Wednesday 22 September 2021
[Clive Efford in the Chair]
Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking. This is line with current Government and House of Commons Commission guidance. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the contribution of the cruise industry to the economy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Efford.
They say you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, and perhaps that should have been the theme of the pandemic. In Southampton, as well as in many other ports around the country, that was never more stark than when we saw the empty berths where once many cruise ships were tied up while embarking and disembarking passengers. Cruise ships have created an ever-changing landscape in Southampton, as the many and varied ships rotate through the port, and when that was missing it was extremely noticeable.
Cruise operations are of huge significance to the UK’s economy. The port of Southampton is the home of the UK cruise industry and the leading cruise turnaround port in Europe. Last year, the majority of all UK cruise passengers passed through Southampton, with the port accounting for 83% of all cruise passengers in 2019. However, it is not the only port to benefit from cruise: Portsmouth, just down the road, Dover, Tilbury, Newcastle, Dundee, Edinburgh, Belfast and Liverpool all benefit from the revenue that cruise brings to their local economies. It is estimated that each turnaround visit for a cruise ship in Southampton brings £2.7 million to the local economy, and much of that will stay local. Its importance cannot be underestimated.
Southampton is like many post-industrial cities of the north, which is why you will hear me repeat that levelling up is not about geography but about opportunity. My constituents depended on manufacturing jobs, from shipbuilding to motor manufacturing. Southampton was the home of the famous Ford Transit van, but Ford, Vosper Thornycroft and Pirelli Cables & Systems are all long gone. That is why the port of Southampton and the cruise industry are so important to our economy and the employment prospects of my constituents.
In a port city like Southampton, one is never more than a few feet away from someone who makes a living from or has their standard of living enhanced by the cruise industry: from Solent Stevedores to the many taxi drivers, dozens of suppliers, Associated British Ports operators, students with jobs in hospitality and retirees working in the terminals during busy times—part time, full time, young and old. The cruise industry in Southampton is integral to our economic success.
However, it is not just our local economy that benefits from the cruise industry. Cruising brings in over £10 billion per year to the UK economy and supports nearly 90,000 jobs. In December last year, Cruise Lines International Association told the Transport Committee that pausing cruise operations between March and September 2020 resulted in £6.7 billion of lost expenditure and 52,000 job losses. Carnival Cruise Line alone employs over 1,100 people at its UK headquarters in Southampton and has over 2,000 British seagoing officers. That is not insignificant. We can calculate the economic benefits, but it is more difficult to put a price on the joy that cruising brings. In 2019, before the pandemic struck, nearly 2 million passengers passed through the port of Southampton alone. This figure is expected to grow to 4 million a year by 2050, and ports are already investing to take advantage of that growth.
Recently, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), opened the port of Southampton’s fifth and latest cruise terminal, aptly named Horizon. The state-of-the-art terminal is fitted with more than 2,000 solar panels on the roof, generating more power than it uses, and it has shore power for ships to plug into while in port.
The demographic of the cruise market has changed. No longer is it the preserve of older people and wealthy pensioners; it is now the fastest-growing sector of the tourism industry and is particularly popular with families. During the efforts to restart cruise, the industry worked closely with the Minister and Government and welcomed the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown. Domestic cruises were permitted again from 17 May this year, and the cruise industry has gone on to demonstrate how safe it is and how prepared it was to resume its operations. It has introduced stringent measures to keep passengers and crew safe. The UK Chamber of Shipping published a covid-19 framework for the industry that made cruise ships the safest environment in the travel and hospitality sector. Those measures include pre-embarkation health checks, masks and social distancing, and guests are encouraged to use hand-washing facilities and hand sanitiser dispensers at venue entrances. Cruise ships also have excellent medical facilities, including intensive care units on most ships. All adult passengers are required to be double vaccinated, as are the crew. Although it was disappointing that the increase in covid infections last winter meant that cruises were unable to resume, the industry used that extended period to further improve its protocols, learning from the pandemic as it progressed.
While we understand and acknowledge the disappointment of those who saw their holidays cancelled during the pandemic, we should not overlook the awful time that crew have experienced. The depressing sight of cruise ships anchored off the south coast, visiting a port every few weeks to offload waste and take on fuel and supplies, will be one of the most enduring and disturbing images of the pandemic.
Many crew members have also found themselves disadvantaged by the loss of the seafarers earnings deduction. Seafarers are normally entitled to a deduction from their tax bill; however, this is linked to time spent at sea outside of the UK. Through no fault of their own, many failed to meet the required qualifying period. The Government will therefore benefit from a windfall to the detriment of our seafarers. That has caused some crew members to reconsider whether a job that requires them to be away from their families for prolonged periods is worthwhile at all. It is putting even more pressure on the recovering industry, and driving British sailors to overseas companies and competitors. Retention of existing seafarer professionals is not the only issue: recruitment is becoming a challenge too. One captain has said that without the SED, it is now hard to attract university graduates to embark on a seafaring career.
In conclusion—it does no harm to repeat this—the cruise industry is a UK success story, employing tens of thousands of people and contributing billions to our economy while giving the very best holiday experience to customers. I know that the Minister was as pleased as me to see the resumption of our nation’s fantastic cruise industry, and that he will continue to support it, as he has done throughout the most turbulent time in its history. I hope that he will use his influence with the Chancellor and the Treasury to secure a seafarers earnings deduction waiver, temporarily waiving the requirement to be outside the UK for a period of time in order to qualify. Our seafarers must feel valued for what they do, and receive recompense for the sacrifices they make in the way they would have had the pandemic not happened.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on having secured this very timely debate. My interest is local, national and international. It is local because of my home town of Greenock, the biggest town in my constituency, with its very long and very proud maritime history. It is the major port for exports in Scotland, and it hosts a growing cruise ship industry. Scotland hosted 817,000 cruise ship passengers in 2019, and Greenock hosted 144,000 of them, the second most in Scotland after Invergordon, with 168,000, and way ahead of Edinburgh, with 139,000. However, we have not finished quite yet: we are expanding the docking facilities in Greenock, and building a new visitor’s centre and a reception building. If I get my way, we will redevelop a local tobacco warehouse and a sugar refinery building to form the beginnings of a culture quarter within walking distance of cruise ship berths. Naturally, we are greedy to generate greater local financial benefits from the cruise industry, but we are prepared to invest to make that happen.
Scotland-wide, we have much to offer, as indicated by the investment in Aberdeen harbour. Around 27 cruise lines operating 67 different vessels will call at Scottish ports as part of a cruise in one year. That contribution is valued and should never be taken for granted. While we continue to exit from covid, and domestic cruising has increased, we must acknowledge that international cruising is hugely important. In years to come, Scotland shall remain a welcome host to all our friends and neighbours from foreign countries, from Sorrento to Southampton.
As the cruise industry continues to grow, it presents us with many opportunities and just as many challenges, but there is an issue that we cannot ignore. All operators of cruise ships need to address the environmental damage that their vessels cause. Disappointingly, the Paris agreement did not address aviation or shipping. I am pleased that the maritime industry will be at COP26 and will set a zero target for emissions for 2050.
Although I understand the cost of transition, I implore the industry to be more ambitious: 2050 is too far away. By 2050, if we do not hit our targets to reduce global warming, my port of Greenock will be underwater. Plans are in place for fuel cells to provide the energy to run the hotel aspect of cruise ships and Governments to have a duty to ensure that the power required to charge the cells while docked comes from clean, green renewable energy.
In conclusion, it is easy to point fingers and blame others but, if we are to continue to enjoy cruising in domestic and international waters, we require a collaborative approach from local ports, cruise ship operators, energy providers and Governments, forged by ambitious environmental targets. That way we can cruise with a clear conscience, safe in the knowledge that we are enjoying the beauty of our planet while protecting it for future generations.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I congratulate my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on the brilliant work he has done in highlighting the massive contribution that the cruise industry makes, particularly to us in Southampton.
As I came in this morning, I was struck by the memory that one of the first debates I led in Westminster Hall was on competition in the cruise industry. It is great to see so many towns and cities from around the country with ports that play their part. Of course, I will always re-emphasise that Southampton is the capital of cruising in the United Kingdom. It is important to reflect that there are many hundreds of jobs in my constituency, even though it has no coastline and does not contain the port, that are reliant on the cruise terminal at ABP.
What we have seen over the past year or so has been really difficult for those employed in the sector and the large companies based in and around the port of Southampton, as well as all the smaller suppliers that have been so reliant on the sector for income over the past decade of massive expansion in the popularity of cruising. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen said, cruises are not just for wealthy pensioners but for all ages and demographics, who really enjoy the opportunities that cruising gives. In my constituency in 2019, 28 different small suppliers with a value of £11.9 million supplied the cruise industry. Last year, their incomes fell dramatically to just £6.9 million. We can understand the devastating impact on the local economy.
About 18 months ago, I remember being quite critical of the difficulties we had in repatriating cruise passengers and getting cruise ships into ports around the globe so that passengers could make it home. However, as the Government’s maritime biennial report indicates, following the repatriation of UK national passengers, Carnival alone repatriated more than 19,000 UK people and 13,000 international crew members last year. That was an enormous effort. The company has been pleased to continue to work with the Government to learn the crucial lessons of covid. The industry has learned to ensure that, should there be a resurgence of this or any other hideous virus, there are new protocols in place, so that we do not see those scenarios again. To bring all those passengers home took a massive financial investment and no small human effort.
It is important to look to the future and not focus on the challenges that there were but at the opportunities ahead. I was pleased to hear Carnival use the word “celebrate”. It is celebrating the reopening of international cruising. It has enjoyed a summer where UK passengers have been able to experience the waters off the British Isles and visit towns and cities on our own islands, but we have to get back to full-scale international cruising.
I am pleased to see the protocols and measures put in place to keep passengers safe. They include pre-departure testing, rigorous cleanliness onboard and encouraging sanitisation and hand washing. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen was right to point out the medical facilities onboard those ships are second to none. In many cases, they have intensive care units that one would expect to see only in hospitals. It is important to emphasise that cruising is now the safest form of transport. It has the potential to start regrowing and to contribute to the UK economy again, which we so desperately need.
I want to re-emphasise the massive changes to the environmental impact that we have seen. On tours of cruise ships docked in Southampton I have seen the efforts that go into minimising consumption, maximising recycling and ensuring that their waste is treated as sustainably as possible. Huge strides have been made not just by the cruise companies but by the port, which has reduced its emissions into the atmosphere of Southampton.
I want to reiterate the economic point that my hon. Friend made. There are questions around the support given to British seafarers, but over the next few months we could see them making an unexpected windfall net contribution to the Treasury. We desperately need mechanisms in place to encourage British seafarers to stay in the industry and new people to arrive. In the local area, I can name some inspirational British female seafarers, working in an industry that is not known for having large numbers of female sea captains. They exist and they do a great job. It is important that they are not driven out of the industry by unexpected additional taxation just because they have not been able to be at sea in international waters for the required number of days. I would like the Minister to consider that point, and I look forward to his undoubted words of wisdom about how bright the future of cruising is for Southampton.
I would like to finish with a “thank you” to the Minister. He is always there for the great events—the happy celebrations, opening new terminals and launching new ships—but over the last year or so he has also been there for the difficult times. I know how hard he and the Department for Transport have worked to ensure that the industry can restart in a safe and sustainable way.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on securing this debate.
In recent years, the cruise industry has become one of the most important and, occasionally, controversial parts of the visitor economy in the Northern Isles. I suspect we are not the only community around the coastline to find ourselves in that position. The industry has grown over the years, starting with just a few ships and gradually growing to more and bigger ships. As a consequence, we have lacked a strategic approach to the development of that particular part of the visitor economy. It is nobody’s fault, but it is a little like the frog in water that just gets warmer—eventually, we realise that there is a severe impact. A good number of local businesses in Orkney and Shetland are now highly dependent on cruise traffic. There are also a number of self-employed tour guides who have grown an industry that simply was not there before. They have certainly missed cruise traffic; its return will be important.
In all things we should try to find the positive from the negative. The absence of cruise ships since March 2020 and the beginning of their slow return is something that we should take opportunity from. I would like my communities to take a much more strategic approach to engaging with the industry, and, by the same token, I would like to see better engagement from the industry with my communities. In the past, the larger operators would often say “These are our terms of business; people can either take them or leave them. If they do not want them, we will not come to their communities.” I hope that as those operators rebuild and as we rebuild our relationship with them, we may be able to see that done rather differently.
There are real opportunities for some of the most economically fragile communities in the Northern Isles: places such as Fair Isle, which has a population of about 60 people. A small cruise boat coming into dock there can have a tremendous impact and can be a real opportunity. However, again, to get the maximum benefit from a visit from a cruise ship, communities like that will require a bit of support from outside agencies. Local councils, VisitScotland, the local economic development agencies, the Scottish Government and the UK Government should all be pulling together to find a new strategic approach that will allow every community in the country that engages with the industry to do so in a better, more strategic way. That way, the very different needs and opportunities that will go to a place such as Greenock or Southampton are not ones that will operate to the disadvantage of communities such as mine.
There are all sorts of opportunities from the industry, but we have to accept that there is a diversity of opportunities and all need to be accommodated. This is the point at which we can reboot that relationship, and I hope Governments and other public agencies, the industry and communities can all work together to do exactly that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Efford, and a great pleasure to contribute to the debate, ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith). I do so as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary maritime and ports group, but also as a Member of Parliament for Thurrock and particularly the port of Tilbury, which is home to the London cruise terminal. I will happily concede to my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen that Southampton is, indeed, the capital of cruising. However, by the same circumstance, Thurrock is the ports capital of the UK. It is only natural that cruising forms part of that.
We have heard already this morning about the difficulties faced by the industry during the pandemic and I want to pay tribute to its stoicism when grappling with the issues caused by the pandemic. Dare I say that its behaviour contrasts rather favourably with that of the aviation sector, which has been loud and noisy about the challenges it has faced? Fair enough, but the fact that the cruise industry has not been as vocal about the difficulties that it has faced does not make them any less difficult.
As we have heard, the industry stopped sailing in March 2020. The skyline in Tilbury was transformed, because we were home to seven ships that should have been sailing the high seas but were permanently docked there. That included two ships owned by Saga, one of which had yet to take its maiden voyage. It was a challenging time but we were pleased to host them. However, it is fantastic news that we finally have the cruise sector sailing again and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for his real efforts to achieve that.
I have been in debates about the industry. Only last week, we talked about how the silo culture in Government often means that the sector does not get the support it necessarily deserves. That has been particularly true in this regard. We have had the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Transport all having an influence on whether the industry could sail.
Although the Department for Transport has been an extremely effective and enthusiastic champion of the sector, unfortunately the decision making about whether sailing could take place really rested with the Department of Health and Social Care and the question of whether it was safe. We have already heard that cruising is perhaps the safest method of travel. In fact, we know that the industry has made great investments to make it so, reducing capacity to enable social distancing on ships and so on. The medical facilities are also second to none. Obviously, the Department of Health and Social Care and the chief medical officer have the objective of disease control, and they took a risk-averse approach to whether the sector could get going.
The most difficult thing was the travel advice issued by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which treated our cruise ships not as a mode of travel but as a destination. It was pretty unfair to do so given that, as we have heard, they are a safe method of travel. In terms of the destinations that a cruise ship will visit, the amazing thing about ships is that they are very flexible, and if a destination suddenly becomes red, they can go somewhere else.
At last common sense has prevailed. I hope the Minister and the Department for Transport can reconfigure their relationships with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department of Health and Social Care, so that the situation the sector faced is not repeated. In August 2020, the industry showed the Minister’s predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), the safety measures that were being put in place across the industry, and nobody could have doubted the effort being taken and the safety they would generate. Alas, it took a long time to persuade everyone else, but lessons have been learned.
The difficulties that the sector has faced have led to some cruise companies going, and a number of vessels have been scrapped, but the industry’s optimism is striking and inspirational, given the difficulties it has faced. Just this weekend, the Disney cruise ship left from Tilbury, which was great to see. Lots of children went to wave it off, because it was accompanied by lots of Disney tunes, which was lovely. I am pleased that, at last, the Spirit of Adventure has commenced its maiden voyage and is currently sailing around Scotland.
I am pleased that we have had this opportunity to pay tribute to this fantastic sector, which is much neglected. I hope that we shall continue to celebrate its contributions in the future.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on securing this debate. I always bring a contribution from a Northern Ireland perspective and I can honestly say, with my hand on my heart, that the cruise sector has an impact on my constituency. I want to explain the importance of it, and how we wish to grow it so that we can all benefit.
To me, like many people, the idea of a cruise after the past number of months seems like a dream. Well, that dream could become a reality under the correct circumstances and if safety measures are in place. The boost that will bring to our local economy will be a welcome shot in the arm for my constituency of Strangford. That is why the Northern Ireland perspective is important.
Before my hon. Friend begins to elaborate on Strangford, as he is wont to do on every occasion—obviously, he is right to do so—does he agree that the boost to Northern Ireland tourism per se from cruise tourism has been tremendous? We have the “Game of Thrones” filming locations, the Titanic, Giant’s Causeway and the walled city of Londonderry, all of which benefit from cruise passengers who arrive either at Belfast port or Foyle port to acquaint themselves with the great sights in Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will enlarge on that in relation to the constituency of Strangford. He is right to mention the walled city of Londonderry, “Game of Thrones” and other things around Northern Ireland that cruise ships and those who are on them can visit. It has become a growth industry for us—at least, it was before the pandemic. We hope to grow that over the next period of time.
I am pleased, as always, to see the Minister in his place, and I look forward to his response. I also look forward to the shadow Minister’s speech, because he has an interest in this subject matter and in Northern Ireland. I am perhaps coaxing him to come in on that.
To back up the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), between 2016 and 2019 the cruise market in Belfast grew by 136%—a massive increase—bringing in an increasing number of international and first-time visitors to the region. It is becoming a key contributor to the region’s tourism economy. An estimated 275,000 cruise visitors arrived in Belfast harbour in 2019 as part of a Britain and Ireland, or northern European, cruise itinerary, bringing an estimated £15 million into the local economy. We are clearly building on that and see its importance for the economy.
For my constituency of Strangford, those on the cruise to Belfast commonly come down the Ards peninsula. There are two key places that they wish to come to. One is historical: the abbey in Greyabbey, a Cistercian monastery dating back to the early years. The Montgomery family, of the close by Rosemount estate, have a particular interest in it as it used to be part of their estate. It is now run by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, but the Montgomery family keep an interest. There is also Mount Stewart, which is run by the National Trust, and, I believe, has become the jewel in the crown for visits to the constituency of Strangford.
Significant investment has been made to portside facilities in Belfast in recent years. I visited the Belfast Harbour Commissioners’ area before the pandemic along with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and others who had an interest in that. We were impressed, by what the Belfast Harbour Commissioners were prepared to do.
In recent years, they have built on those facilities, including opening the first dedicated cruise facility in Belfast harbour in 2019—again, just before the pandemic. More than £800,000 was invested in upgrading the quayside facility at the new cruise terminal. The Belfast Harbour Commissioners recognised the need to do something in Belfast to build on what they had, so they spent their money on this specifically, enabling larger cruise ships to dock in Belfast.
The upgrade includes a visitor information centre, with £152,000 funding from Tourism NI, representing an important development of the city’s cruise tourism infrastructure—we clearly recognise it in Belfast, and further afield—and using the latest digital and audio-visual technology to showcase Belfast and Northern Ireland’s visitor attractions. The investment yielded results, as Belfast was named the best port of call in the UK and Ireland in Cruise Critic’s 2019 Editors’ Picks Awards—quite an achievement, and, again, we want to build on it—with Northern Ireland leading the way.
