough. Consumers are put at risk at every point by unsafe electrical goods, and less well-off people suffer the most as they rely on cheaper models and second-hand or reconditioned equipment.
The Shepherd’s Court fire on Shepherd’s Bush Green on 19 August 2016 was caused by a Whirlpool tumble-dryer being used according to the manufacturers’ instructions, despite a serious known fault. We need better standards of manufacture. Plastic-backed fridges like the one that started the Grenfell fire had long been banned in countries such as the United States. We need registration of electrical goods to allow effective recall when faults are discovered. Typically, only about 20% of goods are recalled in that way. In the absence of those policy changes, which I am afraid the Government show no sign of making, we need regular inspection of electrical appliances.
Private tenants are protected by a legal requirement that landlords ensure all electrical items are tested for safety every five years, but social tenants are not. That needs to change. Given what I said earlier, I am not advocating inflicting additional costs on social landlords. I know from its brief for this debate that the Local Government Association is concerned about that, and thinks that the onus should lie on manufacturers. I do not disagree with that—if we manufactured safer products, we would not have so many failing inspections and so many recalls—but in the absence of that happening, the Government must support social housing providers to carry out these essential tests. They must make that a legal requirement and recognise the costs involved.
I am pleased to say that there are some positive signs here. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee recommended five-yearly checks in its prelegislative scrutiny of the Building Safety Bill, and the Government’s social housing White Paper last November conceded that,
“Safety measures in the social sector should be in line with the legal protections afforded to private sector tenants.”
That is all we asked, but the Government did not accept amendments to the Fire Safety Act 2021 on those lines when I proposed them in Committee. Undaunted, I introduced a presentation Bill earlier this summer—the High-rise Properties (Electrical Safety) Bill—and no doubt we will try again in the Building Safety Bill. When I say “we”, I mean in particular Electrical Safety First, which has led on this issue, but I should add my thanks more generally to the London Fire Brigade, Which?, Leigh Day Solicitors, and the all-party parliamentary groups on fire safety and rescue and on online and home electrical safety, which have also been active and vocal on many of these issues.
All I ask from the Minister today is an indication of the Government’s intent, or otherwise, on introducing electrical checks in social housing to prevent future Shepherd’s Courts or, indeed, future Grenfells.
Much more could be said about the type of modifications needed for social homes that go beyond cladding. Many tower blocks were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Social housing providers recognise that those homes must be brought up to current standards, but they need support to do that. Fire doors need to be replaced, sprinklers installed, windows inspected, fire alarm systems updated and new evacuation routes for disabled people established.
It is also important to think about the people who live in social homes across the UK. Due to the stability that social housing can provide, along with affordable rents and adaptable properties, elderly and disabled people make up a large proportion of social tenants. Evacuating a burning building is difficult enough, but for tenants across the UK who are elderly or disabled, it can become impossible.
Much social housing is overcrowded, especially in London, which is also the location of 55% of buildings over 11 metres in height. Where someone lives and who their landlord is should not be risk factors when it comes to fire safety. If the Government do not increase the building safety fund to include funding for all necessary remediations, including to social housing, the cost of such remediations will primarily fall on leaseholders and tenants, and social housing providers will be forced to use money that would have been ring-fenced for the building of new social homes.
At a time when the housing crisis is growing, it is scary to think that some of our biggest providers of social housing may not be able to afford to build homes in the future. It is clear, therefore, that the issue of fire safety in social housing is not an isolated one; it will have far-reaching consequences if we do not get this matter right.
On behalf of the tenants and leaseholders of Factory Quarter, Sharp House, Ainsworth Court, Oaklands Court, Invermead Close, Fraser Court, Kelway House, Sulgrave Gardens and many other blocks in my own constituency and many, many more around the country, I ask the Minister, and indeed the Government as a whole because this issue goes across several Departments, to ensure that we are at least moving in the right direction—that is to say, to ensure that social housing provides good quality, affordable and safe housing for people across the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing this debate.
In my constituency in 2019, we experienced a terrible fire at the Beechmere retirement complex, which destroyed the building and left more than 150 people without their homes and with their belongings ruined. I pay tribute to Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service for its work in tackling the blaze and to the local residents who stepped in to help evacuate people. We still do not know the cause of the fire and I regularly meet Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service to push it to conclude its investigation, but I also understand why it wants to take the time to make sure that if anybody needs to be held to account, they are.
Although the debates about fire safety have rightly focused on high-rise buildings and cladding, we must not miss opportunities to improve fire safety more widely, and I will focus on two things today: the use of timber in buildings and going further with building safety in certain types of building.
The use of timber in buildings has increased enormously in popularity in recent decades, because it is seen as being more eco-friendly than other materials, and certainly there will be social housing developments that are made from timber-framed buildings. The building that burnt down in my constituency—the Beechmere retirement complex—was a timber-frame building and what happened seemed to reflect what has happened in many other fires in similar buildings made of timber.
There is a wealth of long-standing concerns about the use of timber, and not just in relation to external frames. In 2002, the newly built Yarl’s Wood prison was half burnt to the ground after a small fire started by rioters spread out of control. In their submission to the inquiry into the fire, representatives of Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service made it clear that they thought the timber-framed nature of the building made the fire difficult to control. That same inquiry found that the decision not to install sprinklers at Yarl’s Wood was wrong, specifically because of the wooden frame.
Blazes in Croydon and Peckham in 2007 and 2009 caused severe damage to blocks of flats with wooden frames. In 2010, a London Assembly report recommended tighter regulations on timber-framed buildings. A 2012 Department for Communities and Local Government review identified clearly that fires in timber-framed buildings result in more fire damage, and an insurance industry review claimed that fires were more likely to occur in such buildings.
In 2014, the Health and Safety Executive released an open letter to everyone involved in timber-framed construction after a spate of fires, including at the University of Nottingham, where a £20-million laboratory burned down mid-construction. The HSE is clear that fire risk for timber-framed buildings is particularly high during construction and during any post-construction work.
Where are we now? When it was built in 2008, the Beechmere retirement complex held the record for the largest timber-framed construction in Europe. This country now holds the record for the world’s largest timber-framed building: a 10-storey, 121-unit development in Hackney. There are particular concerns about how post-completion works and modifications in timber buildings can easily destroy fire safety measures. We must ensure that that risk is properly managed.
I urge the Government to go further by mandating additional safety measures for timber buildings, beyond those that apply just to buildings of a certain height and to buildings with timber in external walls: a wider use of sprinklers, extra precautions at even lower heights, more prescriptive measures for safety checks after any work is carried out on a building, and any further measures that we should be taking.
We have to think more carefully about restrictions based on building use. It is proportionate to make specific mandated additional requirements for buildings such as schools, care homes and social housing complexes that house vulnerable people, when we know that people will struggle to evacuate. One such requirement would be for sprinklers. I and my colleagues on the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue have highlighted that automatic fire sprinklers are compulsory in new care homes in Wales and Scotland but not in England, and the same is true of schools.
Research conducted by the National Fire Chiefs Council found that, in almost 1,000 fires over five years in buildings where sprinklers were fitted, the sprinklers controlled or extinguished blazes in 99% of cases. When it comes to schools, it is not just about the loss of life; it is about the loss of time in a classroom that occurs when fire damage means that repairs have to be made or new facilities installed.
Finally, I would like to make a brief point about the work of the APPG. It has advised me that the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 states that the premises’ risk assessment should adapt to technical progress and reduce the overall risk within buildings. However, we have much simpler non-worsening conditions under regulation 4(3) of the Buildings Regulations 2010, which states that, when the work is complete, it should be
“no more unsatisfactory in relation to that requirement than before the work was carried out.”
Those two measures are contradictory. I am of the opinion that the Building Safety Bill and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 need to be harmonised, so that the principle of risk assessment adaptation over time is incorporated.
I know that the Secretary of State wants a dynamic, responsive system that is not overly prescriptive. However, at this stage, when we cannot yet know what the new regime is going to deliver in terms of better decision making on a building-by-building basis, we should be more cautious and risk averse. We should have an approach that mandates specific measures, such as sprinklers, for certain building types and additional measures for certain building materials, such as timber, regardless of building height. High-rise social housing is one area where that can apply, but there are many others. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) for securing this important debate on fire safety in social housing—a vital but often overlooked element of the building safety crisis.
It is hard to know where to start my reflections this afternoon, other than with the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. The images of the fire are seared into our national consciousness, and they serve as a painful reminder of the decades of negligence towards social housing in this country. My thoughts are with all those who lost their lives.
As somebody who grew up on a council estate in Brixton, I know how important it is that safe and good quality accommodation is considered a basic human right. Yet for years, too many social housing residents have been expected to live in substandard housing and buildings that fall into gradual disrepair, while their pleas for improvements go unheard. The fire at Grenfell, in which 72 people lost their lives, was a direct result of callous inaction. That must never be allowed to happen again, yet more than four years on, I still fear that it could.
My constituency of Vauxhall is one of the most densely populated in the country. It has many similar high-rise tower blocks with social tenants. Just since being elected in 2019, I have been approached by residents in over 32 separate developments who have been told that their block poses a fire risk. The scale of this fire safety crisis remains enormous. With every passing week, more and more people are plagued with the uncertainty of finding out that their home is potentially unsafe. Imagine having to live in a home like that. However, the Government’s refusal to take control of identifying unsafe buildings means that we still do not know how many there are in this country, or where they are.
The current building safety crisis, which goes far beyond the cladding system, is a consequence of decades of regulatory failure under Governments of different political compositions. Figures from Electrical Safety First highlight that electricity caused 14,000 house fires in England alone, accounting for more than half of all accidental dwelling fires. Every year, thousands of people are injured in their homes due to electrical accidents or incidents, which, in some tragic incidents, mean that people lose their lives. The Building Safety Bill is a welcome opportunity for the Government to strengthen electricity safety protections for social tenants in high-rise buildings.
I hope that the Minister will agree that, in order to reduce the risk of fires in high-rise residential buildings, it is essential for all those properties to undertake mandatory electrical safety checks. Currently, private tenants in high-rise buildings benefit from this check, whereas social tenants do not receive the same legal protections. That is a scandal. Electrical safety requirements should not be based on someone’s tenure.
The LGA has been calling for councils and the fire service to be given effective powers, with meaningful sanctions, to ensure that all residents are safe, including those in social housing. The first duty of any Government is to keep their citizens safe. I therefore urge Ministers to lay out a plan to ensure that, as a national priority, every potentially dangerous building is identified and fixed. We are the sixth-richest nation on Earth, and there can be no more excuses. We cannot sit by as people continue to live in unsafe buildings. We must end the scourge of unsafe housing once and for all.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I commend the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) for securing this especially important debate.
Like many others, I want to briefly reflect on Grenfell Tower. My partner has recounted to me, very emotionally, the impact that the fire had on her, on her colleagues and on the pupils who she taught at a nearby secondary school. I want to put on record a declaration of interest because of personal friendships that I have with David Benson, the principal of Kensington Aldridge Academy, which is at the foot of Grenfell Tower, and with Adam Whitlock, its head of sixth form.
Fire safety in high-rise buildings is also incredibly important in places such as Stoke-on-Trent. We have 18,000 properties on the council books, of which 3,200 are apartments. I am very lucky in Stoke-on-Trent to have a council led by Councillor Abi Brown and one of the very best fire services in the country—Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, led by our fantastic chief fire officer, Becci Bryant—due to their forward thinking and dynamic work. Staffordshire fire service and Stoke-on-Trent City Council have been working hand-in-glove to retrofit sprinklers in all the high-rise blocks of flats managed by Unitas, the council’s housing company. I was delighted to host a delegation of MPs from the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group in Stoke-on-Trent just last week, to show them what they have been working on.
