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Westminster Hall

Volume 702: debated on Wednesday 27 October 2021

Westminster Hall

Wednesday 27 October 2021

[Nusrat Ghani in the Chair]

Sustainability and Climate Change (National Curriculum)

Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate. This can be done either at the testing centre in the House, or at home. Please give each other and members of staff room when seated, and when entering and leaving the room.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the inclusion of sustainability and climate change in the national curriculum.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Ghani. I thank Mr Speaker for granting this debate, and I welcome the Minister to his place. I also thank colleagues for being present, including those who have long been staunch advocates on the issue of climate and ecology, and particularly the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne).

To stop runaway climate change, we have to reduce our emissions by half every decade. The world needs to reach net zero by 2050. That requires sustained political pressure on our leaders and huge changes to every part of our economy—changes that the Climate Change Committee has described as

“unprecedented in their overall scale”.

It requires that we build an economy based on clean energy, creating secure, sustainable jobs through investment in green industry, transitioning away from sectors with high emissions, and restoring our natural world. It requires a public who are informed and knowledgeable about the climate, and a shift in emphasis when it comes to the skills that are valued and taught in our society. Does the Minister agree that teaching students knowledge and practical skills relating to climate change and green technology is a key component in transitioning to a low-carbon society?

Even if the world is on track to limit the overall rise in temperature to 1.5°—that is a big if—there will still be repercussions for us environmentally, socially and economically. The climate crisis is already here, and we must be prepared to adapt and mitigate its effects in our changing world. A child who started primary school last month will not yet have turned 35 in 2050— the year in which the Government intend to reach net zero carbon emissions—but our current education system does not acknowledge how different our society will be by then, and it will not equip that child with the tools they will need to live and work in it. As Greta Thunberg said when people questioned why she was not at school and was instead striking for the climate,

“Why should I be studying for a future that soon may be no more”?

If our education system is not preparing and empowering young people to help prevent climate change and deal with its consequences, it is failing them. As it stands, climate change barely features on the national curriculum. It is confined to small parts of science GCSE, or optional subjects such as horticulture and environmental science, which few institutions have the financial capacity to host. Due to academisation of our education system, many schools are also not required to teach climate change directly.

We need to put climate change at the heart of education. In practice, this would mean that properly taught climate change education would be integrated into subject areas across the curriculum—not just physics, chemistry and geography, but economics, history, arts and food technology. It would be integrated into vocational training courses as well, with plumbing courses teaching how to install low-carbon heating systems and catering colleges covering sustainable diets. Climate change would be a thread woven into every part of our education system, just as it impacts every part of our lives.

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene so early in her remarks, but she has already got to the crux of the issue. I congratulate her on securing the debate and on her role on the Environmental Audit Committee, where she has made a significant contribution, not least to the report on green jobs that we published on Monday. The recommendation in paragraph 102 of that report specifically addresses the point she makes, stating that we need to embed environmental sustainability, including it across all subjects in primary and secondary schools and, obviously, in the vocational curriculum.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and wholeheartedly agree with his comments. I again thank him for all the work he has done as the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee in progressing not just this issue but the need for green jobs across society and in all our communities.

The UN is championing the need for climate education in the national curriculum. Also firmly on board are all the major teaching unions, but at the forefront of this campaign is the youth climate strike movement, some members of which are here today. They have made climate education a clear key demand of their campaign. I thank Scarlett, Yasmin, Charlie, Tess and Stella who have joined us from Teach the Future. They have been driving this debate forward and are of the generation—my generation—that forced our Parliament to declare a climate and ecological emergency almost two and a half years ago.

These young people are still in school, too young to vote or stand for elections, but they have led the way in driving the climate crisis up the political agenda. They have shown this House how change is won. As Parliament’s youngest MP, I feel pride in being part of their generation and a particular responsibility to represent them, but they need representation from the whole House. For decades, huge corporations have polluted our planet with impunity, and the Governments of previous generations have let them off far too lightly. That must end. My generation, young people, and those yet to be born will have to deal with and live with the consequences.

Does the Minister agree that the very least older generations can do is equip young people with the skills they need to clean up the mess that was not of their making? Will the Minister find time to meet with me and the school students here today to discuss the campaign and how we can progress it through Government?

Next week we will host world leaders at COP26. This is our last and best chance of stopping runaway climate change. I want us to show the world that we are serious, that we are listening to young people’s calls, and that we are not just inspired by them but inspired to act.

I thank the hon. Lady. I am sorry I cannot see which constituency she represents, but I appreciate the opportunity to speak in the debate.

I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome). That is a great part of the world. When you live in west Cornwall, you do not travel much beyond London, unless you have to.

It is great to be able to speak in this debate, not least because schools in Cornwall are brilliant at raising awareness of climate change and the harm we do to our planet. I have received thousands of letters from schoolchildren setting out their concerns and asking pertinent questions about my commitment to this critical issue. When I was elected, I made myself a perhaps foolish promise that I would always write personally and individually to every child from whom I received a letter. I may regret that because it is a massive task, but well worth doing, because each letter contains real examples of why those children care about climate change.

I have visited many of the amazing schools across Cornwall. Mullion School introduced me to its eco-club and its technology to monitor the ice caps and what is happening in the coldest parts of our world, which are unfortunately heating up. Mounts Bay Academy’s tree-planting, polytunnel and plastic-free efforts have transformed the thinking in schools and homes. Nancledra school invited me very early on in 2016 to its eco-fair. Trythall school, where my children go, invited me to see the work it was doing with members of Women’s Institutes to make the school and their homes more environmentally friendly. Nearly all schools across my constituency have invited me to see their efforts to reduce plastic waste. We in Cornwall are fortunate to have Surfers Against Sewage, who do a great job with schools, and many schools around the country are following that example. Marazion School has actually taken me on beach cleans, which is a great joy, because the children are so much nearer to the stuff they are picking up than we are. As we get older, picking up these little plastic things becomes a challenge, so I recommend that my children go and clean up the waste we have made. I am joking. I am going to get shot in a minute.

The schools working with the Woodland Trust in my constituency have done a great job and planted thousands of trees in their grounds. Prior to the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, which many will remember, several schools in the area took the opportunity to put pressure not only on me as the local MP and other Cornish MPs, but on our Government and world leaders to take this more seriously, to accelerate action and to prepare properly for COP26.

We had a head start in our schools because of the way they have engaged our children in the need to decarbonise and to restore nature, but I want to talk about why that is important. My daughter, who is five, started school properly in September. If things go as planned, when she leaves formal education all new cars will be electric, homes will be powered by wind and heated by air; bottle deposit schemes will have replaced the the need for parents to give their children pocket money, the countryside will look and feel different, and the job opportunities will be very different. That is why we need to take seriously the need to teach about climate change and how to mitigate it formally in our classrooms.

As I have demonstrated in my constituency examples, teachers in Cornwall are already embracing with enthusiasm teaching about the impact of climate change, but I recognise that climate education needs to be extended, as Teach for the Future said, to include knowledge about how we abate the climate emergency and ecological crisis, how to deliver climate justice, and how to support students dealing with eco and climate anxiety. That is important, because I saw the worry on the faces of children I met when the school strikes were taking place. Climate education will reduce anxiety, as students will be empowered with information to tackle the problem.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich East—I mean for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome)—on securing this debate. Sorry, that was a Freudian slip: everywhere is Norwich to me. The hon. Gentleman is making a good speech, but does he agree that, just as we should teach our children about the climate crisis and its onset, we should do so in schools and classrooms that are not belching out carbon at the same time? Is it not critical that this Government get on top of that and decarbonise the education estate by 2030 at the latest?

I agree, and I welcome the intervention. When I was on the Environmental Audit Committee, we looked at various plans to decarbonise the public estate by 2032. That is a massive challenge and hugely expensive, but it is right that we should prioritise the places where our children learn. We know that in many places, our school estates are not fit for purpose in terms of the best learning experience, let alone the right thing for the environment. That is just one of the many significant challenges we face as we grapple with this vital issue.

Education on climate change is also about the opportunities available for the future. Cornwall offers a particular opportunity for our national and global efforts to decarbonise and switch to renewable ways of living. We have one of the world’s most important supplies of lithium. We have copper and tin-rich rock beneath our homes. In my constituency, we are led to believe, we have the third-richest tin and copper mine in the world. We have geothermal possibilities, allowing us to extract heat from the ground, and we are doing that at Jubilee Pool in Penzance. We are leaders in renewable energy and we produce some of the most sustainable food crops, dairy and meat. We have some of the most exciting potential for carbon sequestration on land and on the ocean floor, and we have the potential for a large but sustainable fishing fleet. Lack of education in schools on this presents a challenge to our ambitions.

Education should address how we shift to a greener way of living without costing the Earth. There is an interesting debate taking place in Cornwall, because as we consider extracting copper and tin once again and extracting lithium from dormant mines, and at geothermal, we are trying to understand whether the immediate environmental impact of carrying out this important work is worth the result of extracting the minerals that we need in all our devices and in renewable-energy batteries, and so on. There is a real argument that we need the education and the learning in our schools, as well as among the public, about the environmental impact of digging up the ground. What exactly is it? Is it worth it? Or is it better—I say this tongue in cheek—to just get things from China or elsewhere, where we have no control over how the stuff is extracted? Education in schools could really help understanding of how we balance getting to a greener living with the impact that we have to spend right now.

The hon. Gentleman is making a very good speech. I had a debate on this in December 2017, and the response I got from the Minister was very bitty, saying “You learn a little about this in citizenship, a little bit in science, a bit in geography, and when T-levels come on board, they might have a bit.” Is the hon. Member arguing that there ought to be a GCSE in environmental science, or environmental studies, or whatever he would wish to call it? Making this a strong part of the curriculum, rather than popping up here and there and not having that overview, is the way forward.

Again, that is a great intervention. I met with the Secretary of State and eight head teachers from my constituency a couple of years ago, and we had that very discussion about how we could actually do this in schools. Interestingly, half of the heads said, “Let’s just use what we have now to get it through every part of our education and curriculum,” and the other half said “No, we need a specific resource and tool to be able to teach it,” as the hon. Lady said, potentially as a GCSE.

I am not an education expert, although I have three children going through the system at the moment. I would argue that, particularly in primary school, we should just look at every pot of learning and attach it to how we live on the planet. The connection is then how we care for the planet. We can do that in everything we teach in primary school. In secondary school, I think there should be an opportunity to continue that, but also the opportunity for students to learn and to take a particular interest.

I am trying to demonstrate that this is about the skills need across the country to deliver what we have committed to, and that must start with preparing children and young people for the work they will do when they leave. Education in schools should address the link between our demands and the carbon in the supply chain. We often talk about wanting to take the necessary measures in our own lives to reduce our carbon footprints but we quickly find that we go and order stuff online without necessarily knowing where it comes from or the carbon footprint attached to that item. If we helped our young people to understand that better, when they look at their careers, they will look at how they can be involved in the food chain, in clothing and in all of those things that we need, but where carbon miles can be reduced.

I appreciate that you are trying to get me to shut up, Ms Ghani; I will be very quick now. We must look at what skills are needed to meet the higher skilled job opportunities in renewable energy, construction, mining, technology, agriculture and environmental and marine management. A tip from a meeting I went to this morning is that if we want our children to have great careers, we should send them down the heat engineer route. We have an opportunity, not just to enable our young people to deal with the great challenges facing them as they grow up and the challenges we should be addressing now, but to seize the opportunity, and to have the high-paid, high-skill jobs that we talk about. That means that the choices we make to do the right thing for the planet are actually choices that are good for us.

Choices in the interests of the environment are rarely negative or sacrificial choices set against their positive aspects, such as better homes, healthier air, high-skilled jobs, and so on. This is a timely debate. It is critical to get this right. I support getting education in the curriculum across every school, so that every child is equipped to live, flourish, and embrace the world that we have been given, which we are privileged to have.

To ensure that we can incorporate all speakers, could they please be mindful of keeping their speeches to around five minutes?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Ghani. It is fantastic that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) has secured the debate. Although she is a Gen Z-er and we are millennials, and our two generations disagree on many things, what unites us is our passion for the environment. Certainly, we millennials have been very inspired by Gen Z pushing forward this agenda.

In the House last week, I spoke about the Sheffield Hallam climate manifesto, which was a product of months of meetings with my constituents. We brought together campaigners, trade unionists, experts and people from across the constituency to outline measures to tackle the climate emergency and what the UK should ask for in the COP26 negotiations. In our discussions it was all too clear that, although some understood the importance and scale of the climate emergency, they were not sure about what action should be taken and felt powerlessness to effect the change they know we need.

That feeling of powerlessness reflects the remoteness of political institutions such as COP26 from people up and down the country who want more robust action on the climate emergency. It also reflects a gulf between the desire to do something and the knowledge of what to do. The same goes for young people: 2.5 million seven to 17-year-old Britons want increased teaching on the climate crisis in schools. The Institution of Engineering and Technology found recently that 68% of young people would like to work in green jobs, but 71% said that they lacked knowledge about those careers, which could stop them pursuing one.

That is a problem for our democracy but it is one that we can help to fix through our education system. The climate crisis is not going away, and if the purpose of our school system is, as a Labour Prime Minister once said,

“to equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive place in society”,

it is right that we educate them about it through the national curriculum. I pay tribute to organisations like Hope for the Future, which works with schools in my constituency and beyond, for their vital work to engage young people and teach them about the climate emergency and democracy.

It is our responsibility to educate our young people about the collective challenges we face, but it should also be said that had it not been for young people we would be less aware of these issues. Often, young people have been the educators. From Greta Thunberg and the youth climate strikers to youth-led organisations such as Teach the Future, all provide excellent examples of the lively and constructive contribution that young people continue to make to the debate.

Given how young people have often led the discussion, it is appropriate not only to put the climate emergency on the national curriculum, but to ensure that it is part of lifelong learning curricula too. All too often, young people are leading the way while adults struggle to understand the full extent of the crisis and the opportunities offered by green jobs. A just transition to net zero that puts our communities, not a handful of elite decision makers, at the centre of our response means raising the general level of education about the climate emergency. Making it part of our national curriculum is fundamentally a democratic demand, which millions of young people are making. We should all listen to them.

It is a pleasure to serve under you, Ms Ghani. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) on securing this really important debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to it.

This topic has long been very close to my heart. In March 2013, I tabled an early-day motion to oppose the Government’s plan at that time to remove climate change from the national curriculum guidelines for key stages 1 to 3. That EDM cited the former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King, who maintained that the exclusion of such issues represents an abdication of our duty to future generations. It is with that duty to current and future generations in mind that I will make the case for not just defending and strengthening the existing curriculum but, as others have argued for, going further, particularly with a natural history GCSE.

Lots of the focus so far this morning has, understandably, been on the climate. I will focus a little more on nature. Nearly half of all species in Britain are in decline. Species vital to our survival, such as the bee, are in catastrophic decline. In the past decade alone, we have lost a quarter of our hedgehogs and 30% of my favourite birds, swifts. How many people know that a single swift can fly up to 4 million miles in its life? How extraordinary is that? It can stay on the wing for two years; it does everything on the wing until it stops to mate and start a family. I could wax lyrical about the swift for the rest of my time, but I will not. It is that kind of love of nature that is so crucial for young people, both in its own right and because, as the wonderful writer Richard Louv said, “We won’t protect what we don’t love and we won’t love what we don’t know”. Here is an opportunity to really get to love the nature that we have around us.

The scale of the destruction of our wildlife is terrifying, and it is accelerating. Scientists warn that the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth is happening right now, bringing with it the real risk of a collapse of civilisation. A new GCSE in natural history, first proposed by the writer and naturalist, Mary Colwell, in 2011, will clearly not turn that around on its own, but it is a start.

I have quoted Richard Louv’s words, but many children today do not necessarily know nature. A survey in 2018 found that more than half of UK children are unable to identify a stinging nettle, and earlier research showed that nearly 10% had not visited a park, a forest or a beach for 12 months or more. With half of all species in the UK in moderate or serious decline, there is a real danger that many of the next generation will grow up unable to recognise the wildlife on our doorsteps until it is gone, so there is no doubt in my mind that bringing climate and natural history to the school curriculum is long overdue.

At the same time, there is a growing awareness of the nature and climate crises among many children and young people and I believe that many of them would seize this opportunity if it was provided on the curriculum. Indeed, the hugely inspiring youth climate strikers are demanding that the education system is reformed so that every child can learn about the urgency, severity and scientific basis for the climate emergency, with a whole-school approach that mainstreams that through education. I do not see any contradiction between, on the one hand, mainstreaming this through all subjects on the curriculum and, at the same time, having a dedicated GCSE in natural history. I think those two things are complementary.

The early feedback from teachers to a worked-up proposal from the examination board, OCR is full of enthusiasm. There is interest from schools in remote rural areas and inner cities, as well as from schools with cultural backgrounds. Studying natural history is not about a sentimental preoccupation with a bucolic past; it is about engaging with the realities of an environment under intense pressure, how different species are responding and how nature plays out in urban settings, so it is hugely welcome that the Department for Education is considering that as an option. I urge it to work with us to make that a reality.

When the natural world on which we depend is facing such catastrophic loss, it is vital that the school curriculum gives young people the tools to understand what is happening so that we can act before it is too late. The OCR examination board has developed a course focusing on field study that also includes an exploration of our relationship with nature and how it has shaped our culture, art, literature and music. It would foster scientific, practical and emotional connections to the natural world and thus provide a unique contribution to the GCSE offering. It would teach children to name, record, monitor and collect data on the wildlife all around them and relate that wildlife to the wider countryside and internationally. It will teach vital field skills on how to process and evaluate data. In short, it will teach young people to be naturalists.

Earlier this year at the launch of Professor Dasgupta’s review on the contribution of nature to global economies, he ended with a plea to put nature into the heart of education and he highlighted the need for naturalists of the future. Re-engaging future generations with the natural world has never felt more important. As the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, the right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), said, that Committee has also unanimously supported the idea of a far greater focus on climate and nature education, including the GCSE.

In this crucial year of COP15 on biological diversity and, of course, COP26 on climate change, as Mary Colwell said:

“The establishment of a GCSE in natural history is far more than just another subject to choose. It signals an intent to take the nature of Britain seriously and to put into practice what we believe to be the right way to live on this earth, and this could inspire others to do the same.”

I urge the Minister to respond favourably to our points this morning. This really is a cross-party priority, as he can see, that can only bring about positive outcomes. There is huge enthusiasm for this from young people and schools; all we are waiting for is a green light from the Government. I urge the Minister to give it to us.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) on securing this debate. I also congratulate the young people who made sure it happened—Scarlett Westbrook and others who are here today. They invited us to Old Palace Yard yesterday to be photographed alongside banners calling for climate education in our schools. The fact that demand is coming from young people in schools who want to green their own buildings and ensure that school buildings are sustainable is something we should bear in mind, because the demand for better climate education from young people is very powerful indeed.

I represent a small, highly urbanised constituency. Geographically it is probably the smallest constituency in the country, and probably one of the most densely populated, if not the most densely populated. That means environmental concerns are more difficult than in an area where there is obviously a greater interaction with the natural world and nature. I am impressed with the number of teachers in the community who are absolutely determined to make sure our young people are brought up to understand the natural world and their interactions with it. I pay an enormous compliment to my local authority, Islington Council, and the schools for the work that they do to ensure that there are gardening projects in every school, however small the space, and that all our young people get a chance to go to parks and on school journeys to begin to understand their interaction with nature.