The importance of cruising to my constituency of Strangford lies in the fact that there is an easy, fast route to see what was described by the UNESCO world cultural heritage tentative list as
“one of the most spectacular and idiosyncratic gardens of Western Europe and universally renowned for the ‘extraordinary scope of its plant collections and the originality of its features, which give it world-class status’”—
that is, Mount Stewart. I am sure my colleagues in this Chamber are saying to themselves “I’m going to visit Strangford as soon as I can. I’ll make my way there.” I will give them the details shortly, Mr Efford, on how they can enjoy what I pass every day when I am at home. I was at Mount Stewart last Friday with the National Trust. It is probably one of the most beautiful gardens around.
I say that of my constituency unashamedly and proudly, and I look forward to inviting the Minister to visit someday. I am sure that he is itching at the chance—he is probably giving a diary date to his PPS as we speak! To further butter up the area, when he comes to Mount Stewart, he can come down to Greyabbey because it has some of the most fantastic antique shops and coffee shops in the Ards peninsula. He can make a really good visit, spend his money, have his coffee, which is second to none, and visit the antique shops, which also have antiquities and provide historical interest. It is somewhere of some importance, and our abbey has the best example of Anglo-Norman architecture in Ulster.
Those stops are currently on the cruise line itinerary, and, indeed, there were 51 visits in one season. It needs to be pushed more, in my opinion, but that is something that my colleague, Councillor Robert Adair, the deputy mayor of Ards and North Down Borough Council, is working on—drawing more attention to our wonderful area.
Tourism is central to the policy, strategy and planning of Ards and North Down Borough Council, because we see it as the key to a bigger boost for the economy, more jobs and opportunities, and money being spent in the constituency. The policy also moves further afield and goes for the entire United Kingdom. I understand the attraction of a warm Mediterranean sun—we all do—but the beauties of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are incomparable, and I believe a UK-wide strategy of welcoming cruise ships will be beneficial to us all.
We look to the Minister’s response, and I am sure it will encompass the benefits of cruise ships across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I will warn him of the question I want to ask him: what discussions has he had, or could he have, with the Deputy Minister back in the Northern Ireland Assembly, to advance us where we could do it better?
It is no secret in this House that I am a great believer in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, better together. I love my colleagues in the SNP to death, I really do; we have a different point of view on the constitution, but I love going to Scotland for visits as well. I want us to stay together, so the question is how we can do this better together for the benefit of everyone. That is what I would like to see.
I have long questioned the efficiency of Tourism Ireland’s partnership with Tourism NI for the promotion of Northern Ireland ports. I am not convinced that it is doing all it can to make that happen, and perhaps it could do it better. I urge the Minister to consider a UK-wide cruise promotion campaign with Northern Ireland as the central port of interest—no pressure there, Minister.
When people are presented with the option to come to our beautiful shores, enjoy our world-renowned hospitality and cuisine and get a taste of our wonderful, rich history, I believe it will not be turned down by anyone. That is why some of those first-time visitors want to come back. Now is the time to attract those cruise ship visits, build on the ones we have and increase them, and the local economy will be the beneficiary.
Thank you very much for your excellent chairing of this debate, Mr Efford. I thank the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) for securing the debate.
I think my colleagues from Scotland, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) missed a trick: they did not talk about their UNESCO world heritage sites, nor did they talk about the quality of their coffee, which I am sure is truly wonderful, in Orkney and Shetland and in Inverclyde—as well as in Aberdeen, of course.
I also did not expect that we would be talking about Disney songs, so I will hold myself back from bursting into song. I could not think of an appropriate maritime song to sing, but I am sure my children will correct me later and tell me I have missed one—probably from “Moana” or “The Little Mermaid”.
Rather than focusing on covid, I want to talk and think about pre-covid and post-covid, what the cruise industry will look like and the benefits it will have for our communities. It is undoubtedly a massive success story. Between 2014 and 2019 we saw 90% growth in cruise ship calls and passenger numbers in Scotland. That is a staggering increase, and it shows the increase not only in the popularity of cruise ships, but in the ability of Scottish ports to take those cruise ships in and of Scottish communities to ensure that we provide the best possible services.
In Scotland, the cruise industry supports more than 800 employees and generates around £23 million gross value added for the Scottish economy. It also extends the tourism season in Orkney and Shetland. However, the key thing for me and for the SNP is that sustainable cruise tourism development must be the overarching requirement. I appreciate the different situation that Southampton and even Inverclyde find themselves in, in that they are cruise ports and less destinations—I am sure Inverclyde is a destination and so is Southampton, but they are involved in servicing the industry more than, say, Orkney and Shetland.
We need to ensure that the tourism that we see from cruise ships and cruise passengers benefits those local economies, and that local economies see the plus points of that. We have seen issues around Scotland with things such as the North Coast 500, which is excellent but has brought problems as well as positive benefits to those areas. We must ensure that we strike that balance for local communities.
Cruise ship stays make up 15% of overnight tourism volume in the highlands and islands, but they represent a much lower percentage of the overnight tourism spend there. I understand that that is the nature of cruising; that is how it works. However, we cannot see a race to the bottom between Scottish or British ports trying to allow cruise ships to come as cheaply as possible, without people visiting their local areas. We must see the benefit to those local areas. Although having cruise passengers on an island or in a community in Scotland is a great thing, it can also be unsettling for the residents and that local services are more stretched as a result. We need to make sure that balance is struck.
The harbour in Aberdeen is split between my constituency, Aberdeen North, and Aberdeen South. A new harbour is being built in Aberdeen South that will be able to accommodate 300 metre vessels with a maximum 10.5 metre draught. Before that was being built in my city, I did not know a huge amount about the cruise industry or how it worked for local communities. I continue to be concerned that areas around the new harbour in Aberdeen—among of the more deprived communities in the city—will not gain from the new harbour and cruise ships in the way that I would like them to, given what they have had to give up for it to be built, with the number of road closures and work that has been going on. I would like to see those communities benefit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde mentioned the culture quarter, and we need to support local communities in doing that, to ensure that cruise ship visitors can spend money in the local area. That is what we need to see: the economic benefit coming to those areas as a result.
The hon. Lady touches on something very important. The capacity for cruise ship passengers to spend money when in port is very often determined by the terms of the contract that they have with the cruise ship. That is why I say that in rebuilding the industry and looking at the impact it has on different parts of the country, we need that sense of partnership. We need our communities to be talking and to be able to influence the ships, as well as the other way around.
I absolutely agree, and I thought that the right hon. Gentleman’s speech was very thoughtful on that matter. He has really thought about the needs of his community. That is why I stressed that we must not have a race to the bottom. We do not want our ports fighting over who can give the cheapest terms because that will only hurt our communities; it will mean that our communities do not see the benefit. It would be much more positive if they worked together, both as local communities and in a more overarching strategic way, as he said.
It is really unfortunate that we have not had much co-operation between the UK and Scottish Governments on green ports, in particular when we have been clear about the key things that we want: a focus on net zero and a focus on the real living wage. It is completely reasonable to say that people working in and around green ports, cruise ports or any other kind of port should be paid the real living wage. One of the biggest concerns that I hear, in particular on—slightly off topic—oil and gas supply vessels, is that people are not paid appropriately because they are on tickets from other countries and therefore they are paid less.
We need to make sure that we bear down—I do not like that phrase—on that and reduce the number of people not being paid a wage that they can live on. We need to ensure that we have laws and rules to fix that problem in a maritime way, and that the people working in ports are paid the real living wage, not the national living wage. It is such an important industry, and it is one that will continue to grow. We need to make sure that we see the benefits for the people working directly in the industry and for the communities seeing the visits.
People travelling on cruise ships get to visit some of the most inaccessible places across the UK—no offence to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. They get to visit places that cannot be reached by hopping on a bike or a train. It is really important that the people who are travelling on these ships and the cruise companies recognise that these communities are fairly rural and cannot necessarily deal with that influx without support. This is a really positive industry; it is a massive success story, particularly for Scotland and its more rural communities. I would like to see it continue to grow, but we probably need to work more with local communities to ensure that they see its benefits.
What an astonishing debate we have had today—I thought that we were all going to burst into song at one point. Far from “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid”, from the speeches that we have heard today I was going to suggest that “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding might be appropriate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. As a Member for a landlocked constituency yourself, let us not forget that you have one of the most historic palaces in the nation, Eltham Palace, one of my favourites—a world-class blend of art deco and medieval, the medieval bit being, obviously, where Henry VIII grew up. I wanted to throw that in there, as Members were talking about their own heritage sites, in particular the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—what a pitch he made for the new chief executive of Tourism Ireland! I will come back to that in a few minutes. I am a Manchester MP, and we are a seagoing city, as Members know. There may be seven locks between us and Liverpool, but I am proud of that heritage and the canal that Daniel Adamson built in the 1880s.
This is a timely debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith), who spoke so eloquently and stood up for his port. He even mentioned Portsmouth in his speech—I am never sure which city is the pride of Hampshire.
As TS Eliot stated—the Minister likes a good quote—
Not the destination matters”.
That is a saying that rings true to those in the cruise industry more than most. The past 18 months have been an ordeal for the industry to say the least, starting with a scramble to get passengers and crew members home, ports closing to our ships and some crew members remaining stuck at sea. I pay tribute to the industry and the workers who found themselves in such extraordinary circumstances.
I am a huge fan of this country—Members may be aware—and its coastline in all its rugged beauty, but I imagine that, for some, that is a hard sell in comparison to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean or the magnificent fjords of Scandinavia. At the end of July, it was really great to hear that cruise ships were again able not only to traverse the seas but to drop anchor and have passengers disembark to sample the sights and sounds of foreign climes. That was a point made eloquently by the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes).
As the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen said, when the cruise industry thrives, it contributes £10 billion to the economy. I find this incredible: every ship that docks in the Solent—the capital of cruising, as has already been pointed out—is worth a staggering £2.7 million to the economy. However, the industry does not just benefit Southampton. The Minister and I were in Liverpool, at Anfield, on Friday night at the Merseyside Maritime Industry Awards, an amazing evening and a fantastic, world-class display of British ingenuity. We saw how the docks are being regenerated through Wirral Waters, the Peel Ports Group, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, and Mersey Maritime. The project is really innovative for the city region in the north-west.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) will know that I have seen huge change over many years—so much so that, when I now visit the islands, I have to get the cruise timetable to make sure that I can get to the Broch of Gurness, Skara Brae, St Magnus Cathedral or Maeshowe. When those coaches turn up, it is almost impossible to get into those sites, which are some of the most historic on our planet. I have also seen the great growth in visitor attractions, new interpretation centres and so on. He is right that the cruise industry needs to co-operate with local authorities to ensure the maximum advantage for islands, highlands, towns and cities when they are visited.
I can tell the hon. Member for Strangford that I will visit Grey Abbey. It is one of the few Cistercian monasteries in our lands that I have not visited, and I am absolutely convinced now that I will get there. In Belfast, Titanic Belfast is an amazing innovative interpretation centre, drawing tens of thousands of visitors and building on the heritage that Northern Ireland has in the cruise industry. I want to make a point for “Game of Thrones” and the port of Derry/Londonderry. We would like to see more cruise ships stopping there in future and exploiting the potential of that fine medieval walled city.
Many jobs in the cruise industry are highly localised. 20% of those employed on cruise ships are based in the UK and the industry is an important source of employment both aboard ship and on shore, and in wider supply chains. However, the industry must be mindful of pay, hours and conditions, particularly of non-UK staff, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) eloquently pointed out in her speech. We should be paying the living wage to all those who dock at and work in our ports. I congratulate and thank the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) for her work on the all-party parliamentary maritime and ports group, and join her in paying tribute to the industry, which has worked so hard through the pandemic to get people home, to respond to the changes and to get the industry back up and running.
Another thing we must address within the industry is its environmental impact, which the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) spoke eloquently about. He also pointed out that Greenock is still getting more visitors than Edinburgh—I think there is a little needle going on across the central belt. We know this takes many forms, such as the emission of greenhouse gases and waste from ships, and reducing the resilience of marine ecosystems and damaging marine environments. All shipping generates an impact, but cruise ships have traditionally created waste disproportionately as their thousands of passengers create a waste stream, so I was delighted to see the industry yet again showing initiative to do the right thing as we transition towards greener shipping.
I know the Minister visited the port of Southampton last week and opened the Horizon cruise terminal. This innovation and infrastructure is vital to helping the sector build back greener and reach its targets of reducing carbon emissions by 40% and of carbon-neutral cruising by 2050 across Europe. It cannot do this alone. It is vital that the Government fund innovation and research in the wider maritime sector and cultivate an environment where the cutting-edge green and just transition can happen. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen North said, we must not see a race to the bottom.
The industry has invested almost £17 billion into ships, bringing on board new technologies to reduce emissions and to be more efficient. Cruise ships are increasingly equipped to support shore-side electricity use, and the development of infrastructure in ports, such as we have seen at Horizon and Kirkwall, will be key. We know there is a levelling-up agenda and that coastal communities are among the poorest. We also know maritime can offer well-paid, highly-skilled jobs, as well as true regeneration and transport connectivity, and I call on the Government to make the investment in the sector as we sail out of the troubled waters of the pandemic.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. As is often the case when we discuss our wonderful maritime sector, we have had a debate that has been incredibly interesting, inspiring, thought-provoking, amusing, musical, well-informed and above all passionate, and it is an honour to respond to all the hon. and right hon. Members who have made speeches. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) on securing this timely debate. I know this topic is close to his heart; it is to mine too, and I am keen to debate it with other Members today, particularly during Cruise Lines International Association Cruise Week.
As I have got to know the sector, I have been struck by its incredible variety. We have seen this outlined and explained in the speeches today: the majesty of the large cruise ships; the family ships; the small, boutique exploration ships. It is for this reason that the cruise industry is at the heart of the UK’s maritime identity. More than that, we have seen today that it is a part of the human desire to explore. It brings enormous cultural and social benefits to the country and to the people who cruise, but it also brings identity. The phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, with regards to the ever-changing landscape of Southampton, particularly struck me, as we see what this means to his constituency. The value of the sector to the economy is significant and undeniable. Prior to the pandemic, it supported over 82,000 jobs. CLIA estimates that passengers and crew spent £486 million at ports of embarkation and call in 2017. We have heard from hon. Members of the effect that the industry had.
Unlike the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), I am not going to fall into the trap of debating what is the most important cruise destination or port in the UK. There are all manner of beautiful, interesting and amazing places to visit. I always enjoy listening to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and he did an amazing job in selling his constituency. I am delighted to report that I have been to his constituency and need no persuading of its wonders, but I very much look forward to visiting again as soon as I can. We heard very powerfully from him of the effect that the cruise industry has on Belfast and his constituency.
As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), every cruise passenger who passes through the terminal is an opportunity for coastal communities all over the UK; from Orkney to Thurrock, Manchester to Northern Ireland, Aberdeen to Inverclyde, to Southampton—we have really seen that today. In particular, it provides opportunities that areas that have been disadvantaged can make the most of. I have been struck by some of the comments made today by hon. Members; I am very keen to work together with councils, and with the devolved Administrations, to ensure that every community benefits. As the hon. Member for Strangford says, we are better together, and I am keen to do everything I can to help.
That is why it has been so devastating that the cruise industry has been at a standstill for over a year. I have also seen the very moving and sad sight of the great ships moored offshore; it is a sight that I hope not to see again, but it made an impact on me. The cruise industry was an early victim of the covid-19 pandemic. We all saw the stories of outbreaks on vessels that were splashed across the papers at the beginning of the pandemic. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North pointed out, operators, industry and Government worked very closely together to take action to repatriate over 19,000 UK nationals from vessels around the globe. The UK also facilitated the repatriation of over 13,000 crew members from cruise ships to their home nations, and encouraged other nations to do the same.
The impact of the pandemic on the cruise industry was considerable; we had to find a way forward. My Department brought teams across Whitehall to work together. I emphasise that for a good reason—it really was working together. I pay tribute to the sector; to its stoicism, as was referred to earlier, and to how it put the safety of passengers and crew at the heart of everything it did. I also pay tribute to my team at the Department of Transport, for whom this has been a labour of love. They have worked passionately with the industry to be able restart the sector. That was possible because the industry worked very quickly to produce the comprehensive set of protocols, through the UK Chamber of Shipping, that we have already heard about today. They have been recognised by the International Maritime Organisation as good practice globally. It is a significant achievement for all those involved, and to the industry’s credit that these were produced so quickly, and that they are substantial. Operators submit to an external verification process to achieve hospital-grade infection prevention certification. Indeed, one of the external verification providers that we have heard from as part of the restart process has assured us that in some cases cruise ships have outperformed hospitals. My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North is right to point out the extraordinary facilities that exist on some of these ships—I have seen some of them—because there really are hospitals on board. That is quite incredible.
So we have seen a phased return of cruising. I was delighted to see the first domestic cruise setting sail from Southampton in May. The attitude of the sector—this positive, outward-going, constructive, go-getting attitude—has really been shown by the creation of a new domestic market for cruising. Customer appetite has been phenomenal and I am absolutely delighted that passengers have experienced the beauty of the UK’s coastline—all around the UK, as we have heard today—despite the summer weather that we have had, which has perhaps been suboptimal, to say the least.
The Department for Transport led the global travel taskforce, of course, and as part of that I led a ministerial task and finish group for cruise restart, to oversee the measures put in place and to ensure that we could restart and restaff in a safe way. I thank my colleagues from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for their diligent work, and for working together with me in restarting cruise in a safe way. I cannot say how delighted I was that the first international cruise started again in August from Liverpool, where the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and I were the other day. That is a real testament to the extraordinary work that has gone into enhancing the resilience of the sector from Government and industry working together.
Nevertheless, I of course recognise that this long suspension of the industry has had a significant financial impact. We heard that most clearly from my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on maritime and ports. She very powerfully explained that the financial impact on the sector has been significant. Again, I pay tribute to the sector’s stoicism. However, the impact has not only been felt on the cruise sector itself but on ports, on the wider supply chains and on local communities, from Southampton to Strangford, and from Manchester through to Thurrock. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) talked about tour guides, which is a very good example of how local small industries really benefit from the cruise industry.
That aspect is particularly important, of course, for my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen. Last week, he and I were both at the unveiling of the fifth cruise terminal at Southampton, the absolutely beautiful new Horizon terminal. It is a state-of-the-art building, equipped with shore power to reduce emissions from cruise ships in port, and it is the result of investment by Associated British Ports with the Government and the Solent local enterprise partnership. That visit was particularly significant for me, because one of the first visits I made after being given this job, within just one or two days, was to Southampton, and almost a year to the day later I revisited the same site and saw that incredible new facility.
Of course, we have heard that there are many other new facilities elsewhere. We have heard from the hon. Members for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) and for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) about the investment that is being made in their part of the world, including the £350 million expansion in Aberdeen, which includes space for cruise. That is very welcome.
When we look to the future, such investment encapsulates everything that is best about the sector. It is looking to the future, reaching for new standards and looking for goals that are common across the whole of maritime, as we heard in the debate last week. I saw that for myself when I visited the Iona, which is P&O’s newest and most environmentally friendly ship, in Southampton a couple of months ago. It is an incredibly impressive vessel and really shows how the industry is going the extra mile to make itself more environmentally friendly.
Of course, we have the transport decarbonisation plan. Shore power, as we see at that new fifth cruise terminal in Southampton, is a major part of that, because it reduces emissions, meaning that ships do not have to run their generators in port, which will help communities in areas such as Aberdeen or Southampton, Itchen, and help to ensure a greener and cleaner environment for all. This winter, we will consult on how Government can support wider deployment as we transition to net zero.