It all kicked off in 2016, when Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service launched its community sprinkler project. Its end goal is to see sprinklers fitted in all five-storey blocks of flats across Staffordshire. Working with councils, social housing providers and charities that provide accommodation, such as the YMCA, the project has been going full steam ahead: 15 high-rise blocks have been retrofitted so far across Staffordshire, with a commitment to install sprinklers in a further 16 buildings.
That is great progress when we consider that in 2017, only one high-rise block had been retrofitted with sprinklers. Obviously, the impact of the tragedy we saw at Grenfell Tower, which, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) said, is burned into all our memories across the country, meant that charities and other partners came forward to push ahead with the scheme.
In the Potteries so far, seven of the high-rise buildings that Unitas manages have had sprinklers retrofitted, and the council has committed to installing sprinklers in the other 11 high-rise properties that it manages. I am pleased to say that Stoke-on-Trent City Council is already looking ahead to the medium and low-rise blocks of flats across its area. Encouragingly, because some of the groups that Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has been working with own properties around the country, such as the housing association Bromford, the best practice adopted in Staffordshire is being copied elsewhere and enhanced fire safety is being spread around the United Kingdom.
Of course, fire safety is not just about sprinklers, but they are an effective and low-cost option. I understand from Becci that on average it costs £3,000 to £5,000 per flat to retrofit a sprinkler, and research done by the National Fire Chiefs Council and the National Fire Sprinkler Network also showed that they are incredibly effective. In 99% of cases, they were able to control or extinguish fires.
Sprinklers save lives. People are only half as likely to be injured in a dwelling fire where sprinklers are present, and sprinklers greatly reduce the chance of serious injury, with the data showing that people are 22% less likely to require hospital treatment if they are in a fire that is controlled by a sprinkler system.
The case for getting sprinklers installed could not be clearer. I urge councils and fire services around the country to follow what Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and Unitas have been doing in Stoke-on-Trent.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Rees. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing this important debate. I know the amount of work he has done in this area, as well as on electrical and white goods safety.
When we speak about the Building Safety Bill, we often focus on ensuring that no unfair costs are passed on to leaseholders. I am grateful that this debate shifts the spotlight back on to residents in social housing, such as those in Grenfell Tower whose tragic loss of life is the reason we are debating this matter today.
Like many of us, last week I watched the Channel 4 documentary “Grenfell: The Untold Story”, and found myself struck by how preventable the tragedy was. To see it unfold, immortalised by film, as residents’ concerns were waved away was heartbreaking with the benefit of hindsight. One resident tells us that we cannot describe what happened as an accident, and he could not have been more right. Sheila, who lived on the 16th floor of the tower and sadly perished in the fire, had confronted the tenant management organisation, telling them she was so exhausted from fighting with them that she had collapsed in the hallway.
Sheila’s words truly struck home with me when she said:
“Whoever runs this place, you never see them; they become faceless. But never ever once have you heard them mention a human being who lives there. It’s all about the building.”
How could we have ever allowed anyone to feel that pieces of brick and mortar were valued more than the human lives within them? Grenfell showed us that these tower blocks are more than just a collection of people living nearby each other. They are communities: neighbours who know each other and look out for one another, who have built meaningful friendships and who care deeply for those friendships.
Most overwhelmingly, there was a clear feeling that this had happened because the tenants lived in social housing. They were unseen, less important, less valuable because of their tenancy arrangements. Social housing is a great privilege in the UK, and who is anyone to judge a life based on their home?
It is undeniable that Grenfell happened because corners were cut to keep costs down. How do you put a monetary value on a human life? But Rydon did just that when it chose the cladding by Celotex, which as we now know was on the market as a result of a fraudulent fire safety test. I would like to know what steps the Government are taking to ensure that future tests of products can never be bypassed or rigged.
The documentary tells us that Rydon was saving about £375,000. If we break that down by the 72 lives lost, we arrive at a little over £5,000. Rydon valued those people’s lives at £5,000. Even worse, we now know that the actual saving was much higher and Rydon intended to pocket the rest. It is the most horrific case of profit before people.
Grenfell was a case of failure after failure—a failure to ensure that safe materials were used, a failure to ensure that the building was properly compartmentalised and a failure to put the residents at the heart of the project. What is imperative now is that the lessons are learned and absorbed into the consciousness of every person with fire safety responsibilities, be that architects, builders, construction product manufacturers, developers—anyone with a part in building and refurbishing these homes. It is important that the Government fund the removal of cladding on all high-risk buildings. Crucially, that funding must be provided to social housing landlords. Not doing so risks unfairly pushing the cost of remediation on to social tenants or, worse still, it could take so long for remediation to happen that we see another tragedy. Regardless of what the monetary cost might be, it will never be as high as the value of the people living in these high-rise blocks to their families, friends and neighbours.
May I say what a real pleasure it is to serve under you in the Chair today, Ms Rees? I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) for a genuinely excellent speech, both in its range and its detail. I do hope that the Minister—I say this kindly to him—will dwell on every word, even if he cannot respond to every word today.
I want first to pick up on the important point that my hon. Friend made about the impact of this new generation of costs on social landlords and, indeed, on landlords more generally, because these extra costs were unanticipated. Whether rightly or wrongly, they were unanticipated; they are not built into any cost programme. And certainly at the margins they would make a material difference in terms of the capacity for social landlords to make a decision, as is the case at the moment with tower blocks in my constituency, between demolition, which the social landlord would like, and retention and improvement, which the tenants of those tower blocks would want. If the extra cost is of such a nature that it causes these things to tick over, it is the wrong kind of financial matrix for housing policy. Equally, my hon. Friend is right when he says that if now we see huge tranches of money having to be devoted to remediation and that then is at the cost of improvement and new build, we simply exacerbate what is already a housing crisis in my constituency and across the country.
I shall take a couple of moments to discuss the Seven Sisters tower blocks in Rochdale. Sometime in the early part of last year the housing association discovered, because it was able to do work or investigation not previously available to it, that unlike Grenfell and equivalent types of cladding, there was a problem in the nature of work that had been done, probably in the late 1990s, that meant that any fire in any individual flat risked spreading to flats on the same floor. That kind of risk was, again, unanticipated, but it is qualitatively different from the situation at Grenfell and other places.
I have a very specific question for the Minister. Is any information available about the range of such challenges to our housing stock? Do we have that analysis—that national picture? I ask because of course that must inform any debate about what is available in terms of funding the remediation work necessary. Equally, because this is qualitatively different, as we look at remediation for cladding solutions—and, post Grenfell, we must look at that—will that also cover problems of the type that arose in Rochdale with the Seven Sisters? Again, that is different; nevertheless, the work is equally vital, if we are to ensure that tenants and residents feel safe in their homes.
When that was discovered, the social landlord quite rightly introduced a waking watch scheme, in negotiation with the fire and rescue service in Greater Manchester. That is a system whereby people tour the estate to ensure an evacuation if a fire is identified, and to enable the fire and rescue service to take the necessary action. That did happen: a fire broke out in the tower blocks, sometime after 2 o’clock one morning. The fire service was there within four minutes of being informed by the waking watch, which is excellent. The system worked, leading to the evacuation of a small number of tenants, and it put people’s safety first, which is the right and proper way.
Since then, the social landlord has installed an alarm system in every flat, which again is the right way forward. However, in the end, this is about evacuation in the event of fire rather than prevention of fire. I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and others about the need to maintain or improve electrical standards. Certainly, the operation of sprinklers is one demand that people would inevitably have, but fires will take place. My own mother, rather sadly, caused her own house to catch fire. She was a heavy smoker, she dropped her cigarette, and the result was a house fire—in her case, not with the kind of results that we would fear. Nevertheless, that kind of action will take place in the future. We cannot guarantee that we can stop fires; we have to make sure, though, that the homes that our residents live in are safe, because safety is paramount.
My final question to the Minister is simply this. Four years on from Grenfell, what progress can we expect in the coming months that will make a material difference, so that the residents in my tower blocks and those up and down the country can see their homes as a place of safety? That is what they expect, it is what I expect for them, and it is what every Member of this House should believe is right and proper.
May I say what a real pleasure it is to serve for the first time under your chairpersonship, Ms Rees? I congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing this important debate, on his usual thoughtful and thorough contribution, and on raising the real concerns of his constituents with his usual passion and commitment.
Before I say a bit more about what the hon. Member had to say, I would like to start by paying my respects to all the victims and bereaved of the Grenfell fire, and also paying tribute to the doughty campaigners for justice that have grown up from that bereaved community. I was very moved by the various contributions by hon. Members about the impact on mental health of living in substandard social housing. It is something that most of us have probably not experienced, but most of us have constituents who have, and that is most unfortunate.
The hon. Member also raised the issue of electrical safety and left us very much with the message that where someone lives and who their landlord is should not determine their safety from fire. That point was picked up on by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who is my MP when I am living in London—I do not think I could hope for a more assiduous MP. She said that Grenfell was a result of callous inaction and should never be allowed to happen again, but she fears that it will.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) made a thoughtful speech about various risks, including from the increasing use of timber in properties, and how we counter that. He also mentioned the importance of sprinklers, as did his colleague, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), who spoke movingly of the impact of the Grenfell fire on people he actually knows, as well as the importance of sprinkler installation.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), who I know is a hard-working constituency MP, spoke of the careful attention she has given to the rights of her constituents who are tenants of social housing. I know she will bring to their cause the energy and vigour that she brings to fighting for all her constituents.
I had a constituent case recently that has raised some questions about how the Scottish Government are dealing with this across the border. My constituent is trying to sell a flat. As we know, Scotland does not have a leasehold system. Non-ACM cladding has left the property in limbo with disagreement from all involved parties about its safety and, therefore, the need for remediation. I do not doubt that this is a widespread issue in private and socially-owned properties, but will the hon. and learned Lady shed some light on the Scottish Government’s plan for funding remediation for such buildings?
I will come to that and am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue, because I will address the position in Scotland. Before I do, I would lastly like to refer to the speech by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) and say what a pleasure it is to see him back, fully restored to health and making his usual thoughtful contribution on how we avoid exacerbating the housing crisis—again, mentioning the importance of sprinklers.
I now turn to the position in Scotland, where housing and local government are a devolved matter. Decisions on building materials, the removal of cladding and fire safety are the remit of the Scottish Government. This has enabled Scotland to require that buildings are constructed in a certain way that will aid the prevention of fires, which has contributed to Scotland’s having fewer properties with Grenfell-style cladding. Nevertheless, the Scottish Government are not complacent around the issue of cladding and have recently made a series of announcements in that regard.
On 19 March, before the general election in Scotland, the Scottish Government announced that subject to winning the election, which, of course, they did, homeowners whose flats had external cladding would be offered free safety assessments to determine which properties had material needing to be removed. This proposal, which was intended to pave the way for public funding for remediation, was a key recommendation in a report published last March. All the recommendations in that report were accepted by the Scottish Government, who are committed to invest all the funding received so far in consequentials from the UK Government to address cladding problems. Future consequentials are yet to be clarified and I would like to raise that with the Minister, but they will also be put to this work.
The single building assessment programme in Scotland was launched in August and safety assessments are commencing on a number of properties. It has been welcome across the board, particularly because the cost for the assessments is to be borne by the Scottish Government, not homeowners. The assessments will be undertaken by suitably qualified professionals working to a common standard and will encourage collaboration between individual owners, residents and factors.