Although I understand the point of the debate in ensuring there is a proper place in the curriculum for climate education, I do not want us to just promote another tick-box exercise where we say, “We will put this, this and this into the curriculum, and we will tick that box so that that bit is done.” It would be yet another subject alongside, in the case of secondary schools, science, economics and everything else. The philosophy around our interactions with the natural world, nature and the environment is more important. If, by putting something in the national curriculum, we start to change the mindset in those that plan education, we will have done a very good job indeed.

I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate, he will recognise the need to significantly change the way in which our primary schools, secondary schools, colleges and universities approach the natural world and the environment, and that energy policy, transport policy, food policies and so on—every issue—are debated in relation to the effect on the natural world and the environment in which we live. Too many of our young people are brought up with the idea that everything is consumable and that what happens in the environment and the rest of the world simply does not matter; that is all somewhere else. There is a huge divide between the environmentally conscious within our society and what, frankly, probably the majority think about it. They are vaguely in favour of a better world and environment, but they do not see that they have a role to play within it. It is about empowering young people in a thought process that will bring about a better education system.

I try to visit every primary school in my constituency once a year. Over the years the discussions about the environment have changed dramatically. I remember about 10 or 15 years ago giving a year 6 group what I thought was an absolutely brilliant talk about the environment. After a while, they began to yawn and look out the window. One boy said, “Okay, sir, what is the best and most important animal in the world?” I thought, “There’s a question,” and said, “Well, the earthworm.” He said, “What did you say the earthworm for?” I said, “Without earthworms, the world would be covered in concrete.” We then got into a discussion about insects, insect life and biodiversity, and the children became interested and excited by that, whereas if I had given the lecture that we are all accustomed to giving or hearing, that does not work. The good news is that I went to the same school last year or the year before, and they gave me a lecture on global warming, CO2, environmental changes and everything else, as part of year 5 teaching year 6 how to understand the environment. The school has achieved massive advances, including growing projects in the school. The subject can be made interesting and exciting.

Bringing up children in an environment in which they understand human interaction with the natural world, the need to maintain biodiversity and how things grow is very important. In my area, probably two thirds of children live in flats. They have no access to open space at all. Many do not even have a balcony. It is very easy for us to say, “Get involved in gardening,” but if someone is in a third-floor flat above a shop in private rented accommodation with no open space whatsoever, it is not so simple. It requires a superhuman effort from teachers and the rest of the community to involve children. I hope when the Minister replies, he will be able to give us some news on the way in which schools will be encouraged to have growing and gardening projects in their schools, to help children get involved and get their hands mucky, playing around with the earth and all the rest of it. Those key early formative years are so important in our understanding of the natural world.

There is so much inspiration that comes from interaction with nature, animal life and poetry and so much else. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) was just talking about the beautiful, wonderful swift. If we hunt through references in poetry, it is the skylark that appears most often. Sadly, if we went to many schools and asked children to identify particular birds, they would not know what we were talking about. Birds such as the sparrow, which used to be so common, have disappeared, and many children are completely unable to identify any bird or animal whatsoever.

I had the joy of growing up in the countryside. Children used to talk about the birds they had seen that weekend. They talked about them with real love and affection. This is about inspiring our children and giving them that space. I hope that this debate takes inspiration from the young people that have done so much and moves forward into changing not just the curriculum but the mindset in the curriculum about our natural world. If we do not interact with and understand our relationship with nature, the future is going to be pretty grim, with more pollution, more damage to people’s lives and the loss of our natural world.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) for securing this important debate. I also thank Teach the Future for its superb campaigning work on this issue, and the young people who are here today and are not only involved with Teach the Future, but were instrumental in the school strikes of a few years ago, which led Parliament to declare a climate and ecological emergency.

I am sure all hon. Members here today are aware that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report argues that we need a code red response to a code red emergency. That response should be reflected not only in our approach to decarbonising industry, energy use and developing a sustainable economy, but in our approach to climate change and sustainability, and the skills needed for the new future we deserve must be embedded in our education system. Sadly, however, the report card on climate education that Education International has just produced, based on its analysis of 73 updated nationally determined contributions presented for COP26, has found that no country is doing enough to meet the criteria, and the UK comes in 42nd out of 73.

As the country leading COP26—the most pivotal and important conference of the parties so far—that is not good enough, especially when the UK is still off track on meeting many of its carbon targets and the amount of investment pledged to decarbonise our economy so far is pitiful in comparison to many other industrial nations. Sadly, only last week the Government were mired in controversy after opposing an amendment to the Environment Bill that would have restricted the pumping of raw sewage into our water systems. That does not give the impression of a Government that is serious about tackling the climate and ecological emergency. However, we have cross-party consensus today, and the Minister can do his part in changing that perception.

As the Minister may know, education unions wrote to the Education Secretary last week and requested that he make four key announcements before the COP. First, they called for a comprehensive review of the entire curriculum, so that it is preparing and mobilising our whole system for a sustainable future. Secondly, as an interim measure, the Government should support the private Member’s Bill of Lord Knight of Weymouth, which would restore sustainability as a pillar of the curriculum. Thirdly, they called for a comprehensive plan to decarbonise the entire school estate by 2030 as part of an overdue refurbishment and repair programme. Finally, a detailed policy on green travel for students, staff and parents should be developed.

As the Minister knows, it is the next generation who will bear the brutal costs of inaction on climate change. We have a moral duty to secure their future and, as a nation, to lead the world at COP26. I am sure that the Minister agrees, and I hope he will implement the requests I have set out as a matter of urgency.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) on securing the debate. As hon. Members have said, when I tour schools in my constituency and do Q&A sessions, the No. 1 topic that I am quizzed about is the environment—whether that is climate, biodiversity or action on waste. In fact, when I visited St James’s Catholic Primary School in Twickenham two weeks ago, every single question was on this topic—to the point where I was struggling to answer some of them, so I think climate education needs to start with me alongside pupils and in the curriculum.

As the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) said, I also get lots of correspondence from schoolchildren on the subject of the environment, which we all have to answer and sometimes struggle to answer. There is a keen interest there. They are desperate to know more and to know how to take action to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises. Yet, we know that 75% of teachers feel ill-equipped to deliver that education and knowledge, so there is a serious training gap. As has been said, this is the single biggest issue facing all of us, but particularly for our children and young people who will have to live with the consequences of our actions today long after we have gone. It will be a bigger crisis for them over the next 10 years than the pandemic we are currently going through.

We know the majority of the public want to see more in the curriculum on climate change and the environment. I recently ran a local petition on my website about making climate education a stand-alone subject. We can have a discussion on whether it should stand alone, but just locally I got over 300 signatures, so there is definitely a desire out there. We have heard that the UN has asked that climate change education plays a central role in updated nationally determined contributions in terms of the Paris agreement pledges. Now we are going into COP26, so I hope we will see new pledges on climate change education.

I am concerned that there is a lot of eco-anxiety among young people. We need to move to empowering and equipping them to channel that concern and energy in a positive way, so they are not just learning about the causes, but thinking about the mitigations. That is why education is so important: it will equip them for the jobs of the future and help them come up with innovations to tackle the challenges of the future.

As I touched on already, we can talk about whether there is a sustainability thread running through everything and whether we have a stand-alone subject or a stand-alone GCSE. Children starting secondary school are already asking this. One of the first questions that the daughter of one of my members of staff asked was, “Can I take a climate change GCSE?” We should be offering that. Climate change education is split across science and geography, but fewer than 50% of pupils are taking geography GCSE, so a core part of that curriculum is not being taught to many young people. The Liberal Democrats have talked about having a curriculum for life taught in schools, with climate change being part of that. These are details to discuss, but we are all united in saying that this needs to be a core part of the curriculum.

I will end by saying that alongside the educational piece, it is important to talk about the experiential side of climate and biodiversity education. The hon. Member for St Ives talked about the beauty of Cornwall; when someone is out in a rural area like that they are surrounded by it. However, as we have heard, if someone lives in inner-city or urban areas, or even in suburban constituencies like mine where we have beautiful Royal Parks, there are pockets of deprivation and dense housing where young people do not necessarily go out and enjoy those parks—and certainly do not get out to the countryside.

A Natural England survey last year showed the income and racial inequalities in terms of access to the natural environment. As with so many other things, that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. We know that fewer people from ethnic minorities and fewer people from lower income backgrounds have managed to get access to outside space. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) has been campaigning for a nature premium for schools to boost outdoor education. There are mental wellbeing benefits, there are physical wellbeing benefits, and there are educational benefits, so we need a joined-up approach to climate education in the curriculum. I hope the Minister will respond positively given the cross-party consensus. This needs to go beyond COP26; it is great that we are having these discussions now, but we need long-term commitment and action.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) on the way she introduced this debate and on her good fortune in securing it. I also congratulate young people—not just the young people that are here, but young people everywhere, in that they are not angrier. They seem remarkably good-humoured, yet they should be extremely angry with the way that successive generations have left them a world that they are going to have to cope with. The problems that we have created are the problems that they will have to deal with. Certainly, if I look back to the things that angered me when I was in my teens and early 20s, had I been facing the sort of climate and environmental catastrophe that young people now are facing, I think I would have been even angrier than I was then.

What is good is that this debate has been cross-party and consensual. Nobody has stood up and said that there no need for us to teach about climate as an integral part of the curriculum. I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) said about the need for this to be holistic and to become an integrated way of teaching, not just a tick-box exercise within schools. It is vital that the relevance to people’s lives is made apparent.

Today we have the Budget, and I want to look to one element of hope, which is that the Treasury has finally come up with the Dasgupta review. This is an economic review commissioned by the Treasury to look into the integration of biodiversity and the natural world with economics—something that is long overdue. The report speaks about the way that we treat the environment as an “asset management problem”. What is perhaps most extraordinary about the Dasgupta review, apart from its length—at 605 pages, it is quite dense, with lots of formulae—is that, as an economist, having gone through all the economics and asset management problems and used all the formulae, he concluded that the oppressing issue was education. It is a Treasury report, yet Dasgupta concluded that the important issue was education: educating our children and educating the public. He talked about education on nature stretching from early years to university, with all universities mandating students to attend a basic course in ecology, and extending it beyond schools to adult workplaces and organisations, as everyone needs to recognise their role in restoring the natural world, and about a new GCSE in natural history, which was first proposed way back in 2012.

We must not treat the need for education about climate and the environment as separate from everything else the Government do. If it is seen in the Treasury as a driving force of our economy, then that is how we, as politicians, should regard it. That is why it is so important to integrate it into all that we do.

The right hon. Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne)—who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said, has guided the Environmental Audit Committee so brilliantly as its Chairman—has said that the Government have not yet stepped up to the plate in terms of the necessary skills. We know that the Government’s 25-year environment plan and the measures in the Environment Bill will need much greater ecological expertise at a local authority level. Biodiversity net gain for new developments and the creation of local nature recovery networks are good steps, but they cannot be delivered without the necessary in-house ecological expertise.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for nature, I wrote earlier this year to all local council chief executives to ask for their assessment of their in-house ecological expertise. I am afraid that, based on the overwhelming response we received, local authority leaders do not believe they can deliver on the Government’s ambitions. The situation has not changed significantly since 2013, when a study by the Association of Local Government Ecologists, ALGE, found that only one in three councils had access to the necessary expertise.

We need to develop the education and skills necessary for that expertise. The Government cannot impose obligations on local authorities and in the planning system without the capacity to deliver on those targets. If we do not train the necessary people, those targets will be meaningless and we will fail. It is vital that we see education as the pump-priming part in the delivery of the targets set in the Environment Bill and the net zero strategy.

In the Government’s response to the Dasgupta review, they mentioned the newly established sustainability and climate change unit under the Department for Education. However, as the chairman of the EAC said, the Committee’s latest inquiry on green jobs was quite clear that the Government are not grappling with the skills gap needed to achieve net zero. I hope the Minister prioritises the new unit and that it will be able to bridge the gap between the skills shortage and the demand, including through education and retraining of the current workforce, who will be affected by the changes, and where we need a just transition.

I cannot pass up the opportunity to meet the swift mentioned by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and the skylark that my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North mentioned, and to raise them with an Arctic tern, which of course flies from the Arctic summer to the Antarctic summer. It actually traverses the globe once a year, flying 55,900, and in a lifetime flies many times the distance to the moon and back. It would be good to debate the amazing function of our birdlife and the loss of birdlife that we have seen in this country.

To pick up on something that my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North said, many of us remember as children being able to go into the countryside and see so many different species. In a sense, we have raised a generation of battery-reared children who have been cosseted and protected, with parents afraid to let their children go out and play on their own. That is a great loss to the world. An environmental premium for schools, as spoken about by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), is a really good idea.

Teach the Future asks for a Government-commissioned review of how the whole English formal education system is preparing students for the climate emergency and ecological crisis, the inclusion of the climate emergency and ecological crisis in teacher training and a new professional teaching qualification, and an English climate emergency education Act. I hope the Minister will respond to those three asks.

I cannot match the exoticness of any of the three birds that the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) referred to; I am more of a pheasant man, and they do not fly all that far. In all honesty, I not only quite like them but also like eating them; I am unashamedly a rural country sports person and quite enjoy that.

Thank you for calling me to speak, Chair. I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) for opening the debate and setting the scene so well. It is a pleasure to see the Minister in his place to respond on this new subject that he has responsibility for. We had a fond working relationship when he was the Minister of State for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland Members enjoyed his time there, and I look forward to his time covering this subject matter.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and I have a clear interest in environmental issues, as I think we all do, which is why we are here to speak in this debate. I receive emails and have conversations on this regularly. Ahead of COP26 next month, this is definitely a debate worthy of discussion. As I have indicated many times, young people—some young people are here today—in my constituency contact me so often on this issue, as others have as well. They look to the future, and the decisions that we make today are important because they will affect them. As a grandfather with five grandchildren, I am conscious of leaving them something they can enjoy and have pleasure in.

COP26 has been at the centre of media discussions in the last few weeks, and we have seen a rise in the number of young people who are passionate about climate change and our world—most notably Greta Thunberg, who I met in the House some years ago. I expect that there are differing opinions on her expression, but she is none the less someone who is passionate about the topic, and that passion cannot be ignored.

We do have some environmental teaching in our curriculum. Although it differs slightly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the basics are taught. Back home in Northern Ireland, aspects of climate change are taught in both geography and science to children as young as those in key stage 3. This can continue up to and including individual study at A2 level, with a large section dedicated to the study of the environment and the world around us.

With geography, the statutory requirements state that students should investigate the impact of conflict between social, economic and environmental needs both locally and globally through the study of flooding, pollution—very much the subject matter of the last few weeks in this House—climate change and deforestation. In science, the study is focused on the effects of pollution, such as water, air, land and sound, as well as specific measures to improve and protect the environment—for instance, renewable energy, the efficient use of resources and waste minimisation.

We should look at the good things that have happened, for instance on renewable energy, to which this House and the Government are committed. There have been massive advances. I was at an all-party parliamentary group for energy studies event last night. It was good to be reminded of the advances in renewable energies of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We do not talk often enough of the good things we do, and we should do so more.

Many here will hold the opinion that there is not enough in our schools curriculum addressing the issue of climate change. While I can understand that it is a pressing issue, I feel that the focus needs to be on the pass rates of children studying core subjects such as maths and English. It is right that we focus on those subjects, which are essential for all employment. Figures show that in Northern Ireland, 13.3% of pupils on average leave school each year without a maths or English qualification. This has been correlated with geographical and ethnic factors. I believe there is more we can do to ensure that all pupils achieve their full potential through maths, English and science before we consider introducing more intense climate change learning.

I welcome the decision taken by schools to introduce climate change workshops, which are set up once or twice a month for those interested in the study of climate change. Will the Minister say what has been done to ensure that climate change is on the curriculum more regularly in schools? We must ensure that our children are prepared for the world. While some would argue that climate change and the environment are at the forefront, the basics lie with other subjects, which still need attention and will make us focus on climate change issues.

Climate justice, greener schools and learning is where education should start. I thank the Member for Nottingham East for raising the issue. I fully respect her commitment, as the youngest MP, to climate change teaching in our schools. Teach the Future has shown that 68% of pupils want to learn more about the environment, and 70% of teachers say that they have received no training on climate change teaching. There is an issue with green teaching. What has been done to address that?

I urge the Minister to engage with his counterparts in the devolved institutions to assess how climate change can be introduced to a greater extent in our schools, while ensuring that our core subjects are not ignored. I encourage the Minister to bear the issue in mind at COP26. I have always stated that education and our young people are at the forefront of the climate change debate, and we must not fail them in their education and teaching.

I should just say that I am not the shadow Minister on this subject, but the shadow Schools Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), is on a Bill Committee, which is why I am covering today. I want to thank him and the shadow Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), for their help in preparing for this debate. I will pass back any points made today, so hon. Members can rest assured that everyone’s comments have been heard and noted.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) for securing this important debate, which is also very timely, as everyone has mentioned. I pay tribute to her for the work she has done to highlight the importance of embedding climate change and sustainability in everything we do, including education, and for all the organisational work she has done for this campaign, not least bringing a delegation of young, bright people from the Teach the Future campaign to Parliament yesterday. I am delighted that some of them are in the Public Gallery: Scarlett, Stella, Tess, Yasmin and Charlie are very welcome to Parliament, but we also need them to educate us, as many Members have said during today’s debate.

My hon. Friend made many good points, but I particularly want to pick up on one of them, which was about how the education system is not preparing children for climate change. It is failing them, which is a damning verdict on the education system that we are living with, and of what the future holds for a lot of our children. I also want to take a minute to say that my hon. Friend may be generation Z, she may be the youngest Member of the House, and she only joined in 2019, but we can already see the impact of all the work she has undertaken. When Opposition Members start paying tribute to her for her work on the Environmental Audit Committee—that does not always happen in this House—we realise the strength of her capabilities, so I give her a huge “Well done” for having secured this important debate.

My fellow millennial Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake), talked about the importance of teaching not just young people, but adults as well, about climate change and sustainability. That point was echoed by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), who said that a lot of adults do not even know what we are talking about—I know that I could do a crash course on this topic as well.

Turning to the topic at hand, many Members from both sides of the House who spoke today talked about how we need to do more to embed climate change within the curriculum. When I go to my local schools, teachers and school leaders are already aware of that need, and some amazing work is going on around the country to engage with pupils about climate change. However, the onus cannot just be on them, which is another point that has been made in the debate. The Government, and we as politicians, have to help them.

One example of that is the Eco-Schools green flag programme, which many schools, nurseries and colleges are a part of. It consists of seven steps that education institutions can take to focus their communities of pupils and staff on the climate emergency, including putting environmental issues in learning plans and choosing texts in subjects such as English that will explore those issues. That work has been supported by education unions, who to their enormous credit have been pushing the Government to recognise that we are in a climate emergency, and that we have to pay more attention to it and put it at the top of our agenda. I pay tribute to the National Education Union, the National Union of Students and the University and College Union in particular for all their hard work on this issue, including promoting Climate Learning Month in the run-up to COP26, which as we all know starts next week.

There was a lot of talk about schools in this debate, and how they are being innovative in their teaching of environmental issues. From school veg patches that teach children about sustainability as well as healthy eating, to planting trees to mark achievements and celebrations, our schools are leading the way in creating a more sustainable, greener future. Our curriculum should empower that work, and we should be supporting those schools. The right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) talked about local gardening projects in schools in his constituency. I join him in paying tribute to Islington Council, which is doing an enormous amount of work on this, as well as the councils in my constituency, Brent and Camden Councils, which are doing similarly impressive work.

At the risk of this debate sounding like a north London takeover, I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), who talked about taking a holistic approach to this issue. I wholeheartedly agree: we cannot just have a box-ticking exercise, but have to look at this properly and make sure there is an integrated way of teaching. I also pay tribute to him for his important work on the APPG for nature, which does not get recognised so much in this House, but is a crucial part of the work we do in Parliament.