Of course, cruise is also a major part of levelling up, which is central to this Government’s agenda, to ensure that we have direct investment from the cruise sector in port towns and cities, creating local jobs and initiatives to improve air quality in those constituencies.
I am really pleased to hear about the focus on net zero and the amount that the Minister is able to say about what the cruise industry is doing; that is excellent. On the employment issues that have been raised, we are really clear that people should be paid the real living wage, but if he is not willing to go that far, can he at least confirm that he believes people should be paid the national living wage if they are working on cruise ships that are docking in British ports?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising that point. We are always interested to see what more we can do to raise standards for those who work in this most wonderful of sectors. Last year, I signed into law the regulation that meant that the majority of those who work in UK waters are paid that minimum wage, which means that the attractiveness of using seafarers from elsewhere is much reduced. However, I will of course continue to look at what else we might be able to do. We want to make sure that the UK is an excellent place to invest in, and to bring more cruise ships, more seafarers, more jobs and more money into this area. We will continue to support the safe resumption of cruise.
I will make one or two other points before I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen to sum up the debate. Making sure that crew changes are managed efficiently and safely is key, and I am pleased to note that cruise companies already implement their own vaccination policies and report very high levels of fully vaccinated passengers, but it is also a matter for seafarers. It has been very difficult to access vaccination for seafarers, because it is complex. We have worked very closely together, and I want to thank the NHS for making clinics available, particularly Solent NHS Trust. That trust has been incredibly impressive, even sending NHS staff onboard to ensure that seafarers are reached, which will clearly have a major impact.
A number of Members have mentioned the seafarers earnings deduction, and I will say a word or two about that. Clearly, the UK has been under extraordinary financial pressure over the past 18 months. A large percentage of UK seafarers are working internationally, and of course being eligible for the seafarers earnings deduction can make an important difference to their financial wellbeing and ability to support families. Unfortunately, the global suspension of the cruise sector has meant that seafarers, through no fault of their own, have been unable to meet or maintain the eligibility requirements for accessing SED. The industry has warned that this will have a significant impact on those seafarers, as all right hon. and hon. Members will realise. My predecessor and I have both engaged extensively with the Treasury on the matter. The effect of it has been difficult to quantify, but I hope that a clearer picture will emerge with the resumption of international cruises. I look forward to working with industry to provide further data to help Government make an informed decision on what further action, if any, they are able to take.
That is a really important point for a significant number of all of our constituents. The Minister has said that he has had talks and that things may be going forward, but if he will undertake to write to us and let us know what is happening with this issue in future, I would really appreciate it.
The substantive point of the comment that I made was about the data—in particular, the clearer picture of the impact—and I can certainly write to hon. Members if that would be helpful, so that they can understand what data is required. I can certainly look at that once it is provided.
In summary, I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in today’s debate. It has been a long and challenging 18 months for cruise, and I cannot express enough times my delight that with co-operation across Government and the industry, this incredibly valuable sector has been able to restart. As we have heard, prior to the pandemic, cruise was one of the fastest-growing sectors of the tourism industry worldwide, and was of huge importance to Britain and the public. As ships sail from our shores again, I want the sector to feel confident that the UK is a great place to do business, and for it to bring more ships and more jobs, and more for our communities all over our United Kingdom.
Frequently, the interesting thing about these debates is what we learn when we are in them, such as that Fair Isle, with a population of 60, still has cruises—albeit more modest ones—visiting it. I had not thought about that—I am quite focused on Southampton; I do not know if anyone noticed—but these are really great debates for learning new things that we did not already know. I have found it fascinating, particularly the comments made by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) about his constituency and why it is the most important place for people to visit. Of course, I would argue that that is Southampton, but I am sure that everyone in here, whether they are from Aberdeen North, Thurrock or anywhere else, would argue that their constituency is the place to visit.
I will say a couple of things in conclusion. Looking back a bit, although it is important to look forward, it was perverse that when we started opening up, we opened restaurants, bars and hotels, but not restaurants, bars and hotels on cruise ships. It is one of those industries that just gets on with it and is good at what it does, and therefore is a bit forgotten.
I wanted to have this debate so that we can highlight the importance of cruise and acknowledge that it is a really important industry to the country. We have learned that it is a truly UK-wide business that benefits all of us and our constituents and will continue to do so, but no one really talks about it because it just gets on with it. It was a bit disadvantaged by some of the Government advice.
The Minister, who is remarkably well thought of by the industry, did everything he could to restart cruising, but then of course there was the travel advice from the FCDO, which said that it came from PHE, and before we knew it no one could make a decision. I hope that sort of thing will not happen again. I hope there will be no pandemic, but in the event that that sort of thing happens, I hope this will be looked at properly.
I hope people will now acknowledge how important cruise is, how many cruise operators we have, how many jobs they create, and how much money they put into our economy. I hope the industry is not left to get on with it because it is so successful. That is a two-way street. Members have said that cruise perhaps needs to work more with local communities and to benefit them more. It should never say, “We are a big cruise operation and you can take it or leave it.” I do not feel that it has done that in Southampton, but we need to be alive to that sort of thing.
There are so many cruise operators. I do not want to namecheck them all, but as soon as we start to look, we realise how many there are. Carnival has its group, which includes P&O and Cunard—those are the ones I am particularly familiar with in Southampton—but then there are Fred, Olsen, Saga and smaller ones that we perhaps have not heard of. It is a massive industry and it is really important to the country.
I thank all hon. Members who have come here today to make their points. I am sure that they have been well heard by the industry and by Government. I again extend my gratitude to the Minister, who has been exceptional over the past 12 months. I know the industry would want me to say that.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the contribution of the cruise industry to the economy.
Eden North: Benefits for Lancashire
Before we begin, can I encourage Members to wear masks when not speaking? This is 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.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the economic benefits of Eden North for Lancashire.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I am delighted to be here today to debate the economic benefits of the proposed Eden Project North in Morecambe, Lancashire, a subject that is very close to my heart and my constituency. Eden Project North will be built right in the centre of Morecambe, on the seafront. It is revolutionary in that respect. To use a famous quote,
“Time and tide wait for no man.”
Indeed, that is the theme of Eden Project North.
Eden has just gone through planning, and millions of pounds have already been spent on the project to bring it to this point. We have just been through the most difficult of times; while none of us have previously faced a pandemic in our lifetimes, there are examples in our recent history of the type of projects that can really change regions, and this is one of them. The project will give back hope and deliver the right sort of growth in an area that really needs it—not just for my constituency, my hometown of Morecambe, but for the wider north-west of England. I am talking about projects that can deliver on the old triple bottom line of being economically, socially and environmentally sound.
We are all painfully aware of the story of coastal community decline from the 1970s to the present day, but we have many fine seaside resorts in Britain. Coastal communities that thrived in the 19th century have been neglected for too long. According to a report by the Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities, that is a fact. This surely must be the moment for our contribution to the Government’s levelling-up project and the covid recovery.
Investment in deprived areas is required to improve the region’s levels of human and social capital, research and development, and innovation. As I speak, Eden Project North has met another milestone: the submission of its planning application. It has taken millions and millions of pounds of local government spending to get to this point. This is a huge moment for Eden, the result of years of hard work from both the Eden team and its local partners in Lancashire. The investment of time, energy and money that went into preparing it is a real statement of the intent of the Eden Project, but it still needs Government funding to become a reality.
I must thank the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer on the record for giving £100,000 to kick-start the Eden Project in my area three or four years ago. We have Government intent; it is now a case of pushing forward to see where the money will come from. In my opinion, there is no better example of the Government’s levelling-up aspirations than Eden Project North. It has been demonstrated in Cornwall for more than 20 years. Eden Projects provide economic benefits for their communities that far outweigh the investment needed to build them. In Cornwall, from an initial investment of £105 million, Eden has so far contributed more than £2.2 billion to the regional economy. Through its huge and continuing popularity, local sourcing policy has been turbocharging the local economy. This will benefit not only businesses in Morecambe, but businesses in the wider north-west area.
This is testament to the shared prosperity the Eden Projects can bring to a particular region. In Lancashire, we need this jewel in the crown of the north-west to shine. This must not happen by chance; only by being clear from the beginning and investing in regional supply chains will the economic benefit happen and jobs be created, not just at Eden Project North but through many firms across the north-west.
An investment in the Eden Project is an investment in people, too. Twenty years ago, young people in Cornwall felt that they needed to leave the area to get a decent job. Now, they see huge opportunities driven by increased profile and prosperity, as well as better educational provision. Eden works with schools and further and higher education providers to inspire and educate learners of all ages. In Cornwall, they welcome 50,000 schoolchildren a year and offer degree-level courses with local university partners. Eden Project North will have a larger catchment than that, because schools can only transport children in a vehicle for up to two hours. The catchment area in Morecambe would be all the way from the Scottish borders to the midlands and across to the east coast. In Morecambe, the Morecambe bay curriculum has already been established, a bespoke, place-based education and training programme catering to students throughout the education system.
Eden Project North will welcome 1 million visitors a year and inject around £200 million a year into the north-west regional economy, supporting 1,500 quality green-collar jobs across the supply chain. Such jobs are crucial, and the education programmes that provide training for them will be vital for Government to realise their zero-carbon ambitions, and will make the north-west a leading green hub.
Like most coastal communities, Morecambe would be a beacon of regeneration in the Government’s levelling-up agenda. The pandemic has made that need only more acute. A Government investment of £70 million will make Eden Project North viable and ready to open in under three years. The economic and social benefits and impacts would be seen almost immediately. The return on investment will be swift, with economic impact due to surpass the Government’s investment within six months of opening. I know from the research that Eden has done for the planning application that my community is wholeheartedly in support of the project. Now it is time for the Government to put faith in the project, too.
The creation of Eden Project North will be epic, an all-year-round venue that can attract 1 million visitors every year to the north-west. That will have obvious employment benefits and knock-on effects for the region’s visitor economy and supply chains. Eden Project North has been designed to be a catalytic investment that will provide a step change in the economic fortunes of Morecambe and be an important economic asset to the region. That can only contribute and deliver an example of the levelling up of the north-south economic performance. There is a residential catchment of 10.5 million people in the region of the north-west of England where I am from. We are looking for £70 million. Just in that local catchment of the north-west of England, there are 427 schools. The situation will be ongoing for time immemorial, because every child in a school year will visit Eden Project North maybe once or twice a year. Eden Project North will be an asset and beacon for green initiatives and growth. In partnership with Eden, local colleges and universities are already educating for the green-collar jobs in emerging global economies. There is a memorandum of understanding for Morecambe to train future workers for Eden internationally. That is already happening
As I said at the start, time and tide wait for no man. The tides are clearly changing as we try to level up the country. I for one do not want to wait too much longer before we deliver this important project in my home town of Morecambe and for the rest of the north-west of England. Eden Project North has the potential to be the key driver of socio-economic and environmental victory in post-covid recovery for the north of England. Will the Minister confirm which Government funds have been earmarked to enable schemes to drive levelling up? Eden Project North is a true embodiment of the Government’s levelling-up, “build back better” aspirations. It is shovel-ready and can be open by 2024, driving the local economy and acting as a catalyst in the levelling-up agenda.
This is precisely the type of project that is worthy of Government commitment. The Government must be seen to be delivering investment across the north. Levelling up does not mean investing only in Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds. Will the Minister reassure the people of the north-west—specifically Morecambe—that they will not be forgotten? Eden Project North will have a huge positive impact across Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. It is within easy reach of nearly all the north’s urban centres. We have the quickest route to the coast and seaside from the M6 from anywhere in the country. That is why Eden is coming to Morecambe.
Will the Minister confirm that this is exactly the type of project that the Government wish to support in demonstrating their commitment to levelling up? I am sure the Minister will agree that this would be a unique opportunity to create a collaborative project, to reimagine the British seaside resort for the 21st century and be a model for sustainable coastal community regeneration.
My community, along with Eden, has done its job. Millions have already been spent in trying to level up Morecambe, the jewel in the crown of the north-west. It is now time for the Government to put their money where their mouth is. Give us the investment to build back better. Help us put back the sparkle in the rest of the crown of the north-west of England by helping my community build back better, creating prosperity for future generations with Eden Project North in Morecambe.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I have come here today to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) for the work he has put into the project.
As my hon. Friend articulately set out, the project does not just touch Morecambe and even Lancashire. I am a Greater Manchester Member of Parliament. The vast majority of my constituents will probably think of themselves as Lancastrians, but we will say Greater Manchester for the sake of this argument. My constituency is half to three quarters of an hour away from my right hon. Friend’s constituency and every school in my constituency would visit the project. Vast numbers of my constituents would flock to Morecambe to see this incredible regenerative project—I cannot think of a better word—that is going to transform our area. There are a lot of people in the north-west, but we are interlinked. Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside: we are all in this together. One project that offers the benefits that have been outlined by my hon. Friend benefits us all, educationally, regeneratively and jobs-wise. It is important to say that.
Sometimes, when we are having these debates and individual MPs stand up and make the case for investment in their area, it is important, because we want to bring investment as close as possible. My hon. Friend is correct; he does not just want Manchester and Leeds to be the main centres. I am arguing for Bury, Ramsbottom and other towns in my seat to have investment as part of the levelling-up agenda. However, I think it is important that another MP is here from the region to say that what my hon. Friend is saying is correct. This will be a jewel in the crown of the north-west. It will power regeneration, education and job creation—and not just in Morecambe. It will give opportunity to young children and people in my area who want to have a career working at the Eden Project. There is no chance of that happening at the moment.
I know that the Minister, who is the best of men, will be supportive of this, whatever he says today. However, I want to say that the project will be genuinely transformative. It will make a difference to the whole of the north-west, including my constituency. My constituents would want me to be here to say that this is the absolute epitome of the levelling-up agenda. Everything that that agenda means to all of us is epitomised in this one project. I finish by saying, once again, that my hon. Friend is doing an unbelievable job on behalf of his constituents with this project. I am glad that I am here to say that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Efford, having enjoyed that pleasure on the Building Safety Bill. I have a tickly cough, so if it sounds like I am struggling to get through the speech, it is because I am. Let us hope, for all our sakes, that we make it to the end.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) for securing a debate on this important issue and for the effusive support he has from not even a neighbouring MP, but an MP from a different county. We do not often see that in this place. We can tend to be a bit parochial and territorial in trying to secure money just for our constituency, so it is great to see that the project has the draw that another Member would come and offer his support for the greater good of the north region. Also, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale is an accomplished musician. During the 1980s, he played with Rick Astley and Rick’s song “Never Gonna Give You Up” seems particularly apposite when we think about the commitment that my hon. Friend is showing to the project. It is a credit to the hon. Member and his efforts that Eden Project International has identified Morecambe as a preferred potential site for the development of Eden Project North.
Projects such as the proposal to create an Eden Project North in Morecambe have the potential to have an economic impact that reaches far beyond the town itself and across the whole of Lancashire and the northern powerhouse, as beautifully illustrated in the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly). The Prime Minister set out his commitment to the northern powerhouse at the convention of the north in 2019. He has also set out his blueprint for a green industrial revolution through a 10-point plan to support green jobs and accelerate our path to net zero as part of this Government’s ambition to level up the country. In my role as Minister for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, I am determined to see all parts of the country prosper, including the north.
Since the Eden Project opened in Cornwall in 2001, it has established itself as a major UK visitor attraction, with an estimated 1 million visitors per year. When Eden began to look for a second site for potential development, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale was quick to work with local partners to present Morecambe as a potential site for that development. Their plan showed how Eden Project North could draw on the natural beauty of the area and the unique physical and environmental features of Morecambe bay, reimagining Morecambe as a seaside resort for the 21st century, building on the Government-supported £140 million bay gateway that has improved connectivity to the region.
Eden has worked with local partners, including Lancashire enterprise partnership, Lancashire County Council, Lancaster University and Lancaster City Council, to bring those plans to fruition. I have seen the strength of the local proposals, and Eden continues to develop and engage with Government on ideas for this project. That work resulted in the production of an outline business case that was presented to Government in September 2020. Eden Project North projects that it will receive over 950,000 visitors per year, with over 450 full-time jobs and over 1,000 full-time jobs supported within the supply chain. Other benefits have been outlined, such as working with partners in the north, including the N8 Research Partnership and Net Zero North, to promote clean and sustainable growth. I understand that the site is planned to be an exemplar for the net zero green economy, food production, and associated technologies.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale has a strong commitment from the local population, as they want to see the project become a reality for Morecambe, attracting new visitors and shedding the town’s perhaps slightly old-fashioned image while retaining the best bits of its heritage. The Government have previously been pleased to invest in Morecambe through the coastal communities fund, which since 2012 has invested over £228 million in 359 projects across the UK. We have also provided funding to establish 146 coastal community teams around the English coast, including the Morecambe bay coastal community team, and financial support for the Winter Gardens at Morecambe. Through the £45 million Discover England fund, the Government have supported Lancashire and the north-west through the development of international marketing. That includes Marketing Lancashire’s campaign to encourage visitors from the Nordic countries and investment in VisitBritain’s gateway partnership with Manchester airport to promote tourist destinations in the north-west, including the Lancashire coast.
I know that my hon. Friend has been actively speaking to the Chancellor, and indeed the previous Chancellor; I have seen him in the Lobby, bending the ear of any and every Minister who he thinks might be able to help with his cause. The man is tireless, and it is a pleasure to see him in action, highlighting the project and championing the opportunities it would present for communities and businesses across the whole of Lancashire and the wider north. I have received letters of support from local educational establishments, the Lancashire enterprise partnership and local government partners, reflecting the passion they all feel for this project and the economic and social benefits it would bring.
In last year’s spending review and this year’s Budget, though, the Chancellor advised that his immediate priority was to protect people’s lives and livelihoods as the country continued to battle the coronavirus outbreak, but we now have a comprehensive levelling-up agenda to deliver. The Chancellor has set out how the Government will deliver stronger public services, honouring the promise they made to the British people to provide new hospitals, better schools and safer streets. He announced that there would be investment in infrastructure and a £4 billion levelling-up fund.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale highlighted that an investment of £125 million is required, with a request of £70 million from the Government and £55 million of contributions from the private sector. As he is aware, we are facing a tight spending review, given wider fiscal pressures. We also need to be able to assess fairly the relative merits of this project for levelling up, alongside other propositions in the Lancashire area and across other parts of the country. We have given feedback to Eden colleagues on how the funding package could be restructured to make it suitable for existing funding opportunities, and my officials continue discussions with Eden.
We recognise the potential that the project offers for Morecambe and Lancashire; however, our position remains as discussed with Ministers in July—the project needs to go through a competitive process such as the levelling-up fund or the UK shared prosperity fund. I look forward to continued conversations with my hon. Friends the Members for Morecambe and Lunesdale and for Bury North on this project, including on how we can deliver on the Prime Minister’s vision and this Government’s commitment to levelling up and securing a vibrant, prosperous north.
Question put and agreed to.
Future of the National Health Service
[Hannah Bardell in the Chair]
[Relevant document: e-petition 581077, Protect the NHS, Press Pause on the White Paper for Health and Social Care.]
Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, which is 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.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of the National Health Service.
Against the backdrop of the deepest health crisis in decades, the Tories have launched a dangerous NHS Bill. The Bill is not an attempt to address the deep failings of the past decade, driven by austerity, cuts, privatisation and the disastrous 2012 reforms that marketised our NHS. It is about entrenching an even greater role for private companies in our NHS.