On 19 August, the current Scottish Government Housing Secretary, Shona Robison, explained that 25 buildings deemed to be most at risk have been identified for the assessment scheme, which will be delivered free, as I said. Physical inspections are under way to identify buildings that may need dangerous cladding removed or highlight other potential issues, such as flammable insulation or missing fire barriers. The Scottish Government have said they are fulfilling their commitment to support homeowners and improve building safety. Their priority is to ensure the safety of people in their homes.
These assessments are available for all buildings, regardless of tenure. That includes local authority and registered social landlord buildings, although the remediation of local authority buildings is a matter for each individual council. Clearly, this assessment procedure and the funding available will cover the social sector. As I said, the Scottish Government have not yet been given clarity about how much or when they will receive further funding promised by the UK Government. I would like to press the Minister for any clarity that he can give on that today.
Finally, before I leave the floor to other speakers, as we have heard there is far more to fire risk than cladding alone. We must have a holistic approach to address the overall issue of fire safety, particularly in high-rise buildings. That is an approach that my colleagues in the Scottish Government have endeavoured to follow.
In October 2019, the Scottish Government introduced new regulations that lowered the height at which combustible cladding could be used from 18 metres to 11 metres, to align with firefighting from the ground. They tightened controls over the combustibility of cladding systems on hospitals, residential care buildings and entertainment and assembly buildings, regardless of building height. They introduced a regulation requiring two escape stairs, evacuation alert systems and floor-level indicator signs in all new high-rise domestic buildings.
They have also recognised the importance of the installation of sprinkler systems. A requirement to install sprinkler systems in all new-build flats, new social housing and certain multi-occupancy dwellings was introduced from 1 March 2021. Funding was put in place to assist social landlords in meeting the new standards for fire and carbon monoxide protectors in Scotland by February 2022. The Scottish Government have provided an interest-free loan fund, repayable over five years, which has paid out over £15 million.
The hon. and learned Lady is coming to the end of her speech, but she is making a very strong point about the factors that are missing—the lacunae—in what the Government are proposing at the moment. Maintaining the height at 18 metres allows new buildings to be constructed that are already potentially dangerous. I have 20-storey buildings being constructed in my constituency that have a single staircase. We must get all these things right. As she correctly says, this is not just about cladding.
I entirely agree. We must get these things right and we must base new regulations on evidence. In particular, the Government need to liaise closely with the fire service, which has happened in Scotland. The Scottish Government have provided funding of £870,000 per year for the last two years to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to support its home safety visits to ensure that vulnerable and high-risk people can get the necessary alarms installed at no cost to them, so that they are safe in their homes.
To draw to a close, it is grossly unfair and unjust for any tenant or leaseholder to be left with the burden of removing cladding that they were not responsible for installing and to be left with the weight of fear and worry, and the impact on mental health that hon. Members have described, particularly since the horrors of the Grenfell fire. The UK must deliver the necessary funds for the remediation of cladding for all, and not leave tenants and leaseholders responsible for paying for the removal of this dangerous cladding. I look forward to hearing from the Minister in his summing up about the consequentials of funding that will be available for the devolved Governments.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship today, Ms Rees. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing this important and timely debate. As ever, he gave an excellent, knowledgeable, forensic and right speech.
We heard some other excellent contributions. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) made some important points, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) and the Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). Given her excellent speech, I look forward to working with the hon. and learned Lady on the Building Safety Bill, and I hope that the SNP will play a full and active role in that Bill.
It is timely because we are very much in the midst of the building safety crisis post the terrible events at Grenfell Tower four years ago, and timely because, as mentioned, we are in the Committee stage of the Building Safety Bill, which has come about because of that tragedy. This week Parliament will be lobbied by leaseholders and others calling for justice for leaseholders and to end the building safety scandal. I want to put on the record my admiration for those campaigners and their tireless work while suffering from mental health and financial anxiety and worry that has a life-defining toll.
I praise my hon. Friend for her work on this topic in the months since her appointment. I, too, will be meeting leaseholders from my constituency of Cardiff South and Penarth on Thursday. There are huge concerns about mental health and finance. One of their great frustrations is the lack of clarity on the money from the UK Government to the Welsh Government and the lack of clarity on the consequentials. Is it not right that the UK Government now explain what is going to the devolved Administrations so that they can move forward with their plans?
Absolutely. As I will come on to say, the Government’s handling of the crisis has been characterised by delay, a lack of clarity and uncertainty.
I also want to put on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith for his campaigning on fire safety in social housing blocks. He has campaigned tirelessly for many years—before the tragedy at Grenfell Tower and following the fire at Shepherd’s Court. I hope that the Minister and the wider housing sector will take on board many of his proposals for the inspection of electrical goods by social landlords and will look further at the regulatory regime. I will come on to some of his wider questions about the impact on the social housing sector.
What began as a cladding scandal after Grenfell, as we have heard, has now led to a total breakdown in confidence in most tall and multi-storey buildings in this country. The building safety crisis, as it has now become, affects hundreds of thousands of people. Buyers and tenants who dreamt of a safe, stable home to live in, who often spent their lives working towards that, are now living in a waking nightmare.
I am sorry to say that the Government’s approach has been characterised by dither and delay. They are leaving it to the market, which caused the mess in the first place, rather than intervening strongly to get a grip of the crisis and resolve it. They have managed to get a £5 billion fund from the Treasury, which I applaud them for because that is not a small amount of money by any means, but they are not giving effect to the money as they stand back and watch costs soar while the remediation works required get out of control. They limit the scope and the timetables, and they are not doing anything to ensure certification and assurance. Leaving it to the market and those that created the crisis in the first place will not resolve anything. As we have heard, social landlords are inexplicably excluded from the fund.
We now face a total breakdown in the approach to risk. What are reasonable risks? Who decides that? Who will certify risk proportionately, and who can ensure that insurers will insure reasonably and that lenders lend? Nobody is standing by to do that at the moment. What are the appropriate policies to mitigate the risks, such as evacuation plans, sprinklers, and the capacity of fire services and so on? Is waking watch worth the costs that people pay for it?
Absolutely. I was going to mention that later in my speech, but I will say it now. Evacuation plans for disabled people are pretty poor in most cases, leaving them especially vulnerable, as others have said.
At the moment, there is an absence of clear and reasonable guidance, process and professionally indemnified experts. The result is that people are standing back and letting others pay the price and take responsibility for the risk. Ultimately, that leaves leaseholders, social landlords, those in shared ownership and others with the financial responsibility and risk. It leaves them living in fear, as we have heard.
More could be done on prevention, as many hon. Members have said. We have heard that waking watch patrols have been necessary in some cases, but they are extremely expensive. The Government’s own data estimates that they cost £130,000 a year for just one building. They are supposed to be a temporary measure, but many are still trapped with them. The Government keep talking about the problems with the lack of proportionate risk and the lack of confidence in the system, but what are they actually doing about it? Perhaps we will hear a little more on that today.
There are similar issues when it comes to regulation, accountability and oversight. The Building Safety Bill, which is in Committee, will set up a new building safety regulator. That is a long-overdue and much-needed step, but there are a number of areas where it falls short. The Government have stuck to their crude height limit of 18 metres to define higher-risk buildings. They are right to say that, for buildings over 18 metres, the choice over which building control body to use leads to serious conflicts of interest. That is one of the key issues that has got us here, so why is that not the case for buildings under 18 metres, for which developers can still choose their own building control bodies?
The fire service, which we have heard much about today, used to play a much greater role in inspecting buildings. The Fire Brigades Union has raised the alarm about the fact that the building safety regulator will still be able to contract out that advice to the private sector. What are the Government proposing to do about that?
As many leaseholders and tenants have discovered in recent years, since Grenfell and before, the bodies that exist supposedly to provide recourse and accountability very rarely do, and are largely toothless and totally inadequate. Fire safety issues have shone a light on that, but yet again the Government seem incapable or unwilling to act with the necessary true leaseholder reform, and are not giving voice to tenants.
We have heard about some particular issues affecting social housing. In contrast to many private developers and freeholders, social and council housing providers were the quickest to react post Grenfell. Analysis has shown that housing associations have paid six times more than developers to remediate dangerous cladding. Given the huge profits in the private sector, it is a scandal that it is not doing more to pay for the faults it created. The Government have been incredibly slow in using the stick they kept threatening, leaving many to disappear before they are made to pay.
According to the G15—an umbrella group of the biggest housing associations in London—associations have set aside nearly £3 billion for historical remediation costs. In contrast, the UK’s largest developers have collectively set aside half a billion pounds—the difference is stark. Housing associations have warned that building safety costs will put at risk their ability to build much-needed affordable housing. With an estimated required subsidy per affordable home of £50,000, nearly £3 billion for remediation costs could mean 58,000 fewer affordable homes over the next 10 years. That is a huge number, and that is before we even get to the impact on quality and much-needed investment in existing stock and things such as the zero carbon agenda.
Housing associations and local authorities have been all but excluded from the Government’s building safety fund. To be approved, they must demonstrate that the costs would otherwise have been borne by leaseholders, which they have not been able to do in many cases. This approach is wrong, and it ultimately falls on the shoulders of tenants and potential future tenants, who will no longer be able to get social housing because the stock will diminish. We have called for a building works agency to fix this problem. Our mantra has been “assess, fix, fund and certify”; that is what needs to be done, and we need a team of experts who are given the power to do all of those things. What will the Government say about that?
Leaseholders and tenants will be shouting from the rooftops about building safety on Thursday. However, as we have seen from the excellent reporting of Dan Hewitt and “ITV News”, social tenants are often not listened to by housing providers. “Surviving Squalor” was a shocking reminder of the conditions that some people are forced to live in, their pleas for action ignored by social housing providers. It is just not acceptable. It is a mark of shame on the sector, which should be putting tenants’ experiences first, not ignoring them. If the past few months have taught us anything, it is the importance of home, and that housing is a public health issue, a mental health issue, and an economic issue, as well as a bedrock of success.
It is a shocking indictment of our country’s housing system, and the blame should be laid at the doors of some of these providers, as well as the Government. They have diminished and defunded social housing, and they have reneged on the promises made after Grenfell to bring forward legislation to provide a real voice and teeth to the views and needs of social housing tenants. When is that coming forward? We still do not know. We have been tabling amendments on this matter in the Building Safety Bill.
The building safety crisis is having a profound impact on the lives of so many, and the impact on social housing providers worsens the measly number of social homes already being built. The building safety crisis requires the serious leadership and intervention that it is not getting, and we need major reform to give tenants and leaseholders trapped in these situations a real voice, recourse and accountability. It really is about time the Government got a grip on this.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship and to be back in Westminster Hall, Ms Rees. I thank the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) for securing this important debate; he gave an incredibly thoughtful, forensic and detailed speech that really showed his passion for the issue. I also thank the other Members who have spoken—there have been some really thoughtful, important contributions.
This issue impacts so many of our constituents. That is why we are taking action, as has been described, by providing that £5 billion of grant funding for the remediation of unsafe cladding, to support building safety. The hon. Gentleman noted at the start that the Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), and the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), are currently on the Building Safety Bill Committee. I know that they would like to be here to respond to his points, but it is my pleasure to respond on their behalf. I want to give an overview of the work the Government have been doing, but I will try to come to the points he has raised and give him satisfactory answers.