If we are going to transform education, we must support our educators to do so. Embedding climate change within the curriculum will mean new training for teachers and teaching assistants. At Labour conference, the shadow Education Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston, announced that we would give all teachers a right to continuing professional development, with £210 million extra per year for CPD, which could certainly be used to deliver this kind of training. I would like the Minister to pick up on this issue and say whether that proposal is something his Government might consider.

However, we have to recognise that this is not just about the curriculum. We should be looking to make our school estate and all our school environments eco-friendly and fit for the future. That point was eloquently made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) also spoke about young people demanding that their school buildings be sustainable. If any Members have been to speak in schools, they will recognise young people’s passion about that.

What does concern me—I wonder whether the Minister will answer this—is that at a time when we need to be upgrading our school buildings as part of our national effort to get to net zero carbon emissions, since 2010 the capital spending on schools has been cut by 44%. That worries us. As my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) said, our education system must prepare children and young people for the jobs of the future, which will be shaped by our transition to net zero.

The Labour party has announced plans for 400,000 green jobs. It is essential that we equip young people to develop the skills for those employment opportunities as we go into the future. That cannot happen only in schools, but it does require climate education and green skills to be embedded in further and higher education. That is why we welcome the new report from the Association of Colleges, “The Green College Commitment”, which recognises the need to go much further to embed those skills across courses. Will the Minister consider that carefully?

The leader of the Labour party has described climate change as

“the biggest long term threat we face”,

and from this debate it sounds like many Members agree. Tackling climate change is at the heart of our agenda and our manifesto as we move forward. However, the reality is that those who are most affected by the impact of climate change are those who are going through schools, colleges, nursery and early years education right now. We must act more strongly if we are to stem the tide of climate decline and protect the younger generations from catastrophic consequences. I really hope that the warm words we are hearing from the Government are finally translated into tangible progress at COP26 next week.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles also spoke about the brutal cost that young people will bear. There is a harsh reality to that. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about leaving something behind for his five grandchildren. That is how I feel about my children; I feel that we need to leave something of the planet behind, and to prepare our children and young people for the challenges of the future.

That is why embedding learning about climate change and sustainability into our curriculum and our education system is vital; that is why this debate is vital; that is why we must equip young people with the skills they need to work in the green industries of the future. Far more innovation is needed from the Government when it comes to education and skills. It is crucial if we, as a country, want to leave the world in a transition to net zero. I hope that the Minister has been listening to the many important points raised in this very good debate. I also hope that the Minister will meet my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East, as she requested.

May I remind colleagues that for any messages that need to be shared with other Members, it is best to do so through the doorkeepers or the Parliamentary Private Secretaries rather than the Clerks.

Thank you, Ms Ghani; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. As a Robin, it is a great pleasure to speak in a debate that has involved so much discussion of wild birds. I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) on securing this very important debate. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), and I join her in welcoming Scarlett, Yasmin, Charlie, Tess and Stella to the Chamber.

Ensuring that children and young people develop knowledge about the causes and impacts of climate change and gain a broad understanding of the importance of sustainability is absolutely crucial. We have heard the passion that Members have for the subject from every party across the House.

I would like to begin this speech by recognising the huge strength of feeling on this subject across all parties. As we approach COP26, the Government are looking ahead at how we can rebuild from the pandemic and seize the opportunity to build back greener. The Prime Minister has set out an ambitious net zero strategy, building on his “The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution”, which will create and support about 440,000 of those jobs in the future. One of the things we have heard in this debate is that all jobs in the future will be affected by sustainability and the campaign against climate change. That plan is the cornerstone of our ambition to build back greener by making the UK a world leader in clean energy, ensuring that our public buildings—including schools—are energy-efficient, and protecting and restoring the natural environment.

The next generation will play a vital role in delivering that. Time and time again in the debate, we have heard about the passion of young people in our schools for this cause. I will return to that, but first I will address the topic of the debate—the national curriculum as it stands.

Many schools are already doing great things inside and outside the classroom. We have heard a real range of those today, helping people to understand climate change and sustainability. Hawthorns Primary Special School is a six-times-accredited Eco-Schools green flag school. It was good to hear the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, praising that campaign. The school incorporates a number of sustainability initiatives in its everyday classroom activities, from collecting empty crisp packets and pen cartridges for recycling to composting food waste in its wormery composter—something that the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) would support, I am sure, with his passion for growing things in schools. The school tries to raise its pupils’ awareness.

Multi-academy trusts are also doing some excellent work. Ark, for example, has a geography mastery curriculum, with knowledge of climate change and sustainability built in carefully over key stage 3, from exploring the delicate interconnections within ecosystems in year 7 to how environments are impacted by climate change in year 8 and examining coral reefs in great depth in year 9. It means that pupils can meaningfully tackle questions such as why coral reefs are intrinsically valuable, by the time they move into year 10.

High-quality comprehensive units about climate change and sustainability are also readily available to all schools through Oak National Academy. Oak has worked with teachers and subject experts during the pandemic to develop freely available resources. In geography and science, pupils may learn about the evidence for climate change, including what carbon footprint means, the definition of sustainability, what sustainable development means, and how it impacts decisions that we make in the present.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn made a valid point about teacher training and continuing professional development. Following initial teacher training, we are providing every early career teacher access to free high-quality training and support, underpinned by the early career framework. The framework was designed in consultation with the education sector and is designed to work for all early career teachers, regardless of their subject, phase or content. The training provided to deliver those programmes will build on curriculum knowledge embedded into the core content framework and has ensured that such content includes materials and exemplification applicable to all teachers, to help them deliver high-quality content, including on climate change.

The Royal Geographical Society’s young geographer of the year competition saw thousands of primary and secondary pupils in schools across the country explore how they have reconnected with their local environments and green spaces through the pandemic. There is, however, more that we can do.

As Schools Minister, I want us to do more to educate our children about the costs of environmental degradation and what we are doing to solve that, both now and in the future. Not only do our children deserve to inherit a healthy world, but they also need to be educated so that they are well prepared to live in a world affected by climate change, so that they may live sustainably and continue to fight the effects of climate change. I want us to give them the tools for the future.

That is why the national curriculum needs to be based on the findings of international best practice, to set world-class standards across all subjects—a broad, balanced and knowledge-rich curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of people and will prepare them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life. We want to empower the next generation to build a healthier world, with a national curriculum that expands on the good work under way to give them a rigorous education.

As hon. Members know, the national curriculum is a framework setting what the Department for Education expects all schools to cover in each subject. We trust teachers, so within that framework schools have the freedom and flexibility to determine how they deliver the content in a way that best meets the needs of their pupils. Today we have heard once again about the passion that people have to learn more about the environment and climate change. From my own school visits, I know how seriously teachers take that.

The national curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. A well-sequenced, knowledge-rich curriculum enables pupils to master foundational context and knowledge before they move on to more complex ideas.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about Northern Ireland’s curriculum and where it references climate change. I heard what the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said about “bittiness” and I do not want to bang on too long about this, but there are of course places in the science and geography curriculum where that is already heavily built in. I reassure hon. Members that topics related to both climate change and sustainability are covered within the science national curriculum.

In primary school, pupils start by learning to understand the weather and the habitat and basic needs of animals and plants, going on to learn about how environments can change. In secondary school, they learn about the production of carbon dioxide by human activity and the effects that that has on the climate, as well as about the evidence for the anthropogenic causes of climate change.

The Prime Minister has committed to cementing the UK’s position as a science superpower. Improving the quality of science teaching and increasing the number of young people who study science subjects is really important if we are to address the STEM skills shortage and to support the UK economy and its growth. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) spoke passionately on that issue.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), who is the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, and the hon. Members for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) and for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) all spoke about skills. We recognise that the demand for STEM skills is growing. That is why we must ensure that anyone, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to pursue STEM careers. That is a Government priority, and to address it we have rolled out programmes such as the advanced mathematics support programme and the science learning partnerships, to ensure that everyone has access to high-quality STEM learning. I recognise the role of the learned community of scientific experts in engaging with the Government and providing insight, teaching ideas and resources to enhance the science learning experience and champion STEM research.

Members will recognise that geography is a hugely productive way for students to engage in the study of climate change. At primary school, during key stage 1, they are taught about the seasons and habitats, including content about daily weather patterns in the UK. Key stage 2 geography includes teaching on climate zones, and in secondary school, during key stage 3, pupils are taught about change in the climate from the ice age to the present, and how human and physical processes interact to influence and change landscapes, environment and the climate. That ensures that pupils will be taught about the temporal and spatial aspects of climate and, importantly, the role that humans play.

Teachers do an incredible job in teaching those complex lessons and I want to support them to do so. Schools and teachers have access to expert resources, advice and continuing professional development on the teaching of climate change from bodies such as the Geographical Association and the Royal Geographical Society. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) pointed out that GCSE geography is not compulsory. I recognise that, but it is welcome that take-up of it, partly as a result of the English baccalaureate, has increased by 15 percentage points from 2010 to 2020.

We want children to leave school with the knowledge, skills and values that will prepare them to be citizens in modern Britain and the Britain of the future—a green Britain. Pupils should be taught the need for mutual respect and understanding to prepare them to take their place in society as responsible citizens. Citizenship is an effective way of doing that, and at primary school pupils are taught about what improves and harms their local natural and built environment, that resources can be allocated in different ways, and that economic choices affect individuals, communities and the sustainability of the environment.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives, and many Members who spoke, I have been into so many primary schools and have been hugely impressed, and indeed heavily tested on my environmental knowledge by pupils. I recognise the extraordinary work that is going on both within the curriculum and beyond. I have heard many speeches by the right hon. Member for Islington North over the years. I agreed with much more of this one than I have many of the others. Over the past few decades, there have been some really significant advances in outdoor education. I praise what I have seen of forest schools, and how they have connected many city children with nature. There has been some really welcome progress in that space.

At secondary school, pupils are taught about the roles in society played by public institutions and voluntary groups, and the way that citizens work together to improve their communities, including opportunities to participate in community volunteering. As many Members have reflected, at times the impact of climate change is likely to feel overwhelming to young people. I recognise the real concern out there, and some of the conversations that I have had in schools reflect that. Assuming that nothing can be done to tackle the problem is a big issue in progressing with a solution, and it is important that we are positive about the actions being taken, and the role that pupils can play in making a difference—as the hon. Member for Nottingham East put it so well, equipping young people with the skills to clean up a mess that was not of their making.

Schools can choose to teach pupils about the impact of so many activities and sustainable approaches, such as litter picking, to make a difference in their own environment. I think we will all have seen in our constituencies great work done under initiatives such as the Great British spring clean. I recognise that pupils in schools want us to go further. Next week, I will visit a school near my own patch, in the Rivers Church of England Academy Trust, to see how it is incorporating sustainability into its schools right across the curriculum. It invited me to see that before I joined the Department, and I am delighted to be able to go and do so as Schools Minister.

These are vital steps to give children the tools that they need for a green future, but we are also taking action, as a Department, beyond the curriculum. The DFE already takes steps to reduce its environmental impact through various policies and programmes of work, including our multibillion-pound capital school building programmes, water and energy strategies, and commercial policies that ensure that we are procuring sustainably. Our estates team is working to green the DFE estate. I recognise some of the challenges that have been set in that respect, and of course we are dealing with an estate large parts of which go back to the 1930s or even beyond, and that is hugely challenging to decarbonise, but we want to ensure that as we invest and build new buildings, they are achieving our climate targets.

We have established a sustainability and climate change unit to co-ordinate and drive activity across the Department and provide leadership on this important work across sectors. At COP26, we will be hosting a summit for Environment and Education Ministers that will bring together Ministers from across the world. There we will set out the Government’s vision and encourage others to make commitments to sustainable education, not only making schools greener but equipping young people with knowledge about their environment by providing and promoting education and training opportunities for green careers.

I was pleased to be able to promote the summit to Education Ministers from 15 high-performing countries at last week’s international summit on the teaching profession, hosted by the OECD and Education International. We will be launching a draft sustainability and climate change strategy at the Environment and Education Ministers’ summit, which will set out further details of our plans to work with the education and children’s services systems to achieve excellence in education and skills for a changing world, net zero, climate resilience and a better environment for future generations.

I thank the hon. Member for Nottingham East again for securing the debate, and I want to give her an opportunity to respond. I welcome the contributions from all parts of the House. I assure the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion that we will carefully consider the case being made for a natural history GCSE. I share the commitment that we have heard in this debate to ensuring that children and young people leave education with the knowledge they need to help them address climate change and sustainability in the future. That is why what is taught in our schools is so vital, and why the curriculum is so important.

Britain can lead the way on this issue, equipping children with the knowledge they need to invent technologies and solutions that will ultimately beat climate change and heal the planet. We are committed to preparing pupils for the challenges of the 21st century and building back greener.

—and young people here today. I thank him for that assurance. Colleagues from across the House have spoken passionately and knowledgeably about the need for climate education, and I think it is safe to say that there is consensus in this Chamber on the need for young people to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to provide the solutions to climate change. Right hon. and hon. Members have spoken about their own children and grandchildren, about constituents and school visits, and it is clear that this is a personal issue for many.

The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) spoke about climate justice, and both he and the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) spoke about the need to reduce climate anxiety and the important role that climate education can play in that. I pay tribute to my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), for her supportive comments and the work she is doing on embedding climate education in everything we do, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake). It is important that this question forms part of lifelong learning; the debate has highlighted that, while we need to think about the generations that come after us and children in school now, many Members of this House also missed out on the opportunity for climate education.

My hon. Friends the Members for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) and for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) spoke about the need to decarbonise the education sector and to create jobs for the future, and why those green jobs must be accompanied by climate education so that people can do them. The right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) also spoke about access to nature, which is very important to me. As an MP representing an inner-city seat, I want children in inner-city Nottingham, Bristol, London, Manchester and Sheffield to have the same opportunities as children in St Ives. I also thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for highlighting why this touches on the issue of educational inequality.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the inclusion of sustainability and climate change in the national curriculum.

Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency: Shetland

Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate. That can be done either at the testing centre in the House or at home. 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 operation of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency in Shetland.

It is a great pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Ghani, and I welcome the Minister to her place. I am pleased to have secured this debate, although I am enormously frustrated that it has been necessary. Candidly, as a constituency Member of Parliament, I feel that this is now the tactic of last resort in protecting the interests of my constituency. I have never before found myself in this situation since I entered the House in 2001, despite having handled scores—maybe hundreds—of local issues that were much more complicated than this one.

My history of engagement with the DVSA on the provision of HGV and motorcycle testing in Shetland goes back several years. For as long as it has been necessary to undertake those parts of the respective driving tests that are conducted off road in Shetland, that has been done in part of the grounds of the former Anderson High School in Lerwick. When the school moved to its current site in 2017, it was apparent that that would no longer be available, as the site was earmarked for redevelopment. DVSA was told by Shetland Islands Council in 2016 that the Anderson High site was earmarked for development and, on 24 November 2017, the council advised the DVSA that it would need to vacate the site by the end of March 2018.

Early correspondence with Gareth Llewellyn, then chief executive of DVSA, stated that the last tests would be carried out on the site on 31 March 2018. Mr Llewellyn offered me one of those less than reassuring reassurances:

“We are committed to providing a service in Shetland but this is dependent on securing new premises.”

Even at that stage, it appeared to me that DVSA, having had more than a year to do something about a problem of which it had been made aware and about which it had done nothing, was prepared to leave Shetland without local provision.

At that early stage, there seemed to be a polite lack of energy in the approach taken by the agency, so at the request of local instructors I became involved. Following my intervention, the Shetland Islands Council agreed an initial extension until the end of June 2018. At this point, I should put on record my appreciation of the efforts and input from local driving instructors in Shetland, in particular Steve Henry and Petur Petursson. The commitment to the community and the professionalism of both of those gentlemen, and the time and trouble they have taken to advise me and assist DVSA in identifying possible new sites, has gone well beyond anything that could have been asked of them.

DVSA staff visited Shetland and different possibilities were explored. They met local stakeholders and a location at the former Decca site on the edge of Lerwick was identified, which could be developed for use. It is a flat area of ground finished with hardcore, but it would obviously be required to be topped with tarmac. Unlike the previous site at the former Anderson High School, this would be a purpose-built facility and would be required to be kept for the use of the DVSA; it would not be a shared space.

Having already seen the approach of the DVSA, I asked for, and was given, a commitment to have regular update calls, naively thinking that that might concentrate minds. Several calls took place, and at each turn I was assured that progress was being made. Eventually, we got to the point where it was left to the DVSA and the owner of the land to work out the details, the principles having been agreed. The negotiation of commercial contracts, even when I was in legal practice, was never a strength of mine, and I know my limitations. I felt that this piece of work may not have got over the line, but at least the line was in sight, and that I should leave it to work its way through. Shetland Islands Council helpfully and generously agreed to make the site at the former Anderson High School available for continued use by the DVSA for as long as it could.

Thereafter, whenever inquiry was made, I was told that the details were still being worked out, and I was happy to accept these reassurances; I had, after all, been told in correspondence from DVSA on 26 June 2018 that estimated costs had been provided and that the business case for the new site would be considered by an extraordinary meeting of the investment change committee of the DVSA with a view to its receiving approval. It was thought then that the necessary works would take four weeks to complete. Correspondence in July, August and September contained similar commitments. In October 2018, I was told that

“the majority of issues have been resolved and those that remain are not insurmountable.”

In January 2019, I was told that the outstanding issues would be resolved by the week commencing 4 February. Accepting the continued commitment of the DVSA to provide a local service in Shetland, I agreed to receive further updates as they were available, rather than monthly. That may have been my mistake.

In autumn last year, knowing that the redevelopment of the site at the former Anderson High School was going to bring this to a head again, I reopened correspondence with the DVSA and asked for a meeting with the former chief executive to discuss the situation. Requests for updates went unanswered, and Gareth Llewelyn refused the requested meeting. The new chief executive of the DVSA, Loveday Ryder, came into post on 1 January. My requests for meetings were renewed, but no commitments were made. Eventually, as a result of the interventions of the Minister’s noble Friend, Baroness Vere, Loveday Ryder made a commitment to meet me. That was eventually organised to take place by Zoom on 7 April, initially for 30 minutes but then reduced to 15 minutes.

It is fair to say that the meeting on 7 April was not productive. Ahead of it, DVSA officials said that they would not provide further information about progress on the issue as the rules of purdah would not allow it while Scottish parliamentary elections were ongoing. Purdah guidance not only does not forbid the sharing of information in circumstances such as this but actually exists to provide the basis on which it should be done. Had the DVSA told me that it would share information with me on the basis that it would not be transmitted further, I would happily have taken the meeting on that basis, but no such offer was made. I asked Ministers’ offices for an explanation of the interpretation of purdah guidance favoured by the DVSA and was told that its view had been confirmed by the Cabinet Office. However, the Cabinet Office subsequently told my office that it had offered no supplementary guidance to the Department. It appears that that use of the purdah guidance was in fact a quite deliberate attempt by the DVSA to avoid providing me with information that it obviously had at that point.

It was also apparent at that stage that there was a major issue with the progress of the project, and that all the previous reassurances and commitments I received from the agency were basically worthless. Following the elections at the beginning of May, it was confirmed in correspondence that the agency had decided not to go ahead with the development of the site at the former Decca station, citing the cost. I have subsequently found out about the costs, and it seems that they are high. The specification is questionable, but at no point when we have sought to engage with DVSA about the specification—with regard to the detail of it and the possible terms of any lease—has it been in any way forthcoming or offered to engage. Information is provided grudgingly and no explanation to show the working of it is ever provided.