The new Health and Care Bill should really be called the NHS Americanisation Bill, because it is the latest stage in the corporate takeover of our NHS, one where private companies not only profit from people’s ill health but increasingly get to decide who gets what treatments and when. Those who believe, as we do, in the real principles of our NHS—free treatment, based on need, guaranteed as a right in a comprehensive system—should be deeply alarmed. Others will address their concerns about the Government’s latest plans. Here are just a few of my concerns.
The Bill will not end or reverse privatisation but will open the door to greater private involvement. It is a charter for corruption, with the dodgy allocation of contracts we have seen throughout covid becoming the norm. It will mean even more politically compliant cronies, as it gives the Secretary of State powers to decide the heads of the new local health boards—expect more Dido Hardings, and accountability to local communities to be reduced.
It will introduce strict caps on budgets, which could lead to serious rationing, with services cut to match funding, rather than funding matching health needs. We will have a postcode lottery for treatments. A new payment system would give providers, including private providers, a say in how much they should be paid for contracts won. It has the potential for staff to be paid according to local rates and conditions, creating a race to the bottom with the deregulation of the medical professions, potentially undermining the quality and the safety of care.
These reforms are part of a wider plan. That plan depends first on deliberately underfunding the NHS. Under the previous Labour Government, NHS funding increased by 7% a year; under the Tories, it increased by just 1.2% a year between 2009-10 and 2018-19, and by even less when the growing and ageing population is factored in. Although some new funding is planned through regressive taxes on working people, funding under this Government will still be well below the historic average that is needed. As Matthew Taylor of the NHS Confederation said:
“Extra funding is welcome. But the Government promised to give the NHS whatever it needed to deal with the pandemic, and while it makes a start on tackling backlogs, this announcement unfortunately hasn’t gone nearly far enough. Health and care leaders are now faced with an impossible set of choices about where and how to prioritise care for patients.”
That deliberate underfunding always goes hand in hand with greater privatisation. Waiting lists grow and people start to seek health provision elsewhere. As budgets are cut, that is used as the cover to bring the private sector into the NHS under the false arguments of efficiencies and savings, when the reality is that every pound spent bolstering the private companies is a pound less spent on people’s healthcare. Instead of more privatisation, the public overwhelmingly back the NHS being returned fully to being a public service.
The Bill is being spun as a way to address the huge failings of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which placed markets at the heart of the NHS, but, in reality, it is simply a way to entrench privatisation in a different way. The Bill does not address the deepest failings of the 2012 reforms. For instance, while dropping the absurd competitive tendering process, the new Bill does not make it a requirement that the NHS is the default option for providing healthcare services.
The legal structure for the market remains. The profit-hungry vultures will still be circling and trying to pick a profit from human suffering. Foundation trusts will still be able to make from 49% of their income by treating private patients, and key outsourced services, including those provided by porters and cleaners, will not be brought back in-house.
As well as allowing private companies still to pocket public money, the Government’s plans also give private companies a chance to shape health policy directly. The Bill opens the door for private corporations to sit on the 42 local health boards—the so-called integrated care boards—that will make critical decisions about NHS spending. In a sign of what might be to come across the country, Virgin Care already has such a seat in Somerset. The Government are under political pressure on the issue, as we know, so we have seen some limited concessions, but they are not enough. The real solution must be that private companies have no role at all on these boards or in the running of our national health service.
The Bill also allows NHS local boards to award contracts to private healthcare providers with even less transparency than they do now. Contracts will be exempted from the public contracts regulations, which opens the door to yet more dodgy handouts to the Tories’ corporate mates, something that has become all too common during the pandemic—and the public know it.
What we have seen with test and trace over the past year is what the Tories want to do with the whole of our NHS. But this stealth privatisation does not end with test and trace. An unbelievable £100 billion has gone to non-NHS providers of healthcare over the last decade alone. Earlier this year, 500,000 patients had their GP services passed over to a US health insurance company, Centene, which is one of the biggest companies in the United States. Its UK subsidiary, Operose Health, now runs 58 GP practices and is thought to be the largest private supplier of GP services in the UK. It is no coincidence that Operose Health’s former chief executive officer, Samantha Jones, was appointed as an adviser to the Prime Minister. An adviser on what? An adviser on NHS transformation. Nothing to see here, of course.
The public have not consented to any of this. In fact, the Government have gone to great lengths to ensure that the public are not even aware that the process is happening, because a new poll by EveryDoctor showed that just one in four people know that up to 11% of the NHS budget goes to private companies.
Finally, when we consider the future of our NHS, we must tackle its staffing crisis. There are many tens of thousands of vacancies, including nearly 40,000 nursing vacancies alone. Yet NHS staff are set to get just a 3% pay increase this year, with most or even all of that increase being eroded by inflation. That will not only fail to tackle the shortages; it is a kick in the teeth, after everything—everything—that our NHS heroes have done over the past 18 months and after a decade of real-terms pay cuts. Nurses’ pay has fallen by around 12% since 2010, so the 15% pay increase that nurses are demanding would address that fall, even if it will not make up for the thousands of pounds in lost pay over the past decade. NHS staff have been balloted and they reject the current pay offer. I wish to place on the record that NHS staff have my full support in their campaign for 15%.
To conclude, instead of addressing the immediate crisis of 5 million people—and rising—on waiting lists, or the tens of thousands of staff vacancies, we are getting yet another top-down reorganisation, the aim of which is to accelerate the stealth Americanisation of our national health service. Of course, the Tories deny that their latest Bill is about privatisation and Americanisation, but I would argue that their response to the pandemic reveals their real ambitions.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon). He made a powerful speech, true to his beliefs and values, and he made some powerful points.
It reminded me of my more radical background when it comes to politics, especially in terms of health. I remember attending—not participating in—a demonstration and march in 2011 in Chorlton, shortly after the new Government came in. It was a reasonably left-leaning march and there were a few Soviet Union flags with the hammer and sickle. One of the most powerful contributions was from a trade union rep, who said, “We don’t need change. We don’t need innovation in the National Health Service. The only change you ever needed in the NHS was in 1948 when it was created. We don’t need any change from then.” That was the spirit, and it is the view that too many people have.
The NHS ought to be changing all the time, in different ways, to keep up with the way people work, and with technology and culture. There are so many ways in which the national health service ought to be changing all the time. We need legislation, led by my hon. Friend the Minister, to make sure that we keep up with changes in society. People would be outraged if we had not moved on culturally from 1948.
What does that lead to? Fundamentally, we ought to be focusing on the importance of patients’ values and needs, to make sure that they are at the centre of the national health service. It is not fundamentally about NHS structures, although those are incredibly important, or about maintaining structures as they are forever, but about ensuring that those structures reflect the needs of the national health service so that it is as effective as possible.
We hear discussions and talk about globalisation, which we know is a reality. Many parts of globalisation are a threat, as highlighted by the hon. Member for Leeds East, who talked about the threats and concerns. However, there are also significant opportunities. We want better access to drugs and medicines, especially innovative drugs and the latest drugs. If we look at figures from the European Medicines Agency about the adoption of drugs, we see that England is behind Germany, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. We ought to be at the forefront of the adoption of new drugs and new ways to look after people’s lives.
What do we need to understand when we are thinking about this, especially when we consider treatments and support for people with rare conditions? The UK is often not big enough to provide the innovation for these new treatments, so we need international collaborations. The national health service and other UK bodies need to work with countries around the world, but there is a place for corporations, whether in America, Japan or other places.
We need to ensure that our research and development effort collaborates and works with countries around the world. That cannot be on a Government-to-Government or Government agency-to-Government agency basis only. It has to be right through the system. If we do not have that approach where we need clinical trials at scale to support people or to find new treatments for people with rare diseases, it will not happen. We need to participate in international trials as well.
I would expect these things and I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will articulate that they give more potential to the national health service, because we need more engagement. At the moment, the national health service does not function in the way that many people around the country believe it ought to function. It ought to be far more engaged in clinical trials. Talking to many people from the sector, my sense is that that is down to individual leadership in particular trusts.
Too many trusts do not lead and participate in innovation or the adoption of new drugs, once they have been approved. The system is too slow and it often takes far too long, so patients and patient groups know that their trust or clinical commissioning group does not have the life-enhancing or even life-saving treatment that is available. We need that reform of the system to ensure that it looks after the patients.
There is another aspect that needs changing, which is the way that the NHS is funded or operates. I have a strong sense that it is relatively straightforward for the NHS to adopt a new drug. However, it is far more challenging for the NHS to adopt a new medical device because of the up-front costs and the training needs at the beginning. It is more difficult to adopt a device than it is a drug, and we need to have parity in that. We need the NHS to have the ability to adopt these devices and adapt to them.
That naturally leads on to what devices do. A key part of devices is the generation of data. Data is important for understanding the performance and ability of new treatments to make a difference to people’s lives. The NHS does not operate, to any extent, as a system that works and engages properly and fully with data systems. We need reform of the NHS to do that.
I will. The integrated care systems ought to be part of this, with local leadership, and hopefully strong accountability, to ensure that leaders in those areas can drive that engagement with medical research technology charities, corporations, institutes and universities, to ensure that the NHS is innovative, adopts new technologies and ensures that patients have the best they can. That is a huge amount of reform, and it must start now.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the chair, Ms Bardell. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) for opening the debate with so many facts that we need to reflect on. From before our first breath, to our very last, since 5 July 1948, the NHS has worked day and night to give us hope.
The principle was that, no matter who we were—duke or dustman, as Bevan said—we knew that, when the hands of the NHS reached out to us, it neither judged nor differentiated. It simply did everything it could to invest in our health. That equality was the way out of health inequality, which is, sadly, so stark today in constituencies like mine, where the most affluent can expect to live for 10 years more than the poorest.
Reading Michael Marmot’s report, there is something fundamentally missing from the NHS. This reorganisation will not address it. We must sew that into housing, air pollution, jobs—the things that really will bring about a fundamental change.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Unless and until public health is the Government’s first priority, the demands will be ever-growing, but now, unlike before, it is uncertain whether those demands will be met. Just look at covid-19: the countries that put public health first had the lowest sickness and mortality rates, yet over 135,000 lives have been lost here. Whether it is covid or cancer, poverty is the greatest enemy of health, yet as we speak, the surge in poverty that this Government are imposing on our constituents through the changes they are bringing about—whether through national insurance contributions, or by taking away the £20 universal credit uplift and other benefits—is resulting in poorer mental and physical health. After a decade of austerity, poor workforce planning and a continued drive to profit off the sick have taken their toll on our NHS. In 2019-20, according to the King’s Fund, £9.7 billion was spent on private provision, up by £500 million on the previous year. According to the data provider Tussell, £37.9 billion-worth of covid contracts have been let.
The economic and health shock of covid should prompt us to hit the pause button on the NHS. Last Friday, I spent half a day with York Medical Group, with clinicians, managers, GP partners and support staff; I was there to listen. This Friday, I will be at York Hospital, which is also struggling. The GP practice has received 41,000 calls from a population of 44,000 patients on their books in a month; add to that the 5.6 million, rising to a possible 13 million, waiting for treatment in secondary care. The system is imploding, the staff are imploding, and the NHS is imploding. We cannot just keep feeding money into the NHS, and we cannot keep selling it off.
When I read the subject of the debate—“the future of the NHS”—I did not consider the Health and Care Bill to be that, nor did the staff who I met with. In fact, they see the Bill as a massive distraction from dealing with the current crisis that they are having to grapple with, and another assault is just one step too many. Staff are saying that to save their own mental and physical health, they are now having to walk. We therefore have a workforce crisis on top of a health crisis, and the NHS is now in a clinically dangerous place. Government Ministers who completely misunderstand how the NHS works cannot just keep interfering in the system. They need to pause. They misunderstand the professionalism, care, dedication and love of the people who give all that they have—day in, day out—to care for us. As Ministers introduce more complex systems and more private companies into the health service, the NHS itself is falling apart. The Health and Care Bill is not the solution; it cannot be the way forward.
On the integration of the health service and social care, if we do not put the money together, we cannot put the systems together. However, the reforms will create more barriers and more division, rather than solving the challenges before us. The World Health Organisation describes health as
“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
A future NHS must start here. Public health has been so underfunded over the last 10 years, and even under-utilised during the pandemic. It is absolutely vital that it is at the forefront of the future NHS. Regular population screening will start addressing severe health inequalities. Health counselling will ensure that people make the right choices about their future and will divert people who do not access the health service when they need it into early intervention and prevention. If we invest in clinicians in the community to undertake that dialogue and those discussions, and if we invest in social prescribing and other ways of improving people’s lifestyles, we have a real chance to turn this system around.
We cannot delay putting together an integrated public health agenda to drive forward our health service. If we continue as we are, our NHS will not be here. The pressures bearing down now are just indescribable. After listening to staff, all I can say is that the Health and Care Bill is just not the solution.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Bardell. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) for securing this important debate. I know that 83 of my own constituents signed the petition, and many more have emailed me expressing concerns about the Government’s Health and Care Bill. I concur with those concerns.
Over the last 18 months, billions have been wasted on failed track and trace systems and failed personal protective equipment contracts that have been awarded to mates down the pub, while our amazing NHS workers have not received the pay rise that they deserve. Of course, we want to see greater collaboration between health and social care services, especially on the back of the ongoing pandemic and the lessons that we have drawn from it. No longer can health and social care services work in silos. We saw how social care, particularly residential care, played second fiddle to the NHS in the early part of the pandemic. That is superbly illustrated by the Channel 4 drama “Help”, based in my city of Liverpool. However, I am resolute that the Health and Care Bill must be paused, as too many questions remain unanswered. I will try to outline some of those questions.
We can expect integrated care boards to spring into life in the new year. They will, certainly in a governance sense, vary from area to area. While having a place-based strategy that is responsive to local health needs and inequalities is welcome, we cannot be subject to a postcode lottery, with the influence of private providers greater in some areas because they have been awarded places on the boards and others have not. Nothing in the draft legislation prohibits such a conflict of interest, nor is it clear anywhere that the NHS is the preferred provider for medical and clinical services. The potential for interference from the Secretary of State for Health is a major cause for concern when it comes to awarding contracts, particularly given the Government’s own support for privatisation.
On the integration of health and social care services, I remain a sceptic, even if the intentions are sound. I fear that there is a real risk that adult social care will be the poor relation to a resource-hungry NHS, especially with a huge elective care backlog. That is the only conclusion we can draw from the Prime Minister’s announcement of extra spending on health services and the non-plan for social care. Out of £36 billion, £5.4 billion over three years to be put aside for social care is not enough and will not make an tangible difference for local authorities, as the primary commissioners of adult services.
Locally pooled NHS and local government adult care budgets—if that is to be the direction of travel—could well enhance the provision of adult social services, but equally the reverse could be true. That is why, through integrated care partnerships, the importance of place and locality is emphasised as part of every established integrated care board. Accountability must float sideways, down and up. It is essential that integrated care boards must be held accountable by ICPs and vice versa, right through to smaller partnerships working at local level. Local government needs to be front and centre of the development of any integration strategy, as the custodians of adult social care.
The draft legislation should mandate ICBs to develop comprehensive workforce strategies in their localities. Labour councils in my own north-west region, alongside Unison North West, are already engaged in such work, but are coming up against an unforgiving social care market, with too many providers refusing—yes, refusing—money to increase the wages of their staff. Many of the Labour amendments and others will significantly improve the Bill and answer many of the questions I have raised. Sadly, I suspect the Government will not give them a fair hearing.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) on securing this important debate, especially at the moment.
In essence, the NHS is about people. It is about its workforce. There can be as many hospitals and clinics as we want, but without any staff in them, they will not make anyone’s health any better. I am painfully aware that after covid, so many of the people who work in the NHS are—I think the medical term is—knackered. They are completely and utterly exhausted. I know of dermatologists and pathologists who ended up helping out in intensive care units in addition to doing their ordinary day job. They were doing hours and hours every week and have got to the end of the year and are completely and utterly exhausted.
There is a phenomenal backlog; we all know about the numbers of people on waiting lists. That is partly because lots of people did not to present to their doctors because they did not want to bother them or were frightened of getting covid. There are lots of terrible stories of people who are presenting very late, particularly with cancers. I had a stage 3B melanoma, and I am painfully aware that if I had left it a few more months, I might not be here today. At the time, I was given a 40% chance of living a year. I know what it is like for all those families who feel desperate that someone has been delaying, and then get terrible news. It is also a phenomenal additional cost to the NHS if somebody presents later, because the surgery and the treatment will be far more complicated.
There are all the cancelled operations for elective surgeries that are not necessarily life threatening but life enhancing, such as knees and hips. When I was first elected in 2001, we still had the waiting list hangover from the previous Government, with people waiting five years for a new hip or knee. That is where we are now. That leads me to a real concern that the Government, with their new healthcare levy, are frankly putting the cart before the horse. If we do not have the people to deliver, throwing money at the NHS will not make the blindest bit of difference to health outcomes.
In the UK, we have roughly three doctors per thousand head of population. The rest of the EU, including countries that have many, many fewer than us, have 4.2. We are 1,939 consultant radiologists short. That is one of the things that will make a difference to whether people with late-stage cancer live or die. In oncology, 189 more clinical oncologists are needed in the UK now, and that is without considering the increase required to deal with the backlog, as well as the new presentations. We have roughly 650 consultant dermatologists in the country; we need roughly another 200. Skin cancer is one of the fastest-growing areas of cancer death in the UK. Only 3% of diagnostic laboratories in the UK are fully staffed at the moment. That means delays in getting results, in particular from histopathology, to doctors to be able to start the necessary treatment.
I have some quick-fix answers, and I hope the Minister will implement all 11 of them. First, reward staying on in the profession, because lots of people are retiring early. Secondly, reward coming back into the profession, because getting more retirees back in would really help with the workforce problem.
Thirdly, sort the gender pay gap. That is one of the problems that is making it much more difficult for lots of women to stay in the profession.
Think about providing sabbaticals to people. Sometimes burnout can be prevented just by allowing somebody to have a three-month or six-month sabbatical, knowing they will come back in.
Sort out the pension problem. I know the Government think they have done that, but it is still an issue and is why lots of people are not carrying on.
We have to deal with the fact that overtime is now paid less than it was five years ago. Lots of people are saying, “I don’t really want to do an extra clinic on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon.”
We have to deal with pay erosion—a point that was made earlier. If we keep on not paying doctors enough in the NHS, in the end they will choose to go to Australia, Canada or New Zealand.
We have to sort out the issue of private sector capacity sucking far too many consultants out of their NHS work, day in, day out. That simply means that people, including in very poor constituencies such as mine, will say, “You know what? I’m going to find the £5,000, £6,000 or £7,000 to have that hip or knee operation for my Auntie Val, because it is about the quality of her life.”
We have to train more people. I do not know why we are still lagging behind what we know we need. We should have more places for training, and we should be encouraging other disciplines, such as pathology, dermatology, emergency care and so on.
We have to sort out the immigration factors, which play into all this and mean that so many doctors who have worked here for some time are going back to the countries they were born in because they do not feel that they have a place here in the UK. Finally, please stop putting the workforce last in deciding what we do about the NHS. We cannot run an NHS permanently at 95% or 98% capacity, because then when there is a crisis, such as the one we have had over the past two years, the whole thing is—and this is a technical term—buggered.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) on securing this important and extremely timely debate.
The NHS is under great strain. Nurses I met over the summer told me how over-stretched the service is, not just because of covid but because of staff shortages, which my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) spoke so eloquently about. In June, there were almost 94,000 full-time equivalent vacancies in the NHS, and then of course we have the backlog of patients waiting for hospital treatment in England, which is getting worse. In July, 5.6 million people were waiting. Sadly, that is not just because of the impact of covid; the upward trend was in progress before the pandemic. In February 2020, there were about 4.4 million people waiting for hospital treatment, up from 3.7 million in February 2017.