The £5 billion of grant funding specifically supports the remediation of unsafe cladding on high-rise buildings. This means that we will fund the cost of replacing unsafe cladding for leaseholders in residential buildings 18 metres and over in England. Work to remediate unsafe aluminium composite material cladding has progressed: 100% of high-rise buildings in the social housing sector identified as having that unsafe cladding at the start of last year have already been made safer or have remedial work under way. To date, the social sector ACM cladding remediation fund has approved £277 million of funding for the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM in England.
The tragedy of Grenfell was as a result of a specific type of remediation of those buildings. Other types of work have had a similar but different effect, such as the example I gave in my constituency. Is the Minister telling us that they will not be covered by the £5 billion fund—that they will be outwith—and that there will be no funding available for other types of necessary fire prevention work?
If the hon. Gentleman could be slightly patient, I will address the points raised today, including that one. For social sector buildings with unsafe, non-ACM cladding, we will meet the cost of remediation where a registered provider of social housing becomes financially unviable due to the cost of remediation. We will provide funding equivalent to the amounts that providers would otherwise have been entitled to pass on to leaseholders, including shared owners.
I heard the point made by the shadow spokesperson, the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), about local authorities approving some of the burdens placed upon them. I am happy to take away any examples she wants to investigate and raise with my colleague the Housing Minister, or I will speak to them myself as the Minister for Local Government Finance.
Social housing owners, with private sector leaseholders, may also be able to benefit from the finance scheme, which the Government have announced for all buildings from 11 metres to 18 metres in height. In the small number of cases where unsafe remediation may be necessary on buildings of that height, the scheme will protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs, by ensuring that no leaseholder will pay more than £50 a month towards the cost of cladding remediation.
Of course, in all of those cases, Government funding does not absolve building owners of their responsibility to ensure that their buildings are safe. They should consider all routes to meet costs, protecting leaseholders where they can. It is also right that the industry that caused this legacy of unsafe buildings contributes to setting things right. That is why we have consulted on a new residential property developer tax, which aims to raise around £2 billion over the next 10 years. We will also introduce a building safety levy on developers of high-rise buildings, which we plan to introduce at the gateway 2 stage of the new building safety regime.
Will the Minister be clear about when the Welsh Government will get clarity? The fund was announced in February and, more than eight months since, there is still no clarity on the funding consequentials, nor has there been adequate co-operation on the tax and levy he refers to, as I understand it. When is that going to happen? They want to work in co-operation, as this is affecting leaseholders across the UK, but they are not getting that co-operation.
Regarding consequentials, I was coming on to answer the hon. Gentleman’s point and that made by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) later in my speech. On co-operation, I am always happy to meet with them on finance matters and to raise the issue with my relevant colleague in Government, if that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman and to colleagues in the devolved Administrations.
Looking forward, the package of changes that we are making through the Building Safety Bill will help to ensure that the problems identified with the current building and fire-safety regimes are rectified. Those responsible for buildings where they are occupied, will be required actively to manage building safety risks, evidenced through a safety-case regime. The new regime will allow fire and structural hazards to be effectively and proportionately managed, mitigated and remedied, through effective steps that consider both safety and costs.
Building owners, including local authorities and social housing providers, will need to appoint a building safety manager, who will be responsible for the day-to-day management of fire and structural safety in the building, and must have the relevant competence to perform the role for that specific building. Residents of high-rise buildings will no longer be ignored when they raise safety concerns about their building, and the Bill will make securing resident and building safety a critical objective of the accountable person. The new building safety regulator will give residents a strong voice through a statutory residents’ panel.
We will also use the powers in the Bill to make regulations that place duties on those who procure, plan and manage to undertake building work. That will ensure that the designs, as well as the building work, comply with building regulation requirements. That more stringent regulatory regime will apply to the design and construction of high-rise residential properties that are at least 18 metres in height or have seven storeys. It also applies to hospitals and care homes. The new regulator will also have new powers to ensure that those who are responsible for building safety are held to account if they fail to do the right thing.
We take electrical safety extremely seriously. We have introduced electrical safety regulations, where it is proportionate and practical to do so. The building regulations require work to the fixed electrical installation in homes, regardless of tenure, and to be carried out safely to protect people from fire or injury. The accountable person for occupied high-risk buildings that come under the scope of the Building Safety Bill must take all reasonable steps to mitigate or control building safety risks, the spread of fire and structural failure, regardless of the cause.
All landlords must ensure that electrical installations and any electrical equipment provided are safe at the outset of a tenancy, and kept in good working order. Last year, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith highlighted, we introduced regulations requiring private landlords to ensure that electrical installations in their properties are inspected every five years.
The social housing White Paper that we published last year sets out the actions that we will take to ensure that residents in social housing are safe, are listened to, live in good-quality homes and have access to redress when things go wrong. In the White Paper, we committed to consulting on measures to keep social housing residents safe from electrical harm; subsequently, we formed a working group to help develop proposals for the consultation. Clearly, it is too early at this stage to say what the outcome of that consultation will be, but I am happy to confirm that we will consider introducing the five yearly checks to bring about parity with the private rented sector. I will ensure that the views of the hon. Member for Hammersmith and of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who raised this in a very powerful way, are fed into that thought process and raised with the Housing Minister.
Alongside the social housing White Paper, we published a consultation on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. The proposed changes would make smoke alarms mandatory in all social rented homes and extend requirements for carbon monoxide alarms in both the private and socially rented sectors. The reforms that we have set out will drive real cultural change throughout the social housing sector. Everyone, from board members and councillors to senior officers and contractors, who has direct contact with residents will listen to what they say and treat them with the courtesy, dignity and respect that they deserve. The regulatory proposals will help to create a culture of accountability and compliance on health and safety requirements.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith asked for assurance that we are moving in the right direction, and I believe that we are. We will consider the point that he made extremely carefully. I hope that he feels that we are moving in the direction, and with the intention, that he suggests. The hon. Gentleman also asked what actions the Government are taking to deliver affordable housing. We will be delivering the £12 billion affordable housing programme over five years, the largest investment in social housing in a decade. It will provide over 180,000 new homes, and 32,000 of those will be for social rent. That is more than double the current programme. We do think that we are making progress there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) spoke movingly about his own constituency and the experiences of his constituents. We recognise that timber has some environmental benefits, but we have always tried to be clear that the material should be used only when it is safe to do so. We have commissioned some work on this particular point, so perhaps I can suggest that he and I meet and discuss that in more detail. It would be interesting to hear the views of his constituents on the issue.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) raised the issue of a forum to bring all of this together and make sure it is available. Perhaps I can write to him after the debate to try to bring that together in the most appropriate way, so that he can share it with his local authority, constituents, housing associations and others. I am afraid that I have to say to him and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West, on the point about consequentials, that I will raise it today with the Housing Minister and get back to them as soon as I can.
I know that there is a united desire to ensure that those living in high-rise social housing feel safe in their homes. We will restore the right for everyone in our country to live somewhere that is safe, decent and secure—a place that they are proud to call home. We want to drive meaningful change in the building industry and ensure that residents know that they are being properly supported and listened to. We can do that, and help drive the biggest improvements to building safety for decades: improvements that restore public confidence in our housing sector and that together create a robust, strengthened building safety system that has the welfare of residents at its heart.
I genuinely thank everybody who has contributed today, including the Front-Bench spokespeople, for the thoughtful, measured way in which these issues have been addressed. We are not going to agree on everything, but I hope we can find some common ground. Perhaps, in the few minutes I have left to wind up, I will say, politely, where the areas are that still need some work and that are currently not being addressed by the Building Safety Bill, whose consideration is running in parallel with this debate.
I will just mention three areas. First, we need a more holistic approach to building safety, very much as the SNP spokesperson, the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) said. This is not just about cladding or about buildings over 18 metres; we must look at medium-rise buildings as well. Responsible landlords, which includes most social landlords, are looking at those and making no distinction in relation to them, and it is artificial for the Government to continue to make that distinction for no other reason than additional costs.
The same is true for other defects. It is about not just cladding but, as we have heard, the way buildings are constructed, escape mechanisms, alarms, compartmentalisation, sprinkler systems and other things. There is a whole range of defects, and fixing those must be funded in some way. This is not even just about residential buildings; it is about schools, care homes, hotels and other places where people, for one reason or another, will find themselves vulnerable.
Secondly, we do not have, and neither has there been proposed, adequate law or enforcement of that law, whether we are talking about building safety or electrical safety. This is the opportunity to get those things right so that people can feel safe and secure in their homes. The most poignant thing that came out of the documentary on Sunday that we have all been talking about was people feeling that they were vulnerable in their own home, whether through extreme disrepair or lack of fire safety.
Finally—I hope everybody would share this view, including those on the Government side, but I noted it particularly in the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) and the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier)—we should really champion social housing. Let us no longer have the Conservative party as the party that bashes social housing. If the Conservatives genuinely care about levelling up, they have to care about social housing.
That means housing conditions, planned maintenance and housing development cannot be the victims here. It cannot be that they have to fail in order for fire safety to be addressed. That is vital for millions of our fellow citizens. I hope the Minister understands that; from the tone in which he as addressed the debate today, he appears to understand it, and I hope that is true of him and his colleagues. If so, we will not have wasted an hour and a half in Westminster Hall today—although in any case, Ms Rees, it has been a real pleasure to be here under your chairship.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered reducing fire risk in high rise social housing.
Decarbonising the UK: Role of Shipping Emissions
Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. Members should send their speaking notes by email to hansardnotes@ parliament.uk. Similarly, officials should communicate electronically with Ministers.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the role of shipping emissions in decarbonising the UK.
I refer the Chamber to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate with my fellow MPs from across the House, and I hope my position reflects their views that decarbonisation is an issue where we need to be truly united in our approach. In truth, the title of the debate is a misnomer, as I wish to discuss the positive contribution that the shipping industry and our excellent port infrastructure across the UK can make to achieving a low-carbon future. In particular, in the year of COP26, I wish to highlight the role that shipping carbon dioxide and hydrogen can play in ensuring a prosperous and environmentally sustainable future for British industry.
In the year of COP26, when the United Kingdom will be placed on the global stage, we must make significant progress towards our collective net zero targets. While we know that great strides are being made to decarbonise our electricity networks, with arrays of wind farms and solar panels covering our countryside, we must also pay attention to industry, where hundreds of thousands of jobs and significant segments of our economy are deployed. These sectors, such as our world-leading cement, glass, steel and petrochemicals, are not easy to switch to electrical power and will need to utilise carbon capture, utilisation and storage technologies—CCUS—to decarbonise.
The North sea has been the bedrock of our economy for decades, providing an economic shot in the arm to UK plc and delivering a world-leading expertise base that has been exported globally. Now is the time to turn our attention to putting the skills and infrastructure of this valuable national industry into the ports developing carbon capture and storage, which is essential in helping hard-to-abate sectors to decarbonise and in ensuring that natural gas supports the development of the emerging hydrogen economy. In essence, it is putting the upstream industry in reverse to develop CCUS.
We must recognise the support the Government have already placed behind this emerging sector, with a significant programme to support four industrial clusters. However, we should also recognise the guidance from the Committee on Climate Change, which calls for more ambition and the need to support as many potential CCUS industrial clusters as possible, whether that is in the Acorn Project in Scotland or projects in Teesside, Humberside or the north-west. These clusters are blessed with some of the best sub-surface geology to support permanent carbon dioxide storage. The projects are relatively simple to understand, whether they are reforming hydrogen from natural gas coming onshore and then pumping the CO2 captured back into depleted reservoirs, or perhaps CCUS-enabled power stations, such as the innovative net zero Whitetail clean energy NET power station planned for Teesside.