It was also known by this time that the absolute final deadline for using the site at the former Anderson High School was looming. Work was due to start there on 31 July and it would no longer be available from that date—that turned out to be the case. There followed a series of meetings involving myself, local instructors and DVSA officials. As a result of these meetings I was made aware that it was the intention of the agency to use a third site that it had identified, near the former Scatsta airport, 25 miles north of Lerwick. The local instructors were clear in telling the agency that that was not a workable solution for them and, in fact, if that were the only provision to be made they would discontinue to provide the service. The response of the agency was to ignore the concerns of local instructors and to insist that this was the only service that it would provide.

Unfortunately, on further investigation it transpired that despite having known for months that the 31 July deadline was looming, the DVSA had made no formal attempts to secure a lease on the site near Scatsta airport, and no planning application had been submitted for its change of use. Despite this, the DVSA proceeded to offer bookings for tests in August; the sheer lack of professionalism in this is breath-taking. In fact, Shetland Islands Council is not prepared to allow the use of the site at Scatsta airport, and as a consequence we now find ourselves in a position where no training or testing for the off-road elements of the HGV and motorcycle tests are available to my constituents in Shetland.

In response to my request for further meetings and updates I have been told that these will only be held when there is something to be shared; I see no evidence of the agency doing anything to move this issue on. I do not know what more I can do as a constituency Member of Parliament to resolve this issue. My constituents are left without the provision of a vital public service. In essence, the root cause of the problem appears to be a cultural one within the agency; instead of being willing to engage with local stakeholders to work towards finding a solution, the attitude has been one of high-handed indifference. That would be unacceptable in any circumstances, but the way that the agency has conducted itself lacks not just respect for the local communities but also basic professionalism. In what circumstances can it possibly be appropriate for a Government agency to offer appointments for tests at a site where it does not hold a lease or have any formal agreement with the owner?

This lack of professionalism is also apparent from the recent changes to the provision of written theory tests. In August it became apparent that the only provision for sitting a theory test in Shetland would be at sites in Mid Yell and Whalsay—both sites on islands away from the main centres of population on Shetland mainland. Do not get me wrong: if that had been provision in addition to that made over the years in Lerwick, the capital of Shetland mainland, I would have been quite delighted—I would have been the first to welcome it. But as an alternative to the provision of tests in the main town, it simply beggared belief.

Recent casework has disclosed that all theory tests in October have been cancelled due to, and I quote, “IT problems” with the new provider, Reed In Partnership. My office has sought further specification of what the IT problems are, but to date no explanation has been forthcoming. It has been suggested to me—I do not know if this is the case or not—that the IT problem is that they do not have the necessary computers to do the test. If it was not so serious it would be laughable.

As I said at the outset, I have never before found myself in a situation like this as a Member of Parliament. Elsewhere in this building today the Transport Committee is taking evidence on the work of the agency. The problems facing the agency seem to go well beyond the shores of Shetland. They are cultural and deep rooted. They ought to be tackled by the senior management of the agency, and if they cannot or will not do that, it should be up to Ministers to sort it. The people who are blameless in all this are my constituents, but they are the ones who are left without this most crucial of public services.

Thank you, Mr Carmichael. I think you have done Shetland proud. Are there any further speakers? I see that the Chair of the Transport Committee is here. If there are none, I will call the Minister.

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for explaining the situation. It is disappointing to hear his frustration, and I hope I can provide some level of comfort about the next steps. I will endeavour to work with him to find a solution to what he describes as an unacceptable situation for his constituents.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s core aim is to help everyone stay safe on British roads, which are some of the safest in the world. The DVSA is part of the Department for Transport. It is funded not by the general taxpayer but by the fees it charges to those who use its vital public services. The DVSA is responsible for delivering, in a normal year, around 2 million car theory tests, 1.9 million car driving tests and 70,000 large goods vehicle tests. Those tests help people into and through a lifetime of self-driving. They also help ensure the safe and efficient movement of freight around England, Wales and Scotland, by examining people who want to drive professionally.

As Members know, recently the Government set out a range of measures to increase the number of lorry drivers as we continue to build back better from the covid-19 pandemic. Like many parts of the Department for Transport, as well as the wider public sector, the DVSA is working hard to recover its services as we continue to emerge from the pandemic. It is prioritising the reduction of waiting times as quickly and as safely as possible for customers who want a car practical test. It is also increasing the number of vocational tests available for those who want to become lorry drivers. The opportunity for people to book a lorry driving test is something the Government, the DVSA and the right hon. Gentleman feel strongly about.

Let me turn to the DVSA’s operation in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I thank him for his detailed, albeit somewhat frustrated, explanation of events thus far. As he knows from his meetings with the DVSA to discuss his concerns, it has conducted vocational tests in Lerwick since October 2001. Module 1 motorcycle testing began in 2011. The DVSA conducted those tests from Anderson High School until 31 July 2021, when testing ceased because the landlord, Shetland Islands Council, had plans to redevelop the site. Testing stopped at the high school at the end of July this year, as the right hon. Gentleman explained.

Over the past six years, the DVSA, together with members of the council, has conducted an extensive search of the island. During that time, only two sites were identified as possible vocational and motorcycle module 1 testing locations: Ladies Drive, which is owned by Tulloch Developments, and Scatsta airport, which is owned by the council and became commercially available only in recent months. The Ladies Drive site was preferred by motorcycle and vocational trainers, as Scatsta airport is some 25 miles from Lerwick.

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware from the many discussions he has had with the DVSA, the DVSA considered the Tulloch site but rejected it because the construction cost to make it operationally suitable was too high, in addition to the significant annual lease cost, which was disproportionate to the number of tests that would be conducted. When taking into account the construction cost, 10 years of capitalised rent and rates plus associated fees, the Tulloch scheme would cost in excess of £1 million. That does not balance cost or manage public money responsibly, even when taking account of the Government’s priority to increase the number of lorry drivers.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. As I indicated in my speech, when the costs were subsequently made known to me, they seemed higher than I would have expected. I was not party to the negotiations or discussions. I was told that the specification would have made it twice as thick as any other road in Shetland in terms of the tarmac to be laid. I think that there is more opportunity here to interrogate the work that has been done to get to these figures. That requires the DVSA to engage, instead of just saying, “That’s the cost, and we are not going to explain anything more.”

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. While there are considerable infrastructure costs in ensuring that the surface is suitable for the turning of very heavy trucks that would be required, there were also other costs for rent and associated fees, as I am sure he can appreciate. That said, I am confident that my colleague in the other place, Baroness Vere, would be willing to consider providing further detail on costs and, potentially, alternative sites if the right hon. Gentleman would like to discuss the matter further.

However, speed is of the essence. As the right hon. Gentleman will surely agree, his constituents are missing out on opportunities to become lorry drivers and to drive motorcycles, and we must ensure that a resolution is found in the swiftest order to relieve that burden on the Shetland isles.

The site at Scatsta airport is the more viable and affordable option. The DVSA met the council to discuss the possible use of the site. The initial negotiations were very positive. The council actively supported the DVSA in marking out the off-road manoeuvring area and in placing a container with equipment on site in anticipation of a mutually beneficial agreement. I am assured that the issue is unclear to the DVSA, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could explain. The council had a change of heart in August and told the DVSA that it was withdrawing from negotiations about the use of the Scatsta site as a testing facility.

This was a considerable disappointment to both the DVSA and its customers, given the amount of work that had been done. It meant a withdrawal of practical testing facilities on Shetland. The DVSA is committed to exploring and exhausting all possible options to retain the testing service on Shetland. It submitted a planning application to Shetland Islands Council for permission to use the vacant site for practical driver testing. Despite there being no other current use for the site, the council has told the DVSA that it will not recommend planning permission. In fact, it offered the DVSA a refund of its application fee if it would withdraw the application.

The Minister is being very generous with her time. I appreciate that this is not part of her ministerial brief, as it rests with her noble Friend, but can the Minister tell me at what point the DVSA actually started investigating the Scatsta site? It is apparent to me from my dealings with the Minister and the agency that it had been well sighted on the difficulties that it had identified with the Ladies brae site in Lerwick. The point about the application for planning permission is that that went in only when I pointed out that nobody has done anything to obtain change of use permission.

I hope that later in my speech, I will be able to answer that particular question. I will, of course, write to the right hon. Gentleman should he require further clarification.

We do not know the motivation behind the offer to refund the application fee in return for withdrawing the planning application, but Members will not be surprised to learn that the DVSA declined and awaits the official outcome of its application. Given the council’s unusual offer, the expectation that the DVSA will receive a favourable planning outcome is low. If Shetland Islands Council does reject the DVSA’s reasonable application to use otherwise redundant land at Scatsta airport, it will, with full support of the Department, push for full transparency in this matter.

The DVSA has been co-operative and transparent throughout its endeavours to secure new facilities on Shetland. It has shared all information with the right hon. Gentleman and others when it has been legally able to so. It is the DVSA’s firm view that the intransigency of the council is the only impediment to it being able to reinstate its vital public services to the residents of the island of Shetland. I hardly feel that I need to remind anyone of the urgent need for more lorry drivers in the current climate.

I am afraid I will not give way any further, simply because of time restrictions. The position on motorcycle testing on Shetland also depends on securing a new site for conducting the off-road part of the test. Although the DVSA understands that the island’s sole motorcycle trainer has ceased his trade, without a testing facility there is no incentive for anyone else to offer such training on Shetland.

In the absence of a test facility on Shetland, the nearest venue for candidates in Lerwick is Orkney, which is about 120 miles and a five-hour journey by ferry away. The next nearest option is Aberdeen, which is around 224 miles away. That is not what the DVSA wants for its customers or for the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents. Shetland Islands Council has the opportunity to help the DVSA and its customers, who are also the council’s residents. I hope it will not pass up that opportunity.

Car practical driving tests remain at Lerwick on an occasional basis, as has always been the case, meaning that tests are conducted when there is a substantial customer demand. However, the waiting time for a test there is 24 weeks. We recognise that that is not ideal. In September, a new in-house contract for the DVSA to run the theory driving test came into operation. Starting tomorrow, I am pleased to say, the new theory test centre opens in Lerwick, and two more will open next month, at Mid Yell and Symbister. While the DVSA regrets the slight delay in opening the theory test centres, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that having three test centres, where there was previously just one, amounts to a significant service improvement.

In conclusion, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be reassured that the DVSA is working hard for the people of Shetland to provide vital public services. I thank him for his hard work in this area over many years, and I will leave him to have the last word. However, I want to assure him that I will continue to work alongside him in finding a solution.

The Minister, whom I thank for her answer, did suggest that Shetland Islands Council has been intransigent in this. I think it is fair to put it on the record that Shetland Islands Council first told DVSA in 2016 that it would be withdrawing from the site. It has extended the provision multiple times and, indeed, I understand that it has offered the provision of the materials to construct the site at Ladies brae. It has been exceptionally co-operative in what is the core function of the DVSA, not of Shetland Islands Council.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Reopening Local Police Stations

[Yvonne Fovargue in the Chair]

Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if they are coming on to the parliamentary Estate. That can be done either at the testing centre in the House or at home. 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 reopening local police stations.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, which I have not done before, Ms Fovargue, and to be here and see human beings around us. I have spent the last year and a half wondering what people are wearing below the television picture, rather than focusing on the screen. Human interaction is back, which is a good thing. It is also a great pleasure to see in his place my right hon. Friend and colleague the Minister for Crime and Policing, who has been immensely helpful to me and to all of us in Dorset on all policing matters, for which I am extremely grateful.

I am here to discuss something that I have wanted to get off my chest: my long-standing feeling that police station closures are the wrong direction of travel. I am an old-fashioned sort. I am not a luddite—where change is necessary, change is necessary—but I do not like the idea of changing the wheel when it does not need changing. I hope that my speech will demonstrate that, on this topic, the wheel has been unnecessarily turned too far. This has been on my mind for a long time, and I am delighted and grateful to be able to share my thoughts with colleagues.

As a soldier, during three tours in Northern Ireland between 1978 and 1987, I saw the overwhelming benefits of what we call human intelligence. In Belfast, Armagh and Strabane, the information was provided mainly by the simple yet devastatingly effective method of patrolling our streets, in rain and sun, day and night, and reassuring, observing, listening and talking to those we met. The mass of information that we gleaned was carefully built up piece by piece, helping to thwart the terrorists and to reassure the public. Although we were soldiers, I am confident that any police officer today would recognise that the role we played was, for the most part, similar to theirs.

For almost 200 years, bobbies on the beat, from Peelers to “Dixon of Dock Green”— my favourite programme at the time—have been a presence on our streets, policing by consent and living and working among us. They lived locally, often in police houses or stations, so they soon gained specialist knowledge of their area and of the bad eggs in it. Like our patrols in Northern Ireland, that intimate knowledge of their patch deterred criminals and reassured and protected the community.

I am tempted to say that those were the good old days—hence the “old-fashioned sort” remark. That pattern of policing ensured the public’s respect, which enabled officers to do their work effectively. Anyone my age remembers the days when a local bobby was in a position to identify a troublemaker in their early years, often staving off more serious offences later. Out on the beat, their physical presence deterred the criminals. The police station itself was a focal point for the community—a base from which patrols went out and to which concerned citizens went. Let us not forget that citizens are frequently required to report to the local police station for one reason or another, and that job has been made far harder by all the closures.

Regrettably, that past—some would say luddite—scenario no longer prevails. At least half of all police stations in England have closed over the past 10 years. Strangely, the numbers are not precise, but a number of freedom of information requests submitted to individual police forces by news organisations paint a worrying picture. The Times estimated in 2018 that 600 police stations had closed since 2010. A Daily Mail report in February 2021 estimated that the number lost was 667. I do not normally quote Opposition spokespeople, but I will today: the shadow Policing Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), said in a debate on rural crime in 2019 that 400 stations in England had closed, with the number of police counters open to the public falling from 900 in 2010 to 500 in 2019. The Commons Library estimates that there has been a total loss of between 600 and 700 police stations over the last 10 years.

I will be grateful if my right hon. Friend provides an answer to this specific question today. As I understand it, none of the numbers is centrally held by the Home Office. Perhaps that is because individual police forces are responsible for the number and location of police stations in their area, and police chiefs have operational independence in making such decisions. Does my right hon. Friend think the Home Office ought to have better understanding or knowledge of what is going on in the 43 police areas? Any FOI requests are addressed to police forces and responses are mixed or partial, particularly where there is an element of commercial sensitivity, which means that buildings have been sold off, often controversially, for development. While the Home Office can and does publicly regret the closure of various stations, Ministers have no power to retain or reopen them; nor do they publish impact assessments relating to police office closures. Does this situation need closer scrutiny?

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) highlighted station closures in the west midlands in 2020, saying that his local police force was spending more than £30 million on refurbishing plush offices at its headquarters at Lloyd House in Birmingham. He added that police stations at Dudley and Sedgley had closed, despite the former being a major metropolitan town. In the last few years, others, including my hon. Friends the Members for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), for Solihull (Julian Knight), for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), and for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford), Members representing Merseyside, and the hon. Members for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) and for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher), have repeatedly asked questions in the House about crime and reopening police stations in their constituencies.

Regrettably and inexorably, closures have rolled on, with some areas worse affected than others. For example, an FOI request in 2018 showed that 24 police stations in South Yorkshire closed between 2010 and 2018, and a similar request to the Metropolitan police this year revealed that 71 police stations in London have closed since 2010.

My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case. It is often argued that modern policing does not require police stations, but so often it does. A police station that could stay open, instead of becoming just another Metropolitan police number, is the one in Wimbledon. Does he think the Mayor ought to be listening to his campaign and backing the campaign by myself and others to keep Wimbledon police station open?

I think the Mayor of London should be backing any campaign that my hon. Friend pushes forward, and I am sure that our right hon. Friend the Minister is listening very closely to him. Yes, of course, that closure should be reconsidered. Wimbledon is a very large area I can see major disadvantages from being without a police station, particularly for people who have been used to having a police station there for all the years that it has been there. So, yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right and I totally support his request.

To continue focusing on the Metropolitan police, Members may recall that I said that 71 police stations in London had closed since 2010. Concern in the capital is such that Shaun Bailey, the Conservative mayoral candidate, pledged to reopen 38 police stations in London if he was elected. Regrettably, as we know, he was not.

Since the last lockdown, private security companies are reporting a 50% increase in neighbourhood watch groups and residence associations willing to pay for properly equipped patrols in areas such as Richmond Green, Chelsea, Cobham, Woodford Green, Mayfair and Knightsbridge. Uniformed patrols cover areas of up to three square miles or less at a cost of approximately £20 an hour. Unsurprisingly, they are proving extremely effective. Their success reminds me of the crime fighting revolution in New York in the 1990s. Broken windows, graffiti and disorder were seen as indicators of serious crime to come, but this was prevented by the simple expedient of more visible officers and zero tolerance.

On graffiti, I do not know whether other Members have noticed this, but I come into London off the A316, and before I get to the big Earl’s Court junction with the Tesco on the left, all the bridges and a huge advertising hoarding—normally showing films—are smothered in graffiti. Why has that not been removed? Why has no one gone out there and cleaned that up? If the people who did it come back and do it again, they should be arrested and charged. This is a little thing, but little things lead to big things. The first thing that any visitor coming in from Heathrow sees is graffiti all over the main road into the heart of London. Great! Come to graffiti-ridden Great Britain. Our railway lines and bridges are the same—everywhere you go, there is graffiti. What on earth are we doing to stop this? I am just gobsmacked.

The lessons learnt in New York are clear, I believe: regular visible foot patrols deter would-be offenders, or at least encourage them to go elsewhere. Whilst I would not want to push crime into another area, the solution for other areas is to do exactly the same as the first area has done to reduce crime. Critics argue that private security companies in London are a slippery slope towards privatising safety on our streets. Not surprisingly, most residents and business owners disagree entirely and instead welcome the decline in the crime and antisocial behaviour that sadly grew during the pandemic. Tellingly, one of the most successful of these organisations is called—wait for it— My Local Bobby. I think that speaks for itself.

Without doubt, all the closures are due more to straitened finances than to good operational decision making. To be fair to the Government, I am not here to attack my good friend the Policing Minister. We had to make tough decisions following the recession, and sadly the police took the brunt of the cuts. My aim today is to emphasise how important it is that we reopen police stations and get policemen and women back on the streets as fast as we can. Too many of my constituents and too many of the people I speak to do not see police officers unless they whizz past in a car. That is no good—that is hopeless. It is a necessary back-up, of course, but you cannot talk to somebody doing 30, 40, 50 or 60mph.

The Public Accounts Committee agree that it is a financial thing, saying in 2018 that forces were

“selling off more of their assets to try and raise some funds for capital investment and increasingly drawing on their reserves.”

Decreasing use of police counters, or footfall, was another factor. Statistics were not on the side of retention either: for example, the Mayor’s Office found evidence that between 2006 and 2016, in-person crime reporting fell from 22% to 8%. My personal comment to that, and I have a lot of anecdotal evidence, is that people are losing faith in reporting crimes to the police for fear that nothing will be done; it will just be a number. These statistics were used to justify the introduction of digital crime reporting services. They certainly have their place—of course they do; I am not a luddite to that extreme—but officers cannot patrol digitally, at least not to my knowledge. That is the advantage of having a building to patrol from. I also fear that many people have given up on reporting crime, and I have a lot of anecdotal evidence on that. Many constituents say, “We just don’t bother, Richard. Nothing is going to happen.” That is not a personal attack on the police. They are pushed, and I have nothing but praise for the Dorset police.