Yet instead of addressing those extremely serious issues, the Government are pressing ahead with a major reorganisation of the NHS in the form of the Health and Care Bill, through which they will establish statutory integrated care boards and statutory integrated care partnerships, thus breaking the NHS up into 42 local integrated care systems. Each will set out which services to prioritise and which to reduce in their area, embedding a postcode lottery into the NHS in England. It is clear that that variation in the offer, depending on where people live, coupled with strict local financial limits, would lead to increased rationing of healthcare. If that is allowed to happen, I am concerned that people will have to wait longer for care or go without. That is contrary to the founding principles of the NHS.
It is important that we understand just how fortunate we are to have the NHS and why we must defend it. Looking across to America makes very clear our good fortune. Over there, typical costs for health treatment, as advertised by insurance companies looking for business, are as follows. People can expect to pay anything between $400 and $1,200 for an ambulance; between $9,000 and $17,000 for a baby to be delivered; and between $7,000 and $10,000 to have surgery for a broken wrist. Typical annual insurance costs for an individual are around $1,440 and for families around $5,700. That covers only part of the cost because, in America, employers pay the bulk of insurance costs for the individual, with all the cost that that adds to the business communities. Clearly, we do not want an American-style insurance-based system here.
As it stands, the Government’s Bill would put big business at the heart of our NHS. The Government have indicated that they would ensure that individuals with significant interests in private healthcare are prevented from sitting on ICBs, but that is simply not good enough. Private companies should have absolutely no say in how public money should be spent in the NHS. There should be no place whatsoever for private companies on ICBs or integrated care partnerships.
The Government intend to revoke the national tariff and replace it with an NHS payment scheme, with NHS England consulting with ICBs, NHS and independent sector providers. There are real concerns that this will give big business the opportunity to undercut NHS providers. We will see healthcare that should be provided by the NHS increasingly being delivered by big business, with all the implications that that has for patients, for all those working in the service, “Agenda for Change”, and the future of national collective bargaining.
The Government’s reforms would also create a power to deregulate NHS professions, and would have serious implications for the quality of care as well as the employment status, pay, terms and conditions of workers in the service. The NHS is our finest social institution and it has served us well since 1948 but now its future is in peril.
During the campaign against the Conservative-Lib Dem privatisation Bill, which became the Health and Social Care Act 2012, a man told me of his experience of life before the NHS. When he was about eight years old, his baby brother was seriously ill. Everyone in the street was worried for the child. One of the neighbours called for the doctor but, on hearing that, the mother said to the boy, “Run up the street and tell the doctor he is fine and there is no need to call.” The boy ran to the doctor, who had just turned into their street, and sent him away, just as his mother had told him to. Shortly after, the baby died, as the mother knew he would. She had told him to send the doctor away because she knew she could not afford to pay him.
We cannot begin to know the agony that that woman went through. The man who told the story had carried the burden of that action with him through life. That was life and death before the foundation of the NHS, when that family and countless others could not afford medical treatment. It is sobering to think that, after 73 years, the Government’s Bill undermines the principles of the NHS as a comprehensive and universal service.
History will not be kind to those who support such changes. I believe we all have a responsibility to protect the NHS and fight for it as a universal, comprehensive, public service for this generation and those to come. I ask Government Members to reflect on the importance of the decisions that they face in the coming weeks and months, and I urge them to consider the needs of their constituents and oppose the Health and Care Bill.
It is a pleasure to speak and listen in this debate. I thank the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) for setting the scene and all those who have made contributions. Every one of us is definitely agreed on one thing: the importance of the NHS, what it does and what it has done over time. If we needed further reinforcement of that, what we have seen in the past year has told us. In my family, I lost my mother-in-law to covid, so I do understand. During those difficult times for families, health service workers are there, masked up and doing their best to try to preserve life.
As my party’s health spokesperson, I must emphasise the importance of the NHS and highlight the issues of concern for my constituents, to ensure that the future of the NHS is maintained and provides hope to those who currently feel that it is not being maintained in the way that it should. It is a devolved matter, as the Minister knows. During the 18 months of the pandemic, we might have taken our NHS for granted in a way. We did not take the staff for granted; that is not the point I am making. The point is, the NHS was there, we depended on it and it was important to have it in place to help out. I put my thanks on record to all those healthcare workers across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I know we clapped the NHS staff. I live out in the countryside but, believe it or not, I could hear the clapping starting three miles up the road. I could hear the clapping in the midnight air from people in the village of Greyabbey down the road. People were out in numbers creating that crescendo of noise. We need to galvanise public compassion and our sense of community and wartime spirit to restore to the NHS the pride we have. I look to the Minister to do that.
This is a debate about the NHS, but the Northern Ireland protocol is preventing 910 medicines from getting into Northern Ireland. That will have an impact on the NHS. It is not the Minister’s responsibility, but would he convey to the relevant Minister the importance of our having medications that are available in the rest of the United Kingdom? They are available on the mainland, but we cannot get them in Northern Ireland. It is terribly frustrating, and a further 2,400 medicines may be at risk. It is an important issue, and it is an NHS issue. It needs to be on record.
I feel that the prioritisation of treatments and services are at the forefront of the future of the NHS. Too many people are awaiting cancer treatment. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is here. His story is a personal one. I remember speaking to him in the Chamber. I did not quite know what was happening, but I had not seen him for a while, and I did notice that there was a scar on the back of his head.
Well, I noticed it after the surgery. Our NHS saved our honourable Friend’s life. It is good to hear his personal story as well.
Health reconfiguration is crucial to ensure that our NHS is held to its highest standard. By the same token, these changes must be assessed to ensure that they benefit the future of the NHS. We want the correct funding. I hope that the Minister will reaffirm that he will encourage the Secretary of State to undertake discussions with his counterparts in the devolved institutions to weigh up how this will impact on other parts of the United Kingdom. People are waiting for life-saving cancer treatment, and people are waiting years for a consultation. Unfortunately, some of my constituents waited and did not get the surgery. They did not get their diagnosis early on and some of them are not here today. That is the reality of the waiting times that we all worry about.
The King’s Fund states that
“even under the most optimistic circumstances outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View, an additional eight billion a year in funding was to be needed by 2020.”
We are already a year behind. If we want to protect and maintain our NHS, we must ensure that the correct funds are in place to secure its future in the United Kingdom. I urge the Minister to listen to NHS workers and focus on what they are telling us. The Minister needs to protect their jobs and livelihoods and the NHS.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship today, Ms Bardell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) on securing this important debate. The NHS is undoubtedly the pride and joy of British society. Very few could argue against the claim that it is our nation’s greatest creation. That is why we should thank the thousands of NHS staff who put their lives on the line throughout the pandemic at every chance we have. It is also the reason why I support in full all 11 recommendations from my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). Our NHS staff have for some time now been overworked, understaffed, under-appreciated and severely underpaid. Over the past 18 months, that has been exaggerated almost to breaking point.
From a dangerous shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment and general issues of overcrowding, it is clear that the NHS was bled dry long before the pandemic began. At a time when the nation relied on the NHS so heavily, we began to see the true effects of a gruelling combination of Conservative austerity and privatisation. After the sham of track and trace and all those private contracts through the pandemic,
I would have thought it was even clearer that privatisation of the NHS was wrong in any form and that a Government who care about the success of our NHS would halt any further attempts at privatisation, but it is strikingly obvious that it is not the case for this Government.
It is clear that this Government continue deliberately to mislead the public, because every time we discuss the issue, they make claims that the NHS is not being privatised in any way. However, during the pandemic, the Government allowed the sell-off by stealth of 49 GP surgeries to the US healthcare insurance giant, Centene. Twenty of those surgeries are in south London and they include three Streatham GPs: the Edith Cavell surgery, the Streatham High practice and the Streatham Place surgery.
Centene is a company that is bigger than Pepsi and Disney, and almost as big as Boeing. The UK arm of Centene, Operose Health, has stated openly that its market strategy is to exit NHS contracts that do not make a profit, revealing its worrying intent for our GPs. I fear the impact it will have on my constituents and others across the country who have had their local surgeries taken over by this profit-hungry health insurance giant, which has been taken to court for poorly treated patients in the US.
Our taxes should be going into the essential services that we all rely on for our health, not lining the pockets of wealthy shareholders and filling the coffers of profit-greedy American corporations. My concerns about the takeover and the threat it poses to our NHS are definitely not misplaced, because guess who No. 10 recently hired as a health adviser? None other than the outgoing chief executive of Operose Health. It is no wonder we are seeing disastrous legislation, such as the Health and Care Bill, coming from this Government. It is a harsh reminder that life and health are just products to be turned into sales for the Tories.
I am proud to have joined campaigners to raise awareness about these damaging changes on a local and national scale, and I echo their calls, as well as those made by other Members during the debate, that attempts to privatise our NHS must end with immediate effect. Furthermore, the Government must address a decade’s-worth of NHS mistreatment in the autumn spending review, so I would like to hear more from the Minister about exactly how the Government will do that.
The Government must commit to proper investment in the NHS and the 15% pay increase for our hard-working NHS staff, because that is exactly what they deserve. I end with NHS staff because they are what makes the NHS. Clapping and empty rhetoric are not enough. We need meaningful action from this Government if we are going to secure the future of our NHS as publicly owned and free at the point of use.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Bardell. I commend the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) on a remarkably important debate, not just in terms of timing, but in everything the four nations have gone through in the past 18 months, which has underlined for all of us how crucial the NHS is. It is there at our time of need and it is there in our time of crisis as well. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the NHS and its staff. Members from all parties must prioritise and defend the NHS and ensure that those staff have our support moving forward, just as they supported us in our time of crisis.
The hon. Member for Leeds East spoke eloquently about the dangers of privatisation creeping into the NHS and about accountability reducing for local patients. He used the phrase that I used to hear as a union rep in the NHS and which created great fear: the NHS was no longer the preferred provider. That is extremely important because, as other Members have said, it means corporations can bid for NHS services and contracts and cherry-pick the most cost-effective ones, leaving the most complex and vulnerable patients to the NHS and placing it under even greater strain. I thank him for setting that out as the crux of today’s debate.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) thanked all of our NHS staff and heard the clapping for them and those on the frontline during the pandemic. He also made an excellent point about the fact that available medications in Northern Ireland are sometimes not equal to those available on the mainland. That is not what should be at the heart of the NHS system; it should be about equality of access, and I would be pleased if the Minister responded to that point about Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) spoke about the impact of covid-19, and, once again, about privatisation. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) spoke about how equality of service at the point of access is not just about treating illness; it is about wellbeing and dealing with life’s inequalities and day-to-day inequalities in our system and our country as a whole. She spoke about the backlog in the system due to covid-19 and how this has led not just to a staffing and workforce crisis, but to many people who need urgent treatment perhaps falling through the gaps. We must plug those gaps urgently for anyone who may be affected.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who always speaks eloquently about brain injury, did not mention acquired brain injuries today. I must confess that my husband has suffered a brain injury, so I am always grateful to the hon. Member for bringing it to the fore. It is often overlooked, and is one aspect of the NHS that we must seek to fund. It is also much wider than that; it is part of our armed forces covenant and affects our veterans and those in criminal justice services. The hon. Member gave very practical solutions today, which I think is always helpful, on staffing retention and recruitment. Those are the very practical aspects of care and treatment that the Minister will have to grapple with and take forward. I thank him once again for that today.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) spoke about the potential for interference in contracts due to the Secretary of State’s additional powers. Given some of the decisions made during covid, and some of the funding that was perhaps not best utilised, I think that is something that concerns us all across the House. We must focus on that, to ensure that the NHS provides good value for money, and that there is not any interference with the making of clinical best-practice decisions.
The hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) spoke about a postcode lottery in NHS England, and really set it out with her example of life and death before our NHS and what that meant for most people across the United Kingdom. We should never lose sight of that, because that is the crux of why our NHS is so important, so special, and why we must protect it with everything that we have.
The hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) spoke about rare conditions and the importance of international trials and collaborations, which is an extremely important point. Yes, we must protect our NHS, but we must also incorporate innovation, in a safe way, into our NHS structures, to ensure that our patients have the best treatments possible, and a choice in the types of treatment that they believe would be effective for them. We must, of course, undertake drug trials and, particularly for rare conditions, those must involve international collaborations. Otherwise, we would not have enough participants in the United Kingdom alone.
It has been an excellent debate. In the few minutes that I have left, I will say that the NHS is about health and clinical care, but it is also about mental health. It is important that we come out of this pandemic knowing that it is about wellbeing—it is a wellbeing recovery, and we must focus very much on mental health. I therefore hope that the Government will bring forward an announcement on the new mental health spokesperson in the near future. That is something that should be prioritised. I am sorry that it has not happened before now.
I would also like to mention a bit about what is happening in Scotland. The Scottish Government will increase NHS frontline spending by at least 20% to support the recovery and renew Scotland’s NHS. That builds on the Scottish Budget of 2021, which took the total health portfolio spend to £16 billion, in an increase of more than £800 million. The Scottish Government have also developed the NHS Pharmacy First Scotland scheme, placing local pharmacies at the heart of frontline provision. I went to visit Abbeygreen, a local pharmacy in my constituency, which is doing a lot of excellent work on the frontline, protecting resources for GP services and ensuring that people can access medications extremely rapidly.
I am always keen that we support best practice across the four nations and I do not think the NHS should be a political football. When I worked there, we always dreaded changes because they meant more admin and sometimes did not change the service but just gave more work to those who were already stretched. I would like to see things such as Pharmacy First, which is working extremely well in Scotland, being something that the Minister might consider and discuss with colleagues there. There are best practice examples right across the United Kingdom that we can all seek to replicate, which is extremely important.
NHS Scotland staff remain the best paid anywhere in the UK and this year “Agenda for Change” staff, including nurseries, ancillary administration and allied health professionals, received a 2.95% pay rise as part of a three-year pay deal offering a minimum 9% pay increase for more staff and more than 27% for some still moving up their pay scale. That was in excess of a 2.8% uplift. The Scottish Government are also seeking to abolish NHS dentistry charges, eye examination costs and non-residential social care charges for those in need of support. There is great progress being made.
I think everyone has come to the debate with the real value of the NHS in their heart and in their speeches. Collaborating, working together and sharing best practice right across the board, and making sure we protect our NHS, that the NHS is the preferred provider in the future and that we seek to protect it from private contracts, is going to be extremely important in supporting the staff who have given their all. We need to do that and we need to work together and collaborate to do that. I know that people across the House want to champion the NHS into the future. I look forward to the responses from the shadow Minister and the Minister.
It is such a pleasure to serve under your chairwomanship today, Ms Bardell. I want to declare an interest: I am proudly an NHS doctor and have been for 16 years.
It is an absolute pleasure to wind up today for the Opposition. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) for securing this hugely important debate, and I thank all hon. Members for their thoughtful contributions and suggestions. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) reminded us of the inequalities that are already deeply rooted in our society, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) spoke movingly about residential care. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) spoke about the value of our NHS staff, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) reminded us in no uncertain terms how life looks without the NHS. My hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) spoke of the privatisation by stealth that she already sees in her community and the detrimental impact that it will have.
There is no institution that unites us quite like our NHS, and it represents the very best of our values: collective, compassionate and co-operative. Our health service was once the envy of the world and laid the blueprint for publicly run, universally free healthcare for the modern age. The outbreak of coronavirus reinforced the need not only for a universal health service, but for health services to be properly funded and fully resourced. I am in no doubt that we lost more lives than we needed to because of the drastic and protracted underfunding of our NHS over the last decade. The pandemic reminds us of the risks of Conservative underfunding and undervaluing of our NHS, leaving it ill-prepared to handle winter, let alone a global pandemic.
Despite our unwavering pride in our NHS, it has suffered a decade of decline under consecutive Conservative Governments, and we have already lived through a botched reorganisation in 2012, which was supposed to cut down bureaucracy and deliver better care for patients. Instead, the Lansley reforms had the opposite effect, by complicating processes and increasing the reliance on private providers. The reforms introduced market elements, putting shareholders and companies ahead of patients. Shame! The changes meant that services went out to tender to anyone, resulting in private companies competing against public ones to deliver care at a local level. Those changes completely fragmented our health service, creating a route for private companies to make a profit on community services.
The damage of that reorganisation is still being felt profoundly today. Waiting lists are skyrocketing and people are finding themselves stuck in A&E. Routine operations are being cancelled and cancer waiting times are not being met. Operations are being postponed at an alarming rate, and the backlog in mental healthcare is reaching an all-time high. We are letting down a whole generation of young people, who are so reliant on timely access to mental healthcare services.
Like my medical colleagues across the country, I have been in A&E to comfort young people with eating disorders, who are stuck there because there are no appropriate beds for them. They feel that they cannot trust anyone, because they continue to be passed from pillar to post. I have been with families who hope that their elderly relatives get discharged so that they can spend their final days at home. What must it feel like for a family who are waiting for the person they love to be discharged, just so that person can die with dignity at home and in the arms of those they love? Because of fundamental flaws in social care, however, they find that they cannot be reunited with and cared for by the ones they love. Shame!
We have seen a rise in the use of more expensive agency staff throughout the last 10 years, while nurses, doctors and porters have had their pay squeezed. During this decade of decline, we have also had the first doctors’ strike in the history of the NHS, with junior doctors forced to take industrial action because of contract disputes. The Government expect doctors to work longer for less. The last thing that we frontline NHS staff want to do is to strike. We want to be serving our patients but, sadly, the Government have given us no choice but to know that the best thing that we can do for our patients is to demand better pay and working conditions.
Our NHS staff have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic. Through each lockdown, each wave and each new variant, NHS staff have kept going, putting themselves at risk in order to keep us safe. The personal sacrifice is astounding, and we know that so many have paid the ultimate price with their lives. Staff are exhausted, burnt out and in desperate need of respite, and yet they are not receiving sufficient support from the Government. Throughout the pandemic, I have had medics, nurses and colleagues from all around the country messaging me in the middle of the night, unable to sleep from the stress that they have been put under and the amount of death that they experienced in such a short period of time. They were not trained for such conditions.
As hon. Members have said, it is no wonder that around a third of NHS staff stated in the most recent survey that they were considering leaving their jobs. With vacancies already high throughout the healthcare service, losing more staff would be absolutely catastrophic and would definitely impact on patient care. Healthcare staff need to feel valued and appreciated by the Government, but despite the sacrifices they have made and continue to make, their only rewards so far have been empty claps and a real-terms pay cut. If the Government truly appreciated the efforts of NHS staff, they would offer those staff a fair pay rise. The Government might also consider taking up my offer to work with them on a cross-party basis to address the mental health crisis among NHS and care staff. There is nothing I would like more than to work with the Government to deliver what our frontline NHS and care workers need.
On the subject of pay, fair pay is not simply a moral imperative; it is about the future functioning of our NHS. The NHS is one of the single largest employers in the world, but it is in the midst of a workforce crisis. By refusing to offer a fair pay rise, the Government risk causing workers to leave the health service. That would create more vacancies, further shortfalls of staff during shifts and increased workload for the staff who remain. We know that 56% of NHS staff already work unpaid additional hours, and that percentage will only increase if the workforce becomes even more stretched. It is a cycle that will lead only to further burnout among staff and eventually to more staff looking to leave. The Government have known for years that further action must be taken to recruit, retain and train more staff, yet nothing is being done at a fast enough pace to ensure that future demand will be kept up with.