The UK is also seeking to become a global leader, with Europe’s first at-scale direct air capture facility being developed by the UK-based Storegga in north-east Scotland, sucking CO2 from the air and storing it underground. Whether we seek to reuse existing oil and gas infrastructure or to deploy new pipelines, CCUS has the potential to support communities and regional economies around the North-sea coastline for decades to come, as well as places further inland like Rother Valley.
Climate change is not an issue that is confined to the North sea or the Irish sea. The United Kingdom must come together to develop a net zero future. In Scotland, we see the UK’s first hydrogen-powered community, but equally the Thames estuary and the Solent are embracing the potential for transitioning to a hydrogen-fuelled grid and energy generation. That presents a challenge. Without suitable geological storage, these hard-to-abate emissions are not able to sequester the carbon and prevent it from reaching the atmosphere. This is where our proud island nation is able to respond to the challenge and work collaboratively to provide a vibrant, low-carbon shipping and transportation network, connecting industrial clusters, such as refineries on the south coast, the south Wales emitters and the Thames estuary, to regions such as north-east Scotland. The latter possesses a world-leading geological storage resource, with more than a third of the UK’s identified storage resource located within 50 km of existing gas pipeline infrastructure, which can be repurposed to take CO2 offshore.
The Scottish cluster is a superb example, with the Acorn Project one of the most mature UK CCUS and hydrogen projects, with the backing of both the UK and Scottish Governments and even, dare I say it, the European Union. It will enable carbon capture deployment across a diverse set of emitters, capturing at least 6.2 megatonnes per annum of carbon dioxide by 2030. That represents around 60% of the ambition set out in the Government’s great 10-point plan and is a vital part of it. To make that a reality, emitters from across the UK are seeking to make use of that national resource, along with storage locations along the east coast and the north west. The UK’s port network needs to stand ready to respond to that demand and needs to invest in the significant infrastructure required to create a UK port network capable of handling large volumes of CO2 and hydrogen shipping. Shipyards from Appledore to the Clyde will also need to mobilise to build the shipping tonnage needed to support this nascent industry.
From Peterhead port, Europe’s largest fishing port, to Grangemouth, Scotland is readying itself to make investments to ensure that it can support the transition to a low-carbon economy. Existing jetties can be repurposed to support the berthing of ships bringing CO2 for storage, and proximity to the network of existing oil and gas pipelines offers the possibility of easy access to eventual storage sites. For example, with the conversion of Peterhead power station to gas, which will be delivered by pipe from St Fergus, the jetty can be repurposed for handling both bulk CO2 imports and hydrogen exports. That will allow shipping to commence on a more cost and time-efficient basis than would have been the case for a cold start, and that would save up to about £50 million in up-front investment and three years for consenting and construction. We are already on the way and that provides a natural advantage.
Supported by associated infrastructure, pipe routes and with nearby land suitable for development, Peterhead port can play a strategically important role in the emerging energy transition, especially in handling CO2 for eventual storage and hydrogen for eventual export. That is important. We want to export the hydrogen. We do not just want to make it for the UK; we want to be a world leader and export the technology and the resource abroad. As the sector evolves, and to take maximum advantage of the opportunities available for national and international trade, it is likely that a second berth will be required in the port within a few years to handle the volumes of potential CO2 and hydrogen shipments, requiring further investment of up to £30 million.
Similar infrastructure and expertise can be used to support the import or export of hydrogen at other ports around the UK, such as the Forth ports. Given the proximity of the Forth ports to proposed blue hydrogen projects and to the UK’s biggest source of offshore wind, that could be vital for the deployment of the UK’s hydrogen sector, although it is worth saying that we should be aiming for green hydrogen, rather than blue. Blue is only the journey to get to where we want with green hydrogen. I want to make that perfectly clear: blue hydrogen is not the ultimate answer.
That port infrastructure and the shipping industry can also play a central role in supporting other areas of the UK to reduce emissions. The south Wales industrial cluster is the second largest CO2 emitting cluster in the UK. It contains several key UK assets, including the UK’s largest steelworks, where my father-in-law used to work, and the UK’s largest combined-cycle gas turbine, the UK’s largest energy port, the UK’s only nickel refinery and the Royal Mint, as well as several key and core manufacturing industries. Around 20% to 30% of the UK’s natural gas supply is imported into the UK through south Wales. With steel, cement, chemicals, refining and natural gas supplies all present in the region, CCUS will be essential for delivering net zero in south Wales. However, south Wales does not have any known local geological storage of CO2 available, which means the development of a CO2 shipping fleet would be essential for its decarbonisation. The south Wales industrial cluster includes several deep-water harbours and ports that could accommodate CO2 shipping, and with the right investment, can develop a shipping network that can effectively ship and store CO2 from this cluster at the Acorn Project and other sites.
On Teesside, meanwhile, innovative net zero power stations will also need access to resilient geological storage of CO2. The Whitetail clean energy plant itself uses the highly innovative NET power technology, which combusts natural gas with oxygen, rather than with air, and uses supercritical CO2 as a working fluid to drive a turbine instead of steam. As a result, nearly all air emissions, including traditional pollutants and CO2, are eliminated and pipeline-quality CO2 is produced, so that it can be captured and sent by ship from Teesside to storage locations. That is further proof of the UK being a global science and technology powerhouse. It is critical that this plant and further plants have optionality to send CO2 to distributed stores.
Similarly, the Cavendish project in the Thames estuary is a large-scale, low-carbon hydrogen generation project. Based on the Isle of Grain, the hydrogen production facility will be near gas and electricity networks, power stations and a liquefied natural gas facility. It is expected to meet the large energy demand of London and the south-east for power, heating and transport. Again, this project will need the ability to capture and sequester its CO2 emissions, but there is no suitable geological storage nearby, so shipping infrastructure will be essential for the project to sequester its CO2 in suitable storage locations.
These are just a few examples of vital low-carbon projects for which access to port infrastructure and a shipping network capable of transporting CO2 and hydrogen is not just nice to have but absolutely business-critical if we are to hit our ambitious targets. They are ambitious targets, but I know we will get there. However, we can only get there as one country—one country of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland combined—and if we can move around the CO2, which is to say the “bad” CO2. We need that shipping infrastructure to help us do that.
We are an island nation; we are Nelson’s nation. We are a nation of sailors, and that is what we should do with our CO2. We should embrace our former fleets; we should have the same clarion cry that we had with the merchant fleets of old, to move our CO2 around and defeat the enemy that is climate change.
In this year of COP26, I am sure that the Minister and colleagues across the House will recognise the importance of shipping’s role in reducing CO2 emissions and I hope that we can work together to ensure that policy supports the development of the shipping infrastructure we must successfully transport CO2 emissions and hydrogen, as needed, to achieve a net zero future for the whole of the UK. That will bolster the economy, lower our emissions and really turbocharge UK plc into the next millennium. I know that will happen and I also know that, although ports are important, Rother Valley will still be at the heart of hydrogen production in the future.
First of all, may I apologise on behalf of the Minister who was going to respond to the debate, as both she and I were detained?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) on securing this important debate. Not only in this debate but throughout his time in Parliament, he has championed this issue and similar issues, and I congratulate him, once again, on being at the forefront of the debate on these issues.
It is indeed London International Shipping Week and, as my hon. Friend has said, we are “Nelson’s nation”, so this debate is incredibly timely. The shipping of carbon dioxide and hydrogen can play an important role in ensuring a prosperous and sustainable future for British industry, and in supporting efforts to meet our domestic net zero targets.
We have already made huge progress in decarbonising the electricity sector. In 2019, greenhouse gas emissions were down by 13% on 2018 levels. However, it is right to say that, in order to reach net zero emissions by 2050, we must go further. That is why in March we published the UK’s industrial decarbonisation strategy. This document is the first to be published by a major economy and it sets out how industry can decarbonise in line with net zero while remaining competitive. Carbon capture, utilisation and storage, or CCUS, is one key abatement technology and it will be vital as we make this transition.
In May, we launched phase 1 CCUS cluster sequencing process. Its aim is to provisionally sequence those clusters that are most suited to deployment in the mid-2020s. This summer, we also published the UK’s first ever hydrogen strategy, which will put the UK at the forefront of the race to develop low-carbon hydrogen, driving innovation, jobs and investment to scale up the technology. CCUS and low-carbon hydrogen are vital to transform sectors such as steel, cement and chemicals, which lack viable alternatives to achieve deep decarbonisation. The UK can become a world leader in CCUS and low-carbon hydrogen, helping to create world-leading low-carbon manufacturing clusters. Connecting industrial clusters, such as those in south Wales, the south coast of England, the Thames estuary and the firth of Forth in the northeast of Scotland will be critical to enabling the decarbonisation of our steel, chemical and refining industries. That is where the shipping sector can be crucial in realising that vast potential. In our business model update, published in May, we indicated our desire to accommodate the shipping and the non-pipeline transportation of carbon dioxide and, as part of the cluster sequencing process, we asked clusters to include details of future carbon dioxide shipping capability in their cluster sequencing proposals.
Turning to the future direction, we recognise the importance of non-pipeline transportation and shipping for decarbonisation of the broader economy and allowing deep decarbonisation. We are currently working with industry and the devolved Administrations to understand how best to incorporate non-pipeline transportation and shipping within a UK carbon dioxide network.
This is an extremely important issue for the sector, but more importantly, for the planet. I apologise for missing the beginning of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley, and I make a commitment that if there is any point that he raised in my absence, the Minister will address it directly in writing and leave a copy in the Libraries of both Houses. This is an extremely important issue, and I endorse my hon. Friend’s view that shipping will play an important role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. I look forward to working across the House, and with the Minister, to ensure that the UK develops the appropriate infrastructure to enable new low-carbon technologies such as low-carbon hydrogen, and meet the challenges that we face.
Question put and agreed to.
Real Fur Sales
Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. Members should send their speaking notes by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Similarly, officials should communicate electronically with Ministers.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered real fur sales in the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. Banning fur is increasingly an issue of public concern, reflected in the decision that the vast majority of consumers now make to avoid buying fur products and the huge support for the Fur Free Britain campaign—try saying that five times fast—led by the Humane Society International UK. In 2000, this House set an example for the world by banning fur farming in England and Wales, and Scotland and Northern Ireland enacted bans in 2002. We are clearly a nation of animal lovers, yet our existing legislation on the fur trade contradicts that fundamental aspect of being British.
Pressure for change is growing both inside Parliament and among the broader public. More than 1 million people have signed Fur Free Britain’s petition to ban fur sales, and a group of more than 100 MPs and peers signed my cross-party letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs just last month, which called on the Government to ban the import and sale of animal fur. A similar number of MPs signed the live early-day motion on the same issue, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), and the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) tabled a ten-minute rule Bill on this matter in April, so it is clear that Members want the animal fur trade to end.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend not just for securing this debate but for being kind enough to mention the early-day motion in my name, which is currently live and has been signed by the highest number of MPs in this Session. In the previous Session, 140 MPs signed the early-day motion. Does he agree that that shows that there is huge cross-party support on this issue, reflecting public opinion? There is really only one outcome, which is to ban fur sales, full stop.
How could I not agree with my hon. Friend, given that I name-dropped her in my speech? That shows that there is clear support not only in this Chamber but in the main Chamber and both Houses.