Other consultations show that people prefer to report non-urgent crime online. In my view, that sits uncomfortably with further anecdotal evidence that victims of property crime in particular can wait for days to see an officer post-burglary, and feel that their concerns are dismissed. I recall the impact of one burglary. Many years ago, when I worked for the BBC, I went to report on an elderly lady who had had all of her husband’s valuables stolen. He was a solider in the second world war and she had trinkets, medals—all the things we hold dear. They were stolen, and she died a week later. I have been burgled. My daughter has been burgled. A friend of mine was attacked in his home. I know the impact of burglary; I know what it is like. We need to have the resources to prevent it from happening, because the impact on everyone, from any background, is appalling. If your personal space, your home, is invaded, it scars you; it can even kill you. I am also not convinced that consultations are the right answer. I have been an MP for 11 years, and I have heard the word “consultation” more times than I care to remember. My humble opinion on consultations, I am afraid, is that they are usually a case of, “The decision has been made. We’d better do this just to keep people happy.”

Lord Justice Lindblom, for example, overturned the decision to close Wimbledon police station in July 2018 after the victim of a violent burglary argued that the police would not have reached him in time had the station been closed. How interesting that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) mentioned that very police station; clearly, the battle continues.

There are also practicalities that may have been overlooked in the decisions to close police stations. Not all are physical or quantifiable, but they matter none the less, and all play a part in making a community feel safe. John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, who represents 100,000 rank-and-file police officers, made exactly this point in 2018, telling The Times:

“Police stations in town centres provide a visible reassurance. One has to question the decision to withdraw visible policing from the streets.”

In 2018, Chief Constable Dave Thompson wrote in the National Police Chief Council blog:

“Budget cuts and a hands-off government approach to aspects of policing have meant hard choices for chief constables with consequences for the public and our people. The public’s experience is policing that is less visible, less responsive and less proactive.”

Closed custody suites have not helped either, making questioning and charging more difficult for both suspects and officers. Although digital information, CCTV and drones provide useful data, they can never tell the whole story, as I hope my Northern Ireland analogy explained. Frankly, one can combat CCTV and drones by simply putting on a balaclava, which, sadly, far too many people do.

I have always wondered—I ask my right hon. Friend and colleague the Minister to comment on this—why we do not make it illegal for people attending rallies to intentionally hide their faces. I know that there is a thin line, and it may be due to cold weather, but it is very difficult for a police officer to judge if a person is hiding their face or if it is just cold. However, I think we all know that if we see a person clad in a black mask with eyeholes, it is not because it is a cold day. They do it for two reasons: to frighten and intimidate, and to hide their identity.

None the less, as I understand it, future operational planning and the Government’s beating crime plan will offer an arm’s length, national online platform at, where citizens can access

“a range of interactive police services in one coordinated place”.

Of course, that will not reach the elderly, the vulnerable and those without access to digital technology. I am not knocking this. I am sure it has a place, as all these things do. I am just emphasising again and again the significance of the police station manned day and night by officers who patrol on foot, backed up by those in cars, to deter crime and protect us.

Data from my constituency in Dorset shows that we lost 10 inquiry offices between 2011 and 2015. Those closures were attributed to financial pressures, lack of footfall, and consultation, and I have heard lack of footfall used frequently as a reason in the past. Certainly under David Cameron’s coalition Government I heard it said that no one wants to go to a station any more, but that is not the point. I personally do not care if not a soul goes to the police station. What I care about is that police officers come out and patrol the streets day and night, so that if one young woman is chased through the streets by some nutter, she—or a child, a man, a boy—has somewhere to go to find safety.

Six Dorset police stations have been sold since 2013—again, I am told, due to financial pressures and the consequential change to the way the police have had to operate. We are now left with seven stations and a drop-in hub. Dorset, as I am sure everyone knows, is a huge county. The situation has been inherited by our new chief constable, Scott Chilton, and police and crime commissioner David Sidwick, both of whom I warmly welcome to post and for whom I have huge respect. From what I have heard, they are very sympathetic to my way of thinking. They want police back on the beat, but, as there is everywhere, there is a clamour for resources.

The good news, for which I thank my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister, is that, at 1,326, police officer numbers in Dorset are at their highest level since March 2013, and will increase further by 90 to 100 officers in the next two years, boosted by an annual head count of about 90 police community support officers. We are very grateful for the extra officers we campaigned hard for, so I thank him very much indeed.

Dorset’s population is projected to rise by 4.3% a year, although the recent exodus from cities during the pandemic will not be factored in for some time, so that figure will inevitably rise. I have worked with many officers from Dorset Police, for whom, as I have said, I have huge respect. They are an absolutely dedicated, professional bunch of men and women who do their duty in appalling circumstances and sometimes at great risk to themselves. I have nothing but huge respect for them all. They are more aware than ever of showing a public face and appreciate that we have got to get to the more remote parts. It is of paramount importance, so both the chief constable and the new PCC are on board with that, which is great. Current plans to maximise time in the community include potentially locating mobile police stations in rural areas, and placing neighbourhood policing teams in shared community hubs—both thought to present a less formal face to the public.

On the formal face of the police, the police force are not social services. It is not a police service, but a police force. Their job is to catch criminals, lock them up and protect you, me and our families. That is their job, so I would think that a formal face, a formal uniform and a formal police station give reassurance. It is like seeing a formal soldier or a formal nurse. Nurses do not come dressed in jeans and a T-shirt; they come dressed in a nurse’s outfit, as would a doctor or a soldier. You would think, “Hm, yes.” Why should the police not be equally formal? Of course, they should be friendly and interact with the community, but that will get better if they mix more with the community, and a police station will allow them to do that.

There is a general conviction that technology will help forces to deploy more officers more effectively. Helpful though technology is, I am not convinced that it will result in bobbies on the beat, especially at night, when all too often the criminals come out to do their foul work. Violence against women and girls is now rightly at the top of the national police agenda. Sarah Everard’s tragic killing has unleashed an understandable torrent of emotion from women and girls, who report feeling unsafe on our streets, particularly at night.

Formerly, the presence of a police station, or at least an enquiry encounter in most neighbourhoods, provided some reassurance that there was a safe place to take refuge. That no longer exists in most areas. Now, until better arrangements are made, I understand that women and girls are being offered an app—yes, an app—on a mobile phone, to walk them home after work, school or college or an evening out. Yes, of course technology has a place, but an app will not prevent someone from being attacked or chased. There needs to be a physical building, with physical men and women in it, for protection, and there are too few of them left. I believe that the app, although well meant, is inadequate for the intended purpose, and will never replace the reassurance of a police station.

I welcome Dorset Police’s recent initiatives to identify and deter sexual offenders preying on vulnerable people enjoying a night out, and to introduce safer public spaces in popular night spots for women and girls in particular. That is very good news. StreetSafe, where unsafe or uncomfortable public places can be anonymously reported online, is a valuable addition. I also welcome Dorset’s independent review of local criminal justice response to rape and serious sexual offences.

Finally, we must not forget that police officers now operate in more difficult conditions. We see that every day, whether in the capital, Bristol or even in Dorset. Those brave men and women are facing very challenging times. Violent crime and terrorism have increased the risks they run, along with the general loss of deference in society. The forcefield that once protected them has sadly long gone.

For operational and security reasons it is increasingly rare to see a single officer patrolling a neighbourhood on foot. Understandably, after threats against their homes and families, many prefer to live anonymously, away from the areas they patrol and serve. I believe that their fundamental role, visible and on our streets, has not changed, nor must it ever. To do that effectively, officers need a base to operate from where they can stay warm, write up their reports, take people back to put into cells, and do all the things the police are meant to do.

I get the point that has been repeatedly made to me that a police officer’s job has changed to a huge degree, now dealing with online abuse and theft. The online world has introduced a raft of new areas for policing, which is without doubt taking officers off the beat. All I would say to the Minister for Crime and Policing is that we need more police on the street. We cannot lose the streets to the criminals, because that effective relationship between the citizen and the officer will otherwise be lost.

Police stations may be viewed as old-fashioned and expensive, but they are invaluable, giving officers more control of their area of responsibility and the public the reassurance they seek. Police officers do their job with our consent. Break the link between us and them and the divide will continue to grow. Police stations are not an anachronism; they must be the future.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on securing this important debate. Crime has been on the rise in London, except during the pandemic. But despite a rising rate of violent crime, and particularly knife crime, as the hon. Gentleman said, 71 police stations have closed since 2010. Many of those were under the watch of the Prime Minister when he was Mayor of London. Police numbers have been slashed, not least in my own borough of Richmond where not only have police numbers been cut but police are routinely extracted to go and police incidents and events elsewhere.

I was grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the campaign to keep Wimbledon police station open. Although he is no longer here, I am delighted to hear that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) has thrown his weight behind Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Kohler’s campaign. He was the lecturer who was beaten up very badly and mounted a strong campaign to save Wimbledon police station. It was his successful legal challenge against the Mayor of London that saved Wimbledon police station. He continues to campaign to keep it open.

In my borough of Richmond upon Thames, we had Richmond police station close a few years ago and, now, Teddington police station in my constituency is on the brink of closure, despite violent knife-related incidents going up. Just two weeks ago, an 18-year-old Afghan refugee and Richmond upon Thames College student, Hazrat Wali, was stabbed to death in broad daylight close to the college. A few months ago in Teddington, less than a mile away from the police station that is about to be closed, another young person was stabbed—thankfully, not fatally on that occasion. Earlier this year in Richmond there was another fatal stabbing.

As the hon. Member for South Dorset said, one of the ways to tackle violent crime and knife crime is through community policing. We need more police officers on our streets. The Government have made a commitment to boost police officer numbers. Where will they go if all the police stations are closed? They need to be housed somewhere. The problem, which we will see following the closure of Teddington police station, is that when police stations close, local neighbourhood teams have far further to travel to get the area they are policing.

The safer neighbourhood teams for Teddington and Hampton Wick wards will have to be based out of Twickenham police station. That increases their travel time. If they are walking or taking the bus, no doubt that travel time will be increased even further because when a member of the public sees a uniformed police officer, they may well stop them along the way outside the neighbourhood they are meant to be looking after. Obviously, if they see something untoward happening, they will need to take action. If we want to boost community policing, which is essential to preventing crime and saving lives, police officers need to be based close to the areas that they are policing.

The other issue is fewer custody suites. Talking to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and the leader of Richmond council, we discussed one of the challenges since Richmond police station closed, which is that we have fewer custody suites. The police are having to decide whether to charge someone they have stopped in Richmond town centre or other parts of Richmond on that side of the river, or to take hours out of their shift taking that person down to Kingston or Twickenham police stations.

It must be said that police stations offer some level of comfort and security to members of the public, and with rising knife crime and violent crime, I venture to say that Londoners would like to see more, not fewer, police stations. That visible police presence is critical for both reporting crime and communicating with the police, and that is more important now than ever when confidence in the Metropolitan Police Service in particular is plummeting. I appreciate that a fully-fledged police station may not be needed, given that more people are reporting crime online or by telephone, but some sort of visible police presence through a counter of some sort—there must be innovative and interesting ways we can think about that—is very important.

The deputy Mayor for policing, the Met police and the Public Accounts Committee have all made abundantly clear to me in a number of recent meetings that the driver behind the sale of all these police stations in London is to raise money for operational purposes. That suggests to me that Home Office funding needs to be looked at to meet those operational needs, but we must also remember that those capital receipts will only last so long if they are being ploughed into operational needs. In the case of Teddington, some of that capital receipt when they sell the building should be ploughed into a base for the local teams, as I have pointed out.

The other problem with the massive financial driver behind this, as has been made clear to me in recent meetings, is that the Met police are now keen to sell to the highest bidder as fast as possible. That brings me on to another point about the future of these police stations. If a decision is taken that they must be closed, which the community does not want, given that we have an affordable and social housing crisis in this country—particularly somewhere such as south-west London where there are so few sites—why is there pressure to sell to the highest bidder, which ultimately means it just goes to luxury developers, who often cannot meet planning requirements, so buildings lie redundant? If we are forced to give up Teddington police station, I would be keen to see it go back to community use, primarily for affordable and social housing, because that is the biggest issue I see in my constituency.

I look forward to hearing from the policing Minister about the future of not only Teddington police station, but police stations across London, whether they can be saved and whether he will support my campaign to ensure that, if they must be sold off, they are kept for community use and for affordable and social housing.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on securing this important debate. His speech was incredibly insightful, because we could all relate to it, and I will pick up on some of his points as I make progress.

The safety of local people is perhaps the greatest priority for any Government of any party. We now have devolution in West Yorkshire: in Keighley, which I represent, our new West Yorkshire Mayor now has the powers to form a police and crime plan and strategy, and has the remit of looking at that plan and working out where new police stations should be or where closures should not happen.

Of course it is right that people have confidence in their own security, whether they are at home or walking down their local high street or through their community. I believe that local police stations with a noticeable police presence play a key role in achieving that. My constituency has sadly experienced its own problems with police station closures in the two principal towns. In Keighley, the police station was relocated from the centre of town to the periphery, much to the dissatisfaction of local residents. In Ilkley we still have a police station, but it is unmanned.

I understand that police stations close for a range of reasons. An increase in online crime reporting and a general incorporation of digital technologies in the police force have meant that very few people use public desks at police stations. Instead, a majority of people contact the police by phone, at local meetings, online and through social media. Like those in many other professions, police officers have also been able to work flexibly and perform their duties without having to be present physically at a police station. But my inbox is full of messages from residents wanting to see police officers in a local police station going about their business on the beat, reassuring residents that they are being looked after. I truly believe that crime and antisocial behaviour, which are sadly all too big a problem in my constituency, are linked to local police stations not being manned and police stations moving out of the centre of town.

We have an excellent police station in Ilkley, which I went round not too long ago, but it is unmanned. It has just been done up and improved so that police officers can be there physically, but there are no physical police desks where a member of the public can go in and speak to their local police officer. That was a strategy adopted by our previous police and crime commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson. In Keighley, the local police station—which was previously located right in the heart of town—was moved out of the town centre by Mark Burns-Williamson, then chair of the West Yorkshire police authority, to the dismay of many Keighley residents. The move came at a great cost to local taxpayers and stripped the police station out of the heart of our community.

I have said many times in the House that when crimes happen under everyone’s nose—including a huge drug dealing problem that we have—residents want to be able to go to their local police station. I held a surgery in Long Lee, one of the outlying settlements of Keighley. An elderly resident told me that she had contacted our local 101 service to report that she had witnessed a drug drop by a local taxi firm and that she had video footage for someone to come and collect. West Yorkshire police responded with, “Don’t worry, that happens all the time.” She then came to me with the footage, which I submitted to West Yorkshire police. She said that, although she had wanted to go to her local police station, she had not been able to do so because the station had been relocated from the town centre to the outskirts of town and she could not use the bus network to get there. That illustrates that moving our police station out of the centre of Keighley was a bad decision by the former police and crime commissioner.

We have a new West Yorkshire Mayor who is in charge of forming the police and crime strategy and is responsible for local policing in Keighley and Ilkley. I therefore call on her to deliver police stations in my constituency that are open and can be used by the public. Indeed, in Keighley, we have been promised a new police station back in the centre of town, despite it moving out 10 or so years ago. The big announcement was made, ironically, by our former police and crime commissioner just in advance of the general election in 2019 but, since then, nothing has happened.

This Conservative Government have already delivered 495 extra new police officers in West Yorkshire. We must ensure that those officers are on the beat in Keighley doing their job and that the public have a police station in the centre of town, as was promised by our previous police and crime commissioner. I want to ensure that my residents and my community feel reassured that having a police station in the centre of town means that crime will reduce. A stronger police presence means safer streets and much safer communities for us all to enjoy.

In a survey that was conducted earlier this year in my constituency, 68% of people felt that antisocial behaviour had increased as a result of not having a physical police station in the centre of town that they can go to and have connectivity with. If there are police stations in our town centres, people feel better about where they live. In turn, that will boost local businesses and communities, and it will improve aspiration.

Reopening town centre police stations is vital in my constituency. They offer not only a deterrent but reassurance to my constituents. The knock-on effect will be incredible. I urge our new West Yorkshire Mayor, who is in charge of our police, to listen to us in Keighley, to deliver a new police station in the centre of town, and to get our police station in Ilkley open for the public.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue, and I congratulate the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on enabling us to have this most informative and important debate. Before I make my main remarks, I just want to say that through having a wife who comes from County Armagh, and having lived through the troubles while stepping out with my good lady and then when we married, I know exactly what he is saying about police and what they did in Northern Ireland—I put that on the record.

I will just make one point to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson). She mentioned a capital receipt being used for a revenue budget, and I would have thought from my experience in another place that that was questionable. Perhaps the Minister or his officials should look at that. I am not entirely sure that is right and proper, and it is worth looking at.

I regret very much that other Scottish Members are not present today—I am the only one. I want to tell a cautionary tale about what has happened in Scotland. I realise that policing is devolved and that this is not pertinent to the responsibilities of the Minister, but there is a lesson to be learned.

In 2013, the Scottish National party Government decided to amalgamate all the constabularies in Scotland into one Scottish police force. Many of us warned at the time that that would take away localism and would not work. In the period that followed, I saw a dreary litany of police station closures in my vast constituency. I will name them for the record: Lybster and Castletown in Caithness, Evanton and Invergordon in Easter Ross, and Dornoch, Bonar Bridge, Brora and Lairg in Sutherland—eight police stations gone. From my experience of working with my constituents, that has eroded localism, as has already been said. In turn, that has reduced trust in the police force, which is absolutely fundamental to policing and how it should be conducted.

In my time as a councillor, I served for some years as a member of the Northern Joint Police Board, which was the interface between the police and the democratically elected councils for the highlands, Orkney and Shetland, and the Western Isles. It was the body that oversaw the police and engaged with them on policing matters. I can say from my experience that had the chief constable come to us, the politicians responsible, and said, “I propose to close the following eight police stations,” there would have been uproar. Some might have looked at that as being an unwarranted intervention by politicians in policing matters. On the other hand, we were the elected representatives of the people, we were in touch with our electorates in our wards, and we knew what would or would not wash. That accountability has gone, and I very much regret that. There have been calls for something to be established in its place, but I think I am correct in saying that, apart from public appointments by the Scottish Government, the local authorities have no power to appoint anyone who is in any sort of position to work with the police. Just for the record, it was a constructive relationship—it worked. Going back to what the hon. Member for South Dorset said, some things do work. Why change them?

I want to share an anecdote. When I was first elected as a councillor—a long time ago, in 1986—I was very pleased with myself. One Sunday, a retired colonel came to see me in my home and said, “Now look, it is disgraceful what happened last night. My wife and I live quietly in the middle of Tain, and when the local dance finished at midnight, all the youngsters came out drunk, shouting and misbehaving.”

It was having an appalling effect on this poor old couple, so I wrote to the chief constable, as a young councillor, aged 32, and said, “What do you intend to do about it? This is shocking!”—I had only been a councillor for a matter of weeks. I heard nothing for days, weeks, and perhaps a month, then Sergeant Magnus Mackay said, “Jamie, would you like to come up and just see me in the police station?” I went up, pleased with myself, and he said, “Now, this is the charge book. You wrote to the chief constable about the events of this date. Read that.”

What had happened was that the youngsters were coming out of the dance perfectly peacefully, and the colonel had come bouncing out of his, drunk and shouting at the youngsters. He had been arrested, and spent the night in the cells before he came to see me. The point of that anecdote is that Sergeant Magnus Mackay, feeling that he could talk to a local elected representative straight up about something, was what effective local policing is all about. It worked, and I realised that I had made a hash of it.