Despite the mishandling of the NHS since 2010, it seems the Conservatives have not learned their lessons, because they are forcing through another reorganisation. The Health and Care Bill, like the Lansley reforms before it, fails to grasp the real challenges facing the NHS. It will only serve to create more problems, rather than solutions, and it will put our entire health service at risk. It does nothing to stifle the market forces present in NHS services, meaning that we will have more private companies running vital community services. A modern NHS has to take a whole-society approach, working closely with local authorities and other public services to reduce the inequalities that drive poor health. A joined-up approach would better serve communities, but the new Bill fails to outline how such an approach would be achieved, and that will result in more fragmented services and worse outcomes for patients. Instead of adopting such an approach, the Conservatives are more interested in consolidating power and guaranteeing private providers a voice in how local services are run.
As we look ahead to the future of the NHS, it is important that we never forget the principles on which it was founded: free at the point of delivery, publicly funded and publicly run, universally available and based on clinical need, not the ability to pay. The Conservatives, who voted against the creation of the NHS 22 times, have been working hard ever since to slowly erode the collective foundations on which it was built. We cannot let that happen. We must never, ever lose sight of the founding principles of the NHS, and we must never let the market control healthcare in this country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell; I think that I do so for the first time.
Although I suspect that it is fair to say that the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) and I are not fellow travellers in the same direction on many things politically, I congratulate him on securing this debate on a very important subject. Although his speech was long on opinion and perhaps short on fact, I do not think that anyone could doubt the passion or the sincerity with which he spoke, whether one agrees with everything he says or not. I pay tribute to him in that respect.
I think it is clear to everyone in this Chamber, as I hope it will be to people watching on Parliament TV and those who read the transcript of our debate, the genuine affection and respect that every Member of this House has for our NHS and those who work in it. It is right that I join the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), and others—I often do so on these occasions, because this cannot be said too often—in paying tribute to those who work in our NHS, including the shadow Minister herself. On the occasions when she and I see each other across the Dispatch Box, I always try to make that point.
A number of key themes have emerged today. The legislation is currently in Committee, and I know that a number of Opposition Members have argued that it should be paused or even scrapped. I have to say that the former chief executive of the NHS, Lord Stevens, said that about 85% of the Bill is exactly what the NHS asked for, wanted and wanted done now—ideally, the NHS wanted it done two years ago, before the pandemic.
In the evidence sessions of our Bill Committee, which continues to meet, we heard NHS Providers, the NHS Confederation and the Local Government Association all saying, “This is the right Bill at the right time.” I should acknowledge that some of those witnesses said there were certain elements that they would question or challenge, but they said it was the right time to pass this legislation. In fact, in a joint statement the NHS Confederation, NHS Providers and the LGA said,
“we believe that the direction of travel set by the bill is the right one.”
At the heart of this legislation is the principle of integration underpinned by evolution. Colleagues across the House who have served with me since 2015 will know that I am not by nature revolutionary, so the legislation is evolutionary in what it seeks to achieve, but it seeks to achieve greater integration. I think it was the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) who spoke about accountability needing to be upwards, downwards and sideways. With these proposals we seek to do exactly that: to achieve greater integration at a local level within the NHS and, at the ICP level, to achieve greater integration with local authorities.
What would the Minister say to the British Medical Association council, which passed a resolution overwhelmingly
“calling for the Health and Care Bill to be rejected, arguing that it is the wrong time to be reorganising the NHS, fails to address chronic workforce shortages or to protect the NHS from further outsourcing and encroachment of large corporate companies in healthcare, and significantly dilutes public accountability”?
I will turn to those key points in a moment, but first I will address the specifics. The point I made to the Chair of the BMA council in Committee was that, if I recall rightly, every single piece of legislation on the NHS, including the National Health Service Act 1946 that brought it into place, has been opposed by the BMA. I challenged him to tell me which pieces of legislation the BMA had supported, and he said he would write to us. I have yet to get that letter; I am sure, knowing Dr Chaand Nagpaul as I do, that he will write to us, but in the Committee he was unable to say which piece of legislation—including Labour legislation in 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2006—the BMA had supported.
I will make a little bit of progress, because I want to address the hon. Lady’s allegations about privatisation and workforce. If we have time at the end, I will of course seek to let her come back in.
On allegations or suggestions of furthering privatisation, I know it is tempting for some, even when they know better—and they do—to claim that this is the beginning of the end for public provision. It is not, and Opposition Members know it. There have always been key elements of the NHS that have involved private providers, voluntary sector providers and so on.
What is instructive is the extent to which that was accelerated when the Labour party were in power. The shadow Minister talked about the 2012 legislation and any qualified provider, but that was not brought in by the 2012 legislation; it was brought in by the Gordon Brown Government in 2009-10 under the term “any willing provider”. The name was changed, but nothing substantive changed from what the Labour Government had introduced in terms of the ability to compete for contracts.
The other point I would make is that one of the key changes allowing private sector organisations to compete for and run frontline health services came in 2004, under the Labour Government, when the tendering for provision of out-of-hours services by private companies was allowed.
So often—not only from Conservative Ministers, but from hon. Members generally—we hear about things that Labour did in the past. I remind the Minister that the Conservatives have been in power since 2010. We are telling him what we think the issues are with the NHS, and we do not want to hear about what Labour or the ghosts of Labour Prime Ministers past did. We want to know what the Conservative Government, who have been in power for 11 years now, are going to do to improve our NHS.
I appreciate why Opposition Members might not want to hear what Labour Governments did in the past, given the extent to which they massively accelerated the privatisation of our NHS. To address the hon. Lady’s point directly, we do believe that there is a role for private providers, the independent sector, voluntary organisations and others in providing healthcare services in this country.
Workforce is an issue that a number of colleagues have rightly raised. I am afraid I cannot say to the hon. Member for Tooting and others that, among other things, I am taking on responsibility for mental health in my new portfolio. However, following the departure of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) to the Treasury, as of about three days ago, I will be assuming responsibility for workforce alongside the other responsibilities in my portfolio. I look forward to working with her and the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), who I believe is the shadow Minister, as well as meeting with Opposition Members who take a close interest.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) spoke with typical wisdom on that matter and made a number of very powerful points. At the risk of a negative impact on my career prospects—although the reshuffle has just happened, so hopefully I can get away with it now—I agree with a lot of what he said. He highlighted that, were it not for a prompt diagnosis, he would not be here. For what it is worth, I think I speak for everyone in the Chamber—if not on all points, then certainly on this one—when I say we are all extremely pleased that he is still with us. He is a man of great integrity and strong beliefs, and I look forward to working with him. We meet on a number of things. I am happy to meet with him to talk about his suggestions and how they might factor in to how we move forward, in the spirit of bipartisan and constructive discussion.
With the meeting or the job, or both? A number of hon. Members have raised “Agenda for Change” and pay and conditions. I hope I can reassure them, as I sought to do with the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). It is not our intention that integrated care boards depart from “Agenda for Change”. The Bill is drafted in such a way as to seek to replicate what is currently there. On Second Reading, I offered to have a meeting with her. I would be very happy to have that meeting, if she gets in touch.
On funding, this Government have passed legislation increasing NHS funding by £33.9 billion by 2023-24 and put £2 billion into elective recovery. In addition, the Prime Minister announced a massive cash injection into our NHS a couple of weeks ago.
I want to give the hon. Member for Leeds East a little time at the end, so I will just make a couple of quick points. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) is right: we are always happy to learn from our Scottish friends. In response to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), that is a matter of medicine supply which I discuss regularly with the Northern Ireland Health Minister, and it is absolutely vital that we seek a resolution. I believe that the previous approach by Lord Frost is the right one to find a sustainable way forward.
On sharing best practice, I meant to mention that artificial intelligence technology is being used by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and has reduced the heart failure diagnostic waiting times from 12 months to six weeks. I know that Lord Bethell will be visiting to find out more about that. I wanted to highlight it to the Minister today, because I think that technology can support NHS staff workload as we move forward.
The hon. Lady has rightly highlighted the benefits of technology, while my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) highlighted the need for us to continue to move with the times and seize those initiatives. I fear that my noble friend Lord Bethell will not be visiting, as he left the Government at the end of last week. However, I have received a very kind invitation from the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) to come and see how the NHS in Scotland is innovating and driving change. I look forward to taking her up on that invitation as soon as I can.
Just as medical devices and drugs innovate change over time, does the Minister agree that the place where the NHS operates and works must also change? Whether those are local surgeries or hospitals, they have to move with the times. In that context, would he also turn his mind to any needs that Bolton Royal Hospital may have in terms of new hospital infrastructure?
My hon. Friend makes a fair point about the need for us to create the conditions—the physical spaces with the technology—in which the workforce, which is the heart of our NHS, can work. He makes a subtle—or not so subtle—plea for his own local hospital. He will not be surprised that I will not comment on the detail of that.
To finish my response to the hon. Member for Strangford, the Command Paper recognises the challenges posed by the current arrangements in the Northern Ireland protocol around the supply of medicines and other goods, for example. The approach that the hon. Member set out, of removing medicines and medical devices from the orbit of the protocol, is reasonable. I hope that discussions between the European Commission and Lord Frost are productive, and that a consensus can be reached on the way forward.
I have to take issue slightly with the hon. Members who raised the role of Sam Jones, one of the Prime Minister’s advisers. They focused on one particular aspect—that for a brief period she worked for an independent provider. What they did not do, which is extremely unfair to a dedicated public servant, is highlight that she worked for NHS England, running new care models; that she has been an NHS paediatric and general nurse; that she was the chief executive of Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust; that she was the chief executive of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust; and that she was the Health Service Journal chief executive of the year for 2014 and was highly commended for her work in driving forward patient safety. I gently say that it ill behoves Members of the House to attack public servants, who cannot answer for themselves in this Chamber, with partial references to their careers rather than recognising that they have contributed a huge amount in the past.
The hon. Member for York Central was absolutely right to highlight health inequalities as one of the greatest challenges—not the only challenge—that we face as a society and as a health system. The measures on integration and change in the Bill will help us tackle those health inequalities. I suspect that on Report and Third Reading she may test and challenge me on those assertions and assumptions, but she is absolutely right to highlight the centrality of health inequalities.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) spoke about residential care and the link to social care. While I am not the social care Minister, everything that I do in my role as Health Minister must have an eye to social care. I was a cabinet member for adult social care in the dim and distant past, when I had rather more hair, and I also sat on the primary care trust, as it then was, at that time. I recognise the need for those two parts of the system to work together to achieve the best outcomes for our constituents. She makes a valid and important point.
I found what the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) said about the US experience of great interest and instructive, but it is utterly divorced from what the Bill and the Government are doing in respect of our NHS. It was an interesting reflection on what is going on in America, but it certainly does not bear any resemblance to what is happening or will happen in this country.
Does the Minister not recognise that, where we have a postcode lottery and the increased rationing of care—my constituents are very aware of the rationing of care, and a number of Members have spoken about what happens when people cannot get the treatment that they need on the NHS—there is the spectre of an individual, private insurance-based system? Members of his own party have in fact argued for such a system. People need to be mindful of just how dangerous for us all it would be to introduce a private insurance-based system.
Will the hon. Lady forgive me? I was not questioning the integrity of what she said, but I was suggesting that there was no risk of that system as she described it developing in this country.
I will sum up, because I want to give the hon. Member for Leeds East a little more than two minutes, if I can. We are determined to continue supporting our NHS; this Bill, this legislation, the funding announcements we have made and the reforms we are putting in place do just that. We want to create an NHS that is fit for the future, renewing the gift left to us by previous generations, building on that gift and strengthening our NHS as it evolves to meet the challenges of the future. We remain the party of our NHS; we will give it the support it needs—as we always have done.
Thank you for presiding over this debate, Ms Bardell, and thank you to all hon. Members for taking part. I do agree with the Minister on one thing: he said that we should not omit public servants’ past records from our discussion, so it was very remiss of me not to mention—as I always do—the Minister’s career as a Serco spin doctor before he became a Member of Parliament. He is, in fact, an expert on public money going to failed private companies—which is what we have been warning against.
Colleagues have made some excellent speeches. In particular, I thank and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) for all the detailed work that she has been doing on this issue. She vividly outlined the reality of the eye-watering costs for medical assistance in the United States of America. We do not want, in any way, to go towards the US healthcare model, where they feel for a wallet before they feel for a pulse. That is what motivates Opposition Members.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) had a progressive past—it is a pity that he does not have a progressive present or future. In his recollections of the demonstration that he attended in 2011, he falls foul of unfairly characterising NHS staff by saying that they were conservatives with a small c, wanting to keep things frozen in time. However, when we listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) and others, talking about the real dedication of NHS staff, we hear that they want things to work and want the best possible outcomes for patients. Before my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) became a Member of Parliament, she had an honourable history working for the NHS and representing its staff; she talked about the dedication, care and love that people give, day in, day out. That is the reality of NHS staff.
I welcome the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), in which he said that the NHS was about people. That is, indeed, what it is about. It has got to be about people, not about profits or profiteering companies. He made some very important points about the dangers of delayed diagnosis and treatment. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) for raising the issue of Centene and its UK subsidiary. I thank the Front-Bench spokespeople, the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan). I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) who is prolific and, to his credit, seems to speak in every debate, for talking about the passing of his mother-in-law due to covid, and his recollections of the great service that the NHS staff gave at an incredibly difficult time.
I want to end by reading five facts that we should be mindful of. First, £100 billion has gone to non-NHS healthcare providers over the last decade. In 2019-20, the NHS spent £9.7 billion on private services, an increase of 14% on 2014-2015. Earlier this year, half a million patients had their GP service transferred into the hands of Centene, the US health insurance giant. Five point six million people are waiting to start routine NHS hospital treatment—the highest number since records began in August 2007. Since the NHS was established, the average budget rise has been 3.7%, but between 2010 and 2019, on this Government’s watch, budgets rose by less than half of that—1.4% when adjusted for inflation. That is the reality that our NHS faces. The future of our NHS cannot be governed by the direction set by this Government, but the alternative as laid out by the Opposition.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Licensing of Master Locksmiths
I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking. That is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I ask those leaving the debate to leave quietly. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the licensing of master locksmiths.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I am pleased to see the Minister for Security in his place to respond. I will cover the following points: the role of the locksmith, the current situation and its impact, and the dangers of maintaining the status quo. I will suggest a better alternative.
To start with the role of the locksmith, locksmiths practise one of our most ancient trades, with a history spanning hundreds of years. The Master Locksmiths Association is in my Rugby constituency. On a recent visit there, I was able to see a whole room—almost a mini museum—devoted to the profession. I saw examples of locks dating back to ancient Egypt. There were locks from different eras and I was able to understand the evolution of locks, lock-making and locksmiths’ tools over the centuries.
The Master Locksmiths Association, the largest trade association for locksmiths, is a not-for-profit organisation, established to promote skills and ethics within the industry. It is recognised as the authoritative body for locksmithing by the police, the Home Office, the British Standards Institution and the Building Research Establishment, among others. I am pleased to support the association today, as it seeks regulation of its industry and, importantly, a harder line on the small number of locksmiths who take advantage of consumers.
I contend that the spiralling number of rogue tradespeople operating across the country is putting the safety of members of the public—our constituents—at risk.
Does my hon. Friend agree that often a rogue locksmith will get a job by submitting a very low estimate? When the job is under way, they will claim that they have found some extra work that needs doing, and they put the price up. The poor customer often gets a shoddy job at a high price.
My right hon. Friend draws attention to an important point. Very often the work done by a rogue locksmith is shoddy and needs to be corrected by a member of the Master Locksmiths Association. I will deal with that in my remarks.
For as long as people have held personal property there has been a risk that it would be stolen. We therefore rely heavily on locksmiths for the security of our home and, most importantly, our families who live in our home. It will come as a surprise to many Members, given that importance, that there is no regulatory regime for locksmiths in the UK. Absolutely anyone can advertise, trade, buy locksmiths’ tools and call themselves a locksmith, without training, going through any vetting process or providing proof that they are qualified.
There are consequences for householders, to which my right hon. Friend has just drawn attention. Employing a locksmith is often a distress purchase. It is a decision made to employ somebody in the heat of the moment. The person employed will often be somebody who has been found through a quick online Google search. In those circumstances, a private individual could be placing their security with someone who may not only be incompetent but will not have had to pass any criminal record checks.
The current framework for the private security industry is set out in the Private Security Industry Act 2001. Although locksmiths were excluded from that legislation at the time, the then Government noted that it could be amended to include locksmiths at a later date, although that is yet to happen. During the passage of that legislation in 2001, the then Under-Secretary at the Home Office, Lord Bassam of Brighton, stated that locksmiths would not be included in the legislation for a number of reasons, one of which was that there was
“no evident high level of criminality”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 January 2001; Vol. 621, c. 596.]
I am afraid that is no longer the case, and I will refer to some recent research in a moment.
There is currently a voluntary scheme provided by the Master Locksmiths Association, but there is absolutely no obligation on locksmiths to register with it. The MLA’s approved licensing scheme means that only a proportion of locksmiths are vetted and regularly inspected and have passed an exam to prove their competence.
I have had discussions with the MLA about how we might improve that. We propose an industry-led scheme, similar to the Gas Safe Register for gas plumbers, which is operated by a division of Capita plc. Such a register would ensure that all locksmiths are vetted, inspected and competent to trade, in the same way as gas fitters are registered under the Gas Safe Register, which is the only official gas registration body of gas businesses and engineers in the UK. By law, all businesses involved in the gas sector must be on the Gas Safe Register. A gas engineer can be aligned to a registered business and be issued a licence to undertake work only if they hold a valid and current qualification. The evidence of competence relates to gas safety and is obtained by every engineer through a recognised route of training. We envisage a similar model to the Gas Safe Register for locksmiths, to regulate their industry. Significantly, there is no cost to the Government and the taxpayer from the Gas Safe Register. We envisage the same route for locksmiths.
Let me say in support of the need for regulation that the Master Locksmiths Association hears on a near daily basis from consumers across the country who have unknowingly employed an unaccredited locksmith. Some may have been severely overcharged, in the way that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) described. Some may have received a very poor standard of work, often requiring remedial work from an MLA member. In the most extreme cases, rogue locksmiths retain keys to locks they have installed and either use them or pass them on to others to commit burglaries at a later date.
The MLA recently published research based on feedback from more than 100 of its members from across England, which shows a soaring number of cases of householders falling victim to a bogus locksmith. Over the past year, two thirds of the MLA’s largest members have been called to such a job. Collectively, they have attended more than 300 botched jobs involving a rogue locksmith, and 65% of respondents said that rogues are overcharging customers by £200 or more.
The issue has received widespread interest in the national media. It featured recently as the lead story on BBC 1’s “Rip Off Britain”, which presented stories of people falling victim to bogus locksmiths. All of that emphasises the need for regulation to protect the public and our constituents.
The Neighbourhood Watch network recently surveyed its members and found that 76% of respondents were unaware that locksmiths are not regulated. On being told that the industry is not regulated, 27% described themselves as very shocked and considered that the matter needed urgent attention; 46% said it made them think twice about who they would call if they had an issue with their locks; and 15% said it would make them feel very uncomfortable if they had to call out a locksmith. Eighty per cent. of respondents to that survey believe that locksmiths should be regulated in the same way as gas installers.
This is a problem not just for the UK. Google recently banned all ads for locksmiths from appearing in search results in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. Google says that
“most if not all ads appearing in search results are from unreliable or even crooked locksmiths who take advantage of those in need—someone who is locked out of the house at night, for example—to charge exorbitant prices for shoddy workmanship.”
That is the nature of the concern, and it is a very poor situation for consumers and our constituents.