I invite hon. Members to imagine a scene—I apologise in advance for the picture that this will paint. A nearby neighbour is keeping two dogs outside the house in a wire cage. The cage measures not more than 1 square metre and has a wire floor and a wire ceiling. The dogs are never allowed to leave the cage, and over time exhibit signs of mental distress. They take their frustration out on one another and repeatedly pace. Over time, one dog’s legs become deformed and have open sores from standing on the wire floor. The other has untreated diseased eyes. They have no escape from the intense summer sun or the freezing winter nights. One day, the neighbour forces electrical probes into either end of each dog and ends their pitiful lives.
That scene would be utterly intolerable for any right-thinking person. I imagine that in witnessing such treatment of animals, a great many, if not all, of my colleagues, friends and the great British public would have called either the police or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and would have rightly expected that individual to be prosecuted for animal cruelty. But in all important ways, the scene I describe is not hypothetical. If we simply switch the animals in the cages from dogs to foxes and move the location to Finland, Poland, China or another in a decreasing list of nations still permitting fur farming, that animal cruelty is a daily reality for far too many animals. More than 100 million animals—foxes, mink, raccoon dogs, chinchillas and others—are kept like that daily.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. As well as being cruel, is it not utterly illogical that Britain, having rightly taken the decision to ban fur farming here, continues to be willing to allow the products of cruel fur farming to be imported into the country? Does that not strengthen the case, supported by so many right hon. and hon. Members, for banning its sale in this country?
I completely agree. It is a cruel irony that we have illegalised the practice in this country but offshored cruelty. It is not something that I am particularly happy about, and hopefully we will see change.
The 5 million or so animals caught for their fur in barbaric traps that are banned in the UK fare no better. Sometimes they are left languishing in traps for days, and often chew off their own limbs to escape.
Our debate today should allow us to discuss whether the UK should be playing any part in an industry that we find so unconscionable in our own country. Despite our previous world-leading progress in banning this outdated and cruel practice, we have since continued to allow the import and sale of fur from abroad, effectively outsourcing animal suffering. Since 2003, we have imported—
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. On wanting to ban imports, we know that at the moment the Government are interested in doing trade deals with other countries. Could it not be a condition that we do not wish to do trade deals with countries that continue to exploit animals in this way?
I completely agree; in fact, it is almost as if the hon. Member has read part of my speech in advance. If we are exporting and importing cruelty, it is fundamentally wrong. Any sane, normal-minded person would find it absolutely intolerable.
Since 2003, we have imported more than £800 million of animal fur from countries including China, Finland, France and Poland. HSIS estimates that this equates to some 20 million animals—to let that sink in, 20 million animals have gone through this cruelty.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. Does he agree that the health risk presented by the fur trade needs to be better publicised so that consumers may make more informed decisions? The intensive breeding conditions in these fur farms lead to poor hygiene, stress and low genetic diversity, creating a perfect breeding ground for disease.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady. The fact that we have to advertise where our food is coming from but not where our clothes are coming from is wrong on so many levels.
We must now be strong enough to eradicate our involvement—I hope any involvement—in the perpetuation of these animals suffering for such a completely unnecessary, frivolous purpose as to be turned into a pompom on a hat or a trim on a collar. If we can legislate to say that the practice is too cruel in our country, we must take the next step and legislate to say that it is too cruel for us, in effect, to underwrite it in other countries as well.
From his representations to Ministers, has the hon. Gentleman had any indication as to the reasons for their reluctance to do something that would be so popular—justifiably so—with the public, in order to prevent this cruel trade and make a major contribution to eliminating it not only in the United Kingdom but across the planet? Would this not only be a major exercise, but one that is fairly simple and straightforward to do?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is making an excellent speech and being so kind in taking so many interventions, for bringing this debate to the Chamber today. Does he agree that it is not just the humane thing to do, but that there is also a public health interest in making sure this happens? Humane Society International has reported that there are covid-19 outbreaks on more than 400 mink farms in 12 countries to date. While we are all grappling with the pandemic, surely we must also have the public health interest at the forefront of our concerns.
That is not a matter I was going to cover in this speech, but the hon. Lady makes a very educated and well-informed point. Certainly, in pandemic Britain, we need to think about this. If we allow more people to be infected across the globe, it is obviously going to come back to our shores as well.
As I said, there is overwhelming public support for a fur ban. A recent Yonder poll in May found that more than seven in 10 members of the public would support a ban on the import or sale of fur in the UK, including more than 50% who stated their strong support.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Does he agree that, while there are goods with fur attached—for pompoms, for instance, as he indicated—that level of public supports suggests that perhaps the public neither know nor wish to be purchasing real fur? If the Government here took steps to prevent that from happening, the public would be very grateful.
I completely agree. People’s shopping habits have fundamentally changed in recent years, and there has been a growth in the import of faux fur, but again this comes down to a labelling issue. Far too often, people who buy faux fur end up wearing real fur, so there needs to be a wider conversation around that.
A YouGov poll from 2020 revealed that the public consider fashion brands selling real fur to be “unethical”, “outdated”, “cruel” and “out of touch”. Is it not time to bring our legislation in line with public feeling and sever our ties with this inhumane industry for good?
We also have a duty to protect this nation of animal lovers from unwittingly funding this industry, which they so despise. In recent years, scores of British retailers have been found to be mis-selling real fur products as faux fur, leading unsuspecting customers to prop up the industry. It is essential that we take action to ban this duplicitous practice. Banning fur imports and sales could create appropriate penalties for retailers found to be selling real fur, and could be a significant step forward in this regard.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and add my voice to the cross-party support for banning the import of fur sales. Does he agree that when we set the standard, some 20 years ago, by banning fur farming here in the UK, other countries followed our lead? If we can set the example here, not only will we help animal welfare in this country, but other countries will follow. Does he agree that we should take the lead?
I completely agree. As I have said in the Chamber in other debates on different topics, we are global Britain. We have a proud reputation across the globe and when we speak, people should listen. Other countries have followed, and we need only look at Israel, which has a complete fur ban across the country already.
British high streets generally mirror public opinion on fur. The vast majority of our stores are now fur free, including Marks & Spencer, Selfridges and Next, as well as high-end fashion and designers, such as Stella McCartney, Burberry and Chanel. Businesses are moving away from using fur of their own accord, driven by the most profound moral argument for doing so and by changing customer spending habits, proving that a ban would only have a limited impact on businesses.
There are a relatively small number of organisations still working in the fur industry. A managed period to phase them out should ensure that they can transition to alternative humane materials and products.
We agree, first of all, that in this day and age there is no justification whatsoever for using real fur, because so many good synthetic alternatives are available. I do not want to broaden the debate too far, but is this not also yet another form of trophy hunting? This kind of trophy, whether a fur coat on somebody’s back or an animal mat on a floor, has no place in a civilised society.
I would disagree slightly, because some out there would try to picture hunting with some degree of romanticism, but that is just not true of the fur trade, which is barbaric and cruel. It is not hunting, but catching animals in traps and leaving them to bleed out or even worse, so although I disagree on that point, I completely agree with my right hon. Friend’s sentiment.
Brexit has given us a unique opportunity to forge a new standard for animal welfare and protection, in keeping with our values as a country. Previously, 80% of animal welfare legislation came from the European Union, and last year the Minister of State, Lord Goldsmith, confirmed that following the end of the Brexit transition period we will be able to properly consider raising our standards on the fur trade even further. We must now move forward from those words and legislate for real change.
Leaving the European Union has started a new chapter in our trading relationship with the rest of the world, and banning fur will send a strong message that our trading principles will be synonymous with our high standards of animal welfare. Cities, states and countries around the world are implementing their own versions of this legislation, with Israel recently becoming the first country in the world to ban the sale of fur. Our new trading freedoms are ours to become an integral part of the global movement against this outdated industry, and we must not let this opportunity pass us by.
Supporters of the fur industry—unfortunately there are a few, and I have been trolled by many of them in the last few days—claim that it should be left purely to the market and consumer choice. Yet despite the unpopularity of fur and its almost complete absence from the high street, the UK is still responsible for importing a large amount of animal fur and online sales are persistent.
We already have laws in place banning the sale of cat, dog and seal fur. We do not leave the fate of these species to market forces, nor should we, but we do for other fur-bearing animals. A ban on both imports and sales of fur can guarantee an end to the UK’s status as a global trading hub for fur.
Backers of fur have also claimed that an import and sales ban could jeopardise the UK’s effort to strike new trade deals around the world. This claim is little more than hyperbole and fearmongering. A ban not only would be consistent with our World Trade Organisation obligations but would be unlikely to be a red-line negotiation issue in any trade deal, because trade in fur is not economically significant enough.
I would also take this moment to pre-empt any suggestion that such a thing as humane fur farming exists. That is a fallacy and a downright lie, but do not take it from me alone. I would like to read a brief quote from a former CEO of the British Fur Trade Association, who recently, of his own volition, left the industry after 10 years and now supports a fur ban. He said:
“Over time I realised that whatever soundbites we devised to reassure consumers, retailers and politicians, neither welfare regulations nor any industry certification scheme, would ever change the reality of these animals being stuck in tiny wire cages for their entire lives.”
It is now time that we end the double standard of having a ban on fur farming while importing the same cruelty from overseas. The fur industry is outmoded and out of touch with the modern values and principles of the humane treatment of animals. I implore my parliamentary colleagues to join me in condemning it to the history books, as we have so many other cruel and archaic treatments of animals.
In conclusion, following the Government’s call for evidence on the fur trade over the summer, given the strong public and parliamentary support for this measure and noting the Government’s commitment and ambition to be a world leader on animal welfare standards, I ask the Minister to use her response to today’s debate to reassure me and everyone in this room that legislative action to end the UK’s involvement in the global fur trade will be imminently forthcoming. It is not just a popular thing to do; it is the right thing to do.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees.
Historically, the UK was the foremost leader when it came to animal welfare—the first island of nations in the world to implement legislation protecting animal rights. Fur farming has rightly been banned in the UK since 2003, yet we continue to import tens of millions of pounds of animal fur each year. If it is too cruel an industry to have on our shores, how can we justify importing fur that is farmed using the same inhumane methods that are illegal in the UK? As the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) said, all we have managed to do is outsource our animal cruelty overseas.
The slaughter methods used on fur farms are horrendously cruel. Before an animal reaches its first birthday, it will be slaughtered using one of the following methods: by electrocution, with probes inserted into the animal’s mouth; by gassing, slowly starving the animal of oxygen; or by brutally beating the animal to death. Alternatively, many animals have their necks broken or are poisoned with noxious chemicals that result in organ failure. In some particularly horrific cases, animals may even be skinned alive. How can we really, truly call ourselves a progressive and caring society when we allow such actions to take place, purely for commercial purposes?
The fur trade not only has a devastating impact on innocent animals but also creates a risk to human welfare from zoonotic diseases. Last year, we witnessed a devastating cull of mink in Europe because of large outbreaks of covid-19. Dangerous viruses thrive when animals are kept in filthy, crowded conditions. By allowing the sale of fur in Britain, we are inadvertently supporting a reservoir of deadly viruses. The UK public overwhelmingly reject these barbaric and entirely outdated practices. One YouGov poll shows that 72% of our population want to see a ban on the importation and sale of fur.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that 72% of people want to see a ban. In Wales, the number is actually higher: 82% of people in Wales want to see a ban on the UK fur industry. It is vital that the Minister works with all nations of the United Kingdom and all devolved Administrations to tackle this problem head-on.
I absolutely agree with that sentiment. I know that people in Wales are very conscious when it comes to farming and other sentient animals. I take that fully on board, and I hope that the Minister will do the same.