That was a cautionary tale—that is what can happen in part of the country. I very much regret that my SNP colleagues are not here today because I think that, while the matter is devolved to their colleagues in Edinburgh, the SNP Government have a responsibility for it.

Let me conclude with this: what we have today is, sadly, fairly far removed from what Sir Robert Peel first intended when he introduced policing all over the UK—that is why they are called bobbies; we know that. I hope that, in the fullness of time, the Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish Governments, and perhaps Her Majesty’s Government too, could look again at first principles of policing and say, “Are we drifting from the way we should be doing it?” because, very sadly—this is true of Governments of all colours—I think we have drifted, and I rue the day that we have now reached.

It is always a pleasure to speak in these debates. I thank the hon. and gallant Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) for the duty that he did in Northern Ireland—I do not think I have had many occasions to say this, but I wish to put it on record—and for his commitment to security through his position in the Army. We appreciate that there. The Province that we have today is a better Province because of the efforts of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and many of his colleagues, who did similar work. I want to thank him for that. I also thank him for leading the debate. There is nothing more reassuring to all our constituents than knowing that their safety is ensured through local policing.

I have had a long political career. I started in 1985 as a councillor, and chaired the policing board for our council area during that period, so policing has always been an issue in which I have had a deep interest. The Home Secretary has been under immense pressure to perfect policing. She has pledged, many times, to get more police officers on the street. The rough figure is 20,000—I think that the Chancellor confirmed that 20,000 figure today in his Budget speech today. Up until at least September, some 6,620 of those officers are in place, so there is clearly a commitment to the recruitment of police in a concerted, planned and strategic way. More police on our streets should come with more police stations, or the reopening of those that have previously been shut. The background information gives us some worrying figures, referring to some 667 being closed since 2010.

I know the Minister does not have responsibility for Northern Ireland—I understand that—but this is just to give a bit of background to the issues, from my experience as a councillor and in the Assembly. I have always been a great believer in and supporter of community policing. I have always felt, from my introduction as a local councillor many years ago, the importance of the bobby on the beat, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) referred to them. For me, it was the community officer, who everyone in the community knew. Each estate in the town, for example, had a community officer, or perhaps two, and they built up a very clear relationship and rapport with the local community. It really helped policing.

Police stations themselves give reassurance, because they are there, but they also need to have somebody inside for people to access. However, I believe that what gives people greater reassurance is having a community police officer on the beat in constituencies, including in the estates across the towns.

Recent statistics show that since 2010 the Metropolitan police service has closed some 71 police stations; they have been shut down. Similarly, in Northern Ireland multiple police stations have either been closed, shut down or had their opening hours drastically reduced since 2016. The Police Service of Northern Ireland outlined changes as part of its estate strategy. This included the sale of some 12 stations, which are no longer required for daily policing business. Four of those were in my constituency of Strangford: Portaferry; Ballynahinch; Saintfield; and Carryduff.

Portaferry is at the end of the Ards peninsula in my constituency of Strangford; I live in Greyabbey, halfway down the peninsula, on a farm in a rural community. If someone in Portaferry needed the police for an urgent matter, it would take some 33 minutes for a police officer to travel from the nearest town with a police station, which is Newtownards; that is also the town where my office is located. In a situation of dire need, can we really expect our constituents to wait over half an hour in some cases to be seen? Other Members—including the hon. Member for South Dorset, who secured this debate—have given similar examples.

Police station closures are one issue but the reduction in hours is another. An example of that was brought to my attention by a constituent who was out with his grandson at a play park that is located two minutes from a police station. There were young teenagers throwing bottles, causing havoc and engaging in other antisocial issues, which continue to be the No.1 issue; the hon. Member for South Dorset referred to antisocial issues, too, in his introduction to this debate. When my constituent went to the police station that was two minutes away to report the incident, he was turned away because the police station was not open. If there is going to be a police station, people need to have access to it; there at least needs to be some voice contact when people go to the front door, whether it is with someone centrally or whatever it may be. There definitely needs to be that system.

These are the on-the-ground issues that people care about, and our constituents have a right to feel safe and that their police service serves them, as it should. I mentioned yesterday in the debate about the Northern Ireland Bill that we have been asking for more police officers for years. We are making some steps towards that, but there are not yet enough police officers coming out of training colleges to replace those who are seeking retirement.

Over the last few years, we have had a raft of police officers retiring—those who are seasoned and who have lots of experience. I believe that it is always good for the police to retain some of those police officers to bring up the new officers who are coming in and train them in how to deal with the general public.

The antisocial behaviour rates are rife and there is simply not enough localised policing, which, as I said earlier, I am a great supporter of, to help to deal with the smallest of crimes, which still matter and must be addressed. A colleague of mine in my constituency of Strangford is Peter Weir, one of the MLAs. I have conducted surveys in most towns in the constituency of Strangford. I do them on a regular basis. During a recess, I tend to take a couple of hours or maybe three or four hours—it depends on what the workload in the offices are—to go and knock a few doors and give out the resident surveys. About 80% to 90% of any responses that we get back on the surveys and questionnaires that we send out mention antisocial behaviour, which often stems from the use of drink and drugs by youths in local towns. This is an example of why local police stations are needed, and we should vouch for them and call for their reopening. Crime cannot be ignored and I believe that our police are there to keep us safe. We have a duty to work alongside them, as well. However, many people would say that it is becoming increasingly hard to do that, because of the closure of so many local police stations.

I am ever mindful that the Minister has no responsibility whatsoever for Northern Ireland, but I am also ever conscious of the fact that what is happening to us in Northern Ireland is replicated elsewhere. So may I ask the Minister to undertake discussions with his counterparts in the devolved Administrations, as this is not a topic that applies solely to England and the mainland? These issues are rife all over the United Kingdom. Is there another way of doing policing? Is there a better way of doing it? I am the old-fashioned type, who likes to see the policeman on the beat. I was always reassured to see a police car, and even more reassured to see police officers walking up and down the main streets in the towns or villages.

These issues are rife all over the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In particular, I would appreciate consideration being given to those who live in rural communities, as I do. I know what it is like to be a distance from the police station. Often, little thought is given to rural crime, which has been an issue in my constituency. I make it my business every day to read not just my local papers—provincial papers back home—but the daily papers here. There is a theme that policing is under pressure, and more so in rural areas—or there is a different type of pressure in rural areas, as I think the hon. Member for South Dorset referred to.

Our constituents’ safety should be at the forefront of our priorities. When they are telling us that we need more local policing, we must listen to them. Again, I thank the hon. Member for all that he has done in raising the issue, and others who have spoken. I am sure that this is a problem in some way for all of us across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Even those who unfortunately cannot be present for the debate would probably replicate and illustrate the concerns that we have expressed in their constituencies.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on securing this important debate. We are all still mourning the loss of David Amess, who was a friend and colleague to many in this place. I have thought, following his death, of the police officers who would have had to be some of the first people on the scene to attend to that incident, and how horrific that must have been for them. I attended a funeral yesterday in my constituency of a 16-year-old boy who was murdered in his flat in front of his mother by many young teenage boys. Again, the police will have been the first people on the scene. We ask so much of our police officers, who face a difficult challenge. I start by thanking them for all that they do.

I have agreed in the main with everything that everybody has said. The hon. Member for South Dorset is right to question the direction of travel in terms of police station closures. I do not quite agree with some of his analysis. He was talking about the good old days of policing. I think that in many ways policing has come a long way and improved over the years. In the good old days, we probably would have turned a blind eye to domestic abuse, and we would not have uncovered some of the child abuse that we now do. In many ways, modern policing is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was.

I did not mean that in the slightest. The hon. Lady has taken what I said completely out of context. I was simply talking about the old way of doing things—catching criminals and locking them up, and having police officers on the beat. Of course, policing has changed. I totally accept that, but officers still need to be on the beat, baddies still need to be arrested and locked up, and we need to be protected. That has not changed.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I completely agree with the points that he makes; I was just contemplating the changing nature of crime, and the crime that we see, and what we do about it, which I think is a good shift. His fundamental point is about having police in our communities where we can see them and where they can see crime. We talked about the Peel principles—that the police are there to prevent crime, not just to tackle it once it happens. That is the starting point of our police service, and they cannot prevent crime unless they are there in our communities, understanding our neighbours.

I have reflected a lot since the death of David Amess about my own office space, and how it is one of the few places in our community where people can come and get access to an office, and the doors are open. The closure of a lot of our police stations reflects the closure of some of our other services. A lot of council services are now online. There are not many places where people can physically go and talk about their issues. Police stations are part of that picture.

As the shadow Minister of State for Police and the Fire Service, I spend all my time talking to the police, and talking about the impact of the cuts over the past 11 years. Since 2010, funding has been cut by £1.6 billion, and thousands of police have been taken off our streets. There are thousands fewer police officers now than there were in 2010; almost 8,000 fewer PCSOs; 7,500 fewer police staff; and 6,300 fewer special constables. The number of people who say that they never see police on the streets has doubled in that time.

As policing has suffered those cuts, the nature of crime is changing. We have high levels of violent crime, a high proportion of online crime—especially fraud, which is going through the roof—and the changing nature of terrorism, with the challenges that brings. The impact of cuts across other services, such as mental health services, youth work and the NHS, means that police are dealing with the fallout of a small state picking up the pieces when there is no one else left.

The hon. Member for South Dorset said that the police are not social workers. He is right; they are not. However, when I go out with police, they often provide that function because they are picking up people with mental health problems or substance misuse and spending hours taking them to A&E, going through the motions with them and making sure that they are okay, when actually we want the police on our streets preventing crime.

We have not just lost police officers. With all the cuts to police staff, we have lost the whole apparatus behind those who actively help to prevent and solve crime. As a response to and result of that, criminals are getting away with it; pathways to crime are open; and our children are being exploited by criminal thugs and groomed into violence. Our justice system is not making the right response and, at a national level, the problem is not taken seriously enough.

We talked about knife crime, which reached its highest levels on record in 2019-20 at more than 50,000 offences in a year. That is an extraordinary number, which has doubled since 2013-14. Between 2010 and 2019-20, knife crime rose in every single police force area in the country. Fraud and online crime has rocketed to such levels that most crimes are not even investigated. Outcomes for rape, which we have talked about over recent months, are at record low levels, at only 1.6%. Fewer than seven in every 100 violent crimes end up with a charge—an extraordinary figure.

Unlike this Government, Labour’s record in government shows that we can be trusted on policing and crime. By the time we left government, there had been 6 million fewer crimes than in 1997. The risk of being a victim of crime was at its lowest since the Crime Survey began in 1981, and police officers reached record numbers, up by almost 1,700 since 1997, alongside more than 16,000 PCSOs.

The figures on police station closures make grim reading. In 2018, The Times estimated that about 600 police stations had closed since 2010; the Daily Mail reported that it was 667. The closure of police stations forms a common thread across the length and breadth of the country. Regardless of whether the closures have happened under Conservative or Labour PCCs or Mayors, they are done because chief constables and PCCs can only play the hand they have been dealt by the Government here at Westminster.

A report from the Public Accounts Committee in 2018 claimed that closures were due to cuts in police funding, that funding cuts had led to forces selling off more of their assets to try to raise funds for capital investment and increasingly drawing on their reserves. We know that in South Yorkshire, 24 police stations have shut their doors.

I want to make a very quick point. When I was referring to my constituency, where we saw Keighley police station moved out of the centre of town and relocated, with a new police station built on the outskirts of town, it was all undertaken by a Labour police and crime commissioner. The same Labour police and crime commissioner that was—we now have a Labour West Yorkshire Mayor—is having discussions about moving the police station back into the centre of town. Does that not show a lack of strategy rather than it simply being related to funding models that have been dripped down from the national level?

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, but I disagree. If we look at the pattern of police station closures across the country, it has not just occurred in Keighley; it is everywhere. I was with the new West Yorkshire Mayor, Tracy Brabin, in her offices a couple of weeks ago talking about her approach to tackling crime, particularly, in that conversation, violence against women and girls. I am sure she will do the right thing. As has been mentioned, if 20,000 police officers are cut out of the system and then some are put back, there needs to be a physical place for people to go. The situation is that we closed everything down and are now having to look at whether we open things up again.

A lot has been said about the changing nature of how people want to report crime, and the opportunities available to report online. The hon. Member for South Dorset is right that there is a role for online reporting, and we need to look at how that works. In 2016, 8% of crimes were reported at police front counters—down from 22% in 2006. The Government’s so-called “Beating crime plan” includes proposals for every single person living in England and Wales to have digital access to police through a national online platform.

I suggest that that plan is not working. There is too much confusion about how and where to report crime, and the lack of action when people do. An extraordinary number of online fraud cases are not investigated at all. People report incidents online and wait a long time for a response. There are real pressures on the 101 service across the country, and victims of crime are increasingly calling 999 because they cannot get through on 101. The Cheshire police and crime commissioner said recently that 101 is “not fit for purpose”. Similar problems have been reported across the country.

Modern policing and the changing nature of crime mean that online reporting has an important role to play, but the value of face-to-face interaction with local police cannot be overstated. We need local neighbourhood policing in real life, not just online, and the Labour party is pushing for that. Neighbourhood policing and the role of PCSOs have never been more important. Police and place are intrinsically linked. When Labour was last in government, our policing reforms re-rooted British policing. We brought in neighbourhood policing teams all over England and Wales. We introduced the brilliant PCSOs, who are the eyes and ears of their communities. They provide vital intelligence and do a huge amount of preventive work. This Government have no plans to put more PCSOs back into communities.

A recent Police Foundation report found that, despite the Minister for Crime and Policing’s announcement on taking office that an extra 20,000 police officers would be recruited because people want to see more officers in their neighbourhoods, only 400 of the first tranche of 6,000 new recruits were deployed into neighbourhood roles—that is exactly the same number cut from the national PCSO cohort over the same period.

We want to ensure that in every neighbourhood, where people are frightened and afraid, there will a new police hub and neighbourhood prevention teams, bringing together police, community support officers, youth workers and local authority staff to tackle antisocial behaviour, as well as the perceived more serious crime that we have talked about. Where the graffiti starts, crime leads. That has to be tackled as a priority, as well as more serious crime.

Closures of police stations are sadly just one aspect of the attack on policing by Conservative Governments, which has culminated in a Britain characterised by increasing serious violence, antisocial behaviour at record levels tarnishing our streets, rape convictions at a record low, and violent crimes routinely going unresolved. Does the Minister agree with our overall argument that we need more police stations? What plans does he have to put them in place? Will he confirm whether the Budget contained any plans to increase the number of police stations? Does he agree with the public, who say that having a police station in their area makes them safer and prevents crime?

It is a great pleasure to appear before you, Ms Fovargue, I think for the first time. I am grateful to you for presiding over our proceedings. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) on securing this important debate. I know that he recognises that I do not, as a number of Members have said, have much sway over the doings of police and crime commissioners or the devolved Governments.

I have no more ability to get the SNP Government to address the issue raised by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) than I have to get them to sort out the Edinburgh children’s hospital debacle. Indeed, I have less power than the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to deal with Croydon’s disastrous finances, controlled, of course, by the party of the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). As far as London is concerned, the Mayor of London is in a much better position than me to make a decision about police stations in the capital, given that the mayoralty’s budget is significantly greater than the entire Home Office policing budget—approaching something like £19 billion.

I do recognise this issue and the important part that police stations play in people’s perceptions of safety in their local area. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset will agree that the police estate should not be set in aspic; there are buildings that are old and unsuitable, there are those that are in the wrong place and those that are inefficient or expensive to run. Often in the past we have found the police housed in Victorian buildings and custody suites that are not suitable for the modern day. Like all services—and like us in this glorious building in which we live—the police need to modernise their estate.

Very often that estate is not well disposed. When I became deputy Mayor for policing in London we inherited a chaotic estate of property across London. Dozens of buildings of all shapes and sizes that had accumulated over the decades—over two centuries of policing—meant that we often had, even here in Pimlico, two police stations that were broadly 10 minutes’ walk from each other, both fully operational with front counters. Therefore, some rationalisation, efficiency measures and decisions made locally about the best way to dispose of the police estate are obviously necessary. Quite rightly, that is the job of the locally elected police and crime commissioner, in conjunction with the operationally independent chief of police.

Having said that, I do recognise the role that police stations play in people’s sense of place. However, I think my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset said a couple of interesting and conflicting things in his speech. He said that he wanted police officers to mix more with the community, and that a police station would allow them to do that. He also said that he wanted to reopen police stations and get police back on the streets. Those two things may not necessarily achieve the same aim.

I will illustrate this to him with a story. Many years ago, when I was London Assembly member for West Central—which included Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham—we had a horrible murder in Shepherd’s Bush. It was a dreadful murder; we were fighting knife crime across the city at the time. The then borough commander, a chap called Kevin Hurley, a chief superintendent who went on to be police and crime commissioner in Surrey, held a public meeting that I attended. During the public meeting there was a row of people at the front who said that the problem is that Shepherd’s Bush police station is not open 24 hours a day. Kevin said, “I’ll tell you what, then—I will reopen Shepherd’s Bush police station 24 hours a day if you tell me which four police officers you want me to take off patrol to man the front desk?” At which point, everybody said, “No, no, no. We don’t want you to do that. We would rather they were out on the street.” Which is exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset wants. Kevin then said, “Maybe what we should do is leave the lights on so it looks like it is open 24 hours a day—would that be enough?” They all thought that was a fantastic idea.

This illustrates quite neatly what my hon. Friend is talking about, which is the importance of a sense of presence. A police station, historically, has said something about police presence in an area. However, I know that he does not want the police sitting in a police station for longer than is necessary—he wants them out on the street.

My right hon. Friend is generous for allowing this intervention. What I am saying is that we need both. I quite accept that if they are manning the police station waiting for people to come in, they will not be on the streets. I want—and constituents want—both. That is the point. The point is about priorities, and I can think of many things that I would like to scrap to pay for it.

I understand, but overall what we want is a greater sense of presence by whatever means it is delivered. I hope my hon. Friend will see that as we progress with the police uplift. We have announced today that we have now recruited more than 11,000 police officers across England and Wales—a gross recruitment of 23,000 police officers to backfill retirement, so we can do something to reinforce that sense of presence.

My hon. Friend is right that alongside that sense of presence we want officers that have an intimate knowledge of their local neighbourhood. A critical issue for us is the connection between the police and public that comes from the relationship that they have in their local neighbourhoods. We tried to address that in London all those years ago by insisting that police officers serving on neighbourhood teams spent at least three years on them, rather than a year or 18 months before moving on. That meant that they could develop good knowledge of the area and the kinds of relationships to provide the reinforcement that both my hon. Friend and I want to see.

My hon. Friend referenced the revolution wrought in New York by a former mayor and police chief. Rather than investing in bricks and mortar, they flushed lots of cops out of the police stations and on to the streets, to the extent that it was very hard to go 50 yards without seeing a police officer dealing with the type of crime mentioned by my hon. Friend. I hope we will see more and more of that as the number of police officers increases.

In order to get there, we need more resource. I hope my hon. Friend will have seen—I am surprised that the hon. Member for Croydon Central did not mention this—that today’s Budget gave policing a remarkably good settlement. The Chancellor has agreed to generously fund the continuation of the uplift, so that we will get to 20,000 police officers and then, critically, maintain that number. By the time we get to the end of the programme in 2024-25, there will be an additional £540 million for policing. We have also given greater flexibility to police and crime commissioners so that they can add up to £10 to the precept every year for the next three years, which should raise something approaching three quarters of a billion pounds for them to invest in policing.