I have mentioned that locksmiths are often employed in emergency circumstances. The customer will often be under distress and liable to unwittingly employ a locksmith who is in a position to overcharge and take advantage in the way that my right hon. Friend has drawn attention to. It is not hard to imagine the scene that many people face—for example, when their car has been broken into, perhaps late at night. They need to get home, but the lock on the car has been tampered with. The majority will google “locksmith” on their phones and contact the first person who comes up on an online search, not realising that some, or perhaps many, of the people on the list would not meet the standards set by the Master Locksmiths Association. It is not unreasonable for us all to expect a reputable locksmith to appear in such searches, but that is not the case.
My right hon. Friend said that rogue locksmiths often carry out work to a poor standard, which can have serious consequences—for example, in the case of a house fire. If a single-exit dwelling has poorly fitted locks that cannot be opened easily from the inside of the house without a key, it could have fatal consequences.
If we leave things as they are and simply carry on maintaining the status quo without any licensing scheme, there is a real risk that we allow rogue locksmiths to continue to proliferate. We know that the situation is increasingly hard for consumers, particularly where they find the locksmith through online advertising, which often gives false confidence to a customer. Without a licensing system, online advertisers are unable to determine whether a locksmith seeking to advertise on their site or platform is a reputable trader.
As with the Gas Safe Register, an effective scheme in the UK would make it illegal to trade as an unlicensed locksmith and illegal to employ the services of an unlicensed locksmith. As I have mentioned, applicants would need to be vetted to obtain a licence. They would need to establish proof of competence and be subject to a regular inspection regime on the work they carry out. With that security, consumers would be able to access a public register and have confidence that the locksmith they are employing will perform the job to a high standard and at a reasonable cost.
There is a precedent nearby. Ireland made it a requirement for all locksmiths to be registered with the Private Security Authority as long ago as February 2017. It is now an offence to operate as an unlicensed locksmith and to employ an unlicensed locksmith. Unlicensed locksmiths, and those employing them, face up to 12 months in prison and a fine of up to €4,000. In serious cases, prison sentences can run for up to five years. In the United States of America, 15 states require locksmiths to be licensed, and a variety of local schemes are in place, with requirements ranging from simple registration with a local authority to needing training, background checks and proof of insurance.
The Minister will know that I submitted a question a little while ago calling for regulation of the industry, and he will appreciate that this debate highlights why regulation is needed. I very much hope that he or his colleagues will be able to meet the Master Locksmiths Association to consider the matter further. I urge the Government to consider amending the Private Security Industry Act 2001 or introducing new legislation to protect our constituents and consumers by requiring all locksmiths to be licensed.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Bardell. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby—and Bulkington—(Mark Pawsey) on securing this debate. I thank him for his thoughtful contribution. He is a well-known, assiduous champion for his constituents and for organisations in his constituency, and I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss these important matters.
I recognise the important service that the locksmith industry provides—it is often a distress purchase in difficult circumstances, as my hon. Friend said. There is clearly a need for such services to be delivered to a high standard for the purposes of safety, security and peace of mind. I also recognise the risk posed when the standards for delivery of these services are left unchecked. It is important that the public can access quality workmanship by trained and qualified professionals.
The Government are focused on driving down crime in all its guises, including neighbourhood crimes such as burglary. We are taking concerted action to make our streets, neighbourhoods and communities safer, including by backing the police with more officers, powers and resources.
Locksmiths were excluded from the Private Security Industry Act 2001 as there was no evident high level of criminality in that sector, and there were a significant number of small businesses in the sector. The Government were conscious of how a regulatory burden may place a barrier in the way of expanding and developing those small businesses. Those points remain relevant to the locksmith industry today.
I hear what my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) says about increasing levels of criminality since the passage of the 2001 Act, but much of the argument focuses on poor workmanship. As my right hon. Friend touched on in his intervention, rogue locksmiths overcharge for substandard services. The Government have not seen evidence of unlicensed locksmiths contributing to the incidence of neighbourhood crime, such as burglary.
It is important that the Government do not increase regulation and the burden on businesses unless there is an absolutely compelling case. In this case, the Master Locksmiths Association already has a robust accreditation scheme in place to ensure that approved locksmiths are appropriately vetted, inspected and qualified. The scheme is approved by the police crime prevention initiative, Secured by Design, which sets the industry gold standard for security products and interventions to design out crime.
Consumers have the choice in who they seek to undertake locksmith work. We encourage them to use the information available to them, including that which can be found on the Master Locksmiths Association website, to ensure they receive quality work at fair rates. I would encourage members of the public to utilise the association’s advice, and locksmiths to make use of the scheme, too.
There is a robust consumer protection framework in place that all traders, including locksmiths, must comply with. Consumers are protected from being misled about the products or services they purchase by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The regulations also outlaw behaviour that falls short of the requirements of professional due diligence, carrying criminal penalties enforced by local authority trading standards officers.
The Government recognise the terrible impact that acquisitive crime can have on individuals, families, businesses and the wider community. That includes, especially, the invasive nature of burglary, the cost and disruption when vehicles and other tools of the trade that people rely on to earn a living are stolen, and the loss of cherished items that simply cannot be replaced. Those crimes should of course be reported to the police so that they can be investigated appropriately. As Members know, we are boosting the police workforce through the uplift campaign, which has so far delivered almost half of the 20,000 additional officers promised by 2023. We are making progress, but we will never be complacent when it comes to keeping the public safe.
Over the summer, the Government published the beating crime plan, which sets out our blueprint for driving down crime. We are providing £45 million through rounds 1 and 2 of the safer streets fund to support areas across England and Wales that are disproportionately affected by crimes such as burglary and theft to invest in proven situational, physical crime prevention measures, such as street lighting and home security. Round 1 supported 52 projects across 35 police and crime commissioner areas in the 2020-21 financial year. Round 2 is being delivered in the following financial year, supporting a further 50 projects across 39 PCC areas. A further £25 million for round 3 of the fund will be targeted at improving the safety of public spaces, with a primary focus on the safety of women and girls. That brings the total investment in the safer streets fund to £70 million.
The beating crime plan also sets out wider action that the Government are taking to improve home security, which includes embedding security standards and crime prevention principles within the national model design code and developing minimum standards as part of the review of a housing health and safety rating system, to ensure that domestic security is not just a privilege for some.
We are considering how we can go further in using the decent homes standard to keep social housing residents secure and help tackle antisocial behaviour. We are consulting on proposals to extend the security requirement in part Q of the building regulations to existing homes too. The intention of the proposed changes is to help ensure that refurbished properties are fitted only with products, such as doors and windows, that meet security standards. As my hon. Friend will know, it is currently applicable only to new homes.
The Government have introduced a whole range of measures to improve security and make people feel safer in their homes, and those are of course very welcome. However, one key point is that the regulation of locksmiths was last looked at 20 years ago. Would the Minister undertake to accept a representation from the Master Locksmiths Association setting out how things have changed in those intervening years, and to give further thought to how we might deal with the issue of rogue locksmiths?
Of course, we are always open to representations and want to hear from trusted voices in the industry. I would encourage the association to continue engaging with officials at the Home Office.
I am coming towards the end of my remarks, so let me set out our overall position. Any broadening of the remit of the Security Industry Authority would require careful consideration of how we balance public protection against the ability of the sector to operate effectively before we embarked on what would obviously be a required legislative process. As yet, we do not judge that there has been a sufficient business case to justify the licensing of locksmiths under the Private Security Industry Act 2001.
As my hon. Friend knows, there is already a robust certification scheme in place from the Master Locksmiths Association. That scheme, which is approved by the police crime prevention initiative, Secured by Design, ensures that approved locksmiths are appropriately inspected and qualified to deliver the services required by customers—as he rightly says, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. The association also provides guidance and advice to consumers on pricing, products and equipment, hiring locksmiths and how to spot scammers.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Master Locksmiths Association for its efforts to ensure that the public are further protected against scammers and rogue traders via its approval scheme. As I said, I would encourage members of the public to utilise the association’s advice, and I would also encourage locksmiths to use the scheme.
Let me end by expressing my thanks once again to my hon. Friend for securing this important debate and for the thoughtful contribution that he made. The fight against crime is a key priority for the Government, and I can assure hon. Members on both sides that we will continue doing everything in our power to make our villages, towns and cities safer.
Question put and agreed to.
Motor Insurance: Court Judgments
Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking. This is in line with current Government and House of Commons Commission guidance. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. As a result of votes earlier, the debate will go on until 5.45 pm, notwithstanding any votes that we may have during this debate.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect of recent court judgments on the cost of motor insurance.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Ms Bardell. I would also like to warmly welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), to her role. I am sure that she is going to be a great success.
Today, I want to make the case for the removal of the EU rules contained in the European Court of Justice judgment in the case of Damijan Vnuk v. Zava rovalnica Triglav d.d. I would like to thank my constituent Robert Rams and the Motor Insurers’ Bureau for alerting me to this problem and providing some very helpful briefing information.
Mr Vnuk was the victim of an accident involving a reversing tractor inside a barn in a farmyard in Slovenia. He took his compensation claim to the European Court of Justice. In the United Kingdom, an incident of this nature would be covered by our compulsory employer’s liability insurance regime, but not all EU member states have such a scheme to protect employees in the workplace. In its 2014 judgment, the ECJ therefore shoehorned Mr Vnuk’s compensation claim into the EU’s motor insurance law. In doing so, it extended the scope of compulsory motor insurance to accidents on private land involving a very broad range of vehicles—essentially, anything with wheels and a motor that does not run on rails, no matter where it is used or for what purpose. This is manifestly different from the compulsory motor insurance requirement in the Road Traffic Act 1988, which applies to vehicles that are permitted to be used on our streets and roads.
The UK’s approach to compulsory motor insurance has been consistent since the 1930s. It is proportionate and it works. However, Vnuk had direct effect in EU law, and that means that it forms part of the retained EU law imported on to our domestic statute book via the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. As a result of cases in the UK courts, such as Lewis v. Tindale, the UK’s compensation fund for people injured by uninsured drivers is now obliged to pay out in the circumstances covered by the Vnuk judgment.
The UK compensation fund is run by the Motor Insurers’ Bureau, and every driver who takes to our roads funds the scheme through their motor insurance premiums. The combined effect of the Vnuk and Lewis cases and the 2018 Act is that the scheme is now having to bear very significant costs for which it was never designed, and motorists are left picking up the bill. Let us be clear about what we are talking about here: accidents on private land, in private gardens, in farmer’s fields, on golf courses, inside supermarkets, in banks or in offices—the list is long. These are places where what has happened, or even the fact that anything occurred at all, will often be difficult to establish with any clarity, and that gives rise to worrying opportunities for fraud. The extension of compulsory insurance to motor sport is a further side effect of the case.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent case, and unfortunately this Chamber cannot legislate. However, is she aware that salvation is perhaps on its way from our hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone)? He has a Bill before the House, the Motor Vehicle (Compulsory Insurance) Bill, the Second Reading of which is on 22 October, which should deal with the very point that she is making.
I am aware of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). I will come to it in a moment and I hope it has the potential to solve the problem. The trouble is, can we get it through Parliament?
The extension to motorsports is problematic for many reasons. For many people who enjoy participating in motorsports the costs of the new requirement—even assuming they can get the compulsory cover, which must be doubtful in some cases—will be very high. I understand that motorsports organisations and many participants in those sports have raised serious concerns about the judgment and asked for it to be removed from UK law. Although of course we can have a legitimate debate on the potential extension of compulsory insurance and compensation schemes to new scenarios, there can be no justification for leaving drivers to shoulder the whole cost by artificially forcing these new liabilities into our existing motor insurance scheme.
The sums at stake are very large. The Government Actuary’s Department has estimated that total annual costs could rise to more than £2 billion, which would mean roughly an extra £50 on the insurance premium of every motorist in the United Kingdom. That will hit hardworking people who may be struggling to make ends meet.
Of course, £50 is an average, so a disproportionate increase in premiums is likely to fall on groups such as young drivers, who already pay more because they constitute a higher risk during their first years on the road. Businesses with fleets of vehicles will be hit hard at a time when they may be struggling already to recover from the effects of lockdown, and motorists in parts of the north of England, where in some cases premiums are higher, could also end up paying more, which would work against the Government’s laudable levelling-up aspirations.
I thank my right hon. Friend for securing this important debate; I share her aim that legislation be introduced to reverse this situation. She will be aware that legislation was passed in Parliament to reduce insurance premiums by around £50 on average, I believe, from whiplash compensation. Would it not be most unfortunate if that £50 saving, which everyone warmly embraces, was loaded back on as a result of this judgment?
It would indeed be most unfortunate, and I am grateful to all the hon. Members who are here to make such points on the need to resolve this issue because of the potential pressure on household budgets.
In a column in The Daily Telegraph, the Prime Minister —in the years before he became Prime Minister, of course—described Vnuk as the “perfect example” of the over-regulation that had
“sapped the competitiveness of the EU and burdened it with low growth and high unemployment.”
“There is no need, no call, no demand, no appetite, no reason, no justification, not even the shred of the beginnings of a case—in the United Kingdom—for this kind of pointless and expensive burden on millions of people.”
Against that background. it would have been reasonable to expect the Government to remove the effects of Vnuk from UK law once the transition period ended. There is nothing to prevent them. Under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, a simple piece of primary legislation is needed to make the change. In a February press release, the Transport Secretary said that his Department intended to do just that, adding that he was delighted to announce that we no longer needed to implement Vnuk.
Sadly, since then, not a great deal appears to have happened. Nothing on this was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech in May. In late June, the Transport Secretary did issue a written ministerial statement, which is welcome. In it, he said that delivering the commitment announced in February was a priority and that the Government would follow the passage of the private Member’s Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough “with interest”.
As we have heard, my hon. Friend’s Motor Vehicles (Compulsory Insurance) Bill would deliver the legislative change we need. I very much welcome the Bill and urge Hon Members to support it when it returns to the House on 22 October. I gather that the Department for Transport has advised on the drafting of the Bill, so hopefully, as the Prime Minister might say, it is oven ready.
I hope this debate will give the Bill some momentum and reassure hon. Members who follow Friday business with care that the issues it seeks to address have received proper scrutiny in this House. However, as everyone here today will understand, a presentation Bill of this nature almost never gets the parliamentary time it needs to reach the statute book. It takes an extraordinary amount of good fortune and a very fair wind for such a Bill to make any progress at all. In the Sessions from 2010 to 2019, 470 presentation Bills were tabled and only six became the law of the land. I am afraid a Government Bill is needed, along with adequate parliamentary time set aside for it to be debated and passed, perhaps as part of a wider regulatory reform Bill going through Parliament. As yet, there is no sign of that happening.
Meanwhile, even as this rather sorry state of affairs in Westminster persists, the irony is that Brussels has been working on a package of changes to EU law that would remove the most extreme effects of the Vnuk case. The rapporteur of the European Parliament described the case as an example of “absurd over-regulation”. The changes have been approved by the Council of Ministers and apparently passed by the European Parliament, so their entry into effect would appear to be fairly imminent. When that happens, we could face the bizarre situation where the UK is forced, by its own law, to continue to apply that absurd over-regulation because its effect was frozen into our legal system as retained EU law at the end of the transition period. In the meantime, the EU has taken action to mitigate the problem, relieving its own motorists of the unfair cost burdens the case imposes.
I do not think that that is what taking back control should look like. Now we have left the European Union and regained the power to make our own laws in this country, we need to use our new freedoms wisely to build a regulatory system that is more proportionate, more agile, more adaptable and better suited to our domestic circumstances here in the UK.
Earlier this year, I was asked by the Prime Minister to be part of his taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform. The report we published contains a series of ideas for how the Government can create a modern regulatory framework that is based on core principles of domestic common law and that facilitates both innovation and competition. There are huge economic benefits to be realised if we do that, particularly in the high-growth, high-tech sectors of the future. Last week, it was encouraging to hear the Paymaster General outline the Government’s plans to do that in response to the TIGRR report, and the Minister responsible for EU relations, Lord Frost, is to be commended for the proposed regulatory reforms in the paper he circulated on the same day. However, one of the key barriers he faces is the fact that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 means that retained EU law can, in the main, only be amended or repealed using primary legislation. The Vnuk controversy shows that we urgently need a faster track way to remove or update EU laws that no longer work for us, most of which arrived on the statute book via secondary legislation in the first place.
My message today to the Minister and to the Government is that we need to get on with tackling the Vnuk problem. I urge them to take action now to put things right and remove the case from UK law. That will mean bringing forward their own Bill in Government time so that we can make repealing Vnuk a demonstrable benefit of leaving the European Union and regaining the historic right to make our own laws in our own Parliament once again.
I am extremely glad to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), for whom I have the highest regard as a lawyer, a member of the Conservative party that delivered Brexit and—if she does not mind my using the expression—a spartan, because she was one of the people who brought about the situation that we are happily in at the moment, whereby we have the ability to repeal legislation and to deal with some of the problems that she mentioned. In particular, I would mention the fact that the primary legislation in question would be authorised by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, section 38(2)(b) of which enables us to override any EU law through an expressed and direct provision in our own primary legislation and therefore to deal with the problem as a piece of primary legislation.
I listened very carefully to what my right hon. Friend said about the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), which will receive its Second Reading on 22 October 2021. I merely venture to suggest that there are some precedents for private Members’ Bills to be given some additional oomph by the Government. If they put their mind to it and have the commitment to do it, which I certainly believe should be the case in this instance, it can be done. In fact, I did just that in relation to the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014, because the Government gave me full support for a Bill that was languishing at around No. 17 in the private Members’ ballot. The Act did some very substantial things, including imposing on our development aid projects the commitment and guarantee that we would make it a legal, judicially reviewable duty to enforce the protection of women and children in relation to international development aid. If the Government can do it for that, I would suggest that, given the scale of the problem, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet so expertly described, there is very good reason for them to give support to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and to ensure that we get the results that are needed in the national interest, as identified by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet.
I agree with what my hon. Friend has to say. Does he agree that the quickest way to deal with this issue is for the Bill to go through on 22 October? He used the word “oomph”. It can go through quite simply, if the Government do not object to it. My understanding is that the Government are not going to object to it, but perhaps we could have some confirmation of that later.
I may say to my right hon. Friend, who is a very good friend of mine, that that is a very welcome piece of news, because this is exactly what happened in the case of the International Development (Gender Equality) Act. What happened was that the Clerks in the House were sitting there with bated breath to hear whether anyone was going to object, because all that has to be done on such an occasion is simply for any Member to object. It does not have to be a Whip; it can be any Member of the House. On that occasion, we got down to about No. 17 or 18 on the list—wherever I was. There was complete silence, and the Bill went through. That is what can happen, and I therefore strongly agree with what my right hon. Friends the Members for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) and for Chipping Barnet have said. I think this is a potential opportunity.
I was very interested in what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet said regarding the question of what the EU was up to at that stage. I am speaking as the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, and we shall keep an eye of these matters. We also propose reports, bring forward suggestions and inform the House accordingly in Hansard and so forth. On 30 June 2021, as my right hon. Friend said, the European Commission announced a decision to waive the requirement for UK drivers to show a motor insurance green card when entering the European Union. The decision needs to be fully implemented through publication in the official journal, and there is a waiting period of 20 days, so in the short term green cards are still needed.
The point I want to make is that on 29 June, the Transport Secretary published a ministerial statement, along the lines that my right hon. Friend mentioned, on the motor insurance directive—removal of Vnuk, in other words. It states the Government’s commitment, which the Minister announced on the Floor of the House:
“To remove the effects of the…ruling in the Vnuk case from GB law.”—[Official Report, 29 June 2021; Vol. 698, c. 8WS.]