According to the Humane Society International, around 100 million animals are bred each year to be slaughtered in intensive fur farms, including foxes, chinchillas, mink, raccoons, dogs and rabbits. The majority of this fur—around 85%—is produced by intensively farming animals in callous, claustrophobic battery cage systems to specifically supply the fashion industry. The ban on the sale of real fur is long overdue. Subjecting animals to extreme cruelty in the name of fashion is an abhorrence in direct opposition to animal welfare standards, and the values we hold dearly in Scotland—and of course in Wales and across the devolved nations.
While the farming of animals for fur has been illegal in the United kingdom since January 2003, and the sale and importation of cat and dog fur has been illegal since December 2008, each year the UK still imports around £75 million-worth of fur sourced from other animals. That is roughly 3 million dead animals. It is undoubtedly clear that the Government cannot be trusted on animal welfare. In response to an open petition calling for an end to the fur trade, the UK Government stated that
“national bans are less effective than working at an international level on animal welfare standards.”
They went on to say that they were helping to phase out cruel practices, as well as encouraging an outright ban on fur from species such as cats and dogs.
The answer from the UK Government is a total cop out. In Scotland we see all fur production as cruel and inhumane; there is no need to differentiate between species in such a way. No animal is more or less important than the other. Once again, this proves that Scotland is leading the UK on the issues that matter, not for the first time and not just in this area. There is no more important a step that we can take towards ending this cruelty than to simply end our participation with it. If this Government continue to allow the sale of fur from overseas, then we will remain complicit in an industry that causes immense animal suffering and environmental harm. The sale of fur is simply not aligned with the ethical trajectory of Scotland. This is what Scotland wants and has asked for from this Tory Government from day one.
Animal welfare is an area that the Scottish National party takes extremely seriously, and I would urge the UK Government to follow the Scottish Government’s leading example on these issues. We have created new legislation to further protect animals and wildlife, with the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, which enforces tougher penalties on perpetrators of animal abuse, increases sentences from a maximum of 12 months in prison and a £20,000 fine to five years in prison and an unlimited fine, and also enshrines animal sentience into law. Nevertheless, regulation of international trade remains a reserved matter, and as such, it is a decision for this Government. We are imploring them to make the right decision. I urge the UK Government to listen to the people, listen to the morality of the argument, and prohibit the import of new fur products.
It is a pleasure to be part of this debate, Ms Rees, and I thank the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for securing it. I will be quite brief, as the UK can be proud of its extremely high animal welfare standards and the fact that we have banned fur farms. I intervened on the hon. Member for Bury South to talk about the opportunity we have with the trade deals coming up to not just stop the importation of fur, but to maintain those animal standards in all our imports. I would press on the Minister the need when making these trade deals to say that we should not have any reduction in animal welfare standards—be that in fur, in meat production or in any way whatsoever.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bury South mentioned that consumer choice is very important. However, sometimes consumers mistakenly buy fur products because they are incorrectly labelled, and because they cannot clearly identify where the products come from. He made the point that we know the country that our meat has come from, but we do not have the same knowledge with fur products; that is something else I would encourage the Government to look at. There are really high-quality synthetic alternatives, and if they were clearly labelled and made available, I think consumers would certainly want to choose them.
The evidence suggests that the great British public are overwhelmingly against fur farming and that they want to see high standards of animal welfare maintained. The opinion polls show that they think that fur farming is absolutely unacceptable. I conclude by saying to the Minister that I would like see this commitment to animal welfare reflected in the trade deals the Government reach with other countries.
I am delighted to speak in the debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) on securing it. I recall participating in a debate on this very issue on 4 June 2018—that date is important because it was the same day that Scotland became the first country in the United Kingdom to enact legislation banning the use of wild animals in circuses. The same week, a similar ban was imposed in Slovakia, and yet the UK Government insisted that we could not impose such a ban unilaterally as a member of the EU. Another day, another EU membership myth busted.
The fact is that the farming of animals for fur is not permitted in the UK. As we have heard, the next logical step is to ban the sale of animal fur products. Anything else is sheer hypocrisy—outsourcing our poor fashion choices. The contradiction suggests that although our law recognises the cruelty and barbarism of farming animals for their fur, as long as these animals are not farmed here, we are content for their fur to be imported into the UK. That position is illogical and hypocritical, and we must take the next step of banning the importation of animal fur products. It is quite a simple choice.
The demand for fur products in the UK has been in steady decline for decades, as consumers increasingly find them unethical and unacceptable. The inboxes of the people in this room are testament that our constituents continue to be concerned about this matter. Where consumers lead, businesses will follow.
Many large retailers such as Marks & Spencer and John Lewis are already proactively moving away from fur sales and, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) said, public opinion is overwhelmingly in support of a ban on the importation and sale of fur. Would the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) agree that there is no need for a regulated industry and that, instead, an outright ban is the only viable way forward?
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. It is true that shops such as Marks & Spencer, Adidas and H&M have now rejected the fur industry, and designers such as Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood have supported calls for Britain to become the first European nation to ban fur sales. Of course, businesses are in the business of making money, and they are following where customers are taking them. It is about time that instead of continually playing catch-up, the UK Government responded to consumers and constituents in the UK. Israel is leading on the issue, and its ban on the sale of fur will come into force by the end of this year. For the UK to do the same would be a very logical next step given that the sale of cat, dog and seal fur is already banned. What are we waiting for?
I hope that the Minister is listening, and that we do not have to come back in another couple of years to repeat the same calls for something so humane, which has both widespread public support and firm cross-party support. Let us just get on and do it. There is no reason to hang about and not get it done.
Thank you, Ms Rees. I am grateful to be able to speak in this important debate, although I am frustrated that we need it in the first place.
In April, I introduced a Bill to the House that called for the fur trade to be banned once and for all in Britain. I called on colleagues across the House to step up and make history, making the UK the first country in the world to prohibit the sale of fur in full. I am therefore extremely disappointed that this cruel practice continues to be an issue in the United Kingdom. Twenty-two years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) introduced a Bill to ban fur farming. She said it was time to
“put an end to a cruel barbaric practice”.—[Official Report, 5 March 1999; Vol. 326, c. 1339.]
That Bill was taken up by the last Labour Government and a year later it became law, making Britain the first country in the world to ban fur farming outright.
Despite that decision, the products of fur farming have continued for the past 20 years to be imported into our country and sold in our shops. We do, however, have the option of eliminating that double standard and once again making history by becoming the first country in the world to ban the importation and sale of fur. The Government have shown some willingness and stated that they want to drive up animal welfare standards in the United Kingdom. Banning the fur trade in its entirety, including fur imports, would be a bold step toward reaching these aims.
We need actions, not just warm words from the Government. In banning the fur trade, we will have the overwhelming support of the animal-loving British public. Many Members have spoken about the YouGov poll commissioned by the Humane Society International, which showed that 72% of the British public support a complete ban and that only 3% of people even wear animal fur. This year alone, over 60 of my constituents have reached out and asked me to take action against ongoing fur sales. I am sure every Member participating in the debate has received similar correspondence. My constituents have made it clear that they have had enough of this cruel and often violent industry. Fur stoles in the UK are often taken from animals that are killed by electrocution after having spent their short, unhappy lives inside crowded cages.
I am hoping the Minister will be able to answer that. We all hope that the Government will be able to provide some clarity on when they hope to ban the sale of fur.
Fur is regularly imported from the EU and several other countries. This is completely unacceptable. It is once again up to this House to set the highest standard possible, deciding what trade we believe to be ethical and wish to permit. I urge colleagues across the House to join me in saying that Britain no longer wishes to permit the barbaric trade in animal fur, instead choosing to make history instead by being the first country in the world to ban the trade in full. I call on the Government to step up and support tough legislation that would see the fur trade consigned to history. I thank the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for securing the debate. We must all continue to speak out against the terrible practice.
Thank you, Ms Rees; I can be very brief. I had not intended to intervene at all, but I want to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) and congratulate him on securing the debate.
It is many years since I went out on the ice with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and watched baby seals being clubbed to death and then skinned—either alive or dead—in the interest of what I believe is known as fashion. I do not think the animal knows very much whether it is a caged animal bred for fur or whether it is a wild animal slaughtered for fur. The fact of the matter is that neither of these practices should be acceptable in civilised society. Neither is necessary, because, as I said earlier, the synthetics are so good.
We know that a considerable amount of material is imported, very often as trim. Half the time, the people that are buying a pair of kids’ slippers or something with a fur trim on it do not actually know that it is real fur, and they would be horrified if they did know. There is only one way around this. My friend the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said very correctly that it is completely anomalous that we should abandon fur farming in the UK and then allow the product to be imported from other countries. It has got to stop. It can stop now. The Government have a good track record of bringing forward animal welfare legislation, and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to make sure that this is added to that portfolio. Let us stop it now.
Sometimes we imagine that our concern for the wellbeing of other species is very modern, but in 1783—nearly a quarter of a millennium ago—a young ploughboy, Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s bard, who was born in my constituency, wrote of the feelings of animals in his famous poems “To a Mouse”, “On Glenriddell’s Fox Breaking His Chain” and many others, clearly displaying his understanding that animals have feelings and suffer pain. By 2021, we have so much evidence of animal sentience that we must reconsider all our behaviour towards them.
In my short time as an MP, I have found myself writing to Ministers and speaking in the House, urging them to act on a wide range of animal welfare-related matters, including the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, an end to lab testing with animals, stiffer penalties for cruelty to animals, a ban on the use of cages, traps and puppy farms, and of course an end to the fur trade. As the RSPCA put it:
“Evidence from multiple scientific studies has helped us to understand that a wide range of animals are sentient beings. This means they have the capacity to experience positive and negative feelings such as pleasure, joy, pain and distress that matter to the individual.”
As many as 2,500 scientific studies have proven the existence of animal sentience across a dizzying array of species. To put it simply, like us they know what it is to experience the horror of what we do to them, to live in agonising fear of it and—if they survive—to have to live with the memory of it.
The fur trade also means terror for sentient creatures. As one of my constituents put it to me:
“I don’t wear fur because I think it’s cruel. Every year around the world millions of animals are kept in small wire cages or caught in metal leghold traps before being brutally killed, all for a product no one needs, a frivolous piece of fur trim. The practice of keeping and rearing animals in cages unfit for purpose and to kill them for their fur for profit is barbaric, cruel and inhumane and for any country to condone and allow such fur to be imported and sold is equally as barbaric.”
The message is clear; the call for evidence is complete. A total ban on fur imports and sales is required, and it is required now.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for securing it, for the way in which he opened it and for his activity on this issue to date, leading up to it.
This has been a genuinely positive debate, with speakers from all parties in the House in common cause on banning fur imports. With regard to fur sales, my own attitude can quite simply be summed up as, “I just dinnae like it”, and I wholeheartedly agree that fur sales should be banned.
The process of fur farming can too often lead to unacceptable and cruel conditions for far too many animals. As fur imports in the UK are currently a reserved matter, it is incumbent on the UK Government to introduce a ban on the import of fur products. I know that view is shared by many of my constituents and indeed by many people throughout these isles. Indeed, several opinion polls in recent years have shown that a ban on fur imports would be overwhelmingly supported by the public.