As we grow and expand, all police and crime commissioners and chief constables will need to review their estates, making sure that they are properly disposed and in the right place and that they have the capacity to cope with the new police officers coming on board. As my hon. Friend said, the ability to base themselves locally is important, because we want to minimise travel time to and from their place of work.

I do not in any way contradict what the Minister is saying. I hope that it is all good stuff for a rural area of England such as South Dorset. Would he be good enough to share that expertise and approach with my colleagues north of the border?

Well, much as I would love to go for world domination, my writ does not run to Scotland and my ideas are not always necessarily welcome there. I have to say, however, that we are working co-operatively with the Scottish Government on the issue of drugs, a problem from which the hon. Gentleman’s constituency suffers, as does all of Scotland. I made a very productive visit to Police Scotland a few months ago. I went to see them in their castle on the central belt and talked to them about what more work we can do together on drugs in particular. If he will forgive me, I will refrain from recommending the disposition of police stations in his constituency and leave that argument to him and his Scottish nationalist friends.

It is very important that police and crime commissioners and chief constables keep their property portfolio under review and expand it as required for operational requirements and for the size of their forces. It is critical that police officers are put in the right place with the right facilities.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset will remember that early on in the uplift programme, when we announced that 20,000 police officers were coming forward, there was hilarity in the media when I said that one of the biggest constraints might be locker space, because space would be needed for 20,000 lockers. Most of the officers, if not all of them, will be on the frontline, out on the streets, because they will be in their early years of service. However, that issue could represent a significant constraint, which is why we required a review of the property strategy for more police forces. I hope and believe that that will now happen, that as we move forward we will get the right property disposition, the right equipment that police officers need, the right accessibility for everybody to report crime and interact with police officers in any way they want, and that we will generally improve people’s sense and perception of safety in the public realm.

Finally, I want to raise the issue that my hon. Friend neatly portrayed in that age-old phrase, “bobbies on the beat”. He is right that there is a basic expectation from the British people that they will see police officers patrolling their streets and keeping people safe. He will be interested to know that a few months ago, we launched a “grip” programme where we put £18 million into police officers identifying where violence occurs in 18 areas of the country, with a sharp geographic focus. Violence is quite sticky and can often be confined to quite small areas. The police officers should visit those hotspots on a regular and, critically, a randomised basis, making sure that they know where they are. They have a little GPS locator that they can go in and out of, so that they know when to go there and when they have to leave. They only have to be there for 15 minutes or so: park the car somewhere high profile, walk around, talk to people, interact with local residents and shops, and then move on to the next hotspot.

My hon. Friend will be interested to know that some of the early results are showing enormous falls in violence. In Southend we saw a fall of over 70% in violence, and in Bedfordshire there was a fall of 44%. I hope that this approach, which used to be called hotspot policing or cops on dots, will help us know where crime occurs, when it will occur and sometimes by who and that if a police officer is there at the right place and time, we can deter crime.

I hope that the programme of grip policing will be so successful that it becomes business as usual, and we can return to the style of policing that my hon. Friend harked back to, which is one that is plugged into a local community, that is visible on the streets and, critically, that is effective in driving down crime. Whether that involves a police station, more police officers, or a certain style of policing, that has to be our objective, but our fundamental requirement is that crime falls significantly. I know that he and I are joined in that mission, and I will do what I can to support him.

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. As I said at the start of my speech, I have nothing but praise for him, his Department and Dorset police—all of whom do a wonderful job. From Dorset’s perspective, I am concerned by the rationalisation or the centralisation where there is a temptation to have large centres that are manned and out of which officers and others go. My concern is that it detaches the officer from the area that they have to police.

As my right hon. Friend knows, Dorset is a huge county with a huge police requirement in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole to the east, as well as in the west in Weymouth. There are thousands of acres in Dorset where we hardly see a policeman through no fault of theirs, but they do not have the resources. I hope that the rationalisation does not go as far as saying that to do that effectively, we only have one police station in, say, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, rather than three or four well-positioned modern police stations. I understand that they cannot have old buildings, and nor do we want two police stations on top of each other.

To return to the point I have just made, a police station houses police officers. While I quite accept the example that my right hon. Friend gave, what if there were four officers manning that police station 24 hours a day? One of the common complaints from officers—I am sure this is true of officers across the country, too—is that when they arrest someone, they are off the streets: they go in the van and disappear. If they are dealing with a rowdy night in Weymouth—and there are a few of those—that means two or three officers gone, leaving their colleagues exposed. But if they could go back and hand those they have arrested over to the four officers at the local station, where there is a custody suite, they could then get straight back on the streets and do their job, which fulfils all requirements.

To end, I reiterate that I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I know that he is absolutely in line with us and joined at the hip. I also know that he is restricted due to a lack of funds. That is an issue—I get that—and I know that he will continue to fight for more funds. I hope that I have not given the old-fashioned luddite view of policing. I did not mean that in the sense that the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) interpreted. What I meant was that we need officers on the beat who are visible to the public to reassure them, catch criminals and deter crime—

Sitting suspended.

Dame Carol Black’s Independent Review of Drugs Report

Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate. That can be done either at the testing centre in the House or at home. 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 Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs report.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The damning conclusion of part two of Dame Carol Black’s review, setting out a way forward on drug treatment and recovery, was that

“the public provision we currently have for prevention, treatment and recovery is not fit for purpose, and urgently needs repair.”

I have called today’s debate because the report’s recommendations are too important to be left gathering dust on ministerial bookshelves. I want Dame Carol’s words ringing in ministerial ears. She says:

“Government faces an unavoidable choice: invest in tackling the problem or keep paying for the consequences. A whole-system approach is needed…This part of my review offers concrete proposals, deliverable within this Parliament, to achieve this.”

Of the review, Dame Carol says:

“It calls for significant investment, but the payoff is handsome: currently each £1 spent on treatment will save £4 from reduced demands on health, prison, law enforcement and emergency services. I am hopeful that the recommendations will be welcomed by this government as they strongly support its crime reduction and ‘levelling up’ agendas.”

The 32 recommendations are a gift to the Government, and should be a moment for change. It is fitting that the debate falls on Budget day. The economic cost of drug misuse is upwards of £20 billion each year; yet the spending on prevention and treatment stands at just £650 million. The recommendations give hope that real change is possible. Addiction is a national crisis. Drug and alcohol-related deaths are the highest on record, at the very moment that treatment services are most ill-equipped to deal with the soaring need.

Forward Trust estimates that more than 2 million people are in need of help with alcohol, drugs or gambling, and its recent YouGov poll showed that 64% of people said that they knew someone personally struggling with addiction. Since I talked openly about my personal experience of addiction and recovery, I have been over- whelmed by the thousands of people who have reached out to tell me their personal stories—of the horror of addiction, and the blessings of recovery. The tragedy is that addiction is everywhere, yet remains so hidden.

In 2019 Dame Carol was commissioned by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), to independently review illicit drugs in England. I thank her for her commitment and dedication over the last few years, and all those who contributed to this groundbreaking report. Most of all, I hope that my contribution today does justice to the absolute clarity that Dame Carol brings to these incredibly complex matters. Part one of her review was published on 27 February, and made for uncomfortable reading. The unflinching analysis detailed the extent of drug-related harm and the challenges posed by drug supply and demand, including the ways in which drugs fuel serious violence.

The Department of Health and Social Care swiftly commissioned Dame Carol to produce part two of her independent review, which focused on how to improve the funding, commissioning, quality and accountability of drug prevention, treatment and recovery services in England. Part two of her report, published in July, pulls no punches either. It says:

“Funding cuts have left treatment and recovery services on their knees. Commissioning has been fragmented, with little accountability for outcomes. And partnerships between local authorities, health, housing, employment support and criminal justice agencies have deteriorated.”

The report goes on:

“The workforce is depleted, especially of professionally qualified people, and demoralised. Vital services have been cut back, particularly inpatient detoxification, residential rehabilitation, specialist services for young people, and treatment for cannabis and stimulant users.”

I commend the hon. Member for bringing this issue to Westminster Hall for debate and discussion. Does he agree that more should be done to ensure that alcoholism in particular is treated urgently, along with drugs, and that help needs to be given to families for rehabilitation, which he has referred to, not in a punitive fashion, which is how some would like to do it, but instead to help to draw people away from their addiction? That has to be done in such a way that people wish to get away from their addiction and try to move forward.

Absolutely. That is a valuable intervention, and it is good that we have a Health Minister responding to this debate, because it is a health response, joined up across Government, that this issue calls for.

Part two of the report goes on:

“Areas of the country with the highest rates of drug deaths or the poorest treatment services are the very same areas where the need to level up is greatest. These communities want to see urgent and effective action to tackle the violent drugs market, alongside purposeful efforts to rebuild treatment services and recovery support so that people can get the help they need.”

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech, and I very much endorse and support the recommendations of Dame Carol Black’s review. However, I have heard her present these reports, and she has been very clear that the framework that she was given—the parameters that she was allowed to look at—deliberately excluded any review of the legislation that frames this whole matter. Given that this is a unique health pandemic—because the victims of it are liable to criminal prosecution if they seek help, and many who would seek to help them would be liable to criminal prosecution if they tried to do so—is it not time for the Government to begin a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, to ensure a more up-to-date legal framework to deal with these problems? Would that not assist in the implementation of Dame Carol Black’s recommendations?

The hon. Member makes an important point, although it is one that I will not get drawn into today.

A month after part two was published, the Office for National Statistics confirmed that drug-related deaths had hit an all-time high in England and Wales—the highest number of deaths since records began. Drug deaths have risen 60% in the last decade. In 2020, 4,561 people lost their lives to drugs. Each life lost represents years of pain and suffering; each life lost leaves a family devasted and shattered irreversibly; each life lost is evidence of a missed treatment opportunity; and, most importantly for us today, it is important to accept that each life lost is a failure of policy, too.

I want to make special mention of the stigma that surrounds addiction. Someone who finds themselves dependent on a substance deserves the evidence-based health treatment and support that works, yet stereotyping and prejudice remain all too common in our approach to addiction. It was disappointing to see the Government’s response to the review referring to addiction as a “scourge on society”. The dehumanisation of people who become drug-dependent feeds into the stigma that we must eradicate, so we must steer the discussion, the policies and the treatment towards a compassionate and person-centred health response.

Last week I joined the Forward Trust at the launch of its “Taking action on addiction” campaign, which aims to improve public understanding of addiction as a erious, chronic mental health condition. The Duchess of Cambridge, patron of the Forward Trust, spoke there. I want to quote her at length:

“Addiction is not a choice. No one chooses to become an addict. But it can happen to any one of us. None of us are immune. Yet it’s all too rarely discussed as a serious mental health condition. And seldom do we take the time to uncover and fully understand its fundamental root causes.

“The journey towards addiction is often multi-layered and complex. But, by recognising what lies beneath addiction, we can help remove the taboo and shame that sadly surrounds it. As a society, we need to start from a position of compassion and empathy.”

As many as 80% of the public support more treatment and care for people struggling with addiction; less than 10% believe more punishment and condemnation would help. Intolerance, shaming, tougher punishments and denial will not rid society of addiction, because addiction is an illness. It is a matter of public health, and Dame Carol puts it best when she says,

“It must be recognised that addiction is a chronic mental health condition, and like diabetes, hypertension or rheumatoid arthritis, it will require long-term follow-up.”

Sadly, as things stand, I cannot think of another illness that causes so much harm to society, that is given so little, and the sufferers of which are treated with such contempt. It is the only illness in which blame is placed on the person suffering. Instead of blaming the individual for making bad choices, we need to ask why so many people are turning to substances in the first place.

Now to the prevention, treatment and recovery system as it stands: not fit for purpose, in urgent need of repair, years of austerity, continued disinvestment, fragmentation and a dire lack of accountability throughout. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 shifted addiction treatment out of the NHS mental health services on to local authorities, at the same time as their budgets were being slashed. On that matter, Dame Carol is clear:

“We recommend that funding for drug treatment be allocated to local authorities based on a needs assessment and then protected.”

We also urgently need to improve the situation for people suffering co-occurring mental ill health and drug or alcohol dependency. Too many people are being bounced between fragmented services and end up falling between the cracks. It is simply wrong that mental health services can require patients to reduce their alcohol or drug use, without providing the proper support to do so, before they can receive the treatment they need. Or that drug and alcohol services do not possess the competencies to support someone with significant mental health issues, thereby often leaving sufferers with no support whatsoever.

There must be a “no wrong door” policy. One young woman, whom I will call Jane, told me:

“It was as if I had to get more ill, drink and use more, until I got the right help and support. For 18 months, my mental health deteriorated. Mental health services couldn’t help me and addiction services struggled to support me because of my poor mental health. I was so frightened, I had to reach crisis point and rock bottom before I was able to be considered for residential treatment.”

Jane is now in recovery and leading a happy, healthy life, but she did not receive public funding. In fact, she was denied that. If it had not been for a chance meeting with Action On Addiction, which provided her with a bursary-funded bed, she would not be alive today. It should simply not fall to charities to catch the increasing numbers of people falling through the threadbare safety net. Access to treatment should not be about luck, only available to those who can afford it or those who live in a local authority that prioritises it.

Currently, the drugs treatment market operates in a similar way to that of adult social care. Providers are being squeezed and staff poorly paid. There is high turnover in the workforce and a depletion of skills. The number of medics, psychologists, nurses and social workers in the field is falling significantly.

It is time to repair that broken system and overhaul addiction treatment, and we have the road map for the future—the 32 recommendations of Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs. The scope of the recommendations is far-reaching and the solutions span many Government Departments, local government and other organisations.

Dame Carol’s review has pursued three main objectives: first, to increase the proportion of people misusing drugs who can access treatment and recovery support, including more young people, with earlier interventions to divert offenders away from the criminal justice system; secondly, to ensure that the treatment and recovery package offered is of high quality and includes evidence-based drug treatment, mental health and physical interventions, and employment and housing support; and thirdly, to reduce the demand for drugs and prevent problematic drug use, including use by vulnerable and minority groups and recreational drug users.

To achieve those objectives, significant changes need to be made in four areas: radical reform of leadership funding and commissioning; rebuilding of services; increased focus on prevention and early intervention; and improvements to research and how science informs policy, commissioning and practice. And the 32 recommendations cover a wide range of responsibilities.

The Government have already begun to set in motion some of the structural changes, which I welcome, and the policy commitments that will help to drive through the review’s recommendations. It is reassuring that Dame Carol herself will continue to act as an independent adviser to Government. However, the remaining recommendations are contingent on Government investment.

In January 2021, the Government announced £148 million of new money to cut crime and protect people from the harms caused by illegal drugs, which I also welcome, with £80 million of that money to be invested in treatment and recovery. That £148 million must be the first instalment of the £1.78 billion that Dame Carol has called for over the next five years and I hope that the Minister has come with hot-off-the-press Budget commitments. Dame Carol’s spending recommendation would restore addiction treatment to what it was before 2012. Although local authorities are well positioned to oversee services, drastic cuts to public health grants have led to cuts to addiction treatment services over many years. The Local Government Association has long argued that reductions to the councils’ public health grant, which is used to fund drug and alcohol prevention and treatment services, is a false economy, which will only compound acute pressures for criminal justice and NHS services further down the line.

I must stress to the Minister that if the Treasury is unable to find all the funding that the review calls for, the money it does find must not be thinly spread across the country. Instead, it should be targeted at those areas most in need, and efforts must be made at least to pilot the whole-systems approach that Dame Carol has called for. Small amounts of money given to each local authority will not bring about the long-term transformational change that the review demands.

There has simply never been the political will to act on prevention, treatment and recovery from drug and alcohol harm, but we have reached a crisis point, with record deaths, rising economic and social harms, and depleted treatment services. Dame Carol’s groundbreaking review, which was commissioned by this Government, is the moment for change, and the Government cannot meet their pledges to level up the deprived communities that they seek to represent, which are often found in the north, unless they recognise that. In the words of Dame Carol herself:

“The Government must either invest in tackling the problem or keep paying for the consequences.”

A number of Members are waiting to speak. I am not imposing a formal time limit, but please keep contributions to four minutes or others will lose out. I call Rachael Maskell.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) on securing today’s debate, and I thank Dame Carol Black for putting forward such strong recommendations: 32 in all that must be adopted in full.

Some 3 million people have used drugs in the last year—an indicator of why the issue is so urgent. As we have heard, in the last year 4,561 people have lost their lives, including a young boy in my constituency. That brings it home how important it is to tackle the issue and move it into a public health framework. We know that it preys on people whose lives have been afflicted with trauma and many complex needs, but it can also be indiscriminate. That path is not inevitable. Things can change, and the report describes a pathway for bringing about change.

I was struck by the call for a change in governance and ensuring that there is a central drugs unit. That should be a priority for No. 10 and a sub-committee of the Cabinet in order to bring together Government Departments to bring the laser-like focus that is needed. When money, time and people are focused, it can shift agendas. We need leadership. We need to build an evidence base and to invest in research on the best treatments and early intervention. If we take a half-hearted approach, we will not shift the dial. That is why the Minister should step up and make it possible to bring about change.

We need to see diversion as well so that people are not sucked into the criminal justice system, but brought out of it through diversion and ensuring that, for instance, young people are not arrested but pushed down the line of education, giving them a pathway out into apprenticeships and work, and giving them the chances in life that they have never had. We need to invest in and mentor young people so that their future goes a different way. Many of the people dealing drugs are being exploited by criminal gangs, and they too deserve a future that is very different from the paths that they are on.

We need investment in treatment, as has been articulated, not only for mental health but for physical health as well. We need to build stability, too, with a housing first approach so that people have a house. When people leave the criminal justice system, they need a house, a treatment plan, a bank account, and also a job to move into if that is appropriate. We should look at the person and not just the issue.

We need to go further, so I urge the Minister to look at how we can create drug consumption rooms where people can engage with services, while recognising that it will take people six or seven attempts on average to move out of a life on drugs. Also, I want the Minister to look into heroin-assisted treatment so that we can take a different approach to break the cycle of substance misuse. There is a real opportunity ahead of us, and I trust the Minister will step up and deliver.

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) on securing this debate, on his courageous and dedicated approach, and on setting out so clearly the context of Dame Carol Black’s independent review. As he said, the whole point of commissioning reviews from independent experts is to provide a way forward, and not for them to simply sit on the shelf as the completion of a process when they should be the start of it. Precisely because they have been independent, they provide grounds for cross-party consensus that all of us, from all parties, can get behind. I hope that that comes out strongly from the debate today and in what we hear in response from the Minister.

It is not a secret that drug deaths in Scotland are unacceptably high and among the worst in Europe. I would imagine that most Scottish Members of Parliament will have come into contact with someone affected by, or connected to a death, whether that is a constituent or their family, a minister—some ministers in Glasgow have to conduct services far too frequently—or indeed through their own friends or family. Certainly, I have had all three of those experiences. Every death is a tragedy.

The First Minister has admitted that more should have been done, and that more needs to be done going forward. For me, that must include the adoption of the recommendations made by Dame Carol Black. It must include the kind of responses that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) spoke about as regards reform of the Misuse of Drugs Act—clearly, after 50 years, a piece of legislation that is well past its sell-by date. It is clearly not doing what it was originally intended to achieve.

I welcome the steps that the Scottish Government have taken so far, in the additional funding they have announced—£250 million over the next five years to be spent in a range of different responses. They continue to look at some of the things that the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) spoke about, such as prevention facilities or drug consumption rooms—depending on what we want to call them—and heroin-assisted treatment facilities. They are not quite within the devolved powers, but the Scottish Government will do what they can. Ideally, the UK Government will give them the powers if they are not willing to legislate in those areas.