Putting two and two together, if the Minister has said that the Government intend to remove the effects of it, and we have also the opportunity through the private Member’s Bill, and we know it is precedented for the Government to take the action I have described, I see the potential for a fair wind for this. That will be a tribute, not only to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet, who has spoken today, but also my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough.
I would like to touch on the principles that underpin the issue of EU retained law. I will outline it by saying that the issue of EU retained law in this context arises partly in relation to the Road Traffic Act 1988, which has not yet been amended to comply with the European Court of Justice decision. Legislative change is necessary, as my right hon. Friend has said, to bring clarity on the matter, given that pre-exit European Court of Justice case law is now part of UK domestic law, as retained EU case law.
Given that, what is going to happen next? I will give a description of the extent, nature and depth of what my right hon. Friend for Chipping Barnet has rightly put forward, in one instance, with huge financial consequences, with the EU going into reverse, and the absurdity of our being in a position where the EU deals with it in its legislation and we are stuck with it in ours. I am now going to address the question of where I think the Government’s navigation should go.
In June 2016, just before the referendum, I was responsible for bringing forward a Bill that set out the basis on which the legislation after we won the referendum—as I was confident we would do—could be dealt with. There is a huge body of legislation, some of which I will refer to in general in a few minutes. Given the scale of the problem, the best thing to do was to deem all EU law as part of UK law, so that at least we grabbed hold of it as a whole, then we could deal with it on a piecemeal basis.
My Bill was one and a half pages long. The Bill we ended up confronting under the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), went far further and more regressively—if that is not a contradiction in terms—than was necessary, by incorporating the whole concept of EU retained law and the principles of EU law. With it came the assertion in section 6 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 that the courts, if they wish to do so, given the circumstances of a case, would be enabled to quash any Acts of Parliament, if inconsistent with the judgments that they came to in interpreting the issues before them.
That is all very well, but those of us who are acquainted with the manner in which EU law was implemented under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972, know very well that the Factortame case was the example above all others where the whole of the fishing industry was thrown into chaos, with Spanish fishermen invading our waters. The issue in question turned on the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. I remember saying to the Attorney General at the time that I thought it was a very unwise business for them to do introduce that Act, unless they put at the beginning, “notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972.” Had they done that, then the judgment in Factortame, which struck down the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, could not have taken place because the courts would have been under an obligation to comply with the provisions of the Act, which would have said notwithstanding the Act of Parliament in question, the UK could legislate on its own account.
I referred to section 38(2) of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, which specifically contains the words “notwithstanding” and “direct effect”. It is notwithstanding the direct effect of any provisions that are on the statute book as part of EU retained law, and it enables us to override the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act and, some may care to note, the Northern Ireland protocol. So, the law is in place.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet indicated, it can be done by primary legislation. I am just adding a bit of flavour as to how it came about and how it can be done. I listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire and what he said in the context of the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough.
I turn to the question of the absurd situation identified by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet and what the Prime Minister said about it some time ago, using very strong language. If it was an absurd position before he was Prime Minister, it is doubly so now, and that is why we need to tackle it. The intention behind the grandfathering, as it is called, in EU retained law under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018—
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is making a very flavourful, detailed and interesting speech, but I gently remind him that we are trying to stick as best we can to the specific topic of the effect of the court judgment on the cost of motor insurance. He is giving us a very interesting tour of his knowledge of EU retained law, but I gently remind him of the topic.
I am very glad that you mention that, Ms Bardell. I am not giving a tour of my knowledge; I am giving a tour of the answer to the question that is before the Chamber at the moment. It is the only way it can be dealt with. The remedy is there, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet has said.
I will pursue this point for a short few minutes, because it is really important to get this on record. The objective of the grandfathering of EU retained law was to maximise continuity and stability following our withdrawal, without an express commitment to keep this anomalous category of law on the statute books indefinitely. There are ambiguities in all this and they have to be resolved as well. As I have indicated, the most dangerous situation would be if the concept of EU supremacy continued to apply, notwithstanding what I have said.
We have one directive here. I can assure you, Ms Bardell, that the House of Commons Library briefing paper No. 08136, published in November 2017, identified up to 20,000 EU laws that fall into this category. Forgive me if I make the point again, but it is important that people understand the scale of the problem and the fact that it can easily be remedied. About 900 directives are in force, almost all of which apply to the UK, which are not generally retained, and there are 12,484 regulations, around 7,000 of which were incorporated in the UK as
“the amended legislation is considered as one with the legislation amending it”.
There are 7,000 EU decisions, which are converted through the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act and apply to the UK. That also includes European court judgments and case law before exit date, converted to UK law as retained EU case law.
I am now Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, having been on the Committee for 38 years, with my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay). I can assure the Chamber that there is a very easy way to achieve this, but it is a complicated political manoeuvre, which is now under consideration by the Government. These laws were passed under qualified majority vote, as was the ports directive, for example, which I believe is now on the execution block for the same reason. It was done by qualified majority voting behind closed doors, and much of the legislation that emerged out of the Single European Act is stuff that we would never have implemented ourselves.
In a nutshell, this is a serious matter. It raises questions of sovereignty and the role of the courts, and it raises practical questions of the scale that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet has referred to. One incident she mentioned would cost the British taxpayer £1 billion. That is the scale of the necessity to get this right. I conclude by congratulating my hon. Friend the Minister. She and I have got to know one another very well over the past few years and I am delighted that she has got the job.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I must say, I thought that the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) was taking the guidance that Front-Bench speeches would start at 5.23 pm. It was a challenge for him to last that long, and it was certainly a good effort.
It has been a wide-ranging debate. Clearly, the main subject was the Vnuk ruling, but we have covered the failure of the private Member’s Bill process and how EU retained law is dealt with. I commend the hon. Member for Stone on his private Member’s Bill in terms of the gender equality and protection for women and children via international aid, which sounds very noble. I think that is very worthy, but I do not think we can compare it to having to try and accelerate and give oomph to the private Member’s Bill from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) that relates to this.
I should congratulate the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) on introducing this debate. If ever I was in doubt that it might be Brexit-related, I only had to look at her hon. Friends to the left and right to know that it was going to be Brexit-related and about taking back control. The irony is that it looks like we are taking back control to allow our retained legislation to match what the EU is going to be doing anyway, so it is a funny kind of taking back control. Certainly, we have covered the fact that EU retained law has to be addressed with primary legislation. I do agree that in some circumstances that may need to be looked at in how these things are dealt with.
I am not convinced of the merits of Government time to introduce this in primary legislation. If action is taken, we need to look at how we do that. If we can save drivers an average of £50 per premium, that is clearly welcome, but I can think of a raft of primary legislation that I have been waiting for the Government to introduce in the energy sphere, and they keep saying that they do not have time. It would be interesting if they magically found time to deal with changing the Vnuk ruling.
On insurance costs, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet correctly said that the more expensive premiums are, the more difficult it is for younger drivers and those with less money to afford the premiums. It can be regressive. I would like to remind hon. Members that most of the Conservative Members here voted for insurance premiums to go up from a 6% levy in 2015 to a 9.5% levy and then up to a 12% levy in 2017. That had the same effect on young drivers and those who can least afford insurance premiums. It is a regressive way of taking more money off those who are paying insurance, and there is a risk that there will be more uninsured drivers on the road, which has consequences for premiums further down the line for everybody. This is a slight tangent, but on people being able to afford premiums, the £20 a week cut to universal credit that the Conservatives seem to support puts at risk people’s ability to afford to drive. Unfortunately, it might incentivise some not to insure their car, and we do not want to see that.
I have been very brief. I welcome the comments of the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet about the Motor Insurers’ Bureau, which points out that much of what will happen in terms of private land agricultural vehicles will be covered by compulsory employer’s liability. If we can make savings, good.
I ask the Minister to address what we suggested about motor sports, because we do not want any unintended consequences. If there is not compulsory insurance for motor sports, what does that mean? Is there a risk that people will not have a route to compensation? Are they left exposed? I just want to make sure that if the complete Vnuk ruling is taken away, there are no unintended consequences that leave other people exposed and potentially out of pocket through no fault of their own if they are trying to chase damages due to what they have suffered. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says, and I welcome her to her place.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Bardell, and to welcome the new Minister to her place. I assume this is her first appearance in a debate as Minister. It is a rather niche topic with which to start, but I look forward to doing battle with her on many future occasions.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) on securing the debate. I thought she did a very good job of explaining the background to the Vnuk case and the consequences it will have. As she said, we have operated under the scheme set out in the Road Traffic Act for many decades. It is proportionate and it works. That is not to say that we should not revisit it from time to time to make sure that it does the job. As she says, at the moment the cost of uninsured drivers is being met by the Motor Insurers’ Bureau. In my former life as a lawyer I was involved in quite a few personal injury cases, so I am very aware that the Motor Insurers’ Bureau has an important role to play in providing compensation when people have been involved in accidents involving uninsured drivers. I take the points that the right hon. Lady makes.
I will not do battle with the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) over his views on Brexit. I have been there before, and most of us are well aware of where he is coming from. It is important, as we seek to find a way through our independence from the European Union and review some of the legislation, that we stick to basic principles and promises made during the debates on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 about not watering down workers’ rights and essential protections. Any measures that venture into that territory ought to be subject to proper scrutiny, and we must ensure that the balance is right.
On the hon. Gentleman’s comments about private Members’ Bills, it is great that none of the usual suspects objected to his Bill, which was No. 16 on the list, but on many occasions they have objected to very good Bills that should at least have been allowed to go into Committee. It should not depend on who a Member’s mates are and whether they behave themselves. I hope that at some point we reform Friday sittings, so that individual Members cannot sabotage good pieces of legislation in that way.
On the issue before us, the Transport Secretary has stated that steps to overturn the Vnuk decision will be introduced at the earliest possible opportunity. I am not sure whether that means that the Government will allow time for the Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), or whether they intend to do it themselves. I share the concern voiced by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), who asked whether to take such steps would be the best use of Government time, as there are so many other pressures on that time. I hope that we can hear more from the Minister on that.
More broadly, in the little time I have left, I simply say that I hope we can hear about other ways in which we can try to reduce insurance claims, and therefore the overall cost of motor insurance. I have been told by issuers that the vast majority of claims have nothing to do with accidents, but result from the condition of the roads. We have an £11 billion backlog for pothole repairs, which at current rates will take more than a decade to clear. Total spending on road maintenance is down by 22% this year because of cuts in Government funding. We also need to improve road safety. I know that new statistics are coming out on 30 September, but advance reports suggest that the upward trend in the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured has continued, which is very worrying.
Finally, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said, it is one thing to talk about whether people could afford the extra £50 a year on motor insurance premiums that would result from the Vnuk judgment, but we are in a situation where people are being hit by the end of furlough, the £20 cut to universal credit and the national insurance hike. We need to ensure that people who need to drive can afford their motor insurance and can afford to drive safely. We need to look at the whole picture in the round, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister on that.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Ms Bardell, or indeed under any Chair in Westminster Hall as a Minister. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) for securing this debate on the effects of recent court judgments on motor insurance. I welcome the opportunity to provide an update and set out the Government’s position on this matter.
We have always been clear since the 2014 European Court of Justice’s ruling in the Vnuk case that we do not agree with it. That decision directed the unnecessary extension of the provisions requiring motor insurance to private land, as well as to a much greater range of vehicles. The excessive liabilities that it would place on the insurance industry and the potential increases to motor insurance are simply unacceptable. To be clear, if we had implemented Vnuk, which we are not going to do, these liabilities and potential increases are huge; they are not trivial. Government analysis suggests that Vnuk could have cost industry some £2 billion per year, and that would most likely have been passed on to consumers in increased insurance premiums.
Focusing on motorcar policyholders, that could have resulted in an increase in individual insurance premiums of around £50 for 25 million consumers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) referenced, if Vnuk had been implemented, it would have had a catastrophic effect on the motorsport industry, and indeed all motorists. Vehicles would likely have been required to purchase motor insurance to compensate injury caused to other drivers, stewards and spectators. Motorsport in the UK is safe and highly regulated. Employer’s liability and public liability already provide a high level of protection, so adding a motor insurance requirement would have brought little benefit at a very high cost—some £458 million per year—had Vnuk been implemented.
Stakeholders have consistently informed us that it would have been prohibitively expensive for most of the sector, effectively making the motorsports industry unviable. The sector turns over almost £3 billion annually, generating full-time employment for around 38,000 people and part-time work for a further 100,000. That is why we announced that we would remove the effects of Vnuk from GB law in February, and delivering on that includes removing the associated financial liability imposed on the Motor Insurers’ Bureau via the Courts’ decisions in the Lewis case.
This commitment is a priority for the Government. Its removal is part of a new and prosperous future for the UK outside of the EU—a future where we can deregulate and set our own rules and regulations. At this point, I must commend the tenacity of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) in challenging and successfully and competently setting out the direction he recommends that we take. His detailed knowledge provides important context on matters of EU legislation and is paralleled only by his ability to recall details and dates, which the debate has certainly benefited from.
That is why we will continue to explore bringing forward the necessary legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows, as it has not proved possible to provide a slot for a Government vehicle to disapply the effects of the Vnuk and Lewis judgments during this parliamentary Session. I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that responding to the pandemic was and remains of the utmost importance, and that we are still in a challenging time.
It is very kind of the Minister to give way, and I welcome her to her new post. As outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), there are European Court of Justice judgments and instances where that law was applied to this country while we were in the EU that we did not agree with, and we were probably outvoted under qualified majority voting at the time. Does her Department have officials looking at other instances, such as the Vnuk case, that can be expunged from our legal system at the soonest opportunity, because we never wanted them in the first place?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and it would only be appropriate to write to him with further details. It is also appropriate to put on record my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet for her work on the taskforce that generally assesses the potential for dealing with some of those unnecessary regulations.
Ultimately, the Government face many competing priorities in deciding what legislation to bring forward in the limited parliamentary time available. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) asked whether the Government would support the Bill—we are certainly supportive. I hope that is music to his ears. The legislation proposed in the presentation Bill represents the best opportunity to address the issue at the earliest possible opportunity. Rest assured that the Government recognise the importance of the matter. We will be following the Motor Vehicles (Compulsory Insurance) Bill with interest, as it would deliver the desired effects of removing Vnuk from GB law.
The Government would like to see the presentation Bill being brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) succeed. The Government have worked hard to seize the opportunity to legislate quickly, as we recognise its importance. However, I am sure that all Members will appreciate that the usual pressures on parliamentary time have been made even greater by the amount of emergency legislation passed in the previous Session. The presentation Bill offers the best and earliest opportunity to make that change quickly and deliver the positive outcomes of removing Vnuk, which many Members have referenced today.
I was pleased to hear support from the spokespersons from the SNP and Labour, the hon. Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). I very much look forward to their support when the presentation Bill comes forward. Indeed, I would invite the whole House to lend their support.
I said that the Government need to make sure that no loopholes are created—that no categories fall between the cracks, so that insurance is not compulsory; motorsports was mentioned. If the Government are letting the Bill brought by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) pass through, will they do some sort of risk or impact assessment?
My officials have been examining the detail. If the hon. Gentleman would write to me with the specifics, I will be very happy to write back with a more detailed response.
The presentation Bill will comprehensively remove the effects of Vnuk and Lewis from GB law. The Government regard the Bill as uncontroversial, hence its provisions being appropriate for a presentation Bill. That is possible because the UK has a very strong consumer protection arrangement in place, via existing insurance products such as employer’s liability and public liability. Removing the effect of Vnuk will save the industry and consumers money without having any substantive downsides.
The Bill will have many positive effects beyond the headline objectives of removing the effects of Vnuk and saving motorists money. First, it will ensure that the law concerning third-party motor insurance in Great Britain is consistent. Currently, the Road Traffic Act 1988 does not require motor insurance for use of vehicles on private land, as its focus is on the road and other public places. It extends its scope to a sensible range of vehicles, as defined in the Act. The retained EU case law that would be removed by the presentation Bill contradicts that, by extending mandatory third-party motor insurance requirements to private land and to a potentially much greater range of vehicles. The law currently points in two different directions, and the Bill is a good opportunity to bring clarity to the law.
Secondly, it will head off potentially enormous enforcement complications. Had we implemented Vnuk, the police would potentially have been required to monitor newly in-scope vehicles never intended to go anywhere other than someone’s garden. The difficulty in gaining access to sites of collisions on private land may have led to the need for additional police powers and a practical effect of less enforcement of uninsured vehicles and of encouraging crime.
Thirdly, implementing Vnuk would have meant that a huge range of newly in-scope vehicles would suddenly have been required to be registered on the DVLA database, with licence plates required. It would have been preposterous to have to stick on a licence plate and register a ride-on lawnmower that never left the back garden.
While we are on the subject of uninsured vehicles, when can we expect to see regulations on e-scooters? There are so many of them—300,000 privately owned scooters are used on our streets, as well as the legitimate pilot schemes. When will the Government accept that the pilots have done their job and come forward with some regulations?
I can speak with some experience on this issue, because my constituency has been a trial area. We are assessing the various trials and will be able to respond to the hon. Lady’s question in due course.
We understand the importance of the Bill for many Members, and we will watch its passage with keen interest. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Bristol East mention the support for cycling. I am delighted to say that during the pandemic we saw a 46% increase in cyclists. That has had a positive effect on my Department’s active travel aspirations.
If the Bill fails—I encourage all Members to ensure that does not happen—the Government will continue to explore bringing forward the necessary legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.
I again thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet for raising this topic of debate. Our commitment to remove Vnuk from GB law and to end the liabilities that impact on the insurance industry remains a priority for us.
I am grateful to the Minister for her thoughtful and comprehensive response. I am also grateful to everyone who has taken part in today’s debate and for the support that has been demonstrated for making this change to our law, reversing the unintended consequences of the Vnuk judgment. To respond to some of the points made by the Minister, this is a problem that is already happening. Because of the principle of direct effect, Vnuk-type claims are already coming in and in some instances are already being paid, so there is an urgency to this. It is not just a theoretical possibility: it is having an impact already, and in due course the costs could be very considerable, as the Minister said.
I also welcome the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) regarding the complexities of EU law. I reiterate that we need to look afresh at how we deal with the body of EU law, because if we have to bring forward primary legislation every time we need to change, amend or update it, that will make for a very crowded parliamentary timetable. We need to see whether we can start using secondary legislation in this context, as is being contemplated by Lord Frost. After all, the vast majority of this law arrived on our statute book as a result of secondary legislation, so I hope the Government will take away the fact that Vnuk is an example of a problem that will recur many times in future unless we make some changes to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act.
I had probably better not, because I am only supposed to be summing up. I hope that today’s debate has given some momentum to the Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), which I encourage colleagues to support. Sadly, it only takes one Member of the House of Commons to object to that Bill for it to fall, but we have heard some sensible scrutiny of it today, which I hope will reassure some of those who follow these matters on Fridays with great care.
We all recognise that the pressure on the Government’s legislative programme is intense, and that that pressure has been made even more acute by the pandemic. However, I welcome the Minister’s assurance that the Government are supportive of the Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, and that if it fails, they will look to legislate as soon as they have the opportunity. I urge them to take this issue seriously and to ensure that we remove Vnuk from the statute book as soon as is practicable, so that we save people costs on their motor insurance premiums and give a bit of a helping hand to families across the country who may be finding it difficult to make ends meet and pay the bills. It is unnecessary to impose this cost on them, and it is time that we legislated to remove that cost from them.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the effect of recent court judgments on the cost of motor insurance.