So it will come as no surprise that I was delighted to be one of more than 100 MPs and peers to have signed the cross-party letter to the Environment Secretary organised by the hon. Member for Bury South, and to have been a signatory both to early-day motion 193, on “The fur trade in the UK”, which was tabled on 14 June 2021, and early-day motion 267, on “Real fur imports”, which was tabled on 9 March 2020. Indeed, many of my colleagues in the Scottish National party have also supported these calls. Animal welfare is an issue that we take extremely seriously and we support the steps to strengthen animal welfare legislation in the Scottish Government’s programme for government. As I have said, international trade is a reserved matter, and until we have the power to determine this matter for ourselves in Scotland we will continue to urge the UK Government to make the right decision, to listen to the people and to morally end the import of new fur products.
As we have heard, fur farming across the UK was banned in 2003 because of the related cruelty and suffering, and the importation of cat and dog fur has been illegal since December 2008. The import, export and sale of cat and dog fur, and of seal pelts, is already banned in the European Union. However, the UK Government continue to be guilty by proxy of that cruelty and suffering, with the equivalent of fur from around two million animals being imported to the UK each year.
Investigations show that the physical and mental abuse suffered by animals kept in barbaric conditions, which the industry professes to be humane, include the use of leghold traps and keeping animals for their entire lives in cages that are 1 metre square. Their deaths are equally horrific, with animals being beaten to death or even skinned alive, as we have heard from a number of speakers today.
Banning fur farming across the UK was world-leading and, with almost 20 European countries following suit, it showed what good leadership can achieve. The UK Government’s response to an e-petition calling for a fur import ban back in 2018 said that such a ban would be unlikely while Britain was a member of the EU. Now, it will not have escaped anyone’s attention that we are no longer a member of the EU, so I wonder whether the Minister can tell us what excuse the UK Government have now. Even the former chief executive of the British Fur Trade Association and director of standards at the International Fur Federation accepts that nothing
“would ever change the reality of these animals being stuck in tiny wire cages”.
In conclusion, although we have missed the chance to lead the world by banning the sale of fur across the UK—Israel has passed an amendment to its wildlife protection law to ban the sale of wild animal fur from any source and so has the state of California—can we not at least be among the front-runners in bringing an end to this brutal and inhumane industry?
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Rees. I thank the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for calling this debate on an issue of great importance for so many of our constituents around the UK. The hon. Member referred to us as a nation of animal lovers and he painted a picture of an intolerable situation that the Government have the power to solve easily. We have had a good debate and we have heard a lot of support for action from across the Chamber.
It has been great to hear the different arguments made by many Members from different parties. We heard about how good synthetic fur quality is from the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale). We heard about the brutal treatment of animals and an upsetting description of the conditions they live in from the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar). We also heard that this issue matters to people across the UK. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) pointed out, in Wales a greater proportion of people—82%—back a ban.
I wanted to make some remarks about how long this journey has been. I am proud that my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) introduced a Bill to ban fur farming in the UK that was turned into reality and made law over 20 years ago by a Labour Government. Britain was the first country to enact a ban on this cruel industry and I am pleased to see countries across Europe have since followed suit.
The ban was a huge step forward and as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) eloquently said almost four years ago, while it halted the production of fur in the UK, fur farming was outsourced—a comment that was echoed today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). It was also pointed out that we have a huge opportunity and things have changed since then.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) raised the point that trade deals could help halt the trade and could hold countries to account to stop these practices. We know that other countries have less stringent animal welfare regulations, and that should be pursued. Although the public mood against the fur trade is overwhelming, we have yet to cut our economic ties to the trade completely and the UK continues to import and export tens of millions of pounds of fur products each year. This must stop. As long as we are trading these products, we are complicit in their production. It is right that we support a ban on trading fur in the UK and part of that must involve addressing the scandal of real fur being passed off as fake, as was mentioned today.
Some argue against a ban by claiming the need for fur to be ethically sourced instead, but it is well known that these so-called ethically sourced schemes unfortunately fall short. It is difficult to understand what best practice could mean as regards the conditions these animals are kept in. We know best practice in animal welfare can be so poor that it means very little. How could best practice be anything but poor? It is impossible to keep wild animals in captivity in the conditions we have heard about and to tend to their welfare.
Perhaps the most damaging examples to advocates of ethical sourcing are places like Germany and Sweden where the fur industry is being phased out. That is because the rules in those countries for the welfare of foxes and mink in captivity are so high that businesses are simply not profitable. We heard about the impact on public health and those examples demonstrate that cruelty cannot be regulated out of the industry and that it poses extra risks—unfortunately, it is a requirement for the industry to function successfully.
There is a direct contradiction between the ethical treatment of animals and the commercial viability of the fur trade, so I welcome the Government’s consultation on the sale of fur in the UK. I wonder why it has not come sooner. When I was preparing for this debate, I read through the robust Westminster Hall debate on the issue almost four years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge concluded by praising the standard of the contributions just as I have, but warned:
“My worry is that they will think that all we have had is a debate. That is the challenge for the Minister to go away to think about.”—[Official Report, 4 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 32WH.]
The Minister has been thinking about it for a long time now. What is the timetable for the consultation, and when does the Government hope to legislate?
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) was right in her recent speech in the House that our moral objection to the fur trade should not be bargained away in any future trade deals. There really is no time to lose. I was so pleased to hear her excellent contribution today. I hope the Minister can provide us with more answers on timescales and where we want to get to. Clearly, the whole House is behind this.
Of course I will, Ms Rees. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for bringing this debate, and all other hon. Members who have spoken today. It is obvious from the speeches and all those interventions that there is great strength of feeling on this topic. I spoke on it myself as a Back Bencher when I was in the all-party parliamentary group for animal welfare. Similarly, the support for the early-day motion that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) has tabled shows the strength of feeling.
We know that we are a nation of animal lovers. We were the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals, and we have developed a lasting legacy of improving and enhancing animal health and welfare. I do not think anyone in this room would deny that. Since 2010 we have banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens, made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses, modernised our licensing system for dog breeding and pet sales, introduced the popular Finn’s Law, banned the commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens and led work to implement humane trapping standards. However, we do have the opportunity to do more and go further. Animal welfare is an absolute priority of the Government, as I think that raft of measures demonstrates.
We have outlined our aims and ambitions for improving animal welfare in our action plan, published on 12 May. We have introduced landmark legislation in this Session that will recognise animals as sentient beings in UK law, and we are establishing an expert committee to ensure that animal sentience is considered as part of policy making. We have launched the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which will introduce new powers to crack down on puppy smuggling, a ban on the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter, a ban on keeping primates as pets, and new powers for police to provide greater protection to livestock from dangerous and out of control dogs. I think Members will agree that it is an impressive list.
As Members know, fur farming has been banned in England and Wales since 2000 and in Scotland and Northern Ireland since 2002. There are also restrictions on some skin and fur products that cannot be legally imported into the UK. Those include fur and products from cats and dogs and sealskin products from commercial hunts. There is a small exemption there for subsistence seal farming by individual groups. We have established controls on fur from endangered species protected by the convention on international trade in endangered species—CITES—and we do not allow imports of fur from wild animals caught using methods that are not compliant with international humane trapping standards.
However, it is still possible to import other types of fur from abroad. In our action plan for animal welfare, the Government committed to exploring further action in this area, which we are free to do now that we have left the EU. I wanted to stress that point particularly, and it has been mentioned by a number of Members today. Bear in mind, as well, that some nations in the EU still have fur and mink farming and so on. We are building a strong evidence base on which to inform any future policy, noting information from a range of sources, including industry associated with the fur trade and notable retailers who have recently gone fur free. A list was mentioned just now, but they include the likes of Adidas, H&M, Lacoste, Mango, Marks & Spencer, charities and other organisations, as well as a range of fashion designers including Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Prada, Armani, Burberry and Chanel. I am sure lots of hon. Members and hon. Friends are wearing some of those brands today, because it is Second Hand September; I am.
The Minister makes the important point that high street retailers and consumers want to do the most ethical thing by buying items marketed as faux fur or synthetic fur, but when tests are carried out unfortunately it turns out they are real fur, because it is cheaper to use real fur than faux fur. Can the Minister outline what she is doing to counteract this? Consumers think they are doing the right thing, but we need to make sure that they really are.
That point was raised by a number of Members today, including the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who is no longer in her place, and for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy). It is a good point and the Government recognise the moral concern that some consumers have about whether the fur is real and whether labels are correct.
Information has been given to businesses requiring them to be accurate and not misleading. Labelling that contains false or misleading information, or omits material information that consumers need to make an informed decision, is prohibited. The textile labelling regulations require that the presence of fur and other non-textile parts of animal origin, such as leather and pearls, are labelled. We have a clear system and if anyone feels there is a breach it should be reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service.
The Minister may well be aware that a Humane Society International and YouGov poll has shown that 93% of the British population do not want to wear fur. While I press her to ban the import of fur, will she also please sit down with the British fashion industry and encourage it to take a lead on this issue across the world as well?
I thank my hon. Friend for that; it is a good point. I work with the fashion industry on a range of issues, not least recycling and fast fashion. When I speak to them about those issues I will be pleased to make reference to that point as well.
I was asked about faux fur. I have a faux fur jacket, but I am now afraid to wear it in case anybody thinks it is real. It is clearly faux fur and has all the labelling, but I have steered away from it.
Moving on, we are building a strong evidence base. We published our formal call for evidence on the fur trade on 31 May. That was a key step in helping us to improve our understanding of the sector and we have received an incredible 30,000 responses from businesses, representative bodies and individuals, demonstrating the strong feeling in this area, as many have suggested today.
Officials have been analysing the responses that we have received and we have been engaging directly with stakeholders in order to further the Government’s understanding of the sector. That has included meeting with industry representatives and the British Fur Trade Association, as well as animal welfare groups, such as the Humane Society International. We will use all the evidence to inform any future action on the fur trade. A summary of responses to the call for evidence, setting out the results and any next steps in the policy, will be published at a later date.
As ever, we will work closely with the devolved Administrations, and the formal call for evidence on the fur sector in Great Britain was published jointly with Scotland and Wales. As was pointed out earlier on the international front, the matter is devolved, but the call was published together.
As I just said, we received an awful lot of data—30,000 responses that must be ploughed through in the correct manner—so we will publish the results at a later date.
Touching on the disease issue raised by several hon. Members, the emergence of covid and its global impact reminds us of the importance of interactions between humans, animals and the environment. That is another reason why we need to work together to understand better how our behaviour, supply chains and cultures can change those interactions and create risks. The Government are committed to building a clear body of evidence on that, because it is really important.
To wind up, I hope that Members here will understand that I am not in a position to announce any next steps on the fur trade, and it is vital that any future policies are based on robust evidence. I hope that past action and recently introduced legislation demonstrate this Government’s clear commitment to treat our animals in the right way. I listed the many measures that we have brought in recently, many of which also address unacceptable practices abroad. We have an opportunity to set a clear global sense of direction, including on international conservation and trade. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South for securing today’s debate.
I now face the audacious task of trying to read my own writing. Parliament is truly at its best when there is clear cross-party support, although I hope the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) will forgive me for disagreeing slightly about this being a reason to push further for Scottish independence.
I thank the Minister for her response. There were certainly some very warm words, and it looks like the start of us heading in a certain direction. However, I urge haste because for every day we delay, millions of animals face these conditions, which is clearly incorrect. I invite the Minister to my fur-banning reception in the Palace on 16 November. Indeed, if she wants to hear more, I am also speaking at the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation during the party conference.
In closing, Gandhi said that the
“greatness of a nation…can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Let us be a fair, humane and compassionate Britain but, more importantly, let us be a great Britain.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered real fur sales in the UK.