Finally, I want to reflect on the recovery strand. The amazing charity Faces and Voices of Recovery UK, run by Anne Marie Ward, is based in my constituency. In 2018, it launched a charter, a declaration of recovery rights for people seeking to recover from drug and alcohol addiction. That declaration, and the early-day motion that I tabled at the time to support it, was signed by many Members of this House, on a cross-party basis. It was compiled after a year of consultations across the UK into what the charity identified, even then, as a drug death crisis.

The declaration states that all people in recovery have a right to recover from addiction, if they find themselves in that situation. It seeks to build communities of recovery and pledges that people who are current or former substance users should be able to live their lives free from stigma, with access to quality care, meaningful political representation—which is a duty on us all—and well-informed choice, and touches on a range of other important aspects.

It has support from a wide range of organisations, including the Scottish Drugs Forum, Alcohol Change UK, the Scottish Recovery Consortium, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and so on. It is based on the underlying principle that people in recovery have a right to respect and dignity, and to live free from stigma and discrimination. If the Minister is not familiar with that document, I am very happy to send her a copy, and I very much hope that she will familiarise herself with it and adopt its principles as part of the Government’s response to Dame Carol’s report.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) on securing today’s debate. His campaigning on the issue has been excellent, and I am pleased to support the points he has raised. I refer to my entry in the register of interests, as I speak as a vice president of the Local Government Association.

We know that drug misuse has had a devastating impact on UK society, costing over £19 billion per year. Drug-related deaths have risen by 80% since 2012, and we are still seeing worrying rises in young people reporting early onset addiction. The latest LGA estimates suggest that around 200,000 people are receiving help for substance misuse, and another 100,000 are not receiving support. Addiction must be seen as a chronic health condition. Like other conditions, it requires long-term follow up. Trauma and mental ill health are identified as key drivers and an accompaniment to much addiction. They are comorbidities, rather than separate problems.

Tackling the problem requires a holistic multi-agency approach, with Government Departments working together to invest in and improve treatment, employment, housing support, and the way people with addictions are treated in the criminal justice system. However, access to addiction treatment and recovery is now a postcode lottery. More than half of state-funded residential addiction rehabilitation centres in the UK have closed in the last eight years, and the capacity of prison recovery programmes has reduced by over 60% in the same period. In some local authorities, funding for addiction services has been cut by more than 40%.

Since 2014-15, the Government have presided over a real-terms cut of £700 million to local councils’ public health funding, and single-year settlements and the late allocation of budgets have created unnecessary uncertainty. The LGA has long argued that reductions to councils’ public health grant, which is used to fund drug and alcohol prevention and treatment services, are a false economy that will only compound acute pressures for criminal justice and NHS services further down the line.

The Government are also failing to facilitate early intervention to divert young people away from drugs and crime, which is an issue raised by many of my constituents. Under the Tories, spending on young people’s services has been cut by 73%. Some 900 youth centres have been closed, and 4,500 youth worker jobs have been cut. Although today’s Budget announcements are welcome, it is obvious that the Government have reflected that much of this was a mistake.

For every £1 spent on addiction treatment, the Exchequer saves at least £3 in crime, health and benefit expenditure, and for every £1 spend on family intervention services, the Exchequer can generate £2.76 in savings. The public provision for prevention, treatment and recovery needs urgent repair, with the impact of the pandemic meaning that the problem will almost certainly get worse and act as a major barrier to levelling up.

To build on what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton has already said, I hope the Government will commit to take steps to adopt Dame Carol Black’s recommendations to properly fund and resource addiction recovery services and, importantly, cross-Departmental liaison. I hope the Minister understands why last week I asked when she had spoken to the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Public Health to discuss covid, addiction and other important issues, because they are so cross-cutting. I look forward to her response.

It is great to see you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) on his bravery and on securing the debate.

I very much welcome the review by Dame Carol Black, but I note with great sadness her stark observation that Governments have de-prioritised these problems—from drugs entering the country, right through to helping drug users access appropriate treatment and achieve recovery. It is that second aim on which I will concentrate my brief remarks because, sadly, Office for National Statistics data show that the north-east is the worst area in the country for drug-related deaths. That makes it all the more important that programmes to address addiction as a health and public protection issue are successful. Accordingly, I was delighted in 2019 that the then Labour police and crime commissioner for Cleveland, Barry Coppinger, provided the essential funding, derived from the proceeds of crime, for the heroin-assisted treatment programme based in my Middlesbrough constituency—the first and only one of its kind in the UK.

This is undoubtedly a hard road, but there is no doubt that the programme has been immensely successful. The first cohort accepted on to the scheme were 14 of the most at-risk individuals in Middlesbrough, who caused the most concern to the criminal justice agencies and the health and social care services. Some had been using street heroin for over 20 years, and all other treatment had failed. Whereas six of them had committed 541 detected crimes before the scheme, with an estimated cost to victims and the public purse of £2.1 million, their combined crimes fell to three lower-level offences after starting their treatment.

In all cases, the individuals concerned either completed their probation or showed improved compliance with a probation order, and there was a 98% attendance rate at the twice-daily sessions, which continued through covid and lockdowns. None of the participants went back to sleeping on the streets, their use of illicit substances declined markedly, and their mental wellbeing improved. I am delighted that the clinical lead on the programme, Danny Ahmed, has been in Parliament today, and I pay great tribute to the superb work that he and his colleagues have done in showing the country the way to address this most complex of issues.

In closing, I would also like to pay tribute to the courageous stance taken by the chief constable of Cleveland, Richard Lewis, in his recent article in The Guardian where he said amongst other things that,

“The heroin-assisted treatment programme offers hope, if scaled up on a national level, that demand for heroin can be cut. When the state offers a meaningful alternative to the street drugs that can be bought from organised crime groups, the demand for them decreases.”

Finally, he said that the programme in Middlesbrough

“could possibly represent the beginning of the end for the ‘war on drugs’ that has already taken too many lives.”

I wholeheartedly agree, and I trust that the Government will take on board each and every one of the 32 recommendations that Dame Carol Black makes.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) on securing the debate, and on the way that he spoke with great knowledge and passion. I declare my interest as co-chair of the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party parliamentary group. In that capacity it was my privilege to introduce Professor Dame Carol Black to address our group the week after she published her report. My co-chair, Lord Ramsbotham, has repeatedly asked in the other place when the Government will establish the long-awaited royal commission on the criminal justice system. I hope the Minister may have some news on that for us.

Dame Carol’s report recommended earlier interventions for offenders to divert them away from the criminal justice system, particularly prison. Providing people with pathways into treatment, rather than into the criminal justice system, seems an eminently sensible approach because, as Dame Carol observed:

“Rarely are prison sentences a restorative experience.”

Over a third of prison places in England and Wales are taken up because of drug-related offences.

I pay tribute to the pioneering work of the late Ron Hogg, who, as Durham’s police and crime commissioner, introduced a successful checkpoint scheme. We have since heard of other excellent diversion schemes, such as those developed in the West Midlands and in Thames Valley—we desperately need more like them. I am glad that Ron’s successor, Joy Allen, along with Dorset PCC Dave Sidwick, is leading the PCCs’ work on addiction. I am sure the Minister will join me in welcoming their dedication to helping people towards a safer and healthier future.

Dame Carol understands that addiction is a chronic health condition, arising as people try to cope with trauma and other issues. Her report rightly condemned the current situation as intolerable. Drug-related deaths are at record levels, the impact of drug-related harms in many places is getting worse and the worst affected areas are those with greatest deprivation. I am sad to say that the highest rate of drug misuse deaths in 2020 was once again in the north-east, which according to the ONS has had the highest rate of drug misuse for the past eight years, with a significantly higher rate than other regions of England and over three times the rate of London.

We know drug treatment has seen years of disinvestment. Some services have seen budgets nearly halved as funding has been redirected to other local government priorities. There has been an absence of political leadership and financial commitment to address the concerns of the sector, with very clear and obvious consequences. A range of treatment providers welcome Dame Carol’s review, fully endorse her recommendations for a whole system approach and told our group they were keen to seize this unique opportunity to rebuild and renew our treatment and recovery system. Jon Murray, an executive director at With You told us:

“This review represents a potentially defining moment in the course of drug treatment in the UK.”

Yasmin Batliwala, chair of the Westminster Drug Project said:

“This report has the potential to be a game changer!”

Karen Tyrell, executive director at Humankind added:

“Dame Carol Black has provided the map needed to get the sector back on course and we urge the government to employ their moral compass, invest accordingly and help us turn this ship around.”

For far too long, piecemeal investment through path- finders and pilot schemes failed to provide the stability for providers to develop the long-term plans, and recruit and retain the high-quality staff, that are needed to meet the ambitions laid out in the review. As recommended, ringfenced funding is essential for the sector to build and maintain a resilient support system for the hundreds of thousands of people who so desperately need and deserve those services. I sincerely hope that the Government will act on all of Dame Carol’s recommendations.

Thank you for allowing me time to speak, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) on securing the debate.

Having read Dame Carol Black’s “Review of drugs part two” several times now and having listened to her present and answer questions on the report, I find myself increasingly frustrated, not with Dame Carol Black, but within myself. The inadequacies of the existing system are laid bare for all to see in the report. Crucial areas that must be addressed are explained and, as we have heard, 32 recommendations are detailed. Drug treatment, recovery support, funding, commissioning, diversion, employment, housing, mental and physical health, prevention, intervention and research—the report has recommendations on them all. It is right and proper that we tackle drug policy in that way. Patching will not do; we need reform on a grand scale, put into the hands of the people best placed to make it effective.

For too long, drugs have been designated as a matter for the judicial system, and our health services have been left to pick up the pieces. The report puts health at the heart of the solution and should be commended for doing so. However, apart from making recommendations, there is nothing that the report or I can do. That is the cause of my frustration. Dame Carol Black is absolutely clear that if the UK Government start to pick and choose which of her 32 recommendations to implement, it will not work. I applaud her for saying that. Too often we make do and mend with policies that have been ripped up and rewritten.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is a case in point. For 50 years, it has made the situation worse, but to expect the UK Government to have a sudden blinding flash of understanding and compassion would be naive. They will not implement many of the recommendations; they will pick a few, dress up a few others, pay lip service to some and ignore the rest. I say that with confidence and a heavy heart: confidence, because the UK Government just do not get the issue of drug addiction and harm—while the administration of the area continues to be held in the Home Office, the situation will not improve—and a heavy heart, because as people in the drug rehabilitation community keep telling me, “You keep on talking and we keep on dying.”

That is not Dame Carol Black’s fault. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) mentioned, Dame Carol’s remit was deliberately precise. She was not allowed to recommend any new legislation, which in effect neuters her report. How can she be expected to identify improvements for a system that is tied up and gagged by the law if she cannot suggest some changes to the law? Dame Carol Black, however, had a good go at that by recommending a new structure for the mechanics of government which, if it were allowed to function, could within itself produce the required legislation. I am sure that Dame Carol Black would be happy with the outcome: she feeds in all the good ideas and the UK Government put them through a mincer, come up with a solution that she proposed, and implement it, taking the credit.

To be honest, I would be more than happy if that happened, but I just cannot see it, because one recommendation is the creation of a new central drugs unit. According to the report, that unit should be placed

“in whatever department or joint arrangement seems appropriate”.

Unless that Department is the Department of Health and Social Care, it is a non-starter.

The intransigence of the Home Office has been a feature of this UK Government, and I cannot see that changing any day now. I expect warm words for Dame Carol Black’s report, which could be seen as progress, but I do not expect that the UK Government will do anything other than launch inquiries, form committees, divert responsibility and talk about budgets and constraint. However, I am pleased that we have a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Care present, because historically the UK Home Office is where good ideas go to die.

At the start of Dame Carol Black’s report, as has been said already in the debate, but it is worth repeating— I love this quote—she states:

“Government faces an unavoidable choice: invest in tackling the problem or keep paying for the consequences. A whole-system approach is needed”.

She is absolutely correct. I say to the Minister, go on: agree to all 32 recommendations, fund them and put the power of implementation into the appropriate Departments, proving me 100% wrong—please.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Fovargue. I commend all hon. Members who have spoken, with great insight and authority. They made many serious points, which I hope the Minister will respond to.

I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), for not only his superb presentation of the issues in the Black report but for the way in which he spoke with great eloquence and bravery about his personal story of addiction. I am not ashamed to say that it moved me to tears. I, too, have spoken about how addiction has affected my family and what it meant for me as a child growing up with a father who had a serious drink problem. I know that thousands of people who are, struggling with addiction, or see a loved one doing so, will have heard my hon. Friend’s speech. Although they may never get in touch with or meet him, his speech will have been a tremendous comfort to them, and we should all thank him for his bravery.

I will focus on the addiction crisis that we face as a country. I commend Dame Carol on her excellent report. Her 32 recommendations should be taken forward by the Government, and we need to hear from the Minister exactly what their attitude is to them. I offer to work with her on a cross-party basis on this public health crisis. In the last year, more than 7,000 people in England and Wales have died from alcohol-related causes. Alcohol-related liver disease is increasing. More and more people are dying from drug poisoning across England and Wales. There are, of course, particular issues in Scotland, which Members who represent Scottish constituencies rightly raised.

We are at risk of our society falling into a situation where deaths among those in their 40s and 50s are increasingly either the result of suicide or are drug or alcohol-related. They are called deaths of despair. For quite some time, this been a well known and tragic phenomenon in the United States, and we are at risk of seeing it become a feature here in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton is right that addiction is a national crisis, and spot on when he says that it is everywhere but well hidden.

We are having this debate on the day the Chancellor has presented his Budget, but even though this is a public health crisis, and we are still experiencing another public health crisis, public health did not feature in the Budget. As a number of Members have quoted, Dame Carol says:

“Government faces an unavoidable choice: invest in tackling the problem or keep paying for the consequences.”

The Chancellor ducked that choice today, and public health did not get the substantial increase in funding that it needs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) said, the Budget comes after real-terms cuts in recent years of £800 million to £1 billion, depending on how we calculate the figures. Those real-term cuts mean that drug and alcohol addiction services have lost £122 million in recent years—a 15% cut.

The Health Secretary likes to use Blackpool as an example of why we need to level up, pointing out the stalling life expectancy there. Blackpool, which has the highest mortality rate in the country for alcohol-related deaths and has the thirteenth highest number of deaths from drug poisoning, has had a £43 per person cut to public health funding in recent years. Manchester, which had the fifth highest number of deaths from drug poisoning in 2020, has had a £33 cut per person in public health funding in recent years. In 2020, Liverpool had the joint highest number of deaths from drug poisoning, with 89 people losing their lives, yet the city has had a £34 per person real-terms cut in public health funding. We look forward to the Minister telling us how local authority drug and alcohol addiction services are expected to cope if the cuts are not reversed—

Will the Minister respond on the public health cuts? When will we see the investment in drug and alcohol addiction services that Dame Carol Black’s report calls for?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) on securing this extremely important debate. I pay tribute to all his work on addiction and his openness regarding his personal experience in previous debates. As the right hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) said, he brought many of us to tears. No doubt his example will serve as inspiration for others to take that crucial first step of coming forward to ask for help.

I thank all those working in the drug and alcohol addiction sector, particularly during the pandemic. I commend the work they do to help people through periods of their lives that are exceptionally difficult, often through no fault of their own. As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, the drug and alcohol addiction sector faces challenges. There is no hiding from it. Drug misuse deaths in England have been on the rise for many years and are currently the highest on record. That is true across most of the United Kingdom. Our neighbours are all grappling with this devastating issue, particularly Scotland, where deaths rates are the highest in Europe, as hon. Members have highlighted.

Drugs destroy lives, ruin families and tear apart communities. That is why in February 2019 the Home Secretary appointed Dame Carol Black to undertake an independent review of drugs. Part one was published on 27 February 2020, during the Government’s UK-wide drugs summit in Glasgow. It provided a detailed analysis of the challenges posed by drug supply and demand, including the first detailed analysis of the drugs market and the ways drugs fuel serious violence. After being commissioned by the Health Secretary, part two of Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs was published earlier this year, on 8 July. As hon. Members have highlighted, Dame Carol made it clear that tackling drug addiction needs to be more health focused. I am committed to making it so. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that now is the moment for change.

I would like to talk about the substantial action the Government have already taken and our commitment to go much further. Dame Carol has been a fantastic champion for better treatment and recovery services. I am very pleased she will be working closely with the Government as an independent advisor, holding us to account each step of the way and providing advice on how we can make real change. We are already making improvements to treatment and recovery through the £148 million crime package announced in January this year. Of that, £80 million has been allocated to local authorities for drug treatment and recovery services. This is the largest increase in drug treatment funding for 15 years, and it is already making a difference.

That funding allocation is being focused on increasing the number of treatment places for drug users in contact with the criminal justice system, diverting people away from custody and into treatment services and, crucially, making sure that we get more people into treatment after they are released from prison. It is also being used to fund additional in-patient detox beds, further residential rehabilitation places and the life-saving overdose medication naloxone. The additional treatment places are most needed, and they will benefit people with alcohol dependency as well as drug dependency.

The Government published our initial response to the findings of part one and part two of Dame Carol’s independent review on drugs on 27 July 2021. The response did not hold back in setting out our clear cross-Government commitment to this agenda and to taking effective action, given the urgency of addressing these issues. We committed to responding to Dame Carol’s review in full by the end of this year, and to set out a long-term drug strategy. That is exactly what we will do. I would like to reassure hon. Members that Dame Carol’s review will definitely not sit on the shelf.

As Dame Carol points out, we must work across the whole of Government to combat drug misuse and drive down drug supply and demand. That approach is absolutely key. That is why, in July this year, we established a new joint combating drugs unit, whose mission is to co-ordinate and drive a genuinely whole-of-Government approach to drug policy. The joint unit is already bringing together multiple Government Departments to tackle the problem across society. I am pleased that a number of staff from my Department have joined the unit, again ensuring that there is a health focus and that health lies at the heart of analysis and decision making.

I want the Minister to take up the offer to work together made by the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), and to work with colleagues such as me who take a specialist interest in this area. This should not be used as a political football in any circumstances. The crisis is too great and all of us stand ready to try to help her and her colleagues to deliver improvement in this area.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He is right that this is too important an issue to become partisan over, and I completely accept the offer from the Opposition spokesman of joint working on this. We are all passionate about this important issue and we need to make sure that we get this right for individuals who can really benefit.

I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton for securing a debate on such an important issue. This Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that everyone with a drug problem can access the help and support that they need. He stated that support must always be compassionate and person-centred, and the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) highlighted that the way forward is to have an individual-centred approach. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach. Our long-term plan will be set out in detail in our cross-Government drugs strategy, which will be published later this year.

We understand that there is still a lot of work to do. There are also huge challenges across the drug and alcohol sector. This cannot be fixed overnight and we cannot do it without the help of every single local authority in the country, as well as through truly collaborative cross-Government and cross-party work involving the NHS. As a number of hon. Members have mentioned, the voluntary sector plays an important part, too. I put on record my thanks to everybody who is making a huge difference, whether that is at a statutory or a voluntary level, to so many people’s lives and to their futures. I genuinely believe that by working together, we can make a huge difference, and I look forward to that in the future.

I thank the Minister and right hon. and hon. Members for their kind comments, particularly, the Opposition spokesperson, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth). I will hold the Government to account on this issue. I want to see regular reports back. I want to see how the Government intend to implement Dame Carol’s 32 recommendations. I share the cross-party spirit that has been expressed on this matter, because in the end, this is about families and people up and down this country who, when things go wrong with addiction and with drug and alcohol problems, lose loved ones, always in the most dramatic and unfortunate circumstances. I welcome the Minister’s comments and look forward to holding the Government to account on this in future.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs report.

Sitting adjourned.